Friday, August 20, 2010

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  • iWork '09 No Competition for Mac Office 2011

    The new Mac Office 2011, currently in development, will easily best iWork ’09, and with every feature update demonstrates just how far behind iWork has fallen. The latest video preview only increases the value gap between the two office suites.

    While the feature tease is minimal, the video shows off Sparklines, in-cell mini-graphs of visual data straight from Excel 2010 for Windows, as well as new PivotTable report designs and layouts. Office-wide, users will now have the ability to do “basic photo editing,” with options like color correction, as well as more advanced ones like background removal, but that’s the small stuff.

    The big deal is Mac Office 2011 touts a level of compatibility with Office for Windows “that’s never been achieved before,” from the user-interface Ribbon of Office for Windows to the nuts and bolts of cross-platform document and data sharing. In Word, that means requiring pages printed in Word for the Mac and Windows be identical on paper. In Excel, arguably the biggest compatibility effort was the restoration of Visual Basic, version 6.5, same as the Windows version. Entourage has been replaced with Outlook and full support for Exchange. PowerPoint, well, with the exception of better cross-platform document compatibility, PowerPoint still looks to suck compared to the ease-of-use and pretty slides of Keynote.

    Unfortunately, that hardly makes up for the rest of iWork for the Mac. Numbers, Pages, and Keynote are far less compatible when exporting in Microsoft Office formats, and none are as feature-replete. Worse, Pages, and especially Numbers, struggle with large documents. The problem with iWork is that it badly needs updating, but there is no guarantee of that happening this year, unlike Mac Office.

    While it’s true iWork for the iPad was released this year, it, like OS X, is languishing in favor of iOS. iWork for the Mac is quickly approaching years between updates. While it’s fair to say that having the iWork team pivot to produce an iPad version is responsible for the dearth of updates, what’s the excuse for

    Back in January 2009, when iWork ’09 debuted, a lot was made of the beta, which let people view and share, but not edit documents. Eighteen months later, it’s still a beta, and you still can’t edit documents. Even worse, Apple has thus far failed to leverage as the logical way to seamlessly synchronize documents between the iPad and Mac. Even the rumored iWork update is out of date, the most recent being “iWork ’10 for Dummies” placeholders being seen in at sites like Amazon France with three months left in the year.

    Without an update to compete against Mac Office 2011, that leaves price as iWorks ’09′s best feature, $79 retail, $49 with the purchase of a new Mac. However, even on price Mac Office is competing better than ever before at $119 for the Student Edition, which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and $199 for the Home and Office Edition that adds Outlook.

    There’s a reason Mac Business Unit PR types can brag that Mac Office is on about 70 percent of Macs (a phenomenal adoption rate) and one that would only be beat by Office for the iPad. Please.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Web Worker Survey 2010 (subscription req’d)

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Apple Shutting Down Quattro Wireless Ad Service

    In a move that’s not a complete surprise, Apple will be shutting down the Quattro Wireless mobile ad network it acquired at the start of this year. Effective immediately, Apple will no longer accept any new ad campaigns via Quattro, and will start phasing out existing campaigns. Instead, it will focus solely on its iAd service.

    Even though the iAd experience has had its issues, the iAd service is in full swing, and it’s where Apple needs to focus its resources. Many acquisitions are purely for talent, and the Quattro acquisition probably had a nice dose of that, given the former Quattro CEO is now VP of iAd.

    How do you think the mobile advertising landscape is shaping up? Is Apple on the right course?

    Here’s the full text from Apple’s note regarding the move:

    iAd is helping advertisers reach millions of iPhone and iPod touch users around the world with dynamic, engaging ads right in their favorite apps. The iAd Network combines the emotion of TV advertising with the interactivity of the web, giving advertisers a powerful new way to reach mobile users.

    We believe iAd is the best mobile ad network in the world, and starting next month we’re going to focus all of our resources on the iAd advertising platform. We are no longer accepting new campaigns for the Quattro Wireless Network, and we will soon begin winding down existing campaigns.  As of September 30, we will support ads exclusively for the iAd Network.

    Advertisers, learn more about iAd.

    Developers, find out how to generate revenue and promote your apps using iAd.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Why 2010 Still Won't Be the Year of Mobile Advertising

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Browser Wars: Pixel-Friendly Browsers on the Mac

    Awhile ago, Kyle Dreger responded to a Lifehacker article comparing Windows browsers based on pixel-usage by making his own version with Mac browsers. What struck me about his list was how few browsers he used: only four, and all of them were cross-platform. I figured I should throw in some more browsers, like Shiira, Camino, etc; some that only run on the Mac. I used the same application for measurement that he did, PixelStick.

    I’ll be testing Safari 5.1, Safari 4 beta (thanks to its tabs-on-top design), Chrome 5, Firefox 3.6, Firefox 4 beta 3, Opera 10.6, Camino 2, Shiira 2.2, Sunrise 2.1, and iCab 4.8 .

