Posts Tagged ‘iTunes’

With the release of the first over-the-air (OTA) Apple iOS update, I’m sure the typical reaction for most iPad/ iPhone/iPod users was to click the update now button and watch as what was once only possible by connecting your iOS device to a computer, occur as if by magic without wires.  I know for me it was anyway.  But did you remember to back up your device first?

Personally, I backup my iPhone every few days – either to the iCloud or to my Mac, typically alternating between the two so I have a backup that is fairly current in each location.  If you are wondering “how do you do that?”  or “why would you want to do that?“, the answer is to the first question is with a combination of iTunes and the iOS on your device already, and as for the second question, that is because as much as we’d like to think they’ve caught all the potential problems before releasing the software update to the masses, the truth is sometimes things go wrong and when they do you will want to roll back the clock to before you clicked that oh so tempting Download & install button.

Backing up.  A quick step-by-step:

First off, i’m assuming you’ve already set up your iCloud.  If not you’ll need to do that first.  If you have already, then read on MacDuff.*

The following is for the iPhone, but any iDevice is basically the same.  If you go to your Settings on your iPhone you will see the General tab, right after which is the new iCloud tab. Burrowing down into the iCloud tab you have the option to turn on what you want to store in the cloud, plus at the bottom the ability to make your iDevice Back Up Now.

open Settings/ iCloud

…then Storage & Backup

here’s where you want to be

I like to force it to back up once in a while, even though it is set to do it automatically.  Click on the Back Up Now and wait while it completes.  It should only take a few minutes.  Once you’ve done that, you may also want to connect your iPhone/iPad to your computer and open iTunes if it doesn’t automatically.

it conveniently tells you when the last iCloud backup was

you can see it was also backed up locally

You’ll want to make sure you’ve checked off the box for “Back up to this computer” and then sync your device.  If you are curious about where the backup is or how big it is or when it was last done, you can go into the advanced settings and see them listed in there.  Typically there will be a couple, unless there has been an iOS update then the only one there will be the most current one which includes the update.

now you can click it

…and wait patiently

Once you are certain you have created your backups, now its safe to click that Download and Install button in the iOS Software Update tab.

You’ll need to be connected to Wi-Fi to download it, possibly due to the size of the update.  It remains to be seen if in the future smaller patches may be able to be done over your cell phone service much the way some App updates need Wi-Fi and others can be done over cellular. (I haven’t tried turning on a personal hotspot with my iPhone and updating the other iDevices that way, but that may be a sneaky way to get around the need for Wi-Fi.)

If all goes well, a few minutes for the download and then a few minutes for the updates to be applied and installed during a restart and you should then be presented with your home screen again, still with all your apps open as before the update as if nothing changed.  If not, for some reason it fails or has problems, at least you’ve got your backups, right?

For me the download went easy, but during the restart process something went screwy and my iPhone 4 turned off.  I had to restart my phone by pushing the power button and it automatically went into install mode again and finished the update.  Aside from a few minor networking issues (I used Airplane Mode to turn off all networks/connections and then turned Airplane Mode off again to reinitialize everything which fixed that problem) it seemed to work pretty smooth.

Even with the minor glitch, it is still much better than the old way of downloading a 600+ mb update which replaced the entire OS on the device.  Especially if you had a couple of iDevices in your house, this new way will save on your data usage and your install time, and hopefully encourage more people to keep their devices updated instead of having to schedule down-time to do it.  Just remember to back up first,  you can never be too safe.  In fact , I’ve never heard anyone complain they had too many backups or were too prepared, well maybe those of us that remember Y2K, but that’s about it.


* the phrase “Read on Macduff” is actually a commonly used bastardization of a quote from Macbeth, act V, scene viii, and is actually “…I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damn’d be him that first cries, “Hold, enough!


There were certainly a lot of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” during the WWDC keynote June 6 announcing the latest and greatest Mac OS X Lion and the next iOS.   I admit I was impressed and still am, but have a few concerns now that I’ve had a chance to see the video of the keynote instead of just the live tweeted snippets and stills.

