iOS 6 is now officially available for downloading to your favourite iOS device, and for the most part it’s a worthy upgrade to Apple’s mobile operating system.
I’m still a little peeved by the elimination of the Google-powered Maps app, especially the super-convenient Street View option which, for now, remains a Google exclusive.
But what Apple takes away on the one hand, they also give with the other. Case in point: Inserting photos and videos into emails.
In past revisions of iOS, adding a photo or video to an email required you to know that you wanted to include one first – before composing your message. You needed to start in the Photos app, and then select the appropriate photos or video from your collection and then choose to share them via email.
The files would “fly” into a new email window and you could begin the somewhat tedious task of trying to arrange your text around these inline elements.
It wasn’t a bad system if all you wanted was to blast off a few pics to a friend, but if you actually wanted to describe a situation using multiple photos, with text in between, it lacked the kind of flexibility that other email systems offer.
But with iOS 6, all this has changed – and for the better.
Now, when you want to include photos or video, you don’t have to pre-plan.
Simply start composing a new email, then, when you get to the spot where you want to insert your file, simply tap-and-hold on the screen – the same way you would if you were going to copy/paste some text, and look at the dialog box that pops up.
You’ll notice that there is a small arrow to the right of the displayed options. Tap that arrow once, and you’ll see the brand new “Insert Photo or Video” option.
Tapping it takes you straight to your Photos app, where you can select your item (just one – no multi-select is available). Once chosen, the item gets dropped into your message, exactly where you tapped.
Today, Apple unveiled what will no doubt be its bread-and-butter products for the all-important holiday season and into 2013: an all-new iPhone 5 and revamped versions of the iPod nano and iPod Touch.
Thanks to the many leaked photos and generally accurate rumours, the iPhone 5 introduced by Phil Schiller and Tim Cook was almost exactly what we were expecting: A thinner, lighter, faster, taller and LTE-enabled smartphone. About the only feature that didn’t make it from rumour-mill to reality was the inclusion of NFC (Near Field Communication) which would have enabled the contactless-payment scheme that is currently being pursued by Google and others. For an explanation on why Apple left this and wireless charging out, see this interview with Phil Schiller.
In typical Apple fashion, the new iPhone has given potential buyers just enough to feel that it’s a worthy upgrade over devices that are now two generations old, yet not so much innovation that iPhone 4S owners will be left weeping over their now-obsolete cellphone. I call it the “leap-frog” approach to Apple’s product marketing and so far, it has held true for every new version of the iPhone.
But many argue that especially in today’s super-heated competitive market, “just enough” just isn’t enough. Samsung, Nokia, HTC and others have all made enormous leaps of their own, with many bringing features to the smartphone game that eclipse what Apple has offered. The big question is: Can the iPhone 5 compete against the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S III, Nokia Lumia 920 and HTC One X?
My take on this is unchanged from yesterday. While Apple’s Android and Windows 8 Mobile-based competitors are giving consumers more choice than ever, Apple’s formula is still rock-solid. If you are an existing Apple iPhone user – and millions of you are – the iPhone 5 is a logical and satisfying upgrade. Here’s why:
- You get a larger screen without needing to carry a device that feels chunkier. Thanks to Apple’s decision to preserve the iPhone 4’s width, while shrinking the thickness down to an impressively thin 7.6mm, the iPhone 5 will look and behave like a larger phone without feeling like one
- With LTE on-board, the iPhone 5 is now just as fast – perhaps even faster – than any other 4G/LTE handset on the market
- Improvements to the two cameras means that the iPhone 5 maintains its position as arguably the best mobile phone for taking photos and video
- None of these improvements will hurt battery life. In fact, if you have an older iPhone, it might be a bit better
- Improvements to the primary CPU – now an A6 chip – will make the iPhone 5 feel downright zippy
- Price: Starting at $199 for the 16GB model (on contract) means that it costs no more to get a brand new iPhone than it did two or even three years ago if it’s time to renew.
If you aren’t already an iPhone user, these features make a good argument for becoming one. But not an airtight argument. As Reuters has pointed out, the iPhone 5 is impressive in many ways, yet lacks a “wow” factor. Unlike the iPhone 4 with its dazzling Retina display, or the 4S, which brought Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” Siri to life, the latest iPhone is an attempt to prove that if you take an already successful phone and optimize every aspect of it, you have a compelling new product. For some, that attempt may seem lacking.
Meanwhile, if you feel that bigger is better when it comes to screen size, there are several Android-based models that offer larger views of your content, the web, etc. They may not have a higher resolution than the iPhone, but sometimes there’s no substitute for square inches. Likewise, if you think a smartphone ought to come with a stylus for taking notes, interacting with the screen and getting finer control for tasks like painting/drawing, the Samsung Galaxy Note which appeared earlier this year, is still a great choice.
In addition to the iPhone 5, Apple also updated two of their iPod models. New for 2012 are the iPod Touch, which benefits from many hand-me down iPhone technologies such as a larger screen, thinner body, better cameras and a faster chip, while the biggest surprise of the day went to the new iPod nano which has actually gone up in size.