    Testing so many browsers presents a problem: Not all browsers use the same UI conventions. For example, Opera doesn’t have a bookmarks bar; its bookmarks are contained in a sidebar. To remedy this, I’ve broken the tests into two sections, showing different parts of the browser chrome. Section one will be with the bookmarks bar hidden, so only the tab bar and toolbar are showing, so I’m able to include Opera. Section two will be with the bookmarks bar shown, so Opera will be excluded from it. I’ll also include a third section that shows the data overall. I omitted testing status bars because Chrome doesn’t really have one, and I’d argue that most people don’t use them.

    Tab Bar and Toolbar

    I’ll go ahead and say that there are two winners here: Chrome 5 and the Safari 4 beta. But why is Chrome also a winner when the Safari 4 beta so clearly trumps it? My reasoning is that Chrome is a current browser, and that I had to go through a strange rigmarole process to even get the Safari 4 beta running, and it still crashed every time I opened a new tab, so it’s not really usable.

    The loser here, by a large margin, is iCab. This was using the default configuration, so I messed with it a little, used small icons and hid the text beneath them. It still came in last, right behind Shiira with 91 pixels, only beating itself. iCab developers, if you’re reading this, please make iCab less space-hungry.

    What’s interesting about the comparison between Firefox is that tabs-on-top actually uses slightly more pixels than tabs-on-bottom. Also, using small icons will save you eight pixels.

    Here’s a screenshot comparing the top six browsers in this section:

    With Bookmarks Bar

    Unsurprisingly, the winner here is the Safari 4 beta. However, I was surprised to find that the second winner was Safari 5. Yes, Safari 5 narrowly beats out Chrome by just one pixel. iCab is last in place, by a large margin, again.

    I also figured out that, on average, you can save about 20 pixels without the bookmarks bar.

    Here’s another screenshot showing the top five browsers in this section:


    I’ve made two graphs that show the data overall: the first by number of pixels in ascending order, the second by browser. I’ve also included a couple of bonuses: I measured Internet Explorer 5 for Mac and Netscape 9. IE doesn’t have a tab bar, so I just measured it with the bookmarks bar. It makes a good watermark for big browsers. And yes, iCab still comes in last, even behind IE. Netscape was surprisingly small, with the minimum being 83 pixels, just behind Sunrise.

    Is pixel-friendliness important in a browser? Does it affect which browser you use? Sound off in the comments.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: What Does the Future Hold For Browsers?

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Video Streaming Services for the iPad

    The iPad is getting some love with prominent mentions by leading media companies in their plans to expand delivery of video content.

    Both HBO and Verizon FIOS discussed plans to bring streaming video apps to the iPad. The HBO Go program will provide on-demand access to HBO subscribers, while the Verizon plans are focused on streaming live TV over your FIOS connection to your home. The iPad is a great device for watching video, and these announcements also indicate the importance of the App Store in providing a simple method for content providers to reach customers on iOS devices.

    HBO Go

    Eric Kessler, co-president of HBO, recently revealed plans for HBO Go on the iPad. HBO Go will provide about 800 hours of programming to HBO subscribers at no additional cost. This content will be available through all major cable systems, online from Comcast’s Fancast and Verizon FIOS, and on Apple’s iPad and other devices. The iPad app will be a great way to catch up on episodes of HBO original programming, as well as dive into the catalog of hit movies available on the service.

    Verizon Live TV

    Our sister blog NewTeeVee covered a Verizon FIOS press briefing where CIO Shaygan Kheradpir demonstrated a new iPad app that provides live TV…at least while you’re at home and directly connected to your FIOS service. This streaming app is based on the idea that the iPad is just another screen that is displaying content coming down over the existing FIOS pipe. Verizon expects to have all its content partners on board for launch early next year. It is also working on a new VOD service that will eventually come to the iPad as well.

    Dish Network

    Announced a couple of weeks ago, Dish Network is bringing streaming video to the iPad sometime in September through its SlingBox technology. Dish has a new DVR with SlingBox built-in, and it will be releasing a free app for the iPad that will work with this DVR, much like the existing SlingPlayer Mobile app ($29.99) works with a stand-alone SlingBox. You can schedule the DVR to record your favorite programs and then access those saved recordings from anywhere with the iPad app, which also serves as a remote control for the set-top box.

    The App Store is the Future of Video Services

    In a post last week, I put forth my belief that the future of video is through apps rather than the iTunes store. For one thing, an app gives the content provider an opportunity to interact directly with the customer to both learn more about them and to pitch additional products. Apps also provide flexibility for all three services to leverage their existing technology to deliver their service. HBO Go is Internet-based VOD, the Verizon service is live streaming, and Dish relies on a media server (SlingBox) embedded in its DVR set-top box. These services (and the content licensing models behind them) wouldn’t work in the iTunes Store, which is based on purchasing video content. Renting is available for movies only.

    The large number of iOS devices — not just iPads but iPhones, but the iPod touch as well — has caught the attention of content providers. The App Store, while carefully controlled by Apple, is open enough that these companies can bring their content to customers using different technologies and still comply with their existing licensing agreements. I expect many more services like these to pop up over the next year or two. It’s a big win for everyone, content providers, customers and, not least of all, Apple, which stands to sell millions more iPads and other iOS devices this year.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: The iPad: Cable TV For Publishers?

