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 WWDC keynote preview

The annual Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference kicks off today with a keynote by Tim Cook at 6pm UK time.

There’s plenty of rumours surrounding the event, but it seems almost certain that Apple will be announcing a new version of iOS at the event. A few days ago, workmen were seen hanging an iOS 6 banner at the conference in San Francisco:

Other rumours include the removal of Google Maps in favour of Apple’s own solution, Siri to appear on the third generation iPad, and perhaps even a new Macbook with a Retina display.

It looks likely to be feature packed event – come back later for a round up of all the announcements.

Potential iPhone 5 case design

Leaked images of the case for the next generation iPhone have recently been published by 9to5Mac, which seem to suggest that the new device will have a completely different design to that of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

From this image we can tell that there could be a number of changes. Most importantly, the screen appears much larger, and now appears to be sporting a 16:9 widescreen display. Many people have questioned if the screen size could ever be increased without affecting the layout of on screen elements. However, apps are already expected to be slightly flexible vertically (most applications have scroll bars) and so increasing the resolution in one direction only could be a very viable solution. The screen resolution is reported to be 1136 x 640, up from 960 x 640 on the current generation.

Interestingly, the case seems to have no room for a traditional 30-pin dock connector, which has been standard on all of Apple’s products in recent living memory. Instead, there seems to be a much smaller hole for a potential smaller connector. This could leave more room for higher quality, stereo speakers. External audio is something which has always been a disappointment on the iPhone so this would be most welcome. However, changing the dock connector would mean any device or cable which currently uses this type would become obsolete, unless Apple produced a form of adaptor.

It appears that the headphone socket may be moving from the top to the bottom of the device, taking some of the room saved by having a smaller connector.

Finally, it seems that all the speculation about a phone with no SIM card will come to nothing for now. The images above clearly show a SIM card tray with space for a slot.

It’s been speculated that the iPhone will simply be known as ‘the new iPhone’, just like the ‘new iPad’ which was released earlier this year. If it does indeed have a larger screen and an all new design which these images suggest, offering something to both iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4/4S users, then I expect it to be hugely successful.

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.

Apple announces iPad 3 media event

Apple have today announced a media event in San Francisco on the 7th March, where the next generation iPad will almost certainly be launched.

The invite appears to show a higher resolution display, which is the most anticipated feature for the new device. The text also alludes to this upgrade. Interestingly, there is no home button – though this could be simply that the iPad in the photograph is being used in landscape mode. There aren’t any clues about whether the new tablet will have a faster processor, longer battery life, or increased memory and storage.

The event begins at 6pm GMT and I’ll be covering the announcements here as soon as it finishes.

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.

iPad 3 to get Retina display?

When iPad 2 was launched, many were surprised that the tablet didn’t sport the new high display resolution which had debuted on the iPhone 4 in summer the previous year. In what therefore seems like a logical step for the next revision of Apple’s tablet, CNET reports that Retina-class QXGA (2048×1536) panel production has now started. This builds on a discovery of two types of icons in the SDK more than a year ago.

I expect to see the new display being launched as a key marketing message with the next generation device in January. Although the iPad is among the best for reading colour newspapers, it can be uncomfortable to read long passages of text when compared with super sharp ‘electronic ink’ devices such as the Amazon Kindle. Improving the display would establish the iPad as the premium eReader for all types of content, and provide publishers with a motivation to increase the availability of content on the Apple Store, particularly in the Newsstand section, which still has disappointingly few titles.

iOS 5.0.1 released

Apple have today released an update to iOS 5 which should resolve some of the battery issues which some iPhone 4S users have been reporting. It also adds multitasking gestures for the original iPad, which were inexplicably left out of the initial iOS 5 release.

The new update is a test of Apple’s new ‘over the air’ delta updating. In simple terms, this means that only the files which have changed since iOS 5 need to be downloaded and updated, rather than the whole ~650MB package as before. This in turn will mean Apple’s servers won’t be so busy, minimising bandwidth problems we’ve seen on almost all previous updates on launch day. Note, though, that if you choose to install via iTunes, you’ll still need to download the whole package.

iPhone 4S availabilty

It appears that although the iPhone 4S has few tangible changes compared with its predecessor, it has been a commercial success. We’ve seen the usual queues at Apple stores across the world, and after selling out immediately online, dispatch dates for orders of the phone have now been pushed back to 1-2 weeks at the least.

Apple has taken an unprecedented step of launching a new system which allows customers to reserve a new iPhone from 9pm and collect it in store the next day.

Sometimes the store list and the ‘Next’ button appears, but very often it doesn’t. The reservation system seems quite buggy at the moment, and not conforming to Apple’s usual polished standards. Pressing ‘refresh’ in the browser doesn’t seem to make any difference. You may need to go backwards and forwards between this page and the previous one a few times. Whatever would Steve think?

Eventually, you’ll be presented with a list of Apple stores, which are all located in areas of dense population. Apple official resellers aren’t included in the list.

When you click ‘Next’, you’ll most likely be presented with the following screen, with ‘Unavailable’ starkly written in red six times:

I’ve only once been able to find some availability, and that offered me a time slot which I couldn’t reach due to other commitments. I was expecting that the service would be a Currys or Argos style ‘pick up anytime’ system, and I’m disappointed to see fixed times. However, I guess this way allows Apple to sell a phone to someone else, perhaps once morning timeslots have passed. This makes commercial sense, considering that it is a highly sought after gadget yet one with a short shelf life, considering that a new model will perhaps be out in twelve months or less.

Hopefully the availability problems will be resolved shortly, though Apple only has a short amount of time until potential customers decide that they will be waiting for bigger upgrades on the iPhone 5 instead.

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.