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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I want my AppleTV Apps...

The new iOS based AppleTV is awesome.  Streaming from iTunes and AirPlay is great and it is one of the best NetFlix clients out there.  But where are the Apps and the AppleTV App Store?  We have an App Store for iPhones, iPads and now even for the Mac.  So why not AppleTV?

Here is my theory... I think Apple is looking for the best way for the user to interact with the AppleTV before opening up app creation on it.  A remote control just isn't an Apple-like way to do user interaction, it is so 1970's.  I think maybe Apple is working on something like Microsoft's Kinect for XBox or some other futuristic way to interact with the big screen.  Maybe some form of voice and gesture combination based interaction.  Imagine a device that plugs into the AppleTV's USB port and sits above or below your TV that has a camera, microphone and other motion sensors like Kinect.  This device could respond to voice commands, as well as gestures, to control the user interface or to play games.  For example, you could just say "AppleTV open NetFlix" and the NetFlix app launches.  Then you could scroll through movie lists using swipe gestures. This device would also allow the AppleTV to be an excellent FaceTime client!  Just tell the AppleTV to "Call Grandma" and boom, you are video chatting with Grandma and she can watch her grandchild taking their first steps across the living room. 

Hopefully Apple has something like this up it's sleeve for the next version of the AppleTV, then I think it will go from being just a hobby to being the next big hit for Apple.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What's next for iOS? [updated]

Now that iOS 4.2 has finally been released, what is up for the next version of iOS? There have been rumors of an iOS 4.3 release to support in app subscriptions, but what can we expect from iOS 5?

Here are some of the features I would like to see:

1. Multiple user support.
There needs to be a way for users to log into an iOS deveice and see their particular settings.  This would be most useful for the iPad, which is more likely to be shared by multiple family members.  It would be really nice if this feature was activated by face recognition using the front facing camera or by fingerprint scanning.  Of course, for older hardware, the standard PIN entry could be used to determine the user.

2. Improved Notifications.
There needs to be a less intrusive notification than the pop-up box that interrupts whatever you are doing when you get a new notification.

3. Additional AirPrint printer support.
I am sure the originally promised printing to printers connected to a Mac or Windows PC will come in the next iOS version.

4. Wireless syncing.
Please, Apple, give us the ability to sync with iTunes over wi-fi instead of just a direct USB connection.

5. AirPlay support for streaming to iOS devices.
Being able to stream content from iTunes to an iOS device, like is done with the Apple TV, would be a nice addition.

6. Dashboard widgets.
This would be most useful on the iPad and would give it a home for the missing apps like calculator, stock ticker, weather etc...  These widgets could be located on the search page when swiping left from the first home page and could also link to full screen, more detailed apps.

7. Podcast subscriptions.
It would be nice if I could subscribe to podcasts on my iOS device through the iPod or iTunes app add have them automatically download just like in iTunes instead if having to either sync or use the Get More Episodes feature.

8. Non-programmer's development tool.
This would be like HyperCard for iOS.  A development tool for non-programmers that would allow users to create their own personal apps for use on their own personal iOS devices.  The apps would be created on your computer and then synced through iTunes to any of your iOS devices.

9. Support for more voice commands.
One of the few areas where Android has an advantage on iOS would be in voice based commands to perform various functions.  I believe this has something to do with Apple's acquisition of Siri and their Virtual Personal Assistant.  I would expect to see some of its features integrated into the next version of iOS.

These are just a few of the things on my wish list for the next release of iOS.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Should MobileMe be free?

What does the future hold for Apple's MobileMe service? Currently Apple charges $99.00 per year for a subscription to MobileMe, which gets you an email address, calendar, contacts, web hosting and 20GB of online storage. Most of these services can be gotten for free from companies like Goggle. I have been experimenting with Google's free Google Apps service, which gives me email, calendar, and contacts as well as other additional services. The big advantage of MobileMe is the seamless integration in Apple products, you can easily sync your email, calendar and contacts with all of your Macs and iDevices over the Internet. I have been able to do the same with Google services, although it was a little more difficult to setup. Also, Apple's web based apps are much more user friendly than their Google counterparts. With all of the free services available today, does it still make sense for Apple to charge for MobileMe?

