Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I've been an avid fan and faithful subscriber to Satellite Radio (SR) since first it launched back in December 2001 and I am considered by XM to be a "Charter" member, whatever that means. I loved having access to over 100 channels of non stop virtually commercial-free radio for under $10 a month when XM first launched nationwide (It's now $12.95 per month with over 200 channels today with many previously commercial free stations now serving up ads). Having radio stations that played non-stop 70's and 80's music exclusively (amongst many other formatted channels) was just what the doctor ordered. As an individual who is passionate about listening to music (way too loud some might say) and was a former Detroit on-air Disc Jockey as wells as one who played records (yes records!) at weddings as a mobile DJ for my own Mobile DJ service (Pop Muzik Productions), I can never listen to enough music! I personally maintain a current iTunes library of over 8,000 different songs-probably overkill from some peoples perspective, but I would say I LOVE 99% of the songs in my repertoire (This is not to mention having a collection of over 500 different CD's). Despite that extensive personal song library, having satellite radio come along and finally offering an alternative to the non-stop barrage of endless commercials and constant chatter on FM radio was a long time in coming. I can testify that FM radio has all but disappeared from my life since the SR services launched as I also became a Sirius Satellite Radio subscriber when it too launched almost year after XM did. My affinity for both services has its reservations though. I can't decide which service does a better job, but what I do I know is that I've become so used to listening to both services at home and on the road that I could never go back to listening to traditional radio. Satellite radio provides a wide variety of music, news, sports and local traffic & weather at a touch of a button.
About 18 months ago, Sirius Satellite Radio announced it was acquiring/merging with XM Satellite Radio to help stem the flow of losses that both companies were experiencing. XM and Sirius are the only two satellite radio stations licensed to broadcast in the US. Sirius SR cited competition from terrestrial radio, iPods/MP3 players and Internet radio amongst their reasons for the need to merge. The merger promised to provide subscribers with overall better service with more choices from a two companies working in tandem. Of course, what this does is eliminate any competition whatsoever in the satellite radio arena, i.e. monopoly. A couple years ago both DirecTV and Dish Network attempted the same merger in the video satellite business and were almost immediately thwarted by the government for anti-trust reasons. Why was this merger any different? Looking at this merger closely, it really wasn't. Satellite video has cable companies and terrestrial TV stations to compete with. Satellite radio has terrestrial and Internet radio stations to compete with. Whats even more bizarre is that the fact that both Sirius and XM had agreed to a pre-licensing approval condition that they could never merge or combine operations. So how could the government even consider this merger given this "No Merger" clause when both companies knew BEFORE going into this business, especially knowing what a rough road ahead they faced in becoming major players in the radio broadcast business. Both companies literally spent hundreds of millions of dollars procuring talent (Howard Stern got $500 million over five years at Sirius alone) and spent even millions more securing exclusive Sports broadcasting rights with the NCAA, NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. So whose fault is it that XM and Sirius are in trouble? The answer is obvious. Will a merger fix this? Probably not, but time will tell. With a combined 18 million in paid subscribers, expenses will drop as they combine operations, however at the same time there are many subscribers who subscribe to both services, and they will ultimately decide to drop one or the other service thus decreasing revenues for the united entity. That's not even considering how many subscribers will flee altogether when hardware compatibility issues rear their ugly head in the coming years.
XM and Sirius had to do some serious last minute negotiating with the FCC to gain final approval for the merger. Sirius SR had to agree to some strict terms dictated by the the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the Justice department and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) which include having to hold down prices at current levels for at least three years, to provide smaller/cheaper ala-carte packages, as well as offer spectrum/airtime for public services and broadcasts. What is still unclear is how XM subscribers will be able to get Sirius broadcasts and vice-versa since both XM and Sirius use very different broadcast technologies in their transmissions as well as in their receivers, which are very much incompatible. Both companies promise at first there wont be a need for any new equipment, however for the merger to work and the consolidation be implemented, customer equipment upgrades will ultimately be necessary--unless Sirius decides to simply shut down one of their systems-something that isn't likely given the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in venture capital money that was needed to launch the satellites into orbit in the first place. Many questions still remain a mystery about the post merger consolodation and its respective fallout, however things should become clearer in the months ahead.
I personally have never thought that this merger was a good idea. However if the lack of a merger indeed would have led to the demise of both companies, then I guess one combined SR company is better than none. I for one simply cannot fathom going back to listening to FM radio in this day and age. Although HD radio (High Definition) shows some promise, no one sees it as a competitor to satellite radio, nor is it taking off as the terrestrial radio industry had hoped it would. The NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and one of the US's largest radio station owners Clear-Channel Radio both fought tooth and nail to keep this merger from happening, but in the end, the FTC and FCC under the umbrella of the merger friendly Bush Administration finally allowed the marriage to be consummated. Lets just hope that the child that this union will ultimately bear doesn't end up being stillborn.
Monday, July 28, 2008
The iPhone 3G has been on sale for over 2 weeks now and there are no sign of the lines at Apple stores getting any shorter, nor are the waits of four hours or more getting any better. With Apple's corporate office mandating a daily 8am opening to accommodate the unprecedented and more importantly unexpected demand for the 3G iPhone. Many stores have sold out over the course of the past couple weeks with replenishment coming in almost daily to restock. If you're one of those who chose to stick with you 1.0 iPhone (for now) and upgraded to 2.0, you not only saved yourself some dough and a ton of aggravation by not jumping on the bandwagon, but you actually get just about everything the masses that are braving the malls and spending the better part of a day waiting in line simply to get one of the most sought after tech devices in history.
