SiliconFilter

In a World of Check-Ins and Social Discovery Apps, EchoEcho Keeps it Simple (and Useful)

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Just like last year, this year's edition of SXSW is once again heavily focused on location-based application. While the genre is slowly moving away from check-ins and virtual badges and more towards "social discovery," though, it's still rather debatable how useful apps like Highlight or Glancee are outside of the conference and Silicon Valley bubble. One location app that has long been going against these trends is the Google Venture-funded EchoEcho. The app does one thing – and it does it well: letting you find out where your friends are and making it easy to meet up with them without compromising anybody's privacy.

Just in time for SXSW, the company just rolled out the fourth version of its app (iTunes link), which features a redesigned interface, a mobile web app and the ability to share your location live with a friend for a set period of time (up to 2 hours).

Using the app is as simple as it gets. You just pick a contact from your phone's address book and simply use the app to ask them where they are. Once your contact receives your request and accepts it, you can both see where both of you are (by requesting somebody's location, you also always share your own location). From there, you can use the app to chat and/or suggest a meeting place.

Two major new features in this version make all of this easier (besides the new design, which is much more streamlined that before): live updates that allow you to share your location in the background, so you know how far away your friends are from the meeting place and a new web app that allows your friends to share their location with you without having to install the app themselves (instead of a push notification from the app, your friends will simply get an SMS with a link to the web app).

Just like previous version of the app, the EchoEcho team continuous to ensure that it's available on all the major mobile platforms, including iOS, Android (these have been updated to 4.0 already), as well as Blackberry, Windows Phone and Symbian (I'm not sure the Symbian app will get an update, though).



3:52 pm


Browsing the iTunes Store Just Got a Little Bit Easier with “Quick Look” Previews

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Here is a small but handy update to Apple's iTunes store: when you hover over an icon for an app, a new little 'i' icon will now appear in the bottom right corner of the screen. Click on it, and a small preview window will appear with all the regular info about the app. You can see screenshots and, of course, also buy the apps, songs and videos right from these previews.

Previews for Apps, Videos and Albums

For videos, a small play icon now also appears when you hover over their respective icons. Press one of these, and a preview of the song or video will start playing. For albums, the preview windows displays the contents of the album.

As Cult of Mac's Alex Heath notes, this looks quite a bit like the "quick look" feature in Apple's Mac OS X.

Here is what it looks like:

ITunes previews

 



3:37 pm


Five Apps and Web Services that Deserved More Attention in 2011

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For every hyped app or web service (think Foursquare, Quora etc.), there are at least a dozen of competitors out there that are often better, but never quite get the attention they deserve. At the end of every year, I round up some of my favorite apps and services that mostly flew under the radar of the tech press during the last twelve months, but that deserved a lot more attention. Last year, I featured my6sense (still alive and kicking), Pearltrees (growing steadily, just launched an iPad app), Producteev (also doing well this year) and EchoEcho (which got a nice investment led by Google Ventures earlier this year).

This list is obviously quite subjective, so feel free to chime in with your personal favorites in the comments.

Trover

I’ve never been a fan of check-in services like Foursquare, but I’m a big believer in location-based apps nevertheless. The reason I like Trover  (available for Android and iOS) is that it strips out all the unnecessary gamification crud and just plain focuses on letting you share and discover cool stuff around you. Instead of virtual badges, you simply send a friendly “thank you” to the person who first shared that cool place you found thanks to the app. While it focuses on sharing photos, there are no filters and nothing to distract you from what you really wanted to use the app for in the first place.

In my review earlier this year, I called it “the best location-based app you’re not using (yet).” Thankfully, more people have discovered the app since, but overall, it mostly flew under the radar this year.

Spool

With Apple adding reading lists to iOS and a lot of attention on Instapaper and Read It Later (though that service also doesn’t get the attention it deserves), time-shifted reading hit it big this year. Spool is the latest entry into this market and it’s quietly building a very competitive product which doesn’t just offer support for text, but also videos.

Another feature I really like about the app is automatic detection of multi-page articles. It doesn’t always work 100%, but often saves you a few clicks on sites like the New York Times, for example. There are also Chrome and Firefox extensions for Spool, which provide augmented links on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Techmeme. Given that the service is still new, though, it isn't integrated into any third-party apps yet, which is a bit of a problem if you want to switch from a well-supported service like Instapaper.

