Saturday, December 29, 2007

Panasonic announces 9.5 mm Blu-ray burner for laptops

Panasonic has announced a 9.5 mm thick Blu-ray burner, small enough to fit into the MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, it is a tray-load drive, and Mac laptops require slot-load drives. However, slot-load versions should follow soon.

The drive will make an appearance at CES 2008 in January.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Apple blogs make money?

Apple blogs make money? Well, mine doesn't. ;)

However, rumours are that Nick Ciarelli got a fair chunk of change to shut down Think Secret. Think Secret writes:
Apple and Think Secret have settled their lawsuit, reaching an agreement that results in a positive solution for both sides. As part of the confidential settlement, no sources were revealed and Think Secret will no longer be published. Nick Ciarelli, Think Secret's publisher, said "I'm pleased to have reached this amicable settlement, and will now be able to move forward with my college studies and broader journalistic pursuits."
We don't know what the details of the settlement are, but it is believed by some that the settlement included a significant payoff. Just as importantly, Mr. Ciarelli didn't have to release the names of any of his sources.

Now, the voice behind Fake Steve claims he too was offered money to shut down his site. One always has to take these types of claims with a healthy dose of salt (as it's "Fake Steve" after all). However, he at least does bring up one good point that has been mentioned by many others before, which is that the existence of these blogs is evidence of a strong Apple fan base. These are not sites that are determined to harm Apple, and they arguably benefit from the free advertising. Apple's heavy-handed reaction to these sites, however, ironically does harm Apple's reputation.

[Update 2007-12-24]

The LA Times claims Mr. Ciarelli did indeed get paid to shut down his site.

Friday, November 16, 2007

OS X 10.5 Leopard G4 nVidia boot delay bug - Fixed!

Those of you running flashed nVidia PC video cards in your G4 Power Macs may have noticed significant boot delays with Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. Once the operating system has booted it will work normally, but getting there is the annoying part. The Leopard boot delay is 2 minutes on my Cube, and it's even worse on some other machines, with reported delays of well over five minutes.

Fortunately, the industrious folks over at The Mac Elite have figured out a solution. Apparently, the problem is related to Leopard's handling of GPU temperature diodes, specifically on some recent nVidia cards. The OS will wait until the temp diode is activated during bootup, but until then the boot process simply hangs. A solution to this problem is to deactivate the diode completely in the video card's firmware, and this will allow the boot process to proceed normally. To make that modified firmware, you'll have to dump your own video card's ROM to a file so that you can edit it yourself, or else somebody else has to do it for you.

I flashed my Cube's XFX GeForce 6200 to a new Mac-friendly configuration with such a modified ROM, using nvflash and a cheap Pentium 4 AGP PC running MS-DOS (and a PCI video card so that I could see what I was doing). If you don't have access to a cheap PC, you may be able to use NVFlashUtility, which comes with Graphiccelerator. Be forewarned though, with NVFlashUtility, a misflash or a bad ROM can leave your machine blind, with no video support at all. The MS-DOS PC flash method with a second video card is safer, since if you misflash you can simply flash back to your original ROM.

The boot process in Leopard used to take almost three minutes on my Cube. Now with the modified ROM it takes less than one minute, a three-fold change. The only drawback is that iStat Pro can no longer report the GPU temperature, but that's a small price to pay for great Leopard compatibility.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The iPod touch has iCal event entry now

The latest 1.1.2 software update for the iPod touch adds iCal event entry. Apple is apparently listening to some of the internet banter about the iPod touch's deficiencies. This missing feature alone generated tons of comments at Everything Apple.

Now that this big hole in the iPod touch's feature set has been taken care of, all we need is Google Maps, Mail, and the full set of widgets that the iPhone already has.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cube supported by Leopard after all... sorta

I have been spending a lot of time testing various different 10.5 Leopard install methods for my unsupported Cube. The Leopard install disc told me my Cube was unsupported, despite the Cube's 1.7 GHz CPU. However, I began to think that was because its Sonnet 1.7 GHz G4 7447A upgrade was reported as operating at 0 MHz, both in "About This Mac" and in the System Profiler (in both Tiger and Leopard).

I'm going to miss those pinstripes.

I contacted Sonnet, and they seemed a bit surprised by that odd 0 MHz reporting, so they suggested I simply rerun the OS X firmware updater to make sure everything was updated correctly. That in turn surprised me, since I never knew an OS X updater even existed. I had purchased my 1.7 GHz CPU upgrade way back in 2004, and the updater I had used had required OS 9. Even when I swapped out a motherboard in the Cube a long time later (because of a broken USB port), I was advised by my online Cube amigos to use Sonnet's OS 9 updater.

Today, I tried Sonnet's new OS X-based firmware updater in Leopard, and... No worky. I tried it again in Tiger. Again, no worky. It went as far as to start the install process, only to tell me shortly afterwards "Programming Not Successful". I went back to Leopard and tried it again. Nope, no worky. And then I just about gave up, thinking I'd have to take apart the Cube, replace the G4 450, remove the Sonnet firmware, and then rerun the OS X updater to install the new one. But I gave it one last shot in Tiger... and it worked! Every one of those glorious seventeen hundred megahertz are now showing up properly.

The new firmware still has the same 4.1.9f1 revision number, which is why I wasn't aware the firmware had changed since 2004.

The main effect of this new firmware is essentially two-fold for me. First, the Leopard installer disc now recognizes my 1.7 GHz Cube as a supported machine. No more installer hacks or Firewire target mode are required. Second, DVD now de-interlaces properly.

This is a huge improvement over the previous situation, where I had combing galore in DVD Here is what a GeForce 6200 and a Radeon 9200 gave me in 10.4 Tiger and in 10.5 Leopard, with a 0 MHz CPU:

It's notable also that in addition, Leopard now provides new and improved DVD de-interlacing support in DVD, with its new Adaptive Video Analyzation technology.
Enjoy even higher-quality video with Adaptive Video Analyzation technology that applies deinterlacing and inverse 3:2 pulldown on demand.
This feature requires a 1.6 GHz processor... and now my Cube officially has one.

It is clear now that Apple isn't specifically blocking Cubes and other older machines with that Leopard installer. A simple CPU (and perhaps GPU and/or memory) upgrade may be sufficient to get Leopard compatibility. However, for those of you thinking about a CPU upgrade, you should be careful. It seems the experiences in the trenches are hit and miss. There are still some out there with fast enough G4 upgrades to meet Leopard's minimum requirements, but they are still having problems with getting Leopard to install without hacks. Maybe some of them just need a firmware upgrade.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Create a Leopard Boot Drive for PowerPC Macs, using only an Intel Mac

It works!

Yesterday I put forward the idea that we might be able to create a Leopard boot drive for G4/G5 Macs, using only an Intel Mac. In the article I included a step by step method to do this, but hadn't actually attempted it yet.

