Backstage | iLounge

Backstage

Backstage at iLounge is the combined blog of our editors, featuring casual and often only loosely iPod-, iPhone- or iPad-related discussions that our readers may enjoy. Founded in July, 2004, Backstage has served as a launching pad for stories that later appear on the main site, and as a place to discuss portable phones, games, computers, and accessories. Visit Backstage Archives for past stories, and bookmark backstage.ilounge.com for new ones.

Take A Sneak Peek At Our 2014 iPad/iPhone/iPod Buyers’ Guide

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.05.13 | 0 comments

Assembling our annual Buyers’ Guides is one of the most challenging things we do for our readers. Although each one requires a month or more of hard-core production time, they’re actually each 12 months in the making, the distillation of thousands of hours of hands-on testing, photography, and writing into a single download you can carry around anywhere. When we say something’s the “best,” you know that’s not a term we throw around loosely, so when an entire 224-page book is filled with the year’s best Apple products, you can imagine all of the discussion and debate our editors went through to get to that point.

Our 2014 iPad/iPhone/iPod Buyers’ Guide is the latest and greatest product of that process — an easy-to-read summary of the top Apple devices, accessories, and apps we’ve covered over the past year. Which iPad, iPhone, or iPod is the best? Which is the worst? We pull no punches, reassessing each product family as of where it stands today. And we devote the same perspective and energy to helping you pick the best third-party add-ons and software for your devices.

Of course, it wouldn’t be an iLounge Buyers’ Guide without expanded versions of some of our unique research projects. Where else can you find a complete table of the current market values for every past iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV model, or a plain English glossary that explains every one of Apple’s marketing and technical buzzwords in one place? We’ve also included a quick preview of the 2014 iLounge Pavilion at CES, which has grown to over 127,000 square feet at the famous January 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Following our tradition, we’re soft-launching the 2014 Buyers’ Guide here first so that our most loyal readers can get their hands on it a little ahead of the crunch on our servers tomorrow. Choose from twin-page (iPad/computer) or single-page (iPad/iPhone/iPod touch) versions using the links below. Each version is a free PDF, which can be opened with iBooks on an iOS device, and most web browsers or Adobe Acrobat on computers. You can get a sense of how each version looks from the screenshots here; you will need to do some pinch-zooming to read text on the iPhone and iPod touch using the single-page version, but not as much as on the twin-page version, which resembles a magazine or book in layout.

Please tell a friend or two about the Guide — thanks to you, we’ve had millions of downloads for our past editions, and continue to offer each version for free to readers all over the world. Thanks for your support, and enjoy our latest Buyers’ Guide!

It’s here (very) early: iLounge’s iPad + iPad mini Buyers’ Guide!

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.24.13 | 2 comments

Apple’s late 2012 launch of the iPad mini was hardly unexpected—everyone had a pretty good idea what it would look like and do, months in advance. But even we were somewhat surprised that it arrived along with the fourth-generation iPad. The new iPad was released only six months after the last “new iPad,” a third-generation model that was in the process of breaking sales records when it was abruptly yanked from Apple’s web site. Both new models were appealing, but required Lightning accessories that were barely available in stores, an issue that would require months to address.

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A lot has changed since then: thanks to increased availability of Lightning accessories, as well as products made specifically for the iPad mini, there’s plenty of new information to share. So tonight, we’re soft-launching our iPad + iPad mini Buyers’ Guide, a complete look at the iPad mini, fourth-generation iPad, and the best new accessories, apps, and games we’ve tested for them. The Guide will officially be released tomorrow, but in keeping with tradition, we’re linking to it here first, so that loyal Backstage readers can get access to it before our servers get slammed. (One again, we thank all of our readers for the millions of downloads our last Guides continue to receive. We really appreciate your readership!)

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The core of this Guide is, as always, a comprehensive look at the features, pros, and cons of the current generation of iPad models. With six different main iPad models currently in stores—the fourth-gen iPad, iPad mini, and iPad 2, each in Wi-Fi-only and Cellular versions—we offer tips to help new users choose between the models, as well as model-specific advice on whether now is a smart time to buy a new iPad at all. We also offer used iPad selling and buying tips, complete with current eBay values and Apple Store refurbished prices for various models.

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Rather than rehashing accessories we’ve covered for the original three iPads, we’ve used this opportunity to really pare down the Guide, focusing heavily on new Lightning, Bluetooth, and iPad mini-specific options that have been released over the past several months. This edition’s 106 pages spotlight the most noteworthy items we’ve seen across genres, providing today’s potential iPad and accessory buyers with the information they need to make purchasing decisions today.

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Following our work at the amazing iLounge Pavilion at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, we’ve also included a photo gallery of the winners of our 2013 Best of Show Awards, as well as Finalists, so you can see many of the top accessories that are coming over the next several months.