First, what about the download only OS X?  As Phil Schiller said ” it’s about 4 gb.  The size of a HD movie.”  Umm, Hello, have you tried to download a 4 gig file wirelessly lately, we have enough trouble  getting a 600 meg iPhone update to download sometimes, trying something almost 7 times the size is crazy.  I think there needs to still be an option to get it on disk, even if it means paying more.  One price for instant download, one for shipping a disk.   That is a marketing strategy lots of developers use and it works just fine.  Imagine how long it would take on dial-up.

we don’t all have fiber to our macs

Along those same lines, one little nit-picky thing.  The price.  $29.99.  I know its a small thing, but couldn’t they just have left it at $29?  That is the price of the current OS, Snow Leopard.  Yes it is a huge drop in the price from the normal $129, but why the .99?  Its like bargain basement shopping where everything ends in .99.   Just round up or round down, and stop trying to seem less expensive.  Besides, doesn’t saying “its $100 less” sound so much better than $99.01 less?

The cloud.  Or to be more Apple about it, the iCloud.  That darn “i” is back again, letting you know its Apple’s spin on a service that has been around for a while that many others have pioneered the way in and figured out all the problems, pits and downfalls.  Basically paving the way for Apple to come in and do it bigger, better, faster – or at least that’s what they will have you believe.  They’ve already tried it a few times with little success.  Remember iTools?  Or .Mac after that, before the current-until-yesterday MobileMe service?  Maybe the new mega-data-centre they built will be the answer for them getting it right this time.  It sure seems like they are going balls-in this time and not just making it a small service that most won’t use.  This time it is embedded so deep it’ll be hard not to use it.  Get ready for crazy data bills for those of us with limited bandwidth and data usage.

iTunes 4.3 available today.  Yeah, if you are in the US, but even though it says on the Apple website that it is available, the link takes you to a download link for 10.2.2.  If you read the fine print, the rest of the world has to wait it seems.

read the fine print, US only for music features

So what else was announced? iOS5.  I have to admit I am very impressed with the changes made to iOS.  Some of the things that should have been in there since the get-go are now making their way into this version, even though it took them 5 attempts to get some of the stuff BlackBerry has been doing for years.

is it an iBlackberry?

Delivery Receipts.  Read Receipts.  Typing notification.  Hmmm, gee my BlackBerry Curve two iPhones ago could already do that.

Don’t get me wrong, its not all negative.  One of the really nice things they changed (that i’ve complained about often to anyone in range) is the fact that updates are now available on the device or OTA as they call it.  Also, there will be Delta updates.  What does that mean?  Basically instead of updating the entire iOS each time, they can patch and fix it instead, so you end up with much smaller (and possibly more frequent) iOS updates instead of a 600 meg download each time they have to make a few changes or patches.

The pushing of messages via the new iMessage is huge for anyone who is multi-deviced (did i just make up a new geek-term there? i think i did).  Being able to carry on conversations or threads when switching between an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch is great for keeping in touch with people when you need to be able to see what was said previously.  Threaded messages, when done correctly are wonderful, and it seems like Apple got this part right.

Add the fact that you can now do your registering of new devices without connecting to a PC, they are definitely pushing towards people using their idevices more, and possibly having more of them instead of being tied to a desktop or even a laptop.  Especially when you bring iCloud into the equation.  If it does in fact let you backup your entire device to the cloud, then you can be fully mobile and not have to worry about loosing everything should your device fail or be lost.

There are tons of new features built into Lion and iOS5 that will make both a must have for any Mac head, and maybe even pull a few more users away from windows.  The changes are too numerous to even list, and quite honestly that wasn’t the intent of this post.  (if you are interested in more, check out Apple’s updated website for all the glossies)  Kinda sounds like I may be sipping the Apple Kool-Aid again so let me close with this.  The latest versions sound like they are full of promise and wonder.  I just hope they are not empty promises like those of most politicians but those of a company that is listening to the masses and responding, albeit slowly at times.


**update:  the update to iTunes 10.3 finally showed up in Software Update, but when checking in iTunes itself, it still thought the most current version was 10.2.2  – I guess maybe it got stuck at the border without the proper papers.


All the hype this past week about the supposed tracking of your whereabouts by a “hidden file” on your iPhone, made me need to rant a little, so bear with me this should be a short ride.
Firstly, the file in question tracks all the cellphone towers that you have been near using them to triangulate your location, or at least try to.  More on that later.

Secondly, the file is not shared with Apple, it is compiled on your iPhone and copied to the computer you sync your iPhone with. All those little apps that are location aware and you have allowed them to collect data are going into this file.  That’s as far as it travels. Strangely though, it seems my iPhone travels more than me.
I drive to sites as part of my job, some weeks nearly everyday i’m out somewhere, be it around town, or a half day away. Some weeks i’m in the office designing most of the time, it’s like a handful of bits and bites, you never know what you are gonna get each week.

