Hardware Stability

The iPad

iPad 1.0 — an oversized iPhone without the phone call capabilities

After Apple's usual fanfare on 27 January 2010 in San Francisco over what is effectively looking like an oversized iPhone device known as the iPad, the device was put on sale to US customers on 3 April 2010 and late March for the rest of the world.

Essentially a tablet to revive the old Newton handheld device but with a much bigger full-colour screen, market research by Apple suggested people were already trying to read eBooks on iPod Touch and iPhones. Also digital picture frames were becoming the rage for average consumers. So it seemed a logical progression for Apple was to make a larger version to create what is effectively a proper eBook device with a digital picture frame design. Covered with a glass touch screen surface and slightly smaller than US Letter (approximately 19cm in width by 24cm in height and a respectable 1cm at its thickest point), it has the ability to transform the way we read books and enjoy family photos on the mantlepiece. This is especially true when it comes to watching movies and listening to sounds directly inside the eBook so long as the battery is long lasting and requires very little time to recharge (should be solar-powered by now).

Image from AFP.

It would appear Mr Steve Jobs is primarily looking to test the idea of an eBook in the marketplace and whether people would do away with traditional books in paper form. If this was the intention, Jobs could be on a winner. Just three factors are needed to make the eBook a true success:

  1. The device must be extremely robust.
  2. The device must be virtually scratchproof.
  3. The device must have a battery life that lasts a very long time (we recommended a minimum of 24 hours of continuous use) and be quick to recharge.
  4. The device must be lightweight and easy to carry around.
  5. The device has to be cheap enough for people to buy and so reduce the chances of being stolen (i.e., even the poor can afford it, or at least some form of a subsidy from the government).

Just on the issue of battery life alone, we know people are interested in reading eBooks on, say, long overseas flights, so a battery life lasting at least 24 hours would be highly recommended.

Come to think of it, why didn't Apple call it the eBook? Perhaps Adobe has already registered the name, in which case Apple was probably forced to use the iPad name instead. A rather unfortunate name as some commentators are seeing the term as similar to iTampon because of the word "pad" (perhaps a sophisticated tampon dispensing machine?). Or what about the iBook? Oops! Apple had already used that name before in an old model laptop (i.e the PPC variety). Okay. Even a name like iTablet would probably give impressions to people of a sophisticated drug dispensing machine. So what about iRead? It sounds pretty harmless and explains exactly what it is used for. Unfortunately Apple is usually stuck in its ways once Jobs settles on a name, so the iPad will have to do. Never mind. It's not in the name, rather its the device itself that matters most.

NOTE: A competitor has managed to call their eBook reader the iRiver eBook Reader. Perhaps Apple is seeing a greater use for the iPad beyond the standard eBook reader?

At any rate, the biggest market will probably be in the education sector. Here we have a sorry state of affairs with numerous students having to carry around a large number of books inside backpacks. Why? So they can presumably do a lot of reading as part of their homework and completing assignments (i.e. to learn). But the biggest problem is that students are walking around with some form of damage to their backs as medical professionals express their concern at the amount of weight students have to carry on their growing and developing spines. The availability of the iPad should, however, change this forever so long as older people running the schools are quick to adopt the latest technology and the price Apple has set for this device is as low as possible for the students and teachers.

Actually, set the education pricing to less than half the full retail price (certainly no more than US$700 rrp, so roughly US$250-$350 for students) and it should provide the impetus to transform the classroom into a purely digital environment. In this way, students can transfer documents and ideas electronically to other students, students can hand in completed assignments electronically to the teachers, teachers can electronically provide to students handouts and chapters from eBooks for reading and doing assignments, and both teachers and students can plug the iPad into other technologies that allows them to deliver an outstanding presentation. And, of course, students should be able to write on it too.

Surely this would have to be the next logical progression.

Specifications on the iPad for its initial release include the following:

  1. A full capacitive multitouch LCD backlit LED screen with a wide viewing angle. Maximum resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels.
  2. An aluminium casing (not described as unibody, suggesting the casing could be subject to easy damage unless the device is extremely lightweight).
  3. Buttons on the side to control volume, and to power up or put to sleep the device.
  4. A 30-pin connector for attaching computers to it (probably to use it as an alternative storage and/or external display device). But you'll need a dock adapter for video output (no HDMI) and you'll be restricted in output resolution to 480p.
  5. A 1 GHz microprocessor chip called "A4" (what's in a name these days?).
  6. A hopefully more durable graphics processing chip that will last the distance (only time will tell in this regard).
  7. Built-in RAM and storage unit ranging from 16 to 64GB.
  8. Wireless unencrypted connectivity via BlueTooth 2.1 with Enhanced Data Rate technologies as well as 802.11 a/b/g/h Wi-Fi (the first model to be released). The more expensive iPad will come with 3G cellular connectivity (to be released in late April 2010).
  9. Single in-built speaker (hopefully the headphone jack is in stereo).
  10. And a maximum of 10 hours of use (including running movies) per charge with a 1 month standby time if not used for that period of time.
  11. Built-in compass (used in conjunction with GPS for pinpointing your position).

And if the device performs a lot of graphics intensive work such as displaying movies, it would double as a heater during those cold wintery nights.

A pity it doesn't come in vibrate mode.

The basic model estimated to cost around the US$500 mark will probably come with just 16GB. The top-of-the-range deluxe model will come with 64GB and perhaps the option added for 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi wireless communication and can also tap into the 3G wireless network used by mobile phones (available in May 2010, to help get rid of the earlier iPad basic models). But it won't be to allow users to make phone calls. Instead the iPad will probably be designed to receive data (for sending and receiving emails and general internal access) and send back user information such as the GPS location with the device's built-in digital compass and triangulation method between receiving towers (service provided by AT&T and will set you back an additional US$14.99 per month for 250MB of data).

The highest price will probably reach around the US$829 mark.

And one fancy feature: it will behave like a digital picture frame for all the photos stored on the iPad when docked in the charging station.

As with all newly introduced technologies, it is important to let the early technology adopters take the device through its lifecycle and put it through its paces before Apple decides to make improvements in version 2.0 (or even 3.0 as the case may be).

The most logical improvements will be in maximising the memory/storage area, making wireless communication a standard feature and with encryption, better video output capabilities, and a longer battery time. And it would be good to have infrared so you can turn the iPad into a universal remote for all those multimedia devices in the home. Put on a forward-facing webcam and microphone with proper phone calling capabilities and you could put it on a stand and replace the standard phone. You now have the videophone! Purchase a decent keyboard and mouse for it and you may be able to run Apple iWorks. But it isn't a totally effective computer. Somehow it needs to do more as the competitors already have devices such as Archos 9 that is effectively a computer with the ability to run Microsoft Office and other PC software. Add a few more minor changes and Apple's iPad could be left in the dark.

Apple could have made the iPad a truly powerful and useful device for people who aren't computer nerds. As always, we have to wait at least version or two later before we all can benefit from the ultimate personal electronic product of the 21st century.

It is starting to look like Mr Jobs could be whetting the consumer appetite and at the same time testing the market through a basic iPad model just to see what the reaction is. The iPad in its current form could be relying heavily on a fancy software (i.e. a sense of fluidity and smoothness in the transition between photos, turning pages in a book and so on) so as to make the experience of reading books and looking at photos and movies appear delightful and interesting. Perhaps this is all that the average person on the street would ever need?

As for the nerdy guy and those wanting more from the iPad, only when the abovementioned improvements are in would this be the moment to take a more serious look at Apple's latest offering to the market.

6 March 2010

Peter Misek, an analyst with Canaccord Adams, claimed earlier in the week of a minor delay of the iPad due to "an unspecified production problem" at a Taiwanese manufacturing plant contracted by Apple to produce the iPad. Probably nothing more than someone forgetting to plug the power to start the manufacturing process.

