Oct 132011
 

I would assume that most people out there realized that iOS 5 was released yesterday (Wednesday, October 13).  There are plenty of guides out there outlining the new hotness that comes with the update.  We have a couple referenced over in our forum.

What is your most favorite features so far?  I have really taken a liking to the new notification features.  It is pretty slick.  Now, I can see all of them that I missed or accidentally skipped as I unlocked my phone out of habit before reading the notification.

Find My Friends looks interesting, but I have not played with it yet.  Plus, my wife and I use 4square, so I am not sure it offers much more than that.

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 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 042011
 
MLB_Ba1

Now that the baseball regular season is finally here, it’s time to take a look at all the ways you can consume as much MLB content as possible!

One great thing about the MLB is they make their content more accessible than any of the other professional sports in the US. Aside from watching directly on the MLB website, they have apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, PS3, Boxee, AppleTV, Roku, and probably your toaster oven. Only one other entertainment company comes to mind as being so widely available, and that’s Netflix. I find it refreshing that the MLB mostly gets it right, and I often find myself wishing the other pro sports would follow their lead. They don’t try to lock a customer into one source for watching or listening to games and reasonably price their content. This is in stark contrast to the NFL, which only provides access to all of their games through DirecTV at insanely high prices — not to mention having an exclusive video game deal which ensures that Madden will be the only NFL video game. Ever. Yes, I’m still bitter about the untimely death of the NFL 2k series.

MLB iPhone App

I have to admit, the MLB At Bat app for iPhone is one of my favorite apps. It was one the first apps I bought when I got my first iDevice, a second gen iPod Touch back in 2008. Through the years it has progressed and added more features. The app costs $15 and offers live game day audio for every game in every market, with both the home and away feeds. While it’s one of the more pricier apps I’ve bought, it’s great even for people who are only fans of one team, in that you can listen to the games anywhere, and provides a live game tracker that shows each pitch and the scoring. You’ll also get the latest news and highlight clips from every game, along with customized push notifications that can alert to game starts, end of game scores and highlights. As an added bonus, for the month of April, you get free access to MLB.TV in the app, which gives you live video of all games, however, the dreaded “blackout restrictions” apply, which means don’t expect to watch your local team on anything other than the actual TV channel that’s airing on. This year has a new feature, called “Live Look-ins” which provides a quick-look of a game where something interesting is going on like a late-inning rally. These live look-ins are blackout free, and are reminiscent of the NFL Red Zone channel. For full gameday video, anything outside your “market” is available. It’s worth noting that video quality is very good, even when viewing over a 3G connection. The app also has “check-in” abilities when you actually go to a game, which can sometimes offer special deals and other incentives.

MLB iPad AppTo go along with the iPhone app is a separate iPad app. When I say the MLB “mostly” gets it right, this is one area that is a bit disappointing. The iPad app is a separate app that also costs $15. It would have been nice to see it as universal app, even if they bumped the price to $20. The features are similar to that of the iPhone version, but with a different layout and accurate replicas of the real stadiums in their “Game Day” game trackers, using assets from Sony’s great MLB The Show game. If you’re a MLB.TV subscriber or a baseball junkie, you’re probably going to want both apps, but if you’re only interested in the game day audio, it’s probably best to stick with just the iPhone version.

I also had a chance to take a look at the free “apps” on Boxee, PS3 and AppleTV. These apps don’t do much aside from showing scores, unless you’re a MLB.TV subscriber. No gameday audio is available in a “lite” or free option. Being this is the first year I’ve subscribed to MLB.TV since I received it as gift subscription, I was excited to check out each option.

The PS3 version is definitely the most feature rich. Not only can you watch the games in HD, but you can rewind live games and zero in on highlights, as the video timeline is identified with markers and short descriptions of key plays like home runs, extra base hits, strikeouts, etc. While the interface is the nicest, I found the video and audio quality a bit problematic on the PS3. It frequently skips and stutters to the point where I didn’t want to use it, despite all the features it has that can’t be found elsewhere. It almost seemed as if the PS3 was struggling to keep up and acted like it was CPU stressed. Hopefully Sony and/or the MLB updates the app soon to fix those issues. Sony has a video tour of their MLB.TV app here — it’s very impressive.

MLB Apple TVIn checking out the AppleTV version, it’s not quite as robust as the PS3 version, but provided me with perfect HD quality, and timeline markers that indicate the start of each half inning, but no highlight markers. A very nice interface and a great way to watch the games, I can see this as my preferable way to watch MLB.TV on the big screen, at least until the PS3 version gets smoothed out. Lastly, I took a look at the Boxee app, which is probably the most stripped down, but provided perfect HD quality and worked well. After all, fancy features aside, watching the game in great quality is the most important aspect.

