Shouting Into Darkness

Brief Impressions of “iTunes in the Cloud”

Posted in Technology by Chris W. on June 7, 2011

So today was WWDC. If you’ve followed me on Twitter, I apologize for flooding your feed. But we’re done now, the dust has cleared for the non-developer types, so what’s up with iCloud?

It turns out that our predictions of what iCloud would be were a bit… generous. We were expecting full streaming capabilities as well as a digital record of what we purchased. We got the digital record, but no streaming. Music you buy on any iTunes-enabled device (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, iTunes desktop) will save itself in iCloud as well as download to the device you purchased from. But now, if you go to a different device and want that song, you can re-download it for no extra charge to that device. While iCloud itself is not ready until Fall, a small part of the service called “iTunes in the Cloud” is available now, already installed on your iOS device that runs 4.3.3.

I’ve been playing around with it. To experiment, I have the “Spider-Man” musical number “Rise Above” (Don’t judge; I was curious) as well as “You’re the Inspiration” by Chicago (Judge all you want. That song rocks). “Rise Above” was purchased recently, with “You’re The Inspiration” purchased a few months ago. With one tap, the song I bought off my laptop downloads to my iPad 2 without syncing… after agreeing to 41 pages of Terms and Service.

This part of the service works as advertised. You have a song in the cloud that you want, and a few moments later, that song gets pushed to your device as if it were always there. But this is where we come into some issues, issues that I hope get ironed out by the real release of the product. First off, and I’m not alone in this boat, I bought most of my music on an old AppleID associated with a now defunct e-mail address. When I bought MobileMe, I got a new AppleID that I prefer using. iTunes in the Cloud will only associate itself with one (1) AppleID at a time, just like iTunes-not-in-the-Cloud does now. So, if you’ve got songs spread across multiple AppleIDs, you won’t have access to all those songs in iCloud; you’ll only be able to re-download the songs associated with the currently used AppleID. Unless you pay a LOT of money and re-purchase all those songs (or upgrade them to DRM-free models for a fee), a sizable part of your library could be left out of the Cloud.

The second issue has to do with the iPod software in iOS. I wanted to test and see if iTunes in the Cloud would allow me to download a song, delete it, and download it again without being penalized. That’s a huge advantage to this system over Amazon’s Cloud Player, where your music is always connected. You can download a song, play it until you get bored with it, and delete it to free up some space, knowing that a version of it will remain in the Cloud. The problem? You cannot, as far as I can tell, delete songs directly off the iDevice without syncing to a computer. You can certainly remove a song from a playlist, but the song itself remains on the Hard Drive. This is a problem. I want the flexibility to get rid of songs I don’t want now and download them again when I get in the mood. Wasn’t Apple themselves trumpeting the fact that they are now “Post-PC” and a computer is no-longer needed to work an iPad/iPhone? If I still need a computer to tell my iPad what songs to delete, then we are still very much “PC”. If this is not ironed out, iCloud is seriously crippled, in my opinion.

This is just a brief overview of the service done while I was delirious with hunger and fatigue. I will say that the novelty of having access to ALL your music (providing you have a lot of purchased content and/or not a lot of indie songs that might not make it onto iTunes) and choosing what to download. This service is the seed of something great, but it’ll have to grow around a few rocks before it breaks ground and blossoms.

UPDATE: I still haven’t found a way to edit my songs on either my iPhone or iPad, but the iOS 5 update will fix this. In absence of musical editing abilities, I went to the next best thing: Apps. Mac users are aware that the App Store will keep all your purchases in the cloud now and restore them at the push of a button if you so choose to. The iOS App Store is now getting the same function, and I love it.

You see, I’m an impulse app purchaser. If it’s under two dollars, I’ll probably download it without thinking twice, a practice that has led to some rather nasty discoveries when my iTunes bill shows up. The other downside is that I suffer from app-clutter: a ton of apps downloaded with only a fraction that are daily use or even occasional use. Most of my apps sit on my phone “just in case.” I probably won’t ever need to make a martini or use the “It’s a Trap!” soundbyte in my daily life, but if I did find myself mixing cocktails for some reason, I’d be saved by my phone! As you can imagine, it meant a lot of wasted disc space and screen space on “rare use” apps. Now, with the iCloud beta, users can delete the apps they rarely use off their iDevice (or Mac), free up the disc space, and the app is available for download again instantly. If music and photos work the same way, iCloud will change the way people think about their media.

P.S. I still want to stream my movies in iCloud. Let’s get to work on that, Apple. Chop chop!

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Crystal Ball Time: Predictions for WWDC 2011

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on June 6, 2011

I’ll be honest with you, folks. I contemplated not writing this one up. In an unprecedented move, Apple let the iCat out of the iBag and pretty much told everyone what this year’s WWDC will be about. I, like many other Apple nerdniks who like to pretend like they’re part of the media, thought that the wonder and intrigue of this year’s Developer’s Conference was wasted. The surprise was spoiled. Little Johnny knew what was under the Christmas Tree, and that Santa hadn’t left it there. It was enough to make me want to slam the lid of my laptop in disgust and sulk down to the nearest liquor pit. Maybe if I got drunk enough, I could forget that Apple ruined the speculation for me, and maybe I could use that “head in the iCloud” joke I’d been saving up.

But then, a miracle happened. Instead of extinguishing the flames of speculation, Apple’s reveal fanned them even higher. Everyone knew the broad themes, but they needed details! Some were still clinging onto the hope of a new iPhone, too. There was still room in the online community for rampant, baseless speculation! It was enough to make me jump out of bed like Ebenezer Scrooge. So now, for your speculative pleasure, these are my predictions for 2011’s WorldWide Developer’s Conference.

The Sure Thing(s): OS X Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud – I’m not really going out on a limb for this one, because this is what Apple told us they’d be talking about. Hell, even photos of the banners all over Moscone West are showing up online! Apple is sending a clear message: “This year’s WWDC will be all about the integration and interdependency of the Apple platforms. It’s time for Apple’s operating systems to form together like Voltron.” … Or maybe that’s what my nerdy mind is interpreting it as. The real source of the speculation is what exactly does this mean? That’s what we’ll be spending today looking at.

Probability: 100%

The Slam-Dunk: iCloud Music Streaming – I’ve got my own wish-list for iCloud’s full features, but one thing that we know for certain is that iCloud will be a digital mirror of your iTunes music library. Every song you’ve ever bought, and every song you buy from this point on, will be saved in the iCloud, just like Amazon’s Cloud Player does now. From there, you will be able to stream any song in your library from anywhere you can get Internet access. This feature will be available to iOS users on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, but it is yet uncertain if a browser-based solution is in the works. Since Apple purchased the iCloud.com domain, I would assume that some browser activity will be inbound, but that may be for the MobileMe replacement-services, which we’ll get into. For now, it’s enough to know that Apple will mirror all songs in your library that match up with songs iTunes sells, no matter if they were purchased legitimately or not. No word yet on if personal tracks will get the same treatment. This is supposed to help the user not burn up all his or her bandwidth uploading hundreds of gigabytes of music to iCloud, after all. Any low-bitrate song will be replaced in iCloud with a streamable high-bitrate copy of the same song. This will also cost you a monthly or yearly fee, which many people will not have a problem paying. I will be one of them.

