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In The Age Of Cloud Music, The iPod Nano Endures — But For How Long?

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I remember my favorite Sony Walkman. It was yellow. And bulky. And slow. And ugly. I loved it. It played cassettes. Cassettes! I took it to Australia one summer. It’s still something I think about from time to time. Just me and my music in this yellow player thousands of miles from home.

So when Apple asked if there was a particular color of the new iPod nano that I wanted to test out, naturally, I said “yellow”. The difference is that this thing is like 1/20th the size of my Walkman. That’s not scientific. In fact, I think I’m not exaggerating it enough. It’s like 1/2000000th the size. Sure, let’s go with that.

It’s really freaking tiny. I think back to the days of the Walkman and the portable CD player and the first iPod and even the first iPod mini, and I’m amazed we’ve come this far. This thing can hold and playback thousands of songs?! It’s so thin and light that it seems like it barely exists. And yet, its wonder is relative. We have devices that can do so much more now.

Is this device — that is, the stand-alone music player — long for this world?

I actually thought the iPod would have perished a couple years back. It just makes sense to use your phone as your music player, right? It’s crazy now to think that the iPod was once Apple’s biggest money-maker. But it wasn’t even that long ago — just five years ago, the iPod was Apple’s biggest source of revenue. These days, it ranks fourth in the revenue pool behind the Mac, iPad, and of course, the iPhone.

The truth is that the stand-alone music player market is decaying. While everything else has been up and to the left for Apple the past several years, iPod sales have been steadily declining year-to-year. But Apple clearly feels that there’s still something left to squeeze out of the market as they not only keep pushing iPod updates, but complete product redesigns. Enter, the new iPod nano.

I’ve spent the past few weeks testing out the new nano. Truth be told, it’s been a while since I’ve regularly used a stand-alone iPod. I think the last one I wore down was a third generation nano — you know, the “fat one”. I really liked the last version of the nano, but more as a watchface than as a music player.

I once again find myself thousands of miles from home with a yellow music player. I’m in Europe right now and rather than destroy my iPhone battery as I walk around a city, I’ve been using the new iPod nano as my music player. The battery seems to last forever. It’s tiny. It weighs almost nothing. And it’s fast.

Long story short, it’s great. (You’re going to have to wait a bit for the “but…”.)

Whereas the last nano was a touchscreen-only device (aside from volume and power buttons), this new one features a touchscreen as well as a play/pause/skip button (in between the volume buttons). This makes it a much better music player for your pocket since you can use it without looking at it.

The new nano also features a “home button” for the first time. Yes, this is derived from the home button that’s now standard on the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch. It’s slightly different in that the center of the button features a perfect circle symbol rather than a square with rounded edges. You’ll notice this matches the difference between the icons on iOS devices versus the nano functions.

Clearly, Apple wanted to emulate some of what has worked so well for iOS, but wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t an iOS device. While it does feature “app” icons displayed in a grid, the nano is not running any variety of iOS. Instead, these rounded icons are meant to make the touchscreen obvious and usable.

The only “apps” are ones made by Apple (and a Nike Fitness one that has been standard on nanos for a bit). They’re the ones you’re used to: Music, Videos, Podcasts, Photos, Radio, Clock, Fitness, and Settings.

And while the home button does the obvious thing — taking you to the homescreen from anywhere in the device’s interface — you can also still go “home” by swiping to the right on the touchscreen, as was the case with the last generation nano.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade of this new nano is the larger 2.5-inch screen which reinstates the video-watching functionality that was stripped from the last nano. This makes the nano itself larger (and slightly heavier) than the last generation, but I believe it’s a good trade-off.

Previous generations of the nano also had larger screens, but this is the first one of this size with multi-touch. Using the screen to control media playback is a delight — it’s very condusive to using with your thumb. And you can do things like pinch-to-zoom in photos (though it’s not quite as smooth as it is on iOS).

This nano also features the new Lightning connector that Apple debuted with the iPhone 5. This undoubtedly helped Apple make the new nano as skinny as it is (5.4mm). Like the new iPod touch, the thing stopping this device from getting skinnier now seems to be the size of a standard headphone jack. When the headphones are plugged in, the plastic around the connector is ever-so-slightly thicker than the nano itself. Crazy.

As previously mentioned, this nano also comes in a variety of colors. (Apple even matches the background wallpaper to the color you choose.) And the unibody anodized aluminium looks and feels great.

Wait for it…

But.

There’s no question that in some situations, I’m definitely missing my iPhone or the iPod touch — even when it just comes to music. It should be fairly obvious why. Because those devices can connect to the internet, I can use services like iTunes in the Cloud or Rdio or Pandora to access music that I don’t currently have on my device.

Such cloud-based playback is clearly the future — and really, it’s already here. The syncing of music files between your computer and your device seems downright archaeic. Because that’s exactly what it is.

To be fair, there are still millions of iTunes users with music files on their machines who still can and will appreciate the “offline” aspect of the nano. For example, in Europe, it’s great not to have to use any data to listen to music. And while I’m sure the U.S. carriers would love to gouge unsuspecting people in situations like that, there are still times you won’t be connected.

But those times continue to fade away. A much better option for the future is syncing your cloud music with your player for offline playback. And again, Apple already does this with iTunes in the Cloud (though Rdio and Spotify are better at it). This is the way it has to and will work in the not-too distant future — yes, even for regular old iPods.

I would not be shocked to see all but perhaps the cheapest iPods (the shuffle) come with at the very least iTunes in the Cloud support by next year. I’d say it will happen in two years max. Again, it’s just so obvious.

One issue right now is the hardware. This nano does include Bluetooth for the first time, but it lacks WiFi. I suspect it was a design/battery life issue, but it’s a little perplexing. Bluetooth is great if you want to stream your music to something like a Jambox or a wireless headset. But as a feature, WiFi would make more sense.

