Jun 082011
 
icloud-what

The amount of rumors and speculation about what kind of iTunes cloud service Apple would make available was massive and started to rival new iPhone rumors.  Now that it’s been announced, there’s still a bit of confusion as to what iTunes in the Cloud is, what iTunes Match is, why it costs $25 a year and why would you want to buy it.  Let’s see if we can clear that up a little based on what we know today.

“iTunes in the Cloud” works today, see how to enable it here.  This allows you to do a few things.  One, it lets you go through all your previous iTunes purchases and re-download them on up to 10 devices, no additional charge.  For clarification sake, when Apple says “devices,” this means computers too — the idea behind iCloud is that a PC or Mac is just another “device” in the mix.  Secondly, if enabled, when you buy new music on *any* device or computer, it will automatically put that new music on *all* of your devices.  A simple concept that “just works.”  Third, and probably obvious although easy to overlook, is your iTunes purchases are automatically backed up in iCloud, so there is no risk of losing music files due to hard drive or device failure. Again, totally free, works today, even with purchases made years ago.  To re-download previous purchases on an iOS device, fire up the iTunes app and look for “Purchases” icon.  To do it on a desktop, start up iTunes (10.3 and up) on Mac or PC and again go to the “Purchases” section.

What happens to all the music you didn’t get from iTunes, say music ripped from CDs or purchased from Amazon or elsewhere?  This is where “iTunes Match” comes in.  iTunes Match will scan your library, find all the matches in the iTunes store for your existing music and make them available in iCloud.  This then allows you to download any of it to all of your devices, and automatically “upgrades” your music to the “iTunes Plus” version of 256 Kbps AAC — just like if you had bought it from iTunes in the first place.  In the event there is no match, it will have to upload the actual files from your library, which is the only time any uploading will happen.  The added side benefit is that your music collection, regardless of how it was attained or what sound quality it is, is now completely backed up in iCloud at high(er) quality.  Apple reminds us with over 18 million songs in the iTunes store, they like the odds of having most of your music available to be “matched.”  This provides a significant advantage over Amazon or Google’s solutions since you don’t have to upload your whole library, and also represents why Apple had to negotiate and pay out to the big music companies to offer this service.  That’s where the $25 a year price tag comes in.  The price is a flat fee, regardless of how much music you have.  They say whether you have 5,000 songs or 20,000 songs, it’s $25.  Also note, your music doesn’t count against the 5GB file space for iCloud  (while we’re at it, pictures, apps and books don’t count either).

Should you sign up for iTunes Match when it comes out this fall?  That will depend on your situation.  If you have one device and/or most of your purchases came from iTunes anyway, I don’t see it being worth the cost.  However, if you have many devices and a lot of songs from Amazon or CDs, it could be convenient to be able to grab any song from your iTunes in the Cloud library to put on any device on a whim.   Got a new iPhone?  Use iCloud on the device to load any music you want at will.  Setting up a new PC or Mac?  Same idea, your music library is available without have to transfer it to a thumb drive or external hard drive.  Lastly, let’s not forget the backup aspect of your entire music library is also worth considering.  Unlimited space for backing every piece of music you own?  Not a bad deal at $25 a year if you have a huge library, the price is low enough for many and with no restriction on size or amount of songs, the service compares well to similar solutions.

A few things to consider:

1) At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any streaming going on with your music, it seems to be a straight download of a music file.  While the initial offering of iCloud is solid, it’s probably safe to assume that Apple will only look to enhance it over time, so streaming and additional features may come in future revisions.  Some Apple patents circulating through various news sites have all but confirmed this.

2) To get to your music in iCloud, you have to use iTunes, there doesn’t appear to be any web app or third party application support available.  iTunes on the PC, Mac and iOS devices looks to be the only gateway to your music.  That could change over time, but I wouldn’t count on that.  Music from iTunes Match is DRM free (as indicated by a slide during Jobs’ presentation) so once downloaded, you’ll be able to use those files as you see fit.

3) It’s unclear if Apple will let you upload your non-iTunes music without paying for iTunes Match, basically using iCloud as a big “hard drive in the sky” as Jobs put it.

The good news is, iTunes Match for your non-iTunes purchases is the only part of iCloud that has any price tag on it, and if you’re happy with your current setup in terms of syncing, backing up and moving around music files obtained elsewhere, then this premium service is completely avoidable.