Probability: 98%. It’s safe to go All-In on this one.

The Secret Weapon: iCloud Digital Locker – We know that iCloud will incorporate streaming, but what I’d like to see is the Digital Locker, a place where all my Apple purchases live and can be re-downloaded if I so choose. When I look back at the (literally) thousands of dollars I’ve spent on iTunes media since 2004 and the hundreds of gigabytes it is taking up on my poor external HD, I wonder what would happen if I lost any of it. Yes, there are online backups and I’m actively pursuing those options, but iTunes and Apple are moving towards a business model that allows re-downloading (in some instances) if the original file is lost. The Mac App Store is a prime example; when you buy an App there, it is licensed on all your personal Macs and can be downloaded to any computer you authorize with that iTunes account (which maxes out at five, I believe). Why not do that with your media? I’d like the peace of mind to download a full season of Penn & Teller: Bulls**t!, watch it, remove it from my hard drive, and then re-download or stream it when I get into the mood. This feature is desired by a lot of customers, but the chance of it making iCloud’s launch are nowhere near certain.

Probability: 75%. Might want to Phone-A-Friend.

The Cosmetic Differences: “MobileMe” Rebranded as “iCloud.com” – MobileMe, as a name, sucks. I’m sorry, but when Jobs announced a few years ago that the “.Mac” accounts were becoming “.Me” accounts, I was ready to Elvis my computer screen. “Mac.com” was such a great domain name; it was seven characters total and told whoever was on the receiving end of the e-mail that they were dealing with someone who owned a Mac and was proud enough (or dumb enough) to pay the $100 a year for .Mac. “MobileMe” sounded like a Kindergarten activity. It lost all identifiability with the Mac platform, and certainly didn’t win over any favors with its botched launch. With iCloud, Steve Jobs and Apple see a way to retcon MobileMe out of existence and give users the type of experience MobileMe should’ve always been. All of MobileMe’s features – with some improvements – will be ported over to iCloud. Let’s hope they’re right this time.

Probability: 85%. Good enough to set your clock by.

The No-Show: iCloud Video Streaming – Rumors are starting to brew on the Internet (I know! Unheard of!) that Apple is trying to strike a similar deal with movie and TV distributors as they did with the music business. While Steve Jobs may have wrapped up all the music companies before WWDC, I think that the clock has run out with him on the video half. Plus, the iTunes business model has always been to tread into a new technological venture with music first and then follow with video once the coast is clear. That’s how the iPod happened, and how the iTunes Store happened, too. The technology is definitely there to allow users to buy a movie or TV show and stream it to either their AppleTV or iPad, but the rights aren’t and the implications of streaming all that video over 3G will make anyone on AT&T’s data plans weep. Now, if it does come to pass that video is included in the streaming/digital locker of iCloud, then you can bet that the first partners will be the Walt Disney company. Disney has always been with Apple as the first provider of movies and TV shows on iTunes, and the rest of the industry followed their lead. It will be the same here. Plus, I’ll be willing to bet that video streaming from iCloud will be limited to WiFi in the beginning. Let’s face it; the quality is better with WiFi, anyway.

Probability: 5%. Don’t stay up waiting for it.

The Coin-Flip: OS X Lion Available Right Away – I really hope this prediction will be true, and since Apple has released the Gold Master of OS X Lion, it has the potential of being true, but I’m not quite so sure. Apple has yet to announce that a new OS is available while an executive is on stage. Plus, a big part of WWDC this year will be Lion, and they want to give devs a chance to play around with the software, get some facetime (no pun intended) with Apple to iron out those last few kinks before submitting their application. They are the ones who need that software now. People like me are just impatient.

My best guess is that Lion will be available this month as a Mac App Store download priced between $15 – $30. This is what sells the App Store to the people who haven’t already joined the hivemind yet. Apple will be delivering an entire operating system update to the end-user via one click. No retail stores going out of stock, no waiting until you get home to install that shiny new OS. Just one click and it’s upgrading you to the latest and greatest. Plus, it means that any updates to the OS are done via the App Store, as well, also with one-click. This is the model Apple wants their users to become attached to, so how better to do it than by updating their entire system through their new digital distribution system. It’ll help keep the cost down, be more immediate for the customer to use, and hopefully, the servers won’t explode from the high demand.

Probability: 50%. Call it, friendo.

The Ringer: Completely Revamped iOS 5: Another year, another iOS update. You wonder what more Apple’s code monkeys can do with that operating system. It started out supporting just 15 apps on the Edge network and now it runs 500,000 apps on three different devices and defines mobile computing for some users. Still, do a casual search and you can see that there is still room for Apple to improve. Most people are expecting widgets and a new notification system on the OS, which would be welcome. I don’t have too much of a problem with the notifications now, as long as I’m not using my phone and only one thing happens. But if I’m watching a video, I’d like the phone to let me decide if a spam tweet is worth pausing my episode of “Doctor Who” for, thank you! The notifications should bend to the will of the user and allow him or her to walk away from the phone for an indeterminate amount of time and quickly get through whatever is requesting him or her. I think we’ll see those as well as enhancements to the Mail app (like a “mark all as read” button and better spam filters). Honestly, all I’m looking for is custom text message tones. How hard can that be, Apple?!

Probability: 63%. Might not get ’em all, but you’ll get most.

The Question Mark: Time Capsules as the Heart of iCloud – I’ve read this on several websites, and I still can’t wrap my head around how it’s supposed to work. According to inside sources, the data-portion of iCloud will be handled by a retooled Time Capsule, Apple’s proprietary wireless backup hard drive/WiFi router. It’d work by constantly being connected to the Internet, and the user could access any data held on it from anywhere, merging the idea of cloud computing with local storage. On paper, it looks fine, but maybe I’m missing something. It sounds like an improved version of “Back to My Mac” which basically was the same thing. You log on to a computer remotely and control it as if you were standing right there. The idea of cloud storage is that local backup is merely insurance, your real data lives in a server hundreds of miles away and yet still accessible. I guess that users would like the idea of the future of cloud computing, of Dropbox and Google Docs, local storage seems antiquated. I honestly have no idea to call this one because I don’t quite understand the idea behind it. We’re about twelve hours away from the conference, so we’re about to find out…

Probability: ?

The Due-Not-To-Appear: New iPhone, MacBook Air – Like I said earlier, there is a subset of people who still think Apple is following a rigid schedule of hardware release. It’s usually true that Apple’s hardware refreshes happen around the same time every year, but this year looks like it’s the exception. All the evidence is pointing away from a new iPhone being unveiled this year. It’d make a great “One More Thing,” (like the 3GS did a few years ago) but with Apple’s focus on software and the future of their operating systems, a new iPhone would steal the thunder from everything it had planned for today. Unless this is the mother of all setups, be prepared to hang on to your iPhone for a few more months.

As for the MacBook Air with a Sandy Bridge processor, if they come out this year (and I hope they don’t. This computer I’m typing on is only a few months old), you’ll read about it on Apple.com’s front page. The hardware upgrades wouldn’t be significant enough to give it precious real-estate at a Jobs keynote. The Fall is the best timeframe for both of these products, not at WWDC.

Probability: .99%. You feelin’ lucky, punk?

