Apple event expected on 21st March

On 21st March Apple is expected to host an event to unveil a new iPhone ‘5SE’ in a long-awaited update for its elderly 5C budget phone. The new phone is expected to feature similar hardware to the iPhone 6S in a 4″ body, including an A9 processor, a motion coprocessor and support for Live Photos. Indeed the only feature that may be missing is 3D Touch, which arguably has failed to catch users’ imagination anyway. It could be quite a tempting offer.

At the event Apple is also expected to include some updates to its iPad line. The current 12.9″ iPad Pro could be offered in a new 9.7″ version, similar to the way Apple offers both the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro.

It’s possible that Apple might update the Watch in some way, although it’s unlikely to amount to anything more than new watch straps.

For many the highlight will be the timing announcement of iOS 9.3 which is almost certainly going to be released shortly after the event.

Apple event announcement round-up: iPad mini, new iPad and more

Apple have announced a smaller version of their tablet PC offering, which is to be known as the ‘iPad mini’.

The new device features specifications similar to the iPad 2, but in a smaller casing, which Jonathan Ive refers to in the product video as more ‘concentrated’. This is mostly because Apple have chosen to reduce the width of the bezel in order to make it easy to hold in one hand, rather than just scaling it down from the larger size. The screen is a non-Retina display, running at the same 1024 x 768 resolution, but it has a slightly increased pixel-per-inch count due to it being squeezed into a 7.9″ frame. Apple is keen to market one of the benefits of this design choice, namely that any applications in the App Store will work straight away, without needing to be rewritten to accommodate the smaller screen.

Aside from the size of the device, there are few other notable features. The iPad mini uses the A5 processor found in the iPad 2, and just like the iPhone 5, uses the new Lightning connector. Compared with the iPad 2, the iPad mini gains a FaceTime HD camera and allows full 1080p video recording, and supports 4G networks in the UK, according to Apple’s useful LTE guide.

Today’s surprise, however, was the announcement of a new iPad, just a few short months after the introduction of the last generation back in March. While there had been rumours of a Lightning connector update to bring it into synchronisation with the rest of the Apple range, few had expected that a new A6X processor would also make its debut today.

The new device has been updated to bring 4G support in the UK, and an upgraded FaceTime HD camera too, to further bring it in line with the iPhone 5 and iPad mini.

Apple also announced a all-new iMac today, which seems incredibly thin when compared with previous models:

A lot of this reduction has been achieved by removing the optical drive, which I believe is a sensible option. Apple have refused to accept the growing demand for Blu ray players, as they’d rather customers use iTunes to download content from them. As most software comes via the internet, including larger packages such as Adobe Photoshop CS6, the optical drive can go for months without being used on a single occasion – just as floppy drives once were.

The new screen is claimed to have 75% less reflection, which is achieved via a process called ‘full lamination’ to eliminate a 2-mm gap between the LCD and the glass. This new manufacturing process was introduced on the iPhone 5 first – an interesting example of where mobile design is now inspiring the desktop.

Apple also announced a new 13 inch MacBook with Retina display today, running at 2560 x 1600 at 227 pixels per inch, to complement the 15 inch version introduced earlier this year. It’s still possible to buy non-Retina MacBooks too.

Lastly, after a massive 461 day wait, Apple have finally introduced a new Mac Mini, bringing the base-model price down to just under £500. Just like the iMac, it has all new processors and new storage options including what’s being marketed as a Fusion Drive – which combines a 1TB hard drive with 128GB of flash storage.

Considering the marketing slogan on last week’s media invite, ‘we’ve got a little more to show you’ – it turned out Apple actually had quite a lot to reveal. I’ve no doubt the iPad mini will be a commercial success in the run up to Christmas, although many third generation iPad owners will be disgruntled to have learnt today that their devices have prematurely ceased to be at the ‘cutting edge’.

Apple announces iPhone 5

At today’s media event in San Francisco Apple have announced a new iPhone as expected, which is to be known as the iPhone 5.

From the outside a number of changes are immediately obvious. The new phone has a new taller 4″ display running at 1136×640 – the first time the screen size has been changed since the introduction of the original iPhone back in 2007. This will cause problems for existing apps, of course, as they’re not designed for the new aspect ratio. For now, apps will run in the centre of the screen with a black border until they’re updated. This is very similar to the introduction of the Retina class display on the iPhone 4 two years ago, where apps had to be modified back then to take advantage of the extra pixels. The multi touch sensor and the display itself are now the same, which should hopefully provide better image quality as there are fewer layers for light to refract.

