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.

Our Thoughts on iCloud, And Yours?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 06.01.11 | 8 comments

Heading into next week’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, where Apple has announced that it will officially unveil iCloud, this is a good time to share a few quick thoughts for discussion and debate.

Goodbye, Me.com? While Apple is surely going to fold part of the existing MobileMe service into iCloud, it seems highly unlikely that the company’s @me.com e-mail addresses are going to go away. That two-letter top-level Me domain is as short as Apple’s getting in the .com world unless it buys i.Com, which is reserved by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.* .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) just doesn’t have the same ring as .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and it’s not as easy to type, either.

Videos as iCloud Killer Feature? Since negotiations with music labels for the iCloud media storage locker have been leaking out over the last few weeks, people have focused mostly on how iCloud would benefit users of the lowest-capacity iPods, iPhones, and iPads. “Now you can access your music from anywhere,” goes the line. Except you probably already could—at least most of the stuff you care about—since the average person’s music library isn’t gigantic. At one point, Apple claimed that the 4GB iPod mini had enough storage space for most people. That’s obviously changed over time, but these days, it’s easy to carry the best parts of your own music library around. On an iPod shuffle, even.

Videos are a different story. They hog space. Many don’t need to be played more than once or twice before you put them away for a while. Take those guys off of your iOS device and suddenly there’s more than enough room for apps, music, and whatever else you want to tote around. The only time you’ll really miss them is when you lack for Internet access, and in that case, you’ll need to move things around to keep a few of them on the device.

Apple TV as Biggest iCloud Video Beneficiary? If Apple can mirror your computer’s video content in an online storage locker, the biggest current device beneficiary (put aside the rumored storageless iPhone mini) would be the Apple TV. Without cloud-based storage, users need to keep a computer turned on in order to stream their videos to the Apple TV. People with huge video collections needed to find ways to store all their movies and TV shows on a hard drive, which either sits inside the computer or needs to be kept turned on as an external device. If Apple TV can pull all that content from the cloud, your computer and hard drive don’t need to stay awake to serve the files.

What About Bandwidth? All of iCloud’s media streaming features will come with a still under-appreciated cost: ISP bandwidth limitations. Stream videos constantly from the cloud to your cellular network and you’re going to hit your iPhone’s capped bandwidth limit. Rely upon the cloud rather than your computer to send videos to your Apple TV, and you’re going to test your broadband ISP’s willingness to keep offering unlimited bandwidth—if it hasn’t already discontinued that offering in your area. We discussed this back in April; it’s still a concern now.

What Price Would Really Be Worth Paying for iCloud? Unlike the iPad, which it nailed on price from day one, Apple has seriously missed the right price for subscription-based services for a long time now—.Mac and MobileMe arguably flopped as much due to their $100 annual expenses as the well-documented problems Apple had with the services themselves.

This new service is going to be different from .Mac and MobileMe, but Apple’s probably been tempted to try the “look at all you’re getting now for the same $100 price” strategy. Will it work? There’s just something daunting about the number as an annual fee. So what might appeal to people?

* A less expensive annual subscription, say, of $50 or $80.

* A monthly subscription of $5, which works out to $60 per year. Apple might try it at $10 per month, discounting the annual rate to $100, but that gets back to the MobileMe and .Mac pricing.

Why might Apple go in the lower or higher direction? Well, if it’s only offering you access to your own existing collection of media (along with MobileMe-like features), selling you wireless streaming might be a tougher sell—lower price makes more sense. But let’s say it did something huge, stealthily building a subscription-based alternative to Netflix and Rhapsody. Netflix charges $9 per month to let you stream as many TV shows and videos as you want. Rhapsody charges $10 per month for the same thing, only with music. What if you could stream all the music, TV shows, and videos you wanted from Apple’s iCloud—regardless of whether or not they were in your library?

That might well be worth $100 per year. But that scenario seems very unlikely right now.

What do you think? What would you be willing to pay for a hypothetical iCloud service that (a) stored and streamed your media content (including photos), (b) offered a Dropbox-like folder for iOS + computer synchronization, (c) provided an e-mail account, and (d) synced your calendar/contact/bookmark data across multiple devices? Post your thoughts in the Comments section below.

[* Note: Jesse Hollington notes that the IANA reserves all single-letter top-level domains, so there’s no way to go shorter than “Me.com” apart from buying a country-specific domain, as Twitter did with Colombia’s T.co, which works very well as a URL shortener.]

Wherein We Soft-Launch The iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide For You

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.31.11 | 0 comments

Every time we release a new downloadable publication, we like to give our loyal Backstage readers the first opportunity to get their hands on it. So here it is in advance of the official announcement—the iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide, the sequel to our million-plus-downloaded iPad Buyers’ Guide!

