Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Free Find My iPhone Is a Big Winner

In its continued effort to one-up the fast growing Andriod-based phones, Apple made its Find My iPhone service free to to users of the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch.  This feature was part of the MobileMe service offered by Apple for $99 per year.  Although the Find My iPhone feature is a small part of what MobileMe offers, making it free gives iPhone a great feature for very little new development effort.

Enabling Find My iPhone
Enabling the new Find My iPhone feature on any iOS devices is very straight forward:

  1. Upgrade your device to iOS 4.2 (or higher)
  2. Under Settings, select the Mail, Contacts, Calendars option.
  3. Select Add Account...
  4. Select mobileme
  5. Enter your Apple ID and Password (note: if you have an Apple ID that is not an e-mail address, you must change your Apple ID to be an e-mail address by going appleid.apple.com.  It's an easy process, but once you do it make sure to change it in all of your devices and iTunes clients).
Repeat the steps above on every iOS device you own.  Assuming you're using the same Apple ID and password to enable Find My iPhone on all the devices, you can use the Find My iPhone app on any devices to do one of the following:

  • Locate all the devices on a map
  • Wipe any of the devices remotely
  • Send a text alert
  • Send an audible alert, even if the ringer is off
These features are great and worked really well on iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch (4th gen), and the iPad. 

One Drawback
The one drawback is that the device has to be connected to a network to locate it.  For example, if you take your iPod touch out of the house and leave it somewhere, you can't locate it unless someone finds it and connects it to a Wi-Fi.

If you haven't enabled this feature, do it before you misplace your phone :-)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

AirPrint Disappoints & AirPlay Still Needs Work

iOS 4.2 (or 4.2.1) was just released and for those of us who have been salivating over the promise being able to print from our iPads (and iPhones) were sorely disappointed that the AirPrint feature that was promised several months ago is basically worthless.  Unless you happen to have recently purchased one of 8 HP printers that Apple supports in this release, you just can't print from your iOS device. Period. 

As far as the AirPlay feature is concerned, this continues to be one of the most exciting innovations in quite some time.  Unfortunately, the promise of this feature is not all there yet.  For example, it's very exciting and nifty that you can stream videos from your iPhone and iPad to an Apple TV.  This works brilliantly and seamlessly when you're play videos from your synchronized videos and photos from your Photos library on any iOS 4.2 device.  Oddly enough though, videos that were recorded with an iPhone or iPod touch and site in the Photos library cannot be streamed to an Apple TV.  Arguably, these would be the videos that you would be most interested in sharing with others shortly after just taking them.

Another oddity with the AirPlay feature in this release is that it doesn't work with 3rd-party applications. For example, you can't stream Pandora, Netflix, or YouTube.  Hopefully, that these applications can be updated to support this feature, but it's unknown at this point whether Apple is going to allow this.  I would love have the ability to stream music from Pandora to my Apple TV or one of the promised AirPlay-enabled speakers (such as the iHome iW1 AirPlay speaker).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Update iPhone and iPad without iTunes?

A long-running complaint from iPhone, iPod touch (and more recently iPad users) is the fact that updating the device software/firmware requires connecting it to iTunes via USB.  Many customers, especially business users and users who are not technical are puzzled as to why this requirement exists.  Many of them do everything they need on the device including buying music, videos, and downloading apps without once connecting to their computer.

The recent release of the latest Apple TV gives me a little hope.   The new Apple TV does not connect to the iTunes client via a USB (you can do it, but that's a different story).  Despite this fact, it does appear that you can update the Apple TVs software directly from the Apple TV menu, which means that the iOS is capable of handling an "over the air/Internet" update.

Since the new Apple TV is based on the iOS operating system, which is shared by the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, you would think that this capability is coming to the rest of the devices.  At least, I hope so.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

$299 Will Buy You 1 Google TV box or 3 Apple TVs!

Logitech is going to be one of the first providers to embed Google TV software in its new media box called Revue.  Google TV is very feature-rich with support for Netflix, Napster, Pandora, Twitter, CNBC as well as well as a full wireless keyboard for browsing the web.  All this, however, comes at a steep price: $299.

Amazon is already taking pre-orders for the device, which will ship at the end of October.  However, who is going to buy it?  For $299, you can buy 3 Apple TV devices and put one in each room of your house.  Why would you want to spend $299...  The Logitech Revue is more feature-rich in terms of supporting more apps and a full keyboard.  Apple TV adheres to Apple's the simpler the better design.

It seems that the Google TV-based Revue is is not targeted at the average user.  Where Steve Jobs believes that the average customer does not want to turn their TV into a PC, Google has reached a different conclusion.  That leads me to believe that the target customers are different.

It will be interesting to see which technology will capture more more market share.  I'm counting on Apple.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Apple TV (2nd Generation) Detailed Review

Thirty-one days after ordering my two new Apple TVs, they arrived via FedEx this afternoon. These Apple TVs join a first generation Apple TV, a Boxee-dedicated laptop, a media server, and Airport Express devices as the media components for the household.

By now, there are probably hundreds of reviews of the new Apple TV on the Internet.  This my personal take on it as an avid user of the first generation Apple TV.

