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WWDC: iOS 7

The biggest announcement to come out of Apple’s WWDC keynote address was the complete overhaul of iOS. The redesign of iOS has been highly anticipated as many users believe iOS has not aged gracefully. I agree. When it was announced Jony Ive would be taking over the design of Apple’s software design in late 2012, expectations were high. Rumors began to circulate that iOS would have a more flat design and many tried to guess how that might look. One thing that was clear is that users wanted something different. On Monday, Apple showed a very different iOS. One that has divided the tech world.

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iOS 7 is all new aesthetically. The flat UI, new color palette, transparent design, and new icons create a completely different look. This new look has been the most polarizing aspect of iOS 7. Some hail iOS 7 as a bold new look while others feel it is too flat and lacks any character. Personally, I like some of the aspects of iOS 7 and believe that the polarization caused by iOS 7 will only help Apple attract attention. It is true that most of the changes in iOS 7 appear to be cosmetic, but there are a few new noteworthy features.

Control Center

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While this feature appears to be derived from Android, it is an important part iOS 7. Users asked for quick access to certain settings such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, and music controls. Control Center delivers this and more in a new pane you access by swiping up from anywhere in the OS. I cannot argue that it is an important feature, and I like the way it looks. The transparency of the background on this pane looks great with any wallpaper.

Notification Center

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As with OS X Mavericks, Notification Center received some updates. It is smarter in that it now provides a preview of your day. iCloud has also been introduced to sync notifications across devices. One thing that is missing, however, is quickly reply. In Notification Center on Mavericks, you can reply to an iMessage from the notification. This would be great for iOS, but it is not there. iOS 7 is currently in beta and this could be coming in a later update, but it is a glaring omission.

Multitasking

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iOS 7 has a completely new multitasking interface. Well, when I say new, I mean new to Apple. The new interface is similar to what we saw on Web OS and several jailbreak apps. Nevertheless, the update is welcomed. When a user accesses multitasking, they are brought to a entirely new section in which they can see previews of all their running apps. To close a program, simply swipe up on the image to dismiss the app. It is a simple idea that works well, but one that Apple “borrowed.”

Air Drop

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Air Drop has been brought to iOS. Like on the Mac, Air Drop will recognize all your friends that are nearby and allow you to share webpages, documents, and more. Most phones currently use NFC for this, but Apple opts for data networks or Wi Fi. No word on whether this will work over Bluetooth. I could see this being important for business customers, especially on the iPad.

iTunes Radio

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iTunes Radio has been widely rumored and is now official. Like Pandora, users can stream music and create stations based on artists or songs. The system will be supported by iAds or will be ad free for iTunes Match customers. It works well, but one of the biggest complaints at this point is that the music on iTunes Radio is censored. Pandora does not censor its music, and Apple better correct this before iOS 7 launches to the public.

Other Changes

There are some other minor changes worth noting. Safari has received an overhaul and users can now have unlimited tabs open at once. Siri has been updated with a new voice and some new commands, but nothing major. The Camera app has received some filters and the ability to shoot square images. The Photos app will now organize your photos by date and location. The App Store has a new “Near Me” option where you can find apps that are popular in your area. Find My iPhone has been improved to prevent thefts. An iPhone can only be activated using one iCloud account. This means if someone steals your phone, they will need your iCloud account to activate it after it is reset.

Overall, if it were not for the complete redesign, iOS 7 would be a pretty boring update. Apple was under a lot of pressure to refresh iOS, but have they delivered? Yes and no. The new interface is great looking, but it is still a work in progress. Features are likely to be added to the OS between now and its release date in the fall. And that is a good thing because iOS 7 needs something more than just a new coat of paint for it to keep up with the competition. The new iPhone will need to do something else to keep users and the tech world interested.

For now, iOS 7 is a step in the right direction. It gives Apple something to build on for the new few years. The next few months will be critical, however, as Apple refines iOS 7 and gets it ready for release this fall. Until then, be sure to check out the gallery below comparing the apps in iOS 6 (left) to the redesigned apps in iOS 7 (right). Also be sure to check out Apple iOS 7 video (above) and watch the full WWDC keynote here.

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OS X Mountain Lion: A Full Review

After getting my computer back on Saturday, I immediately upgraded to OS X Mountain LionOne of the first changes many Mac fans have noticed is that “Mac” has been dropped from the title. This has led many to speculate that there will be more to the marriage between iOS and OS X, but more about this later.

Since I have lived with Mountain Lion for about a week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the OS.

INSTALLATION

This is the second OS X release Apple has distributed through the Mac App Store. With Lion, a number of people complained about how the update slowed their system and there have been similar complaints about Mountain Lion.

Installation is actually really easy if you want the OS to install around your files. Backup your machine, download OS X from the Mac App Store (approx. 4.5 GB), and follow the instructions on the screen. After approximately 45 minutes, you will be Mountain Lion. Like many, I wish Apple made it easy to do a fresh install of the OS, but I opted for the simple install.

