Saturday, October 30, 2010

Apple's Back To The Mac Presentation

Business

Apple's CFO Peter Openheimer reported that Apple had it's 18th record breaking quarter in a row. With the sales of iPad, iPhone, and Mac they posted earnings of 20 billion. The Mac is still 30% of that business and even if Apple were to separate out the Mac from their other businesses the Mac business would still be in the Fortune 500. He immediately said they would not do such a thing. Apple, as a company, has had a string of hits and have gone from a company 10 years ago where Michael Dell stated Apple should close their doors and give the money back to the share holders to the second largest US Company in terms of market cap, the fourth largest manufacturer of cell phones displacing RIM for the fourth place slot, even beating Microsoft in fourth quarter earnings this week.

Half of the people buying Macs are first time buyers and are buying Macs because they like the iPhone and the iPad. From the rest of us long time members of the Mac community; welcome. I suspect Apple's next bold move will be s shot at moving into the enterprise where currently 60% of Fortune 100 companies are exploring how they can use the iPad in their business. Apple has beefed up it's business consulting staff so it is only a matter of time before Apple comes knocking at Microsoft's last major strong hold.

iLife

Recently Apple held an event on the the Apple Campus in Cupertino where they gave us a sneak peak at an updated OS, iLife, new hardware and software and below are just some of my impressions of these.
Screenshot2010-10-30at3.25.01PM-2010-10-30-15-16.png

iLife 11 has some nice new features but it isn't the ground breaking app I was hoping to see. We still have nothing new for producing epubs and the next generation of ebook. They didn't even seem to touch iWeb or iDVD. In fact iPhoto just got a full screen mode, a couple of really cool new slide shows and some nice new book, card, and custom calendar options along with a revamped store to build and buy them in. GarageBand and iMovie seemed to get all the attention on this version. It is nice they got updated but how many people use iMovie and GarageBand on a daily basis? One interesting feature in iMovie is the ability to upload to MobileMe, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo or CNN iReport right from the application. This could cause another explosion of user generated content like adding the video capabilities to the iPhone. My question is when will the iMovie iPhone application get the same treatment. News reports could be shot and edited on scene and uploaded to the news bureau instantly. The new iLife is also Snow Leopard only so if you still own a G5 or haven't moved up to Snow Leopard for some reason you have to do that first.

While Apple has made a huge push to converting their entire platform to 64 bit, iLife is still being shipped as a 32 bit apps and can't really take full advantage of all the RAM our computers have to offer now. The apps are fast don't get me wrong but we wouldn't be Apple fans if we didn't want more.

I think most of us old time Mac fans are still looking for the
Knowledge Navigator from 1985 that was envisioned years ago and a video was created to show what computing would be like in the future.

FaceTime

Apple has also released a beta version of FaceTime on the Mac as a standalone application. First I think it is a standalone application so that it can be ported to Windows when it is finished on the Mac. The application is still in beta no release date has been officially given yet. I have tested placing calls from the Mac to iPhones and have received calls as well. FaceTime isn’t exactly feature rich yet and has a way to go on deciding where to send a call. If I am at my computer and someone calls my iPhone I would rather the call go there or give me an option to transfer the call between devices.


Screenshot2010-10-30at3.22.23PM-2010-10-30-15-16.pngJobs did promise when the iPhone 4 was introduced that millions of devices would have FaceTime by the end of the year and he was right. I am using FaceTime a couple of times a week to talk to people. Once you open FaceTime you can register one or more email addresses for people to call you on. FaceTime can ring to your computer even when the application is closed. When a call comes in FaceTime opens and displays who is calling along with a preview of what the caller will see if you answer.

FaceTime still needs some smoothing over and some additional features but the minimal interface and video quality are both quiet good. I would like to have an announcement of who is calling instead of just a ring and I would like to see FaceTime work over 3G networks so I can make or receive FaceTime calls anywhere, anytime. I would also like to transfer a call in real time between my iPhone, MacBook Pro, or in the future iPad when it gets a forward facing camera.

OS X Lion

OS X Lion was a bit sketchy on details and Apple did not announce any ground breaking changes. We are now just getting more support for gestures and some of the things Apple learned about in iOS is being brought back to the Mac.

First Mission Control is integrating expose, dashboard, and spaces into one easy to use gesture based system. I think while this is mostly UI polish it has the potential to improve my day to day work flow and reduce some of the window clutter that can distract me and keep me from completing tasks. With a click of a button I can make app full screen to work undistracted. However with a swipe gesture I can jump to another full screen app or back to my windowed desktop. Another swipe and all my windowed apps group by type and group with each other so I can look at them quickly and easily. Another gesture and my widgets slide in at the ready.

Screenshot2010-10-30at3.24.25PM-2010-10-30-15-16.pngApple added expose in 10.3 to deal with Window clutter and dashboard in 10.4 to give us access to small specialized Programs called widgets. I see these features hardly used with a lot of Mac users I work with and I believe this is Apple's attempt to move these apps into the main stream.

Next up is LaunchPad. It looks like the home screen on the iPad or iPhone. Which begs the question do we need another app launcher? To date we have the dock to place apps you use all the time, the finder to locate and run rarely used apps, or my personal favorite Spotlight. Just type a shortcut and the first few letters of the app name and press enter. Now we are getting another new gesture and LaunchPad flies in and we can interact with the apps the same way we do on the iPad. This could help reduce some clutter in the dock and organize apps a bit better. I just would like to see them come up with an easier method to rediscover an app I already have. Many times someone has asked me about an app or I have needed to perform a task and just couldn't remember the name of the app I wanted. We almost need an app to keep track of our apps, particularly the ones we use infrequently.

The next item up and the one that will and is creating the most up roar in the Apple community is the Mac App Store coming to Snow Leopard sometime in January. Just early this year it was reported that the next version of OS X would have an app store and only approved apps would be allowed on the new OS. To which in a short Steve Jobs email he replied no. Now two questions were asked, and only one answer given. Now at the Back To The Mac event we get a cleared picture. Yes, we will have an app store and no users will not be restricted to loading only software purchased from there. So geeks breath a sigh of relief, nothing is changing for you except a reduction in confused calls from family and friends on how to install a piece of software. Now they can just open the app store click on an app and find it in the LaunchPad ready to go. No more mounting disk images and running package installers or dragging to the Applications folder. Unless of course that us the only way the app is offered.

Also important to users, no more tracking serial numbers, locating DVD's or hours of reloading software should you need to reinstall. Making it as simple to reset your desktop as your iPhone or iPad is today. With cloud based backup solutions we can see a day when you could reformat your computer auto re download your apps and pull your data back from the cloud.

This is totally optional for developers and is going to be huge for small developers. Access to a store where all of your potential customers visit. Able to sell at lower prices because piracy has been greatly reduced. No dealing with software keys to lock your application. This can be a biggest thing to happen to small developers ever. As a new developer I am looking forward to publishing on the Mac App Store it just seems like a simple choice.



One more thing...
Screenshot2010-10-30at3.20.41PM-2010-10-30-15-16.pngThe MacBook Air looks awesome. I use my MacBook Pro for coding and website design and my iPad for writing, surfing, and email I don't expect to run out and get an AIr but I do see what the fuss is about. It is small, light, ultra portable, and fast enough for what 95% of users want to do. It looks good for casual games, surfing the web, and light content creation. The flash based storage isn't huge but with large USB drives and cloud storage options popping up all the time the limited Flash based hard drive 64-256 GB isn't really an issue. If I did't already own a 17" MacBook Pro I would consider the Air for a first Mac. The Air seems to be Apple's foray into the Premium net book market. With a $999-$1,599 price point it isn't cheaper than other net books but it is far more capable. Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 2 Gigs of RAM and large flash storage makes it a fast and small machine. The MacBook Air will be a must have for the back to school crowd and people with light to moderate computing needs. The lack of optical drive option did prompt Apple to include a small USB key for software restore. I hope to see this become the standard for software restore on all computers. It is more convenient than disks just pop it into the USB port and reboot.

Overall it was a good presentation from Job’s and team, I do expect we will hear more about Lion in the coming months leading up to it's summer release. I hope we see quiet a few more new features to make our OS more ready for the enterprise, more user friendly, and more powerful than ever before. Apple is now 10% of the PC market and 20% if you count the iPad as a PC. That growth is only going to continue upwards for the foreseeable future. It is really an exciting time to be a Mac fan and even more exciting to be a Mac developer.

