iTunes & iTunes Extras: A viable alternative to physical media – at last!

One thing I love about buying movies and TV shows on physical media: the extras.  You usually get audio commentaries from the filmmakers along with little featurettes (and occasionally feature-length documentaries) about the making of the film.

But the problem with physical media is having to store it somewhere.  All those cases all add up.  And if higher definition versions come out later, you’ll have to replace the disk, packaging, etc.

Until recently, I had been put off of iTunes movies because I’ve a reasonable fear that the movie studios may pull the movie off the service at any time and remove my access to the movie.  After all, this DOES happen with iTunes music – if you buy a track or album and it’s no longer sold on iTunes, you won’t be able to download it again if you’ve removed the files to make room on your computer or device.

However, I think Apple (and the movie studios) treat movies & TV shows differently.  Given the size of HD movies, they can take up an enormous amount of space on a device.  And the Apple TV has limited storage (we’re talking about the 4th generation here).  So it makes sense that purchases remain in the cloud.   Thus I’m pretty certain that movies & TV shows bought on iTunes will remain a permanent fixture – and even if they don’t, I’m sure Apple would refund accordingly (although I shall bring this up again in another blog post about iTunes in-app subscriptions – what a mess THAT is!).

Anyway, one thing I have come to love with iTunes movies is iTunes Extras.  When movies first started being released with Extras, the offerings were not brilliant.  But more and more movies are being released with DVD/Blu-Ray quality features – and with audio commentaries.  The audio commentary thing is a HUGE deal.  Something that’s traditionally been limited to physical media is now being made available online (or offline if you download the movie to your computer or device).

Even Amazon Prime Video has jumped on the audio commentary bandwagon – offering a few of their TV shows with audio commentary.  It’s essentially a different title because the Amazon Prime Video platform doesn’t appear to offer multiple audio streams.  But it’s a start.  Netflix doesn’t offer ANY audio commentaries for any of their shows yet – so they’ve got some catching up to to.

But there is a downside to iTunes Extras.  They’re not available on iTunes TV shows.  If you buy a series or individual episodes, there are absolutely no extras whatsoever.  None.  Nada.  Kaput.  I hope Apple and the respective studios will put that right.  It’s essential, I think, to do this if Apple has any ambitions to make Apple TV a viable platform.

As for making backups of all the iTunes things – I use one of these, a Drobo.  Lovely device (on loan from work) – it offers full redundancy – up to two disks can fail at once and the data is okay.  But it’s a seriously noisy thing – and one of the disks (the second one from the bottom) is humming like mad.  So it’s on to take backups of my systems, then shut off.

Coming up next on my blog: iTunes subscriptions – is Apple passing the buck? and What movies to watch on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in 2017.

The Great Apple Break Down

It’s been an absolute pain in the arse this past month for all things tech-related.  We’ve had Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 recall shenanigans, and now Apple’s new IOS release caused temporary bricking as soon as it was released due to a corrupt over the air image.

I was pretty miffed when I updated the 9.7″ iPad Pro OTA (over the air) and found it wanted to be connected to iTunes.  Apple advertises this as a standalone computer.  A standalone computer shouldn’t need another computer to be able to fix update problems.  Does Apple expect us to own two or more computers as a consequence?  Even if you had two iPad Pros, it wouldn’t have fixed the issue – it must be a full on desktop machine (MacOS or Windows) running iTunes.

Except because when I got home, Apple’s iCloud services were in a mess.  In order to perform a manual update/restore of the iPad, iTunes had to download version 9.3.5 of iOS first.  Took well over an hour.  Couldn’t update iTunes via the normal means because Apple’s servers were completely borked.  But thankfully when 9.3.5 downloaded and was applied to the iPad Pro via a USB cable connected to the Dell, the iPad eventually sprung back into life and all settings and data was preserved.  Unlike last time, when the hardware was completely knackered and I had to get entire iPad replaced. So a big phew! there.

As iTunes (with a vastly improved interface for managing Apple Music) wasn’t updating, it was actually quicker to download the installer file from Apple’s web site and update it that way.  I could then update both iPads to version 10 of iOS.

How I do wish Apple would take better care of iOS releases.

To ease the pain somewhat, I discovered that Apple has added practically every single Studio Ghibli soundtrack album to Apple Music, and spent a very happy evening listening to some classic Joe Hisaishi music.

Back to the Windows (Future): Part Two

Settling in reasonably well with Windows 10.  Next month we’ll all be getting the Anniversary Update which will make some changes to the Start menu (which I think is for the better based on my experience from the preview builds I’ve been testing with at work) as well as a few other bits and bobs.