Apparently the diminutive square design of the previous nano didn’t work out as well as Apple had hoped, and proving once again that they’re prepared to get rid of something that isn’t working, they have re-imagined the nano as a larger, multi-touch device that once again has the ability to play video – a feature that was dropped in the last generation. Also new to the nano is Bluetooth – something that fitness-addicts have been begging for in order to free themselves from the inevitable tangle that results from working out with wired earbuds.
Yet while Blutooth is great for the gym, so was the built-in clip that the older generation included, but that feature has been axed, sending future iPod nano owners back to third-party accessories if they want to keep their music players within easy reach.
I think the decision to reformulate the iPod nano is a good one. They’ve given the popular media player some great new (er, old) features. But best of all is the price: unchanged at $149, which by the way, is for a 16GB model – the only memory option now for the nano.
And while I’m equally excited to see the iPod Touch pick up some very welcome improvements – especially the camera, which now has an LED flash and 5MP sensor – the price point is a big disappointment. Gone are the 8GB and 16GB options and gone too is the $199 entry-point price. Instead, the cheapest redesigned iPod Touch now starts at a heart-stopping $299 for 32GB.
Yes, they did drop the price on the older, 4th gen iPod Touch 16GB to $199, and yes, the new model gets Siri (the first WiFi-only device to do so) but that’s cold-comfort for those who have been waiting for a new iPod Touch redesign.
$299 is simply too high a price for a product that has become the go-to alternative to portable game systems like the Nintendo DSi/3DS or Sony PS Vita, both of which sell for less than the new iPod Touch. Even $249 would have been easier to swallow.
I would have preferred that Apple have discontinued the older iPod Touch completely, and offer up a 16GB (new) iPod Touch for $199 rather than this two-model, two-price points strategy.
Okay readers, that’s my take. What do you make of all of the Apple hoopla from today’s event? Excited for the new gadgets or feeling a little let down?
- Superb audio performance
- Snappy performance
- Big, 4.3″ multi-touch screen
- Micro-HDMI out
- SenseMe Channels
- FM Radio
- Huge/thick/heavy form factor
- No cameras
- Compass mode is quirky
- External speakers only so-so
- If you’re looking for a full-fledged Android device that can handle movies, music and photos and don’t mind the lack of on-board cameras, the Sony Walkman Z1000 Series is an attractive device with great sound, but you can find more features in a smaller package for less money elsewhere.
The Sony Walkman has been a presence on the personal audio scene ever since Sony invented the category back in the late 1970s. Since then, the line of portable music (and more recently media) players has evolved continuously to keep pace with an industry that has seen more convergence than any other in recent memory. And while Apple’s iPod line of devices changed the rules of the game just over a decade ago, Sony has never given up – reinventing the Walkman at each stage to offer buyers an alternative to Apple’s juggernaut with all the hallmarks of the Sony brand: solid industrial design and audio performance.
But Apple is a tough competitor, and when they launched the iPod Touch hot on the heels of their runaway success iPhone, it became clear that the notion of a digital music player being a one-trick pony was antiquated to say the least. A new paradigm had been created – one where music, photos and video were but three elements in a vast sea of portable-computing options.
And yet, seemingly caught unprepared, Sony stuck to the basics and continued to pump out respectable, if somewhat uninspired media players. Not that they had much choice. In fact, until Google released Android, there was little any manufacturer could do to keep up with the iOS tsunami.
But there were a few bright spots for Sony’s Walkman. 2008’s NWZ-S Series introduced one of the best noise-cancelling systems available without needing to spend $350 on a set of Bose headphones. It also marked the addition of “SensMe” Channels – a proprietary way of organizing your music into mood-based categories – an innovation which has yet to be improved upon. Nearly 4 years later, the NWZ-S Series is still my music player of choice.
There were some “what were they thinking?” moments too: They ditched the SensMe system on future models of the Walkman and the ill-conceived and over-priced X Series proved that just because you add Wi-Fi, a touchscreen and a browser to a media player does not mean it will be appealing or successful.
Learning from both of these lessons, Sony is back for another kick at the portable media player can.
This time out, they’ve kept the good: Brought back SensMe, solid sound performance; and dropped the bad: the tiny screen, awful browser of the X Series have now been replaced by a full if not perfect implementation of Google’s Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) mobile operating system.
The result is a device that launches the Walkman brand into portable-computing territory without giving up the audio credentials that have been the Walkman’s hallmarks since the beginning.
Unfortunately for Walkman fans, this evolution isn’t without its trade-offs.
In creating the NWZ-Z1000, Sony has directly targeted Apple’s iPod Touch. The comparison is unavoidable given the capabilities of each device.
In every dimension, the NWZ-Z series dwarfs the iPod Touch. It’s wider, taller, thicker and heavier. Take a look:
|Sony Walkman NWZ-Z1050||Apple iPod Touch|
|W/H/D 70.9 x 134.4 x 11.1 mm||58.9 x 111 x 7.2 mm|
Despite its heavy-set measurements or perhaps because of them, the Walkman feels solid and well built. Sony has never suffered from poor build quality or awkward design and the Z series is no exception. From the player’s cool-to-the touch metal frame to its nearly flush front surface and quirky but comfortable sway back, the Walkman has an instantly familiar feel to it. And there’s no question, you simply can’t get a 4.3″ screen without accepting a device with an overall larger footprint. Still, it’s only 22g lighter than the Samsung Galaxy Note which offers a larger screen and full 4G/LTE connectivity.