I got the chance to try this today, and it works perfectly. In fact, I'm typing this on a G4 Cube running off such a drive.

To summarize the previous post, here are the steps:

1. Use an Intel Mac and the Leopard install disc to create a bootable Leopard drive. This drive will use the GUID Partition Table (GPT), so it cannot be used to boot a PowerPC Mac. Only Intel Macs can boot from GPT drives.

2. Using Disk Utility, format another drive with the Apple Partition Map (APM) option. This will erase everything on this drive. (You can skip this step if you already have an APM drive.)

Note that you must change the "Volume Scheme" from "Current" to "1 Partition" to un-grey the "Options" button. Press that button and then select "Apple Partition Map" for the new drive.

After the partitioning process is finished, you are left with an empty APM drive.

3. Clone the Leopard install from the original GPT drive to the new APM drive.

And you're done. The resultant cloned APM drive will be bootable on a PowerPC Mac. Easy as pie!

This works because Leopard and its included applications are universal. I would therefore only recommend this method with a new clean install, since software installed separately may not be universal.

So why not just install OS X Leopard directly from the original install DVD onto the PowerPC Mac? Sometimes this is not possible. For example, Leopard won't install on older G4 Macs. To get around this you can use another more recent PowerPC Mac to install the OS, but not everyone has a PowerPC Mac. If your other Macs are Intel Macs only, then the method outlined above can be used.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

PowerPC Mac Leopard boot drives can boot Intel Macs

I recently installed Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard on a G4 Cube. I then tried to clone this install to an external Firewire boot drive, with no luck. Everything I tried just gave me an unbootable drive:

As you can see from the above picture, even the Startup Disk option in the System Preferences would simply not see the drive as a bootable one. It turns out the reason for this is that I had previously formatted the drive with a GUID Partition Table, which is incompatible with PowerPC Macs for boot disks. During the clone process, Disk Utility erased the drive, but didn't reformat it, which means that the cloned drive had the entire OS present on it, but with the wrong type of partition table.

However, when I tried this cloned G4 drive on my Core Duo MacBook, the boot disk worked fine, as did all the applications I tried. It would seem that the OS install is the same. The only significant difference is the partition map.

It turns out that Intel Macs can boot OS X 10.5 Leopard installs for G4 and G5 Macs just fine. PowerPC Macs use the Apple Partition Map, but this poses no problem for Intel Macs, even though Intel Macs use the GUID Partition Table. The reverse is not true however. PowerPC Macs cannot boot disks with a GUID Partition Table. However, I wonder if we might be able to clone an Intel Mac to work on a PowerPC Mac just by changing the type of partition map:

1. Open up Disk Utility and select your backup drive. Select the "Partition" tab.

2. Go to the "Options" and choose "Apple Partition Map", which is the partition type necessary for PowerPC Macs.

3. Format the drive using the above settings by hitting the "OK" button and then the "Partition" button. This will delete everything on the selected drive.

4. Clone an Intel Mac's Leopard install to the external drive, using Disk Utility's "Restore" tab (or else another program such as Carbon Copy Cloner).

5. After you have double-checked which drives are the proper source and destination disks, start the clone process by hitting the "Restore" button.

Why would we want to do this anyway? This would be the perfect solution for installing Leopard onto an older and unsupported G4 Mac (like the Cube) if the only other Mac at your disposal is an Intel Mac. (Clones to disk images could theoretically also be used as backups for either PowerPC or Intel Macs, as long as the correct partition table is used when the disk image is restored to a Firewire disk.)

However, I have not tried this method yet to confirm if this works. If anyone has the time to try this, please tell us your results. Otherwise, I will try it in the next little while when I have some more time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Leopard does work with 800 MHz and slower G4s... Sorta

We previous reported that Leopard only supports G4 machines 867 MHz or faster. Now that Leopard is publicly available, that is confirmed. However, as expected, one can use a supported PowerPC machine to install Leopard on G4 Macs that shipped with 800 MHz G4s or slower.

MacFixIt has the details here.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard ships in two weeks

A mistake at the Apple Store points to an October 26 release date for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, which basically confirms previous rumours.

Well, it's about time. Now we'll just have to wait and see if we can get it to install on older unsupported G4 Macs.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Leopard won't support 800 MHz G4s either

A while back we posted an article saying that anything under an 800 MHz G4 wouldn't be supported by Leopard. That still appears to be true, but it seems that Apple has now excluded that 800 MHz G4 too, in the latest Leopard beta release. According to AppleInsider, Apple felt Leopard was simply too slow on an 800 MHz G4.

I have a 1.07 GHz G4 iBook at my disposal, and I'm still hoping that I will be able to transfer a Leopard install from that iBook over to my Cube. Although the Cube has a 1.7 GHz G4, Leopard likely will not install on it because it it only shipped with a 450-500 MHz G4. Readers have stated that similarly upgraded G4 Macs are listed as "unsupported" with beta versions of Leopard.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Apple has indeed crippled the iPod touch. No iCal event entry.

Yep. Apple has done it again. They have intentionally crippled their product, for no good reason. Initially we thought there was no iCal calendar event entry functionality on the iPod touch because of a missing button on its iCal screen. Then we thought we had jumped to an erroneous conclusion, because Apple specifically said this in their iPod touch description of the Multi-touch interface:
iPod touch features the same revolutionary interface as iPhone. Built to take full advantage of the large 3.5-inch display, the multi-touch interface lets you control everything using only your fingers. So you can glide through albums with Cover Flow, flick through photos and enlarge them with a pinch, or zoom in and out on a section of a web page. And iPod touch features a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard perfect for browsing the web in Safari, searching for videos on YouTube, finding music on the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, entering calendar events, or adding new contacts.
It turns out we were right the first time, and Apple was in fact misleading us. An astute reader has pointed out to us that Apple has now changed their description:
iPod touch features the same revolutionary interface as iPhone. Built to take full advantage of the large 3.5-inch display, the multi-touch interface lets you control everything using only your fingers. So you can glide through albums with Cover Flow, flick through photos and enlarge them with a pinch, or zoom in and out on a section of a web page. And iPod touch features a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard perfect for browsing the web in Safari, searching for videos on YouTube, finding music on the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, or adding new contacts.
Why Apple continues to do this type of stuff, I just don't understand. Whatever the reason, the end result is that I will not be buying either the iPhone or the iPod touch any time soon. Perhaps I'll bite when Apple comes out with a bigger capacity iPhone (in Canada) or a non-crippled iPod touch. This is too bad for Apple, as I probably would have bought the iPod touch now if it weren't for this iCal restriction (as well as the lack of several widgets and the Mail application), and then bought an iPhone to replace it later once the iPhone was upgraded.