Technical Specifications
Apple does not provide a lot of technical details about many of its devices and the Apple TV is no exception.  Luckily, iFixIt has already tore one down to provide us with specific.  Here's a summary of the Apple TV's technical speifications based on Apple's documentation and iFixIt's tear down:

  • Operating System: iOS (same operating system used in the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch)
  • On-board memory: 256 MB (equivalent to the iPad 1st Gen and iPod touch 4th Gen)
  • Processor: Apple A4 (identical to iPad 1s Gen processor)
  • Storage: 8 GB of flash memory
  • Connectors: HDMI, Ethernet (10/100BASE-T), digital optical audio, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), power
  • Power Supply: 3.4V @1.75A (5.95 watts)
  • HD Video Output Max: 720p

Initial Setup
Before you get started with setting up the new Apple TV in your environment:

  • Make sure you have an HDMI cable.  There is no cable in the box.  I recommend that you don't waste your money on a Monster cable. You can get an AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable for $7. You can also order cheaper cables from Meritline, but shipping might take longer than than Amazon.com or Buy.com.
  • Update your iTunes application to the latest version (as of this writing, that would be iTunes 10.0.1)
  • Enable Home Sharing on the iTunes library (or libraries) on the Macs or PCs that you wish to access through the Apple TV, assuming you have person content such as music, videos, and photos that you wish to access from the Apple TV.
  • If you plan on viewing photos on the Apple TV from one of your computers, designate the folder where your photos reside in the iTunes client by going to the Advanced menu and selecting Choose Photos to Share...
HDMI Cable
Once the above is complete, plug the HDMI cable between your TV and the Apple TV, the power cord, and the Ethernet cable (if using one).

Language Selection
Next, follow the on-screen setup to select the language option of your choice.

Network Configuration
At this point, you need to configure how your box will access your local network and the Internet, which could be done using an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.


  • Option 1: Ethernet Setup.  Did you plug the cable in?  Congratulations, you're done with Network Configuration.
  • Option 2: Wi-Fi Setup.  If you did not plug an Ethernet cable in, the Apple TV will automatically prompt you to select a Wi-Fi Network from a list of available ones.  Go ahead and select your Wi-Fi network and enter the Wi-Fi passwords (your WEP key or WPA password, typically).

Apple Support
Next, the Apple TV will request to have your usage information be shared with Apple.  If you are comfortable with this, check out their privacy statement and select OK.  Otherwise, select No Thanks.

If everything worked correctly, you will see the main menu with cover art for the latest Top Movies.  If all you're going to use your Apple TV for is rent movies and TV shows from Apple, view Podcasts and YouTube videos, you're done with the setup.  If you need to access your local content, continue.

Home Sharing
You need to enable Home Sharing on the Apple TV in order to access your personal content that resides on a Mac or a PC (or multiple ones).  Before you proceed with enabling Home Sharing on the Apple TV, make sure you already did this on the iTunes client on your Mac or PC.

To enable Home Sharing on the Apple TV, go to the Computers option on the main menu and select Turn on Home Sharing.  As with the iTunes client, Home Sharing requires your Apple ID and password.  The Apple ID and password used on the Apple TV must match the set used on the iTunes clients you're going to access.

The Apple TV will also prompt you to use the Apple ID and password you just entered for the iTunes Store for renting TV shows and movies.  If you're the only one using this device or comfortable with others in your household renting movies and TV shows using your Apple account and you're credit card associated with that account, select Yes.  Otherwise, select No.

If everything worked correctly, you should now see your iTunes libraries under Computers.

Netflix Setup
If you don't have a Netflix account, do yourself a favor and get one right now.  For $8.99 per month (or $7.99 in Canada), you can stream unlimited movies and TV shows.  It's definitely worth the money and the Apple TV makes it even worth more as it has the best Netflix implementation I've ever seen.

To enter your Netflix credentials on the Apple TV, select Internet from the main menu then Netflix.  You will be prompted for your Netflix Email and password.  Enter them and you will be on your way to streaming thousands of TV shows and movies.

iOS Remote Setup (optional)
If you own an iPhone, an iPod touch, or an iPad it's a good idea to download the iOS Remote from the App Store.  It's a great application and makes using the Apple TV even easier because you would be able to control it from anyone in the house and without a line-of-sight.  For instance, one of my Apple TVs was Velcro'ed on the back of a TV hanging on the bedroom wall.  I would not be able to access it if it wasn't for the iOS Remote app.

Additional Setup Options (recommended)
Two additional setup options that you should consider.  The first to to rename the Apple TV to something more meaningful than just Apple TV.  If you get more than one Apple TV, it will be easier to distinguish the difference devices when access them using the iOS Remote app or when you're streaming content to them using the new AirPlay technology (either from an iTunes client or from iOS devices running iOS 4.2 or higher). You can change the name by selecting Settings from the main menu, then selecting General.  From there, select Name and select one of the preset names or create a name using the Custom... option on the menu.

Finally, it's probably a good idea to set up the screensaver to use your own photos, which you can do by selecting Settings from the main menu, then selecting Screen Saver.  From there, select Photos followed by the Computer that has the photos that you wish to use for the screen saver.  Finally, select the specific folder to use.

First Impressions
The new Apple TV is one of the best devices on the planet for bringing your content to the family room.

Usability
Just like the majority of Apple's products, the Apple TV is easy to use and intuitive.  Setup is a breeze, especially if you are already an iTunes user.  The menu is simple and straightforward.  The integration with iTunes, the iTunes Store, Netflix, You Tube, and the iOS Remote app are so seamless the entire ecosystem feels like one.