With the 2.0 firmware update available to all iPhone 1.0 owners at no cost ($9.99 for iPod Touch owners), this update makes the 1.0 iPhone identical to functionality to the 3G iPhone. The only missing items are of course 3G, a built in GPS chip, and a black or white curved back (vs. stainless on the 1.0 iPhone). Other than that, once you upgrade your 1.0 iPhone to 2.0 firmware, your screen is identical to that of the 3G iPhone. By upgrading, you gain access to a myriad of features that makes your iPhone more than just a PDA and much more functional than with the version 1 firmware. Most important in this upgrade is access to the iTunes App store, which is stocked with over 500 installable applications (and growing daily) like games, utilities and programs that will let you be more productive on your iPhone. Many apps are free, other range from 99 cents, all the way to $49.99, with most common apps priced between $0.99-$9.99. Downloading apps is as easy as linking your iTunes account to your iPhone and clicking on the app you want to download directly on your iPhone from your desktop thru iTunes to later synch with your iPhone. It's that simple. A new icon appears on your desktop and all you have to do is click on it to launch it as you would any native iPhone app.
The other significant feature of 2.0 is Push/Exchange support. Push email, contacts, and calendar is a feature where those respective items are sent to your iPhone automatically over the air (WiFi, Edge or 3G) and automatically synchronizes with the server. Or from Apple's MobileMe service if you have subscribed to the service which provides the same functionality as a Microsoft Exchange service to iPhone owners. Watching push in action on an iPhone is a thing of beauty, to have what was once a exclusive Blackberry hallmark feature now running on an iPhone is simply a dream come true for many iPhone users. Contacts and calendar items edited on the iPhone simply are duplicated on the server almost instantly. Read an email on the iPhone, and it is marked as read when you look at it on your computer later. Email is pushed almost instantly to you iPhone--meaning that as soon as an email is received in your mailbox, MS Exchange instantly forwards it to your iPhone and alerts you. Manual timed interval fetching of email on the iPhone is so 2007.
There are several other features that the 2.0 firmware provides, but they are beyond the scope of this post. Suffice to say that if you are holding a 1.0 iPhone and have been on the fence about upgrading, its time to get down from that perch and run, don't walk to update your iPhone. You'll wonder why you waiting so long!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tivo owner have long enjoyed the best TV time shifting experience available anywhere. Very much a VCR on steroids, Tivo allows its users to watch TV on their own terms. The leader in the market of hard drive personal video recorders (PVR) has once again proven that they won't be left out of the race to be the center or many users home theater systems. With the likes of AppleTV, Playstation3, Xbox360, and Netflix all recently introducing video streaming to their respective hardware platforms, Tivo has forged many positive relationships that has kept them from suffering the fate of its once major competitive rival Replay, which no longer markets PVR hardware. Tivo recently announced a major partnership with Google which will allow Series 3/HD Tivo owners to stream YouTube videos via their Tivo. Couple this major feat with their current Video-On-Demand agreement Tivo has with Amazon Unboxed that give Tivo users the ability to download both current release movies and selected TV shows.
In addition, Tivo has begun rolling out its Summer 2008 software 9.4 update to HD Tivo owners, a major software upgrade that will give users a handful of new features and fixes. Amongst the new features are:
Play Or Delete an Entire Folder of recorded shows
Browse the Guide Anytime-even while watching a recording (you couldn't do this before)
Advance Guide Jump-Allows you to jump 24 hour forward or backwards in the guide.
Find A Station in the Guide using call letters
Closed Caption On-Off Toggle option when viewing the Title information
Review all your Thumb Rated Programs
These updates are specifically for Series 3 and HD Tivo units only. Other updates are in the works for Series 1 & 2 standard definition Tivo units, however it is not known how many of these new features will trickle down to those boxes. However given the trend in high definition TV's and hardware, it may very well be time to upgrade folks!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
If you were one of the naysayers who was sure the iPhone 3G would never sell out and decided to dodge the long lines, ridiculous crowds, and six hour waits figuring the iPhone would be available by walking into a store once the hype died down, your procrastination had not paid off and will now delay your purchase perhaps a few weeks. In less than ten days after the infamous launch, the iPhone 3g is sold out...everywhere. AT&T Wireless stores were obviously the first to run short. Now a check of 38 Apple stores shows almost every store to be sold out of all models. 8Gb Black? None. 16Gb White? Nope. 16Gb Black? Forgetaboutit! No one including Apple anticipated the worldwide demand and now everyone is scrambling to figure out how to get the Jesus phone back in the pipeline while demand for it is still hot. A search on Ebay also confirms fewer buy-it-now 3G iPhone offerings with prices for 16Gb units going for a minimum of $800--OUCH! The 16Gb Black iPhone appears to be the most popular model. As of the past weekend, lines at Apple stores still existed with waits reported to be in excess of four hours. Its almost a forgone conclusion that Apple is ramping up production to meet demand, but for some its a bit too little too late.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Unlike the iPhone fanfare that has dominated the news and websphere for the past few days, this announcement by Seagate all but disappeared in the hype. But this announcement of a 50% larger capacity storage is indeed a monumental step up in storage. The largest 3.5" hard disk drive (HDD) available today is one terabyte offered by Hitachi (and others). It has been about a year and a half since the 1Tb 3.5" drives hit the market with no manufacturer offering a larger capacity drive since, so this bump in capacity is way overdue and definitely welcome. While there are external drives that have capacities larger than one terabyte, the larger capacity is achieved thru RAID striping of multiple drives. On Thursday Seagate announced the Barracuda 7200.11 HDD, the worlds first four platter perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR) technology 7200RPM 1.5 terabyte drive which is expected to begin shipping in August. In addition, Seagate also annouced new 2.5" laptop drives in its Momentus® line of HDD's-the Momentus 5400.6 and Momentus 7200.4. The largest, a 500Gb 7200rpm drive that has a 16Mb cache. The 2.5" drives are expected to ship in Q4 2008.
