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Digital Watch: Is the New Apple TV Your Next Internet Radio? Is HD Radio Adoption Like Color TV’s 50 Years Ago?

Apple held its perennial fall unveiling today, and amongst the updated products on display were a new, bigger iPad Pro and a fresh Apple TV. Of course, you can listen to internet radio on an iPad, though I don’t see how the iPad Pro will be any better for that application than any other model.

I am a little intrigued by the new Apple TV, which is a product that has sorely needed a refresh for a while. Though I’m now a Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV user (and I owe you a review of Fire TV radio apps), before getting those devices I considered Apple TV several times, but was put off by how infrequently Apple updates it, apparently treating it as a “hobby” rather than an important product.

Apple has provided a pretty nice ecosystem for listening to internet radio and podcasts via iTunes on MacBooks and iMacs for quite some time. Apple TV has shipped with the Radio app pretty much since the beginning of the product line, which brings in streaming stations in addition to Apple’s own iTunes Radio. It also features a dedicated podcasts app.

Frustratingly for current Apple TV owners, up to now there has been no direct access to Beats 1 Radio. The new version of this set-top device adds Apple Music, which includes Beats 1. Though I haven’t seen the new device yet, I presume and hope that Apple retains the Radio app, too. At the same time, a new App Store means that third-party radio apps should become available, potentially expanding the range of audio entertainment options.

At a starting price of $149, the new Apple TV is a much pricier option for living room internet radio compared to comparable competitors like Roku. Of course, Apple TV is much more than radio (as all these set-top devices are), so the added gaming and streaming video features are likely the principal selling points, along with the tight integration with other Apple devices and services, like Apple Music.

I don’t think I’ll be buying a new Apple TV, but I’d be glad to take it for a test ride and review if one somehow crosses my path.

John Anderson on DTS/iBiquity Deal

HD Radio historian and expert John Anderson has weighed in on DTS’s acquisition of iBiquity last week. He observes that the sale likely saved iBiquity from “a bailout (presumably from broadcasters) or trusteeship.”

He also notes that most of the research and development on HD Radio has come from broadcasters, which leads him to wonder, “Will these and other development-partners continue to throw resources into a system now held by a non-broadcast company with its own Wall Street presence?”

Anderson doesn’t foresee any major changes in the near term, since iBiquity is retaining its current corporate structure, though he does spell out some best and worst-case scenarios. I recommending checking out his post.

HD Radio Adoption Rate Is Like Color TV?

Speaking of HD Radio, Radio Magazine talked with the recently retired SVP of engineering for CBS Radio, Glynn Walden, who has been a long-time advocate of that technology. He compared the slow adoption of that technology to that of the adoption rates of FM radio in the 1950s and color TV in the 1960s, which each took well more than a decade to catch on. It’s an interesting parallel, though I also think that technologies are adopted a much more rapid rate now, more than fifty years after color TV’s debut.

Comparing HD to FM is like comparing touch-tone dialing to smartphones. Touch tone was introduced in 1963 and it wasn’t widely used until the breakup of Ma Bell in the 1980s. Whereas the first modern smartphone (Palm Treo 650) was arguably introduced in 2004, leading to 50% adoption rate just a decade later.

Consumers generally buy, upgrade and replace their technology more often than they did fifty years ago, in part because it’s all much cheaper in real dollars than it was then. HD Radio hasn’t been adopted as quickly as smartphones because it doesn’t offer significant upgrades over regular broadcast–especially on FM–and those upgrades, like additional channels, are not as easy to access because of the compromises of squeezing HD into the existing analog radio bands.

As smartphones show, a new consumer technology platform really shouldn’t take more than a decade to find wide adoption. That seemed like a reasonable span of time in the 1960s, or even the 1980s. But in the post-DVD era (at that time the most quickly adopted consumer electronics platform in history) HD Radio’s time to adoption is glacial and more indicative of fundamental flaws than anything else.

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2 Responses to Digital Watch: Is the New Apple TV Your Next Internet Radio? Is HD Radio Adoption Like Color TV’s 50 Years Ago?

  1. RK Henderson September 10, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Well Paul, as an iTunes user I’m not sure I agree that it’s a nice ecosystem, as you put it. Apple has a truly obnoxious habit of breaking things by upgrade: taking away core functionality without restoration or explanation. (Among Maquistas this is called “the Jobs Effect”.)

    A salient example happened two years ago when iTunes upgraded away the ability to update a station’s stream URL. That’s right: when a station changes its URL, iTunes users now have to delete the entire station entry and start again from scratch. Nor can we easily share URLs, because you can’t even command-copy them. (You can still copy from an exported playlist text file, but it’s an arcane manoeuver, and more importantly: why?? Isn’t pointless effort what Windows is for?)

    I still use iTunes, rather against my will, because I’ve been using it for 15 years now and starting over with something else would be onerous. Which is exactly how they get you. But I’ve refused all “upgrade” invitations since it became clear they had no intention of restoring basic functionality.

    Bottom line: if you’re not using iTunes, don’t start.

    On a related rant: how it is that we can’t seem to hang on to a good mobile radio app? The cycle goes: promising new app arrives; app gets better; app gets broken by upgrade (or just isn’t upgraded at all); app loses functionality; app is no longer usable. Right now I’m using Internet Radio Box, but it’s dying as its developers fall behind successive iOS upgrades, and I don’t see anything else on the horizon.

    I’m not talking about those apps where you have to ask developers to add stations to a locked catalogue before you can add them to your scan list; I’m talking about one that allows users to enter stream URLs directly. For some reason, such apps don’t seem to “take”. And that’s a major obstacle to the net radio hobby. It this a money thing, or what?

    Love the site and the podcast!

    Robin Henderson
    Net Radio Blog

  2. Bill DeFelice September 12, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    Paul, Personally I think the entire “hybrid digital” radio scheme was flawed from the start. I authored an article for broadcast trade paper Radio World entitled “HD Radio Faces Rocky Road” where I brought up several key points that crippled the technology.

    Firstly, one of the companies with established standard for online streaming technology such as Apple, Adobe, Real or Microsoft should have been the ones to develop the standard. If the codec was an offshoot of their existing technologies the costs related to future development and maintenance would have much less and likely resulted in lower fees charged to broadcasters. It may have also opened up the possibility of a dual-system that could have kept broadcasters available as part of the connected dashboard – imagine a radio that switches between an HD signal and the station’s own stream when the terrestrial signal became marginal or unlistenable? A WiMax / HD radio would have been a natural.

    I don’t see the continuation of license fees benefiting anybody. Stations will shutter HD signals as the cost for the few who adopted the technology would be hard to justify. It’s not like improvements can be added to existing hardware since the car receivers I’ve seen have no method to flash the firmware. Add to this that young people are already non-radio listeners and are tuned into streams on their computers and phones.

    The only ones who will benefit from HD radio are the station’s using the technology to skirt ownership limited by placing HD2, HD3, etc., signals on translators. Other than that I want to see just how long DTS will hold on to the albatross they bought and when buyer’s remorse will set in.

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