You can find my full review here.

Wunderlist

wunderlist_logo_150Everybody who owns a smartphone has probably downloaded a few task management apps at one point or another. My personal favorite is Wunderlist from Berlin-based development shop 6Wunderkinder. The company got an investment from Skype-founder Niklas Zennstrom in November, so it definitely popped up on some peoples’ radar this year, but while it got lots of traction, it never quite got the hype it deserved. The services’ apps and web services are beautifully designed and focus on simplicity over features.

This isn’t a tool for the hardcore Getting Things Done crowd (this isn’t OmniFocus, after all), but it’s among the best task management tools out there for those of us who just want to keep lists of things. The fact that it’s available virtually anywhere (Windows, Mac, Linux, Blackberry, iOS, Android and on the web), also gives it an edge over some of its competitors.

With Wunderkit, the company also plans to expand beyond its basic service next year, so keep an eye on the company’s blog.

(If you are looking for a more fully-featured service that includes support for small teams, by the way, take a look at Producteev, which was on this list last year and which added some nice new features over the last few months.)

Rhapsody

rhapsody_logo_200With all the talk about Spotify, MOG and Rdio, it’s easy to forget the granddaddy of all online music services: Rhapsody. When the service launched a full 10 years ago, it was among the first online music services to offer on-demand music streaming for a flat fee. Today, it can boast of being the largest on-demand music subscription service on the Internet, but it gets very little attention from the tech press (maybe because its legacy as a part of Real Networks is still a major turnoff for those of us who have been around the net for long enough). With 11 million songs and apps for every major mobile operating system (including support for offline caching), it’s worth taking note of and worth a try if you are looking for a subscription alternative to iTunes.

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and Windows Live Web Services

skydrive_logo_official_200It’s obviously not cool to like a Microsoft product (except for the Xbox and Kinect, I guess), but even though the tech press loves Google Apps, Gmail and (almost) anything else Google does, Microsoft’s web apps don’t get the attention they deserve outside of the Microsoft blogs.

All of Microsoft’s online products took a major step forward in 2011, though. The latest SkyDrive update, for example, makes Microsoft’s online storage service for more competitive with startups like DropBox. The Office Web Apps suite (and, by extension, the paid Office 365 solution for small businesses) offers a far better online editing experience and document fidelity than Google Docs (and include support for OneNote, the underrated star of the MS Office suite). Hotmail has massively improved thanks to adding features like Active Views

All of these services are worth another look, especially now that Microsoft is rumored to launch an iOS version of its productivity apps, too.



6:09 pm


Kindle for iPad Gets Updated Digital Magazine Experience, Support for Print Replica Textbooks

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Amazon today launched a major update to its iOS Kindle apps. While the iPhone and iPod touch apps gets some interesting new features, though, the most important updates are for iPad owners. iPad owners now get access to an updated magazine experience that is also available on Amazon's own Kindle Fire tablet. In total, Amazon offers 400 of these magazines and newspapers, including Martha Stewart Living, Food Network Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health and Popular Science. Most of these magazines also come with a free 14-day trial.

Kindle magazines ipad

Print Replica Textbooks

The iPad app is now also able to display "print replica textbooks." These feature the rich formatting and layout of their print editions and offer support for notes, highlights, zoom and pan, as well as a linked table of contents. For Amazon, this is a significant move, as it tries to get a stronger foothold in the lucrative textbook market – an area where the basic Kindle was supposed to shine but was never able to make a significant impact.

All iOS Devices: Send-to-Kindle

While these features aren't available on the smaller iOS devices, all of the current iOS Kindle apps (iPad, iPhone, iPod touch) now offer support for Amazon's Send-to-Kindle service and the ability to open PDFs from Mail or Safari by transferring them from iTunes or by sending them to a Send-to-Kindle email address.

 



4:12 pm


Google Music and iTunes Match: Modern Solutions to Yesterday’s Problems?

