Category Archives: Apple

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10 Days with the Apple Watch

I was one of the lucky few that received their Apple Watch order on April 24th, the day the  Watch was released to the public. Here’s the story of my first 10 days to try to give you some idea about the technology (and aesthetics) behind the newest Apple product.



First up, what I ordered. My order was time stamped at 12:02am Pacific Time on April 10, the day that the Watch went on sale to the public, so I literally ordered mine within the first 120 seconds of availability. From the time the Watch was announced, I had been coveting the Stainless Steel with Milanese loop band. It was, to my eye, a wonderful throwback mid-century modern look that I love. When it came time to order, I decided that since it’s likely I’m wearing this thing every single day for the next 2+ years, I should just get the one I really liked rather than “settling” for the less expensive Sport version in aluminum.

That decision-making process illustrates one of the huge differences in this particular product. Every other Apple product that I’ve purchased (and I’ve purchased plenty at this point, a decade plus into my obsession with the company and its products) was purchased on the strength of the abilities of the technology. Apple isn’t a stranger to using design as a differentiator among their products…the classic iMac is the textbook example of style selling a technology. But over the last few years they have primarily used their design sense and engineering skills to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers, and not within a line of their own products.

The stainless steel Apple Watch functions literally identically to the less expensive aluminum Apple Watch Sport (and, of course, also identically to the much, much more expensive Apple Watch Edition). So the fact that they convinced me to pay for a purely aesthetic choice shows just how different this particular market is from Apple’s normal business. But they did convince me, and thus at just after midnight on April 10th, I placed my order.


IMG_8569On April 24th, my Watch arrived. The package that was delivered was surprisingly heavy, almost shockingly so, and that is entirely due to the incredible packaging for the Watch. It is not hyperbole to say that I believe that Apple spent more time in R&D on the box for the Watch than some companies do on devices themselves. The retail box is a heavy, thick white plastic that feels as if it could be used for home construction…it’s that solid. On the inside the Watch was cradled in suede covered custom cutouts, isolated in the middle of a box that was at least 3 times larger than it needed to be purely to protect the device inside. Again, this is Apple’s aesthetics impinging upon a technology experience. “This is not a gadget”, is what this packages says “this is a piece of jewelry.”

My first impressions are of the Watch as Object: This is a gorgeous piece of design. Some have criticized the look of the Watch for its rounded rectangleness, or for being “bulbous.” I will say that on my wrist it is a great size, not heavy at all, and feels entirely like an analog watch would feel. Slimmer and lighter even than some men’s watches, which are enormous at times. I think it’s beautiful work, and shows Apple’s unparalleled heights of manufacturing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that no other company on the planet could make something this nice at this scale.


Beyond the aesthetics, however, there are definitely issues. The primary function of the watch is clearly to tell the time, and Apple provides about 10 different faces to choose from, each with some level of customizability. Through the selection of detail, color, and complications, it’s possible to really focus the main interface of the watch on the information that you want at a glance: the time, your calendar, the date, the weather, and more. I find myself wishing that third-party apps had access to these complication areas, instead of being limited to just Apple’s first-party apps. For instance, a complication from Dark Sky telling me when it was going to start raining would be amazing, and I’m certain that there are lots of other really useful apps for the main face of the Watch. I’m hoping that’s one of the first bits of usability exposed during the next software update.

The other central concepts in using the Watch are Notifications, Glances, and Apps. Notifications are just what they sound like, and display as either a pop-over style update or in a list after pulling down from the top of the initial Watch screen. Aside from telling the time, Notifications have been the most game changing piece of the Watch in my life. It really is the case, as reported by lots of other reviewers, that I am looking at my phone a lot, lot less than I did prior to wearing the Apple Watch. Notifications on my wrist allows me to glance and decide whether any individual thing needs the escalation of “Deal With Now” or if I can just…not. As just one example, I wore the Watch at Computers in Libraries the day after receiving it, and realized after a few meals that I hadn’t taken my phone out of my pocket at all during lunch or dinner. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t take my phone out and put it on the table beside my plate…it’s nearly an automatic gesture from everyone I hang out with. With the Watch, I avoided the psychological habit of needing to be “connected” with the phone. It was shockingly liberating.