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We hope you enjoy the iPad + iPad mini Buyers’ Guide, which we’ve spent considerable time assembling with the very best and latest information. Grab your choice of twin-page (iPad/computer) or single-page (iPad/iPhone/iPod) versions from the links below. Every version is a free PDF, which can be opened with iBooks or Safari on an iOS device, and most web browsers or Adobe Acrobat on computers.

And please tell a friend. We make our Guides available for free to help as many people as possible, so it would be great if you could tweet, share it on Facebook, or otherwise spread the word. Thanks!

New Details On Apple’s Budget iPhone 5

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.28.13 | 2 comments

Rumors of a budget “ready for China” iPhone have been circulating for some time, but apart from a possible price point (“low”) and assumptions about its components (“plastic,” “low-end”), no concrete details as to its look or feel have leaked out. That’s changing today: unless something major changes between now and its release, we know pretty much what the new low-end iPhone will look like, thanks to reliable sources. Yes, it will be made substantially from plastic. No, it won’t just be a Retina- and Lightning-equipped refresh of the iPhone 3G or 3GS, Apple’s last plastic iPhones, nor will it look just like an all-plastic version of the iPhone 5. This new model is actually a cross between the iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch, and… wait for it… the iPod classic. Yes, really. It will have a 4” screen, like the iPhone 5, a bottom like the latest iPod touch, and a shape that’s most similar to the iPod classic.

The budget iPhone’s raw dimensions are just barely larger than the iPhone 5’s. It is around a half-millimeter taller and a half-millimeter wider—nearly imperceptible differences—as well as almost a millimeter thicker. Beyond shifting from glass and metal to a substantially plastic chassis, the most significant change Apple will make is in the curves.

From the front, the new iPhone looks almost identical to the iPhone 5—the same exact shape, with the same sensor, camera, and button arrangement. The 1136 x 640 screen isn’t a surprise, but will be a nice step up in specs for the lowest-cost iPhone. Rather than making the display flush with the enclosure, as it was in the plastic iPhone 3G/3GS, the front glass sticks out a little, just as it does with the iPhone 5 and iPod touch. Despite the shift to plastic for the rest of the enclosure, our sources believe that Apple will continue to use Gorilla Glass for this model’s screen.

Differences become more obvious when the new iPhone is turned on the side. The circular volume buttons of the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 will shift to elongated, pill-shaped designs closer to the iPod touch and iPhone 3G/3GS.

Apple’s budget housing looks closest to the iPod classic in shape, though not in materials. Unlike the plastic iPhone 3G/3GS, which featured soft curves on all sides, the budget iPhone’s curves start and end at flat surfaces, so each side and the back are flat. This seems like a trivial change, until you realize that it allows Apple to use flat rather than curve-matched parts: the right side has a flat, centered SIM card tray just like the iPhone 5’s, while all of the buttons and ports are on flat rather than curved surfaces. A flat-backed iPhone won’t rock on a flat surface when it vibrates, either.

On the back are a camera, microphone, and rear flash similar in proportions to the fifth-generation iPod touch, only without the protruding rear lens, and with a circular rather than pill-shaped microphone hole. The bottom is a hybrid of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5G. A headphone port, Lightning port, bottom microphone, and speaker are in roughly the same positions as the iPhone 5’s, but with far fewer holes, similar to the new iPod touch’s bottom design. There’s one small hole for a second microphone, next to the headphone port, two screw holes alongside the centered Lightning port, and four holes for the speaker off to the bottom right.

In summary, the budget iPhone will look a lot like an iPhone 5 from the front, an iPod classic from the side, and an iPod touch 5G on the bottom—only made from plastic rather than glass or metal. It won’t make any bold departures from past Apple designs, but then, it’s supposed to be an inexpensive iPhone, and achieves that goal pretty much as expected.

A Few More iPad 5, iPhone 5S, and iPad mini 2G Details

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.25.13 | 0 comments

Following publication of our earlier report on the iPad 5, iPhone 5S, and other iPhone models that are in the pipeline, another trusted source offered a handful of additional details that are worth sharing.

(1) The iPhone 5S is still months away from mass production, but our source suspects that the star feature will be an upgraded rear camera—perhaps featuring Sony’s 13-Megapixel sensor, plus the aforementioned flash upgrade—along with a processor bump. Current prototypes are codenamed N51 and N53, with July mentioned as the target date.

(2) The iPad 5’s code name is J72. As mentioned before, it looks like an October release, give or take.

(3) The second-generation iPad mini has a code name of J85, and is currently planned for October, as well. Everyone we’ve spoken with assumes that it will look and feel basically the same as the first-generation model but feature a Retina screen. That said, no one has actually come up with deeper details on it quite yet. If it’s going to go Retina without substantial body changes, it will need a thin, dense screen (read: IGZO), and it remains to be seen whether there will be enough of those to go around this year.

