Apple’s “Other” Releases

Today Apple released the newest version of their operating system for person computers: Mac OS X Lion. That’s not really news because that has been anticipated for a while.

However, that was not all that they released. Along with Lion Apple announced new MacBook Airs, Mac minis, and Thunderbolt Displays. I’ll just briefly touch on each.

MacBook Air

What was great is now even better. The revision brings Intel Core processors to the entire line, a Thunderbolt port, a bump in RAM for some configurations, a backlit keyboard and forces in Intel HD graphics. The design stays the same and really nothing else has changed, but the performance increase is both welcome and wonderful.

Sandy Bridge (Intel chipset) has been a great asset for all manufacturers. Now the MacBook Air gets to take it for a spin as well.

The update to the MacBook Air also ushers in the end of the MacBook line, for now. No longer can you get a white polycarbonate MacBook from Apple and the 11″ MacBook Air has taken its place at the $999 price point. For the moment if you want a 13″ Mac portable with an optical drive you are looking at the 13″ MacBook Pro or an external drive for the 13″ MacBook Air.

Who knows it that’s a great idea or not, but it is a simplifying of the whole lineup back to only two lines of portables.

Mac mini

Yes, that is how they spell it, with the lower-case “m” currently. The Mac mini receives many of the updates that the MacBook Air did and also loses its optical drive.

One cool thing is the possibility of upgrading the Mac mini to a dual-core Core i7 processor and AMD Radeon HD graphics. That’s the first time the Mac mini has had discreet graphics since the PowerPC days. Sadly, the quad-core Core i7 is only available on the Mac mini with Lion Server, but with no option for the AMD Radeon HD graphics. It makes sense in a way, but still disappointing because it would be nice to get the quad-core processor with the AMD Radeon HD graphics chip.

However, the dual-core Core i7 is clocked higher, so in games the performance might actually be better. Benchmarks will bear that out in some way.

Not much else new. I still really like the Mac mini and would consider getting one as a dedicated machine for at home. More interesting is its use as a Mac server. Maybe one day.

Thunderbolt Displays

I didn’t pay attention to any rumors about new displays because I wasn’t sure what they could do with it. However, what Apple did was kind of cool.

Now you hook up your Apple Thunderbolt Display to a Thunderbolt port on a Mac and it not only handles video but also USB, Firewire, and Ethernet. It also acts as a Thunderbolt host so that you can daisy-chain more Thunderbolt devices. So you hook up one cable and get all of that. The new Thunderbolt Display is nothing less than a Mac docking station! Awesome.

I am guessing you will see a lot of these on desks around the world soon. The newest MacBook Pros (15″ and 17″ models) can also chain together two of these displays and display across both of them. That’s pretty cool.

Finally we see why Apple pushed Thunderbolt so hard. It probably isn’t going to supplant USB 3.0 in the next round, but that 10Gbps pipe allows this sort of one-cable-to-many solutions that otherwise I don’t think would exist. That’s pretty cool and pretty powerful.

The idea of getting rid of a USB hub and power brick and having a Thunderbolt Display on my desk that I hook up to when I get there is pretty compelling. Now if they created a 24″ version for around $500, that I might be able to swing.

Conclusion

Overall, some fairly basic updates (and expected) and (finally) a good use for Thunderbolt. Couple that with Mac OS X Lion and Xcode 4.1 and you have a pretty good release day for the company in Cupertino.

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Technology

Final Cut Pro X Reactions … Reaction

First off, the disclaimer: I have not used prior versions of Final Cut and I probably won’t be using the newest version for a while either. iMovie has fulfilled my needs for a long time and will probably continue to do so.

This short post has more to do with the reactions coming out right now to the release of Final Cut Pro X.

I tend to get a good laugh out of people when something new, rewritten or different is released. The backlash is predictable and funny to read.

Yes, a complete rewrite of a program is not going to have all of the features of the last version. If they wanted all of the features of the last version, they would have kept the old codebase and just added more features. That’s not what happened here.

No, your specific needs did not probably come up in a discussion about how this rewrite should go and what features should make the first release. Will they in the future? Maybe. However, just be aware that your specific needs might not be met by this particular piece of software … and that is just fine.

Yup, Apple might be giving up your little segment of the market and moving the goal posts again. I think they’ve been pretty clear that an entirely digital distribution system is where they see things going, and new versions of their software are probably going to represent that philosophy.