While we’re on the subject of physical syncing, how annoying is it that you still have to “eject” iPod hardware, even with the new Lightning connector? As in, you have to click the little eject button next to the iPod nano icon in iTunes or you’ll get an error message that you failed to eject the device properly. You don’t have to do this with the iPhone or iPad, just these small guys.

One more slight annoyance/oddity: while the new nano comes with the new EarPods (which I love, though some still complain they don’t fit their ears), they’re different than the ones you get with the iPhone 5. They don’t have in-line volume and pause/play/skip controls. I have no idea why except that I believe these earphones are slightly different since the nano’s radio funtionality requires them to work.

Essentially, I’m spoiled. I’ve already moved to a music streaming world, so this new nano — a pretty incredible device in just about every way — leaves me wanting more. My main point would be that I suspect many will feel the same way. And everyone will feel this way sooner rather than later.

But Apple must know this too. They see the iPod sales continuing to slide downward. They know why. They’ll squeeze a little bit more life out of the manual sync iPods and then they too will go skyward, into the cloud — or they’ll cease to exist.

Still, it has been nice to tap into my nostalgia for a few weeks. Me and my yellow music player. A device where I have to pick which songs I want to bring with me on a trip because I can’t instantly access them all. There’s something sort of romantic about that. But it’s a romance not long for this world.


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MG Siegler

October 23rd

Apple

Gadgets

The New iPod Touch Will Further Obliterate The Point-And-Shoot Market

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It’s easy to forget that the iPod touch didn’t even include a camera until 2010. While such a key feature has been standard on the iPhone since its initial unveiling in 2007, Apple apparently didn’t think it was one of the must-have features of the touch. That changes this year.

With the new iPod touch (the fifth generation, for those keeping score at home), which was unveiled a few weeks ago and just started shipping this week, the camera is one of the hallmark features. In fact, it may end up being its most important feature.

I know what you’re thinking: but it’s not even as good as the camera on the iPhone 4S, let alone that iPhone 5. In megapixel terms, that’s true. But it doesn’t matter. It’s a good camera. A really good camera. And for millions of users, it will be good enough to be their only camera.

When I sat down to think about my angle in writing about the iPod touch, at first, I was a little stumped. It’s a fantastic device, don’t get me wrong. But I’m an iPhone guy. I don’t really have a need for an iPod touch in my life since the two are so similar. It would be overkill.

But many people (most, even) aren’t iPhone people. There are huge swaths of the market that are never going to own an iPhone. There are kids with parents who think they’re too young for a phone. There are people with Android phones (yes, I’m admitting this). There are people with Windows Phones. And BlackBerrys. And yes, there are even still a ton of people with feature phones.

And there are a lot of people who want access to the App Store as well as iTunes and all its tidings. Some choose an iPad for this, but plenty choose the iPod touch (and some, of course, choose both). There’s clearly a large market for the iPod touch as it’s the only version of the device that Apple now regularly singles out as the version that is doing well in an age of continual iPod decline.

Anyway, I quickly realized my angle for writing about this particular version of the iPod touch was staring me in the face: the loop. — the wrist strap that comes with the new iPod touch.

There are a few features that the iPhone has which the iPod touch does not (cellular connectivity being the biggest). But the loop is a feature reserved only for the touch. And I think that’s telling.

Clearly, Apple’s thinking here was to take a page from the point-and-shoot camera book. Every single point-and-shoot I’ve ever owned has had a wrist strap. Apple being Apple, rethought how it should work. There is no indented area that you try to fish a cord through. Instead, there’s a metal button you push and up pops a metal latch to which you can easily attach the loop.

This is not something they just tacked onto the iPod touch. They designed the entire iPod touch with this feature in mind. And again, that must speak to Apple’s thoughts about the evolving role of the iPod touch in the world: as a point-and-shoot camera.

In terms of megapixels, the camera found on the new iPod touch matches the one found on the iPhone 4. It’s a 5 megapixel shooter. Again, that may seem slightly lame when the 4S and the 5 come with 8 megapixel cameras, but it’s easy to forget just how good the iPhone 4 camera was when it was first released — even though that was only two years ago!

And this iPod touch camera is actually better thanks to other improvements to these small camera internals made over time, as well as the updates to the camera software since then.

Smartphones have been eating point-and-shoot cameras’ lunch for a while now. You’ve probably seen the Flickr chart. The domination of the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 as the top overall cameras (yes, out of all cameras, period) used to take the pictures on the service has only been slowed by the release of the iPhone 5, which will undoubtedly soon top the list itself.

No point-and-shoot even makes the top 5 on that list. It’s all smartphones (and let’s be honest, just iPhones) and DSLRs.

Still, lots of people continue to buy point-and-shoots. Hell, I’m one of them. I own a Canon S95 which replaced my Canon S90 before that. I basically never use it anymore. It’s all iPhone, all the time now. Those cameras were several hundreds of dollars ultimately not well spent.

But again, not everyone has an iPhone. So for many people, a point-and-shoot still makes sense. Enter the new iPod touch. If the iPhone badly damaged the point-and-shoot market, the iPod touch is going to obliterate it.

Yes, yes, yes. I hear you. The point-and-shoots like the Canon S series cameras are better overall cameras than the iPod touch. No question. But it just doesn’t matter anymore. While the new iPhone 5 camera is fantastic, it’s also still not quite as a good as a good point-and-shoot. And yet, the results are in: point-and-shoots lose.

The point-and-shoot is in a bad spot. People serious about photography opt for DSLRs, which continue to come down in price. The rest of us now mainly go with smartphones for everyday photography. There was still a sliver of people still looking for that point-and-shoot. But those people should and will now look at the iPod touch.

Being a camera isn’t enough anymore. Not in an age of apps. Why spent $300 on a point-and-shoot camera when you can spend $300 on an iPod touch with a solid camera and thousands of great camera apps? Still not sold? What if I throw in a gaming machine, a web browser, a messaging device, a music player, a movie player, etc, etc, etc.

