Tag Archives: iOS

Aggressive Android ransomware spreading in the USA

Aggressive Android ransomware spreading in the USA:

Fortunately, you can’t download this application from the official Google Play Store. This Trojan can be delivered to users from third party markets, warez forums or torrents. The most effective way to avoid getting infected and being locked out from your device is by proactive preventative measures.

(Via welivesecurity.)

Android malware is super-scary, thanks to the very thing about Android that I love: it doesn’t have an obstructionist attitude about software that modifies the behavior of the device. This story is about another type of lockscreen ransomware. After the user is tricked into installing the malware, it changes the device’s lockscreen PIN/pattern and locks the phone until a ransom amount is paid. It aggressively defends itself from any attempt to disable or remove it.

Nonetheless, it’s not of great concern. In the Android world, the Google Play Store is the canonical app store. An Android phone will let you install apps from a different app repository — or even from a disk file — if you go through a bunch of hoops. The “proactive preventative countermeasures” indicated by the article include using Android security tools that the author’s employer sells (fair enough).

Another effective Proactive Preventative Measure would be “only use apps from the Google Play Store.” It seems like every story from an Android user who wound up with malware includes the phrase “I didn’t get this app from Google Play, but it promised me free porn” or something similar about a super-awesome website that had pirated versions of, like, every commercial Android app ever, and dude…it was all free!!!

It’s another example of the difference in philosophy between iOS and Android. iOS works very hard to prevent you from doing something that Apple thinks isn’t in your best interests. Android warns you that safety rules are there for a reason, but in the end, if you want to break your fool neck, hey, it’s your funeral.

Well. I’m sorry for anyone who had their phone bricked by this malware. I hope the porn was really worth it.

Dear Adobe, Your iPad Apps are a Mess. — Medium

Dear Adobe, Your iPad Apps are a Mess. — Medium:

It’s now 2015. It’s time to take iOS seriously as a pro tool and do what you do best. Don’t give us 30 apps that each do one thing. Give us one app that does 30 things. We don’t need you to be Instagram. We need you to be Adobe.

(Via Medium.)

Brad Colbow addresses something that’s been bothering me, as well: why does Adobe have a jillion different iPad and iPhone apps, and almost none of them is a clear analogue to one of their desktop apps?

Microsoft’s been supporting iPads like gangbusters. Microsoft Word isn’t a feature-for-feature port of Word for Windows or Mac, but it’s definitely Word in both function and spirit. And! When a Microsoft Office user searches the app store for “Microsoft Word,” by golly, they find a Microsoft Word.

(Plus, their Office apps have been enthusiastically upgraded for iOS 9 and the iPad Pro. Writing in Word is a real joy. If I’d been on the fence about my Office365 sub, I’m not any more.)

Adobe Lightroom is the only Creative Cloud app that works that way. The iPad version is great. It’s almost fun to go through the hundreds of photos I took at a comic-con and pick out the dozens that are worthy of editing and posting later on. It’s kind of like Tinder, for photos.

It’s harder to figure out the answer to “I want an app so I can do what I do with Photoshop, on my iPad.” So far, the answer seems to be “Get Procreate, and use its .PSD import/export feature.”

Maybe Photoshop is an unsolvable problem. I use Photoshop as a high-level photo editor. What about people who use it as a painting tool? Or a text compositing app? Photoshop is such a powerful desktop app that each user can define what it does on his or her own terms. On that basis, it might make more sense for Adobe to have a constellation of focused apps instead of putting the Photoshop label on something that can’t deliver on expectations.

Still, I’d love to have some clarity about Adobe’s constellation of iOS apps.

(Update: Adobe responds.)

How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name

How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name:

“Good design should be attractive, pleasurable, and wonderful to use. But the wonderfulness of use requires that the device be understandable and forgiving. It must follow the basic psychological principles that give rise to a feeling of understanding, of control, of pleasure. These include discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, and, of course, the power to undo one’s operations. These are all principles we teach elementary students of interaction design. If Apple were taking the class, it would fail.”

(Via FastCoDesign.)

I just got around to reading last week’s editorial on Apple design, written by two legends of UI theory. Both have written classic books on user-oriented design: Don Norman wrote “The Design of Everyday Things” and practically every early Mac geek owns a copy of Bruce Tognazzini’s “Tog On Design.”

When they say that Apple’s lost the thread on effective, functional design, everyone ought to listen.

I’ve had plenty of reasons to ask myself some of the same questions…particularly in the past month. I reviewed Apple’s Magic Keyboard, and couldn’t hide my disappointment and confusion; it’s a desktop keyboard that looks great as a static object, but why on earth did they make so many tradeoffs?

Then Apple released Apple TV. The new touch-based remote has plenty of nice features. And, it’s impossible to sense if you’re holding it the right way without looking at it. And because the touchpad runs from edge-to-edge, it’s almost impossible to pick it up without unintentionally fast-forwarding through a video.

Apple TV is actually a perfect example of the sort of stuff Don and Tog point out in the article. I was seriously annoyed by the remote on the first day. Then, I discovered and read Apple’s User Guide. Now I know that if I accidentally fast-forward, I can cancel it by tapping the Menu button.

I love Apple Pencil. It works great. Even there, though, Apple’s focus on design commanded them to design a stylus that doesn’t have a clip or anything else that makes it easy to carry, no cap to protect the tip, and its glossy body is slippery enough that I dropped it when trying to get it out of the box.

(It’s also round. But it’s weighted so that it won’t roll off the table. Neat.)

I’ve always thought that good software design requires ideas that make the software easy to use during the first week, and other ideas that make it easy to use three months later. First impressions are important for a beginning user. Still, at some point this person gets experienced. That’s when he or she wants power features that allow them to get more done with fewer clicks, even if they need to go into Settings or (God forbid) actually learn something.

Few things disappoint me so much as an app that’s easy to outgrow…especially when the only reason for those limitations is “we wanted it to be clean and pretty, and [missing feature] is something that only 10% of our users would actually be interested in.” 

Don and Tog talk about how Apple has walked away from its earlier commitment to functional design. They would know (Tog, Apple Employee #66, literally wrote the book on Apple user interface design). I have to wonder if part of Apple’s problem is that they no longer have the luxury of being a niche maker.

In the Eighties and Nineties, the company made hardware and software for fans of Apple. That’s not to say that Macs weren’t objectively great computers; Apple was making stuff for their own audience. Now that they’re unquestionably a juggernaut, they’re making phones and computers for everybody. Apple’s clean design aesthetic is of limited or no value to them; therefore, they’re more keenly aware of limitations that Apple Design sometimes imposes. Like me and the Magic Keyboard, they see no aesthetic upsides. They just wish there were a visible “Back” or “Menu” button.

These things matter. I chose to spend the summer with my SIM card in an iPhone 6 Plus, so I could thoroughly test Apple Watch and also find out if I needed to widen my perspective, after two years with an Android phone as a daily driver.

iOS 9 has addressed so many of of the iPhone’s limitations over the past couple of years that I was considering switching back permanently. I still haven’t decided yet, but it seems unlikely now. Google’s new Nexus phones are outstanding.

More than that, though, I still haven’t warmed to Apple’s 2013 overhaul of the iOS interface. Even after two years with it I experience many of the problems that Don and Tog talk about in their article. The UI is so subtle and stripped down that I often find myself hunting around the screen to figure out what I need to tap to make something happen. I just like Android 6 better.

The whole article is definitely worth a read. Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, it’s a terrific primer on design theory. And I hope it spawns some serious conversations. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect users to learn new skills over time before they can get the most out of an app or piece of hardware. It’s just that, Jeez…five years ago I couldn’t have imagined myself deciding that an Android phone has a prettier, easier-to-use interface than an iPhone.

Twisted Beginnings

I’m trying out “Twist,” an iOS app that I didn’t know existed an hour ago. Just a minute after hearing about it and downloading it, I started hoping that I wind up using it every day of my life. It was just released this morning.

[Edited to add: and I was so excited to leave the house and try it out that I forgot to embed a link. Here’s where to find it in the iTunes store.]

It’s exactly what I’ve been wishing for ever since I got a GPS-enabled phone. It’s a destination-oriented social app. I regularly meet with a friend an hour away to get comics and then eat lunch. I can usually predict my arrival time within a half an hour. I thought I was out the door, but then I got an email as I was docking my iPhone in the car that forced me to turn around and reopen my office. To say nothing of the problems of traffic.

So usually, after I pull off the highway I pull into a gas station and send him an updated text that tells him I’m close. He acknowledges, he starts to wrap up what he’s doing, and then heads out. He can have his own troubles. I don’t know how long I’ll be waiting for him at the comic book shop.