Friday, July 11, 2008
Let the games begin...or should we say let them continue! The marathon of 3G iPhone launches continues here as we can't help but spread the joy of finally getting a shiny new 3G iPhone to call your own. Although lines developed in areas as early as a week ago for the sake of breaking some self imposed "standing in line" record, those early long lines were few and far between. Only a handful of AT&T stores and malls with Apple stores had lines last night in stark contrast to last years launch where the lines stretched around blocks and through the malls for days before launch. Most lines began early this morning a couple hours before the 8am bewitching hour in respective cities, with the West Coast stores last on tap to open at 11am eastern. According to sources out on the streets, it has been taking about 18-22 minutes average to walk in and walk out with an iPhone 3G--that's AFTER you've waited your turn in line. Some stores are reporting to have had lines of 100-200 people or more at opening. Given Apple's track record, they should be able to serve 20-30 customers at a time with their nifty hand held checkout kiosks which were recently updated to interface with AT&T's credit/account check system to make sure you have the collateral (credit?) to support your purchase. Of cours barring any checkout system issues or delays (yeah right!), thing should go smoothly. Problem is, some stores are already reporting shortages with some already out of stock, especially AT&T stores. Supposedly the AT&T stores received three separate shipments, one marked for sale today, one marked specifically for sale tomorrow, and one marked for Sunday, and the stores are NOT allowed to sell Saturdays or Sundays earlier than designated to spread out the madness despite probably having to turn away customers today where the demand will probably be the strongest!! Other than that for now, the Apple MobileMe (formally .Mac) website/portal is FINALLY up and running at the moment (after more than a 24 hours of downtime following its launch) and it looks good-we will report extensively on MobileMe once we've had a chance to put it through its paces. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy the that air conditioned spot you're in now--and think of all those poor clueless souls waiting in line in 85-100 degree heat waiting for a chance to get their hands on a 3G iPhone they probably could walk in and buy without delay later this afternoon. Shortage? Forgetaboutit!!!
Sorry AT&T, but it looks like your dinner is about to be eaten for lunch. Gizmodo is reporting that the iPhone Dev Team, the group of dedicated software developers responsible for being the biggest thorn in Apple and AT&T's side when it came to the iPhone unlocking and Jailbreaking. (Jailbreaking is the process by which an iPhone operating system code is opened to reading and writing to its internal ROM). The iPhone Dev Team has done it once again--and in record time no less. The 2.0 Firmware has yet to be officially released by Apple to iPhone 1.0 users and it has already been compromised. The current iPhone 3G is sim-locked to AT&T Wireless, which means that only sim cards from AT&T are supposed to be recognized by the phone as being valid which blocks users from making calls unless an AT&T sim card is inserted. In other words, you couldn't insert the likes of a T-Mobile SIM and make calls without the sim lock being disabled. This lock is usually removed by entering a special numerical code to remove what is referred to in the industry as a subsidy lock code. Most cell phones today are subsidized or paid for in part by wireless carriers to entice cell phone buyers to sign 1-3 year contracts in exchange for a substantial equipment discount. This year, Apple and AT&T came to a new selling arrangement where AT&T will pay Apple a subsidy for each iPhone activated on AT&T, unlike last year where there was no subsidy. Best guesses are that AT&T is paying about $200 towards the price of each iPhone bringing down the final subsidized price to $199/$299 for an 8Gb/16Gb respectively for a 3G iPhone. Apple sells more phones and AT&T gets more subscribers who have to sign a 2-year agreement before walking out of the store with thier shiny new toy. It is estimated that about 20% of all iPhones sold last year were never activated on AT&T and are deemed to be unlocked and activated on other GSM carriers systems around the world. Most current iPhone 1.0 users that are not using AT&T must have had their handsets unlocked and/or jailbroken to be able to work on alternate wireless networks. The good news is that now that the 2.0 firmware has been unlocked/jailbroken, those users can update their iPhones to the new 2.o firmware without losing thier unlocked status, and more importantly, take advantage the new App store, MobileMe (Which by the way is STILL MIA--offline! as of this posting) and other features like push email and MS exchange contact and calendar synch. R.I.P sim-locked AT&T iPhone 3G, we hardly knew you!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
The Apple iPhone 3G saga continues as Mr. Jobs & Co. continue to push the envelope and create an atmosphere of hype and buzz around the world with the launch of the 3G iPhone less than 24 hours away from being launched here in the U.S., and less than six hours away in countries as far away as New Zealand where it is already Friday Morning and the first 3G iPhone will begin selling in less than six hours. In anticipation of this, Apple has had a busy night pushing updates and software updates out its virtual doors to coincide with the ensuing launch madness. First out is the newest version of iTunes, now version 7.7 to accommodate the other big launch--the Apple iPhone/iTouch App store which finally allows regular users to download Apple sanctioned applications to their iPhones and iTouch music players. Already live in the iTunes store once you have updated to iTunes 7.7. So far there are plenty of apps to get excited about such as a native AIM client for mobile chat instant messaging, Twitterific, a Twitter client, a previously demonstrated Ebay Mobile search and bid app, and most anticipated and widely appealing, an app that allows you to use your iPhone/iTouch to control your iTunes library from a remote location, view your iTunes library, control AirTunes speakers, and see album artwork on your screen. All these apps are free downloads, with plenty of other apps available for free as well as at a nominal cost. iPhone Firmware 2.0 has been seeded and available for download to allow iPhone 1.0 users to upgrade to 2.0 so they can take advantage of the new apps and features, including MS exchange push email, contacts and calendars. Lastly, MobileMe is now officially online and running (down at the moment) and dotMac is now history. An update for MobileMe has also been seeded for subscribers to download to their Mac computers. We'll provide more info on MobileMe once its back up and running. And of course more iPhone 3G updates as they happen all day long--so come on back folks!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Unlike last year when the iPhone launch hype was non-stop and everywhere you turned, be it on TV, Radio, Internet, email, or Newspaper, this years encore has proven to be a bit more tame. But the build up to the imminent launch is nonetheless something that techies simply cannot ignore. As we inch closer to the bewitching hour of 8am Friday, more details, more hype, more information both old and new continues to emanate from Apple, AT&T, and more importantly, anonymous tipsters who may or may not work for them. By now everyone knows most of the drill. But as the launch inches closer, we can't help but add to the hype. Here are some key developments on the iPhone 3G from the days news.
- It would appear that several websites have posted unboxing, one particular BoyGeniusReport has posted a complete series of unboxing photos showing the 3G iPhone in hand as you would buy it from a store on Friday. No surprises there.