On the bottom of the phone is a new connector, which has been named ‘Lightning’ – presumably a pun involving the Thunderbolt connector and Queen’s famous song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. This port will allow cables to be plugged into it either way up, which will bring an end to having a 50/50 chance of getting it right when the light level’s low. To help combat obsolescence, Apple will be selling an adaptor which fits onto the end of existing cables. The headphone port has been moved to the bottom for the first time, and the speaker grilles have been redesigned too.

The iPhone 5 uses a nano-SIM which is even smaller than the micro-SIM in the iPhone 4 and 4S which will cause problems for upgraders at launch, just as we had two years ago when we transitioned from the SIM cards used in the 3GS. It’s surprising, in fact, that Apple haven’t yet worked out a way of implementing the data held on a SIM in software – perhaps that’s something to work on for the next generation! With all the small size and weight shavings combined Apple claims the iPhone 5 is 20% lighter and 18% thinner than the iPhone 4S, which is still surprising given that the display is larger.

On the inside, the phone has a new A6 processor, which is claimed to deliver performance up to twice as fast as the iPhone 4S. Battery life remains similar to the previous generation – thankfully it’s something which was actually remarked upon as a positive, rather than being swept aside.

The iPhone camera has been upgraded yet again – something I expected to see remain the same, since it was one of the unique selling points of the iPhone 4S. It’s apparently better in low light and faster at capturing images, and it’s now possible to take photos while recording a video – something which would have come in handy while watching the Olympic torch relay, for example. There’s a new panorama feature which replaces some third party apps offering similar features.

During the keynote it was announced that the iPhone 5 will work with EE’s new 4G network. It’ll be very interesting to see the pricing from the new carrier in the coming weeks.

The new phone will be available to pre-order from the 14th, and available to buy in stores from the 21st. Surprisingly, there is no new 128GB version as I expected, which means users will have to choose between 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB models as before.

For users of the 3GS onwards, the upgrade to iOS 6 will be launched on the 19th.

Although some people may say that the iPhone 5 is similar to the previous generation, the sum of the changes is more than just a minor refresh, as it has a brand new screen, faster performance, and an all new design. Judging by the demand we saw last year for the iPhone 4S, which was indeed just an incremental upgrade, it looks likely that the iPhone 5 will be a commercial success.

Apple WWDC keynote announcements

Today’s keynote presentation at the WWDC in San Francisco has brought a huge number of announcements, addressing both Apple’s hardware and software range.

As expected, iOS 6 was launched at the event, with several new innovations.

Apple has a whole new Maps app, with a new 3D flyover feature for large cities – providing far greater detail than a satellite image. The new Maps app also supports ‘turn by turn’ navigation, as seen on traditional satellite navigation devices. Whether Google Maps will be downloadable from the App Store will be very interesting to see.

FaceTime will now be permitted over mobile networks – video calling is something that 3G networks were originally marketed for, before the explosion of the mobile web.

Siri has been greatly expanded in iOS 6, and is now being introduced to the new iPad for the first time. It’s now possible to tweet and post Facebook updates and launch applications directly with the tool.

Shared Photo Streams allow users to share photos easily from the Photos app. If the other user is using iCloud, they are delivered automatically.

A new Passbook app allows barcodes and coupons to be stored safely in one place, rather than having to locate them amongst several hundred emails at the ticket barrier, or having to print them out unnecessarily. This could be really useful for theme parks such as Thorpe Park, which uses a bar code system to grant access to the attraction. The app uses geolocation to determine when the user is close, and can pop up a notification on the home screen.

The Phone app, which has been almost untouched since the first release of the iPhone, is now being updated in iOS 6. There’s a new ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature, allowing users to schedule a ‘Quiet Hours’ period where all notifications are suppressed. Anyone who has been woken by a call or text in the middle of the night (almost everyone) will welcome this feature. It’s possible to define a ‘Favourites’ list who are allowed to call during this period.

Support for the original iPad has been dropped with this release, although the older 3GS will be offered the upgrade. This is because Apple is still selling the 3GS in its stores, while the first iPad has been discontinued. iOS 6 will be released this autumn, almost certainly around the time of a new iPhone.

