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.

Mac FaceTime 1.0 Adds 720p FaceTime HD - But Only For Brand New Macs?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.24.11 | 11 comments

A day after leaks revealed that Apple was planning to rebrand Mac iSight cameras as “FaceTime” and “FaceTime HD” cameras—the former at the 640x480 resolution of iPhone 4, iPod touch 4G and earlier Mac iSight cameras, the latter at a then-unknown but likely higher resolution—it’s official: FaceTime 1.0 has arrived for the Mac at a $1 asking price, available through the Mac App Store. (The free beta version of FaceTime continues to work, too, if you’ve already downloaded it.)

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The big difference between the beta and final versions? FaceTime HD. As we sort-of guessed yesterday, FaceTime HD leverages the higher-resolution video cameras found in the most recent Macs to deliver 720p (1280x720) video, assuming that you have the extra broadband bandwidth to make and receive calls. Apple requires 1Mbps on both the upstream and downstream sides to make FaceTime HD calls, versus 128Kbps for standard FaceTime connections—around eight times the bandwidth for three times the resolution. This isn’t a huge surprise: Apple’s FaceTime video codec requires the same bandwidth as Logitech’s previously-released 720p-capable video cameras, as just one example.

 

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There’s one big hitch. Yes, FaceTime HD works with “the most recent Macs,” but by “most recent,” we mean “the ones released today.” For reasons unknown, Apple appears to be limiting FaceTime HD solely to today’s just-released MacBook Pro computers, rather than allowing it to work on all of the past Macs with 1280x1024 iSight cameras built in. While owners of the MacBook Air never had a chance at HD calling thanks to the 640x480 iSight camera inside—note that Apple’s MacBook Air tech specs page currently refers to this a “FaceTime camera,” though the 11” MacBook Air’s box calls it an “iSight camera”—purchasers of three-month-old and even three-year-old iMacs technically have cameras capable of HD video, as do many prior-generation MacBook and Cinema Display owners.

 

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As we suggested yesterday, it’s possible that Apple is using FaceTime HD as an opportunity to improve the camera hardware inside all new Macs; it’s also possible that it’s just a change in how the old cameras are being marketed. (Updated: One of Apple’s new MacBook Pro pages claims “improved low-light performance,” hinting at the former.)

 

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Another discovery: at least for the moment, it doesn’t appear that Apple allows third-party 720p-capable video cameras to use FaceTime HD. The Logitech C910 camera we’re using can technically even handle 1080p output, but FaceTime 1.0 isn’t putting out higher-resolution video when we’re using it to make outgoing calls to other machines with FaceTime 1.0. For the time being, it looks like you’ll need to buy a whole new Mac—not just the app, or the accessory—in order to make those HD calls.

One more thing. Yes, the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G have rear video cameras that support 720p recording. No, they don’t appear to be capable of making FaceTime HD calls—we’ve tested them and the video calling resolution appears to be capped at 640x480 on both cameras, even when connecting to Macs running FaceTime 1.0. Apple could conceivably flip a switch on this to enable FaceTime HD resolution support in a subsequent iOS release. Or it could require users to purchase new iPhones, iPod touches, or iPads for HD video calling. (Update: Apple says that “receiving HD video calls requires a supported Intel-based Mac,” suggesting that the iPhone and iPod touch can’t receive FaceTime HD calls. The page showing which Mac models are supported isn’t live yet.)

(Update 2: The original URL shown on Apple’s FaceTime App Store page (“http://support.apple.com/bk/HT4534”) contained a typo, which has now been fixed on the page, and the Apple Knowledgebase article is now live. The correct URL, http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4534, shows that most Mac computers released since 2008 with 2.4GHz or faster processors are capable of receiving HD calls. However, MacBook Airs cannot receive or make HD calls, and “if either Mac on a call can only send and receive standard video, then both Macs will only send and receive standard video.” Thanks to reader Matt for the tip!)

Surprising? As expected? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Sources: Is it iPad 1.5 or 2? Also, iPhone 5 And Fully Redesigned 2012 MacBook Pros

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.23.11 | 3 comments

Several of our sources have piped up with a few interesting details in light of the upcoming MacBook Pro, iPad 2, and iPhone 5 announcements, which we’ll present here for your consideration.

* The February 2011 MacBook Pro is an incremental update to the prior aluminum unibody versions we’ve all seen before. Next year is the year when Apple will introduce an all new design for the MacBook Pro product family, which is already under development at Quanta in Taiwan. It’s being described as a big, “milestone” release for the Pro family, as compared with the speed bump features that will be introduced in tomorrow’s models.

* The iPhone 5 is on track for a June announcement, with worldwide shipments by August or earlier—obviously the U.S. will be the earliest to receive units, followed by other countries thereafter.

* Two reliable sources are suggesting that next week’s “iPad 2” event has some serious cliffhanger potential—as in, consumers may not see the real “iPad 2” for some time. There’s apparently some truth to the reports of production problems with the new model, and as a result, no one is really sure at this point what Apple is going to be shipping as the “iPad 2,” or when.