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Regardless of whether you have an iPad or iPad 2, you’ll find plenty of great stuff inside. The Buyers’ Guide contains our editors’ top picks across every product category—everything to the best iPad models to the best cases, speakers, apps, and games, all in one place. We’re not afraid to tell it to you straight, so if there’s a reason to prefer one product over the next, we say so, and if there are a bunch of good options, you’ll see all of their pictures, prices, and descriptions together.

As always, two versions are available—please download only one. For PC and Mac users with 15” or larger screens, we recommend the two-page spread, magazine-style version. Reading on a smaller screened device, such as an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch? We strongly recommend the single-page version and Apple’s free iBooks app, which works great with the book even on a second-gen iPod touch. Mac and PC users can use Apple’s Preview or Adobe Acrobat Reader. The iPad 2 Buyers’ Guide is, as always, completely free of charge. Enjoy it!

On Over-the-Air iOS Updates (Or, How Android Users Live)

By Jesse Hollington | 05.19.11 | 13 comments

Every once in a while, a reader suggests that Apple should offer wireless, over-the-air updates for iPhones—new iOS versions pushed directly over the cellular network without any need for iTunes synchronization. Sounds great, right? No need for a pesky USB cable or computer running iTunes. It all “just happens” and “just works.” But in reality, despite Apple’s best intentions, it probably wouldn’t go that way.

Instead, picture this:

Apple announces the release of iOS 5, but instead of announcing a specific release date as it has done in the past, Steve Jobs gets up on stage and simply says something like, “iOS 5 will magically appear on your iPhone or iPad with 3G in the next few weeks.” He offers no release date, no specifics, just a generic “coming soon” statement.

Fast forward a few days. A handful of users report that they’ve just received the latest and greatest iOS 5 update. You try iTunes’ “Check for Updates” button, but are told that iOS 4.3.3 is the most current version. You shrug and assume that the iTunes servers are just busy and that it will show up soon.

Later that day, a friend shows you all of the new features in iOS 5 on his iPhone from the update he just received through iTunes. You rush home, plug in your iPhone, hit the “Check for Updates” button again, and get the same response: iOS 4.3.3 is current. So Apple’s servers must still be busy, you figure, grumbling in frustration. At this point, you decide to give up and try again tomorrow.

Then a week goes by, filled with repeated attempts to update your iPhone. iTunes continues to insist that you have the latest version available, despite the fact that it seems everybody around you already has the update and you’ve been left out in the cold. You do a bit of digging online and find a few blog posts and discussion forums with people who are having similar issues. You quickly discover that the problem is not that Apple’s servers are merely busy, but that Apple has decided to do a staggered rollout of iOS 5, and you simply have to assume that your device is not yet one of the “chosen” to receive the update.

Finally, perhaps two to three weeks later, after you’ve already given up in frustration, iTunes suddenly pops up a message letting you know that it’s your turn, and iOS 5 is now ready to download for your device.

If this seems absurd and impossible… it’s not. This is exactly how things work with Android. And it suggests just some of the sorts of challenges Apple would need to work around in order to wirelessly update iOS devices.

Leaving aside the obvious issues with different hardware platforms and carriers, when Google chooses to roll out an update even to its own “chosen” Nexus reference device the process is an indeterminate and frustrating mess. Specific release dates are almost never announced in advance, leaving things vague. Meanwhile, discussion groups fill up with frustrated comments wondering when their specific device is going to receive the update. When someone from Google does surface to respond, it’s usually on the day that the rollout has begun, stating that the release is in the process of being rolled out and everybody should be getting it “in the next few days or weeks.”

Eventually, somebody posts a manual link to download the firmware for users who have grown tired of waiting for their device to become one of the “chosen” to receive the over-the-air (OTA) update. Since Google doesn’t provide this link itself, users question whether what they’re getting is really the actual and proper OS update, particularly in the Android world where modified ROMs and firmware packages are commonplace.

Getting the latest Android OS update is pretty much a game of “hurry up and wait” — even among users of the exact same hardware.

The problem is even further exacerbated by the fact that there are multiple versions of the Nexus S (and Nexus One) available, and it seems that the AWS version (for T-Mobile US, Wind Canada, and Mobilicity Canada) always receives the update weeks before the other GSM version used by major carriers AT&T, Rogers, Bell and Telus. This happened last year with the Nexus One and is now happening again with the Nexus S. While it’s reasonable to accept that there are subtle hardware differences between the two models, and that Google may want to roll out the software to smaller players before doing so with a larger user base, this distinction is lost on most end users. A GSM phone should be a GSM phone. An update should be an update for everyone. Right?

