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.

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.

The new YouTube app


As you may know, last month Apple stated that their license with Google to include the YouTube app pre-installed on iOS devices has ended. What does this mean for you? Well, if you have an iOS device, you can get the new YouTube app from the app store right now. After installing it, you’ll notice it’s slightly different to the Android app with the main feed – you can opt out of Google’s non-subscription based suggestions. That is, you can stick with just seeing uploads from people you subscribe to in your main stream, rather than also see what they comment on, what they rate, and what they add to playlists. Personally, I welcome  this for two reasons; one being that with YouTube preloading on Android bumps subscribed uploads off the list in preference for newer activity which is just someone commenting on a video, and secondly, the entire activity list resulted in browsing through a lengthy stream of potentially uninteresting material.

The animations also feel a bit slicker than the Android ones in that it bounces a bit rather than just sliding to the side, resulting in the new iOS app feeling more polished and thought-out than the Android one.

iOS 5 – first impressions


Strangely, the iCloud side of things seem to be my favorite features. I’m sure I would be a huge fan of the previous purchases IF us unfortunate people in the UK could actually access our past TV shows (will we ever be able to??).

So, 5GB of free iCloud space, a free me.com email address and awesome synchronising. It would be nice if all my calendar events now didn’t occur three times for every occurrence, but iCloud seems to have been to keen to merge all my already-linked calendars.

Anyway, being able to download one app update at the same time as another app update is installing is an awesome timesaver and the notifications area is fairly cool. It does feel a lot more slick, but guess what? Not a fan of newsstand. I though I would be, but all it seems to be is a homescreen folder that just has bookshelves instead, specifically for magazine/newspaper apps.  Overall, not as impressed as I though I would be, but my first impressions could have been tinted by the nine hours of hell needing to be justified by something that would need to be little short of 100%-awesome, which did not happen. Instead, it was something 100%-meh,-it’s-got-some-cool-features-but-I-could-probably-live-without-this.-Though-iCloud-is-pretty-neat.

iOS 5 updating hell


(UPDATED as of 9:23AM GMT with ‘conclusion’)

yes, it’s that time of year again. I’ll write this from the present perspective.

so, it’s 10:44PM GMT. I, like many others, had been expecting iOS 5 to be released around 6PM GMT. It was released (aprox.) 6:10GMT. I instantly tried to update, first running into a similar issue as I had done late last night with the iTunes 10.5 update, but it quickly sorted itself (unlike iTunes). 200MB into the download, the internet connection died. So, I tried again. Just under an hour ago it had finally finished downloading (it took ages).

The first thing I saw was along the lines of “iTunes failed to backup this iPod, will wipe now”. I thought “fine, I wiped it two or so weeks ago anyway, so I won’t lose anything important”. However, it wanted to ‘restore’ (to be honest Apple, what you class a ‘restoring’ is FAR from the real definition) it. And, just as had happened when I was un-jailbreaking it trying to update to 4.3.5, it failed to ‘restore’ it.

I had actually encountered this “failed to backup” message twice before in the last few days, but thought nothing of it as it worked the next time. Who knows, maybe if it had been a successful backup rather than third time unlucky, there’d be no issue.

So, what am I doing now? Waiting ages for the 32-bit version of the standalone iTunes setup to finish downloading. Why? Well, the tower PC failed to work, so I had to switch to a second rather unused computer. Which a) doesn’t have the latest version of iTunes and b) is unbearable to use. But why the standalone installer? Apple Software Update is only showing quicktime and safari. and despite iTunes saying 10.5 is available, it seems to be a repeat of last night’s non-existent update.

Once that finishes, what will I have to do? I have no idea. I guess I should wiipe the iPod beforehand, as there’s nowhere near enough space on the second computer’s HDD to back it up. Then, I’ll have to wait another 3 1/2 hours for the iOS 5 update to download again. With Apple, the fun never ends…

As a side note, do you know how easy it was to update to Windows Phone 7.5, even when my phone wasn’t yet ‘cleared’ for the update yet? Incredibly simple. No wiping, no restoring, just trick it into thinking my phone can have it right then, download it, wait a bit, done.

UPDATE:

So, I waited another three and a half hours for the update to download again. Then, it gets halfway through the restore progress (it really shouldn’t be restoring anyway) and says no more disk space on C: to restore the iPod. Not specifically Apple’s fault (this time), but it would have been nice if it could have told me BEFORE I wasted 3 1/2 hours.

I have never been a ‘fan’ of the shift-click on update or restore to select an ipsw file, solely because it had never worked for me (always said it was invalid, even when downloaded from Apple). So, I faced a few options. Re-partition the hard drive (would take hours as would have to shift 30GB+ to the left) and try again (re-downloading the file a third time in total, so yet more time taken), boot into XP (larger partition size with more free space) (tried this, but internet wouldn’t work in XP) or, shift-click.