On Apple’s iPad 5, iPhone 5S, and Plastic iPhone

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.25.13 | 1 comment

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to inspect a supposedly accurate—and seriously intriguing—physical model of the completely redesigned fifth-generation iPad. I briefly mentioned it on Twitter, but didn’t write a full article because some key details were ambiguous at that point, including how “final” the model was, and the release date. We’ve heard “late March” repeatedly from various sources, but unlike the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad, the casings for which were basically complete as of the Januaries before they launched, the iPad 5 didn’t seem to be finished yet.

What does it look like? Well, it’s a lot smaller than one would guess was possible: in portrait orientation, picture a 9.7” screen with virtually no left or right bezels, and only enough space above and below the screen to accommodate the mandatory camera and Home Button elements. Beyond that, it’s noticeably thinner, as well, which is to say the the fifth-generation iPad will be smaller in every dimension than its predecessors. As it will have the same chamfered edges and curves, calling it a “stretched iPad mini” is very close to entirely accurate, with the rendering below looking pretty close to what I’ve seen. The critical question: “how will Apple accomplish this?”


Rendered image credit: Martin Hajek

The changes are so considerable that a new screen technology, such as IGZO, seems like a given. Going Retina for the third-generation iPad forced Apple to make that tablet a little thicker than the iPad 2, in part to seriously beef up the battery. Very little changed for the fourth-generation iPad. By contrast, this iPad 5 design is so much smaller that a full internal redesign—complete with a smaller, less power-hungry sequel to the A6X—can be safely assumed. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the new iPad remain roughly on par with the fourth-generation model in processing capabilities, with the improved screen, dramatically lower size, and reduced weight becoming the key selling points.

One piece of bad news: earlier this month, we heard that Apple was targeting the iPad 5 for March—something that seemed a little hard to swallow. As of now, we’re hearing October, give or take a couple of weeks. This part is pure speculation, but we’re guessing that the screens and processors are going to be hard to come by for a while. If IGZO is in fact the screen technology inside the new iPad, Apple will be relying heavily on Japan’s Sharp, which has been struggling for some time with both financial and production constraints. We’d bet that stabilizing Sharp is a key concern for Apple going forward.

Our sources have also shared a few small new details on the upcoming iPhone lineup. The iPhone 5S will apparently look very much like the iPhone 5, but with a larger rear flash, and is indeed coming this year. Also planned for a 2013 release is Apple’s “low-cost” plastic-bodied iPhone, which is being developed with China Mobile in mind: the government-owned telecom company has over 700 million subscribers. One of our sources claims that Apple’s iPhone prices remain too high for most mainland Chinese customers—the iPhone 5 hardware alone starts at $849 there, versus the iPhone 4 at $500, in a country where the average annual salary is around $3,000 per person. The source has said that mainland Chinese iPhone 5 sales are already tapering off as a result of the pricing, which is higher than in Hong Kong. A budget iPhone model would help sales in populous but underdeveloped countries to grow.

Addressing the so-called “iPhone Math”—hinted by one source as a mistranslation of “iPhone +”—we’ve been told that this is another new model and in early prototyping stages, certainly not expected in 2013. It supposedly has a 4.7” screen, at least for the time being. It might never make it to market, and plenty could change before it does. Consider it Apple’s “just in case / Plan B” hedge against ever-growing Android phone screen sizes.

Update: We’ve added additional iPad 5, iPad mini 2G, and iPhone 5S details in a follow-up report.

Thoughts On Best of Show Awards: The Process + Results

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.14.13 | 0 comments

As a matter of policy, we rarely comment on what’s taking place at other publications, but I wanted to share a few thoughts related to the CNET Best of CES award controversy that’s currently going public—one that has raised questions over CNET’s editorial independence, after it was revealed that CBS executives tampered with the original award results.

I’ve worked professionally as a writer and reviewer for a little over two decades now, so I have a fair bit of experience in rating products and services, as well as judging awards. Over the years, I’ve headed up award panels (including iLounge’s), participated in others (such as CES’s Innovations Design and Engineering awards), and spent quite a lot of time thinking about what is and isn’t award-worthy. The independence and integrity of the award judging process are truly very important to me—values that I’ve imparted to every member of iLounge’s team, before, during, and after we sit down to discuss awards. Because these values have been with us since the beginning, I can say with confidence that our publisher has never interfered with our award process; every award has been a pure editorial selection, based on the merits of the product’s design, features, and pricing. In the Apple accessory world, innovation remains a highly desirable but rare fourth factor.