Functionality
Here's what you can do with the new Apple TV (items in italic are unique to the 2nd generation Apple TV):
  • Rent and stream movies from the iTunes Store ($4.99 in HD)
  • Rent and stream TV shows from the iTunes Store.  This is currently limited to Fox and ABC networks, which includes BBC America and Disney ($0.99 per show in HD).
  • Stream movies and TV shows from Netflix (This feature requires a Netflix subscription.  Existing Netflix subscribers can just put in their user name and password).
  • Stream YouTub videos (free)
  • Stream audio and video Podcasts from the iTunes Store (free)
  • Stream content from your MobileMe account (requires a MobileMe account)
  • Access photos on Flickr (free)
  • Stream audio from radio stations around the world (free)
  • Stream personal videos from one or more of your own iTunes library
  • Stream personal music from one or more of your own iTunes library
  • View photos and beautiful slideshows from your one or more of your own computers
  • Select a set of photos to use as screen saving on your big screen TV.

Form Factor
The small form factor (at 3 3/4 " x 3 3/4" x 3/4") makes it easy to integrate into any environment.  You can put it on top of your DVD player, you can tape it to the back of the TV or just put it in plain view and it would not be intrusive.

Disappointments
I am disappointed with the fact that the new Apple TV does not have additional integrations (or channels) besides the iTunes Store, Netflix, YouTube, and local content.  I would've loved to have seen a Hulu and Pandora channels for examples.  Additional simple games would've been great as well.  Since the Apple TV uses the same operating system as the iPad and iPhone, I am hopeful that apps are on the way.



Comparison with 1st Generation Apple TV
The 1st generation Apple TV did a great job with bringing digital content from the PC to the living room.  At the time of the release of the original Apple TV, Apple believed (and continues to believe today) that customers do not want a compute on the big screen TV.  They just want entertainment.  With the release of the 2nd generation Apple TV, I would say that Apple only tweaked the concept of the original and did not completely revamp at, at least on the surface.  By switching from the MacOS to the iOS on the new Apple TV, Apple may be laying the ground work for bigger things to come.  Those bigger things are more likely to be the apps.  Just like apps transformed the iPhone from a slick phone and iPod player combo to a pocket device that can do pretty much anything, apps could transform the new Apple TV from a basic media player to an all-in-one game console (for casual gamers at least) to god-knows-what...

In the meantime, comparing the 1st generation Apple TV with the 2nd generation Apple TV might be helpful for existing 1st generation Apple TV users who might be thinking about making the plunge with an add-on Apple TV or a replacement to their existing one.

Storage
Possibly the biggest customer facing change from the 1st generation to the 2nd is the removal of the storage in the Apple TV.  The original Apple TVs sported internal hard drives of either 40 GB or 160 GB (the former was discontinued a while back).  The new Apple TVs do not include any storage.  There's an 8 GB flash drive on the device, but that's only used for the operating system and buffering streaming media in real-time, not for synchronizing media files with iTunes, as was the case with the 1st generation model.  Apple's justification for this change is that no matter how large a hard disk on an Apple TV users can never have enough storage and that users do not like to synchronize (funny that Apple thinks that users enjoy synchronizing their iPods and iPhones!).

It is true that using a streaming-only model gives you access to unlimited storage in a home network.  It's easy to add more storage to desktops and laptops using internal or external storage and you can always add more.  However, having internal storage in the 1st generation Apple TV made the device more portable.  For example, you can take your old Apple TV on vacation with you and have access to your music, videos, and photos.  You can't do that with the new Apple TV.

User Interface (UI)
If you currently own a 1st generation Apple TV,  the UI of the new one will look very familiar.  The primary difference is that the "My Movies", "My TV Shows" and "My Music" are gone and have been replaced by a "Computers" link which gives you access to the various iTunes libraries on your network.  This change is welcome as it gives the user access to multiple libraries on the network "on the fly."  For example, if you have multiple computers with different content (e.g. photos, music, etc...) you don't have to put them all on a single network.

Rentals vs. Purchases
Because the new Apple TV does not have any storage, Apple will not let you buy and download movies or TV shows directly from the Apple TV.  You can only rent  and stream them.  If you want to purchase movies or TV shows on an iTunes client and then you can stream that content

Support for AirPlay
AirPlay is Apple's new standard for streaming content from one device to another.  It's essentially AirTunes on steroids.  Where AirTunes streamed music from iTunes clients and 1st generation Apple TVs to AirPort Express-connected speakers and other 1st generation Apple TVs, AirPlay allows the streaming of other types of media such as photos and videos.  Apple is licensing AirPlay to third-party hardware manufacturers such as stand-alone speaker and receiver makers.  Already iHome and Denon announced plans to support the standard in their offerings.

The new Apple TV and the old Apple TV can have music streamed to them from any iTunes client on the network.  The real magic with AirPlay is going to happen when Apple releases iOS 4.2 for iPhone and iPad.  Once that happens, you will be able to stream photos and videos directly from those devices to the new Apple TV.  Unfortunately, users of the 1st generation Apple TV will be out of luck as far as AirPlay is concerned.

Connectivity
The 1st generation Apple TV supported HDMI, digital optical audio, component video, and analog audio.  The 2nd generation Apple TV does away with the component video and analog audio.  This makes sense as the vast majority of users are likely to use the device with an LCD or plasma TV, where HDMI is ubiquitous.  This will be annoying for users holding on to older TV models or with no free HDMI slots on their TVs because of other devices (cable box, BD DVD player, etc...).