But already some are suggesting to wait until the next generation before buying. As one seasoned Mac user said:

"I'll wait for the next generation to come out." (Aimonetti, Joe. Apple's iPad available April 3, no apparent shipping delays: CNET News. 5 March 2010.)

We hope this isn't necessary (so long as Apple puts in enough features and is reliable and study enough for everyday use to make the iPad a worthwhile buy).

12 March 2010

Apple is anticipating possible battery problems during the standard 12-month warranty period where the charge is not being maintained at the right level for a long enough period of time when fully charged. If you experience this situation with the battery inside your iPad, please visit your local Apple reseller and explain the situation. Be aware there could be a cost should Apple have to replace the entire iPad (suggesting the battery is permanently soldered into the circuit board). Any replacement of the iPad will attract a US$99. But compared to the full retail price for the iPad, Apple thinks it is reasonable for users to pay.

But if it is under warranty, you should not have to pay for an iPad replacement. If the battery is not of "merchantable quality" in the sense the charge is not holding properly (compared to other iPads), the iPad is within the standard warranty period, and the battery is fixed permanently into the iPad, you should be entitled to a replacement of the battery/iPad for free. If Apple chooses to design an iPad that forces the battery to be soldered to the circuit board and replacement of the battery involves replacement of the iPad, then so be it. But it should not be at any additional cost to you. Apply your rights as a consumer should you encounter this problem within the warranty period and you are asked to pay extra.

Be careful though. Apple has a long list of exceptions to the rule of replacing iPads/batteries. These include:

This could mean Apple may use any excuse in the list to either not perform the replacement under warranty free-of-charge, or convince you that you should pay.

7 April 2010

Some commentators are claiming the iPad could do away with the mouse and potentially the keyboard as well. Yes, potentially it can. But how many fast typists would be willing to give up a quality external keyboard for an iPad? Imagine the OH&S issues regarding the position of the neck to read the screen (unless you are a really good touch typist and don't need to look at the screen).

As for the mouse, the following quote from a user would probably just about settle any thoughts on the issue:

"I would rather use a mouse than get fingerprints on my screen, especially if I'm eating a danish." (Ackerman, Dan. R.I.P. the computer mouse, 1972-2010: CNET.com. 7 April 2010.)

Hmmm? What's that brown smudge on the screen? I hope it's just chocolate.

Some of the reasons why schools are slow to make the transition towards a near paperless high-tech school

Most teachers understand the benefits technology can bring to students. When it is easy to set up, integrates seamlessly with other technology (preferably wirelessly) and has the right features, technology can deliver current human knowledge rapidly to a large number of students in a format that is well-designed, intuitive to use, and can give students the opportunity to interact and engage with the information in an enjoyable way. And when students enjoy what they do, they see the value of educating themselves in areas of interest to them.

However the biggest problem in getting schools to embrace the right technology as a fundamental medium for gathering, organising, delivering and learning new ideas is the cost of getting the technology and the time to prepare the digital information.

On the cost front, purchasing a decent a computer with good software for virtually every teacher and student is expensive. Whereas teachers have additional obstacles to overcome including:

  1. Some older teachers don't feel comfortable with computers and even intimidating if the technology is too complicated;
  2. A typical annual school budget consisting of either parent school fees and/or government funding is either limited or directed towards areas where facilities are already inadequate or degraded, with little money remaining for the IT department.
  3. Computers made available to teachers usually look cheap and nasty with small (i.e. not wide enough) screens, making it difficult to simultaneously read, compare and extract relevant digital educational information and prepare the materials for students (instead teachers prefer to print the materials from books and web sites and hand them out to students).
  4. Teachers are rarely given the opportunity to receive overtime pay as an incentive to spend the time to convert all their material into digital form and/or extract the relevant information and turn it into a world-class and interesting presentation that engages students to learn and help them to continue the learning process through their own research.
  5. A fear to make substantial changes to the school in terms of new technology to achieve the long-term benefits because it is more comfortable to continue doing the same things as teachers and school management have always done.

To elaborate on point 4, it is not unusual for teachers to be given an ordinary salary on the proviso that they perform an extraordinary job for the students. There is usually no overtime pay as school management often complains there is not enough money (usually an excuse). All the while, school management are hoping teachers will embrace new technology in their own time by purchasing their own computers and spend the necessary time during the school holidays to prepare and get their materials in digital form and with good presentation. But as teachers are often too tired at the end of a school day and have little time to prepare (except during school holidays and even then they value family life and quiet enjoyment after a busy term), there is no incentive to prepare digital information. And their low salaries do not make it easy to get quality computers and equipment to do the job whereas the technology facility at schools are of a poor standard.

Instead teachers are expected to do their work and survive on the ordinary salary rates they are given while governments, business professionals, and school management expect to see teachers deliver the best teaching methods and information to students.

As a result, school management is usually on the hunt to find other avenues to save money such as getting staff to multiskill and do more work — both volunteer and as part of their duties where there is a section stating you could be asked to do anything — for the same low pay (unless good teachers complain and school management doesn't want to lose quality teachers). In the meantime, teachers with limited technology will demand more materials to be printed and the schools' budget for paper and paying printing specialists will have to go up.

If school management learns to reverse this trend by getting printing professionals to assist teachers in preparing and converting information to digital form and make it a campus-wide policy for teachers to make the effort at the same (combined with overtime pay, and/or a higher salary with the condition that they must show high quality digital presentations to students as evidence of preparing and delivering the best digital information), it should be possible to use the paper printing budget to purchase low cost PC laptops for every student.

For private schools where additional funding is received from parents and/or the government, the cost of a PC laptop of say AUD$300 to AUD$500 (should be negotiated with world-class computer manufacturers for higher quality machines at a significantly lower than retail price) should be easily paid for by parents. If necessary, make it a condition that parents only pay half the school fees at the start of the school year for one term in return for knowing that the student has he/her own laptop.

For public schools, there is no choice but to ensure there is adequate government funding to support the purchase of low cost PC laptops.

As for teachers, they need to be provided with wide screens for laptops and/or PC desktops to help them see everything and create the quality presentations. Then the only reason a school might need a print room is to print only the absolute highest quality books (which could be outsourced), annual reports (can still be electronically provided), and posters for advertising school events.

And technology manufacturers must simplify the technology and reduce costs to the barest minimum for the education sector.

Be really smart and these quality printed (or electronic) books could contain the work of teachers who have prepared the best digital information for students (as voted by the students and other teachers). Get schools to become businesses in selling the books, and additional funding will become available which in turn can pay teachers a higher salary and provide the best technology facilities at the school.

Or perhaps there can be an exchange of good digital information between schools and more quickly approach a standard of teaching that is virtually second-to-none in the Western world. Then all students will finally be able to enjoy what they learn.

Businesses are not slow to provide applications and services for the iPad

Since the release of the iPad on 3 April 2010 a number of companies have expressed more than a slight interest in the product. Among them are The Walt Disney Company, which has released an application for iPad users to watch ABC television. Google has thrown its weight behind the iPad with its free Web-based email service. And other companies are strongly gearing up to produce applications and services specifically tailored to iPad users.

The move to integrate all multimedia markets into a single attractive device capable of accessing and presenting every kind of audio and visual digital information is fast becoming a reality.

The big plus for the iPad has to be its compact design. As soon as you take it out of the box, you can instantly use it. Starts up as fast as a mobile phone. Keyboard appears on the touch-screen when you need it and works responsively and easily. And you can instantly view results by watching movies, photos, reading eBooks and the internet, and listening to music.