If you are one of those who are new to the Mac again; welcome! To get the most from your Mac and iOS devices seek out a Mac User Group in your community. Other Mac users are always happy to share information and teach one another about our favorite software.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apple TV First Look

photo-2010-10-3-16-54-2010-10-3-16-54.jpegFriday was the big day, after nearly a month of waiting the new Apple TV arrived at our doors. The first thing I noticed is that is was smaller than I thought it would be. The box the HDMI cable came in was bigger than the Apple TV box. The entire unit is just a little bigger than an Airport Express. On plugging it into the TV it took a few moments to boot and ask what language did I prefer and start walking me though connecting to the wifi. 

As soon as it was on wifi I could use my iPad or iPhone as a remote control. Making searches far easier by providing a full keyboard. The Apple Remote software also provides gesture support for controlling the Apple TV making me think their have to be more applications coming for the device in the future. 

TV viewing is a pleasant experience despite the fact it only supports 720p and there is no option to upscale to 1080p watching Netflix and streaming movies from my computer looked good. In fact it was hard to tell the difference between what was on my DirecTV DVR and the Apple TV. 

According to ifitxit.com and their tear down of an Apple TV the new unit has 256 MB of RAM and 8 gigs of storage with a slot to add more storage. Perhaps Apple will offer higher capacity Apple TV’s in the future? For now you can setup your Apple TV to display your photos as a screen saver through iTunes and the photos are uploaded and stored on the AppleTV and not streamed. 

Fast forwarding and rewinding is a little slow but certainly useable while streaming content. It seems to buffer quickly and resume playing when you skip around within content. Netflix displays fast forwards and rewinds as a thumbnail in the center of the screen. Streaming from iTunes you can jump to chapters just like a DVD. 

Airplay at the moment seems to only work with audio. Apple advertised video streaming via Airplay but not until this November. I am betting an Apple TV software update will be required to make it work. 

I also ran into two odd router freezes my first day of heavy movie and TV viewing with the AppleTV causing me to reboot the Airport Express in the living room. It has never done that before, however the Airport Express extends the network to the office and constant streaming of movies plus traffic from the iPad and a laptop may have been too much. I tired switching to the 2.4 Ghz network connecting directly to the Airport Extreme in the office and haven’t had an issue since. 

It seems as though the Apple TV isn’t finished yet as it is lacking a few features that would make the device a must have for the digital living room. Hulu Plus support, ability to buy movie tickets online, Ping support, ability to send content to your TV from Quicktime X via Airplay, as well as TV and movie studio applications allowing us to access their content. This last item would prompt me to get rid of satellite and watch all of my shows on demand direct from the content creators and would make the Apple TV as hugely successful as the iPhone. The final major update that will make Apple TV the killer application would be a USB camera and microphone to connect to the miniUSB port for FaceTime calls on the TV. Allow Grandma to sit in her living room and talk to the grand kids on their iPhones and iPod Touches. 

Apple still obviously thinks of the Apple TV as a hobby and the studios are not yet sure they want to go the on demand route. I think customers are ready for it and the technology is there and only requires some tweaks to software to make it a reality. At $99 for the device that just sips power, makes no noise and takes up as much space as an iPhone makes it a worth while investment. I think Apple sales on these will be far above the previous Apple TV’s and it just may be the start of a revolution in television. The question is can Apple get the studios to come along? 

My recommendation is if you love renting movies and TV shows, have a Netflix account, and content on your computer you want to move to a TV this is a great device to add to your home and at $99 you can’t go wrong.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of User Groups

shapeimage_7-2010-09-26-19-22.pngIn August I was elected President of the Las Vegas Mac Users Group (www.lvmug.com). It is an honor to be elected and to have the opportunity to volunteer to help other Mac users become more familiar with their computers and facilitate their exploration of the platform. Computer User Groups have been around since the 70’s when hobbyist computer geeks assembled their Altair’s and other kit computers. The Homebrew Computer club in Northern California was a great example of where enthusiasts gathered to learn more about computers and to show off what they had built. Homebrew was where Steve Wozniak even showed off his first Apple I computer. Homebrew was also where Dan Bricklin first showed off his creation VisiCalc for the Apple II.

This was of course in the days before we all had Internet access in our homes and even on our phones where we can look up any information anytime or anywhere. So are User Groups still relevant? Of course they are still relevant. There are many things that all computer users can still learn from each other. I have found spending time with Users Groups people ask questions I may never have thought of, or show off a piece of software they found that I have never heard of that might fit nicely into my daily work flow. Besides learning new and interesting things it also gives me a chance to socialize with other Mac Users. It is fun to spend time with people who are as passionate about their computers as I am.

For the late 90’s in Apple dark days when things weren’t going well Apple relied on the Mac Users Groups and Apple faithful to keep them going and keep them going the Users Groups did. Now in the 2000s Apple is hugely successful and moved from just selling to computers to an array of consumer electronics and bringing more people back to Apple we are seeing a resurgence of the Users Groups again although this time with a slightly different focus. Todays Mac Users Groups tend to be less of the geeks and more regular users helping each other out. Everyday computer users meet in classrooms, restaurants, libraries, and other spaces to ask each other questions and share tips and tricks with one another. Of course there are some hard core geeks in every group like myself who love to answer questions and share with the group and if we don’t know an answer at least know where we can find the answer.

Las Vegas is home to three Mac Users Groups and with a little searching it is fairly easy to find a Mac Users Group in most towns or at least close to smaller towns all over the country. There is even a group for people who run the Users Groups http://www.mugcenter.com/ where they have resources for finding guest speakers and companies willing to offer discounts to User Group Members as a way to encourage people to become members of User Groups. There is also an advisory board for User Group leaders http://appleusergroupresources.com/ to help find speakers and connect groups with software companies to offer discounts to members and software demos.

So the Mac User Groups today are really more open and accessible to the average user today than they were twenty years ago. It provides users a space to ask questions and learn more about their computers and find new ways to use them. The thing that truly sets the User Group apart from the Internet is the camaraderie and it creates an environment where you may learn things that you didn’t even know to ask about.

So the next time you have a question about your Mac instead of spending hours Googling and reading and Googling again, try searching for your local Mac User Group and drop in and visit. You may make new friends, get your questions answered, learn something you haven’t even thought to ask. But you will certainly have a good time. Our community is still smaller than the Windows Market and Mac Users stick together and are always willing to share what they know with anyone interested and if we don’t have the answer we love going on the journey to find that answer together.

To find a Mac User Group in your area visit http://www.apple.com/usergroups/ and go to Find A Group or go to http://www.mugcenter.com/mug-event-calendar/ for a calendar of events for Mac User Groups across the country and visit one near you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is Growl?

Screenshot2010-09-12at5.34.40PM-2010-09-12-17-33.pngGrowl is a way for Mac applications to tell you what they are doing without getting in the users way. Programs like Chax, Skype, Yahoo Messenger,Adium, Firefox, Thunderbird, Spam Sieve, NetNewsWire, Reader Notifier, Cyberduck, Transmit, EyeTV, VLC, Pandora Boy, and many more. All of these apps need to notify the user about events and Growl is a framework developers can use to send messages to the user.

From the users perspective Growl is a System Preference Pane that is automatically installed when the user installs an app that uses Growl. Once you open the Growl Preference pane you will find options that allow you to customize how you wish to be notified. Do you want Growl in your menu bar? Do you want notifications to stay on screen until you acknowledge them after you have been away for a period of time? What section of the screen do you want your notices to appear? In the Applications tab you will see a list of applications that support Growl and enable or disable Growl notices on a per application basis. You can also click Configure and specify what notices you want and how you want them displayed on a per application basis.

In the Display Options tab the user can choose what the notices look like when they appear. Do you want your notices with a Smoke look, to be spoken, or perhaps look like an iCal notice. Growl even supports OS9 style notices if that is what you prefer.

In the network tab you can opt to have Growl notifications sent from one computer to another. For instance if you have a Mac server at home and set it to transcode a DVD into an iTunes format to watch on your Apple TV. When the transcoding is done the Handbrake application will notify Growl and Growl will notify the Mac server it is running on and your Mac laptop over the network. So you can be aware the job is done without even being in the room. Growl also makes an iPhone app that uses Push notification to let you know when your computer receives a Growl notification.