Previously, the camera on the iPod touch was a joke. It was meant to shoot video and the still pictures (sub-1 megapixel — yes, really) were a complete after-thought. And yet, there were still more pictures taken and shared with that device than any of the Samsung Galaxy phones, for example.

Now, this is the first touch where Apple is taking the camera seriously. It’s going to rocket up the Flickr list. And it won’t be to the detriment of smartphones.

As for the rest of the device, it’s great. As I allude to above, some people will buy it just as a gaming device. Some will buy it just as a media player. Some will buy it just for apps. It’s a true jack-of-all trades device without having to worry about carrier contracts.

It’s getting close enough performance-wise to the iPhone where I would consider buying one if they simply added cellular connectivity. Imagine an iPod touch that had built-in LTE and the option to get the same no-contract deals from the carriers. That’s what I really want.

It’s would be the iPhone minus the phone. When you think about it that way, it’s sort of ridiculous that we’re all paying the carriers upwards of a hundred dollars a month for years on end to have the ability to talk to someone over their digital lines in the sky. All we really want is the data, but you can’t get that yet without the phone. (Except on devices like the iPad — presumably because the carriers know you’re not going to walk around using Skype on your iPad to talk to people. Though I’ve seen plenty of people actually do this. Seriously.)

Of course, if Apple did try to add an LTE antenna into this iPod touch, other compromises would have to be made — namely in design and battery life. And those are two of the best features of this device.

Because it can only connect to the internet via WiFi, the iPod touch’s battery seems to last forever. It’s not quite iPad-good, but this thing is a fraction of the size of the iPad. It blows the iPhone battery away despite the device being thinner than even the iPhone 5. Again, a benefit of not including a cellular (and GPS) antenna.

Another striking feature of the new touch is the design. Unlike the iPhone which features a two-tone back that’s a combination of aluminum and glass, the iPod touch has an all-aluminum back (save a small black plastic oval in the upper right for WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.). In my opinion, this looks nicer than the iPhone 5.

And instead of having flat edges that split the front and back of the device, the iPod touch is unibody aluminum all the way to the front plate. This feels like the way Apple would want to design the iPhone if only all those pesky antennas didn’t matter.

The iPhone 5 feels great in your hand — the iPod touch feels even better. The rounded aluminum contours harken back to the original iPhone. But this device is so much thinner and lighter.

The other benefit of this unibody experience is the ability to offer the device in different colors. I’m testing the yellow one, but it also comes in slate, silver, pink, blue, and (product) red. And yes, the loop matches the color you choose.

It’s interesting that all of the iPod touches feature a white front face except the slate version, which features a black front face. This also gives the iPod touch a more playful quality than its iPhone brethren as you can clearly see the accent of the color you chose along the outer rim of the device. For example, on this yellow iPod touch, I see a rim of shiny, polished yellow when I look at the device. I’ve heard aspects of iPhone 5 design described as “jewlery-like”, this is even more so.

In my iPhone 5 review, the first thing I noted was how insanely light the device was. Remarkably, the iPod touch is even lighter — 88 grams compared to the iPhone 5’s 112 grams. But it’s the thinness that’s the even more noticeable difference. The iPhone 5 is incredibly thin. The iPod touch is now absurdly thin. When John Gruber noted the other day that the only thing stopping them from making it thinner still is the size of the headphone jack, he’s actually not kidding. Maybe they could shave an extra micron or two. Maybe. (It’s so thin that the camera actually protrudes out a bit — about the same height as the popped-out loop latch.)

My only real gripe about the iPod touch may be the price. Given everything you’re getting, I don’t think $299 (for 32 GB of storage) and $399 (for 64 GB of storage) is outrageous — especially in an age where the aforementioned point-and-shoots are still around the same price. But it would be nice to see a $199 price too. Yes, I know you can get the older model of the touch for $199, but I’d have a hard time recommending it. The new version is too major of an upgrade in every way.

I can’t believe I just wrote this entire review and didn’t even mention the beautiful new 4-inch retina display, which matches the display found on the new iPhone 5. Well, I just did. All the new apps being tailored for the iPhone 5 screen look and work beautifully here as well. HD movies look great. And, of course, pictures.

In January 2007, when Steve Jobs took the stage to unveil the iPhone, he set it up this way:

Today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough internet communications device.

So, three things. A widescreen iPod with touch controls. A revolutionary mobile phone. And a breakthrough internet communications device. An iPod. A phone. And an internet communicator. An iPod. A phone. Are you getting it?

These are not three separate devices. This is one device.

This new iPod touch could be set up the same way — with a slight tweak. A widescreen iPod with touch controls. A breakthrough internet communicator. A powerful portable gaming machine. And a great point-and-shoot camera. These are not four separate devices. This is one device.


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MG Siegler

October 12th

Apple

Gadgets

The MacBook Pro Strikes Back (With Retina Power)

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It was nearly two years ago that I said goodbye to my MacBook Pro. I loved the device, but the new MacBook Air was that good. My Pro — which was only six months old at the time! — seemed like total overkill for my computing needs. The Air was finally fast enough to use on a daily basis, and it was (obviously) significantly thinner and lighter. It was a no-brainer in my mind: Air all the way.

And in these past 20 months, the Air has been my go-to machine. But last week, a new challenger was unveiled: that old familiar friend, the MacBook Pro. Armed with both a slimmer body and a killer new screen, the device is stunning. And at least in my mind, it has brought back that old debate as to which is the best MacBook.

Following Apple’s WWDC keynote, I got to play around with the Retina MacBook Pro for a bit, and was given a demo unit to take home. I quickly posted some initial thoughts as to how it could fit into my computing life — long story short: I wasn’t sure. A week later, I have a bit more understanding as to how the new MacBook Pro fits in.

