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.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 06.03.10 | 10 comments
A couple of readers wrote to ask us why we hadn’t published the iPad Buyers’ Guide + iPod/iPhone Book 5 as an ePub download for iBooks. Even though the answer seemed pretty obvious on this end, I wanted to post these shots to give readers a sense of what happens when someone outputs a 150-page PDF-format book or magazine as an ePub document.
The result is between 220 to 328 “pages” long at the minimum font size depending on how you hold the iPad, while missing many of its graphics and all of its original layout. It doesn’t look, feel, or read anywhere near as well as the Book does as originally designed—it’s a glorified text file—and under the best circumstances, there’s a lot of unnecessary extra page flipping to be done, while losing the ability to zoom in on pictures.
If Apple does what really needs to be done to “save traditional media”—namely, to create a universal framework for publishing next-generation newspapers and magazines, complete with easy UI features and a proper development backend for publishers—we’ll be thrilled to offer our publications in that format. But for the time being, PDF is an extremely usable format that allows us to deliver most of the experience we want across multiple platforms. For free. We’ve discussed the idea of turning our Books and Guides into apps, offsetting the added development costs with a small charge, but haven’t done so for a number of reasons. By comparison, ePub strikes us as a huge step backwards for publications like ours, with no benefits apart from iBookstore distribution, and we’d rather give up that added distribution than put out something that looks like this in iBooks. We’d sooner spend any necessary additional development and reformatting work on a more powerful application than on a stripped-down text file. Your thoughts and insights on the topic would be welcome.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.31.10 | 0 comments
iLounge’s editors generally spend two months each year working on “special editions” for our readers—our annual Books and Buyers’ Guides—and we’re always pleased to see that the download numbers are in the millions. Tonight, we’re proud to debut our latest book for your enjoyment, which as its (long) name suggests has fused both of our prior publications into a single download: the iPad Buyers’ Guide + iPod/iPhone Book 5. In keeping with tradition, we’re letting loyal readers grab it before the official press release hits the wires and floods our servers, so get your downloading in now!
We’ve been optimistic about the iPad since well before it was formally announced, and as Apple’s “two million iPads sold” announcement indicates, there’s tremendous international interest in both the device and the ecosystem that surrounds it. Spanning forty pages, the iPad Buyers’ Guide section of the Book is substantial, impartially discussing the device’s pros, cons, best accessories, and top applications. Yet it’s a little less than a third of the 150-page Book’s total content.
Another thing that we’re seriously excited about is the Book’s new iDesign Addendum section, which builds on the series of feature articles we published during 2008 and early 2009. Six new companies have been honored inside with iDesign profiles that illuminate their historic products and innovations, alongside brand new interviews with the key designers and executives responsible for moving development forward in the Apple universe. We’re especially enthusiastic about the never-before-seen details and images featured in several of the interviews, including the first shots of Duck Duck Moose’s next educational application, some neat PopCap Plants vs. Zombies concept art, and the inspirations for Incase’s famous cases.
And, of course, there’s the All Things iPod + iPhone Guide. If you’ve seen past editions of the Book, you know generally what to expect from this massive look at filling and maximizing your iPod or iPhone, but it’s been completely updated with the latest everything. So, should you want to know how much your used iPod or iPhone will fetch on eBay, what sort of hardware or software to use to convert videos into iTunes-friendly formats, or anything else, it’s right here. We’ve pulled the All Things iTunes section from the Book this time in anticipation of some big iTunes-related changes.
Hundreds of hours of energy—and equal parts heart and soul—have gone into the new Book for the past month; if you’ve ever worked two jobs at the same time, you’ll have an idea of what it’s like behind the scenes as we assemble our publications. The iPad Buyers’ Guide + Free iPod/iPhone Book 5 can be read on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad*, and carries the same price tag as its predecessors have for nearly six years: free. Download it from the links above, and we hope that you enjoy it!
[* = We’re thrilled with how it looks on the iPad, and are partial to the two-page magazine-style layout on that format. Our advice would be to download it using GoodReader or Readdle Docs, then read it on the go. The final two pictures above are from ReaddleDocs, alternating between two- and one-page versions, with the preceding two in two-page format from GoodReader.]
By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.07.10 | 28 comments
Apologies in advance for broadly grouping all AT&T employees into the same category below: I’m sure that at least a few of you are smart, genuinely interested in quickly solving customers’ problems, and capable of navigating the apparently daunting software AT&T has erected between you and the machines that collect the customers’ money. And extra credit to AT&T Twitter guy @ATTChrisF, who volunteered to follow up on the iPad data plan double-billing problem we mentioned a few days ago. It’s because of you, Chris, that I’m taking a brief break from more pressing things to write this today. I could have called back for my fifth or six call with AT&T on this issue, but I felt these words would do more good in this format.
Chris, AT&T PR guy @Sethbloom, and anyone else from AT&T who might be reading this, please share this open letter with your higher-ups. They need to see it, but more importantly, to actually read and understand it. I realize that everyone’s focusing these days on how incredibly dissatisfied AT&T customers are with dropped calls, slow data plans, and unfulfilled promises of better features. These are serious problems, but let’s put them aside for a couple of minutes. I’m about to tell you two other, more easily correctible reasons that AT&T iPhone customers are ready to go elsewhere as soon as they have another option.