[Update 2007-11-12]

iPod touch software update 1.1.2 adds iCal event entry. Hooray!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Another iPod touch deficiency: No volume buttons

The iPod touch appears to lack volume buttons. That may mean that one would need to unlock the screen before adjusting the volume.

The iPhone gets around this by having dedicated volume control buttons on the side.

Unless there is some other convenient way of adjusting the volume, the lack of volume buttons on the iPod touch would be quite annoying.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Crippled Calendar application for iPod touch?

It's bad enough the iPod touch doesn't have a mail application or Google Maps and is missing several widgets, but there are worries now that it has a cut down version of the Calendar application as well. Astute readers of iLounge have noted that in their pictures of the Calendar application on the iPod touch, there is no "+" button present (in the top right corner) for adding new calendar entries like there is on the iPhone. We are still awaiting verification as to the significance of this difference.

However, rumour has it that the iPod touch runs the same binaries as the iPhone, which means that if you could jailbreak the phone and install Mail and other applications on the iPod touch, they may just work.

As I've said, we don't know for sure if the iPod touch's Calendar application is a cut down version or not, but this is enough for me to hold off on pre-ordering it. I will let someone else be the guinea pig. If Calendar has no input function, then I'm not buying. And I'm not buying the iPhone either. I'm not keen to be the first to try the iPhone hacks, especially for an 8 GB US version with no 3G support.

[Update 2007-09-07]

False alarm. According to Apple:
iPod touch features the same revolutionary interface as iPhone. Built to take full advantage of the large 3.5-inch display, the multi-touch interface lets you control everything using only your fingers. So you can glide through albums with Cover Flow, flick through photos and enlarge them with a pinch, or zoom in and out on a section of a web page. And iPod touch features a touchscreen QWERTY keyboard perfect for browsing the web in Safari, searching for videos on YouTube, finding music on the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, entering calendar events, or adding new contacts.
Still, the lack of Mail, Google Maps, and some widgets is concerning. I hope those jailbreak apps can be modified quickly to work well with the iPod touch.

By the way, iTunes 7.4.1 has just been released, with no indication as to what it actually does. I wonder if it still works with latest version of iFuntastic and the various iPhone SIM hacks.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Whining does work: Apple to give $100 to each existing iPhone owning.

Don't get me wrong. I would have whined too had I been in the same situation, but I wouldn't have guessed that this unified whining would actually work. Apple's Jobs has penned an open letter to existing iPhone owners, and in an apparent about face, Apple will be providing early iPhone purchasers with a $100 store credit.

It's a great gesture to be sure, but I'm still surprised at the $200 price drop in the first place. My guess was that they would drop the price by $50-100... in October or November, or possibly even later. A $200 price cut just several weeks after its release is unprecedented. I'm also surprised Apple misjudged its customer base so badly on this too. This may in fact the more significant part of all of this, because it makes it clear again that even the very consumer-oriented Apple may sometimes completely misjudge its customer base.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Apple WiPod... err... iPod touch announced.

Rumours were flying everywhere in the past week about what would be announced at today Apple media event, with even the Washington Post weighing in, along with confirmation from DigiTimes shortly afterwards.

They were right, and Apple today released a new fat video enabled iPod nano (just like the various leaked photos around the net suggested they might), and of course, the new WiFi enabled touchscreen iPod touch.

I was a little out of the loop today actually, since I was on a plane all the way from Toronto to Dallas and then on to Tucson. Not wanting to completely miss everything, I dropped by the Tucson La Encantada Apple Store to check out the new iPods. It was there I was told that Apple in fact had released a touch screen iPod, and to my surprise, it had the WiFi, Safari, and 16 GB some of us (realistically) hoped for in such a beast. But alas, it won't be released for a few more weeks. I hung around and played with the iPhone for a little while longer and left.

It was not until I returned to the hotel did I realize that the $599 advertised price in-store for the 8 GB iPhone was wrong. Apple managed to annoy bazillions of its customers who had bought the iPhone just a few weeks before, by dropping the price a whopping one-third to $399 today, the same price as the 16 GB iPod touch. (Then again, they'll gain a bazillion more customers with the new price point too.) However, I'm glad I didn't know about that price drop today, since if I had known, I might have dropped the coin for the iPhone right then and there.

Why is it good I did not get the iPhone today?

A) For me, a video iPod of 8 GB is too anemic. Even 16 GB in the iPod touch is anemic, but at least it is tolerable. IMO 32 GB would be much more practical and 64 GB would be ideal, but 16 GB is at least a start. (For those complaining about the lack of a hard drive, I truly think the hard drive is an anachronism for portable music/video players, but for those who insist on a hard-drive based player, Apple now offers the iPod classic with up to 160 GB space.)

B) I live in Canada. Hacking methods to get a US iPhone to work would cost upwards of $100 or more to get, assuming I'd even be able to get my hands on an effective hack that doesn't void the iPhone's warranty. Those Czechs are completely sold out...

C) I have a cell phone with a better camera than the iPhone's. One of the main reasons I bought my particular phone was because of its camera. However, the iPhone's camera seems good enough for most quick and dirty photos.

OK, so now I wait for the iPod touch. However, even disregarding the anemic 16 GB storage space, there are some curious oddities about the unit, in classic Apple fashion:

1) Like I said, it has no camera. Well, I'm not surprised. It's a good cost saving measure to leave out the camera.
2) It has no Bluetooth. I'm not really surprised at that either, considering it has WiFi.
3) It has no email client. One can still likely access webmail through Safari, but it's less slick.
4) It has no Google Maps application. One can still likely access Google Maps through Safari, but it's less slick.
5) It's missing several widgets included on the iPhone.

I am quite surprised that the software features like widgets, Google Maps and email are not present, since they already exist on the iPhone and don't require additional hardware. Perhaps Apple will add some of these with a firmware update later, if we're lucky. It's also missing a speaker and a microphone, but hey, it's not a phone.

On the other hand, the iPod touch is physically smaller, at 4.3" (110 mm) x 2.4" (61.8 mm) x 0.31" (8 mm), compared to the 4.5" (115 mm) x 2.4" (61 mm) x 0.46" (11.6 mm) of the iPhone. The iPod touch also weighs 15 grams less at 120 g. And of course, one doesn't have to hack an iPod touch to get it to work.

Even though I have given you many reasons why I probably will get the WiPod, I think the real winners are the iPod nano crowd. They got the biggest bang for the buck feature upgrade.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's official: The iMac's Radeon 2600 Pro sucks

In a previous article I guessed that the performance of the Radeon 2600 Pro might not be very good. However, I didn't expect it to be quite as bad as it actually is.