The most important thing to me was to take the device on the road, since that’s my primary use case for the MacBook Air. For much of the past week, I have been on the road: first in New York, now in London. While the new MacBook Pro is about a pound lighter than the non-retina variety, it is also about a pound and a half heavier than the 13-inch Air (and two pounds heavier than the 11-inch Air). This concerned me.

While there’s no denying that the Retina Pro is heavier than the Air when carrying it around, in a bag, it’s really not all that noticeable. The bigger issue for me has actually be the physical size of the device. While the 13-inch Air is like carrying around a standard spiral notebook (you know, the kind with paper that we used to use in school way back when), and the 11-inch Air is not that much different from carrying around a tablet, the 15-inch Retina Pro feels a bit like carrying around a surfboard by comparison. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, but it really does feel significantly bigger (though almost oddly thin).

Of course, with that size, you do get a bigger screen. And significantly better speakers. And a better typing experience (more area on which to rest your palms). It’s a trade-off. And it’s no deal-killer for me.

Alongside the new design and screen (which I’ll get to in a second), the Retina Pro was bestowed with specs similar to the upgrades the other varieties in the MacBook Pro line got. Considering my belief that the spec is mainly dead, I’m not going to focus on them. I will say that this feels like the fastest Mac I’ve ever used. But at the same time, much that power is mainly lost on me since most of what I do on a PC these days is in a browser.

What I do care about is that I know this machine will be more than capable of handling any software I download over the next couple of years. At home, I have an iMac that is three years old — it feels like a total dog when even compared to my MacBook Air. Part of that is a slower processor/older architecture, but that device actually has more RAM than my Air. So I chalk the biggest differences in speed to the lack of an SSD (solid state hard drive, which Apple amusingly calls “flash” drives).

This Retina MacBook Pro has flash storage that’s said to be significantly faster than previous models (the flash drives found in the last generation Air). The RAM is also said to run twice as fast as the last generation. In real-world usage, these differences seem hard to perceive when compared to the Air. But again, compared to my old iMac, this thing screams.

The Retina MacBook Pro also includes two USB 3 ports and two Thunderbolt ports. There don’t appear to be too many devices out there that yet support either at full speed, but this also ensures that this machine is set for the future. More interesting is the inclusion of an HDMI port. This means that you can hook up the Retina MacBook Pro to basically any HD television. This will be very handy for presentations (though I suspect we’ll see more Apple TV’s in conference rooms as well given OS X Mountain Lion’s inclusion of full desktop AirPlay).

The new fan design, while not noticeable to any user beyond the new side vents at the bottom, is fascinating. The machine actually makes a different noise when the fan kick on. It’s still audible, but not nearly as annoying as it was previously. And again, since most of my computing is done in the browser, I haven’t done much to make the fan come on. But a few times in Chrome (which comes with Flash), there they go.

The fan seems to dissipate heat pretty well, though the Retina MacBook Pro does get more noticeably warm at the bottom than the Air. It’s not hot, it can’t cook like a George Foreman grill, but it’s noticeable at times.

Now, the screen.

Wow, just wow. To be honest, at first I wasn’t sure just how noticeable the difference would be. But the reality is that the update to “retina” is significantly more noticeable on a 15-inch screen than on either a 3.5-inch screen (iPhone) or 9.7-inch screen (iPad). Yes, the PPI (pixels-per-inch) is lower, but the effect of cramming this many pixels into a display this size is amazing. I’ve now shown the screen to a couple dozen people and practically every single one has had the same reaction along the lines of “whoa”.

The effect is upgraded to “holy shit” if they happen to have another laptop with them. Everything looks dull and blurry when compared to this Retina MacBook Pro screen. A couple people have remarked that it’s like looking at an old TV and an HD TV side-by-side. And remember, this screen is significantly better than an HD TV.

A bunch of people have written wondering about the glare issue. I looked at the Retina MacBook Pro next to the non-retina MacBook Pro and it’s very obvious just how much better this one is in that regard. While it’s still clearly more reflective than a matte screen, for me, this is a non-issue now.

And like the iPhone, the actual screen itself has been brought closer to the glass. Everything looks like a beautiful glossy photograph.

Well, everything natively included in the slightly updated version of OS X Lion, that is.

The biggest downside of the entire device in my mind is just how bad it makes most of the web (and quite a few native OS X apps) look. While this version of OS X Lion does upscale text and some graphics to be “retina”-ready, much of the web is not. Take Facebook, for example. The text is fine, but all the images, including the logo, are extremely blurry. Google? Same problem.

And that’s the picture if you’re using the version of Safari bundled with the Retina MacBook Pro. If you try to use Chrome, you may vomit. Everything is rendered poorly — text included. Luckily, Google is moving fast to correct this and a retina-ready version of Chrome is already in the Canary (early beta) build.

Some native apps look awful too. Twitter for OS X is one notable example. It’s essentially unusable because the text is so blurry (as are all icons). Of course, Twitter hasn’t even updated it with their own new logo, so hopefully they’ll get around to that sooner rather than later. (Though it must be noted that developer Loren Brichter, who built the app, left Twitter several months ago.)

If you want examples of apps that look brilliant with the retina display, try any of Apple’s (iPhoto, iMovie, etc). Or visit apple.com from Safari. Otherwise, things are fairly bleak at the moment. And the reality is that depending on how graphic-heavy the app/site is, it’s going to be a lot of work for developers to make the upgrades. And unlike with iOS, there will still be a huge majority of the web not using a retina-screen (especially since it’s only one, fairly expensive Mac for now), so the incentives to upgrade the graphics will be less as well.

Having said that, I do expect Apple to be at the forefront of a trend here (yet again). Once you see one of these retina displays, you won’t want to look at anything else. This means that I fully expect Apple to eventually put the display across their entire line of Macs. And I suspect PC-making competitors will now be forced to follow suit. If that happens, it will actually be good news for Apple because the web really needs to get these visual upgrades (and then we can all argue as to how that will effect bandwidth, etc).

