O'Grady's PowerPage » Apple

Motion Picture Experts Group releases H.265 draft standard, offers Web-based video at twice the quality, half the data size

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Date: Thursday, August 16th, 2012, 08:10
Category: News, Software

If you think Web-based video is impressive now, wait a bit.

Per AppleInsider, the Motion Pictures Expert Group has issued a new video standards draft that promises to deliver twice the video quality at the same size, or alternatively, identical video quality at half the data rate as today’s MPEG-4 H.264 standard.

The new H.265 draft specifically addresses mobile devices and networks overloaded with video. Products using the new H.265 video compression standard could begin to launch as early as 2013.

Apple is likely to quickly adopt support for the new H.265 specification, just as it has rapidly rolled out support for new features of H.264, including support for expanded H.264 profiles in the new third generation Apple TV and the new iPad.

MPEG, formed by the International Standards Organization in 1988, first developed a joint video compression format in 1993 intended for Video CD. Its video codec, H.261, was used to deliver multimedia video clips. The audio portion of that standard, MPEG-1 Audio Layer III (also known as MP3) revolutionized the portability of music by allowing users to rip CDs to files that could be compressed enough to be used in mobile devices with limited storage.

Apple backed MP3 with the iPod in 2001 at a time when Microsoft and Sony were working to entrench their own proprietary standards with strong DRM (Windows Media and ATRAC, respectively).

MPEG released the MPEG-2 standard in 1994, which enabled high quality DVD and efficient digital TV transmissions. MPEG-2 incorporated the initial H.261 video compression standard as well as a more efficient H.262 and, later, the H.263 ASP codec implemented by DivX and Xvid, popular formats used for video file sharing. Work on an MPEG-3 standard aimed at HDTV was abandoned and folded into the MPEG-2 portfolio.

MPEG-4, initiated in 1998 and released in 2003, merged the television and video industry’s expertise with work pioneered by Apple’s QuickTime on desktop computers, resulting in a video format that incorporated Apple’s QuickTime container format. This helped to simplify video editing tasks, even as Apple began adopting advanced bidirectional compression technologies in QuickTime that had been contributed to the MPEG-4 pool by the rest of the industry.

MPEG-4 carried forward H.263, which Apple hadn’t ever widely used, while also introducing H.264, which enabled a doubling of video quality at the same size as the earlier H.263 codec.

Before MPEG-4, Apple had previously used proprietary video codecs from Sorenson in QuickTime, but rapidly began adopting MPEG standards as the pooled efforts of every major company with video expertise began to quickly outpace the development of alternatives.

Apple helped to popularize MPEG-4’s AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) format as a more efficient replacement for MP3 in iTunes, then brought MPEG-4’s H.264 video compression into the desktop computing mainstream as the default video codec in QuickTime. It is now essentially the only video standard supported by the iPhone and other iOS devices, and H.264 is deeply integrated into the architecture of QuickTime.

While MPEG itself usually refers to its MPEG-4 audio and video standards as AAC and AVC, Steve Jobs introduced the new video standard to the world as H.264, and Apple continued to refer to it by its ITU numerical designation. MPEG is now referring to its newest H.265 standard as “HEVC” (High Efficiency Video Coding).

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple seeds third Mac OS X 10.7.5 beta to developer community

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Date: Thursday, August 16th, 2012, 07:37
Category: News, Software

The nice thing about betas, it means they’re a bit closer to getting somewhere.

Per MacNN, Apple is seeding a third developer beta of OS X 10.7.5 to developers. The code is listed as build 11G36, and as before, has no known issues. Apple is also holding steady on testing focus, asking developers to look at graphics quality and performance, along with media importing, editing, and viewing.

The Mac OS X 10.7.5 update may or may not be the last for OS X Lion, since Mountain Lion has been available for several weeks. Apple is forging new ground with its current development cycle, since it has switched to releasing a new OS every year. As a result, it may end up having to support Lion well into Mountain Lion’s lifespan.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple’s talks with Korean wireless carriers suggest LTE support for next-gen iPhone

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Date: Wednesday, August 15th, 2012, 07:15
Category: Hardware, iPhone, Rumor

You’ve been waiting for the iPhone to support the Long Term Evolution (LTE)/4G protocol for a while.

It looks like you might get your wish.

Per Korea Times, SK Telecom and KT, two official Korean iPhone wireless carriers, have both been in talks to offer LTE connectivity on Apple’s next handed, officials from both companies reportedly told the Korea Times under the veil of anonymity.

Although industry trends and the inclusion of LTE in this year’s iPad models both point to an LTE-capable iPhone next month, supporting the technology isn’t as clean cut as supporting existing 3G networks, which all operate within a 2.1-gigahertz frequency.