Twist attempts to fix all of that. I’ve defined “Comics with Karl” as a regular event, and set it up with info about the destination, the people I’m meeting there, and how I’d like them to be informed about my progress. Karl will know that I’ve only just left the house, despite the fact that I IM’d him twenty minutes ago to say I’m “headed out the door right now,” and he can get a predicted ETA (based on current traffic conditions) any time he likes.

Let’s see if I like Twist enough to write a formal review. But they’re definitely on to something. A great product usually solves a universal problem. ETAs are the pain and stress that unite us all, whether you’re worried about making people wait or wandering the aisles of a comic book shop and wondering if something’s happened to Karl.

Nice touch: it works great if the people you’re meeting are using Twist, but the app can also just send plain text messages.

They done good by getting lots of press attention with their launch. They done…maybe not so good with the first-launch fit and finish experience of the app. Four grumbles so far:

1) Slight shock when the “walkthru of the features” slideshow pulled data from my address book and integrated it into the presentation. “Isn’t that interesting?” I thought. “The developer is a big fan of comics. Cool, he seems to know a lot of the same artists I know. Hey…those are their real addresses!”

2) When setting a destination, the search feature seems to think that Proximity is more valuable than Familiarity. I typed in the name of the comic book store (which is in my address book) but Twist actually found and Destinated a flower shop three miles away, which it found via a websearch. Whiskey tango foxtrot?

3) In choosing people to add to the event, it sorts the list by first name. Oh, dear.

4) Didn’t I read somewhere that you could trigger an “ETA in X minutes” alert? I thought I read somewhere that you could set things up to trigger an “ETA in X minutes” alert. Maybe I was wrong about the “ETA in X minutes” alert. I can’t seem to find it.

And none of these are buzzkills. But it goes to show you the value of every single hour a developer spends spends on honing that first-launch experience.

Well, off I go. I borrowed a friend’s Bluetooth mouse last week and I was going to return it in a few days…but now I’ve a good business excuse to actually treat the timely return of a friend’s kindly-lent property as though it were a high priority.

Cool! It’s also smart enough that if I choose “Gern Blansten” from my address book as my destination address, it automatically chooses Gern’s mobile number for automatic notifications. Off to a great start already.

Push the button, Frank…

[Second update: it seems to work great. My pal showed me his phone. He got a message alerting him that he was about to receive some texts related to my trip (sent when I activated the Twist), a second one when I was underway (which included an ETA), and a third when I was nearly there.

I still wish there was a way for the app to generate a “I’m 10 minutes away” heads-up. That’s my killer feature. An initial ETA is subject to wild adjustments and an “arrival imminent” alert isn’t as useful as one that says “Yes, you have time to visit the men’s room before he gets here.”]

One More Thing…remember “Back To The Mac”?

Oh, and one more thing:

(This wouldn’t be a column about a Steve Jobs keynote if there weren’t One More Thing, yes?)

Let’s not forget that Apple’s whole message during their last (and first) Mac OS X 10.7 demo was “Back To The Mac.” A stated goal for the future of the Mac is to take some of the technologies they developed for the iPad and some of what they’ve learned from a year’s worth of apps and users and bring them into Mac OS.

Many worry that this means that Apple will do away with MacOS entirely. Naw, it means that they think “my computer wakes from sleep in less than a second” and “multitouch gestures enhance the vocabulary of a GUI” are good things to keep in mind when figuring out the Mac’s next step.

Another lesson Apple could have learned from iOS is that “syncing data” is less powerful and handy a concept than “your data is just there.” After more than a year with my iPad I can state that I rarely put data on the thing via iTunes. It’s always a process where I decide “I want to use that file I was working on this morning with my Mac” and after a brief detour through Dropbox, bango, I’ve got that file I was working on this morning with my Mac.

So when I say that I suspect that Apple’s overall plan for iCloud is to make the device irrelevant, I’m not saying “It doesn’t matter if you have a phone or a tablet: all of your desktop files will be available to you.” I mean that your desktop and your notebook will be no different from anything else. It’ll just be another device that can access and articulate your data in a manner that makes sense for that specific kind of device.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple minimizes MacOS’ whole file system in some near release. Not 10.7, of course. But it’s becoming more and more clear that most of the accepted rules for desktop operating systems are now…well, off the desktop. Even such quaint 1980’s concepts as “windows where you drill through directories filled with files.”

Keynote Day

I have a little travel ritual. The night before a trip, when I’m pulling clothes out of the dryer and rounding up cables and chargers and finishing up the writing I need to do before I go and pulling together the files I need so I can continue to write once I’m there and trying to decide which camera to bring and nervously eyeing the clock and wondering if I have time to clean the kitchen and also losing my optimism that this will finally be the trip in which I actually get a reasonable night’s of sleep before I have to haul ass for the airport, I repeat the following phrase:

“My life would be sooooo much simpler right now if I weren’t leaving tomorrow.”

I spend a few moments fantasizing about that parallel world in which I’m spending this same evening getting a little work done, watching a little TV, doing the dishes, and then sleeping for six to eight hours.

Then I’m snapped back to reality.

You can tell that I’m not in San Francisco right now. One, I didn’t start this post with “Greetings from San Francisco, where I’m holed up for a few days to attend the keynote that kicks off Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Secondly, I seem to be clear-headed and rational and I actually have time to blog this morning.

Mind you, I’m resenting my clear-headed, rational thinking. That’s what led to my staying home. If I can line up someone to cover my travel expenses, or if I get a vibe about the event early enough that I can book an affordable flight, or if I think that I’ll miss out on a lot of the story by staying home and following the liveblogs, then whoosh! Off I go. That’s why I’m a regular at these events.

But this time:

  1. No such luck;
  2. Apple didn’t even announce any kind of WWDC keynote until less than a week ahead of time…and while I could be pretty sure that they’d do a keynote, I could only be “pretty sure” that it’d be open to the media, which added up to “book a flight and book enough nights in a hotel to cover any likely keynote day, based on your hope that there’ll be something you can attend”;
  3. I’m 95% sure there won’t be a hardware announcement today (so: no chance to get early hands-on impressions of some new thing) and Apple can give me a briefing over the phone.

In the end, I flipped ahead to the end of the book and saw myself shuffling out of the keynote hall at Moscone West and thinking “I could have stayed home, read three liveblogs simultaneously, phoned some sources in San Francisco, and written the exact same column I’m about to write in the next two hours.

“Only I’d be writing it on the brand-new 11″ MacBook Air that I paid for with the money I otherwise would have spent on airfare and two nights of meals, hotel, and transportation.”

No, I didn’t buy an Air. But that’s the principle. The other thing is that I’m up to my neck in work on the new book and the water’s rising. Plus, it’s E3 week and Microsoft will be delivering their own Interesting Keynote, which I’ll need to write about. It’s a terrible week for me to take off and close my office.

Just because I’ve decided not to fly out for WWDC doesn’t mean I don’t think Apple will show off anything important, o’course. This will clearly be Apple’s biggest announcement since they showed off the original iPad.

Though from what I know and what I suppose, I’d probably rank it closer to Apple’s original iPhone keynote. Today, Apple’s showing off MacOS 10.7, iOS 5, and iCloud, a new service that glues everything together. Overall it feels less like “we’re coming out with the next version of an existing thing” and more like “Here’s how we’re defining the direction of the company for the next five years.”

I’ve dabbled with and abandoned a couple of different columns about what iCloud will be. I think the only smart call is to wait and see. The more I hear about iCloud the more certain I am that any comparisons to Dropbox, or to Amazon or Google’s cloud music services, will seem laughably clumsy when Apple turns over all of its cards. “The glue that holds everything together” will sum it all up, methinks.

Cloud music will be its most visible and most easily demonstrated feature but in reality, I think iCloud means that a new Apple service will manage all of the information you deal with on a regular basis and make sure that anything you need can be projected into any device you’re using.

The strongest clue in this direction came last Tuesday, I think. Apple released new iPhone and iPod Touch editions of Pages and Keynote. Previously, they were only available for the Mac and the iPad, where (frankly) they make clear sense. Are you terribly likely to want to write a 1000 words on your iPhone? Or build or even edit a presentation on that tiny screen?

(Though, yes, the idea of flying somewhere to give a presentation and boarding the plane with just your iPhone and a VGA adapter in your pocket has a definite Bell Labs “The Miraculous World Of 2000” filmstrip quality about it.)

Beyond that? I’m hoping that iOS 5 incorporates better systems for app switching and alerts. I want to see better voice control.