Some sites, like WordPress, where I’m typing this right now, pushed out retina upgrades right away. The result is amazing. I’m typing this, and it looks like I’m typing out printed words. Text is so crisp.

So what’s the bottom line? After this demo-unit is returned, am I going to buy the Retina MacBook Pro? And should you?

Yes, I’m going to. I’m still a bit torn because of what I previously wrote: even if I use this as an iMac-replacement, using this MacBook Pro with a Cinema Display means downgrading to less pixels. But I’m thinking of the future. Eventually, Apple will release a retina-ready Cinema Display as well. Given how perfect these graphic capabilities are for photo and video editors, I suspect it will be sooner rather than later. My guess is that the main concern is the cost at that point. And maybe we’ll see a 20 or 21-inch version before we see a 27-inch version (Apple could still tout that it has far more pixels than a 60-inch HD TV).

The other big thing to me is battery life. The MacBook Air I got two years ago was actually a huge upgrade over the old MacBook Pro in that regard. The good news is that this Retina MacBook Pro is fully on par with my MacBook Air. Apple touts seven hours of wireless web time, and that’s accurate (sometimes I’ve gotten a little less, sometimes a little more). I don’t mind slightly more weight and bulk for this screen and the same battery life.

As for you, dear reader, hopefully some of what I’ve written above will help you decide. While it may be a mistake to do so, I recommend you go to an Apple Store to check out the screen for yourself. You may get hooked immediately, or maybe you’ll be turned off by the way the web largely looks and decide to hold off. I’ve heard people make both arguments so far.

Probably the biggest argument against the Retina MacBook Pro that I’ve heard is from those who want to wait for this screen to come to an Air. Again, I do think that will happen, but I’d be fairly shocked if it was before next year (rumors of the fall are already out there). After all, they did just upgrade the Air line as well, and I’m not sure if it has the graphics (and battery) power required yet. Not to mention the cost issue. Such a device may indeed be the best of both worlds, but I still expect the MacBook Pro to be significantly more powerful for some time.

In other words, if you’re seriously debating it, it’s hard to see how you can go wrong with the Retina MacBook Pro. It sure seems pretty future-proof. At this point, I’d simply look at your budget and decide if this device makes sense. $2,199 and $2,799 is not cheap by any means. And if you can afford the $3,749 for the top-of-the-line Retina MacBook Pro with 16 GB of RAM and the 768 GB of flash storage, we’ll all be red with envy, I’m sure.

Also consider the “Pro” moniker. This device is clearly meant for a more professional (or power user) audience. And this device is clearly the best of that genre yet.



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MG Siegler

June 18th

Apple

The MacBook Pro Strikes Back (With Retina Power)

IMG_1631

It was nearly two years ago that I said goodbye to my MacBook Pro. I loved the device, but the new MacBook Air was that good. My Pro — which was only six months old at the time! — seemed like total overkill for my computing needs. The Air was finally fast enough to use on a daily basis, and it was (obviously) significantly thinner and lighter. It was a no-brainer in my mind: Air all the way.

And in these past 20 months, the Air has been my go-to machine. But last week, a new challenger was unveiled: that old familiar friend, the MacBook Pro. Armed with both a slimmer body and a killer new screen, the device is stunning. And at least in my mind, it has brought back that old debate as to which is the best MacBook.

Following Apple’s WWDC keynote, I got to play around with the Retina MacBook Pro for a bit, and was given a demo unit to take home. I quickly posted some initial thoughts as to how it could fit into my computing life — long story short: I wasn’t sure. A week later, I have a bit more understanding as to how the new MacBook Pro fits in.

The most important thing to me was to take the device on the road, since that’s my primary use case for the MacBook Air. For much of the past week, I have been on the road: first in New York, now in London. While the new MacBook Pro is about a pound lighter than the non-retina variety, it is also about a pound and a half heavier than the 13-inch Air (and two pounds heavier than the 11-inch Air). This concerned me.

While there’s no denying that the Retina Pro is heavier than the Air when carrying it around, in a bag, it’s really not all that noticeable. The bigger issue for me has actually be the physical size of the device. While the 13-inch Air is like carrying around a standard spiral notebook (you know, the kind with paper that we used to use in school way back when), and the 11-inch Air is not that much different from carrying around a tablet, the 15-inch Retina Pro feels a bit like carrying around a surfboard by comparison. Obviously, that’s an exaggeration, but it really does feel significantly bigger (though almost oddly thin).

Of course, with that size, you do get a bigger screen. And significantly better speakers. And a better typing experience (more area on which to rest your palms). It’s a trade-off. And it’s no deal-killer for me.

Alongside the new design and screen (which I’ll get to in a second), the Retina Pro was bestowed with specs similar to the upgrades the other varieties in the MacBook Pro line got. Considering my belief that the spec is mainly dead, I’m not going to focus on them. I will say that this feels like the fastest Mac I’ve ever used. But at the same time, much that power is mainly lost on me since most of what I do on a PC these days is in a browser.

What I do care about is that I know this machine will be more than capable of handling any software I download over the next couple of years. At home, I have an iMac that is three years old — it feels like a total dog when even compared to my MacBook Air. Part of that is a slower processor/older architecture, but that device actually has more RAM than my Air. So I chalk the biggest differences in speed to the lack of an SSD (solid state hard drive, which Apple amusingly calls “flash” drives).

This Retina MacBook Pro has flash storage that’s said to be significantly faster than previous models (the flash drives found in the last generation Air). The RAM is also said to run twice as fast as the last generation. In real-world usage, these differences seem hard to perceive when compared to the Air. But again, compared to my old iMac, this thing screams.

