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Posts Tagged ‘Apple’

Is iPhone OS 3.0 a boon for the accessory market?

Posted by comtech3 on March 18, 2009

March 17, 2009 11:35 AM PDT

by Donald Bell

At Tuesday’s iPhone OS 3.0 preview event, Apple unveiled several new features of the iPhone operating system, including the capability to create applications specifically for interfacing with third-party hardware. Examples given included a five-band EQ interface for speaker docks, or an FM transmitter control that allows you to select broadcast frequencies based on signal strength.

Alesis ProTrack iPod recorder.

An example of the Alesis ProTrack using an application front end for recording control.

This may sound like a benign little announcement to most people, but as someone who closely monitors trends in iPod accessories, I expect that this will be huge for the industry. What company isn’t going to want to differentiate its products with a slick app?

I expect that everything from battery chargers to stereo Bluetooth headsets will (for better or worse) be given the app treatment. The products won’t necessarily be any better for it, but the gee-whiz appeal alone will probably carry manufacturers and consumers through to the end of the year.

The nightmare for me is going to be all the apps I’ll need to download for each iPod and iPhone accessory I review. Every speaker and every dock will likely require an app download to get the full picture of the product. Version updates for apps will also be a pain. If Altec Lansing hypothetically updates the EQ control on the app for its latest line of speakers, suddenly, I’ll need to add a note to all its product pages.

But there are some potentially cool things to come out of hardware-specific applications. Here’s what I’m looking forward to seeing:

Buttonless products. Call it the “Shuffle Effect,” but if you can migrate all of a product’s controls to the iPhone’s touch-screen interface, then why have buttons? I’m not saying it’s a good idea, necessarily, but the potential makes it inevitable that we’ll see a product like this sooner or later.

Game controllers. Maybe it’s just me, but I get a little giddy from the idea of plugging a reproduction of the vintage NES controller into the dock of the iPod Touch to play a little old-school Super Mario. Not every game is suited to touch screen and accelerometer controls.

Audio recorders. Companies like Alesis have already been trying to accomplish app control of hardware by advertising its product’s compatibility with Bias’ iProRecorder application. It’s not a perfect marriage, though. The iPhone/iPod Touch behaves like a recording medium, while the settings for the recording hardware are still strictly controlled by buttons and switches. Really fine-grain control over gain settings, compressor ratios, gating, panning, surround effects, and audio editing are much better handled on the screen than with hardware, allowing the expression of greater complexity and unique graphical controls.

Nike+iPod alternatives. The Nike+iPod exercise kit is a very cool way to track your progress with running and jogging, but you’ve got to buy special Nike shoes and the proprietary Nike pedometer puck, and the software isn’t for everyone. I know Apple and Nike are closely partnered on the Nike+iPod product, but I could see something come along that doesn’t compete directly and works more like the Wii Fit, with it’s own hardware and application.

I’m sure there’s way more potential here than I can come up with. Personally, I would love to see some hardware for enhancing the portable music-listening experience on the iPhone with EQ or music sharing, but I’m not sure how you would pull it off without being able to run applications in the background.

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Bump up your old iPod to 240GB

Posted by comtech3 on February 6, 2009

February 4, 2009 2:54 PM PST

Posted by Donald Bell

Photo of Toshiba iPod hard drive.

I’ll catch some hell for saying it, but Apple’s fifth-generation iPod (aka the iPod Video) is one of the best hard-drive MP3 players of all time.

Say what you will about sound quality or the easily scratched screen, compared with today’s iPod models the 5G iPod has a lot of advantages: it’s compatible with just about every iPod accessory ever made; video output is built right in; you can use it with older computers and old versions of iTunes; and there are countless ways to hack and modify it. Unfortunately, the old guy just doesn’t offer enough storage.

Don’t throw out that old 5G just yet. Rapid Repair now offers a 240GB replacement hard drive specifically made for the 5G iPod (iPod Classic and Zune users will have to look elsewhere). Granted, the drive will set you back $294, but it could be worthwhile if you just can’t live without your entire music collection in your pocket or you insist on listening to large lossless audio files.

I could also see the justification for upgrading if you’ve already invested in a lot of iPod accessories (speakers, car stereos, video docks) that won’t work with new iPod models due to differences in voltage or video output. Spending $300 to upgrade an MP3 player you love makes much more sense than spending the same money to upgrade all your perfectly good iPod accessories.

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New browsing apps available for the iPhone

Posted by comtech3 on January 20, 2009

January 14, 2009 5:49 AM PST

Posted by Caroline McCarthy

We’re guessing that they won’t surpass iBeer in popularity any time soon, but this is big news for the App Store: Apple has quietly started allowing Web browser applications in.

According to MacRumors, a small bunch of browser apps were recently let into the App Store. They include the free Edge Browser, the historyless Incognito ($1.99), the tabbed WebMate ($0.99), and something called Shaking Web ($1.99) that attempts to make Web sites easier to read.