As Scott Steinberg, head of technology consulting firm TechSavvy Global, he sees the iPad as having enormous potential to revolutionise the way people use computers. He said:

"The iPad is, in many ways, simply a proof of concept that's certain to get better over time. More importantly, it may prompt a paradigm shift in the way we look at portable computing, including serving to reignite interest in the tablet personal computer category as a whole." (AFP. Much hyped iPad hits the market: Channel 7 News/Yahoo! 4 April 2010.)

With expected sales of the iPad for the weekend of its release to exceed 300,000 according to analysts, Apple is likely to produce a Mark II version around Christmas 2010 and by that time many more businesses will jump onboard with their own services and products for the iPad. This will be the time consumers should seriously consider looking at the iPad.

If nothing else, you won't need to buy laptops and desktop machines when an iPad will clearly do for the masses.

Overheating iPads on hot days when running processor intensive activities?

CNET.com (formerly MacFixIt.com) have described it as deja vu. No doubt we feel the same after hearing reports of a few users expressing concern of "rising temperatures when operating the touch-screen tablet in direct sunlight or other hot conditions". The greatest concern appears to be while watching movies on a hot day where the processor is working hard to display fast moving pictures (and this is just a 1 GHz AMD processor running the whole show). But if it is just typing some text, a hot day shouldn't bother the iPad too much.

Timing for the release couldn't be better (or worse for Apple) with the northern hemisphere fast approaching the next heat wave of summer for 2010 (and it ain't going to get any better in the coming years) when we can expect many more complaints over the heat issue if the early reports are any indication of how things will evolve.

Apple has allegedly put in a safety feature to ensure the iPad shuts down when it gets close to overheating and then you have to wait for it to start up again.

We suspect this will improve somewhat in the next iPad version 2.0.

But the problem hasn't quite stopped there.

Another user has felt it necessary to report a possible issue with the WiFi claiming it has poor reception. Probably what happens when the iPad is placed on your lap and your hand over the screen helping to shield the emanating radio signals from the iPad and making it harder to maintain wireless connection to another device. As the user stated:

"Also don't forget the WiFi issues many people have been having with the device. Its terrible that a decent device (coz I havent used it yet) is causing problems out of the box." (Aimonetti, Joe. Deja vu: iPad heat issues similar to iPhone temperature problems of old: CNET.com. 6 April 2010.)

Although another user is not surprised after hearing the WiFi issue stating:

"Apple has a right to release buggy products, broken products, even products that catch on fire. They are Apple, how dare you criticize THEM for releasing products that don't work perfectly?!?"

Fortunately Apple has been quick on this occasion to acknowledge the WiFi issue but carefully emphasised right at the beginning of its Knowledge Base Article a "very small number of people" have mentioned the problem despite one user stating:

"I've been through 2 of them - both with the same issue. The problem persists at home, at work and in cafe's so I know its not my WAN AP. The store took the unit back with credit but I'll wait until they have new hardware - I'm not a big fan of software patches to fix hardware problems."

At any rate, Apple has promised a software fix will arrive soon. Or would a new version 2.0 of the iPad be better?

Again, we can only reiterate the need to control those moments of excessive drooling and wanting to rub it all over your body when you see the iPad and just wait...wait until at least version 2.0 and probably version 3.0 when things should start to settle down again. As Joe Aimonetti of CNET has recommended among other experts:

"Makes all the people that say not to be an early adopter look pretty smart, eh?"

Apple has never been famous for getting a product right the first time around. It usually takes a few goes at it, especially for a new and relatively innovative product.

AT&T can't accept PO Box address as the billing address for 3G services

A problem persisting for many years at AT&T is the PO Box bug. Users who want to activate 3G services on their new iPads are required to give a physical home address and not a PO Box address. As a MacFixIt user said:

"I have been bitten by the AT&T P.O. box bug. I tried to activate my new 3G iPad Friday night and it would not accept my P.O. box billing address...I have have received all of my mail at my P.O. box for the last 26 years because of mail theft problems. I have an active AT&T cell phone account with five phones that is billed to my P.O. box. Yet I cannot have a P.O. box for my iPad?"

A pesky bug no doubt for some users. Indeed, some users are re-considering the purchase of the iPad thanks to AT&T's persistence on the issue. As another user said:

"Required to change my credit card from PO Box address to physical address to order 3G iPad. Then change back to PO Box again. NO THANK YOU! Forget 3G iPad! I will wait for Android tablet with Sprint wireless."

Because Sprint Wireless apparently does allow users to supply a PO Box address.

If you do purchase an iPad and have to register for 3G services with AT&T, consider entering a bogus home address, but always use the ZIP or postcode you use in your credit card billing address. This will fool the registration process. Once registered, enter the PO Box address and wait for the information to be updated in your account.

And yes, it is perfectly legal to do so.

January 2010

The importance of tracking Apple users to their permanent home location is well known among Apple resellers and occurs with other Apple products (e.g. the desktop computers such as the iMac). Considerable effort to use GPS units by Apple technicians to help pinpoint the precise location of customers is standard procedure. But in order to assist with this task, a faulty Apple machine may have to be manufactured and unsuspecting customers will usually be forced to have an Apple technician come into their homes and/or businesses to see what's happening with the machine. In this way, any suspicious information on the hard disks or possibly illegal software may be identified and passed on to appropriate agencies.

NOTE: If you are a little old lady with say just one piece of illegal software, it may be overlooked if the software is old and there is little chance of substantial compensation. If you get a new replacement for a faulty Apple product, don't be surprised if Apple provides, say, iWorks to replace an illegal copy of Microsoft Office. The effort to track people down and chase them is mainly with businesses.

China makes the world's first look alike iPads at one-fifth the Apple price

An identical-looking iPad has surfaced on YouTube and is allegedly being manufactured in China and sold in a Shenzhen computer mall as of June 2010. The Apple iPad is not yet on sale in China, but Chinese manufacturers and their customers are not waiting on Apple. The iPed as the Chinese call it is built on the Intel processor and is claimed to run on Google's open source Android OS. But everything else right down to the box it comes in looks just like an Apple iPad.

Pricing is one-fifth of the Apple iPad (i.e. USD$105 or AUD$126 compared to the current price of USD$536 for the Apple iPad) meaning it has an excellent chance of dethroning Apple's iPad market once enough people become aware of this product. Certainly the education sector in Western countries will be interested in this new Chinese device where price is a major consideration for students and teachers.

The Chinese iPed is a little bit underpowered with 128MB RAM, 16GB of storage and the processor is slightly slower than the Apple iPad. But this is expected to improve in the next model depending on how many are sold to Chinese consumers.

On hearing about the Chinese product, Apple has decided to keep customers focused on its own expensive iPad with information released to the media suggesting the company has sold more than 2 million iPads, which is more than the iPhone on its launch and claims to be having trouble keeping up with demand with dates for the global roll-out for other countries being pushed back. To add to the positive news for Apple, the market value of Apple has now exceeded Microsoft. Apple is today the biggest US technology company in terms of market value.

Yes, looks is everything in technology. And look at how consumers are lapping it up. No doubt the Chinese have understood the importance of good looks right down to making the iPed look exactly like an iPad.

When Apple decides to repair your iPad

One of the major sticking points for Apple when it comes to consumer complaints concerning a faulty Apple product is how the consumer may tend to hide the fact that he/she may have accidentally submersed the product in some form of liquid and then claim they are entitled to a free repair while it is under warranty.

This is clearly not fair to Apple.

As it is critical for Apple to prove such claims when minimising the cost of repairs under warranty, Apple has been using several sensors on the inside of the backplate for the iPad, iPhone and iPod to detect this situation. It was originally called the Liquid Submersion Indicator. It is a round plastic disk with a liquid that changes colour to red should water or other liquids have entered the products' interior for whatever reason.