Our awards have always been earned, and never bought; unlike many publications, we do not charge companies to submit products for award consideration, nor for the right to publicize or reprint the awards—a shockingly common trick that can earn award-granting publications thousands of dollars. Moreover, we always bring fewer awards than we could hand out, and always hand out fewer awards than we brought. This year, we brought 30 total awards and had five left over at the end. To us, the process of judging awards isn’t a business. As our inclusion of reasonable pricing as a factor should underscore, issuing awards is something we do to commend developers for doing right by their customers.

In some years, potential awards have inspired passionate debate amongst our editors: generally brief but serious arguments over items that might otherwise have sailed through without full consideration, or been dismissed too quickly. This year, a new contributor noted our extended discussion of the actual engineering merits of an iPad mini wheelchair mount that otherwise seemed deserving of an award. That sort of deliberation is par for the course in our process. And on many occasions, we’ve passed on handing out awards to products that were obviously going to be heavily marketed—and potentially popular—simply because they didn’t meet our criteria for actual excellence.

I can’t speak to what happens at other publications, but I’m extremely proud of the work that goes into our annual awards. Our goal isn’t to have every reader agree with every award, but rather to consistently choose impressive new products that are deserving of special attention on their merits. This year’s Best of Show Awards include many new products that are worthy of your attention. We hope that if you haven’t seen them yet, you’ll take a look, and know that they were arrived upon through a process you can trust.

It’s Here: iLounge’s 2013 iPhone + iPod Buyers’ Guide!

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.31.12 | 0 comments

2012 was a momentous year for the iPhone and iPod. The hardware improved, 200,000 new apps hit the App Store, and third-party developers were forced to transition quickly from Dock Connectors to Bluetooth wireless and Lightning adapters. Between the devices, their software, and their accessories, a lot has changed, and it looks like Apple’s just getting started.

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Tonight, we’re soft-launching our 2013 iPhone + iPod Buyers’ Guide, a comprehensive look at the year’s best Apple devices, accessories, apps, and games. The official release date is tomorrow, but as always, we’re linking to it here first, so that loyal Backstage readers can get access to it before our servers get slammed. (Thank you, readers, for the millions of downloads our last two Guides received. We really appreciate your continued support!)

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Rewritten from top to bottom, this year’s edition has 208 pages, divided up into sections looking at Apple’s hardware, third-party accessories, and software, as well as a few other things worth pointing out. Some really cool pages contrast all the current iPhone and iPod touch cameras, along with iPad and Canon standalone camera results, as well as color comparison charts for all of the iPod shuffles, nanos, and touches against historic models.

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There’s a large preview of the upcoming iLounge Pavilion at the 2013 CES, which will host over 450 developers this year, with 12 spotlighted developers across six different areas of the massive show floor.

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We’ve expanded the iGlossary, which will help new and recent users learn 200 different marketing and technical terms Apple is using these days, and we’ve also created new camera and color comparison charts for the latest iPhones and iPods.

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One other thing that you might or might not have noticed in prior guides is our massive “Buy or Sell - Used” section, which we update every year with current fair market value pricing for every discontinued iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV model. Did you know you could actually sell a second-generation Apple TV for more than it cost brand new? That iPod values are beginning to show serious declines this year, as Apple continues to focus more on new iPhones and iPads?

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So yes, there’s a lot to learn inside the 2013 iPhone + iPod Buyers’ Guide. It’s the product of many early mornings and sleepless nights, so we hope you enjoy it. Grab your choice of twin-page (iPad/computer), single-page (iPad/iPhone/iPod) or mobile (iPhone/iPod-only) versions from the links below. Every version is a free PDF, which can be opened with iBooks or Safari on an iOS device, and most web browsers or Adobe Acrobat on computers.

And please tell a friend. We made this Guide available for free to help as many people as possible, so it would be great if you could tweet, share it on Facebook, or otherwise spread the word. Thanks!

Eight-Pin Dock Connector + iOS 6 / Bluetooth 4 Link Details? (Updated)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 08.01.12 | 2 comments

As Apple’s next-generation iOS devices and software come closer to release, new details continue to flow in from our sources, and a previously reliable one has chimed in with two really interesting things we hadn’t heard before. Since the first directly conflicts with rumors that have made the rounds for months, we waited to publish it until we had additional confirmation, which we received this morning.

1. New 8-Pin Dock Connector. According to two sources, Apple’s new Dock Connector features only 8 pins, seemingly contradicting claims of “16-pin” and “19-pin” connectors. Although the original Dock Connector contained 30 pins, reports of 16- or 19-pin connectors seemed hard to square with the port’s small size and Apple’s actual need for additional pins beyond what USB/Micro-USB offer. No images or parts for the connector have leaked out, either. Both of our sources concur that there are eight pins in a line within the new Dock Connector, which may well receive a different name going forward.

It’s worth noting that Apple recently received a patent on what appeared to be a 16- or 19-pin Dock Connector. It’s possible that this is for the seemingly inevitable “old Dock Connector to new Dock Connector” adapter, specifically the female side that connects to and adapts the prior 30 pins, and obviously the other side will look entirely different.