Glances are mini-apps, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the main watch face. They are displayed as a linear row of full-screen windows that are swiped through, left or right, that are single-screen displays of an app’s information. For instance, going back to my favorite weather app, Dark Sky, the “glance” is just the weather in your current location, whereas the full application contains multiple screens of information. Glances can be useful, but since the only way to navigate is literally by paging through them one after the other, if you have more than 5-8 Glances active, finding the one you want becomes an exercise in futility. Luckily you can control which apps allow Glances and which don’t, as well as the order left-to-right of your glances, from the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

Finally, we have what is the least useful bit of the current incarnation of the Apple Watch…the Apps. This is surprising, given that it was the app store and 3rd party app development that really ignited the iPhone as a mobile platform. However, the current status of Apps on the Watch as second or third class citizens makes them very difficult to use effectively. Currently, third-party apps don’t run on the watch natively, the run on the tethered iPhone and push display items to the watch when called. This means that the process of opening an App on the Watch is roughly: Press the digital crown in once, tap an App icon from the screen, and wait as the Watch tells the app on your iPhone what it wants, the app on the iPhone spins up and calls out for network resources if needed, the network traffic comes back, the iPhone app builds the view for the Watch, and finally the view is sent back to the watch over Bluetooth. This is roughly like sending an email to tell your neighbor to order a pizza, then having it delivered to her house and having her walk it over to you. It does end with you getting pizza, but there’s clearly a better way to accomplish this task.

When you launch a third-party app, pretty much any of them, there’s a 3-10 second delay while it does its little dance from the watch to the phone to the network and back again. This isn’t to say that the apps aren’t usable….many are, and some are very well designed and thought out. A few stand outs are Transit, Dark Sky, Workflow, and Lastpass. But for apps to really be usable, they have to be on-Watch, and not dancing between the two devices. The good news is that Apple has already announced that “this year” there will be an SDK for third-party native Watch apps…the only mystery is whether that will be an announcement at WWDC in June, or are they going to take “this year” literally and push that ability well into the Fall or Winter.

Two other Watch abilities that I haven’t yet mentioned are the Digital Touch haptic communication and Apple Pay. Haptics between Watches include the ability to “tap” someone else on the wrist to get their attention to communicate something, or to send them your heartbeat via the built in heartrate sensor. These are both interesting, and the taptic engine is a marvel of possibility, but until it’s opened up to third parties it strikes me as a parlor trick.

Apple Pay, on the other hand, is a revelation. With Apple Pay active on the Watch, you can double-press the side button and pay for something faster than you could even pull your iPhone from your pocket, and in the best sort of Apple way, it Just Works. It’s so easy and useful that I can see preferentially choosing to go to one store over another based on the fact that their payment system is compatible…it’s that good.

There are dozens of other services that the Apple Watch throws at you: activity measurement, maps, Siri on your wrist, taking a phone call from your wrist, music controls, remotes for your music or Keynote presentation. All of these are well done, and fine reasons to use the Watch. But if I have to boil my use case down using just the first 10 days, notifications, apple pay, and the fact that it is…well….a really nice watch are the things that keep me using it. It’s clearly going to be an ongoing platform for Apple, and they have a very, very good track record for incremental improvement of experience. I’m very bullish on the Watch overall, even if my recommendation for most people right now is to wait for version 2 or 3.


Apple Watch So what’s the library play for Apple Watch? Given the existing capabilities, I would say that using some of the older, proven tech in Apple’s stack gets much better with the Watch. Passbook for your patron’s library card is a no brainer, and a fantastic use, and Apple Pay for fines/fees is going to be interesting as adoption of that service continues to grow. Also, Apple Pay is among the most secure and private mechanisms available for the use of a debit/credit card, which I think is a huge patron privacy benefit.