The first is simple: AT&T has a distorted view of time. Your wireless business model is based largely upon the dollar value of minutes—charging people for spending more time on the phone—so you obviously understand that time can equal money. But somehow, you’ve mixed up the equation. Your company doesn’t reward customer service agents for quickly and completely resolving the issues they’re called about. Instead, they almost invariably try to stretch things out—they seem to actually want to spend lots of extra time getting simple things done. Worse yet, they put customers through several separate phone calls rather than just finishing the discussion on the first call. This week alone, I had calls with three AT&T employees to re-confirm that I actually, really wanted a billing overcharge to get reversed on my credit card rather than being issued as a check. And that was after my first call, where the question had already been answered.
Your customers see things differently. They don’t like wasting their minutes, or more generally, their time. They have lives. And they don’t like to spend four phone calls and 40 minutes of their lives resolving billing issues that could have been corrected in a 2-minute exchange. These lengthy calls and delays come across as either stupidity or deliberate attempts at creating busywork. And customers especially hate that they’re wasting time not because of anything they did wrong, but rather, because of problems with your computers, compounded by people who have no respect for their time.
That brings me to the second problem: your computerized activation and billing system is broken. It couldn’t handle two iPhone launches back when the iPhone was nowhere near as popular as it is now. But I’m not talking about just those almost-forgotten problems—I’m referring to the ones from this week. A properly functioning system doesn’t disconnect in the middle of activations, leaving accounts non-functional. It doesn’t error out or forget where it was in the middle of billing, resulting in two implausibly identical charges to a brand new account. And let’s not even get started on the P.O. Box thing. It’s almost astonishing to see your system making bad first impressions with new customers nearly three years after the iPhone launch.
Through your agents, I’ve heard you try to blame Apple for these sorts of problems, but I’ve bought more stuff from Apple over the past five years than any other company, and I’ve never had a billing problem of any sort with their retail stores, online store, or iTunes Store. Ever. Apple somehow understands that the process of handing over money should be fast, painless, and friendly, which is why people keep doing it over and over at its stores. Your competitors get this, too. When I used to be a T-Mobile customer, the only reason I ever had to call was over occasional dropped calls, which they fixed instantly. I loved T-Mobile. But I hate having to call AT&T. Over and over again.
AT&T, I realize that you think you can rebrand and market your way out of your problems, but you need to address the mess inside your walls before the outside world will turn in your favor. Right now, your customers know that they get the worst of all worlds: comparatively mediocre service, activation and billing problems, and then extended delays in resolving the problems. Most of your customers are working people with families, too little money, and too little free time. For years, you have operated a billing system that either negligently or deliberately takes too much money out of customers’ pockets, and a customer service system that makes it too difficult to get that wrongfully taken money back. At some point, systematic problems like these cease to be merely annoying and cross the line into illegal conduct. I firmly believe that you’ve crossed that line, but even if you don’t, fix what’s wrong anyway. Replace your activation and billing system. Train your agents to resolve billing and other issues completely in one quick call rather than four. It shouldn’t take action by a state Attorney General or the FCC to make your company do what’s right by your customers. Who knows—with better and fewer customer service experiences, you might just be able to keep some people from jumping ship.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.03.10 | 1 comment
Once upon a time, we received something so incredibly ridiculous—an office supply store package of adhesive rubber dots, repackaged with an i-Prefix name and marketed as a way to scratch-proof an iPod’s back at a big price premium—that we couldn’t quite believe how low some companies would sink to make a buck. Just Mobile’s oddly-named new Lazy Couch ($20) accessory for MacBook Pro users is not that product, nowhere near that bad, and surely much nicer-looking, but the concept is basically the same: elevate the computer a little above a flat surface.
MacBook Pro computers now have black rubber pads built into their bottoms, but they’re all the same height, so they essentially sit flat on desks. Lazy Couch is billed as a “portable laptop stand” that is placed at the back of these laptops, lifting them on an angle for easier typing. You get two pieces that are each 0.75” tall and around 1.6” in diameter, half of the thickness coming from silver aluminum tubes and the other half from black rubber pads on either side, grooved such that the pieces can be pressed together for storage.
The concept is almost silly: does anyone really need to pay for such a thing? Yet Lazy Couch works as well to elevate the MacBook Pro as Just Mobile’s earlier Aluminum Cooling Bar, consumes less space, and sells for less, thanks mostly to a reduction in the amount of metal and an increase in black rubber. Plus, there’s something about Lazy Couch that just makes us keep jiggling its two halves around like a stress ball, pushing them together and pulling them apart absentmindedly. That “something” is probably their surprisingly substantial feel, due more to the aluminum than the padding.