The Retina MacBook Pro also includes two USB 3 ports and two Thunderbolt ports. There don’t appear to be too many devices out there that yet support either at full speed, but this also ensures that this machine is set for the future. More interesting is the inclusion of an HDMI port. This means that you can hook up the Retina MacBook Pro to basically any HD television. This will be very handy for presentations (though I suspect we’ll see more Apple TV’s in conference rooms as well given OS X Mountain Lion’s inclusion of full desktop AirPlay).

The new fan design, while not noticeable to any user beyond the new side vents at the bottom, is fascinating. The machine actually makes a different noise when the fan kick on. It’s still audible, but not nearly as annoying as it was previously. And again, since most of my computing is done in the browser, I haven’t done much to make the fan come on. But a few times in Chrome (which comes with Flash), there they go.

The fan seems to dissipate heat pretty well, though the Retina MacBook Pro does get more noticeably warm at the bottom than the Air. It’s not hot, it can’t cook like a George Foreman grill, but it’s noticeable at times.

Now, the screen.

Wow, just wow. To be honest, at first I wasn’t sure just how noticeable the difference would be. But the reality is that the update to “retina” is significantly more noticeable on a 15-inch screen than on either a 3.5-inch screen (iPhone) or 9.7-inch screen (iPad). Yes, the PPI (pixels-per-inch) is lower, but the effect of cramming this many pixels into a display this size is amazing. I’ve now shown the screen to a couple dozen people and practically every single one has had the same reaction along the lines of “whoa”.

The effect is upgraded to “holy shit” if they happen to have another laptop with them. Everything looks dull and blurry when compared to this Retina MacBook Pro screen. A couple people have remarked that it’s like looking at an old TV and an HD TV side-by-side. And remember, this screen is significantly better than an HD TV.

A bunch of people have written wondering about the glare issue. I looked at the Retina MacBook Pro next to the non-retina MacBook Pro and it’s very obvious just how much better this one is in that regard. While it’s still clearly more reflective than a matte screen, for me, this is a non-issue now.

And like the iPhone, the actual screen itself has been brought closer to the glass. Everything looks like a beautiful glossy photograph.

Well, everything natively included in the slightly updated version of OS X Lion, that is.

The biggest downside of the entire device in my mind is just how bad it makes most of the web (and quite a few native OS X apps) look. While this version of OS X Lion does upscale text and some graphics to be “retina”-ready, much of the web is not. Take Facebook, for example. The text is fine, but all the images, including the logo, are extremely blurry. Google? Same problem.

And that’s the picture if you’re using the version of Safari bundled with the Retina MacBook Pro. If you try to use Chrome, you may vomit. Everything is rendered poorly — text included. Luckily, Google is moving fast to correct this and a retina-ready version of Chrome is already in the Canary (early beta) build.

Some native apps look awful too. Twitter for OS X is one notable example. It’s essentially unusable because the text is so blurry (as are all icons). Of course, Twitter hasn’t even updated it with their own new logo, so hopefully they’ll get around to that sooner rather than later. (Though it must be noted that developer Loren Brichter, who built the app, left Twitter several months ago.)

If you want examples of apps that look brilliant with the retina display, try any of Apple’s (iPhoto, iMovie, etc). Or visit apple.com from Safari. Otherwise, things are fairly bleak at the moment. And the reality is that depending on how graphic-heavy the app/site is, it’s going to be a lot of work for developers to make the upgrades. And unlike with iOS, there will still be a huge majority of the web not using a retina-screen (especially since it’s only one, fairly expensive Mac for now), so the incentives to upgrade the graphics will be less as well.

Having said that, I do expect Apple to be at the forefront of a trend here (yet again). Once you see one of these retina displays, you won’t want to look at anything else. This means that I fully expect Apple to eventually put the display across their entire line of Macs. And I suspect PC-making competitors will now be forced to follow suit. If that happens, it will actually be good news for Apple because the web really needs to get these visual upgrades (and then we can all argue as to how that will effect bandwidth, etc).

Some sites, like WordPress, where I’m typing this right now, pushed out retina upgrades right away. The result is amazing. I’m typing this, and it looks like I’m typing out printed words. Text is so crisp.

So what’s the bottom line? After this demo-unit is returned, am I going to buy the Retina MacBook Pro? And should you?

Yes, I’m going to. I’m still a bit torn because of what I previously wrote: even if I use this as an iMac-replacement, using this MacBook Pro with a Cinema Display means downgrading to less pixels. But I’m thinking of the future. Eventually, Apple will release a retina-ready Cinema Display as well. Given how perfect these graphic capabilities are for photo and video editors, I suspect it will be sooner rather than later. My guess is that the main concern is the cost at that point. And maybe we’ll see a 20 or 21-inch version before we see a 27-inch version (Apple could still tout that it has far more pixels than a 60-inch HD TV).

The other big thing to me is battery life. The MacBook Air I got two years ago was actually a huge upgrade over the old MacBook Pro in that regard. The good news is that this Retina MacBook Pro is fully on par with my MacBook Air. Apple touts seven hours of wireless web time, and that’s accurate (sometimes I’ve gotten a little less, sometimes a little more). I don’t mind slightly more weight and bulk for this screen and the same battery life.

As for you, dear reader, hopefully some of what I’ve written above will help you decide. While it may be a mistake to do so, I recommend you go to an Apple Store to check out the screen for yourself. You may get hooked immediately, or maybe you’ll be turned off by the way the web largely looks and decide to hold off. I’ve heard people make both arguments so far.

Probably the biggest argument against the Retina MacBook Pro that I’ve heard is from those who want to wait for this screen to come to an Air. Again, I do think that will happen, but I’d be fairly shocked if it was before next year (rumors of the fall are already out there). After all, they did just upgrade the Air line as well, and I’m not sure if it has the graphics (and battery) power required yet. Not to mention the cost issue. Such a device may indeed be the best of both worlds, but I still expect the MacBook Pro to be significantly more powerful for some time (at least I’d hope that’s the case, or I see no point for the “Pro” name).