This allows you queue up things for your computer to do and notify you when the job is done while you are out and about. This gives application developers a great way of providing messages to their application users and the users a flexible way to manage notifications and decide when and where they want to get those notifications. Growl is useful for everyone from the novice to the professional. As a novice you have to do nothing and Growl just works. For those who can’t resist customizing or for someone who wants to be notified of events in a particular way it is highly configurable and customizable.

So that is Growl in a nutshell. Feel free to get in and try different settings and figure out what is right for you. For more information on Growl or to download Growl visit http://growl.info/ and download the latest version.

Monday, September 6, 2010

iPods, iOS, and AppleTV Oh My!

Apple-Media_Event_September_2010-2010-09-6-18-30-2010-09-6-18-30.jpgThis past Wednesday Apple made their September music announcement at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco. In typical Steve Jobs fashion this presentation was a three act play. First getting, the numbers out of the way quickly, he announced Apple retail is doing well with 300 stores worldwide. The second stores in China and France just opened to huge fanfare as well as a new store in London. Ten countries now have Apple Stores and soon to be eleven with a new store opening in Spain. Some days these Apple Stores are seeing over 1 million visitors in a single day. Over 80,000 one to one classes are being held every week and over half of the new Mac buyers are first time buyers.
The First Act of Steve’s three act play was to discuss iOS. Over 120 million iOS devices have been shipped since the iPhone was introduced in 2006. Currently Apple is activating 230,000 iOS devices per day. These devices have downloaded 6.5 billion apps from the app store, about 200 apps per second. This week Apple will be rolling out iOS 4.1 for iPhone and iPodTouch. The new version fixes issues with the proximity sensors solving problems users have had when holding the phone up to their face. This release is also correcting issues with Bluetooth connectivity. Also some enhancements have been included to solve some iPhone 3G performance problems. I have been running this for the last week on my iPhone and the Proximity Sensor is fixed. I haven’t noticed any issues with my bluetooth so I will have to talk to some other people on that. I have heard online that 3G performance improved a little bit.
Some new features that have been added to iOS 4.1 are HDR (High Dynamic Resolution) photos. This is the first camera phone to support this feature. Only a few pocket cameras have even started including this technology. When you shoot a photograph where you have sky and shadow a normal digital photo will blow out the lighter part of image and the dark parts will just show as black. With HDR the camera will take three pictures quickly one with the exposure it thinks is correct and one an F-Stop higher, and another an F-Stop lower. Then the software will blend the three images to create a single photo that displays all three images in a balanced way revealing details that couldn’t be seen before. This is an exciting new technology and one that, in my testing, I have been impressed with.
HDR doesn’t work with action shots or where the scene is changing rapidly and parts of the image that are in motion while photos are being taken tend to blur. So if you are taking pictures of moving people or objects turn HDR off. If you are shooting a still scene or one with little motion by all means use it.
Apple has no added the ability to upload HD videos over WiFi so now you can shoot, edit, and upload video to You Tube right from your iPhone. TV Show rentals have also been added to the iTunes Store on the phone. So if you are heading out for a flight, or to catch a train and you missed last nights episode of Eureka you can rent it right on your phone and watch it on your trip.
We also now have Game Center, a social gaming platform for the iPhone. Currently the iPod Touch has over 50% of the portable gaming market and this coupled with the Unreal Game engine coming to the iPhone this winter is just going to grow that gap even further. Now people can challenge their friends and see what they are playing online through the Game Center app or in any Game Center enabled game. Game Center is on the iPhone, iPod Touch, and later this fall the iPad.
iOS 4.1 for the iPhone and iPodTouch will be available later this week.
Apple also gave us a sneak peak at iOS 4.2 coming in November. This will bring multi-tasking, Game Center, Folders, HDR photos, message threads, unified inbox, and wireless printing to the iOS. I have head other people commenting this must mean that iPad is getting a camera. While I have no doubt Apple will someday add a camera to the iPad I wouldn’t look for it before next April. I believe iOS 4.2 just brings iOS for the iPhone and iPad together so they can start releasing one OS for both. iOS 4.2 will give us printing from our iPad and iPhones, so if you wish to print a document just click on Print, and tap the Bonjour printer in range you wish to print your document on.
iOS 4.2 is also going to bring us a new technology called Airplay. Airplay will allow us to stream movies, TV shows, or music from our iOS device to an Apple TV but more about that a little later.
In Steve’s second act he announced their have been over 275 million iPods sold and an entirely new line of iPods are being introduced this week. The shuffle got its click wheel back and kept voice over and its clip to make it wearable with 15 hours of battery life and comes in five colors for $49.00. He never said in the keynote but I assume it is still 1 Gig of storage. The iPod Nano gets a total facelift making it nearly half the size and weight. Apple did away with the click wheel and replaced it with a small multi-touch display and the new nano appears to be running at least a stripped down iOS. It makes me wonder if the iPod apps will reappear at some point for the Nano. The Nano also dropped its camera and video recording capabilities in favor of the much smaller size. Also included in the new Nano is an FM Radio, pedometer, Nike +, and a battery that boasts 24 hours of music play back. It doesn’t appear they included an accelerometer either to determine which direction is up as the screen doesn’t rotate on its own. It requires the user to make a multi touch twist motion on the screen to set the orientation. The new Nano comes in an 8 gig form factor for $149 and 16 gig for $179.
Last in the line up is the new iPod Touch. The iPhone without a contract. iPod Touch is being updated to include a new retina display just like the iPhone. The unit is thinner has Apple latest A4 chip in it. A 3 axis gyro was added for more accurate game play and a front facing camera for FaceTime video conferencing. Also an HD camera on the other side for recording and uploading HD video. Now iPod Touch and iPhone users can call each other using FaceTime over a WiFi network. The new touches will come in 8 gig for $229, 32 gig for $299, and 64 gig for $399.
Also in the area of music Steve announced iTunes 10. First thing I noticed that is missing from iTunes 10 besides color is it still isn’t 64 bit for the Mac, and Apple has not given us a brilliant Apple like way of managing the content on our devices. This was the one thing that was and is still sorely lacking in iTunes. What we did get is apparently faster syncing with our devices. My iPad takes half the time to sync up as before. The iPhone has always been fairly quick but it even got faster. Since digital downloads are poised to overtake CD sales this year the CD has been dropped from the logo and now we have a music note on a blue background. It looks nice in the dock but makes the other icons around it start to look a little dated.
The new hybrid view is a great way to look at your music and see album art for albums where you have more than five songs and it takes up no more space. The view is nice and I will probably start using it as my default view.
Also new to iTunes Apple’s foray into Social Networking with Ping. If you want to follow me on Ping and see what I am listening to just click here. It is like Twitter or Facebook but dedicated to music. This may be Apples way of sticking their toe into the Social Networking water. If the music social networking goes well perhaps Apple will expand ping to be a direct competitor to Facebook.
And as a third act Steve talked about Apple’s hobby. AppleTV is now smaller, cheaper, and easier to manage. AppleTV was introduced in 2006 and was not a big hit. It wasn’t what the main stream user was looking for. The average user doesn’t want to think about syncing their device. So the new Apple TV doesn’t have any storage on board and no way to buy new movies or TV shows. Currently the Apple TV is rental only. $0.99 for HD TV shows and $4.99 for HD first run movies and the price goes down for movies as time goes on. Also Apple TV can stream content from any computer with iTunes on the network. It is equipped with HDMI, Ethernet and 802.11n wireless and comes with an aluminum Apple remote control. Streaming of Netflix and YouTube has also been added to the new AppleTV. Also with the new Airplay feature coming in iOS 4.2 you will be able to stream content from your iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV device at the touch of a button. This still gives users who want to buy a movie or TV show the ability to buy on the iPad and download it, then watch on the Apple TV. The one question I have is will Quicktime X see an Airplay feature added?
I have already placed my pre-order so I will have an in depth look at the new Apple TV when it arrives.
Many people were expecting a TV revolution this week that didn’t seem to come. There was no mention of the North Carolina datacenter and what it will be used for later this year and we still haven’t heard when FaceTime will be coming to iChat. There was no mention of apps on the AppleTV or a streaming TV show service. I would love to download apps for the channels I watch and just pay for the channels I like instead of everything. Apple can revolutionize TV just like they did with music and multi-touch applications on smart phones. But they apparently have decided to a take a slow steady approach.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to school with your Mac

back_to_school-4852-2010-08-29-17-17.jpgThe first app I want to talk about is one to help study for the big tests. Cram for the Mac from Simple Leap software is sure to get you into the test studying groove. Cram for the Mac is a great study aid for students preparing for tests. Once you enter the questions and answers from a study guide or download a test file from the Cram Test Portal or Quizlet sites you can take a test or make flash cards to help prepare for a test. The User Interface has a simple layout and is very clear. The new test button allows you to create your own test and randomize the order questions are asked and randomize the multiple choices. You can also select a timed test if you need.