Is this Just Mobile’s best accessory design? No. Best name? Far from it. Best idea? Naw. But as a minimalist stand with minimal functionality, it’s better than a pack of stick-on rubber dots, and looks a lot nicer with Apple’s metal MacBooks. Whether you’re willing to pay for it is another question altogether.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.01.10 | 30 comments
Our full review of the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G is still a little ways off, but since the device will officially be on store shelves at 5:00PM tonight, we wanted to post some early findings that might help you decide whether to buy in or not. What follows is preliminary text from our not-yet-finished review, which we’ll update when we’re finished this weekend. Click on Read More or the title of this article for all the details. For additional pictures, you can also see our iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G unboxing gallery here. Editor’s Note: We’ve added 3G bandwidth and battery test results below.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.29.10 | 23 comments
They have fancy names and come from well-known companies in the iPod and iPhone accessory industry. Their packages and web sites tout unique finishes and multi-layer technologies that enable them to protect your brand new iPad’s screen while permitting unimpaired access to its touch controls. But is it really worth spending $25 for a piece or two of plastic film?
We’re in the middle of testing a bunch of different and competing screen films right now, but since we’ve had inquiries from readers, we wanted to offer an interim answer—we’d say “yes”—and some useful information for people who are trying to decide between the increasingly numerous options that are out there now.
1. Your unprotected iPad’s screen is going to show scratches. One of our iPads went without screen protection for a week before getting its first cover, while the other was bare only for a couple of days. Both screens already have small but visible surface scratches; the one that went unprotected longer has more of them. They’re similar to ones we saw on the oil-resistant iPhone 3GS screen, which is to say not deep or wide enough to impair use or enjoyment of the iPad, but they probably will impact resale value at some point.
2. There are in fact differences, and major ones, between competing brands. We would love to be able to tell you that Incipio’s Anti-Glare Screen Protector—which includes two sheets of film for the same $25 price charged by Power Support for its Anti-Glare Film—is equally useful, or that the $23 Steinheil Anti-Fingerprint Film from United SGP offers a better value for the money. So far, that’s not the case.
Power Support’s film thus far is the best of the bunch on quality, which isn’t a surprise given that this Japanese company has been as quality-obsessed as anyone in the film-manufacturing business for years. Its Anti-Glare film has the best overall combination of optical clarity and fingerprint resistance we’ve seen; the screen can go for days without being wiped down if you choose. We found the film to be easier to apply than we’d expected, particularly when it came time to work the air bubbles out. But Power Support includes nothing more in its package than the single sheet of film, leaving you to supply your own microfiber cloth and applicator card—not a dealbreaker, but for $25, this film is as light on frills as we’ve seen.
Incipio’s Anti-Glare Film includes two sheets of film, a cloth, and an applicator for the same price. It was the first on the market, fit the iPad properly—though it was tailored so close to the screen’s edges that we found it a little challenging to install—and we were extremely thankful to have something protective for the iPad so early in its life. But over a week of use, we found that this film picked up fingerprints at a much higher rate than Power Support’s version, and showed oil smudges, both of which needed to be wiped off with frequency. You pay half the price per sheet and wind up with a lower quality experience.
Another film we’ve tested is United SGP’s Steinheil Anti-Fingerprint Film. It sells for a little less than Power Support’s, includes a bottle of LCD cleaning spray, a cloth, and a rubber squeegee. This was the easiest of all of the films to install, tailored to fit just within the iPad’s edges, and like the Power Support film, it’s made in Japan—the precision of its cuts and the quality of the film are both impressive. It’s designed to reduce the evidence of fingerprints, as well as reducing glare. SGP accomplishes this by using a coating that is noticeably milkier than Power Support’s, which gives text and other on-screen content a softer, blurrier look. Those seeking maximum anti-glare and anti-fingerprint protection may find it here, but at the cost of screen clarity.
3. Touch responsiveness is diminished only a tiny bit. Expect only a modest diminution of touch sensitivity when using these films with most cases. We can’t say this about every generic option out there, and we’ve seen little hints of further reduced responsiveness under limited circumstances when combining some of these films with Apple’s iPad Case, but for the most part, film helps a lot more than it hurts.
There are other options that we’re testing right now (see Speck and Simplism for examples), and we’ll have more to say on them in the near future. For the time being, our recommendation would be to check out Power Support’s film if you’re looking for the highest-quality protector, and consider other options if you’re willing to accept some compromises in the name of saving dollars or getting more film for the same price. You can obviously save even more cash if you’re willing to let your iPad’s screen get scratched up, or use a flip-style case with a part-time screen flap built in. Many protective options are available in our iPad Accessory Gallery.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.28.10 | 0 comments
Though it isn’t exactly a bellwether in the App Store, Capcom remains one of the most important developers in the world of console and portable video games—the company behind Resident Evil, Mega Man, Street Fighter, and too many other noteworthy, multi-million-selling franchises to itemize here. Though smaller developers shouldn’t rush to follow Capcom’s poorer iPhone and iPod touch examples, every App Store game developer should be taking note of something that’s taking place in the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 world this week: the console release of the company’s latest sequel, Super Street Fighter IV.
If the name Street Fighter doesn’t ring a bell, one of the two brief articles we posted last year on this game’s predecessor—plain old Street Fighter IV—will bring you up to speed. In short, Capcom almost single-handedly created an entire genre of video games known as “one-on-one fighters” with the 1987 game Street Fighter and its globally popular 1991 follow-up Street Fighter II, then lost a lot of fans over the course of 13 sequels and semi-sequels that milked the series dry. In 2008, Capcom rebooted the franchise with the arcade version of Street Fighter IV, which won over the stalwarts who had stuck around through the middling years, and many of the fans who had walked away from the series. The home console version of Street Fighter IV came out in 2009, and a good-ish iPhone/iPod touch version followed in March 2010.