More details are available here:
http://www.apple.com/icloud/features/

Jun 072011
 
icloud

Apple’s WWDC keynote yesterday was so chock full of information, it’s taken some time to process what’s new and coming for both the Mac and for iOS devices.  One of the biggest pieces was the iCloud stuff, which parts have been made available starting yesterday.

iCloud auto syncing for apps, iTunes purchases and Books are available now if you want to sync items to/from multiple iOS devices.  Of course, if you only own an iPhone, there isn’t much to see here (see update below), although each of the store apps (iTunes, iBooks, App Store) now has a “Purchased” section, allowing you to review everything you’ve purchased and re-download it at no additional charge.  This already worked somewhat with the iBooks and App Store, although it was a little unclear if you would be double charged or not, and is new for the iTunes music store.  Now it’s in its own section, lets you re-download anything on any of your devices and you’ll never be double billed for the same content.

For those with more than one iOS device, here’s how to setup iCloud syncing today:

Go into your settings app on each of your iOS devices and go to the Store option.  Here you can turn on auto downloading of new items of purchases made on other devices (including free stuff).  There’s also an option to control whether this only happens on wifi or force it to happen on cellular data too.  So what exactly does this do for you?  Say you have an iPhone and an iPad.  You turn on auto downloading on your iPad.  You buy a new song on your iPhone, and it will automatically download to your iPad next time your iPad hits a wifi spot — no effort needed on your part (or does it over cellular if you turned that on.)  Same goes for books, and apps.  You may want to consider leaving the app auto download option off if you’re the type who likes to try out many free apps (an app hoarder) because you could end up cluttering your iPad (or iPhone) with lots of apps you may not want on both devices.  Books and music make better sense in most cases.  Also remember that iBooks syncs things like bookmarks, notes and your current page between devices too.

Why is this great?  It cuts out the step of having to resync the device you made your purchases on back to iTunes on your Mac or PC, then having to manually sync your other device(s) to iTunes just to get the new content.  Painful.  Now it’s automagic — the way it should be.

Of course, I’m looking forward to the additional iCloud components (photos, docs, iTunes Match) coming in the fall with iOS 5, but this will get you started today.  You can see more about iCloud here.

UPDATE:

Figures that right after I wrote this article, Apple released iTunes version 10.3 for Mac and PC, which enables the same three options above on the desktop.  So now, purchases will auto download to your iTunes library as well, without have to sync via cable.  Also added in 10.3 is the iBook store, previously only brows-able on iOS devices.

Note that “iTunes in the Cloud” is currently only available in the US due to licensing restrictions.

You can download the latest iTunes version via Apple software update or manually here.

May 272011
 
app-store-icon

EA has had great success with various sales on the Apple App Store, so it’s no surprise they’re doing another one over the Memorial Day holiday.  Dead Space for the iPad is very well done and both the iPhone and iPad versions were recently updated with a new survival mode along other new content.  Many of these games have free “lite” versions that you can try out before you buy.   Also not EA related, but the ever popular Infinity Blade is still half off at $2.99 and features new multiplayer modes.  That app is universal and is almost worth checking out for the graphics alone.

Here’s some of the highlights of EA’s latest sale:

iPad:

iPhone:

There’s definitely a bunch more I’m missing that might be slightly less appealing deals, so be sure to browse the EA section of the app store if you’ve been holding out for a sale on a specific title.

May 042011
 
Apple-logo

Apple made good on its promise to address the location tracking concerns of its users last week, as we discussed here.  This update claims only to do those things.

This update contains changes to the iOS crowd-sourced location database cache including

  • Reduces the size of the cache
  • No longer backs the cache up to iTunes
  • Deletes the cache entirely when Location Services is turned off

The update is available for all devices that can run iOS 4.

Hook up to iTunes and hit the update button.

Apr 272011
 
Apple-logo

Apple today posted a Q&A piece on their website, outlining exactly what location information the iPhone stores and how it is used.  The short version is that the iPhone maintains a cache of wifi hotspots and cell towers in the area to help better assist apps that use location services.   This allows your phone to find your location much faster than if it used GPS alone.   So even though the tracking is no where near as invasive and sinister as many media outlets have incorrectly reported, Apple will be making some changes in an update in the near future.  They will no longer store a backup of this cached data on your computer and fix the supposed bug that when you turn off location services, the location data cache will be permanently deleted.

Highlights:

Why is my iPhone logging my location?
The iPhone is not logging your location. Rather, it’s maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location, some of which may be located more than one hundred miles away from your iPhone, to help your iPhone rapidly and accurately calculate its location when requested.