One source claims that the new connector will feature other design innovations, potentially including the ability to be connected to docks and cables in either orientation (like MagSafe),* but the other source could not confirm this or additional changes we’ve heard about; consequently, we consider other changes “quite possible” but uncertain. Given the possibility of grumbling from users regarding accessory incompatibility, it’s safe to say that Apple will attempt to pitch the new connector as superior to its predecessor in a variety of ways, and the smaller size will only be one of them.

Update: A source chimes in to confirm and explain the second detail: the male connector has 8 pins on each side, while the female connector has only 8 pins on one side. This enables the iPhone/iPod/iPad (with female port) to connect to either side of a male cable or docking plug.

2. iOS 6 + Bluetooth 4 Link. Our source also claimed that Apple is working on an as-yet-undisclosed iOS 6 feature that will act as a bridge between its Bluetooth 4-capable devices. The feature would enable, say, a future iPod nano to display iMessages received by an iPhone, record voice memos that could be shared via the iPhone, and even initiate phone calls through its own headphones. It could also conceivably let you make iPhone calls from your iPad (or possibly even recent Macs), assuming the iPhone was paired with the computer over Bluetooth. The core concept here might sound familiar to fans of HP’s ill-fated TouchPad, but our source claims that it’ll be more broadly and deeply executed by Apple.

New Details On Apple’s Next iPhone, iPods, iPad mini, iPad (4th-Gen) + Cases

By Jeremy Horwitz | 07.30.12 | 10 comments

Good morning! We spent part of the weekend gathering new details on the upcoming iPhone, iPod, and iPad releases to share with you today, and have some interesting new information about all of the upcoming models from a highly reliable source—the first one to nail the new iPhone’s unusual body design. According to our source:

1. New iPhone. Apple will be ready to ship the new iPhone starting in mid-September, pointing to a launch date around the third week of September, maybe a little later if it waits to build additional inventory. But just before October is looking increasingly likely.

2. New iPhone Cases. Apple is working on at least two cases for the new iPhone. One is very similar to the Bumper released for the iPhone 4, and is a lock for release. The other is a different design that our source says will have a major impact on the accessory market if released, yet is not hugely surprising. Something with a stand, perhaps?

3. New iPod touch. The new iPod touch will likely be announced at the same event as the new iPhone, and as we’ve previously noted, it will grow in screen size and performance relative to its 3.5”-screened, A4 CPU-based predecessor. Note that if it is released into stores alongside the new iPhone, this will be the first time that Apple offers consumers a choice of bona-fide new iPhone and iPod touch designs at the same time.

4. New iPod nano. As interesting as the new form factor rumors have been, there is too little evidence at this point to suggest that a new iPod nano is actually about to be announced or released. It appears more likely that Apple will focus on other devices this holiday season.

5. iPad mini + Cases. The iPad mini will apparently not be ready to ship at the same time as the new iPhone, and might* have its own debut event. Our source says that it could ship by November, which we noted would be really close to year’s end, during a month that typically doesn’t see new hardware releases from Apple; our source stood firm on the target date. On the accessory front, Apple is working on smaller versions of the iPad Smart Cover and iPad Smart Case for the iPad mini.

6. Fourth-Generation iPad. Apple’s current plan for the fourth-generation iPad is to release another relatively modest body tweak, which would keep the shape basically the same while introducing the new small Dock Connector, a rear-side microphone, and spec-improving/heat-reducing changes to the hardware inside. The rear-side mic might aid in noise cancellation or improve audio quality during rear video recording, and is apparently just like one found on the iPhone 5, between the camera and flash; prototype iPad minis apparently have a mic on the back in the same place.

7. iPad mini + iPad (4th-Gen) Event? The next iPad’s release date is a big question mark right now. As noted with the * above for the iPad mini, Apple could hold a special event just to announce the sub-8” tablet, and our source suggests that Apple might be ready to refresh the iPad at the same time. We and our source both feel that a late 2012 iPad refresh is unlikely given Apple’s track record, particularly the bad press/consumer anger that would follow if something replaced “the new iPad” so soon after its launch. This is purely speculation, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the iPad announced at a low-key event at Apple’s Town Hall, with the fourth-generation iPad launching around the one-year anniversary of its predecessor.

On The Possibility Of An Apple Standalone Camera

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.31.12 | 9 comments

A few days ago, I mentioned that we’d heard claims—initially quite firm, and then not so firm—that Apple is working on a standalone digital camera, specifically a point-and-shoot model designed to deliver image quality and zoom functionality beyond what iPhones, iPads, and iPods can deliver in their thinning bodies.

Specifically, the claims from our source were as follows:

(a) Apple has been glad that the media and analysts are so focused on iTV, as it was able to work quietly on the camera.