Macworld's benches show that this new GPU is actually slower than the slow GeForce 7300 GT from the previous lower end 24" iMac. In fact, according to Bare Feats' benches, the 2.8 GHz iMac with Radeon 2600 Pro is less than half as fast as the previous top-of-the-line 2.33 GHz model with 7600 GT in some tests, despite the 2.8 GHz model having a faster system bus and a 20% faster CPU.

Some of this may be due to the maturity of the drivers, but it's unlikely that updated drivers will double the performance, which would be needed just to approach parity with the 7600 GT.

This in itself might have been acceptable had Apple chosen to allow us to configure iMacs with a higher end GPU option, but inexplicably, Apple has refused to offer this option.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

No HDCP on aluminum iMacs?

I can't seem to find any reference to High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection or HDCP support in the new iMacs on the Apple website. In fact, I can't find HDCP mentioned anywhere on the site at all.

That is a real disappointment. If the new iMacs truly do not support HDCP, that means they may essentially already be obsolete if you're interested in the next generation movie formats. Even if you were to add an HD DVD or Blu-ray drive to the iMac, even if full-fledged HD DVD or Blu-ray playback software existed on the Mac, and even if the OS (ie. Leopard) supported all the formats' features, the new aluminum iMac still would not be able to play back these movies at full resolution, if at all.

[Update 2007-08-09]

Thanks to readers that have pointed me to the Ars article that states that HDCP is in fact supported in the new iMacs. If true, perhaps Apple has not yet mentioned it simply because they have not yet implemented it on the software side, and may activate it later in an OS upgrade.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

iMovie '08: G4s (and some G5s) are obsolete

Apple released iLife '08 today, but there is one big gotcha that some may have overlooked: iMovie '08 has obsoleted many, many Macs. The iLife '08 System Requirements state that "iMovie requires a Mac with an Intel processor, a Power Mac G5 (dual 2.0GHz or faster), or an iMac G5 (1.9GHz or faster)." This means that no G4 Macs at all are supported, and not even dual G5 1.8 Power Macs make the cut. This is rather lame, considering that a dual G5 1.8 is much, much faster on average than a 1.9 GHz G5 iMac.

Furthermore, Apple has restricted AVCHD support from some camcorders in Movie '08 to only Intel Macs.

With this new version of iLife, Apple has announced the death of the G4. May ye rest in peace.

Apple releases new aluminum iMacs

As everyone already knows, Apple nixed the 17" iMac but introduced new 20" and 24" models with a thin aluminum frame, and at the same time, they dropped the prices significantly. Some specific points:

- It can support up to 4 GB. The previous model could only utilize up to 3 GB, because of limitations with Intel's chipset.
- The screen is now glossy. If you plan on getting a new iMac, hopefully your light setup isn't glare prone.
- The graphics has been updated to the Radeon HD 2400 XT on the low end model, and the HD 2600 Pro on the two higher end models. While the 2600 Pro is an improvement over the previous Radeon X1600 and the GeForce 7300 GT, it may be inferior to the previous 7600 GT option in some real world usage, although we have yet to see Mac benchmarks with these two models. There is no option to configure a higher end GPU in the current iMacs.
- All models now have Firewire 800.
- The CPU is up to 2.8 GHz, utilizing Core 2 Extreme. This is a pleasant surprise.
- As expected the bus speed has been increased to 800 MHz. However, memory remains at 667 MHz, since SO-DIMMs are used.
- The wireless keyboard has no numeric keypad, and uses a keyboard design similar to the MacBooks.

Overall the new iMacs represent an incremental upgrade, with some curious changes such as the less than impressive top-of-the-line GPU, and loss of the numeric keypad in the wireless keyboard. The loss of the matte screen is also going to be annoying for some users, but I'd expect most people won't care, or will actually prefer the new glossy screen.

However, I'd recommend that most Core 2 Duo iMac owners stick with their current machines. Also, this may represent an excellent opportunity to pick up the previous white iMacs for cheap.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Most complete iPhone review so far, at AnandTech

For those of you with the least bit of interest in the iPhone, check out Anand's review. He brings us 28 pages (!) of phone geek goodness.

Bottom line? It ain't perfect, but he likes it, quite a bit in fact.

P.S. I particularly like this picture.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Unprecedented iPhone interest at Howard Forums

It seems those guys over at Howard Forums are generating a TON of traffic on their Apple iPhone forum. While most of their mobile phone manufacturer forums usually have at most a few hundred people viewing them, the Apple iPhone board currently has over 15000 viewers.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Apple releases SuperDrive Firmware Update 2.1

Apple today released SuperDrive Firmware Update 2.1 for some of its MacBooks and MacBook Pros. The machines included are:
MacBook Pro Core Duo (15" 1.83GHz, 2.0GHz, 2.16GHz)
MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo (15" 2.16GHz, 2.33GHz)
MacBook Core Duo (13" 1.83GHz, 2.0GHz)
MacBook Core 2 Duo (13" 1.83GHz, 2.0GHz)
It's not clear which drives are included, but in the very least it includes the Matsushita UJ-857 drive. The update changes the firmware on the drive from HBE4 to HBEA, to improve "readability of certain CD media".

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cube & old G4 Power Macs not Leopard compatible

I have it on good authority that Apple has added a new restriction to the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard requirements.

We knew that a DVD drive, built-in Firewire, and at least a G4 were required. However, one additional requirement now is an 800 MHz G4. This basically leaves out everyone with early Power Macs, including:
G4 350-400 MHz Yikes (PCI)
G4 350-500 MHz Sawtooth (AGP)
G4 450-500 MHz Cube
G4 400-500 MHz Gigabit Ethernet
G4 467-733 MHz Digital Audio
G4 733 MHz Quicksilver
All G4 iBooks should be fine, but Leopard will exclude most of the G4 Titanium PowerBooks (up to 667 MHz). Fortunately for most G4 iMac and eMac owners (with DVD drives), only the very bottom end 700 MHz models are excluded. Curiously, a GPU capable of supporting Quartz Extreme is not listed as a requirement, but that may be moot as I believe all 800 MHz G4 Macs shipped with Quartz Extreme support.

This is big disappointment for those of us with Cubes and such, but we shouldn't give up just yet. I suspect that if one has access to a PowerPC Mac which meets the requirements, one may be able to transfer a Leopard install from that to an unsupported G4 Mac. (An Intel Mac will not work, since its installs are not bootable on PowerPC Macs.) The other question is whether or not those of us with upgraded CPUs will be able to install Leopard natively. Lastly, I'm sure that XPostFacto will be updated when Leopard ships, to add support for these vintage Macs.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Stevenote came and went. No new iMac.

The WWDC keynote address by Steve Jobs is now over, but there was no mention whatsoever of new iMacs. We heard lots of good stuff about Leopard, some stuff about the coming iPhone, and even learned that Apple has released Safari 3.0 beta for not only Mac OS X but also Windows XP and Vista.