I decided to go for shift-click. So, I located the ipsw in the AppData>Roaming etc. folder and copied it to the desktop. Then, I removed all large files from the iPod. eventually, I was ready. I held shift and left clicked on ‘update’, then selected the ipsw. It went smoothly at first, but then came up with an error (I think it was 3002? I definitely saw 3002 last night and I think this was the occasion). I really couldn’t be asked to try again, so I just did shift-click restore (already had a backup of the iPod on the computer that refuses to do iOS updates for some obscure reason). At last. After NINE hours of constant issues, I had finally managed to update to iOS 5. I waited for it to update, and once it came to the ‘Set up new iPod’ screen in iTunes, I unplugged it and plugged it back into the syncing computer, managing to restore the backup onto it. So, thanks a bunch Apple for a ‘fun filled’ evening, night and early morning. Unbelievable.

My opinion on Google Music


Mainly, I don’t really see me having a use for it. I listen to my music on three devices, my HTC Touch Pro2 (phone and pocket computer, also only thing with ‘reliable’ internet access), my iPod Touch (holds my whole library from it’s state in 2009, but can’t sync so it’s an outdated collection) and my laptop (internal HDD is only 40GB, so almost all music is stored across two external 500GB drives, but the laptop never moves so portability isn’t an issue). My iPod says “431 Songs”. In total, I probably have around 550. When out and about, I use my phone for music as one of it’s few good features is it has dual speakers with amazing quality (whereas the iPod isn’t powerful or particularly crisp when outside). Okay, I guess that could be seen as the perfect opportunity for Google Music. I only have about 30 songs on my phone’s storage card, so it’s hardly convenient to listen too music of my choosing. My laptop is my music ‘hub’. All music is on it, but it goes nowhere. This would seem to set the perfect scene for a Google Music usage opportunity. However, my main issue is internet. I don’t really have an Internet connection. Well, it’s on and off. Mostly off (long story). Pretty much all tweeting, blogging, e-mailing, browsing, IRCing etc. is done on my phone. I do sometimes tether my phone to my laptop, but that ends up somehow burning through at least 100MB in two hours. Carriers in the UK don’t quite understand the idea of ‘unlimited’ or ‘fair’. 500MB a month isn’t good enough for any phone made after 2008 (approximately). Or maybe it’s just that I in particular need to access everything online via it. Well, imagine if your data cap on your broadband was 500MB a month. You probably wouldn’t cope. I’m not getting at anyone here, or trying to make you feel I’m hard done by. I am trying to switch to the 3 network, who while not being famous for coverage, would appear to offer truly unlimited data. So, when I’m on the go, I can’t just stream my music due to the data cap. Oh, and nothing that’s fancy online works on Windows Mobile. So, I’d have to tether my iPod to my phone and use that for streaming. Which means no awesome speakers. And it means my phone would have to be switched on permanently (if I turn the screen off, wifi goes off, so tethering stops). The battery, to put it bluntly, doesn’t last long.

Maybe it’s just my specific situation that makes me dislike it. I suppose I see an ‘end’, there’s just no means (as in a means to an end. Google Music would be the solution to my slight music problem). If I lived in America with slightly nicer carriers, and if I had an array of devices that weren’t a) knackered b) incompatible and c) outdated, maybe I would use it.

I guess part of my ‘beef’ with it is that it’s Google. They do search. And adverts to monetize the search. And email to also increase ad revenues. And maps to provide a feature-full platform… Okay, maybe they don’t just do search. But Music? They killed newspapers (allegedly). Apple killed the singles with iTunes. That is a pity. I like having the thing physically. A film on DVD always feels more worth it than if it was purchased of iTunes. Same with books and music. But, digital does have a great benefit. Portability.
If it was Amazon Music, I probably wouldn’t oppose it as much. Google do seem to be trying to improve everybody’s lives in every possible way. But remember, they’re a 14 year old search engine.

iPhone knows where you’ve been…


As probably everyone with a twitter account knows (from probably at least two of the people you follow), it has been discovered that the iPhone tracks and logs all locations it has been to. The map shown by the first person to write about this story shows dots over the map, but I would have thought they would be lines  unless the iPhone jumped from one location to another. Anyway, apparently it applies to devices running iOS 4 that have GPS of some sort in it, so that means the iPhone and the 3G iPad. All the data seems to just be stored on the phone and on backups, but this is still rather worrying.

