Thursday, June 30, 2011

TheAppleBlog — Apple and iOS News, Tips and Reviews (9 сообщений)

TheAppleBlog    TheAppleBlog — Apple and iOS News, Tips and Reviews
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  • The best place to buy iPhone apps is now on your iPad

    If you want to shop for real-world goods, often you’ll give your business to the store that offers the best shopping experience, price and convenience of location being equal. That is exactly how I feel when shopping for apps in the iOS App Store. The iPad version just works better, especially now that it can serve the iPhone directly.

    Searching for the best apps in the App Store

    With over 300,000 apps to choose from, anything that can help you filter through all the choices is a good thing when shopping for apps. The iPad has more filters available than the iPhone in the App Store, so it’s a much better place to narrow your focus. The ability to filter search results based on category, release date, customer rating, price and device exists only on the iPad version of the App Store, making it a better place to start your quest.

    It’s also better to browse the App Store on the iPad because it provides more screen real estate, and you can see more at once. As with reading, the iPad is easier on the eyes, and the experience is generally more pleasant than trying to negotiate the iPhone.

    Downloading new purchases

    Since you’re purchasing apps for your iPhone on your iPad, you now need to get them installed on your iPhone. There are three basic ways to do this:

    1. Sync to your Mac. When you sync your iPad to your Mac you will also transfer the app purchases you’ve made. If you sort your apps by their purchase date, you will see the most recently purchased ones at the top of the list. Just drag and drop your newly purchased apps from this list onto your iPhone in the iTunes sidebar the next time you plug your iPhone in.

    2. Manually download from iPhone. When you are in the App Store on your iPhone, go to the Updates tab. You will see a new item at the top of the screen titled Purchased. Here you can find a list of all the App Store purchases you have made. You can even filter the list to show only apps not installed on your iPhone, and you can then install those to your device.

    3. Automatically download to iPhone. Take a look at the Store section in your iPhone’s settings app. Here you will see three options to automatically download new purchases for music, apps and books to the device, with an option to allow them to be downloaded over a cellular connection. With this setting turned on, any purchase you make on your iPad will automatically be installed on your iPhone.

    Hopefully, with upcoming iOS releases, the subtle differences between each App Store will fade away. Until then, I will be shopping on my iPad when I need something new on my iPhone.

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  • Town finds iPads make paperless painless

    The town of Cornelius, Colo. has found that a new pilot program replacing paper with iPads is saving the administration money, time and helping the environment along with increasing government transparency, according to the Huntersville Herald. Cornelius Mayor Jeff Tarte and the town’s five commissioners were each issued an iPad 2 recently, paid for by the town, which they premiered at the town’s board meeting on Monday, June 20.

    The iPads all plug into the town’s NovusAgenda software, providing commissioners with all necessary meeting materials, including budget worksheets, zoning maps and PowerPoint presentations, which once comprised 210 pages of printed materials each. These packages used to be distributed in paper form to 19 members, which meant a whole lot of time spent copying, and money spent leasing and maintaining copy equipment, in addition to the cost of supplies.

    Town Manager Anthony Roberts says he’s amazed with how much sense it makes to use iPads and digital material instead of paper. "It's just a no brainer," he told the Huntersville Herald. "We used to print all those agenda packets and people threw them in the recycling bin after the meeting.” Plus, Roberts says, going digital helps transparency, since “the beauty of this system is you have everything online. It's there forever and a day, and the general public sees everything."

    There’s an initial expense associated with the system, but the NovusAgenda software is a one-time fee that should last years, and the iPad 2s are actually relatively cheap, since only the 16 GB Wi-Fi versions are required. Roberts says the city spent between $700 and $800 on each laptop it was purchasing anyways, so the iPad is a much more economical solution. With a gradual rollout, there’s no reason to think the savings wouldn’t scale for larger cities, too.

    The iPad is winning fans in government, business and education because it’s easy to use for almost anyone, and because it’s very flexible thanks to its support of custom apps that plug into third-party systems and server software. Cornelius is a good example of how it can have an impact at the municipal level, and Roberts points out a very good reason why we might see other cities (many of which are facing budget crunches) follow suit: "People ask why? To save money. They're cheaper. That's why."