However, new Santa Rosa iMacs are missing in action. Let's hope for a quiet release at the Apple Store some time in the near future.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tutorial: Convert QuickTime movies with 5.1-channel AAC audio to 2-channel stereo

Several of Apple's QuickTime H.264 trailers are encoded with 5.1-channel AAC audio. As you may have read in the Xbox 360 H.264 playback article, these files will not play on the Xbox 360, because it only supports stereo 2.0 AAC audio.

In order to convert these files quickly to work on the Xbox 360, one can use either QuickTime Pro ($) or else QTAmateur (free). The latter is a freeware Mac OS X program which simply exposes the "Pro" functionality already built into QuickTime.

To convert the files:

1) Select File --> Export --> Movie to MPEG-4.
2) Click the Options button to get the MPEG-4 Export Settings screen.
3) Select MP4 (not MP4 (ISMA)) for the file format.
4) Click on the Video tab, and select Pass through.

5) Click on the Audio tab, and select AAC-LC (Music), 160 Kbps (or whatever), and Stereo.

Because the video is not re-encoded, the conversion is lightning fast. The resultant exported file will use the .MP4 container format instead of .MOV, but will continue to play fine in QuickTime, and now will also play on the Xbox 360. This procedure will work with files up to 4 GB. Larger files should be split into smaller segments before export.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Xbox 360 is now QuickTime HD H.264 friendly

The Xbox 360 recently got its 2007 Spring Dashboard Update, which enables H.264 (and MPEG4) video playback support. Included with this support is compatibility with QuickTime's .MOV file container, which means that Apple's QuickTime HD H.264 files now play natively on the the 360. I have confirmed this with several of Apple's 720p and 1080p HD trailers.

Full details about the new video support are located in this Spring '07 Video Playback FAQ:
Xbox 360 supports the following for H.264:
· File Extensions: .mp4, .m4v, mp4v, .mov
· Containers: MPEG-4, QuickTime
· Video Profiles: Baseline, main, and high (up to Level 4.1) profiles.
· Video Bitrate: 10 Mbps with resolutions of 1920 x 1080 at 30fps. See question number 6 for more information.
· Audio Profiles: 2 channel AAC low complexity (LC)
· Audio Max Bitrate: No restrictions. See question number 6 for more information.
Note that the 10 Mbps limit for H.264 is not a hard limit. When the specs were first published, they stated the limit was 15 Mbps, but then revised it down to 10. However, apparently the H.264 code is shared with the HD DVD player software, which can handle ~30 Mbps H.264 while decoding a second video stream (for picture-in-picture support) and multichannel audio at the same time. I'm not sure why there is a discrepancy with the maximum supported bitrates between Dashboard H.264 playback and HD DVD H.264 playback. Perhaps the 360 is not using all three 360 CPU cores for Dashboard playback, or perhaps Microsoft is just being very conservative.

Speaking of HD DVD, the Xbox 360 HD DVD Update should arrive next week. It was originally planned for release this week, but the powers that be felt that it would be best to stagger the two updates to reduce daily bandwidth usage. The HD DVD update will correct various issues such as audio synchronization problems as well as reduced audio dynamics with Dolby Digital Plus tracks. It will also add a DTS audio output option, and will correct several disc specific compatibility issues. The HD DVD Update will likely not directly affect QuickTime H.264 playback however.

With this new Spring Dashboard Update, I no longer have much interest in AppleTV. Most of the video content for AppleTV is unavailable outside the US, and obviously I can simply use the Xbox 360 to play back my own existing QuickTime files. AppleTV can't even play back 1080p H.264 anyway. The update kills Mac to Xbox 360 video streaming support with Connect360, but Nullriver is busily working on an update of its own. In the meantime, music streaming from iTunes continues to work fine with the current version of Connect360.

[Update 2007-05-10]

Some people have commented here and on some online forums that some of the Apple trailers will not work on the Xbox 360. Remember that for QuickTime AAC audio, only 2-channel stereo is supported. Those with 5.1 channel audio tracks will not work. You can find out what audio is included with the file by starting the QuickTime download and opening the "Movie Info" box at "Window" --> "Show Movie Info". One file for example that works fine is The Macaulay Library clip.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard delayed until October

Well, there goes that prediction. Apple has delayed the 10.5 Leopard release until the fall. Apple states in their Hot News section that they have stolen resources from Leopard development and put them into development of the iPhone's OS.
Apple Statement
iPhone has already passed several of its required certification tests and is on schedule to ship in late June as planned. We can’t wait until customers get their hands (and fingers) on it and experience what a revolutionary and magical product it is. However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. While Leopard's features will be complete by then, we cannot deliver the quality release that we and our customers expect from us. We now plan to show our developers a near final version of Leopard at the conference, give them a beta copy to take home so they can do their final testing, and ship Leopard in October. We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we're sure we've made the right ones. [Apr 12, 2007]
That's pretty disappointing, especially since at least one report claimed Apple reiterated privately they'd ship the OS this quarter. One might think that Apple's resources are more limited than many might have expected, if the development of a single piece of consumer electronics can hold up something as important as Leopard. We can be quite sure the developers attending WWDC this year won't be happy about this.

I wonder if the launch of the next version of iLife has also been delayed. The good news though is that the next iMac won't held up by Leopard, so we can reasonably expect it sooner rather than later, with "sooner" possibly meaning next month.

AAPL was down $1.75 (1.9%) to $90.44 in after hours trading.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Predictions for coming Apple releases

Many of us were disappointed by the lack of any significant upgrades (besides the number of cores) with the new 8-core Mac Pros, which makes some of us wonder why Apple chose to go out of its way to acquire pre-release quad-core 3.0 GHz Clovertown chips.

The easiest answer is that Apple wanted the machines available for this week's NAB 2007 meeting, to demo a new version of Final Cut Studio. Surely that can't be the only reason though, can it?

One thing that came to mind is that perhaps Apple is planning to release OS X 10.5 Leopard sooner than some expected. We can use the release of OS X 10.4 Tiger as precedence. Apple released the new G5 2.7 GHz dual Power Mac April 27th, 2005, and just two days later Apple released the new OS. And then, just a few days later again on May 3, Apple released the G5 2.0 iMac.

Apple generally does not officially support new machines with an older OS. Only versions of the OS that shipped with the machine or later are officially supported. With such a release schedule, Apple forced all new May 2005 iMac users to use 10.4 Tiger, since the older Panther 10.3 was not compatible with the brand new iMac. However, Apple gave pro users the option of using 10.3 Panther or 10.4 Tiger with the new Power Macs, since Tiger had technically not been released yet when the new Power Macs came out. I suspect Apple feels that we consumers are more flexible when it comes to new OSes, and many consumers want the latest and greatest anyway. Professionals on the other hand may be very dependent upon a specific workflow using a specific OS version, and forcing them to switch to a new OS immediately would not go over very well.

