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Miscellaneous

WWDC 2011 – Part 2: iCloud

I think iCloud is fantastic. When it was first announced, we assumed generally that it would be the name for a new iTunes streaming service but it ended up being so much more, and all of it great.

I’ve been saying for such a long time now that I thought Apple should compete with Google in cloud services. Mobile me simply did not make sense when compared to Google’s free services like Gmail, Google calendar and documents among others. Sure, they were good but they cost money they probably weren’t worth.

iCloud takes everything good that Mobile Me did, makes it free and adds more besides. Whether me.com email addresses can challenge the traditional heavyweights in email like hotmail, yahoo, aol and gmail is another question, but I suppose just the fact that the domain is only two characters should help its cause somewhat. Whether they actually gain substantial market share in all of these cloud services is beside the point, just the fact that it’s free is great and it makes them competitive at least.

iCloud also expands on Mobile Me’s original syncing concept and takes things a lot further and really puts them far ahead of anyone else in terms of mainstream cloud syncing services. Not only does in sync the usual things, contacts, calendars and mail, but also practically everything else you could think of. Your photos, videos, iWork documents, a complete backup of all of your device settings and data from your apps.

These things are all fantastic, but the real star of the show here is the automatic syncing and backup of your purchases from all three of Apple’s stores. All of your music, apps and books will automatically download to all of your devices. No more syncing and homesharing across numerous devices and computers, and no worrying about backing up your precious music. If in future you somehow lose your music on all of your devices, you can just download it again for no extra charge. Apple say that there’s no limit to how many times you can re-download purchases but I assume they’ll be fairly lenient as long as you don’t abuse the function.

For me, this will completely change my purchasing of music in the future. Recently, I’ve been going exclusively to Amazon MP3 for my music, as it’s generally quite a bit cheaper than iTunes for almost everything, and sometimes by a very significant amount. However, the extra value you get from not having to worry about syncing anything and keeping a library in perfect order, as well as the peace of mind of not having to back up purchases make it worth the extra money in my opinion.

At first, I was a bit surprised that Apple didn’t do something more elaborate with iTunes in the cloud in the same vein as Spotify or possibly a locker type arrangement like Amazon cloud player or Google Music. When I thought about it more, I understood why they went in the direction they did.

The reason why they didn’t go with a locker type arrangement is because it’s complex, involves uploading an entire library to the cloud which is far from ideal and wastes storage space with potentially a huge number of copies of the same song being uploaded. I think the Spotify streaming model would make more sense but Ap[ple have traditionally stayed away from the renting model for music as they like people to feel that they own the music they download. The iTunes Match service is essentially the happy medium between these two options. It scans your library for music that wasn’t downloaded on iTunes. AKA: from another online service, ripped from CDs or obtained in less than legal ways and looks for matches in Apple’s catalogue. You pay a flat fee and any music you have that is available in iTunes match is either upgraded to 256kbps if it’s lower quality, or if the music is not on iTunes, those select songs will be uploaded. Everything will then be treated as if you bought it from iTunes originally, and will be synced to all of your devices automatically. This is a nice idea and I’m sure Apple will make it as easy to understand as possible, but it remains to be seen what will happen if you don’t renew your subscription. Hopefully you’ll get to keep any music that was upgraded in the new form, and perhaps even still be able to keep uploaded music synced, but that’s a long shot.

Either way, I can’t wait to check out iCloud when it launches in the autumn. Just the small taster we’ve been given in the UK of being able to sync Apps and books but not not music has got me excited to check out the whole package.

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Miscellaneous

Chromebooks are finally here, but they cost how much?

Samsung Chromebook Series 5
Image by andysternberg via Flickr

I honestly don’t understand the pricing strategy on the new Samsung based Google Chromebooks. These go for £350 and £400 and are primarily cloud computers. The £400 3G model may be worth the price if you do get the 3G service for free, although that may be a limited time offer or for the long term but with a strict usage cap.

I really expected these to be very affordable computers, at around the £200 to £300 mark so I’m a bit disillusioned by these prices. Of course, it’s entirely possible that they vastly outperform their cheaper netbook counterparts but even that is beside the point for me. The reason I would buy one of these would be because I want a cheap but reliable and simple laptop to do the essentials of computing. If I wanted to get a more powerful laptop that I could use to do more strenuous things, then I’d buy another MacBook to replace my original one. It’s totally grounded now as it has a battery that no longer works and broken wi-fi. It won’t even run Mac OS Lion.

Overall, I think that Google will have thought everything through and I’m sure the OS itself is a pleasure to use, but I hope they get some other manufacturers to make more affordable hardware to make Chrome OS a more attractive proposition for more potential buyers. After all, it’s going to be extremely tough for them to make an impression in the market even at lower prices. Even the might of Google don’t enter the public’s mind when it comes to computer hardware and software.

