Posts tagged Apple’s

Google Has A New Answer To Apple’s Beats Music

Everything is better when it’s handcrafted—apparently even music. Google is unleashing digital DJs and playlists based on moods and circumstances on its Google Play Music app as part of its integration of Songza, which Google acquired earlier this year.

See also: Get Ready For The Streaming-Music Die-Off

On Tuesday, the company announced that Google Play Music subscribers can now choose music playlists keyed to a particular time of day, certain feelings, or a specific activity. These “radio stations” are put together individually by Google’s “team of music experts”—a group that apparently includes ethnomusicologists as well as DJs, musicians and music critics, because everything is better when ethnomusicologists are involved.

If that approach sounds familiar, that might be Beats Music, the streaming service created by music industry legends Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. (Apple acquired that service and the related headphone maker Beats Electronics for $3 billion in May.) When Beats Music launched back in January, my then-colleague Taylor Hatmaker thought its features blew away algorithm-based rivals like Pandora and Spotify.

See also: Beats Music Review: Finally, A Digital DJ That Knows Its Stuff

Google’s now betting on the human touch, too. When subscribers boot up the Google Play Music app, they’ll be prompted to tell Google a mood or a moment, which could be something like “at the gym,” or “summer BBQ.” Each station can be downloaded for offline listening. The company also revamped the “Listen Now” page, which includes suggestions for stations based on an individual’s music history. Previously, Google would let people create stations from a song or playlist, similar to other services.

The hand-selected, mood-based playlists will be available for subscribers in the U.S. and Canada today. The “Listen Now” page is available everywhere on Android, iOS, and the Web.

Google Play Music may face additional hurdles if it’s looking to keep up with its rival. Apple is reportedly planning to relaunch Beats Music at just $5 per month, about half of the $9.99 Google Play Music costs (roughly the industry standard).

Lead photo by Michael Dorausch; other images courtesy of Google

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Apple’s New Finger-Friendly iPad Air 2, Mini 3 Now Feature Touch ID

As expected, Apple has refreshed its iPad line with a new iPad Air 2, the company’s thinnest and fastest tablet to date. 

The super-skinny iPad Air 2 measures 6.1 mm thick and offers, among other things, TouchID. The new hardware component will help secure certain apps and the tablet itself with fingerprint recognition security. It also makes the iPad ripe for Apple Pay, which will also come to the tablet.

See also: What Apple Announced At Its Thursday iPad Event

In addition, Apple executive Phil Schiller emphasized that the new tablet will offer extremely low reflectivity to kill typical touchscreen glare. Then he boasted about a few more things. The iPad Air 2 features a new A8X, next-generation processor designed specifically for the tablet. Schiller claims the new iPad and its 64-bit architecture offers the fastest performance yet. 

Other additions: Motion co-processor, new barometer, 802.11 ac/MiMo support for faster WiFi, new HD selfie camera with larger 2.2 aperture, and 8MP iSight camera, 1080p HD capture, with burst-mode, time-lapse, and slow motion—just like the new iPhones can do. 

Pricing starts at $499 for 16GB; cellular versions cost $130 more. 

Schiller slipped in an iPad mini announcement: The new generation of the company’s compact tablet will also get TouchID. The iPad mini 3 will sell for a starting price of $399 (up to $599, depending on storage capacity). Budget shoppers will love that the company’s hanging onto the older tablet models, but cutting those prices by $100, to offer cheaper options. Last year’s iPad mini will start at just $299. 

See also: Apple Unveils A New “Retina” Display iMac

All tablets will be available silver, space grey and a new gold color. Pre-orders begin tomorrow, with shipping starting at the end of next week. 

Many people suspected many of these announcements were coming. And if they didn’t, Apple’s accidental leak of its own iPad product info yesterday basically sealed the deal. 

iPad sales have been slowing quite a bit recently, though you wouldn’t know that from Apple’s event. According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple sold more iPads in the first four years than any other product in its history. It sold “225 million iPads around the world,” and 675,000 apps designed especially for it now exist. 