Most have been predicting that Apple will release 10.5 Leopard at WWDC in June, but taking the above into consideration, it is possible that Apple could release 10.5 Leopard by May, and then shortly afterwards Apple could release a new iMac using the Santa Rosa Centrino Pro chipset. Centrino Pro products from other companies are scheduled to hit shelves in May.

The lack of a Blu-ray recorder upgrade option in the new Mac Pros is also curious. Jobs went on stage with Sony at Macworld two years ago to promote Blu-ray, but Apple is also on record as saying it supports both HD DVD and Blu-ray. Furthermore, Apple already offers HD DVD burning in DVD Studio Pro, and non-DRM'd HD DVD playback in DVD One might postulate that Apple may be expanding its HD DVD support in Leopard and the next version of iLife, with iDVD gaining the ability to burn HD DVD. Why HD DVD and not Blu-ray? The reason is that while Blu-ray support could also be added, Blu-ray burning requires an expensive Blu-ray burner which makes it less attractive. Contrary to popular belief, HD DVD burning does not require an HD DVD burner. Part of the specification for HD DVD is 3X DVD which allows HD DVD material to be burned onto DVD media, for hi-def playback on any HD DVD compatible player. Leveraging this technology with iDVD and DVD would allow Apple to give all existing SuperDrive Mac users the ability to burn HD DVDs, and any Mac user with a dual G5 or dual-core Intel Mac would have the ability to play back these discs.

I will emphasize that I'm just guessing, but let's hope some of those guesses turn out to be true.

[Update 2007-04-09]

My prediction about iDVD was likely based on false information. 3X DVD (or HD-9) is an official spec of HD DVD, but I had thought BD-9 (a comparable format) was not part of the Blu-ray specification. I have come across some information that says that it did indeed make it into the Blu-ray spec later on. If that is the case, then iDVD HD burning could use this format, and it would play back in any standard Blu-ray player. So, while I stick by my prediction of iDVD burning hi-def discs in 2007, it could be either HD DVD or Blu-ray or both.

[Update 2007-04-09]

I have since confirmed with a Blu-ray representative that BD-9 is in fact an official Blu-ray format. iDVD BD and/or iDVD HD here we come!

By the way, one last point: While Apple has pledged support for both formats, one cannot ignore the fact that Jobs himself may still lean towards the Blu-ray side, since he owns so much Disney stock. (Disney is a Blu-ray exclusive studio.) That said, despite Jobs' possible personal preference, Apple's mandate here is to sell computers, and potential Mac customers exist on both sides of the hi-def disc format war fence.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Panasonic UJ-215 slot-load Blu-ray burner shipping

You can now get a slim-line Blu-ray burner, the Panasonic UJ-215, for your Mac laptop. The good news is that it works natively in OS X, and Toast 8 supports it. The bad news is it costs a whopping US$800. Below are the burn speeds.

BD-R: 1X



DVD+R DL: 2.4X

CD-R: 8X

The UJ-215 is pictured here beside its tray-load brother, the UJ-210.

Rogers backtracks on iPhone for Canada

Three months ago we confirmed with Rogers that they will be getting the iPhone. Here is an excerpt from their response to our query:
The following is the information that we have so far regarding the release and availability of the Apple iPhone.
- The iPhone will first be introduced in North America
- Cingular is the only wireless carrier to launch the iPhone in the United States
- Rogers is actively working with Apple to launch the iPhone in Canada as soon as possible and will be the exclusive provider of the iPhone in Canada
- Apple is planning to introduce the iPhone in Europe (Q4 2007) and Asia (2008)
- Please be advised that Rogers will be offering the iPhone exclusively in Canada
- Launch date and pricing for Canada are not yet available
- Other Canadian wireless carriers will not launch the iPhone; Rogers will be the only Canadian wireless carrier to offer the iPhone
Rogers is now backtracking on those statements, according to this CBC article:
In Canada, Rogers Wireless Inc. — the only wireless service provider in the country with a network the iPhone can use — offered no launch date and dismissed the idea that it would sell the highly anticipated device as "speculation."

"We haven't announced whether we will carry the iPhone," Odette Coleman, manager of corporate communications for Rogers Wireless, said in an e-mail to CBC News Online. "Everything in the media has been speculations to this point. The only fact is that we are the only GSM carrier in Canada. That's the only fact."
Fortunately for me, I was not planning to get the iPhone anyway in its first iteration. I'm not really that interested in the iPhone until it is 3G and gets more storage space. Furthermore, I'd like to see how long the battery lasts in real-world usage, especially considering that the iPhone's battery is not removable.

[Update 2007-04-08]

Rogers has backtracked on its backtracking. Rogers confirmed again to iPhone World that they in fact will be getting the iPhone.

Rogers offering Mac-compatible 3G HSDPA laptop adapter

Rogers Wireless in Canada has begun offering the Option Wireless GT MAX PCMCIA card for its recently launched 3G HSDPA service. This allows up to a theoretical 3.6 Mbps maximum download speed wirelessly, in any area where HSDPA is supported. In areas where 3G service is unavailable, the card can fall back to 2.5G EDGE (and GPRS) as well.

Unfortunately, No MacBook Pros or MacBooks can actually use this card. MacBook Pros have a much smaller ExpressCard slot, and MacBooks have no expansion slot at all. The Option Wireless MAX card will only be useful for those mobile Mac users with G4 PowerBooks.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Apple using limited production quad-core CPU in Mac Pro

Yesterday Apple announced an 8-core Mac Pro, which made us wonder how Apple was selling them, since Intel's 3 GHz Clovertown wasn't due out yet and nobody else had them. It turns out that Apple is using a CPU in limited production to fill their needs, according to an eWeek report which quotes an Intel spokesperson.
"We are indeed shipping a 3.0GHz Xeon version [and] expect to see faster gigahertz speeds for our high-end Extreme PCs very soon, too," Bill Kircos, wrote in an e-mail to eWeek. "For now, the product is in limited production and Apple has chosen to adopt it. We will introduce another 3.0GHz Xeon SKU [Stock Keeping Unit] later on as well."
One wonders if this chip fits inside the 120 Watt TDP envelope of the slower clocked 2.66 GHz quad-core CPU (which Apple doesn't use in any of its machines), or if it runs at significantly higher power. I suspect the latter, and 120 Watt 3 GHz Clovertown quads will come out in Q3 2007 as originally planned. It will be interesting to find out just how much louder these 8-core (dual-quad) machines are compared to the existing 4-core (dual-dual) Mac Pros. Whatever the case, it looks like Apple has gotten a head start on the competition yet again.

