Posted in Advice, News, tagged app store, apple, ios, ipad, iphone, ipod, iTune, itunes, Podcast, Stitcher Radio on June 30, 2012 |
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One of the features I’ve enjoyed the most from the combination of iOS and the iTunes store has been their huge library of podcasts. No matter what your interests may be, there’s likely more than one podcast out there covering it. Entertaining, educational, informative; podcasts are an unheralded gem of iTunes- and best of all, the content is free (so far).
Apple made a strategic error in their recent versions of iOS, muddying one of their stated strategic missions of providing the best possible user experience. The iPod app that once encompassed all media on the iPhone was split to mimic the iPad into Music and Video apps. While the change was logical, the deployment of the Music app made enjoyment of podcasts more arduous. To get to your content you had to open the Music app, then tap the ellipse icon to access them as podcasts were no longer listed as a default selection. Drilling down through an app to find what you’d like to listen to hardly embodies the ‘magical’ experience iOS devices were touted to provide. I eventually turned to Stitcher Radio, a third party app that allows streaming access to your subscribed apps as well as other audio content and listening suggestions. While Stitcher is a very good app, it hasn’t been exactly what I was looking for. Power is typically inversely proportional to the need for interaction, and many times I just want to listen to my subscribed podcasts without having to pick specific episodes from a favorites lineup (not to mention the other functionality of Stitcher that I simply wasn’t taking advantage of).
Apple recently revealed that the next version of iOS would correct their oversight by providing a standalone Podcast app. This welcome move was further compounded by the announcement that the release of the Podcast app was moved up, and was to be available as of this June 26th. I quickly installed the app when I read the news, and have had a few days of testing to evaluate it. I’m happy to say that Apple exceeded my expectations as the new Podcast app has more than corrected the clumsy way of provides accessing to your synced podcasts.
The new standalone Podcast app includes streamlined access to iTune‘s podcast section, allowing easy browsing of selections tailored to iOS’ touch interface. Syncing is no longer the only way to enjoy content- streaming is now supported for quick access to new episodes as you find them. The app also provides bilateral sync support with your Mac or PC; meaning that as you listen to content your episodes will be automatically ‘bookmarked’ on your computer for seamless transition between platforms. Both audio and video podcasts are featured, broken down into a wide range of categories displayed in a horizontal Coverflow-like manner. Browsing within a category is elegantly done by just scrolling the podcast tiles vertically. A new Top Stations feature is provided to suggest new podcasts you may enjoy.
I’ve found that I will rely on my podcast subscriptions more than my music collection when commuting to and from work or on longer trips. They make a great break from Pandora when my playlist has become a bit repetitive as well. While Stitcher is still installed on both my iPad and iPhone, I’ve been happily using the new Podcast app instead the past few days. If haven’t explored what the iTunes Podcast library has to offer I urge you to give it a look. If you have, check out the new app- I think you’ll be glad you did.
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Chalk another one up for Steve Jobs‘ strategic vision. Apple’s decision to embrace HTML 5 instead of Adobe’s Flash (a content platform for distributing animation, audio, and video online) on iOS devices was panned by pundits as a colossal mistake. Even after competing devices proved that Flash was nigh-impossible to seamlessly deploy on lower-powered mobile platforms there was still a stigma attached to iOS due to Apple’s steadfast refusal to allow the platform on the product lineup.
Last November Adobe signaled that Apple’s CEO had been correct in his assertions by announcing that they would end development of Flash Player for mobile devices. While not killing it off directly, Adobe would no longer develop or optimize the plug in for any mobile browser or operating system. MacRumors brings further news of the impending doom of Flash on mobile devices as Adobe has revealed that they will be pulling Flash completely from the Google Play app store for Android devices. According to the announcement “…Devices that do not have Flash Player already installed are increasingly likely to be incompatible with Flash Player and will no longer be able to install it from the Google Play Store after August 15th…” In addition, Android 4.1 (dubbed “jelly bean”) will not be certified for use with Flash; users will be encouraged to uninstall Flash when updating to the most recent version of the OS.
Flash still plays a role in typical web experience, albeit a steadily diminishing one. Apple no longer ships OSX with Flash installed, although users can still install the plugin themselves. From my limited experience, Steve Jobs was harsh in his criticism of Flash as a buggy, insecure, and resource-hogging plugin; but his criticism wasn’t unwarranted. The platform has always been a security risk, and was resource-intensive even on my Windows desktops. Now if we could just get rid of Microsoft’s Silverlight so that watching Netflix didn’t require an update of the plugin practically every week.