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • iPad Supply Achieving Equilibrium; iPad 2 Remains Vaporous

    Just in time for a China launch, strained supplies of iPads are easing, even as rumors of a 7″ iPad ramp up for early 2011.

    Via Apple 2.0, iPad inventory at Best Buy has shown “strong improvement” in the last two weeks, according to Barclay analyst Ben Reitzes. Prior to Aug. 16, only the 64GB 3G iPad could be found somewhat reliably, and even then, availability was under 50 percent. Those numbers reinforce the recent drop in ship times at the Apple Store, the wait declining to 3-5 days from 7-10 days previously. Kevin over at GigaOM reports similar drops in wait time for the iPhone 4. That applies both in the U.S. and most international stores, with one important exception.

    The Hong Kong Apple Store currently still shows a wait of 7-10 days, which makes sense because that’s the only place in China you can (legally) get a (real) iPad. As of now, those unable to purchase an iPad from the Hong Kong Store are stuck with high-priced, gray-market iPads, or, as the Wall Street Journal reports, fake iPads.

    These wretched knock-offs with a Home Button on the front and an Apple logo on the back can be found in places like Beijing bazaars and cost the equivalent of between $100 and $200. The devices run Android, poorly, and have “unresponsive” touchscreens, but there is hope.

    China Unicom has previously stated the company was in talks with Apple regarding both the iPhone 4 and iPad, and multiple reports citing sources within the company assert the iPhone 4 will go on sale in China next month. The iPad will follow at an unspecified later date, though with production finally meeting demand worldwide expect sooner rather than later.

    In my opinion, don’t expect the rumored 7″ iPad sooner. Apple will undoubtedly be introducing a new line of iPods in the next few weeks for the holiday buying season, including a new iPod touch. That device is strongly expected to gain cameras and FaceTime capability, and it seems highly unlikely Apple will have the iPod touch share the stage with iPad 2. If you don’t see a new iPad in September, you won’t see it this year, and if you don’t see it this year, Apple might as well wait until the spring to release one.

    If you want one, buy the iPad now, not the rumor later.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Sticker Fixes for iPhone 4

    Apple’s free case program is in full effect now. Some have already received their cases, while others are shipping every day. But if you’re the type that wants to enjoy your iPhone 4′s beauty in the raw — and still avoid the death grip — there are solutions available other than bulky cases.

    Zagg, the makers of the venerable Invisible Shield, have several film options that cover every single surface of your phone and allow you to choose the level of coverage you want. For $9.99, you can get the 4FIX Band/Antenna coverage, which is clear laminate for the metal edges (antennas) of your iPhone.

    On Etsy, where creative individuals sell their ideas, you can get iPhone antenna-aids. They’re currently sold out, but they sell in a six-pack of different colored band aids. Clever.

    Then there’s the most economical idea: the iPhone Patch. At only $1.50, you can get them in several different designs to suit your personality. Maybe they aren’t the snazziest of designs, but I can see teens buying off on this product for sure. All in all, not too bad for the equivalent of pocket change.

    Of course, these options aren’t guaranteed to solve any antenna issues you may be having, but they should help remind you to avoid the dreaded “death grip.” And if you don’t care about looks at all, just use some duct tape; that stuff fixes everything!

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Will Apple's Spectrum Bet Pay Off?

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  • Verizon to Put Live TV on the iPad

    Verizon unveiled a series of new video applications today, including an upcoming iPad app that will allow FiOS subscribers to watch the same linear programming that is available on their TV screens on their tablet devices. The new app is expected to be rolled out early next year and Verizon expects to have all of its content partners on board by the time the app launches.

    There will be certain limitations at the launch of the app. At first, subscribers with an iPad will only be able to watch linear programming within their own home, which allows Verizon to authenticate and make certain that the users have access to whatever content they’ve paid for. Verizon CIO Shaygan Kheradpir said in a press briefing that the iPad app takes advantage of Verizon’s architecture, which he characterized as “cloud TV.” The experience is similar to what’s available today on FiOS set-top boxes, and takes advantage of the same software that Verizon uses for its set-tops. As such, Verizon says it should already have rights to stream the content, as it’s just another screen in the home.

    According to Kheradpir, the tech work for making streams available to users on the iPad is already done, and the company is now in discussions with content partners to ensure that they’re comfortable with subscribers having the ability to watch their channels on another device that’s not the TV. In a demo, Kheradpir showed off live CNN video being delivered to the iPad. CNN and Turner Broadcasting parent Time Warner has been at the forefront of TV Everywhere-type services, and is one of the content partners that have been helping to develop the app. Verizon said that it will make the app available when all its content partners are on board.

    The new app comes as other pay TV providers are innovating on the iPad and other mobile devices. Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable have shown off their own iPad app prototypes over recent months, but those apps are, for the most part, focused on remote control of the programming guide and DVR.

    In addition to the iPad app, Verizon showed off a new video-on-demand experience that will allow subscribers to purchase and rent videos and watch them across multiple devices and multiple platforms. Under the new VOD platform, videos can be purchased through their set-top box or through and then be downloaded and watched on up to five different PCs and mobile devices.

