Opinion

Opinion: Don't Switch the iPad's Switch

We can all agree that cell phones should have devoted mute buttons. We frequently encounter situations—meetings, movie theaters, putting the kids to bed—where our phones’ beeps and boops must be silenced, and quickly. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the iPhone to have its Ring/silent toggle switch.

Early testers of iOS 4.2 for the iPad, however, have discovered that the hardware switch on the iPad now mirrors the functionality of the switch on the iPhone: it mutes the iPad, instead of locking its orientation. To lock your iPad’s orientation when running iOS 4.2, you’ll need to use the same combination of maneuvers you use on iPhones running iOS 4 and up: double-tap the Home button, swipe the multitasking bar to the right, and then tap the software orientation lock button.

It would seem that Apple is standardizing the behavior of hardware switches across iOS devices. That’s at least an understandable approach. But, to me, changing the functionality of the iPad’s hardware switch makes little sense, for a variety of reasons.

So when does Apple do away with Hard Drives?

My TIME.com Technologizer column this week is about the new direction that Apple is taking Macs--which is about bringing some of the simplicity of the iPhone and iPad to the 27-year-old Mac platform. The first chapter in that story is last week's introduction of all-new 11.6" and 13.3" MacBook Air models--and the most striking thing about the new Airs is that all versions use solid-state flash storage instead of a hard drive, even though the starting price is now a much-lower $999.

It's no shocker that flash appeals to Apple--it's the simpler, more elegant solution, and it helps Apple make simpler, more elegant computers. The cost is not as crippling an issue as it once was--especially since Apple doesn't want to build a $500 Mac anyhow--and the company was already comfortable with the fact that Windows PCs usually sport way more storage at any particular price point.

For all these reasons, it's surely only a matter of time until all Macs dump hard drives for flash storage.

Apple's New Goal: The Computer as Appliance

Apple is fond of saying that its Macs "just work." That's a relative term, of course. Macs do indeed deliver the smoothest integration of software, hardware and services in the computer business, with a record for reliability that most big makers of Windows PCs can't touch. But these days, it's Apple's iPhone and iPad that set the standard for seamless simplicity. Compared with them, Macs are mere personal computers, complicated by features that aren't absolutely necessary, parts that are prone to failure and interfaces that aren't instantly comprehensible to clueless newbies.

That's one way of looking at things. And judging from last week's press conference at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., it's the direction that the company's own thinking is going. M.C. Steve Jobs explained that the event's title, "Back to the Mac," referred to borrowing good ideas from the iPhone and iPad and taking them to Macs. Then he and other execs outlined a slate of new hardware, software and services that seem intended to make the nearly 27-year-old Mac platform feel less like yesterday's fussy personal computer and more like tomorrow's worry-free digital appliance.

The first hints of this makeover arrive in the latest MacBook Air notebooks.

Is the iPhone a Good Point and Shoot Camera?

In the previous (and first) column in this series, I laid out who I was and what I thought this column would be about. In my mind, I had a plan for what I would write about, step by step, column by column.

And then The Loop’s Publisher ruined all of that.

(When I say “The Loop’s Publisher”, everyone knows I mean Jim Dalrymple. But they are two different entities to me. The Loop’s Publisher signs the checks so I listen to him. Jim, not so much.)

But The Loop’s Publisher asked a great question. “Is the iPhone a Good Point and Shoot Camera?”

I said it was a great question, but not an easy one to answer.

Office 2011 Pricing penalizes Owners of Multiple Macs

Microsoft has announced pricing for Office 2011, offering an apparent $30 reduction in the Home and Student version, when compared to Office 2008’s Home and Student Edition ($119 versus $149). But if you look behind the raw cost, you’ll see it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.

The Home and Student version of Office 2008 included three CD keys, each of which allowed installation on up to two Macs—that’s a total of six Macs on which you could install Office. However, you could only use one copy of Office at a time; a network serial number check wouldn’t let two copies with the same serial run at the same time on the same network. With Office 2011, Microsoft has switched to an install-based licensing plan.