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Posted in News, tagged apple, Axiotron Modbook, iMac, ios, ipad, Mac OS X, MacBook, MacRumors, Microsoft, Modbook on June 29, 2012 |
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Microsoft’s yet-to-be-released Surface tablet has created buzz by having a model that offers users a complete desktop operating system in tablet form via a version sporting a laptop-style Intel processor (the other lower cost model will have an ARM chip common in Android tablets and a limited version of Windows 8 incapable of running desktop applications).
Someone might beat Microsoft to the punch, however- in a report from MacRumors a company by the name of Axiotron will be bringing a tablet-style device to market sporting a stylus-based touchscreen interface and a full version of Apple’s OSX operating system. The device has been dubbed the Modbook, and it skirts running afoul of Apple’s end user licensing that sunk Mac knockoff manufacturer Psystar by modifying actual MacBooks (hence the Modbook name) into tablet form. The internal components of a 13 inch MacBook Pro are transferred to a new enclosure with a unique Forceglass screen that utilizes a special pressure-sensitive pen interface. The new components are connected to the MacBook internals via USB 3 inside the enclosure.
The Modbook sports some impressive specs- the Pro version has the internal components of the MacBook they were harvested from: Intel i5 or i7 processors, up to 16 gigabytes of RAM, up to 1 TB hard drive, Intel HD 4000 graphics, 802.11 N wifi and Bluetooth 4.0, and something no other tablet will sport- a x8 Superdrive optical drive. The tablet still sports a Gigabit Ethernet port, one Firewire 800, one free USB 3 port, and a Thunderbolt port. It still uses Apple’s Magsafe power adaptor, as well. Because it’s running a full version of OSX the Modbook can be loaded with Windows as well via Bootcamp or virtualization software like Parallels.
Before you ditch your iPad for a Modbook there will be some drawbacks to consider. While no physical specifications are listed, the Modbook will have to be significantly heavier and thicker than an iPad due to the extra components and size; making the Modbook more of a slate than a tablet. The screen isn’t billed as a full touchscreen as the iPad‘s capacitive screen is, interaction is only described via the included pressure-sensitive stylus. Heat and fan noise may be an issue; cooling will likely still be via the MacBook’s original internal fans but will lack the heat dissipating ability of the original’s aluminum case. Lastly, the MacBook that the Modbook is created from is significantly more expensive than an iPad and the Modbook is likely to add a noticeable premium onto that price.
If you’re craving a full operating system in tablet/slate form, the Modbook should definitely be considered. Apple may be slowly moving to consolidate iOS and OSX, but the complete convergence will be a long time from now (if it ever completely happens). The Modbook offers a slew of inputs and functionality that mobile users have sought, and with the built-in Bluetooth it could be paired with a keyboard and mouse/trackpad to create a 13″ mobile-capable iMac for adventurous users. The stylus is particularly interesting; the manufacturers describe as a battery-less digitizer pen with two programmable side buttons, and it is stowed away in a magnetic catch on the Modbook’s case. This truly fascinating device will be available fall of this year.
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Posted in Advice, News, tagged Android, apple, Google, Google Play, ios, itunes, Microsoft, Nexus on June 28, 2012 |
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One of the unspoken advantages that iOS devices have over Android is their product line ecosystem. While both have handsets and tablets, iOS also has a massively larger portfolio of accessories and companion devices as well as Apple’s Mac lineup. Even the upcoming Windows 8 phones have a comparable ecosystem considering the vast numbers of Windows computers and XBoxes already in consumer’s hands. Android hasn’t had much of an answer for this; Google does have Google TV boxes and sets, but there’s no real synergy between the devices as there is between Apple or Microsoft devices.
Google is apparently making steps to change that with the announcement of the Nexus Q, a “social” media device designed specifically for Android handsets or tablets. The odd looking ball works over your home network, allowing Android users to create video and audio playlists for the media hub. The content isn’t pushed from your handset, the Nexus Q pulls it from cloud. Social interaction is afforded through the device’s reliance on Google Play- anyone can change or add to the device’s queue from their own Play libraries. For the uninitiated, Google Play is Google’s iTunes media store competitor, offering music, TV, movies, and reading material. Play also hosts your home computer’s music library similar to iTunes Match, but providing streaming access to the hosted files instead of Match’s download or streaming (as of iOS 6) capacity. The Nexus Q sports a 25 watt amplifier if you’d like to run speakers directly from it, as well as HDMI and Toslink outputs.
Whatever budding interest consumers may have had will likely wane when the Nexus Q is compared to other media devices. It doesn’t house the streaming media it plays, nor is it capable of accessing media on a PC or local network drive so if you want to hear/see something again it will have to re-access it from the cloud. The Q also isn’t a stand-alone device; there are no controls to use the unit without an Android handset of some kind. Want to use the device to catch up on Hulu or Netflix? Sorry, it’s apparently not capable of that either. There’s no capacity for display mirroring like iOS devices have with the Apple TV, so playing your Android games on a big screen is out as well.
