Is Apple getting stagnant?


A couple of years ago, it seemed as if every twelve months, a product refresh, regardless of the product, would come along. Personally, it doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Ignoring the iPhone release cycle getting knocked out of the twelve month loop with the 4S, it appears to be happening. Here are some examples:

  • The iPod Classic – not been changed since 2009, but on the flip-side hasn’t been discontinued
  • The iPod shuffle hasn’t seen a new generation since 2010, although there have been color updates to it
  • The iPod nano hasn’t seen an update since October 2012, other than similar color updates
  • The Apple Remote – also hasn’t been changed since 2009, and desperately needs to be since it isn’t compatible with the current MacBook Airs, Retina MacBook Pros, or iMacs. You’d think releasing a bluetooth version of the remote was a logical step, but after the discontinuation of the Front Row software I suppose Apple don’t see the point. Personally, I’d find a remote for iTunes other than using my iPod a great benefit.
  • What was missing from the list of incompatible Apple hardware? The Mac mini, which hasn’t been updated since October 2012 and is therefore overdue an update – logically you’d think Apple would have announced a Haswell update around the time of the latest MacBook Air update.
  • The Apple TV is sort of overdue an update – the current third generation was initially released in March of last year, but January 2013 saw an ‘update’ – a very slight change in the processor.
  • Speaking of TVs, Apple’s current standalone display, the Thunderbolt compatible and aptly named ‘Thunderbolt Display‘, has been out since mid 2011, and sports the same chunky edges as the iMacs of that era. 2013 however saw an iMac redesign with incredibly tapered edges, so surely a similarly designed (and potentially Thunderbolt 2 capable) standalone display should be in the works, especially considering the impending release of the new Mac Pro. Incidentally, the Mac Pro would also have made this list if it weren’t for Apple updating it – although ‘update’ is an understatement since it’s more of an overhaul.

That’s quite a long list of products that Apple haven’t discontinued nor updated. Of course, one question is “do they need to be updated?” to which my answer is yes and no – I think the Apple Remote needs updating; as the price of flash storage is constantly coming down Apple could potentially release a new iPod Classic with the same amount of storage, although that may make iPhone and iPod touch owners a bit frustrated; the Mac mini ought to be updated solely for the sake of staying current; and the Thunderbolt Display design should be updated solely for the sake of keeping in line with their current design portfolio. But, none of those are as front-line and in need of updating to match competition as their key computers and portable devices.

Talking of matching competition though, there is an argument for an Apple TV update. Home media centers are an ever-increasing trend, and there’s a plethora of options to choose from. If you have a spare PC, then you can simply use Media Browser Classic or Media Browser 3, Plex, Media Portal, or XBMC. If you want a standalone device you could go for the immensely capable Popcorn Hour, or more web-based products such as Roku and Boxee – although I just discovered that Boxee slipped yet further and doesn’t exactly exist in its ‘current’ form anymore. If you’re after a really web-lite experience, then the Google Chromecast may suit your needs. If however, your household is an Apple ecosystem, you probably have iPhones, iPads, and an extensive iTunes media library, and the easiest way to use a media center with that is an Apple TV. But, with the constant flood of Smart TVs, your old Apple TV probably feels inferior to even your neighbor’s new bargain TV they got on a Black Friday deal. Which is why I think that Apple need to update the Apple TV, and not just a specification increase, something that matches competition. I don’t know what, as I don’t know how much ecosystem control Apple would want to relinquish, but AirPlay streaming and mirroring aren’t quite cutting it at the end of 2013.

As a closing thought, I do wonder if the reign of Cook has anything to do with this rut, just looking at how his overall vision is different to how Jobs’ was it’s easy to draw justifiable conclusions.

Summary of Apple’s ‘Special October Event’, 2013


(Introductory paragraph written before the event, the rest was written as it unfolded. Look through for bold text for information of different products.)

In June, Apple spawned a lot of questions, most of which weren’t answered at last month’s event, such as specifics on the upcoming Mac Pro and Mac OS Mavericks – for example, a presumed launch of Mavericks either today or very soon, as it went gold a few weeks ago. It should also be noted that despite September being Apple’s traditional month for their music event, the various iPod models didn’t see an update – we haven’t seen a new iPod since May, which was a ‘budget’ version of the iPod touch. Not to mention the iPod classic, which hasn’t really been spoken of since 2009. Apple has a reputation for releasing products on yearly cycles, which has fallen slightly out of sync in recent years, but still stands – leaving expectations of new iPods, a new Apple TV, new MacBook Pros, the new Mac Pro, a new Mac Mini, Mac OS, and potentially an entirely new product.

Tim Cook walks on stage and starts with what we’ve all come to expect – updates of the news sort rather than the software/hardware sort.