Once you create your test you can edit the questions. This is where you add your multiple choice questions, answers, and any photos or sounds to your questions. Be careful when uploading photos for tests there is no zoom or adjustment features within the test so always make sure your image is large enough to be legible when you insert it into a test.

The Flash card interface is clever and looks just like a standard flash card with a button to flip the card over and view the answer. Forward and back arrow buttons allow the user to move thorough the cards. The movement through the cards is complete with a sound of flash cards being flipped. The buttons on this screen could be a little clearer by being labeled and a shuffle option would be nice.

Cram also has a feature to export your tests to your iPod touch or iPhone. Transfers occur between with apps via wifi and you can choose multiple tests to move for study while you are away from your computer. I like where Simple Media is heading with Cram and I can’t wait to see what they do on the iPad. iPad seems like a natural platform for studying for tests. Cram can also monitor your progress as you take your tests over again you can see your high score, number of tests attempted and your average score to allow you to track your progress.

Taking tests feels like you are taking an online test like you would use when working on certifications. The interface is clean and uncluttered allowing you to focus on the question and answer. At the end of the test you are shown how you answered each question and what the correct answer is. Your score is displayed on the face of your tests thumbnail.

The CramTest Portal is a site where you can download Cram tests from other users. Cram also support downloads from www.quizlet.com as as source for tests. The tests are not vetted for accuracy or completeness so use at your own risk. Several I downloaded asked me to look at an image to answer the question where no image was attached. I would suggest building your own tests or sharing tests with others in your class that might be using Cram to study.

Cram is an excellent app for teachers to create quizzes to give to students as study guides or perhaps an in class study game. Currently there is not a lot of software out there that does what Cram does and I haven’t seen any others that connect with a database to share tests. If Simple Leap software can work with Apple, Microsoft, Comp/TIA and others to create tests that are accurate they have a winner of a product. I have subscribed to services that charge $100 a year to study for certification tests and the software is poorly written, only available on Windows or just not very accurate.

Cram is cheaper, well written, and infinitely more useful than the online services I have seen. At $29.99 for the Mac app and $3.99 for the iPhone app it isn’t a bad deal. Although it would be nice to see discounts for volume licensing for schools who may want to deploy Cram and a server component to manage tests. Overall SimpleLeap is on the right track and have a great app with huge potential.

Head on over to the Simple Leap Software site and get your copy just in time to head back to school.

The second app I want to talk about is Circus Ponies Notebook version 3. We all need to take notes in class and Circus Ponies Notebook is the fastest and most powerful way to do that. Notebook looks just like a notebook when you open it. You can create tabs and have index pages already prebuilt and update as you type. You can attach sticky notes to pages, draw, copy images, web links, even attach PDF’s right into your notebook. I create a notebook for each of my classes and I can search using the notebook multidex or spotlight right from my OS X desktop. Sitting in classes or even in meetings Notebook has a feature that will allow you to record audio while you are taking notes. As you add bullet points a small speaker appears next to the bullet so you can jump right to the point in the audio recording when you typed that note. It is great for recording lectures or taking meeting minutes.

If you have a digitizer tablet Notebook also support hand writing recognition. You can also get handwriting recognition with inklet and a pogostylus from tenonedesign. (Note: after talking to tenonedesign it was determined there was some confusion regarding the website and handwriting recognition does NOT work in Notebook at this time. You can still draw diagrams and write but it isn't converted to text. Hopefully Tenonedesign will correct this in the future. The link I provided from Amazon offers the bundle for a 12.00 discount. Notebook is an extremely flexible application that can be used in as many ways as a user can think up. It is a little daunting at first with the large number of options that are available but once you get started and check out a tutorial or two you will find how Notebook can best work for you. There is no wrong way to use it, just the best way for you. Screencasts online has a well done video showing us how to use notebook. It is worth checking out at www.screencastsonline.com.

So we ended up with a few good recommendations this week and none of them break the bank. We have Cram for the Mac at $29.99, Cram for the iPhone/iPod Touch for $3.99, Notebook for $49.99 or $29.99 for students, and inklet and pogo stylus for $29.43 with shipping. Last but not least don’t forget to check out Screencasts online to teach you how to use some of your new apps especially if you are new to the Mac. A membership to www.screencastsonline.com is just $57.00 for three months.

Enjoy your school year, study hard enjoy your Mac, and if you are studying programming on the Mac and think you have a cool app to share with my readers let me know paultscott@gmail.com I will check it out and I just might review it on my blog. Thank-you to SimpleLeap Software for providing me with a copy of Cram to test out for this review. Notebook, inklet and pogo stylus I purchased myself for school and daily use. I have been a fan of Don McAllister and Screencastsonline for some time. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Magic TrackPad & Mac Mini Server

The Apple Magic Trackpad brings the power of the mobile trackpad’s gestures to the Mac Desktop. For years users have struggled with pointing devices on portable machines from the little eraser in the middle of the keyboard to a small trackpad in the palm rest of the keyboard. Many of us carried USB or Bluetooth mice so we could get some work done while we were on the road. Finally in late 2009 when Apple introduced the Unibody Macbook Pro we got a larger trackpad and it was made of glass to make it more pleasant to touch. The buttons were done away with and the whole surface gained a mechanical click. Apple also added gestures beyond just the mere two finger scroll up, down, left, and right. We were treated to pinch, stretch, rotate, and given extra options based on how many fingers were touching the surface just like our iPhones and iPads.
With this leap forward in touch technology many portable Mac users started ignoring the mouse and started enjoying the touch pad and what it could do. Sometimes sitting at a desktop machine we started feeling limited. So just a couple short weeks ago Apple solved that problem by building a stand alone trackpad. The Magic TrackPad is 80% larger than the trackpad built into current laptops. Measuring a whopping 5.2” x 4.3” it gives the user much more surface area to work with. The Magic TrackPad requires OS X 10.6.4 or Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 and works in both 32 and 64 bit versions.
Windows drivers currently only support left and right clicking, as well as scrolling. No other gestures or inertial scrolling support seems to be available at this time. On the Mac I have no problem using the trackpad on the Windows side the control doesn’t feel quiet as fine and I switched back to the Magic Mouse on my Windows PC.
With all of our devices like the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook/Macbook Pro all supporting multi-touch it was just a matter of time before the technology made it to our iMacs, Mac-Mini’s and Mac Pros. The one thing that still feels like it is missing is the ability to use a pen with the Magic TrackPad. This would be a great device to sketch or sign your name if they support pressure sensitivity. Currently there is software for the Macbook Pro allowing you to use the Trackpad as a signature pad with a Pogo Stylus. This should work with the Magic TrackPad as well. I know Steve Jobs isn’t a fan of pens but there are some instances when it might be convenient for using the iPad or Magic TrackPad as a tablet for drawing or signing documents or any other application where fine detail control is required.
Overall I recommend the Magic TrackPad for 99% of tasks. I do sometimes still like to reach for the Magic Mouse as well so having them both hooked up is a perfectly valid choice as well. With Bluetooth we can hook a number of keyboards and other devices and not add extra cables to our setup. Currently on my desktop machine I have an Apple Apple Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard, Apple Magic Mouse, and Apple Magic TrackPad. I am considering adding a SMC Bluetooth Calculator/10 key in case I have to type large amounts of numbers.