However, let’s step back for a second and just imagine that Apple is doing exactly what they said they were going to do: rewrite Final Cut Pro. Looking at what is there, it looks like a solid foundation to build on top of, and one that is far more modern than the old version.

I expect that some major additions are in store for Final Cut Pro X from this point forward. The reactions have been over-the-top and reek of people who jumped when they should have waited.

I for one, look forward to using it in the future … like most new products from Apple.

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Technology

WWDC 2011 Keynote: iCloud

This is decidedly the one announcement that is both the most cryptic and has the ability to be the most revolutionary. Everyone was expect “iCloud” in some form, mostly revolving around a streaming iTunes service (which we did not get), but I don’t think people were expecting a complete and total rethinking of the “digital hub” concept that Steve Jobs has touted for the past decade.

It is hard to talk about what iCloud means without talking about what iCloud is supposed to do in its current form this Fall.

Mail/Calendars/Contacts

Since iCloud is going to replace MobileMe (may she rest in peace), it will handle the main feature set that MobileMe was used for. Not much to talk about here. I’ve been very happy with MobileMe for these three, so I’m hoping that it will worked “as advertised” with iCloud as well.

Apps, Books, Backup

Easy enough as well. Apps can now be pushed to any device when you purchase (so push Twitter to your iPad after you installed it on your iPhone), and you have a list of purchased apps right in the App Store. Welcome addition.

Books work like they have before. Bookmarks and current reading positions are synced across devices. I’ve used this, it works.

You can also do partial backups right to iCloud. Here is what is saved:

  • Purchased music, apps, and books
  • Photos and videos in the camera roll
  • Device settings
  • App data
  • Home screen and app organization
  • Text and MMS messages
  • Ringtones

That’s a good amount of information. It isn’t everything, but if you connect to Wi-Fi, your iOS device will automatically download the latest backup if you put in your Apple ID. All part of untethering your iOS device from a computer.

The backup parts will happen only when connected to Wi-Fi, but it is a lot better than having a person lose all of their information if they break their iOS device.

Documents in the Cloud

Save a document on one device and have it on all devices. That’s what it will hopefully do. Right now it is baked into iWork, but Apple has opened this up for 3rd party developers as well. There isn’t a lot to talk about here, but I’m hoping this makes “cloud syncing” a feature that is just there … for everything.

Photo Stream

This one is a little more complicated. Basically, you take a picture on one iOS device and it gets pushed to the rest, including your Mac or PC. Photo Stream on your iOS device (including you Apple TV 2nd gen) will keep up to 1000 photos for 30 days until you are able to connect to Wi-Fi and back everything up (see above).

At the same time, your Mac or PC will save EVERY photo that you push through to your photo stream. So, you don’t have to worry about losing any pictures at any time, they’ll always be on your Mac or PC (or you can always move them into another album on your iOS device where they will be kept in perpetuity).

iTunes in the Cloud

No, it is not a streaming or subscription iTunes service.

What you now have access to is all of your purchased iTunes music on all of your devices where you can download your music as many times as you want.

This fixes the famous issue where someone loses their iTunes library and wants to get their music back. Now they can log into the iTunes Store and do just that. YAY! New purchases can be pushed to all of your devices as well, which is kind of nice.

iTunes Match

For $25/year, you can have access not just to music purchased through iTunes, but also to your other music as well!

There are two tiers here:

  1. music that you ripped or downloaded somewhere else that is in the iTunes Store can be downloaded on your other devices just fine without having to upload any files
  2. music that iTunes cannot identify is uploaded to iCloud and then is passed around for you to enjoy (up to 20,000 files … I think)

That’s pretty cool as well, but you do have to pay for it.

Price/Overall Impressions

Everything listed above (except iTunes Match) is now … FREE!

Yup, that’s right, Apple has released something huge for free. I’m imagining that they are not going to have a huge issue covering the costs, but this is a major shift for them and it also opens it up even more for 3rd party developers to include iCloud in their offerings. If every Mac/iOS/PC customer with an Apple ID can have access to iCloud … that’s a large market.

This entire offering (and it is really a collection of many services under a single name instead of one large offering) is going to define Apple going ahead. They’ve moved iOS to being on-par with the Mac platform in many ways, and this is another huge push.

