Recent posts

by Jehuda Saar

Entries in apple (31)


Benefiting From Banks

Talk about a symbiotic relationship: Apple benefits from banks getting in on the Apple Pay game which in return benefits those same banks. Now that sort of relationship might just create its own momentum and spin things up to an even higher level. 

Here is Bank Of America's contribution, though others including Wells Fargo, Citibank and Chase have their own campaigns going. Hopefully we'll see the service pretty soon outside the U.S. as well. 



A little over a week ago Apple came out with a cute little ad for Christmas. A young girl plays "I'll Be Home for Christmas" to her granddad using FaceTime. 

The makers of the app Futulele have seemingly one-upped Apple with their own version of that song. Very cool, especially since you consider that Apple's ad aired on December 22 and that Futulele's version was uploaded on December 23. The kind of quick turnaround video production I like to be involved with myself.


Truth in Advertising

When Apple introduced the iPad Mini last month, they of course ran an ad for the new machine. The ad was cute, it was the piano ad shown below.

But you knew more would come soon. And Apple did not disappoint. Two new ads were just issued. I find one of them much better than the other and I won't even force you to guess. I think the ad showing off iPhoto is a lot better than the one with iBooks, but judge for yourselves.


No Speculation Zone...OK I'm lying

​Tomorrow Apple will holding what is expected to be the great iPad (mini) event. Just like with the introduction of the iPhone 5, a lot seems to be known about this new product. Spy photos of pretty much every part of this smaller iPad have been circulating around for weeks now, so not much is left to the imagination. And yet, some crucial things are not known yet:

  • What will be the product's name​ ?
  • What price points will it sell at ?
  • What sort of screen will it have ?
  • Will it have just WiFi or LTE as well ?

I won't speculate on much of the above. ​Others are much better equipped to do so. I will make one prediction though. No it won't be about the price. If Apple wanted to deal a death-blow to the rest of the industry, it would price the entry level model at $199. Even the Kindle Fire wouldn't survive that. But, hey, this is Apple we're talking about. Could they sell it at such a price and still make money ? I believe they could. Chances are the display will be non-retina. Apple have achieved economies of scale with the iPhone 3GS and the iPad2 that would enable them to go really low on this one. But they won't. We've heard rumors of prices hovering between $249 and $329. I have no doubt that even at those higher prices Apple will break sales records with these machines, but it won't be as "market-dominating" as pricing at below $200. 

No, my prediction is about something else entirely. Last January Apple took pains to unveil their iBooks strategy, and specifically the iBooks Author program that enables mere mortals to easily create beautiful textbooks for school and college going students. ​The main bottleneck for the success of that program was the price of the vehicle it required. Very few school districts could afford to buy large quantities of iPads for their students. So the tools were there, but the vehicle went missing. Until tomorrow. I believe that Apple will tout this new iPad category as the ideal school and college companion. I have a feeling much of tomorrow's presentation will focus on that particular function for this new device. Chances are they will introduce a new version of iBooks Author, and maybe even a new version of iBooks itself. 

Of course there will be other highlights: maybe a new retina 13 inch MacBook Pro, possibly a revamped Mac Mini, but in my opinion we should be paying attention to the iBooks move. Many people have had the vision of "a computer for every child"​ for years now, but this new iPad, whatever its name, could well bring this vision that much closer to reality.



What are they actually guilty of then ?


The Map App debacle reminds me of Antennagate: the last time everyone went crazy saying Apple had so dramatically screwed up, the game was over. A lot of noise for absolutely nothing. Then it was Consumer Report making a mountain out of a molehill: if you held your iPhone 4 just so (and you really had to make an effort to hold it THAT way), you could loose your connection. This time again it is mostly pundits and so called "experts" making a lot of noise for not much.​

Why do I say that ? Very simply: Apple HAD to release Maps, in its current form, and better now than later, or too late. ​And, yes, I agree, there are some problems with the new iOS 5 Maps App. That much is undeniable. But there are still problems with Siri as well, and what both these products have in common is the fact that they can ONLY be made better by getting millions of people to use them every day. So Apple HAD to come out with a product that wasn't all there yet, because what is happening right now is part of the process of making that product better. 

