Microsoft VP highlights Windows 8 interface changes, emphasizes upcoming Ribbon features

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Date: Tuesday, August 30th, 2011, 04:18
Category: iOS, News, Software

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If Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) was starting to look like Windows 7 (or vice versa), this might be reassuring.

Per a blog entry by Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft’s president of its Windows Division, indicates that one key element of Windows 8 will take the new release in a very different direction than Apple’s outline for Mac OS X.

Sinofsky detailed his thinking behind changes planned for Windows Explorer, which is roughly analogous to Mac OS X’s Finder.

The Windows file system manager originally appeared as “MS DOS Executive,” which exposed DOS commands in a graphical environment with little similarity to the icon-centric Mac desktop.

As Windows began to grow in popularity, Microsoft created an embellished graphical representation of the file system with File Manager. Then, as web browsing became popular, Microsoft brought a browser-like interface to the file system, renaming File Manager as Windows Explorer, complete with a URL-like address bar and prominent back button.

Microsoft has incrementally incorporated Mac-like interface elements in Windows Explorer, with icon-centric file browsing that links documents to their preferred application. Particularly since the release of Mac OS X, Microsoft has incorporated a similar user environment focus that presents the user’s documents, pictures, music and videos rather than just a raw window into the root file system.

Microsoft’s biggest changes in Windows 8 will be an Office-like Ribbon that presents all the major functions in a tall, window-wide control bar. This marks a radical change in thinking compared to Apple’s increasingly minimalistic interface in the Finder, which limits the default buttons to a grouping of view options, a new sorting feature in Mac OS X Lion, a Quick View button, an Action button, and a search field.



Microsoft’s Windows 8 Explorer presents 19 visible buttons in five categories, and that’s just the Home tab. The Ribbon also supplies four other tabs, which function similar to the Mac’s main Menu Bar. Sinofsky explains, “The Home tab is the heart of our new, much more streamlined Explorer experience. The commands that make up 84% of what customers do in Explorer are now all available on this one tab.”

Outside of the graphical interface, Microsoft’s design goals for Windows 8 also mark a new era of computing centered around mobile devices such as tablets. Existing Windows 7 apps won’t run on future ARM-based tablets, but a new secondary environment of web-based apps will, something Microsoft hopes will enable Windows to remain relevant even as the conventional PC market has plateaued and begun to shrink globally.

Apple’s design direction for Mac OS X has opted to incorporate a variety of design elements originally created for iPad, including a simplified, window-less Full Screen mode for apps; limited and simplified control buttons in toolbars; an increasing use of touchpad gestures; and a new security model that encapsulates apps and their documents in a private sandbox.

Apple’s iOS originally appeared on the iPhone without any “file browser,” and even the latest version works hard to avoid any exposure of the underlying file system, despite supporting document-centric apps like iWork. Apps on iOS simply can not present a global view of the underlying filesystem, because all they can see is their own sandbox.

Apple’s iCloud similarly reduces the exposure of file system, replacing MobileMe’s iDisk with a new Documents and Data feature that secures an app’s files and data from access by malware while making the user’s files (and any changes) easier to manage across various devices.

Future versions of Mac OS X will likely continue along the same path, focusing upon self contained apps that create files, rather than a wide open file system (and the security issues related with having any piece of user-level software capable of accessing or wiping out any files in the local user folder).

Yes, the Ribbon shall rule the day after you boot up your Windows partiion either via Boot Camp or your virtualization app of choice.

All hail the Ribbon!!!

Apple seeds updated iTunes 10.5 beta with iCloud iTunes Match feature to developers

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Date: Tuesday, August 30th, 2011, 03:35
Category: iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, News, Software

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The rest of the iCloud is coming.

And it will have additional snazzy features.

Per AppleInsider, Apple has released a new version of iTunes for developer testing of the functionality of iCloud’s new iTunes Match feature for storing songs “in the cloud” for flexible access from mobile devices.

Apple has already publicly introduced some new iCloud features in iTunes, including the ability to browse and download any previously purchased songs at no additional charge.