    The new VOD application, which will become available in the fourth quarter, will launch with support on Droid X, Droid 2, Windows Mobile 6.5 devices and the BlackBerry Storm. While not ready at launch, Verizon also plans to make the same functionality available on the iPhone and other mobile devices.

    Since rights to purchases and videos are stored in the cloud, users will be able to purchase a piece of content and download to multiple devices. If they've bought a video, they can download it, watch it and even delete it from whatever device they viewed it on, and will be able to access it at any time again in the future. If they've rented a video, they can watch it on any approved devices as many times as they want within the viewing window.

    In addition to the ability to purchase media and stream it to multiple devices, Verizon showed off a new version of its media manager service that will allow users to store their media in the cloud. Users will get 70 GB of storage to start, which can scale up as users adopt the application, and once their videos, music or pictures are stored in the cloud, they can be accessed through the home TV, PCs and even mobile devices.

    Related content on GigaOM Pro: The Case For Removable Media on the iPad (subscription required)

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Why iPad 2 Is Coming and What to Expect

    There’s been quite a bit of buzz around the next iPad. The one we’re using now is only six months old, but some are already looking forward to the possibility of a new form factor and a new screen size. I expect Apple to release another iPad this year. Here’s why:

    Competition is non-existent for iPad right now. All the other guys have tablets shipping “end of the year,” and many more of the more formidable iPad competitors will be out in 2011. Apple’s going to do what it can to get the second revision out this year only for that one liner that Steve loves, “We’re releasing the next iPad today before our competitors have even caught up with the first generation.” He’s used that line a few times, but the iPad itself will probably look very similar to the one you’re holding in your hand right now. I predict it will have the same aluminum back, the same bezel and similar weight and the battery life will be mostly unchanged. What will be new?

    New Screen Size

    The rumor lately is that a 7″ model is on its way to sit right beside the current 9″ model, and due to Apple’s resolution independence and growing number of developers, a new size won’t cause many issues beyond a few optimizations that have to happen from App Store developers to make things look perfect. For the most part, Apple’s going to make sure most apps “just work.”

    The new screen size will help iPad reach a lower price point for consumers and compete with the Amazon Kindle in size and price. Soon, an iPad with thousands of apps will sit along-side the Kindle nicely and make Amazon drop its price even lower to compete.

    New Screen Resolution

    You can be sure that Apple’s Retina Display, or something very close, will make its way to iPad. More and more iPhone 4 users are telling me that they use the iPhone over iPad because of the beautiful screen and how the iPad just feels empty and flat. This is an inevitable upgrade that is going to force us early adopters who own an iPad and iPhone 4 to jump in line. That screen is addictive and we want it.


    Apple’s FaceTime making its way to the next generation iPod touch (via a front-facing camera) and Macs (by the way of a software update) seem like logical steps, but what about iPad? Steve’s promise of “millions of FaceTime devices by the end of the year” is starting to sound empty as we approach September, but it’s this month that we’ll see more of those “millions” of devices available to the public when new iPods and a new iPad is released.

    In Apple’s latest iOS betas, you can FaceTime someone based on their email address so devices that aren’t phones (everything but iPhone) will be able to use FaceTime no problem. This is when things really start getting interesting

    New Form Factor

    I’m doubtful of this one but it’s worth mentioning in this post. Apple generally waits two to three refreshes before redoing the overall hardware of its devices, but a thinner iPad may be in line that mimics much of Apple’s iPhone 4. Squaring off the design would help the device lay flat, but would also make it more susceptible to scratches. I’ve long wanted an iPad bumper case to help in the event of a drop and wish Apple would move away from steel aluminum as it’s so darn slippery. This is a maybe as Apple can legitimately call this a second generation iPad without modifying the outer shell. Of course, if it’s releasing a smaller screen size, it might be a good idea to change things up a bit to throw off the competition. We’ll see.

    Why iPad 2 So Soon?

    Other than throwing off the competition, there are huge gaps now between iPhone and iPad from the display to FaceTime and the competition in price and size from Kindle that leads me to an iPad refresh right before the holidays as a way for Apple to blow all previous numbers out of the water and make it impossible for competition to position themselves against Apple by including any of those features in their devices. The rumored BlackPad from RIM is said to include a camera, and the Cisco tablet will be smaller than the iPad and easier to carry. A 7″ iPad with FaceTime would do the trick to put both of those products out to pasture before they even ship.

    What do you think?

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Can Anyone Compete With the iPad?

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • A Bridge to Car 2.0: Kiwi WiFi Device & iPhone Apps

    The ultimate vision of Car 2.0 is one of vehicles that tap into a stream of data from cell phones, GPS devices, in-vehicle diagnostics, and sensors that can make our cars smarter and driving more efficient. That’s the long term goal, anyway. In the mean time, there are devices coming out that can bridge that connection, like the Kiwi WiFi dongle, from PLX Devices, which is now compatible with at least three iPhone applications, and can also be extended throughout the car with sensors.