The killing blow comes via the price- $299. While it has the rare marketing advantage of being built in the US (and I’m all for boosting domestic manufacturing), paying triple the price of an Apple TV for a device that offers a fraction of the functionality seems silly. If you would rather stay clear of Apple devices the Boxee or Roku offer more for less as well. Unless you’re a die-hard Android fan, I can’t see a compelling reason to even consider the Nexus Q. There are better (and cheaper) alternatives for both iOS and non-iOS users.
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One of the things that got me to abandon my PC-making ways and switch to an iMac was Apple’s iconic aesthetics. The clean, condensed form of Apple’s all-in-one desktop made for a much less cluttered office than my tower/monitor/speakers/USB keyboard and mouse did. While my desk is still occasionally marred by an iPhone/iPad sync cable (even with iCloud and wifi sync it can be easier to handle large transfers via direct link) it’s far less cluttered than it was.
For those of you that are still losing the battle with the electrical spaghetti dangling from your collective devices Neatorama has a novel way of handling your problem. The Mousetail Cordwrap offers a one-tail-fits-all resizable, reusable cable organizer. The little mice have flexible appendages that can wrap up loose wiring, allowing you to keep your work area more organized. While it may not match the aesthetic of Apple’s product line, it’s arguably the cutest solution to cord clutter out there. The Mousetail Cordwrap comes in packs of two for a very reasonable $5.95 at one of my favorite oddity retailers, the NeatoShop.
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Posted in Advice, News, tagged apple, Digital video recorder, GoogleTv, Mac Mini, Microsoft Windows, TiVo, Windows 8, Windows XP editions on June 26, 2012 |
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I’ve waxed pseudo-poetically on the joys of having a media center PC, having gone through several configurations before settling on the combination of Mac Mini and Plex Media Center as the best solution for me. Sadly, digital media aficionados like me may soon have one less option when building the living room system of their dreams.
Engadget reported recently that Windows 8 will apparently lack the mostly overlooked Media Center software included in Windows 7. The latest preview release of Win8 lacks some key components of the software, a bad sign for what seemed like the spiritual inspiration for the Metro interface. While losing (at least partially) an option for media center PCs, hardware solutions are growing with the upcoming revision to Google TV, improvements to the Roku lineup, expansions to standalone DVRs like Tivo, and the long-rumored Apple television.
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Posted in Advice, News, tagged apple, Data mining, Email address, Facebook, Forbes, Gmail, Google, Jedi on June 26, 2012 |
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I typically confine my musings to the Apple-verse (or at least things affiliated with it), but a recent move by Facebook annoyed me to the point of action.
Facebook has reached critical density in the realm of social networking; those few that don’t have a Facebook account stand out as lonely voices in the wilderness, their absence a protest of one sort or another. As they’ve grown, Facebook has attempted to slowly absorb other facets of online life- casual games, movie rentals, instant messaging, and now email. A while back Facebook launched the @Facebook email service that few heard of, and those few promptly ignored the new service in favor of the equally ubiquitous Gmail. Stung by the rejection, Facebook has since decided to be more Sith than Jedi and have quietly fostered their email service on everyone with an account, without consent.
If you do have a Facebook account, check your contact info; chances are your contact email has been replaced with an @Facebook address (information courtesy Forbes.com). At first glance the change seems to be a benign one; it’s done without consent but as long as your experience doesn’t change no harm, no foul- right? Wrong. The service isn’t even true email, as asserted by Forbes.
Taking this sort of liberty with your account and information they gather about you is a very poor precedent. An organization that thinks this little of obtaining your consent (or even notifying you of the change) wouldn’t think much of enacting other changes without it. Then there’s the elephant in the room of data mining- Google does so in their services, but manages to make it fairly unobtrusive and without compromising your sense of privacy. An organization with an already tainted privacy record spurred by the desire to show more income generation for stockholders burned by a very poor IPO likely won’t have the same sensitivity to its users sensibilities.
If you’d like to change your contact information back, just follow the tutorial at the Forbes article. I completely understand a social outlet like Facebook attempting to increase user reliance by offering more services and value, but this latest move is far too devious to be acceptable.