Plenty of figures and opinions about the iPhone 5s and 5c sales and reception, and a video of their retail stores. Figures such as 200 million devices updated to iOS 7 in five days, 20 million users have listened to iTunes radio, developers have earned over $13 billion.

Now onto the updates we’re all waiting for:

Craig Federighi talking about Mavericks:

  • current 13″ MacBook Air will see up to an hour more battery life for web browsing with Mavericks installed (rather what I was expecting what with App Nap and other power saving features announced in June)
  • Reminders about all the other features we’re so eagerly anticipating such as iBooks, Maps, Notifications, Finder tags & tabs, and better multiple display functionality. Ironically, better display functionality could make covering this a lot easier.
  • The Mavericks update will be free to download, even if you’re upgrading from Snow Leopard. Hardware compatible-wise, you can get Mavericks if you have a 2007+ iMac or MacBook Pro, 2008+ MacBook Air, MacBook, or Mac Pro, and 2009+ for the Mac mini.
  • And as expected, available today. “Go out and get it” I’d love to, just as soon as the update appears.

Phil Schiller on to talk about the MacBook Pro:

  • The ‘MacBook Pro’ has been abandoned, Apple now only sell the Retina variant.
  • 13″ gets up to nine hours battery life. 15″ gets up to eight hours.
  • faster flash storage, more video RAM, 802.11ac WiFi, Thunderbolt.
  • All shipping from today.

Now on to the Mac Pro:

  • 4, 6, 8, or 12 core configurations available with the Intel Xeon e5.
  • up to 64GB of 1866MHz of RAM
  • up to 12GB of video RAM (with the dual AMD FirePro configuration)
  • Four USB 3 ports, six ThunderBolt 2 ports, and an HDMI port. With ThunderBolt you can have up to three 4K displays.
  • It really is amazingly small – I doubt it’s much bigger than the latest AirPort Time Capsule. It’ll blend in nicely on the top of a desk (where it’s really intended to be) and makes the same amount of noise as the Mac mini.
  • Ships in December, starting at $2,999.

Now onto iLife with Eddy Cue:

  • New versions of iMovie, iPhoto, and Garage Band for Mavericks and iOS.
  • 64 bit and iCloud compatible
  • you can now edit and order photo books with iLife on iPad
  • iMove Theater integrates with iCloud so you can see everything you’ve made in it on all devices, including Apple TV.
  • The iOS version of GarageBand now has a 16 track limit, up from 8, and 32 tracks on 64 bit devices. And, as you’d expect, everything is synced with iCloud.
  • GarageBand now has a Drummer feature – a virtual drummer that you can easiy modify to play along in a different way. Ships with one drummer, you can add 14 more and more instruments with a single in-app purchase.
  • All available today, and ships free with new Macs and iOS devices.

iWork:

  • 64 bit with redesigned UIs – including new icons.
  • It looks like Pages on Mac now allows you to view a document like in Word rather than some borderless monstrosity…. (Update: I just installed it, and you can easily zoom in and out, allowing the page to actually look like a page now) It also has a format panel on the right hand side – another welcome timesaving addition.
  • Numbers has interactive charts so you can watch a bar chart change, showing past figures to present.
  • Keynote has some new animations and transitions that look quite nice.
  • iWork documents can be instantly shared with iCloud to anyone you give the link to – they don’t need an iCloud account to view it. You can also collaboratively edit documents Google Drive style.
  • Available today, ships free on new Macs and iOS devices.

Tim takes the stage again, for the iPad. He starts off with looking back at initial press slating of the 1st generation iPad “I can’t see a need for the thing”, then revealing that the 170 millionth iPad was sold earlier this month. There are 475,000 apps specifically designed for iPad, and Apple claim that the iPad is used up to four times more than any other tablet, and ranks number one for customer satisfaction. Some source for these figures would be nice… Tim follows up the figures with a video that basically shows iPads everywhere – restaurants, fire trucks, operating rooms, ice rinks, DJs, business meetings, and a tent hung on the side of a mountain.

Anyway, what’s new:

A name… the new iPad isn’t the “new new iPad” or “iPad 5th generation”, it’s the iPad Air, replacing the 4th generation iPad in the way that the Retina MacBook Pro replaced the MacBook Pro.

  • 9.7″ retina display, 43% thinner bezel, 7.5mm thin, 1lb. In the advert it’s portrayed to be thinner than a pencil, so watch your back Kindle.
  • 64 bit A7 chip (same as the iPhone 5s)
  • 8x faster than the original iPad, with 72x faster graphics.
  • 5MP iSight camera with 1080p video and dual microphones.
  • up to 10 hours battery life
  • Available from November 1st, in silver/white and space gray/black starting at $499

iPad mini:

  • Now has retina display (2,048×1,536 – the same as iPad 3, 4, and Air)
  • 64 bit A7 chip, proving that it’s just a smaller form factor, not a budget device.
  • 10 hours battery life
  • Available “later in November” from $399

Tim closes with an advert for the iPad Air, and says goodbye.