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To be clear, sources continue to claim that the “iPad 2” mockup that we were the first to spot last month represents the redesigned rear casing of an upcoming iPad. Dozens of accessory makers have already created early cases meant to fit this new rear shell, which has different dimensions and radiuses than the original iPad’s. Some of these companies are actively sending out e-mails claiming that they’re ready to ship these cases right now.

 

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But last August, Apple was rumored to be working on a more modest incremental update to the iPad that was going to add a front-facing camera, with a possible release date of right before the holidays. That last part sounded crazy—impossible, really—even though it did sound like Apple was testing something that wasn’t quite an iPad 2, but was actually more like an iPad 1.5, sort of like the third-generation iPod touch. (You remember that one, right? The one where Apple pulled the rear camera at the last minute due to production problems.) If the real “iPad 2” wasn’t ready in time, Apple could just release the mildly tweaked version as a stop-gap measure. This would explain John Gruber’s “guess” that Apple is planning to release an “iPad 2” and an “iPad 3” this year; Apple, of course, would prefer that its customers always think they’re getting a full next-generation product rather than some half-step down the road to something better. (More on that, in a separate article.)

In any case, our sources aren’t sure whether Apple is going to release the iPad 1.5 now and call it the iPad 2, hold off a few months and release something dramatically better, or hold off a few months and release the iPad 1.5. The sources strongly believe that Apple cannot possibly ship enough truly “new” iPads to meet a late March or early April release date. One expects that Apple will only preview the next iPad at next week’s event, then release it widely around June. A price drop for the current model would keep sales flowing until then.

We’re going to say something we’ve said before: we trust our sources, but this is sort of hard to swallow. Even given all of the odd release date shakiness Apple has had with the white iPhone 4 over the past eight months, Apple’s track record on announcing and then shipping new products is pretty solid. Given that there’s a popular iPad available to purchase in stores right now, Apple would not spend a month leaking information on the new version, lowering expectations all the while, and then use a special event solely to tell people to wait three more months for the new product. Unless really serious and very last-minute production problems forced it to use a price drop or similar step to keep customers happy before a refresh. We’ll know what’s up next week, and we’ll let you know what we hear between now and then.

Apple’s Macs Bid iSight Goodbye, Welcome FaceTime HD (And Low-Def FaceTime)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.23.11 | 1 comment

Leaked packaging from Apple’s new MacBook Pro computers confirms a change that has been a long time in coming: Apple is officially changing the names of its built-in Mac cameras from “iSight” to “FaceTime,” and it’s also creating a new distinction: “FaceTime” versus “FaceTime HD.”

The first change actually didn’t take that long—Apple only introduced FaceTime for Macs in October of last year. But the second change, by which it acknowledges that some Macs have better cameras inside than others, is years in the making. Apple started to sneak higher-resolution cameras into some of its Mac computers three years ago without advertising the change. Old iSights used 640x480 resolution, just like FaceTime on the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G. But newer iSights—at least, some of them—more than quadruple the resolution to 1280x1024, or 1.3 Megapixels. Apple builds the better iSights into most of its computers, but not the MacBook Air, a shortcoming of the smaller laptop that the company hasn’t been keen to publicize up until now.

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New MacBook Pro boxes show that Apple is going to refer to the Mac’s built-in camera as “FaceTime HD,” which we can guess will be the same as the underpublicized 1280x1024 better iSight cameras—just a marketing and name change. Yes, it’s possible (and possibly great!) that Apple would use this as an opportunity to upgrade Mac cameras across the board, potentially just improved-sensitivity backlit sensors that would perform better in dimly-lit rooms, or maybe even a significantly higher resolution sensor with a better lens, like the ones in Logitech’s Mac-ready HD Pro Webcam C910. Any of these changes would make indoor video calling over FaceTime considerably better than it is now.

We’ll know soon enough what Apple really means by “FaceTime HD,” but we’re not expecting radical improvements. Apple has so prioritized thinness in its recent designs that improved camera performance—which often depends upon having more room inside an enclosure in order to add autofocus capabilities, get better sensors, and the like—has always been a distant second or third priority. Expect FaceTime HD to become Apple’s new ceiling for front-facing video camera performance, and for the ceiling to stay in place for a while; giving select iOS devices similar capabilities will be the next logical step.

Hands-On: Twelve South’s MagicWand Unifies Apple’s Magic Trackpad + Wireless Keyboard

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.16.11 | 5 comments

Young though it may be, Twelve South has become a reliable source of smart accessories for Apple users over the past year and a half. MacBooks notably benefitted from the sturdy BookArc stand, iPad users more recently received the super-sharp portable Compass, and now desktop Mac users are getting in on the action with MagicWand ($30), a typically well-named accessory aimed at users of Apple’s Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad.

Using only three pieces, MagicWand unifies these two increasingly important peripherals to become a one-piece input solution that’s a little under an inch narrower than Apple’s USB-wired Mac Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. Piece one is a silver tube with a groove that perfectly fits the battery compartments and rubber feet of the Keyboard and Trackpad; piece two is a matching silver H insert that joins the Keyboard and Trackpad together for stability, and piece three is a gray soft rubber insert that goes at the top of the joined accessories, serving as a pad between their metal top edges. Combined together, everything looks and feels mostly like it was made to be joined this way, and the silver tube has rubber feet of its own to replace the ones it covers up. Some users may pooh-pooh Twelve South’s use of plastic rather than metal for the silver parts, particularly given the $30 asking price, but the plastic keeps the weight down while making the tube flexible enough that the Apple parts can be popped in or out without fear of scratching. A little paint from the tube may rub off if you run the keyboard through it rather than just popping it out, but it won’t damage Apple’s silver aluminum.

