Monday, May 23, 2011

Not all mobile apps are great to use

I've played ESPN fantasy sports for many years. ESPN also creates one of my favorite mobile apps, their ScoreCenter app (though it could be sooo much better.) However their fantasy baseball app is one of the most frustrating apps out there. It provides access to your fantasy baseball teams. The other way to access your teams is through the website. The website is what sets your expectation of course. When you login to the website, you are first presented with a list of your teams. Once you choose a team, you are shown your team's stats for the day:
This not only sets one's expectations for interacting with your fantasy baseball team, but it really is quite useful. You want to see how your team is doing today when you login. We should expect something similar from the corresponding mobile app. Instead you get this:
This is from the Android app, but the iPhone one is almost identical (which is also a sad state of things.) You start off with having to pick your team. However when you pick your team, you are presented with the season stats for all of your players. That's not what you want. To get how your team did today, you have to open  up this crazy selector, then change the option whose default value is "Season" (we only the value, not the name of what this property is) to "Day." This brings us back to the crazy selector, where you select Done and then you get today's stats for your team.

What's even worse is that this is the 2011 version of the app. There was a (different) app for 2010. To get the 2011 one, you had to buy it. The 2010 app had the same frustrating UI. Last year at WWDC I talked about this to the developer of the iPhone app (which is exactly as bad as the Android one.) I told them about how this sucks. So not only did the 2010 app not get fixed, but they didn't fix it for the 2011 app which was a "new" app that required one to

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We All Love Music

Last week at Google I/O, big G finally delivered on Google Music. Well sort of. As many have pointed out, it's taken a long time to get Music out the door, despite it being announced a year ago. What is most interesting is that it comes after Amazon made a similar offering with its Cloud Drive/Player service. I have no used both services along with their Android apps quite a bit. So I thought I'd share my experiences, in no particular order...

  • Uploading 4000 songs takes a long time. That's about how many songs I have on my MBP, and it comes out to a little more than 50 GB. I was one of the lucky attendees of I/O, so not only do I have access to Google Music, but it is currently free. Amazon gives you 5 GB, and 20 GB free if you buy an MP3 album. I did the latter. However 20 GB is not enough space for me, so I have not uploaded a lot of music to Amazon. I have done this with Google Music. It took many days, and it tends to wreck havoc on WiFi networks (which should be the subject a future blog post/rant.) 
  • The Android players are good, but both have room for improvement. Google Music has a an instant mix feature, similar to the Genius feature in iTunes. I would say that it is better than Genius for several reasons. First, it seems to do fine with "non-standard" sings. I mean stuff like Girl Talk, or remixes and live versions of popular (or not) songs. Genius fails on this consistently, maybe because these are songs (or in the case of Girl Talk, artists) that are not in iTunes? Genius also fails for newer music. Google Music seems to do fine in this situation too. The Cloud Player does not have this feature, and that is a shame. However it does have an equalizer. This is something that Google Music lacks, and that is a shame. I generally find that mobile devices (and mobile headphones, if you will) especially need equalization. The Amazon EQ is not that great though, as it only has a list of presets (Jazz,  Rock, etc.) 
  • I don't like listening to music in the browser. For desktop computers, both of these services have you open a browser and listen to music that way. I'd say that Google's is a little better, but they both seem clunky. The Amazon one does not have the equalizer that their Android app has. The sound on the Google one also seems a little better, which is counter-intuitive. It is my impression that Google may downsample your music during playback, based on bandwidth, whereas Amazon plays your music back as-is. Anyways, neither sounds as good as iTunes. Of course they aren't the ginormous mess that iTunes is either.
  • Google Music works better over crappier networks. It seems to do fine over edge, even though I *think* I can hear a difference in sound quality. This could be psychosomatic. On the other hand Amazon has a lot more noticeable pauses. 
  • Google Music seems to manage metadata better, both metadata about songs and about collections (albums, playlists, etc.) However, I have heard other users complain about this.
I am generally pleased with both services. Since I was able to upload all of my music to Google for free, I have used it more. However it has convinced to upload more of my music to Amazon, and consider paying for it. However, that would cost me $100, since I have more than 50 GB of music. 

So far I have only uploaded music from my laptop. I have about 80 GB of music on my desktop computer, though this is pretty much a superset of what is on my laptop. I am going to start the Google Music uploader on it too. Hopefully it will not do two copies of songs that are in common, and only upload the 30 GB of music that is not already present. If it does that well, and I have all of my music on their servers, it will be very tempting to pay for this service once the beta holiday ends.

These cloud based services have made me wish that I could have similar access in my car. I have an old iPod Touch (8 GB) hooked up in my glove box currently. It would be nice to have 10x capacity, but at what cost? Not to mention that the car interface (I have a large Sony head unit with a touchscreen interface) leaves a lot to be desired. That only gets worse with 10x data to deal with.