In other words, if you’re seriously debating it, it’s hard to see how you can go wrong with the Retina MacBook Pro. It sure seems pretty future-proof. At this point, I’d simply look at your budget and decide if this device makes sense. $2,199 and $2,799 is not cheap by any means. And if you can afford the $3,749 for the top-of-the-line Retina MacBook Pro with 16 GB of RAM and the 768 GB of flash storage, we’ll all be red with envy, I’m sure.



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MG Siegler

June 18th

Apple

Behold & Drool: Pictures Of The Retina MacBook Pro

IMG_1609 copy

It’s simple really. The new MacBook Pro with the “Retina” display is something you have to see to believe. Perhaps you were watching the live coverage of the keynote today and thinking it’s not a big deal. It’s a very big deal. Once you see this screen, you will forever be ruined. You will not be able to use another screen. The effect is similar to the one we first saw with the iPhone 4 and later with the new iPad as they obtained Retina displays — but it’s magnified. I mean, you’re looking at 5,184,000 pixels.

I got a chance to play around with the new MacBook Pro for a little bit today following the keynote. And I got sent home with a loaner unit to review. I’ll post that review after I’ve had some actual time to play with the device. For now, enjoy the pictures and just trust me when I say you’re going to want to see this screen for yourself. It’s a thing of true beauty.



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MG Siegler

June 11th

Apple

Behold & Drool: Pictures Of The Retina MacBook Pro

IMG_1609 copy

It’s simple really. The new MacBook Pro with the “Retina” display is something you have to see to believe. Perhaps you were watching the live coverage of the keynote today and thinking it’s not a big deal. It’s a very big deal. Once you see this screen, you will forever be ruined. You will not be able to use another screen. The effect is similar to the one we first saw with the iPhone 4 and later with the new iPad as they obtained Retina displays — but it’s magnified. I mean, you’re looking at 5,184,000 pixels.

I got a chance to play around with the new MacBook Pro for a little bit today following the keynote. And I got sent home with a loaner unit to review. I’ll post that review after I’ve had some actual time to play with the device. For now, enjoy the pictures and just trust me when I say you’re going to want to see this screen for yourself. It’s a thing of true beauty.



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MG Siegler

June 11th

Apple

Behold & Drool: Pictures Of The Retina MacBook Pro

IMG_1609 copy

It’s simple really. The new MacBook Pro with the “Retina” display is something you have to see to believe. Perhaps you were watching the live coverage of the keynote today and thinking it’s not a big deal. It’s a very big deal. Once you see this screen, you will forever be ruined. You will not be able to use another screen. The effect is similar to the one we first saw with the iPhone 4 and later with the new iPad as they obtained Retina displays — but it’s magnified. I mean, you’re looking at 5,184,000 pixels.

I got a chance to play around with the new MacBook Pro for a little bit today following the keynote. And I got sent home with a loaner unit to review. I’ll post that review after I’ve had some actual time to play with the device. For now, enjoy the pictures and just trust me when I say you’re going to want to see this screen for yourself. It’s a thing of true beauty.



Comments Off

Photo

MG Siegler

June 11th

Apple

Behold & Drool: Pictures Of The Retina MacBook Pro

IMG_1609 copy

It’s simple really. The new MacBook Pro with the “Retina” display is something you have to see to believe. Perhaps you were watching the live coverage of the keynote today and thinking it’s not a big deal. It’s a very big deal. Once you see this screen, you will forever be ruined. You will not be able to use another screen. The effect is similar to the one we first saw with the iPhone 4 and later with the new iPad as they obtained Retina displays — but it’s magnified. I mean, you’re looking at 5,184,000 pixels.

I got a chance to play around with the new MacBook Pro for a little bit today following the keynote. And I got sent home with a loaner unit to review. I’ll post that review after I’ve had some actual time to play with the device. For now, enjoy the pictures and just trust me when I say you’re going to want to see this screen for yourself. It’s a thing of true beauty.



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MG Siegler

June 11th

Apple

Dear Eric Schmidt, It’s Been 6 Months — Where Are Those iOS-Slaying Android Exclusive Apps?

Death_to_the_iEmpire_by_aoisora9x

Flashback to December 6, 2011: Google Chairman Eric Schmidt is on stage at LeWeb in Paris and is asked by an audience member why most application developers still choose to develop for iOS first rather than Android? Schmidt’s response:

“Six months from now you’ll say the opposite. Because ultimately applications vendors are driven by volume. And the volume is favored by the open approach that Google is taking.”

Well, Mr. Schmidt, it’s been six months. And? Nope.

No surprise here. As I wrote at the time:

Of course, my stance is going to be that there’s no way he’s going to be right about that. Not a chance.

Now, to be fair, support from some of the bigger app makers does seem to be improving. The audience member at LeWeb specifically cited Flipboard, which is now available on Android — sort of. It’s actually in private beta testing and only available for Samsung Galaxy S III devices, which no regular consumer actually has yet — and may not for a while. Still, other popular apps like Instagram and most recently, Instapaper, have made the jump to Android as well.

But that’s not what Schmidt said.

He predicted that by this date, developers would be making their apps for Android first. And that’s simply not happening. Sure, there are a few here and there that do it. But for the most part, the situation remains the same. In the hearts and minds of top app developers, it’s iOS first and Android second — or not at all.

The same is true for the vast majority of new startups — I talk with dozens each week. The refrain: iOS first. Android second. Down the road. At some point. Maybe.

So why was Schmidt so wrong? In my mind, there are a number of reasons — the same ones I went into in my initial post. The ability to make money is the most important. But the most interesting reason again ties into something Schmidt said back in December:

“With the ICS release our core objective as a company is to get all of the hardware vendors onto that platform.”