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With the launches of iTunes Match and Google Music, this was clearly a good week for music lovers (at least in the U.S.). With iTunes Match, Apple finally offers a cloud-based solution for accessing all your music on any iOS device, and with Google Music, Google can finally say it offers Android users a service that is competitive with iTunes.

Both of these announcement would have been really exciting to me two or three years ago. Today, however, they leave me absolutely cold. Why? Because I stopped buying music a long time ago in favor of using a subscription service like MOG, Rdio or Rhapsody. I know there are still many people out there who love the idea of owning music, but to me, it feels like Google Music and iTunes Match are smart solutions for a problem these subscription services solved for me in a long time ago.

Mog Music PlayerBoth Google and Apple are still betting on the fact that music is something people want to own – and if you subscribe to Apple’s vision, that also means you will only buy Apple products for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I listen to music almost all the time I’m at my computer or in the car. I love music. But unlike iTunes and Co., subscription services allow me to call up any song I want to listen to whenever I feel like it. They also allow me to listen to artists I would’ve never discovered if I just used iTunes. With iTunes or Google Music, after all, I would have to make a pretty hefty investment to listen to all the albums I listen to on MOG every month. With a subscription service, the investment remains the same no matter how much I listen.

Both Google and Apple base their services around the idea that you want to own your music. To me, music is more like subscribing to Hulu or Netflix. Sure, my music “collection” goes away when I stop subscribing or switch services – but who cares? How many of those MP3s you collected on Napster years ago do you actually listen to regularly after all?

Image credit: Flickr user lungstruck



6:14 pm


Apple Launches iTunes Match: You Can Now Get Your Piracy Amnesty for Just $25/Year

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Apple just launched iTunes Match, its cloud-based music backup and streaming service for iOS, Mac and PC. With iTunes Match, users can store up to 25,000 of their own songs from iTunes in the cloud. Unlike others music locker services (including Google Music and Amazon’s music locker), Apple managed to get a license from the music labels that allows it to just check whether it offers a certain song you have in your library in its store and then make that copy available to you. Because of this, you don’t have to upload your songs to Apple – iTunes will simply “match” your library to its cloud library and play back those songs instead of your own copies.

This also means you won’t have to wait hours (or maybe even days) for your music collection to upload to Apple’s servers. Only those of your songs that aren’t in Apple’s library will need to be uploaded.

iTunes Match is currently only available in the U.S. and it’s not clear when (or even if) Apple will release this feature in other countries.

Better File Quality and No More Worries about the RIAA

This also means that you will likely get better-quality versions of all those files you may downloaded from Napster a few years ago. iTunes Match makes all downloads available as DRM-free 256kbps AAC files.

Indeed, given that Apple doesn’t check whether you actually own a license to a given song, this new program is virtually equivalent to a piracy amnesty that costs you just $25 a year instead of thousands of dollars in potential RIAA lawsuits.

To get started, just make sure you have upgraded to the latest version iTunes (10.5.1) that come out today. You can download this new version from Apple.

But Not Yet…

For the time being, though, it looks as if Apple is somewhat overwhelmed by the demand for this service. New users are greeted by this message:

Update (11am PT): Looks like it’s working now and ready for new sign-ups.

itunes-Match-down



6:12 pm


Instapaper 4.0 Brings Redesigned Interface, Wikipedia Support and Search to its iPhone and iPad Apps

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Instapaper,  the popular distraction-free offline reading app for iOS, was probably among the first few apps I installed on both my iPhone and iPad and it has never left their respective homescreens since. Today, its developer Marco Arment launched version 4 of the app. It’s available in iTunes now and brings numerous new features that both new and existing users will appreciate. Among these are a redesigned interface , the ability to multi-select articles to archive, delete or move them in bulk, the ability to look up words in Wikipedia and support for footnotes from most websites.

The new design, which is most noticeable on the iPad, moves away from the list view and towards a more grid-like display of your saved articles. According to Instapaper’s developer, this makes for a more touch-friendly interface. The navigation options on the iPad are also now always in the left sidebar.

On the iPhone, the changes are a bit more subtle, but regular users will appreciate that the top status bar is now off by default, giving you more space for your articles (there is an option to turn it back on, though). With the status bar gone, though, you can obviously not check the time while you’re reading. To do so, you have to click on the Actions button in the lower toolbar, which will let the status bar slide back in for a moment.