Previously, Apple had not approved third-party browsers for the App Store; its own Safari browser is preinstalled on the iPhone. Other browsers weren’t allowed, citing “duplicating functionality.”

The browser apps currently in the App Store all have some kind of quirk that sets them apart from standard browsers, ranging from a slant in design (Edge) to one in privacy (Incognito). They’re all built using Safari as a base too. So it’s not yet clear whether Apple will open the gates to iPhone versions of completely separate third-party browsers, such as Firefox or Opera.

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iPhone Nano rumors surface once again

Posted by comtech3 on December 16, 2008

December 15, 2008 10:44 AM PST

Posted by Tom Krazit

With less than a month to go before Macworld, the rumors have started, and they sound familiar.

The possibility of an iPhone Nano has once again been served up for mass consumption by the Apple rumor mill, this time courtesy of a Web site called iDealsChina. The site claims that Apple accessory maker XSKN has been developing a case for a new version of the iPhone that is shorter and thicker than the iPhone 3G and that will be announced at Macworld in January.

MacRumors.com, which attempts to handicap the Apple rumor industry, notes that iDealsChina “has a very mixed track record” when it comes to reading the Apple tea leaves. The site did publish photos of case designs for what became the iPhone 3G, but incorrectly predicted that the second-generation iPod Touch would have GPS.

iPhone Nano rumors date back to the launch of the original iPhone, when a financial analyst predicted that Apple would have a slimmed-down version of the iPhone out for the 2007 holiday season. That obviously didn’t happen, and other reports this summer and more recent speculation about a $99 4GB iPhone to be sold at Wal-Mart have kept the rumor alive.

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Apple’s Black Friday deals

Posted by comtech3 on November 26, 2008

November 25, 2008 9:47 AM PST
Posted by Julie Rivera
(Credit: Apple)

Update: The promotion is now live on the U.S. Apple Store site.

Apple will be holding a one-day shopping event on Black Friday, according to a teaser up on Apple’s Web site. Every sale on the Apple Store is an event, as it happens very rarely, and discounts on Apple products are meager throughout the year. That is, if this is an event full of discounts and sales. The interesting part is in the wording:

“Come back to the Apple Online Store this Friday for a special one-day-only Christmas shopping event. You’ll find dozens of great iPod, iPhone and Mac gift ideas – all with free delivery.”

However, anyone who is familiar with how Apple works, one would surmise that Apple is referring to iPhone accessories as the “gift ideas” and not the device itself.

Furthermore, and not to play devil’s advocate here, but this teaser is for an Apple Online Store sale. Not to mention that this promotion is only up on the New Zealand Apple Store currently, as MacRumors notes — but it will undoubtedly be up for other parts of the world as well soon.

Although, Apple isn’t specific as to what products they will offer at this “special one-day event” on Friday, the symbol on the teaser page pretty much contains all Apple products. Most likely, one of the products that Apple will offer hot deals on would be the iMac as it wasn’t updated this fall and new iMacs should be coming early 2009.

In the meantime, Best Buy currently offers $50-$150 discounts on Apple Computers

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New iPod Touch faster than iPhone 3G

Posted by comtech3 on November 25, 2008

November 24, 2008 12:16 PM PST
Posted by Tom Krazit

Apple appears to have upped the processing speed of the iPod Touch in order to help it go after the portable-game market.

Touch Arcade reports that the applications processor inside the second-generation iPod Touch unveiled in September is actually running faster than the processor inside the iPhone 3G, which runs at the same speed that the original iPhone and iPod Touch used. The new iPod Touch’s ARM-based processor is running at 532MHz, while the iPhone 3G’s processor runs at 412MHz.

A game developer interviewed by Touch Arcade noticed a huge difference in 3D-rendering speed as a result of the speed bump. As we remember fondly from our “megahertz madness” days of the Intel-AMD competition in the PC, processor speed is not the only measure of performance, but it is an important one.

With the arrival of the App Store, Apple has been marketing the latest iPod Touch as a gaming device in its latest round of commercials, almost completely ignoring the fact that it’s a music and video player as well.

It seems that Apple has room to boost the clock speed of the processor to 620MHz, according to ARM’s specifications, but that requires striking a balance between performance and battery life.

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What if Apple built a search engine?

Posted by comtech3 on November 14, 2008

November 13, 2008 11:18 AM PST

Posted by Don Reisinger

is reporting today that it has heard some rumblings about the possibility of Apple developing a search engine to compete with Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. According to the publication, it believes that Apple’s reason for doing so is its desire to find another avenue of monetization for all the traffic it can capture through its Safari browser and elsewhere across the Web.

But after some digging, TechCrunch found that the chances of Apple working on a search engine in secret right now are relatively low and the Silicon Valley has heard little about the possibility of Apple turning to another sector in the industry.