A couple of closing thoughts:

So, the iPad 2 is the ‘cheaper past-gen option’ Apple offer, but only $100 less than the iPad Air. Given how much more advanced the iPad Air, even how much more advanced the 4th generation iPad is, I think Apple is really missing a trick charging so much for what is now so little – I think they should either drop the price for the iPad 2 a lot more to expand their consumer base, or offer a different past generation iPad as the cheaper alternative.

No new gadget, no iPod updates, and no Mac mini update – will there be another even this year? I doubt it, as that would be far too many events for one year. Perhaps we’ll see something new in January?

Straight to the Facts – Apple’s September Event


September in the world of the sieve formerly known as Apple has usually been reserved for their big music event with iPod updates. However, the iPhone release schedule became rather unconventional in the past few years, resulting in today instead being the announcement of the next iPhone, or rather, iPhones. Here’s my traditional bullet-point rundown with some analysis:

The typical facts-and-figures updates:

  • the 5th annual iTunes festival – 30 nights of music live streamed to over 100 countries
  • Stanford is getting a new, bigger Apple store
  • October 2013 will mark the 700,000,000th iOS device being shipped
  • iWork is apparently the best selling mobile productivity app on any platform. Quite an impressive claim.
  • Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, and iPhoto free on all new iOS devices
  • iPhone 5 was the best-selling iPhone ever

iOS 7 (free to download from September 18th) features:

  • Siri enhancements and a male voice for Siri
  • New ringtones
  • Photos taken on vacation/holiday are put in groups
  • Available for iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, iPad 2, The New iPad, iPad 4th generation, iPad Mini, 5th generation iPod touch.

The iPhone 5 will not be relegated to being the budget last-gen iPhone, instead, the new iPhone 5C fits that gap, available in white and rather neon green,  blue, pink, and yellow. On a table it’ll look like an iPhone 5 with a colorful bumper, and on the rear they’re rather reminiscent of the 5th generation iPod touch but constructed from seamless hard-coated polycarbonate (yes, plastic, but “feels dense”) instead. Features:

  • 4 inch Retina touch display
  • A6 chip
  • 8MP iSight camera and FaceTime HD camera with better low-light performance
  • many LTE bands supported, BlueTooth 4.0, and dual-band WiFi.
  • Available on a two year contract for $99 (16GB) and $199 (32GB). Pre-order from September 13th (yes, that’s a Friday). Available in stores on September 20th (US, UK, Aus., Can., Fr., Germany, Japan, China, and Singapore)

For a budget device, it’s got some really good specifications. I imagine the “$99 on contract for 16GB of storage” will result in a lot of sales. All the colors and case variations will be a hipster’s dream.

iPhone 5S – available in grey w/ black bars, gold w/ white bars, and silver w/ white bars. Derrick Avery will be pleased with that.

  • the new A7 chip, up to 2x faster than the iPhone 5, and 56 times faster than the 2008 iPhone. Here’s the best part – it’s 64-bit. All of Apple’s built-in apps have been re-engineered, and it’ll still run 32-bit iOS apps fine.
  • another chip – the M7. It measures motion data (accelerometer, gyroscope, compass) constantly.
  • Battery gives 10 hours for 3G talking , LTE browsing, WiFi browsing, or video playback,  40 hours of music playback, and 250 hours standby time.
  • The camera has a whole host of automatic new features to take great photos without you having to change settings. New ‘True Tone’ flash that has 1,000 unique variations for capturing color temperature. Burst mode (hold the shutter down) for up to 10 shots per second with the ‘best shot’ choice similar to on the HTC One series. Slo-Mo 720p video at 120fps (same resolution/fps as the GoPro). Seemingly no mention of the camera resolution.
  • Touch ID: Fingerprint sensor in the home button – rest your finger on it and it unlocks (no need to click). You can also use your finger for iTunes purchase authentication. For the paranoid out there, it doesn’t store your fingerprint data on iCloud
  • On a two year contract it’s $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB. $49 for a case. Available in stores September 20th (US, UK, Aus., Can., Fr., Germany, Japan, China, and Singapore)

The 8GB iPhone 4S is now free on contract.

The event closes with musical guest Elvis Costello, which I’m more than happy with.

Not really much of an event, to be honest. One musician and a brief mention of iTunes Radio, so clearly not a music event. Yes, the iPhone 5S was announced with arguably less improvement over the 5 than the 4S was over the 4 – depends on how developers take advantage of the A7. If you’re wondering why I called Apple a sieve, that’s because some technology journalists got their hands on the bodies of the 5S and 5C weeks ago, as well as the (still unconfirmed but now likely to be identical to leaks) iPad 5 and iPad mini 2. Overlooking the iPhone 4 prototype fiasco, leaks as concrete as these really didn’t happen in the past.