Photo by Apple

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Apple’s Mac Mini Gets An Update, Lower Price

Apple unveiled the latest update, along with a price reduction, to its most diminutive desktop computer Thursday at a product launch on its Cupertino campus.  

See also: What Apple Announced At Its Thursday iPad Event

The Mac Mini’s first update in two years includes faster 4th generation Intel Core processors, Intel Iris and HD Graphics 5000, PCle-based flash storage, 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. Apple also claims that the new Mac Mini is the world’s most “energy efficient desktop.” The new Mac Mini start at $499, a $100 reduction from the previous version’s $599 price tag. 

The Mac Mini begins shipping Thursday. 

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Apple’s New iPad Mini 3 = iPad Mini 2 + Touch ID + $100

If Apple’s pricing for its 7.9-inch iPad minis is anything to go by, it apparently figures you will gladly pay an extra $100 for its Touch ID fingerprint scanner. 

The company’s new iPad mini 3 offers exactly the same specs as last year’s model, excepting only the addition of Touch ID. Yet it will set you back another full 100 clams: 

  • iPad mini 3: 16GB $399, iPad mini 2: 16GB $299
  • iPad mini 3: 32GB none, iPad mini 2: 32GB $349
  • iPad mini 3: 64GB $499, iPad mini 2: none
  • iPad mini 3: 128GB $599, iPad mini 2: none

The very first 2012 iPad mini now costs even less, at $249 for 16GB of storage—but that price differential seems justified, considering it was slower and didn’t come with a high-res “retina” display. 

The new iPad mini 3 is exactly the same size and weight as the iPad mini 2, and boasts exactly the same A7 processor, cameras, screen size and resolution. Meanwhile its bigger sibling, the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2, shaved off 1.4 mm (0.05 inches) and lost 34 grams (0.07 pounds) relative to its predecessor.

It’s also worth pointing out that the new version of the large tablet is the only iPad to come with the new A8X processor—the one Phil Schiller couldn’t stop gushing about today

But back to the iPad mini: The only other differences that we can spot between this year’s and last year’s versions are a new gold color option and a reshuffling of its storage capacity options (as you can see in the list above). Apple has officially ditched the 32GB option in the new model—presumably to shuffle people into larger, pricier tiers. 

Maybe Apple’s paying less attention to the iPad mini now that it has the gargantuan iPhone 6 Plus and its 5.5-inch display. More likely, though, is the possibility that Apple’s big plans to generate iPad excitement relied on the new iPad Air and an even bigger 12.9-inch version, which supposedly got delayed until next year

Either way, if you already have an iPad mini 2 and are wondering if you should upgrade, the decision is pretty simple: Ask yourself if having a fingerprint scanner is worth plunking down more money.

Photo of Touch ID on the iPhone 5S by Kārlis Dambrāns

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Like Google, Apple’s Siri Also Gets Stephen Colbert’s Height Wrong

Google came under fire last night from Stephen Colbert, over a direct answer that got the comedian’s height wrong. But Apple’s Siri makes the same mistake — something Colbert didn’t raise during his video appearance at the Apple’s iPad event today. Stephen Colbert…

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What To Expect At Apple’s Thursday iPad Event

It’s showtime again for Apple, for the third time this year. At 10am PT on Thursday, the maker of iPhones, iPads and a host of other gear kick off a big event at which it will unveil its latest gadgets—and perhaps a surprise or two.

ReadWrite will have full coverage of the event as it takes place. We’ll update this post with links to our posts as the news rolls in; you can also follow our Twitter feed, @RWW, for live commentary. Apple will be streaming the event; here’s how to watch it.

See also: 3 Ways To Watch As Apple Unveils New iPads And Macs

In the meantime, here’s a quick preview of what we’re expecting from Apple on Thursday:

  • New versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini, all featuring Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner. The new iPads should be configured to work with Apple Pay, the company’s not-yet-launched mobile-payment system (thus the need for Touch ID). Apple is expected to offer iPads in the color gold in addition to traditional “space gray” and silver.
  • New iMacs with high-resolution “retina” screens—one with a 21-inch display and another at 27 inches. The smaller model may not ship until 2015.
  • A release date for Mac OS X Yosemite, which has been in developer preview for much of the summer
  • A release date for Apple Pay (and iOS 8.1). Some clues suggest Apple will launch the payment service on October 20, which means it would also push out its iOS 8.1 update at or before that time as well.