(b) Just as with the iPhone, Apple wants to give users a powerful tool that can be used to produce awesome results without needing to understand technical details, jargon, or legacy controls.

(c) The idea of selling excellent little cameras as an accessory to go along with other Apple devices fits with Apple’s business model, and is a lot easier to stock in Apple Stores than huge television sets.

(d) The product is planned for after the release of the iTV, and would leverage iCloud for storage.

Our editors debated and researched the claims, noting a few interesting things along the way:

(1) We noted that Apple had many camera-related job openings posted, including a reference to cameras that were to be built into “standalone peripherals,” as distinguished from “laptops,” “desktops,” and “handhelds.” (See http://jobs.apple.com/index.ajs?BID=1&method=mExternal.showJob&RID=82844&CurrentPage=4)

(2) We found that Apple had re-trademarked iSight in April 2012, notably expanding beyond the prior iSight trademark’s reliance on “Computer hardware, namely, a camera requiring use of a personal computer for taking still and moving pictures” (see http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4002:jmubnt.2.4) to “Cameras; still and video cameras incorporated in computers and handheld mobile digital electronic devices” (see http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/showfield?f=doc&state=4002:jmubnt.2.1).

(3) We recalled that two books on the late Steve Jobs and Apple (Isaacson, Lashinsky) confirmed not only that Jobs named photography as one of three industries he had wanted to transform (behind textbooks and television), but also met with Lytro regarding an acquisition before his death. The textbook and television initiatives are already underway.

(4) We discussed the plausibility of a standalone camera in light of the iPhone’s tremendous success as a compromise camera, as measured by its popularity on Twitter, and Apple’s general trend towards convergence. The key reasons such a device made sense were that Apple employs serious photo and video lovers, traditionally creates products its employees want (rather than asking focus groups), and could go after a market for digital photography that’s worth $68-Billion annually. Add to that Jobs’ known enthusiasm for the subject, and there was every reason to believe it would be a priority for Apple. Why not do it? The answers largely came down to “why bother given the iPhone” and “they’re pretty busy already.”

Is it going to happen? For a variety of reasons—including our not well-established source softening his certainty on the specifics after we did the requisite probing—we are not going to say “yes.” It’s speculation at this point. But we made the case for how it could and likely would happen on pages 152-153 of The New iPad Buyers’ Guide. This isn’t gospel and sure isn’t something we’d put money on right now, but since it’s something we’re tracking, we wanted you to be aware of it, too.

If You Can See This, You Can Grab Our New iPad Buyers’ Guide

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.28.12 | 0 comments

Keeping with tradition, we’re excited to offer Backstage readers a special early preview of our New iPad Buyers’ Guide —a quiet opportunity for you to grab the Guide before our servers get slammed tomorrow. (We’ve already had 1.9 million (!) downloads of last year’s iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide, and counting.) There’s an incredible wealth of information in the new 156-page Guide, including looks at the best iPad accessories and apps, as well as some of the best iDesign interviews we’ve ever conducted with developers, and much more.

Three versions are available for download—please choose the one that’s best for your needs. The top link leads to a single-page version that can be read on a portrait orientation iPad with ease, or a Retina Display iPhone/iPod touch with pinch zooming. In the middle is a landscape version with magazine-style spreads; this is the easiest to flip through, and can be read on PCs, Macs, and iPads—particularly the latest Retina Display iPads. Last is a lower-resolution, single-page version that’s easier for older iPhones and iPod touches to load. You can get a sense of what all of the versions look like above.

Take special note of pages 152 and 153—“Making the case for a standalone iSight Camera.” I’ll share more on this topic shortly, but for now, I’ll say that this two-page spread very nearly had a different title. We were tipped that this project is actually happening at Apple right now, but we didn’t feel confident enough in our source to call it a certainty; it’s therefore billed as speculation. Still, there’s enough smoke to make us think there’s a fire.

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Enjoy The New iPad Buyers’ Guide. It’s the product of many, many long hours of work by the iLounge team, and we hope that it helps you choose some great new stuff for your iPad!

The New iPhone: Size, Screen + New Connector (Plus iPod touch)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.03.12 | 39 comments

Whether you call it the “iPhone 5,” the “iPhone 6,” or the “iPhone 4G”—well, maybe not the last one thanks to international regulators—the new iPhone is coming this fall, and we have some details to share. They match and expand upon details we received back in March, suggesting that Apple is abandoning the long-rumored “teardrop-shaped iPhone 5” in favor of another glass-bodied design.