More Social

Instapaper now also lets you connect your Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr accounts to pull in all the articles your friends have shared on these services. Until now, Instapaper only showed articles your friends liked on these services when they were also Instapaper users. It’s worth noting, though, that these links aren’t downloaded in the text-only view by default, but that you actually have to open up the actual website in the app first and tap the “Read Later” button before they are saved. This will likely make publishers happy, as they can still count ad impressions, though it may confuse the app’s users a bit at first.

Paid Search

One interesting new feature is also the ability to search through the articles you have already downloaded. This is a paid feature, however, available through in-app purchasing and Paypal. This new features costs $2.99 per 3 months.

But There’s More…

Other minor updates include better support for displaying the names of authors and publications, support for Wikipedia definitions, footnotes (though, arguably, only a few websites really use them), and an app directory that showcases Instapaper-compatible apps.

There are, of course, a number of smaller tweaks as well. You can find a full list here.



3:35 pm


One Company’s Way to 5-Star App Store Reviews: Paying Users in Virtual Currency

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I was browsing Apple’s App Store yesterday, looking for some interesting new games to play during a very long flight I have coming up later this week. One of the apps that stood out as I was browsing the role-playing games section was GAMEVIL’s Destinia (iTunes link). It’s the #1 role-playing game in the U.S. store, has almost 5,000 reviews and a 5-star rating. There are not too many 5-star games out there for $0.99, so I took the plunge. Sadly, the game is a major disappointment. The graphics aren’t optimized for the iPhone 4’s display, the controls are bad, the music repetitive and it’s just plain boring as a game. So how did it get a 5-star rating?

Being puzzled by that, I went back to the App Store to take a look at the game’s reviews. The first thing I noticed was that most of them are badly written and often just one or two words long. Walking back through a few pages of these reviews, I noticed that quite a few reviewers were saying something about “100 cash” – not exactly something you expect to read in a game review. All of that made me a bit suspicious and indeed, it looks like there really is reason to be suspicious about these 5-star reviews.

According to some of the negative reviews I found, Gamevil is sending in-app currency to users who review the app and promises “free updates” to those who leave a 5-star rating. Most of Gamevil’s games use in-app purchasing to monetize them, so free virtual currency is a strong incentive to leave a good review.

gamevil_review_2gamevil_ratings_review

100 Cash and Free Updates: Who Can Say No To That?

Intrigued, I went back and actually played the horrid game a bit longer. Lo and behold, it turns out that just after you finish the first mission, the app indeed offers you “100 cash” for leaving your rating and “free updates” in return for a 5-star review. I’m not really sure what “free updates” refers to here, given that regular updates are pretty much always free in the App Store.image

Shady Business

All of this looks quite shady. I’m not sure it’s against Apple’s App Store policies, but it sure undermines the users’ trust when it comes to user reviews in the App Store – and not just with regard to Gamevil’s apps, but the apps of all the other developers in the store, too.

I didn’t play any of the other Gamevil games yet, but I did notice that some had reviews that were very similar to those that celebrated their free “100 cash” in Destinia.



7:08 pm


Apple is Not Disabling Non-Developer Devices with iOS 5. Here’s What’s Really Happening

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Rumor: Apple is disabling non-developers iDevices running iOS5 beta versions. Truth: iOS 5 beta 1 and 2 expired last night – disabling those devices until they are upgraded.

Last night at 6pm PT, my decidedly non-developer iPhone running the iOS 5 beta 1 suddenly reset and went back into the activation mode, but wouldn’t allow me to set it up again. Once plugged into iTunes, my computer told me that the operating system on my phone was outdated and needed to be updated. That’s what I did, then restored from backup and things went back to normal (after a few tense moments during which I thought my phone had indeed become a very expensive paperweight).

What Really Happened: The Early iOS 5 Betas Expired Last Night

Fast forward to today and suddenly lots of rumors are flying around (and getting re-reported without much extra thought) that Apple is supposedly cracking down on those folks who are running non-developer devices running the iOS 5 betas. That’s simply not the case. What’s simply happening here is that the early beta versions of iOS 5 expired last night. There is nothing more nefarious going on here than that.