I don’t think there’s any debating that the rumors are false and the very idea that Apple will develop a search engine sounds ridiculous. Apple’s current strategy is tied to its hardware and there’s no reason for the company to jump into another market.

But now that we’ve rejected the notion of Apple developing a search engine, why not explore it a bit more? What if Apple developed a search engine? Would it lead to bigger and better things or prove to be the company’s downfall? Would it captivate consumers the way it does with its hardware or fall flat on its face?

The possibility is just a bit too delicious to pass up.

If Apple developed a search engine, I don’t think there’s any doubting that the company would have its sights set firmly on Microsoft. Sure, Google is still the leader in the market and maybe Apple should be focusing its attention there, but let’s face it–Apple and any other company in the space won’t be able to catch Google no matter how useful its search engine is. Why? Because Google was the first to understand that success in the market means getting rid of you and since so many people have found that experience through Google, there’s really no reason to switch.

But when it comes to building a search engine (remember, we’re assuming Apple is in this example), Steve Jobs would love to focus all his attention on Microsoft. You remember Microsoft, right? It’s the company that beat Apple in the software space years ago and the main reason why Steve Jobs isn’t as rich as Bill Gates today. But more importantly, Apple’s Safari browser has always tried to one-up Internet Explorer and there’s no reason to suggest Apple Search wouldn’t try to do the same to Live.

Now that we know Apple’s competitor, what is its motivation for developing a search engine? At its lowest level, it’s cash. But what if Apple’s search engine is just a precursor to its desire to break into the online world in a big way? Maybe a search engine will allow Apple to make the case to shareholders that diving into the online world with all that extra cash it has hanging around really is worth it.

But then again, success in the search engine space will be required in order for Steve Jobs to get the go-ahead to expand online. And if Microsoft has taught us anything, tens of billions of dollars isn’t enough to be successful in search.

The possibilities for Apple are endless and the reasons for breaking into the search engine market are numerous. And although most us can probably agree that Apple will never release a search engine, I think the case can be made quite easily that if it’s serious about the online world and it wants to put even more pressure on Microsoft, developing an outstanding search engine that goes above and beyond the scope already offered from Live might be a good place to start.

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Belkin makes PC-to-Mac switch even easier

Posted by comtech3 on November 13, 2008

November 12, 2008 2:29 PM PST
Posted by Ina Fried

Belkin’s new $50 cable aims to make the PC-to-Mac move even easier.

(Credit: Belkin)

Back in 2006, Microsoft was only too happy to tout a cable from Belkin that made it easier to move from XP to Vista. It even gave away the devices as part of its CES press kits.

However, a new twist on that cable is likely to get a far chillier reception in Redmond.

While Belkin’s original USB cable–the Easy Transfer Cable–was aimed at moving from XP to Vista, its latest product is aimed at those moving to a Mac.

The $50 Switch-to-Mac cable “automatically moves your music, movies, photos, files, and Internet preferences” from a Windows machine over to a shiny new Mac. It works with either XP or Vista on the PC side and either Tiger or Leopard on the Mac as far as Macs go.

There’s obviously other ways to move files and make the switch, but if this cable works as smoothly as the XP-to-Vista one did, it’s likely to make life easier for switchers.

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Software unlock for iPhone 3G coming soon?

Posted by comtech3 on October 28, 2008

October 27, 2008 10:32 AM PDT
Posted by Tom Krazit

An unlocked iPhone 3G is a little closer to becoming reality, according to the iPhone Dev Team.

An easy way of unlocking your iPhone 3G could hit the Internet relatively soon.

(Credit: CNET)

Gizmodo picked up on a video produced by the iPhone Dev Team demonstrating that it has gained access to the baseband processor used by Apple in the iPhone 3G. The baseband chip is what controls the connection between the phone and the mobile phone network, meaning that a software download that could let you use your iPhone 3G on a carrier network other than the ones officially designated by Apple could be released soon.

I’m sure you remember the fuss about the original iPhone and those who sought to unlock it from the four carriers that were Apple’s launch partners for the first iPhone. The iPhone 3G has proven a tougher nut to crack, because Apple apparently changed the baseband to make it more difficult to exploit than the baseband used on the original iPhone. You can unlock your iPhone 3G to use it on another carrier by modifying the SIM card, but what the iPhone Dev Team is trying to accomplish is a software-based unlock that you would just download and install.

There hasn’t been as much demand for unlocked iPhone 3Gs, given the much greater distribution of that phone around the world. However, there are still some countries like China that don’t carry the iPhone, and there are still some users who want to use their iPhones on a different carrier than the one designated for the iPhone in their country.

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Why the iPhone is now Apple’s most important product

Posted by comtech3 on October 22, 2008

October 21, 2008 6:52 PM PDT

Posted by Tom Krazit

When Apple Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in January 2007, even he might not have realized how soon it would become a huge part of Apple’s business.