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Posted in Advice, tagged AllRecipes, Amazon Kindle, Bluetooth, Cooking, Food, Home, ipad, Kindle, kitchen, Mark Bittman, recipes on June 25, 2012 |
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The iPad is the closest thing to an electronic Swiss Army Knife I have; I use it for just about every computing and digital entertainment task I have. From productivity to consumption, there’s little I can’t do as well with my iPad that I could with a laptop (one caveat; I do use a Bluetooth keyboard if I’m going to be typing more than a paragraph). Even my favorite pundit Stephen Colbert has found new an innovative uses for the iconic tablet. The device’s portability allows me to do these tasks in places I may not have before; my last post was written at the dojo as I waited for students to come in for class, and the foundation of this post was written at my favorite coffee shop. I can whip up spreadsheets and charts in minutes during meetings, keep multiple lines of communication open simultaneously, and share my latest meme obsession with family and friends as I find them. Thanks to the previously reviewed Plex media center app I can even access my ever-growing movie and TV collection anywhere I have network access.
The one place I find my iPad unexpectedly useful is in the kitchen. The tablet’s entertainment functions are the first thing that would come to mind if I had been asked about using it in the kitchen prior to actually doing so, but it’s far more versatile that just acting as a video and music jukebox. While I’ve grown to love cooking, my skills aren’t instinctive- I teeter on the shoulders of culinary giants. The iPad is my portal to a wealth of gastronomic knowledge and inspiration.
My first inkling of the iPad’s kitchen potential was via some of my favorite food RSS feeds. One of my go-to resources for something to inspire me past a bad case of the food blahs was to peruse other poster’s ideas and musings. Just about anything you’d need can be found there: recipes, critiques, advice, and tips on exotic ingredients. My current favorite is Chef John’s Food Wishes- his video recipes are both instructional and entertaining, and he’s got a great presentation persona.
Not into RSS? No problem- the iTunes App Store has plenty for you as well. There are countless recipe books masquerading as apps. The most used cookbook app on my iPad is Mark Bittman‘s How To Cook Everything (and the app is a steal- $9.99 as opposed to $20 on Amazon for the same version, and the app includes handy timers and links to substitute ingredients and similar recipes). There are numerous fantastic free apps as well- Epicurious and AllRecipes, for example. Specialized apps can be had for just about any palate or culinary need, from Weight Watchers to some of the most decadent desserts and baked goods.
For those of you that want a more conventional experience, there are several avenues you can take. The iBooks store, Amazon’s Kindle store, and Barnes and Noble’s Nook store all have more ebooks than I could possibly review.
Whatever source of instruction you choose, the next step is how best to utilize it. I’ve relied on a Philips DS8550 iPad/iPhone dock for both sound (and it truly excels in that category) and as a stand. The process is a simple one: start up Pandora or the album of choice in the Music app, then toggle over to my recipe app, blog post, or ebook. Want something simpler or less expensive? Stands and cradles abound for the iPad in all manner of configurations: simple countertop stands, mounted arms that can hold onto a counter or be mounted under cabinets, even suction mounts that adhere to any smooth surface.
Take advantage of the power and versatility of your iOS device. Regardless of what you crave, the iPad can help you make it- and if necessary, help you find someone to help you enjoy it!
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My friends at MobileFun.co.UK have released some images and information concerning the next generation of iPhone; rumored to be coming in early Fall. The images solidify some longstanding rumors like a larger 4″ screen, and hint at some cosmetic changes that may rankle the masses of accessory manufacturers that make a living from Apple’s ecosystem.
One change is relocating the headphone jack. All of the prior models of iPhone have the headphone jack located in the same spot- on the left top rim of the device. According to the schematics revealed by MobileFun the jack will be moved to the bottom of the iPhone, similar to the location of the iPod Nano’s headphone jack location. The movie is a curious one; the only educated guess that came to me was that the move was necessitated by internal component changes, whether it be different shaped boards or increased sizes. The change could impact some devices that only charge the device and require access to the headphone jack for audio, like a car cradle.
The other obvious change is the abandonment of the iconic 32 pin connector that has been the mainstay of all Apple mobile devices save the tiny Shuffle. The new connector appears to have a much smaller footprint; other reports have suggested that it relies on a 19 pin connection. The risk here is obvious; it makes all existing accessories that use the current 32 pin connection obsolete, forcing developers to reconfigure their products or rely on an adaptor that may not offer as much functionality (in addition to power and data the 32 pin connector can act as limited structural support, keeping the iOS device in place as it sits on the accessory).
This change like the headphone jack is likely required by changing internal components. The smaller input frees up both internal and external space, but could offer an additional competitive advantage: magsafe connectivity. The cord could stay connected in a fashion similar to Apple’s patented magsafe power cords for their MacBook lineup, offering the same protection from the device being damaged by cord pulls (with the iPhone’s much lighter weight a quick tug on the sync cable could send the device flying).
Both changes are a bit of a gambit; each has to offer some distinct value to users in order to be embraced. Both are a challenge to accessory manufacturers; while product lines would need to be altered it could spur additional sales as the new iPhone (and any other iOS devices) with the smaller connection became widespread.
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