The “One-More-Thing” Roulette: This is the part of the article I was most looking forward to: picking Jobs’s customary “One-More-Thing” to end the keynote on. It all comes down to the structure of the event. What will he choose to open the event with? Will he lead strong with iCloud and then let that momentum carry through to the other topics, or delay the audience what they all want to see? My guess is that, after the usual numbers updates (how many apps downloaded, how many new stores popped up like dandelions, etc.) Jobs will start with iCloud, the topic everyone wants to know about, and close with iOS 5, the topic with the least amount of hype until this day (nobody knows what iOS 5 looks like, so that carries a lot of potential surprise). iOS 5 also has to go through a beta period with the developers, so it has the longest time between WWDC and release.

But is that enough to put “One-More-Thing” status on it?

If there is a “One-More-Thing” at this year’s WWDC, it’s a big feature. Last year was FaceTime, so they have to be thinking along the same lines. My official prediction: Jobs will withhold the announcement about streaming music and exactly how it will work until the end of the show. That’s the only thing I can think of that will be a bombshell announcement, yet an announcement that everyone expects.

Probability: 15%. You’re probably better off listening to someone who isn’t this tired.

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Is the iPad 2 Right for You?

Posted in Technology by Chris W. on March 2, 2011

Surprising almost no-one and yet still setting the Internet alight, Apple today announced the next generation of iPads, dubbed the “iPad 2”. All the anticipated updates were there. iPad 2 is faster, lighter, and sports two cameras for FaceTime or general photo/video taking. There were a few surprises in the mix as well. I don’t think anyone called the mirrored HDMI out functionality, and the addition of iMovie and GarageBand to the iPad suite of productivity apps might be enough to divorce some teens from their netbooks.

Now that the excitement is over and the iPad 2’s launch is just about a week away, the question poses itself: is it worth it to buy for you? And if so, which one?

For full disclosure, I will admit that I had a first-generation iPad, and I loved it. It was everything I needed it to be, nothing more, nothing less. A few weeks before this announcement, I sold it to raise the funds to pay some bills and save up for the new iPad. Now those funds are gone and I’m put in the same position as a lot of other people: to buy or not to buy.

For all the hype, for all the advances the iPad has made in just one year, the decision in my eyes is very simple. If you have an iPad now, you like it just fine, and you don’t have a camera fetish, then I’d recommend skipping this hardware cycle and enjoying the hardware you already own. It hurts to say so, but I don’t think the iPad 2 is worth ditching the iPad 1 for. (Somewhere, off in the distance, a single tear drips down the cheek of a lonely Apple Store employee.)

A colleague of mine narrowed down the reason why to just one feature: Retina Display. The iPad looks gorgeous as it is, but the MacBook Air I’m typing this on has more pixels on its 11” 16×9 screen than the iPad does on its 9” 4×3 screen. The iPad handles video beautifully, but it’s on a collision course for HD and somewhere within the next two hardware refreshes, a Retina Display will be added. Then everyone will look at the iPad and say, “Wow, this is what the iPad should’ve always been.” Not to say that the iPad 2 isn’t stunning as it is, but the engineers are getting closer and closer to Plato’s Table as the years go on, achieving that perfect mental picture of what an iPad is and can do.

This advice only applies to people who already have the hardware and don’t feel the burning need for a FaceTime camera. But if you’re in the general population, if you haven’t bought an iPad yet and were waiting to see what all the hubbub was about, then this is your time. Jump into the iPad with both feet and feel good that you’re buying an amazing piece of technology. If you don’t already own an iPad, then there is no longer any reason (apart from financial) why you shouldn’t own one now.

My advice on the models remains the same as it did last year. I’m a big fan of the iPad with WiFi only, its cheaper price making it a no-brainer. The benefits of an internal 3G radio and GPS don’t offset the cost of the 3G service (which is pay-as-you-go, still) and the greater initial cost for the iPad itself. This effect is compounded if you have an iPhone 4. The iPhone will soon be getting a Personal Hotspot feature, allowing your iPhone 4 to be turned into a mobile WiFi router for pairing up to five devices on one network. For AT&T, that amounts to an extra $45 a month for 4GB of data. Getting the iPad 2 with 3G has an extra $130 attached at the start, and then you’re paying either $15 for 250 MB a month or $25 for 2GB. Over a 5 month period, the Personal Hotspot will cost $225 while getting five months straight of 2GB on the iPad 2 with 3G will be $255. That’s a savings of about $6 a month. Clearly, if you have an iPhone 4 and are already paying for data, you are better off just using more of that data than buying a device to use its own data system.

Now we get down to the personal question: Will I be buying one? If I somehow came into possession of $500, I’ll definitely pick one up. But if I have to work for it and save my money (perish the thought!), there are better ways to make my money work for me. Unless I suffer serious iPad withdrawal, this hardware cycle will be one I’ll sit out on.

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Examining the new AppleTV

Posted in Technology by Chris W. on September 1, 2010

As predicted by me and practically everyone else with a blog (Thanks, Engadget!) the rumored AppleTV update is now available for pre-order, to be delivered by the end of the month. It’s a little bit off from what people were expecting, but despite what’s missing, the new AppleTV could be the one that will finally catch on with consumers. Or, it could miss the boat entirely and flounder about while Apple stands on the shore and wonders whether or not it’s worth saving again. So in another bit of consumer advice, I’m going deep inside the AppleTV and hope to emerge on the other side with an answer. Let’s hope I don’t encounter any acid-fried photographers and AWOL military personnel along the way…

To start, the $99 price tag makes the AppleTV a lot more appealing at first glance than its older brother, who clocked in at a much heftier $229. According to Jobs, those who took the plunge loved the device, but not enough AppleTVs were sold to make it a bona fide hit. Apple hopes that the new price will entice more people to take a chance on the device, which could very well happen. $100 is a large amount to just throw around willy nilly on something that may or may not work for you, but that might be the magic figure. $100 is just about what I’d be okay with losing at an Atlantic City casino, and there all you get is a small throbbing void where your soul used to be.

So what do you get for your money? Physically, not much. The AppleTV is fit-in-the-palm-of-your-hand small and only requires two cables to operate it, or three if you don’t have WiFi. The only method for getting your content from the AppleTV to your television screen is streaming. The AppleTV will not purchase content for download on a local storage device. Instead, you pay a much lower price ($5 for first-run movies when they’re released on DVD, $1 for TV shows the day after air) and rent your content. You’ll have 30 days to press “Play” and either 24 or 48 hours after that before the content expires and must be re-rented. AppleTV will even manage your content for you, letting you know when new episodes of TV shows you mark as “favorite” are available to watch, which I appreciate, but I already am annoyed with all the unwatched free podcasts in my iTunes. I don’t need my television set letting me know that there’s more stuff out there to buy.

But the AppleTV goes beyond iTunes. In a move that was not unexpected but universally praised, AppleTV gained Netflix support. You can now watch movies and manage your Instant Queue from your television, similar to how Netflix works on your PS3 or Xbox 360, but with an Apple aesthetic. Sorry, Hulu people, there is no Hulu playback on the AppleTV, but I have a feeling that will change, as I’ll discuss later. The usual band of Internet Media Sites follow Netflix: YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe. What’s even better is that the new AppleTV can stream media not only from your local computer, but from iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches) that are hooked up to the WiFi network. So, you can buy and watch a TV show while on the way home from work, get halfway through it, and finish it on your TV just moments after walking in the front door. If there were popcorn and a cold Arizona Arnold Palmer already made and waiting for me, I might just die of happiness.