If your library already supports an iOS app, adding Watch functionality now is probably not really worth it. At the very least, waiting until WWDC in June and seeing what they announce (or don’t) for the next version of WatchKit is warranted. It’s interesting to consider what a library Watch app might do…it isn’t possible to do text entry other than via Siri and voice transcription, so actually searching a catalog in the traditional manner isn’t really going to work. On the other hand, a Watch app that displayed a patron’s “cart” of interested books with the call numbers would be really handy while browsing in the stacks.


I said aboveapple watch closeup that I am recommending that the average technology consumer wait on the Apple Watch until v2 or v3. This will give Apple time to work out the issues with some of the biggest hardware flaws (no on-board GPS, and like all Apple devices it will get thinner and lighter). It will also give the ecosystem time to evolve, 3rd party apps to run natively on the Watch, and for the price to drop a small amount. By version 3 the low end of the line will be under $300, the design will be slightly improved, and there will be more and better app experiences that enrich the experience of wearing the Watch. Until then, I’m going to keep mine, because even with its flaws it’s an absolutely incredible piece of tech engineering that has already shown that it can improve my relationship with my information ecosystem. And I think it will get better and better at doing just that, allowing me to deal with the information flows in my life. That, turns out, might just be worth the cost of the Apple Watch.

Apple’s September 9th 2014 Announcement Predictions


Over the years, I’ve become known as a fan of Apple’s hardware and software solutions…and it’s true, I am overly fond of the way they do things. This isn’t to say that I’m not critical of them, as I do think they make mistakes (iPod HiFi anyone?). But I’ve been following them for many, many years and have a good understanding of their predilections.

On September 9th, Apple will be holding a press event that is promising to be one of the most interesting in many years. September is always their biggest press event of the year, as it’s when they introduce the newest model of iPhone, by far Apple’s most important and popular product. There have been lots of rumors and discussion around the Internet that seem to point to this year being particularly revolutionary. We don’t have the whole story yet (no one holds their cards closer than Apple does) but here are a few of the things that seem like good bets, and that might be interesting to Libraries and Librarians.

The first is the new iPhones. Yep, that’s plural, since it appears that Apple will be launching two new phones, for the first time in two different screen sizes. All of the rumors point to Apple releasing a 4.7 inch version and a 5.5 inch version of the iPhone this time around, marking only the second (and third!) time they’ve changed screen sizes with their phone. The original iPhone through the iPhone 4S were all 3.5 inch screens, the iPhone 5, 5C and 5S are all 4 inch…and now it looks like we’ll get 2 phones that are larger than that. This isn’t a huge surprise, as the overall cell phone market has been growing their phones for years now…the newest Samsung Galaxy 4 has a 5.7 inch screen, for instance. For Apple, growing screen sizes is harder, because the iPhone human interface guidelines insist on appropriately sized touch targets for the interface, and increasing the screen size while also increasing the pixel density can be hell on developers trying to make apps that work for every device. The best guesses yet for the resolution of these new phones comes from Apple blogger/journalist John Gruber, who puts the 4.7 inch screen at 1334×750, or 326ppi, with the 5.5 at 2208×1242, which works out to an incredible 461ppi, more dense than a printed magazine page.

The new phones will also undoubtedly be thinner and faster, most likely running a new A8 chipset that was designed by Apple. The A7 that debuted in the iPhone 5S is a remarkable processor, giving an insane amount of processing power at efficiencies that are hard for other devices to match. If they’ve improved on that, the A8 is likely to be a breakthough, giving desktop-level processing power in a mobile package.

It also appears that there is something happening with the new iPhone and a payment system for the real world. Bloomberg and others have reported that Apple has reached some type of deal with all of the major credit card companies (Visa, Mastercard, et al) and the rumor that they will finally be including some type of NFC technology in the new phones (my money is on a new, software-based system that allows for on-the-fly programming of the NFC communications protocol) that would allow for tap-to-pay interactions at all of the vendors that support such.