On the hardware side, the MacBook Air is being updated with faster Intel processors and a new 512GB solid state drive option. It’ll now come with USB3 ports, in addition to Thunderbolt.

There’s an all-new MacBook Pro with a 15″ 2880×1800 Retina class display, while the current generation has been granted faster processors and graphics. Interestingly, there’s no optical drive in the new version. It appears Apple isn’t interested in supporting Blu ray on the Mac, though that’s understandable (if not excusable) as they’d rather customers purchase HD content through iTunes instead.

Mac OS X Mountain Lion will be made available next month in the App Store for just £13.99, and free for any customers who purchase a new Mac from today. Siri’s voice recognition feature will be included, though it won’t be able to process any requests such as creating calendar events. The other features, such as Notification Center have already previously been announced.

It’s interesting to take a step back and examine just how wide Apple’s portfolio is now. We’re in for a great year of new releases – now we’re just waiting on solid news of the new iPhone.

Apple media event: new iPad, iOS 5.1 and updated Apple TV

Just as expected, Apple have today released a new version of their tablet PC offering, simply marketed as the ‘new iPad’.

The device has a new 2048 x 1536 pixel display, doubling the resolution of the iPad 2’s 1024 x 768 pixel screen in both directions. This simple scaling means that applications won’t need any layout adjustments, although they will of course need to be updated with higher resolution imagery.

In order to run all those pixels, the new iPad features a new quad-core A5X processor. Image capture will also be improved with the new 5MP camera with auto-exposure and auto-focus, which can record in 1080p.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the iPad will now support 4G LTE mobile networks. Many commentators had suggested, quite sensibly, that as LTE coverage is extremely limited (indeed, there are no commercial providers currently in the UK), that Apple would wait for another day before adding this feature. However, when taken in the context that the company is aggressively marketing a “post-PC” world, creating the demand for these networks which will allow us to much more easily move away from fixed Internet links makes sense. Perhaps most excitingly, technology introduced on the iPad often makes a progression to the iPhone later in the same year, and it’d be nice to think it sets a precedent for a LTE iPhone in 2012.

The new iPad is slightly thicker and slightly heavier than the previous model, although the battery life remains the same. Pricing will also remain the same, starting at £399 for the 16GB, WiFi version up to £649 for the 64GB, 4G and WiFi version.

Apple have announced the availbility of iOS 5.1 for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, which should be downloadable from today. I’ll be covering the new features in this release in a separate post.

Finally, Apple also announced an updated Apple TV which now supports 1080p output with a new interface. It’ll be available from the 16th March for £99.

Today’s media event brings an updated iPad with tangible new features, and as a result it’s likely that the new device will be a commercial success.

Mac OS X Mountain Lion

Apple have today launched a ‘sneak peek’ of OS X 10.8, named Mountain Lion, which promises to deliver new iOS functionality to the company’s traditional desktop and laptop systems.

Interestingly, Apple didn’t host a big event to announce this upgrade. It simply gave a few developers advance access to the developer preview, and added only a small link to a microsite in the corner of the company’s homepage. The announcement comes only seven months after the release of OS X Lion, which has been given mixed reviews, with some commentators comparing it with Microsoft’s Windows Vista. Perhaps Apple are keen to quietly move on from Lion, without making it appear as though it is a hasty move.

Traditionally, applications which were originally developed for desktop and laptop systems, for example, calculators, calendars, and more recently, email and web browsers, have been simplified and ported onto mobile handsets. In the last couple of years, however, there have been some developments such as excellent notification systems, new chat clients, and some smaller apps such as reminder and notemaking tools which have first been developed on mobile devices and haven’t yet made the leap back to traditional systems. Rebalancing this divide is the purpose of Mountain Lion.

One of the most obvious developments in the mobile world has been the concept of push notifications. In iOS 5, Apple introduced a comprehensive Notification Center, and in Mountain Lion there will be a very similar tool, which even has the same grey satin background as the mobile version.

It’s even possible to specify whether an application notification causes a banner, an alert or simply nothing to appear, just as within iOS.