So to fully license my five-Mac household—even though I’m the only user of Office—I’m looking at either $298 for two copies of the three-install Home and Student versions, or (gasp!) $757 for the Home and Office version (a single-install version at $199, and two two-install versions at $279 each). It feels like Microsoft is penalizing those who own multiple Macs simple because they own multiple Macs.

First look: iMovie '11

It’s strange to think of iMovie—the first app in the series that later became iLife—as an underdog, but Apple’s video editing application has found itself trying to overcome the initial poor impressions of iMovie ’08 by longtime iMovie users. iMovie ’11, introduced at Apple’s Back to the Mac media event, adds long-awaited features like improved audio editing and 1080p HD output, and takes advantage of the program’s editing strengths to introduce One-Step effects such as instant replays.

iMovie ’11 also includes surprises, large and small. The main draw is the ability to quickly cut together movie trailers, but just as exciting are features for identifying when people appear in clips, correcting for rolling shutter side effects, and the return of a traditional timeline using the new Single Row view.

What the Pundits are Missing about New MacBook Air

In the hours since Apple introduced its revamped MacBook Air, I’ve already heard quite a few pundits smirk about how the Air is Apple’s “answer to the Netbooks,” and calling “gotcha” about how the company has backtracked on its criticisms of netbooks and hypocritically turned around to make one after all. Here’s my reasoned, well-articulated response: Huh?

The MacBook Air is indeed Apple’s answer to the netbook. (One of them, anyway — more on that later.) But the answer they’ve given is “you’re doing it wrong.” Those who think Apple simply released their version of the product they’ve been deriding just aren’t paying attention.

Let’s take a look back at what Apple actually said was wrong with netbooks.

Yep, Apple Killed The CD Today

Stop. Take a deep breath. Before my headline gets you all worked up, consider what I’m saying here. The CD and other optical discs, like DVDs and Blu-rays, are obviously going to live on for a while as a way to transport media. But make no mistake that today, with two unveilings, Apple has effectively sealed the fate of the optical disc in the computer industry. Soon, it will go the way of the floppy disk.

Last week, I wrote a post laying out what I hoped Apple would bring with a revamped MacBook Air. I came to the realization that I had never once used the optical drive in my current MacBook Pro, and it was simply taking up a lot of space and was making my computer unnecessarily bulky. I wanted to replace it with a MacBook Air. And now I can. And I’m not going to be the only one that does.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: but the MacBook Air has been around for a couple of years and it hasn’t killed off the optical disc yet. That’s true, but a couple key ingredients were missing the last time around.

Mac App Store: boon or bust for Developers?

During Wednesday's Mac OS X 10.7 preview, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that the company is bringing an iOS-like App Store to the Mac platform. The store will launch within 90 days, well before 10.7 (code-named Lion) is expected to ship in the summer of 2011. Given the issues developers have had in the past with the iOS App Store, we asked a number of independent developers their opinions about the announcement.

Most of the developers we talked to feel that a Mac App Store will open up a much larger market for Mac OS X applications. "I'm excited about the Mac App store, because it should be an awesome way for us little dudes to reach new customers who aren't necessarily in the 'Mac community,'" Delicious Monster's Wil Shipley told Ars. "We can choose to play by Apple's rules and get publicity from them and not have to all write our own stores—which, believe me, is a huge pain."

All the developers we spoke with agree that Apple made the right move by making the Mac App Store just one of several ways to install applications. Unlike iOS, Apple is still allowing users to install applications from any source they choose.

Still, many are concerned about the future direction of software distribution if the App Store becomes so popular that users begin ignoring other sources. If that happens, said Red Sweater's Daniel Jalkut, "it will set the stage for a situation where customers gradually come to expect all 'software of quality' to be represented there."

Apple's Guidelines Revealed: Apps You can't Sell in the Mac App Store

Yesterday, at Apple's "Back to the Mac" press event, the company announced an App Store for the Mac, similar to the stores it already runs for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad within iTunes. There's no doubt a computer-based "app store" is an interesting concept, and it will likely attract developers because of the exposure it provides, not to mention the hassles it eliminates - like dealing with credit card processing, or paying for hosting and bandwidth bills.

As with the iTunes App Store, developers receive the standard 70/30 (developer/Apple) revenue split on app sales. Also like the iTunes App Store, Apple has created a long list of apps it plans to reject.