Can Apple locate me based on my geo-tagged Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower data?
No. This data is sent to Apple in an anonymous and encrypted form. Apple cannot identify the source of this data.

Why is Apple tracking the location of my iPhone?
Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.

Full Official Press Release here.

Apr 222011
 
money

Some good noteworthy deals worth passing along:

First off, you can get 25% off of orders over $19.99 at Direct2Drive when you use coupon code “bunny”.  While you’re at Direct2Drive, Crysis 2 is even a bit steeper discount at 30% off, today only.

Also, if you’re looking for a little iOS gaming, be sure to check out Dead Space HD for the iPad, as it’s on sale for the magical price of $0.99. This game has been optimized for the iPad 2 (although still compatible with the first iPad), so it’s a great game to show off what the new iPad can really do — it rivals and even surpasses the current gen of consoles. As a nice throw-in / cross-over, playing the iOS version of Dead Space will unlock some stuff in Dead Space 2, in case you needed additional incentives.

If you’d rather get the iPhone version, Dead Space for the iPhone is also $0.99 for a limited time.

Apr 152011
 
Camera+logo

Camera+ has been one of the top paid apps on the App Store for quite some time, briefly surpassing even the current flavor of Angry Birds.  Why, you may ask, would you want to actually buy a camera app when the iPhone has a perfectly functional app built in?  Well, the default app is pretty bare-bones, and at $0.99 currently, Camera+ makes a great argument to replace the default app or other free apps as your go-to camera option.

Unlocking the exposureThe camera interface has a lot of the features you have come to expect.  Tap to focus, a digital zoom slider, a flash control option for iPhone4 and the ability to flip to the front camera.  There is one addition to the flash options that is missing from Apple’s default.  Camera+ adds a “fill” option, which lets the flash work as an continuous fill light.
Another great feature added in the default picture taking mode is an ability to unlock the auto white balance.  To do this, you tap to focus and then use a second finger to unlock the white balance and then choose a different point in the frame to adjust the exposure.  This is great when shooting something that is in a shadow or in some other uneven lighting.  To also aid in better photo taking, your can turn on and off a grid overlay to help line up and straighten your shots better.

Don’t like the “Normal” picture taking mode?  There are 3 more modes to change to.  A “Stabilization” mode, which only snaps the photo when it senses your hand is the most stable, which is great to reduce blurry photos.  There is a timer mode, which is configurable from 5, 15, and 30seconds.  Lastly, there is a burst mode, which you just hold down the camera button and it will take pictures in rapid succession.

The Camera+ LightboxWhile all these added features are great, where Camera+ really shines is after you take your pictures.  By default, all your pictures are stored in the app’s “Lightbox.”  What this means is that your photos don’t clutter up your camera roll and gives you a chance to review and edit them before saving them to your camera roll and/or sharing them via social media.  If you’re like me, you snap a lot of photos, many of them not really worth keeping, easily creating an unruly mess in your camera roll if you’re not diligent in cleaning it out.  The lightbox avoids all this.  If you’d still rather save every snapped photo to your camera roll you can easily disable the lightbox.

Within the app’s lightbox, there are many powerful editing options available.  Camera+ touts the newly added “Clarify” option which seems to perform a bit of an auto brightness and auto levels function to your photos.  Most of the time it gets it right and results in brighter, more vibrant pictures removing washed out over exposures and adding more detail to shadow areas.  There are plenty of other adjustment modes which mainly alter the lighting in the photo to better match the conditions the photo was taken in.

Camera+ effectsOther editing features include “FX” which can give your photos different looks similar to those in Instagram or Hipstamatic.  Somehow, making photos look like they were taken 30 years ago on a crappy camera became popular, and Camera+ supports all sorts of similar effects, along with some unique ones like “toy camera” and “so emo.”  It’s worth noting that there is an extra “I love analog” FX pack that is an in-app purchase (also $0.99), but the base app includes so many effects, it’s hard to recommend spending anything additional unless you really, really want more old-school filters.  To round out the editing there are tools to rotate and crop your photos in addition to a selection of borders that can be added.  The good thing about all the photo editing tools is that you can import photos from your photo library into the app, so it doesn’t just work on photos taken within Camera+.  You can pull any photo from your existing camera roll or any other photos synced to your phone and edit it in Camera+.

Once your photos are looking the way you want them, Camera+ has a decent amount of sharing options.  You’re covered with direct sharing to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and email.  When sharing to Twitter, instead of using a service like Twitpic, Camera+ uses their own, url-shortened, socially optimized site: http://campl.us.  Comments can be posted, and the image details are displayed to let viewers know the settings used for the picture — all very similar to Instagram.  You can check out a sample image shared through Camera+ here.