Anyway,… So, I grabbed the iPhoneTracker App and ran it to see what all the hype is about and low and behold it seems my iPhone is going places i’ve never been.  I’ve got a good memory of where i’ve driven to, and I know i’ve been to many places in ontario but haven’t so far been in the middle of Lake Erie for instance.

I didn't go to Awenda Provincial Park

Didn't go to Killbear Park either

If you want to see where your iPhone has traveled (with or without you) check out Pete Warden’s iPhoneTracker app (here).

The big concern seems to be that people could hack your computer and get the file, or if you were involved in nefarious activities the police could subpoena that file or retrieve it from your iPhone/iPad.  Yes, that is true, they could.  They could also contact your cellphone provider and get the same kind of info, and it would be more accurate.

What is important to remember is this file is a list of assumed locations derived by triangulating your location, which is evident by the maps i’ve posted above.  A few of the locations show me in the middle of water and being as I have not been on a boat anywhere near those locations it is not possible.  Also, many of the locations shown are in areas I have never been anywhere near.  Especially when you get into areas that have limited cell-tower coverage, such as the northern parts of Ontario.

Basically none of this info is precise enough to be used to prove anything in a court of law, you are more likely to be tracked correctly by your tweets and Foursquare check-ins than this file and yet people willingly give out that info all the time.  In my opinion it is a lot of hype and misinformation being sensationalized by the media, and people should put away their tinfoil hats.


Free.  Its always a good word to draw people in with. The promise of converting and ripping any DVD is also a good way to draw people in.

MacX does exactly that.  (In case the name was a bit confusing, this is just a Mac product, it doesn’t do Windows although the Pro version does. its called MacX DVD Ripper for Windows and is available here )

First go to and grab the download.  Its only a 16.3 meg .dmg for the Mac so its a quickie to grab, which is nice when you are worried about data usage.  Bloatware apps really get my goat, but thats a rant for another time.

I like the latest movement in installers too, which this one has.  The simple drag of the app to your Applications Folder, which conveniently comes as a shortcut in the installer window.

From their website… “MacX DVD Ripper Mac Free Edition is a free DVD ripper software for Mac users to backup and rip DVD movies (including commercial DVDs) to MOV, MP4, MPEG, FLV, iTunes video for free, minus all the copy protections that widely used in recently DVD movies, such as CSS encryption, Sony ARccOS, region protection, UOPs, APS, even the Disney DVD movies copy protection.”  Pretty impressive, but one thing does jump out at me, a few of the formats I would typically expect to see are missing.  AVI for instance.

So who needs it and why?  If you have DVDs and want to make a copy for your kids to use and abuse (it seems all kids are terrible at looking after DVDs. We were forever finding them laying all over tables and the floor or maybe in a case but never the right one) or just want to make the movies more portable, for instance by putting them on iPods or NetBooks.

“Why this one over HandBrake?”  I wondered the same thing so I decided to do a little testing and find out how each compared doing a simple DVD rip.  I chose a movie classic “The Hunger”, mainly because it was handy, but also because its just such an amazing movie for its time and even now holds up well.  As for the programs, both are free, both are easy to use and can be as complicated and advanced as you want to get with respect to codecs and formats, file size, bitrate, which parts of the DVD you want to include, etc.  So I did a simple rip with each.

MacX DVD Ripper Free Edition

HandBrake 0.9.5

The results:

Speed?  MacX DVD Ripper: 21 mins to rip. 1.07 gb when complete.

HandBrake, latest version 0.9.5, 32 bit version (as it turns out I hadn’t used it in a while, but its only a 6.6 meg download): 90 mins to do h.264, 700 mb.  Substantially less if using mpeg-4 codec, only took 15 mins as a matter of fact and 900 mb file.  (I made the mistake of not checking the codec and bitrate prior to starting and ended up waiting quite some time for it to finish.  but hey, its good to know that difference as well.)

Quality?  Well, that was a tough call.  There was a slightly warmer look to the MacX DVD Ripper version over HandBrake’s.  It subtle, but its kinda noticeable on Susan Sarandon’s face in the screen caps below.  (and yeah it may just be an excuse for me to stare at her face, but seriously who wouldn’t want to?)

