Apple Tablet event predictions

I freely admit that I soak up any Apple related news and I cannot wait to see what is in store tomorrow for what is rumored to be the big Apple tablet unveiling. Here is my predictions:

iPhone OS 3.2 released

Not sure what exactly would be in this update to tell the truth. The iPhone really needs a a revamped notification system. Perhaps with the introduction of the tablet maybe Apple will include an e-book app that automatically syncs with your e-book purchases, like the Kindle iPhone app does for Kindle Store purchases? Only obvious improvement to me worthy of a minor version increase, although I am sure there will be a bunch of small improvements they will throw in.

iLife & iWork ’10 released

Apple seems to do iLife & iWork releases every year or two in January, so this could be one of those years. The big obvious upgrade we have been waiting for is 64-bit support. It would be interesting if they actually made iWork.com useful (meaning editing files too) outside of viewing files you put up there.

Additional U.S. Carrier(s) for the iPhone (at least T-Mobile in the next few months, Verizon in summer)

Rumors have been going around crazy that AT&T exclusive contract for the iPhone ends in 2010. Some rumors say it even ends tomorrow (1/27/2010). Given that the iPhone is currently only GSM 3G, I think the most obvious new carrier is T-Mobile if any new carriers are announced tomorrow. A long shot is an announcement about Verizon getting the iPhone in the summer, but I don’t think that will be announced this far in advance.

The Apple Tablet (I love the name Apple Canvas, but I am guessing they will go with iPad or iSlate)

  • 10 inch “Tablet” device running a new version (4.0?) of the iPhone OS announced, for sale in March.
  • OLED Screen, incredibly thin
  • Wireless-N connection built-in
  • 3G Wireless that can be used either by subscription or content purchases will include the bandwidth costs. That way impulse book, movie, tv, and song purchases can be made anywhere, subscription or not.
  • Fully functional communication device (e-mail, web browser, apps, etc).
  • Built-in multitasking (iPhone OS 4.0 in action)
  • Tons of e-books, movies/TV content, music, etc.
  • Wireless syncing thanks to Wireless-N, no ports outside of power port, includes MobileMe subscription

Only way to find out: watch tomorrow!

Edit: Expanded on my original predictions.

Reaction to today's Apple WWDC conference

My thoughts on the Apple announcements today at WWDC:

  • Macbook upgrades: makes complete sense to make the 13″ models full Pro models. Lower pricing always helps. Love the fact that you can get 8 GB of RAM in these babys now along with a backlit keyboard even in the 13″ model. 7 hour battery is going to be epic for many of us who do not use multiple batteries but suffer through 3-4 hour battery life. SD slot is one of those nice to haves. Whenever my 3+ year old original Macbook finally shows its age, it will be a very nice upgrade to one of these new computers.
  • OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard): I really like how both Apple and Microsoft are really taking a step back and optimizing/bug fixing with their next OS release. The aggressive upgrade pricing by Apple (just $29!) is one heck of a shot across Microsoft’s bow with Windows 7. It will be really tough to charge even $100 for that upgrade. The speed and hard drive footprint improvements are much needed and will be very nice to have. Could even get another year or two out my Macbook based on what I heard.
  • iPhone 3.0 OS: Looks like a great upgrade for a fantastic phone operating system. There are too many features to like on this to write about here, but I really like the idea of the integrated search and the better Safari performance. It is amazing how good this OS has become.
  • iPhone 3GS: The new iPhone hardware offering much better specs and a few really cool features (voice calling and video recording are my favorites). Not enough of a reason for me to upgrade now, but for those original iPhone 2G owners, it is a perfect and huge upgrade for them. I am going to hold out for next year’s iPhone, which hopefully will be available on Verizon’s network…

Overall, I am very pleased with how the announcements today went. Something for everyone.

DRM Smart Playlist in iTunes

With the announcement yesterday that all music on the iTunes Store will become DRM-free, I decided I wanted to track the progress to see which music files in my library haven’t been updated to 256kbps DRM-free AAC files yet (compared to the old 128kbps DRM’d AAC files). So I created a Smart Playlist to accomplish this!