Add all that (new sizes, payment system, new processors) on top of the announcements that they made back at WWDC regarding iOS 8 and the massive changes that it will bring to the platform…it’s gonna be a big day for the iPhone. iOS 8 brings the most radical changes to the platform since the introduction of the App Store, including the introduction of true inter- and intra-app communication abilities (to the extent that apps can even have functionality that extends INTO another app, for instance one photo app “loaning” a filter to another totally unrelated app for use). It’s not exaggerating to say that iOS8 will change how the iPhone can be used by people, adding huge amounts of additional functionality. I’m perhaps most looking forward to custom keyboards (one of the aspects of Android that I most miss on the iOS platform), but I’m excited to see what developers come up with, because Apple is handing them a whole new suite of toys to play with.

If that were all that Apple was announcing and showing off, it would be a huge deal. But it seems like they may have finally chosen this as the time to announce their Wearable computing platform. Exactly what that means, only Apple really knows, but all of the rumors seem to point to some sort of wristwatch-like object that does…something. It’s really a mystery, but one Apple reporter quipped that the so-called iWatch is going to be a watch in the same ways that the iPhone is a phone. Whatever it is that they announce, it’s almost guaranteed to be interesting.

The other thing that’s pointing towards this being a big day for Apple is the choice of venue. Apple is using the Flint Center for this announcement, which they have only used 3 times in their history. Once was for the original announcement of the Macintosh in 1984, and once was for the return of Steve Jobs and the original iMac. To be fair, the third was for the iMac SE, which was a much smaller deal, but the two others are among the biggest announcements ever from Apple, ranking with the launch of the original iPhone in how important they were to the history of the company. It appears that Apple has built an entirely new building just for the announcement of their new products at the location of the Flint Center, and this is shaping up to be quite the September for Apple.

iOS8, two new iPhone models, a wearable device of unknown purpose and type, something that requires an entire building to show off….this Tuesday is gonna be really interesting. Join me at 12pm Central on Twitter @griffey for the annual live-tweeting of my thoughts. See you then for all the excitement!


One of the refrains I often get in the library community when I do posts like this that focus on gadgets, especially specific gadgets, and even more especially Apple’s specific gadgets is “But how does this relate to libraries?”. As if libraries didn’t, oh…help patrons navigate their gadgets every single day or have dozens of electronic resources that need to interoperate with these devices. Perhaps there are even a few librarians that use these devices to help patrons in the real world. I don’t really have a single answer as to why librarians should be interested in the most popular hardware that runs the second most popular operating system used to access the Internet. Perhaps not all librarians need to be completely aware of this stuff, but someone certainly does, hopefully someone in your library or library system.

The Reason for the iPad Mini

From: The Reason for the iPad Mini – Main –

The Reason for the iPad Mini - Main -

Really great analysis about why, come October, we’re likely to see a smaller-form factor iPad from Apple. The current betting pool looks like it will be a 7.8 inch screen, and given this chart, you can be sure it’s going to fill in that lower-end range for Apple.

My guess? They will probably have an 8GB version that starts at $199, and extends to the $350 or so range at a range of storage sizes. I’m curious what that means for the iPod Touch, long-term…but for now, I think they will likely just maintain the line. If anything, it might put a bit of downward pressure on the Touch price. I can see Apple dropping the lowest spec Touch down to $99, and the going up from there.

Apple is very, very good at taking the oxygen out of a market.

January Apple Event – Education/Textbook related?

Multiple industry sources are reporting that Apple plans to have an announcement event in New York sometime in January, most likely featuring something new in the Media space. Most interestingly for libraries, Clayton Morris is reporting that his sources tell him:

  • This event will focus on iTunes University and Apple in education
  • The event will be in New York rather than in the Silicon Valley because New York is more centrally located for textbook and publishing.
  • This initiative has been in the making for years.
  • The announcement will be small in size but large in scope: a big announcement in a demure space.
  • I expect at least two large project announcements as they relate to Apple in education.