Apple Magic Trackpad


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The Mac Mini Server is the newest edition to our network. It is the same size as the older Mac Minis but missing the optical drive. In its place is an extra 500 GB Hard Drive. Allowing the user to use the extra drive as separate storage, a RAID mirror, or concatenate the drives together to make a 1 terabyte drive. We will go into these options in a future post and why you would or wouldn’t want to choose them.
The Mac Mini Server is just as easy to hook up as a traditional Mac however, make sure you have a USB keyboard and mouse handy for the initial setup. The Setup Assistant on OS X 10.6 Server doesn’t work with any bluetooth devices. Hopefully Apple will fix that issue in the near future. Also the Server addition requires the user to type in a long registration key which is not very Apple like at all. I have always enjoyed the fact that I never had to type a serial number to install a copy of OS X. Something Windows users have always had the hassle of dealing with.
The Setup Assistant walks you through all of the things you might like to do with your server like File sharing, email, iCal, Address Book, DNS, Open Directory, Podcast Production, Quicktime Broadcasting, web services, iChat, Software Update, etc. With each one you check off it ads to the questions you will be asked so when you are finished your server is 99% of the way setup. Most users will not need this much power or these services at home. This is more meant for the small business. If you run a small to medium sized business this can get you up and running with your own internal MobileMe services for the price of one server instead of $99.00 per year per user. Plus it gives you the control of your own servers.
The cost to entry for a small business is reasonable at $999.00 with unlimited licenses. A similarly equipped Dell server costs about $800.00 before you add in the cost of the OS which is about $276.99 on Amazon for a 5 client license. For each extra 5 clients you want to add tack on another $166.23.
Snow Leopard server in addition to providing Apple File Protocol (AFP) it also supports Windows SMB sharing, and Unix NFS sharing. OS X also supports Open Directory authentication and Windows Active Directory Authentication so it will play nice with your Macs and your PC’s. The remote admin tools also allow you to totally manage your Mac Mini server from your desktop. This particular feature is of course Mac only.
The Mac servers aren’t quiet the server for the rest of us like the rest of Mac line. It does take some knowledge and experience to set it up. If you are a small business I highly recommend seeking out an experienced Mac consultant or contact your local Apple Store Business Group for assistance. It may take a little more effort to setup up initially but the long term benefit of stability, security, and reliability are worth it.
The Mac mini server is a platform that can grow with your small business and with multiple Mac Minis support clustering of services to give even small users a robust configuration that includes the ability to fail over to a backup server. For larger businesses and more critical systems Apple also makes an XServe that is built for larger corporations to use with redundent power supplies and extra NICs.
For a small business one or two Mac Mini servers with a Drobo file storage solution is a great scalable solution with good redundancy to help reduce downtime and data loss if a drive were to go bad.


Apple Mac mini MC408LL/A Snow Leopar...


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Friday, August 6, 2010

Windows 7 driver update breaking iPads and iPhones

When updating your iPad or iPhone be careful with a possible issue involving driver updates with Windows 7. By default Windows 7 will look for driver updates automatically when connecting a new device. While it is searching for the drivers it will temporarily disconnect the device. If you are updating your iPhone OS or iPad disconnecting the device at that start of the upgrade can corrupt the software update and leave your iPhone or iPad in a state requiring it to be reconnected to iTunes and restored.

If you connect your iOS device frequently to your computer and backup your settings, apps, music, videos, books, etc., you should be fine. When the computer restores it will restore the backup it does right before the installation runs. If however you are upgrading from a computer you don’t backup your device on or for some reason your App syncing isn’t turned on you could lose data.

To make sure WIndows 7 doesn’t disconnect your iOS device during the upgrade follow the steps I have listed below.

 

1.)    Click Start and choose Devices and Printers

2.)    Right Click on the PC Device and choose Device Installation Settings

3.)    Then select No, let me choose what to do.  Select Never install driver software from Windows Update and select save changes.

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This will keep WIndows 7 from disconnecting your USB devices and looking for new drivers when you plug them in. The easier option is of course to use a Mac and it won’t disconnect your device while looking for new drivers.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Updating Apple Software on Windows 7

Since I moved to Windows 7 at work, I am still all Mac at home of course. I have noticed issues with upgrading software. Quicktime, Safari, iTunes, MobileMe Control Panel, and other Apple software doesn’t seem to be able to update with the Windows Apple Software Update Utility. If you get an error message telling you Software Updater can’t update your Windows 7 machine just follow these simple steps to install your programs.

Option 1.) Right click on Apple Software Update and choose properties then click compatibility and check Run this program as an administrator and click Ok. Then open Apple software update and attempt to update your software normally.

Option 2.) Click Tools and choose Open Downloaded Updates Folder. Then run each of the updates that are located in this folder down the list in alphabetical order.

CropperCapture%5B1%5D-2010-07-29-12-17.png

You should be able to install each component one at a time. After that rerun the Apple Software Update utility to verify you have the latest of everything installed. Hopefully after you have done this updates should start installing again at least until Microsoft changes something on Windows 7 again.

CropperCapture%5B3%5D-2010-07-29-12-17.png

Thanks to Tom for mentioning the run as Administrator option. I thought mine was already set but it looks like the Software Update Program being updated clears out the Run as Administrator Option.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

AT&T Reception issues and iPhones future

PastedGraphic-2010-07-25-22-29-2010-07-25-22-29.jpgI live in a city with pretty good AT&T 3G coverage. There are of course a few weak spots but for the most part it works pretty well. That is the most important thing for a phone. If you live in an area where you don’t get good AT&T coverage then the iPhone may not be the phone for you.
Now if you get coverage in most places but lack coverage at home AT&T is experimenting with giving away the http://www.wireless.att.com/learn/why/3gmicrocell/ for your home. You hook up the AT&T mini repeater to your home network and after it gets it’s GPS location and hooks up to AT&T you have a mini tower in your house. AT&T really failed on the initial rollout of these devices and in my opinion still don’t have it right. First they tried to sell them for $150.00 to customers who couldn’t get service at home. Now they are at least starting to give them to customers who can’t get service at home. However buyer beware, while AT&T is using your broadband Internet to hook the Microcell to their network they still charge you for minutes and 3G data usage counts against your data plan.
That is still a pretty big fail on AT&T’s part. One I have to pay for the service which is still over priced, then they may give me the device or make me buy it to get the service I already pay for to work in my home, and finally they charge me for the 3G data which is really using my bandwidth I already pay the cable company for. How many times does AT&T expect us to pay for a single service?
Of course if you are at home you can just put your iPhone on the WiFi network and not use the 3G for data at all. For an extra $20.00 a month you can get unlimited minutes on your Microcell so you don’t get billed for minutes while you are at home using your cell phone. There is also a limit of ten phones that can be paired with the Microcell.
intro-2010-07-25-22-29-2010-07-25-22-29.jpgHowever again they are charging you an extra fee for the right to use your broadband you pay for to help take pressure off their network that is being upgraded too slowly for the customers they are adding. With an increase in customers by 40% and a huge spike in data usage because we are changing how we use our phones, instead of dealing with it AT&T like other carriers in the past just try and discourage the use of their network by raising rates or adding data caps. Users want access to their content where ever and whenever and with cloud services like MobileMe and GMail keeping our phones backed up and in sync with our computers over the air we are just going to keep using more and more data. It is time the carriers pulled their heads out of the sand and started building out their networks faster to deal with future growth.
Placement of Cell Towers has long been a problem in the US. Compared to Europe we place our towers farther apart and some cities restrict their height and appearance so as not to be an eye sore. That comes as a cost to the end customer though in weaker signals and inferior service. Some HOA’s won’t allow cell towers to be put in their neighborhoods at all so some neighborhoods in Las Vegas only have minimal coverage if any at all because the towers are just too far away. So while part of the blame does rest with cell carriers who are more interested in profits than a top notch network part of the problem lies with local laws and ordinances that keep the companies from putting some towers up in the first place.
The Infinion radios in iPhone were designed for European market despite AT&T objection where the towers are closer and it is easier to get a strong signal. The latest radio in the iPhone 4 has improved sensitivity so that they perform better in an environment where cell sites are more sparse. The increased sensitivity is of course being marred by the detuning issue some users have experienced with their iPhones that I talked about last week in my Antenna Gate article.
If you get a weak signal in your home from AT&T you now have a choice and can use an iPhone if you wish. HOA’s that do not want large cell towers but want service should be working with carriers to create solutions that will meet the needs of the carriers customers and not make the neighborhood look bad. Why not a mesh of antennas on light poles painted to match the pole, or more palm tree towers and other towers that are designed to look like indigenous trees. It isn’t perfect but they blend fairly well.
tree-2010-07-25-22-29-2010-07-25-22-29.jpg
Carriers need to move on to the next generation of cell technology like LTE and build out very robust networks that can stand up to the high data usage demands of our modern world and let go of the old ways of doing things like holding back the users. Wired magazine just published a story last week about the strained relationship between Apple and AT&T that illustrates AT&T’s old idea’s brilliantly and how Apple has changed the rules of the game to the benefit of not just their customers but all customers by showing the handset manufactures they do not have to hobble their phones because the carrier asked them too.
The best thing Apple could do with the iPhone now is to make it available on T-Mobile and Verizon as soon as possible. It will help sales of the already smash hit iPhone and give consumers a choice of carrier. It will also spread the data load out across all carriers giving all carriers a chance to share in some of the pain. Pundits in the UK have talked about their five carriers they can choose from on their iPhone and plans that are customized for those that are data usage heavy or use a lot of minutes talking on the phone. That is what we were supposed to have here in the US due to the free market system. However handset manufactures signed exclusive deals with carriers to get their phone on the carrier and then we are stuck with a carrier we don’t like and a handset we love or a phone we don’t care for on a carrier we like. Few people if anyone get what they want.
Hopefully someday soon like in Europe we will be able to pick our handset and pick our carrier and have real choice. Then we will see who makes the quality handsets and who are the best carriers when users get to choose both independently.
If you like AT&T and your iPhone and live in a good coverage area like I do good for you. If you get weak coverage at home but do ok in other areas then take a look at a Microcell from AT&T. If you live in an area plagued by poor AT&T coverage or travel outside of AT&T’s coverage area frequently then for now the iPhone isn’t the phone for you. Write Apple and ask them to open the phone up to other carriers. Hopefully that will be happening soon and recent surveys indicate that millions more customers would buy an iPhone if only it were available on T-Mobile or Verizon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Antenna Gate