    The CEO of startup Virtual Vehicle company, Laura Schewel, told me she thought the Kiwi WiFi device was a breakthrough and “a huge deal,” for companies building businesses off of vehicle data, particularly now that the device has been cleared to work with Apple apps. The $150 Kiwi WiFi device plugs into the onboard diagnostic car port, called the OBD-II, which is standard on all cars built after 1996, and has to be accessible in the front dashboard within three feet of the driver.

    The device accesses the car’s diagnostic system and engine control unit (ECU), which contains data like engine performance, speed and braking frequency, and uses Wi-Fi to connect that data with the iPhone. PLX also sells an extended version of the Wi-Fi dongle (for $250) that connects the Wi-Fi device with up to 32 sensor modules that can unleash ever more geeky, gearhead data like air-to-fuel ratio, exhaust gas temperature and fluid temperatures.

    While the Kiwi WiFi device itself has been sold for a while, and mostly auto-fanatics and mechanics have been using it to read the onboard diagnostic data from cars, newly created iPhone applications are now opening up that geeky data to a wider audience. For example, an app called DashCommand from Palmer Performance ($50) enables a user to scan the engine, access incline data, view your braking and acceleration usage in real time, and see how often you skid on a track.

    Another application called Rev, created by Dev Toaster, uses the KiWi WiFi connection to enable a user to monitor speed, RPM, fuel consumption, engine coolant temperature, and fuel pressure, among other things. Check out these user videos of high performance cars and race track drivers using Rev on the roads.

    A third iPhone app called FuzzyCar, made by FuzzyLuke, is compatible with the Kiwi WiFi and has an analysis engine that crunches the data about the car over time, or multiple cars over time, to enable the user to see trends in efficiency and performance.

    At the end of the day, these products are still for the green car geeks out there who are willing to buy aftermarket car gear and take the time to learn how to use it. But cell phone apps are emerging, like Virtual Vehicles Company, that use GPS data to create travel and performance data a lot more cheaply than embedded car hardware, and connected automaker services like GM’s Onstar are becoming a lot more common. Expect this type of data — in whatever form it takes — to become a fundamental platform for vehicles one day. Here comes Car 2.0.

    Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req'd):

    Cleantech Financing Trends: 2010 and Beyond

    IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

    Alcatel-Lucent NextGen Communications Spotlight — Learn More »


  • Apple's Batteries Over-Hyped

    The Apple Battery Charger seems like the perfect product to sell to customers, given Apple’s mouse, trackpad and keyboard all require AA batteries while other manufacturers, like Logitech, sell hardware that charges via a dock. What rubs me the wrong way is that Apple decided to sell batteries for these devices with claims that its product is better than any other.

    The Apple Battery Charger has one of the lowest standby — or “vampire draw” — of similar chargers on the market. That's the energy that most chargers continue to draw even after their batteries are done charging. Unlike other chargers, the Apple Battery Charger senses when a battery charge cycle is complete and automatically reduces the amount of power it uses to 30 milliwatts – more than 10 times better than the industry average.

    Not only do these high-performance batteries have up to a 10-year lifespan, they also hold a charge for an incredibly long time. So you always have power when you need it.

    These two statements make any consumer feel as if Apple just reinvented batteries and battery charging. The battery charger is Apple’s first, and already it’s better than what companies like Duracell and Energizer (s enr) have created in 20 years of innovation. Man, I feel sorry for those guys. Apple just kicked all of their butts. Except, maybe it didn’t. Could Apple have simply taken off-the-shelf parts and put its typical Apple spin on it?

    What the Batteries Really Are

    SuperApple disassembled and tested these batteries and the charger. What it uncovered is that these batteries actually appear to be Sanyo Eneloop HR-3UTG batteries. Apple charges $29 for six of them plus a charger, but you can purchase eight and a charger for less at any retail store. All Apple appears to have done is bought decent batteries from another company and touted what those are able to do, which is hold a 75 percent charge for three years when stored, and continue holding a charge for 10 years. These batteries aren’t “magical,” just premium.

    Vampire Draw

    As far as that claim for an amazingly low “vampire draw,” Apple’s announcement owns the page rank for the term. So what is vampire draw?

    Standby power, also called vampire power, vampire draw, phantom load, or leaking electricity, refers to the electric power consumed by electronic appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode.

    I did find this page, which outlines the vampire draw of popular household items. Apple’s Battery Charger uses 30 milliwatts,which is “10 times better than the industry average.” Of course, it fails to cite what group did those tests, so let’s go over a few vampire draw stats for house hold items.

    • Cell Phone charger – 140 milliwatts
    • Laptop charger – 4420 milliwatts
    • Desktop Computer (turned off) – 2840 milliwatts

    Apple’s product is certainly using much less than any of those. What’s Apple’s notebook charger vampire draw? What about the iMac? When I power the iMac down, is the vampire draw “10 times below the industry average?” Maybe Apple should work on that as well.


    My guess is, the Battery Charger is just another example of off-the-shelf parts wrapped in a pretty case and sold at a markup. That’s not really a bad thing, but Apple’s spin on something as simple as a battery charger gets to me. Just say that you released a battery charger and do it without making the entire battery industry look like it’s been playing around for the past 20 years.