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What we’ve learned: the new iPhone will indeed be longer and thinner than the iPhone 4 and 4S. Approximate measurements are 125mm by 58.5mm by 7.4mm—a 10mm jump in height, nearly 2mm reduction in thickness, and virtually identical width. According to our source, Apple will make one major change to the rear casing, adding a metal panel to the central back of the new iPhone. This panel will be flat, not curved, and metal, not ceramic. Our artist’s rendition provides a rough idea of what this change will look like; it echoes the current-generation iMac design, to be sure.

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Note that the new iPhone is expected to be made partially from Gorilla Glass 2, which can be manufactured thinner with identical strength to the earlier iPhones’ Gorilla Glass, or at the same thickness with greater strength. The change in height will include a lengthening of the prior 3.5” screen to roughly 4” on the diagonal. As the new iPhone won’t widen, this appears to confirm that Apple will change the new iPhone’s aspect ratio for the first time since the original iPhone was introduced in 2007, adding additional pixels to the top and bottom of the screen. A change of this sort took place between the fourth and fifth generations of the iPod nano, but didn’t impact any third-party software. This obviously will.

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Apple will also introduce its new Dock Connector on the new iPhone. The new port will be a little larger than the bottom speaker or microphone hole on the iPhone 4/4S. It’s believed to have fewer pins than the prior 30-pin Dock Connector, perhaps only 16, and the shape of the hole is apparently closer to a pill shape than the prior rounded rectangle. It will be used on all upcoming devices, including an update to the iPod touch that’s expected this year, and will almost certainly feature a similarly updated screen and CPU. Will Apple call it the “new iPod touch,” just like the “new iPad,” and most likely, the “new iPhone?” Or is it finally time to just call it the “new iPod?”

An Update On Screen Protection For The Third-Generation iPad

By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.12.12 | 5 comments

Just like the iPhone and iPod, some people leave their iPads completely bare, risking dents and scratches. Other people use cases and/or protective film to keep their devices looking factory fresh until they’re ready to sell or hand down to a lucky family member. Because our editors have witnessed (and occasionally experienced) the sort of damage that drops and scuffs can cause, we prefer cases, and many of us have used protective screen film, too—at least until recently. Apple’s ultra-sharp Retina Displays have heightened awareness of a long-standing issue with some screen protectors known as the “prismatic effect,” by which plastic shields can scatter each tiny pixel into its rainbow-colored components, transforming a crystal clear screen into a glittery mess. Cheaper films often scatter the pixels in a pronounced way; better-made films from Japan and Korea often have less prismatic distortion, but not zero, and cost more—as much as $30 per sheet for the iPad.

A low level of prismatic distortion was tolerable—not ideal—with iPad and iPad 2 screen film; Apple’s earlier 1024x768 displays didn’t beg to be examined up close, and seriously benefitted from protection, particularly anti-glare coating. Fitted with anti-glare screen film, these iPads became much safer and easier to use in cars and generally outdoors, where they would otherwise be highly reflective, accidentally redirecting sunlight towards users and onlookers’ faces. Top films also dramatically reduce the impact of fingerprints, cutting an iPad’s wipe-down needs from daily or weekly to bi-weekly, monthly, or even bi-monthly. The only noteworthy offset in the best film we tested was a very modest blur, which softened the edges of pixels in a generally inoffensive way.

When Apple added a Retina Display to the third-generation iPad, quadrupling the number of pixels in the screen, it didn’t “break” previously-developed screen film; it just magnified existing film flaws. The previously slight blurring in anti-glare films softens new iPad screens enough to make them look closer to their iPad and iPad 2 predecessors—not identical, but not as sharp. Moreover, the prismatic effect now reflects four times as many dots, creating a rainbow-like shimmering that’s particularly pronounced in white parts of the screen, but apparent elsewhere, as well. For the first time in years, we’ve found ourselves peeling off currently available screen film in favor of a bare display—not because we don’t want the glare and fingerprint reduction, but because they make the new iPad’s screen look bad. Crystal clear film, depending on the vendor and model, typically offers great protection and superior visibility, but no anti-glare and limited anti-fingerprint benefits.

We wish we had better news to report on the accessory front. After the new iPad was released, we reached out to leading iPad 2 screen film vendors to see if they were planning anything new, and disappointingly, there hasn’t been any update from the Japanese film experts at Power Support, which previously made the best anti-glare film we’d tested across earlier Apple devices—in fact, the company is currently selling its “HD Anti-Glare Film” (shown in the photos here) as “compatible with the iPad 3.” Leading Korean rival Spigen SGP is working on new options, and has already sent us a sample of its perfectly clear but prohibitively expensive GLAS.t, but hasn’t said anything on anti-glare film. Other companies are continuing to sell or bundle the same films for the new iPad as they used for the iPad 2, which most often looked noticeably worse than Power Support’s and SGP’s versions, and will be particularly problematic on the new iPad. Simplism’s new anti-glare films went on our iPads only to be removed quickly thereafter due to distortion.