MobileMe was originally introduced as .Mac, and was included for free with every Macintosh computer. The old service was not as useful as today's MobileMe service, but it was free. I would like to see Apple return to offering at least some of the MobileMe services for free again. Maybe give one year of service for free with the purchase of a Mac or a compatible iOS device. The free service would be limted to email, calendar, contacts, find my iPhone and maybe only 5GB of iDisk space. If you buy a new Apple product every year, the service would continue to be free. Other premium MobileMe services could be offered for an additional fee, such as more iDisk space, online backup of your Mac (Time Machine in the cloud), storage of your music and video library in the cloud that can be streamed to your iDevice, etc... And if Apple ever builds the iLife Home Server, this would tie in perfectly with that as well.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thoughts on an Apple server strategy

With the demise of the XServe, I have been thinking more about Apple's future server strategy and here are a few of directions Apple may be considering:

  1. Licensing or Open Sourcing Mac OS X Server
  2. Pushing the Mac Mini Server
  3. Creating an iOS based server

The case for licensing or Open Sourcing Mac OS X Server
Apple may be considering opening up their server OS.  The first indication of this was allowing it to run in a virtual machine and all of the major Mac VM makers are supporting Mac OS X Server as a guest OS, but only on actual Apple hardware.  There are no technical reasons the OS won't run on generic PC hardware in a VM, in fact, I think Oracle's Virtual Box team has done it.  It is simply a licensing issue.  Apple is a product company, though, so I don't really see them licensing the software.  I do think it is possible that they would open source the rest of the Server OS in addition the Darwin core.  That way, Apple would not have to deal with the driver and support issues that go with running the OS on generic hardware.

Pushing the Mac Mini Server
Maybe the Mac Mini Server is cannibalizing sales of the XServe so much that Apple has decided to focus on the Mac Mini Server.  There are places like that run entire data centers of Mac Minis.

Creating an iOS based server
I have posted before on my thoughts about an  iLife Home Server.  What if this box is iOS based running an A4 or future Apple multi-core ARM chip?  This box could be very small and energy efficient, the OS could be installed on an SSD for speed and then use hard drives for data storage.  It would be really cool if the base was the size of a Mac Mini with both SSD and a hard drive in it and some form of "dock" connector on the top that would allow for additional data storage to just be stacked on the top.  The OS would automatically expand the storage volume to add the additional space, when you are running low on space, just add more drives to the stack.  The server would be administered through either a web browser interface or an iOS app installed on any iDevice on the local wi-fi network.

Or, maybe Apple will do all three?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Apple needs to make an ePad.

Remember the eMate? It was Apple's Newton targeted at the K-12 market. I think it is time for Apple to build an iOS device for this market. The touch interface is very intuitive for children to learn, my 4 year old has been using my iPod Touch since she was 2 and has no trouble navigating and finding the apps she likes to run. There are plenty of educational apps available for iOS in the app store that span all age groups from preschoolers up to college students.

Here is what I think Apple needs to make, I call it the ePad. It should be somewhere in size and price between an iPod Touch and an iPad (maybe the rumored 7" iPad). Steve dissed the 7" tablets, saying they were too small. But, remember the target audience for this device would be children and most of his reasons for not liking the 7" form factor may not apply to children, they have smaller fingers and better eye sight. It should also be more rugged than the current iPad and iPhones, it needs to be able to survive a fall and be thrown in a backpack and there would need to be some form of screen protection. It would have built-in WiFi with optional 3G versions that would also have GPS like the iPad. It would have a front facing camera to support Face Time and a rear facing camera as well for taking photos and video. It would come with 16GB of flash storage starting at $399.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Will Apple build more "cars"?...

Steve Jobs once compared iDevices to"cars" as apposed to traditional PC's and Macs which he called "trucks".  Trucks refer to professional computers, while cars would be personal computers.  Many people call the iPad the computer for their parents or other people who are afraid of the complexity of the personal computer because it is so intuitive and easy to use.  The iPad and iOS obscur some of the complexities of the computer, such as the file system.  Is it possible that Apple will build more iOS type of devices beyond just the iPad/iPhone products?

With Mac OS X Lion, Apple is brings some of the features of iOS back to the Mac.  Apple could take this even further and build a true iMac, an all-in-one computer based on iOS instead of Mac OS.  The first thing they need to do is come up with a new way to interect with the UI.  Apple has already pointed out that they considered a touch screen for the MacBook Air, but that it just didn't work for prolonged usage.  So this new iMac may use a keyboard and trackpad, but still use a simple interface like iOS.  This concept could also be extended to the Apple TV or a Mac Mini replacement, just supply your own keyboard, trackpad and display.

The Mac OS based computers will not go away, we will always need trucks.  But there will be a large number of users out there who don't need a truck to do what they need to do.  I see Apple eventually splitting into 2 lines of computers, the cars, which would be consumer oriented iOS based devices and the trucks, which would be the Mac OS X line of professional notebooks and desktops.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why the new MacBook Air makes the need for the iLife Home Server even greater...

OK, so we didn't get an iLife Home Server product announcement last week...  What we did get was the MacBook Air, which is the future of notebook computers, and I contend, the future of the Mac platform in general and even greater justification for the iLife Home Server.