    Apple’s recent history hasn’t proven much when it comes to hype vs. reality. During antenna-gate, Apple showed all smartphones had issues with an external antenna (I still say that wasn’t Apple’s finest hour) rather than addressing the real problem, so it’s possible that the “magical” battery charger could end up with the same fate if there’s ever an issue of exploding batteries or leaks: Apple will point fingers and say it’s the manufacturer’s fault because Apple is a small company that doesn’t make its own batteries. Until that happens, Apple will take ownership of these as if they were hatched in Steve Jobs head from idea to final product.

    My take is that the Apple Battery Charger is over-priced. It does what other chargers do. It’s $29 because there’s an Apple Logo on it. The 30 milliwatts vampire draw means nothing if you have a microwave in your home, which is using 3,000 milliwatts: the equivalent of 100 Apple Battery Chargers all plugged in at once that aren’t charging batteries. My final recommendation? Don’t throw away your current battery charger; it’s probably working just fine. It’s not Apple-branded and glossy, but it works, and you won’t save any money on your power bill by switching.

    Related GigaOM Pro Research: Better Battery Life Motivates Mobile Chipmakers

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  • Why iPod Touch Specs Will Never Compete With iPhone

    We’re nearing the end of summer here, and that means two things without fail: back-to-school sales and the annual Apple iPod touch refresh. Although I switched to an Android handset in January, I do miss my daily iPhone use. I’m getting my iOS fix through an iPad for now, but I keep thinking how great it would be if the next iPod Touch is every bit an iPhone minus the cellular voice support. That’s not going to happen this September or any September when Apple updates the iPod Touch; the iPhone will always have better specifications than the iPod Touch for one simple reason: money.

    Many people will miss the point if they simply compare prices between an iPhone and an iPod touch. The most current iPod touch models cost $199, $299, or $399, depending on the storage capacity. Apple has a history of holding prices at the same levels with new or improved products, so I anticipate the next iPod touch line will follow suit. An iPhone 4 appears to be the same $199 or $299, again depending on capacity. Both the 32 GB unit iPhone and iPhone touch have a price point of $299, so I’ll use them for my explanation. That sounds reasonable, except there’s a problem: Apple earns about $600 for that iPhone 4, because the carrier subsidizes the difference, and there lies the crux of the parity problem between an iPhone and an iPod touch, which doesn’t enjoy any subsidy.

    Why would Apple ever add all of the latest and greatest iPhone features to an iPod touch device that will only earn it half as much revenue? The simple answer is: it won’t because it doesn’t make financial sense. Does that mean the next-generation iPod touch won’t see a hardware bump? Nope. I fully expect new iPod Touches to gain at least one camera — possibly two for FaceTime support at some point — a GPS receiver, or some other current iPhone-only feature. Eventually, the iPod touch may get a high resolution Retina Display too. But the iPod touch won’t ever get all iPhone features all at once, because Apple can make the same device with support for voice calls and earn twice as much money.

    The only exception to my prediction is when cellular voice networks are supplanted by data networks that truly support voice — perhaps then we’ll see an iPod touch with LTE support. Of course, such a beast will require a contract, at which point, the iPod touch and iPhone converge to one device anyway. And wouldn’t that defeat my whole strategy of having an iPod touch with the iPhone features but without the monthly service fees?

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  • Apple Snags 48% of Mobile Profit Pie

    Apple raked in 48 percent of the worldwide mobile market’s earnings before interest and taxes in the second quarter of 2010, mocking the relevance of market share figures, where it’s still a relatively small player. The Cupertino-based company achieved this feat with roughly 3 percent of the overall mobile sales in the quarter, further emphasizing its traditional approach of profitability over units sold. Asymco, an industry analysis organization that collated the data from over 500 data points, believes this disruptive profit shift in the industry is mainly because of a lack of viable response from the incumbent handset makers three years ago.

    While the mobile market is growing, particularly in the smartphone sector, the overall effect since Apple’s 2007 iPhone introduction is a redistribution of wealth. Overall handset sales in the second quarter of 2007 accounted for $28 billion, says Asymco, while sales in the same quarter of this year were only up 12 percent to $32 billion. But far more of those recent sales dollars went into Apple’s coffers at the expense of Nokia, Motorola, LG and others. Such revenue erosion can’t continue in the long-term for a company to remain a key player in the industry.

    Source: Asymco

    The situation appears challenging for those that sell lower-end devices with small profit margins. Nokia being the seller of the most handsets overall is an excellent example, as the bulk of its devices don’t bring large amounts of profits relative to the number of sales. To illustrate, Apple enjoys six times the revenue when compared to the average Nokia device due to the average selling price: $600 for an Apple handsets vs. a sub-$100 average selling price for  Nokia devices. But the big picture isn’t just Apple taking on Nokia. Handset makers embracing Google Android are earning money, while Research In Motion is also faltering. Without additional disruptions from those on the downslope within the next few years, the entire mobile market could look vastly different from that of 2007.