Let's be honest. Personally I have never used the old Maps app on the iPhone. I have been a dedicated Waze users for years now. ​So this change really doesn't affect me immediately in any way. I don't know why anyone would in fact have used the pre-iOS 6 Maps app at all, it didn't have turn-by-turn directions. But I do fault Apple for one thing. There is one aspect of this that they handled badly. At the introduction of iOS 6 they touted the new Maps app as the greatest thing since sliced bread. That is the one thing they should have better prepared for. They oversold that product. A little more humility would have gone a long way towards managing expectations. I'm not saying the "cognoscenti" wouldn't have raised their voices in horror, but maybe the story would have made a little bit less noise. As is, Tim Cook's apology went a long way towards calming things down. Before long this story too will be forgotten, or at least it will fade in memory. The naysayers will have to come up with some new wrongdoing by Apple, but the iPhone 5 will continue to sell like hotcakes, and the public will continue to vote with their wallets.


Good Silly Stuff

​You have to admire the creativity of the people involved with these two spoof videos about the iPhone 5. The point is that the "real" Apple video introducing the iPhone 5 actually felt like a spoof in and of itself. See for yourself. Watch the two funny ones and compare it to the "serious" one. If you have been watching these 'intro" video every time Apple comes out with a new product, you know it is impossible to take them seriously anymore. I love the company, but time to "innovate" on the intro-video front.

And finally the "real" one.


iPhone 5 disappointments

Just like last year, when Apple introduced the iPhone 4S and a great number of people expressed their disappointment at the "underwhelming" new arrival, this time too cries of ​disillusionment are being heard from every corner with regards to the iPhone 5. And just like last year all these naysayers were proven wrong, I predict that once again we will see the iPhone 5 break sales records but also turn into an amazing success with users worldwide. 

There are some basic misunderstandings about the iPhone that still linger in the marketplace and cause these enormous miscalculations both by observers of the industry as well as potential customers​:

  • There are those who "get" the iPhone and those who don't. What I mean by that is, there are people who buy the iPhone because they buy into the entire ecosystem. They realize that ​the iPhone is only one part of a whole. They "grok" iCloud, iTunes, the app environment, connections between iOS and OSX, maybe even AppleTV. They stand in direct opposition of people who are looking to buy a gadget, the latest fad, some new exciting feature for that feature's sake. Looking for feature parity between the iPhone and some new Android device of the week is a total waste of time. So what if some new phone as NFC (near field communication) if nobody uses it ? Apple won't include a feature in their phone if that feature is half-baked. The first iPhone did not have 3G. The reason was that, back in 2007, there was no way to run 3G without running out of battery power within dozens of minutes. People could be heard complaining about that up and down the street, but the decision made by Jobs at the time was sound. There are so many Android phone models out there, from so many manufacturers, that there is no cohesive system in place. App usage on Android, beyond some percentage of savvy users, is minimal at best, whereas iOS users who understand their environment tend to acquire more apps and use them much more often. In many case Android users would have been "feature phone" buyers rather than smartphone customers. Many may not have known walking into the store what model they were going to walk out with on the day of the new acquisition. So a lot of the noise following the iPhone 5 intro of yesterday comes from that camp.
  • It used to be that Apple, as a company, was able to keep a tight lid on new products. The bigger the company became, the more successful they were, the harder keeping secrets turned out to be. There were almost no features of the iPhone 5 that were unknown to anyone paying attention these past few weeks. Pretty much every detail about the phone had been leaked, mostly by Chinese manufacturers looking to profit from the prestige of being an Apple OEM. As a result there was very little announced yesterday that elicited real surprise. Since people like a good surprise, a great number of pundits, journalists and cognoscenti cried foul yesterday since there were almost none.


  • For a while people got the idea that every time Steve Jobs took the stage, he would create a new revolution. People have come to expect dramatic, industry altering announcements from Apple as a result of some of the changes we have seen the company bring about this last decade. ​But if Apple does one thing well, it is to improve on something they have introduced in the past, without necessarily trying to disrupt it at every turn. The iPhone 4/4S was an amazing improvements over the original iPhone form factor. So Apple decided to basically stick to it, however make improvements to the phone's innards, without changing the overall look too much. No, the iPhone 5 doesn't hover in the air and it doesn't make me coffee. But that's not what I want my iPhone to do. Most people haven't yet realized that some of the revolutions we will see in the field are already baked into the product. We have not yet scratched the surface of what Siri will one day become. There is a reason Apple still calls it a "Beta". But by next week, with the release of iOS 6, Siri will come to the iPad. And in the not too distant feature I am convinced it will be on the Mac as well. Ultimately it will dramatically change how we use our electronic devices.

A mere five years ago there was no such thing as the "App economy". Three years ago there was no "tablet-PC" market to speak of. Apple will continue to disrupt entire industries and I hope that one day, THEY will be the ones to disrupt the iPhone itself. Hopefully, deep inside some secret Apple lab, there are people even now working on that next big thing: the product that will unseat the iPhone. But for now I am very happy that they have decided to improve on a good thing without trying to change it too much. Evolution rather then revolution, just what the doctor ordered.