I mean, he really said that. And it’s unbelievable because it’s perhaps the most epic fail in the history of epic fails. Google’s “core objective as a company” was to get hardware vendors onto Ice Cream Sandwich (aka Android 4.0), and as of June 1 — seven months after the launch of the OS — 7.1 percent of Android phones are actually on it. Seven. Point. One. Percent.

That number isn’t from some bullshit survey of a few hundred devices or some propaganda from Apple — it’s the number published by Google itself. And it’s pathetic.

And it’s even worse when you consider the Google I/O is just around the corner once again, and it’s widely believed that Google will show off the next version of Android (aka “Jellybean”) at that time. In other words, Google will never come close to its “core objective” as stated by Schmidt. Or maybe they will. It’s possible — though perhaps still unlikely — that all of the hardware vendors will be using ICS by the time Android 6.0 comes out.

Coincidentally, it was almost exactly one year ago, during the last Google I/O, that Google went on and on about the “Android Update Initiative“. The plan was for Google to work with the OEMs and carriers to make sure that all Android updates were delivered in a timely manner.

Seven. Point. One. Percent.

We haven’t heard a peep about the grand “Android Update Initiative” in a year. One would hope we will at this year’s I/O — but sometimes it’s best to sweep such terrible face-plants under the rug and move on. We’ll see.

So a good part of Schmidt’s epic fail can be chalked up to Google’s incompetence in dealing with their OEM and carrier partners. Another (related) part is this. Because of the continued fragmentation of the Android ecosystem, developers who wish to reach the broadest range of the Android ecosystem need to test against hundreds of devices. That’s simply not tenable for most companies, let alone startups. Maybe Jellybean helps with that issue, but ICS clearly did not.

Also at play here is Schmidt’s reliance on the “volume” card. That is, the notion that because Google ships more phones overall than Apple does, developers would simply have to flock to Android. But since his comments, the situation has changed.

While Android is still the overall leader in smartphone marketshare, there are several key indications that the iPhone has significantly closed the gap — or perhaps even taken the lead in countries like the U.S. — in the past couple of quarters. Certainly, the actual sales numbers from the top carriers in the U.S. favor Apple. And this is the base that most app developers are still aiming for.

And then there’s the iPad, which also runs on Apple’s iOS software and continues to dominate the tablet market. In fact, the only Android tablet that seems to be of interest to anyone has nothing to do with Google — it’s made by Amazon. Of course, Amazon controls its own Android app marketplace as well, which has only further complicated Schmidt’s prediction.

So, sorry Mr. Schmidt. You failed hard in this prediction. But I think you still have a few weeks to go on the equally — let’s be kind and say “ambitious” — Google TV prediction.

[image via DroidForums]



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MG Siegler

June 7th

Apple

After Years Of Flirting, Facebook And Apple Set To Achieve Relationship Status In iOS 6

tumblr_m4kcvk37eq1qz4gevo1_1280

There’s been a lot of flirting going on in recent months between Apple and Facebook. In February, Apple CEO Tim Cook told a group of investors that Facebook was “the one company that is closest to being like Apple”. Last week, Apple did a big App Store promotion for Facebook’s new Camera app, and clearly knew about it well beforehand. Then, of course, there were Cook’s comments at the D10 conference earlier this week. ”Facebook is a great company.” “And the relationship is solid.” Not to mention the ever-provocative ”stay tuned.”

Now the two sides appear on the brink of formalizing the relationship. After much speculation, Facebook integration will indeed be baked into the latest version of iOS, we’ve learned.

Following Cook’s most recent comments, there was much speculation about this finally happening. After all, Facebook integration did appear in an unreleased build of iOS 4 a couple years ago. But much like the Facebook/Ping integration, this fell by the wayside and Apple instead went with Twitter as the main third-party authentication and sharing service in iOS 5.

To be clear, Twitter will still very much be a part of the new iOS (presumably named “iOS 6″ and codenamed “Sundance“), and that company will be holding sessions at WWDC to chat more about the continued partnership (including the integration into the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion). But Facebook integration will be very important for iOS — tons of apps use Facebook for sign-ups and authentication (many use Facebook as the only way to do this, to the dismay of some). Apple was undoubtedly watching this activity and realized that it was time to formally bring Facebook on board.

This is also a huge win for Facebook, which until now has relied on the sort of clunky Single Sign On technique in iOS where you click a connect button in an app and get fast-app-switched into the Facebook app to authorize permissions. Once you do this, you’re fast-app-switched back into the original app. Other apps still use the old HTML pop-up for Facebook authentication. Needless to say, Facebook being built right into iOS will provide a more seamless way to handle this — see the Twitter integration for an example of how it should work now — or Facebook’s clever cross-app way of doing it.

It’s important to note that Apple being Apple, something could change in the next week and a half (see again: Facebook/Ping). But as of right now, Facebook is a go in iOS “Sundance”. One thing still being hammered out according to our sources is exactly how sharing will work. Sharing is the other big part of the iOS/Twitter integration, and will be important for iOS/Facebook integration as well. But Facebook is significantly more complicated than Twitter in that there are all kinds of permissions for what you can post where and who can see what. And Open Graph adds another layer of complexity to all of this.

My guess is that Apple will keep things simple with at least the initial Facebook/iOS integration. Beyond authentication, there will probably be a Facebook button in the existing share screen which will allow you to share something to your Facebook Wall. I doubt there will be much done with Open Graph and auto-sharing, but I could be wrong. It remains an open question as to how a Facebook iOS SDK might play with the existing Facebook SDKs if an app still does want access to more robust sharing features. All of this is the reason Apple previews iOS to developers before releasing it.

One Apple product that won’t be graced with Facebook’s presence just yet: OS X Mountain Lion. Again, Twitter integration is coming, but Apple is going to take the Facebook integration one step at a time — which means iOS, for now.

Also not coming anytime soon/probably ever: Google+/iOS integration. Just wanted to make that clear.



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MG Siegler

June 1st

Apple
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