That’s essentially what the AppleTV is all about now: pick your content and stream it. This is very close to what people were asking for with the AppleTV all along; Jobs and Co. seem to have listened to the customers when they said that they don’t want to manage too much content, pay higher prices, or require eventual synching with iTunes. On that front, it’s Game Over/Flawless Victory to the company from Cupertino. It fixed the biggest issues keeping people from the AppleTV, but is it enough to attract consumers that were less partial to the AppleTV to begin with?

On that front, I’m less sure. It will probably convert people who were on the fence about the AppleTV to begin with, but for someone who’s never heard of the product since its inception four years ago, the sell will be much, much harder. Especially at the beginning. TV show rentals are the dangling carrot for this market, a sign that cable and satellite providers might have some real stiff competition if you can rent whatever you wanted á la carte and pay two thirds less if you don’t watch a lot of television.

The problem is content. The movie studios are on board and maybe eliminating the ability to buy the movie on your AppleTV will encourage more renting (although I get the feeling that the store on AppleTV is more for “what do you want to watch tonight, honey?” situations) but the real winner is TV show rentals. So far, they’ve only been able to sign up ABC and FOX networks to offer their shows at 99¢. While those networks offer some quality shows, the content will be lacking for the first few months. It always is. Do you remember back when Movies first came to iTunes? They were all Disney films and the most adult of them was Death Race 2000. Now, almost every studio is on board offering movies day and date with the DVD release. I have no doubt that more networks will come along, but one wonders if by then it’ll be too late? Probably not, but it’ll require a serious advertising push, and I can’t figure out how a TV ad on a network telling you that you can get your TV content elsewhere will work. I’m not saying that it’ll lead to a Steve Jobs/Ted Turner steel cage grudge match, but a boy can dream…

My biggest gripe with the new AppleTV is that it, like its predecessor, falls just short of perfection. What we were all looking for was the cloud model, where you could buy or rent anything on any iOS device and watch it on any other iOS device. That’s still the golden dragon that the tech world is collectively chasing, and to be fair, the new AppleTV comes really close to that by eliminating the local hard drive and allowing streaming via AirPlay. But, there are some features that should be present, and I’m not sure if they are. For example, will the AppleTV keep track of what you’ve rented in case you want to re-rent it later? It had better, because I’m not in the mood to make a spreadsheet of my entertainment choices. Also, is it possible to purchase a movie/TV show you like right from the AppleTV and have it download to your computer later? A promotional shot shows a ubiquitous button you can select that says “More.” Oh, the possibilities are endless with vaugery like that! Again, this would be a big time-saver that was not mentioned by any press I saw. Maybe it’s time to drop Steve a line and find out.

Finally, the elimination of the internal hard drive (or a very sizable portion of it) makes it near impossible for someone to carry ALL their media with them at one time if they leave to go on vacation. I know this is a small segment of the population and most people will be just fine streaming their purchased and ripped movies off their iMac, but like I said above, Applephiles are waiting for the day where you can go anywhere and access all your media at any time. Plus, I’m trying to get rid of my old laptop and go all iPad; I don’t want to have to carry that laptop around with me just because it has a larger hard drive to fit more movies onto it. This functionality doesn’t seem to be accomplishable with the hardware out of the box, but there will probably be Third Party hacks (such as ATV Flash) that will open up the AppleTV experience and make it more than what it was originally intended. Perhaps hard-drive support will come back (as the AppleTV does have a Mini-USB jack for service purposes) as well as Video Playlists (a feature I adore), DviX/AVI Playback, and maybe even Hulu. We won’t know until their lab rats get ahold of the device, and besides, you should review the product based on what can be done with it out of the box, not what the potential is to a hacker/modder.

UPDATE: I realized when updating the site that this post was left slightly unfinished. Since “Oopsie” is not appropriate for an error of that sort, why don’t we finish up, especially since I have an AppleTV sitting proudly underneath my TV right now…

The price and functionality of the AppleTV is enough to make it a “Buy” for anyone looking for a cheap way to get Netflix and iTunes content to your TV. I’ve got one and I love it to pieces, even though I also have an Xbox 360 and a PS3 that are just as capable of playing Netflix and iTunes content (after a few software workarounds). I spend most of my Netflix time on my AppleTV, as I love the UI (beats the pants off of the 360, in my opinion). With new software updates that will allow AppleTV to accept video from the Internet and even apps coming on March 11, 2011, the AppleTV has come into its own. If you live with both feet firmly planted in Apple’s ecosystem, this is a gadget you must own.

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Crystal Ball Time: Predictions for Apple Music Event 2010

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on August 1, 2010

‘Tis the season again. Tomorrow is Apple’s annual Music Event, and I’m here to give you my thoughts on what will be introduced by the Turtlenecked One tomorrow afternoon. Just remember that if you put money down on this and wind up taking a big hit in Atlantic City, we don’t know each other.

The Sure Thing: New iPods
This one’s as surprising as the sun rising in the morning. Just like Apple refreshing the iPhone and Mac lineups once a year, the same will happen to the iPod tomorrow. The real question is what will be introduced. I’ve heard just about every single theory from new colors to retina displays to diesel engines and lightsaber functionality. So, to cut through all the BS, here’s what I think will happen to the iPod tomorrow:

The iPod Touch will get a retina display and a front facing camera with the ability to Facetime. In early summer, when Jobs announced Facetime, he claimed that by the end of 2010, there will be “tens of millions” of Facetime devices. While he certainly could be talking about just iPhones, it would make sense to – if technically possible – get iPod Touches in on the action. Since they’re already hooked up to WiFi networks to begin with, why shouldn’t they Facetime? Plus, it’s pretty much guaranteed that the next hardware upgrade of the iPad will have Facetime as well; the iPod Touch version would just be smaller. What will keep this from being a reality is battery life and connection issues. If this does happen, I think Apple will see the number of Facetime calls double or even triple before the end of 2010.

The iPod Shuffle and Nano will get larger hard drives and better battery, but will remain mostly untouched. Until these smaller devices get the ability to diagnose terminal diseases and pick the most appropriate sad song, the Shuffle and the Nano will only benefit from more storage space for more media. Maybe they’ll get the same 720p camera that the iPhone has, but that would be the extent of the hardware additions. And really, how many of us jumped at the chance to take pictures with our iPods?

The iPod Classic will get a hard drive upgrade, but will also remain largely untouched, and possibly positioned to be phased out over the coming years. The only niche the original iPod serves in the lineup is the ability to store more songs without having to worry about Apps and Cameras and all that shit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is getting ready to put the old iPod out to stud. It had a nice 10-year run, but the iPod Touch and the iPad are growing at an incredible rate, and are being innovative with their technology. Unless the App Store suddenly crashes like the Stock Market in the 20s, the iPod Classic will continue to look more and more antiquated.
Probability: 100%. Probability of calling the exact lineup perfectly: 25%

The Big ‘Un: iTV
I’ve wanted an AppleTV for so long. As my collection of iTunes videos grew and grew like dandelions in the front yard, I wanted to get the only real solution for watching them on my TV screen, and yet was always hesitant because the product seemed to be very pricey yet lacking in some key features. This hardware/software refresh – if it really exists – will be just what the doctor ordered. Reasonably priced ($99 by all reports read so far), offering far more services than the original device (rumored to have Apps support, Netflix playback, etc.), and be able to stream video from a rudimentary “cloud system” in which the movies and TV shows you buy from Apple can be streamed at any time on the iTV without downloading to the local storage. I just hope it’s retroactive, because I have many, many gigabytes of MythBusters episodes backlogged.