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  • Apple's iPad app advantage over Android tablets continues to grow

    Apple has just passed the 100,000 mark for apps available that are tailored specifically for the iPad, according to the App Store itself. That’s up from 50,000 at the end of 2010, and 2,000 at the iPad’s launch. By contrast, Google’s Honeycomb Android operating system launched with just 16 optimized apps according to Kevin Tofel, and now has only around 170 according to recent counts, after four months on the market.

    To say that this is bad news for Google’s tablet hopes would be an understatement. Apps are increasingly the method of choice for consuming content on mobile devices, and the sale of apps is on pace to become a $38 billion industry by 2015, according to Forrester Research. It’s becoming apparent that app libraries drive tablet sales, not the other way around.

    The iPad is winning in this respect by such a wide margin that it’s hard to call it a competition. Even by its own standards, the iPad App Store is doing well. The iPhone App Store took 17 months to reach the 100,000 app milestone. The iPad version achieved it in less time, passing the mark after 15 months. The Android Marketplace was already doing pretty well by the time the iPhone App Store hit 100,000 titles, with 20,000 apps available just a month later in December of 2009.

    If the disparity in app libraries is anything to go by, the tablet battle between Android and iOS won’t mirror the one between the two platforms on the smartphone front. As some have suggested, it’s likely that Apple’s dominance in the tablet market will have more in common with the iPod’s performance among portable media players, which is very good for the future of iOS in general.

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  • 5 tips for a more social iPhone on Social Media Day

    Thursday is Social Media Day, so in honor of that, I'd like to offer a few tips about making your iPhone a more social device. It'd be easy to just say "register as a developer and install iOS 5," since that brings Twitter integration, but here are some options that don't cost $99 and involve using pre-release software on your primary device.

    1. Setup Facebook and Flickr albums in iPhoto

    This is actually a tip for your Mac, but it makes it much easier to share photos to Facebook and Flickr if you set up Events in iPhoto '11 that you can dump content to in bulk. Using uploading apps on the iPhone itself usually works best if you're only doing one photo at a time, and if you're on vacation, that can get annoying very fast. Connecting your social accounts in iPhoto will make it much easier to create organized albums on Facebook and Flicker with only a couple of clicks.

    To set up your services, just go to iPhoto's Preferences and click on Accounts:

    2. Add bookmarklets to mobile Safari for social sharing

    Soon you'll be able to tweet right from within Safari using the native iOS share button, but for now, tweeting links while browsing on a mobile device can be a frustrating procedure if you're using a standard copy/paste method. Instead, you can use bookmarklets (which are basically bookmarks that perform a function) in mobile Safari to share on Twitter, or on Facebook and Tumblr, too. Check out those, and many other useful bookmarklets, complete with full instructions, over at Digital Inspiration.

    3. Get all the primary apps

    The iPhone is well-represented when it comes to social network apps. The Facebook app just got a small update to fix bugs and improve performance, and the Tumblr app was updated earlier this week, and now has a completely redesigned interface that's perfect for mobile sharing. Twitter on the iPhone is a solid client, but there are many third-party options available, too, like the uniquely designed Tweetbot. There's also a Flickr app , and of course Instagram, which is quickly becoming the default network for sharing pictures on an iPhone. You'd be surprised at how much more likely you are to use these services just by having their native apps on your device.

    4. See content recommendations from Facebook in Safari

    Want so see some content reading and viewing selections from your Facebook friends without ever leaving your browser? The Recommend browser extension (really a bookmarklet like those described above) by Bob Hitching will let you call up a window that shows you what people in your network on Facebook are recommending most. It can be a little hit or miss, but it does surface some interesting content.