As I reported early this year, though, no other beta version of iOS was ever as widely installed as this one, as rogue activation services now make it very easy for anybody to get a phone’s (or iPod touch’s) UDID activated by a developer who wants to make some extra money.

That’s exactly what happened here as well. Chances are that most of the devices that reset yesterday were owned by users who paid between $5 and $10 to one of these developers (Apple gives 100 activation slots to every registered developer). Those users – just like me – were also less likely to install any of the subsequent beta versions on their phones. After all, you can never be quite sure if Apple didn’t figure out what was going on and kill those developers’ accounts, leaving you with the hassle of downgrading your phone.

How to Reactivate a “Bricked” iOS 5 Beta Phone

Now, if you installed iOS 5 using the trick that quickly made the rounds just after the release of the first beta and completely bypassed the UDID activation service, you are likely out of luck. You will have to put your phone into DFU mode and downgrade to iOS 4 again. Otherwise, just download the iOS 5 beta 3 or 4, restore your phone with it and you’ll be good to go (assuming Apple didn’t deactivate the account of the friendly developer who sold you your activation – in that case, just downgrade to iOS 4 as well).

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10:02 pm


The Daily Goes 1.1: This is the Version They Should Have Launched With

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Remember The Daily? The over-hyped and much-maligned iPad-only newspaper backed by media titan Rupert Murdoch? The first version of the paper’s iPad app was, to put it mildly, a disaster. There were not just major usability issues, but the app also crashed regularly and just felt half-baked.

Today, The Daily finally launched a new version of its app (iTunes link). Why it took the organization this long to fix the app isn’t quite clear. What I am sure about, though, is that if they had just launched with this version of the app instead of the original one, the majority of the original backlash could have been avoided.

daily_new_toc

A Real Table of Contents and Fewer Crashes

Indeed, this new app is actually quite good. Gone is the focus on the horrid carousel that was supposed to take the place of a more traditional table of contents. Instead, The Daily now actually features a regular table of contents. The carousel is still there and still features the same 1990s-style pixelated article previews, but you never actually have to see it.

The app also now opens to the front cover and remembers where you left off after you close the app (the original app wasn’t made for multitasking).

There are a number of other improvements, too. Commenting is now easier and the app feels stable and generally faster.

Is it Enough?

The question, of course, is if this will be enough to get people to check The Daily out again. The content, as far as I can see, hasn’t changed and still shows the general old-school mainstream newspaper mentality (including a Sudoku and horoscope section).

There is definitely a lot of potential in the idea of a tablet-based newspaper and thanks to interactive graphs, plenty of large photographs and other multimedia content, The Daily is at least trying to be at the cutting edge.

Whether people will pay $0.99 per week to give it another try, though, remains to be seen.

 



11:40 pm


Everything You Need to Know About Spotify’s U.S. Launch (Updated)

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After years of rumors, Europe’s favorite streaming music service Spotify has launched in the U.S.

What is Spotify?

Spotify is a streaming music service that offers on-demand music streaming. Unlike customizable Internet radio services like Pandora, Spotify allows you to pick and choose exactly what songs you want to listen to. Spotify offers a catalog of over 15 million songs.

There are currently a number of similar services in the U.S., including Rdio, MOG and Rhapsody. What makes Spotify stand out is that it also offers a free, ad-supported version, while most of its competitors only offer short trials before users have to pay.

How Can I Get it?

Spotify is now open for business, but you either need to be deemed an “influencer” to get a free accounts or get a paid account (more details about those below). To see if you qualify for an invite, head over to Klout to see if you qualify.Klout is giving away about 100,000 free accounts this way. Just enter your Twitter or Facebook credentials and Klout will let you know if you qualify.

If you are willing to pay, you can skip the line and get an account at any time. If you want to wait for a free account but didn’t qualify for the Klout promotion, just give Spotify your email address and they will let you know when a space in the U.S. beta opens up.

What’s so Great About it?

A couple of things make Spotify stand out from its competition – besides the free tier. First of all, Spotify features a strong social component. Users can share playlists with friends or subscribe to other users’ public playlists (and see updates to these in real time). MOG offers a similar feature, but it’s severely limited in comparison with Spotify’s implementation. Spotify also integrates with Facebook and lets you discover what your friends are listening to on the service.