The button layout will be familiar to anyone who has used an all-touchscreen smartphone or the iPod Touch. The top power/stand-by button, side-mounted volume rocker and bottom-positioned headphone jack have become fairly standard on all devices of this size. The one departure is the dedicated Walkman logo button (Sony calls it the “W.” button) which sits just above the micro-HDMI port. The inclusion of this button is the one nod Sony has made to the device’s media-centric lineage. Hitting hit brings up the media playback controls on-screen regardless which app or home screen you’re on at the moment, and wakes the Walkman if it’s in stand-by. While I like the idea of a dedicated media button, it doesn’t address the common weakness in all touchscreen media players: you can’t operate them blind. There’s simply no way to leave the NWZ-Z1000 in your pocket and have control over play/pause track skip forward/backward or any other aspect of the media player except for volume.
It’s hard to accept that Sony, who so happily followed Apple down the design path of the iPod Touch, overlooked one of the few areas where they could have improved on Cupertino’s design. In fact, the NWZ-Z1000 could have borrowed from Sony’s own design legacy in the form of dedicated playback buttons from the X-Series, or from Apple’s playbook in the form of an inline-remote on the cord of the included earphones. Sadly, it received neither.
The curved plastic back is intriguing. It certainly sets the Walkman apart from the rest of the media player landscape, but it isn’t so much of stylistic choice as it is a functional requirement. Because Sony’s engineers placed the internal speaker on the Walkman’s back panel instead of the edges, placing the unit face-up on a flat surface would mute the sound almost completely. The curve gives the speaker a millimetre or two’s breathing room and that’s just enough to let the sound emerge.
The NWZ-Z1000’s screen is a beauty. The white LED-backlit LCD TFT screen runs at WQVGA (800×480) and while that doesn’t yield the same kind of pixel density as the iPod Touch, which packs 960×640 into a smaller screen, you don’t notice the difference. As you might expect, browsing the web on a bigger screen is better, all things considered.
I’m a little surprised Sony didn’t opt for OLED on the Walkman as it would have been superior for battery if not for overall contrast, but I guess that at 4.3″ the cost was prohibitive.
Still, when it comes to viewing photos or movies, the Walkman performs well even without the higher-end display technology. It generates a bright, crisp image with blacks that are black enough to handle space scenes even if they aren’t perfectly pitch-black. In my experience, no LCD-based screen can deliver truly deep blacks.
One minor complaint is that the capacitive-touch doesn’t seem to be as sensitive as other screens I’ve tried. Taps didn’t always register and had to be repeated. Another niggle is the surface of the screen itself – more than other surfaces, it seems to be a real finger-print magnet. Without any evidence to support this, my guess is that oleo-phobic coatings adhere better to glass that plastic.
Other than the occasional missed-tap mentioned above, the NWZ-z1000 is a snappy performer which seems to handle the various demands placed on it by the Gingerbread version of the Android OS effortlessly. That’s probably because the Walkman is packing a Dual Core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU running at 1Ghz. That’s a lot of horsepower when you consider the latest version of the iPod Touch is running a single-core ARM Coretx-A8 at 1Ghz (underclocked to 800 Mhz).
I loaded Frontline Commando, a free first-person shooter, from the Android market and it ran seamlessly – as did Raging Thunder, another free but not very good racing game.
All of the native movie formats I tested ran perfectly, however playing back an .mkv file using the free movie player “MX Video Player” resulted is some dropped frames and occasionally out-of-sync audio.
One notable area of weakness is the compass. One of the coolest things in Android is the ability to turn on Compass Mode while in Google Maps’ Street View. This lets you hold the device in front of you and move it around (up/down, side-to-side) and have the Street View screen respond as though you were actually standing at the location on the map, looking around at the buildings and streets. But I found that the Walkman’s digital compass behaves erratically when in this mode, jumping jerkily around and not giving a smooth rotation of the street view surroundings.
Speaking of maps and directions, I’m still not sure I understand the point of navigation and mapping apps on devices without persistent data connections. With the Walkman (or the iPod Touch or any device that relies on just WiFi), if you want to get directions while in your car or anywhere else WiFi access is going to be problematic, you’re out of luck.
As I mentioned earlier, sound quality is one area where the NWZ-Z1000 really shines. The included earbuds are excellent and though I found their design a little odd, they were very comfortable and did a decent job with sound isolation. I miss the active noise reduction system from earlier Walkman models, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Sony included their proprietary EQ settings such as Clear Base, Clear Stereo, VPT Surround and a 5-band graphic EQ. I’ve always appreciated these settings on digital players and I’m glad to see Sony found a way to include them in an Android device. Sony has also included 2 settings that are meant to enhance the performance of the internal speaker: Clear Phase and xLOUD, but don’t bother with them – there is simply nothing that can make the internal speaker sound like anything other than what it is: tiny, weak and sad. That’s ok though – very few media players in any price range do a good job with this.
Some of you will remember that Sony launched their first Android tablet last year – the Sony Tablet S. Reviews were mixed, but among the highlights were some of the exclusive apps that Sony included on the device: Infrared Remote Control, Sony Reader and PlayStation Games.
For reasons known only to Sony, none of these have made their way onto to the NWZ-Z1000. I’m willing to overlook the remote app’s absence – I wasn’t all that impressed with the implementation on the Tablet S, and since the Walkman doesn’t have an infrared sender or receiver it would have been pointless.