The idea sounds great in theory for Apple until enough consumers in certain parts of the world complained long and hard that the sensor is not reliable after Apple technicians noticed one or two of these sensors have turned partially red. By the way Apple policy had been written at the time, Apple technicians had the power to reject any product for free repair should any of the sensor disks show a bit of red colour. Not even the Apple Head Office would listen as it tried desperately to ignore the consumers' plight, until they finally did a test recently. And what they found is that in climates of high humidity, the sensor can be triggered to turn red as if the Apple product had been submerged in a liquid.

As a result of this enlightening discovery, Apple has decided to rename the sensor as the Liquid Contact indicator to avoid any legal problems. Now Apple can only hope those consumers who knew they were right have already purchased another Apple product or have moved on.

But if not, and you are one of those consumers with a genuinely faulty Apple product not caused by a submersion in a liquid and were given the rough end of the stick by Apple on this issue, you should try again. It is claimed Apple will be a little more understanding of your situation and will do more rigorous testing of your product this time to determine if what you've said is true. If you've been telling the truth, the repairs will be performed for free under consumer law.

But if you have purchased another product based on false or unreliable information from Apple and realised you didn't need to and want to recoup the costs of purchasing another product, this is something Apple will have to look into on a case-by-case basis.

As they say, "Miracles can happen!".

For further details, see this CNET article.

19 November 2010

Apple Inc. has released iOS 4.2 update. This one is suitable for iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS/3G, as well as iPod Touch 2nd generation, iPod Touch 3rd generation (late 2009 models with 32GB or 64GB) and the iPad. Fortunately Apple has allowed users of OSX 10.5 "Leopard" (even the PPC users) to still use iTunes to update their portable devices with the latest iOS. But not OSX "Tiger" users or earlier.

The main improvements to be found in this update are to allow multitasking on an iPad while emphasising the benefit of an improved software technology to ensure the battery doesn't unnecessarily go flat or lose charge quickly; free MobileMe feature for locating your missing device and protext its data should you lose it (or gets stolen); wirelessly stream photos, movies and listen to music in high quality to any AirPlay-enabled speaker, AppleTV or other device; wirelessly print emails, photos, web pages and documents from your device to a printer; and organise applications inside folders to help declutter your Home screen.

23 December 2010

Apple Inc. along with several commercial app makers arecurrently being sued by iPad and iPhone users for allegedly collecting personal information and sending it to advertisers without consent from the users. The breach in privacy could also extend to the latest OSX in the case where your personal information could be sent to software manufacturers without your consent. Filed in a federal court in California on 23 December 2010, the lawsuit claims:

"None of the defendants adequately informed plaintiffs of their practices, and none of the defendants obtained plaintiffs' consent to do so."

Apple did at one time , apparently in April 2010, follow the privacy laws by getting developers of apps for the iPhone and iPad to adhere to an Apple policy not to pass on personal information to a third-party except where it is needed for the functionality of the app (e.g. when a contacts database sends personal information because the user has explicit given approval to do so by presisng the appropriate buttons, or when there is a bug and the user permits personal information to be sent with the bug report to the developer). Now it is alleged Apple has changed its mind in order to appease advertisers and increase the potential revenue of developers' apps.

It will be interesting to see how this will develop. Will Apple be forced to make its iOS and OSX software more transparent and clear to users to ensure the company does adhere to strict privacy laws in the wake of this latest lawsuit.

iPad 2

Look! Apple has come bearing gifts. And the gifts are thin and lightweight as consumers have wanted. At last they are faster in what they can do. And they do just about everything except buy the kitchen sink (well, actually you can order one yourself through the web browser loaded into these gifts). Even better still, your weight will drop as your wallet suddenly feels lighter than expected. Weight loss these days must be coming thick and fast for some consumers.

Of course the gifts being talked about here is the release of iPad 2 on 11 March 2011 in the US and 25 March in Australia. Certainly on the day of its launch, the iPad 2.0 has managed to re-attract the legion of Apple loyal fans of the old iPad 1.0 and enticed a few more consumers. In the US, analysts have forcasted 1 million devices sold in the first weekend to satisfy all the Apple fans of the previous iPad model.

Of course the coming months will tell us more about how other consumers and Apple's competitors will look at the iPad.

In the meantime, if you are just looking for a simple electronic book reader device. The iPad will do it. But wait, there's more! The iPad does come with a host of other applications to keep you thoroughly entertained, up-to-date and able to remember your loved ones using the improved in-built camera, iMovie and iPhoto applications. This is the beauty of the iPad. A multifunctional device, even it it is not yet a truly multi-tasking device.

So what can consumers look forward to in the new iPad?

Enough sales of iPad 1.0 has helped Apple to design a thinner and more lightweight product. Another welcome addition is the longer battery life (roughly 10 hours before it needs to be recharged, which brings it in line with the Motorola Xoom). And users are happier to see a faster processing speed in certain applications. Indeed, Apple claims the new dual core A5 CPU built by ARM should deliver twice the speed of its predecessor. For most users, Apple's own Safari and some other applications may appear to run no differently than before. But other applications have been observed to run faster, such as iMovie. Part of its speed is probably due to the 512MB RAM now included in iPad 2 compared to the 256MB in iPad 1.0. And the graphics chip for generating on-screen displays at high speed has been improved.

In terms of storage, Apple has gone after the Motorola Xoom by exceeding it to a factor 2. The iPad 2.0 with Wi-Fi only and the top of the range model with Wi-Fi and 3G is equipped with 64GB of flash memory to store all your applications and data. On hearing the news, Motorola plans to update its own model and include a built-in microSD slot which the iPad 2.0 sports as a standard feature.

Viewing angle on the screen remains better than most competitors including the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7-inch and the Motorola Xoom. Screen resolution and size of iPad 2.0 has not changed from iPad 1.0, remaining at 1024 x 768 pixels.

iPad 2.0 has a convenient 30-pin video output port with HDMI-capable delivery of HD quality images from the iPad to any display with HDMI input ports such as a digital TV. A useful addition when making decent presentations to an audience with the iPad.

Everything else appears the same as with iPad 1.0. And you won't have to worry about updating all your applications. iPad 2.0 has sensibly allowed the applications of iPad 1.0 to be run on the latest iPad model.

Overall the iPad 2.0 is not a major revision or contains features that are truly out-of-this-world. It is just an improvement in the core specifications in terms of extra RAM, a faster processor and better graphics processing chip, a better in-built camera, and making the whole thing lighter and thinner than the previous model. The changes are mainly there to help make iPad 2.0 more competitive in an environment where other companies are vying for your dollar with their own electronic tablets. But if you were happy with the iPad 1.0, then any improvement has to be seen as a great improvement.

So will the iPad 2.0 be the must-have product of 2011? Only time will tell as competitors start to ramp up their products and exceed the specifications of Apple's own iPad.

iOS 5

Everyone involved in the development of iOS 5 must have been taking their recommended allowance of V-juice. for a change. Because there has been a major overhaul in the way the push and pull notification system has been improved. Somewhat flaky in the past especially on the iPod Touch and iPad, it seems someone at Apple has managed to pull some kind of magic rabbit out of the hat to make this feature work virtually flawlessly and beautifully. Amazing. Well, the latest iOS 5 has to. With the release of iCloud, users need to see the value of the new technology with a good notification system where you are notified of new information and files being pushed to the server from your computer and anyone else's for that matter which have the same but better quality information (e.g. MP3 music). While visually it looks the same, the changes in iOS 5 are more "under-the-bonnet" and significant enough with the 200 or so new features to take many iPhone and iPad users by surprise.

Other innvations include iMessage to enable the transferring of text, photos, videos and other information to other iOS users absolutely free. A nice addition considering people are paying enough for the monthly phone fees. So to have something extra and a useful feature at that for free is always welcomed.