    5. Use cross-service sharing apps

    You can use Dropico, a service that provides one-stop shopping for photo sharing across networks like Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, Picasa, Twitter and Tumblr, to cut down considerably on the time it takes to participate in multiple networks, and even apply effects prior to sharing. Likewise, Gowalla can check-in to multiple location-based networks, including Foursquare, Facebook Places and Gowalla itself, all through one app.

    iOS 5 will really up the game for iPhone social sharing, and it looks like Google+ might help as well, although initial reaction appears to be split, likely because of Google's spotty track record with social services (remember Wave?). But if you want your device to be a better tool for engaging with others, there's no reason to wait when so many choice tools are available right now.

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  • iPhone, Android phones trump feature phones in recent sales

    It won’t be long before most phones will be smartphones, which are outselling feature phones in recent sales, according to new figures from Nielsen . The firm said smartphones made up 55 percent of recent phone acquisitions in May 2011 in the U.S., pushing past feature phones for the first time.

    The numbers, which count people who bought a phone in the last three months, are up from 34 percent a year ago and reinforce similar findings from NPD. Together, they further confirm that the rise of smartphones is certain and is still on pace to eclipse feature phones in overall marketshare this year. Nielsen said smartphones account for 38 percent of the market right now.

    Verizon + iPhone = Sales

    The growth of smartphones in recent sales was driven by the iPhone, which arrived on Verizon in January and went from accounting for 10 percent of recent sales in February to 17 percent in May. Meanwhile, among recent acquisitions, Android remained at 27 percent from February to May.

    That follows other reports that Android’s marketshare gains have slowed with the expanded distribution of the iPhone. Whether that continues could depend on how many more carriers Apple partners with and whether it introduces cheaper handsets to compete with Google’s army of Android devices.

    RIM’s Painful Transition

    One company that isn’t enjoying this fight is RIM, which saw its share of recent acquisitions fall from 11 percent in February to 6 percent in May. That kind of tumble places more pressure on the company as it struggles though a painful transition period shifting from the old BlackBerry OS to QNX for its smartphones. Even with the promise of new phones later this year, RIM is under the gun to gain back users who are finding more to like among Android and iPhone choices.

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  • A peek inside the new Apple Thunderbolt cable

    The new Apple Thunderbolt cable comes with a $49 price tag, which is a bit pricey, and the first Thunderbolt accessories available require you to buy one separately. Teardown company iFixit took a peek inside one of the new cables and came up with a good reason why Thunderbolt costs so much.

    Each cable has a controller at either end, which is used to regulate the speed of data transfer and boost the signal to make Thunderbolt’s extremely low-latency transmission possible. Each end contains 6 chips, including 2 Gennum GN2033s and 4 smaller ones, making for a total of 12 chips in each cable. This makes the Thunderbolt cable an “active” cable that has its own internal firmware and allows it to manage the high two-channel independent 10 Gbps transmission speeds.

    But it also isn’t cheap. And for right now, Apple is the only game in town when it comes to Thunderbolt cable suppliers. As Ars Technica points out, the situation bears some similarity to the early days of FireWire, which was initially very costly and limited to Apple because of unfavorable costs when compared to USB. Apple didn’t help things by initially requiring licensing fees for the use of the FireWire trademark and logo. Ars argues that the similar high costs of Thunderbolt could limit its ability to gain a real foothold.

    I see the similarities between Thunderbolt and FireWire, but I think it’s too early to assign them the same ultimate fate. For one thing, Apple is well aware of how the FireWire situation panned out. The Mac maker isn’t likely to repeat the same missteps with Thunderbolt if it really does intend for the tech to have wide applicability. Second, Thunderbolt is like FireWire, but they also can’t really be compared in terms of what they allow a user to potentially do. Display connectivity, along with speeds that basically allow Thunderbolt to act as an external PCI connector, give it a much broader scope in terms of applicability. Want to set up a server with upwards of 50 terabytes of storage running through a Mac mini? Easy (and relatively cheap using the new Pegasus RAID drives), once an updated Mac hits the market. Plus there’s always the scenario of the computer-on-a-drive that can be booted from any Mac, apps, files and settings intact.