If this device really exists, it’s the one I’ll want to see most tomorrow. It may not have all the features to make it perfect. It still won’t have 1080p playback, and I’m just about certain that “Video Playlists” will only be accomplished through a Third Party hack, but if it exists, and it’s anywhere close to what Engadget and other blogs are calling it out to be, I’ll be first in line to buy one.
Probability: 80%. Good enough to see a fourth card.

The Coin-Flip: Revamped iTunes
Just about anyone with a digital voice has been begging Apple to move to a “cloud” storage model. I even talked about this during my predictions for WWDC, and not much has changed since then, including how likely we will see this model of iTunes anytime soon. From a computer science standpoint, getting wireless syncing of media like movies and music is a massive headache. Even though Apple has already got a model similar to what iTunes will look like already in place (MobileMe), moving iTunes’ massive library of music, movies, apps, podcasts, yadda, yadda, yadda to a cloud model where everything you’ve ever bought since 2003 is in your own cloud is so lofty a task, we probably won’t see it implemented in ernest until sometime in 2011 (at the earliest). If the iTV is announced tomorrow, we’ll probably see an early build of the system for video only, and it will not be retroactive (meaning that the cloud streaming will happen starting with what you buy from tomorrow on. That’s my prediction at least).

A new UI (user interface) is also a good idea for iTunes, seeing as how it – like the iPod – goes through one upgrade every year. I’d be excited because whenever Apple redesigns their sites, I often come away liking the new result. Watching Steve Jobs go through a new look for iTunes is like seeing a friend/family member’s house after they’ve redecorated. It may not look much different or serve any real purpose (I would hope that Jobs and Co. are not designing their websites by Feng Shui), but it’s cool to see something new to spend your time in.
Probability: 50%. Are you feeling lucky, punk?

The Secret Weapon: Longer Previews, 99 cent rentals in iTunes
If you’ve been following the tech blogs, you’ve probably noticed that there was some talk about Apple trying to talk movie/TV studios into offering their programming on Apple Devices as an A La Carte subscription service. That fell through because the studios were worried about advertising revenue loss and cable backlash. So it may not be time to unplug your cable provider just yet (although I certainly have), but iTunes is rumored to announce 99 cent video rentals tomorrow. This would work by allowing the user to download a movie or TV show for 99 cents for a duration of 30 days or 24 hours after pressing play (the usual Apple rental terms). If this is true, I suspect a boon in Apple video revenue, especially if coupled with the iTV. What would make this deal killer is season rentals. With one click, you could spend $15-20 and automatically download the latest episode for a rental. Watch it and allow it to expire, or go to iTunes and download a full copy if you want to own it. I’d love this model. While Pawn Stars is a great show, you don’t need to own every single episode like you would for Sons of Anarchy. Other than the iTV, I’m really crossing my fingers for this one.

Also rumored are longer, 60 second song previews, but who really cares? I do just fine with my 30 seconds and I will probably do equally as fine for 60. But who knows what kind of bloody negotiations have gone on to give us that extra half minute…
Probability: 30%. Better hope you hit the flop.

The Long Shot: Release Date for iOS4 on iPad
This is more of a personal request, since all Jobs had to offer us last time was “Fall.” Well it’s Fall now, dude! This would be a good way for Jobs to open the presentation. It’s a small, almost meaningless nugget of information for bloggers like myself to chew on and whet appetites for larger, meatier news. It probably won’t happen, but if it does, I want you all to remember that I fucking called it!
Probability: 10%. One Word: Pray.

Pure, Utter Speculation: A Tighter, Meaner Presentation
Apple came out of WWDC with some egg on their face for having a technical issue during some key demos and asking members of the media to shut off their liveblogs so the Internet would be freed up. Jobs even went so far as to chastise these people who kept their laptops open and their liveblogs up. After WWDC, that was the story, not the unveiling of the iPhone 4. This time, I think Apple will try, as much as they can in the age of MiFis, to cut down on any embarrassing issues that might take away from the product announcements. Gaffs and bloopers are unavoidable when dealing with technology, but one would hope that Jobs has learned from WWDC 2010 and won’t have to deal with anything that embarrassing this time.
Probability: 37% chance of another technical issue. 85% chance it won’t make it into the “official video.”

Inconsequential: Lady GaGa performs at the end
Most of Apple’s Music Events end with a live performance. Reporters and Apple Insiders have been treated to songs by U2, John Mayer, Norah Jones, and now my money is that the next song will be by Lady GaGa. She was recently seen hanging around Apple HQ in Cupertino (Quick, someone call the ACME Gumshoes!), which could be just as innocent as going someplace fun on a Sunday, but I think it’s a sign that she will be involved at the event tomorrow. Either way, I care more about gadgets than I do about her, so it won’t matter either way.
Probability: *shrugs*

The Lost Cause: Verizon iPhone
Rumors circulating the mythical Verizon iPhone have started since the handset was announced in 2006. Every time it eludes us, but thanks to some credible… Oh, fuck it, I can’t go on. Look, there is no Santa Claus, there is no Tooth Fairy, and there is no Verizon iPhone. The only difference is that maybe, through some odd combination of magic and tectonic plate movements, the Verizon iPhone may exist some day. Until then, don’t follow the fucking rumors. All they’ll do is get your hopes up and let you down when the time rolls around again and again. I’ll believe that Verizon will carry the iPhone when I can walk into a Verizon store and pay for one. Before that day, I’ll keep vPhone rumors in the same folder I keep the photos of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.
Probability: -100%. A sure thing to bet AGAINST.

And there you have it. As always you can follow me on Twitter for the latest updates from the Apple Event. Thanks again, and I’ll be back next time Apple has something shiny they want to sell me.

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Crystal Ball Time: Predictions for WWDC 2010

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on June 7, 2010

It’s that time of year again. When the weather on the East Coast gets right at the level of “unbearable” a huge Apple Keynote will take place and let all us faithful Macheads out there know what we’ll be spending money on for the next few months. It’s time for the 2010 WorldWide Developer’s Conference, and with it, my predictions.

