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’.

‘iPad mini’ event announced

Apple have invited members of the press and development community to a media event on Tuesday 23rd October, where the company is widely expected to announce a smaller version of the iPad in time for the lucrative Christmas market.

The tagline of the colourful invite – “We’ve got a little more to show you” – seems to suggest a smaller version of something, and that something will of course be their current tablet offering.

Although Apple have typically not responded quickly and directly to demand in the past, many customers are starting to buy smaller tablets such as the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google’s Nexus 7 – and the company’s hold on the market is at real risk. If it acts decisively now, it can stop the rot; the more it waits, the much less chance it’ll have of introducing new customers (and retaining old ones) into the whole ecosystem.

The ‘iPad mini’ is reported to have a 7.85 inch screen, with the same 1024 x 768 non-Retina display found in the iPad 2, simply scaled down. This would mean that apps wouldn’t need to be rewritten for the new device. There’s debate about whether the ‘iPad mini’ will have cellular data access – it’s possible Apple will leave it out on purpose, to force users to spend more money on an iPhone or iPad for this functionality.

There are also rumours that the current 9.7 inch iPad will be updated with a Lightning connector and 4G, although I don’t expect to see this until next March as Apple stores will be busy enough over the coming months.

The event starts at 6PM UK time and I’ll be updating the blog with all the important announcements as soon as it’s finished.

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 announces media event

At last!

Apple has finally announced a media event in San Francisco at 6PM UK time on the 12th September, where the next generation iPhone is likely to be revealed.

As always, Apple likes to tease people with event invites, and today’s is no different. At first glance, it’s easy to miss – but if you look closely, you’ll see that the shadow that the ’12’ makes is actually a ‘5’. This could mean that the new device is called the ‘iPhone 5’, rather than following the lead of the iPad and being called the ‘new iPhone’ instead.

Much of what we may expect to see next week has already been covered on this blog, including a taller display, a new dock connector and an all new case design. However, there could still be other new features such as NFC for small payments and 4G support for UK phone networks, such as the one Everything Everywhere is launching a day before Apple’s event.

It’s possible there’ll be a new iPod Touch announcement in time for Christmas, and it’s also rumoured that the iPod Nano will be receiving an update too. However, I’m not expecting a ‘mini iPad’ to be announced – in fact I’d be surprised if one were to be announced at all, considering that the iPhone’s screen size is being increased.

The countdown has begun!

iPhone battery replacement

Considering Apple’s history of obsolescence, the iPhone 3GS has had an incredibly long lifespan.

The first iPhone, launched in 2007, came with iOS 1 (then called iPhone OS), and it received upgrades for the following two years to iOS 3 before being cast into the shadows. The iPhone 3G launched with iOS 2 and was dragged into the 4.x era before Apple finally gave up trying to solve the performance issues dogging the device.

From past evidence, therefore, it appears that iPhones generally last about three years before being unsupported.

First launched in the summer of 2009, the 3GS came loaded with iOS 3 and over the past three years it’s been kept up to date to the present day with iOS 5.1.1. History tells us that it should be coming to the end of its life, with iOS 6 only being released for the iPhone 4 onwards.

In fact, the iPhone 3GS is different. A small icon at the bottom of Apple’s iOS 6 Preview microsite shows that the phone will be receiving the new update this autumn. I guess as it’s still possible to buy one from an Apple Store, the company is forced to continue support, else they’d be selling something which would already be obsolete.

However, this long lifespan will start to present some difficulties for users. As most people know, lithium rechargeable batteries only last for around three years before the cells start to break down and become unusable. For anyone who bought a 3GS in 2009 – or perhaps owns a second hand device purchased then – this may already be causing a problem, with instant shut downs, slow performance and a battery percentage which skips numbers as the battery discharges through the day.

Apple offers a solution to this problem with its own battery replacement service, although it has a huge problem – it means you’ll be without an iPhone for a week. For anyone who uses a phone regularly, being without one for more than a few hours is just impractical. For this service, Apple will charge you £55 – which is about a quarter of the phone’s current value.

Recently, I found a company called Lovefone which can replace 3GS batteries while you wait. For this, they’ll only charge £34 and since having my phone serviced, it’s been much better. Perhaps it also has something to do with the amount of dust inside which had built up over three years!

As for the future of the 3GS, iOS 6 will almost certainly mark the end of the device. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the 3GS doesn’t survive the whole of the iOS 6 era, as the iPhone 3G was dropped after 4.2.1 while other devices continued up to 4.3.5 before iOS 5 was released. There are already rumours suggesting that stocks are running low, as Apple prepares to replace its low budget option with the iPhone 4 instead.

iOS 6 is scalable to taller displays

In a discovery which almost guarantees a larger display on the iPhone, 9to5 Mac have found that when the iOS Simulator is tweaked to run at a resolution of 640 x 1136, iOS 6 displays five complete rows of icons, while iOS 5.1 displays only four.