    Apple is also in a much different position than it was when it introduced FireWire. Its share of the PC market has never been stronger, and it continues to experience growth in that sector. It also has a huge chunk of the rapidly expanding mobile industry, thanks to the iPhone, iPod and iPad. While Thunderbolt tech hasn’t yet made an appearance on the mobile side of Apple’s business, I think it’s only a matter of time before it does. And then it doesn’t matter who else embraces it.

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  • Google+ should help, not hinder Apple's social efforts

    Google+ has some features that may seem familiar to owners of Apple’s iOS devices. Huddle, for example, provides group messaging, kind of like iMessage. Instant Upload on Google+ lets you automatically post photos to the web, while with Photo Stream, pictures you take on one of your iOS devices are automatically available to others. Hangouts provides video chat, kind of like FaceTime. But while the Google+ offerings have things in common with planned or existing iOS features, they have key differences that make them complementary to, not competitive with, Apple’s mobile plans.

    Huddle is Google’s mobile group chat service, and probably stands the chance of being the most similar to what Apple’s got on offer with its upcoming iMessage. But it’s designed around a very different type of messaging. You can organize contacts into groups and automatically message across those groups with a simple tap in Huddle, but it resides within Google Plus, and isn’t integrated with your device’s text messaging app. iMessage will serve as a communication tool for impromptu conversations with one or more people, and all the functions people normally accomplish through text and MMS. Huddle looks like it will appeal more to work teams and other more formally organized groups, and will work for the kind of event planning people do with groups of friends on Facebook right now.

    Instant Upload and Photo Stream actually have very little in common, and make clear the different guiding principles behind Google’s new product and Apple’s offerings. Instant Upload is for sharing with a wide audience; Photo Stream is for keeping your media organized on devices either you or your close family owns. It’s the same with FaceTime and Hangouts: One is about one-on-one communication between relatively close contacts, while the other is about casting a wider net for a totally different kind of interaction. These could butt heads down the road if FaceTime implements group chat, but even so, FaceTime will likely be used in different contexts, like for catching up with mom and grandma at the same time, where Hangouts could be used for book club meeting, for example.

    Google has said there’s an iOS app in the works for Google+, and even the current HTML5, web-based, front end looks great (as it should, thanks to former Apple interface designer Andy Hertzfeld) and works really well on iOS devices, according to my colleague Mathew Ingram. It’s clear Google wants to reach out to as many as possible with Google+, and Apple should bend over backwards to make that happen, because as the name implies, this new social product does nothing but add to the social appeal of iOS and the iPhone.

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  • Why the ability to boot from Thunderbolt on a Mac is huge

    Pocketable drives that carry not just your data, but your entire computer for use with any Mac you encounter that much closer to a reality today, thanks to the discovery that Thunderbolt on new Macs supports booting from external storage.

    Until today, it wasn’t clear whether users could boot from an OS X install on an external drive attached via the new high-speed Thunderbolt data transfer specification, as is possible using FireWire. AnandTech (via MacRumors) has already got a new Promise Pegasus 12 TB RAID system with Thunderbolt, however, and they’ve found that booting over Thunderbolt is indeed supported.

    That means that you could run an entire OS X install, complete with your apps, files and preferences, on an external Thunderbolt drive, and then unplug said drive and take it with you wherever you can find another Thunderbolt-equipped Mac. In theory, working with an SSD drive attached via Thunderbolt should feel much faster than working with even a 7200 RPM HDD installed inside your MacBook, for example. Depending on how pricing of third-party external Thunderbolt drives goes, you might even see users buying the minimum onboard storage for Macs and just booting every time from a much speedier or more capacious desktop drive.

    This will probably have the biggest impact for mobile workers and Macs in the enterprise. Employers could use Thunderbolt storage to make workstations hot-swappable, allowing them to shift around staff to different machines in different offices or departments as needed. Mobile workers might be enticed to use coworking temporary office facilities that rent Thunderbolt-equipped Macs by the hour, day or month instead of buying high-end gear that they only use sporadically.