For the magical price of $0.99, it’s hard not to recommend Camera+.  The amount of functionality this app has over the boring default camera app is easily worth that price.

Check out Camera+ in the App Store

Mar 092011
 

Apple’s latest update for your favorite iDevices is out, and you’re probably wondering what’s new. The 4.3 release isn’t as flashy as some of the previous releases, but let’s quickly go over what to look for.

What devices is it for?

  • iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 (GSM only)
  • iPod Touch (3rd/2009 and 4th/2010 generation)
  • iPad 1 and iPad 2

All other devices are left out in the cold.  No Verizon iPhone update this time around which already has some of the features from 4.3.  At some point, expect iOS versions to converge again across all current devices, like 4.2 did with the iPad.  I’d guess iOS 5, which may be announced in April.

What’s new and exciting in 4.3?

Apple’s own iOS page gives us some of the bigger details, and there’s a few small tweaks not mentioned as well.

  1. Airplay Enhancements
    Third party apps can now take advantage of Airplay video streaming to the AppleTV.  Previously it was limited to Apple’s own apps like Youtube and the iPod app.  Now it’s open for all to use.  The catch is, a developer will actually have to add this support into their app, and some, like Hulu, I would guess will never add this functionality. Netflix has also said they won’t add Airplay support their app because Netflix is already natively supported on the AppleTV, so it doesn’t make much sense to stream to it from an iPhone or iPad. The great AirVideo app already supports Airplay video, and provides a great way to stream almost any video format to your iPhone or iPad, which can now then, in turn, stream to your TV via the AppleTV.   Expect more apps to support it in the future.
  2.  

  3. Safari Javascript Performance
    Mobile Safari is getting Apple’s “Nitro” javascript engine that’s already present in the desktop version of Safari.  Early testing shows this to increase the overall responsiveness in Safari some, but don’t expect it to be a huge difference.  This seems more of an incremental update, but still nice to have.
  4.  

  5. iTunes Home Sharing
    Through iTunes Home Sharing, you can now stream to your iPhone or iPad content from your PC’s iTunes library.  A nice addition, but this will only work while you’re on the same local network as your PC.  Since it’s through iTunes, this will only work with media files that iTunes supports.
  6.  

  7. iPad Side Switch Configuration
    After the internet uproar when iOS 4.2 changed the switch on the iPad from a rotation lock to a mute switch, Apple has appeased those who complained by letting you decide how the switch should work.  In the Settings app, you can pick from a mute switch or a rotation lock.  It’s your call!
  8.  

  9. Personal Hotspot for iPhone 4
    Already available on the Verizon iPhone, GSM iPhones will be able to share their connection via Wifi with up to 3 devices.  Carriers can request the device cap be upped to five.  For AT&T users, it’s limited to 3 devices, and also means you’ll have to add the tethering and hotspot feature to your plan, at a cost of an extra $20 a month.  This comes with a 4GB / month data cap, and can be added and removed at any time, no long term commitment needed. For those still grandfathered in on the AT&T unlimited plan, to get the hotspot feature, you’ll have to give up unlimited data forever — there’s no going back.   This will end up costing you a net of $15 more per month, since unlimited data is $30, and the standard 2GB plan which you’ll be switching to is $25 (+$20 for hotspot/tethering).
  10.  

  11. Other Minor Tweaks
    Some other minor, but nice adjustments in 4.3 is that you can cancel app downloads in progress.  Maybe you started to download an app that’s taking too long, or you’ve changed your mind mid-download; now just hold your finger down on the app and delete it like you would any other app. Also added is simultaneous downloads of app updates.  4.3 lets you download and install to 3 apps at once, which should definitely help streamline the on-device update process. 

    Additionally, some of the new text tones that were added in the last update have been adjusted and shortened to make for more appropriate text tone notifications.

     

  12. Garage Band and iMovie
    Apple’s exisiting iMovie app will be going universal, for significant video editing on the iPad.  The only catch is that it will only work on the iPad 2, presumably due to the added horsepower the iPad 2 has with its dual core CPU.  Another iLife program, Garage Band, is coming to both versions of the iPad.  It even supports connecting real instruments to the iPad by using an appropriate adapter. Both apps are $4.99 in the App Store.

That pretty much covers what to look for in the latest update.  Apply the update by connecting your device to iTunes and clicking the “Check for updates” button.