(Credit: Declan McCullagh/CNET News)

The rampant success of the iPhone has forced Apple and its financial watchers to re-evaluate the value of the company.

Saying that Apple’s iPhone business “had become too big to ignore,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs made a rare appearance on the company’s earnings conference call earlier on Tuesday to explain just how much money the iPhone is dumping into Apple’s coffers. For the first time, the company used supplemental financial details to give some color on the contribution that the iPhone could be making to Apple’s bottom line if iPhone sales were handled like Mac sales, and the numbers are astonishing.

The iPhone now accounts for 39 percent of Apple’s business, having generated $4.6 billion in revenue on sales of 6.9 million units during the quarter. (Apple TV revenue is lumped in with that number, but let’s be real: iPhone sales account for the vast, vast majority of that figure.) Those numbers, however, are not included as part of Apple’s official quarterly results because of the way the company chooses to account for the sale of each iPhone; Apple reported just $806 million in iPhone and Apple TV revenue for its fourth quarter in accordance with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).

So what gives? In order to explain, please permit me to wade through some boring-but-necessary Accounting 101 review.

Apple uses a subscription-based accounting method to recognize the revenue from the sale of an iPhone or an Apple TV unit. Remember the outrage in January 2007 over Apple’s decision to charge certain MacBook customers $1.99 to unlock the faster Wi-Fi chip hidden inside their notebooks? The company didn’t decide to charge people because it was short on cash; Apple had to in order to satisfy accounting rules that require a company to establish a value for future upgrades if a decision was made to recognize all the revenue from the sale of a product at the time it was purchased.

To avoid the same situation with its brand-new iPhone customers, Apple announced shortly after the launch of the product that all iPhone revenue would be recorded over a 24-month period, allowing the company to ship software upgrades to the iPhone for free. Note that for whatever reason, it doesn’t apply that treatment to its Mac or iPod product lines, meaning that Apple has to charge iPod Touch owners a fee for the exact same upgrades that iPhone owners receive.

The problem with this accounting treatment is that it pushes most of the revenue associated with the sale of an iPhone out into the future, making it difficult for investors to determine just how much revenue and profit is being generated by the sale of a particular unit until long after that unit has been sold. In addition, Apple has to recognize engineering and marketing costs associated with the sale of those iPhones in the quarter in which they occurred, not over the 24-month period.

Starting Tuesday, however, Apple decided to open the kimono on its iPhone business in a new way.

Apple revealed the numbers it uses internally to measure the performance of the iPhone business for the first time on Tuesday. Imagine Apple treated the iPhone like it did the Mac: it would have recorded an additional $3.8 billion in revenue and an additional $1.3 billion in net income during the company’s fourth fiscal quarter.

Total iPhone revenue of $4.6 billion would have represented 39 percent of Apple’s overall adjusted revenue of $11.7 billion, and would have ranked it third among all mobile phone vendors as measured by revenue after just 15 months on the market, according to the company. “If this isn’t stunning, I don’t know what is,” Jobs said.

A few words of caution are necessary regarding the use of supplemental results to evaluate a company. Apple posted a lengthy disclosure on the numbers in its press release, warning among other things, “these non-GAAP financial measures may be unique to the Company, as they may be different from non-GAAP financial measure used by other companies. As such, this presentation of non-GAAP financial measures may not enhance the comparability of the Company’s results to the results of other companies.” (Jobs, of course, did just that in ranking Apple third among all mobile phone vendors as measured by revenue, so there you go).

But we’re still talking about real money. Regardless of how Apple decides to account for iPhone revenue, it’s still real revenue, and it provides cash for the company to invest in iPhone engineers (such as the former P.A. Semi team, for example), market the iPhone, and work on software enhancements to the product.

It allows us to make imperfect estimates on just how much Apple is receiving in subsidies on each iPhone 3G. $4.6 billion in revenue divided by 6.9 million units equals $666.67 per iPhone. That’s a little high, since some portion of that revenue has to be attached to Apple TV sales, but even making the unlikely assumption that Apple sold $500 million worth of a product it calls a “hobby” during the fourth quarter puts the average cost of an iPhone 3G at $594.20.

And it also underscores that Apple has completed its transformation from a computer company into a consumer electronics company, the only computer company of its generation to successfully pull off that transition. They all tried, but no traditional PC company has managed to shift the bulk of its business from low-margin PCs to high-margin consumer electronics: the iPhone now represents 39 percent of Apple’s revenue using the supplemental metrics, while the Mac accounts for 30 percent.

The iPhone isn’t just the third leg of Apple’s business that Jobs promised it would become back in January 2007, when he introduced the iPhone and changed the name of the company from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. It’s now the single largest contributor to Apple’s bottom line.

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