This event will probably hold few surprises – more on that in a minute – so offering these predictions feels like a useless exercise. Why predict something we already know will happen? The less obvious answer is that I have a gambling problem and have to make wagers on simple shit like the sun rising in the morning (I get 5,000,000 to 1 odds if it doesn’t. Whoo Hoo!), but the easy answer is that there are still a few wild cards in Jobs’s hand, and it is the duty of insignificant bloggers like myself to call them before they’re played. So, without further delay:

The Sure Thing: Next-Gen iPhone
This one is so in-the-bag, you can deposit it in any major bank. Even if Gizmodo didn’t break the story wide open and debut Apple’s new handheld for them, logic would lead us to believe that a new iPhone was scheduled to be announced at about this time anyway. What’s less certain is the name – my prediction is the “iPhone HD,” a collection of buzzwords guaranteed to make people want to buy it – and whether or not it’ll support video conferencing over 3G? I’m guessing no, since AT&T’s network is already so poor, they’re punishing people for using it too much. I’m also predicting that Apple will save this one until the end (see “One More Thing.”)
Probability: 100%

The Opening Act: Safari 5
The rumor that Apple will be refreshing their browser has come rather late in the game, but it does make sense. Google’s browser, Chrome, is rising fast in the web browser market, and Apple needs to make some changes to keep Safari relevant. First of all, I’m hoping that they announce some fixes for the Windows version of Safari because the one I have at work can’t stop crashing. Plus, as many have pointed out, the integration of search engine and URL bar is genius and if Apple doesn’t implement it in their browser, they will always be one step behind.
Probability: 80%

The Coin Flip: An update on iPhone OS 4.0
The tagline for WWDC this year is “The Center for the App Universe,” so most of the focus for this conference will be on the iPhone OS and its variations. 4.0 has been in beta for about two months now and the stage is set for an update on its progress. Specifically, I’m looking for a release date and some announcements on tweaks made to the software during the beta. With the world looking on, and the new iPhone certain to make an appearance, Jobs has to give us a peak at how the new phone will take advantage of the new software running it.
Probability: 50%

The Long Shot: AppleTV/iTunes Cloud Refresh
This one’s been rumored for the past few weeks; the much maligned AppleTV will get a massive reboot turning it into a primarily streaming device that will stream your iTunes content from either a local source or (even better) a “cloud” server where all the music and video you’ve purchased can be accessed from any internet source at any time. Some are even claiming that the new AppleTV will run 1080p and have support for apps (read: games). The analysts on this case, however, feel that the new AppleTV is a September/October announcement as the hardware focus should be centered on the iPhone. All I hope is that it actually happens; I’ve been jonesing for an AppleTV for a while, and this news makes me hesitant to buy for the time being.
Probability: 30%

The Lost Cause: Verizon iPhone
Let’s not dwell on this, shall we? Verizon will not get the iPhone today, and it’ll be a while before Big Red sees any of the action. Every season, the rumors start to fly regarding the iPhone going multi-carrier and I’m starting to suspect that most of them are bullshit. Why? Because the entire public is calling for the iPhone to spread its wings, so a juicy rumor gets attention. In fact, here’s another bold prediction: don’t expect to see a Verizon iPhone any time before 2011. After that, who knows? I’ll say this, though; if the iPhone wants to go multi-carrier, it needs to do so soon. Google’s Android is quickly becoming the Next Big Thing and this version of the iPhone will be the first real volleys in a war that could rival Nintendo vs. Sega. If the iPhone can’t keep up and look attractive to consumers, then no one will care if it’s only available on AT&T.
Probability: 0%

The Hail Mary: iPhone Announced at End with “One More Thing”
This is a personal prediction and has no impact on the news itself. We’ve been waiting forever for the return of the “One More Thing,” and I think it has a prime opportunity to show up again today. Everyone is expecting the iPhone, so make them wait for it. It’d be like that big present that isn’t under the Christmas tree, but inside the garage with a ribbon on it. As a tip in, when Jobs announces the first publicity shot of the iPhone, I’m guessing he’ll use one of the Gizmodo exclusive photos taken when the iPhone leaked, just to take a jab at the whole situation.
Probability: -27%

The Question Mark: The MacSlate
I just saw this one online as I was getting ready to post this article? What the hell is a MacSlate, and how will the addition of another trackpad make my life easier? Some sites are claiming we’ll find out today, but I’ll literally believe it when I see it.
Probability: ???????????

So there you have it: my predictions for this year’s WWDC. We’re only a few hours away, so pick your liveblog of choice and watch the action unfold at 1PM Eastern/10AM Pacific. If you want to, you can follow me on Twitter and catch my feed of the news as it happens. It’d be just like reading TUAW’s coverage, only with more dick jokes.

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iPredict Great Things for the iPad

Posted in Technology by Chris W. on January 27, 2010

The wait and the speculation are finally over. Today, at around 1:20 PM Eastern Time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the company’s “new creation”: The iPad, a 1/2” thick, 10” large sheet that is meant to bridge the gap between the iPhone and the MacBook. Jobs and Co. have placed a lot of their muscle behind it and are touting the iPad as the next big Apple product. Inasmuch as the iPhone revolutionized smartphones and the iPod revolutionized personal media players, the iPad is meant to revolutionize “netbooks.”

The question is: will the iPad take off like the iPhone or are we looking at a new AppleTV or MacBook Air on our hands?

To be honest, everyone is saying how the announcement was a letdown, but that’s probably a result of the incredible expectations that the media and blogosphere drums up whenever Apple announces a new product. The hype for this product has been going for a long time, so most people thought it was going to hold a billion songs, read minds, and solve world hunger. I was personally hoping for a tablet computer that would replace my laptop and maybe even nudge on my iPhone’s territory a little bit, something that had real power behind it and could be seen as the start of an era of personal information tablet computers. The reality of the situation was nowhere near the expectations for it, simply because the bar was set so high that the only thing that would’ve shocked people would be the technological equivalent of an across-the-court slam dunk. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

That doesn’t mean that the iPad announcement was a complete dud. The iPad, and netbooks in general, target consumers that don’t need a large hard drive or a lot of power. They want to surf the web, check e-mail , and that’s it. The iPad definitely does that, and more. The idea of holding the Internet and typing on such a thin sheet conjures up images of Star Trek, and that’s what is probably going to be the killer native app on this device. Photos, e-mail, calendars, contacts, iTunes, and even book reading (I was a proud Kindle owner, but you may see me on CraigsList shortly) look amazing as well and I was almost sold on the strength of those apps alone, not to mention that almost all the apps currently offered for the iPhone are compatible for the iPad. With more real-estate, better graphics, and multi-touch, who knows what game developers are going to be able to do with this device?

But now, we come to the real heart of the matter: where will an iPad possibly fit into a consumer’s life? If you already have an iPhone and a laptop, like I have, an iPad might seem like about as useful as a fifth tire on your car… placed on the roof. On the surface, there’s no need to wedge in this device that seems to be just a glorified iPod. What the iPod can’t handle, the laptop easily could. Simple word processing on the iPad requires either access to Google Documents or a ten dollar iWork app, and even then, the result doesn’t speak well to the writer within me, churning out columns at 500+ words at a time. Also, the iPad requires docking with another computer in order to sync content, similar to an iPod, so the iPad will not be the only computer in your house, but more as a way of bringing you content with you from another, larger computer. Plus, like a laptop or an iPod Touch, the iPad uses a WiFi connection, so if you’re not in a WiFi network, you’re SOL. You could shell out more money for a version with 3G included, but iPhone users know how that dance works. Unless AT&T got a helluva lot of satellites and towers for Christmas, the added weight of the US iPad users will cause the already weak AT&T 3G networks to buckle and collapse under the strain. Multitasking is also absent from the iPad. Similar to the iPhone, apps take up the whole screen, so if you have AIM open while writing in Pages and get a push notification (if push notifications are even supported right now), you’ll need to exit out of Pages to rejoin the chat.