Here are some standout, and perhaps questionable, examples of what Apple will reject from its Mac App Store.

Will Apple’s Culture hurt the iPhone?

If you want a smartphone powered by Google’s Android software, you could get Motorola’s Droid 2 or its cousin, the Droid X. Then there is the Droid Incredible from HTC, the Fascinate from Samsung and the Ally from LG. But if your preference is an Apple-powered phone, you can buy — an iPhone.

That very short list explains in part why, for all its success in the phone business, Apple suddenly has a real fight on its hands.

Americans now are buying more Android phones than iPhones. If that trend continues, analysts say that in little more than a year, Android will have erased the iPhone’s once enormous lead in the high end of the smartphone market.

But this is not the first time Apple has found itself in this kind of fight, where its flagship product is under siege from a loose alliance of rivals selling dozens of competing gadgets.

Photography for Beginners: An Introduction

We hope the column will be a seed and grow into a place where beginners can get non-technical advice and assistance from each other on cameras, features, what to look for, how to take better pictures, what services are available and a whole gamut of other ideas, tips, concepts and information.

To be clear, this will be a beginner digital photography column. While I won’t dumb it down, I won’t be covering much in the way of technical photography or software. There are plenty of other places for that.

By way of introduction to me, my name is Shawn King and I have been an Mac focused Internet broadcaster for over 14 years. I am not a professional photographer. However, I am a (moderately) talented amateur photographer who not only loves taking photographs, but also loves helping others take better pictures.

I have taught Beginner Digital Photography Seminars at Macworld Expo (among other places) and have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the very complicated nature of taking pictures in order to then explain it to an audience who isn’t particularly interested in the technical aspects — they just want to take good photographs. These columns will not only include my opinion and advice but will also talk about web sites, software, iPhone photography apps, books and whatever else comes to mind but with a big dose of questions and comments from the readership of The Loop.

These columns will not be “The Truth from on High.” I don’t have all the answers, but, with the help of other photographers, and would-be photographers, we can get there together.

The iBookstore six Months after Launch: One Big Failure

It's been over six months since the release of the iPad on April 3rd, and the simultaneous launch of iBooks and the iBookstore, which promised to give Amazon's Kindle and Kindle Store a run for its money. I figured that this would be a good time to see just how the iBookstore has progressed.

The answer, in a word: poorly ... very poorly.

Online Mapping Service Compared

Ask anyone what Websites they can't live without: After mentioning their e-mail service and Google, they'll invariably point to an online mapping service as a key to modern life.

But which of the big mapping services is best? We took a hard look at three of the most popular online mapping sites—Google Maps, MapQuest, and the up-and-coming Microsoft Bing Maps—to see which one got us from point A to point B (and points C and D, if necessary) the most smoothly. Here are our findings in six test categories.

In iPhone's Jump to other Carriers, Something's got to Give

On Monday morning, Microsoft officially announced Windows Phone 7, a long-overdue reboot of the company’s smartphone OS that offers some compelling features to Office junkies, Xbox gamers, and anything-but-iPhone customers.

With Microsoft launching a full broadside—ten phones by a variety of manufacturers on dozens of carriers—it’s another example of Apple seeing stepped-up competition in the mobile arena. And Cupertino may be in a far less advantageous position than it was just a couple years ago, especially when it comes to dealing with the carriers, who now have no shortage of other smartphone platforms to turn to.

With Android’s incredible growth rate, Microsoft’s shot at getting back in the game, and RIM building new software for phones and a new tablet, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple conceded in order to break free from AT&T. As Jobs has stated in the past, working in the phone industry can be a challenge and require compromise. Maybe it’s time for Apple to do exactly that.

Apple TV vs. Google TV: What's the Difference?

Google TV arrives this month in the form of Logitech's Revue and the Sony Internet TV and set-top box. The fact that it comes on the heels of a major overhaul of Apple TV may not be a total coincidence. If you get the sense that Google's consumer strategy is to follow Apple around, listening to Apple customer complaints and then tweaking their own products to avoid them, well, you may not be far from the truth. With Android, Google has exploited the "second-mover advantage" on the smart phone stage, and it appears to be ready for a repeat performance in the home theater with Google TV.