 

Read on for additional photos and details.

Read more »

The Onion’s Awesome MacBook Satire: Lineups For Hideous Update

By Charles Starrett | 02.10.11 | 1 comment

From time to time, parody news site The Onion offers up something so brilliant that it defies simple explanation. This satire of Apple’s impending MacBook refresh is a prime example—disturbing, and every paragraph packed with laughs.

New iPad details: RFID/NFC add-ons, carbon body, 7” iPad still in works

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.04.11 | 0 comments

A previously accurate source has provided iLounge with some interesting new details on Apple’s ongoing iPad development efforts, cautioning that some of the information is very preliminary. Here’s what we’ve heard.

1. RFID/NFC Accessories: According to our source, Apple is actively developing new accessories that will communicate with the near-field radio chips reportedly built into new iPads and iPhones. In the most basic implementation, an accessory could announce its presence and potential functions to an iPad or iPhone without the need for a Bluetooth or similar connection; our source suggests that an otherwise simple case could include a radio chip so that an inserted iPhone or iPad could go into power-saving hibernation mode automatically. More complex accessories will go far beyond that.

2. A New Body Material: While our source urges caution on this point, it’s possible that the company will use a new material similar to carbon fiber rather than aluminum for upcoming iPads. Apple has already applied for a patent on this, and apparently second-generation iPad shells made from the new material have already been spotted. Apple has in the past worked simultaneously on more than one version of a device enclosure before making a late-stage switch to another, but it is apparently testing these new shells now in the hopes of reducing the weight of iPads.

3. The 7-inch iPad Lives: While Apple apparently decided to scuttle the 7” version of the iPad it was working on last year, our source notes that a key iPad, iPhone, and iPod component provider has been asked by Apple to develop a part for use in a seven-inch iPad. Our source believes that this part is for a new version of the device that is still in development, and doesn’t know whether it will go into production. The request suggests, however, that Apple is continuing to keep the idea of a smaller-screened iPad alive despite having pooh-poohed competing 7”-screened devices as “tweeners.”

Our source recommends that you take all of this with the requisite grains of salt. We wanted to share it because it was intriguing.

Incipio’s Feather Rivals Speck’s SeeThru Satin For MacBook Air 11” Protection

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.25.11 | 3 comments

There weren’t any custom-fit cases ready when the new MacBook Air 11” was released last year, but cool new cases are appearing almost every week now, and Incipio’s Feather ($50) is the latest to grab our attention. It follows hot on the heels of Speck’s SeeThru Satin, which we looked at yesterday, and has a lot in common with that hard shell design—no huge surprise as both cases are smaller sequels to same-named versions released for earlier MacBooks.

Though they’ve each been rethought somewhat for the 11” Air, Feather is a somewhat less dramatic departure for Incipio than SeeThru was for Speck. Both are less than 1mm in thickness, but Satin is just a little thinner without making compromises on resilience or scope of protection. Incipio’s hard shell is also heavier at around 7 ounces versus 6.7 ounces for Satin, a difference that sounds small but in practice adds just enough extra weight to the Air’s lid to push it down from a semi-open position. From our perspective, this is really a failing of the Air’s overly soft hinge, which has a tendency to fall into an overly open position on its own, but Feather exacerbated the unwanted sway a little more on our machine. Apple may wind up stiffening the hinge in later Air production runs if it hasn’t already, making this difference immaterial, or it might not—the original 13” Air had hinge problems for quite a while before Apple addressed them.

 

Modest weight and thickness differences aside, Feather is a handsome shell. The soft touch rubber finish feels just as nice as SeeThru Satin’s, making the case easy to grip reliably rather than glossing the aluminum-bodied Mac up to a dangerously slippy level. Unlike Satin, four colors are available—black, purple, red, and pink—and each is opaque, so you shouldn’t expect to see the Apple logo when the computer’s off or on. There are also some neat if not strictly necessary Incase-inspired perforated venting holes on the bottom of Feather, a little design touch that’s completely missing from SeeThru Satin. On the other hand, Feather’s side port holes are slightly less impressively tailored, with too little extra space for wide USB or display connectors, and the rubber foot covers are a little less interesting than Speck’s. The black Feather we received also shows smudges much more easily than the black Satin, picking up and making finger oils look very obvious within moments of first use. This would be our biggest issue using Feather in practice.

 

Neither company has a price advantage, which is sort of a bummer given that either one could have easily shaved some dollars off the $50 already being charged for the larger MacBook Pro versions of these cases—but then, no one is really competing with equally impressive MacBook Air 11” hard shells at a lower price. We’d bet that Incase will follow suit with its inevitable Hardshell Case for MacBook Air, which though unannounced at this point will probably wind up costing the same price while resembling each design in some significant ways. If and when it appears, we’ll check it out, too; for now, Incipio and Speck have significant early mover advantages, with Speck leading on the little details and Incipio offering more colors and a little extra design flash. We’d give the edge to Speck, but if you’re looking to go red, pink, or purple with your 11” Air, Feather’s your only choice today.

