Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unleash the Lion

         Yesterday was Apple's "Back to the Mac" event. Without a doubt, there would be some interesting releases from Cupertino, with Apple fresh off of a highly successful 4th quarter earnings. This release showed three huge new items that Apple hopes to use to grow their market share: a new iLife 2011 suite, Mac OSx Lion, and the new MacBook Air.

iLife 2011
        This update of products, consists of new features in iPhoto, iGarageband, and iMovie. In iPhoto, the big new thing is the fact that the program is looking more like an iPad app (full screen and the layout). In addition, iPhoto now allows a book editor to make photo books and collages and display them on a nice wooden bookshelf, which looks oddly enough like the bookshelf in iBooks for the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. Another nice feature in iPhoto is the inclusion of auto-emailing photos straight from the program, which is a nice time saver feature than having to drag and drop or upload photos from the hard drive. In iMovie, the biggest new features are some easier video editing tools and the ability to make instant video trailers. These trailers were demoed to be incredibly easy to use, as they just have the creator fill in titles and ask for specific video clips based on the trailer template that was selected. In addition, the ability to directly export the videos and trailers directly to Facebook and Vimeo is a nice touch. The final piece in the iLife 11 package is the Garageband program. Besides new tutorials for Garageband instruments, the Flextime tool helps tighten up the sound of a song recorded in the program. 
           These new features are interesting and come preloaded on all new Macs and will run you $49 for an upgrade disk on your old and completely outdated Mac. Also, subtly folded in the iLife discussion by Steve Jobs is the creation of Facetime for the Mac. Right now its in a beta version, and early reviews say it needs some work, but it looks like a nice way to help increase the usage of Facetime on the iPhone/iPod Touch. It seems counterproductive to have Facetime to run standalone from the all ready pre-installed iChat on the computer, but I believe that as it moves from Beta, it will be folded into a separate section of iChat.

Mac OSx: Lion
        The big feature of the "Back to the Mac" exhibition, was the implied release of a new operating system for the Macintosh computer and laptop lines. Slated to come out in the Summer of 2011, not much was revealed in this early look of Lion, but there are several new features that should be of note. One piece of the new set is the inclusion of multitouch gestures. However, Steve Jobs put the kibosh on the ideas of a iMactouch, by saying that "Touch surfaces want to be horizontal". Furthermore, the creation of a Mac App Store much like that of the iOS App Store will be released within 90 days. Right now the only apps that were shown in the screen shot were from iLife 11 (separately mind you), and the Keynote, Pages, and Numbers that are available for download on the iPad. Today, the guidelines for the Mac App Store came out, and they seem as restrictive as that on the iOS. However, these restrictive guidelines for apps are not as endgame as on the iOS, as programs that were denied in the App Store can still be downloaded from the internet like usual. Also previewed was the new Launchpad, which functions as an iOS like page, with all of the apps previewed and able to be used. The final piece to the Lion preview was Mission Control, which shows all of the open windows, apps, and pages open; kind of like a combination of Expose and Spaces.

Mac Book Air
Now even leaner and a 100% source of your daily amount of Vitamin I!
         Can't say that was unexpected. Called what happens when an iPad and Mac Book Pro hooked up, the new thinner Mac Book Air is at its leanest 0.11 inches thick and at its thickest 0.68 inches, weighing in at a mammoth 2.9 pounds. In 13.3 inch and 11.6 inch variants, Steve Jobs called it the future of notebooks. The one big issue of the Air is the fact that there is no CD drive to load programs from a disk. This is where the new Mac App Store comes in, allowing this computer to have a chance. As the owner of a small netbook, one of my biggest complaints is the fact that there is no way to play DVDs on it, nor is it able to display pictures off of a CD. Taking some of the features from the iPad, including instant power on and no optical or hard drive. These Airs boast 7 hours on Apples newer, more stringent battery life test and a total of 30 days on standby mode. With prices ranging from $999 for the 11.6 inch 64GB to $1599 for the 13.3 inch 256 GB, Apple does not seem inclined to offer a low cost option for a laptop. Realistically, I see no real market for these Mac Books as the regular Mac Book Pro runs about the same cost and gives you more memory and processor for your buck. But, if you're into the thinnest and smallest things, more power to you.