“KT is in negotiation with Apple to persuade the latter to support KT’s 1.8-gigahertz frequency in Korea for the upcoming iPhone,’’ said one senior KT executive, who asked not to be identified. Meanwhile, SK Telecom is also reportedly pushing for the same treatment for its 800-megahertz frequency LTE network. It sent this week an official to Apple’s Cupertino-based headquarters in hopes of hammering out a deal.

The number of LTE subscribers in Korea reached 8.4 million by the end of July, with 4 million of them choosing SK’s network and another 1.4 hinged to KT’s. The two iPhone providers, along with rival carrier LG Uplus, have been heavily promoting LTE devices on their network to much success.

The carriers fear, however, that sales of the new iPhone will suffer in much the same way that sales of Apple’s new iPad have lagged behind in the region because Apple has thus far refused to support the local carriers’ frequencies in the LTE-equipped versions of the tablet.

“KT is eager to narrow the market gap with SK Telecom and even LG Uplus in the fight for LTE-enabled devices,” said another KT source. “If the talks with Apple produce visible results, then we will rise as the top LTE service provider in Korea.”

Apple had balked at the inclusion of LTE connectivity in previous generations of the iPhone because because the first wave of LTE chipset were a bit too large and power-hungry for the company’s liking. Since then, more advanced designs from chipmakers like Qualcomm have mitigated those concerns.

In the US, Verizon LTE network uses a 700-megahertz frequency, while AT&T operates both 700-megahertz and 2.1-gigahertz LTE networks.

For its part, Sprint’s utilization a 800-megahertz frequency for LTE saw it left out of Apple’s LTE iPad plans earlier this year but subsequent reports claim the carrier has already forged a deal with Apple to make sure the omission doesn’t carry over to the launch of the so-called iPhone 5 next month.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Sprint offers $100 gift card with purchase of iPhone 4S, Apple offers $100 store credit in return

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Date: Tuesday, August 14th, 2012, 14:27
Category: iPhone, News, retail

Let the incentives roll.

Per Business Insider, wireless carrier Sprint is now giving a $100 pre-paid gift card to new iPhone 4S buyers and Apple will be matching the deal by offering an Apple Store credit for the same amount.

The new incentive, the second in as many weeks from Sprint, comes ahead of an expected Sept. 12 launch of the next-generation iPhone and has prompted> Apple to make good on its promise to match iPhone pricing from major resellers, Business Insider has learned.

Sprint last week slashed the price of Apple’s iPhone 4S to US$149 not including a US$36 activation fee waiver, a move followed by other sellers including Target and Best Buy. Apple subsequently instructed its stores to match the discount prices being offered by the major retailers, limited to US$49 for the iPhone 4 and US$149 for the iPhone 4S.

With the new US$100 American Express pre-paid card, US$149 discount, activation fee waiver and free shipping, Sprint has effectively whittled down the cost of buying an iPhone 4S to US$50. There are stipulations, however, as the added gift card bonus is online only and lasts until Aug. 26. It is unclear if Apple will continue to offer the store credits after Sprint’s sale ends.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple may begin selling next-gen iPhone in late September

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Date: Monday, August 13th, 2012, 12:26
Category: iPhone, Rumor


The next-gen iPhone, it’s probably coming a lot sooner than you expect.

Per the cool cats at Boy Genius Report, Apple, which is expected to formally introduce its latest iPhone to the world on September 12th, could begin shipping the device to customers and selling the handset in retail stores just a week or two later, according to a new report.

Citing a trusted AT&T source, BGR reported Monday that the “carrier is currently planning to launch Apple’s next-generation iPhone during the third or fourth week of September, with an all-hands-on-deck policy in place for employees that will extend through to the middle of October.”

A second source reportedly added that a large training event for regional AT&T employees has therefore been rescheduled from the first week of October due to a conflict with a “huge announcement.”

A rapid go-to-market strategy that would have customers clutching Apple’s latest handset just days after being announced by the company is impressive but not unprecedented.

After repositioning its iPhone introduction from the summer timeframe to the fall, Apple last year introduced the iPhone 4S on October 4th and began shipping the device to customers and retail stores on October 14th — Just 10 days later.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available

Target and Best Buy cut iPhone 4, 4S prices ahead of next-gen iPhone announcement

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Date: Monday, August 13th, 2012, 06:30
Category: iPhone, retail, Software

Following up on last week’s article about Apple’s lowering its iPhone 4 and 4S prices prior to the release of the next-gen iPhone, All Things D has pointed out that Target is now selling the 16GB versions of the AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4S for US$179 with contract, while Best Buy has dropped the price of the 8GB iPhone 4 for both carriers from US$99 to US$49.99.

The reductions come just days after it was reported that Apple retail stores were willing to match iPhone discounts offered by other authorized iPhone resellers.