Some iffier possibilities include:

  • A 12.9-inch mega-iPad. This possible addition to the iPad lineup has been rumored for weeks, but the latest reports suggest that production delays may push back its introduction.
  • A 12-inch MacBook with a high-resolution “retina” display. This has also been rumored for a while, though even the rumors aren’t precise; some hold this computer might be a mid-sized but high-res MacBook Air, while others hold it would be a smaller and slimmer MacBook Pro.
  • Home-automation products and details about Apple’s HomeKit. Apple announced its push into smart-home products at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Since then, however, there’s been no word as to how Apple’s HomeKit “hub” will work with third-party equipment or whether the company will release its own smart-home products.
  • An upgraded Apple TV streaming box. Some people have been expecting a new version of Apple TV since the spring, although it’s equally possible that an update might not happen until next year.

Which rumors will prove to be true? Join us tomorrow and find out.

Lead photo by Max Herman for Shutterstock

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Apple’s iOS 8.1 Will Bring Big Changes; Let’s Hope They’re All Good

Users wary of the problems Apple inadvertently wrought on their iPhones over the past few weeks should brace themselves. iOS 8.1, the next software update for iPhones, iPads and iPod touches, looks be moving to the launchpad next. 

See also: Apple Really Needs To Get It Together

The 8.1 update, expected within days of Apple’s October 16 press event, isn’t just another collection of bug fixes—welcome though those will be for many. iOS 8.1 will almost certainly debut Apple Pay, Apple’s highly anticipated mobile payments system. 

Designed to turn iPhones and Apple Watches into wallets that can pay for things in stores, Apple Pay has the potential to be a revolutionary change, not least because despite lots of effort, no other company has cracked the mobile-payment nut quite yet.

But it’s also a nerve-wracking proposition, since the new payment system will be arriving on the heels of the company’s boldest, and perhaps buggiest, software to date. Only the stakes are going to be a lot higher for people who are trusting Apple with their cash and credit balances.

Who Might Really Pay For Apple Pay

So far, iOS 8 has wreaked havoc on many unsuspecting iPhone users. For some, problems like lost cellular connectivity and drained batteries overshadowed the benefits of smarter notifications and better location controls.

The biggest setback was iOS 8.0.1, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it software update intended to support Apple’s HealthKit, a software system for storing health and fitness data. Instead, it hobbled devices, forcing Apple to pull it down and rush version 8.0.2 out the door—which some say is no panacea.

See also: Why Half Of iPhone Users Don’t Trust iOS 8 Yet

With any luck, iOS 8.1 will solve many of the remaining problems. But it may could also introduce new ones, given the complexity of the Apple Pay system that looks likely to debut in 8.1

Externally, Apple has been readying outside partners—from banks and credit card companies to retailers—in preparation for the launch. Internally, it has built a credit-card management and transaction system out of iTunes accounts, its Passbook app, and two specific hardware components: the iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint scanner and Near Field Communication (NFC) chips. 

See also: Apple Is Less Than Inviting To PayPal In Apple Pay

With all those pieces coordinated in an intricate dance, Apple Pay will store your credit card info, pull it up when need be, identify you and send transaction details when it registers a physical tap on an in-store terminal.

This one-finger, one-tap scenario is the convenience and—let’s face it—fun of this system. The idea is to make mobile payments so simple for consumers that everyone will want to use it. 

But as Steve Jobs once said, “Simple can be harder than complex.” It takes a lot to make Apple Pay seem easy. And if we’ve learned anything about complex systems, it’s that every interaction of their moving parts is vulnerable to malfunction, error or just plain unexpected behavior.

We might not even be raising this point were it not for Apple’s surprisingly ham-handed rollout of iOS 8. Software updates should follow a sort of tech version of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. And that’s not what Apple has delivered to its customers this round.