[Update 2007-04-06]

An Intel spokesman states that the chip Apple is using is simply the Xeon X5365, and implies it isn't a special version of the chip (other than being early and in limited production). Thus, I wonder if it may in fact be 120 Watts like its 2.66 GHz X5355 brother (since I'm guessing the Q3 release version will have a maximum TDP of about that wattage), or if Apple is getting higher wattage chips in this limited production run.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

8-core Mac Pros are here

This is just a quick update to tell you that the 8-core Mac Pro is now finally here, as expected.

The 8-core option is as an upgrade option to the current quad-core 3 GHz model, for a total of 24 GHz of computing goodness. There are no other 8-core options, and the rest of the lineup has not changed (although they've dropped the prices on the Cinema Displays).

[Update 2007-04-04]

There has in fact been a small change to the options. The smallest hard drive available now is 250 GB. Previously, the smallest available was 160 GB (although the standard configuration was 250 GB).

The other interesting thing is the fact that nobody else seems to have these 3 GHz quad-core Clovertown (X5365) chips, which Apple says it's using.
Opt for the 8-core Mac Pro and you get the power of two Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Clovertown” processors running at 3.0GHz. Or choose a quad-core Mac Pro featuring two Dual-Core Intel Xeon “Woodcrest” processors and decide how fast they fly: 2.0GHz, 2.66GHz, or 3.0GHz. At 3.0GHz, the quad-core Mac Pro runs up to 2x faster than the Power Mac G5 Quad.
Intel had originally suggested that these chips wouldn't be out until Q3 2007, but this is nearly a full quarter early, and Apple says the machines are shipping within 3-5 days.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Apple adds Sony Ericsson K790 support in OS X 10.4.9

This is old news for some of you, but I just tried to sync my phone again for the first time after the 10.4.9 update. Apple has finally added support for my Sony Ericsson K790a to iSync in OS X 10.4.9, as well as for several other phones. The full list is here:
Motorola K1 Bluetooth + USB
Motorola K1m Bluetooth + USB
Motorola V3m Bluetooth + USB
Motorola L2 Bluetooth + USB

Samsung D600 Bluetooth
Samsung D900 Bluetooth

Nokia N80 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia E61 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia E62 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia N71 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia N72 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia N73 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia N91 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia N93 Bluetooth + USB
Nokia 6102 Bluetooth
Nokia 6103 Bluetooth
Nokia 6131 Bluetooth + USB

Sony Ericsson K610i Bluetooth + USB
Sony Ericsson K790i Bluetooth + USB
Sony Ericsson K800i Bluetooth + USB
Sony Ericsson Z525a Bluetooth + USB
Remember to remove your old plug-ins though, or else you'll get this iSync message:

Friday, March 30, 2007

8-core Mac Pros imminent

Thanks to Apple Insider for pointing out another leak at the US Apple Store indicating new Macs will have quad-core CPUs. The same leak is present at Apple Store Canada. The text reads:
Every new Mac features powerful dual-core or quad-core Intel processors, the world's most advanced operating system, and more. Build your Mac to your exact specifications, or start with our recommended configurations that are optimized for Creative Suite 3.
Current Mac Pros have dual dual-core CPUs. It has been widely speculated that future Mac Pros will have up to two quad-core CPUs (for a total of eight cores), and this leak seems to confirm the speculation (again).

And to think, it was only two years ago when we thought Quad G5 cores was a big deal.

Friday, March 23, 2007

G4 7448 now available... finally

We first started talking about the Freescale PowerPC G4 7448 CPU way back in 2004, and fully expected to see them in the wild by 2005.

Boy were we ever wrong. It is now almost 3 years later and only now are we finally seeing those 7448 upgrade cards available for purchase. The max speed is 2.0 GHz for single-CPU cards, and up to 1.8 GHz for dual-CPU cards. Unfortunately, no Cube-specific upgrade cards are offered.

As expected, these 90 nm chips are cooler running, and thanks to their 1 MB L2 cache (double that of the 7447A) and improved Altivec execution, they are also much faster clock-for-clock compared to previous G4 chips. xlr8yourmac has the first review.

While a huge improvement over previous G4s, it's too little, too late. The US$679 dual 1.8 upgrade card is still significantly slower overall than even the low end $599 1.66 GHz Core Duo Mac mini.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Apple TV, Dissected

Anandtech has gotten its hands on an Apple TV unit and dissected it for our benefit. Some of its innards:

1) 40 GB 2.5" laptop hard drive
2) nVidia GeForce Go 7300 64 MB, with Turbo Cache support
3) Intel 945G chipset
4) ULV 1 GHz Pentium M Dothan?
5) 256 MB RAM

I wonder if Apple is utilizing the GeForce Go 7300 for H.264 decode assist.

TechRestore also has some pictures.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

DVD Jon says Jobs is full of it

DVD Jon, the Scandavian hacker famous for defeating CSS on DVDs, thinks Jobs is full of it:
Steve Jobs is claiming that licensing FairPlay is not feasible and using bogus arguments to support his claim. Licensing FairPlay is quite feasible, it’s just that Steve doesn’t want to do so.
That seems like a fair assessment.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Jobs' blog: Thoughts on Music

Steve Jobs has published on Apple's website a long blog called Thoughts on Music, about the iPod, iTunes music, and digital rights management (DRM). It seems this blog may have come about because of repeated calls by others in the industry and by various governments to open up iTunes' proprietary FairPlay DRM technology, to allow iTunes music to work with other personal music players. He concludes by saying that Apple would welcome DRM-less music distribution.

While I agree with this stance in principle, I am suspicious of Jobs' motives for making this statement. Jobs clearly does not want to open up FairPlay (and says as much right in his blog), but it seems he has felt the criticism of Apple's proprietary iPod/iTunes DRM, and has attempted to redirect that criticism to the music companies. I wonder if Jobs would have had the same opinion about Pixar's movies on iTunes when he was CEO of that company. Actually, there is no need to wonder. We already know Jobs' stance on DRM for video content: He wanted Pixar to have nothing to do with advanced next generation hi-definition video discs (Blu-ray and HD DVD), until they could be proven to be hack-proof.

It's a rather complete about-face on DRM, methinks.

Friday, January 19, 2007

iPhone uses Marvell Xscale ARM processor

Intel let it slip that the iPhone uses a Marvell Xscale chip. Intel would know too, since they used to own this line of chips and sold it to Marvell just last year.

It is likely a Marvell PXA900 series ARM architecture CPU, which is described as "an advanced total system solution for today's GSM, GPRS, and WCDMA mobile phones". The performance of this chip is supposedly in the 1000 MIPS range, which would make it about 20% faster than IBM's 849 MIPS 366 MHz PowerPC G3 750CX used in the second edition Firewire toilet seat iBook.

