It doesn’t take a Genius

One of the rumoured new features in iTunes 8 is the Genius which according to Kevin Rose’s blog “makes playlists from songs in your library that go great together“. That got me thinking… how will it achieve that?

I can see it working in one of two ways. Firstly there’s the algorithm method – some clever coding akin to what they do with Pandora or in applications like (the name escapes me right now). For that to be the case, Apple’s developers would have had to have done a lot of research or have bought out a company that already does it. Can’t say I’ve seen anything like that in the news.

The other method is the for iTunes to track what you listen to and then make recommendations based on what other iTunes users who listened to the same track, then chose to listen to. The second method, which I suspect is more likely, means iTunes phones home every time you listen to a track and Apple then builds a ‘Who Likes What’ database from which it’s recommendations are made.

I’ve never had much joy with services that use the second method, much prefering the way Pandora does it, but it will be interesting to see what Apple comes up with. Sadly I still don’t think a ‘Watch Folders’ feature will make it into iTunes 8 which speaks volumes about Apple’s attitude to it’s users.

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Syncing Entourage 2008 with my iPhone via MobileMe

Yes I’ve complained enough in the past that Entourage 2008 is always the runner-up when it comes to Apple functionality, and getting calendar events from Entourage on to your iPhone via MobileMe reconfirms this.

iCal calendars

iCal calendars

You see MobileMe knows nothing about Entourage whatsoever, all it understands is iCal. BUT… if you want to add events to your Entourage calendar and then see them on MobileMe and thus on your iPhone, all you have to do is enable ‘Synchronize events and tasks with iCal and .Mac‘ in your Entourage 2008 preferences. It’s basic but it works by creating a new calendar in iCal, and anything you enter in Entourage’s calendar is automatically sync’ed through into a new Entourage calendar inside iCal. Now when the MobileMe sync process runs it sees this extra Entourage calendar in iCal and copies it’s contents (along with any other calendars you’ve created in iCal), across to the MobileMe web service. That in turn gets ‘pushed’ across to your iPhone.

The reverse is true in that if you create an event either on your iPhone or in iCal and you specify that it

iCal view

iCal view

belongs to the Entourage calendar, then the event will make it back to Entourage. Create the event on the default calendar on your iPhone or in MobileMe or in iCal and Entourage will never see it.

As I said, it’s basic but it works, however one other limitation is that iCal doesn’t understand the ‘categorize’ feature in Entourage. For example I can create an event in Entourage, categorize it as ‘Personal’ and it will appear in green on my Entourage calendar. However, when it’s pushed through to iCal that category data is lost and it appears using whatever colour you’ve assigned to the Entourage calendar in iCal, and that colour persists through MobileMe and on to your iPhone.

Entourage event on the iPhone

Entourage event on the iPhone

The upshot of all this is that if I want to colour-code events in iCal and on my iPhone, then the only way to do it is to use multiple iCal calendars and forget Entourage 2008. So I now have a ‘default’ iCal calendar coloured blue, and another iCal calendar called ‘Important’ that’s coloured red, as well as my Entourage calendar which is purple, as you can see. Thankfully Entourage isn’t stripped of all it’s features when sync’ing with iCal and MobileMe as any alarm/reminders you set on events in Entourage are carried through to iCal and from there to your iPhone via MobileMe.

So, if you’re an iPhone user who wants to stick with Entourage but use MobileMe (and an iPhone) as well, then you may lose some Entourage specific features but the basics are there. For things to change then Apple’s developers would have to spend time enhancing iCal to understand Entourage categories. Alternatively Microsoft would have to add code to Entourage to understand iCal’s separate calendars. Yeah right…