All of this leads to a simple recommendation, at least for now: unless you’re OK with compromising the performance of the Retina Display, don’t buy iPad 2 anti-glare screen film for the new iPad. At $30 per sheet, the cost is too high for a solution that noticeably compromises the clarity of the 2048x1536 screen. Our hope is that developers are working on improved solutions, but the continued silence suggests that users might be waiting for a while. We’ll be sure to share any updates as soon as we have them.

A Note On Smart Covers, Smart Cases + Third-Generation iPads

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.21.12 | 4 comments

Over the last several days, we’ve been testing a variety of old and new cases with the third-generation iPad, and as we mentioned a few days ago, many—not all—iPad 2 cases continue to work with the new model. One of the two exceptions we noted was magnetic Smart Cover-like cases—ones with lids that were supposed to automatically lock and unlock the iPad’s screen. A small change by Apple means that some of the magnetic lids developed for the iPad 2 continue to work, while others don’t.

There’s still some confusion over what works and what doesn’t. While we wish we could clear this up entirely for everyone, the reality seems to be more complicated than any pithy summary could capture. Here’s what we’re seeing.

Contrary to claims that the original iPad Smart Cover (released alongside the iPad 2 in March 2011) doesn’t work or works inconsistently with the new iPad, we’ve tested both leather and plastic versions of that Smart Cover with multiple third-generation iPads, and both work reliably. There was a quiet, unexplained update in the middle of last year to the Smart Cover, and it’s possible that different batches of Smart Covers were made inconsistently, but the original Smart Covers seem to be just fine. Reports on Apple’s Support Communities Forum, however, suggest that some people are getting new Smart Covers that aren’t working with new iPads, which is obviously concerning.

Results with third-party cases for the iPad 2 and new iPad are all across the board. They are so inconsistent, in fact, that we’ve tested a “third-generation iPad” case in multiple colors that vary in performance by color. The black and brown versions we received for testing work just fine. Gray and red versions don’t work at all. Other cases we’ve tested seem to work or not work without regard to colors, but manufacturing for many companies is not entirely perfect, and sometimes varies from batch to batch.

We’ve already received a number of emails from case makers explaining that they’re aware of the problems and completely willing to replace cases for affected users. The issue has been traced to an iPad sensor that was reversed in polarity in the new model, causing some of the third-party magnet designs to fail—and possibly some of Apple’s, too.

Until the dust settles, it would be a good idea to hold off on buying Smart Cover-like accessories. We didn’t recommend the original versions because they were ridiculously overpriced, and there have subsequently been quite a few cases that have incorporated similar functionality with much better protection—Apple was reportedly working on an option of its own before the new iPad launched. Our expectation is that most of the issues will be resolved over the next several weeks, and that any company that has sold problematic cases will be glad to fix the issue for you. If that’s not your experience, let us know, and we’ll do what we can to help.

A Note On Third-Generation iPad Case Compatibility

By Nick Guy | 03.16.12 | 2 comments

Since we first saw the almost indiscernibly thicker third-generation iPad shell at the 2012 CES, there’s been one question on our minds: will iPad 2 cases fit? Although 0.6 millimeters doesn’t seem like—and truly isn’t—a big difference, the precise tolerances that many case makers work with have potential to cause issues. We’ve had a chance to test a number of different styles of cases, and here our are general findings.

Sleeves and Soft-Framed Folios

These cases are the most forgiving, and easily accept both the iPad 2 and the new iPad. Generally this imprecision isn’t a factor we’re quick to promote, but it is nice to have the wiggle room to use older models you may have lying around with your new device. There is one caveat: Apple seems to have repositioned the magnets used to automatically lock and unlock the new iPad. Even if the case in question supports this feature on the iPad 2, it may not work as well or at all on the third-generation tablet. 

Hard Molded Shells

Because of their contoured shape, we were more skeptical about how well plastic, hard leather, and other molded shells would fit the new iPad. Surprisingly, many of them do fit well, although tightly. While all of the models we tried held the device, many felt strained and we weren’t totally comfortable with how much more effort it took to snap it in place in some of them. We feared scratch damage to the iPad’s aluminum back, or to the case itself. While it may be OK to use your old iPad 2 case, we wouldn’t recommend buying one if you can help it: wait until the company releases an updated version. The same magnetic lid issue is as true with these cases as those mentioned above. These cases also usually have tighter camera holes, which may present an issue with the larger lens on the new iPad. 

Takeaways

From what we’ve seen, most cases will indeed work with either of the similarly shaped iPads, but it’s by no means a certainty. Simply put, not every iPad 2 case will fit or work properly with the third-generation iPad. Each case is different, so we recommend checking with the company if it doesn’t explicitly state compatibility. We’re already starting to see many manufacturers advertising that their cases fit both the iPad 2 and the new iPad, and expect that to be pretty common.

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