  1. Make sure you have the latest version of iTunes (version 8.0.2 as of this writing).
  2. Go to File –> New Smart Playlist
  3. Under Match the Following Rule, do the following and then click OK.
    Screenshot of DRM Smart Playlist window
  4. So what is this Smart Playlist doing? When you buy a DRM song from the iTunes Store, the Kind tag is set to “Protected AAC audio file.” So all this playlist does is look for any file who’s Kind tag contains “protected” and is part of the Music playlist (meaning, the music section of your iTunes library).
  5. Once done, click on that newly created playlist and you will automatically see all music in your iTunes library that is still has DRM. As Apple rolls out the music that is available to be upgraded to DRM-free, you can upgrade your music and this playlist should shrink as a result. The goal of course is to have 0 songs on this playlist real soon (assuming you purchase the upgrades). Supposedly that will happen by the end of March 2009 when all songs become DRM-free on the iTunes Store.

On a sidenote, you can go through the same process to create a playlist that contains all of your iTunes Store music that is DRM-free. Just change (or create a new playlist) that searches for music with the Kind tag containing Purchased. That is all you have to change! The smart playlist will now contain all of your 256kbps AAC files purchased from the iTunes Store.

I did notice that if you changed any of the tags on your iTunes purchases, the iTunes Plus upgrades may not overwrite the old entry in iTunes. You may have to manually delete any duplicates.

I know I said I would not do it, so I did it.

I know a few weeks ago, I said that the iPhone plans were overpriced. Ok, that is putting it mildly…I flipped out. I also said I could not get one until December due to my Verizon Wireless contract.

Yet yesterday, my wife and i purchased two iPhones. Yes, you read this right, we bought two iPhones. What gives? That is about as close to a flip flop as you can get.

Alright, I have to go to my defense on this one. A few factors are at play here:

  1. My wife’s 2G iPod mini is on its last legs and showing signs of dying. That means shelling out at least $150 for a new iPod to replace it.
  2. My 2G iPod nano is starting to act flakey (freezing when trying to play a song for example), with firmware restores not helping.  That means shelling out another $150.
  3. We hated our cell phones with a passion. They were not due to be replaced until December though.
  4. I have issues at times remembering appointments, events, etc. that I agreed to attend. I really need my calendar with me. I hate paper calendars…I lose them all the time, forget to bring them with me, or just forget to use them.
  5. Some phone called the iPhone came out with a new model. You have may have heard about it.
  6. I worked out the budget to pull off using an iPhone family plan. Am I completely happy about it paying this much for a plan? No, but we determined it would be worth it.
So we had a choice. Spend +$300 on new iPods with a chance of buying iPhones in December, or pay $160 in ETF fees with Verizon and then pay for two new iPhones ($299 white 16GB models). In the end, we ended up about $140 in the positive if you assume we would have otherwise gotten new iPhones in December anyways. Why pay for new iPod’s when we were going to get new iPhones within 5 months anyways?
So my wife and I are now in the possession of two new 16GB iPhone 3G models. What is the verdict?
  • The touch screen takes some getting used to, but I am getting the hang of typing real quick and my wife seems to be doing well with it too. I can type with two thumbs pretty quickly now. I could see if someone sends 100+ e-mails a day from it where it maybe a problem, but even my decent e-mail needs seems quite doable.
  • The UI is absolutely gorgeous and easy-to-use. In fact, so easy-to-use that we occasionally say “that’s all you have to do?” when doing a particular task. Like being able to mark phone contacts as favorites and just press the home button twice to bring it up.
  • The App Store is amazing. There are already some great applications on there (I will write later about what I installed) and the potential is there for so many more. There are also some quite huge duds on there (the Mobile Banking application from Bank of America is beyond horrific).
  • AT&T coverage is really hit and miss in New Hampshire. I can already tell it maybe an issue. A positive is our home is fine coverage wise. We went out to the New Hampshire seacoast (our state’s lone 17 miles worth of ocean views) and the beach we settled in had maybe 0.25 bars if the breeze died down for a moment. So a day of catching up on reading blogs on the beach was thrown out of the window. On the way home, we stopped by a place for some ice cream and where there used to be coverage in our Verizon days is a big black hole now.
  • Speaking of AT&T coverage, there is no 3G coverage in New Hampshire, so that means we have to deal with EDGE unless we find a Wi-Fi access point. EDGE is slow but usable in my belief. Rumor has it is that the Manchester, NH area will get 3G in the Fall, so hopefully that comes true. In the meantime, I look forward to going to Boston soon so I can try 3G on the phone.
  • I have subscribed to several video podcasts now. They are going to be great to watch during my lunch breaks.
  • The iPhone will use my iPod connector in my car, but suggests I use airplane mode. I can say no and it works, the only thing is my stereo system in the car could receive interference from the iPhone. A quick test shows that it seems to work fine. A good test will be my commute tomorrow.
  • Best feature on the iPod application: the ability to easily turn on shuffle when in a playlist. Why this was never added to the regular iPods is beyond me.
  • Google Maps with GPS on the iPhone rocks. We used it both on the way to the beach and on the way back to look up locations of everything from ice cream shops to grocery stores.
  • Organizing my contacts and calendar on the iPhone? Priceless. Already worth the price of the iPhone.
Anyways, that is a good initial review of my thoughts on the iPhone. It is by far the best phone I have used. It has some minor quirks and I know AT&T is going to be tough to deal with for two years, but it was worth the price and effort to switch over.