The new iTunes 6.1 beta release is the first to support the “scan and match” cloud access feature that Apple first announced at this summer’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

This new feature allows users to pay for an annual iTunes Match subscription that will make their entire existing music collection (including songs not purchased through iTunes) available from Apple’s cloud servers as well.

The service will support music collections up to 25,000 songs and costs US$24.99 per year. That library limit does not count any songs purchased from iTunes, which are already cloud accessible. The service is also limited to music, and does not support the uploading of apps, audiobooks, books, movies, TV shows, ringtones or interactive content such as iTunes LP liner notes or iTunes Extras for movies.

Users can upload any music they want (up to the 25,000 title limit) onto Apple’s cloud servers, but the biggest feature of iTunes Match is its upload-free, automated file matching service.

Rather than forcing users to upload the many gigabytes of data that thousands of songs would involve, Apple’s iTunes Match will simply scan the user’s library and then make those same songs available from iTunes’ vast catalog of songs, effectively allowing users to upgrade their CD collections into cloud-accessible, high quality iTunes downloads without having to repurchase their music as digital downloads.

The beta program is for developer testing only, and Apple warns that any content copied up to its cloud servers during the test period may be erased. For this reason, developer notes tell users testing the service to back up their original songs, and not to delete any music they’ve uploaded into the service.

Developers participating in the program pay the standard subscription fee, but are given three free months for participating. The iTunes Match feature is currently limited to the Mac version of iTunes only, but once songs are added to the iCloud library, they can be accessed from any computer running the iTunes 10.5 beta as well as any iPhone, iPod touch or iPad running the latest iOS 5 beta.

The iTunes Match service works with up to 10 iTunes PCs and iOS devices connected to the same Apple ID, although only five of those devices can be computers. Apple also notes that a computer or iOS device can only be associated with a new Apple ID once every 90 days.

Apple notes that iTunes Match is currently limited to certain supported song formats “at this time,” and that some songs may be matched incorrectly. Matched songs may also be a different version of the same song.

Apple also tells developers to watch out for performance issues on iOS devices, and notes that under the existing iOS 5 beta, music will continue to download from the cloud over cellular connections even if that option has been restricted to WiFi only in the Settings app.

If you’ve gotten your hands on the new beta and have any feedback, let us know what you think in the comments.

Apple releases Mac OS X 10.7.2 build, eighth iCloud beta to developer community

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Date: Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011, 07:39
Category: News, Software

It’s the updates that make things interesting.

Per AppleInsider, Apple recently issued a new build of Mac OS X 10.7.2 along with the eighth beta release of iCloud for Lion.

According to people familiar with the release, Apple’s beta build 11C40 of Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2 is a 730MB download. Focus areas for the update include AirPort, AppKit, Graphics Drivers, Mac App Store, Mail and Spotlight.

iCloud for OS X Lion beta 8 is an add-on installer for OS X Lion that add in-development iCloud functionality to Macs.

The first external beta of Mac OS X 10.7.2 arrived in late July. Mac OS X 10.7.1 was released to the public last week, with improvements to Wi-Fi and fixes to audio out.

Apple released Lion via the Mac App Store on July 20, quickly selling more than a million copies in 24 hours. According to one analyst, Mac sales got a 26 percent boost in July from Lion’s launch and the release of updated MacBook Airs and Mac Minis.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and if you’ve gotten your mitts on the beta, please let us know what you think of it in the comments.

Apple to officially end MobileMe sync for certain features in iCloud transition

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Date: Monday, August 8th, 2011, 03:52
Category: News, Software

Apple’s transition to the iCloud is coming and it won’t always be easy…

Per AppleInsider, while many of the features of MobileMe are simply being upgraded in the move to iCloud, Apple has previously noted that Gallery, iDisk and iWeb are on the chopping block. Now, the company has further made it clear that data sync features will also be canceled in its iCloud transition steps.

A key feature of .Mac and later MobileMe was the cloud integration of iSync, Apple’s Mac-centric tool for keeping data in sync among a variety of devices as part of its “digital hub strategy” first unveiled a decade ago. The data sync of .Mac and subsequently MobileMe moved the “truth database” from the user’s Mac into the cloud, making it possible to sync additional types of data between Macs.