- Rogers Wireless of Canada back-peddled on its very limited and outrageously expensive data plans to offer a 6Gb data plan for $30 Canadian per month. This should be enough for most users and is almost considered unlimited given that the likes of Verizon impose a 5Gb data-download limit on its so called unlimited data plan.
- It's confirmed that unlike many other international wireless carriers, there is plenty of supply for most Apple and AT&T outlets across the U.S. Fears that the 16Gb white 3G iPhone would not be available at launch have been dispelled. Some carriers across the pond who offered pre-sales have declared themselves sold-out and have stopped taking orders for now.
- First generation iPhone owners who managed to get their hands on the 2.0 iPhone firmware beta that was seeded to developers recently and used it to upgrade their iPhones are now reporting for the first time that they are receiving thier email via push from thier respective dot Mac (soon to be MobileMe) accounts. The last so called 2.0 beta firmware seeded to developers is supposedly the same firmware that will be on the new 3G iphone.
- According to several reliable sources, it would appear that the Apple iPhone Apps store will launch around noon Thursday, a full day ahead of the launch. This is supposedly to accomodate the overseas launches in time zones that are way ahead of the United States who will be selling the iPhone at 12:01 local time which is as early as 12:01pm US time in some countries.
- MobileMe/dotMac is now down for the previously announced upgrades/updates that will finally provide the promised functionality for push email, push contact, push calendar, over the air synchronization for subscribers of the service.
- Itunes 7.7 and firmware 2.0 for iPhone 1.1.4 owners and iTouch owners should also be available by noon tomorrow if not sooner, again to accomodate overseas market users who will need these updates to take advantage of the new App store and other 2.0 features.
- More updates will be posted here as they develop. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
The iPhone 3G is less than three days away from its anticipated launch on Friday, and the three of the most respected and read national technology columnists have posted their take on the latest marvel coming out of Cupertino. The Grand Pooba Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, David Pogue of the New York Times, and Edward Baig of USA Today all have had 3G iPhones for the past couple weeks to evaluate extensively and write reviews for their respective publications for their Wednesday editions. All three reviews pretty much give the iPhone 3G a respectable two thumbs up when it comes to the features that set this version apart from its older sibling that launched last year. 3G appears to live up to its speed improvement hype according to all three, GPS is said to be very accurate, and audio output appears to be substantially improved over the original iPhone. Other positive comments include a better feel in the hand given the new curved back, excellent 3G data download speeds as well as much better voice quality, and new MS Powerpoint support. Amongst the common complaints were inferior battery life compared to the first generation iPhone (mostly attributed to the power hungry 3G radio), the lack of no cut-copy-paste function, no stereo Bluetooth audio, or a memory card slot. Complaints about the lack of voice dialing, MMS and video recording were also pointed out in the reviews, however it is widely believed that these shortcomings will be addressed via third party Apps that the Apple iPhone App store will provide come Friday when the iPhone is launched. Overall, the three reviewers gave the iPhone 3G their blessing for first time iPhone buyers and upgraders who want faster internet speeds via 3G and/or GPS functionality. You can find the full articles at WSJ.com for the Walt Mossberg review, New York Times for the review by David Pogue and USA Today for the review by Edward Baig.
Drobo ($499) has been one of those must have techie geek devices that many don't know (much less care) about. But Drobo is a product that came along a couple years ago and fanboys (and girls) everywhere do nothing but sing its praises. Drobo is a cute 6"x6" square steel box with an array of bright multi-color indicator LEDS on the front. The look of the Drobo alone makes the Drobo a conversation piece. But as a four drive external backup drive with RAID support, Drobo is so much more. Drobo allows you to take any single serial ATA hard disk drive of any capacity, plug it in, and you have an instant back-up device. Have two drives? No problem! Got Three? Go for it. How about four drives lying around? Plug-em in! And no, the drives don't have to be the same capacity, each can vary anywhere from 100Gb all the way to 4Tb (Terabytes) for a total capacity of 16Tb. (Not that drives larger that 1Tb available today-but at least you know you're covered when they do become available) Drobo has always had a single USB port to plug in your Mac or PC or Linux based machine. Earlier this year, the Drobo became infinitely more usable with the introduction of the DroboShare ($199) module that gives Drobo networking capabilities which allows the Drobo to be shared amongst several PC's/Macs instead of keeping all the backup joy to yourself. Today Drobo introduced the second generation Drobo that features a pair of Firewire 800 ports (in addition to the USB 2.0 port) to support actual data transfer speeds that are much faster than theoretically possible via USB 2.0 which tops out at 400Mbps maximum. A new processor and firmware tweaks on the new Drobo supposedly allows the Drobo to boot up much faster and minimize any data transfer slow-downs. If manufacturer Data Robotics claims are to be believed, this Drobo version is up to twice as fast reading and writing as the first generation Drobo. Daisy chaining via the dual Firewire 800 ports are supported. We'll take two, please. Check out Drobo here.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Apple is officially notifying its subscribers tonite via a side-note when they log-into their .Mac accounts that the .Mac website will be unavailable on Wednesday July 9, 2008 between 6pm-12am PDT to facilitate the transition of .Mac to the previously announced MobileMe service. The MobileMe service was announced during the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) Keynote address in June. MobileMe will primarily provide Mac, Windows and iPhone users with a unique way to synch their devices over the air, provide push email to iPhone users similar to that of the Blackberry, and offer subscribers substantial online storage (20Gb) all for $99 per year. Buyers of the new 3G iPhone which launches Friday will be able to purchase their first year subscription for a discounted $69. MobileMe is being touted as a Microsoft (MS) Exchange server for consumer iPhone buyers who don't have access to an email account that is linked to an MS exchange server for push email. Here is the announcement:
Google's popular web based email service GMail today launched a rather useful and neat new feature for users who check or sign into their GMail email account from multiple PC's. Dubbed the remote signout, this new security feature allows you to see the IP (internet protocol) address of each computer that is currently signed into your GMail account. It will also identify if the connection came from a Mobile device, accessed via a POP client, or logged in directly thru an internet browser. This feature not only allows you to detect unauthorized access or log-ins, but it also allows you to remotely log out any PC from a remote location if you ever have a need to do so (in case you forgot to log out of GMail after using a public computer). Google is rolling this feature out as we write this to GMail users who use Firefox and Internet Explorer 7. You can access the feature by scrolling down to the bottom of the Inbox page right below line that tells you what percentage of your GMail capacity you are currently using. If you don't see the link then this feature has not yet been added to your account yet. You can read the details and see more of this on the GMail Blog.