Backups with Time Capsule

Backups are always a touchy subject. I can’t remember how many times I have listened to a frantic phone call, with a person on the other end near the point of the tears…all over the fact their photos from <insert trip> were on what is now a dead hard drive. The first thing I ask is do they have a backup. 99% of the time, the answer is a flat out no. The excuses are wide ranging. Some people just never bought an external hard drive or took a few hours to burn 5 DVD’s worth of data. Others have the external hard drive, but remember to plug it in maybe twice a year. Still others manage to backup often, but forget to take a copy offsite prior to a major fire.

Apple’s Time Capsule and Microsoft’s Windows Home Server are finally filling part of a huge void that has been there since the beginning of the personal computer age. Both allow you to setup automated backups so you don’t have to manually start them. Basically, set it up once and let them do the rest. However, both take wildly different routes to reach this outcome.

Microsoft went the route of saying ever home needs its own server. Microsoft’s solution goes all out, offering everything from backups to remote access of data to even remotely controlling your computer. It is as if it was a true server in some company data center. The trouble of course is not everyone needs all of this, most people would be quite content with a simple device that does backups. You have to power what is essentially a desktop computer or even a server depending on how powerful the machine is. What if you turn off the server and forget to turn it back on? No more backups. Plus there is higher electric bills, higher complexity, more chances for things to go wrong. Oh yeah, a high price tag too. However, you gain a very powerful server, that offers amazing features and capabilities. It sounds like a must buy for any Windows power user. For your casual Windows user though? I believe it is way overkill. I don’t picture my grandparents buying one of these.

Apple went their classic route of simplier = better. Inside a small square box that isn’t even an inch tall, you have an internal hard drive and your wireless router. Just one device to power (there isn’t even an external power brick, just a simple power cord), no separate server. If it is off, you will know it, since the Internet won’t work as well. As long as your Mac’s are online and configured to backup to it, every hour Time Machine will silently backup the latest changes to the Time Capsule. If you ever need to restore something, a simple launch of Time Machine will let you browse around to the exact date and file you want to restore. Setting up Time Capsule was very simple. A few clicks and everything was working.

Time Capsule is perfect for your typical home user who needs backups without any hassle. I highly recommend it, despite myself being a classic power user. I just want backups to work, without intervention from me. The initial backup took awhile (I highly recommend using ethernet for the first backup), but the hourly backups work fine, even with a Mac that uses Wireless-G. A little slow, but it still works. That is all we care about, right?