Anything involving Apple, textbooks, publishing, and education is something that libraries should be paying attention to. This isn’t going to be a hardware announcement, but given that it seems to revolve around iBooks and iTunes U, I’m guessing it’s a publishing/distribution deal with textbook publishers…or maybe a new publishing platform specifically for textbooks? We’ll see as the month rolls along.

Photos, backup, iPhone 4S

Over at Librarians Matter, my friend Kathryn wrote a post about how to deal with removing photos from the Camera Roll on your iPhone when they become burdensome. In her case, it was 3000 or so photos from her recent jaunt around the world. Here’s an easier way to deal with photos on any iOS device, make sure you have plenty of space on your iPhone for more pics, and make sure that you have backups of all of your photos.

What you need: an iOS device with a camera running iOS 5 or higher, a Mac at home running the most recent versions of iPhoto or Aperture, and…well, that’s it, really. Oh, an iCloud account as well. But if you have an iOS 5 device, iCloud is a no-brainer.

Turn on Photostream on both your iPhone and inside iPhoto on your Mac (on iPhoto, it’s an option in the preferences). Anytime your iOS device is attached to a wifi signal, it will send any photo that is in your Camera Roll to your Photostream. From there, your Mac running iPhoto (just leave iPhoto running while you’re out) will grab the Photostreamed pics and save them to your computer. I assume that you are backing up your system in some automated way, including your iPhoto or Aperture libraries, so…as soon as the pic you take shows up in Photostream, it should be safely in the hands of your home computer and part of your regular backup process (I backup my Aperture library and other important files from my desktop automatically using Crashplan)

Your iPhone will show you your photostream, so you can actually check to make sure that the photos in question are uploaded (photos don’t show up in the “photostream” section of your Photos app until they are uploaded). Once they are in your Photostream, you can safely delete them from your Camera Roll.

If you are a techno-traveller and have a laptop with you on your travels, you can use it as a first-stop backup (sync your iPhone to it), and Photostream as a safety net. But in practice, Photostream seems to work amazingly well. During our trip to Disney World this past October, I took somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pictures with my iPhone, all of which were waiting on me when I got back home to sync to my home computer. With iCloud and Photostream, you technically never have to plug your iPhone into your computer at all to get photos off.

Things that can go wrong

If your computer at home isn’t online for any reason (powers down, loses connectivity, etc) or if iPhoto or Aperture closes for some reason, your photos won’t be saved locally. They will still be in the magical land of Photostream, however, which holds the last 1000 photos that you took. So you’ve got a thousand pic buffer before you’ll chance losing anything. If you are never in a wifi area, and instead rely on 3G for all your data needs, your pics will never be uploaded to Photostream in the first place.

So while it’s not 100% solution at all times, I’m betting it’s a 99.999% solution for most people. Give it a try…iCloud and Photostream are free from Apple for this purpose, so there’s no downside.

Because without impermanence

Emptiness is impermanence, it is change.
We should not complain about impermanence,
because without impermanence, nothing is possible.

I am not a spiritual person. I do not believe in a God, or a spirit, or an afterlife. But I can see the beauty and truth in the above Buddhist quote, and I feel its weight. It is incredible to me how emotional I have been tonight after learning about the death of Steve Jobs. It is fortunate for the 21st century that we had Steve as long as we did, but I will not complain about impermanence. It is what allows the future to happen.

Thanks for showing us your vision of the future, Steve. I look forward to seeing what is possible next.