With my machine, an early 2011 15” MacBook Pro, I did not experience a decrease in speed. In fact, my system feels quicker. But, as I posted Monday, I had my hard drive wiped in May and just had a new logic board installed. That could certainly account for my seamless transition.

MINOR UPDATES

While there are some new features that are important to highlight, one thing I wanted to discuss first was how stable and polished Mountain Lion feels. Mac users who transitioned from Leopard to Snow Leopard a few years ago understand what I mean. The whole OS has been optimized for the Retina MacBook Pro and the detail does make a difference on lower resolution displays. Details of the icons and OS are crisper.

As for minor updates, all the multi-touch gestures are smoother, inertial scrolling is now a part of Stacks, and the dock has an aluminum surface. In addition, LauchPad and Dashboard have received minor updates, and all OS X updates are now handled by the Mac App Store.

There are a number of improvements to existing apps as well. Mail has some minor updates. Preview now has access to iCloud and more detailed editing tools. There are updates to the Image Capture app that make scanning and printing even easier. Other minor changes include a change in app names. iCal is now called Calendar and Address Book is now Contacts, much like their iOS counterpart, but this is only the beginning of Apple’s marriage of iOS and OS X.

NEW FEATURES

Apple says that there are over 200 new features in Mountain Lion. Most of them are not immediately noticeable, but there are several that are substantial and are very usable. As with Lion, the marriage of iOS and OS X continues. There are a number of apps added to OS X to match their counterparts in iOS. These apps then sync wirelessly using iCloud.

New to OS X: Reminders and Notes 

Two news apps from iOS includes Notes app and Reminders. Both apps are virtually identical to the iOS equivalent, and they both work very well. There isn’t much else to say! As Steve Jobs said about iCloud in 2011, it just works. iCloud syncs your Notes and Reminders automatically so you can accesses them on all your devices.

Notification Center

Another useful addition from iOS is Notification Center. Similar to Growl, Notification Center is one place for all your apps’ reminders, Calendar events, Reminders, Mail, and Twitter updates. With a two-finger swipe from right to left on the Trackpad, Notification center comes up on the right side of the screen. Notification Center is completely customizable in System Preferences and will certainly become more and more usable as developers continue to integrate it into their apps.

iMessage works on iOS and OS X

The most popular new app on Mountain Lion is iMessage. Like Facetime in Lion, iMessage in Mountain Lion allows for seamless communication between Macs and iOS devices. With iOS 6, however, Apple is will integrate users’ Apple ID and phone number. This will enable text messaging via the Mac! iMessage supports texts, photos, and videos. iMessage replaces iChat and works with other online messaging systems.

Game Center

Game Center is yet another iOS app added to Mountain Lion. Game Center allows Mac users to play games against other Macs, iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. This cross platform play is unique to Apple and will certainly be interesting as more iOS games are brought to the Mac.

Safari received a number of updates including Tab View

One of OS X’s apps to receive a major update is Safari. Users will notice the unified address bar, but there is also a new Tab Viewer that makes seeig all open tabs even easier. Apple has also integrated Share Sheets which has been added throughout the OS. It allows users to share websites, photos, videos and a variety of media via email, Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, and Facebook (coming this fall). One interesting development with Safari is that it appears to be exclusive to the Mac. Safari 6.0 has yet to be created for Windows, and with the wholesale changes in Windows 8, an update is doubtful.

Apple has also taken significant steps in addressing user privacy. Mountain Lion features a new security feature called Gatekeeper, which allows users to choose the types of apps that are installed to their machine. Users can choose to only allow apps from the App Store, allow apps from the App Store and trusted developers, or allow all applications. The goal of Gatekeeper is to protect the computer from Malware and Spyware. Other privacy features include a clearer option panel for users to control the apps that can access their Calendar, Contacts, Key Chain, and location data.

Airplay Mirroring connects your Mac and TV via Apple TV

One of my favorite additions to Mountain Lion is Air Play Mirroring. Many Mac users already use Air Play for their files and music, but Air Play Mirroring allows users to wirelessly view their computer screen on their TV using Apple TV. This feature is certainly a welcome addition in many homes and classrooms. However, this feature only works on machines released in 2011 and 2012.

An interesting addition to Mountain Lion is Siri-like dictation. Dictation can be accessed using the user’s choice of hot keys. While it is useful, it can be problematic because only the MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a dual microphone system built in. This is a feature that will certainly improve over time, but if you have an external microphone, it can be really handy. As of right now, most third-party apps do not support this feature, but it is one of many great accessibility features added to OS X.

CONCLUSIONS 

Mountain Lion is certainly an improvement to OS X. While it may not be a major shift like Microsoft is planning for Windows 8, Apple is focused on the marriage of OS X and iOS via iCloud. The merging of Apple’s operating systems is working well for Apple and will take another leap forward when Apple releases iOS 6 this fall.

For only $20 in the Mac App Store, Mountain Lion is a must have for all Mac users. If you are using Snow Leopard, now is really the time to upgrade. Lion users should consider upgrading to access this polished OS. While there are sure to be bugs in this release, I have yet to experience any. In addition, I have yet to find a third-party app that is incompatible. My transition has been seamless, and I encourage all Mac user with eligible hardware to download Mountain Lion and enjoy the latest and greatest Apple has to offer.