WWDC 2013 – keynote summary


(skim through and look for the bold/underlined headings for the products you’re interested in knowing about)

So, it opened with a slightly pretentious feeling video, although Apple can usually get away with that. Most of the time…

Anyway, Tim’s first large point is the typical sales update. “We made a video”. No surprise there. An Apple Store in Berlin with meander patterns and Ionic columns on the outside – a classical far cry from the glass buildings seen in other cities, although the interior is the usual bare stylishness. “Only Apple could do this”. Could or would? They’re certainly the only tech company who bother to put this much effort into physical outlets.

“More accounts with credit cards than any other store on the internet that we’re aware of.” That’s not the first time he’s said “that we’re aware of” today, and I’m sure Steve Jobs never threw doubts into people’s minds like that.

Quickly into a third party demo with Anki which looked cool although ran into a difficulty. I’d love to buy something like this, controlling real miniature vehicles with an iPhone – like Death Rally but in real life. This really doesn’t feel like a traditional Apple keynote.

Tim now moves on to Mac, looking at figures for MacBooks. Craig Federighi comes on stage making jokes about running out of cat names and then a joke about the next iteration of Mac OS being called OS X Sea Lion. The name turns out to be OS X Mavericks, named after this place. It’ll be released to consumers in Autumn, but now on to the features:

  • Finder tabs – perfect, much easier than using multiple windows
  • Tagging – adding tags to documents that can appear in the finder sidebar
  • Multiple Displays – it works the way multiple displays should do, works really well. You can even turn your Apple TV into a third monitor and still use your computer as normal.
  • Lots of OS performance changes to improve battery life, faster performance under load, and quicker wake from standby. App Nap balances how system resources are shared so that your battery doesn’t pay for what you aren’t currently using.
  • Improved notifications, even enabling push notifications from iOS to come through. Shows on lockscreen. On a related note,
  • Apps update in the background.

Now Safari, they’re making it “even better”. Well, that’s better than making it worse. Anyway:

  • continuously scroll through articles saved to your Reading List
  • browse shared links seamlessly from Twitter
  • Safari wins on SunSpider and JSBench comparisons
  • iCloud Keychain not only remembers your website logins across devices, but also your WiFi passwords. Also saves your credit card information, excluding the security code.

The Calendar:

  • Aware of location, travel time, weather. Flatter visuals and bland colours – he made a joke about skeuomorphics going
  • Continuous scrolling
  • Tells you travel information right in the calendar – notifies you when you need to leave to get to your appointment on time

Maps:

  • Flyover and other iOS style features
  • You can send directions from desktop maps instantly to your iPhone

iBooks:

  • On the Mac at long last – does everything the iOS iBooks does, including the night mode.
  • Textbooks work fantastically – pity hardly any educational outfits adopted it.

Phil Schiller now takes the stage to talk about the MacBook Air, with an entire new line, shipping from today:

  • New 4th generation Intel Haswell processors – 40% faster graphics and much better battery life. For example, 11 inch going from previous 5 hours battery to up to 9. 13 inch from 7 hours to 12 hours – “all day battery life”
  • 802.11ac WiFi (yes, that’s better than Wireless N) – on a related note, there’s a new AirPort Extreme Base Station that has a HDD inside so it can also act as a Time Capsule (hence the incredibly tall form-factor)
  • More storage for the same price as the last generation.

At long last, after only a slight silent improvement last year, the Mac Pro is finally getting a big update. This time round it even comes with a new design (it’s had the same basic design of the 2003 PowerMac G5). Unfortunately,It looks like a shiny black trash can. Same 12-core maximum, but newer Xeons. 1866MHz DDR3 RAM, Thunderbolt 2, PCIe Flash storage, dual AMD FirePro GPUs as default that can output to up to three 4K (that’s a lot better than 1080p HD) displays. The ports light up, it is tiny compared to the original Mac Pro, and assembled in the USA. Awkward but impressive form. This was only a sneak peek though – released later this year.

On to iCloud services:

  • Some facts and figures
  • iWork for iCloud – looks like it works in a web browser. Nothing new in comparison to Microsoft, but it works just as well.

Time for iOS 7 – it’ll run on iPhone 4+, iPad 2nd gen, iPad mini, 5th gen iPod touch, but some features run on only the current lineup. Consumer release in Autumn.