So, fingers crossed that Apple Pay works the way it’s supposed to, and doesn’t break anything else. 

iPhones 5, 5C, 5S can work with Apple Pay too, but only by pairing with the Apple Watch

The Software Update Conundrum 

Apple Pay isn’t the only passenger on board iOS 8.1. The change logs in the developer version point to the return of the much-missed Camera Roll—the iPhone photo folder inexplicably nixed last month. 

See also: Apple Might Bring Back The iPhone Camera Roll

Additionally, Apple may deliver functional Continuity features, which tie iPhones and Macs together more closely. Signs of Continuity for iMessages were spotted in the iOS 8.1 beta software, and the Mac OS X version required to make it work—named Yosemite—appears to be close to its final stages now too

Mostly, though, it may be the bug fixes that pull people in. So if your phone is riddled with problems—like vexing keyboard glitches, strange screen rotation behavior and fundamental issues that mess with your phone’s functionality—you might find jumping in worth it. 

See also: Apple Will Reportedly Announce New iPads On October 16

Apple may also decide to patch the recently discovered SSL vulnerability, which can put browsing on supposedly secure websites at risk. This would strengthen the case for grabbing iOS 8.1. 

But if not, and your phone works fine, consider waiting. Why risk problems when you can let the early adopters stumble into the minefield first? 

Lead image by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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Apple’s Larger iPad May Be Delayed, Sources Say

We won’t be seeing larger Apple iPads until next year, and the iPhone 6 may be to blame.

Unnamed sources told the Wall Street Journal that plans to increase production on larger iPad models have been pushed back while the company struggles to meet demand for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Suppliers in Asia told the Journal that they’d originally been scheduled to up iPad production volumes in December.

The news broke last week that Apple would be unveiling new products at an event at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters on October 16. Rumor has it one new product may be a larger iPad. This new device will feature a 12.9-inch liquid-crystal-display screen, according to in-the-know suppliers.

See also: Apple Sends iPad Event Invitations For October 16

It’s unclear if Apple’s allegedly delayed iPad production means that the company will not be introducing its new iPad at the event after all. But if sources close to the situation are correct, it will be a while longer until these iPads make their way to the public.

Photo by Max Herman for Shutterstock

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Apple’s Siri Will Drive You To Distraction, Warns AAA

Siri may not be the hands-free savior Apple intended her to be. A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety ranks iOS 7 Siri as one of drivers’ worst distractions.

See also: Distracted Driving: All Lip Service With No Legit Tech Solution

AAA noted that even though three out of four drivers think hands-free technology is safe to use on the road, it can be deceptively distracting, with potentially dangerous results.

“Technologies used in the car that rely on voice communications may have unintended consequences that adversely affect road safety,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s president and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a statement. “The level of distraction and the impact on safety can vary tremendously based on the task or the system the driver is using.”

The study measured drivers’ reaction time with equipment such as instrumented test vehicles and heart-rate monitors. Although Siri is hands-free and eyes-free, drivers using the Apple function to perform a number of tasks experienced some of the most elevated levels of distraction.

“It is clear that not all voice systems are created equal, and today’s imperfect systems can lead to driver distraction,” said AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet. “AAA is confident that it will be possible to make safer systems in the future.”

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Apple’s Health App Is An Embarrassment

ReadWriteBody is an ongoing series where ReadWrite covers networked fitness and the quantified self.

You know those super-awkward “before” shots with a fat guy holding a newspaper as he’s about to start a diet and workout regimen?

I have to imagine that’s what Apple’s software designers had in mind when they created the first version of the Health app that’s getting installed on millions of new and upgraded iPhones.

It’s easy to be critical of a 1.0 version of any piece of software. But this is Apple, which has set expectations around its push into health and fitness sky-high. If you’re going to put the bar all the way up there, you’d better be able to jump up, grab it, and knock out a solid pull-up. Chest to the bar.

A Sickly Debut

The challenge for Apple is that the Health app, by itself, doesn’t do anything. It’s dependent on other apps to feed it nutrition data, workout sessions, and vital signs via Apple’s HealthKit software, which developers build into their offerings.