Sprint was the first iPhone affiliate to provide incentives for consumers to consider purchasing an existing iPhone amid rumors of new models when it cut the price of its 16GB iPhone 4S models to US$149 while waiving activation fees for the handset.

The sales are designed to buoy sales of existing iPhones in the weeks leading up to Apple’s September 12th media event, which is all but certain to deliver the first official details on the sixth-generation iPhone (or so-called iPhone 5) ahead of its launch later that month.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases OS X 10.8.1 beta to developers, looks to focus on Thunderbolt display noise bug, others

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Date: Monday, August 13th, 2012, 06:26
Category: News, Software

If you’re looking for Mountain Lion bug fixes, they’re en route.

Per AppleInsider, Apple on Friday evening began providing its developers with the first maintenance update to its Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion operating system released just weeks ago.

Sources familiar with the matter say the 38.5MB beta release was accompanied with a set of release notes identifying no known issues.

Instead, the Mac maker asked developers to focus their testing efforts around USB, PAC proxies in Safari, Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange support in Mail.

Apple also made a specific request for testers to evaluate Wi-Fi and audio when connected to a Thunderbolt display, suggesting it has attempted to address problems in this area after MacBook Air users said they were experiencing audio issues — static, distortion and crackling — when they connect their notebooks to the company’s latest 27-inch LED display.

Apple has historically aimed to push out its first maintenance release for major operating systems milestones in a swift manner, suggesting we could see a formal release of the software in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Geekbench scores of purported 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro leaked

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Date: Friday, August 10th, 2012, 14:54
Category: Hardware, MacBook Pro, Rumor

You have to love leaks.

And you have to love leaks about really cool upcoming products even more.

Per MacRumors and AppleInsider, the GeekBench scores for an unreleased 13-inch MacBook Pro notebook with Retina display designated by the ambiguous identifier “MacBook Pro 10,2” has appeared over on the Primate Labs web site.

The profile of the machine accompanying the Geekbench scores includes the same Intel Core i7-3520M Ivy Bridge processor clocked at 2.9 gigahertz as the earlier sighting, but indicates the notebook was outfitted with 8GB of RAM and is running a newer, yet unreleased build of OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.1.

The “10,2” model designation makes it distinct from the existing 13 and 15-inch MacBook Pro 9,x models Apple released in June and instead associates it with the slim new 15-inch Retina Display model Apple internally designates as its “MacBook Pro 10,1” model.

Given that Apple canceled its 17 inch offering (apparently due to limited sales, as analyst Ming-Chi Kuo with KGI Securities correctly predicted in April), this would strongly suggest the new model will be the rumored 13 inch version of the Retina Display MacBook Pro.

The appearance of 8GB of RAM is also noteworthy because the new design of the Retina Display MacBook Pro solders its memory chips directly to the logic board (below, highlighted in green) rather than offering user-upgradable sockets. The previous appearance of this new 13 inch model only indicated 4GB of RAM.

The unreleased new MacBook Pro model joins a new iMac and Mac Pro model designation that were recently discovered, with the new iMac similarly appearing in Geekbench results.

Per the results themselves, here you go and some things (like the idea of a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display) remain pretty sexy:

Rumor: OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion resource files hint at possible next-gen iMac, Mac Pro models without optical drives

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Date: Friday, August 10th, 2012, 07:28
Category: Hardware, iMac, Mac Pro, Rumor

It’s the internal files that hint at the upcoming cool stuff.

Per AppleInsider, internal configuration files in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion make apparent references to yet-unreleased new generations of Apple’s iMac (iMac13,0) and Mac Pro (MacPro6,0), both in the context of USB booting options that indicate the new Mac desktops could, for the first time in nearly 20 years, lack built-in optical drives.

The discovery, made by a source close to the story, appears in a configuration plist file used by Boot Camp Assistant to designate the Mac model versions capable of supporting either a optical boot disc, or alternatively, a USB flash drive volume capable of installing Windows to a Boot Camp partition.

While all modern Macs can boot OS X from a USB drive, Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant references the plist to display a listing of newer Mac models with EFI-level support for booting a legacy operating system from a USB flash drive. The primary advantage to using a USB flash drive to create a bootable Windows 7 volume from an ISO (disc image file) is if you lack an optical drive burner.

The file lists a series of Mac models that support USB flash drive booting, referring to each model by its initials and its internal architectural version number. While it includes MacBook and MacBook Pro models with optical drives, most of the Macs in the supported list are optical free.

The list of models (below) include the “MM50” (the Mac mini 5,x series, also known as the “Mid 2011 Mac mini”, which is the first non-Server version of the Mac mini to lack an optical drive), along with other optical-free models including the MacBook Air.