201283-jobs-iphone4-flaw_original.jpgOk, I watched the press conference last week and I have been using an iPhone for 26 days now.  I have spent half of that time with and without the bumper case on my phone to see if I can tell a difference.  Remember I upgraded from an iPhone 3G to the iPhone 4 so the extra processor speed, upgraded display, upgraded storage, memory, cameras, and design made the new iPhone 4 a huge step up from my old phone.  So after one month of use how does the new phone stack up and is the antenna issue really an issue at all?
First I can say with our without the bumper I drop fewer calls than I did with the iPhone 3G.  I have to date only dropped 2 calls.  Which is far better than I have had in the past or with other carriers.  Now there happens to be an AT&T cell tower close to my home and our office has repeaters in the building.  Most of the time when I am out and about I notice I get between three and five bars with the new algorithm Apple included in the iOS 4.0.1 upgrade.  

As a side note if you are on a 3G or 3Gs iPhone I highly recommend upgrading to iOS 4.0.1, it makes the phone much faster than the 4.0 upgrade was except for loading text messages seems to be a little slow still but the email issues have been resolved and virtual keyboard lag was resolved.  

I live in a city with pretty good AT&T 3G coverage.  There are of course a few weak spots but for the most part it works pretty well.  That is the most important thing for a phone.  If you live in an area where you don’t get good AT&T coverage then the iPhone may not be the phone for you.  I will go in depth next week on this topic and options for iPhone users that live in weaker coverage areas. 

So Apple introduced the iPhone 4 with new features like an external antenna built into the metal band around the phone.  They introduced a more sensitive radio chip that can pick up weaker signals than the previous iPhones.  They attempted to make the iPhone a better phone and for the most part succeeded but there were a few people who complained loud about the external antenna and now that Apple has seen a string of successful products the media seems to be dying to see them fail at something.  A Microsoft exec even went so far as to call iPhone 4 Apple’s Vista.  Well, the difference between Vista and iPhone 4 is of course people are buying the iPhone 4.  

Is there signal attenuation when you cover the phone with your hand?  The so called iPhone death grip.  Yes, the signal does drop from reports about 20 db.  Now at home or in most locations where I have five bars it doesn’t impact me at all.  I have never dropped a call because of how I was holding the phone.  If I am in a weaker signal location where I am getting say three bars I might drop to one bar.  But I can still make and receive calls.  

The bars on a phone are a throw back to the days of analog phones when they told you how strong a signal you were receiving.  It would tell you if your call was going to be clear or if you might have a lot of static in your call.  Today all of our calls are digital just 1’s and 0’s.  The important predictor of completing a call successfully is the bit error rate (BER) which isn’t displayed on the phone at all.  I am not saying the bars are useless they do give you a little information.  How strong is the signal coming in gives you a rough prediction of your call quality over time.  If you have five bars you are less likely to drop the call than if you have only one or two bars.  Also if you have five bars you will use less battery power than if you only have one bar.  GSM phones will increase or decrease their output power based on the strength of the incoming signal in order to save battery power.  

The important thing is it’s not the number of bars that are the most important thing, it is do you have good coverage in the area you want to use your phone and can you complete those calls?  Testing has indicated the iPhone does a better job of pulling in a weak signal and making it usable than its predecessor that coupled with the detuning of the antenna when you hold it in your hand could account for a slight increase in dropped calls.  Fewer people using cases can as well.  

Apple has offered free bumper cases through September 30th and refunds to all users who bought a bumper for their iPhone 4 to make up for the issue.  They are reevaluating at the end of September to decide what the permanent fix should be or to keep giving away the bumpers.  Rumors seem to indicate they are looking at a process to Anodize the bands to put a layer of insulation between the users hand and the antenna to solve the problem.  

Why didn’t Apple see this in their early testing?  Well for one look how phones are tested in a testing chamber.  They are usually clamped into holder and held out in the room and tested.  When a human test subject is used to test the phone how are they holding the phone?  Do they tests different grips and left or right-handedness?  I bet they will start doing that now if they haven’t in the past.  

When the iPhones were field tested they were placed in cases to make them look like 3Gs phones so the users field testing never came in contact with the antennas when they are off campus .  On the Apple campus they have AT&T and Verizon towers right there so a strong signal you don’t see the attenuation problem.  So it is possible they didn’t really know about it until there were over a million phones in the field and they started getting data back from AT&T about dropped call rates.  It is also possible they knew but didn’t think it would be a big issue until the phone was in users hands.  Either way Apple is taking steps to deal with it now.  By offering full refunds within 30 days to those who aren’t happy so far the return rate has been about 1.7%.  They have also offered the free bumpers to customers as an option as well.  

RIM, Nokia, and Motorola weighed in on Monday criticizing Apple for dragging them into the issue by demoing the same affect on other phones and denying their phones suffered the same problem the iPhone does.  

First Nokia includes instructions on their phones how to hold it properly for the best reception.  While their PR people say they put antenna design above all other considerations when designing a phone.  Second a good friend of mine has a Droid phone and was suffering from dropped calls.  She asked me about this antenna issue and I was explaining where the antenna is located on her phone and she happened to mention she gets a lot of dropped calls and happens to hold her phone at the bottom where the antenna is located.  As an experiment she tried modifying her grip on the phone and she has not been dropping calls since.  So any company that says they do not have a problem with reception based on how you hold the phone is full of it.  This is a problem with physics and short of moving back to a mast type of antenna nothing is going to completely solve the issue yet.  The first Star-Tac cell phones had a pull up antenna and the engineers knowing some people wouldn’t extend the antenna installed a helical antenna inside the phone and a switch on the antenna.  If the mast was extended the mast antenna would be used and the helical turned off.  If the mast wasn’t extended the helical would be used instead.    

Every cell phone is a radio with an antenna and software to connect to a network of towers.  It is a complex process that few including myself fully understand and it is a miracle it works for the most part.  The iPhone is an excellent phone and if you live in a good AT&T coverage area a competent device.  If you don’t have good AT&T coverage it might not be the best phone for you.  

So long to the Microsoft Kin after only being out about a month Microsoft killed it off due to poor sales we hardly new ye.  So long also to the Google G1 Phone Google just announced this last week it is going away with no plans for a G2 replacement, that is disappointing.  So long Droid and hello Droid X  it seems like you were only around about 8 months before being replaced.  Thanks to Apple for kicking off a mobile computing revolution and thanks to Android and the others for keeping Apple pushing forward and improving the technology.  This is truly an exciting time to witness the advances in technology and I can only imagine what the next five to ten years will bring.