Yes, you could applaud Google for getting updates out as soon as it can, but it would probably create far less user frustration for Google to release an update when it’s ready for everybody, and then to actually release it for everybody at the same time rather than staggering wireless distributions. This leaves users wondering what day their devices will finally be chosen by Google. Of course, coordinating a simultaneous launch to update everyone at once would be challenging, and arguably perceived as more of a marketing or PR move than technically necessary for a software rollout. Google is a company run by engineers. And like many other engineering-driven companies, it doesn’t properly consider the social aspect—how left-out, frustrated users might feel over a period of days or weeks—and over time, those sorts of feelings lead to defections. Probably to the iPhone.

To be fair, the typical Android or iOS user may not pay much attention to upgrades, and therefore might just be pleasantly surprised when a new update does appear. For the power user, however, the “when am I getting this?” situation can be frustrating, and lends credence to the idea that Android remains a platform for the nerd-slash-developer crowd. Should Apple offer iOS users wireless, over-the-air updates? Only if and when it has solved the distribution problems Google and others appear not to fully understand or care about. By pushing upgrades through iTunes to almost all of its iOS devices at the same time, it’s already doing better by users than supposedly more advanced competitors. My guess is that it won’t abandon a model that works until it has something that works better for everyone.

Quick Thoughts on the May 22 Apple Retail Event

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.18.11 | 0 comments

iLounge’s editors and readers have been curious as to what Apple’s going to do for the much-rumored Apple Retail event, scheduled for this Sunday, May 22. A few quick thoughts:

* The event’s likely to celebrate ten years of the Apple Store and possibly 1 billion visitors. Apple executives noted last month that the Store was days away from meeting the latter number, calling it out as a major milestone.

* Whatever the event is, it’ll need to be true to Apple’s concept of the Apple Store experience—as it is, and as it’s likely to be in the immediate future. We’ve internally discussed a number of scenarios that seem unlikely for one reason or another—a rollout or partial rollout of its iCloud service (demos required; why go to Store for this), NFC iPhone payments (no new iPhones with NFC available now; no one’s buying accessories or lining up for this), a simple “everything’s on sale” day (generates relatively mild excitement, may crowd stores, won’t justify lines), a straight giveaway (Apple doesn’t like to just give stuff away), and a special edition product launch (items most in need of this—e.g. 10th anniversary iPod classic—mightn’t be line-worthy).

* Our feeling is that Apple would want to celebrate the retail stores, generate national/international press for their success, and reward customers at the same time. The most likely option we’ve thought of: a Lucky Bag (or box) event akin to the ones at Apple’s Japanese stores, where people line up, pay a chunk of cash, and get a bag of random stuff that’s worth more than the cash (at least on paper). Some very lucky people walk away with iPods or iPads. Others get bunches of accessories and T-shirts. A handful of people wind up with pimped out MacBooks or iMacs, crazy iTunes Store gift cards, or some other big prize. Surprise and delight all around. Big lines, too. And things are being “given away,” but a lot of money is also being taken in at the same time. Win-win-win. (Note: In addition to the Japanese fukubukuro lucky bags, there’s precedent for this in the U.S. - $250 gift bags with $600-$1000 worth of stuff inside. It would likely go over even better now.)

* An advance announcement will most likely be needed. Thursday seems like the right day for it, to let people make plans to line up, but depending on the scope of the event, it could be today or Friday. Also, nothing’s to stop Apple from adding a little surprise factor (such as a special edition item) to the event, but the core of it would be gift-to-our-customers themed.

Thoughts?

A Developer’s Update On The White iPhone 4’s Thickness

By Jeremy Horwitz | 05.12.11 | 1 comment

For those who are still curious about the white iPhone 4 thickness issue, here’s a quick update from a leading case developer—one that has done an outstanding job in the past of tracking even minute mid-production differences between iPod and iPhone models.

Are the latest white and black iPhones all thicker than ones that were originally shipped, or are just the white ones thicker?

“Just white,” says the developer. “It’s thicker on the plastic portion that sits between the glass and the metal antenna. Most images aren’t measuring this.”

Is it perhaps only an issue of manufacturing tolerances? No, says the developer.

“There are always variances in devices and Apple is typically one of the most consistent, in large part because of materials, simple design and precise processes.”

This difference, we’re told, is easy enough to accommodate—at least, in cases being manufactured now. But something else is a potential challenge.

“Proximity sensor is the real issue here,” the company noted. Cases or screen protectors that aren’t cut properly may have issues triggering the sensor accidentally.

As noted in our white iPhone 4 supplementary review, we had no problem getting prior-generation rubber cases to fit properly on the white iPhone 4. The thickness difference was apparent but very small, and certainly not a big deal for most users or cases. Only the most tightly contoured hard plastic shells would have an issue with the new model. Still, between this little change and the ones in the side switch and volume buttons of the Verizon iPhone 4, iPhone case manufacturers have had a pretty tough time making post-release adjustments this year. Some will obviously accommodate the differences more impressively (and openly) than others.