We discuss yesterday’s PlayStation 3 (shown) and Xbox 360 release of Super Street Fighter IV below, as well as contemplating what this game means for the franchise on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Click on Read More for the details.
By Charles Starrett | 04.26.10 | 18 comments
It’s hard to think of an iPhone 3G as “old,” but my white iPhone 3G is certainly aging, and this weekend, it took a turn for the worse. No, I didn’t drop it, lose it, or accidentally crush it; all I did was flip the ringer switch to off. Yet less than two years after I bought it—21 months later, actually—that simple flick of the switch turned out to be one too many, as its polished metal half fell to the floor with nary a sound. And thus the iPhone 3G, my primary means of voice communication, added yet another entry to its list of build imperfections.
My iPhone 3G has been in a case for nearly its entire life, a result of having read one too many reports of problems, and the nagging feeling that it wasn’t as tough as I might need it to be. Despite the protection, cracks began to form around the headphone port after ten months or so, multiplying and spreading to the rear of the case in greater number after Apple’s one-year warranty had expired.
They have since been joined by a sunken power button, such that it is difficult to lock and unlock the device, dirt that has crept in underneath the glass front plate and the screen, presumably through one of the ports, and now the missing ring/silent switch.
Plastic never seemed like the right material for the iPhone family—the original iPhone looked and felt just right by comparison; it’s still in physically great shape three years later. So I’m looking forward to celebrating the arrival of a new iPhone form factor with gusto, and hoping that the new model—whatever form it takes—proves more durable than the easily-damaged iPhone 3G, which hopefully will stay in one piece long enough to be replaced in June.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.23.10 | 8 comments
The iPad Camera Connection Kit started to show up in mailboxes yesterday, and ahead of our review, we have a few preliminary details that should be of interest to photographers interested in using the iPad to share their pictures.
* Resolution: If you’re worried that you’ll be capped to sending out low-quality photos from your iPad, there’s some mostly good news to share. Rather than chopping JPEG pictures down to 800x600 as is done with iPhone photos, the iPad defaults at e-mailing images out at roughly 3-Megapixel resolution: 2048x1536 for typical 4:3 point-and-shoot images, or 2048x1364 for 3:2 DSLR images. EXIF data is stripped for re-sized images. If you select an image manually using the Copy button and Paste it into an e-mail, you can send the full-resolution version out instead, complete with EXIF data.
* Videos: The cap on sharing imported videos through e-mails appears to be 5 Megabytes. Photos on the iPad contains the same realtime video trimming capability as the iPhone 3GS, enabling you to chop and resize a video dynamically for e-mailing—the difference is that it can reformat videos that were created by non-Apple cameras. An exported video wound up as a 54-second 5MB 480x360 H.264 file after starting as a 244MB 640x480 file running for 3 minutes and 3 seconds. The file size, length, and resolution will vary based on a number of factors.
* Speeds: We’ll be publishing formal speed test results soon, but the iPad Camera Connection Kit is a hell of a lot faster than the iPod Camera Connector ever was—a good thing because that accessory became next to useless as cameras continued to grow in Megapixel counts. While importing a big batch of pictures will still take a long while, and possibly crash in the process (this happened with a tethered import from a Canon 5D Mark II on photo number 7 of… hundreds), more typical digital cameras will be relatively easier; still, you’ll likely want to select thumbnails for pictures to import rather than doing huge batches at the same time. The iPad also seems to know which pictures it has already imported when it scans a card for the second time.
* iTunes/iPhoto: iTunes doesn’t appear to have any new dialog boxes for handling the import of photos synchronized to the iPad. This is, instead, handled by your camera photo import/organization software, such as iPhoto. iPhoto brings the images in at full resolution with EXIF data, preserving their file names—even though e-mailing the photos using the default sharing button changes the file name and removes that EXIF data while rescaling the image. This isn’t a huge surprise, but it’s good to know—transferring photos to the iPad doesn’t appear to hurt them before they’re transferred back to your computer.
More to come soon.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.12.10 | 8 comments
We’ve received quite a few e-mails from readers asking for our thoughts on the current lineup of iPad cases, particularly which we’d recommend at this point in time. Due to the wide variety of things we’re currently working on over here, I’m going to provide a very quick set of answers to explain our current thinking about the collection as a whole, including which we’re liking and why you might or might not want to hold off. The full iPad Case Gallery is here for your perusal.
Rubber and Plastic Cases. iPad case developers have been working at a distinct disadvantage over the past two months because Apple didn’t provide anyone—well, apparently, almost everyone—with dimensional drawings or other ways to actually insure that their precision-fit rubber and plastic cases would actually fit precisely. Some companies took educated guesses and did exceptionally well: Macally’s unfortunately-named Metrolpad (aka MetroLink) is probably the best of them, apart from its overly flush button protectors, followed by Incipio’s Dermashot, a rubber case that is very close to excellent in execution, apart from somewhat soft front bezel coverage. Incase’s Grip does better in the front, but feels chunkier, costs more, and doesn’t include screen protection; its inclusion of a plastic stand is, however, appreciated.