Last week, I ended a column on Windows 8 with a warning directed at Google’s Android team. “When a new version of Microsoft Windows hands you your ass in the category of user-interface clarity and simplicity,” I said, “It’s time to sit down and seriously think about the choices you’ve made in life.”

I now say the same things to Apple. Android’s voice commands are insanely good. You want to go to the nearest Outback Steak House? You hold down the Search button and say “Navigate to the Outback Steak House.” It finds the nearest one and off you go. Speech-to-text dictation is also quite solid. You wouldn’t want to dictate a whole email with it, but it’s perfectly serviceable for text messages.

Notifications aren’t perfect in Android, but they’re better than what we’ve got in iOS. Tap the menubar and a list slides down. There it is: everything that any piece of code has recently wanted to tell you. Did that podcast finish downloading? Yup: your podcaster left you a note. Cool. I had a hunch that there was a way to improve upon iOS’ “I’ll block the screen with a dialog box that has to be dismissed by the user” approach.

I also think it’s time for iOS to have some sort of high-level mechanism for interapp communication. There are ways for one app to pass information to another, but usually it requires a lot of coordination between the developers of those two apps. TextExpander, for example, isn’t terribly useful as-is. It expands keyboard shortcuts into large blocks of text, which is lovely, but you then have to cut the text from the TE app’s pasteboard and then switch to the destination app and then paste it in.

TextExpander works natively inside many third-party apps without any need for cutting and pasting…but only because the TE code is baked right in. I’d love for Apple to come up with some kind of a mechanism where an app can “receive” the functions or information of another app without having to incorporate its code directly. I’d love it if my car GPS app could pass the text “Next turn: right onto Exit 29 in 23.8 miles” to a big, friendly music player app, which could then discreetly display it in a tile.

Well, we’ll know soon enough. The keynote kicks off at 10 AM Pacific. I’ll be sitting here, twitchily eyeing three liveblog windows at the same time, and then I’ll be joining a special edition of MacBreak.

But yes, I’m well-rested and I’ll be in a comfortable chair with a cold beverage nearby. I can’t get that at the Moscone Center. And you know what I did last night? I baked goddamn blueberry muffins, that’s what I did.

So far, I’m certain that I made the right choice. I’m on my sofa and I’ve breakfasted on a fresh muffin. We’ll see if this good feeling lasts through the afternoon. Suffice to say that if Steve Jobs pulls an Oprah and leaps around the stage shouting “YOU get a MacOS tablet! And YOU get a MacOS tablet! And YOU get a MacOS tablet!!!!” while Apple Store workers file out from backstage and into the aisles bearing heaping trays of devices…I shall be disappointed.

I will probably have another couple of muffins. It won’t make me feel much better, but hey, they’re really good muffins.

Hey, wonderful: there’s a location-tracking file on my iPhone.

What sort of data does your phone log to a file…and why?

That’s the most annoying mystery of these superphones that we carry everywhere. It’s a master key to pretty much everything we’ve got going on in our lives: where we’ve been, the people with whom we associate, what we say, and all of the things we’ve seen that we considered worth snapshotting. The phone maker should be both completely open about the data the device collects and should act as though disastrous things would happen if that data were ever to fall into the wrong hands. Because they would. The worst-case scenario of a lost or stolen or otherwise compromised phone is pretty goddamned bad.

So imagine my disappointment when I visited this page (thoughtfully forwarded to me by Dave Bittner). Developers Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, while working on some mobile data-visualization tools, poked around inside their iPhones and found an SQL database containing a detailed log of the phone’s locations over the past several months. To demonstrate the problem, they wrote a little app that will pull up this file from your desktop iPhone backup, analyze it, and “replay” your movements over time on a map.

Yeah, it works. The app was written just as an illustration, so it intentionally fudges the accuracy. But if I fast-forward to last summer, I reveal a very rough track of the day I decided to blow off work and go to the Cape for an afternoon of swimming and fried clams. Here’s a video demo of the map, provided by the developers:

Washington DC to New York from Alasdair Allan on Vimeo.

A few reality checks, lest I inadvertently do a Glenn Beck number on all of you, here:

  • This database isn’t storing GPS data. It’s just making a rough location fix based on nearby cell towers. The database can’t reveal where you were…only that you were in a certain vicinity. Sometimes it’s miles and miles off. This implies that the logfile’s purpose is to track the performance of the phone and the network, and not the movements of the user.
  • A third party couldn’t get access to this file without physical access to your computer or your iPhone. Not unless you’ve jailbroken your iPhone and didn’t bother resetting its remote-access password…or there’s an unpatched exploit that would give Random Person On The Internet root access to your phone.
  • It’s pretty much a non-issue if you’ve clicked the “Encrypt iPhone Backup” option in iTunes. Even with physical access to your desktop, a no-goodnik wouldn’t be able to access the logfile.

But still! What a nervous can of worms. This is an open, unlocked file in a known location in a standard database format that anybody can read. If someone has physical access to your Mac — or remote access to your user account — it’s a simple matter of copying a file and opening it. And while the logfile can’t tell someone that you were at a specific house, it can obviously tell your boss that you went to the Cape on the day you called in sick.

And it’s not as though Apple and these two developers are the only people who know that this file exists and that it’s so easy to access. By the time the Good Guys blow the whistle, the Bad Guys have had it for months. Lord only knows what they’ve been doing with this information.

It’s also, frankly, another reason why I value my iPhone’s “remote nuke” feature and wish it were possible to nuke all data directly from the handset. I can’t think of any circumstance under which my location data would possibly be damaging, incriminating, or even just embarrassing. That’s not the point: if I can’t control the data that my phone is collecting, I should at least have the power to destroy it utterly.

[Edited to clarify: what I want is a real “overwrite with zeros” feature, like the one you see in Disk Utility. Yup, you can go to Preferences and restore your iPhone to factory settings but I believe that this leaves your data vulnerable to recovery. I imagine a made-for-TV kind of scene in which the Angry Lawyer Bringing A Frivolous Lawsuit Against Me is fumbling for his phone, trying to get a court order to mine data off of my iPhone but before the paperwork comes through, I’ve already tapped nineteen buttons and there’s nothing on that phone that can be recovered.]

Finally, there’s “The ‘Ick’ Factor.” I don’t believe that Apple is up to anything nefarious here (again, I think it’s tracking the performance of the phone and not the movements of the user) but it makes the iPhone look very, very bad. That’s not to say that other phones don’t do even ickier things with user data…but this one’s big and public and easy to demonstrate on a nightly newscast.

Apple should treat this like a serious problem. I’ll be very, very pleased if I or anybody else can get a statement from them explaining what this file is for, and how the next iOS update will secure it.

Amazon to Apple: Oh, it is sooo ON!!!

Screenshot of Amazon.com browser window, showing the Cloud Player; foreground window is the Amazon MP3 Uploader, copying iTunes playlists into Amazon Cloud Drive.

Screenshot of Amazon.com browser window, showing the CloudPlayer; foreground window is the Amazon MP3 Uploader, copying iTunes playlists into Amazon CloudDrive.

This is why I love my job. Today, Amazon enabled two new features to their site: Amazon Cloud Player and Amazon Cloud Drive.

Cloud Drive is iDisk via Amazon storage, pretty much. You get 5 gigs of storage for free and can buy more as you need it. Your Cloud Drive can store anything…documents, photos, movies, music.

Cloud Player…lets you stream all of the music you’ve stored on your Cloud Drive. Annnnd everything you purchase via Amazon MP3 (from now on, anyway) is automatically added to your Cloud Drive and doesn’t count towards your storage limit. If you buy 100 gigs of Amazon MP3, you can play all of it for free without paying a dime. In fact, if you buy MP3s from Amazon, they’ll up your “regular” storage to 20 gigs anyway.

And there’s a helper app that’ll scan your existing iTunes library for music files that are compatible with the service. Click a button and all of it — or selected playlists — get uploaded to your Cloud Drive…even files you didn’t purchase through Amazon MP3.

The Cloud Player works through any web browser that supports Adobe Air. So: your Mac is in the club…but your iOS devices are out. But good news if you have an Android phone: the Amazon MP3 app will stream alllllll of your content just great.

Photo of the Amazon MP3 app for Android phones.

The Amazon MP3 app for Android devices...all of the music I've put into my CloudDrive is streamable. Even the stuff I didn't buy from Amazon!

I’ve already transferred four gigs of music to the cloud and yup, it works great. Any computer, anywhere there’s Internet, I get an iPod Nano’s worth of music. I’ve also downloaded the new Amazon MP3 app to my Android phone and…yup…there’s my music.