Price
The new Apple TV sells for $99.  The old Apple TV sold for $229 before it was discontinued.  If you are still interested in the 2nd generation Apple TV Amazon is currently offering it for $149.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

iOS Remote 2.0 - App Review

A few days ago, Apple refreshed its iOS Remote app in the App Store adding some new features that many people have been waiting for for quite some time.  These features include:

  • Support for the iPad.  After nearly 6 months since the iPad was released, the Remote app finally takes advantage of the iPad's large screen to display more information and content.
  • Support for the iPhone 4/iPod touch Retina display
  • Support for the New Apple TV
  • Support for Home Sharing (an iTunes feature that was released in iTunes 9)
  • Bug fixes (not sure what these are as I've never experienced any bugs with this app)
The release of the updated Remote app coincides with the shipping of the new generation Apple TV, which started yesterday.

What's the iOS Remote 2.0 App?
The Remote App is a must-have free app for anyone who has an iTunes library or an Apple TV.  The app allows you to control the music on your iTunes library or Apple TV from anywhere inside your house using your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad.  You can play music by selecting Artists, Playlists, or specific songs.  On your Apple TV, you can do that or play videos or TV shows or use as a gestures-based remote to the Apple TV over Wi-Fi (no list of sight required as with the infrared remote control).  You can also control the volume on on various devices separately (for more information on how to do all of this, see High-End Multi-Room Music Without the High-End Prices).

iPad Support
The new release of the Remote takes advantage of the iPad's large screen format to display additional information about the content of the media libraries the Remote is connecting to such as an iTunes library or an Apple TV.  As you can see from the screen shot below, the iPad's screen size has been put to good use.




Retina Display Support
The new Remote app has also been enhanced to look better on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch by using high resolution graphics in the application as well as using higher resolution cover art pictures, when available.

Home Sharing
Home Sharing was a highly touted feature in the iTunes 9 release.  Although I think the feature could've used some new enhancements in releases since then, it really has not changed much over the last year.  Support in the latest release of Remote makes it easier to access the libraries shared on the network with Home Sharing, but I don't believe it's worth much.

Additional New Features
Apple's release notes, as usual, lack any details about new enhancements or bug fixes.  However, it's very easy to notice that a few additional enhancements/changes took place with the upgrade to version 2.0:

New Icon
Obviously, not a huge deal, but the app's new icon has been updated slightly and resembles the new iTunes 10 icon.

Ability to Add/Edit Playlists
You can now add new playlists and edit existing playlists.  It's very easy to add a playlist to a remote library.  You simply click Playlists icon and select the New button on top to add a new playlist or Edit to edit existing playlists.





Note: It doesn't appear that you can manage on the Apple TV (1st Gen). This partially makes sense as the playlists you would be editing are synchronized with another iTunes library. If you need to add a playlist or edit an existing one, you can do so on the iTunes library that synchronizes with the Apple TV.

Genius Mixes
The Genius button on the bottom menu has been moved by default to the More icon and it now sports a new icon as well.  If it's a button that you use frequently, you can move it to the bottom menu by clicking the More icon and clicking the Edit button on the top right corner.  From there, you can drag the Genius icon to the bottom menu and it will automatically replace another icon (e.g. Search).

Overall, I'm pleased that Apple has finally updated the Remote app.  Better late than never.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Apple TV 1st Generation Price Drop on Amazon

For those of you who are still interested in getting an Apple TV with a built-in hard disk, Amazon is offering it NEW for $149.  That's a darn good deal considering that Apple was selling it for $229 immediately before they released the diskless version.

Why would you want to buy a 1st generation Apple TV for $149 instead of buying the 2nd generation for $99?  The answer is in the built-in storage.  The biggest difference between the 1st and 2nd gen models is that the 2nd gen model does not include storage (presumably, there's a small amount of storage, but you can't sync your music, pictures, or movies to it). 

As I'm waiting to receive my latest Apple TVs, I don't have any plans to get rid of my 1st gen Apple TV as it's a great "on the go" device.  We have all of our music (60GB), all the kids movies and shows (90GB), and some pictures (~10GB) sync'ed to it and can take it on the road without the need for an Internet connection or another device.  The new Apple TVs will not be as useful on the go.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Apple's High Dynamic Range (HDR) Is Promising (But Disappoints for Now)

High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos are created by combining 3 photos with different exposures to create an image with great intensity.  When this works well, the resulting photos display much more details than any of the single photos.  This process used to require sophisticated and expensive software, but with the release of iOS 4.1, Apple made this available to any iPhone 4 or iPod touch 4th gen user.  Just by taking any picture using an iPhone 4 or iPod touch 4th gen, iOS records the 3 photos with different exposures and creates the HDR photo automatically.  The user does not have to do a thing.  There's an option to "Keep Normal Photo" that can be turned on so you can have a photo created using the HDR process and a photo that uses the normal exposure (just as it would have been taken prior to upgrading to iOS 4.1).

Apple's implementation of High Dynamic Range (HDR) that was released with iOS 4.1 and currently works on the iPhone 4 is very exciting and has great promise.  However, the current implementation does not work well in all situations and for all pictures so you'd better make sure that you keep the original photo alongside the HDR photo, just in case the HDR version is useless.