Unless you've been living in a cave for the past month or so, anyone who has any interest in the new 3G iPhone knows that this Friday is D day. With the launch less than four days away, here are some tips to make sure your purchase experience is as painless as possible:
- AT&T stores will open at 8:00am on Friday July 11, 2008 for iPhone sales and should be well stocked and also have plenty of personnel on hand to serve the anxious crowds eager to get thier hands on the new 3G iPhone. Apple stores have not finalized or announced opening times, but you can almost rest assured that the Apple stores will open at 8am as well. UPDATE: The Apple website has now confirmed an 8am store opening/Launch.
- Bring your photo ID and know your Social Security number. This is especially true if you are not a current AT&T customer looking to buy your first iPhone. If you wish to port your number, be sure to have a copy of your latest bill from your current carrier to expedite matters and minimize delays in porting your number.
- Apple stores will only accept checks or credit cards for payment. No cash will be accepted at Apple stores for iPhone purchases. AT&T stores will supposedly accept cash, but check or call them first to make sure. There is also information floating around saying that each individual is limited to a single iPhone purchase regardless of how many lines you have with them. Bring bodies just in case!
- Every iPhone will be either activated or pre-activated prior to leaving the store. In other words, you must either establish new service at the point of sale (POS) or have an exisiting account that you can upgrade to the 3G iPhone. Every iPhone activated on AT&T will require a 2-year agreement. New customers will undergo a credit check and those who don't qualify may need up to a $500 deposit to become a post-paid AT&T customer.
- iPhones without a contract will probably not be sold on launch day to protect supplies. If your plans are to buy an iPhone without a 2-year agreement, you can almost rest assured you won't be able to do so until the majority of iPhone customers who are buying with an agreement have been served-probably a week or two after launch. The won't be any iPhone Go plans for the iPhone at launch, but that will probably change down the road.
- There has been much speculation about Best-Buy carrying the new iPhone 3G given that they are stocking many iPhone accessories, but don't expect Best-Buy to have them on launch day. They too will probably not get them until a few weeks after intial launch.
- iPhone prices are $199 for an 8Gb version, $299 for a 16Gb version if you are a current AT&T iPhone customer looking to upgrade, or a current AT&T customer who is eligible for an upgrade. Otherwise the price is $399/$499 with a 2-year agreement.
- If you are a not an AT&T customer looking to put a non-AT&T SIM card in an iPhone at launch forget about it. You cannot buy a 3G iPhone that is SIM-unlocked in the U.S. Even if you can eventually unlock the 3G iPhone, current T-Mobile USA customers will not be able to take advantage of T-Mobiles new 3G network that is starting to roll out due to the system incompatibilities in AWS (Advanced Wireless System)
- Expect to spend at least 30 minutes at the store where you purchase your iPhone once you have reached the front of the line. And yes, there will be lines folks! They started last Friday in some NYC locations, believe it or not!
- Be sure to back up/sync your current iPhone before heading out to upgrade. Bringing your laptop and iPhone sync cable with you may not be a bad idea if you want to be up an running on the spot. Apple has posted an article on How To Replace an Original iPhone with a 3G iPhone.
- Bring plenty of patience with you. The in store activation process is going to be a very trying one this time around compared to last years launch. You walked in, paid, walked out with your shiny new toy and went home and activate at your leisure. This year AT&T won't be having any of that to make sure that they get full value for the $200 or so subsidy they are supposedly paying Apple on each iPhone sale.
- Most Important: Be sure to check the AT&T website to make sure that 3G is offered in your area. 3G is very limited to major cities and AT&T markets right now. Unless your area has 3G AT&T coverage, you will be surfing at EDGE speeds--the same as those with the first generation iPhones until AT&T fully deploys 3G across its entire coverage footprint and network. No sense in upgrading to a 3G iPhone if you can take advantage of the additional speed boost unless you must have an iPhone with GPS built in.
- Lastly, your data plan will be increasing by at least $10 per month to $30. $5 More if you want to keep that 200 SMS bucket you now get for your current $20 edge plan. Data is still unlimited, and you can get a unlimited talk plan with iPhone data for $129.99. add $20 for unlimited texting.
Several online sources are reporting that T-Mobile may be ready to ready to finally flip the switch on its 3G (3rd Generation) HSDPA/UMTS data service in 27 major market cities in the U.S. on October 1, 2008. T-Mobile is the last of the big 4 nationwide U.S. wireless companies to join the 3G data service party as Verizon, Sprint, and to a lesser extent AT&T already offer nationwide broadband like data download services for mobile handsets and laptop computers. Verizon has the largest and most widespread network (and launched first) with EVDO, another form of 3G broadband wireless that provides wireless users with internet download speeds that rival those of a low end home Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). Average speeds for 3G wireless are about 450-700Kbps with peaks reaching up to 1.5Mbps if conditions are ideal. T-Mobile currently relies on its EDGE data service, a much slower data download service that can be compared to a fast dial-up or ISDN, averaging about 150Kbps, much slower than the faster 3G services. T-Mobile 3G had already launched in New York City earlier this year and is rumored to be launching in another test market (Chicago) this month. One of the major upgrades being added to the next generation Apple iPhone is a 3G radio which will allow iPhone users to access the web and email at 3-7 times faster than its current EDGE version. T-Mobile is the fourth largest wireless carrier in the U.S., but has one of the highest user satisfaction ratings of all the nationwide carriers with the one of lowest churn rates in the industry.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
Apple Computer quietly dropped the price of its Solid State Drive (SSD) Macbook Air models on Friday July 4, 2008 by a substantial $500 bringing down the price that much closer to its traditional mechanical hard drive equipped counterpart. The 64Gb SSD equipped models have long been price about $1,000 higher than the models equipped with the somewhat larger 80Gb 1.8" 4200RPM drives. While the 80Gb Macbook Air still sells for the same $1,799, the same model now costs a cool $2,299. SSD drives have obvious speed advantages since they operate with no moving parts, but a recent test done by Tom's Hardware website to compare battery rundown times dispelled any notion that the SSD helped with battery life or prolonged it when compared to a mechanical hard disk drive. Apple notified customers with pending Macbook Air orders that included an SSD to anticipate an adjustment to the final price once the product ships. Given that Apple has a 14 day return policy, anyone who has bought one of the SSD models and are still in that two week period should sprint over to the nearest Apple retailer and kindly request an adjustment. While you're at it, we're sure that Apple won't mind if you take some time to browse more of its overpriced offerings and leave that small chunk of change right where its at. Online and phone orders should call Apple customer service pronto to see some green credited back to their plastic.
