Will iPhone shake up the industry?

Andrew D. Smith
The Dallas Morning News (MCT)

You may never buy an iPhone, but you should still thank Apple for building it.

The frenzy surrounding the release Friday of Apple's user-friendly multimedia cellphone - 11,000 print articles, 1 million customer queries, 80 million mentions online - has forced the entire wireless industry to confront customer dissatisfaction and plot product improvement.

All buyers of smart phones should thus benefit, and soon.

"Expect to see more touch screens, more visual controls and a new focus on making everything easy to use," said Michael Gartenberg, vice president of Jupiter Research in New York.

Existing smart phones can already do pretty much anything an iPhone can. They can take pictures, receive e-mail, browse the Web, play music and display videos. Many phones actually do far more than the iPhone, such as receiving live television, providing GPS services, recording video, and downloading entertainment from the Internet.

But they do much of this stuff terribly. Web pages look like abstract art. E-mails lose their formatting. Downloaded files disappear. Tiny hard drives struggle to store more than a few dozen pictures or songs.

Worst of all, users have to fight through various menus and folders just to find these lackluster features.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs summed up the problem when he told a Newsweek reviewer why Apple got into the wireless market: "Everyone we talk to hates their phones - it's universal."

Jobs promised something radically different. Something easy. Something elegant and fun.

Early reviews suggest Apple has delivered. The combination of touch screen and pictorial function icons seems to help people find and use the phone's features. IPhone users also say the phone's software and its huge screen offer the best Internet they've seen on a phone.

If time vindicates Apple's system, key elements will spread quickly.

Indeed, some elements spread before the iPhone even reached stores. Taiwanese handset maker HTC, for example, just hit the European market with a touch-screen phone that bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone.

The iPhone attitude is also spreading.

Sprint Nextel just announced an ad campaign that will show people using smart phones how to accomplish practical tasks. That's a subtle shift from traditional advertising, which focuses mostly on product specs, but analysts say it's a telling difference that shows the iPhone will be influential even if it flops.

"I'll bet now that all the carriers and handset makers increase their R&D spending," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst. "The incredible excitement surrounding iPhone has demonstrated that a true breakthrough will be more profitable than anyone had thought. If iPhone is that breakthrough, the others will have to spend more to catch up. If not, they'll spend more in hopes of making the breakthrough. Either way, customers win."

The wireless industry has collectively committed to simplifying handsets, but different factions debate what else they should learn from iPhone.

Handset makers - and most analysts - say iPhone proves that carriers should ease their control over product design.

Carriers - but almost no other voices - say strict controls are needed to ensure product quality and network reliability.

Carriers now control handset design by refusing to sell any device they don't like. Research in Motion, for example, reportedly backed away from installing a free GPS program in one of its BlackBerry phones because of objections from AT&T, which sells its own GPS program for $10 a month.

Carriers have also fought to prevent handset makers from adding Wi-Fi receivers to their products. Wi-Fi can provide faster and better Internet connections than carrier data networks. Wi-Fi helps customers but hurts carriers that profit from network usage.

The balance of power began shifting slightly toward handset makers even before iPhone's introduction - Wi-Fi-enabled handsets have trickled to market, RIM convinced carriers to allow free instant messaging on some BlackBerries - but the shift should accelerate if iPhone sells big.

Apple's deal with AT&T allowed the computer maker almost complete control over iPhone's design, and Apple used that control to do things that carriers normally forbid.

The iPhone has a Wi-Fi receiver and software that automatically chooses Wi-Fi over AT&T's network whenever it's available. The iPhone also lacks any built-in links to AT&T's Internet store for ring tones and other cellphone add-ons.

"Americans have traditionally chosen a carrier network first and then selected among whatever handset models that carrier offered," said Mike McGuire, an analyst at the research firm Gartner Inc. "The iPhone shows that it's possible to reverse that equation, to have consumers select a device first and then select among the carriers that offer it. ... That could create a considerable shift in power."

Skeptics may ask how a single device can change an industry, particularly when even optimists peg iPhone's market share in the low single digits.

Believers counter such questions by pointing to Apple's track record, which goes far beyond the iPod.

Apple's computers have never accounted for more than a small percentage of that market, but its Macintosh operating system has shaped the way the way people interact with machines.

Lucky break, you say? Apple also popularized the desktop widget and the clam-shell design for laptop computers. Plus, in an odd example of a company coming full circle, Apple invented the hand-held device that inspired today's generation of smart phones.

The ill-fated Newton never did much for Apple, but it changed the world.

Analysts predict the iPhone will be much more like the Macintosh than it will the iPod. It will never dominate cellphone sales - even when Apple introduces cheaper models - but it may well exert a huge influence on the industry.

It may also change how Americans think about cellphones, even the ones they have right now.

"Apple is teaching America that `cellphones' are actually powerful computers," said Shawn Freeman, chief technology officer at Handango, a Hurst-based company that offers downloadable applications for mobile devices.

"We have programs that manage music libraries. We have programs that manage photos. We have a free application from Google Maps. If people take the time to explore what's out there, I think they'll love what they find."

So Freeman sees no need for an iPhone?

"Actually," he says sheepishly, "I'm still trying to talk my wife into letting me buy one."

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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