I tried opening the webplayer on my iPad and it warned me that I’ve got the wrong kind of browser. The player loads up, I can see my music, I can tap a Play button, it selects the track…but nothing happens.

iPad browser with the Amazon CloudPlayer.

You can visit your Cloud Player on the iPad, and it looks like it could be playing your music...but nothing will play. It seems to require Adobe Air/Flash.

Well, isn’t this very interesting!

I wrote a column last week about the new Amazon AppStore and how this signaled a start to some more direct and aggressive competition between Amazon and Apple as the elite seller of digital content and as the Great and Powerful Oz of your mobile experience. This is the second shoe to drop in that battle and there’s a centipede’s worth yet to come.

I’ve used this service for just a half an hour but yes, I already like it a lot. It’s a much simpler and more robust way to cloud-stream your online music purchases than anything else going at the moment. It’s a reason why I’ll continue to buy music from Amazon instead of iTunes.

And — God help me — it makes all Android phones that much more cool.

[Added: and to anyone who wonders where the money is for Amazon in this…you should think bigger. Think of the next Kindle as an entirely cloud-oriented media player. It always has ample local storage for books and a playlist or two, but it has an intimate connection with all of your Amazon purchases and can retrieve — or stream — any of them at any time. Someone deciding between an iPod Touch or a 7″ Kindle Color could be swayed by that kind of feature, couldn’t they?]

I’ve sent an email off to Amazon about any plans for an iOS player. I reckon they’ll make one if Apple will let them release it. Amazon’s always been about selling content, not operating systems and hardware and it’s always benefitted them to get the Kindle reader on as many devices as they can.

I actually first heard about this when I hit Amazon.com to buy a couple of things an hour ago. As soon as I saw it, and I set to work downloading things and uploading things and playing with it, I had to stop and think “Damn…I love my job. Apple versus Amazon is like Ali versus Frasier. This is two evenly-matched fighters and the outcome of their battle can only benefit consumers.

This is what I’ve been hoping for: a company with the skill, vision, clarity, and competence to truly compete with Apple. It wasn’t going to be Google. It was never going to be Google. I’m grinning at the thought of how high these two companies can push each other. What a great time to be a geek and to be alive.

New MacBooks, new interface, new OS

Whoof…this is working out to be a hell of a week for Apple news. I was expecting them to release the 2011 MacBooks yesterday, and I was certainly expecting them to include a new combination data/display port that they developed with Intel.

I wasn’t expecting the first developer preview of the next edition of MacOS. It’s terrific news in and of itself: it means that the OS is well on track, and the new elements I’ve seen are pretty exciting.

But my curiosity about next week’s iPad event has been kicked up a few notches. Wednesday would have been the perfect opportunity to quickly walk the media and analysts through some more of Mac OS X 10.7’s new features. As soon as they made the preview available to developers, everybody was going to start writing about it. Apple didn’t have to release the developer preview yesterday. They could easily have done it on the same day as the iPad event.

So it’s…interesting…that Apple passed on this opportunity to walk the press and analysts through their first exposure to 10.7. It would have been a piece of cake to slip a 15-minute Lion highlight reel into Wednesday’s presentation.

One possible explanation: this iPad news is going to be a lot bigger than we’ve supposed.

Another possible explanation: Apple just wants to make sure that the focus is 100% on the iPad news, whatever it is.

(Shrug.)

The new MacBook arrived in my office this morning and I’ve just had a briefing with a few Apple folks. Here are some bullets from my notes, incorporating both Apple’s pitch and their answers to my questions.

MacBooks

  • The new Sandy Bridge CPUs have integrated GPUs. Part of the whole point of this architecture is to put as much as possible on the chip. Yes, reducing the physical distance between sections of the system results in increased speeds; I remind you that the speed of light remains a constant. The machine also has a conventional outboard Radeon graphics accelerator. Whenever a GPU-intensive app (like Aperture, Photoshop, games) is launched, the MacBook switches to the Radeon, system-wide.
  • Why bother with two GPUs? So that the MacBook can choose between “optimal power consumption” and “optimum graphics performance” on the fly.
  • The new iSight HD chat camera shoots 720p video in widescreen format.
  • The cited battery life of the new MacBooks is lower than their predecessors (7 hours). This is actually due to a new testing protocol that Apple feels is more accurate. The automated test mimics real user behavior by visiting websites, playing Flash content, etc. Apple claims that 2010 MacBooks benchmark a little below the 2011 models using the new battery test.

Thunderbolt

  • Thunderbolt isn’t controlled by proprietary licensing, as the iPod/iPad dock connector is. Any manufacturer can make any kind of Thunderbolt cable or device they wish. They just need to buy Intel’s controller chip. So if (for example) someone wanted to take advantage of the 10 watts on that port and manufacture a Thunderbolt to USB cable that could fast-charge an iPad or iPhone, they could go right ahead and do that.
  • Is it suitable for mobile devices? Like…I dunno…phones and tablets? No comment. But vis a vis its implementation in the MacBooks, Apple is pleased with Thunderbolt’s power management features.
  • These MacBooks can’t boot off a drive attached to the Thunderbolt port. Not today. Target Disk Mode will work, however.
  • Thunderbolt incorporates two independent and bidirectional channels. The theoretical max speed is 10 Gbps, but if Apple wanted to get cute with the numbers they could claim that its absolute theoretical max throughput is 40 (as in: a 10 gig transaction up and a 10 gig transaction down on each of the two channels).
  • Data and display interfaces are on separate channels. A big data transaction shouldn’t interfere with the performance of your display.
  • The data interface is essentially PCI. So engineering a FireWire to Thunderbolt connector would be more similar to “wiring up a cable” than “designing a bridge controller.”

Mac OS Lion Developer Preview

  • iOS-style multitouch is all over the place. In Preview, for instance, you can turn pages by dragging, just like in iBooks. The familiar “double-tap to zoom” behavior in the iOS version of Safari is in the desktop edition. Etc.
  • Autosave and Versions are now integrated at the OS level. If an app want to support a “Time Machine”-style rewind of a document to the state it was in a week ago, Lion provides all of the machinery for that.
  • “Resume” lets you suspend apps the way you do in iOS. Rather than an app relaunching and re-opening the windows you had open the last time you ran it, Lion simply freezes the app in its current state and then restores it.
  • An existing app that has a fullscreen mode can support Lion’s new Fullscreen feature by hooking into the new infrastructure. They won’t necessarily need to write a new Lion-ey fullscreen mode.
  • The Lion version of FileVault allows for a (yes, iOS-style) “remote wipe” of user data: Lion just burns the only copy of the key that it needs to decrypt the user’s directory.

The Lion discussion had a consistent theme: there are a lot of iPad concepts that translate nicely to the desktop. Silly people have mused on that idea and imagined that Mac OS X would inevitably turn into a tablet-style, multitouch OS, if it even continued to exist at all. But when Apple talks about bringing iOS features to the desktop, they’re just referring to features that make the iPad slightly more awesome, like remote-nuking a stolen computer, and being able to close an app without having to spend five minutes closing all of its windows and saving its data.

Many of these features have nothing to do with multitouch…though yes, absolutely, you can expect to grope your Lion a lot more than you pawed your Leopard.

I remind you that all of the above are just notes copied down from what Apple said. I haven’t researched my review yet…and it’ll be a number of months before we can understand the full scope of these statements. Overall, I’m pretty excited about Lion. It appears that the Mac OS is about to receive a sorely-needed shot in the arm. It’s always a good thing when I get a briefing and think “Man, I know exactly how I’d use that feature…” at several different points.

Now iOS 4.2 is here and installed.

Partial screenshot of an iPad running iOS 4.2, showing the dock toolbar. Screen lock button, iPod playback controls, and sliders for volume and brightness are visible, plus an AirPlay button.

I’ve now updated my iPad and my Apple TV to today’s new editions of iOS.

I’m already loving AirPlay. It’s such a natural way to integrate all of your devices that contain media. The desktop edition of iTunes, plus any app on the iPad or iPhone that deals with media, has an AirPlay button. Tap it and you’re presented with a popup list of all of the devices on the network that can stream AirPlay audio and video. It’s the same basic mechanism as when you decide to plug something into a set of amplified speakers. It’s spontaneous and it works.

Mostly. I did get one stall-out when I tried to stream HD video from my iPad to an Apple TV. But for the record, the initial frame from “Up” was, er, stunning.

As it happens, I’ve been working from the sofa all morning, and streaming tunes from my MacBook’s iTunes library to the ATV. An hour ago, I’d choose my music by picking up the ATV remote and peering across the room. Now, the TV is just the output device. When I wanted to pause the music, I tabbed to iTunes and clicked. It’s a subtle distinction but a powerful one.