Too bad OS X 10.5 Leopard doesn't run as fast on old school G3 Macs as the stripped down version of it reportedly does on the iPhone.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Rogers confirms iPhone coming to Canada

Rogers Wireless has confirmed to us that they will be offering the iPhone in Canada. No date has yet been set for the iPhone release here, but they state that it will be a Rogers exclusive. No pricing information is available yet either.

It's unfortunate that Fido will not be getting this phone, but it is not surprising. The question now is whether an unlocked version of the phone will be available, either in the US or in Canada.

Apple posts $1 billion profit

Apple today released their 2007 Q1 results, and they were stellar: Record $7.1 billion revenues and record $1.0 billion profit, or $1.14 profit per share. AAPL was up from $94.95 at close to $99.48 after the financial conference call initially in after hours trading, but it settled down later to just over $94. Some details:

1.606 million Macs shipped, including 969000 laptops
21.066 million iPods shipped, up 50% year over year
Gross margin was 31.2%, up sharply
Cash reserves at $11.9 billion, up $1.75 billion this quarter

The 21 million iPods shipped last quarter shocked many analysts, but ironically Mac sales were lower than many predicted. In fact, despite this being the Christmas quarter and the fact that new laptops were released during this quarter, it was lower than the previous quarter's 1.61 million Macs shipped.

Perhaps it's this flat Mac sales and the rather tepid guidance for next quarter, along with the expected profit taking, that caused AAPL's drop to $94.17 after the conference call.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Cisco sues Apple over iPhone name

I was wondering how Apple got to use the iPhone name, considering Cisco owns the iPhone trademark. I figured Apple and Cisco may have worked out a last minute deal before the official iPhone announcement, but it turns out that is not the case.

Cisco is now suing Apple for trademark infringement.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Apple Computer is no more

Apple Computer, Inc. has ceased to be. They are now officially Apple Inc.

Happy 30th Anniversary Apple!

Apple iPhone: I won't be getting it

Nope. I won't be the first on the block to get the new Apple iPhone. I sure as hell want one though. ;)

The plethora of great features is really astonishing, and the slickness of the integration and the OS is worlds beyond anything ever released before. However, assuming I could even get an unlocked version of this quad-band GSM/EDGE phone (which may be a problem since Apple has an exclusive multi-year deal with Cingular), I'm not sure the phone really suits my needs entirely. My main issues are the price of the phone, cost and speed of net access, storage, and of course battery life:

1) The phone itself is quite expensive. Given that it's US$599 with a 2-year Cingular contract, I'd imagine that it would be upwards of CAD$1000 for an unlocked version of the 8 GB phone (if unlocked phones are actually available).

2) The data costs for this phone are prohibitive in Canada. Many of the features are fairly useless to me, unless I were to get an unlimited data plan. Unfortunately, such plans in Canada are extremely expensive, even if they may be quite reasonably priced in the US. It may be somewhat moot though, considering that this is an EDGE phone, not a 3G UMTS phone. EDGE speeds often are quite slow, which doesn't always make for a fun time when surfing. WiFi support does mitigate this somewhat, but most areas do not have free WiFi support.

3) One of the reasons I really like this phone is because it has a 3:2 480x320 widescreen. This is just what I wanted for an iPod, for movie playback. In fact, it's more, since I was hoping for a 480x272 widescreen. However, it has only 8 GB storage total. With the H.264 files I have encoded, an average movie is roughly 1 GB. Thus, an 8 GB model can only hold a few movies, if there are music, other files, and various applications on the phone at the same time, not to mention OS overhead. Unfortunately, there is no option for user swappable memory cards.

4) Battery life something that is likely to concern a lot of people. Often times when I am on the plane or train, I will drain my iPod battery down to zero playing back movies and music. After I arrive at my destination I can then take the iPod to the hotel and charge it there. However, this is unacceptable for a phone. If my phone runs out of juice, I am in trouble. For this reason, I always carry a second phone battery when I travel. This is impossible with the iPhone, as the battery is not user replaceable.

Other niggling issues include the 2 Megapixel non-autofocus camera, but I suppose I could live with that. I did mention lack of 3G UMTS support, but in truth our Canadian carriers are still relatively behind on that front, and so for now a quad-band GSM with EDGE is in many ways preferable here. Of course, I already have such a phone though, with a 3 Megapixel autofocus camera too. That mates well with my video iPod, which has the added benefit of TV output.

This is an excellent start for Apple. No, "excellent" is not the word. Shockingly impressive is a better description, considering that this first phone for Apple has an OS and features that are light years ahead of phones from companies who have been at this for just about forever. Hopefully they will get this phone out in time for their claimed launch date. They do have a lot of time to prepare though, since Apple has uncharacteristically announced this new iPod 6 months in advance for the summer release, sending AAPL up 8.3% to $92.57, and sending Research In Motion, Motorola, Nokia, and Palm lower.

I personally will await the iPhone 2.0 in 2008 however, with its 12 (or 16?) GB memory, tri-band GSM support with UMTS (and iSight and iChat mobile), extended battery life, and a 3 Megapixel camera. In the meantime, I hope Apple releases that $299 40 GB widescreen video iPod.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Don't expect full HD DVD support on Macs very soon

Amir Majidimehr, Corporate Vice President, Consumer Media Technology Group at Microsoft had a few interesting things to say about commercial HD DVD support on Macs:
Well, the situation is pretty simple now that Apple machines are based on X86 as the same highly optimized ports can be used that we have. Of course, we also have the PowerPC version for the 360. So VC-1 is not an issue at all.

You should note that there is a big difference between us providing a full blown player (i.e. the case you are talking about) and us providing component technology for someone else who has the know-how to build Mac applications for a living. In case of Apple building the overall player or someone else with experience with DVD playback on the Mac, the situation would be much better than it was for us fending for ourself.

Our HDi code is highly portable and since PCs/Macs are pretty fast compared to embedded products, getting it running there is not a big deal. The bigger issue is someone building a secure implementation of the player on the Mac. This is the thing that always held us back. Without Apple's cooperation, it is very difficult to build a secure DRM implementation there. But I expect third-parties to get there, should there be enough demand on that platform for HD optical playback.
While OS X's DVD player application does support HD DVD partially, and OS X 10.5 Leopard should support the HD DVD disc format (and drives) natively, there is not yet full support for commercial HD DVD discs.

Judging by Mr. Majidimehr's comments, it sounds like we won't see immediate full HD DVD support (including DRM, HDi, and VC-1 support), although market demands mean that we'll likely see this sooner rather than later, possibly from a third party. Blu-ray support may come quicker though, as Apple has thrown its support behind the format, at least on paper.