Archive for January 15th, 2008

Jobs keynote: A second look at the iPhone’s configurable interface

I take back my initial reaction to the iPhone’s new configurable interface after digging into a few of the details–and some chastisement from Telephony Senior Editor Rich Karpinski. Said Rich:

“The ‘re-arrangeable’ home screen isn’t all fluff but a nod to the still-to-come iPhone SDK, which will let third parties build applications which now — at the user’s choice — can apparently bump Apple apps to the background. At first glance at least, Apple is moving from a locked-down apps and deck to something fairly user-configurable.”

As Rich points out, Apple seems to be doing more than just rearrange icons. It’s allowing iPhone users to tailor the interfaces of their phones, initially allowing them to turn a bookmarked Web site into a Webclip that can be pasted as an icon on the iPhone home screen. It’s a nifty feature, but as Rich points out, its true potential lies in what the user can do when the SDK comes out and suddenly hundreds of Safari and Mac OS apps become available for the iPhone. Like Mapquest instead of Google Maps? Well, supposedly you can replace the latter with the former on the interface.

The significance of this may not be readily apparent, but anyone who has ever downloaded a third-party app onto a feature phone or smartphone knows how hard it is to find your pet application afterwards. It’s usually buried down in the applications folder among dozens, if not hundreds, of icons. One of the primary reasons the iPhone is so successful is because of its ease-of-use and the sleekness of its interface. The reason it’s so sleek, though, is Apple now controls every application on the deck. Once you start introducing third-party apps (like the ones Google is now offering) the seamlessly organized interface of the iPhone suddenly begins to look like a touch-screen mess. Apple is obviously trying to get ahead of that problem–so much so that it is actually creating the ability to have up to nine home screens which you can flip through with the flick of finger. I assume that means you can have a gaming home screen, a navigation home screen and an e-mail screen, if you like. Whether the average iPhone user takes advantage of all of these new functions is anyone’s guess, but Apple seems to be doing as much as it can to let people bring their own content to the forefront–something the carriers and even the more innovative handset makers like Nokia have really failed to do.

Want the update? Chances are, you already have it. Apple is automatically updating the iPhone software during synchronization to iTunes 7. A Quicktime Demo of the the new configurable interface is available on the Apple iPhone site as is an MPEG-4 or Quicktime video of Jobs’ keynote (why Apple doesn’t webcast it live, I have no idea).

As for the location-based services hoopla, I still stand by my initial assessment. As you may recall, Google introduced this element to mobile versions of Google Maps across the board a few months backs after it grew impatient with the lack of GPS penetration in phones. Jobs demoed the app on the iPhone at MacWorld, but I–and a lot of other people–suspect that Jobs had his coordinates pre-programmed for the network to pinpoint him so quickly in Moscone Center in San Francisco. The network triangulation Google uses is handy, but it’s not exactly the most accurate means of determining location. Don’t get me wrong–it’s an incredibly handy feature–but Jobs might be selling us some false expectations again just like he sold us on the lightening-fast browsing speeds of the iPhone.

Jobs keynote: New laptop but no WiMAX

Apple CEO Steve Jobs dispelled the anticipation of a second major wireless announcement at MacWorld: the prospect of WiMAX-embedded Apple notebook computer. Apple did release a new laptop, and it has a new radio interface, but the new eco-friendly MacBook Air comes embedded with an IEEE 802.11n chip, the new high-capacity, long-range Wi-Fi solution that has yet to become fully standardized.

While the new laptop is definitely a win for Apple’s environmental critics (mercury- and arsenic-free in the housing, with caustic chemicals removed from the circuitry) as well as for the Draft N sector, the WiMAX industry might be a bit disappointed. (For more details about the Air and other up-to-the-minute updates and photos from MacWorld check out Gizmodo’s live blog.) But then again, the likelihood of Apple releasing a WiMAX laptop anytime soon was pretty slim. So far Sprint has only two live networks up and running and not a single commercial subscriber online while Clearwire still hasn’t migrated its networks to WiMAX. Apple supports new technology (well, with the exception of 3G), but it also has to have a market. So we can just chalk this one up to overly high expectations.

The iPhone is another story. Jobs announced that Apple has sold 4 million of these suckers now. That’s an impressive feat, and as long as he can keep milking the EDGE device for all its worth, he probably has little incentive to come out with the highly anticipated 3G version of the iPhone. Stay tuned for Associate Editor Sarah Reedy’s podcast with the Yankee Group’s John Jackson about the wireless implications of Apple’s new wares. Also, check back with Telephony Unfiltered for more analysis of the new configurable aspects of the iPhone.

Jobs Keynote: Apple TV gets a facelift

Jobs didn’t neglect AppleTV — designed to be an accessory for iTunes, but now so much more — “Take 2” if you will. Jobs announced that movies, including new releases from all major studios, will be available through rental through iTunes and playable anywhere — Macs, PCs, iPods and iPhone and AppleTV.

Now, with its new user interface, no computer is required for AppleTV. Movies can be rented directly onto AppleTV and, here’s the biggie, watched in high-definition with 5.1 surround sound. Users can also view video and audio podcasts, photos from Flickr — both your own and your friends’ photos — or .Mac, YouTube, buy TV shows and music streamed back to the computer.

At least for the demo, movies take about 30 seconds to load and work the same way they do on iTunes on your PC. As with the iPhone, the software update to get these new features is available free, but the AppleTV is priced at $299. Although, for the love of Macworld, starting today its only $229 and Apple will ship the free software update to existing owners and new units in two weeks. Jobs said he wants everyone to have the new software, so that’s not a bad start.

Jobs keynote: Customizable iPhone screen–big whoop

Instead of unveiling the next iPhone, Apple CEO Jobs used his MacWorld pulpit to tout new iPhone features, none of which are that earth-shattering and many of which, agruably, should have been included in the initial iPhone launch.

1) SMS: Sending messages to multiple recipients. Come on….

2) Location: The iPhone has no GPS, but it can use the mobile network to triangulate a user’s approximate position. Nifty. Apple, however, announced this capability months ago for the Java and OS versions of Google Maps. Nothing new here.

3) Lyrics Support: As Telephony Senior Editor Ed Gubbins said “So it can be like a portable, handheld karaoke [device]? My God, it is a great time to be alive…”

4) Customizable Interface: Here’s the big one if you can call it big. You can move the iPhone icons around by “shaking” the device, bringing your content to the forefront and maximizing applications you use most. Nifty, but again not earth-shattering.

Looks like there’s no new iPhone on the plate today, but we’ll see what else Jobs has in store.

Apple expectations

The Apple store is officially down for maintenance. That can only mean one thing: CEO Steve Jobs keynote, beginning as I type, will reveal new Apple products. The question is, will we just see a batch of new iPods or is today the fateful day Apple releases the 3G iPhone? The iPhone isn’t the only anticipated wireless product. Rumors have been circulating that Apple will release laptops embedded with WiMAX chips, a move that could be of massive significance to Sprint and Clearwire. Updates to come.

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