In Conclusion
          Perhaps some of the most interesting revelations from the "Back to Mac" event was the financial data that came out of it. The most impressive statistic was that if Mac was to split from Apple and be a stand alone company, they would rank 110 on the Fortune 500 list , with 22 billion dollars in revenue!  Also, the Mac line of computers only makes up 33% of Apples revenue, which shows how well diversified Apple as a company has become. These three major  previews and releases are just scratching the surface of the new features on Lion, Facetime and the Mac App Store. I foresee that this is just the first step in Apple slowly consolidating their iOS and their OSx into one unitary operating system. I know Steve Jobs has said that there is no demand for vertical touchscreen computers, but Apple can dictate the market in whatever way they want. I fearlessly predict that within the next 5 years, Apple will release a touchscreen Mac, spurring on every other company to play catch up with Apple. Apple can dictate the market, as is seen with the release of the iPad and the countless other tablets that sprung up after it and are rumored to be coming to market this year.   

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple's Shopping List?

With Apple's 4th quarter financial earnings report being released, Steve Jobs took some time to talk about his companies $51 billion in cash as well as trash his rivals namely RIM and Android. However, this $51 billion in cash is what is the interesting point, as Jobs has said that they "strongly believe that one or more very strategic opportunities may come along that we’re in unique opportunity to take advantage of because of our cash". This is tantamount to Apple looking to acquire some company or set of companies.

One of the big rumors that is gaining steam has been an acquisition of Facebook by Apple. I firmly believe this is the exact opposite move that Apple plans to make. Although it could be considered a good move to help integrate everyone with their Ping service, compete with Google, and would make a great integration with the Facebook Chat and iChat/Facetime. In addition, Facebook is one service that Apple does not have any hope of competing against. However, there are several huge reasons why this move would not work out at all.

Most importantly and primarily is the way that Facebook makes revenue. They sell credits for their immensely popular games like Farmville and Mafia Wars and make a substantial amount of their profits from this. The big thing about these games is that a large percentage of them run on the dreaded Flash platform that Steve Jobs has long railed against. By buying Facebook, this would be a huge backtracking from his very public stance that Flash is a dead technology. Also the proposed culture clash between Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs would make for some very interesting board meetings. The outspoken and counterculture Zuckerberg would not seem to fit in place with the orderly culture of Apple.

If this rumor is gaining steam due to the relation that Facebook would help augment the Ping service, there are two huge shortcomings to this idea. One is the fact that Ping has only been out for less than three months and still is gaining its legs, so it seems too early for Apple to throwing money at it to try to fix it. It should run its time for at least a year so Apple can see what is working and if they need to continue to push it. The second reason why a Facebook for the sake of improving Ping would be foolish is Ping is not the cash cow nor even a major part of Apple's income; like that of the iPod line and iTunes. Ping seems like a novel idea that might gain a niche following but buying Facebok just to make it the king of music networks seems foolish. Besides there's always Myspace for that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Really Unlimited??

      According to Engadget, Verizon plans to eschew the "limited unlimited" type of plan and keep a $30 unlimited data package for smartphone users. These users are given choice "between $15 for 150MB with $0.10 / MB overage, or $29.99 for unlimited access." This is obviously a huge difference from the data plans that AT&T offers with their caps on data and steep overages on phone plans that blow past the soft cap. As a Verizon customer with the Droid 2, I constantly use the 3G network and have the unlimited data package to go with the phone.

    The universally asked question with every move that Verizon makes is: How will this affect the iPhone coming to the network? This continuation of the unlimited data plan on Verizon says two things. One is that Verizon is more confident that their 3G network can hold the intense data draw that the iPhone would command. They plan to roll out their 4G network at the end of the year and perhaps push many of the existing data over to the 4G network. Keeping in mind that the current iPhone has no 4G capabilities, it would make it easier for Verizon's data systems to try to push phones to 4G and leave the iPhone to the 3G network. This also shows that Verizon is trying to cement its place as the number one phone carrier which will get one of the most critically acclaimed phones of this generation.