Double App review: VLC and FileApp Pro


VLC

Publisher: Applidium
Price: Free
Availability: Still available. Apparently Apple aren’t to pleased though. Pulled

The ‘Videos’ app and most other media apps can only play MP4 videos. The VLC program for computers can pretty much handle any format, and the app isn’t too different. While having a very minimalist interface, it does the job. Most of the time.Most .avi videos I’ve made it play have played seamlessly. You know, videos like Diggnation. Some other videos I try don’t play so well. The frame rate drops massively and is unbearable. It doesn’t seem to be able to play audio alone either.The user interface is okay, but still rather awkward. I’m guessing this is because the videos aren’t mp4, so Apple’s video GUI doesn’t work. This is a pain, as you are therefore stuck with a massive scrubbing circle (with only one speed). However, one handy feature is that it remembers for far you are through the video after you press done.

FileApp Pro

Publisher: DigiDNA
 Price: £2.99
Availablity: Available, free version also available.

Now, FileApp Pro isn’t just for videos. Nor is it just for audio. It’s for all kinds of stuff! Images, MP4 videos, PDFs, zips, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Unfortunately it can only read those file types, but you can create and edit .txt documents. For 59p you’re hardly going to get an office suite, are you? And of course, videos play with Apple’s standard controls, but doesn’t save your progress through the video.Of course, if you want to transfer files from your computer, you can use WiFi (normally slow and not very reliable), iTunes (seriously slow on normal computers), or, for just $10 and a ridiculously mad-but-cool-in-a-way registration system, you can use DiskAid (free 14 day trial before you pay – if you want to keep using it). USB file transfer has never been easier. And it doesn’t only manage file transfer for FileApp! No, it does it for VLC and several download managers! With using FileApp, I haven’t had to load iTunes for the last sixth months.

VLC Publisher: Applidium
Price: Free
Availability: Still available. Apparently Apple aren’t to pleased though.
The ‘Videos’ app and most other media apps can only play MP4 videos. The VLC program for computers can pretty much handle any format, and the app isn’t too different. While having a very minimalist interface, it does the job. Most of the time. Most .avi videos I’ve made it play have played seamlessly. You know, TV shows, Diggnation (all legally obtained, of course). Some other videos I try don’t play so well. The frame rate drops massively and is unbearable. It doesn’t seem to be able to play audio alone either. The user interface is okay, but still rather awkward. I’m guessing this is because the videos aren’t mp4, so Apple’s video GUI doesn’t work. This is a pain, as you are therefore stuck with a massive scrubbing circle (with only one speed). However, one handy feature is that it remembers for far you are through the video after you press done.   FileApp Pro Publisher: DigiDNA Price: £0.59 Availablity: Available, free version also available. Now, FileApp Pro isn’t just for videos. Nor is it just for audio. It’s for all kinds of stuff! Images, MP4 videos, PDFs, zips, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Unfortunately it can only read those file types, but you can create and edit .txt documents. For 59p you’re hardly going to get an office suite, are you? And of course, videos play with Apple’s standard controls, but doesn’t save your progress through the video. Of course, if you want to transfer files from your computer, you can use WiFi (normally slow and not very reliable), iTunes (seriously slow on normal computers), or, for just $10 and a ridiculously mad-but-cool-in-a-way registration system, you can use DiskAid (free 14 day trial before you pay – if you want to keep using it). USB file transfer has never been easier. And it doesn’t only manage file transfer for FileApp! No, it does it for VLC and several download managers! With using FileApp, I haven’t had to load iTunes for the last three months.

Why do we put up with it?


They make some amazing hardware, however, software/firmware? Not so good, and never really has been. Got an iPod? /probably. Got a computer? Even more likely. Is it a Mac? Less likely. If your computer has average/below average, you have been sharing the hell I have been (trying)to endure. You will know how painfully slow iTunes is on Windows, yet with OS X on a machine with the same specifications, it is very responsive and instantaneous. Is this just Apple ‘screwing Windows users over’? It does look like a big marketing ploy to get people to buy a Mac instead. Maybe it is, but I’ll leave that for you to decide in the comments.

I keep getting problems with my iPod, problems that I am not the only one to suffer from, and I can only imagine the problems people probably get with Macs. For example, the Photo Library never ending ‘Rebuilding Database’ (it just crashes after a bit), podcast time getting reset to –:– resulting in no audio navigation, apps disappearing from the home screen, music removing itself, music duplicating itself, albums splitting into several parts across the library, Safari constantly visually messing up… the list could go on. I gave up using iTunes to manage my iPod since iTunes 9.2 was released (see more in the upcoming ‘Avoiding iTunes’ post) apart from to update to iOS 4.0. I have downloaded podcasts and music on the iPod itself and watched other items (such as Revision3 shows and Apple Keynotes that fail to download in (mobile) iTunes) by copying the to FileApp or the VLC app. This is not the way Apple intended it to be, and people wouldn’t deviate from the Apple’s chosen path if the software worked. But it doesn’t so people jailbreak and hack to make their Apple experience better.