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iOS 9 is now Available

ios9 logo

Apple’s latest mobile operating system is now available for download. iOS 9 focuses majorly on performance improvements and is compatible with iPhones up to 4S and iPads up to original mini. Here are some key changes in the new version:

  • Battery life improvements.
  • A new system wide font. This is the same font used in Apple Watch.
  • A new News app to subscribe and catch up to  news.
  • Improved notes app supporting photos, sketches & lists.
  • Transit directions in Maps.
  • Store cards in Wallet (previously passbook) in addition to Financial institution cards.
  • Far better multitasking features for the iPad.
  • Smarter Siri.
  • 6 digit passcodes.

The battery life improvements alone make this upgrade worthy. Head to Settings – General – Software Update on your device to update to the latest version.

Apple announces the new Apple TV

apple tv 2015

In addition to launching the new iPhone 6S and the iPad Pro, Apple also announced the much awaited refresh to their Apple TV. It was long due an update for the small yet mighty powerful device that has been silently gaining momentum in our living rooms.

The new Apple TV is slightly taller than its predecessor, however, it is far more powerful. Here are the specs:

  • 64 bit A8 chip
  • Siri Remote with touch interface, accelerometer and gyroscope
  • HDMI 1.4 with CEC
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • tvOS
  • Available in 32GB and 64GB

The new tvOS and the Siri remote are the two instrumental changes in the new Apple TV. Together, they offer a new way to control your TV. In addition to a touch based control, the remote has dual microphones and a Siri button. You can ask Siri to do stuff and search for titles. During playback, Siri can also answer your questions about the content being played or anything else going around the world. You can also ask Siri to turn subtitles on or off and asking “what did he say?” will rewind the playback 30 seconds back. The remote can also control your TV/AVR via HMDI CEC.

Probably one of the best new features is Siri’s ability to search for titles across the installed apps. Let’s say you ask Siri to search for The Imitation Game and its available on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. Siri will display all the options to you to choose from. Some other set top boxes have been doing that, but then again, they do not have AirPlay or the iTunes Store.

The updated processing power also lets you play high end games on the new Apple TV. You can use the Siri remote as a Wii type controller or but 3rd party dedicated game controllers (like the Nimbus Steelseries Controller).

Apple is also encouraging developers to build general purpose apps for the Apple TV. So expect to see apps from GILT, AirBnB and others. Not sure how successful these will be, but supporting all the platform using a single app package is a dream come true for developers.

Meet the new iPad Pro

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There was no surprise when Apple launched a bigger iPad at its press event on September 9th. There have been several leaks suggesting that Apple was working on an iPad with a screen as big as a laptop. The iPad Pro, as Apple is calling it, is, for the lack of a better descriptor, almost a laptop. Here are the specs:

  • 12.9 inch screen.
  • A9X chip with embedded M9 co-processor and a new memory architecture.
  • 8 megapixel iSight camera and 1.2 megapixel FaceTime HD camera.
  • Dual microphones.
  • Apple SIM.
  • Four speaker audio.
  • Apple Keyboard and Pencil support

This new iPad is aimed at serious professional work. With the fastest processor and advances in the display, the iPad Pro is aimed at professionals who are looking for an optimal balance of productivity and portability. With the Apple Pencil and the keyboard, Apple deviates from its long term stand of using fingers as the only way to interact with its touch screen devices.  This shows that they are willing to prove themselves wrong in order to deliver what the consumers want (and make lots of money).

We are yet to see what professionals think about the Apple Pencil and the keyboard, but they seem great from the first look. Here is a video showing the Apple Pencil in action:

The new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are here

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Apple announced the latest iPhones at its press event on September 9th. The new iPhone are now available for pre-order and will be available in stores on September 25th. Keeping with the tradition of the ’S’ series, they look strikingly similar to their predecessor. Apple says that everything about them have changed. Here are the specs of the new ones:

  • The latest 64 bit A9 chip with embedded M9 co-processor chip making it even more energy efficient.
  • 12 megapixel camera with new iOS capabilities to take live photos – photos that have a small amount of video captured around them.
  • 4K video recording.
  • 5 megapixel FaceTime HD camera with the added capabilities of the screen acting as the flash.
  • Faster Touch ID sensor.
  • Always on Hey Siri.
  • Aircraft grade aluminum body.
  • 3D Touch – a pressure sensitive touchscreen that can be used to interact with the operating system in a whole new way.