  • Figures such as 600 million iOS devices sold and 82 percent tablet market share for the iPad. Apple also claim to have the most very satisfied users – Windows Phone comes in second place.
  • “The biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone” – much like the iPhone 5 was the biggest change to iPhone since the original iPhone. “Amazing new features” and a “stunning new user interface”.
  • It looks extremely psychedelic and INCREDIBLY different. I’m hoping that it’s not quite as extreme as it looks due to pressure for Apple to change it as much as possible.
  • Pastel colours, WebOS style multi-tasking, wallpaper moves around, new icons, slide to the side to unlock lockscreen, round lockscreen numbers, multiple pages in folders, new notification center (also accessible on lock screen), slide up to get instant access to some settings, playback controls, and flashlight etc. shortcuts…. there’s really too much for me to list. Imagine everything you see on your iOS device at the moment. Now it’s ALL different. Well, App icons are in the same grid. But everything else is new.
  • I’ll just list some adjectives as the changes – flat. pastel Google-esque colours. transparency. fluid. more of a fullscreen sense. Blackberry OS 10 style sliding in mail, slower looking transitions, ghostly keyboard.
  • Craig says it’s like getting a new phone – I agree, as what you see is a major part of a phone’s user experience. I think this is going to take a lot of getting used to for people.

Here’s a few key iOS features in a formal style of listing:

  • Apps update intelligently and automatically
  • Card style interface for Safari tabs like on Chrome mobile but more of a rolodex swirl – also, the 8 tab limit is gone.
  • All apps can multitask and run typically used apps ready to go before you tap on them
  • Control Center works from within any app (for example, you can turn the flashlight on instantly)
  • live filters in the redesigned Camera app
  • Images in Photos are organized into ‘moments’
  • Siri has more human-like voice, can control parts of the system (such as change the brightness), and fills the whole screen in a cleaner interface.
  • Deals with 16 vehicle manufacturers such as Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Volvo, and Jaguar  to have iOS-linked displays in the car
  • App Store can show apps popular near you.
  • Music app has artist images, album grid instead of the now non-existent coverflow
  • iTunes Radio (starting in the US only) – free with ads, no ads if you have an iTunes Match account (at last, now I get more than consistent iTunes crashes for my £21.99 a year). Doesn’t seem as good as the Xbox Music Pass to be honest, but the ecosystem is wider-spread
  • Dismissing a notification on iOS dismisses it across all your devices

And that’s ‘it’ – new MacBook Air available now, OS X and iOS available in Autumn, Mac Pro available “later this year”.

UPDATE – if you want to see how iOS 7 looks like, you can visit Apple’s gallery here.

128GB iPad is a reality


A couple days back there were rumours of an upcoming iDevice having 128GB storage capabilities from info in a developer release of iOS 6.1. Today Apple confirmed that they will be producing a 128GB iDevice, and while it isn’t an iPhone as many were dreaming, it’s the retina iPad 4. Available for sale from the 5th February at $799 for WiFi and $929 for WiFi/cellular.

Also in recent Apple news was the release of iOS 6.1, most importantly broadening LTE compatability. I know iOS X.X releases aren’t accompanied with an Apple keynote, but with this iPad announcement Apple feels publicly more like Microsoft than Job’s Apple…

2012, the year of the new Apple


So, the first complete year of Apple without Steve Jobs at the helm in the 2000s has drawn to a close, though who knows when his legacy of influence will end behind the scenes. It’s been quite a revolutionary year, though there haven’t been any brand new product lines.

The most notable and widest spread product update is certainly the iPhone, I say widest spread because it is unbelievably popular and even those who aren’t Mac users own them – it’s a fully featured Apple product that the masses are interested in and can afford. For example, I could spend a day without seeing a single Mac, but I’d be hard pressed to walk one block without seeing an iPhone. Anyway, this year’s iPhone update was certainly the biggest physical update we’ve ever seen – it now has a 4″ screen, and it’s ever steadily getting faster, but on the whole it’s the normal amount of new features Apple brings out yearly.

One feature to spread across Apple’s portable range has been the inevitably controversial lightning connector. Another first since 2007, Apple made a change to the connector port on the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and iPod nano, said by Apple themselves to be “a bold move”. Smaller, reversible, and hopefully a lot less prone to connections issues with fraying cables, it threw the accessory industry up in arms as their 30-pin connector products were nearly made redundant. Apple released a 30-pin connector to lightning port adapter, but really, the height of the new iPhone and iPod touch combined with that adapter just won’t fit in those speaker systems with an enclosed iPhone space. It also seems there are more cases available for the iPhone 4/4S than for the iPhone 5, but I’m hoping that situation will improve over the coming months.

iTunes was updated with a massive visual overhaul, covered in slightly more detail here. My opinions on it are still mixed, as queuing music is fantastic but I do miss the control I had over the way I viewed my music collection.

In the Mac corner, we saw the majority of devices getting thinner and faster, with the new iMac and retina MacBook Pro. We’re still awaiting a retina MacBook Air, but is there really a need? The Mac Pro has been largely overlooked yet again, I can’t remember when I last saw it get an update in a keynote rather than a subtle enhancement. Year by year it does look as if Apple is trying to drop the Mac Pro, but as impressive as the iMac gets each year, you just can’t beat 12 cores and 64GB of RAM, which many media professionals use daily.