It looks like Research In Motion's (RIM) next big splash won't be happening stateside when it debuts. Word is that the much anticipated Blackberry Bold 9000 will be surfacing in Germany on July 21 on T-Mobile Germany for 500 Euros ($850 US) and in Canada on July 25, 2008 on Rogers Wireless, Canada's largest wireless carrier. The Blackberry Bold is RIM's next generation full size Blackberry that will have the latest cutting edge technology built in including a new larger keypad, 802.11 WiFi, 3G HSDPA wireless, Bluetooth, as well as a GPS chip for location based maps and services. In addition, the Blackberry bold will have the latest 2.5 OS which allow for full graphics HTML email and this Blackberry will sport a two megapixel camera that will take both pictures and videos. This will be the first Blackberry to ever integrate WiFi, 3G HSDPA, Camera, and GPS in one complete package. Although AT&T Wireless will be the first U.S. carrier to launch the bold sometime this Summer, it was widely rumored that the launch will occur sometime in August 2008, although reports of a launch delays due to poor battery life and other field testing issues may push back the U.S. Bold launch until AT&T is satisfied with the new RIM offering. See ya in Toronto mate!
Reports are surfacing that people are already standing in line today at the New York City Apple store in anticipation of the 3G Apple iPhone launch on Friday July 11, 2008 at 8:00 a.m. when they finally go on sale here in the U.S and in 21 other countries worldwide. That's almost a full week before you able to part with your $199/$299 in hard earned cash after signing your wireless life away to AT&T for the next two year, or even throwing in your first born if you are looking to plunk down the required $699 to walk away with the 16Gb version sans a contract. With iPhone supplies expected to far exceed demand at launch, this is just crazy! Folks, if you're spending the next six days (and nights) waiting in line for an iPhone you can walk in and buy at hundreds of outlets without having to wait more than five minutes--if that, you probably have no life with too much time on your hands, and/or are looking to get you face on the six-o'clock news. Either way, we can think of plenty of better things you can do with this amount of spare time--like volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter, or better yet, maybe using that time to polish up that resume! We hear lots of outlets where the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" can use a few dedicated good men and women!
Saturday, July 5, 2008
3G iPhone: Where’s The Beef?
With much anticipation around the world, the Apple World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) kicked off on Monday June 9, 2008 at San Francisco’s Moscone Convention center. All eyes were on the Cupertino California based maker of Macintosh computers, iPods, iPhones, and consumer electronic devices for what has been touted as the most anticipated hardware update/upgrade of the year--the 3G (third generation cellular) second iteration of the infamous Apple iPhone.
Ever since Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone back in January 2007 at Macworld in San Francisco, the pundits have been pouncing all over its few shortcomings, focusing squarely on its lack of a broadband speed wireless connection. Jobs cited the lack of adequate sustainable battery power to support such a power-hungry radio that would dramatically cut the iPhones usability time between charges. Fast-Forward 18 months later and that argument has all but disappeared in favor of what has been revealed to be the new 3G iPhone that will have longer battery life despite the addition of 3G capabilities.
First of all, let’s give credit where credit is due. The iPhone is truly revolutionary in both its form factor as well as its incredible features. Never before has a cell phone or PDA generated so much hype, positive feedback and consumer satisfaction. If Job’s key note statement is to be believed, the iPhone has garnered an unprecedented 90% overall customer satisfaction rating from users of iPhone 1.0. That is truly an amazing feat. With over six million iPhones sold over the past 11 months, to say that at least 5.5 million buyers were completely satisfied with their purchase is an incredible satisfaction rate never before seen from any single consumer electronic device. Enter act II.
In the keynote address that opened Apple’s WWDC, Jobs spent almost two full hours touting the improvements and enhancements that Apple has been working on since the initial launch of iPhone 1.0 on June 29, 2007. Key amongst those features, and the most expected upgrade was indeed the addition of a 3G HSDPA transceiver (3rd Generation High Speed Downlink Packet Access) for broadband wireless internet access. iPhone 1.0 uses EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) which is significantly slower than HSDPA. To compare the two, EDGE would be similar to really fast dial-up or ISDN connection vs. HSDPA which can be compared to lower end home DSL speeds. EDGE typically allows for 100-150Kbps average downloads, where HSDPA is supposed to provide 450Kbps-800Kbps and sometimes even faster download speeds. Jobs claims that despite the addition of the power hungry 3G radio, the new 3G iPhone will actually have better battery life than its predecessor thanks to recent improvements in battery technology and chipsets. (Estimated at 300 hours standby, 25 hours of music playback, 10 hours of 2G talk time and 5 hours of 3G internet surfing)
The second most anticipated and expected upgrade to the iPhone was the addition of a sorely needed GPS chip. The first generation iPhone with its much touted Google Maps application relied on both WiFi and cellular triangulation methods to pinpoint a users’ location, a process that is imprecise and not always accurate, especially if you don’t have a good cellular or WiFi signal. With the inclusion of the GPS chip, the 3G iPhone can now pinpoint your location within feet, instead of yards or miles. Location based marketing & points of interest as well as photo Geo tagging have become very popular in the past couple years with the advent of more cell phones that sport both a camera and a GPS chip. Finding the nearest Starbucks or gas station no longer requires anything more than a cell phone with a built in GPS chip since millions of points of interest exist on most GPS mapping software applications which are constantly being updated (in real-time) on Google Maps so you’re not having to waste trips to locations that have been recently closed down, moved, or gone out of business.