The good news is that my Apple TV seems to manage multiple inputs with grace. Obviously I can’t select it from my iPad if my MacBook is actively using it. But if the playlist ends, or I hit Pause, the Apple TV immediately becomes available to other devices.

A clear Win. When I reviewed the Apple TV I said that it was a tough choice between this and the new Roku boxes (which are cheaper and also support older analog TVs). The OS updates reinforce my conclusion. If you’re mostly looking for a way to watch Netflix movies, you might as well save a few bucks and get a Roku. But if you’re already putting most of your media in iTunes libraries, you definitely want the Apple TV.

I already miss the “rotation lock” function of my iPad’s new “Mute” switch. Honestly, I can’t imagine a single circumstance under which I’d be grateful that Apple made this change. It’s not like it’s a colossal pain in the butt to have to access the screen lock via the Home button, but it’s annoying enough.

On the plus side, the Home widget deck also includes a screen brightness control. That setting always felt like it was a bit buried.

As expected, AirPrint doesn’t care that my HP printer is connected to the network via an Apple Airport Extreme base station. The HP doesn’t support AirPrint so no dice. Oh, well.

Also as expected: fast app switching is a huge win. Particularly when you’re reading books. It’s as though I always have my current book at my elbow, opened to the current page. I can check my email and then return to Suzanne Somers’ latest book right away. AirPlay works just fine in the background, incidentally. You can be reading a book in iBooks while your iPad streams our music in the background.

(Though there were a couple of quick cuts in the audio early on, likely while the playlist was still buffering to the Apple TV. Playback has been perfectly smooth every since.)

The second semi-transformative enhancement of multitasking: pre-4.2, newsreader apps would hold my iPad hostage while it spent ten minutes downloading hundreds of new blog pieces. Now? I can still look at email or read while it grinds away in the background.

Or at least the app will once I update it to iOS 4.2. As with the iPhone, many of the goodies of the OS require new (but usually free) updates to old apps.

I’m starting to think that the true competition in tablet space just got pushed back another six months. HP certainly has some interesting things planned for WebOS, but that’s all still speculative. Android slates are hopelessly stalled; they can’t even pull out of the garage and head for the starting line until Google releases the first tablet-oriented edition of Android. Even then, there’ll be the delays and caveats associated with all Android releases.

In January of 2010, I believed that by December the iPad would be the front-runner but there’d be some interesting competition to be found. Now, despite the Samsung Galaxy Tab (which I like a lot) I’m wondering if there’ll be any credible and mature competition before summer.

iOS 4.2 is here! Kind of.

This is one of those things that quite rightly annoys Apple’s critics. They can make valid and productive complaints about the limitations of their hardware — particularly their iOS devices — and Apple really has no way to respond.

…Except to update the OS, which is what they’d planned all along.

Here’s the anticipated 4.2 update to the iPad’s OS. Now it multitasks and can print directly from the device. I’m certain that we can all expect a flurry of new reviews and blog posts that humbly say “I know I dismissed the iPad as a silly, trendy toy back in April. But now, obviously, I have to admit that the iPad is absolutely wonderful. After all, I only listed two real shortcomings, and now Apple’s addressed both of them.”

Which isn’t to say that the iPad only had two problems. But Lord, to hear these commentators talk you’d think that they believe we should allow the white rhino to go extinct. “They’re completely useless,” one reviewer says. “Look at the size of those horns. Don’t tell me there wasn’t any room for an SD card reader. If these animals had been created by Google, you could just customize it yourself, but nooooo. God just doesn’t get it. And still, billions of people worship Him like He’s some sort of…”

(I’m checking iTunes again. Nope, iTunes tells me there’s still an hour left to go on my download. Damn and blast.)

Multitasking on the iPad is a clear Win, though as with the iPhone most of the Win comes specifically from the speed with which you can now switch between apps, and the ability to stream music from third-party apps. “Multitasking” clearly has a different meaning in a one-screen interface.

Printing is another nice new feature, though it won’t be quite as fab as we’d hoped, nor as fab as it’ll be in a future release. The original idea was that the iPad would just find and use any available file server. Nope, that’s been delayed. iOS 4.2’s printing feature only works with devices that support the iPad’s network printing scheme. Still, as someone who recently found himself in a hotel room thinking “If I could print directly from my iPad, I wouldn’t be here trying to think of Something Clever” I’m happy to see that problem go from a No to a Maybe.

(Yes, I know there are third-party apps that promise direct printing. But they’re unreliable, and frustrating as hell. I’d much rather have a feature like AirPrint that will definitely work if you have the right printer, than a third-party app that’s supposed to be compatible with all printers but may or may not actually function when the time comes, depending on whether or not the app approves of the color of the drapes in the room.)

(39 minutes to go. Hey, cool…it jumped at least ten minutes!)

AirPlay is the response to everyone who sees a range of Apple devices in someone’s house and assumes that the owner is a brainwashed cultist. There’s a downside to investing your faith and consumer bucks in the Apple infrastructure, but it’s overwhelmed by the positive: this stuff all works together. And the new thing that comes out a year from now will also work well with all of this stuff you’ve already got. In…

…35 minutes, plus or minus, I’ll be able to stream any media I want from any notebook, desktop, iPhone, or iPad to my AppleTV. Unlike other solutions for other devices, it’ll just plain work. Why? Because the same company designed all of the hardware and controls the OS that powers ’em all, and this company is clearly on our side.

Amid iOS 4.2’s other bibs and bobs is one real drawback for iPad users. Unfathomably, the Rotation Lock switch is now a Mute switch. You need a dedicated switch like that one on a phone. You might be in the middle of a funeral and suddenly regret that you chose “Butt Shaker” as your ringtone, to name but one example.

But when you’re using an iPad, the desire to prevent the screen from rotating (again) (goddammit) is just as urgent and spontaneous. Right now, with iOS 3.x, if I’m holding it at a slightly awkward angle and the iPad keeps autorotating on me, I reach up and flip a single switch. In…

…23 minutes, I’ll have to double-tap the Home button to reveal the taskbar, swipe left to reveal the widgets, tap the Rotation Lock button, and then tap the Home button again to get back to what I was doing.

It’s utter nonsense. I predict that soon there’ll be a new System Pref that allows you to choose the function of the lock button.

But all of this is academic because I still have…

…20 minutes before the download is complete and the installation begins.

I read the announcement this morning. iOS 4.2 became available to my copy of iTunes a few hours later. For a solid thirty minutes, I kept the iPad plugged in and clicked the “Check For Updates” button every 30 seconds, waiting for a download slot to open up.

Honestly, I was like one of those pathetic losers at a casino, chain-smoking and numbly tapping the buttons on a video poker machine. The only difference was that Jay Leno wasn’t over in the next room doing his standup.

iTunes Announcement: Wordplay

See? Now this is how an entire day’s worth of productivity goes to hell. I can’t leave this Apple iTunes announcement alone.

Read this morning’s blog post if you haven’t already. I’ve been pacing the floor ever since. I’ve been sitting on the sofa, actually, but this episode of “Columbo” has been on pause for two hours and that really should carry some weight

Regardless: I still lean towards the conclusion that fundamentally, the announcement relates to an expansion of content availability.

Why? Look at the nature of the thing: Apple’s making an announcement and not hosting a live event. You don’t need to demo the availability of new content on the iTunes Store. All you need to do is issue a press release. Something as broad as “stream your iTunes library and/or your purchases to anyplace in the world” implies new features that require a live presentation.

Secondly, I find it hard to believe that a “stream your content from iTunes” feature could be done without a new edition of iTunes and (if Apple wants it to reach all the way to the iPhone and iPad) new updates to iOS. There’s been an unexpected delay in the release of iOS 4.2, a fact that would be more interesting to us today if not for the fact that Apple went ahead and released iTunes 10.1 last week. New Apple releases are usually examined pretty closely for signs of future products and services and so far, nobody’s found anything in the new iTunes to tip off anything as big as this.

Thus my money’s on “expanded content.” That’s based on a lot of assumptions, o’course. But hey, we’re just speculating while we run down the clock to 10 AM.

Just a few days ago I was speaking to a couple of different user groups in Philadelphia and I found myself talking about previous Apple media events. I explained that the people who compose the invites seem to love puzzles. There’s usually an double-meaning to the text that remains hidden until the actual announcement makes everything clear. “Back To The Mac,” the invitation to last month’s event said in big bold letters. Everyone thought “Aha! So they’re going to show off the new edition of the Mac OS!”