On a trip earlier this week, I took about 80 pictures with my iPhone 4 with the "Keep Normal Photo" setting turned on so I can compare the normal exposure images with their HDR counterparts.   Of the 80 photos I took, about 60 photos turned out great and HDR performed as expected, creating amazing photos.  Overexposed or underexposed areas in the Normal photos showed well in the HDR versions. As you can see from Photo #1 below, the HDR version shows the background in great details where that background is completely washed out in the Normal version of the photo.

Photo#1: Normal Version


Photo #1: HDR Version


Where HDR fell short, it completely ruined the pictures and had I not had the "Keep Normal Photo" setting turned on, I would've lost those pictures altogether.  As you can see in Photo #2 below, the Normal looks decent, but the HDR version is blurry and the little girl's nose and eyes are shifted around.  Although the child may have moved a bit, that's no excuse for completely ruining the photo.


Photo #2: Normal Version

Photo #2: HDR Version

Here's another example where HDR ruined another photo.  Notice the children's shirts and head as they appear blurry under the HDR version, but perfectly fine with the Normal photo.


Photo #3: Normal Version

Photo #3: HDR Version

Bottom Line:  HDR is great, but might fall short with certain photos so make sure that the "Keep Normal Photo" setting is turned on so you can compare for yourself and decide whether to keep the enhanced HDR photo or the original Normal image for each of your photos.  To turn on this setting, go to Settings, Photos, and ensure that "Keep Normal Photo" is turned on.  Hopefully, Apple will fix this soon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

iTunes AirPlay's Promise

One of the most intriguing and exciting new technologies that was introduced during Apple's media event last week is called AirPlay.  In a nutshell, AirPlay allows you to share your music, videos, and photos across multiple devices over Ethernet or Wi-Fi.

If you are familiar with AirPlay's predecessor, AirTunes, you'll you're probably very familiar with the concept (see High-End Multi-Room Music Without the High-End Prices).  With AirTunes, you had the ability to broadcast music that played on your iTunes library or your Apple TV to other speakers that were connected using Apple's AirPort Express.  AirPlay takes that to a whole new level. by supporting the transmission of additional data (e.g. information about the song playing such as the name of the song, artist, and album cover), video, and photos.  With the release of iOS 4.2, this will enable all of Apple's portable devices to stream such media directly to any AirPlay-enabled device, including the Apple TV.

A few of the exciting scenarios that are possible:

  • Music in every room.   Apple's AirPlay page already shows Denon, iHome, JBL, Bowers and Wilkins, and Marantz as AirPlay partners.  What this essentially means is that all these partners plan to have AirPlay-enabled devices from stand-alone speakers to high-end receivers.  iHome already announced an AirPlay speaker that will have operate using a rechargeable battery.  Put one of these speakers in each room of your house, select the AirPlay icon in Tunes and select the named speakers to pipe the music to each individual room.  Although you can already do this with AirPort Express devices and third-party speakers, the wires are ugly (the AirPort Express needs to be plugged in and the speakers usually need to be plugged with a wire between the two).  In addition, the AirPort Express alone costs $99.
  • Immediate access to iPhone/iPod touch content.  You're having a ball taking pictures and videos using your iPhone or iPod touch and are very excited sharing them with your family.  You walking into your living room, turn on the big screen TV with the new Apple TV connect to it, press a button on your mobile device and bam!  Your pictures and videos are displayed on the big screen.  No wires, no transferring hassles!
  • Watch on iPad/iPhone/iPod touch and Continue on Big Screen.  Although this scenario is not necessarily that practical, it's got the super cool factor.  You start watching a movie or a TV show on your iPad or another iOS device and with the push of a button, that show can be streamed to your big screen TV through the Apple TV.  Theoretically, you can pipe the show to multiple TVs at the same time and still have it shown on the iPad.
There are many other scenarios where this technology could get more interesting.  It all depends on how creative the device manufactures get.

Update (Sep 8, 2010):  If you are interested in iHome's rechargeable AirPlay speaker, you can sign up to get details on their website.  The site indicates availability for the holiday season.

Update #2 (Sep 9, 2010):  News reports indicates that Denon's awesome (but expensive) AVR-4311CI receiver will receive AirPlay support this fall through a firmware update.  The receiver's product sheet has already been updated to that effect.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Apple TV Announced: Initial Thoughts

During Apple's media even in San Francisco today, Steve Jobs announced a new release of the Apple TV that will be shipping later this month.  Based on the announcement, most of the rumors that have been swirling around over the last few weeks are true:

  • Price:  $99 (that's a great price for this device)
  • No disk, content is streamed from iTunes, your own PC/Mac, Netflix, YouTube or from an iPhone/iPad/iPod touch (with iOS 4.1, which will be released next week)
  • TV show rentals for $0.99 (from Fox and ABC to start with.  Others might follow, but at least I can watch Modern Family for $0.99)
  • Support for 720p HD (this is not ideal, but it's not bad)

Here's what did not make it:

  • Support for applications from the App store.  It us unknown at this point what OS the Apple TV will be running, but based on its size and previous rumors, it is likely to be running on iOS.  If that's the case, then someone will figure out how to jailbreak this thing to run apps on it in no time.  At least the Netflix app seems to be installed by default.
  • TV Show rentals for $0.99 from networks other than Fox and ABC
  • Name change.  The device is still called "Apple TV"

I would have to say that the biggest disappointment is the fact that no app support exists in this release.  The hope is that a future firmware update would make that possible or at least a jailbreak option.  In any case, I already placed my order for my Apple TVs and will post a review when I get my hands on them.