MacBook Air 11” Gets Moshi’s Muse + Speck’s SeeThru Satin

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.24.11 | 0 comments

A great feel in the hand is one of the things we look for—and only sometimes find—in MacBook cases, particularly given that the 11” MacBook Air is small and thin enough that you’ll wind up holding it in a palm or under an arm at some point when you’re walking around with it. So it was a non-trivial point when we looked last week at United SGP’s Leather Pouch and noted that the smooth texture of the expensive envelope-style case might not work for some users; a little bit of tack can go a long way when hand-holding a device for extended periods of time. Two new cases for the 11” MacBook Air offer completely different approaches to protecting the laptop, but both use textures to differentiate themselves from rival products.

Moshi’s Muse 11 ($35) is undeniably just a longer and ever-so-slightly darker gray version of the company’s Muse for iPad, adding just enough length to accommodate the 11” MacBook Air within one of its two flap-covered pockets. The other pocket is for accessories—say, the Air’s included power supply—but actually has enough room for a full iPad inside, assuming that you’re willing to go through some insertion and removal contortions that neither Moshi nor we would actually recommend. In any case, it’s a big second pocket, and the contrast-colored front flap is sealed with a couple of hidden magnets, then topped with a nice little metallic name badge.

 

It’s an undeniably sharp-looking design, but let’s be frank: there are lots of nice-looking sleeves out there for MacBooks. The thing that makes this one really stand out to us is the texture, which just like the iPad version feels like the surface of a high-quality sofa rather than a typical case. Moshi’s microfiber, which it brands as Terahedron, is soft enough to be used to clean the MacBook’s screen and plush enough to feel as if it’s padded. Every time we touch it, we want to touch it some more—it’s just that nice. For the $35 asking price, it has just the right look and feel; if the idea of pulling your MacBook Air bare or with film from a sleeve appeals to you, this is a truly great option.

 

Speck has a completely different but equally compelling solution in the form of SeeThru Satin for MacBook Air 11” ($50). Several generations of SeeThru and SeeThru Satin cases have been released for earlier MacBooks (and, of course, iPods, iPhones, and iPads), but this version is quite possibly the best one yet for a laptop. It’s supposedly 50% thinner than the last-generation MacBook case, a difference that’s apparent when the hard plastic shell is off, as it can flex a little despite its precision-molded edges. Yet when it’s on the MacBook Air, it doesn’t feel any less protective than before, just thinner. And it looks every bit as cool.

 

The soft-touch rubber coating on the outside is called Satin because it feels like that: smooth on a microscopic level without being glossy or slippery, a difference between this and the standard SeeThru cases. It adds a translucent frosted black coating to the Air that enables the Apple logo to shine through the top, dimmed somewhat, while providing open port areas and rear antenna/hinge access where appropriate. That it can snap onto the 11” Air at all shouldn’t be taken for granted given the thinness of the computer at its minimum points; Speck uses very small clips to keep the case attached to the edges of the MacBook, and rubberized bottom pads to cover the black rubber ones on the computer.

 

Just as with Muse, SeeThru Satin feels really good—“right,” even—and offers a really minimalist form of protection if you’re just looking to keep most of the Air’s aluminum frame scratch-free. While the $50 price tag feels like a reach given that Speck charges the same price for the bigger, heavier versions for the 17”, 15”, and 13” MacBook Pros, there’s no getting around the fact that the 11” MacBook Air version has a precise, crisp feel that merits some sort of premium over the company’s iPhone version of SeeThru Satin, itself a true standout from rivals thanks to its look and feel. This is one franchise that Speck has consistently improved upon without fail in every generation, making each year’s versions better than the great ones that came before, and if we weren’t such huge fans of film protectors for the MacBook Air, we’d be using Satin every day. It’s easy to install, solidly built, and a really nice complement to the Air’s good looks.

MacBook Air 11” Gets An Envelope Case: United SGP’s Gariz Edition Leather Pouch

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.21.11 | 0 comments

Shortly after the original MacBook Air was released, companies rushed to release manila envelope-styled cases like the one Steve Jobs had used to unveil the wafer-thin computer, and as much as that first computer struck us as not-quite-there, we thought the envelope case idea was cute. Marware later brought the beautiful and similarly-inspired Eco-Envi envelope case to the iPad, and now that the new 11” and 13” MacBook Airs are out—and popular—companies are thankfully taking another stab at the concept. We say “thankfully” because we’re now Air users and have been itching to see cool cases like this for the 11” model. United SGP has shipped one of the first ones we’ve seen in its just-announced MacBook Air 11” Leather Pouch Gariz Edition Series ($110).

Overall, the Leather Pouch is nice. It’s made from genuine leather, sueded on the inside and smooth on the outside, gripping the 11” MacBook Air tightly enough that the use of body-protecting film makes the case a modest challenge to close—something that would likely change as the leather is used a little more. It feels every bit like the hand-crafted, high-quality carrying accessory SGP claims it to be, and smells like real leather rather than factory chemicals, a virtue that we no longer take for granted these days. The lines are clean and sleek, like the MacBook Air’s, drawing less attention to the machine than envelope-style Air cases did before.