And everyone was correct. But it also meant “A few years ago, we brought OS X from the Mac to the iPhone and iPad. Now, we’re bringing concepts that worked so well in iOS and the iDevices back into the Macintosh operating system and hardware.” See? Clever.

I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and re-examining today’s tagline. “Tomorrow is just another day. That you’ll never forget.” I feel a little bit like one of those desperate treasure-hunters who examined every line of “Masquerade” looking for hidden meanings. It’s a trite phrase and usually, Apple does better. It encourages me to sift through its atoms for additional clues. Is the news related to things that are scheduled, and things that iTunes will be able to do for you automatically so that you don’t forget?

Clearly, I’ve been spending way too much time on this. I had a flash of insight and was so excited by it that I rushed here to write a new blog post instead of just Tweeting about it but thankfully, I took a moment to re-examine the wording. Oh, dear: “You’ll remember where you were” isn’t anywhere to be found. So much for my “There’s going to be just one global iTunes store and localization won’t be an issue any more” theory.

Nonetheless, I do note that all of the clocks point to the same day. Perhaps that explains why the announcement happens at 7 AM in Cupertino (which seems early) or 10 AM in New York (why not 9?). It seems as though they were solving for the variable “Midnight in the largest world market city farthest East from San Francisco” came up with the answer “Tokyo,” and then (after one or two geography-challenged Apple employees verified that Japan is east of China) they worked backwards from there.

Ugh. I should put this away before I find myself downloading the graphic and searching for embedded EXIF information.

An Exciting Announcement from iTunes tomorrow?

Image from iTunes app, teasing a special announcement about iTunes. Text: "Tomorrow's just another day. That you'll never forget." Below it are a line of world clocks.

Interesting: this image appeared on Apple.com’s front page today. It was also the standard top-page banner in the iTunes app (which is where I first saw it a moment ago.) At 10 AM tomorrow (Eastern time) Apple will announce…OK, something. I haven’t any firm idea of what it’s going to be.

But it’s a Monday morning, so let’s see if we can’t goof of of work all the way until lunchtime by engaging in extracurricular speculation.

Point One: Apple doesn’t tend to stick its neck out this far unless they think they really do have something big on their hands. So they probably won’t be naming Paul Anka as their featured artist of the week. Secondly, it’s definitely not a hardware item. That’s not an iTunes-specific announcement. Besides, if it were hardware, Apple would have released it weeks ago to get a jump on the holiday season.

It seems likely to be some sort of extension to the scale of the iTunes service in general. I’m guessing that it’ll either be an “iTunes Anywhere” feature (stream your purchased content to any of your iOS devices or one of your five approved desktops; it’s seemed inevitable, ever since Apple bought Lala.com, a streaming music service last year) or it’ll be a new deal that dramatically expands the range of TV programming available for purchase and rental.

The odd timing makes me lean towards the latter. Apple’s never done a big “Hey, everyone, look at us” announcement like this so close to the holidays. I presume that whatever-it-is would encourage people to buy more Apple hardware, or that it’ll position them extremely strongly against competition; otherwise, it seems like you’d want to hold off on an announcement until you could get more attention for it. If Apple suddenly had lined up deals to deliver the majority of popular TV shows to their software and hardware, then they’d suddenly become the presumptive leaders in Internet TV and the $99 Apple TV would suddenly become a very hot gift for 2010.

And it’d be a very bad news day for supporters of Boxee and Google TV. Consumers are still waiting for that last, clear, compelling reason to hook up a WiFi-enabled box to their TV sets: the first service and device that delivers close to a full range of broadcast and cable programming will likely end the competition before it really began.

My other reason for suspecting a new pile of TV deals is that by their nature, negotiating with all of the corporate entities that control TV content is a frustratingly nonlinear and analog process. I can easily imagine Apple hoping, or even expecting, that they’d have closed all of these deals in time for the annual iPod announcements last month…but that things dragged on another few weeks.

(I can picture the new head of NBC Universal listlessly prodding at the plateful of kitten hearts Apple presented to him as requested. “They’e tasty,” he said, “but unless I get to eat them while children are watching me in tear-stained horror, it’s not really a full meal, is it? Can we try this again in a few weeks?”)

As usual, though, we’ll only know what we know when we know it…and Apple doesn’t want us to know until 10 AM tomorrow.

The time is also possibly an interesting data point: whatever it is, Apple wants every news outlet to have the story in time for the day’s broadcasts…and the stock market will be open and trading when the word gets out. It’s got to be something big. Hell, they don’t even mind that we can record MacBreak Weekly at our usual time with this information firmly in hand. Wow!

[Update: But the pointed use of world clocks keeps me wondering. It implies “everyone in the world will be able to take advantage of this,” doesn’t it? If that’s true, it could point to either conclusion. Streaming is a basic extension to your entire iTunes experience and would apply to all users equally. But so would an expanded marketplace. Either one would require a lot of new deals to allow Apple to send content worldwide.

A deal to send this week’s “House” to Japan would seem to be more complex than one to allow streaming of purchased content. But remember that a new streaming feature could also stream that TV show. So maybe it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other. I’ll be shocked if it isn’t one of those two possibilities, though.]

[Update #2: I’m going to stick to the “expanded content” theory. I can’t imagine that Apple could implement a feature as broad as “stream your purchases anywhere” without a LOT of updates to the desktop and mobile editions of iTunes. There’s streaming technologies in all of these apps but I don’t think Apple would want to do it as a straightforward service that uses standard, right-out-of-the-box functionality.

Apple just released a major new edition of iTunes last week. If this was in the offing, AND I’m correct in assuming that they couldn’t enable streaming without a new iTunes…surely they would have waited another week.

Unless, of course, all of the infrastructure is already in iTunes 10, hiding. I’m not sure that the code wouldn’t have been discovered by somebody over the past two months, though.]

Apple Event – My Live (to tape) Blog

A frame grab from Apple's livestream. I was watching it on my iPad, via AT&T's 3G connection.

The session starts with a reminder that Skype is a piece of crap. I was supposed to be joining Leo and Alex in a special MacBreak talking about the presentation as it happens. I even had a special MacBook and iPad setup with a camera and a mic. But Skype said no ****ing way.

And Skype’s screwup cost me about $30. I paid for a day’s worth of hotel broadband solely for the Skypecast. And then when I realized that I’d need two sets of headphones (one to listen to the event on my iPad, one so I could listen to the TWiT studio on my Macbook) I ran to the corner Walgreens and bought a cheap pair of Sonys.

I repeat: Skype is just a total misery. It frustrates the hell out of me that I need to use it but can’t count on it in any way.

Anyway. So here I am in my hotel room with the MacBook on one side, with this blog post open. And the iPad is next to it, streaming the show live via AT&T.

Steve takes the stage and starts by showing off the glam new Paris Apple Store, and the new Shanghai Apple Store. New York gets a big glass cube; Shanghai gets a big glass cylinder. Coca-Cola is now in negotiations to fill it with 178,000 gallons of beverage on special occasions.

I’m not “liveblogging” this because there’s an actual livestream that people should probably watch instead. This blog post is intended for the contemplation and illumination of future generations.

Very good video quality…it ranges from “webcast” quality to “netflix streaming app” quality…depending on how much the video is moving around. Video is _slightly_ choppy…I’m guessing that I’m seeing less than a full 30 frames per second.

Interesting statistic: Apple Stores are seeing one million visitors per day. Yes, on a good day, but that’s still an interesting figure; Steve compares it to the days when Macworld Expo would be happy to see 30,000 people.

iOS is the next topic.

iOS 4.1:Bugs fixed — The wonky proximity sensor on the iPhone, Bluetooth, and iPhone 3G bugs.

New feature: HDR photos! Very cool.

HD video upload over WiFi.

TV show rentals. One rumor confirmed.

Game Center.

HDR Photography. Tap a button on the camera app and it’ll bracket the exposures and combine them into an HDR image. So instead of black shadows and blown out skies, there’ll be plenty of detail in the whole image. The Camera app writes both the “normal” and the HDR version to your photo library so you can pick the one you like.

I love HDR and use it all the time…if this works well, then the iPhone will kick the ass of many real cameras, let alone cameraphones. I wonder if they’re doing “real” HDR or doing a “smart sampling” technique to combine separate exposures? Some consumer apps do that instead of using the real HDR algorithms.

Game Center. Here’s the aggressive sell of the iPad and iPhone (and, um, iTV? [edit to add later: no, as it turns out] as a gaming platform. They’ve always had success there but this is the one where they say really put it out there.

Mike Capps from Epic Games demos new games that take advantage of Game Center. “Project Sword.”