However, what remains to be seen is how this all works. MobileMe, for how well it has worked for me, got off to a rocky start and I expect some growing pains with iCloud as well.

With the Apple Stores obviously pushing iCloud to as many iOS and Mac customers as possible, the uptake could be quick (which would be great for data retention). However, iCloud comes with the same fears as any “cloud” technology: privacy, reliability and data caps for three. Will they be an impenetrable barrier, or has Apple finally figured out how to get people to move into “the cloud”?

WWDC 2011 Keynote: iOS 5

As a person who is generally very pleased with his iPhone 3GS (by far the best phone I’ve ever owned, and very close to the best technology device I’ve ever owned), the announcements of iOS 5 are welcome, but not as exciting as either Lion or iCloud to me. I’ll run down just a few things that matter in just a bit.

First, I’ll just recap really quick thoughts on the stuff that really doesn’t excite me all that much but other people will find interesting.

Game Center … meh. I don’t play games on my phone so no use. Twitter? Eh. I already use Twitter. I guess being able to send a twoot from Photos will be nice but not a huge deal. iMessage? I guess it will be nice for Laura and I, but nothing huge for me. Newsstand? Nope.  Reminders? I just ditched Things for pen-and-paper for the sake of simplicity.

Enough of that.

Camera/Photos

My next iPhone is going to replace both a point-and-shoot and camcorder for me. The iPhone 4 would already do that, but I don’t have one. The 3GS is good, but not quite good enough to completely replace everything. Be it a 4 or 4S/5 it really doesn’t matter because it will be replacing my camera.

So the quick snap from the lock screen is going to be a very nice addition. Re-purposing the volume-up button for shutter will be nice, but it still doesn’t sit right with me to reuse a button like that. Perhaps the next version will have a dedicated hardware button for shooting pics, who knows, but I guess it will be nice to get my finger off of the screen for pics.

Some simple editing capabilities along with some improvements to how it handles balancing colors and focusing are all good improvements. People use their phones as cameras, so adding features that make it easier is a good thing.

Notifications

Probably the single biggest headache for me has been dealing with notifications. My way of handling them has been to turn off all pop up notifications that I can and just use badges when needed (mainly for Twitter). Of the notification systems that I have been able to use, I’ve like Android’s the best and I am somewhat pleased to see Apple use that, seemingly, as a template.

You can find out how it works somewhere else, but being able to get at any of the notifications from the lock screen is a nice touch (just slide on the notification). My one hope, for now, is that I can disable the weather and stock tickers. I have no need for either.

PC Free

Being able to set up your phone before attaching it to a computer is awesome, and I’m sure my friends still working at an Apple Store will appreciate not needing to have access to an iMac to get people set up. More of this will be covered in my post on iCloud.

This is another step toward iOS devices being completely and totally independent of any other device. Another page out of Android’s book (somewhat), it is good to see Apple continue to go in this direction.

It is also exciting because it means I will be able recommend iOS to more of my family and replace some of the complex PCs soon(ish).

Wi-Fi Sync

This one is more for power users, and I’m excited about it. Sure, it will probably take all night, but being able to plug in your phone (to the wall) and then have it wirelessly sync with your computer while it is charging is seriously awesome.

Granted, it needs to be plugged into a power source, but I can understand why this is needed. The last thing I would want is for me to come home, have my phone wirelessly sync, leave the house and find that my phone only has 5% battery power left because it really wanted me to have the latest episode of Back to Work.

AirPlay Mirroring

This wasn’t really touched on during the Keynote, but I am most excited about this as a person working for an educational institution. Essentially, you can have one Apple TV (2nd gen) hooked up to an HDTV and any number of iPad’s in the classroom and they can wireless share whatever is on their screen from anywhere in the room (or school for that matter). Seriously cool, and I agree with Fraser Speirs:

The interactive whiteboard has had its day.

That’s seriously cool and, if it works well, could change things considerably in a classroom. The key is that is has to work seamlessly for it to be effective. I hope that some developers are starting to think of new ways to exploit this 1:1 screen-sharing opportunity in the classroom.

Overall Impressions

There is a lot in iOS 5, but I’m still more excited about Lion.