Another addition is the to-do-list combined with the Reminder.app to let you know what needs to be done. Just tick off the items you've completed at the press of a finger. But the nice touch if you are happy for big brother to see where you are anywhere on the planet 24/7 is to let the location feature track your iPad 3G whereabouts (i.e. yourself) and if you happen to be in a location where you need to complete a task, you will be reminded with a message to perform the task.

Another improvement is a feature to de-clutter the screen of all the newspapers and magazines reading site apps you launch and visit to get the latest news and have them stored in a single location called Newsstand. Each site will now be treated as like an eBook.

New camera controls allows the volume control to adjust the shutter. And taking pictures is much quicker than ever before.

The only criticism with iOS 5, if you can call it that, can be observed by technology analyst Shane Richmond when he said:

"Apple's iOS designs show an increasing trend towards skeuomorphic design, that is to say they add design elements that are non-functional but hark back to analogue objects. Usually this is done to make apps feel comfortably familiar but it shows a weakness for ornamentation that is absent from the way Apple designs its devices.

The worst examples are in elements such as the 'stitching' in the centre of the pages in the iPad Contacts app and the fake pages in iBooks. This can be seen in the iOS 5 Twitter integration too: tweet a link to someone and it will be attached to your tweet with a 'paperclip'. Why that's necessary is anybody's guess. It's a subjective thing but, for me, it's cheesy and pointless." (Richmond, Shane. Apple iOS 5 Review: The Telegraph. 12 October 2011.)

Otherwise it will be interesting to see the reaction of consumers should they decide to buy the latest iPad and run iOS 5 at the same time.

iPad 3

The rumour mills have begun with an unidentified component supplier in Asia claiming to The Wall Street Journal on 19 August 2011 that Apple, Inc. has put in an order for parts to build 1.5 million iPad 3 units of which a 9.7-inch super high resolution screen of 2048-by-1536 (compared to the current 1024-by-768) pixels will be included. Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. assembles the iPad but a spokesman wouldn't comment on the claim.

If one could rely on such a claim, it is likely iPad 3 will be released in early 2012. But why only 1.5 million units? Apple has sold 9.25 million iPads in the last quarter. It is possible some other new technology is being introduced and will make use of consumers to provide the product testing the company is proud to employ (without paying any wages, just the profit from the paying consumers).

With a higher resolution screen, it would almost certainly include a new graphics processing chip to provide adequate graphic-drawing speed, and possibly a faster general processing chip than its predecessors. This in turn might result in a higher temperature iPad 3. But with new quad core chips running slower to keep them cool and still provide good processing speed, it may not be a major issue.

So what can Apple do to improve on the iPad? Certainly the company might include the option to allow people to perform electronic transactions simply by swiping the iPad over an electronic reader like it is happening with some mobile phones. Beyond that, it is all speculation.

If any improvements could be made, how about a reduction in the price for all students?

28 September 2011

Someone must be thinking along the right lines with news from the giant book seller Amazon that it has released the all new, and in colour at last, Kindle Fire for US$199. Much cheaper than the iPad 2 (unless Apple decides to go for a price drop with the iPad 3). The Kindle Fire has a dual processor to provide adequate speeds, and it can do just about everything the iPad 2 can except it does away with 3G networking and a camera. Beyond that, it is all downloading and streaming content by way of movies, pictures, eBooks and the rest for a nominal additional fee. It appears the money to be made will be in the content, not the tablet itself. Perhaps something Apple might need to consider when offering consumers more of its expensive iPad versions in the future.

7 March 2012

Apple has officially unveiled iPad 3. As expected, the iPad showed off its high resolution screen, stunning most observers with the exceptionally sharp and highly detailed icons and other graphics. iPad users should be aware that many of the old apps for iPad 2 or earlier will need to be updated to make full use of the higher resolution screen. For the moment, Apple has got the head start in supplying its own software with the latest release of iOS 5.1 to help show off the screen to its best quality.

The company has also decided to stick with the manufacturer of the Atom processor by releasing a faster A5X chip chugging away at a respectable 1.5GHz. Users will have to wait until iPad 4 to get a blistering fast and cool quad-core processor, although it will probably not be from Intel as Apple wants to make a killing with its own software development on the iPad under the A5X processor and not cause disruption to or create complaints from third-party iPad app developers. This slight shortcoming will be to the advantage of PC tablet makers such as ASUS which are using the quad-core processors (e.g. ASUS Transformer Prime).

The current release of iPad 3 will sport a 4G mobile internet connection feature for compatibility with the US. Australian users, however, will have to wait a little longer for Telstra to finally approve the licensing agreements to allow Apple to include the Australian 4G network version (appears to be more a question of getting Telstra's approval for Apple to transmit and receive data at a frequency of around 1,800MHz after the band was purchased by Telstra from the Australian Communications Authority for a hefty and undisclosed amount).

Other improvements include a 5-megapixel rear camera with a new infra-red filter for better colour reproduction and a backlit sensor to help boost picture quality in dark environments.

iPad 3 should prove to be popular, especially among Kindle users who are waiting for their B&W models to breakdown so they can purchase a decent quality eBook reader from Apple. iPad 3 should fill the gap perfectly for these users.

Prices start at US$499, going up to a maximum of US$829. Basically the more you pay, the more flash memory storage you are offered. Thus the basic Wi-Fi model with 16GB is US$499 and goes up to US$699 with 64GB of storage space. Add an extra US$130 to all these basic prices to have the 4G connection option added. Connection is with either AT&T or Verizon for US users.

In Australia, it will be Telstra; but until Telstra gives the go ahead, Australian users will have to wait a bit longer.

So naturally you must consider the additional monthly charges from your phone company for determining the true final price of your spanking new iPad 3. In the US, this monthly charge varies from US$20 for 1GB per month up to US$50 for 5GB per month. Slight variations in the monthly fees are expected between AT&T and Verizon. Basically very little competition between them except AT&T is counting on a 250MB per month offer at US$14.99 to attract more customers (mainly from users more interested in downloading eBooks for reading and nothing else) — just so long as the network works for you.

Apple will continue to manufacture iPad 2 until sales of the product go down. Until then, price for the older model will drop by at least US$100, making it a slightly more attractive proposition for students and education experts.

NOTE: To make publishers and authors see the greater value of this new tables as the future for reading eBooks, Apple has updated the free iBooks Author 1.1 software tool. Unfortunately only available for download through the App Store.

iOS 6.1

Released on 28 January 2013, iOS6.1 update addresses the following:

  1. LTE support for more carriers.
  2. Purchase movie tickets through Fandango with Siri (USA only).
  3. iTunes Match subscribers can now download individual songs from iCloud
  4. New button to reset the Advertising Identifier.

These changes should make life a little easier for people who use these services regularly.

Other changes may exist at the lower level of the OS, but it isn't absolutely clear. The update is directed primarily to those who have an iPhone 5 and iPad Mini, although all mobile devices should gain some benefit from this update.

However, as of 11 February 2013, reports have come in from users of at least two problems,

One problem concerns a dramatic increase in the battery drain in running the device and its iOS, with some users reporting overheating issues. TheNextWeb gives a possible explanation for this:

"One possible theory links this problem with Apple Mail and Microsoft Exchange. As pointed out by Michel de Rooij (as well as Windows IT Pro, Paul Robichaux, and SharePoint Pro) it appears iOS 6.1 is throwing up malformed meetings, causing devices to get into a sync loop which in turn causes excessive transaction log growth on Exchange mailbox servers. This then leads to Exchange performance issues and transaction log drives can potentially run out of disk space."

In essence, a software bug has crept into iOS 6.1.