MobileMe currently allows a user to sync a variety of settings between Macs, including the layout of Dashboard widgets, Dock items, passwords and credentials saved in the Keychain, email account information including Mail Rules, Signatures and Smart Mailboxes, and System Preferences.

However, all of these features will terminate as soon as a user migrates from MobileMe to the new iCloud, according to Apple’s transition pages at me.com/move.

Other MobileMe features that are not being carried forward into iCloud include Gallery media hosting, iDisk cloud storage and its integrated iWeb web hosting, will be continued for exiting MobileMe subscribers until June 30 of 2012, even after migrating other data to iCloud. These features are easy to maintain independently from iCloud, because there is no direct equivalent in iCloud.

Gallery media hosting is being dramatically reworked as a Photo Stream feature, a push updating feature that presents a user’s photos on the mobile devices, Mac photo albums, and on Apple TV rather than via a web site. Similarly, iDisk is making way for an entirely new type of document and data updating that focuses on a users’ own hardware rather than web-centric hosting.

The iCloud migration process is currently only open to developers, as it requires users to have iOS 5 beta 5 on their mobile devices, Mac OS X Lion 10.7.2 with the iCloud for Os X Lion beta 6 package on their Macs, and the iCloud Control Panel for Windows beta 4 running on any PCs they use.

Apple notes that while Mail, Contacts and Calendars can be migrated from MobileMe to iCloud, shared calendars may be affected in the move, while Bookmarks will simply be imported from a client system. This indicates the reduction in data supported in the transition to iCloud may largely be explained by Apple’s hopes to keep the migration as simple and problem-free as possible, avoiding the issues users had in the move from .Mac to MobileMe.

Another reason for the shift in features between MobileMe and iCloud may be explained by the underlying security changes that differentiate the wide open iDisk from the carefully sandboxed design of iCloud’s Documents & Data.

Currently, data synced to MobileMe by Mac OS X Sync Services is copied into openly accessible folders. It is likely Apple hopes to completely secure all iCloud data to avoid any embarrassing lapses and contain sensitive data from potential malware attacks. Individual apps, such as Keychain Access, Launchpad and System Preferences, may be modified in the future to take advantage of iCloud’s key value data store, duplicating the old MobileMe features in a more secure fashion.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple could be launching iTunes streaming service in near term

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Date: Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011, 11:11
Category: Rumor, Software

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A few days ago, Apple enabled the ability for users to re-download purchased TV shows, as well as stream them to the Apple TV. Per AppAdvice, this move could be presented as evidence for Apple’s plans to launch a new re-downloading and streaming service dubbed iTunes Replay.

Since users already have the ability to re-download past music and video purchases, this seems like an inevitable next step for Apple. Such a feature would give users access to movies, music and television shows they purchased as far back as January 1, 2009, as well as streaming abilities for the Apple TV and any iOS devices. According to AppAdvice, the alias “iTunes Replay” will stick and that it’s currently being used internally.

The new service could be released within the next few weeks to purposefully distinguish its functionality from that of Apple’s upcoming iCloud service, which has just recently become available as a beta to app developers. If iTunes Replay indeed becomes a reality, it could help negate the need for third-party services like Spotify and Netflix.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases pricing details for iCloud storage

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Date: Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011, 04:34
Category: News, Software

Apple on Monday unveiled more details about its forthcoming iCloud syncing service, including details on pricing. Per Macworld, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had previously declared that Apple device users would get 5GB of iCloud storage for free with the option to add an additional 10GB (a total of 15GB) for US$20 per year, 25GB for US$40 per year, or 55GB for US$100 per year.

In comparison, cloud-storage service Dropbox offers 2GB of storage for free, 50GB for US$120 per year and 100GB for US$240 per year.

Also on Monday, Apple launched a developer beta of iCloud.com, which gives registered developers an early preview of the company’s iOS-like Web apps for iCloud-synced email, contacts, calendars, iWork, and Find My iPhone.

Apple still hasn’t said precisely when iCloud will become available to the masses, but the service is strongly tied to iOS 5, which the company promises will arrive “this fall.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple TV 4.3.3 update out the door, adds functionality for playing purchased videos, Vimeo content

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Date: Monday, August 1st, 2011, 13:45
Category: Apple TV, News, Software

If there’s one universal truth, it’s this: updates are nifty.