It’s also not a good idea to downgrade your iPhone to a poverty-level cellphone and just do all your iPhone stuff on the iPad, at least just yet. Part of the charm of the iPhone, and one of the reasons why it was so successful, is that it’s four different devices in one: an iPod, a phone, a gaming device, and a mobile computer. The appeal of having all those different gadgets squeezed into one makes sense to almost everyone. To the growing pile of skeptics on the Internet, the iPad is a bigger iPod Touch that is not as easy or as fun to listen to while just walking around or exercising. Plus, the $500 price tag on the introductory model is enough to cause convulsions and involuntary bladder loss in some people.

The shortcomings of the device remind me a lot of the complaints lobbied against the first iPhone. Think back to the first ever iPhone: it had no apps, no GPS, no 3G, no picture messaging, a sub-standard camera, and no zoom (a feature that has yet to appear on the iPhone). Feature-wise, the iPhone was a generation behind the phones of its time, and yet the unit still sold, and sold enough to warrant updating it, and the launch of the iPhone 3G and the App Store shot the iPhone into orbit. I can’t and won’t guarantee that the lack of a camera or networking capabilities will be fixed in later versions because I don’t know for sure. I will, however, say that the iPad has a lot of room to move into, and I have a feeling that the response once these devices hit shelves will showcase the reason Apple products warrant so much attention.

Those early iPhones sold because Apple does one thing very well: they make products that look fun to use, and cause people to wonder exactly how it was done. The first time somebody sees an iMac or sees the iPhone, some corner of the brain lights up that evokes wonder and disbelief. The iPad hits that same neurocenter; its design and aesthetic are awe-inspiring. The major selling point is an extremely thin sheet of glass that somehow contains the full-sized Internet, HD video content, and a whole library of books within itself and at the command of a touch. Add games, iWork, and a variety of apps to personalize your experience to the mix and you have a product with serious potential.

So, is it for you? If you have a higher-end laptop such as a MacBook Pro, I would recommend sidestepping the iPad until the initial wave hits and returns to sea. Plus, if you have an iPhone and don’t have a real jones for a larger screen to play video and view the Internet and your apps, the iPad is probably not for you yet. The target market is the netbook crowd, the people who want a cheap laptop for simple web surfing, e-mail, and maybe word processing. Its chief function is not to be at your side at all times, like your iPhone is, but as a recreational device, something to pull out and play with when bored.* And for someone like me, who has an iPhone and is saving up for a massive, throbbing iMac, the iPad seems like a decent replacement for my aging MacBook. It does my media, it does the web, and it has the possibility of being a very capable word processor. Even now, as I type this, I imagine what it’d be like to type up a post on the iPad, and whether doing so will earn me geek cred?

If the iPad isn’t your thing, I totally get it. I’d recommend everyone other than the Apple Hardcore and people who need a laptop and don’t want a lot of features on it to stay away from the iPad until the second or third version of the hardware. With any luck, you’ll be able to see if the battle is worth joining or fleeing.

*Not like that. I don’t have to go for every dick joke that comes my way.

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Apple Event Predictions: Jan. 27th 2010

Posted in Apple Predictions, Technology by Chris W. on January 27, 2010

As I write this at 12:28 AM Eastern Time on 1/27/10, I’m a mere 12 hours away from a presentation that the media has been foaming at the mouth over for almost a month. Apple Computers will be holding a press event today at around 9:00 AM Pacific and is setting the stage to wow the world again, much like they did with the iPhone a little more than two years ago. While nothing has been officially confirmed, speculation is running rampant the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Salem Witch Trials. So, since I have a website and the space to make my voice heard, here are my predictions on what will be shown or announced later on today, both what I think will happen, and what I’d like to see happen.

The Surefire Thing – The Apple Tablet
I’m not trying to assert the size of my cajones by predicting with almost 100% certainty that some form of tablet device will be announced tomorrow, just following the evidence. Normally, I’d consider all the tablet talk to be nothing more than mere fanboy masturbation material, but convincing reports from both the Wall Street Journal and CNBC are easing the skepticism. I got the same vibe back in 2007, when everyone knew that the iPhone was coming out (although nobody knew exactly what that’d entail), and was just waiting for the official word from Steve Jobs. Everyone seems to be pointing to the “Come See Our Latest Creation” tagline in the invitations reprinted above to refer to the tablet and while Jobs didn’t completely spill the beans, he basically confirmed a new product will be debuted today. The details seem to vary depending on which source you talk to, and I’d rather be surprised by that. It’s just worth it to me to know that this rumored device can finally jump off the “Rumor” pile and allow me to see its functionality.

The Less Surefire Thing – The Apple Tablet’s name

I don’t want to speculate too much on the name for this new device because, as a great writer once said, “what’s in a name?” I could, however, offer some hints for last minute bet-takers. Several candidates have popped up online, and most of them sound like crap. The rule is: If the functionality of this tablet is more on raw computing power, it will be something with “Mac” in the title, such as “MacTablet,” “MacSlate,” or even “MacBook Touch”. If, on the other hand, the tablet is geared for a casual market, which it seems is very likely, it will be in the “i” family, such as “iTablet,” “iSlate,” or even the dreaded “iPad.” And, from a marketing standpoint, “iPad” is not a bad name. Sure, it sounds like something you’d buy in a special aisle at the pharmacy, but it carries the identifiable “i” prefix and sound similar to “iPod.” The biggest advantage the iPod would have over the iPad is because iPod just sounds better coming off the tongue. Personally, “Apple Tablet” rings my bell just fine.

Middle-of-the-Road Possibility – iPhone OS 4.0
The iPhone OS has been growing and improving ever since the iPhone first came out, and as a wonderful precursor to the Apple Tablet, the debut of iPhone 4.0 would get everyone in the right frame of mind, especially if the Tablet runs iPhone OS. Jobs could easily set up the features of 4.0 halfway, only to complete the equation with the Tablet. TUAW wrote up a list of most-wanted features, so you can go to them for the goods. I’m more excited for a possible update of the software in order to stem my hope for the next item.

Please-oh-please-God-let-it-be-true – iPhone and Tablet on Verizon.
This one, sports fans, you can probably bet on not happening. A few flurries around the Internet are popping up giving rumors that the iPhone and Apple Tablet will be jumping off the AT&T ship, but these feel like speculation and wishful thinking. Perhaps it was the vicious back-and-forth between the two companies on your television over the holidays, or perhaps it’s the different style of chips used to run both networks. but a Verizon iPhone or Apple Tablet just doesn’t seem likely to me. Unless it’s as the following…

Eagerly Awaited – The “One More Thing”
When Jobs came back to Apple after an extended medical leave, everyone thought that he’d bring back the trademark Steve Jobs Slideshow Fakeout, which has been MIA for almost a year. Jobs pulling the “One More Thing” is sorta like Aerosmith playing “Walk This Way”; you expect it to happen, and when it doesn’t something just isn’t right. With a major announcement and probably a highlight-filled event coming up, the rug is set on the stage, and ready to be pulled out from under us.