There was also another problem: this time for iPhone 4S users. Vodafone in Europe has warned:

"...some customers may occasionally experience difficulty in connecting to the network to make or receive calls or texts or to connect to the Internet [after updating to iOS 6.1]"

The phone carrier was recommended users do not update to iOS 6.1 at the present time.

iOS 6.1.1

An amazing sense of urgency must have reached the people at Apple, Inc. Less than 2 weeks after the last update, this latest update of Monday 11 February 2013 suggests Apple has found something serious in iOS 6.1 and had to be fixed. According to Apple's release notes, iOS6.1.1 provides mostly a security update, and fixes a cellular performance and reliability issue on the iPhone 4S. Nothing else is mentioned.

A good update for iPhone 4S users, and anyone who is scared of security vulnerabilities on their devices. However, it seems the update fixes other problems too, such as improving the battery life. Perhaps we have entered a new era where companies are now realising they need to make people think this is just another and relatively minor security update? A security update could now mean tweaking the user interface, making certain new features work properly (again!), fixing up programming mistakes in the last update, and/or stopping users from jailbreaking their devices, In fact, security updates could also involve changing a few settings to help give Apple more access to your personal information stored on your devices. Just call everything a "security update", and everyone will think we need to update immediately for our security and no one will really know exactly what has been changed until they try the updated iOS.

A good way of hiding all manner of dubious new features and, of course, embarrassing programming mistakes.

It is either that or Apple has a way of understating the importance of this update despite how obvious the problems needing addressing had been.

iOS 6.1.3

Another famous supposedly minor update. This one fixes the following issues:

The first fix came relatively quickly after reports were published in newspapers of a hacking method to bypass the passcode. One such article can be found at The Telegraph (UK). As Matt Warman, the technology reporter for the newspaper, stated:

"Millions of iPhone users have added a four-digit security pin code to prevent unauthorised users from accessing their phone, but a new loophole in the latest software now means that anyone can bypass it. With a dozen simple steps, the iPhone's email, contacts, text messages, voice mail and even video calling can be accessed in version 6.1 of Apple's iOS software.

Techcrunch, a gadget blog, called the exploit "a massive backdoor to some of the iPhone's core functions".

Posted on YouTube by a blogger identifying themselves only as VideosdeBarraquito, the Apple hack has been viewed by nearly 4,000 people, and replicates a similar flaw with earlier software, iOS 4.1."

Is it really that simple? Apparently so according to Barraquito. He said:

"This works in any iPhone model with iOS 6 or higher, for now. I've tried it with all iPhone models, and always the same result."

The alleged steps involved are as follows:

  1. Press emergency call
  2. Dial 112 call and hang up.
  3. Lock´╗┐phone and unlock it.
  4. Hold lock button for 3.5 sec and press emergency.
  5. When contact appear take a screen shot.

Quite remarkable if what has been said and uncovered is true. For if this exploit has been there across many different iPhone models (going back quite a few years), it might be a good idea for Apple to start paying a few of these hackers to find other exploits instead of waiting for another one to come up, or hoping no one will find security bugs in iOS (by which time plenty of hackers and people in the CIA and other places are probably already enjoying the exploits and doing whatever they like).

Apart from those two fixes, the only thing Apple doesn't tell you it has changed in this update is to allegedly stop jailbreaking solutions from being applied to your iPhone/iPad according to this MacUpdate user named Prypjat:

"Note that iOS 6.1.3 breaks any jailbreaks you have installed. Don't upgrade if you rely on one."

Let's see how long it will take before the jailbreak developers come up with a solution. Already Barraquito is claiming a new exploit exists. As he stated on his YouTube web page:

"iOS 6.1.3 has a new security flaw, but can be avoided easily. New video coming soon."

The security of iOS is not looking good.

iOS 7.1 Update

Apple released on 10 March 2014 the more useful iOS7.1 update. The update focuses on fixing the crash bug with the Home screen, better performance for iPhone 4 users, and an improved Touch ID fingerprint recognition technology to increase accuracy and speed.

In terms of new features, Apple has introduced CarPlay to permit the iPhone to connect to the latest media center units of cars built from 2014 onwards so that drivers can communicate via voice or other means to the iPhone (and iPad) to do things like handling phone calls, play music files, get directions, or access the address book etc. A useful addition for some users. And to stop the voice recognition system known as Siri from listening all the time and doing things without your awareness or intention, Apple now provides a manually option. This time you can press and hold down the Home button and speak to your iPhone and it will respond. Let go of the button and Siri will stop listening.

Refinements to the iOS7 interface, including a cleaner and easier look at Calendar events in the new Month view.

And iPhone 5s cn now enable HDR automatically in order to get the camera to take better pictures.

Overall, a better and more useful update from Apple for all iPhone and iPad users.

iPad Air

A logical progression after introducing the 64-bit A7 chip inside the iPhone 5s is to put the processor into an iPad. Add to this the emphasis to make the new iPad the most lightweight and compact version possible (together with a new thinner battery design), and the new iPad starts to look like the latest MacBook Air. So why not call it the iPad Air? Makes sense so far. As God said, "Let there be light!", and there was light. For Apple it was, "Let there be a super thin iPad" and it was created.

Fortunately the new battery for the iPad Air has not lost the total charge time from previous models — you still get to enjoy 10 hours of use (or 9 hours while on the network). The only two setbacks are that (i) Apple has decided not to introduce the faster 802.11ac technology for Wi-Fi; and (ii) the battery charge does not last before you need another recharge if you intend to plug in a cable to permit access to a USB thumb drive and decide to watch photos from the drive on the iPad screen. In the former case, the 2013 models of MacBooks have it, but not the iPad Air. Oh well, maybe the next iPad model will have it. On the plus side, the weight of the iPad has been reduced to 469 grams for the Wi-Fi-only model., or 478 grams for the more feature-packed iPad. And it is less than 7.5 millimetres thin (roughly 20 per cent thinner than its predecessor), making the product a much more useful and desirable product for consumers. However, you do sacrifice battery time when you need to do more power intensive activities like accessing a USB thumb drive and watching movies or slide shows of your photos.

On the plus side, you do get a 9.7 inch display (comes as standard, so no need to pay extra to get a higher model for a better quality screen). And if you like things really compact, the iPad mini released after October 2013 now comes with the Retina display technology for an even sharper and brighter display. In other words, you now have 264 pixels per inch resolution, and screen is 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.

The iPad Air and 2013 models of the iPad mini all run the latest iOS7.

iPads have also reached the point of storing 128GB of data. This means that the Apple iPad Air 4G 128GB costs around AUD$1,249. If you want the Wi-Fi only model, price drops to AUD$1,099. To reduce the price further, you would be looking at lowering storage capacity. For example, at 64GB, the price drops by about $110, and another $120 less for the 32GB version.

October 2014

Apple has released a thinner 6.1mm iPad Air 2.0 (compared to 7.5mm for the iPad Air 1.0), making it the thinnest tablet in the world. If you are deciding on whether to purchase an iPad Air model, you would have been wise to wait for this 2.0 version as Apple has decided to put in a retina display and significantly boost processor speeds for both graphics and the standard processor core using the latest A8X chip, giving the iPad Air 2.0 at least 12 times the processing power of its predecessor. In terms of actual naked eye performance, you will see noticeable improvements in the speed of the device, ranging from anyway between 40 per cent to 250 per cent increase depending on the type of things you do on the tablet. In fact, the wait was well worth it. Never go for the first "prototype" version of any model. That seems to be the cardinal rule of purchasing any technology-based devices, more so with Apple products. Thankfully this 2.0 version is certainly much better. It also comes with the new M8 motion co-processor which adds a barometer to the mix to help you determine things like altitude on the Earth's surface, and will come in handy for the new health apps under iOS8. Indeed, the decision to add M8 processor means a little more juice is available in the battery for doing other things. Finally, the network WiFi has been upgraded to 802.11ac with MIMO. Good choice. There is even an LTE Advanced option to ensure throughput of data using the WiFi is up to 150Mbps Speed is king and this iPad Air model is living up to its name as a speedy "Gonzalez" tablet.