 

Whether you like the look or not will depend on whether you’re looking for something manila-styled, or more traditional envelope-styled like Marware’s designs, or a hybrid of business envelope and leather pouch like this. But the only way you’ll have an issue with the feel is if you need a coarser leather with anti-slip properties. SGP’s smooth leather finish doesn’t slide out of dry hands, but between the Air’s small size and this case’s lack of a handle, armstrap, or other carrying option, you can expect to keep it under an arm or in your palm most of the time.

 

There’s one less than thrilling component of this design. United SGP apparently teamed up with a company called Gariz for the Leather Pouch, and they decided to mark both companies’ logos on the front and back of the case. The latter markings aren’t a huge problem because they’re embossed and graphical, but the front includes three logos and a bunch of words that have been laser-etched onto the leather’s surface. Unfortunately, the text is choppy Engrish similar to what has appeared on some of SGP’s other products: “Gariz is the Design Brand of product pursues such as Reflecting life style, User friend, Harmony and Difference .” (Capitalization, spelling, and punctuation theirs.) Unlike Asia, where even sloppy English text might add to the fashion appeal of a product, any text—especially poorly written text—almost always detracts from a design. SGP would be better off minimizing its logos and dropping the words altogether, not just on this product but on all of them.

 

It’s good, then, that the front markings are hidden under the flap, which closes using two metal snaps. They and the rear logo is all you’ll generally see besides the nice leather SGP has chosen. You can make up your own mind as to whether $110 is the right price for a case like this; our feeling is that it’s a little too pricey given the materials and design, but it’s subject to change. At a lower price, and with fewer words on the face, it could possibly be worth putting in the mail to your home address.

Reality Check: A 2048x1536 iPad 2 Screen Would Trump Macs, HDTVs + Unicorns

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.17.11 | 5 comments

Fueled by speculation from smart and generally well-informed blogger John Gruber, claims circulated over the weekend that the second-generation iPad will have a screen with quadruple the pixels of the original iPad—2048 by 1536 (QXGA) resolution. Implied to be a guess (“my money is on”) but wisely hedged at the end (“I’ll believe it when I see it”), Gruber’s speculation appears to be based on the following logic:

* Apple quadrupled the pixels of the original 480x320 iPhone and iPod touch screens in order to achieve Retina Display resolutions in their respective fourth-generation models.
* Quadrupling pixels (doubling them in both horizontal and vertical directions) offers the most straightforward option for upgrading a screen while preserving compatibility of old software.
* Apple knows that higher-resolution displays make its portable devices more attractive to consumers and more difficult for rivals to match on specs.

Each of these statements is demonstrably true, and two additional factors helped the guess to pick up steam:

* Recent reports have suggested (again) that Apple will be using a more powerful PowerVR SGX543 graphics processor and multi-core CPU in the new iPad.
* Discovery of some higher-resolution “iPad X2” art tiles in iBooks, suggesting that Apple had designed some of the graphics for a quadruple-resolution display.

So that’s it, right? An ultra-high resolution screen in an iPad would make sense, given Apple’s desire to offer products its rivals can’t match, and if the second iPad has improved CPU/GPU hardware, a new display should be a lock. Well, not really; it’s worth considering the other side of the equation.

History has shown that Apple very rarely makes screen resolution changes, let alone radical ones, in its second-generation products. No matter what else it may change under the hood, it generally picks a target resolution for a first-generation product’s screen and sticks with it for at least one or two more years, as was demonstrated by every iPod model, the first three iPhones, and most of its Mac computers. Though it’s not a spec-obsessed company, it tends not to step on the toes of a more expensive product line by offering hugely better features in a lower-priced device. A 2048 by 1536 iPad at $499 (or even $599) would blow away the displays on every Mac computer Apple makes, except—arguably—a $1,699 27” iMac or a Mac with the $999 27” LED Cinema Display. That list includes:

* The standard 13” MacBook. At 1280 by 800, it offers a resolution close to the current iPad, and hasn’t changed in years—its iBook predecessor had a 13” 1024x768 screen for years.

* Every MacBook Air. After a generation or two of matching the MacBook, the 13” Air just gained a resolution bump to 1440 by 900. Even the new 11” Air surpasses the standard MacBook at 1366 by 768. These are small differences, suggesting how little Apple is willing (or able) to boost the screen specs on its thinnest machines.

* Every MacBook Pro. The $2,299 17” version tops out at 1920 by 1200, or slightly higher than 1080p full HD resolution; this is still lower than the proposed iPad 2 display. Meanwhile, the 13” Pro is currently equivalent in resolution to the standard 13” MacBook.

* The 21” iMac. This model falls a little short of the 17” MacBook Pro by offering 1920 by 1080 pixels, equivalent to full 1080p high-definition resolution. It starts at $1,119.