Spotify also offers great native clients for both Windows and OS X, as well as mobile clients for virtually all the major platforms, including iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian and the Palm Pre series.

Spotify uses a peer-to-peer architecture similar to Skype that uses a little bit of space on its users’ computers to cache popular songs and a little bit of every user’s bandwidth to serve these songs to nearby users. Thanks to this, songs play immediately, just like you would expect from your local iTunes library.

Talking about iTunes, Spotify also gives you access to your iTunes library right from its own app, meaning you don’t have to switch back and forth between the two.

Brilliant, But What Does it Cost?

Spotify offers a three-tier pricing structure:

Free: the free version will be limited to 20 hours of use for the first six months after a user signs up. After that, the limit will become 10 hours per month. No song can be listened to more than 5 times.

$5/month (Unlimited): the basic paid plan gives users unlimited, ad-free access to Spotify’s full library on the desktop.

$10/month (Premium): this plan includes full desktop access, as well as mobile access (which includes offline caching on the mobile device) and access to higher quality audio streams at 320 kbps (all songs are encoded in the Ogg Vorbis format). One important perk of this plan is also that you can use the service abroad for more than 14 days. In Europe, Spotify also often allows its premium users to get early access to some albums before they become available to other users.



3:44 am


iOS 5 Beta: So Widely Available Already, Users Leave Negative iTunes Reviews When Apps Crash

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The first developer-only beta version of iOS 5 has only been out for about a week, but it’s already clear that no other pre-release version of iOS has ever seen a wider release beyond the developer community than this one. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is the case, but there are clearly enough users who either paid $99 per year to become part of Apple’s developer program or who paid a rogue activation service a few dollars to get access to the beta that way. As iOS developer Malcom Barclay notes, this wide release has some interesting consequences for developers: some users are now leaving negative iTunes reviews for apps that don’t work on iOS 5 yet.

Ios 5 crashed please fix

Will Apple Crack Down on Fake Developer Accounts and Activation Resellers?

Few companies keep their betas under tighter wraps than Apple and the $99 developer fee has generally kept regular users from just installing a beta out of curiosity. Now, however, the rogue beta activation market continues to grow and even a $99 fee isn’t much of a deterrent anymore for those who really want to get the latest and greatest from Apple a few weeks early. Sadly, it seems some of these users don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘beta’ anymore.

It will be interesting to see if Apple will try to crack down on rogue installs when it’s ready to test the next major version of iOS. There’s little the company can do about those who want to pay $99, but we may see higher fees for developers who want to activate additional UDIDs (currently, every developer account comes with 100 additional activations for beta tests – a loophole that resellers then exploit).

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10:51 pm


What’s Missing From Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud is iTunes in the Cloud

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When Apple announced its iCloud service yesterday, the whole presentation led up to the reveal of iTunes in the Cloud, the most anticipated part of the service. As Apple went through its explanation of the service, though, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed. iTunes in the Cloud is missing a central part of what I was expecting from this service: access to my iTunes library in the Cloud. All the basic pieces are there: Apple knows what music I have on my machine (assuming I pay for iTunes Match once it’s released) and can sync that data to my other Apple devices – but you can’t stream your music from a web-based iTunes interface.

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3:33 pm


All of Apple’s WWDC Announcements: iCloud, iOS 5 and OS X Lion

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Apple today announced iCloud, iOS5 and OS X Lion at its annual WWDC developer conference in San Francisco this morning. The event lasted for two hours and was packed with major announcements, including iTunes in the cloud, new features for iOS (including over-the-air updates) and a recap of what’s new in the forthcoming OS X Lion release, which will retail in Apple’s Mac App Store for just $29.

iCloud

Just as Apple announced last week, a large part of today’s presentation focused on the iCloud. Steve Jobs himself explained how this new feature will work. At its core, iCloud will take care of syncing data between all your iOS devices. iCloud, said Apple, “stores your content, and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. It just all works.”

iCloud replaces all of the current MobileMe apps (Mail, Calendar (with shared calendars) and Contacts). Jobs specifically stressed how iCloud ensures easy syncing between all your devices. iCloud will include 5GB of free storage for mail, documents and backup.