    Consider also that adding a RAID card and 8 TB of storage to a Mac Pro costs $1750 before tax using Apple’s customization options at the time of purchase. An external Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt RAID system boasting the same storage costs only $1500, and that price will likely drop as Thunderbolt costs drop and more competitors enter the market. Thunderbolt could help make professional-caliber rigs more affordable for prosumers and consumers.

    If you thought $50 was expensive for a single cable, this feature alone makes it worthwhile in my opinion. What do you think?

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  • Why lithium-ion batteries die so young

    The death of a battery: We've all seen it happen. In phones, laptops, cameras and now electric cars, the process is painful and — if you're lucky — slow. Over the course of years, the lithium-ion battery that once powered your machine for hours (days, even!) will gradually lose its capacity to hold a charge. Eventually you'll give in, maybe curse Steve Jobs and then buy a new battery, if not a whole new gadget.

    But why does this happen? What's going on in the battery that makes it give up the ghost? The short answer is that damage from extended exposure to high temperatures and a lot of charging and discharging cycles eventually starts to break down the process of the lithium ions traveling back and forth between electrodes.

    The longer answer, which will take us through a description of unwanted chemical reactions, corrosion, the threat of high temperatures and other factors affecting performance, begins with an explanation of what happens in a rechargeable lithium-ion battery when everything's working well.

    Lithium-ion battery 101

    In a typical lithium-ion battery, we’ll find a cathode, or positive electrode, made out of a lithium-metal oxide, such as lithium cobalt oxide. We'll also find an anode, or negative electrode, which today is generally graphite. A thin, porous separator keeps the two electrodes apart to prevent electrical shorting. And an electrolyte, made of organic solvents and lithium-based salts, allows for the transport of lithium ions within the cell.

    During charging, an electric current forces lithium ions to move from the cathode to the anode. During discharging (in other words, when you use the battery), ions move back to the cathode.

    Daniel Abraham, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory leading research into how lithium-ion cells degrade, compared this process to water in a hydropower system. Moving water uphill requires energy, but it flows downhill very easily. In fact, it delivers (kinetic) energy, said Abraham. Similarly, a lithium cobalt oxide cathode "does not want to give up its lithium," he said. Like moving water uphill, it requires energy to take lithium atoms out of the oxide and load them into the anode.

    During charging, ions are forced between sheets of graphene that make up the anode. But as Abraham put it, "they don't want to be there. When they get a chance, they'll move back," like water flowing downhill. That's discharging. A long-lasting battery will survive several thousand of these charge-discharge cycles, according to Abraham.

    When is a dead battery really dead?

    When we talk about "dead" batteries, it's important to understand two performance metrics: energy and power. For some applications, the rate at which you can get energy out of the battery is very important. That's power. In electric vehicles, high power enables rapid acceleration and also regenerative braking, in which the battery needs to accept a charge within a couple of seconds.

    In cell phones, on the other hand, high power is less important than capacity, or how much energy the battery can hold. Higher-capacity batteries last longer on a single charge.

    Over time the battery degrades in a number of ways that can affect both power and capacity until eventually it simply can't perform its basic functions.

    Think of it in terms of another water analogy: Charging a battery is like filling a bucket with water from a tap. The volume of the bucket represents the battery's energy, or capacity. The rate at which you fill it — turning the tap on full blast or just a trickle — is the power. But time, high temperatures, extensive cycling and other factors end up creating a hole in the bucket (dear Liza, dear Liza . . .).

    In the bucket analogy, water leaks out. In a battery, lithium ions are taken away, or "tied down," said Abraham. Bottom line, they're prevented from going back and forth between the electrodes. So after a few months, the cell phone that initially required a charge only once every couple of days now needs a charge every day. Then it's twice a day. Eventually, after too many lithium ions have been tied down, the battery won't hold enough of a charge to be useful. The bucket will stop holding water.

    Why does this happen? Well, in addition to the chemical reactions that we want to happen in the battery, there are also side reactions. Barriers arise that impede the motion of lithium ions. So the electric car that went, say, zero to 60 in 5 seconds off the lot will take 8 seconds after a few years, and maybe 12 seconds after 5 years. "All the energy is still there, but it can't be delivered fast enough," said Abraham. The ions run into roadblocks.