Elsewhere there was an update to the Apple TV introducing 1080p output for the same price of $99. Not to forget the iPad mini, a product anticipated almost since the day the original iPad was released. And then there’s the iPad… when Apple announced a fourth generation, I fit into the category of people who asked themselves “but didn’t they just release the third generation?”. Yes, in a move uncharacteristically like Apple, they updated a product within their usual 12 month rotation – perhaps compensating for the iPhone 4 not being updated for nearly a year and a half.

And finally, there’s iOS 6. Making the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Apple released their first version of iOS without Google’s products being an out-of-the-box component because their deal expired. Google released a YouTube app on the App Store fairly promptly, but only recently updated it to support the iPhone 5′s screen size. I’m sure you won’t forget the Maps fiasco, with Apple’s maps being ridiculed and sneered at. Google left Apple users without an alternative until only earlier this month with Google Maps finally making it onto the App Store. I can’t imagine what took them so long to produce it, maybe they chose the path of letting Apple embarrass themselves rather than play the role of the instant hero. Nevertheless, I feel Jobs’ declaration of thermonuclear war on Apple will prevail posthumously.

Oh, one last thing in the Apple headlines – Scott Forstall was forced to leave Apple. With Steve out of the picture, Tim and Jony saw a chance to remove Forstall and his skeuomorphic design tendencies. While the appearance of iOS is getting stale, I personally don’t dislike Notes looking like a legal pad and folders having a cloth background, but clearly others want it gone. It would be interesting if 2013 brings a completely re-designed iOS.

In the ever-busy Apple ‘rumor mill’ we exit the year with a potentially Intel-powered Apple watch, interesting since the latest iPod nano did away with the form factor that made it wearable on the wrist, and the never-faltering suggestion of an actual Apple TV; a screen, not just a box.

When I started this back in 2010, I had no idea what the coming years would hold. This year I’ve only had 1,800 views, but considering there were only 11 posts excluding this one, that’s not too bad. I will try to get back into reporting every bit of Apple news there is in 2013 rather than just the key pieces, so please stick around for more to come and have a Happy New Year! I won’t be going any time soon, as despite the ever-present lack of a large and loyal reader-base, running this has at least contributed to my writing improving, something which will hopefully be beneficial in a career.

iTunes 11 is (finally) released; would Steve Jobs have allowed the delay?


A late welcome, but welcoming nonetheless.

So, originally Apple promised iTunes 11 to us for a vague October release. The days passed slowly by, the eager among us waited patiently and expectantly, and then the release month was subtly pushed back to November by Apple. And then the days of November slowly passed by, and it was still looking uncertain. With one and a half days left, I was starting to get less and less optimistic. Then 6PM GMT, Apple’s typical software launch time, passed, and I gave up hope for the night. But then I checked again, just being curious, and there it was. Perhaps it wasn’t 6PM because of daylight savings, I’m not sure, but nonetheless, it was a very delayed release.

Tim Cook has definitely been getting a lot of flak about how he’s running Apple. iOS Maps didn’t go down too well, so perhaps that was a motive behind delaying iTunes 11 until they determined that it was as polished as possible. But I don’t recall Steve delaying products. Remember Ping? Well, it wasn’t much of a success, but we still got it. Remember MobileMe, the precursor to iCloud? Well, that was infamously rather a shambles, but we still got it.

Anyway, enough complaining about the delays, we’ve got it now and that’s what matters. What’s new? A lot. The UI looks really minimalistic and clean, and the overall feel, as a Windows user, feels a lot more like something straight from Mac OS, as iTunes never really felt like it looked 100% Mac OS native to me, despite obviously being so. Oh, also, the icon’s changed again and I’m sure we all remember the uproar that occurred last time that happened  It looks okay in a medium scale, that is, I dislike the desktop icon appearance and the taskbar appearance, but the size on the start menu looks nice. Perhaps it’ll grown on me though.

October Apple Event


Rather unusually, Apple not only hosted their traditional September music event, but also an October event. Anyway, onto the key points:

Statistics – the usual stuff, unbelievably high figures:

  • 125 million documents in iCloud
  • 300 billion iMessages sent
  • 35 billion app downloads
  • $6.5bn in payouts to 3rd party developers
  • 1.5m iBooks with 400m downloads

Now that the lonely statistics are out of the way, time for the new items:

new iBooks:

  • Now has Japanese, Chinese, and Korean
  • Continuous scrolling
  • Better sharing capability and better iCloud functionality
  • Night and sepia modes

new Retina 13″ MacBook Pro

  • Similar to the 15″ update a while back, this now has retina display
  • Ivy Bridge, lots of bits crammed inside to the thinner body
  • up to 768GB flash storage space
  • 7 hour battery life
  • Starts at $1699 for a 2.5GHz dual core i5, 8GB RAM and 128GB flash storage.
  • Oh yeah, no optical drive
  • ‘Power Nap’ – the skeuomorphics are clearly invading their names as well as design… it can update contacts, mac app store app updates, iCloud documents, mail, Time Machine backup etc. while in sleep