An 8-megapixel camera has been added, but no optical image stabilising technology. And the camera is still not quite as good as the iPhone 6. Nevertheless, it is an improvement from the previous model.

Battery life per charge is roughly the same as the previous model. The smaller battery in the iPad Air 2.0 has reduced the power but with new power efficient processor chips and other components, the tablet has managed to retain the same 9 to 10 hours total battery life per charge.

The only thing that remains is whether the device will allow a USB thumb drive to be plugged in and display photos without drawing too much power. Something suggests this will be the case, but do check with a display model from the Apple store by asking an Apple representative to test this aspect for you.

Otherwise, this is the best iPad Air 2.0 Apple has produced to date.

Still selling the 16GB versions (US$499), you are better off going for the 64GB (US$599() or, if you can afford it, the 128GB (US$699) flash storage capacity versions for the iPad Air 2.0. Like the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, there is no 32GB option, which means Apple basically wants to make easy profit from users with limited understanding of computers thinking a 16GB is more than enough but later they will regret doing so, forcing many of these users to pay extra to get a decent high capacity iPad in the near future. Save your money in the long term by going for the higher capacity versions and try not to be tempted in buying every new iPad version that comes out of Apple if you can resist the urge in this day and age (easier said than done we hear).

31 December 2014

Why are we not surprised? Apple has done another superb job of attracting a legal class action. This time iOS users of 16GB iPads and iPhones are up in arms over the latest revelation that iOS 8 is a memory guzzler. They claim, according to Paul Orshn and Christopher Endara who filed a complaint in a California court on Tuesday 30 December 2014, iOS 8 is storing all kinds of additional information (probably personal stuff as well as a history of what users do on their Apple devices — all in readiness to send to Apple's own servers) during use. This causes the flash memory of the device to quickly fill up with junk (well, that is the interpretation according to the users, although Apple might argue otherwise). For those users with 16GB devices (Apple still offers this limited memory size for the latest iPad and iPhone models without thinking or realising the situation for users, yet somehow has chosen to get rid of the 32GB model, leaving users with no other option but to purchase the most expensive 64GB models if only they knew the true situation with iOS 8, which they didn't) this is a serious problem.

One can imagine the amount of money spent by these users on purchasing the latest iPad or iPhone 6 (even for the 16GB model) only to discover, through no fault of their own after upgrading to iOS 8, the limited memory left on their devices. And now, after using their devices for a period of time, the free memory has suddenly disappeared. The complainants who filed the legal action claim as much as 23.1 per cent of the storage capacity is filled up with this extra information generated by iOS 8. So for a 16GB iPhone, that's around 3.7GB. Quite a significant amount when viewed in terms of how many digital pictures through the in-built camera that can be taken, or how many MP3 songs that can be stored. However, it is also reasonable to imagine a number of users would need to be able to take video on the Apple devices as well, and this takes up more memory. At any rate, it is still a fair whack of the memory lost. Furthermore, it seems these users have to contemplate paying more for the 64GB models just to overcome this silly situation. No way Jose for many 16GB iOS users! Apple should have seen this coming, yet continue to quietly offer consumers the 16GB model while promoting the benefits of iOS 8 without telling them the true "memory limited" situation.

Combine this with the deliberate effort by Apple to prevent users downgrading to iOS 7, it is perfectly understandable to see why users are taking up the class action against Apple, basically on the grounds of misrepresentation of the Apple devices' memory capacity and iOS 8 requirements with no easy means of solving the problem, except to pay more money (unless there is a tool to allow users to download an earlier iOS version, which Apple does not want to promote if there is such a tool).

When will Apple learn? Or is this clear evidence of a company facing major financial woes in the coming years because it cannot innovate and provide new, and better quality products. Instead Apple has to be sneaky in keeping quiet on important details until users are forced to pay more money to fix the problem.

Come on Apple, get yourself together and provide quality products that focus on the consumers (and less on its shareholders and profit).

Apple faces a dilemma with its range of portable devices

Apple is facing a major upheaval in its long and somewhat tumultuous history and Apple will have to face a major change in its attitude to consumers through the type of products it produces. Already we see this change taking place thanks to the way PC manufacturers such as Lenovo and Microsoft are offering extremely thin and tough laptop/tablet combo machines by late 2014. And not just any machine, but ones powerful enough to replace a reasonably capable laptop. Apple has no such similar product to compete with the new breed of Intel-based PC laptop/tablet products (the closest is Apple's MackBook Air and even this machine is not a proper tablet as yet). Why? The reason is simple. Apple has not learned from its old days of using PowerPC chips in its older Macintosh computers. At the time the old chips were used, it allowed Apple to maintain loyal Mac users who were more likely to purchase another Mac given the ease-of-use, robust and long-lived nature of the computers, and more intuitive OS and better-looking hardware design. But that all changed when the decision had to be made to move onto Intel chips used by many PCs. Now the very same reason is now being applied to portable Apple products with their A7 microprocessors. Unfortunately for Apple, it has not learnt from the past and now the time is fast coming when the company will have to switch back to Intel chips because of the increasing number of Intel-based portable laptop/tablet devices being offered by PC manufacturers.

However, to complicate things a bit, Apple has a purpose in maintaining a different microprocessor for its portable devices. Basically, it forces Mac users who want their data to be accessed on a portable device to transfer the data through Apple's own servers via the free iTunes software. Apple is there to gather information about its users and what they use as well as marketing information on what users do with Apple products and software. But should Apple be forced to switch the microprocessor back to Intel to get the sales up again and the shareholders happy, consumers can bypass iTunes and the Apple servers and just transfer not just their data, but also any Intel-based software of their own liking and run it as they wish. Apple does not like this idea, especially in the face of possible software piracy concerns. Only one problem: PC manufacturers are giving Mac users a new choice. If you have PC software or created your own PC compatible software on an Intel-based machine, you can easily run the software and access your data on portable PC devices. There is no need to use Apple's own proprietary iTunes software to pass your data to your mobile devices through Apple's own billion dollar servers.

How will Apple survive in the face of these new breed of intelligent, innovative and well-made Intel-based PC portable devices? There s only one way: All Apple portable devices must eventually make the move over to the Intel microprocessor. When precisely? We don't know yet. But while Apple wants to maintain the option of seeing all the data and software people transfer between portable devices and Mac computers, we can see the company is facing a dilemma, and one that is likely to see major upheavals for the company in the coming years.

The future for Apple is only just starting to get interesting.

10 March 2014

Some improvements to the memory guzzling requirements of iOS 8 through the 8.1.3 update has been provided by Apple recently. For 32GB iPhone users, approximately 1.2GB of space has been allegedly freed up by applying this update. Amazing. And what an improvement. Now will 16GB users be happy and keep quiet about all the fuss? At any rate, Apple has released iOS 8.2 to hopefully free up even more space, which is quite feasible considering how cryptic the company is in telling users what exactly has been changed. At the moment, the only things the company are willing to mention about this update are as follows:

"This release introduces support for Apple Watch, and also includes improvements to the Health app, increased stability and bug fixes."

Perhaps Apple has a new policy to describe unspecified improvements under the umbrella of "bug fixes"? Who knows. Certainly the company could now argue that all the "hot air" from consumers about the memory guzzling issue of iOS8 was just a passing phase and all it needed was a "bug fix" and nothing sinister like checking your private information surreptitiously. It is the only way Apple will avoid getting sued by users of 16GB devices.