Thanking Apple For Hassle-Free Software Updates

By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.19.11 | 2 comments

While this doesn’t merit a full editorial, we wanted to mention something that Apple’s doing quite well, particularly in light of experiences we’ve recently had with competing devices: software updates. Grumble as you will about the sometimes glacial pacing of Apple’s updates or certain bugs that have seemingly been ignored for months or years, but there are aspects of the Apple user experience that you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve spent time with, say, Sony’s PlayStation 3, and realized how annoying simple software updates can become.

There are two categories of software updates that Apple handles well. We’ll mostly skip over one of them—third-party app updates—despite the fact that iTunes and the App Stores have earned angel wings merely by aggregating hundreds of thousands of different apps within easy-to-use Updates areas. Want to be sure your Apple-purchased third-party app is up to date? Whether you’re using a computer or an iOS device, you know exactly where to look. Hit Update All and you can be sure that everything’s up to date, for free. This is so simple, handled in the background while you’re doing other things, and works flawlessly unless your Internet connection is interrupted. The worst complaint anyone has these days is that third-party app updates are too common, a far better state of affairs than the polar alternative.

But Apple also merits plaudits for its handling of software updates to iTunes and its iOS devices. Users generally take this for granted, but Apple treats all of its devices, Apple TV and otherwise, as appliances. Bugs aside, they continue to work completely even if you don’t download updates. They don’t nag you to perform updates, which are optional, by shutting off your access to their features. And Apple doesn’t just push out single-feature updates to its devices, which helps to avoid the perception that its updates are merely annoyances.

Contrast this with Sony’s approach to PlayStation 3 updates and you’ll see that the differences are stark. Turn on a PlayStation 3 after several days off and you may discover that a system update is literally required if you want to, say, open the PlayStation Store. You’ll discover this because the Store will not open, and the PlayStation 3 will prompt you with a “Yes/No” update box that practically can’t be answered “no.” What could possibly be so important in this update, you might ask? “You can now set the amount of time before a controller turns off after you have stopped using it,” the console says after you agree to the update, then re-agree to a system software license that you’ve accepted many times before, since it was last changed in 2009.

There are so many unnecessary button presses and associated clink noises to go through in this process, which can happen twice in a month, that you have to wonder whether anyone at Sony actually views its products as game consoles—effectively, appliances—any more. A Sony update can seemingly consist of nothing more than a security patch, and depending on a number of factors, the process can take 5 or 10 minutes per update—minutes that the user expected to spend playing games, not navigating through updating screens. It really says something that Microsoft of all companies has managed to remove most of these annoyances from the Xbox 360, though it still locks users out of its Xbox Live service if they’re unwilling to perform updates.

Sony seems to know that it’s annoying users, and amazingly, it has turned the hassle of updates into a revenue-generating opportunity. If you want to set your PlayStation 3 to automatically update its system software overnight, you have to buy a three- or twelve-month subscription to a service called PlayStation Plus. Sony actually touts automatic updating as an “exclusive feature” of PlayStation Plus, “so you never have to worry about it or lift a finger.” The cost? $50 per year. Of course, you also get early access to game demos and other features for that price, but you can’t auto-update your PlayStation 3 without paying it, either.

So whenever you’re cursing your Apple TV for not supporting iTunes Extras, or your iPhone’s broken built-in alarm for failing to wake you up in the morning, just remember that it could and probably be much worse if Sony was calling the shots. You could find yourself locked out of iTunes and the App Store every time Apple added security fixes to the iOS version of Safari, or need to agree to the same iTunes terms of service twelve times in a row. By making software updates free and hassle-free, Apple has spared everyone a lot of unnecessary annoyance over the past couple of years in particular, which have seen even iPod touch updates go free, like iTunes, iPhone, Apple TV, and iPad releases. Now if it could just fix those lingering bugs, we’d all be thrilled…

Teardown: What’s Inside Apple’s Big New iPad 2 Dock (+ iPad 1 Dock)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.12.11 | 7 comments

We were curious. Puzzled, even. Why would Apple go through the trouble of completely redesigning the original iPad Dock—an accessory that is actually physically compatible with both the iPad and iPad 2—to release the considerably larger and even less compatible iPad 2 Dock, which is physically incapable of making an electronic connection with the iPad, and now has too little space to work with even slender iPad 2 cases?

We posted a Backstage article on the two iPad 2 Docks and included a guess or two of our own. Maybe Apple needed or intended the extra space inside the iPad 2 Dock for more complex electronics, such as a late-omission Thunderbolt port. Perhaps it had learned something from the odd little gray pill below the Dock Connector on the original iPad Dock. A reader suggested that stress on the first iPad on the prior Dock had caused minor damage to the iPad’s rear casing. There wasn’t any one obvious answer.