As the Macintosh and iOS devices start to converge, and everything moves toward flash based storage, the need for a single place to store all of your files (documents, photos, music, videos...) becomes more obvious.  Storing everything in "the cloud" (or as Apple may see it, in a huge data center in North Carolina) may be a good ultimate end goal, but the internet infrastructure just isn't there yet.  Why should I be shackled by slow internet speeds when accessing my data from the various devices I am using around my home?  What if my internet service goes down just when I need access to an important document?  If all of my files are stored on my Home Server device, I am not bound by my internet connection.  Apple has been doing a good job of isolating the file system from the users, and for good reason.  Most users don't really care where their files are stored, as long they there when they need them.

Imagine if you will... a little white box with an Apple logo on the top and a couple of terabyte hard drives inside, that all I have to do is plug it into my network and tell all of my Macs and iDevices, this is my primary storage location.  All of my files will be stored here and then synced to the cloud and/or my individual devices for use when I am away from my network, without any interaction by me.   When I am not at home, but I want play a song, my iPod knows whether that song has been synced locally, or needs to be streamed from the cloud.  If I need to edit a document on my MacBook Air, it knows if that file has been synced or if it needs to retrieve it from the cloud.  If I want to watch a video on my iPad, well, you get the picture... 

The OS on my device would control what files are kept locally, similar to the way a DVR manages its drive space.  New files are stored locally and synced back to the server, as files age, they are automatically archived and kept only on the server until you need them again.  There would also be a way to mark items that you always want to have available on your device similar to the way iTunes manages your iDevices now.  Using a MobileMe account, you could also choose to store some things in the cloud for access when you are away from home, or technology like Back to my Mac could be used to access your server directly from anywhere you have access to the internet.

This could be the future of computing.  Who needs a desktop computer with everything stored on it, that you leave on all of the time so that you can access your media?  With an iLife Home Server and a number of different iDevices, you can access your media where ever you are, with the device that is most appropriate at that moment in time.

What does "Back to the Mac" really mean?

In last week's Back to the Mac event, Apple explained that they were bringing some features from iOS back to the Mac, since iOS actually originated from Mac OS X.  Some of the specific features coming back to the Mac are the new Mac App Store, which will be like the iOS App Store and allow users to easily purchase new applications for the Mac; a LaunchPad Application launcher, complete with pages and groups; and full screen applications to name a few.  These are all elements of Mac OS X Lion (10.7), but there were some other things brought from iDevices back to the Mac in the form of the MacBook Air.  This model may serve as a sign of things to come for the Macintosh.  Two new features of the Air are the new instant on feature and flash based storage instead of hard drives.

Apple has been selling way more iDevices than Macs, and they are selling them to users who do not already own a Mac.  One of the key benefits to making iDevices for Apple was the "halo effect", or the hope that people who bought an iDevice would later buy a Macintosh as well.  This seems to be working as Mac sales are up while the PC market as whole seems to be trending down.  Therefore, if you take the features your users know and love in their iDevices, and bring them back to the Mac, they will be more familiar to those users when they go shopping for a new laptop or desktop computer.  When they see a new Mac, that works more like the iDevice that they have been using than they do to a traditional PC, they will be more likely to choose the Mac, thus bringing more users "Back to the Mac"!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Verizon Data Plans, are the iPad plans a trial for future smartphone plans?

On October 28, Verizon will begin selling the iPad bundled with a MiFi mobile hot spot.  The prices for the bundles will be the same price as the iPad WiFi+3G models ($629, $729 and $829).  The big difference will be the pay as you go data plans Verizon is offering.  For $20/mo you can get 1GB of data, for $35/mo you get 3GB of data and $50/mo gets you 5GB of data.  If you exceed your data usage you will be charged $20/GB on the $20 plan, but only $10/GB on the other 2 plans.  This pricing structure looks more realistic than AT&T's 2-tiered plans.  While the cheapest AT&T plan is only $15/mo, you only get 200MB of data, the $25/mo plan gets you 2GB of data usage.  Any plan less than 1GB of data just doesn't seem like enough to me.  I hope the carriers move towards more tiers with more options, like Verizon's offering.

I just wonder if maybe Verizon isn't using the iPad data plans as a test market for future smartphone data plans?  There have been rumors that Verizon will be moving to tiered data plans, probably when the Verizon iPhone is released.  I, for one, would welcome a pricing structure more like this for smartphones... but only if they allowed me to use that data for tethering and mobile hot spots without charging an additional fee.  If I am paying to have access to 1GB of data / month, what device I use that data on shouldn't matter.  Extending that thought even further, they should allow me to share my data plan with all of the phones in my family plan the same way minutes are shared.  It is very hard to justify $20/phone/month for data plans, put $20/mo for shared access to 1GB of data, that would be reasonable.