    What breaks down and why

    The active portion of the cathode (the battery's source of lithium ions) is designed with a particular atomic structure, for stability and performance. When ions are removed, sent over to the anode and then inserted back into the cathode, we ideally want them to return to the same spot, in order to preserve that nice stable crystal structure.

    The problem is that the crystal structure can change with each charge and discharge. An ion from apartment A doesn't necessarily come home but could instead insert herself into apartment B next door. So the ion from apartment B finds her place occupied by this drifter and, not being one for confrontation, decides to take up residence down the hall. And so on.

    Gradually these "phase changes" in the material transform the cathode to a new crystal structure with different electrochemical properties. The particular arrangement of atoms, which enabled the desired performance in the first place, has been altered.

    In hybrid vehicle batteries, which only need to provide power when the vehicle is accelerating or braking, noted Abraham, these structural changes occur much more slowly than in electric vehicles. This is because only a small fraction of lithium ions in the system move back and forth in any given cycle. As a result, he said, it's easier for them to return to their original locations.

    Problem of corrosion

    Degradation can occur in other parts of the battery as well. Each electrode is paired with a current collector, which is basically a piece of metal (typically copper for the anode, aluminum for the cathode) that gathers electrons and moves them to an external circuit. So you have slurry made from an "active" material like lithium cobalt oxide (which is ceramic and not a very good conductor), plus a gluelike binder painted over this piece of metal.

    If the binder fails, the coating can peel off the current collector. If the metal corrodes, it can't move electrons as efficiently.

    Corrosion within the battery cell can result from an interaction between the electrolyte and electrodes. The graphite anode is highly "reducing," which means it gives up electrons easily to the electrolyte. This can produce an unwanted coating on the graphite surface. The cathode, meanwhile, is highly "oxidizing," which means it easily accepts electrons from the electrolyte, which in some cases can corrode the aluminum current collector or form a coating on the cathode particles, Abraham said.

    Too much of a good thing

    Graphite — the material commonly used to make an anode — is thermodynamically unstable in an organic electrolyte. What that means is that the very first time our battery is charged, the graphite reacts with the electrolyte. This forms a porous layer (called a solid electrolyte interphase, or SEI) that actually protects the anode from further attacks. This reaction also consumes a little lithium, however. So in an ideal world, we would have that reaction occur once to create the protective layer and then be done with it.

    In reality, however, the SEI is a sadly unstable defender. It does a good job of protecting the graphite at room temperature, said Abraham, but at high temperatures or when the battery runs all the way down to zero charge ("deep cycling"), the SEI can partially dissolve into the electrolyte. (At high temperatures, electrolytes also tend to decompose and side reactions accelerate.)

    When friendlier conditions return, another protective layer will form, but this will eat up more lithium, giving us the same problem we had with the leaky bucket. We'll have to recharge our cell phone more often.

    Now, as much as we need that SEI to protect the graphite anode, there can be too much of a good thing. If the layer thickens too much, it actually becomes a barrier to the lithium ions, which we want to flow freely back and forth. That affects power performance, which is, as Abraham emphasized, "extremely important" for electric vehicles.

    Building better batteries

    So what can be done to make our batteries last longer? In the lab, researchers are looking for electrolyte additives to function like vitamins in our diet, enabling the battery to perform better and live longer by reducing harmful reactions between the electrodes and electrolyte, said Abraham. They're also seeking new, more-stable crystal structures for the electrodes, as well as more-stable binders and electrolytes.

    Engineers at battery and electric car companies, meanwhile, are working on the battery pack and thermal management systems to try and keep lithium-ion cells within a constant, healthy temperature range. As consumers, the rest of us can avoid extreme temperatures and deep cycling, and for now keep grumbling about those batteries that always seem to die too soon.

    Images courtesy of Argonne National Labs, felixtsao, warrenski, MitchClanky2008, bizmac

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