Both Apple TV and Google TV are platforms for serving up movies, TV shows, music and photos from the great beyond — and in some cases, a nearby computer or mobile device. As the name suggests, the primary purpose of both is video on demand, though they go about this in very different ways. This isn't so much a product review as it is a run-down of those differences, as well as the notable similarities.

What Steve Jobs learned in the Wilderness

The saga of Steven P. Jobs is so well known that it has entered the nation’s mythology: he’s the prodigal who returned to Apple in 1997, righted a listing ship and built it into one of the most valuable companies in the world.

But the Jobs of the mid-1980s probably never could have made Apple what it is today if he hadn’t embarked on a torment-filled business odyssey.

Suppose Mr. Jobs had not left in 1985. Suppose he had convinced the Apple board to oust his nemesis, John Sculley, then chief executive and president. Under Mr. Jobs’s uninterrupted direction, would Apple have arrived at the pinnacle it has reached today, but 12 years earlier?

Microsoft's Office Web Apps: So far, Pretty So So

When Microsoft launched its Office Web Apps back in June, the most logical reaction was a simple, “What took you so long?” Competitors such as Google Docs and Zoho proved long ago that it’s possible to host free Office-like programs on the Internet and deliver them to any Web browser—for free. They’ve improved over the years, gaining more and more fans along the way.

Microsoft may have finally joined the Web-office game, but in many ways it’s still playing catch-up. The Office Web Apps are radically less powerful than their counterparts for OS X and Windows; given how mature Office’s traditional-software versions are, that’s no shocker. But the Office Web Apps are also much skimpier than Google Docs and Zoho, both of which come closer to replicating most of Office’s mainstay features.

The Office Web Apps might be worth checking out if you find yourself temporarily using a computer without Office 2011 and need to take a peek at a document or do some very light editing. But if your needs are more than rudimentary and you thought the Office Web Apps would let you use Office without plunking down money for Office 2011, forget it.

TV Studios aren’t buying Apple’s 99 Cent Rentals

Better run a diagnostic on the reality distortion field….

“We think the rest of the studios will see the light and get on board pretty fast,” Steve Jobs said earlier this month of the TV studios wary of its new 99-cent iTunes TV rentals initiative. And while it’s never wise to bet against the Apple CEO, it’s beginning to look like “pretty fast” was an optimistic choice of words.

Because in a flurry of public comments recently, a growing number of TV execs have decried the 99-cent rental model, which they say undervalues their content.

Is iTunes Bloated?

There's a collocation that's becoming increasingly common: the proximity of the words "iTunes" and "bloated." Google those words and you'll get about 220,000 results.

As an author specialized in explaining iTunes, I hear this often, yet many of the complaints I hear don't go further than hurling that invective at the program. Few people actually explain why they feel the program is bloated, and those who do have reasons that I tend to disagree with. So I thought I'd take a look at this question, and the common answers.

The Origins of Angry Birds

Mikael Hed, CEO of Finnish game studio Rovio, discusses how their immensely successful iPhone hit, Angry Birds, began with just a simple screenshot of an unhappy bird character.

When a little iPhone game called Angry Birds released late last year, nobody predicted what a massive success it would become. Nearly eight months later, Rovio Mobile's 2D physics puzzler's surpassed the 5 million sales mark, while showing no signs of slowing down. CEO of Rovio, Mikael Hed, discusses the origins of his company and the inspiration for their flagship title, Angry Birds.

What's New (and Gorgeous) in the iOS 4.2 Beta

If you're as excited as I am about the iOS 4.2 beta being released, you probably spent the majority of Wednesday paging through all of the tech blogs and/or neglecting your responsibilities as an adult. For those of you who aren't able to experience Apple's latest firmware until November, I've rounded up all the tastiest morsels and topped them with a delicious set of screenshots.

iOS 4.2 beta has some great new features for all three of the main touch devices, meaning that you can expect the following on your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad come November.

Data Robotics wants to be the Apple of the SOHO Storage World

When Data Robotics launched its first Drobo storage device three years ago, the company made a splash in the normally staid and stodgy storage market.