Finally, it's not yet clear what's going to happen to the first generation Apple TV users.  Have those devices reach their end of life with no additional updates or will Apple offer a software update to bring them to the current release?

Update #1 (9/3/2010):  According to a review of the new Apple TV on Ars Technica's website, Apple confirmed that owners of the first generation Apple TVs will not receive any software updates to support new features such as Netflix.

Update #2 (9/23/2010): Apple just charged my credit card for 2 Apple TVs, which means that shipment of the devices is imminent.

Update #3 (9/27/2010): Just received a notification from Apple that my 2 Apple TVs have shipped with an expected delivery date of 10/1, just missing their "September" release date.

Update #4 (9/28/2010):  I am very disappointed to report that the delivery date on the FedEx tracking page has been updated from an 10/1 delivery to an 10/5 delivery.  It appears that some moron at the warehouse missed the FedEx drop-off deadline so the Apple TVs did not make it out of China on-time, leading to several days of delay.

Friday, August 27, 2010

iTV... What I would love to see

Rumors are abound about the content of Apple's upcoming event scheduled for Sep 1st.  As a given, there will be a refreshed iPod touch with all the new features that were included in the iPhone 4 such as FaceTime and the front-facing camera and HD video recording.  That's great, but doesn't really get my very excited.

I am excited, however, about the prospect of a new Apple TV hardware release.  This is pure rumor and I've been disappointed in the past.  Here's a summary of all the rumors I've seen:

  • Diskless Apple TV, to be renamed to iTV. Content will be streamed from your home PCs and/or Macs connected to the network.
  • Price: $99
  • 720p only
  • Support for applications
Here's what I would love to see in an new Apple TV (or iTV or whatever it's going to be called):

  • Price:  Anything less than $200 is good.  $99 is fantastic.
  • OS: iOS (hopefully that will speed it up quite a lot)
  • Ports/Connectivity:
    • HDMI (I suspect this will be the smaller output version)
    • Ethernet
    • Wi-Fi (801.11n)
    • USB (for external drive when you're on the go)
  • Applications:  Please make the Netflix app work on this. Ideally, any application from the App Store should work on this.  Less than ideal, any iPad app should work.  Worst case scenario: only special apps would work
  • Remote: None (use your iPhone or iPod touch)
  • Integration with iTunes: allow multiple iTunes libraries to connect to for streaming. While you're at it, make iTunes run as a service so we don't have to login to a PC to enable iTunes.
That's it. It seems simple enough.  Hopefully, Apple will meet or exceed my expectations.  I'll post an update once the announcement is made on Wednesday and hopefully, I'll be getting my hands on one shortly after that and will post my first impressions.

Monday, July 26, 2010

iBooks: Why Are They More Expensive Than Hardcover Books?

The promise of ebooks or ibooks (digital books in general) is that they will make it easier for people to read on the go.  You can take an entire library of books with you on the road (or in the case of students to school) on your Kindle or iPad.  Another promise of these digital books is that they will help the environment by savings trees used for printing books.

Another expected benefit, although not promised or stated, is the notion that the price of a digital book would be much cheaper than a printed book because delivering a digital book does not involve printing. It makes perfect sense.  If there are any savings from the cost of printing, they would be passed on to the consumer or at least shared between the consumer and the publisher. 

As it turns out, this is a complete misconception.  A quick survey of the prices of a few popular books gives you the results.  I just went to the iBooks Store on my iPad and search for Outliers.  The price to buy and download this book that was published in November of 2008 is $12.99.  I checked Amazon and was surprised to find out that this book costs only $11.69 in hardcover!  The Tipping Point and Blink, another two titles by the same author cost $9.99 on the iBook Store, but cost slightly less ($9.97) on Amazon.  Why aren't digital books cheaper?  Where did the savings go?  Did they go to Apple and Amazon?

This fact doesn't seem to impact the trend in in the success of digital books.  Last week, Amazon announced that its sales of digital books is not exceeding its sales of printed books. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

iPhone 4 Users: The Free Cases Are Here... Order Yours NOW!

This morning, Apple enabled the free case ordering process by making available an iPhone app for placing orders (see http://www.apple.com/iphone/case-program/ for details), but bottom line is this:

  1. In your iPhone 4, open the App Store and search for iPhone Case Program
  2. Download the application
  3. Once the download is completed, click the new icon
  4. You will be prompted to provide your iTunes passwords
  5. Select the type of case you want (your select includes Apple's bumper in black only and a few other full-on cases.  Nothing fancy or colorful).
  6. Confirm the order.
All the options available currently say that shipping will take 3-4 weeks.  I'm not sure if Apple has bumpers and cases for everyone who will order one so hurry and order yours immediately before supplies start running short.  I personally chose the Apple bumper.  I figured that I don't like it, I can always buy a decent case for less than $10, but the bumper is sold (or was selling) for $30 because it's from Apple.

The lucky folks who purchased a bumper (of their choice color) directly from Apple previously should be seeing a refund on their credit cards already.

Update: I just received an Order Acknowledgement from Apple indicating that my bumper will be delivered on Sep 1.  Ouch!!!

Update 2 (7/27/2009): I just received a Shipment Confirmation from Apple indicating that my bumper has already shipped and is expected to arrive on Aug 3.