* Almost any other Mac with a Cinema Display. Although the current 27” LED Cinema Display has a 2560 by 1440 screen—higher than the supposed iPad 2 screen on one axis, lower on the other—the prior 24” version had 1920 by 1200 resolution; only the discontinued 30” version was higher at 2560 by 1600.

In other words, a 2048 by 1536 second-generation iPad screen would not only be roughly on par with what’s in Apple’s most expensive computers and monitors, but it would also have to fit all those pixels into a roughly 10” diagonal display—a display that most likely doesn’t exist. A quick check of LCD screen maker Samsung’s website suggests that its 9.7” displays tap out at 1024x768, the iPad’s current resolution, and other reported iPad screen suppliers LG and Chimei Innolux don’t appear to sell sub-10” screens with anywhere near the pixels discussed above; the iPad’s screen is closer to the high end than the middle or bottom of its product class. Apple would need screens that it could reliably source in the tens of millions (reportedly 65-million) per year, so unless it has had secret factories working on QXGA iPad displays for a couple of years, finding such parts would be unlikely. Additionally, even if Apple did in fact include a supercharged video processor to power a super screen, the iPad’s notebook-besting battery life could be impacted considerably when apps demand four times the pixel changes of the prior iPad. It’s far more likely that a display similar to the current iPad’s would be given the optional ability to display better 3-D and 2-D graphics than an outright mandate to do so.

It’s worth considering that upcoming iPad rivals aren’t targeting ultra high-resolution displays, either. RIM’s PlayBook has a 1024x600 screen at 7”, and Motorola’s Xoom has a 1280x800 screen at 10.1”, which will likely be similar or superior to most of the Android 3.0 tablets offered by other companies for most of this year. These products will very likely use similar CPU and GPU technology to what Apple is expected to be including in the second-generation iPad. In this context, it’s easier to give greater weight to other discoveries of new iPad features suggesting that the 1024x768 resolution will stay the same, perhaps benefitting from improved backlighting, color gamut, or other non-resolution changes.

None of this is to say that an ultra high-resolution display for the iPad is impossible in 2011. Apple would surely love to release an iPad with DPI akin to printed documents. It’s just that such a huge jump in resolution seems really unlikely, particularly in a second-generation Apple product. The original iPod stayed with a 160 by 128 screen for four generations before receiving a minor boost and going color; the iPod nano spent two generations at 176x132 before rivaling the iPod at 320x240 in the third. High-resolution displays weren’t anywhere near Apple’s list of priorities until eight years had passed, and the company repeatedly went with small resolution tweaks rather than the big ones people dreamed about every year. A 2048 by 1536 display would instantly make the iPad 2 not only HD-ready, but superior to most of the HDTVs sold today. As much as we’d love for this to happen, it seems next to impossible. So keep your fingers crossed, but don’t put your money on it as anything other than a long shot.

Logitech’s HD Pro Webcam C910 Boosts iChat + FaceTime, But Misses HD Goals on Macs

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.14.11 | 4 comments

When Logitech released its Mac-specific QuickCam Vision Pro in July 2008, we were quick to jump on board in support of the $130 web camera. The difference back then between video shot through Apple’s iSight video cameras and the QuickCam was so stark as to be truly night and day: whereas even the best of the iSights put out blurry, washed out video with a narrow field of view, Logitech’s camera instantly provided sharper, higher-contrast images using a wider-angle lens. Audio quality improved dramatically as well, thanks to an oversized microphone on the right side of the gray and silver accessory’s face. By the standards of the time, there wasn’t much that the QuickCam Vision Pro could have done better.

The subsequent two and a half years have given Logitech and any number of rivals the opportunity to do better with webcam hardware, counterbalanced by the reality that Apple’s video chat software hasn’t tried to push the envelope since then. Apple never announced a higher-resolution iChat HD, or radically changed the specs of its increasingly integrated Mac iSight cameras. Instead, it focused on creating consistently smooth and acceptable FaceTime video across all of its devices, settling for lower than DVD-quality resolutions and weak low light color accuracy in exchange for easy integration into ultra-thin mobile devices and laptop computers. For better or worse, FaceTime on a new iMac winds up looking pretty much like FaceTime on a new MacBook Air, iPod touch, or iPhone 4. There are surely differences, but they’re not profound.

 

Things change if you accessorize with a third-party video camera such as Logitech’s new HD Pro Webcam C910 ($100). The name is still awkward, the old packaging might only have Windows logos on it, and the initial pitch—“HD in every way”—may be somewhat of an overstatement given the low-def, low-bandwidth reality of today’s iChat and FaceTime calling. But the design of C910 offers major improvements for Mac users over both their integrated iSight cameras and even the QuickCam Vision Pro we’ve been using since 2008. There are dual microphones inside the enclosure, an improved Carl Zeiss autofocus lens system, and new Logitech-developed software for “Vid HD” video calling and snapshotting. Even over iChat or FaceTime, colors are noticeably more accurate in properly lit rooms, and low light performance is improved in dim ones; an offset is C910’s tendency to overexpose bright outdoor scenes until it’s given some assistance in adjusting levels. Indoors, C910 is at its best, making even the QuickCam Vision Pro’s video look washed out, and the iSight in a recent iMac—say nothing of a brand-new but even more constrained MacBook Air—look downright unacceptable. Read on for comparison photos and more details.