But the lack of the Reader and PlayStation games is a big mistake. Given that the Walkman’s main competitor has a built-in ebook solution (iBooks) and is already the most popular mobile gaming platform thanks to the enormous collection of free and paid games in the App Store, you would think these two areas would be on the top of Sony’s must-have list.
But no. Even though the built-in HDMI output could have enabled PlayStation games on the big screen, something which Sony appears to be philosophically opposed to (their Sony Ericsson Experia Play can do PlayStation games, but can’t output to HDMI whereas their Experia Arc can output HDMI, but can’t do PS games), the Walkman can’t run these exclusive games. Likewise, even though the NWZ-Z1000 sports a bigger screen than the iPod Touch, which would naturally make it a better e-reader, no reading apps are loaded by default.
What you do get are Sony’s “Original Apps” collection: Music Player, Video Player, Photo Viewer, FM Radio, DLNA, Wi-Fi Checker, W.Control and Music Unlimited.
At first I couldn’t figure out why one would need Sony versions of apps that are standard on every Android device. The reason they’ve been included is their clever use of DLNA. Just like on the Tablet S, you can use these apps to “Send To” compatible displays on your network. Watching a video on the Walkman and want to see it on your DLNA-equipped HDTV? Two taps and you’re done. Same thing for photos and music.
This DLNA technology works in reverse too, such that if you have a compatible DLNA media server (home PC, PS3, etc) you can access that content and view it/listen to it on the Walkman.
While buggy at times, this DLNA implementation is a strong argument that Apple’s AirPlay isn’t the only game in town for those who want to flex their wireless network’s muscles.
Wi-Fi Checker is an app that, well, checks your Wi-Fi connection by connecting to your chosen access point and then giving you some rudimentary feedback such as your assigned IP address and a confirmation that you are in fact, connected. Not quite sure why Sony felt the need to include it given that Android’s existing wireless stats are pretty good.
W. Control is merely a preference setting for how you want to interact with the maximized view of the Walkman or “W.” media playback controls. You can choose to single or double-tap the screen for play/pause and whether you want left or right swipes to skip you forward or backward one track. This should have been baked into the existing Settings app in Android.
Finally, Music Unlimited is Sony’s answer to iTunes – an online store where you can preview and buy then download music tracks directly to the Walkman.
Thanks to its size, the NWZ-Z1000 has few true competitors. This can make direct comparisons a bit tricky. Other than the iPod Touch, there are only two other devices in the Canadian market that come close, without looking at smartphones since they really do represent a different category. These are the Archos 5 32GB and the Dell Streak 5. The Archos is the same price as the Walkman but lacks access to the Android Marketplace and doesn’t support DLNA. The Dell Streak includes cameras but because it is built as a mobile data device, you can only buy it on contract with Rogers Wireless, or no contract for $399. In my opinion the Archos, while a very capable media player, is a less-than-ideal Android device and requires optional accessories to support HDMI out. The Streak looks attractive, but if the price of the Walkman strikes you as high, the Streak won’t appeal either.
The Walkman NWZ-Z1000 enters the market with a peculiar set of features that makes it both unique and unexceptional at the same time. While it is a capable media player that offers a bigger screen than its closest competitor, the lack of any on-board cameras limits the ways in which you can use the device for anything other than media consumption.
Even though it’s more expensive that the iPod Touch for the same memory size, the Walkman delivers two strong arguments for the additional dollars: screen size and CPU. If you find the iPod Touch’s screen a little on the small side – as many people do – the NWZ-Z1000’s 4.3″ window is a much more comfortable viewing experience.
The Walkman’s dual-core CPU barely breaks a sweat as you put the device through its paces – there is virtually no lag or delays when moving from app to app or within the various menus. The iPod Touch isn’t as speedy and there are times when it feels like it’s running to catch up. If you value snappy performance over bells and whistles like on-board cameras, the Walkman is the clear winner.
You’ll be able to find the Sony NWZ-Z1000 Walkman at major electronics retailers later this spring for $299 for the 16GB size and $349 for the 32GB model.
iOS 4.3.3 isn’t going to give your iPhone any new features. It won’t give you any bragging rights the next time you’re comparing your smartphone to your friend’s Android or BlackBerry handset. But it might just give you some extra peace of mind, and keep Apple out of the courtrooms.
That’s because this update to Apple’s mobile operating system addresses a “bug” with how these devices (including the iPhone 3GS, 4, iPod Touch 3, 4 and iPad 1/2) collect and store information about their locations.
If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s what happened:
A few weeks ago, two researchers announced that Apple’s iOS devices were storing relatively large amounts of location information; that this information was being stored in an unencrypted fashion; and that this data was being copied to people’s computers every time they synced their device via iTunes. Most worrisome was that if you knew what you were doing, you could use this data to create a very accurate map of where the device’s owner had been over a period of time, which was up to 10 months in some cases.
Needless to say Apple was put in the hot seat over this and subsequently apologized for a bug in their software and promised to make the necessary changes.
Today they make good on that promise.
But is it a good thing?