MacX DVD Ripper on top, Handbrake below

MacX DVD Ripper on top, HandBrake below

Ease of use:  Both are very easy to understand and have nice GUIs.  I wasn’t crazy about the look of MacX DVD Ripper (MDR), but thats mostly because i thought it looked a bit dated.  The rounded corners on the radio buttons across the top just seems a bit old to me.  I prefer a cleaner look without all the soft faded styling that makes everything look like its in the background.  That’s not to say HandBrake is a big winner in looks either, it is a bit too simple and could use a bit of style, not to mention the slide out drawer on the side always made me think it is another program in the background on the screen.  One thing that is missing from MDR is the notification that the job is complete.  It just stops encoding/ripping and doesn’t give you a “finished” dialogue box, or at least not one I noticed.  I like HandBrake’s, it has to be clicked to clear it, so that way you know its done and completed properly and didn’t just fail before finishing.

where's the elapsed time? could that STOP button be bigger?

HandBrake's "i'm finished" notification

Gotta love the sense of whimsy about it too.  Or did it somehow just know I was drinking as I tested it out? **quickly places post it note over webcam camera just in case**

There is no indication on MDR as too how long the conversion has been going on or how much time is left either.  The remaining time seems to indicate the time left of the movie, which is not necessarily the time left in the conversion.  HandBrake’s ETA in the conversion window wins on this one.

Aside from the warmness mentioned previously, I found that the whites were whiter and the blacks blacker on the MDR rip when compared to the HandBrake rip.  Its difficult to see in the compressed screengrabs used here, but there seemed to be a difference in finished quality.  Different codecs being used perhaps?  Audio-wise, there didn’t seem to be a difference, and both versions played fine on the Mac and the XBox360 when streaming without any audio syncing issues.

All in all, there is no real winner here, or more accurately there is no loser.  Either program will get the job done and do it well. Speed-wise, MDR was a bit slower than HandBrake (about 25%) but both are a lot faster than some earlier ripping apps. Besides, if you can’t wait 20 mins for a 90 min movie to rip, maybe you need to slow down a little.

As mentioned above , both are free, but regardless of that, software has to fit a void or do something better than the other programs out there to make it worthwhile.  The adage “you get what you pay for” just doesn’t apply when it comes to freeware.   Just because its free, doesn’t mean it has to suck or be featureless or a stripped down version.  Thankfully neither one of these DVD rippers are.  I’ve seen some other rippers over the years that were and only used them once before moving them to the trash.

Just a side note.  MacX DVD Ripper also has a paid version, which always makes me wonder what they did to kneecap the free version.  I figured i’d get the details straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak and asked the developer, or at least their customer sales rep.  So what’s the difference between the Free version and the Paid for Pro version?
“Compare Free Edition with Pro Edition:
1. The Pro version support more output video formats like AVI, MKV,Video TS. etc.
2. With popular portable devices supported such as iPhone, iPod, iPad, PSP, Apple TV.
3. Pro version update more regularly to support latest copy protected DVD movies.
4. Copy function lets users make a backup the DVD with original video/audio in few minutes.
5. Both Power PC and Intel Supported
6. Priority Tech Support for paid version users.”

So basically if you are needing any of those extra features, then it makes sense to grab the Pro edition, but for me, the Free one did the job quite nicely.  I will however check out the Pro version at a later date and put it thru its paces once I get my hands on a copy that is.

I have to admit, this blog entry took me a long time to finish, mainly because the need to rip DVDs just isn’t that pressing any more.  Rarely do we buy DVDs these days, its mostly watching TV or movies on Netflix, or renting the occasional movie electronically, and very very rarely renting a DVD.  As you can see from the adjacent screengrab asking me to set my region code I hadn’t even played a DVD on my MacBook Pro yet and i’ve had it over a year.  Gone are the days we used to buy movies when they came out and want to rip them for use on portable devices or laptops.  We may not be the norm in this respect, but I have to wonder how much longer the need for ripping from DVDs is going to be around.  It may be a limited lifespan for a program like this, but if you do need a program to do it, then MacX DVD Ripper is a good solution for most people.  Their video converter, MacX Video Converter Pro has been a godsend a few times when I find videos that use strange codecs and play with no video.  It converts them without a problem and fairly quickly too and is for use in Windows and Mac. (I did a quick review of it a while back – here)  That software was the reason I was so willing to give this ripping program a try.  So if you are looking for a way to get rid of those easily scratched DVDs give MacX DVD Ripper a try, I think you’ll be pleased you did.