Apple Thinks Different, Part 1

Apple Think DifferentIn 1997, Apple Computer launched an advertising campaign that asked people to “Think Different”, a slogan that some believe is a play on the classic IBM motto “Think”.  Apple has become infamous over the years for pushing change onto its users, even when the commonly held belief was otherwise. Apple was the first to manufacture a home computer with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) with the Lisa, the first to ship a home computer with only USB ports (the first iMac), the first to drop the floppy drive, the first to pioneer the multitouch mouse, and they appear to be pushing the demise of the physical external media completely with their new Macbook Airs and Mac Minis. With the launch of the iPhone and the iPad, it’s pretty clear now that they have revolutionized one industry and created another. Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, is maybe the only corporate head that could claim not one, not two, but four revolutionary products under his leadership (the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, and now the iPad) and in the meantime he helped reshape the music industry as we know it with iTunes and the art of making movies with Pixar.

I didn’t write the above to gloat about Apple’s success, or to cement the “fanboy” status that I’ve been labeled with at times. I wrote it to put some context and history behind this statement:

If handled properly, iCloud and the “file system” changes in Lion may be the biggest change in personal computing since the GUI.

icloudiCloud was one of the big announcements at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference on June 6, 2011. In most of the writing that’s been done on iCloud around the web and in print, it’s described as a “syncing” solution for data. I think this is the wrong way to think about iCloud. If it’s handled the way I believe it will be over the next few years, iCloud is going to solve a lot of user problems, and refine how we interact with data on computers. It will also introduce a ton of problems for IT administrators unless Apple has something up its sleeve that it hasn’t shown us yet.

So what is iCloud? iCloud is Apple’s answer to services like Dropbox,, and others who attempt to answer the the problem of dealing with data across multiple machines. Anyone who is involved in knowledge work (and I would argue this includes nearly all librarians) is probably dealing with more than one computer at some time during their working life, and thus must contend with the problem of either moving their personal data around with them or having everything in a central location online (The Cloud) and accessing it as needed. In their usual fashion, Apple looked at the problem, and are suggesting a solution that is at once elegant and remarkably different than any before it. Apple wants to destroy the file system.

The whole concept of iCloud seems to emerge from the lessons of iOS. Make things easier, more intuitive, less cumbersome…in other words, remove friction….and people will flock to your product. One of the criticisms of iOS devices is, I believe, actually its secret sauce; you don’t have to understand a file system. With the release of OS X Lion and the introduction of iOS 5, it’s clear that Apple wants alll information to be application driven. That is, any piece of data lives in the app that can deal with it. You can read a PDF on an iOS device, but you can only interact with it while using an application to do so. There’s no “saving” the file to a location in a file system (the “desktop” or “documents” folder) on an iOS device. There is just application, and data, and no other metaphor. This is what iCloud and Lion are bringing to the desktop, and where Apple has the potential to push us towards yet another new metaphor of computing.

Apple is making the iCloud infrastucture available to anyone developing applications for either OSX on their desktops or for iOS on their mobile devices. The way iCloud will work is that you will create a document/spreadsheet/image/presentation…any piece of data, really…using an iCloud-compatible app. That piece of data is automatically pushed to iCloud servers, and available anywhere you call it. With the new file management tools in OSX Lion, you never have to hit the save button, you never have to choose where to put the file, the data is just saved as soon as you start creating it. Close the program, open it on the same computer or on your iPad or iPhone and the same file, and the same data is just there.

At the WWDC announcement, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that “the truth is in the cloud.” The cloud is going to be the definitive place for your data, and the local access to it via your applications will be just a window into that truth. While the newest version of OSX doesn’t do away completely with the file and folder metaphor, it does its dead best to get you to stop thinking about folders and organization. By default, when you open a Finder window in Lion, the sidebar doesn’t even list your hard drives…and the topmost option in the choices for viewing your data is “All My Files”, a completely non-hierarchical view that organizes your files by type (Images, Music, Movies, etc). Once Lion gets fully integrated into, it will vastly decrease the importance of local storage.