Apple says in their description of the update, that it “reduces the size of the “crowd-sourced” location cache, no longer backs up the cache to iTunes, and deletes the cache entirely when a user turns Location Services off.” What this means, is that if you opt-out of all location-based services on your device, it will no longer keep a record of where you’ve been.
Take careful note of this statement: “By using any location-based services on your iPhone, you agree and consent to Apple’s and its partners’ and licensees’ transmission, collection, maintenance, processing and use of your location data and queries to provide and improve such products and services.”
This means that you agree to the collection and transmission of your location data even if you only use one location service-based app. The Maps app for instance, that comes standard with every i-device. I don’t know about you, but even if I turned off location services for every one of the apps I’ve installed since getting my iPhone, I’d still want Maps to show me where I am :-)
I hope that this update doesn’t in any way reduce the speed or the accuracy of the location-based services on the iPhone or other i-devices. I wasn’t upset about the data being kept on my phone and would happily allow it in return for a great user experience.
To update your i-Device with the latest OS, simply launch iTunes, plug in your gadget and follow the prompts.
We’ve seen add-ons for the iPhone and iPod Touch that turn these devices into IR transmitters, but few work as elegantly as the Voomote. With its snap-on simplicity and no-PC-needed setup for all your components, it’s the best alternative to a Logitech Harmony we’ve seen so far.
While iPhone users have been benefiting from some of the new iOS features such as multitasking for a few months now, iPad owners have been patiently waiting for today’s launch since iOS 4.2 was announced back in September.
In case you’ve forgotten in the intervening months, here’s what’s in store for you if you connect your iPad to iTunes later today (after 10 AM PST):
- Multitasking: double-tap the home button and a scrolling list of all your open apps shows up at the bottom of the screen, letting you hop between apps
- Folders: sort all those apps into logical groups by dragging one app onto another. The new group can be renamed, added to, edited or deleted. Up to 12 apps per folder.
- Unified inbox: All of your mail accounts can show up in one combined screen, or you can see them individually
- Game Centre: Apple’s answer to Xbox Live and Sony’s PlayStation network
- AirPlay: If you have an Apple TV, you can stream any video playing on your iPhone or iPad (or iPod Touch) to your TV over WiFi
- AirPrint: wirelessly print from your device to any available network printer that supports the AirPrint feature
- Find my iPhone (or i-Device): this previously subscription-only service is now free and helps you locate a lost device and/or remotely wipe its contents to keep it from prying eyes
You can bet I’ll be getting this update ASAP and be back to tell you what I think, but in the meantime, please leave your thoughts below.
As is typical before any Apple event, there was plenty of buzz in the rumour mill around what Steve Jobs would be presenting. Wireless syncing with iTunes, an Apple HDTV, even a cloud-based model for music subscriptions. None of these predictions materialised but that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few surprises…
Product: Update of iOS to 4.1
Price: Free to owners of iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Launch date: Week of September 6th
What’s new: Upload of HD video to YouTube via WiFi, HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photos, GameCenter, iTunes TV Show Rentals*, iTunes Ping
What We Think: Obviously more features on an OS is a great thing as long as it doesn’t come at a cost (either in $$ or performance) and iOS 4.1 hits on both counts. Gamers will love GameCenter’s ability to match them up with other players in real-time similar to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. Shutterbugs will appreciate the addition of HDR capability – it’s a clever trick that makes photos look better by combining three different exposures into one image. Typically this is something that had to be done on a computer using programs like Photoshop, so having it built-in is a great feature. But be wary – HDR photos can often look unnatural so some experimentation will likely be needed. Thankfully the OS keeps a copy of the non-HDR image too in case you prefer it. We’ll get to the iTunes features in a moment.
Product: Update of iOS to 4.2
Price: Free (we think) to owners of iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Launch date: Later this year
What’s new: Print Center, AirPlay
What We Think: While we really wish that WiFi Sync to iTunes had made it into this release, being able to print wirelessly from the iPad etc, makes a ton of sense, especially given the number of printers that are being sold with built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. AirPlay is the new name for AirTunes – Apple’s feature that lets you stream your music wirelessly across your network from an iTunes-equipped PC or Mac. The new name reflects the fact that now you can stream more than just music: Photos and videos have been added and this will tie-in nicely with the new Apple TV (see more on this later). While some third party apps e.g. AirVideo let you stream from your computer to any device that has the client installed (even over the net), getting that content onto a TV hasn’t been especially easy or intuitive. We’re curious to see if Apple encounters any legal hassles around the name AirPlay as it is already in use by another software company.
Product: iPod Shuffle (4th gen) 2GB
Price: $59 CDN
Launch date: Week of September 6th
What’s new: External buttons, dedicated VoiceOver button, support for Genius mixes
What We Think: When Apple launched the 3rd generation of the iPod Shuffle last year, they proved just how small you could make a portable music player. Turns out the tiny, button-less form factor may have been a little too small for some people. The 4th gen Shuffle grows in the size department, but brings back the circular button layout from the 2nd generation without going back to the 2nd’s dimensions. You don’t often see Apple acknowledge that they made a poor design choice, but it’s clear from this new (old) design that that’s exactly what happened a year ago. On the good side, Apple hasn’t brought back the awkward charging/syncing cradle that came with the 2nd gen Shuffle, instead opting for the 3rd gen’s simple USB-to-minijack cable. On the bad side, the Shuffle no longer ships with remote-control earbuds from the 3rd gen version. As someone who uses the 3rd gen regularly, I’ve become addicted to simply reaching for my remote to change tracks and volume. I’m sad to see this return to optional accessory status.