This is one of those programs I forget about because I don’t need it often, but when I do it always works with flying colours. I’m talking about the freeware program MPEG Streamclip.  As the name implies, it’s for working with and converting video formats.
Anyone who needs an easy way to convert movie files from one format to another has probably been frustrated trying to figure out all the settings and invariably ended up wasting hours of converting time just to end up with a file that doesn’t play on the device you were converting it for. Sometimes one simple setting can be all it takes to make your end product unusable on certain devices.

Eldest Daughter wanted me to put a couple movies on her iPod for her to take to school since they were done with schoolwork and basically just goofing off the last few days and my first thought (that was after the initial “what do you mean you’re not doing any more work at school? there’s my tax dollars hard at work – argh), was HandBrake.  Handbrake 64 bit version worked great on the new MBP as far as speed goes, but unfortunately the final result didn’t work on the iPod.

I just a message similar to the one adjacent stating it was not compatible with the iPod when I tried to copy it over in iTunes.  Most of the time its a CODEC problem, that causes that.  Some programs are very particular as to what they will play.  Programs like VLC or Quicktime or even Windows Media Player are capable of playing so many formats that we forget sometimes that some other players, like iTunes are a bit more picky.  That’s when I remembered that I had been using MPEG Streamclip last and it had worked like a charm.  And before you get that “oh great another post about a Mac program” look, this one is different, It’s not just a Mac program.  MpegStreamclip is available for Windows and Mac.  (check it out here) The screenshots and description of how it operates are based on the Mac version since that is what I work on whenever I can, but the Windows version is pretty much the same.

Decide on the format you want

Also I wanted to convert a bunch of movies to load up on the iPods for the trip to the cottage, if it doesn’t get cancelled this year again. Damn Tornado, How dare you screw up my plans! (shakes fist at the sky)

Getting back to the issue at hand. First thing to figure out is what you want the end result to be.  If you are planning on loading it onto an iPod or iPhone, then MPEG-4 is probably the best format for you to use. So a simple click on the Export to MPEG-4 under the file header and you are on your way.  The process is as complicated as you want it to be, there are so many tweaks you can make, or you can take the easy way and just select iTunes in the upper right corner and you will get a pull down in which you select the type of iPod or iPhone you want to convert for.  For me the 320 x 180 works well.  It looks good and you end up with a file that is a good compromise between MB size and image quality.  An average movie using these settings results in a 700 to 800 MB file.

select the settings

Why H.264? That’s simple. Across the board compatibility.  Even YouTube got on that bandwagon, they started re-encoding their stored videos to the H.264 codec in 2007 in order to save space i’m sure, but mostly to be compatible with more players out there.  H.264, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10 or AVC, is an MPEG-4 compression standard that will deliver very good video quality at about half the data size of MPEG-2.

If all you want to do is watch the end result on a small screen of an iPod or iPhone, then these settings are good.  If however you are wanting to watch it on a larger screen, you may want to boost the resolution up to 640 x 360 even though the end result will take much more space on your device or computer hard-drive.

converting the file... be patient.

The source can be either a DVD, a URL or an already converted avi file like I am using.  (It doesn’t have to be an avi, it can be pretty much any format of video to start with, I just happen to store movies as avi’s most often)  The converting process time is entirely dependent upon the speed of your computer and the ram you have available.

I have noticed that converting seems to work best when other programs are not running, so I have a tendency to queue up a few videos that I want converted and let it run overnight.

The converted files in their new mp4 format are now easily added to your iTunes library for syncing with your iPod or iPhone as you like.

Sure, there are tons of other ways of doing the converting, and many other programs, including using iTunes or Quicktime to convert for you.  I’ve tried many and seem to always come back to MPEG Streamclip though when it comes to getting the converting done easily.

(from Apple support)

Or if you like you can eliminate all the work entirely and just buy the movies directly from the Apple iTunes Store.  Some store bought movies even come with digital download versions included with the dvd in the form of a online access code, but for those of us that already have a lot of movies and just want to make them more mobile and less prone to damage then converting digitally is the way to go.  MPEG Streamclip is free, very stable and does the job very well. Like I said, its my oft-forgotten go-to-app when it comes to getting stuff off my Mac (or windows PC) and onto an iPod/iPhone.  I have’t even touched on the editing side of the program, which is great for grabbing parts of files or sections of a DVD, stripping out audio, trimming video, etc.  (Hmmm.  Sounds like a subject for a future post).

Now if only the weather will cooperate, the kids will be all set for entertainment on the long drive to the cottage, which as any parent knows can make a long drive go by quickly and help to fend off the are-we-there-yet’s.