Monday, January 21, 2008

iTunes Rental Hack? (Watch beyond expiry...)

Another major product that Apple released at Macworld was the expected iTunes Movie Rentals. Very simple service that probably many would love.

  • Rent movies from $2.99
  • Nothing to install or learn; same as buying a movie
    Although, you do need the latest iTunes which should automatically update
  • Expires 24 hours after start, 30 days to start watching
  • You can start watching with a 30 seconds lead download
  • Take it with you on your iPods
  • Downloaded movie is removed after expiry

As many are pointing out, 24 hours it too short to complete a movie. Especially if you are interrupted for any reason right after you started playing a rented movie, you probably won't be able to finish it. It would be nice to have at least 48 hours, maybe 72; Apple, please?

But I found out that this may not be all true. It seems like you can play a rented movie up to 30 days even after you started playing it. Is this just a tip that I am pointing out? Or is it a hack? Maybe a bug? I am not sure, but let me explain what happened.

My wife and I were sick and we didn't want to go out so we thought it would be a good excuse to test out the iTunes Movie Rentals instead of going to Blockbuster or wait for Netflix to send us another DVD. So we went on the iTunes Store and decided to rent a comedy called "A Guy Thing". (You didn't like this movie? Well, we are not discussing that here!)

After a few minutes of lead downloading (we were preparing our drinks and popcorns), the movie was probably already 20% downloaded. We started playing it and it was perfectly smooth, good resolution, enough enjoyable on our new 20-inch iMac. (Oh, when did I secretly switch to a Mac? I'm not discussing that here either!) Of course, when we first started downloading the movie, it had a comment stating "Expires in 30 days". After watching the movie, it said "Expires in 22 hours" in red. And most people would probably forget about the movie they rented and iTunes would probably remove the downloaded file to keep your hard disk clean. You, Apple and Hollywood studios are all happy now.

But, I spent $2.99! And it was my first time to buy (not really BUYing, but renting) a movie from iTunes; I got to put this on my iPhone and carry it around at least for 22 hours and be cool! I noticed that when you put your rented movie on your portable player, it removes it from your computer. I guess Apple/Hollywood does not want you to be playing the movies at more than one location at the same time. How different they treat movies compared to musics! Anyways, when I MOVED the movie to my iPhone, it showed up in the Videos section with a comment "Exp. in 29 days". I though it would show the hours remaining as it did on my Mac. Wait a minute, does this mean what I think it means?

So, I decided not to sync my iPhone nor play this movie for 22 hours. The next day, I played the movie on my iPhone and sure enough, it started the 24 hours count down from that point. Right now, it says "Exp. in 9 Hrs" on the iPhone which will mean this movie was available for 48 hours.

Now, what happens if I sync my iPhone with iTunes? Interestingly, it is still available on my iPhone, although iTunes reports that there are no rented movie to sync!

Conclusion. If this is how Apple designed it, the 30 days countdown in which you need to start playing the movie after download is 30 days no matter what. However, the 24 hours expiry countdown that starts when you play the movie is kept separate from your computer (iTunes) and your portable player. So, if you are not able to finish your movie after start watching it and think you cannot finish it within 24 hours, sync it to your iPod as soon as possible and don't play it. Once you have enough time to finish the movie, resume on your iPod. Small screen, but you won't have to trash your money totally.

One note is that I have tried this only once since I only rented a movie once. If anyone can confirm this behavior, it's probably a fact rather then a speculation. Let's see what people has to say about this.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

iPhone Update 1.1.3 (Love the new Maps)

Apple released the long awaited iPhone update 1.1.3 at Macworld. They call it the January '08 update. Main features are:

  • Enhanced Google Maps app
  • Customizable home screen
  • Works with iTunes Movie Rentals
  • Mail app compatible with IMAP Gmail
  • other minor updates
Features that were not realized:
  • Copy/cut and paste
  • Video shooting with built-in camera
  • and some other expectations

Steve Jobs seemed to want to impress everyone with the enhanced Maps app and so I was. It now has the ability to locate where you are. Click on the reticle looking icon on the bottom-left in the Maps app. The map will move to your location and zoom in. Since this technology uses not only cell towers but Wi-Fi access points (a Skyhook service; although you need not to know anything about it) as well, you may want to turn on Wi-Fi in your iPhone Settings.

I am not using this feature quite a lot and I like it. It works very well; at least in San Francisco. With Wi-Fi on, I get my location within a couple seconds which is way faster than a handy GPS. The accuracy is within a half block range which again a handy GPS won't provide in a jungle of buildings. I even drove up to a residential area in Pacifica (relatively rough terrain) and it was pin-point accurate. Although I believe this is not the case throughout the U.S. yet, it is amazing. Along with the traffic information it shows over lapping on the maps, iPhone is a strongly recommended mobile device in the Bay Area for sure; or at least an iPod touch as it can do almost the same with the latest release.

It was interesting to see many power users just went on installing the iPhone update without much hesitation; people used to wait at least for a week just to be sure of any early reports of critical bugs or other issues. I myself too waiting only a couple days this time. I guess the update being released at Macworld, power users cannot not install this right away...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

GrandCentral Disables Click2Call?

It seems that Click2Call has been disabled at GrandCentral.

This is one of the appealing feature where you can make a call directly from there online address book. When you hit CALL on the address book, it will call both yours and the other party's phone and then bridge the calls.

When I tried to use this feature today, it did not work. I looked at the help website which now seems to be migrated to Google Help, there is not mentioning about the Click2Call feature.

If they don't bring this feature back, this is very disappointing. I can't preach about this service anymore.