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Here’s Where International CDMA iPhones Could Go

By Charles Starrett | 01.13.11 | 0 comments

While Verizon’s announcement of the first CDMA-compatible iPhone was big news in the United States, there’s more than one country that could benefit from Apple’s latest hardware. As the not-always-reliable DigiTimes reports, CDMA iPhones produced by Pegatron are already expected to ship to previously semi-tapped iPhone markets including China, Japan, and South Korea. In those countries, carriers such as China Telecom, au, and LG Telecom could be potential candidates for a CDMA iPhone.

Outside those markets, however, there are plenty of other options that Apple is surely considering. India is one of the world’s fastest-growing cellular markets, and Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices and MTS India all offer CDMA service—three potential new partners. Unefon offers CDMA in Mexico, another market where Apple has been operating without any exclusive deals. Russia has no less than four CDMA carriers—Skylink, BWC, ETK, and Sotel-CCB—operating in various parts of the country, while Thailand’s CAT Telecom offers service in 51 provinces; co-owned network Hutch offers service in 25. Here in the U.S., plenty of carriers outside of Verizon offer CDMA service, including Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Cellcom, Cellular South, MetroPCS, nTelos, and Alaska Communications Systems.

So even if CDMA technology is seen by many as a dead-end technology, soon to be supplanted by LTE, the large number of international carriers using CDMA provides Apple with a near-term opportunity to vastly expand its network of iPhone carrier partners. This will likely lead to a radical increase in iPhone usage worldwide, assuming Apple decides to widely distribute its latest iPhone variant. The next step will obviously be creating a single GSM/CDMA world phone with support for 4G technologies so that multiple versions won’t be needed, and a SIM card slot can enable international use without roaming.

Editor’s Note: Information for this article was gathered from Wikipedia’s List of CDMA2000 networks.

Yantouch’s Magical And Revolutionary… Lamp: The Gesture-Controlled JellyWash+

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.12.11 | 3 comments

Unlike almost everything we’ve covered since starting Backstage as a personal blog of things iLounge’s editors wanted to share, Yantouch’s new JellyWash+ ($150) isn’t specifically related to computers, Apple products, video games, or the like. We only discovered it hidden within the small Taiwanese company’s 2011 CES booth because we remembered after seeing the Black Diamond 3D Dock for iPhone that Yantouch’s web site was populated mostly by intriguing lamps. But once we’d experienced JellyWash+ in person, we were literally transfixed—there was something about this new lamp that felt like we were glimpsing the future of home decor, or at least, a piece of it, and each of us was ready to purchase one immediately. Right now. Please.

Yes, JellyWash+ could really use a new name. It’s the latest generation version of a product line that started with JellyFish, JellyFish Black, and JellyDice, the first two winners of the Reddot Design Award for what was originally a luminescent jellyfish-inspired shape and lighting idea. Using a very similar shell to JellyWash+, JellyFish (€135) and JellyFish Black (€99) stand up on reclines, projecting a claimed 16 million colors (generally one at a time) through a frosted translucent front shell that’s filled with concentric circular patterns of LED lights. A touch-sensitive box on the front of each unit lets you control saturation, intensity, and either solid or rainbow color shifting.

 

JellyDice (€69) drops the stand, the price, and the broad array of colors in favor of a 120,000-color LED system that plays dice and roulette games using the touch panel. We can’t speak to the other two, but we briefly saw JellyFish Black (above) at the booth, and though it was very cool, it felt like it was just missing something—a neat novelty, but not a game-changing invention.

 

That’s probably because we’d seen JellyWash+ first. Measuring roughly 9” in diameter, this deluxe version dispenses with the touch panel entirely in favor of gesture controls. It has 50% more LED lights inside than the most powerful JellyFish, and puts out a ton of light; at full power, it’s bright enough to seem nearly piercing in a reasonably well-lit room. This time, the rear shell is chrome rather than black or white, and there’s a speaker inside that vents through holes near the rear power port. It is so close to gorgeous that it’s hard to describe as just a lamp, only modestly marred by the presence of a large bird-and-tree logo at the center, three smaller icons, and some internal molding lines that can be seen through edges of the frosted white face. These are small issues that could easily be remedied in an updated unit. Read on (click “Read more” or the title of this article) for more photos and details.

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A Look At 2011’s Special Edition iLounge + iLounge Pavilion Gear

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.11.11 | 1 comment

Since iLounge’s editors aren’t involved in the promotional/business side of the company, we’re generally as surprised as you when new special edition iLounge accessories materialize at CES—something that’s been happening for the past two shows. Here are some of the cool items that we spotted this year, along with what we know about the limited size of their production runs.

GelaSkins NYC Custom iPhone 4 and iPad Stickers. Designed by eBoy, this customized New York City graphic featured GelaSkins and iLounge signs next to a white, gray, and orange rendition of the Chrysler Building, plus an iPhone chilling on an orange recliner above the city. These are the most common of the special editions; hundreds (perhaps a thousand) of the iPhone version were given away at CES, with fewer of the iPad ones.