So we cracked both the iPad Dock and the iPad 2 Dock open to take a look for ourselves, and what we found inside was surprising. Read on for all the photos and details.

Read more »

A Few Details On Apple’s (Much) Bigger iPad 2 Dock

By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.08.11 | 3 comments

Since Apple’s iPad 2 Dock apparently isn’t yet widely available - ours arrived early this week - developers have asked us for measurements of the noticeably larger sequel to the original iPad Dock, so they can consider whether to prepare Dock-compatible accessories. So here they are, with a few other observations ahead of our full review.

Original iPad Dock was 2 27/32” wide. iPad 2 Dock is 3 11/32” wide.
Original iPad Dock was 1 7/32” tall at its peak and 13/32” tall at its base. iPad 2 Dock is 1 17/32” tall at peak and 9/16” (18/32”) tall at the base. Each includes ~1/32” height attributable to a gray rubber pad on the bottom.
Original iPad Dock was 2 13/16” (or 2 26/32”) deep. iPad 2 Dock is 3 19/32” deep.
Original iPad Dock had no lip in the front, but did have an unusual gray pill-shaped bump under its Dock Connector. iPad 2 Dock eliminates the pill, adding a front lip that is 1/4” deep and 1/2” tall, slightly shorter than the rest of the base. The shape of the lip and the iPad 2-like curved groove prevent the iPad 2 Dock from working with the original iPad, and will prevent most cases from fitting into the iPad 2 Dock, as well. Notably, Apple’s own iPad Smart Cover does not fit in the iPad 2 Dock when fully closed. The lip leaves so little space that you’ll need to flip it open before insertion. This isn’t necessary with the original iPad Dock.

The Smart Cover’s inability to work normally with the iPad 2 Dock—and ability to work fine with the original—just underscores the question we’ve had since the iPad 2 Dock arrived: why would Apple go through the trouble to redesign a dock that physically works fine with both versions of the iPad, then render it even less case-friendly, to the point where Apple’s own solution becomes more difficult to use? This is particularly odd because Apple claimed during the iPad 2’s introduction that it had gone out of its way to design the Smart Cover to improve its compatibility with accessories. It’s somewhat similar to what happened with the fully case-incompatible iPhone 4 Dock, which couldn’t even work with Apple’s own iPhone 4 Bumpers, though in that case the dock actually became smaller than its predecessor. Not so here.

Our suspicion is that there may be some electronics changes inside the iPad 2 Dock that required at least the larger footprint, if not the front lip. We’ve noticed that the iPad 2 Dock is quicker to pass through iPad 2 video mirroring to a connected Apple Digital AV Adapter, and less likely to fail when attempting to re-start video mirroring after the iPad 2 is disconnected and reconnected. So something has definitely changed inside. Whether that something really required extra space—or whether Apple made an all but unprecedented decision to just bulk up the size of an accessory in the name of, say, added stability or easier insertion of the iPad—remains unclear at this point. We’ll know more after a teardown of the iPad 2 Dock.

One other note for case manufacturers considering iPad 2 Dock-compatible accessories: if you’re thinking of creating flaps or other ways to accommodate the Dock, please leave a regular Dock Connector opening, too. As nice as these flaps may be in concept, many users won’t use Apple’s docks and would love to use your cases without having to flip something open every time they recharge and sync. A properly tailored Dock Connector hole with enough space for cables and other accessories (including the bigger Digital AV Adapter (see pictures here)) to connect would be great.

On iPad 2 Launch Issues, Likely Resolutions, And The iPhone 5

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.22.11 | 15 comments

Several days before the iPad 2 was formally announced, and again literally hours before Apple’s special media event in San Francisco took place, we published solid information from reputable sources indicating that Apple did not have sufficient inventory for a proper launch of a new iPad. Contacts told us that the sort of massive but quiet build-up necessary for a new product launch had not yet begun, and at the rate things were going, Apple would not be in proper shape for a minimum of two weeks—quite possibly four.

It’s hard to know exactly what the folks at Apple were thinking when they announced that iPad 2 would start shipping only 9 days later, but it’s obvious in retrospect that the decision carried some unusually negative consequences. There are the obvious ones—the widespread grumbles about sell-outs at various American stores, unavailability of specific models* that customers were looking for, and lingering questions as to whether international launches would be delayed. History has shown that Apple doesn’t sweat these issues much in public, always falling back on some variation of a familiar refrain: “demand is so amazing that we’re just trying to make as many as people want.” It repeated that phrase almost verbatim in a press release this morning confirming that this Friday’s iPad 2 international launch is still largely on track.