A few others that will need some additional work: Griffin’s slightly too soft FlexGrip, Hard Candy’s stiff Sleek Skin and Street Skin, Macally’s soggy Msuitpad and ehhh back plates Metrob, c, and mpad, and Belkin’s Grip Vue. There’s actually nothing hugely wrong with Grip Vue except that it’s made from glossy plastic and sells for $50. By comparison, Simplism’s Silicone Case Set goes for a more reasonable $30, comes in a bunch of colors, and is a little too floppy, but otherwise not bad.
Incipio’s Anti-Glare Screen Protectors
Screen Protection. Incipio’s Anti-Glare Screen Protectors are pretty close to a lifesaver. They don’t eliminate the iPad’s smudges, but cut glare way down. Anti-glare film—particularly high-quality anti-glare film—will be a big hit for iPad users.
Sleeves and Folios. Ugh. We’ve been saying it for the past three years, but it bears repeating: we don’t like sleeves and we don’t like cases with big front flaps. They were annoying on early iPods, then became really annoying on touchscreen iPods and iPhones, and for the iPad, they have the potential—if improperly designed—to be downright stupid. Somewhat amazingly, Apple’s official iPad Case manages to combine a cheap-feeling material with the ability to pick up all sorts of dust, the inconvenience of having to open a front flap, and incompatibility with Apple’s own Docks—a loser across the board except for its ability to prop the iPad upright.
Incase Convertible Book Jacket
The only sleeves and folios we sorta kinda like for the iPad are the cool-looking Booq Boa Skin XS, the Incase Convertible Book Jacket, and Vaja’s Retro Slim Jacket, and then largely on looks, not because we like the functionality. Incase’s design is better than the others because of its video stand feature. Also, Hard Candy’s Bubble Sleeve continues to draw positive attention whenever we show it to people, though it’s pricey given what you’re getting for $50. A safe bet for those who are waiting for a better non-sleeve case to appear: the Kensington Reversible Sleeve for $10. It’s cheap and simple.
Go See The Case Gallery Anyway. We created the iPad Case Gallery for one major reason: cases have become such a matter of personal style that what works for one person (or, as is commonly the case, all/most of iLounge’s editors) may not be what another person wants. Moreover, some of the cases that do little for us on functionality really look cool, anyway—Speck’s PixelShield, Griffin’s Jumper, and Belkin’s Max Sleeve all have neat little assets that some people might really like. The collection will only continue to grow over time, so if you don’t see something that interests you now, wait a few weeks, and you’ll surely have more and better options.
By Jesse Hollington | 04.07.10 | 11 comments
The iPad was launched only in the U.S. this past weekend, but enthusiastic early adopters from outside the country have rushed to get their hands on units, too. Many Canadians from Southern Ontario took short two-hour road trips down to Buffalo, New York’s Apple Store at the Walden Galleria Mall, where reports suggested that Canadians outnumbered Americans by a fairly wide margin.
As it was Easter weekend, I skipped the launch day crowds and picked up my unit Monday evening; the Apple Store still had plenty of stock available. But the trip back across the border turned out to be a surprisingly challenging one, as Canadian Customs was on full “iPad watch.” I was upfront in declaring and paying the necessary import taxes on my iPad and related accessories—a bill that came to around $100 CDN—but was told by Customs officers that many others hadn’t been so forthcoming, leading the officers to seize iPads that hadn’t been declared. Seized iPads could be re-obtained by the unlucky people who forfeited them, but only after a hefty penalty: up to 80% of the actual purchase price of the item. I personally know a couple of people who had iPads seized and ended up paying $600 per unit to get them back.
Duties and taxes aside, there are a few key things to keep in mind if you’re planning on importing an iPad to use in another country. First, some good news: despite the requirement of iTunes Store activation, the iPad doesn’t seem to care which iTunes Store account you’re activating against, so you won’t need a U.S. iTunes Store account to actually activate your iPad—just plug it into iTunes and you should be good to go. Apple Store employees were glad to activate iPads at the counter before customers left, if they wanted to start using the devices right away.
Of course, the U.S. iPad comes with a North American power adapter, so if you’re planning to order a U.S. iPad and you live outside of North America, you’ll want to keep this in mind. The wall blades work in Canada, Japan, and other countries, but not in the United Kingdom and numerous other places, so you’ll need to swap the removable blades with ones included in Apple’s World Travel Adapter Kit, a separate expense, or a you can use a number of other cables with this handy trick. Alternately, the iPad can charge over USB if your USB ports can provide at least 1A of power—most recent Macs do—but the 2A power adapter that comes with it provides two or four times the recharging speed, depending on the computer and other considerations.
One big problem with using the iPad outside of the U.S. right now is the availability of applications, including app purchasing options. The first and most obvious issue is that many of the iPad apps are currently available only in the U.S.; this includes Apple’s own iWork suite of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Presumably these will be available to a wider audience when the iPad actually launches internationally, but if you want to use them in the meantime, you’ll need to purchase them from the U.S. iTunes Store, which means setting up a U.S. iTunes Store account. Picking up a couple of iTunes Store Gift Cards along with your iPad may be the simplest way to deal with this, however I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the iTunes Store Terms of Service clearly indicate that the U.S. Store is for use by U.S. residents only, so take that for whatever it’s worth.