The name seems to indicate that it should be followed by “: The Leverage Of Barjed-Sijnjen Chapter 4, ‘The Re-Brobnoning’.”

Good demo of head to head combat over GameCenter. Also showing that gameplay can be recorded as video. I wonder about latency; are they playing via WiFi or 3G?

Game will be out soon on iPhone and iPad. Looks neat.

[Edit: demo is available as a free download.]

iOS 4.1 available next week for iPhone and iPod Touch; free download via iTunes.

Sneak peek at iOS 4.2. “It’s all about iPad.”

Brings “Everything to iPad”

Wireless Printing – brings long sustained applause. Also something called “AirPlay.” I bet this is a WiFi video sending scheme. [Edit later to say: yes, it is.]

Now there’s a “Print” tool in Pages. Select a printer, number of copies, etc. A new “Print Center” app appears in the multitasking area when a print job is in progress. You can see jobs and cancel them.

AirPlay: it’s the new name for AirTunes. You’ll be able to stream audio, video and photos, which means they need a new, vaguer name for it.

Live demo on an iPad. Steve launches Pandora. He’s got it streaming in the background as he does mail and Safari. We see the exact same multitasking interface as on the iPhone: screen slides up to reveal icons of running apps. You can switch apps and kill them.

Folders: works the exact same way on the iPad as on the iPhone. This is a reminder that “iOS” was a necessary rebranding: if you own an iPhone, you have a mini iPad; if you have an iPad, you have a big iPhone. It’s the same thing; it’s feature-identical and they all work the same on both hardware.

iOS 4.2 will be out in November for iPhone iPad and Touch.

Onward to the iPods. This is, indeed, the annual Holiday Music Event. This is what we’re expecting.

275 million iPods sold. See? This is why we wonder why Amazon hasn’t said how many Kindles they’ve sold. Also why Apple hasn’t said how many AppleTV’s they’ve sold. If you’re happy with the sales, you don’t keep them secret.

All-new designs for every model. Even the Classic? (As in “We’ve redesigned it: it’s now invisible in our product line.”)

[Edit: iPod Classic is absent from mention. So Apple officially is done with hard drive-based iPods?]

iPod Shuffle. Interesting to see how (if?) it’s important today. “People clearly missed the buttons” from the last edition (the “aluminum stick of Trident gum” design). New one has the familiar “button ring”…looks more like a slightly smaller version of the 2008 version.

It includes VoiceOver, just like the Trident model…so you can do playlists and hear names of albums and tracks Can you control it via voice as well? Must ask.

15 hours of battery life. Retail package looks like an ice cube.

$49 price! Nice. They needed to sell this CHEAP to compete with Sandisk’s cheap and excellent music/video players. Lowest iPod price ever, I think.

iPod Nano. Another one that maybe has identity problems, in light of the iPod Touch and how close it is in price.

Eliminated the clickwheel: it’s now a multitouch device. It’s a tiny square with a color screen. “Wearable” via a clip. It’s large enough for four app buttons. 46% smaller, 42% lighter. Hardware volume buttons. FM radio, Nike+ and pedometer. Works in 29 languages. Battery life of 24 hours.

Does it run apps? Other than the built-in features? It does looks like an iPod Touch crammed into a screen that can only hold a 2×2 square icon panel. [Edit to add: nope, no mention of third-party iOS apps. Must ask later.]

Nice clock app…looks like it’d make a nice watch when clipped onto an armband. Albeit a watch that only runs for X hours before you need to recharge it and probably doesn’t tell you the time until you “wake” it.

Hmm. I’m really going to need to play with this. I don’t know how useful a touch interface will be on a screen this small; your finger is covering up so much of the screen. Especially when you’re doing particularly clever things like trying to “scroll” through the alphabet and find a specific album. Even Steve appears to be operating the new Nano cautiously. On the plus side, when you and I use it, the results won’t be on a huge HD auditorium screen for the world to see,

(I’m nerdly impressed that they’ve got a hack via the dock connector that has the output from this dinky little device projected right onto that huge projector in the auditorium. No, this won’t show up in the consumer device. But I love the idea of this dinky thing being used as a video source.)

Screen rotates via touch (apparently not automatically via sensors).

Comes in seven colors including Graphite and “Product RED” editions.

What’s the capacity? $149 for 8 gigs, $179 for 16 gig version.

Still has a bit of an ID crisis. Why not pay a little extra for an iPod Touch, when it does so much more? I guess for some people, the smaller size really is that important. [Edit: I forgot how much more expensive the iPod Touch is, too.]

iPod Touch. — …Steve hears my comment here in the hotel room and acknowledges that the iPod Touch is the best-selling iPod.

More rah-rah about Apple mobile gaming: “outsells Nintendo and Sony portable players, combined.” I believe that number…but at PAX Expo it seems as though everyone had Nintendo DS systems, not iPods. I need to think about that.

The new iPod Touch. It’s even thinner. Same basic lines as the older model (not squared edges like the iPhone 4).

As expected: it has the same Retina Display as the iPhone 4 (24 bit color, 326 ppi). Same A4 chip as the iPhone 4 and iPad. Also has the 3-axis gyro.

And Facetime via a front-facing camera. New rear-facing HD camera. No light on the camera (apparently). iPhone’s iMovie app works on the iPod Touch, too.

40 hours of music playback.

8 gigs for $229, 32 gigs for $299, 64 gigs for $399. OK, so there’s the difference between the Nano. I should also remember that someone who wants a consumer music player sees a MUCH bigger difference between the extra dough than someone shopping for (say) a laptop or an ebook reader might.

All iPods will ship next week. Pre-order starts today.

Ads for the new iPods. Apple spokespeople are still trapped in The Matrix, as they’ve been for the past ten years or so. Someday the company will be doing well enough to afford a background scrim or something. Like, one of them peaceful waterfall scenes you get with your school picture or at the boudoir-photography store over at the mall.

iTunes. And now, Apple releases version 10 of the iTunes app. Time for a new app icon! The kids today don’t know what a CD even is any more. Now just musical note over a blue background.

(Please, audience: you’re applauding an icon. Do let’s preserve the Dignity of the Press, wot?)

Added a new “hybrid” view in track listings: if it senses there are bunchs of tracks from an album in a row, it’ll use extra white space to show album art. Nice little flourish; seems like something that a member of the team does for fun, and then it impresses everyone else enough to make it into the actual app.

Quick peek at the iTunes Store. I wonder if they put up a special Katy Perry album art banner so that the keynote didn’t show the “bare-assed on a cloud” art that’s been plastered on iTunes’ front page all week.

New feature for social networking of music: they’re calling it “Ping.” “A social network for music.” It’s built into iTunes. Follow favorite artists and friends to discover the music they’re talking about, listening to, and downloading.

Ping is now in the sidebar, almost like a Device. You can see what your friends are posting and discussing. The idea is that you can click in there and check out music.

Ping will create a custom Top 10 chart of the music your friends are following.

An artist page. recent posts from Lady Gaga, her favorite songs, and concerts she’s appearing in. Click a button to Follow.

Uh-oh…for the first time, the video feed is stuttering a little. screen blacks for a quarter-second three or four times in a row. Must have been the mention of Lady Gaga. Her fans are rabid. Think about what would have happened if the stream got Biebered.

You can control your Followers: let everybody follow you, let people only follow you if you approve each person. Create “circle of friends” So it seems as though they thought hard about privacy controls.

Over 17,000 concert listings. “Ping is open to over 160,000,000 iTunes users in 23 countries immediately. We’re starting with a very large base.”

(Can you buy tickets? Must check.)

Live demo of Ping. You see a Facebook-style aggregate feed of all of the people your’e following. Shows an artist who seems to have posted a bunch of tour photos. You can leave a comment.

I wonder how useful this will be. I generally don’t care what a million fans of an artist have to say. I only care about what my friends are thinking, or a handful of critics/commentators whom I like.

You have a profile page with a photo and description, with your favorite tracks and albums. Does this work with affiliate listings? Do I get a kickback if people buy tracks based on my recommendation? iTunes does have an affiliate program. Must ask.

Oh my god: the video stuttered again…and once again it only happened WHILE LADY GAGA WAS ON THE SCREEN. Fear the Gaga! Gaga “posted a backstage video” to her own Ping stream.

People can see that you’ve purchased a song. Hmm. Do I have control on a song-by-song basis? I wouldn’t want to just automatically publish my whole buying history. “I only bought that ABBA song because I wanted to make fun of it in a blog post…I swear!”

Ping also is on the iPhone. Checking activity and making posts, etc.

iTunes 10 available today. I immediately check Apple.com but they’ve still got the iTunes 9 download link up.