We were supposed to start using Apple’s Health app weeks ago, when iOS 8 launched. But shortly after Apple rolled out its new mobile operating system for iPhones and iPads, it abruptly yanked health and fitness apps using its new HealthKit software from the App Store—and forced them to release new versions minus HealthKit.

A week later, we almost saw the debut of Health-compatible apps with iOS 8.0.1. Then Apple yanked 8.0.1. No HealthKit for you! Finally, with 8.0.2, wary Apple developers gingerly started rolling out HealthKit apps.

I was ready to go, with folders full of theoretically compatible apps, like FitStar, Jawbone Up, MyFitnessPal, and Runtastic. It was just a matter of hooking them all up to Health.

A Lot Of Tapping, Not Much Action

The result was underwhelming, to say the least.

Health has four tabs at the bottom: Dashboard, Health Data, Sources, and Medical ID.

Dashboard provides daily, weekly, monthly or annual views of your health statistics. Health Data provides list views and lets you control which data points appear on the Dashboard. Sources lists the apps you’ve connected to HealthKit. And Medical ID lets you create emergency medical information, like drug allergies, that’s displayed on your phone’s lock screen.

Because I have a new iPhone 6, which has a motion coprocessor to track steps, I can feed that data into both MyFitnessPal and Jawbone Up, and from there back into the Health app. But I’d already connected MyFitnessPal to the iPhone’s steps counter and hooked MyFitnessPal and Up together in the individual apps, so that wasn’t much of an improvement.

MyFitnessPal feeds my calorie intake into Health. But I could already see that data in MyFitnessPal. Not much of an improvement there. In theory, other apps can now pick up that data and provide analysis, but I don’t have any that make use of it.

FitStar and Runtastic add data about my workouts to Health. But I’d already connected these apps to MyFitnessPal, which tracks calories burned against my food intake in a way that’s more useful than the Health app’s charts.

And then there’s the Health app’s design. It’s not exactly ugly, but it’s not useful. The interface is confusing, and the app doesn’t provide any kind of interpretation for what I’m seeing, or suggestions on what to do differently in terms of my exercise or nutrition.

One of the most compelling features of HealthKit is the way it handles duplicate entries from multiple sources of data. But actually accessing this feature is tricky. 

Paul Veugen, the cofounder of fitness-app maker Human, explained in a recent blog post how to use Health’s multiple-sources feature. You have to select a data type from either the Dashboard or the Health Data tab, tap on a “Share Data” button and then “Edit.” Like most Health functions, it’s completely nonintuitive. (Veugen’s cofounder, Renato Valdes Olmos, followed up with a number of useful suggestions on how to fix Health.)

For that, I’m better off using an app like Up, RunKeeper’s Breeze, or Human, all of which provide helpful tips on daily activities as well as simple data logging. Or MyFitnessPal, which many of my friends use, where I get real human feedback on little achievements like hitting my calorie goal for the day. 

Health doesn’t have any of the behavioral or social features which are key to a fitness app’s success. There’s simply no reason to use it, except as a crude data-storage tool.

Before—And After?

Perhaps this is all by design: Rather than compete with fitness-app makers, Apple wants to work with all of them. A functional, useful Health app that might compete with them for attention doesn’t serve that goal.

But it seems maddening that Apple would hire dozens of health and fitness experts only to produce such a crippled, useless piece of software.

So for now, think of Health as a very simple interface on top of a database of health statistics. It’s not something for you to use. Instead, it’s a convenient way for the people who make actual useful fitness apps to share data. 

It saves you from having to constantly reenter your weight, age, and other statistics, and it helps you avoid duplication of workout sessions and step counts. And for medical applications, it may find some niche uses—but even there, the utility is likely to come in specialty applications that swap data with Health rather than in the Health app itself.

Apple’s Health app, in its current incarnation, isn’t in very good shape. It could eventually become useful, but Apple will have to do a lot of work to get there—or buy a company like Human, Jawbone, RunKeeper, or MyFitnessPal to learn how to make fitness apps that people will actually use.

The best thing you can say about the Health app right now is that it makes for one heck of a “before” photo.

Photo by Shutterstock

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