Some of these U.S. apps, particularly the content-based ones, will work in the U.S. only. The ABC Player and Pandora Radio are both obvious examples due to content distribution restrictions. This isn’t really anything new—the iPhone versions of apps like Pandora have suffered from the same limitations for the past two years. It’s also worth keeping in mind also that the iPad App Store itself has not yet been set up outside of the U.S., so if you’re using a non-U.S. iTunes Store account you’ll find the App Store on the iPad itself to be somewhat less than useful. The iTunes Store, on the other hand, seems to work just fine.
Despite these caveats, most third-party iPad applications are available internationally, since developers set the availability for their own applications and it would appear that Apple has not felt it necessary to restrict them from doing so. If you’re using a non-U.S. iTunes Store account, you’ll simply need to purchase your iPad applications using your computer’s iTunes software, and load them onto your iPad from there. Once installed, the applications should run without any problems unless they attempt to access U.S. only content, or require in-app purchases.
The In-App Purchasing system on the iPad currently presents a problem for non-U.S. iTunes Store accounts. It would seem that since the iPad App Store itself is not available, neither is the in-app purchasing system. Unfortunately, the iPad doesn’t seem to actually tell you this—you’ll simply be presented with a confusing in-app purchase button that shows some type of loading status rather than a purchasing option. Tapping on this button does nothing, and the user is left to figure out for themselves what the problem is.
If you happen to also have a U.S. iTunes Store account, you can sign into that on the iPad under the Store menu in the iPad’s Settings app and then the in-app purchase options will suddenly become available. Unfortunately, if you’ve purchased your app from a non-U.S. App Store, the in-app purchasing system will still not work, as there will be no record of you having purchased the original app.
The end result is that if you want to do an in-app purchase right now, you actually have to delete and redownload the app in question using a U.S. iTunes Store account and then be logged into that account on your iPad to actually make the purchase. Since many of the iPad applications that support in-app purchasing are currently free, this isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s something to consider if you’re looking at buying a paid app and then adding upgrades via in-app purchase. You might well be better off waiting on such downloads until the app’s available in your country. Further, any in-app purchases you make remain tied to your U.S. iTunes Store account, which can make things complicated for some of the news and comic apps where you may be purchasing new content on an ongoing basis—you’ll end up tied to using your U.S. iTunes Store account or switching over to your local account and losing all of the content that you’ve already purchased.
The bottom line is that if you’re a non-U.S. early adopter, you’re going to have to suffer through a few additional growing pains with the iPad before everything is fully online. With the worldwide iPad release expected later this month, it’s reasonable to assume that the iPad App Store will be open to a wider audience within a few weeks, but until then some patience is going to be required.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.29.10 | 0 comments
Whether you’re on the “reserved it,” “want it,” or “maybe” list at this point, the iPad’s rolling into stores this week, and so are a huge bunch of new cases. The good news: we’ve gathered them all into a huge new iPad Case Gallery that lets you see all the options in a convenient visual form, rather than having to page through lists of names.
The bad news: most of the cases that will actually be available at the iPad’s launch will be sleeves—ones that aren’t form-fit to the iPad’s curves, because Apple didn’t provide dimensional drawings to case developers in time for the launch. Minute differences between the sizes of the Wi-Fi-only iPad and the iPad with Wi-Fi and 3G have left additional ambiguities as to whether certain cases will fit both models, making the pouch-like sleeve design a safer choice for companies in the iPad’s early roll-out stage. You’ll have to decide whether to buy something early on, or wait to make a purchase until later when the options are more numerous and diverse.
Enjoy the iPad Case Gallery, which will continue to grow as we approach the iPad’s launch date, and obviously continue to swell thereafter.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.22.10 | 10 comments
When news broke late last week that Apple is now offering modestly discounted iPad educational bundles—10 units sold in bulk packaging for $4,790, or a $200 total discount—the lack of excitement wasn’t hugely surprising. As we’ve previously noted, average users are going to need to see the iPad for themselves before they “get” it, and those holding off on version one probably aren’t going to be swayed by $20-per-unit discounts—or the opportunity to buy 10 at once. But reader responses to the bigger question of whether schools should be buying iPads have been strongly polarized. Just one example of the comments:
“I feel the iPad is a bad idea for a school. I believe this is due to the fact that the iPad is an entirly new piece of technology. While we have known for two years the qualities and quirks of the iPhone OS and the App Store, we don’t know the same about the iPad. Also would you want your school system paying $4k and up to be glorified beta testers for the iPad’s 1.0 release? If I were a teacher or parent, I wouldn’t be so happy about it.” - hoshieBIOTpod
Whether or not we agree with all of the sentiments in the comments thread so far, this is a discussion worth having. Charles Starrett’s views:
“It’s hard to overstate how big of an impact my exposure to new technology while in school had on my life. I got my start on a Mac IIcx running OS 7, so saying that current software is too buggy to be used in a school setting seems somewhat silly by comparison.