One More Thing…

One more Hobby, Steve says, getting applause. Yes, it’s time for AppleTV or iTV.

Introduced 2006 and not a big hit. “Users love them,” but Apple has never said how many they’ve sold.

Apple asked users what they want. They want hollywood movies and TV shows whenever they want. “They don’t want Amateur Hour.” And they want HD. And lower prices for content.

They don’t want a computer on their TV…

Did Steve just mention Lady Gaga again? Now the stream has frozen completely: static screen. Had to restart it.

Back a few minutes later.

All HD, All rentals, no purchases. No storage because you don’t store anything on the device. Rental prices are so cheap that it’s still less expensive than buying, even with multiple views.

No syncing required. Seems like he’s saying that Apple’s done a better job, solving problems by making it more like a Roku box than a “hotplate Mac.”

$4.99 first-run HD movies, rented the day and date that the DVD is released. And they get cheaper after first-run.

Renting an HD TV show is now 99 cents. And it’s commercial-free.

They’ve got ABC and Fox on board; “we think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board with us.”

Awesome: you can also stream Netflix. That immediately makes it relevant.

Also support for YouTube, Flickr, and MobileMe, all in HD. And stream music photos and video from Mac or PC.

UI is simple, looks like the last-generation AppleTV (the “infinite corridor” of scrolling movie posters). Also includes the TomatoMeter! RottenTomatoes.com is unquestionably a powerhouse of the online film community.

What the hell? Now the theater is empty. The stream jump-cut to…what? Is it people entering, or people having left?

Refresh the stream again. Stream picks up roughly whee it dropped. Steve is now renting a movie. I’s skipping around a bit. I think it’s speeding things up to get me caught up to the “live” end of the movie. Iron Man 2, btw.

TV. Nice twist: it keeps track of your favorite shows and tells you about shows you’ve missed. So I could check and see that last week’s “Simpsons” was a new ep, not a repeat, and watch it for 99 cents.

Netflix. It seems to have the same features as what you’d see on a Roku (queue, suggestions, New Arrivals, searches, genres).

Finds your iTunes and photo libraries. I mnight have missed something: dunno if it finds it just on the local net or anywhere in the world via MobileMe. I bet it just works on your local network.

Slideshow looks a little like an Apple commercial. Yes, your kids and wife are in The Matrix again. Very pretty, though.

“Now let me show you something else that’s really cool.”

Yes, you can stream content from an iOS device to an AppleTV. Streaming “Up” from iPad to TV. Tap a button in the iOS 4.2 video player app to choose where you want to stream it to. Will stream it to the TV via WiFi.

(Makes me wonder what they did this time to “clean” the room and make sure that other WiFi signals wouldn’t screw up the demo hardware’s connection!)

(It also forces me to reflect upon the fact that if you buy a copy of “Up” from the iTunes Store, you can connect your iPad to your HDTV and watch it via a special network box and a WiFi network, but not via a $29 cable that Apple sells to connect the iPad to an external monitor. This is thanks to the DRM embedded in video purchases.)

AppleTV used to be $229 — another stumbling block to its success. New price is just $99.

Another huge step forward: $99 is the consumers’ “Sure, what the hell?” price. AppleTV available in 4 weeks.

“We started doing this music stuff for simple reason: we really love music.” Oboy! There’s going to be some live music!

“This group has had four albums so far…” OK, so it’s not Ringo and Paul. It’s U2. I mean, Coldplay.

Chris Martin, ladies and gentlemen…Chris Martin.

Is he going to play the special custom guitar with the Apple soundhole?

“I wish the rest of the band were here…but they’re too lazy,” he said, sitting at the piano.

Here the stream stops and then stops again, after a restart. I leave it alone.

Apple’s Magic Trackpad – Just the start of the magic trick?

Apple press photo of the Magic Trackpad input device. A small aluminum pad next to a Bluetooth keyboard, with a hand on the pad.

Apple's new Magic Trackpad makes me wonder what it's really meant to connect with.

Photos of Apple’s new Magic Trackpad leaked a while ago. If it were any other company’s product, it’d have been a slam-dunk sneak peek. But this is Apple; nothing’s released until it’s released. Or at least officially announced.

Compare and contrast this with PC makers who indiscriminately spray new products into crowds of terrified consumers, or (God help us all) Microsoft. I sometimes wonder if Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is Tyler Durden from “Fight Club.” Tyler takes to the stage once or twice a year to show off “Exciting! Revolutionary! GAME-CHANGING!!!” new Microsoft software and hardware. He’s energetic! Aggressive! Confident! He has a PLAN!!!!!!!

…And then a month later, meek, rudderless Steve Ballmer watches the video in shock. I…I said that?!? It’s insane! I must be stopped! Lo and behold, nearly everything that Interesting Steve announced in the 2010 CES keynote has been scrapped.

Not Apple. Unless you want to counter-argue that maybe Steve Jobs’ Tyler Durden personality completely took over while he was in high school and never let go. If so, cool; let’s order a pitcher of drinks because we’ve hit upon a good topic for group discussion.

So: Magic Trackpad. It was released this morning, along with updates to the iMac line and a new Cinema Display. And, surprisingly, a new Apple AA battery charger whose main feature seems to be that after your batteries have been topped off, it draws 10% of the power of other AA chargers.

On its own, the Magic Trackpad is sort of an ordinary release. It’s a big notebook-style trackpad, built as a separate Bluetooth input device so that it can be used with desktops. Nice idea. I’ve had Wacom’s Bamboo tablet for a while now and I love it. Resting your hand on part of your desk and just tickling a surface is a quick and natural way to control the cursor, and you can set up the Bamboo with multitouch gestures for launching and switching apps, selecting tools…pretty much anything that a sane man could want.

A little trackpad like this is also a handy compromise for folks who sort of want a tablet input but can’t justify the expense. I use the Bamboo to sign documents and it’s also lets me “fingerpaint” edits to photos and artwork, either via my fingertips or a precision stylus.

Neat. The Magic Trackpad goes a little further in that it natively supports MacOS touch gestures. It’s not a “special” input device powered by unique drivers; it just is, so to speak.

Nope, I don’t have one yet but I expect I’ll have one shortly. So a hands-on review will have to wait until I get my hands on one.

Still, the existence of this device invites me to strap on the long, salt-and-pepper fake beard that I keep on a special peg next to the desk for just these sort of beard-stroking opportunities.

I think this device articulates their faith in multitouch interfaces. Across the board.

  1. It’s a “bridge” device that enables every MacOS device to have a multitouch input. If Apple were to develop more aggressive multitouch support for MacOS 10.7, they’d need to have this sort of device on the price list and out in the field. I don’t think that a multitouch revolution is necessarily appropriate for a desktop OS, but building a big, standalone trackpad gives MacOS engineers a certain amount of liberty to be bold.
  2. Bluetooth means that it’ll work with anything Apple’s got going. The fundamental connection between a human being and an iPad will always be “fingers on a screen.” But a Bluetooth multitouch surface expands the reach of the iPad by at least making it possible to (for example) tether your iPad to a conference room projector but control it via a pocketable $69 device. It also makes it easier to use the iPad as a home audio or video component.
  3. AppleTV just got realllllllllly interesting. Existing AppleTVs — the one Apple product you’ve forgotten about, the one that sits at the back of the class and never raises its hand — are MacOS devices. They’re controlled via IR remotes and thus they require line-of-site between the device and the operator. With the Magic Trackpad in the product lineup, Apple could completely reinvent the AppleTV as a device that hides somewhere behind your TV, runs a new flavor of iOS, and ships with a Magic Trackpad instead of a clickybutton remote.

Mind you, I’m not speculating about a new AppleTV that looks and feels like a TV/HDMI version of the iPad. I’m imagining something with a UI built for a TV screen, to be viewed and interacted with from ten feet away.

Even if we leave aside any changes to the AppleTV’s inputs or UI, the big benefit of moving AppleTV to iOS would be that it’d instantly allow the device to take advantage of the huge iOS development ecosystem. The work that iOS developers have put into iPhone and iPad apps could go into AppleTV apps as well. The biggest problem with the AppleTV has always been the tame and provincial nature of its feature set. Two months after Apple releases iOS dev tools for it, those problems would disappear.

And what’s the point of designing a brand-new, iOS-optimized, fast but power-saving A4 CPU if you’re not going to stick one inside everything you’ve got going?

It’s all speculation (which is why this is on my blog instead of Someplace Reputable). And the calmer, more rational line of thought is that Apple could transition AppleTV to iOS and the A4 processor without a new multitouch wireless input device. Still, the Magic Trackpad does inspire one to dream, doesn’t it?