As far as Antenna Gate goes, if you like your iPhone get one, it is a great upgrade.  If you like your Droid or G1 and don’t want to deal with AT&T stick with what you have.  If you have a Palm Pre, well I would look for a better phone perhaps check out the HTC Evo if you are in one of the few areas with 4G coverage.  If you can live with AT&T and you want a great easy to use smart phone then come on over to the iPhone we have lot’s of great apps and all the iPhone owners are always happy to share their favorite apps and talk with a fellow iPhone owner and Apple strives to keep their customers happy despite having to use AT&T as a carrier.    

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blogging on the Mac

Blogging on the Mac can be as simple or as complex as you choose it to be. Blogging can be a lot of fun and a truly rewarding experience. The first thing you have to decide is what you want to blog about. Pick something that is interesting to you and that you can write about on a regular basis. It took me some time to learn this important tidbit. Regular blogging is very important to getting repeat visitors to your site. My first six months of blogging I could have lunch with all of my readers because I wasn’t writing on a regular basis. As soon as I set a deadline for myself and started sticking to it I saw an immediate increase in traffic.
I started off by purchasing a domain name through godaddy.com. www.macguy.info serves as my home page and blog.macguy.info is redirected to paulmacguyscott.blogspot.com where my blog is hosted. Next step was to signup for blogger using my gmail account. Once I had the blog site setup and configured the way I wanted it to look I setup blog.macguy.info to redirect to my blog page.
Next to see what kind of traffic I am getting I went to Analytics.google.com and setup an analytics account so I can see how many hits a day I am getting, how my visitors are finding me and what country they are from. This is just of interest to me and it is only very general information but it gives me an idea of who comes to my site and sometimes what pages they are visiting.
Really the best source of feedback is comments on the blog itself, emails, or tweets I get from my readers. Some of them even give me ideas for future posts. As a part of regular posting process I started planning what topics I am going to write on ahead of time. Currently I build my schedule about two months out. I plan topics around certain dates that might be relevant. A review of study software in August right before students go back to school, or a look back on technology when a company hits a mile stone anniversary. Of course sometimes I shuffle things around if a big story breaks or an important issue comes up that needs to be covered.
Planning these ahead of time allows me to start researching and writing ahead of time as well. I can start putting my notes together or interesting bits I think of I want to write in file so i can keep track of it when I am ready to write it. I am also trying to write several articles a week and hold them until it is time to publish so taking a vacation or being busy with my day job doesn’t throw me off my scheduled posts.
Another option when news breaks is to just add an extra story for the week to my blog. Since this is all digital I don’t have to worry about a real deadline or how much space I take up. I can always add a bonus story if I like or just move the schedule around. Currently I plan about two months in advance what I plan to write so currently I just move stories around, eventually I might add extra stories to the blog as I have more time to write.
After the first few months of writing my blog in the web based editor on blogger I decided I wanted a better way to post. So I started looking at different programs that might help me focus on my writing and post my stories. I settled on MacJournal from http://marinersoftware.com/sitepage.php?page=85. It is a nice software priced at $39.95 and versatile. In addition to being linkable to several blogging platforms like Blogger, Word Press, Type Pad, and Live Journal you can create private encrypted journals to share your personal thoughts and writings for just yourself or perhaps a memoir for the future.
MacJournal lets me keep a local copy of all of my blog entries so I have a copy on blogger and a copy on my laptop that is also backed up to Time Machine and Mobile Me. For those keeping score that is four copies of my writing in three different locations on two different kinds of media. In a future post I will do a piece on backing up in depth.
MacJournal also allows you to add your tags and set publishing dates right in the Inspector. This saves time when uploading your blog post. You configure your site settings under share and when it comes time to post your blog you just click share, Send To “Name of your blog here” and it uploads and shows you the page in Safari once it is loaded. The only weak point I have seen with MacJournal so far has been it can’t upload images to Blogger. Any images I add to my blog I have to do on the web after I have uploaded the story. I hope this is something that can be fixed in a future revision. Once I have uploaded the images I can re download the story into blogger and update my local copy and it does download the images just fine although it doesn’t hold the formatting as it is displayed on the web.
If I am traveling and have a need to post in my blog I use BlogPress on my iPad and iPhone. http://blogpress.coollittlethings.com/ This is a great piece of software that allows me to blog while away form home. In April i wrote a story reviewing the iPad while on a cross country flight. Since the plane had WiFi I was able to write my story and post it right from plane. Writing a 2,000 word review of the iPad on the iPad was a good experience and one that showed me short of software development I didn’t really need to carry my laptop with me anymore if I was only going a few days. Now with Remote Access software I hardly ever have to carry my laptop anymore unless I just want to for some reason or I need to sync my iPad with my computer. BlogPress syncs right up with blogger and was the first iPad Blogging tool available on the app store. I just open it up and start typing. I even can add images right to blogger from the iPad. At the time there was on editing software for photos on the iPad so I wasn’t able to rotate the image the way I wanted the screen shot to look but it worked in a pinch.
If I don’t have my iPad with me but I am carrying my iPhone BlogPress runs on the iPhone as well. Now I can take pictures and write a story right in the field. With a Bluetooth keyboard it is easy to write from the iPhone. So now I can take my writing with me wherever I go. BlogPress will even let you save movies to your YouTube Account and link them to your blog. So no we can do pictures, movies, and text all live from wherever we are.
I blog because I like to write and I like to share information with people. I get a great deal of satisfaction knowing people are reading what I write and getting something out of it. For that I want to thank each and every one of you for visiting my blog and enjoying and learning from what I have written. Please keep the comments, tweets, emails, and Facebook posts coming. I couldn’t do what I do without you all.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review of Maccsessorized

For those of you looking for a little Apple Geek bling look no further than our friends at Maccessorized. Maccessorized has a wide variety of Apple logo wear from t-shirts to dress shirts, messenger bags for your 15” and smaller Mac laptop, umbrellas and other Apple accessories. They give prompt service and ship orders quickly and the staff is friendly should you have to email them for anything. The shirts i ordered were high quality twill dress shirts that are very comfortable to wear with the Apple logo sewn on. The messenger bag is durable and has a padded pocket for your laptop and comes in four different colors. Maccessorized carries an array of bags in different styles to suit almost any taste. If you plan to carry a laptop in a bag make sure it lists the maximum size laptop the bag can hold and that it has a padded pocket to protect your laptop when traveling.

The website is easy to navigate and see what you are ordering as well as for completing your order. They include a review section so you can share with other prospective buyers your thoughts on the products you have ordered. They have a 30 day return policy for unopened items if you change your mind about an item you have ordered.

So if you are looking for some logo wear for your favorite computer, smartphone, tablet computer, or want to find some chic geek wear for your favorite Mac lover look no further than Macccessoried.com for your Mac wear needs. Don’t forget to Like Maccessoriezed on Facebook when you visit their site and share with your friends.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

iPhone 4 First Look

In 2007 Apple changed the smart phone market with the first iPhone. In 2008 they revised the iPhone and rolled out the App Store and developers responded by creating more than 200,000 applications to date. in 2009 the iPhone added video recording, got faster, more memory and a few other new features but nothing earth shattering. Now in 2010 Apple really did redefine the smart phone market again with iPhone 4.

The first thing you notice on the iPhone 4 is the weight of the handset when you first pick it up. The weight feels perfect it is more of a substantial tool than just another phone. The glass and metal looks like art, the feel is solid, and it is very comfortable in your hand.

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The first thing you notice when turning the phone on is the new Retina Display is stunning. The higher resolution and In Plane Switching LED display lights up fast and is very bright even in direct sunlight making it easy to read. The 326 pixels per inch make the pixels so small most people can’t see them and images and text look like laser prints instead of images on a screen. None of the online photos did justice to the clarity of this new display. So far no other smart phone maker is using a screen with this many pixels per inch.

Once you swipe your finger to unlock the phone you get a feel for the speed of the A4 processor and the benefit of putting 512 Megabytes of RAM into the phone. While we didn’t see an expected jump in storage capacity the extra speed makes the phone far more capable than it’s predecessors. Even the 3G and WiFi is faster on this new phone requiring you to wait less time to download information and there is plenty of room for network performance to improve as AT&T upgrades its network.