“Touchscreens are going to be an increasingly important tool for art creation, so allowing children who excel in art access to them seems like a good idea. Likewise, kids who are interested/show a talent in design could greatly benefit from playing with some of the apps and work on creating their own tablet-sized, touch-enabled interfaces. And having a couple around for computer science programming students to fiddle with and create programs for seems like a no-brainer. Would they be an immediately important tool for every discipline? No, but that doesn’t mean that a school would be wasting money by buying a few.”
“While I disagree with the most negative of the comments, some of the specifics are right. iPad 1G for schools? Not yet. iPad 2G? 3G, or when software has caught up? Sure.
“The question isn’t whether an iPad could be used in a school right now. Of course it can; the iPod can be used at a school. So can a Nintendo DS. Parents and taxpayers in general want to know that what’s being bought furthers the educational mission in a meaningful way, and is worth spending tax dollars on. I can see an argument for replacing all textbooks with iPads—when the software and content is available to do so. If iBooks 2.0 adds meaningful highlighters and in-margin note-taking, it could be huge for textbooks. But getting iPads right now just for the hell of doing so seems sort of pointless.
“There are other applications beyond textbooks—creative tools, iTunes U content, and of course calculators and scientific apps. But you can access them without an iPad, too. When educators can say that the iPad really enables students to do more than they can with existing computers and non-computer tools at their schools—when there is, for example, an iPad-specific painting program rather than the iPhone app running at 2x size—it will make sense to buy them in bulk, and probably way more than 10 at a time. The software just needs to catch up to the potential of the devices, and the devices may need to mature a little, too.”
Readers, what are your thoughts?
By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.18.10 | 2 comments
Though early units might have been less reliable on the inside than later ones and sequels, the original 2007 iPhone was built pretty tough—enough that a family member’s hand-me-down that has been continually used (inside cases) for nearly three years now is still working fine. At least, it was until a week or two ago, when a certain little “nag screen” became way more naggy than normal. Even when the phone wasn’t actively being used, the “this accessory is not made for use with iPhone” screen would pop up for a brief second, then disappear, and the screen would randomly turn on now and again without a message, as well. Our family member asked whether she should just go to the store and get a cheap iPhone 3G. “No!” we said, “even Steve Jobs is saying already that the next iPhone is an A+ update. Do you really want to buy into the nearly two-year-old iPhone 3G on the verge of something like that?”
So we tried to fix the iPhone. The simplest “3 R’s” troubleshooting techniques suggested by Apple didn’t work: “Restart,” “Reset,” and “Restore,” respectively just turning the device off and on, clearing its settings, and then wiping its content altogether with iTunes. Restore seemed to have the greatest impact, but the nag screen quickly returned. There was clearly a hardware problem of some sort, and the most obvious culprits were a screwy Sleep/Wake switch or a dirty Dock Connector. If you haven’t seen what a typically pocketed iPhone’s bottom looks like after three years, these pictures tell most of the story—believe it or not, this is what the iPhone’s black plastic bottom panel looked like after it was cleaned. Tiny specs of grime had probably found their way onto the Dock Connector.
Since it’s really, amazingly easy to damage the Dock Connector’s super thin, small pins with anything metallic and quite possibly even small pieces of plastic, we went after it with the gentlest and thinnest items we could find on hand—card stock that was a little thicker than paper, plus a little rubbing alcohol on the end of some tissue paper. This isn’t ideal for cleaning—something that doesn’t leave fibers behind would be better—but the junk we got out of the Dock Connector port, including bits of fuzzy lint, little crusty things, and who knows what else collectively left the iPhone in completely working order again. A little extra work with a toothpick after the first two photos were taken got the extra junk out of the port’s corners. Thus, after 15 minutes of careful attention, there wasn’t a need to toss the hardware away and replace it with its plasticy sequel.
Yet. We’ll see what Apple shows up with this summer, but from what we’re hearing so far, it’s going to be worth buying into.
By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.18.10 | 16 comments
We’ve received lots of comments on yesterday’s story, “Apple bans protective screen film from Apple Store,” and that’s not a huge surprise: film is one of the most popular accessories in the entire iPod/iPhone ecosystem, and its value—particularly for anti-glare purposes—has spread to Macs, as well, with the same thing very likely to happen with iPads. In the absence of an official explanation from Apple, which we’ve been waiting on, everyone seems to have a theory as to why the company would have done something so drastic. Here are some responses to reader comments that might otherwise get lost in the growing flow of opinions in that thread:
The iPad Theory, from Marko: “Did anyone think that maybe they just need the shelf space for iPad accessories?... But I guess that doesn’t explain online store getting rid of it unless they just want to unite the offering.”
The second part of this comment answers the first: it’s not about shelf space. Additionally, anti-glare and other films would be at least as appealing for the 10” iPad screen as for the 3.5” iPod touch and iPhone ones, just as they are for the screens of MacBook computers. Unless the ban is dropped, iPad screen protectors won’t be carried at all.
The Evil Apple Theory, from Dave M.: “No one has mentioned a glaringly obvious reason. If iPhones stay perfect for years and years, no one will [buy] replacement iPhones. With scratched screens, people are likely to buy the next iPhone when they can if their screen is scratched up.”