Now the only backups I need to worry about is bringing an occassional one off-site to guard against fire or theft.

Bye bye WRT54G, hello Time Capsule

My old Linksys WRT54G router, which survived 24/7 operation for over 4 years, numerous firmware upgrades using open source firmwares, and sometimes room temperatures probably in the 90 degree mark has finally died. I noticed this afternoon my wireless signal all the sudden got really flakey and then just flat out stopped. Numerous reboots and resetting of the firmware did nothing to fix it. Probably some cheap soldering job finally gave way.

This provided the perfect opportunity for me to purchase a 500GB Time Capsule from Apple. The product has intrigued me since it was released several months ago and I have occasionally considered about purchasing one. Having a laptop, it is a real struggle to get reliable and frequent backups given that I have to remember to plug in an external hard drive every time. Backups sometimes will happen with weeks between them.

I have been playing with fire far too long. Now with a Time Capsule, backups hopefully will be reliable and frequent. Setup was painless, I plugged in an ethernet cable to get the fastest initial backup possible, and now it is backing up everything on the laptop (~66.5 GB).

I took the opportunity to move my wireless router and cable modem back into the living room, where it is usually cooler during the day when the air conditioner is on. I am re-arranging the room a little bit to have a better office area. Should work great.

I will post further thoughts and reviews as I have time to use this Time Capsule.

iPhone 3G plans are insane

For many years I have wanted the perfect cell phone. I had been sick of unreliable phones,  awful user interfaces, little to no syncing with computers, and cell phone plans that are borderline criminal. I longed for a cell phone that made me proud to use it, not forced to use it.

The iPhone fits almost all of the criteria above. For a phone, especially a version 1.0 one, it is spectacular. My brother has one and loves it. My best friend has one and loves it. The reviews I have read love it. The user interface is beyond beautiful, simple, and easy to use. It is one of the few phones that makes syncing simple and without hassles. If it weren’t for my Verizon Wireless contract not being fulfilled until December 27th, 2008, I would have probably gotten one by now already.

Yet there is one huge hangup with the new iPhone 3G: its phone plans. They have now crossing that line between borderline criminal and outright criminal.

The first iPhone plans seemed somewhat reasonable. AT&T Wireless isn’t the greatest service, but I could live with that as long as it worked well in Manchester, NH and my condo, which it does.  A $109 for 2 iPhones on a family plan, 700 minutes, unlimited data, unlimited nights/weekends, rollover, unlimited mobile-to-mobile, 200 text messages, and visual voicemail? I can handle that. About $34 more for 2 phones to get internet access and visual voicemail seemed reasonable. The text messages are an outright disgrace (it costs more to send a text message on AT&T then watching a freakin YouTube video), but I don’t use those much.

The new iPhone 3G data plans are a joke. For a family plan if my wife and I were to each get an iPhone would cost about $140 plus taxes to equal what the old iPhone family plan offered. Data rates went up, text messaging was taken away (so I had to add $10 worth of messages to my estimate), and I am sure they found a way to raise the price on the voice plan too.

Given how the economy has been the past few months with few hopes of improvement in the near future, how the heck does AT&T and Apple expect to sell a ton of iPhones if no one can afford the cell phone plan for it? Right now I pay $75 for 2 lines with Verizon, 500 minutes, 250 text messages per line, and your standard cell phone plan features (unlimited nights, etc.). To get an iPhone for my wife and I would effectively double our monthly cell phone bill. Yes, having an awesome phone that I can sync everything to and use the internet wherever I am would be awesome, but doubling my cell phone bill awesome? I don’t think so.

The iPhone seems a perfect candidate for a family plan. Yet it barely, barely, gets a discount. Most cell phone plans only cost $9.99 more to add a second phone line. The iPhone? You get the the priviledge for $50 more a month. Are you kidding me?