Per Macworld, Apple on Monday released iOS 4.3.3 for its second-generation Apple TV set top device. Up until now, you could stream any TV shows purchased from the iTunes Store housed on a computer using Apple’s Home Sharing feature or via AirPlay. Both, however, require that the computer be turned on and accessible on your network—and that the files themselves are still on your hard drive. With this latest update, any TV shows you’ve purchased (or downloaded, in the case of free TV show episodes) are instantly available to stream over the Internet as what appears to be an extension of Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud functionality.

Under the TV Shows menu on the Apple TV’s home screen, you’ll now find a Purchased item at the top.

The update also adds support for playing videos from Vimeo, a popular video-sharing website that offers HD hosting.

Apple now includes directly Vimeo upload support in both its iMovie and Final Cut Pro X video-editing applications, so including a viewing option on the Apple TV is both natural and welcome.

To update your Apple TV to the latest software, go to Settings -> General -> Update Software and follow the directions.

At the same time, Apple added the ability to re-download TV shows in iTunes and on iOS devices, as it already does with music, books, and apps.

If you’ve tried the new update on your second-generation Apple TV, let us know what you make of it in the comments.

Rumor: Apple to release next-gen MacBook Air, Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) by next week

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Date: Friday, July 8th, 2011, 03:46
Category: MacBook Air, Rumor

With the middle of July almost upon us, the long-awaited arrival of Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) and a refreshed MacBook Air notebook are something we’re hankering for. Per CNET, a “few overseas sources” have stated that “Apple Retail stores are planning ‘overnights’ on July 13th.” Overnights typically entail a refresh of Apple store displays and training on new products.

The cool cats at AppleInsider have also heard similar chatter, citing a “bulletin” posted to Apple’s internal retail news network “advising store management to perform RAM upgrades to certain Mac models on the showroom floors by Sunday, July 10th at the latest.” The deduction: this is needed to ready those models for upgrades to Lion.

Apple is already on the record with statements about a July release. At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June, the company announced that it would be releasing Lion as a US$29.99 update to users in July. The OS has already reached gold master status, according to reports.

Probably not coincidentally, the OS X Lion page on Apple’s site shows the new operating system running on the MacBook Air.

Mac OS X 10.7 (“Lion”) will bring plenty of enhancements and tweaks, including iCloud services built into the software, iOS-style Launchpad to house apps, full-screen apps and previewing Preview PDFs full-screen, Mission Control that comes up with a three-finger swipe, automatic tracking of document version history, and a resume feature that picks up where the user left off, among other new features.

The new MacBook Air is expected to weigh only 2.3 pounds (for the 11.6-inch model) and is anticipated to feature a fast Intel Sandy Bridge Core i series processors for the first time and a Thunderbolt port–both features already present on its 13-inch MacBook Pro cousin.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Amazon announces new plans, unlimited space with Cloud Drive offerings

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Date: Thursday, July 7th, 2011, 03:10
Category: News, Software

It’s the competition that keeps things interesting.

Amazon announced Wednesday a promotion offering unlimited music storage to users who purchase a Cloud Drive storage plan, heating up competition before Apple’s fall launch of its iCloud and iTunes Match services.

Per AppleInsider, the online retailer revealed three enhancements to its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player services in a statement Wednesday: storage plans that include unlimited space for music, free storage for all Amazon MP3 purchases and an iPad version of Cloud Player for Web.

“Customers are already enjoying Cloud Drive and Cloud Player and now for just US$20 a year, customers can get unlimited space for music,” said Craig Pape, Director of Amazon Music. “Additionally, we are adding free storage for all MP3s purchased from Amazon MP3, and support for the iPad. Our customers love Cloud Drive and Cloud Player and we’re excited to innovate these services on their behalf.”

The unlimited music storage applies to all premium Cloud Drive accounts, which start at US$20 a year for 20GB. Users who qualified for 20GB of free storage from an earlier promotion will automatically receive the unlimited space for music. Amazon offers 5GB of free space to all Cloud Drive users.