Pictures and Video are amazing on this phone putting it nearly on par with higher resolution point and shoot cameras. The 5 megapixel sensor using larger pixels making it more sensitive to light takes great photos in lower light conditions and the bright LED flash on the camera helps with even the lowest lighting situations. More megapixels doesn’t always mean better images just bigger files. The camera can also shoot very clear 720p HD video so you can now leave the Flip cameras at home and use your iPhone to shoot, edit and upload videos right from your phone. If you are going to be shooting longer videos you may still want to bring the FlipHD camera along so you don’t use up all of your storage on your phone. With Music, HD Movies, Data, applications, books, PDF’s and Podcasts it seems as though the 32 Gigs of storage goes pretty quick.

The larger battery and more efficient A4 processor has helped the iPhone 4 battery life quiet a bit. Despite the fact I use the phone more and for longer periods of time I can make it through an entire day and not have to recharge the phone. Under very heavy usage on a Friday I got about 15 hours of usage before needing to recharge. Some of that time was a 2.5 hour Plants vs. Zombies marathon. On Saturday I spent a lot of time on the phone and using bluetooth as well as watching videos and showing off the phone to friends and I got another 15 hours of usage and without the gaming marathon the battery still had about 30% charge remaining when I started recharging it. I didn’t get the kind of battery life Engaget described but I had the bluetooth, wifi, 3G all turned on. With a little power management or just recharging while I am in my car or at my desk I don’t think battery life will ever be a problem again for the iPhone.

There has been some controversy surrounding the iPhones new antenna built into the frame of the phone and the talked about iPhone “Death Grip” that supposedly makes you drop calls. First I tested this at home with the bumper case removed from my phone and was unable to duplicate the issue. I live in a neighborhood that is close to an AT&T cell tower and I get 5 bars no matter what I do in the house. If I move to a location where I only have three bars and try this I do see a drop in signal strength but I am not sure if it is because of how I am holding the phone or other factors in the environment that might be influencing the phone. This isn’t a new phenomenon. All cell phones loose reception when you cover the antenna with something that can block signals like your hand or your head. To make sure I don’t have a problem and to protect my phones glass surfaces I opted for the Bumper case and in four days of using my iPhone I haven’t had a dropped call yet which says a lot since that has been a problem with AT&T for many years.

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With iOS 4 on the iPhone we now have multitasking. While for the last couple of years I didn’t think I needed multi-tasking it is again a time saver. Saving the state of the application when I switch to something else and letting me come back right to where I was when I return saves me time in waiting for the application to be ready to go again and doesn’t compromise battery life. Also adding folders allows us to install more applications on our phones without loosing having some applications only available through a spotlight search. Initially the iPhone could support 144 applications. Then iPhone OS 3 came out and we could go up to 176 applications plus the ones that didn’t fit on a screen could be accessed from Spotlight. Now with folders we can have 2,112 applications visible on our phones. Again if you have more than that first of all how do you use them all and second you can find the ones not visible through a folder in Spotlight.

The background images you can choose for your lock screen and your desktop really give you something nice to look at while you are using your phone.

One of the most compelling and phone new features got a lot of ridicule from the tech and blog community when it was first announced and everyone criticized and said “who would want to video conference from your phone?” But now we have Face Time. While you are on a WiFi network you can call another iPhone 4 user and see them face to face and carry on a conversation with that person. It is great to see someone when you are talking to them and over WiFi the video is clear and the audio quality is excellent. You can even switch from the front to the rear camera at the touch of a button to show the caller what you are seeing or press it again so they can see you. The era of the Jetson’s have arrived. While we still don’t have our flying cars we do finally have an easy to use video chat. Apple has submitted Face Time to become an open standard and already relies on other open standard protocols to work. Now Apple needs to make Face Time work not with just iPhone4 but with iChat AV and encourage other vendors like Skype, AIM, Microsoft, and others to adopt Face Time as a standard and use an Open Directory system to allow us to talk with one another.

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The potential for our communication to be revolutionized if anyone, anywhere and see and hear each other anytime, whether we are at our computers on our desks, our laptops in a cafe, or our iPhones at the beach. To be able to look someone in the eye and have a conversation even if they are thousands of miles away is a very powerful tool. Plus when you look our caller in the eye you know they are paying attention and not distracted by one of the many other devices that now vie for our attention in our lives today.

iBooks now runs on iOS4 and on the Retina Display on the iPhone4 it is easy to sit and read a book while having lunch or standing in line. The text is so clear and easy to read even at smaller font sizes it is no problem to look at the screen for long periods. When I got my first Amazon Kindle last year I started reading more because it was easy to carry several books around in a small lightweight device. A year later the iPad was introduced and then I could do far more than just read books and now with the iPhone supporting iBooks I can read anytime anywhere even if I didn’t bring my Kindle or iPad along with me. I can open any electronic book in my library read a few pages and when I get back to my Kindle or iPad they update to the most current page I have read and I can pickup where I left off. Just like with Podcasts, Movies, and AudioBooks on iTunes, iPad, and iPhone.

In short the iPhone4 has revolutionized Smart Phones and mobile communications again and it will likely be sometime before handset manufactures catch up to Apple again. By then who knows what will be coming next but stay tuned and we will find out.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Safari 5


Today we will take a look at the new Safari 5 Web Browser from Apple. It was released on June 7th just hours after the Mac World Developers Conference Keynote had wrapped up. The Safari 5 update is also included in the OS X 10.6.4 update that was released on June 15th.
Safari 5 is not a significant change from Safari 4 only adding a few new features. The first big feature is Safari Reader which allows you to click the Reader button in the address bar to strip out ads and put articles that are spanned across multiple pages on a single page. This is a great feature for users to make large articles more easily readable although I imagine advertisers won’t care for it too much.
Safari 5 has added additional support for HTML5 making it the most HTML5 compliant browser and the only browser that is fully ACID3 compliant. The new Nitro JavaScript Engine makes Safari faster than the previous version. Safari and Google Chrome are close to one another in performance followed by Firefox and of course the slowest of main stream web browsers is Internet Explorer.
Safari has added Bing to the list of browsers you can select for your default search in the toolbar. Smarter searching in the address bar was added so if you type any word that appears in an address or in the title of the site that is in your history or bookmarks it is displayed in a drop down for you to select. Safari has also added a new feature under tabs that allows you to decide if you want to open pages in tabs Always, Automatically or Never. Opening in a tab always or never is pretty self explanatory the Automatically however was a little less clear. According to the Safari Help files the Automatic setting will open all windows in a new tab unless that windows is formatted to open in a separate window.
The biggest feature will take sometime for us to start seeing in the Safari 5. Safari 5 now includes Extensions. The Extensions are signed and Sandboxed to protect your computer data from access and the signatures assure you that the extension came from a specific developer. Apple plans to open a gallery later this summer with developers extensions available for people to customize their browsers.
Currently the functionality is a bit hidden, first you must click Safari, Preferences, Advanced, and check the Show Develop menu in menu bar. Once you have done that click Develop in the menu bar and choose Enable Extensions. Once you have done that the Extensions button appears in the Preferences Pane.
Signing up to be part of the Safari Extension Developers program is free and each developer gets a digital certificate so we can be sure the code hasn’t been tampered with and comes from the developer who signed the code.
A couple other cool new features includes right clicking on the title bar text will give you a look back at the pages you visited in that particular tab and allow you to select one of the previous pages to jump back to it. The other improved feature of Safari is the improved web inspector that now includes timelines. This shows someone who is testing a web page or a developer who is writing a web page when HTML or Java Script is being rendered and how long it takes in a graphical format so you can really see what your pages are doing and what order they are rendering in.
The new version of Webkit 2 hasn’t been included in Safari yet as apparently they do not feel it is ready for prime time yet. It should be coming in the future providing even faster rendering a splitting the webkit process from the web processes to allow faster and more secure execution of code. This is what allows Google Chrome to give each tab its own process and one tab crashing doesn’t impact any of the others.
Overall the new browser is fast, stable and seems to do a good job rendering content. I can’t wait to see what developers come up with in the way of extensions to enhance the Safari browsing experience.