Windows as a Service (WaaS) is the way forward.  There will no Windows 11.  And depending on how technically adventurous you are, you can switch to using Insider Builds which provide you with the latest and greatest new features and bug fixes before they’re unleashed on the public.  Even so, I still stick with the regular builds at home.  I only use the Insider Builds on virtual machines that I run at work.

One thing that had been bugging me over the past couple of weeks was finding a local backup utility to store copies of my files on my local NAS (network attached storage), a WD MyCloud (6Tb) which sits on my gigabit switch hooked up to the Sky Q Hub.  I tried Crashplan which also backs up to its own servers, but found it to be too slow (and Crashplan’s high-resolution support isn’t great).  I also tried Acronis TrueImage 2016, but found that to be far too slow as well – and found that it didn’t recover very well if the backup was interrupted – the UI froze a lot.

I then remembered that I had a product I used way back when I was using Windows before the great migration to the Mac, SyncBack Pro.  But, alas, it has the worst high-resolution display support of any of the backup products and I have to remove it.  I mentioned this to the developers who told me I could create a file that would help improve that – but I’d have to re-create it with each new update.  Why this couldn’t be handled via the UI I don’t know.  So I gave up on that one.

It turns out that I had the solution under my nose all the time!  Kaspersky’s Total Security 2016.  I bought a multiple device license – one for my Android device and the other for the Windows desktop.  It’s very good indeed and I hadn’t realised that it comes with a backup/restore function.  So I’ve been backing up to the NAS using something I had.

For online backups I still use Backblaze.  Provides unlimited backups, but versioning only up to 30 days.  So if you delete a file and try to retrieve it after 30 days, you’ll probably be out of luck.  Hence the local backups.  I’d have preferred to use Crashplan which allows for unlimited versioning across any number of days, weeks and months, but as I’ve said, the main thing that’s holding me back is the lack of high-resolution display support.

I do hope Microsoft consider doing more work to improve high-resolution display scaling.  If Apple can do it successfully with OS X (or MacOS as it will be called), I can’t see why Microsoft can’t.  It’s time to ditch legacy and look to the future of Windows.  It can’t be too longer before 5K monitors and beyond will be the norm.  Windows  need to be ready for this along with all Windows developers.

Meanwhile, I’m selling my Xbox One in preparation for the Xbox One S.  Ultra HD Blu Ray support PLUS the ability to game (stream to a PC) and PC integration (controller can be used with a PC for gaming via Bluetooth) for less than £350?  Yes please.  The Xbox One (S) is effectively running its own version of Windows 10, so that’ll be getting the Anniversary Update too.

Apple turnover: Replacing a bricked 9.7″ iPad Pro due to 9.3.2 firmware

Yesterday I popped up to London to get my recently bricked (thanks to the latest 9.3.2 firmware update) 9.7″ iPad Pro fixed.  Having arranged what I think must be my first ever Genius appointment in the 12+ years I’ve been using Apple products, I took a leisurely poot on the 139 bus from Waterloo Station up to Regent’s Street/Oxford Circus.

The Regent Street Apple Store is currently under refurbishment at the moment, so you have to walk down (or take a lift) downstairs to a temporary area full of tables, people and Apple Store staff in green shirts.  I’ve always had problems with the Apple Store layouts in that they never put up any signs pointing you to where things are, or what they do.  You wouldn’t go shopping in a supermarket and have to figure out where the canned soup is, so why should a high end technlology store be any different?  For example, I joined a smallish queue with an Apple Store staff member at the end dealing with queries.  I had naturally assumed this is where I had to check in for my appointment.

Not so.

Apparently I could have flagged anybody down and be shephearded over to empty desks to wait for somebody to come and see me about my problem.  And this is what happened.  After a wait of about 5 minutes, a chap came over and I described the problem: upgrading the iPad Pro OTA (over the air) to 9.3.2 , which worked fine for the large iPad Pro and iPhone 6S Plus, bricked the smaller iPad Pro.  I attempted numerous restores – even downloading the 9.3.1 update and attempting to apply that.  I attempted a full wipe and restore.  No dice.  Error 56 every single time.

So the Apple Store Genius chap brought out his MacBook Air and attempted to do the same.  No dice on every occasion.  Error 56 (hardware problem).  Whatever Apple did with the 9.3.2 update should never do that sort of thing.  I occasionally get very nervous flash updating hardware RAID controller firmware at work, but I should never have to face complete and total hardware replacement if I update my iOS device’s OS and firmware.