Pricing: MobileMe/iCloud is now available for free.

iTunes in the Cloud: This was probably the most anticipated part of iCloud. With iTunes in the cloud, you can download all the songs you already bought on iTunes to your iOS devices with just one click and all the songs you buy in the future will be automatically synced to up to 10 devices as well. iTunes syncing will be available for iOS 4.3 users today.

iTunes Match: Apple now lets users sync all their ripped songs for $25 per year by matching songs to its existing library and allowing users to redownload songs to your iOS device. 

Documents in the Cloud: This feature ensures document syncing between all your devices. Developers will be able to include these features in their own apps through a new API. The syncing features will work on iOS devices, Macs and PCs.

Photo Stream: This feature allows users to sync photos between apps wirelessly. It will be build into the Photo apps on iOS and iPhoto on the desktop. On PCs, photos will be synced to the Pictures folder. Apple TV users will also get access to their pictures as well.

As photos take up a lot of space, only the latest 1,000 pictures will be synced to iOS devices.

Apple will store these photos on its servers for 30 days. This, according to Jobs, is more than enough time to ensure that user have synced their photos to other devices.

Also in iCloud: App Store and iBookstore Syncing, Backup

iCloud now also syncs all your app purchases and books between devices. As for the backup feature, Apple will now automatically back up all your information to the cloud once per day.


iOS 5

According to Apple’s own data, it has now sold over 200 million iOS devices. Today, Apple demoed the next version of iOS, but also provided some updates around iTunes and the iBookstore. Apple has now sold over 40 billion apps, as well as 15 billion songs and 130 million books. In total, Apple has paid out more than $2.5 billion to developers.

 

A developer version of iOS 5 is launching today. For the rest of us, Apple plans to launch iOS 5 in the Fall, but didn’t announce a specific date yet.

The next version of iOS 5 will include 1,500 new APIs for developers and over 200 new features for tools. Here are the ones Apple highlighted today:

PC-Free: This is likely the biggest announcement on the iOS front today: iOS users will now be able to use their devices without every connecting them to a PC. Activation can happen on the device itself. Software updates are now delivered over the air, too. For those who use a desktop, iOS will now also sync with iTunes over WiFi.

Notifications: “We heard from our users that they want a new UI to get to their notifications. And we heard them.” iOS 5 will include a Notifications Center – a single place that brings together all the notifications that come to your phone. In addition, Apple is also updating the lock screen and adding a better overview of the notifications you may have missed there.

Newsstand: Apple is bringing a central hub for magazine and newspaper content to iOS. Among the launch partners are National Geographic, Popular Mechanics, the New Yorker, Golf Digest and more. New content will be downloaded in the background. It’s not clear how this will work together with existing news apps.

iMessage:  With iOS 5, Apple will launch its own messaging app that allows iOS users to basically bypass SMS to send messages to other iOS users. Users can send text, photos, videos and contact information. You can also optionally get read receipts and, just like in a chat app, see if your contact is currently typing.

Twitter Integration: iOS now includes a single sign-on for Twitter. Apple has also integrated Twitter into some of its own apps, including the photo app and Safari.

Safari: According to Apple, about 2/3rd of all mobile browsing is now done through Safari.

The mobile version now includes a Safari Reader feature that is basically Readability for the mobile browser. This will be available on both the iPhone and iPad. In addition, Apple is also bringing a reading list feature to iOS that will compete directly with Instapaper and sync between Macs and iOS devices.

The next version of Safari will also feature tabs – just like the desktop browser.

Reminders: This looks like a very simple list app for grocery lists, but it does have some nifty features, including location support and integration with iCal.

Camera: The new Camera app is a lot faster than the previews version. In addition, there is now an icon on the lockscreen that immediately takes you to the Camera app and Apple finally allows you to set the volume button to take pictures. The app now also lets you pinch to zoom and includes some basic editing features (cropping, red-eye reduction and rotating).

Mail: Mail now allows for rich-text editing and the ability to control indentations.