The addition of an iPad-friendly Amazon Cloud Player is a step back in Apple’s direction, though no mention is made of iPhone or iPod touch compatibility. Cloud Player originally launched for the Web and Google’s Android mobile OS, without direct support for iOS and Mobile Safari. In May, iOS users reported being able to access the Cloud Player, despite the fact that full compatibility had yet to be officially announced.

Whereas only new Amazon MP3 store purchases were automatically added to Cloud Drive when the service first launched in March, now all digital music purchased from Amazon will be added to the drive. The retroactive support for previously purchased music appears to indicate that Amazon has resolved any conflicts with the music industry of its service.

Apple is planning a similar move with its iCloud service, and offered the first taste of its cloud strategy last month with the release of iTunes 10.3, which allows re-downloading of music, apps and books purchased on iTunes and the App Store. When iCloud arrives in the fall, the service will provide complimentary storage of music, apps and books purchased from Apple. However, unlike Amazon’s Cloud Drive, iCloud does not stream music.

Amazon reportedly opted for an ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ strategy with Cloud Drive, surprising music labels with the announcement of the service. Music industry sources said Amazon only addressed the issue of negotiating licenses after launching the service, leaving some industry members to view the service as illegal.

Google launched a beta of its own music service in May. However, the search giant was unsuccessful in negotiating new licenses with major music labels and has yet to open a full music store as originally planned.

Amazon and Apple will likely compete for subscribers with their respective Cloud Drive and iTunes Match services. Amazon’s cloud offerings require manual uploading of non-Amazon music files, but also offer streaming, and start at a lower price of US$20 a year. On the other hand, iTunes Match runs US$25 a year and will scan and match users’ iTunes libraries with songs available in the iTunes Music Store. Matched songs will then automatically be available for download in iCloud, and the small portion of unmatched musical will be uploaded. Like Amazon, Apple will offer 5GB of free storage for iCloud users.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple developing iOS-based HDTV for late 2011 release

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Date: Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011, 07:35
Category: Apple TV, Hardware, Rumor

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Sometimes you have to turn a hobby into a full-time job.

Per DailyTech, Apple is rumored to be working on an iOS-powered connected TV, possibly for release as early as this fall.

A former Apple executive, speaking anonymously, said the company plans to “blow Netflix and all those other guys away” by bundling Apple TV + iTunes inside a physical display, DailyTech reports. Apple is reportedly teaming up with a major supplier to provide the rebranded television sets, the source noted.

When questioned why an OEM would cut into its sales by providing Apple with units, the source said, “If you have to be competing with somebody, you want to be competing with yourself.”

The tipster indicated a planned fall launch, while noting that the product could get pushed to next year because of Apple’s “high standards.” A fall launch could coincide with the launch of the next-generation iPhone, as well as iOS 5 and iCloud.

“You’ll go into an Apple retail store and be able to walk out with a TV. It’s perfect,” the source said. According to the unverified report, the iOS-driven televisions would support third-party apps.

Rumors of an Apple Smart TV have existed for years, with Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster repeatedly forecasting the product. Munster has suggested that an Internet-connected TV from Apple may have a starting price in the range of US$2,000.

In March, Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty said Asian suppliers had told her Apple had built a Smart TV prototype. According to Huberty, an Apple-branded TV could add as much as US$4 billion per 1 percent share of the TV market Apple is able to capture over the next two years.

Then, in April, Brian White with Ticonderoga Securities said “data points” from a China electronics trade show suggested Apple could launch an HDTV set possibly by the end of the year. “Our research suggests this Smart TV would go well beyond the miniature US$99 second-generation Apple TV that the company released last fall and provide a full-blown TV product for consumers,” White said.

Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs said last year that the Apple TV set top box product is “a hobby” for the company, sales of the US$99 second-generation model have improved over the first-generation. After the company sold 250,000 units in the first six weeks of availability, Jobs said Apple was “thrilled” with the figures.

Apple went on to sell 1 million Apple TVs within three months of the device’s launch. However, analysts have estimated that a million units per quarter would amount to a “fairly immaterial” $400 million in annual revenue.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of Concord Securities said in April that Apple TV sales had reached 2 million, reportedly selling 820,000 units in the March quarter.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.