Speck iLounge SE iPad and iPhone 4 Cases. Available in three color schemes, these specially modified versions of Speck’s Fitted Cases had white fabric with either orange, green, or blue renditions of the iLounge logo, repeating in a pattern. The rest of the case is black soft touch-finished plastic. To our knowledge, the total number of these cases was in the hundred or less range, but there might have been more.

Just Mobile AluPen SE for iLounge. This rare orange version of Just Mobile’s AluPen stylus also included a white iLounge logo on one side. We get the impression that five or fewer were produced, with one to be given away to a lucky winner of a card drawing at the iLounge booth. It’s the only orange edition in the company’s newly expanded color range of AluPens.

LuxMobile iLounge.com Swarovski Case. Discovered only after we’d already judged our Best of Show Awards, this rendition of the iLounge logo on a beach by the ocean was a complete surprise to even our owner and publisher. Only one was produced.

iLounge 2011 iPod, iPhone + iPad Buyers’ Guide Discs. Produced by iLounge in a limited 1,000-copy run, these discs are the only physical form of our multi-million-downloaded Books and Buyers’ Guides, which are digitally distributed for free to our readers. The rare disc versions also include our free Books and backcatalogs, and are given away at the iLounge booth along with stickers and other small keepsakes.

 

Verizon’s iPhone 4 On February 10: The Good + The Bad News

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.11.11 | 28 comments

Here’s a quick list of the positives and negatives regarding the new Verizon CDMA iPhone 4, announced today for February 10, 2011 availability.

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What’s good: Millions of Verizon Wireless customers who have spent literally years waiting for an iPhone of any sort will be able to get them on February 10.

What’s bad: The Verizon iPhone is a modestly modified iPhone 4, released in the middle of Apple’s traditional one-year upgrade cycle, and does not bring major obvious advantages over the version that has been sold since June, 2010 on other networks.

What’s good: Verizon’s iPhone 4 will, unlike the GSM version, allow five devices to share the cellular data plan over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB using the iPhone as a hotspot. It’s called Personal Hotspot and appears within the Settings menu between Wi-Fi and Notifications.

What’s bad: The CDMA iPhone 4 cannot handle voice calling and data at the same time. Data services will stop when a phone call comes in.

What’s good: Verizon suggests that its CDMA (3G) network is capable of delivering the network quality AT&T lacks in many cities, with robust bandwidth so that millions of iPhone users can be added to its towers without the sorts of connectivity and calling problems AT&T iPhone users have faced.

What’s bad: It’s very likely that the actual speed of the data services will be slower on Verizon’s network than on AT&T’s, which is to say that if you’re in a city where AT&T’s network is performing well—fast and reliable—Verizon will be a step down from AT&T rather than a step up.

What’s good: Verizon’s version of the iPhone will get the same 7 hours of promised battery life for calling as the GSM version over 3G.

What’s bad: Verizon’s iPhone will not get the 14 hours of 2G talk time offered as a fallback on the GSM iPhone 4.

What’s good: Verizon’s phone calling through the iPhone will likely cover a larger reliable U.S. service area than AT&T’s.

What’s bad: Verizon’s CDMA network isn’t supported in most other countries, so the lack of GSM support in the Verizon iPhone 4 makes this particular product less ideal than the GSM iPhones to being used outside the United States; according to Apple, it has been optimized specifically for performance in this one country. It does not have a GSM card slot.

What’s good: Prices remain the same for the CDMA and GSM iPhone 4s.

What’s bad: Verizon doesn’t have the now $49 iPhone 3GS, so the only way to get into an iPhone on the CDMA network is to pay $200.

What’s good: The CDMA iPhone 4 doesn’t appear to have any Verizon branding or bloatware—besides the word Verizon at the top of the screen in the carrier name area—and runs iOS 4.2.5 out of the box.

What’s bad: Apple made antenna changes that resulted in small changes to the locations of the Ringer Switch and Volume Buttons, so there may be compatibility issues with some of the thousand or so iPhone 4 cases already released. Word on the street is that the device may still have signal attenuation issues, now when it’s held in landscape mode rather than portrait, due to antenna position changes. It’s unclear whether this is accurate or not, but we’ve heard it called “the death hug”—something that will need to be tested independently for confirmation. Also, we might see some other hidden differences between this phone and the earlier GSM version, as Apple sometimes uses mid-cycle refreshes as an opportunity to introduce new security features that aren’t obvious.

What’s good: Verizon customers will get access to Visual Voicemail.

What’s bad: Existing Verizon customers will lose their old voicemail boxes, including all messages and greetings, so they will need to listen to everything they want to hear before making the transition. “All existing messages will be erased and can not be recovered” once an iPhone 4 is activated, Verizon notes.

What’s good: Verizon will offer a contract-free version of the iPhone 4 so that you needn’t commit to a two-year service plan for the device at the time of purchase.

What’s bad: The Verizon iPhone 4 will only work on Verizon’s network, and existing iPhone devices will not work on Verizon’s network at all, so purchasing a new phone at either full or subsidized pricing is the sole way to become a Verizon iPhone user. Apple will almost certainly attempt to change this by offering true “LTE/4G worldphone” versions of the next iPhone, but for now, it’s two different phones for two different types of networks.

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