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Miscellaneous

Quick Recap of Last Week’s Tech News

There have been a number of things I’ve been meaning to comment on in the last couple of weeks and not got around to it until now. Rather than write long posts on each, I’ll quickly summarise what I think of these points.

AOL wants to buy Yahoo!

This is I think good news. They are both very similar companies and to me at least, it makes sense to create one bigger one to help them both better take on Microsoft and Google. At one stage, AOL even directly copied Yahoo’s own homepage so I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to integrate both of their services together if this were to happen.

BlackBerry Playbook Announced

You may say that this deserves a post of it’s own, but if you want to read that then you’d be on Engadget, TechCrunch, Gizmodo and all of the others. Personally, while I think it’s cool and probably a smart play for a very quickly maturing market, I can’t say I’m very excited for it.

From what I’ve always heard, touch screens by companies other than Apple tend to be more frustrating and hard to press than the multi-touch displays that are such a joy to use. On the software and hardware sides, I can’t see them making anything that can genuinely rival what Apple can do. I liken this to Android in a way. It tries to be mainstream but ends up being too geeky and confusing for a lot of that audience.

Android is making steps forward so it’s not to say Blackberry can’t do the same. I feel the same way about tablets from companies like Samsung. I just doubt whether they really have what it takes to go head to head with Apple, but we’ll find out soon.

Google Launches goo.gl URL Shortening Service Publically

This is hardly huge news, I just wish they had done it much earlier because now they are way too far behind everyone else to compete. Bit.ly, J.mp, fb.me, wp.me and many more including now Twitter‘s own t.co service are all established now and I don’t think Google are going to be able to get a foothold in the market.

In order for them to really be successful with this, they need to get two things started. Firstly, they need to get integrated into Twitter and other news apps on Apple’s and other devices so that more people will be likely to choose to use it. They also need to give users a bookmarklet so that they can shorten links much quicker. Currently, you have to copy the URL, visit goo.gl and paste it in the box to get the short code.

While they are some way behind the competition in the process or shortening the links, where they do shine is in the stats they provide. Google have the best servers in the world and they put them to good use here, tracking data such as clicks, browsers, locations and platform used.

I don’t think until they make the changes I’ve noted, they can challenge the heavyweights of this growing category of service, but it’s Google. If they wanted to take it seriously, they could surely trounce everyone else pretty easily.

My IGN Updates

MY IGN is the cool social networking service built into IGN.com. It replaces the original community aspect of the site and makes it much better. I’ve written a detailed post on it before, so check that out if you need to get up to speed on what it does.

The new updates now allow peace of mind regarding blogging. At first, they had stated that all blog posts written in the new wordpress powered blogging system would be deleted when the service left beta. That is now not an issue and all posts written with either platform will be kept. This is great news.

They have also made the service more stable, have given more security options to prevent people from spamming your wall by only allowing people you follow to do so. You can also block users now.

Finally, you can see who you follow and who follows you and quite a few other improvements including post deletion. I’m really excited to see how they keep improving MY IGN going forward, because it definitely fills a void in the social media market as I’ve said before, and it has great potential.

The next thing I’d like to see them do is integrate the service into the IGN app for iPhone and maybe their m.ign.com mobile site which appears to be inspired by YouTube‘s mobile version.

Apple Updates iTunes Ping

This happened quite a while ago now, but essentially what Apple did was remove the genius sidebar, which I and probably most other people never used to begin with, and replaced it with the Ping sidebar. The new sidebar shows your recent activity from bands or friends you follow. When you click on a song in your library you get the option to like or comment on that song in the sidebar, or by clicking a button next to the track you have highlighted.

When the artist of the song you’ve highlighted has a profile on Ping, you’ll be provided a link to that in the sidebar as well, which is useful if you didn’t know before that they were active on the social network or not, or if you want to quickly check their activity.

It’s not a major upgrade to Ping but it makes sense and probably should have been there from the start. Genius never really needed the sidebar so it’s good that they’re putting that space to better use now.

Categories
Miscellaneous

FaceTime to the Desktop and Beyond?

IChat
iChat has been ignored for quite a while now. FaceTime could give it a new lease of life. Image via Wikipedia

This is interesting news. It seems the next logical step is to bring the technology to the desktop and laptop space by incorporating it into iChat on Mac and maybe as a separate app on Windows. With the advances in browser-based communication and HTML 5, it may even be possible to bring all of this straight there with no plug-ins or software.

Surely we’ll see an iPad with a front facing camera soon. If FaceTime is adopted as a standard for video calling, we will likely see devices such as phones from many manufacturers and even games consoles like the 3DS and a new PSP that all take advantage of it.

It’s probably not going to be too long before we see video chat of some description take off in the TV space with products like internet enabled TVs with Skype, and products like Google TV as well as games consoles that have potential to offer this functionality.

Whether or not FaceTime will become the standard for all internet-based video calling is another question entirely though, as power players like Skype would have to get on board with it, as well as relative newcomers like Google who offer it in the browser with Gmail.