Two of the models in the USB-boot support listing refer to Macs that haven’t been released yet: the MP60 (the six generation Mac Pro, or MacPro6,x) and IM130 (pointing to the 13th generation iMac, or iMac13,x).

The current Mac Pro, updated only slightly in June during Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, hasn’t changed enough over the previous model for Apple to assign it a new architecture designation; it is still internally referred to as the “Mac Pro 5,1” just like the Mac Pros that originally shipped back in August 2010.

Apple’s conspicuous lack of timely updates for the Mac Pro (and its relatively small and shrinking proportion of Apple’s Mac sales mix) has created the expectation that the company might eventually discontinue its full sized desktop the same way it terminated its rack mounted Xserve, an idea Apple reportedly evaluated as an option.

However, Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook confirmed in June that Apple would not be killing the Mac Pro, stating instead in an email to a concerned customer, “Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s [WWDC] event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year. We also updated the current model today.”

Cook’s choice of the words “working on something really great,” indicates Apple plans to significantly update its Mac Pro model, which has carried forward the same basic aluminum box design introduced for the 2005 PowerMac G5.

While removing its optical drive would do much less to save space and thickness compared to Apple’s notebook designs, it’s likely that an all new Apple desktop aimed at professionals would rethink its use of slow, bulky and essentially obsolete optical drive devices and perhaps instead incorporate high performance SSD RAID options for a reduced profile.

Apple’s current iMac (referred to internally as the iMac 12) was last refreshed in May 2011, indicating that it’s overdue for a refresh. A new 13th generation iMac generation identified as “iMac 13,2” has already appeared in Geekbench benchmarks.

Similarly, patent filings reveal Apple has also been working to once again slim down the peripherals that ship with its industry-leading all-in-one desktop, with the designs referenced in those filings having the potential to accompany the next iMac update.

The appearance of new Mac Pro and iMac models in the USB booting support list doesn’t definitively mean the models won’t have optical drives, as it also lists MacBook and MacBook Pro models that do incorporate an optical drive.

At the same time, Apple has clearly indicated in the newest Mac mini and Retina Display MacBook Pro that it plans to get rid of optical disc drives as soon as possible across the board, providing an external USB drive as an option for users who need one.

Users increasingly have fewer opportunities to use optical drives, as the bulk of third party software is now available as a digital download either directly from the vendor or through Apple’s App Store. Apple also sees digital distribution as the future of music and movies, as exemplified in Apple TV, which has never included an optical drive.

The company has never supported any new HD optical disc formats on its products, including Microsoft’s ill fated HD-DVD or Sony’s Blu-ray format, despite initially being involved in the Blu-ray standardization process. Instead, Apple has put its resources behind developing increasingly higher definition audio and video formats that it can distribute electronically through its own iTunes Store.

Apple even developed an alternative iTunes Extras web based multimedia format to deliver the same kind of interactive menus supported on DVDs, with a parallel solution for albums it called iTunes LP.

In addition, Apple introduced technologies intended to wean its Mac platform from optical disc dependance with the MacBook Air, which was designed to remotely share disc drives available on the local network (even remotely install OS X) via Remote Disc and handle Migration Assistant tasks over a wireless network connection.

Modern Mac models can now apply system updates, such as OS X Mountain Lion, entirely via digital downloads, while Apple’s newest Mac models can boot legacy operating systems from USB flash drives.

By ditching the need for a built in optical drive, Apple can not only make new Macs smaller, thinner and more energy efficient, but will also increase their overall reliability, as optical drives become one of the last complex physical mechanisms inside computers.

Apple has similarly helped to pioneer the mainstream adoption of Solid State Drives as an alternative to the more fragile mechanical design inherent in conventional Hard Disk Drives. Its most popular general computing device, the iPad, makes no use of either optical drives or HDD mechanisms.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple to price match retailers’ discounts, offer $49 iPhone 4, $149 price points on iPhone 4S models

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Date: Thursday, August 9th, 2012, 14:23
Category: iPhone, News

You can’t knock a decent deal…

Per MacRumors, Apple has instructed its retail stores to match the iPhone discounts being offered by major retailers including AT&T, Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target, Sprint and Verizon when customers present competitive offers.

Apple’s publicly advertised prices for the iPhone 4 and 4S are US$49.01 higher than a variety of retailers and carriers are currently offering, as the entire retail channel prepares to sell off existing models to make way for the upcoming iPhone 5.

Now, Apple Retail stores are authorized to match prices when customers request the discount and indicate where they saw it.

Apart form the already “free with contract” iPhone 3GS, this makes the 8GB iPhone 4 just US$49.99 rather than US$99, and drops the iPhone 4S price range from US$199, US$299 and US$399 for the 16, 32 and 64GB models to US$149, US$249 and US$349.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.