Data Robotics’ product was aimed at the small office or home office [SOHO] user with a pitch that its networked storage was idiot-proof and yet sophisticated in its automation.

The message apparently resonated with one particular group of users: Apple Macintosh owners, according to the Data Robotics CEO Tom Buiocchi. “The Apple customer seems to have a strong affinity to us,” he said. “You wouldn’t imagine that. They’re only 4 percent or 5 percent of the PC market, but they’re 65 percent% of our attach rate on our [professional/consumer] products. The Apple customer gets the Drobo. It’s like a cult.”

Finding the Best Way to read Books on an iPad

Unlike dedicated e-reader devices like Amazon’s Kindle, the iPad offers a wide selection of e-reading apps, and I have used several of them heavily to devour scores of books. In particular, I have spent the past few weeks testing the best known of these iPad e-reader apps, comparing their strengths and weaknesses.

My verdict is that none of the three apps I focused on—which mimic and often interact with dedicated e-readers like the Kindle device—towers over the others. Each has its good and bad points, and I personally switch among them.

Apple's New Review Guidelines: Thoughts on Fart Apps

Apple CEO Steve Jobs doesn’t blog much, but when he does, his words command attention. Last week, Apple published new App Store review guidelines. The seven-page document is unsigned, but some astute Apple observers argue that it’s one long Jobs blog post. Yes, the same Steve Jobs who famously wrote Thoughts on Music and Thoughts on Flash is now giving us Thoughts on Fart Apps.

There’s no question that Steve Jobs approved every word of Apple’s new App Store review guidelines. Do those guidelines inadvertently confirm some of the worst suspicions developers have about the company’s review process?

HDR with iPhone 4 and iOS 4.1: how Good is It?

Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed during the recent Apple media event that iOS 4.1 would add a new feature to the iPhone 4: high dynamic range photography. The technique has been widely used to create often dramatic images of landscapes, scenery, and still lifes using digital cameras. In fact, several apps already exist for doing HDR photography with an iPhone.

But what's so great about HDR photography? And is Apple's new HDR feature any good? Ars dug in to find out.

The Man Who makes Your iPhone

Foxconn founder Terry Gou might be regarded as Henry Ford reincarnated if only a dozen of his workers hadn't killed themselves this year. An exclusive look inside a postmodern industrial empire.

Apple's New iPods: What the Critics are Saying

The reviews are in for Apple's new iPod devices including an overhauled iPod Touch, Nano and Shuffle. The iPod Touch appears to gaining the most applause for its addition of FaceTime, a new microphone and better hardware. The new squat and squarish Nano, meanwhile, is getting mixed reviews. The Nano's slick new interface is getting kudos, but feature subtractions, such as video playback, change the all-purpose focus of the device. As for the Shuffle, well, it's the new version of the old version of the Shuffle. What more can you say?

A tale of Two TVs

This week at what's become Apple's fall music event the company unveiled a revised Apple TV. The small $99 device delivers a new rental model and support for Netflix, but there are no apps, contrary to much of the speculation leading up the event. That's in stark contrast to the Google TV project announced at I/O last spring. Unlike Apple, Google is looking to provide DVR functionality, search, and an app marketplace. Some say Apple isn't being bold enough, but I think Apple might be right.

Google wants input one on your TV. Apple wants input two. The difference? Input one is where your cable box goes. Input two was where your VCR or DVD player used to live. It's a port that's up for grabs.

The Problem with Ping

The biggest problem I have with Ping is that it lives in iTunes. Not only does it live in iTunes, it is isolated there. iTunes is not social. It is not even on the Web. And Ping doesn’t communicate with any other social networks. I can’t see people’s iTunes Pings in Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else. While Ping does make iTunes itself more social, the problem is that I don’t live in iTunes. It is a store. I go in to buy stuff and get out as fast as I can. I am not sure Ping is going to make me want to hang out there more.

Ping is all about driving more sales in iTunes. It is completely separate from your existing iTunes library of songs. You can’t like a song while you are listening to your existing collection. If you’ve bought a song or album, Ping assumes you like it (bad assumption), but none of your actual listening activity appears in your stream.

While I am sure Ping will help drive more sales, and is probably something I will check out whenever I am in iTunes to do something else, it is not as compelling as it could be.