Game Center: Apple announced that Game Center now has 50 million users (more than Xbox Live). New features for Game Center include support for turn-base games and the ability to get friend and game recommendations.

New Keyboard for thumb-typers

OS X Lion

os x lion logoApple’s Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi demoed the new version of Apple’s desktop operating system OS X during today’s keynote today.Lion will be distributed through the Mac App store. Users who buy the upgrade will be able to use it on all the authorized machines that they have linked to their accounts. The price will be $29 and it will be available in July.

Most of today’s announcement was a recap of what we already knew about Lion, but here are the new features Apple focused on today:

Fullscreen applications: Schiller specifically demoed Safari, iCal and other apps developed by Apple itself.

Mission Control: This is basically Apple’s new version of Expose. Schiller described it as a “bird-eye view of everything that is running on your system.” Mission Control brings together features of Expose and Spaces, which should make handling multiple apps and windows a lot easier for OS X users.

Built-in Multitouch: The fact that Lion has built-in support for multitouch isn’t a secret. What’s nice (but not surprising either) is that Apple also demoed how this works in in the company’s own apps like Safari and iPhoto.

App Store: Schiller described it as the “best way to buy software.” Indeed, according to Apple, the Mac Apps Store is now the #1 channel for buying desktop software across all platforms (ahead of Best Buy, Walmart and Office Depot). As we already knew, the App Store will be deeply integrated into OS X Lion.

Launchpad: Launchpad is basically an iOS homescreen for your Mac. You manage icons just like on OS X (including support for folders). You can launch the Launchpad screen both through clicking on an icon or by using a four-finger pinch gesture.

Resume: This feature, once supported by developers, will bring all your apps back into the state they were before you shut down your computer.

Auto-Save and Versions: The idea here is similar to the new resume feature. Auto-save regularly ensures that the documents you are working on are saved in the background and Versions allows you to go back to earlier versions of your documents. Apple demoed this feature with its own Pages text editor, but it’s not quite clear what developers will have to do to enable this for their own apps.

AirDrop: See other OS X users around you and send them files with just one click.

Mail: The new version of mail looks a lot like the iOS email client. I wrote up a more detailed early look at the application here. The two most important new features here, besides the new look, are better and faster search features and a “conversation view.”

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4:42 pm


Push 4.0: The Fastest iOS Push Notifications App Yet?

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All the way back in 2009, I reviewed the Notifications app for ReadWriteWeb and wondered if it was going to be the best push notifications service for the iPhone. At that time, it had more features than Boxcar, which was still in its infancy and is still its closest competitor today. Notifications was the first app of its kind to use PubSubHubbub to speed up notifications of updated news feeds. Over time, Boxcar ended up trumping Notifications in terms of features and the difference in speed became negligible. Now, however, Notifications is back as Push 4.0 for both the iPhone and iPad ($0.99 – iTunes link) and while its feature set hasn’t changed much from the early days (Twitter, email, RSS), the developer Fabien Penso has worked hard on making it the fastest push app out there – and, I’m happy to say, he succeeded.

To speed everything up, Penso now uses his own PubSubHubbub setup, as well as a custom fetcher and parser for feeds that aren’t real-time enabled yet. In addition, he delivers his pings to Apple himself, without using a middleman like Urban Airship.

Push 4.0 obviously doesn’t have support for the plethora of services that Boxcar currently offers. To me, that’s not really an issue, as I only use these kinds of services to get news updates from Twitter and RSS feeds. One feature that is missing – and that many users will likely want – is Facebook support. According to Penso, that’s high on his list and will likely make it into one of the next revisions of the app (maybe as early as the end of this week). Support for Foursquare updates is also coming soon.

The app does, however, feature all the other tools you would expect, including support for virtually every major Twitter app and the ability to reply to tweets right from within the app. Besides working on the app’s speed, Penso also redesigned the user interface from the ground up.

It’s worth noting that all of this come at a (small) price. When you buy the app, you only get support for email and Push’s own API. Support for every other service costs an additional $0.99 through an in-app purchase.

What matters most to me, however, is the speed of the app. For RSS feeds, it’s much faster than its competitors and Twitter messages and emails arrive almost instantly (you get a custom address to forward messages to that you want to be pushed).



9:35 am