Price: $159 CDN (8GB) / $189 CDN (16GB)
Launch date: Week of September 6th
What’s new: Tiny form factor, built-in clip, multi-touch display, top-mounted buttons for sleep/wake and volume.
What We Think: The latest nano is a drastic departure from the previous generations of this much loved music player. Gone are the iconic circular controls, replaced by a touch-sensitive screen. Gone is the built-in VGA camera. Gone (presumably) are any iPod games that required a click-wheel. Could this be a case of Apple’s designers ignoring the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” I’m a big fan of multi-touch – it works spectacularly on the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad – all of which are devices intended to run multiple apps, surf the web and handle tasks like email. So which of these abilities come with multi-touch on the nano? None. Getting rid of the click wheel means that there is no way to navigate forward and backward through your tracks without looking at the screen. I always keep my iPod in my pocket when working out, and being able to press on the sides of the clickwheel through the fabric of my pants is something I don’t want to give up. Though there is bound to be an initial wow factor to this design choice, and the built-in clip is going to appeal to folks who don’t like stowing their iPod in their pocket, I’m not convinced that enough has been gained through these tweaks to justify doing away with the click-wheel. My advice: Unless you value a small size over features, look for lower prices on any remaining 5th gen nanos – you’ll be getting way more bang for your portable player buck.
Product: iPod Touch (3rd gen) 8/16/32 GB
Price: $249/$319/$429 CDN
Launch date: Week of September 6th
What’s new: Retina display, front and rear-facing cameras, A4 chip, slimmer design, 3-axis gyro, Wi-Fi geo-tagging of photos and video, FaceTime
What We Think: The iPod Touch just keeps getting better. The iPhone 4-inspired dual cameras turn the already super-versatile device into an HD camcorder while the new internal gyroscope will extend what game designers are able to do with the Touch as a gaming platform. What perplexes us is the choice to put a low resolution sensor in the rear-facing camera. The iPhone 4 has a 5-megapixel sensor which is the digital camera sweet-spot: enough resolution for high-quality prints and even some enlarging and cropping. The new iPod Touch maxes out at 960×720 for still photos – good for Facebook sharing, but that’s about it. It’s hard to understand what the rationale was for this decision. Were they concerned that a better camera would eat into iPhone 4 sales? Unlikely. Despite their similarities, the two devices are still very different. Was it cost? Again, it seems unlikely given how inexpensive camera sensors have become. Perhaps Apple was merely content to give companies like Cisco (with their popular Flip Video camcorders) some competition. With the inclusion of Wi-Fi uploading to YouTube in iOS 4.1, and built-in clip trimming, the new iPod Touch leaps ahead of the Flip in terms of on-board capabilities. The inclusion of FaceTime is a natural choice as it expands the video-calling feature to a much larger audience than it would have with the iPhone 4 alone. The real question is: when will Apple expand FaceTime to all computers with webcams? I’ll be looking for this in the next release of iTunes or QuickTime.
Product: iTunes 10
Launch Date: Available now
What’s new: Updated interface, Ping social network, a new icon, new pricing on movies and TV shows.
What We Think: iTunes is a love or hate proposition for a lot of folks. While it runs well on newer computers, older machines – especially PCs – are slowed to a crawl by the program’s massive footprint and accessory processes that it installs (including QuickTime, Apple’s proprietary video software). But if you own an i-thing, it’s probably installed on your machine and you probably use it for managing your digital library and syncing to your device, even if you don’t use it to buy music. This latest version of iTunes may not offer any performance improvements, but it does include Apple’s first and very bold move into the world of social networking. iTunes Ping is the name they’ve given to a service that lets iTunes users share their favourite music and concerts with friends. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Microsoft executed this exact strategy with their Zune players…. Remember “Welcome to the Social”? Yup. That’s pretty much what iTunes Ping is all about. You can use Ping from within iTunes on your computer, or on your iPhone or iPod Touch. Apple claims that security and privacy will be very effective and simple to use (which was a bit of a dig at Facebook’s famously complex privacy scheme). While I’m not convinced that Ping is going to take off (how many social networks do we really need?) I’ve been wrong about theses things before :-)
A much more significant announcement in my opinion is the new pricing structure on HD movies and TV shows. $5.99 CDN is the price of 48 hour rental of a movie. The bad news here is that there are still no TV show options for Canadians. Americans get shows from ABC and FOX for $.99 USD an episode.
Product: Apple TV (2nd Gen)
Price: $119 CDN
Launch date: Late September, pre-order today
What’s new: Tiny footprint, black colour scheme, no hard-drive, new UI, streaming of content from any iTunes computer, or from the iTunes store, or from Netflix, YouTube, Internet Radio, Flickr, MobileMe.
What We Think: Most people agree: Apple’s first kick at the can in the living room sphere was mediocre at best. Apple TV was a good idea, but not especially attractive given the price, the competition and the limitations. This time around they’ve gone back to the drawing board and completely reinvented the “hobby” device from the ground up. The new Apple TV is tiny – not much bigger than a couple of packs of playing cards. It runs silently (no fan) and sips power – two things that customers said they valued. This little black box is effectively a media-streamer, but as is typical of Apple, a media-streamer that only plays nicely with Apple-approved content formats.