As previously mentioned, apps are already expected to be slightly flexible vertically (most applications have scroll bars) and so increasing the resolution in one direction only is a very viable solution. From this evidence, I fully expect to see a taller display on the next generation device.

Hands on with the Retina MacBook Pro

When I first heard about the MacBook Pro with Retina display at the WWDC, I can’t deny I was a little excited.

The first time I saw an iPhone 4 back in the summer of 2010, it ruined me. Every time I looked at my then one year old iPhone 3GS display, all I could see were pixels. Just pixels, pixels, everywhere. Up until that moment I had been perfectly content with my phone, but now I was embarrassed to pull it out of my pocket, knowing it had a sub-standard display.

The following March, expectation was high for a Retina enabled iPad 2. At the time though, Apple decided to focus the marketing priorities on speed, size and weight. It was a disappointing moment, but one which was understandable. It was clear the company hadn’t developed a process to enable them to develop a 2048×1536 pixel display with more pixels than a 1920 x 1080 Full HD television all in the space of just 9.7 inches.

Earlier this year, Apple finally delivered the ‘new iPad’ with just those specifications – a doubling of the pixels in each direction, with every pixel now being described by four. As soon as I first saw the screen I could clearly see it was a huge improvement over the previous generation. It appeared much brighter compared with the now apparently slightly washed out screen of the iPad 2 (although up to that point I hadn’t noticed before) and everything just looked much sharper. At 264 pixels per inch, both images and text seemed almost as good as printed versions. Although this didn’t match the 326 pixels per inch figure achieved by the iPhone 4 and 4S, the difference was negligible, and when considered in conjunction with the much larger screen space it seemed fairly irrelevant.

Today I visited the Apple Store in Regent Street, central London to view the new MacBook Pro. My previous experiences with Retina class displays had up to that point been very positive, so I had much to look forward to. However, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed. It seems that the 220 pixel per inch display just doesn’t have the sharpness that the latest generations of the iPhone and iPad have. Although this figure is still impressive for any display, it just doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor we’ve come to expect from Apple of late. Releasing the screen under the Retina name seems to dilute the brand a little.

For a 15.4 inch display, the resolution seems too high. Although it’s great for any image work, any office suite work will leave you reaching for a magnifying glass and leave you with eyestrain soon after. Perhaps this is done to cover up the fact that many programs won’t have high-resolution graphics, and so the smaller they are, the less users will notice. I’d have preferred Apple to have stuck to a more conventional resolution, perhaps 1280 x 800 and then double the pixels in each direction from that starting point.

Aside from the disappointing display, the specifications aren’t particularly exciting as Apple has spent most of the budget on the flat panel. For £1,799 you get only 8GB of RAM and 256GB of Flash RAM, and no optical drive. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to spend that much when the main selling point is so lacklustre.

Rather uncharacteristically for the company, it looks like Apple are now in the market for supplying Christmas dinners this year, as it looks like the new Retina MacBook is a bit of a turkey.

New Do Not Disturb iOS 6 feature

When the new Do Not Disturb feature was announced at WWDC last month, there were rather understandably exclamations of excitement from the conference hall.

Anyone who’s been disturbed by an unimportant text or call would be able to sympathise with those keynote attendees. The new Do Not Disturb feature will at last allow users to define a period where they’re more than likely to be asleep, perhaps between 11pm and 7am, and when it’s during these times, the screen won’t light up (it can be intrusively bright in a dark room) and there’ll be no sound or vibration alert.

Of course, there are always times when there are emergencies and Apple has thought of those too. If the same number calls again within three minutes, the phone can alert the user as usual. The same applies for a predefined ‘Favourites’ list of the most important contacts on the phone.

Do Not Disturb looks to be one of the best new features in iOS 6 and I’ll certainly be defining a ‘Quiet Hours’ period as soon as the new software is installed.

iOS 6 iMessage improvements

Since the introduction of iMessage in iOS 5 there has been a glaring omission in the service, which I remarked upon earlier this year. Currently the Messages app on the iPad won’t allow users to add their mobile number to outgoing or inbound messages, which means anyone who also owns an iPhone can’t always keep messages in sync between the two devices.

With iOS 6, however, Apple is introducing the functionality to link a user’s phone number to their Apple ID:

This is a hugely welcome feature as it allows users to keep messages within one thread, despite the device they may be using to send the message from. For example, during the day, users may prefer to use their iPhone, and at home in the evening, they’ll be able to seamlessly transfer to their iPad, without breaking the stream.

I’ll be covering other iOS 6 improvements in other posts.