Friday, July 16, 2010

iPhone 4 Antenna Problem: The Fix

After starting the press conference with the iPhone 4 song, which basically slams the media for blowing the problem out of proportion, Steve Jobs admitted that Apple is "not perfect," but demonstrated several examples of other phones that have similar problems with the "death grip" including devices from RIM (BlackBerry), HTC (Droid), Samsung, and others.  In essence, all "phones are not perfect" either.

During the press conference, Jobs also admitted that Apple knew about the problem during testing of the iPhone 4, but didn't think it would be a big deal because all smartphones have this problem. 

Here's what Apple "learned" in the last few weeks:

  1. Smartphones have weak spots, not unique to the iPhone 4.  If the weak spots are touched, the signal drops.
  2. Some interesting data from AppleCare..  Less than half a percent of the 3 million people who bought an iPhone 4 have called AppleCare about this problem.
  3. Return rates for the iPhone 4 so far are about 1.7%.  For the iPhone 3GS, the return rates were about 6%.
  4. According to AT&T's dropped call logs, the iPhone 4 drops less than 1 call per hundred more than the iPhone 3GS (not very significant).
  5. Only 20% of iPhone 4 users bought cases at the Apple Store, whereas 80% of 3GS users did (therefore, the 3GS users experience fewer antenna issues)
Even though Apple doesn't understand what the fuss is all about, they care about "every user," according to Jobs.  So here's the fix:

  1. Fixed the bar mis-reporting issue by releasing iOS 4.01 yesterday
  2. Every customer who bought an iPhone 4 gets a free bumper through September 30 (if you already bought one, you get a refund).  Customers can apply to receive the bumper through a website that will be available late next week.
  3. Customers who are still unhappy with their iPhone 4 can return it for a full refund within 30 days.
Will the above satisfy iPhone 4 customers (the few who are disgruntled) and the media?  It's to be seen, but I think the fact that Apple is making an effort will got a long way in the media.  The unhappy customers, at least according to Jobs, are very few and should be fairly satisfied with the above options.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad press is piling up for iPhone 4 antenna problems... Is a recall in the works?

The iPhone 4 antenna problem has been getting more bad press lately than the BP oil gusher!  I am still doubtful that Apple will do a full recall, but they have to do something to change the subject.  Things got much worse yesterday with Consumer Reports making a major U-turn on their previous assessment of iPhone 4 and deciding not to recommend it even though it received their highest ranking.  Today, the press is piling on.  Here's a roundup of the most recent stories:

With so much negative press, I can't imagine that Apple will be so stubborn that it won't do anything at all. Something has to give, but I suspect it will be something symbolic like giving each iPhone 4 owner a free bumper.  Those bumpers cost $29 if you buy it from Apple, but I can't imagine that they cost Apple more than $1 to make.  It's a small piece of rubber that's manufactured in China and if it wasn't sold directly by Apple, it would be sold for $6.99 by Handhelditems.com with free shipping and plenty of profit.




See Consumer Reports video below:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

iPhone 4 Reception & Proximity Sensor Issues

You may have been reading about the antenna reception problems that have been reported in the media lately.  One ZDNet reporter even called his iPhone a lemon due to these and other problems.

I have to admit that as much as I love my iPhone 4, I am experiencing intermittent and weird problems related to the reception and proximity sensors.  I followed Apple's recommendation by using a case to avoid touching the antenna part of iPhone, but that cause other problems.  The case I purchased somehow cause other problems related to the light sensors.  When the case is on the phone and I turn it on, the iPhone appears to think that the room is darker than it actually is and keeps the backlight very dim, making it difficult to read in a bright room.  There's a workaround for this, which is to turn off the light sensors, but I prefer not to use that.  I'm going back to using my iPhone without a case for now.

Unfortunately, Apple's explanation for the reception problem doesn't make a lot of sense.  The planned fix only addresses a problem with the way the reception bars are displayed, not the actual antenna problem.  Also, there's no word yet on whether the proximity sensor problem is hardware or software related.  Obviously, a software issue can be addressed with a patch, but a hardware issue requires a recall, which Apple is unlikely to do.

In the meantime, it's still difficult to get an iPhone 4 today.  People are buying them like crazy.  It's doubtful that these issues will have a long term impact on sales of the iPhone 4, but I wish they can be resolved.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

iPhone 4 Video Recording: First Impressions!

The video quality from the iPhone 4 is phenomenal!  I already had a Canon SD970 camera with HD video recording that was excellent.  However, having an HD video camera built into the phone and in my pocket all the time makes shooting video much more exciting and more of a spare of the moment thing.

Video Format
The iPhone 4 recorded videos are saved as a .mov (QuickTime) files with 1280 x 720 (30 frames per second), which is also referred to as 720p HD.  This is not as good as 1080p, but videos look great both on a computer screen and on a big screen TV.  The videos are encoded using the H.264, which is pretty much standard for all Apple videos these days.  The audio is mono (not stereo), which is what you would expect.  In terms of file sizes, there's not a set formula as to how many megabytes per second the recording will take because the compression varies depending on the scenes being recorded.  However, in a quick experiment, I recorded two videos.  The first was 28 seconds and it used up almost 35 MB (or 1.25 MB per second).  The second video was 94 seconds and it took up 120 MB (or 1.27 MB per second).