Apple are still continuing the non-Retina MacBook Pros, and there doesn’t seem to be an update to the Air

A new Mac Mini. Seems to me like it’s been a long time since Apple last updated it:

  • up to 16GB RAM
  • dual or quad core Ivy Bridge i5/i7
  • $599 for base edition, $999 for server edition

New iMac. This is turning out to be quite a lot of updates being gone through in a brief period of time…

  • It looks pretty insane. The design looks quite like the size of my monitor, really thin at the edges but rather large in the centre. Although of course this isn’t just a monitor, it’s also got a computer inside it, so it’s to be expected.
  • the edge is 80% thinner than before
  • the display is laminated to the glass, similar to the iPhone. Means less reflection and the picture looks better.
  • Nvidia Kepler graphics
  • quad core ivy Bridge i5/i7
  • up to 3TB of usual storage, 768GB maximum flash storage.
  • You could opt for Fusion Drive, which gets you an Imac with one storage drive combined of 1TB/3TB mechanical HDD and a 128GB flash drive. This means your most frequently used apps get automatically moved onto the flash storage (for speed).
  • Again, the optical drive has vanished.
  • Standard amount of RAM seems to be 8GB, which is pretty good. 21.5″ starts at $1299 with 2.7GHz quad core i5, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GT 640M, 1TB HDD. 27″ starts at $1799 for 2.9GHz quad core i5, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 660M, 1TB HDD.

iPad time. Probably the main thing everybody’s been anticipating. 100 million iPads sold in total, 91% of tablet web traffic is people using iPads. The usual spiel about the iPad being used in education. You’d get the impression that iPads are only used by schools, businesses, hospitals…

New version of iBooks Author (what people use to create textbooks for iBooks). Publishers can use their own fonts, update books OTA, directly insert mathematical expressions, insert multi-touch widgets for even greater functionality.

I do find it slightly odd that their latest generation is always their fstest selling with everything…

4th generation iPad (seems like only yesterday we got the 3rd generation):

  • Apple A6X chip
  • Lightning connector
  • expanded LTE and 2x faster WiFi
  • 16GB WiFi model starts at $499, 16GB WiFi+cellular starts at $629

7 inch iPad, the ‘iPad mini’. Really, it just looks like somebody stretched the new iPod touch horizontally and made it a bit bigger.

  • dual core A5 chip
  • FaceTime HD camera on the front
  • 5MP iSight camera on the rear
  • 10 hours battery life
  • WiFi and LTE
  • Lightning connector
  • ‘as light as a pad of paper’
  • 1024×768 resolution
  • runs all the same 270,000 iPad-specific apps
  • apparently were all going to love doing everything on the iPad mini
  • new Smart Cover
  • while I’m not a fan of the iPad mini, at least Apple managed to do a small tablet right unlike all the others. Really, the bezels on other tablets are ridiculously big and they’re all tacky plastic. Although unless you are gripping it round the edges as suggested and instead having your thumbs all over the front in the way you would on the regular iPad, you’ll be blocking part of the screen.

Current base iPad lineup prices are:

  • iPad mini: – $329
  • iPad 2 – $399
  • Retina iPad – $499

the 16GB Nexus 7 is $249, so an Apple product of the same form factor and storage for $329 isn’t too bad.

aaaaaand… that’s all. Strangely no update on iTunes 11 launch date, which is a shame.

An idea for how apps should be purchased


Just spit-balling here, but it’s an idea nonetheless.

Yes, I acknowledge that there is a vast amount of people who own a smartphone because the phone store sales rep persuaded them to get one instead of a ‘dumbphone’ so don’t really use the ‘smart’ feature of the phones much, but, there is also a large proportion of people who use their phones to their fullest extent.

My idea started off with the frustrations of switching mobile platforms. Admittedly I change my phone significantly more frequently than most people, but the majority do still change their phone, say, when their 24 month contract has ended. They won’t necessarily stay with the same platform. Yet they’ve invested potentially hundreds of dollars into apps. And now they have to buy them all again on a different platform.

Before you point out what you think is a flaw, yes, if you buy a PS3 game you shouldn’t then get the Xbox 360 version for free. But I think mobile apps are different. For starters, they’re at a much lower price point.

Here’s the idea:

  • All apps are free. As in, on the app store/ marketplace/Play store etc, all the apps are listed as free to download. In fact, while I’m thinking about it, let’s also throw in a Windows Phone style incorporated trial version into the apps if the developer so pleases so that you can try basic functionality before unlocking the entire app.
  • The user pays for access to the app by using an account – this is the only flaw, a universal account would be needed (or you’d have an account with every single developer – not so manageable if you have a lot of apps)
  • To appease the platform providers (Apple, Google etc.), the yearly subscription is bought via an in-app purchase, so the platform provider still gets their 30% or so.