These formats are:
Audio: MP3, AIFF, WAV and AAC audio (the music format used by the iTunes store)
Photo: JPEG, GIF, TIFF
Video: H.264, MPEG4, MotionJPEG
To really get a sense of what this new version of Apple TV is all about, you need to understand what it can and can’t do, because it might make the difference between buying it, and waiting for something else to come along.
What it can do:
Apple TV is the ultimate iTunes companion. Any content you have within your iTunes library on your Mac or PC can streamed to Apple TV over Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
It can track your favourite TV shows and let you know if you’ve missed any episodes and then let you rent them (but not in Canada yet).
You can rent HD movies directly from the iTunes Store. You get 30 days to start watching and then as many plays as you like within 24 hours of starting the movie.
You get direct access to Netflix (which is launching in Canada this fall) so if you plan to become a Netflix member, Apple TV is probably a must-have purchase. In fact, Netflix, if you’re reading this, you should consider offering members a free Apple TV if they sign a three-year contract, just like the mobile carriers underwrite the cost of cellphones.
Instant access to photos on Flickr (and hopefully Picasa one day) makes it the biggest photoframe in your house. Access to YouTube means no longer having to gather around the laptop – this will be great for get-togethers (you know the kind where everyone seems to know of at least one clip that “you’ve got to see”).
You can remotely control your Apple TV from an iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone.
Swiping, pinching, un-pinching are all valid ways to control Apple TV, and will probably be more fun that using the included remote. Better yet, with the upcoming release of iOS 4.2 (and the previously mentioned AirPlay update) you can stream any content from your iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone directly to AppleTV.
What it can’t do:
Though Apple TV can stream every file that iTunes recognizes, there are still plenty of files that iTunes doesn’t recognize including WMV, MKV, DivX, xvid and other AVI formats. Likewise for lesser-known audio formats such as FLAC, OggVorbis, and RealAudio. If you’ve never strayed far from iTunes as your primary way of discovering, organizing and buying audio and video, this isn’t going to bother you at all. But if you’ve already spent considerable time and money building a library of content in these non-Apple-endorsed formats (Bittorrent people, I’m looking at you), Apple TV comes as a big disappointment.
Apple TV can’t access USB drives, disc-based media, Network Attached Storage (NAS) or content on your Mac/PC that isn’t recognized by iTunes. The only exception to this might be Apple’s own NAS product – Time Capsule. As of the writing of this post, I couldn’t find any information on this on either the Apple TV or Time Capsule product pages.
Apple TV is powered by Apple’s incredible A4 chip – the same brains that now control most of Apple’s products with the exception of their Mac computers and the lower-end iPods. So that means it is more than capable of running iOS. But no mention has been made of Apple TV running this platform. Given the enormous success that Apple has had turning the iPod Touch and iPhone into gaming platforms, why have they neglected to include Apple TV, the one device built specifically to connect to an HDTV, in this potentially massive gaming ecosystem? One might guess that they are merely waiting to gauge excitement levels (and adoption levels) of this new product before updating it with iOS, but if that were so, why didn’t Apple include Bluetooth on the Apple TV? Infra-red is useless for all but basic remote commands, while Wi-Fi seems an odd choice of interface when all 3 of the major game consoles use Bluetooth (or a related technology) for their remote controllers. And yet, as we mentioned before, the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch can all operate the Apple TV via Wi-Fi, so maybe there’s hope yet. At $119, Apple TV would be the least expensive way for people to add a gaming system to their TV.
So that’s what was announced, and you know where we stand. What was your take on Apple’s latest round of gadget goodies? Can’t wait to buy or disappointed by what was revealed? Let us know…
It’s not quite what the pundits were expecting, but the iPad has landed and with it Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging all the other PC makers to catch up – if they can. It’s a slick device, offering all of the features and functionality of an iPod Touch, with a larger screen and more powerful processor. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple put on a good show, demonstrating the iPad’s deft handling of web browsing, watching videos, reading publications and running apps such as racing games. But the price for this uber-iPod starts at $499 USD and rises sharply as you add more memory and 3G connectivity, leaving all of us to decide if we really need a device that sits somewhere between our MP3 player and our laptop, a device that offers little in the way of new functionality yet nonetheless occupies a category of its own.
Just how much like an iPod Touch is the new iPad? Let’s take a look at the specs:
The iPad features:
- A 9.7” LED-backlit IPS LCD multi-touch screen (IPS is one of the varieties of LCD technology that uses fewer transistors, but requires more backlighting for an increased viewing angle)
- A 1.5lbs aluminum and glass enclosure
- Built-in microphone, speakers and headphone jack
- 10 hour battery life
- Wi-Fi a/b/g /n
- Bluetooth 2.0
- A custom Apple-built 1 Ghz processor, dubbed the “A4”
- Accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
- 1024-by-768-pixel resolution (3×4 aspect ratio)
- Can output 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable to a TV
So far, with the exception of the compass, it’s a large iPod Touch, with a fast processor and a not-quite 720p resolution screen. Though it’s hard to tell without benchmark testing, the processor may deliver similar performance to Intel’s Atom platform – the Atom varies between 1.3 and 2 Ghz. In fact, given Apple’s close working relationship with Intel on most of their other computing products, it’s a bit of a surprise that an Atom isn’t at the heart of the iPad. One reason might be cost, but I suspect Apple needed two very important things for the iPad: A need to clearly distinguish it from the netbook category (having an Atom processor would immediately invite comparisons) and the ability to extract every second of battery life possible.