Arguably the most touted feature in the new models is 3D touch. Apple is known for implementing things in the right and the most intuitive way. For years, ‘it just works’ has been their USP. While many other have already tried incorporating pressure sensitive touch and UI elements in their devices before, the reason everyone is rejoicing on iPhones offering them means that the others haven’t gotten it right yet.

3D touch enables a whole new layer of interactions with the device. With the main focus on improving the efficiency of our interaction with our devices, 3D touch enables you to peek at content (emails, messages, photos, links) by hard touching (pressing?) on it. Touching harder will open (pop) that content without the need of the previous explicit normal touch. It might sound trivial, but once you get used to it, it will become a second nature and can save a lot of taps and swipes. Another way Apple is using this technology is by offering quick actions when you 3D touch an app’s icon. This gesture opens a customizable menu giving you quick access to the features you might use more often. For example – 3D touching the camera icon may give you options to take a selfie, or record a slow motion video – something which would have otherwise taken you a few taps. It will be really interesting to see what developers are going to do with this new technology. Games are already lined up to take advantage of this.

Here is a video in the god like baritone of Sir Johny Ive explaining the 3D touch technology in the new iPhones:

And here is the new ad Apple made for the iPhone 6S:

You can pre-order the iPhones here: http://www.apple.com/shop/buy-iphone/

I Bought an Apple Watch and Returned it

apple watch logo

I was one of those people who pre-ordered the apple watch at 12 am on April 10 and still got the shipping estimate of June. I had bought the Space black stainless steel with link bracelet. It cost a whooping $1195 with taxes here in California and I was praying that it better be god damn good to justify that price. Sadly, it wasn’t. When I got it on June 2nd, after the usual adrenaline rush of unboxing an apple product subsided, and after using it for about a week, I came to the conclusion that this is a product that Steve Jobs would never have let to be launched in its current state. But then again, he let 1st generation iPad to be launched. So I am not sure. Surprisingly, battery is not the problem.

Looks

One of the first things that I noticed is that it does not look as good as Apple shows it in the ads and on apple.com. Those are enlarged and processed images with reflections that make it look like something from out of this world. Turns out, its not. Don’t get me wrong. It still looks awesome and way better than all other smartwatches out there. Just not as good as it looks in official photos. Having spent a huge sum of money based on these images alone (the exact model was not available in the store I went to try it on), I was disappointed.

apple watch

Screen activation

The second thing that bothered me was that the screen won’t activate in a lot of highly probably real world scenarios. I understand that Apple needs to keep the screen off to preserve battery life and activate it when you tilt your wrist. But for me, it did not activate in a lot of scenarios:

  • While biking when I tilt my wrist just a little while still holding the handlebar.
  • When working on a desk (sitting or standing) and I tilt my wrist a little to look at the watch.
  • When my arms are folded and I want to glance at my watch by tilting my wrist a little while still keeping my hands folded.
  • While lying down, playing a game on my iPhone and trying to glance on my watch by tilting the wrist a little.

All the above scenarios are so common that the watch started to annoy me by not working in those. This is when I never look at my watch for finding out the current time. Imagine the horror if I do.

Slowness

I read in the reviews that the watch is very slow. I still wanted to see it for myself what they are talking about. And the reviews are not lying. This is 2015 and you expect a product being launched during this time to be super fast and reliable. Apple is going to allow native apps in the next watchOS. This should have been taken care of at the time of the release. And I don’t even know if its going to solve the problem. The Watch’s processor seemed too slow to me to take the load of what we want it to do. A lot of the widgets crashed for me. That just reflects poor coding. The next release of iOS and watchOS is going to focus on performance and bug fixing. If Apple has to focus a release on performance and bug fixing, that itself is not a good sign. These two things were considered as default in any software that Apple shipped. It just reflects that the leadership team is focussing on aggressively releasing stuff even if it is poor in quality.