Anyway, it was determined that the iPad Pro was a very dead iPad Pro and was not pining for the Fjords as Apple suspected.  The Genius staff member took away the iPad because with the lights in the store was making it very difficult to read the etched serial number on the back of the unit.  He also attempted to locate replacement stock, but it turns out the Regent Street store was completely out.  For at least 7 days.  But thankfully the Covent Garden store did have some available and he made a reservation for me to go and pick it up immediately (I had 45 minutes to get there – the store closes at 8pm).  It was that, or wait until Apple release some form of update that undoes everything – but as there is no timescale for this, and we don’t know WHAT the 9.3.2 firmware actually did, it was too much of a gamble.

So I Ubered over to the Covent Garden store.  That was a mistake.  I forgot just how busy London traffic is.  But we got there with 15 minutes to spare.  Upon entering the store, I was passed around 4-5 different Apple Store staff members – going forwards and backwards before I was about to lose my temper.  Again, no signs in the store to indicate where I should be going.  But thankfully I helpful chap took my details and walked back with me to the right place to get hold of the reserved replacement unit.  Within 10 minutes we swapped out the SIM and was getting going with restoring from the last iCloud backup.  About 10 minutes after the store closed I had a working iPad Pro 9.7″ again.

I am not updating from 9.3 until the next release of iOS (which should be 9.3.3) and that I have seen people update successfully first.  This entire little adventure has cost me £40 including train, bus and Uber fares.  All because Apple mucked up a firmware update.  And because Apple made it impossible to restore from a backup.

I will be writing to Apple about this, and enclosing my reasonable invoice to reclaim the fees paid to get the unit replaced.  Interestingly, I was made to sign something electronically which I managed to muck up.  The Apple Store staff appear to use older iPads that don’t support Apple Pencil, so I was expected to use my finger to sign.  Which I didn’t – I just clicked Done.  Does that still tie me to the T&Cs?  I don’t know.  We’ll see what Apple says when I write to them.

Breaking Bad Apple: Firmware update bricks my iPad Pro

I have a 9.7″ iPad Pro to go along with the 12.9″ model, because if you’re reading magazines, books or anything that requires holding the device more than 5 minutes, your arm will ache when using its bigger brother.

So you imagine how extremely hacked off I was when Apple rolled out a new firmware update for iOS last week which worked perfectly well against my iPhone and bigger iPad, but subsequently bricked the newest member of the team.

When I say bricked, it bricked it good.  It’s completely unusable at the moment. I can’t restore from backups, and I can’t restore from an earlier firmware (especially after Apple rolled out a new version of iTunes).  As such, and as I’ve been unwell, I’ve made an appointment to go to London after work tomorrow to get the iPad replaced (reports indicate that Apple are swapping out the units after their own restore processes have failed).

The thing about the restore process, BTW, is that it requires a Mac or PC.  So much for Apple advertising the iPad Pro range as replacement computers.  How can that be if you need a blasted PC to be able to restore firmware?!

Having invested heavily in Apple over the years (although one should say I should have invested in shares, not the gadgets), I am finding myself losing faith and trust in the company every time something bad happens.  And it’s been happening a lot of late (especially with Apple Music, which has been a massive disaster in my eyes).  Recent iOS and to a lesser extent, OS X, updates, have been bug ridden piles of nonsense which should never have seen public release.  I can’t imagine how much testing goes on, but clearly it’s not enough.

The only thing is that unless you’re actively reading tech news, you might not have known there was a problem with the 9.3.2 update for 9.7′ iPad Pros.  Apple sure as hell will email the hell out of you to try and buy their latest product – but if they subsequently remove firmware for a product you own (that’s in warranty) after they’ve discovered a problem – no matter the scope of the problem – forget it.  They rarely apologise for their muck-ups.

So now I’ve got to pay more money to take the train to London and get somebody to swap out the product.  It may well be a refurbished model at that.  Marvellous.

I’d like to go back to a Windows based PC and move to Android, but neither platform is able to do what I want it to do.  At least not completely.  And without cost.   I appreciate nothing’s perfect, but I expect much higher standards from Apple who go out their way to convince you they care about the customer.  This appears to no longer be true.  Apple need to step up to the plate, admit they’ve caused significant problems for customers (regardless of how small or big the problem is) and get it fixed – without cost to the customer.  It’s their ecosystem, their responsibility.