But behind the scenes, the company knows that it has serious supply problems on its hands, and that it is not only risking a loss of customer good will with 4-week online delivery dates and uncertain in-store waits, but even further issues due to the demand that international launches and scalpers are creating. Calls for an iPad 2 Inventory Tracking Tool are becoming louder, as are complaints from users who have stood in line awaiting iPad 2 supplies that seem to keep on running out. Apple hasn’t put out its typical “one million sold” announcement yet, either, which given the scope of demand would presumably have been quite fast had the company actually had sufficient units to sell.

That Apple launched the iPad 2 before it was completely ready to do so was evident in other places, too. The company sent new window displays to stores so late that some pieces were actually being installed while customers were waiting in line for the product to launch, a rare peek behind the curtain for a company that typically delights in revealing things only when they’re finished. iPad 2 boxes—and those of the Smart Cover—shipped without any reference to the “iPad 2” name, an odd omission for the detail-obsessed company. Also, the iPad 2 Dock still hasn’t arrived in stores, possibly because of last-minute packaging changes.

Compounding these issues is the iPad 2’s screen light leak problem, which may or may not have been the last-minute production issue that was reported to be screen-related and impacting pre-release supply levels. Users who have attempted to swap modestly affected iPad 2s for fully working replacements have surprisingly found that Apple has plenty of extra iPad 2’s to go around, but the swapped units have even bigger problems than the ones they returned. Perhaps this is a sign that more obviously imperfect units wound up as replacement stock for ones that were built properly from the get-go. Maybe not.

Particularly in light of Apple’s decision to go ahead with iPad 2 launches in additional countries this week, it will be interesting to see how long the supply and production issues take to resolve. Given what’s transpired so far, we’re thinking things will ease up in some territories by May or early June, before which most of the hard-core fans will have gotten their hands on iPad 2 hardware, leaving additional inventory for mainstream customers. To fulfill most of its demand, Apple may have to hold off on offering versions of the iPad 2 that need to be customized for specific carriers—such as additional CDMA partners—in order to make as many GSM and Wi-Fi versions as possible.

(* = In light of gripes from launch day buyers who were offered Verizon CDMA iPad 2s that were available but apparently unwanted, or a color/capacity choice that wasn’t the one a person preferred, we’re really wondering whether Apple will be able to pull off an integrated GSM/CDMA iPhone 5 so that it needn’t manufacture and offer 8 different versions of the phone this year—white and black, across two capacities, and split between GSM and CDMA. Hints in the iOS 4.3 code seem to suggest that there will be separate GSM and CDMA versions, but we’d bet that Apple’s been trying as hard as possible to make a universal “worldphone” happen, and only antenna engineering challenges could stand in the way.)

Readers, what do you think?

Quick Timeline: Apple’s iOS Events, Or, Predicting When iOS 5 Will Hit

By Charles Starrett | 03.21.11 | 2 comments

Now that four years have passed since the announcement of the first iPhone, Apple has had plenty of time to fine-tune its strategies for releasing new iPhone hardware—and the updated iOS software to support it. Each year, beginning with 2008’s iPhone Software Roadmap event, the time period between the announcement of a new OS version and its release has shortened, as the iOS roadmap events have been held later each year, and the actual iOS release has been closely tied to the release of a new iPhone model.

iPhone OS 2.0: Event Announced Feb. 27, 2008 / Event Held March 6, 2008 / Released July 11, 2008
iPhone OS 3.0: Event Announced March 12, 2009 / Event Held March 17, 2009 / Released June 17, 2009
iPhone OS/iOS 4.0: Event Announced April 5, 2010 / Event Held April 8, 2010 / Released June 21, 2010

Notably, Apple typically uses the events to preview the most important new software features of each release, then waits until its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) to announce a formal release date, as well as any additional new software features required for new iPhone hardware. WWDC also brings the first official confirmation of release dates for the new iPhone model that debuts at the event. It’s interesting that the dates for Apple’s WWDC conference have barely changed over the past three years, even though Apple has waited longer and longer to announce the WWDC dates.

WWDC 2008: Announced March 13, 2008 / Held June 9-13, 2008 (Monday - Friday)
WWDC 2009: Announced March 26, 2009 / Held June 8-12, 2009 (Monday - Friday)
WWDC 2010: Announced April 28, 2010 / Held June 7-11, 2010 (Monday - Friday)

Recent reports, citing the event calendar for San Francisco’s Moscone West—the traditional venue for WWDC—suggest that this year’s event will be held on June 5-9. Those dates, however, run from Sunday to Thursday, and as Apple has held its keynote address on Monday—the first day of the event—each of the past three years, it seems more likely that the event will be held on June 6-10, with Sunday the 5th possibly reserved for setup and preparation work.