Digital Crown

I rarely used the digital crown. I think it is a great invention and incredibly precise and accurate. However, with people used to touching screens so much, the 1st instinct is to always use the screen to scroll or tap buttons. And with Apple’s super accurate touch (and force touch), the digital crown is basically redundant. A problem which arises due to using the touchscreen instead of the digital crown is that you end up smudging the watch screen with your fingerprint a lot. And given that its a tiny screen, the finger prints are far more visible on it than on your phone’s screen.

No use for thumb

The primary finger I use on my iPhone is my thumb. It is also used a lot on my MacBook’s keyboard for hitting the space bar. Unfortunately, the thumb has no use in the apple watch as there is no button on the left side of the watch. Atleast in the orientation I wear my watch (on my left wrist). This left my thumb stranded a lot of times. And its a weird feeling.

Siri

There is no way to correct Siri’s speech to text errors on the watch. With an Indian English accent, its difficult and frustrating a lot of times even with the correct accent selected in your iPhone’s settings. I also noticed that Siri did not have good enough ambient noise cancellation. When outdoors on a busy street, Siri on my Apple Watch continued to listen (the noise) long after I had stopped speaking. The iPhone’s Siri worked perfectly in the same environment. It might be because of the microphone design on the watch, but its super annoying.

Another intermittent issue I faced was that the touchscreen did not register my taps while walking or biking. So if there is an incoming call, tapping on the answer button wont do anything unless you are standing still. It looks like the watch software focuses on preserving the battery and avoiding erroneous taps and inputs which are bordering on some edge cases which need to be perfected and tested thoroughly before it is ready for power users.

There are a lot of good things like seamless handoff, quick replies, health tracking etc., but they were not enough for me to keep the watch. Even the features introduced in the WWDC keynote failed to impress me enough to buy this version again. The apple watch to me, feels like a product rushed to launch before it was ready and I will likely wait until the next iteration(s) to get my hands on one.

Thoughts on Apple Pay

Apple-Pay-icon

Apple Pay is a revolutionary payment system. I have used it a couple of times since it has launched and just love the way it has been implemented. It works just as it was shown in the keynote. You basically bring your iPhone close to the payment terminal which is waiting for payment and your cards stored in the passbook will automagically appear on your screen. If you have your finger already on the Touch ID, it would just go ahead and authorize the payment with your default card. The little chime and a subtle vibration in addition to the short animation on the screen let you know that the payment was authorized.

More and more banks and financial institution have been joining the Apple Pay bandwagon since its launch. Its like the next big thing (pun intended). And Apple’s master plan of letting banks promote the technology is working out well. We see more ads from banks for this thing than we see from Apple. Why? Because its super secure. And all banks want a payment system which is super secure. It will massively cut down on their fraud detection budget. I was impressed to see that every bank has a dedicated Apple Pay helpline to help customers activate their cards over Apple Pay. People say that Apple should have added NFC to previous iPhone versions as well. But if you think about it, they launched the iPhone 5S with just the Touch ID sensor in order to test its usability and gather usage patterns and data. They perfected the key piece of the puzzle before getting into the game.

But Apple Pay is the beginning of what the NFC technology in the iPhone can do. It is going to be the poster boy of what Apple is going to do with NFC, but there are several other awesome things that can be done. Imagine checking into your hotel room from an app on your phone and getting the NFC based soft key delivered to your phone. With contactless locks, you can directly head to your room and open it by just bringing your phone close to the lock. NFC also has massive potential to replace regular cards. Think transit passes and starbucks gift cards. All of these can be stored on your iPhone and used with next gen hardware. And since everything is authorized by your fingerprint, its super secure. And you can certainly rely on Apple to deliver the simplest implementation possible. The mere ability of the phone to wake up and spring up your cards when its brought closer to the payment terminal is the epitome of intuitiveness.