Now that Apple has gone "Back to the Mac", what's next?...

With the conclusion of Apple's Back to the Mac event, where they released iLife 11, new MacBook Airs and previewed the upcoming Mac OSX 10.7 Lion; what is next on the agenda?

The two most likely candidates are the Verizon iPhone and new iPads.  Based of AT&T's better that expected iPhone activations and Verizon's lower than expected subscriber adds, I think the Verizon iPhone will be next and will be announced sometime in January.

The new iPhone will probably be in the same form factor as the current iPhone 4, the primary difference will be its ability to work on the CDMA standard used by Verizon, and other international carriers.  The big question is, will it use the new dual mode chip from Qualcomm that will allow it to be used on either CDMA or GSM networks?  This would be a big bonus for Apple if they only needed a single hardware platform that supports both Verizon and AT&T.  I highly doubt this first CDMA model will do this, and even if it does, will the carriers allow Apple to sell a phone that allows the users to change carriers at will?  Although Apple probably does have the clout to pull this off.  If this iPhone is not dual mode, I would expect the next version will be and may even support LTE as well, though it is likely Apple will hold off on LTE support until 2012 when it is more widely available and load tested.  Remember, 3G was rolling out with the original iPhone, but Apple chose to hold off 3G support for the next model.

And what about the next iPad?  I would not expect the iPad to be updated until spring, and this will probably be a minor update.  I expect a front facing camera for FaceTime and maybe a new dual core version of the A4 processor as well as some minor cosmetic and/or material changes to make it lighter and easier to hold, maybe some form of liquid metal enclosure?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The new MacBook Air?...

The general consensus around the web is that Apple will announce a new MacBook Air at the Back to the Mac event tomorrow.  The big question... what will the specs and pricing be?  Here are my predictions:

MacBook Air

Good - $899
11.6" Display at 1366 x 768 (720p)
1.2 GHz Intel Core i3 CPU
Integrated Graphics
USB (2)
SD Card Slot
Mini Display Port

Better - $1199

Best - $1699
13.3" Display
2.x GHz Core i3 CPU or Core2Duo?
nVidia GPU

I also think it is possible there will be changes to the white MacBook to add Core i3 chips and the 13" MacBook Pros to move up to Core i5 chips.

Apple needs an iLife Home Server, will it happen tomorrow?

Apple needs a product to tie everything together, we all have iPods, iPhones, iPads, AppleTVs and of course Macs.  The consensus has been that all of this will happen sometime via the cloud and MobileMe, probably once the Data Center in North Carolina comes online at the end of the year. 

I propose another option to do this that will work with the cloud and MobileMe, but not require it.  I call it the "iLife Home Server".  This would be a box that would be like a hybrid of a Mac Mini Server and a Time Capsule.  It would be small, have multiple hard drives and run a stripped down, headless version of OS X server or maybe even a server variant of iOS.  The key component of this would be server versions of iLife applications like iTunes and iPhoto that would act as central storage locations for all of your media files (music, videos, photos etc...) and documents.  There would then be a way to sync that data to each individual device on the network and to the cloud with a MobileMe subscription.  Syncing to the cloud then allows all of your portable devices access to your data wherever you have an internet connection as well as acting as an offsite backup of your media files and documents.

Apple iLife Home Server

Mac Mini Server / Time Capsule Enclosure
500GB/1TB HD
GBit LAN Port (3)
GBit WAN Port
802.11N(A/B/G) wireless
USB (2)

Integrated Router
Time Machine Backup
AFP/SMB File Sharing
USB Printer Sharing
iTunes Server
 - Streaming over LAN and Internet*
 - Syncing via network to Local iTunes Library
 - Syncing via Network to WiFi capable iDevices/AppleTV
iPhoto Server
 - Syncing via network to Local iPhoto Library
 - Syncing via netwrok to WiFi capable iDevices/AppleTV
 - Slideshow streaming over LAN
 - WebGallery Photo sharing via Internet* (MobileMe w/o uploading to cloud)
iWeb Server
 - Browser based server admin (accessable via Internet*)
 - Publish iWeb sites to Internet* (w/o uploading to cloud)
 - WebDAV folder sharing to Internet* (like iDisk)
 - Personal Domain Name* <MobileMeAccountName>

*Internet based capabilities require MobileMe subscription.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Welcome to my blog about Apple and all other things tech.

Who am I?  I am an IT professional and software developer by trade.  Even though my primary work is web development using Microsoft .NET, I have been using Apple products both personally and professionaly since I got my first Apple ][, which was eventually replaced by an Apple //e then an original Macintosh in 1984 and so on...  I also have Windows and Linux machines that I use as well.