In terms of its physical look, the 3G iPhone didn’t change much when you’re looking at it from the front. The same gorgeous, vivid and bright 3.5” LCD touch-screen still graces the major portion of its façade. Not much has changed from that perspective. From the rear, the 3G iPhone has a whole new back that is much more curved than its predecessor, and the back is made of a solid hard plastic material instead of the almost entirely metal backing that graces the back side of the current iPhone. The edges of the 3G iPhone are smoother and curvier too. One notably positive physical change in the 3G iPhone is the earphone/headset jack. In the first generation iPhone, the earphone jack is recessed, requiring a specially made plug to fit it. You couldn’t use just any off the shelf pair of earphones unless you bought an adapter for it to fit in the small hole. With the 3G iPhone, the earphone jack is flush with the top of the unit, making it easily compatible with your favorite pair of earphones/headsets that connect with a standard 3.5mm plug.
Lastly, what came as somewhat of a surprise to many was the substantial price reduction on the 3G iPhone compared to the current inferior iPhone 1.0. Recall that back in June 2007 where the original 8Gb iPhone would have set you back a whopping $599. What a difference a year makes as you can now own the new and improved 3G iPhone for two-thirds fewer George Washington’s at $199-all thanks to a new carrier subsidy deal that Apple made with AT&T. Unlike their previous arrangement, Apple will no longer be getting a cut of subscribers’ monthly fees as they were with the first generation iPhone. Apple decided it was more important to focus on unit quantity volume if it were to reach sales goals and compete with the likes of Blackberry maker RIM (Research in Motion) which commands about 40% of the PDA cell phone market without any carrier residuals.
A 3G 16Gb iPhone was also announced for $299 which also represents a $200 price reduction from its predecessor, and this version will come in a choice of a black or white back cover (If you want a white back iPhone, you have to spring for the $299 16Gb 3G iPhone). The 3G iPhone will go on sale July 11, 2008 according to Jobs. It was also announced that it would be available in over 22 countries initially, with a total of 70 different countries getting the iPhone by the end of this year. Apples hopes to have sold ten million iPhones by the end of this year, and with such aggressive pricing, it should have no problem reaching that sales goal given that Apple is more than half way there already.
With the new 3G iPhone will come a new firmware version 2.0 and a whole new slate of third party applications that will soon be available to all iPhone users, old and new. Apple had announced in January of this year of that the availability of a software developer’s kit for the iPhone was forthcoming and it was released this past February. Apple also announced an iTunes iPhone App store to come online in June of 2008. More iPhone software developers signed on to Apple’s iPhone development program than could be accommodated, and they downloaded more Software Development Kits (SDK’s) from Apples website than any SDK in software history. It was expected that the iPhone App store would have been online this now, but it appears that this date somehow got pushed back to July to coincide with the launch of the 3G iPhone on July 11, 2008.
Something iPhone 1.0 owners were never allowed to do was add sorely lacking third party applications to their iPhones without Apple’s blessing or cooperation. Of course, that didn’t stop hackers from reverse engineering their way into the new iPhones, voiding Apple warranties and spreading iPhone application joy everywhere. At last count there were literally hundreds of third party iPhone applications already working on what has been commonly referred to as “Jailbroken” iPhones. Jailbreaking an iPhone is the process by which a user hacks the iPhone internal software to open up the operating system so to be able to read and write to it, a procedure that Apple didn’t really want to happen as they kept updating firmware to closely guard against iPhone hacking. In the end, the hackers prevailed and it is widely believed that this cat and mouse game pushed Apple to finally release its iPhone SDK sooner rather than later.
Amongst the apps demonstrated at the WWDC were full motion video games from Sega that looked extremely sharp on the iPhones gorgeous screen, specialty medical applications, Major League Baseball (MLB) scores application, a music creation program, and an Ebay account/auction manager application. All these apps promised to help users be more productive on their iPhones. Most applications would cost $9.99 from the Itunes iPhone App store or be free, depending on the developer’s wishes, with 70% of the revenue going to the developer and 30% to Apple to cover costs of hosting, credit-card fees, etc. The App store will be the only way to get Apple sanctioned third party apps on the 3G iPhone or updated 1.0 iPhones that will be updated to iPhone firmware 2.0 at no cost to those owners. Since the iPod touch is a subset of iPhone (basically an iPhone without the phone function) iPod Touch users will be able to take advantage of the 2.0 firmware at a cost of $9.99 when it is released.
Of course the other major announcement made earlier this year was that the iPhone would finally become enterprise friendly. Up until now the iPhone didn’t play well with most enterprise email, contact, and calendar systems. Apple decided that in order to compete with the likes of RIM, Nokia and Microsoft, they needed to license both MS Active-sync and MS Exchange server from Microsoft. Without going that route, enterprise integration would be a pipe dream, especially since most enterprise customers use Active-sync and Exchange as their primary means to distribute email and other information to its users, as well as keeping information secure using over the air synchronization. What this also means is that Push Email (email that is PUSHED on to your device as soon as it appears in your regular email mailbox-hence the term push), which is the hallmark of all Blackberry devices is now finally possible on the iPhone.
The last major announcement Apple made during the Keynote involved its aging online Dot.Mac service. Dot.Mac is Apples $99 a year online storage and email service that currently provides up to 10Gb of storage space to its annual subscribers. Dot.Mac is going away in name only in favor of a new enhanced service called MobileMe http://www.me.com (not active yet). What MobileMe does is provide everything Dot.Mac offered, plus some very welcome new features. One new feature would be push email for the non-enterprise user on the 2.0 firmware iPhone. Right now, there is no real push email on the iPhone, (some users had pseudo push email with Yahoo! Mail-but no one ever had consistent push email) something many users have complained about. Other features of MobileMe provide the convenience of synchronization of an iPhone over the air with ones’ MS Outlook or Apple iCal application for contacts and calendar information. Of course you can still upload pictures, videos, and data files at will. MobileMe will provide up to twenty gigabytes of combined online email and file storage, as well as unlimited synchronization over the air from you iPhone for the $99 annual fee.