A lot of what was announced directly hits at what other platforms have been doing better, but brings it to iOS and just makes the platform that much stronger. It seems like the elevation of iOS to the Mac’s peer instead of an accessory to the larger, older platform … which is both cool and kind of frightening at the same time.

Some people have been saying that the entire presentation seemed to be saying “we’ve been listening to you for the past four years and here is what we’ve come up with to fix these issues.” I’d agree with that. Apple has been listening, and it will be even more interesting to see how everything works once it is released … this Fall.

I’d expect a simultaneous iPhone 4S/5 + iOS 5 release right around the time we usually expect iPods.

WWDC 2011 Keynote: Mac OS X Lion

If you don’t like Apple products, you might as well skip over my next few posts. I’ll get back to more interesting things after a while, but for now I’m going to cover some of my thoughts on the announcements from Apple’s keynote for WWDC 2011.

First on the list is Mac OS X Lion (or 10.7, I’m not sure if they’re going to get away from numbering their OS from this point forward). Where 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was a great upgrade from the standpoint that it didn’t change much in the UI but tightened everything up and cleaned up a lot of legacy code (adios PowerPC), Lion is bringing a lot of new stuff to the table. You can find more information at http://apple.com/macosx. I’m going to cover just a couple of things that stood out to me.

Auto Save and Versions

This is a long time in coming, and it should have been something added a long time ago. Auto Save does what it says it does, it automatically saves your work for you without you having to think about it. I’m hoping that this will just become something that will become normal across all platforms because losing your work sucks, and this should make it suck just a little bit less.

Combined with Versions, it becomes quite cool. You can look back at your changes and bring stuff back if you need it on a per-document basis while working. That’s pretty cool. While there are a lot of specifics that are not known yet (how much disk space will this take up, what amount of work will it take on the part of developers to get this as well, can developers tie into this system), the idea as presented basically fixes many issues that people have about forgetting to save their work.

That’s a huge deal!

The idea that if one of my parents starts a document and it will continuously be saved while they are working so that I don’t have to go through the Microsoft Office recovery file rigamarole is very pleasing to my ears. I’m hoping it is as good as it sounds.

Mail

I currently use the Gmail web interface for my email, but the new Mail app looks pretty good. A better conversation view was definitely needed, and it has been provided. The search feature looks much improved, the interface looks nice and clean and there are probably other things I am missing. Will it be able to topple Gmail’s web interface? I don’t know, but I’ll give it a try.

One person on Twitter was asking for Apple to add in labels (Gmail labels I am expecting), but that seems odd to me. I like labels, but that is most obvious way Google has embraced email and then extended it beyond the standard, and by doing so, has caused people to be locked into Gmail’s interface and their service.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Gmail, but sometimes I wish that Google would have instead focused on keeping the basics of Gmail more in line with the RFCs, but that is neither here nor there.

I’ll give the new Mail.app a try and see what I think.

UPDATE: So it seems that there are going to be labels in the new Mail app. I’m not sure if it is a 1:1 correlation to Google’s implementation, but it is another thing for me to try out.

Lion Server

$50 from the Mac App Store when it is all said and done. I’m wondering if there is a client limit on that, but I’m excited about the prospects of a $79 server edition of Mac OS X that will allow small businesses you see what can be offered.

Granted, you need to have a Mac to take advantage of a lot of this stuff, but I am now going to be actively looking for a Mac Mini to put this on in the near future so that I can play around with the idea of hosting some of my own stuff on Mac OS X.

I do wish that they would bring back some rackmount hardware.

Overall Impressions

Lion looks like another huge leap for OS X, which is always exciting. Any inkling that the Mac is dead can be quickly tossed aside when you look at the amount of effort that has gone into Lion. It is refreshing to see so much focus on fixing problems that have been plaguing people on computers for a long time.

There are a ton of other changes, but I will leave you to look at them.

Lion, at $29, is proof that Apple is a hardware company, and that their software strategy is to help them sell more hardware to people by making their products that more compelling. Will it work for everyone? No, of course not. However, Lion is shaping up to be another great release of the OS.

The main question I have is how we are going to be able to recover from complete hard drive failures in the future. As Lion is being distributed through the Mac App Store (I guess exclusively), will we be able to burn recovery media? How will I be able to wipe my drive clean and get Lion onto it? That’s the most important worry I have at the moment.

Next up will be iOS 5.