I’ve posted in the past about how different a touch-based interface is than a mediated user interface. Changing the metaphor does more than just alter our perceptions of the use of a computer…it actually changes the uses themselves. New and different interactions are possible with touch that would never have been possible in a mediated interface (and, of course, the reverse is true…interactions are possible with mediated interfaces that aren’t with touch). This move from a desktop metaphor (folders and files) to a new one (data lives where it can be accessed) is going to provide new abilities to programs, new workflows to users, and new and different ways to think about our data.

I’ve a bit more to say about this as it relates to libraries and public systems, but for that I’m going to throw you over to ALA Techsource and my post there. Please excuse the blatant cross-promotion. :-)

Really excellent discussion happening over on Friendfeed around this post. Embedded below.

Predictions for WWDC 2011 and iCloud

This coming Monday, June 6th, Apple will give their annual keynote at the World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) 2011. This is traditionally the stage for announcements about software and operating systems…things that developers for the Apple platforms (iOS and OSX) are centrally concerned with.

This year, in an unprecedented move, Apple’s press release for the WWDC keynote includes details about what they will present, and it centers around three things: the next version of OSX (code-named Lion), iOS 5, and a brand new offering called iCloud. From the press release:

At the keynote, Apple will unveil its next generation software – Lion, the eighth major release of Mac OS® X; iOS 5, the next version of Apple’s advanced mobile operating system which powers the iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®; and iCloud®, Apple’s upcoming cloud services offering.

Practically nothing is known at this point about iCloud. There has been speculation that it could be everything from an enhanced media locker in the vein of Amazon Cloudplayer or Google Music Beta to something like enhanced syncing API’s for developers. Apple has been making deals of some type with the major record labels, which means that some form of music sync/streaming is likely, but details will make all the difference about whether it’s more compelling than the above services.

It’s no secret that Apple’s success with web-based services is almost the exact inverse of its success with hardware…nearly every web-based service that Apple has launched has sucked.  From iTools, to .mac, to MobileMe, in every case the promise has been much more impressive than the delivery. For each of the pieces that make up MobileMe, other online services provide the service better. Calendar syncing and eMail are both done better by Google, online storage and public web access is done better by Dropbox, and MobileMe gallery is outdone by YouTube and Flickr. Services that are uniquely Apple’s, like Find my iPhone, are well done, but even in this case it’s not universally good…for instance, Back to My Mac is only great when it works. Which is almost never.

I love nothing more than putting on my “make shit up” hat, so I thought I’d give prognostication a shot for what Apple is doing with iCloud. How can Apple move in the right direction with its online services? Here’s what I hope to see from iCloud:

First off, I expect that iCloud will be a suite of services in the same way that they have chosen to brand their iWork and iLife suites. iCloud will be analogous to these local services…the branding for all of Apple’s online offerings. I’m hoping that the reason that Apple is choosing to announce iCloud at the same time as Lion and iOS 5 is that they are all tied together. Or, rather, that iCloud becomes the glue that ties iOS and Lion together, merging a number of local services from iOS and OSX and allowing for seamless data transmission and interaction. Think Dropbox, but deeply integrated into the filesystem, allowing for documents to be edited on any platform, music to be played anywhere, whether mobile or desktop.

If they do this, and then further allow access to the service via API so that app developers can tap directly into your iCloud for file storage, Apple will seriously have changed the game. Not only would it solve syncing issues, but it could also theoretically be a solution for backup…all of your documents and settings for your desktop and mobile devices could be backed up as they are synced. Even better for things like games, iCloud could enable syncing of game states, so that you could play Angry Birds on your iPod Touch, then pick it up on an iPad and have the game pick up just where you left off.

One last prediction…if this is the route that Apple goes (and I hope that it is), one thing that I would love to see in iOS 5 is the addition of account management/multiple accounts on iOS devices. Syncing only works if it’s tied to an identity, and it’s very hard to manage identities on shared mobile devices without some form of account management. There’s no technical reason that iOS can’t support multiple accounts on a single device, and it would actually simplify some parts of the syncing issues for Apple.