With the new announcements came some disappointments in what wasn’t announced that will sure to keep some potential buyers on the sidelines. Most importantly is the fact that the 3G iPhone is still tied to AT&T exclusively. No one knows for how long, but five years is the consensus. Many users in the past that are currently tied to the other U.S. GSM carriers like T-Mobile as well as other GSM/GPRS carriers around the world have purchased an iPhone and unlocked them to use on their respective carriers, however this time around that trick won’t be so easy to accomplish. AT&T will be requiring in-store activation and another new two year agreement (two years from the date of upgrade or purchase) if you want a new 3G iPhone or want to upgrade to the 3G iPhone if you are an existing iPhone user. The same activation process will supposedly be implemented at Apple Stores as well to insure that iPhones that are being subsidized by AT&T don’t get shipped overseas or used on carriers other than AT&T in the U.S.
In what is likely to be very controversial, the only way possible to cancel your AT&T contract is to return the 3G iPhone to the store where it was purchased before AT&T will terminate your service. It’s not clear if that rule applies after the new extended 30 day & 10% restock return period, but a $175 early termination feel will apply after 30 days of activation if you choose to terminate your agreement before your 2-year agreement is up.
Unlike the first generation iPhone where you walked into an Apple or AT&T store with cash/credit card in hand and walked out with a sealed iPhone and later activated it at your leisure at home, this time around it will be more inconvenient and time consuming at the point of purchase where the iPhone leaves the store activated, something AT&T and Apple say will take no more than ten minutes. The unconventional approach to cell phone activation with the first generation iPhone (or lack thereof) produced over a million of iPhone hardware sales for Apple that never morphed into the revenue generating activations for Apple and AT&T as was the expectation since consumers instead readily unlocked them and used them on alternate carriers. Some analysts estimated that as many as 3 out of 10 iPhones were never activated directly thru AT&T as they tecnically should have, costing both companies anticipated revenue.
The 3G iPhone comes with another caveat for potential T-Mobile users in the U.S. Since T-Mobile finally announced the launch of its own 3G HSDPA/UMTS broadband wireless service this month in New York (slowly being rolled out nationwide), many thought they could simply wait and buy a new 3G iPhone and use on T-Mobile’s upcoming 3G network. Unfortunately this isn’t going to be possible since T-Mobile USA’s new HSDPA/UMTS network happens to be what is called an AWS (Advanced Wireless System) something the 3G iPhone HSDPA transceiver in its current form isn’t compatible with--making 3G internet access on T-Mobile’s 3G network all but impossible. Yes, you can most certainly use a 3G iPhone on T-Mobile and any other GSM carriers since it is a GSM phone first and foremost, but you will be stuck surfing the internet at slower EDGE speeds. Jobs demonstrated a comparison between EDGE, HSDPA and WiFi internet downloads on the new 3G iPhone and that demo showed HSDPA to be at least twice as fast as EDGE, and almost as fast as WiFi broadband.
The other disappointments that became obvious this week are common complaints that date back to the 1st generation iPhone. Those complaints include the lack of Adobe Flash (something many websites including YouTube use to speed up and enhance user website experiences) which without of course you can’t view those websites properly. For a such a versatile device that touts full page internet browsing as its primary claim to fame, (one that is very true), it is inexcusable that Apple and Adobe have not come to an agreement to put Flash on the iPhone one year after its launch. Adobe claims to be working on a fix for this, but so far nothing concrete has been seen from them. Many believe that this is a revenue issue both Adobe and Apple need to come to terms on, thus forcing Apple to leave Flash functionality out of the iPhone altogether.
Another inexcusable shortcoming in the 3G iPhone is the lack of a cut, copy and paste function on any iPhone old or new. This one leaves many asking why something so simple, yet very important is still not a part of the iPhone user experience.
Much to the chagrin of both current iPhone users and some non-iPhone users, the iPhone still lacks a hard keyboard (The iPhone uses a touch screen keyboard) something that will probably never change, so no one really expected any alterations to the keyboard to be announced. Other user complaints include the lack of a synchable task manger (To Do List) application, although this will probably be resolved next month with the opening of the iPhone App Store within iTunes.
One other major common gripe of the iPhone is its lack of A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). A2DP is the term that is used when a Bluetooth equipped device is able to transmit/stream mono or stereo audio to a Bluetooth headset, earphones, or audio system. Yes you can use a Bluetooth headset to carry on a conversation, but you can’t listen to your iPod thru it. How is it that a device whose roots are a music player first and foremost not have the ability to stream audio via its Bluetooth radio? This too is also an inexcusable shortcoming of the iPhone old and new. Moreover you can’t use the iPhone to tether as a wireless broadband modem connection for your laptop-Bluetooth or hardwired.
There had been some rumors/speculation (there were plenty of them going around leading up to the announcement day) on the internet that suggested that there would be a front facing video camera on the iPhone to facilitate video conferencing. Alas, that was not to be, and neither was standard video recording on the iPhone, something that most die-hard iPhone fans had hoped for in this 3G iPhone. Video recording has been achieved by some enterprising third party developers and is currently available on Jailbroken iPhones today.
Overall, Apple kept its promises from it original initial iPhone launch to later offer a faster and better mobile internet experience. They did so by finally adding 3G broadband wireless to this new version of its ever popular iPhone. The GPS integration is also a great addition to the mix, and provides users with a more robust Geo-relative user experience. By adding enterprise compatibility to the iPhone, Apple also opened the doors to all kinds of possibilities and potential (not to mention sales). Making the 3G iPhone affordable and in line with the cost of the average subsidized cell phone was a great plus too. However in all fairness, the 3G Apple iPhone still has a way to go before it will be as perfect as Jobs would like us to believe. In Obi Wan’s famous words from Star Wars Episode IV, “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for-move along” Here’s to looking forward to iPhone 3.0. Cheers!