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iPhone 4S Review

It turns out we did not get our fabled iPhone 5, but we did get a new device from Apple last week, the iPhone 4S.  As usual, I received my device on day one and am prepared to review it.

Design

The iPhone 4 had an impressive design with glass and on the front and back and a stainless steel band holding everything in, and the iPhone 4S maintains that design.  The 3.5 inch retina display remains as well.  Again, those hoping for the iPhone 5 might be disappointed, but the 4S looks great, especially in white.

Hardware

What is new with the 4S is the internals.  Apple’s dual core A5 chip (from the iPad 2) is paired with 512MB of RAM.  Apple claims the A5 will improve performance by up to 2X for daily tasks and up to 7X for graphic rich games.  The iPhone 4S is quicker at launch apps, loading apps, and just about everything else.

Another major change internally is the antenna.  There was a lot of controversy surrounding the iPhone 4’s antenna.  So much that Apple provided free cases to iPhone 4 customers experiencing a drop in network connectivity.  Apple has supposedly fixed this issue by allowing the phone to switch seamlessly between two antennas built into the phone.  So far, tests have indicted this system has worked.

Camera 

Apple is very proud of the fact that the iPhone 4 is the most popular camera on Flickr and they have upgraded the camera for the 4S. The sensor is increased from 5MP to 8MP, but the real story is in the CMOS sensor from Sony.  The backlit sensor allows in more light making the images crisper in low-light situations.  In addition, Apple has added an additional lens into the design allowing for more accurate color depiction.  All these features, along with the new  f/2.4 aperture (improved from the old phone’s f/2.8) make for a great camera.

In addition, the camera now takes 1080p video and, paired with iOS 5, includes many new built in photo editing options.

iOS 5

The latest release of iOS improves greatly on what Apple has already created, and addresses many of the concerns put forth by those in the tech world.  The creation of Notification Center is certainly one of the greatest features in iOS 5.  Notification Center is similar to that on an Android device and makes it easy to keep track of everything you missed.

Other features such as: iMessage, Newsstand, Reminders, Twitter integration, and mail improvement are just a few of the over 200 new features in iOS 5.  Perhaps one of the greatest new features is the fact that Apple has made their devices truly wireless.  It is not longer necessary to sync your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad to iTunes for backups and updates.  Syncing can be done over WiFi and the OS is now updated over-the-air via delta updates.

Overall, iOS 5 is a very solid OS.  There were some download issues when it was released last week (my iPhone 4 was bricked for a few hours), but that was largely due to the amount of traffic on Apple’s servers.  It has been reported that 1/3 of all iOS devices are now running iOS 5.  It hasn’t even been out a week yet!

iCloud

A major new feature of iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion is iCloud.  iCloud allows the user to wirelessly sync photos, calendars, contacts, bookmarks, documents, books, mail, and iTunes between all your Apple devices without the need to sync.  It is all done automatically and it works very well.  For example, I downloaded an iBook yesterday to my iPad, it automatically downloaded it to iTunes and to my iPhone.  I also added an appointment to my calendar on my iPhone and it automatically added it to my calendars on my iPad and MacBook Pro.  As Steve Jobs said in June, it just works.

All these features are also accessible from iCloud.com if you are not on an iCloud enabled device.  Users can also signup for a free .me email address if they choose.  Perhaps the most amazing part of iCloud is the price, FREE.  iCloud is free to all iOS 5 and Mac OS X Lion users.  I believe this is going to start a trend in the tech world as cloud services become more and more popular.

Siri 

Perhaps the greatest, and most fun, feature of the iPhone 4S is Siri.  I am sure you have seen all the articles about Siri’s attitude and snappy remarks, but she really is helpful.  She can send email and texts, set reminders and appointments, make phone calls, play music, search the web, and just about anything else you might need.  She does so, as she says, humbly.  Siri is remarkably smooth for a beta and there are few times that she misunderstands.

Yes, Siri is fun to ask off the wall questions, but she is very useful and I think will only get better with time. I believe that Apple will eventually share Siri’s APIs with developers and we will see voice integration with 3rd party apps and that will truly make Siri the master of everything.

Impressions 

I have to admit that at first I was a little disappointed by the announcement of the iPhone 4S on October 4, but after using it for a few days, you begin to realize that Apple still has the complete package.  Having used Android phones, most recently the Samsung Galaxy S II, there appears to be an inherent cheapness to the feeling of the chassis of many phones.  The iPhone 4S, like the iPhone 4, feels very strong and durable, despite being made from glass.  The other issue with many phones is the disconnect between the hardware and software, but with Apple, both are made by the same people to ensure they work together seamlessly.  The iPhone 4S is a strong smartphone with great overall features, but other devices, such as the Motorola Droid RAZR, are thinner and have larger displays.  Apple is on par with the current market, after all, Apple did sell 4 million over the weekend, but a major redesign in 2012 will be required if they do not want to fall behind the crowd.

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