Friday, February 27, 2009

File Under 'People Are Shit': Chat Magazine

It’s not often that queuing in Sainsbury's and hangings at Tyburn come together in my head, but that’s exactly what happened to me the other day. While waiting to pay for some banal everyday items, I stood behind a woman who had Chat magazine in her basket.

‘Chat’ sounds like a pretty harmless publication aimed at elderly ladies who also dig the People’s Friend. However, when I looked closer I saw that Chat’s strapline is ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ (I haven’t added the exclamation marks, Chat magazine really is screaming those words at you). It’s a novel variation on the classic ‘life, death, taxes’ trope and no doubt was focus group-tested to, er, death to reflect the interests of its lovely readers. I like the order of priority too – prizes obviously comes narrowly behind death in the Chat reader’s all-time top 3 of things they want to read about.

I was really taken aback – wow, that’s a bit brazen, I thought. No beating around the bush there! Then I read the cover stories (there’s a lot of elderly people at our local supermarket – one has time to take things in). I’ll just bullet list them because they’re all so totally wrong in every possible way:
  • Why we TATTOOED our quads
  • Kicked to death…for calling this brute HONEY BUNNY
  • I had 10 PINTS of fat sucked out!!!
  • PRONGS OF DEATH! Killed with a pitchfork
  • My lovely wedding dress saved my life!
  • The steamy sex life of MURDERING MARTHA…
Is it just me, or is Chat magazine reducing personal tragedy to sick morbid entertainment for the kind of women who would have been knitting in front of the guillotine during the French revolution? Am I naive to be offended?

Which brings me to the crowds that turned up for hangings at Tyburn. When we look back at our history, we are often shocked by the cheery savagery of the populace turning someone’s death into a day out. But have we really moved on? I genuinely believe that Chat magazine readers would love a few public executions. They’d be there with their camera phones, giggling as some poor fucker kicked air.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sony S-Series, Amazon and Apple Music Experience: It's the Software, Stupid.

I spent yesterday grappling with new things in digital music today. I bought a Sony S-Series Walkman (the memorably named NWZ-S638F) AND downloaded music from Amazon. Totally out of my iPod/iTunes comfort zone. And like anyone in new territory, I'm still navigating nervously.

I've been entirely loyal to the Apple iPod and iTunes
in all my dealings with digital music. Along with millions of others, the convenience of automatic sync and the familiarity of the interface have kept me in the Apple fold for years. However, there's one problem with the iPod.

It sounds shit.

I've tried various headphones, the different EQ settings, changing the quality of the music files and so on, but it still sounds tinny and thin. So, having read about the brilliant sound offered by Sony music players, I thought - fuck it - let's take a punt.

Does S-Series Stand For 'Software Sucks'?

First impressions weren't good. Sony supply no software for Macs, so you drag and drop the music you want from iTunes to the player on your desktop. It can't handle playlists (which is annoying, as I love my playlists) and there are naming issues with some files. Altogether pretty poor.

However, once the music is on the Walkman, the interface is simple enough and my music sounds bloody amazing. It's like going from mono to stereo. I wandered around WGC for an hour just listening and loving it. So, result for Sony there. It makes the crappy lack of sync worth putting up with - just about.

As a PS3 - and now Walkman - owner, it's clear to me why Sony are in trouble. It's software. Sony is woefully lagging in this area (hence this painfully on-target spoof by the Onion:

Up the Amazon MP3 Store Without a Paddle

My other experiment was buying digital music from Amazon. This wasn't frustrating like the Sony experience, just scary. You install a little download app and pay as usual, but then nothing appears to suggest that the music download is actually happening. After a brief moment of panic, I had to find the app in Finder and open it to see that - thank fuck - the music I bought is actually downloading and going into my iTunes library. And it seems to download the same tracks twice, which is odd (maybe back-up files?). Anyway, the lovely straightforwardness of iTunes wins out again - not sure I'll buy from Amazon again, frankly, despite some music being slightly cheaper.

So, in conclusion, it's easy to see why iTunes - the simplicity and seamlessness - makes Apple market leader, despite price and even sound quality. Time companies with superior hardware, like Sony, or pricing, like Amazon, developed the user experience to match.