The Bad News
Unfortunately, I found two issues with videos on the iPhone that I find annoying, but suspect that Apple will deal with them in future updates:

  1. You cannot email HD videos directly from the iPhone, regardless of how small they are and regardless of the type of connection you're on (3G or Wi-Fi).  The iPhone always shrinks the video before it e-mails it.  For example, my 28 second video that was originally 35 MB was shrunk to a 568 x 320 format when e-mailed, which reduced its size to about 3 MB.  This is a drawback and the only alternative for getting your HD video off your iPhone intact is to connect the phone to a PC using a USB cable.  As of of iOS 4.0, there's no wireless way to get an HD video off the phone.
  2. The videos from the iPhone cannot be played directly on the Apple TV.  This is more of a limitation in the Apple TV, not the iPhone but it's disappointing nonetheless.  You would expect these products to work well together considering that they're both made by Apple and the Apple TV is a great way to showcase your videos shot with the iPhone.  The workaround is to convert the iPhone HD video using iTunes to the Apple TV/iPad format.  The result is a slight reduction in quality (down from 1280 x 720 to 960 x 540).  Hopefully, this will be fixed with an update for the Apple TV in the future.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Love My New iPhone 4

I ordered my iPhone 4 through AT&T's website on June 15 at 6:00 ET.  Based on the initial reviews of the phone, I figured it would be best to order one as early as I can.  Sure enough, by noon that day AT&T and Apple's ordering systems were going haywire.

I was expecting my iPhone 4 to arrive on June 24.  To my surprise, the phone arrived a day ealier by FedEx.  I'm not sure if this something that Apple intended or not, but it appears that I'm not the only one to receive my phone a day early.

I haven't done much with the phone yet except to activate it and synchronize all my apps and settings from my old 3GS.  So far, I'm loving 3 things about the phone:

1.  The flash on the camera is making a huge difference in taking photos inside.

2. The size and feel of the phone are much better than the previous models.  The phone feels very solid.

3. The display is unbelievable.  Reading the NY Times, e-mail, and books is just so much clearer than the 3GS or even the iPad.

I'm looking forward to trying out some of the other new features, including the HD video and FaceTime.  Alas, I don't know anyone else that has received their new iPhone yet to try out the FaceTime feature.  I hope that Skype makes their iPhone app compatabile for FaceTime or at least update it to support video chat.  I will post something soon about the additional features.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My iPad Experience

I finally got my hands on an iPad.  I've been playing with it for a little over a week.  Overall, I think it's a great little device and I think if I didn't have an iPhone and an iPod Touch, my jaw would've dropped when I first held it.  However, owning an iPhone and an iPad Touch lessened that experience drastically.  Here's the bottom line:

  • The iPad is currently no more than an iPod Touch with a larger screen.  I was hard pressed to find that it does anything that the iPod Touch or iPhone didn't do.
  • Reading the NY Times, Financial Times and books on the iPad is fantastic as you don't have to scroll as much as you would using the iPod Touch/iPhone.  Other than that, pretty much everything else is the same, but less mobile.
  • Owning an iPad does not eliminate the need for a laptop as I don't see using it for writing long e-mails or papers.  It's also not ideal as a business device because of many limitations to storage, applications, etc...  Plus, you can't even print from theh iPad.
  • Obviously, it doesn't eliminate the need for a Phone either since it does not have voice capability and it's not portable enough to carry in your pocket.
Additionally, Apple made a few mistakes with the device, which I'm certain, will be corrected in future hardware releases:

  • The iPad does not have a front-facing camera, which means you can't use it for video-conferencing through Apple's new FaceTime application.  The iPad would've been ideal for that function with an iPhone on the other end.  I could see my wife and kids being on the iPad at home and me on the iPhone on a trip and interfacing with them.  This would be much more difficult with an iPhone-to-iPhone transactions due to screen size limitations that are not ideal for "group" viewing.  This ia a major design flow and Apple will be certain to correct in future iPads.  Hopefully, they would somehow release a tiny camera for existing users...
  • Printing... Wow, I can't believe you can't print from the iPad.  Hopefully, this is something that can easily be remidied with a software release in the future.
  • Expandability... You can't plug a USB key or any other type of storage device to the iPad.  So, good luck trying to transfer a file from the iPad to another device or vice versa.
  • HDMI output... OK, this is kind of a nice-to-have, but why doesn't the iPad have an HDMI hookup so you can plug-it into a TV or external monitor?  Viewing pictures and videos would've been great.
P.S. I just pre-ordered my iPhone 4 and can't wait to get it on Jun 24.  I'll post my initial impressions as soon as I get my hands on it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I Want My Apple TV

I've had a 160GB Apple TV since it was released over 3 years ago and have been anxiously following rumors of an upgrade from Apple for quite a while now.  The most recent rumor indicates that Apple's strategy for their "hobby" is to get rid of the local storage altogether and replace the Mac OS with the iOS (formerly iPhone OS).  According to the rumor, the device would pull media off of iTunes online and as well as a local Time Capsule.  Best of all, the device would only cost $99.

That sounds fantastic.  Sign me up Apple!  I would get a device for every room in the house if they were that cheap.  Sadly, I watched the Steve Jobs WWDC presentation with the hope that an Apple TV announcement would be made, but I was disaappointed by the results (the iPhone 4 is great BTW and I can't wait to place an order for one).

Hopefully, such a product would be announced at Apple's next even, which will probably take place in September.  Apple is expected to release n updated iPod Touch device at that time and it would make sense to announce the Apple TV since it is a media device as well.  Let's hope!