    Even as it still takes in a large share of industry profits, RIM is attempting to fight off declining market share with a new operating system and flagship device, but it doesn’t look like enough of a disruption. My hands-on with the BlackBerry Torch shows an underpowered handset that tries to bring some appealing new features — such as a touch screen, WebKit browser and social networking integration — without getting away from the core competency of a traditional BlackBerry. Early sales estimates of 150,000 devices along with online half-priced deals less than a week after the Torch’s debut indicate that RIM needs further disruption to maintain the same level of relevance it has enjoyed for several years. It’s a war on two fronts, however.

    As RIM has attempted to add consumer features to a highly capable enterprise device, Apple and Google have methodically added enterprise features to popular consumer devices. Support for Microsoft Exchange, remote data wipes, and improved security features have found their way into the iOS and Android platforms, giving enterprise customers an alternative to the traditional BlackBerry workhorses. Instead of a top-down feature approach, the current profit-makers have taken a bottom-up focus by building upon a stellar base experience.

    Is there time for a Nokia, RIM or even a Microsoft to jump-start profits in light of the current Apple and Google movement? Of course there is, but the window of opportunity closes more each day with every high-profit device that doesn’t enjoy a large number of sales. Put another way: The number of at-bats in this ball game are fast decreasing.

    Perhaps it’s even worse for those without their own platform;  Asymco postulates that Android isn’t more than a temporary designated hitter due to licensing the operating system to any hardware maker that wants to use it. Short of spending time, effort and money on ways to differentiate various Android handsets, those that use it may find no inclination to develop a better platform and ecosystem. Even worse: They’re more likely to attempt and fail against the incumbents, pending more disruptive technology. Against such odds, which company will step to the plate and swing for a bigger piece of the profit pie?

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  • Vimeo Now On iPhone, iPad and Roku

    Vimeo is expanding the availability of its online video site with a new universal player that will work on Apple’s iPhone and iPad mobile devices, as well as a channel on Roku broadband set-top boxes. The site is also adding a new “Watch Later” feature to its player that will let users save videos to be viewed later.

    The ability to watch Vimeo web videos on Apple products is the result of a new player that autodetects the capabilities of the browser and device on which the user is trying to view the video. For devices like the iPhone and iPad, which don’t support Adobe Flash, that means delivering HTML5 video files instead. The universal player will also detect the appropriate codec, file size and bit rate for each device or browser it sends video to.

    Vimeo’s embrace of HTML5 is not new, as it rolled out limited support for the nascent web standard in January. But users that wanted to view its videos in HTML5 had to choose to do so, and the HTML5 player was only available on certain browsers and for certain videos. Now all videos will be viewable in the best-supported format through the universal player.

    In addition to the new universal player, Vimeo has announced the availability of a new channel on Roku broadband set-top boxes that will allow a users to watch videos on their TVs. The Roku player is the first connected TV device that Vimeo videos will be viewable through, as the company looks to expand beyond just being viewable through standard web browsers. Not all videos will be available; instead, popular videos selected by the Vimeo staff will show up on the Roku channel. Users with a Vimeo account will also be able to access their own videos and those that they’ve saved through the site’s new “Watch Later” feature.

    “Watch Later,” which is also new today, will allow users on any device to mark a video they’d like to watch at another time and save it onto a playlist. Users can watch saved videos in any of Vimeo’s players, whether they are on, the Vimeo mobile site or the Roku player. “Watch Later” will also be available through Vimeo’s API, which will allow third-party developers to build applications that take advantage of the new feature.

    Related content on GigaOM Pro: HTML5's a Game-Changer for Web Apps (subscription required)

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  • Apple Support Discussions to Become a "Community"

    According to an announcement at Apple Discussions, “very soon” we can expect more easily accessible and friendly “Apple Support Communities” for all our free troubleshooting needs. Expect to get what you pay for.

    While I’ve been able to troubleshoot problems with products using Discussions, it’s seldom been easy. Besides the antiquated search engine, the quality of answers for a given question can vary widely. The Introductory FAQ for the new Apple Support Communities doesn’t give the impression that will change much.

    However, change will begin with the new customizable homepage. Current and new members will be able to access expanded profiles that will include photos and avatars, and will also be able to “invite your friends to join in the discussion.”

    Less social and more relevant to the concept of technical support, members will be able to customize their “View.” The View appears to be a means of tracking discussions of interest, like discussions you are participating in. While browsing products is still possible, there’s an emphasis on asking questions, which will be possible from every page, and sorting information accordingly.

    To that end, widgets are member-created filters for your View that will no doubt be shiny, but also (hopefully) helpful for finding answers. For example, one could create a widget for questions on the iPhone, perhaps focusing specifically on the iPhone 4 antenna. When an answer appears, such as “you’re holding it wrong,” problem solved, next question.

    That brings us to the topic of the sometimes heavy hand of moderation at Apple Support. When Consumer Reports recently declined to recommend the iPhone 4 because of the antenna issue, some discussions regarding that article disappeared. Of course, whether Apple lets people rant or not isn’t the real problem.

    There’s enough uncorrected misinformation in Apple Support Discussions that it’s probably better to pick up your phone and call AppleCare unless you’re knowledgeable about the topic you’re researching. What Apple Support Communities really needs is an investment from Apple, not a soliciting of customers to provide support. At the very least, Apple technical support representatives should be regularly answering questions and correcting misinformation, but that would take a bite out of AppleCare, so instead welcome to the technical support social.