We’ll find out everything on Monday…I’m looking forward to seeing if I’m right about any of it.

Amazon Cloud Drive & Cloud Player

On March 29th, Amazon launched two major new services, both of which seem to speak directly to my post guessing at an Amazon Tablet…as well as being shots across the bow of both Apple and the music industry. The two services are connected, but distinct in capabilities and effects, so let’s look at them separately:

Amazon Cloud Drive

The first is Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon’s answer to other consumer-facing cloud storage similar to Dropbox or Windows SkyDrive. Amazon is giving everyone 5GB of space for free, with the ability to purchase additional storage for $1 per Gigabyte in chunks: 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 GB levels are all available. While 5GB free is more than Dropbox’s 2GB, and way less than SkyDrive’s 25Gb, for raw storage in the cloud I still think Dropbox has everything else beat in usability. For Cloud Drive, you have to do all file interactions (uploading/downloading) within your browser, which isn’t as convenient on traditional computers as a locally-mounted drive. There’s no reason that Amazon couldn’t move this direction, however, and release a program that would allow more direct access.

The real killer here isn’t Cloud Drive by itself…it’s the associated Cloud Player and the model that Amazon is using for the connection between the two. Cloud Player is a web-based media player that has access to the files uploaded to your Cloud Drive. That is, if you use your Cloud Drive to hold MP3 or AAC encoded music files, those will be automatically available to Cloud Player, and can be streamed to nearly any browser. Cloud Player has the basic controls that you would expect from a music player, allowing you to view your collections by album, artist, or genre. It also allows you to build or import playlists, shuffle, and repeat songs in the same way that pretty much every music player does.

This means that with Cloud Storage + Cloud Player, I can take my own music, upload it to Amazon, and then listen to it anywhere I have a browser…or on the updated Amazon MP3 for Android app on any Android based phone or tablet. In a brilliant marketing move, Amazon is also letting you automatically cross-load any MP3 that you buy from the Amazon MP3 Store directly to your Cloud Drive…and anything that you buy from them doesn’t count against your storage limits. They are also offering a free upgrade to their 20GB storage level if you just buy any MP3 album from Amazon through the end of 2011. So you can purchase any amount of music from Amazon, and it will all be available for streaming to any computer or directly to your phone if you have an Android handset. For free.

Let’s not forget, this sort of service is exactly what got in hot water with the music labels a decade ago (with, admittedly, technical differences). Indeed, Sony has commented to Ars Technica that while they were hopeful they could work with Amazon on a licensing deal that they were “keeping their legal options open.” So it’s almost certain that Amazon will see some form of lawsuit about the service…but my money is on Amazon for this one. They have the pockets that didn’t, and have a great case for moving the industry forward if they can pull of a court victory.

This is a huge move by Amazon, and will put the pressure on Apple to respond. There have been rumors about a similar digital-locker server from Apple for years now, and their North Carolina Data Center has been rumored to be a part of Apple gearing up for a cloud-based service since it was announced. Google is also rumored to be getting into this market, with their Google Music service that is reported to be in internal testing now. It’s going to be an interesting year for these services, but Amazon has a compelling vision for Cloud Drive + Cloud Player. I’m excited by it, and really want to get my hands on an Android device so that I can play with the mobile access.

iPad HDMI adapter


Had a chance today to test the iPad HDMI out adapter (otherwise known as the Apple Digital AV Adapter) on my iPad 1, with some interesting results. While the iPad 1 won’t do full iPad mirroring like the iPad 2 does, the HDMI out still has some interesting tricks.

It does work with any app that supports video out, including Netflix, AirVideo, and YouTube. It also supports audio over HDMI, which means no need for any extra audio connections. Even better, it does so for audio-only apps, so if you just want to play audio over your home stereo system you can still use the HDMI out to do so. For those of us who travel frequently, hotel rooms often now have hookups for connecting mobile devices to the TV in the room, and this makes an iPad with the HDMI connector a great option for entertainment on the go.