As plausible as this theory might be on its face, it doesn’t ring true for a couple of reasons. First, Apple continues to sell bags and cases for every portable product in its store, many if not most of which provide excellent protection for everything except for their respective devices’ screens. Apple’s Stores sell everything at full MSRP with only the most infrequent of discounts, making sales of these items very profitable; ceasing sales is only reducing a revenue stream for some of its most popular offerings. Second, scratched screens—an annoyance—are far less likely to trigger a device replacement than an electronic failure of some sort, which Apple’s products tend to develop over time anyway.
The Elitist Theory, from Roadburn: “The crisp and effective functioning of a capacitance-sensitive touch screen—one that already is constructed of several thin layers—is not enhanced by slapping a piece of plastic on top. You can wrap a plastic covering all over your Roche Bobois sofa if you choose to, but that doesn’t mean the furniture-maker has to assist you in doing so. They know the sofa is better without it.”
“Not enhanced” may be technically accurate, but “not impeded” is also accurate—at least, in virtually every situation we’ve encountered with screen film. Note first that we’re talking about both protectors and anti-glare solutions, the latter of which may enable people to actually see that screen under lighting conditions that would otherwise be problematic, which would quality as “enhanced” for some users. In any case, film provides a far better tradeoff of coverage and continued functionality than any other solution we’ve tested over the past nearly nine years, in most cases with no discernible impact on touchscreen responsiveness. Contrast this with other solutions, such as the thicker clear soft plastic used in armband screen and Click Wheel covers—commonly reducing sensitivity at least a little—and the complete face coverage offered by Apple’s own solutions, including “iPod Socks” and its official iPad Case. All of these are and will be sold in Apple Stores. In this case, the “furniture-maker’s” own protective solutions are far more gaudy than the ones it’s blocking, so there’s plenty of room to discuss which one the “sofa” is better with. If you really believe in purely naked use of your devices, congratulations, but tens of millions of people don’t, and even luxury car companies place clear shields on sensitive parts of their vehicles. There’s no shame in protection.
The Installation Problem/Returns Theory, from Anon: “I’m an Apple Retail employee who has applied roughly a million of these films. A couple months ago, it became our policy not to help apply them, because they’re so difficult to get perfect and it became a liability issue (“There’s a speck of dust, give me a new one free.”).... Obviously, this is not the ONLY reason for them to be banned, but I thought I’d add my experience.”
While we appreciate the added insight that this comment appears to offer—we say “appears to” only because there is no way to verify whether the commenter is in fact involved with Apple’s retail stores, and Apple has not provided official comment on the subject—the difference between selling film and applying film is an obvious one. A subsequent commenter, Barefootman, added that “What customers need to realise when they buy a screen protector is that they’re buying a product, not a service!”—though frankly, there’s no suggestion anywhere in the Apple Store that employees are supposed to be performing unpaid services such as this for customers. Additionally, it should be noted that Apple is apparently not shy about returning products to vendors, and the vendor—not Apple—bears the primary financial responsibility for the returns. Vendors who aren’t comfortable with that burden could pull their products from Apple’s stores, rather than the other way around.
The Stupid Apple Theory, from Lexplex: “I have a screen protector for my iPhone which I bought from an Apple Store. It’s far, far better than the screen itself - it reduces glare when using the iPhone in bright light and it makes the surface a lot silkier and easier for me to run my sticky fingers over… When will people start realising that Apple are a ridiculously stupid company when it comes to business and design decisions, but have a very very smart PR team?”
There are 25 to 30 billion reasons to think that Apple is impressively smart when it comes to business decisions, PR decisions, and design decisions. The company has grown and profited at an amazing clip during an awful economic crisis, developed more award-winning designs over the past 10 years than perhaps any other consumer electronics manufacturer, and had some of the most effective marketing of any business in the entire world. Most companies—almost any company—would give anything to have the sort of business, design, and PR success Apple has enjoyed. But on occasion, it does make a glaring mistake that really hurts customers; when that happens, it is far better off fixing these mistakes than pretending they weren’t made.
The Future Products Theory, from Mike Curtis: “Perhaps products scheduled to be released will no longer be compatible (as in function correctly or up to Apple spec/snuff) with a film on top, and Apple doesn’t want to set incorrect customer expectations?”
All things considered, this seems like the most probable explanation for what has happened—front-facing cameras, different types of touchscreens, or new and better glass is coming on future devices, any of which might have problems with certain screen protectors. So rather than communicating its future product plans to the world, Apple blocks the sale of similar items temporarily as a weird, quasi-warning to developers. The only problem with this theory is that the ban affects a huge number of products that currently exist and are undeniably both compatible with and capable of benefitting from the film; given that May is only months away from the rollout of numerous new products, Apple might well view such a move as an acceptable and short-term consequence. It’s hard to know for sure.
The Greedy Apple Store Theory: One other possibility, floated by a developer yesterday, is that there’s a purely financial and greedy reason for all of this, the details of which we’re currently exploring in the absence of an official response from Apple. At the moment, we don’t think that it’s accurate, but we should know more in the next day or so. Stay tuned.