The potential is huge and I am sure a dedicated team of creative + engineering is right now working at Cupertino to design protocols and workflows to make that a reality. This is why Apple is succeeding where other have failed. Apple not only delivered the technology, they also designed a very efficient and secure way to make it work. The Apple Pay system is being praised by various security firms as one of the most secure payment systems yet. If Apple can design systems with the same level of security, efficiency & ease of use for other NFC potentials, the impact is going to be huge.

There are few glitches of course. Like with any new technology, adoption is one of the biggest challenges Apple Pay is facing. And I am not talking about consumer adoption. Apple is covered there. There are enough people in the world now to buy whatever Apple makes and make it a successful product. The real challenge is making merchants to invest in new equipments which support the payment system. Most merchants in the developed countries have the contactless payment enabled terminals installed. But there is still a big chunk of small to medium scale merchants which use the old swipe terminals and will not upgrade unless there is a new regulation in place or they see some irresistible deal which makes the investment worth. I am talking about those neighborhood stores which do not belong to a big chain. These are individually/family owned businesses which form a big part of our daily transactions. Apple is relying on the banks to do this job as well.

Apple Pay is being advertised as a replacement for your wallet. Well, you don’t only keep your money (paper or plastic) in your wallet. There are 10 other things. Granted that those membership cards can be added to Passbook in future and, well, what better place to keep your kids’ photos than an album on your iPhone? But still, think about payment transactions in places like restaurants & gas stations. Not all restaurants have those fancy wireless payment terminals which the waiters can carry to your desk (although they are becoming increasingly popular in countries where EMV chip based cards are mandated). Also, mobile phones are generally not encouraged to be used at gas stations as the batteries can ignite the fumes coming out of gasoline. And what about those quarters you keep to pay for street parking? Not all cities have meters with card readers, much less contactless card readers.

But even with all these hiccups, Apple Pay is going to succeed and is here to stay. Even if Apple does not come up with any of the other NFC based use cases, it is still a super awesome contactless payment system which will give you a short adrenaline kick every time you use it. And that’s what we live for, right?

This is the Apple Watch

apple watch logo

In addition to launching the iPhone 6, Apple also introduced its brand new product line – the Apple Watch.

apple watch

The Apple watch is a wearable device which comes in 2 sizes – 38mm and 42mm. The crown, or as apple calls it – digital crown, is the new way of interacting with the watch without blocking the screen. The watch also offers a touch screen – so don’t worry, you are covered there. The touch screen is an advanced capacitive & resistive screen which can differentiate between a tap and a press. So you can use different modes for different actions.

apple watch straps

In addition to offering various watch faces, the watch will be capable of making and receiving phone calls, Sending and receiving text messages & providing some Siri functions. Apple has also built in an intelligent algorithm that can figure out the message context and give you pre-populated replies to tap onto instead of having to type them in – which is really cool.

The watch also features something called as Digital Touch which allows you to communicate with your selective friends in weird new ways. You can read more about them here.

apple watch sensors

The watch is also an always on fitness monitor with various sensors on the back that monitor your heartbeat. Coupled with the inbuilt accelerometer and GPS and WiFi from an iPhone, it can record various types of physical activity data that you can use to track your fitness activities. There are various fitness apps that will be available on the watch for all kinds of users.

The watch will also be able to give you a tactile feedback similar to a tap on your wrist. And there can be different types of taps for different types of notifications. This is going to be great as we definitely need some filtering when notifications are coming to our wrists.

In addition to the above features, the watch will also support the Apple Pay features and you can do merchant transactions by brining your watch closer to the mobile enabled merchant terminals.

The Apple Watch will be available in early 2015 at a starting price of $349. At this entry price, it is certainly going to be a premium product, however, it does look like the first smart watch which seems to have understood the concept of how smart watches should work. In Tim Cook’s words – we have not shrunk an iPhone into a watch. This is really important as no one wants to interact with their watches (or fitness trackers) the way they interact with their phones. A new, innovative way to interact with such devices was needed and the digital crown coupled with the advanced touchscreen seems to be the right way to do it. 