If not here, then later in the year – New iTunes
Apple has been buying up little startup internet services like they were on sale (which, in a way, they were). These buyouts have been causing analysts to speculate that Apple is revamping iTunes to a new model. Now, buying content doesn’t just give you a file to download, but permission to stream that file to any computer that you log in to. This would, in effect, put your music and movies on a “cloud” that Apple would push to you whenever you requested it. While I’d hope the old model of downloading and owning would still exist, the “cloud” model would work for portable devices like the Apple Tablet and the MacBook Air. Plus, Apple has been rumored to be talking to some Television providers to offer a subscription-based “a-la carte” system where the customer pays money for access to their favorite shows for a month. Last I heard, talks had ceased for Apple to make their announcement and the TV providers were playing hard to get, so this could easily get pushed back to a Macworld announcement. I do wish they’d come out with it, just to anticipate…

Never Gonna Happen – Completely Retooled AppleTV
The AppleTV has a unique position in being more than capable of replacing cable in the lives of a lot of people. However, the recent software update wasn’t that well received and Apple hasn’t really made a commitment to bettering the AppleTV. I’m personally hoping that Apple will reintroduce the AppleTV as a set-top box that can stream iTunes content, carry internal content, and function as a Blu-ray player, but this’d be like asking the sky to rain down dollar bills and happiness because it will never happen. AppleTV exists as a way to get media content from computer to TV and vice versa. Blu-ray sales and Netflix will eat into the profits for iTunes, so if you are hoping for those to show up on the AppleTV, how does it feel to want?

Fatigue-Induced Shot in the Dark – Multicolored iPhones
I base this on nothing more than the iPod shuffle being a success in multiple colors and the multiple color splotches on the invitation. That’s right, I’m deep.

That’s all for now. I’ll post the real results as they happen on my Twitter, and a genuine Post-Mortem here tomorrow.

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Xbox vs iTunes: Battle of the Media Download Services

Posted in Reviews, Technology by Chris W. on March 8, 2007

Almost everyone has an iPod now, and as a result, almost everyone uses iTunes for some reason or another. As a music download service, it’s beyond compare. When it comes to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, iTunes is just about always my go-to service (unless the song is over 6 minutes long, and then I’d probably have to buy the whole album in order to get it. I thought iTunes was supposed to rid us of that, huh?!). But with the addition of video capabilities, and more recently a wider selection of feature films, Apple has been branching out far beyond its established “comfort zone.” Have they gone too far?

Well, there are plenty of video download services, and most of them suck. Amazon’s “Unbox” service needed the help of TiVo in order to save it from premature extinction. So, with Apple’s dominance over the MP3 player market, you’d think that the video component would be just as successful, but one new player’s been in the game since last November that just might give Apple a run for their money. And worst of all, it comes from their biggest competitor.

Microsoft may have dropped the ball on Vista (my guess is that Bill Gates is retiring and becoming a philanthropist in order to clear his conscience of Vista) but the Xbox 360 division of the Big M has been going strong. I’ve had an Xbox 360 for almost a year, and I love that sucker. When I heard that Xbox was beginning to offer movies and television shows for download (some of them in High Definition), it was a huge boost in the 360’s credibility for me. I’ve tried both services, and I’ll try to list the pros and cons here.

Pros: iTunes

iTunes’ first big advantage is its cross-platform accessibility. As stated before, the popularity of the iPod is a big stepping-stone for Apple to climb on. The user interface is friendly, but that’s really par for the course. The prices are fair, especially for TV shows. One really sneaky thing that Apple has integrated into iTunes is the ability to just set up a credit card for Apple to suckle off of every time you buy something, so it seems like you’re getting the movie/TV show/song for free. And, Apple has finally gotten past the limited appeal of the Disney catalogue (with the exception of Cars. My dad loves that movie.) and gotten more mature content. Even though I have way too many copies of Reservoir Dogs, I’m still attracted to the notion of having a portable one!

Pros: Xbox 360

Xbox’s prime advantage comes in two letters: HD. The 360 has the built-in capability to handle high definition content, so they offer high definition content, which makes the techno-nerd in me very happy. Also, since the Xbox is catering to the people who have big-screen HDTVs, the content matches that resolution, for the most part. But the biggest feather in Microsoft’s cap that I can think of is something that can’t be measured in numbers: it’s a lot of fun to use the Xbox Live Marketplace. Maybe it’s the bright colors, but the interface is really enjoyable. While shopping on the iTunes store is more formal, like shopping at Sears or Amazon.com, going through the Xbox Live Marketplace is like going to a Chuck E. Cheese, but without all the kids.

Cons: iTunes

iTunes’ biggest flaw comes from its biggest advantage. The portability of the iPod, while fantastic for music, means that watching video on it is similar to trying to watch a neighbor’s TV through a set of binoculars (not that I’ve tried). And the resolution leaves a bit to be desired. The official description from Apple is “near-DVD quality”. I think that a more appropriate description is “slightly better than Laserdisc.” A lot of the cool shows and movies (24, Law & Order, Pirates of the Caribbean) have deep saturated blacks in them, and “black” is not the friend of the iPod. Sometimes it gets so pixilated, it’s embarrassing.

Cons: Xbox

The 360 has a lot of flaws inherent in its design. The first one is in regard to movies. If you have a 360, and have downloaded movies, you know that the download is a “rental”. After 14 days, or 24 hours after you press Play, the license on the movie expires, and if you want to watch it again, you’ll have to download it again. And, while Xbox is working on getting more high definition content available to its subscribers, the majority of the movies and TV shows are full-frame Standard Definition. The sad fact is that, when you’ve got a widescreen TV, you want to watch things in widescreen.

This can be somewhat forgivable, since it isn’t really the standard yet, and in Microsoft’s mind, the filtering of HDTVs down to the base consumer might not be large enough to warrant this. That’s all understandable, but the current incarnation of the 360 has something that can’t be forgiven: the hard drive is only 20 GB large. With all of the content that can be used on the 360 (game demos, music, saved game data, and now video content) that 20 GB can fill up fast. And another hard drive costs 100 dollars! Microsoft is promising a larger hard drive by the end of the year, but if a 20 GB hard drive costs a seanote, then what would an 80 GB hard drive cost?! You could buy another 360 with that cash!

Finally, in contrast to Apple’s “invisible credit”, where you’re being billed, but you don’t feel like it, Microsoft reminds you how much dough you’ve got to spend. The Xbox Live Marketplace utilizes something called “Microsoft Points”, a debit system of points that act like cash in this virtual store. Every time you buy something, the points get deducted, and you’re reminded of how many points you have left. So, if you buy 1000 points, you can slowly watch those 1000 points go down the tube. While it may be realistic, it’s obviously not good business to remind the customer that they’re spending money. And once those points do run out, you buy another block of points. If I were Microsoft, I’d go the route of iTunes and internet porn providers, where they just invisibly and automatically take your money. As a consumer, I appreciate that.

Final Verdict: Draw

I know, it’s kind of the pussy way out, but it’s too close to call. The barometer is that if there’s a video (like South Park) which is available on both services, I’d be probably more likely to purchase it from iTunes, for the express reasons because my Xbox hard drive is almost full, and the episodes usually aren’t in widescreen to begin with on the Xbox. But new technology should be closing the already small gap between the two. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft is planning a larger hard drive for the 360 (hopefully the price is fair), but Apple is also going to be rolling out their $300 AppleTV sometime this month, which caters to HDTVs. I hope that the release of AppleTV is a sign that Apple is embracing high definition content. If they are, then Microsoft’s advantage is severely injured. But, as I close this already long-winded review, I will say that shopping on the Xbox Live Marketplace is a lot of fun, and one of the best features of the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live service. That’s something that Apple can’t take away, yet.

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