A new messaging application, Messages, is designed to replace iChat while adding iMessage support. It’s now available to download for Mac OS X Lion as a beta version. Although being able to message mobile devices from the desktop is useful, as yet Messages doesn’t allow you to add your mobile number to outgoing messages, which means messages will appear in more than one conversation. I’d like to see a single, unified message stream across all devices, despite which email address or phone number or device I may be using to communicate. We should be abstracted from needing to remember message destinations, just as we no longer need to know whether our message is being carried via Wifi or the cellular data network. There should simply be one conversation for every name.

Gatekeeper is a new security solution in Mountain Lion. Users now have three options: they can download and run applications from anywhere, run apps from the Mac App Store and apps with a Developer ID, or run apps from the Mac App Store only. It’s an interesting introduction, only feasible as a result of Apple’s tight control of its ecosystem, and one which only time and user testing in the real world can reveal its worth.

While not typically a strong point for Macintosh computers, gaming has proved very popular on mobile Apple devices, and so it seems logical that Game Center has been ported to Mac OS X in order to build on the success in the portable space. It’s not clear whether some games will be designed in a way they can be played on both Macs and iPhones, for example, or perhaps if some games will be Mac only, but it’s an interesting development.

Reminders and Notes have made the leap over to Mountain Lion, as well as the ability to tweet from many applications. Another iOS feature, AirPlay Mirroring, will allow Mac desktops to be shown on TVs and projectors connected to an Apple TV. Finally, iCloud is now deeply integrated into Mac OS X, which seems a logical step, allowing users to keep everything in sync on every Apple device they own.

The addition of tangible new features, together with the mixed feelings many users have for Mac OS X Lion, indicate that Mountain Lion is likely to be a commercial success.

Steve Jobs dies

Just a day after the announcement of the iPhone 4S, Steve Jobs has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 56.

Apple’s homepage has been transformed into a tribute for Jobs, which links to a short dedication stating that “Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being”.

Steve Jobs was the personification of Apple. Some are already speculating the ‘iPhone 4S’ stands for ‘For Steve’. While I’m sceptical of that, it’s sad to think the 4S will be the last product he ever saw in production.

iPhone 4S announced

At today’s “Let’s talk iPhone” event, Apple has announced the iPhone 4S – an upgrade to the iPhone 4’s hardware which retains most of the original design. The phone will be released on the 14th October in the US and UK, and continuing the tradition of software updates, iOS 5 will be downloadable a couple of days earlier on the 12th.

The key features of the new phone are:

  • Dual core A5 chip
  • New 8 megapixel camera which supports 1080p video recording
  • Siri, a digital personal assistant

Considering the wealth of rumours surrounding an all-new iPhone, the new device is somewhat of a disappointment. It’s still my belief that Apple is very close to releasing an all-new generation phone, but for some reason decided that they would focus on improving the specifications of the iPhone 4 before the year was out.

Focusing on the upgrade itself, the new chip was fairly expected, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the phone to see if it feels any faster. The 8 megapixel camera is very welcome, and I’m pleased that Apple is finally understanding that 1080p is ‘proper’ HD. I was worried they were stuck on 720p, which is barely an improvement on SD.

Siri sounds an interesting concept, although there are caveats: you’ll need a data connection for it to work, which could prove expensive now unlimited plans are getting rare. Also, you’ll need to speak for it to work – which could look awkward if you’re effectively talking to yourself on the train, for example. Siri only achieves tasks which can be done manually anyway, so it’s not a ‘killer’ feature. I can’t recall ever using the Voice Control on my 3GS to do anything other than show people ‘look at my cool phone’.

And that takes us neatly onto the final point. Whether the new device is enough to tempt iPhone 3GS and 4 owners to upgrade remains to be seen. I expect a high demand, although I don’t expect anywhere near the level of interest which surrounded the iPhone 4.

Steve Jobs steps down as CEO of Apple

In a short statement, Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple as he feels he can no longer meet his ‘duties and expectations’ which the role requires.

His statement is reminiscent of the final post by Ivan Noble, a journalist whose online diary followed the ups and downs of treatment for a malignant brain tumour.

His named successor, Tim Cook, who has been in the role since January, and the designer Jonathan Ive, creator of many of the product’s in the successful post-iMac era, will ensure that Apple continues to flourish and that its ‘brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it’.

One thing will never be the same though. We may never hear him speak those famous words ‘just one more thing’ again.

I wish him all the best for his future health.