Apple Launches the iPhone 6

iphone 6

Apple launched the next generation of iPhone(s) today at their press event in Cupertino. The event was held at the Flint Center where Steve Jobs revealed the Macintosh 30 years back. There were two new iPhones reveled – The iPhone 6 with a 4.7 inch display and the iPhone 6 plus with a 5.5 inch display.

Both the phones feature:

  • 64 bit A8 chip with M8 motion coprocessor
  • 8 megapixel iSight camera with f/2.2 aperture with an advanced auto focussing system called Focus Pixels
  • up to 60 fps 1080p video recording
  • 240 fps slow motion video recording
  • Advanced cinematic video stabilization
  • Apple Pay – Apple’s take on the mobile wallet

iphone 6 and 6 plus

The biggest visible differences are the large screen sizes and the overall thinner & sleeker body design. There are no chamfered edges this time. The screen just blends in to the aluminum body of the phone and a first glance will remind you of the very first iPhone the company revealed back in 2007.

The iPhone 6 plus is going to be the flagship device with the massive screen offering 1920×1080 pixels and a much longer battery life thanks to the bigger size. It also features optical image stabilization (which is far better) as opposed to only digital image stabilization in the iPhone 6.

Both the phones have the required hardware to enable Apple Pay which is Apple’s effort to simplify the payment process – both online and at merchant outlets. The phones will work with the credit card saved on file in your iTunes account out of the box. You can also add your other cards by just capturing a photo with your phone’s camera.

apple pay

The phone does not store the credit card number or any security code. Instead, it only stores a unique device account number on a secure elements chip inside the phone. None of this info is stored on Apple’s servers. Even when you do a transaction, the credit card number is not sent to the merchant. Everything is done using the device account number and a unique transaction code generated in real time.

In order to pay at a terminal supporting mobile payments, you don’t need to open an app or even wake your phone. Just bring your phone close to the terminal and the passbook with your credit cards will pop up. All transactions will require your fingerprint using the touch ID sensor on the phone’s home button, so only you can authorize a payment.

iPhone 6 & 6 plus will be available on September 19th with pre orders starting on September 12th. The contract free prices will be as follows:

iPhone 6:

  • 16GB: $649
  • 64GB: $749
  • 128GB: $849

iPhone 6 plus:

  • 16GB: $749
  • 64GB: $849
  • 128GB: $949

Thats right No 32GB version this time. You get 64GB for the price you paid for 32GB in the previous versions.

Apple says that the new iPhones will be launched in 115 countries by the end of 2014. No word or pricing info for Indian market yet. Stay tuned.

Review: Nomad Chargekey for Lightning Devices

nomad logo

All of us have faced a situation where we ran out of battery on our iPhone and looked around for a charger and never found one. At such a time we wonder if there can be a charger that we can always have. There are the two things that we mostly never forget – our wallet and our keys. Nomad has come up with these innovative USB chargers which can fit in your wallet (the chargecard) and in your keychain (the chargekey). Nomad sent us a chargekey to review. Read on to find out how we found it.

Design

nomad chargekey

The chargekey is made of 2 hard plastic parts joined together by a flexible yet robust stem in the middle. One part has a slot which you can use to put it in the keychain. It also houses  the lightning connector which goes in your phone. The other part has a naked USB port which goes into a USB charger or your laptop’s USB port. The flexible stem in the middle makes this product really unique and awesome. The flexible stem is so robust, that no matter what way you bend it, it never snaps!

The design is minimalistic in terms of volume and weight. The chargekey weighs much less that an actual key and will not add any bulk to your keychain. The only issue one might have is with the angled lightning connector which will force you to keep your phone at an angle which is not very ideal for using it simultaneously. Unfortunately, USB port connectors are not reversible. So uou might have to use it on the USB ports to the left of the keyboard on your laptop to keep it at a usable angle.

As far as durability is concerned, this is by far the most durable iPhone charger I have seen till date.

