MaCinJay’s Musings

another case of inverse vandalism

Posts Tagged ‘iTunes

Macworld Expo Keynote

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I concluded my last post by predicting that Steve Jobs would have a few surprises in store for us. For the first time since I’ve been following the Macworld Expo though I can honestly say that I wasn’t actually surprised by anything revealed in his keynote!

There was no new iPhone announced. Jobs compensated by talking about the new features and enhancements included in its latest firmware update. Not exactly earth-shattering though by Apple’s standards, especially considering that these had been leaked to the rumour sites weeks ago. The update will also be available to iPod touch owners but they will have to pay $20 for what their iPhone-owning counterparts get for nothing – go figure. Also the upgrade is only available via the iTunes Store, which leaves a lot of Apple’s international clients, including me, out in the cold.

The rumour sites were also spot on about Apple’s new ultra-portable, even getting the name right – the MacBook Air! Thin enough to make your average supermodel green with envy, it’s a small engineering marvel that Jobs was able to fit into a manila envelope. Very nice, only it doesn’t have an optical drive and sports slower processors than the less-expensive MacBooks. By leaving out the optical drive Apple seems to be prematurely consigning another technology to the scrapheap, like they did with the floppy drive and dial-up modems. From a connectivity standpoint the Air is limited to USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It isn’t all about aesthetics; the Air shares the iPhone’s Multi-touch technology for zooming images and rapid scrolling using its generous touchpad and there is a flash-based version that should improve boot-up times. But I have to wonder if the Air is going to find a market considering all the design compromises that had to be made so that Apple could market it as the “world’s thinnest laptop”. Time will tell but I’m certainly not regretting buying my MacBook Pro now.

Jobs also announced a wireless storage and networking solution to work hand-in-hand with Leopard’s back-up utility Time Machine called, aptly, Time Capsule. I may actually consider buying one of these for back-ups and to provide a wireless connection to my printer, as plugging and unplugging cables into my MacBook Pro everytime I need to move it has become a chore. Still, not really a headline-grabber.

As predicted, Jobs revealed that movie rentals were coming to iTunes. He also detailed related changes to the Apple TV, which will allow users to view, rent or buy media directly from the device instead of having to synch it with their computers first. The upgrade will also enable high-definition content. No doubt this will address criticisms of the original product. (The improvements will be available to existing Apple TV owners as a firmware update.)

That was the meat of it; of course there was the usual padding about how many billion songs had been downloaded from iTunes and all the rest. But this is not what keeps Mac fans glued to their computer screens for updates from the Expo blogs. Sadly I fear this year’s Expo will leave many of them disappointed.

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Written by macinjay

January 16, 2008 at 11:43 am

Mac OS X Leopard: Finder

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Stacks and Spaces are entirely new applications in OS X. The Finder on the other hand is the most venerable Mac application, going all the way back to the original 128k Mac. Essentially it is the Mac equivalent of Windows Explorer (although there are of course many differences between the two). I won’t bore you with a history of the Finder but those interested can read about it in this Wikipedia article.

Instead I’ll concentrate on the major changes made to the Leopard Finder. First of all the sidebar has been redesigned. It now looks a lot like the sidebar in iTunes, as can be seen from the screenshots below.

itunes-sidebar.jpgfinder-sidebar.jpg

In fact the changes to Finder’s sidebar form part of a unified theme that Apple has established for the operating system with Leopard. Which is not to say that the change is purely cosmetic; as you can see the Finder sidebar is now divided into discrete categories i.e. devices (cameras, disk drives etc), shared resources, folders (Places in Leopard parlance) and searches. It is still possible however to add folders to the Places section in the sidebar. In the searches category Apple has thoughtfully included some useful smart folders out of the box, but these can also be added to.

Incidentally, accessing shared resources has become a lot easier in Leopard. When a resource is available on the network it automatically appears in the sidebar. Connecting to the resource is now just a matter of clicking on the resource icon. A big improvement over Tiger here in my opinion, where connecting to other resources on the Network always seemed to be a hit-or-miss affair.

Other significant enhancements to the Finder are Cover Flow and Quick Look.

Cover Flow

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In the past the user was restricted to three views in the Finder: icon, list and column. In Leopard there is now another view to choose from, namely Cover Flow. Along with the new sidebar this is another feature that the Finder has borrowed from iTunes and one that many non-Mac users will be familiar with. It enables the user to browse documents, images, folders and applications as if flipping through album art in iTunes. Some purists have questioned its usefulness, preferring the traditional finder views. Personally I think that Cover Flow is a useful addition, especially as an alternative to iPhoto for browsing photos.