The Dock Is Dead

Here is a great example of the first company to take advantage of Apple's decision to change the dock connector on all its iOS devices with yesterday's introduction of the iPhone 5 and the new iPods. The message: throw away all your old gear, don't bother with docks, go wireless.​


And now September 12 is official, but what about the name ?

So now we know for a fact that the next iPhone is being introduced on September 12. But what about the people who claimed it was going to be called the "New iPhone" rather than the iPhone 5 ? Check out the shadow in the announcement graphic​. Either they are celebrating the fifth anniversary of the introduction of the iPhone, or else this is it: the iPhone 5.


Two events - multiple products

On July 30 came out with the scoop that Apple will be introducing a new iPhone ("iPhone 5" ? "New iPhone" ?) ​on September 12 and that the new phones would be available in stores on September 21. He also stated that the new rumored iPad mini would come out on the same day. The iPad mini is supposed to be a smaller model of the most successful tablet-computer in history, somewhere between 7 and 8 inches, with a non-retina screen and rumoured to have a base model priced anywhere between $199 and $299. 

Knowing how Apple like to focus their product introductions on hot items and would not want any one category to cannibalize on the attention of another, the idea of introducing two important products​ such as these in one event sounded somewhat strange to me, but better informed people than me were writing those pieces and they seemed to know of what they spoke. Enter John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame who wrote this piece on August 23. He posited that with the iPhone alone being the "single most profitable product in the world today" (the iPhone business alone is bigger than all of Microsoft's businesses combined), why would Apple want to share the iPhone's spotlight with the announcement of another new product. 

This was soon followed by what appeared to be a very brief, innocent comment by Jim Dalrymple of ​Except that when it comes to Mr Dalrymple, when he writes about Apple, his comments are rarely innocent. He has proven to be very much in the know of the secret goings-on at Apple in the past and the tech-media always pay extra special attention to his apparently off-the cuff remarks.

And finally word came down from what is considered the most reliable source about Apple these days: John Paczkowski of In a piece dated August 25 he "confirms" there will be two events: one introducing the iPhone on September 12 and another event in October for the iPad mini. ​As he says in his article:

"With a new iPhone and a new, diminutive iPad in the pipeline, Apple has two opportunities to commandeer the tech news cycle ahead of the annual holiday shopping binge, and it's going to take them both."

You will notice that the headline of his piece states "Confirmed", however the last line of the piece states clearly "Apple declined to comment on its plans". And yet the tech world accepts that if AllThingsD says it is so, it will be so. That only leaves one more little item in question. What about the new rumored iPod nano ? We have heard anything from a WiFi enabled nano, to rumours of a nano that would work with an iPhone as a wristwatch or other wearable "satellite" for your phone. When will that be introduced ? ​

Personally I believe that if the nano is being repositioned as something that extends your iPhone's functionality, it makes sense to introduce it the same day the new iPhone comes out. In the meantime all we can do is wait and speculate some more. ​


Down the Mountain came a Lion

A couple of hours into using the new Apple operating system and I can already tell you a few things. The first impression you will have after the update is that nothing changed. Everything pretty much looks the same. You'd think you just spent $20 on nothing. And then you start noticing little things. Suddenly Mission Control and Launchpad, both functions I had previously removed from the Dock, are back again. When you try dragging them off, nothing happens. They're stuck. Thanks to Jason Snell of Macworld for letting me know that I should right-click on the items to remove them. 

I dictated a few email messages in Mail. Worked flawlessly, although every once in a while the computer waits for the Apple servers to return the written sentence back (the process of transcribing your words to typed text does not happen on your computer). 

So far no complaints yet about Notifications. I like seeing new email message notifications appear at the top right of my screen. ​I am a bit peeved that my everyday computer, a late 2010 MacBook Air, will not support Airplay Mirroring. My video production machine, a more recent MacBook Pro, does show the Airplay icon in the menu bar, but that one rarely moves from its spot these days.

I am including two videos of short reviews that appeared today as soon as Mountain Lion hit the App Store. These are, in turn, from Macworld and Cult of Mac. Enjoy.​


Simply Fantasti......Cal !!!

For the past year I have been using this little utility that has become indispensible. It is safe to say that Apple's iCal is probably their worst piece of software. OK, maybe that dubious achievement award belongs to iTunes. But iCal is a close second. Entering events or reminders into iCal is simply tedious. Enter Fantastical. Type in "Dentist appointment tomorrow at 1PM" and watch Fantastical parse it correctly and create your reminder in iCal effortlesly. This little video really says it all. Highly recommended.