After opening weekend with an MLB.TV subscription, I’m enjoying it a lot. At a cost of $100 per year, it’s affordable when you compare it to other sport subscription and other entertainment options (i.e. Netflix is about $96 per year for a streaming-only sub). If you’re a fan of a team other than the local team or just enjoy watching games all over the country, then MLB.TV access is a must have. If all you enjoy is watching your local team and could care less about any other teams, consider the iPhone or equivalent smart phone app for the game day audio when you’re not at home and leave it at that. Being a bit of a baseball junkie and now having access to so many other games no matter where I am, I can definitely see myself being a regular MLB.TV subscriber.

Mar 172011
 

I haven’t seen too much coverage on what you can do when outputting the iPad2 to a TV or monitor, so I decided to see how it all works. Using the “Digital AV Adapter”, it’s pretty simple to output the iPad to a HDTV. It mirrors the iPad screen as advertised, even the home screen. Rotating the iPad also is mirrored on the external screen, so it’s always replicating what you’re seeing on the actual iPad screen. It doesn’t up-scale the resolution, (unless your TV is set to do that, of course) so you’re basically seeing a 1:1 ratio (1024×786) on the external screen. Apps are all also mirrored completely on the external display. Additionally, with the HDMI adapter, it will send the sound output over HDMI as well, which is great.

Some apps are “external display aware”, so you may get different results, depending on the app. Netflix is one of these apps, and how it works is you can browse the library of titles on the iPad while the external display just shows a red Netflix screen. Once you start playing a video, it goes full screen on the external display at 720p, and the iPad just shows controls for pausing, fast forwarding, etc. Same is true of another favorite app of mine, the MLB app. Other apps that have embedded video like news apps or even Safari work fine, and when you tap the full screen icon, it will show in full screen on the TV as well with no letterboxing. No trickery needed…it just works. I even gave the Hulu Plus app a shot. I don’t have a Hulu Plus subscription, but the app is free and it will let you watch a few select things for free to “tour” the application. I was half expecting Hulu to have some clever block in their app preventing output, but that’s not the case (yet?) While the Hulu video didn’t go completely full screen on the external display, it was still completely mirrored on the TV.

Taking a look at the Keynote app, which is another “external display aware” app, it lets you output your slides to the TV, and gives you options of showing just the slides or slides with your own notes on the iPad screen only. Great for giving presentations so your not broadcasting your personal slide notes to everyone in the room.

Of course, being a gamer, I was thinking it’d be pretty neat to play some games on the big screen. It’s probably not the most ideal from a comfort standpoint, but I just wanted to see how it’d work. I’ve hoarded a few higher end games through various sales, so I had a few I wanted to test out.

First up, I gave Rage HD a test. The intro movie played only on the TV, while the iPad was blank. Then the game’s main menu showed only on the iPad. Once the game started, the TV remained blank, and all that I could see on the iPad was the HUD and no other graphics. Definitely weird. After playing around with it, I found if I pause the game, disconnected, then reconnected the connector, the full game showed on both the TV and iPad, and I could play the game. It’s probably not the most optimal way to play the game because I kept looking down to tap the controls, but it works.

Next I gave Infinity Blade a shot. It had no problem mirroring the full game on both displays. Graphics were crisp on both. Same goes for Dead Space and Madden, no issues with either. While I don’t see the iPad replacing the Xbox or PS3 in your entertainment center anytime soon, it’s not as far away as you’d think. Graphically, the iPad2 can rival and even beat those consoles, although touch controls will always be more limited than analog controls.

One thing I did find, that’s not widely reported, is that the original iPad/iPhone VGA adapter will also mirror the iPad2’s display to a VGA connection. It’s $10 cheaper than the HDMI one, and will work great in more business settings where low cost VGA projectors are everywhere. Chances are most small/medium business won’t have a high-def projector or display in their conference rooms yet, so the VGA adapter is a safe bet if you’re planning on doing presentations. The down side is that you’ll lose the sound output, so you’d have to use a stereo cable off of the headphone jack if you needed to output the sound elsewhere.

So overall, I’m impressed with the output functionality of the iPad2. It really makes it take a big step closer to replacing a computer with this functionality, and it can be useful in a lot of different scenarios. I don’t see it being a permanent item in an entertainment system, but it’s not really meant for that. More of a temporary hook up for presentations or other demos of a “hey let me show you this” type situation. I’ll have a video demonstrating all this in the near future, time permitting.

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.