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  • iAd Approval Process Pains Sound Familiar

    In April, Apple saw the money to be had in targeted advertising, and announced it would take an ownership role for ads running on its mobile platform by creating iAd. The idea was actually not too bad: Through this model, Apple would pay 60 percent of revenue to the developer, so even with a free app, both Apple and the developer could stand to make some money. However, in the six weeks since launch, marketers seem to be finding the process of working with Apple difficult, and at least one launch advertiser — Chanel — has ceased working with iAd.

    Apple has always been about control. The company controls its hardware and software in such an extreme fashion that its products are often superbly optimized and run like tops. Though, as we’ve seen with the App Store, this high degree of control can also draw criticism, and has caused frustration in the developer community. Now, advertisers are feeling those same pains as developers — but perhaps since they have less to lose, they’ll be more willing to stand up to Apple.

    While iAd aims to make in-app marketing easy for developers to utilize, advertisers are feeling the pain of having to interact with Apple’s stringent rules, approval process, and closely-held explanations of how it all should work. A big concern has been the additional time that Apple’s approval processes have added to the design life-cycle (sound familiar?), which can be a killer in the marketing business. These issues have resulted in hardships for early adopters, such as a lack of marketing content or a delayed roll-out while they figure out the best way to approach the use of iAds. While many marketers would certainly love to be on iOS, mobile is not their top priority; mobile display advertising is only supposed to be worth $253 million in 2010, compared to an estimated total $170 billion in total U.S. advertising revenue this year.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple has inserted itself directly into the creative process, mandating that they approve designs prior to them ending up in the iAd rotation. That Apple wants a hand in the end look and feel of ads that will run on their devices is really no surprise; they have a standard of how things should look and function in their world, and they aren’t about to let Joe Marketer undo that. The root of the problem though, seems to be that Apple hasn’t released a developer kit of documentation and guidelines for using the iAd platform. Built on HTML5, iAds are intended to run in-app so the user doesn’t have to leave their place if they find interest in a particular advertisement. However, the interaction design is reportedly being closely held by Apple.

    Perhaps the iAd concept wasn’t fully baked and should have been cultivated and researched a bit more by Apple before being released. Or maybe it’s such a new business model that Apple is still adapting to the best way of handling it. Whatever the case, it can only help Apple’s case to release some of these guidelines and processes to those who need them most: the people paying money to have their content seen across the iOS platform.

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  • How-To: iPhone HDR

    The iPhone has a great little camera, but it's got serious limitations. Anyone who's ever tried to capture a scene with a wide range of light knows that it doesn't take much for the iPhone's camera to completely lose the high or low end of the spectrum.

    I run into this limitation all the time when I'm out on a hike and come across a vista I want to capture. If there's any kind of sun at all, I'm forced to choose between either exposing for the foreground and losing the sky in a big wash of white, or exposing for the sky and losing the foreground in darkness. Either way, there's pretty much zero chance of accurately capturing the scene. Unless, of course, I resort to HDR.

    If you're not familiar with the process of HDR imaging, the overall concept is really pretty simple. By merging multiple images, each individually exposed for a different point in the range of luminances from dark to light, we can form a single image that is able to display the full range. Using my example above, that means I can take one photo that exposes for the foreground and another that exposes for the sky and then combine them together to get a single image that more accurately displays the full range of light in the scene.

    Because the iPhone's "Tap to focus" feature also adjusts for exposure and white balance, setting up for HDR processing is dead simple. Obviously, it would be better if we could control exposure independently, but we have to work with what we've got. Simply pick two areas of the scene with the most contrast, then tap and capture an image exposed for each in turn. Be sure to keep the phone as steady as you can when taking the two images, so they will align properly when processing. Once you've got both images, there are a number of options for actually creating the final HDR image.

    If you've got a copy of Photoshop CS5, it has HDR merging and toning built right in. From the File menu, choose Automate > Merge to HDR Pro, then play with the myriad of sliders you see on the right hand side to get the look you want. You can keep the image photorealistic, or push it all the way to something entirely surreal depending how artistic you feel. There's also a super useful "remove ghosts" option in case you shifted the camera slightly while taking the individual photos.

    If you prefer to do all the processing on the phone itself, there are a couple apps available. The best of the bunch is Pro HDR. Like before, you need two contrasting photos (unfortunately you're limited to only two). You can use images already on the phone or take new photos within the app itself. After the images are merged, you can then adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation, and warmth to fine tune the image to your liking.

    While all of this does extend the camera's functionality a bit, it's still not perfect. In the end, it's just a 5-megapixel camera, and it's never going to be able to match the kind of images one can get from a prosumer-grade DSLR. Constraints drive creativity though and it's the wealth of iPhoneTography apps available in the App Store — and the users’ own imagination — that really let the iPhone camera carve out a niche for itself. I'd probably be better served by taking a more complete camera with me on my walks, but I use the iPhone for so many other things that it's hard to argue against a multi-use item with such a great function-to-weight ratio.

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