As I said, just an idea, but it’s an interesting one. Many companies are trying to push for ‘universal’ accounts, such as Facebook commenting on many websites, Google account commenting on some websites, using your Apple ID to purchase Macs, iPhones, iBooks, movies, TV, music etc. so perhaps this idea could be even more realistic once the battle of universal accounts has been won. I may have confused myself with the account explanation and therefore you as well, so let me clarify: You would pay for the in-app purchase subscription using your Apple ID or Google wallet etc., the current payment system on the platform in question. But to authenticate that you already have a subscription, you would need to prove that somehow on the second platform, thus needing a cross-platform account of some sort. Unless Apple and Google played nice of course… but that’s never going to happen.

Personally, I think I’d be happier with this system of payment. If you like an app, you get to reward the developer on a yearly basis rather than a one-off (of course the subscription price wouldn’t be as high as the current prices to buy apps are so as to be more appealing). Personally, I don’t see any flaws with this purchase model, but do you? If so, please feel free to offer “your two cents” in the comments below.

A disappointing Apple event?


I, like many, have been anticipating this event for a while – wondering if Apple was going to make foolish moves with timing, what they were going to release in their traditional Music month, and whether or not the various leaks and rumors were true.

However, I feel a bit dissapointed with the results. I’ll run through the products in order:

iPhone 5:

  • Thinner than my current phone the HTC One S (HTC’s thinnest device), but not as thin as the upcoming Huawei Ascend P1s. Maybe Apple wanted to rush out the iPhone 5 with the ‘thinnest smartphone’ title while it was merely a dubious claim rather than untrue.
  • At long last a wider screen, up from 3.5″ to 4″. However, they didn’t appear to do the smart thing of keeping the aspect ratio the same so as to not annoy developers again (as they had done in the past with the iPad screen size and then retina display). From what it looks, normal iPhone/iPod apps will sit in the centre of the screen. Which, speaking from the point of view of someone with a 4.3″ phone display, which suffers from the lack of a physical menu button, I have to have a significant amount of my screen space wasted for a virtual menu. At least that space is used for something though rather than Apple’s empty space
  • A better camera. Yeah, yeah, another incrementally better camera. Still 8MP, but better low light performance and noise reduction, with some impressive demonstration shots. I challenge anyone with the phone to take photos that looks that good.
  • The design has been updated in that it’s got those previously seen matt bars across it on the back
  • A new power connector – ‘lightning’ (don’t worry, they make a 30-pin to lightning adapter, though I don’t see the practicality of the adapter when it comes to accessories such as speaker systems with an enclosed iPhone area that now won’t be tall enough due to a) the adapter and b) the new height of the iPhone.

iTunes:

  • Rather a Zune-style re-design. I doubt it’ll become more usable or bloated, probably less usable and more bloated
  • The mobile iTunes and App Store apps have been updated to have the currently popular matt black style and a slightly clearer yet bulkier App description page view

iPod Nano:

  • Now looks suspiciously like the Zunes of yesteryear, seems more like a childish micro-iPod touch, with a plethora of gaudy colours to choose from
  • Has a bigger touchscreen and iDevice style home button (but is a circle in a circle instead of a square in a circle)
  • Same lightning connector
  • Defeats the whole point of ‘nano’, a word synonymous with very small. This is no longer very small. Admittedly some past generations of Nano weren’t that small either, but they do enjoy fluctuating between form factor with the Nano… perhaps we’ll see a nano Nano next year…

iPod touch:

  • Thinner than before. What a surprise, I thought they’d make it thicker. Oh, wait, no I didn’t, because that would be un-innovative and unappealing.
  • Has a 5MP camera and looks like it has a flash
  • As usual, not comparable to the current iPhone. Or even the 4S for that matter. Still, an improvement.
  • Aren’t you lucky, they just made the iPod touch as childish as the Nano – you can pick cyan or banana yellow if you really want to!

Earphones:

  • Eventually a new earphone design. Personally, I’ve never had any shape issues with the previous earbuds, but now you can have EarPods. And we all thought iPad was a ridiculous name back in 2010
  • Hopefully the sound quality won’t be as weedy as before and perhaps the cable will last a little longer.

So I don’t know what I was expecting, but I haven’t been particularly excited by this product announcement. Maybe it’s because iOS is not much different to how it was in 2007. After all, I wouldn’t be impressed by a supercomputer if I had to run Windows 98 on it rather than something a bit more up-to-date. An iPhone was inevitable and given that it’s September, new iPods were inevitable along with iTunes. So nothing really exciting, just timely updates. All in all, this video rather sums up the iPhone 5.