Now for the software:
- Safari (web browser)
- Photos (with an optional dock adapter that lets you read SD cards)
- Customizable home screen
- iBooks (an online bookstore very similar to what Amazon offers on the Kindle)
- App Store
- Video & YouTube, both with HD support
Again, we have a few minor enhancements over the iPod Touch, most notably the iBooks integration, but on the whole, it’s very similar.
Though Canadian pricing hasn’t been announced, here’s what they get in the U.S.:
16GB + WiFi: $499; 16GB + WiFi + 3G: $629
32GB + WiFi: $599; 32GB + WiFi + 3G: $729
64GB + WiFi: $699; 64GB + WiFi + 3G: $829
Since the iPod Touch only comes in 8, 32 and 64GB sizes, let’s take the 32GB model for comparison at $299 USD. The same size iPad is $300 more, or double the price. If you want to compare the iPad to the 32GB iPhone it starts to get tricky given the carrier-underwritten pricing, but it’s still cheaper than the equivalent iPad 3G.
Speaking of 3G, this is one area that will give prospective buyers of the iPad the most difficulty when it comes to deciding on which model. You will need to honestly ask yourself if you want to use the iPad absolutely everywhere or just when in range of an available Wi-Fi network. There is no evidence so far, that if you go Wi-Fi only, you will be able to upgrade to 3G capability at a later date. But because you aren’t tied to a carrier for the 3G model (unlike current iPhone purchasing models) many people may decide to splurge, simply as a way to future-proof themselves.
In the U.S., Apple has partnered with AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPad for $30 a month which is a great deal if you’re going to use it outside of Wi-Fi network range regularly. For Canadians, who can’t currently get an unlimited data plan on *any* carrier, the questions are: will a similar deal will be struck here, and if not, will the iPad be viable financially when not within range of a Wi-Fi network?
So that’s pretty much it as far as the specs go. If it sounds like the iPad is a little underwhelming from this description, you and I have the same perspective.
However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss the iPad as an overgrown and overpriced iPod Touch, as with so many of Apple’s products, there’s always another aspect – an element that cannot be quantified through an analysis of the specs alone. The iPad is very attractive. It has the same simple elegance that has been a hallmark of Apple’s industrial design since Jobs took back control of the company over 10 years ago.
I haven’t even seen it in the flesh yet but I can hardly wait to get my hands on it – to touch it, interact with it, play with it. Though it may not boast capabilities that any well-equipped netbook couldn’t match and for much less money, its touch-based interface and beautiful, jewel-like screen call to gadget lovers like a siren song. Steve Jobs described it as “magical”. I’m not sure I would call it a magical device given how much of what it can do is already available in other products, but there’s no question – it does exude a magical appeal.
If you ask yourself “Do I really need an iPad?”, the probable answer is “No.” But once you’ve used one, or watched curiously as someone else works with one, then ask yourself “Do I want an iPad?”, I’ll bet the answer will be “YES!”
It is already apparent that the iPad’s strengths are: Surfing the web with a multitouch interface on a screen that lets you really appreciate a full web page; Having access to books and periodicals in full colour with adjustable font sizes and orientation; Watching videos in your choice of letterbox or full-frame presentation, organizing and viewing photos, and of course, accessing the 160,000+ apps in the App Store that not only run on the iPad, but are sync’d with your existing App Store purchases if you already own an iPod Touch or iPhone.
This last point is really the iPad’s greatest strength of all. Not only does Apple already has a superb set of online tools through which users can download anything from apps, to movies, to music to TV shows, the company has fostered an enormous development community who can leverage every line of code that they wrote for the iPhone and iPod Touch and layer-on additional features for the iPad.
As with the iPhone, it will be this dizzying array of creative energy that figures out how to take the iPad to places that even Apple itself hasn’t imagined. I know they had to call this thing an iPad for consistency in branding etc, but I think its unofficial name ought to be “the AppPad”.
On a final note, I’ll share a few disappointments. These weaknesses are more omissions than outright mistakes. There’s no GPS (though A-GPS is available on the 3G models), there’s no camera either on the front or the back, there was no mention of the ability to multi-task or background your apps – something that has been a complaint on the iPhone for some time.
I strongly suspect that all three of these elements will make their way into future versions of the iPad, with multi-tasking being the first to come, with a software update, since clearly Apple’s new A4 processor is more than capable of handling it.
So welcome to the world iPad. You may not be the device that anyone needs, but I doubt that will stop you from winning a place in our hearts.
Update Jan 28, 2:10 P.M.: found this over at gizmodo… hilarious!
Update Jan 28, 2:55 P.M.: Obviously Apple engaged with the accessory community early on for the iPad launch. If you were really bummed out by the absence of a webcam onboard the iPad, the folks over at iLuv have a solution (albeit a clunky one): A dock-adapter based webcam available in 1.3 or 3 megapixel resolutions. No word on price or availability yet.