So far the iOS 8.2 update, with hardly anyone complaining at the present time, suggests Apple could be out of the Christmas period of needing to get things out-the-door quickly to keep the shareholders happy. It is quite possible that the company could be concentrating a little more on producing better quality work for consumers. It needs to. The company has been riding too much on its reputation to carry them through those periods of poor product testing. Now consumers are weary of what the company will produce next. The company has to do much better.

iPad Pro (September 2015)

Resisting all efforts to put in an Intel microprocessor into its new iPad, Apple, Inc. has made the next logical refinement of its product in terms of a higher-resolution and larger screen, a faster and less power-hungry A9X microprocessor, and adding two hardware accessories to make the device more useful to consumers (and perhaps business professionals, assuming, of course, that they want to buy Apple's latest creation).

The improvements are not exactly revolutionary. If you already own the previous model, you might well be happy sticking to it for a little while longer. You could say what's been done is more a natural progression for an iPad, which is basically to make things faster, look bigger and easier to see things, and try to make the device feel about as natural as writing on ordinary paper thanks to the new stylus pen thrown in with the product as well as a decent physical keyboard if your heart is set on making the iPad Pro a laptop replacement and you decide to invest heavily in iOS apps (a deja vu experience for many professional Mac users who once owned a PowerPC Mac not so long ago, although considered in prehistoric times for Apple, Inc.).

Indeed, looking at the iPad Pro, it is clear that Apple was certainly not immune to all the fanfare from Microsoft's own Surface Pro 3 tablet/laptop combo device. Apple has realised that Microsoft came out with something that even the U.S. Department of Defence touted as a "little beauty" and powerful enough to do something decent despite its incredibly small size. The only thing is, no one from this department or any other government department for that matter would be willing nowadays to run out and buy the Apple iPad Pro in a hurry as laptop replacements. Despite the word "Pro" added to its name, no Intel processor means the iPad Pro is still a consumer product made to sound a little more professional because it now comes with a separate physical keyboard and a stylus pen, together with a nice protective casing for all these hardware components including the iPad, and with a bigger iPad screen (especially catering to those American guys who love to brag to the rest of the world about how big their iPad is — yeah we all know). You can safely bet Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 will be around at least for the next 12 months.

Still, you can't complain. Apple has put in slightly more effort to make things easier for the consumer to use an iPad.

For example, the Apple-branded version of a stylus pen fits remarkably well in the hand. Fortunately that is one aspect we can all expect from a company that has essentially wrote the book on the subject: good industrial design. The only thing is, the book is still missing the crucial chapter on the type of materials to use when building the pen. In fact, on first impressions the pen looks like a slightly oversized plastic "el cheapo" writing tool bought from the local supermarket, except looks are deceiving on this occasion. While the word "Pro" may not extend to providing a nice metal casing for the pen that you would really want to own (and give the business professionals the impression to others that this product is of high quality and "looks expensive"), you do get sophisticated improvements on the inside. More specifically, we have a pen that can detect pressure and angle and replicate this on the screen as a darker and thicker line or a lighter and thinner line. When you try it out for yourself, you could be forgiven into thinking you were drawing or writing with a real pencil. Well, that was no fluke. Apple intended it to act like a pencil. Hence the reason why Apple has called it the Apple Pencil. The presence of this clever feature is likely to appeal to artists who want to create quick B&W illustrations. Otherwise, simple handwriting and creating signatures in electronic documents will look more natural on the screen. Other than that, the only drawbacks to the Apple Pencil are: (i) you cannot use the pen on other iPad Pro devices at the same time — you can only pair up the pen with one device at a time; and (ii) recharging the pen requires it to be connected in a way that sticks out of the iPad, increasing the risk of damage to the connect if at any time the iPad and pen fall to the ground simultaneously, or enough times toppling over on a table. Nevertheless, what Apple has done to the pen is certainly a significant improvement from the old stylus pens of the past. For the first time, we can experience the closest thing to using something akin to a real pencil.

The other notable addition is the keyboard. No, not the software-based screen version (still useful in tight-space situations), but a proper physical keyboard. The addition of this device is part of Apple's effort to provide "some" competition to Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 (note the emphasis on the word "some"). And to an extent, if we focus on just the keyboard alone, the company has successfully designed a better keyboard than the Microsoft version. The keys are virtually the same as the current breed of MacBooks on offer. The only slight difference is that some people may find the keys are slightly further apart than what they may be used to, but not a significant issue. Nearly all users were able to use the keyboard easily at up to 60 words per minute, and expert typists can probably reach up to 90 words per minute. Try reaching those speeds on the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (not likely!).

One should mention that the keyboard does not come with a trackpad. The aim here is to navigate simply by touching the screen.

Looking closer at the iPad Pro, this seems to be a standard incremental update from the previous iPad model with the introduction of the faster and power efficient A9X microprocessor (the "X" is there to make it sound sleek and sexy to help entice more people to buy the iPad). The other noticeable change has to be the screen. Whether this can be described as a "Pro" feature is yet to be determined, but bumping up the screen size from 9.7 to 12.9 inches across the diagonal does make for a better viewing screen when it comes to watching videos and reading mobile spreadsheets and information-rich PDF documents. The only slight issue is that most consumers who decide to use an iPad for general reading in bed may find it a little too big. To compensate, Apple has made the iPad Pro a very lightweight device to carry in one hand. If this is not enough, Apple does offer a slightly slower A8 processor and smaller iPad Mini 4 with enough similar screen quality features as the iPad Pro as well as being very thin in its physical dimensions.

As for making the iPad Pro look something like a laptop (more a feeble attempt to compete with Microsoft's Surface Pro 3), Apple has created a flip cover case to unveil not just the keyboard, but also to allow the iPad Pro to rest at a fixed angle and against the keyboard. Apple engineers had a challenge trying to provide any kind of adjustable multi-angle stand so this is the best that can be provided at the present time. And keeping the iPad on the angle that it sits at is a delicate affair in the sense that you can't place everything on your lap and use it as a proper laptop. This is really a tabletop device. For most people, it is probably no big deal so long as they are not business professionals rushing to get to a meeting and needing to do a few quick changes on the device while travelling in a taxi (you might be better off going in the smoother and more comfortable limousine).

Overall, the improvements to the iPad are reasonable. Whether the word "Pro" is justified considering no proper Intel processor has been added as we see in Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, and in supplying a plastic "cheap-looking" stylus pen, will be debated for a long time to come. Nevertheless, what we see here is a reasonable effort. It will certainly not be enough to compete with PC manufacturers with their laptop/tablet designs and with new ones on the way. But then again, maybe Apple is choosing to focus on consumers by selling consumer-related products and creating the perception to consumers that the device is worth buying by adding the word "Pro" in front of the "iPad" name just to make significant sales in a market that is already bloated with tablets. Who knows? One thing is certain, it will not stop the dedicated Apple fans from going out to buy the product.

These days, having the latest Apple gadgets is really more a social status symbol for many American Apple fans.

Airmount 1.0.3

It is a long time coming, but you can connect your Mac to your iPhone (and technically an iPad as well) wirelessly using Bluetooth and move files (video, music, pictures and text) back and forth between the two devices without ever needing to go through Apple's own servers or to grab a cable to connect the devices together and use iTunes. You won't see this coming from Apple! The freeware tool you can download for both Mac and iOS (unfortunately, the latter still requires you to access the Apple store although technically you should be able to wirelessly transfer applications to your iOS device, but it is interesting to see Apple has not stopped anyone from downloading and using this product, which is nice) is called Airmount 1.0.3. very simple to use and quickly shows you which iOS devices are accessible on the wireless network. It is about time consumers are given back the power to control their own lives and protect their own privacy and not leave it in the hands of other companies.