Q&A: Roxio on Toast 11

Tim Grey
5 May, 2011
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Roxio recently released the latest version of Toast, the 11th version of its popular burning software. However, times have changed since the program first appeared for Mac OS X, with users increasingly preferring to store their data on flash devices or on the cloud. Macworld Australia recently spoke with Patrick Nugent, Roxio Toast senior product manager in Santa Clara, California, who told us about how Toast has adapted with the times.

Toast’s been around a long time now – in fact, it’s synonymous with burning on the Mac. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s a lot to do with our roots. As you say, Toast has been around for a very long time. For many years, Toast was the only solution for quickly and easily recording content to disc. The Toast icon and product name resonated with folks to the point where it became synonymous with burning. In part, we’ve become the victim of our own success and spend a good deal of time today educating consumers that Toast is about far more than burning. While burning is still a component of Toast and one of the many supported output options, the application is more of a rich digital media toolkit than it is a burning application. Toast serves to enhance and extend the built-in media capabilities of the Mac OS, offering a range of options for working with personal photos, videos, data and audio files. Perhaps the core competency of Toast today is its ability to take consumers’ favorite content, no matter where it resides or in what format, and easily convert it for enjoyment on other platforms or devices.

What’s the single most significant step forward with Toast 11?

While we’ve added some great new features and capabilities in Toast 11, perhaps the most significant change is the product’s redesign. The new design, which was built from the ground up, showcases a new interface that we believe users will find modern and intuitive. More importantly, the overhaul of this long-time Mac standard offers refined workflows along with built-in video tutorials that make it easier for existing Toast users and those new to the program to quickly complete a broad range of media tasks.

How did you go about that? How did you strike a balance between rebuilding the interface from scratch to making sure existing users of the series were familiar with it?

For the redesign of Toast, we started by soliciting feedback from our user base, which consists of many long-time users that are familiar with every nook and cranny of the application. The common theme from existing users was speed. They wanted the new design and workflow to enable them to complete tasks as quickly as possible. I think our design team did a remarkable job of streamlining the workflow to accommodate this request and enable power users to complete tasks in fewer clicks. At the same time as addressing the requests of existing users, we knew we needed to make the application more approachable for new users. In order to accommodate this balance between speed and ease, we introduced the Toast Assistant. The ideal introduction to Toast, the Assistant provides users with a step-by-step video walkthrough of the application as well as some of the most commonly used features.

There are a number of Blu-ray features in this edition of toast. Are there any technical challenges in writing a program that takes advantage of such large file sizes?

One of the benefits of working within a broader organization that includes professional tools that are used in the authoring of Hollywood Blu-ray Disc titles is that it provides us very early access into new format specifications. Given this, the hard work to support Blu-ray disc and large file sizes was completed years ago. Today, we spend far more time on understanding and building in support for the many varieties of media file formats that exist. This work is vital and goes back to Toast’s core competency of enabling users to take virtually any piece of digital media – regardless of format or where it resides – and share and enjoy it practically anywhere and on any device. This broad file support is a key product differentiator and a major selling point for Toast. Many users turn to Toast to open, author or convert a file format that other applications have simply failed to work with.

How has the Blu-ray medium taken on? What’s your opinion of it?

I believe Blu-ray Disc has been embraced by many consumers as the premier medium for enjoying Hollywood entertainment at home. For personal media, Blu-ray disc certainly has a role to play for efficiently backing up very large amounts of data and as a great medium for users to archive or enjoy the high definition content captured using AVCHD camcorders. However DVD, given its lower costs, is the more common choice today for smaller data backup and for the authoring of standard-definition video and slideshows.

Users are relying on physical media far less than the might have five years ago, how is that likely to effect Roxio?

As we discussed in the opening, I think we’ve done a good job over the years of expanding Toast’s capabilities beyond core burning functionality and in identifying and addressing the broader digital media needs of the market. Much of the investment in the product today focuses on areas such as of our investment easily converting video for enjoyment on a favorite iOS device, or to share it online. This change in focus is even exemplified by the new Toast icon, which for the first time, features devices as well as a disc.

There’s been plenty of speculation lately about Apple abandoning optical drives – do you think such a move is likely? How would that affect Roxio?

I think there’s always plenty of speculation around Apple, so I’m not sure I need to add to it. In my opinion though, optical discs will continue to have a role in many consumers’ lives for the foreseeable future. They may be recording using a local drive, but it maybe that they are burning via a drive in another machine on a local network (a capability we added some time ago with a feature called Toast Anywhere). Again though, I think we already have users today that don’t burn, but still find Toast an essential media tool and believe we can continue to attract and grow this segment of our user base.

Converting audio files has become an important part of toast’s capabilities. How difficult is it to achieve a good rip or clean conversion? How much difference does it make to audio or video quality? And why is Toast good at it?

Historically, converting audio and video have been key features of the application. Generally speaking, our technology has really improved over the years, and while there is always some degradation to quality when converting between file types, we’ve managed to minimize this over time. One of the more recent features we’ve added related to conversion quality is video presents. These simple presets help users easily convert or create files optimised for the destination such as the video display characteristics of a particular mobile device.

Roxio Toast 11 is out now

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