Quick Look

This provides a convenient way of previewing a document without having to open its application. Simply select the document in the Finder and press CTRL and the mouse button, then select Quick Look from the contextual menu. Alternatively you can select Quick Look’s icon in the Finder toolbar. (If it isn’t there by default select Customise Toolbar in the Finder’s View menu and drag the eye-shaped icon into the toolbar.)

That concludes my brief review of Leopard’s new Finder. While it wasn’t completely overhauled as some wanted I think that overall the changes represent a significant improvement over the Finder in Tiger.

Written by macinjay

December 2, 2007 at 9:36 am

iPod touch

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Yesterday my mother returned from a two week trip to the UK and brought back an iPod touch for me. The touch is essentially of course an iPhone without the calling and emailing features although it is possible to use web mail via the touch’s Internet browser (providing you have wi-fi access). But I am jumping ahead of myself as I mean to recount my experience with the touch from the beginning.

First of all the supporting documentation is sparse to say the least, just a warranty and a very short quick start guide. The lack of documentation isn’t really an issue though, as the touch is really easy to use. Also there is no iTunes install disk so be prepared for a long wait if you don’t have version 7.4 loaded on your computer or a fast Internet connection; you have to use this version to set up the touch before you can start using it.

Once the iPod was registered on iTunes I was able to access the touch’s menu by pressing the Home button under the screen (this can also be done by a brief push of the Power key located at the top left-hand edge of the casing) and swiping the onscreen slider. The iPod’s applications and settings are activated by touching icons on the screen. Another set of icons provide access to music, photos and videos, as well as Apple’s new wi-fi iTunes feature. Regrettably though this last feature will not work in South Africa due to the lack of a local iTunes Store. The resolution of the screen is excellent – it’s ideal for viewing photos and video. (There was an problem when the touch was first released with the quality of video playback but this seems to have been resolved.)

The touch’s stripped-down Safari web browser provides a convenient way of surfing the Internet when you don’t feel like lugging your laptop around. Unlike the iPhone though the touch is not EDGE-enabled so you will need a wi-fi connection. It’s easy to zoom up web pages by “pinching” and “unpinching” the surface of the screen with thumb and fingers. However I found that occasionally my digits would inadvertently activate a hyperlink when trying to zoom in – it would be nice if there was a “Deactivate Links” feature. Also the browser doesn’t support Flash, although this is probably as much a blessing as a curse. Otherwise the touch delivers a surprisingly good web browsing experience given the limited dimensions of the screen. You can even use it for blogging and posting using the onscreen contextual keyboard. A caveat here though: it is easy to select incorrect characters on the keyboard due to the lack of tactile feedback.

I didn’t delve too much into the YouTube application due to my limited Internet bandwidth but video looked crisp and sharp.

The weakest application on the touch is the calendar, which is completely passive due to the lack of an event-creation feature. Hopefully this will be rectified in a future firmware update.

Contacts on the other hand is one of the strongest applications and for my money is more user-friendly than Address Book in Mac OSX. It’s going to be a lot easier to access my contacts’ information once I have loaded them onto the touch.

The Clock includes world times, alarms, a stopwatch and a timer. Curiously though the time and date is set via Settings. (In fact, all settings are adjusted here rather than in the applications themselves.) Also the touch’s external speaker isn’t all that loud, which hampers the effectiveness of the alarm.

The Calculator has limited features but is very effective for the basic maths functions.

When Steve Jobs demonstrated the iPhone at January’s Macworld in San Francisco I believe he called it “the best iPod ever” and he wasn’t wrong, at least until the touch came along. The iPhone and touch may not have the huge capacities of the Classic iPods but they present a massive step forward in terms of the user interface. To be honest I haven’t had a chance to listen to a lot of music on the touch yet but the sound quality is at least on a par with our nano.

As mentioned the touch’s hi-res screen is great for viewing photos. The Photo Library has a refreshingly simple look, with pics closely arranged in a grid. Individual photos are selected by a tap and can be zoomed up by spreading your thumb and finger apart over the screen’s surface. There is also a slideshow option.

And that in a nutshell is the iPod touch. It has a few minor flaws but these are far outweighed by the positives. I am looking forward to the promised software developers’ kit that should be available for the iPhone and the touch in the early part of next year. This will give developers the tools to produce some really exciting applications for these devices.

Written by macinjay

November 8, 2007 at 10:50 pm