That brings us back to the topic of this year’s iOS event, at which Apple will presumably preview iOS 5. Apple may have only given three days warning for last year’s event, but it was rare in that the original iPad had launched only two days prior, and Apple likely didn’t want to distract from iPad coverage by announcing the event prior to the new tablet’s launch. In any case, Apple has to allow enough time between the iOS event and the software’s launch to allow third-party developers to work with the new software in beta form, preparing applications to take advantage of the new features and update their existing apps for compatibility with the changed software.

Given the fact that WWDC 2011 will likely be held during the first full week of June, as it has the last three years, it appears as though we’re quickly approaching the announcement of Apple’s iOS 5 event. The company could announce it as soon as this week and hold it as soon as the next week—three or five days’ notice might be all we get. But with the company gearing up for a slew of international iPad releases this Friday, it seems more likely that Apple will announce an iOS 5 event sometime next week, with the event itself being held the week of April 4-8, quite possibly on the 6th or 7th. A mid-June release of iOS 5 software, ever so slightly predating the release of iPhone 5, seems likely as well. While this is nothing more than an educated guess, with the iPad 2 already out and nothing else clearly on the calendar between now and June, there’s an obvious gap in Apple’s announcement calendar, and only a handful of products—Mac desktops in particular, possibly updated MacBook Airs—likely to fill the time between now and then. So let the speculation begin.

An Open Letter to Jon Bon Jovi On What’s Really “Killing The Music Business”

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.14.11 | 124 comments

Hi Jon,

When my wife—a huge and long-time Bon Jovi fan—asked me to spend over $300 for two floor seat tickets to your Valentine’s Day show in Toronto, there were two reasons that I said yes. First, I really love my wife, and would do almost anything for her. Second, I looked through my iTunes collection and realized that there were more good Bon Jovi songs inside than there were for most of the musicians I “love.” Once my wife assured me that your concerts focus mostly on the songs I liked, I plunked down the cash for the seats, and spent the next four months watching my wife smile every time we discussed Valentine’s Day.

To be totally honest with you, the concert was great. We both had a lot of fun, snapped pictures and video clips from the floor, and told our friends and family how much we enjoyed it.

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But now you’re putting our happy memories in jeopardy. For whatever reason, you told The Sunday Times Magazine during an interview that “Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business.” I’m not going to try and tell you all of the ways that you’re deeply, profoundly wrong. Instead, I’m just going to focus on a few of them.

(1) My wife has carried around all of your albums (and many more) on Steve Jobs’ Apple devices since she bought her first iPod years ago. I know from personal experience that she taps into your collection at home, in the car, and on vacations—literally at the drop of a hat, whenever she wants. If she hadn’t, I would have forgotten about your band back in the 1980’s. No CD player or radio station would have changed that, I can guarantee you.

(2) When we got married, her music collection became mine and vice-versa. It’s because of her collection of Bon Jovi music—and her constant access to it on Apple’s devices—that I could look at my iTunes library and realize how many of your songs I liked.

(3) We attended your concert in Toronto a month ago. Photos from that concert were uploaded to Facebook using our iPhones, and from my digital camera using a Mac. And when I was testing the iPad 2, guess what I used as examples to show off how the new version of iMovie can edit videos from digital cameras? Sample concert footage. And it looked pretty great, too.

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Jon, you lead the world’s top-earning touring band, which made $146.5 million on its last tour alone. If the music business is being killed, you’re still doing exceptionally well, so it’s hard to understand why you’d be complaining about anything right now. But let me take a guess or two.

In the interview, you seem to be upset that kids no longer buy an entire album based on the cover, and suggest that people would be better off not knowing what it sounds like before they make a purchase. I’m sorry, but that’s just crazy. Yes, Apple lets people buy singles rather than entire albums. It also lets people preview tracks before buying albums, and recently extended those previews to 90 seconds per song. This way, potential customers can be sure they’re getting what they want before hitting the buy button—a good idea because those of us who aren’t making tens of millions of dollars a year don’t want to buy bad songs, or worse yet, entire albums full of junk. Singles and previewing let us pick out the tracks we like, rather than having to pay for filler. And there’s a lot of filler in the music business these days.

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Taken on an iPhone 4

During the concert in Toronto, and presumably many others you’ve performed over the years, the audience clearly wanted to hear your hits. Crowd noise dimmed significantly every time you said you were going to play “new stuff,” but the energy level went through the roof whenever a classic track started to play. As an aging rock star—granted, one who puts on a hell of a show—you must hate that each stadium full of people just wants to hear the songs you put out 20 years ago. You surely want to point fingers at the system that distributes your music, the way people consume music these days, other performers, and anything other than the music itself for not catching on. At one point in the concert, you knocked Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, and seemingly Madonna and Justin Timberlake for not being real musicians. As talented as you may be, it’s obvious that you’re angry about popular music for some reason.