Usage

chargekey in a keyring

I took the chargekey on a trip with me. The trip involved traveling by road and train. During the whole trip, I always had the chargekey on me to be able to charge my phone anywhere. During travel, the phone discharges much faster due to lack of signal strength. I used the chargekey on almost every leg of my journey and at various places that I stayed, and it performed pretty well everywhere.

I even used it with a USB charger on the power sockets provided in the Indian Railways train compartments with my iPhone hanging out. And the bending stem did not give up!

The chargekey is not just a charger. It is a USB 2.0 sync cable as well. Although you will most likely be using it as just a charging device. That is perfectly fine as we seldom sync our iPhones with our computers these days.

Packaging

The packaging of the product impressed me a lot. Nomad has gone really above and beyond to design a super awesome packaging for their products.

nomad packing envelope closed

The product comes in an intelligently designed envelope which is really simple to open.

nomad packing envelope opened

When you open the envelope, you will find the product glued to the envelope using a sticky gel (which does not stick to the product after its removed). You will also find ways to earn free products from them. Nomad also accepts barter as a payment mechanism. So you can actually tell them what you want to barter for any of their products and if they like it, they might make the exchange!

Conclusion

The chargekey is a super useful little tool that will surely give you your money’s worth. Its priced at $29 a piece and if you order two or more of them, you get free international shipping! I found the product to be a very robust item with an intelligent and thought through design.  I will recommend this product to anyone who faces the dire need of a charger and can’t find one in the vicinity. And at $29 a piece, it is very reasonable priced.

Apple Starts a New Era of Free Software

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In addition to launching the new iPad Air and iPad Mini with retina display a few weeks back, Apple also launched their latest desktop operating system – OS X Mavericks. What was interesting to note is the fact that Apple is distributing the software for free to all the users who have compatible hardware and required pre-requisite software (you can even update from Snow Leopard).

Furthermore, Apple announced that all of its apps will be free to download from the App Stores on any new devices purchased. This includes latest versions of all their iLife and iWork apps on the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store. They also seem to be giving away full version of any app for which you might have a trial version or a pirated version!

This move by Apple is surprising to a certain extent given that their apps have been on the top of the leaderboards across all the App Stores. Giving up a steady and predictable source of income is never easy and must have took a good amount of time to convince the board of directors to approve the same.

However, the move is not totally unfathomable, given that all the tech companies around the world are beginning to understand that consumers generally aren’t ready to pay for software as much as they are ready to pay for hardware. Even people who buy the latest & highest capacity iPhones, iPads & Mac without a blink act thrifty when buying Apps from the App Stores. And there is nothing wrong in that. When you buy hardware, you buy something physical which you can hold and admire. You can’t do that with Software. Apple’s hardware is uniquely of superb quality. They pay a lot of attention to detail and spend a lot of time researching the best possible way of making anything. The result is that every time they exceed their customers’ expectation.

Software from Apple follows the same design philosophy and is usually minimalistic. It just works and hides any unnecessary controls or interface from the user unless absolutely required. When the iOS was first revealed in 2007, the utter simplicity & intuitiveness of the operating system awed everyone and it sold like anything. 6 years down the line, both simplicity and intuitiveness are now ubiquitous in whatever Apple does.

Until a few years back, the norm was that you buy hardware and add software to it to be able to do stuff. That scene is changing. With tablets and smartphone which are pre loaded with powerful operating systems, people expect their devices to be able to do certain things out of the box when they buy them. And the list of those things keeps growing.

While others fail to understand this, Apple is probably betting on the fact that bundling free apps with their hardware is going to attract more customers. And they are not wrong. Whenever I recommend a mac to anyone looking to buy a new laptop, the first question they ask is “Will it open my office documents?”. Well, with a free copy of Pages, Numbers & Keynote, you bet it will!

So any loss of revenue due to giving away these apps for free will be easily compensated by increased sales of their hardware. Its simple math! Its a new era of free software and it does look good for anyone sitting in front of a Mac, iPhone or an iPad.

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