My wife and I would love an iPhone, for different reasons. Yet in December, when our Verizon contract has finally been fullfilled, I don’t know if we can afford it. AT&T now stands to lose 2 customers they could have switched from Verizon Wireless. Their loss.

Update: According to AppleInsider, it is even worse then I feared. Apparently for Family Plans you either have the option of $30 for unlimited text messaging or paying per text message. There is no SMS plan in between these two extremes. This is complete bullshit. Now the iPhone family plan for 2 lines will be $159 + taxes, more then doubling what I am currently paying for my cell phone plan with Verizon.

It is official, my wife and I are not getting an iPhone 3G. AT&T just officially lost a customer and Apple officially lost 2 iPhone purchases.

No more technology debt…

As of today, I have no debt related to technology. My HDTV has officially been paid off. My computer equipment (Macbook, printer, router, etc.) and PS3 have been paid off for awhile.

Spending on technology is a weakness of mine. Give how quickly technology depreciates, it is something really hard to keep in check. I hope I can stretch the Macbook’s life to last another 2 years, especially since I replaced the hard drive recently. I just bought a new printer recently, so that should last awhile. The PS3 should not need replacement for at least 4-5 years if I can help it.

The last bit of technology I may need/need to replace in the near future is my wireless router. I currently have a Linksys WRT54G running the DD-WRT firmware. The router itself is almost 4-years old and works great. However, I am being very paranoid about backing up my Macbook. I have come to the conclusion that unless I fully automate the process and do not have to rely on plugging in my external USB hard drive, I will not have up-to-date backups of my Macbook. This bothers me big time.

I think buying a 1TB Time Capsule will be a very sound investment. Then I can use Time Machine to automatically back up my Macbook every hour wirelessly, without having to worry about plugging in a hard drive. Storage won’t be an issue, by the time the 1TB fills up consistantly, there will probably be USB hard drives I can plug into Time Capsule at least twice that size. Not to mention, my wife doesn’t have to worry about doing anything to have backups.

Time Capsule does not solve the off-site backup issue, but it resolves the up-to-date backup that is immediately available issue.

Maybe I will set aside $10 a week until I save up enough to buy one…

First Impressions with Leopard

Here are a few first impressions on my experience of upgrading to OS X 10.5 Leopard:

  • Make sure you do proper backups before upgrading. I cannot stress this enough.
  • I did an erase and install. I hadn’t reinstalled OS X since I got my Macbook and just decided it was as good as time as any to do it.
  • Did I mention that Apple doesn’t assume you are a thief? No serial code and no product activation. Breath of fresh air for sure.
  • Installation on my 1st Generation Macbook took ~40 minutes.
  • My Macbook definitely is a little faster, especially when I have several applications open and doing stuff in the background.
  • The iTunes Artwork screensaver now works with album art downloaded from the iTunes Store.
  • Any VBR AAC file encoded in Leopard now shows its real bitrate in iTunes.
  • According to Hydrogenaudio, the AAC encoder also has sound quality improvements.
  • Web Clip in Safari is going to get a workout.
  • I am really digging Coverflow in the Finder. Makes me wish someone made a Windows version of it, I can picture my work using it.
  • Speaking of the Finder, it is faster, beautiful, and much more functional.
  • Time Machine is great. After the initial backup, the only time I have even noticed it was when I happened to look at my external hard drive and saw the disk activity light on. I think the “gimmick” UI actually makes more people want to use it, as it is quiet beautiful. It is simply as easy as backup can get. Try restoring a photo from your iPhoto library, it will take your breath away. Volume Shadow Copy in Vista cannot compare.
  • Leopard seems very stable. No crashes or any noticeable first version bugs. Apple definitely did a lot of polishing work on it.
  • I’m liking Spotlight much better this time around. Faster and you can do boolean searches.
  • Grammar checking is a joke so far. If I can even get a sentence to show the green underline, I haven’t got it to offer suggestions on how to fix it yet.
  • I highly recommend this upgrade for Mac users.

    For another perspective, Leo Laporte (of TWIT and TechTV fame) has a good first impressions review.