J2 News: Reality & Rumor

I gotta admit, until Apple made their big June presentation, this year had been ho-hum for this nerd. New iPad — yeah, cool, whatever, but wasn’t there supposed to be a whole mess of tablets, each cooler than the next? Meh. Even when they finally shipped, they failed to impress.

Then we got a faceful of geek downers: WikiLeaks persecuted, Sony’s networks disabled, and hacks and security breaches every day. Unfortunately, it’s time for me devote a whole ’nuther couple of newsletters to the darker side of the Internet. I am even gonna beg that everyone either read ’em, or otherwise educate themselves on keeping their data secure.

Party on, Steve!But I want to do the FUN STUFF FIRST!

Nothing like a good Apple keynote to stir it all back up again. Last month, Jobs and Co. unveiled their next generation software, with good, solid material for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even for this new-fangled internet the kids are on about all the time.

The Mobile

For the phone and tablet, we’re getting a bunch of new features in the fall. You can read about all the goodness in iOS 5, but among my favorite bits are quicker camera access, wireless syncing and backups, notifications all grown up, and instantly legible articles in Safari. Bold & italics in email, too… Hey, anyone wanna know how I just did that on my iPad?

There are some hot ’n’ heavy rumors about built-in voice control and voice-to-text transcription. These goodies, as well as turn-by-turn navigation, already distinguish Android from the Apple devices. Perhaps these boons will be bestowed upon the iFaithful this year. Perhaps typing on the iPhone will no longer suck quite so bad.

Perhaps iPhone will come with a flying rainbow gumdrop pony.

One other credible guess is that a new iPhone will hit in time for the holidays. Nerds and analysts predict a refresh of the current phone, with faster “4G” Internet.

4G hypeBy the way, in case this whole “3G/4G” thing has you muddled, you’re not alone. The phone companies have deliberately confused you. Here’s the scoop:

”G” does stand for “generation,” not of the iPhone, but of cell phones in general. It mostly refers to the internet on your phone.

  • 1G was the first consumer-affordable cell phone network. Remember the big bricks in the 80’s, with fat rubber antennae and batteries with lives shorter than a ballpark hot dog?
  • 2G was the first digital cell network. Think your first cell phone: candybar-size, with a black-and-grey screen. Made phone calls, and we thought it good. This second generation eventually featured the mobile internet. The first iPhone was advanced 2G, featuring slow, but functional, web surfing.
  • 3G is where most of us are now. Darn good internet, serving most people’s needs. The second, third, and fourth iPhones have all been 3G.
  • The term “4G” is controversial. It actually refers to a specific standard for super-fast wireless internet… that doesn’t actually exist in the real world, at least not in a commercially available form. The cell phone companies, unwilling to wait for this tech to become viable, have instead rolled out networks that are indeed faster than 3G, and called them “4G.” The nerds have moaned and groused, but they don’t got the money, honey.

Make sense? All the other major cell phone manufacturers and carriers have successful 4G [sic] products. The main beef with the current lineup is real sad battery life. I want to guess that this issue prevented Apple from releasing an iPhone in June. If they can get a faster phone, with a faster connection, and uncompromised power supply, they’ll have the competition beat once again.

Credit to Engadget’s primer on the subject.

To date, the iPhone models have been iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3G S (for “speed”), and iPhone 4. Most pundits are guessing at “iPhone 4G.”

If you own an iPhone 4, and don’t find yourself thinking, “Gosh, I wish this was faster,” then perhaps you’d want to wait ’til next year for an upgrade. Owners of older phones might look to the autumn to renew their contract and get a spankin’ new subsidized jobby. And remember, you can always ditch your old phone on sites like Gazelle for a tidy sum.

(Another prediction calls for a 4G iPad this autumn, but I bet against it.)

The Mac

lion logoThe Mac operating system is getting a big makeover, too. Mac OS X 10.7 is nicknamed Lion, and I will spare you any feline puns now. You’re welcome.

The big new features, coming to Macs in July as a download in the Mac App Store (!) are listed here. I am curious to see whether the average Mac user takes to things like full-screen apps and document grouping, but Auto Save, Versions, and Resume rank up with Time Machine and Spotlight as major moves forward: imagine never ever losing work again! Perhaps it won’t be fail-proof at first, but I like to imagine it’ll be close enough to save our collective butt consistently.

Mission ControlOn the geekier hardware side: The latest refreshes of iMacs and Pro laptops feature the new, blazing-fast Thunderbolt data port, and this is big news for the near future of computing. We want to move stuff quick between computer and backup or other storage. Conventional hard drives feel slow, and so does USB, compared to the new solid-state drives (SSD) that started appearing in the first MacBook Air in 2008. SSDs are now common, though still comparatively expensive; Thunderbolt connections will increase demand for faster storage, which will bring prices down.

What this could mean for you: getting hundreds of pictures and videos off your camera in seconds, copying high-def movies to your media jukebox in a snap, and backups happening so quickly you don’t even think about it.

Last I heard, inventory of Mac minis, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros is dwindling, and I think we are getting ready to see at least new Mac minis with Lion Server and Thunderbolt. I have been holding out for a new media server and a new laptop. I’m saving up!

I also want to state here and now my own most ridiculous prediction: a slim rack-mountable server appliance to replace the Xserve (R.I.P. 2011). I want a solid-state drive to boot quickly, and two 500GB hard drives for data. And I want Windows guys to pee themselves when they see it.

As to when I recommend you upgrade, it’s easiest for me to hold to my recommendations for prior versions: If you really need to, OK, but if you can hold off until Apple’s goes through a couple of revisions, you’ll increase your chance of a smooth transition. Server owners, especially, should wait at least until 10.7.2 or thereabouts.

The Maybe

The real curiosity in Apple’s presentation was iCloud, an online service to succeed MobileMe, and then some. It will cost exactly nothing.

The things iCloud purports to do include:

  • sync your contacts, calendar, and other data
  • store documents for easy access on any device or computer
  • automatically backup any photos taken on the mobile devices to the internet, making them instantly available on all your other devices and computers
  • automatically sync anything you purchase in iTunes between devices.

In addition, for $25 a year, we’ll get iTunes Match, which will be a bit of magic I’ve craved for years — the ability to store music I already own so that you can play it anywhere. This will not be limited to stuff I’ve bought through iTunes. Any mp3 or AAC file I have on any computer will either be uploaded to Apple’s servers, or matched against a track already hosted by iTunes.

As I mentioned in this blog post, Apple’s history of online services has been at times spotty, ill-conceived, or poorly implemented. This time, they seem to be serious about learning from their mistakes, and their new giant data center in North Carolina speaks to a new dedication to keeping our stuff safe and accessible. ICloud sounds like a serious, considered utility aimed to solve some very real, very new problems.

That said, “cloud computing” means using all of the online services pertinent to one’s work and lifestyle. Apple mostly creates solutions for individual consumers, and just a few for businesses. Just as MobileMe never became “MobileUs,” iCloud is not intended to be “weCloud,” and the marketplace for online solutions for businesses large and small continues to grow and thrive. Besides the obvious lifestyle applications, I’m totally jazzed to see how businesses can use all this shiny new Apple tech to keep bringing in the bacon. We know we’ll have a good soundtrack while we fry it up.

In a couple of days, I’ll put out two security emails. Please stay tuned!