Two recent innovations Apple should steal


In the past few days two products were introduced by Apple competitors that have made some noise: Samsung came out with the Galaxy S III, and Microsoft once again entered the hardware business with the Surface. While I will leave reviewing or giving opinions on these products to people who are much more adept at this sort of thing, there are two particular innovations I liked a lot, one for each of these products, that I wouldn't mind if Apple "adapted" into their product line. The obvious one is of course the Surface's Touch Cover. In essence this is equivalent to the iPad's Smart Cover, except it has a built-in keyboard. Clever little bit of engineering and something I would enjoy much more than typing on the iPad screen.

The Galaxy S III also has all sorts of cool techie bells and whistles, but one of the coolest innovations there are what they call TecTiles. These are little $3 stickers, embedded with circuits, that activate certain things on the phone whenever the phone is near one of them. Imagine sticking one in your car and having it turn your phone's Bluetooth on as soon as you sit in it. I could think of other location-specific actions I would have these stickers trigger on my phone throughout a regular day.

So, Apple, pay attention, and find a way to bring these sort of concepts into our iOS world. Call it something else if you want, we won't mind. So long as we get to take advantage of the tech, we don't care who came up with it first.



Adventures with Apple TV


A few months back I wrote about what we hoped would one day be an Apple branded television experience. The idea was that Apple would come out with a big screen TV that would revolutionize the way we watch the tube today (that is, for those of us who still watch TV following a network imposed schedule of some sort). But the truth is that, to some extent, that Apple branded TV experience already exists. I am of course talking here about the $99 little hockey puck sized "Apple TV". 

Interestingly enough I did not get it for the same reason that most people buy it for. Typical users of this item are looking to access online content easily (be it iTunes or Netflix for movies and TV series, or else to get the, NHL or NBA channels for sports). Until we bought the Apple TV the only item hooked up to our main TV by HDMI was another little box called the WDTV. Current models can stream content over the internet, but our old model did only one thing, but did it well: it allowed us to hook up external hard drives chockfull of AVI and MP4 files and watch them on a dedicated HDMI channel on the family TV. Enter the new Apple TV. No longer do we need to worry about hooking up hard drives to anything, anywhere. This new little box lives on the home WiFi netwrok, accesses any iTunes library within reach that has Home Sharing turned on (a feature within iTunes) and can play that content anytime. This includes music, podcasts or even photos. In addition, anyone with an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad can beam content to the Apple TV and watch it on the big screen instantaneously. 

But there is a limitation: all this works very well so long as the files being played are MP4s. What about AVI files ?I spent some time researching possible solutions. Apple does not officially support that format. There are solutions out there that involve on the fly conversions of streaming files, but that looked way too complicated. I needed somehting the kids could manage without calling tech-support every time they want to watch something on TV. I ended up discovering a neat little $7 Mac app called Beamer. Nothing could be simpler: when you open Beamer you get a little window that says "Drop Movie Here". You drag the AVI file over to that window on your Mac and just like magic the file starts playing on your TV through Apple TV. In essence any computer within WiFi range of the Apple TV can thus beam AVI files to the TV and you can use either the Apple TV included remote or any iPod/iPhone/iPad with the Remote app installed to control the video experience. 

Overall I am quite impressed with this $99 little Apple product. For now it is sold as a niche product, and few casual iPhone or iPad fans are even aware of its existence. But it made me rethink whether Apple actually need to enter the physical TV business at all. The same way they now include an or NBA channel, couldn't they include HBO or CNN, FOX and CBS ? These could even be apps on one's iPhone or iPad and would beam straight to an Apple TV. There are so many ways that this could work, provided of course that Apple find a way to convince the current "gatekeepers" to play along. One of the main problems at the moment is the fact that a great number of Cable TV providers also pump internet service into people's homes. I can't imagine the Cable TV companies rolling over and letting Apple eat into their profits without putting up a fight. But in the long term the old model of Cable TV subscriptions is bound to come to an end. Those who realise early that the rules are being rewritten and manage to roll with the punches and reinvent themselves will stand a better chance of surviving. I have no doubt that five years from now TV viewing will look nothing like what we have today, and the type of innovation that is driving that change is available to us today, for a mere $99.


Oh So Inventive

There is an entire cottage industry growing up around the iOS eco-system. One such product category has to do with integrating the iPad into your home with as little fuss as possible. A new entry in that field is the LaunchPort. Check out the video for a quick overview of this system. While Steve Jobs would no doubt have approved of the clean and wire free look, most people will balk at the price tag: the PowerShuttle that snaps onto the iPad itself is $149 while the two docks on offer, the WallStation and the BaseStation, are $199 each. Not for everyone.