You shouldn’t be. If you don’t realize it already, iTunes, the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Mac have given you a platform that would have been inconceivable when you were a kid. You constantly live in your fans’ pockets, on their computers, and inside their cameras. That attachment leads them, and in some cases their spouses, to keep listening to you, watching you, and paying you for more. The more good music you make, the more Apple has empowered you to make money on it in some way, and to spread the word to others. Like me. Like the friends we reached on Facebook. And so on.

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Steve Jobs isn’t the problem here. The music industry is the problem—too many bad songs are the problem. It’s the reason the audience doesn’t roar when you talk about playing a new track or two that were added for a re-release of your greatest hits. If your greatest hits were from the last three years, imagine how much money you’d be making on album sales even beyond your touring.

Speaking just for myself, the next Bon Jovi concert I’ll consider attending now will be one with a completely different set list of tracks that I like as much as the ones you released 20 years ago. All you have to do is start recording them, and I promise that my wife or I will purchase them. So will the rest of your fans. Until that happens, and other musicians start churning out great music by the album rather than the song, the industry’s going to be in trouble. And if it keeps blaming the system rather than itself, it will deserve its fate.

Best,

Jeremy

Quick Update on Early iPad 2 Case Compatibility

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.11.11 | 6 comments

If you’re looking for a real case for your iPad 2, good news: we’ve had a chance to test not only Apple’s iPad Smart Cover for iPad 2, but also iKit’s Carbon Case for iPad 2, Targus’s 360-Degree Rotating Stand Case for iPad 2 and LuxMobile’s Protekto for iPad 2, and they all fit. According to our case reviewer Nick Guy, the best of the bunch is iKit’s Carbon Case, a rubber and hard plastic case that manages to fit the new device’s curves and ports precisely; the Targus and LuxMobile cases are both competent folios, the latter a little more difficult to install than the former, and Apple’s iPad Smart Case obviously works, but is grossly overpriced for what it does—particularly the leather one.

Briefly: FaceTime, Now On Your HDTV? (Thanks to iPad 2)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.04.11 | 1 comment

Just a thought: with Apple’s new Digital AV Adapter, the iPad 2 will be able to mirror all the video from its screen onto any HDTV. That presumably includes output from its video camera.

Realtime FaceTime video calling, now on your HDTV? Sign us up. Though adding a camera accessory to the Apple TV seems like a smarter and more efficient way of handling this, any way to bring FaceTime into the living room will be welcome.

Last-Minute iPad 2 Buzz: Case Lock Feature, 2-4 Week Shipping?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.02.11 | 2 comments

Back in January, a new “PAD_CASE_LOCK” feature was discovered in the beta version of iOS 4.3, and explained as a way to “Automatically lock and unlock your iPad when you close and open the iPad cover.” Since the first-generation iPad doesn’t have any hardware that would enable this feature, we wondered whether the next iPad would gain a proximity sensor or some other trick (such as a near-field communication chip) to make it possible.

According to a well-informed source, hardware support for the feature is apparently coming in the new iPad, and it’s a little more interesting than initially expected. The next iPad’s casing will supposedly be capable of magnetically gripping the front flaps of folio-style cases. This could remove the need for unsightly overhanging tabs with snaps, magnets, or Velcro; a thin magnet could be placed inside the front flap to hold the case closed. As soon as the lid’s secured in the right position, or opened, the iPad could automatically lock and unlock itself.

Our source also corroborated what we’ve been hearing from several others over the past week: unless Apple has a huge surprise up its sleeve, or wants to report rapid sell-outs of very modest initial inventory, the next iPad should not ship for a minimum of two weeks, and more likely four. We’ll know for sure a few hours from now.

A List of “2"s That Could Be Inside iPad 2

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.01.11 | 14 comments

Apple’s marketing team builds campaigns around simple themes. “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC.” The iPod silhouette dancers. iPhones making everything easy. iPads doing lots of different things well. So the big “2” on the March 2 invite could be a broad hint as to what the company’s thinking for the second-generation iPad’s marketing plan: strongly message the “this is a true iPad sequel” theme, referencing all the “2” elements inside the device.

Here’s a list of some of the possible 2’s. Which do you think will make it into the new iPad?

(1) A dual-core processor.

(2) A graphics chip with twice the power of the last iPad GPU.

(3) Twice the RAM.

(4) Twice the storage capacity.

(5) Twice the speaker power.

(6) Two cameras.

(7) Twice the screen resolution.

(8) Twice the screen visibility outdoors/brightness.

(9) Two types of supported cellular networking options—CDMA and GSM.

(10) Two completely different iPads—an iPad and an iPad mini, for example—or two different colors (white/black) of one model.

We’d love to hear your guesses on each of these. They’re not all going to happen, but we’d bet heavily on at least six of them.

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