iPhone. In Color.

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Just a brief note here on the big Apple event today where the new iPhones were announced (along with a few other details concerning iOS 7). For the first time, Apple will be offering two new versions of its phone at the same time: the 5C (c is for color, NOT cheap) and the 5S (for speed, most likely). Color and speed are pretty much the biggest differences between these two models, although price also differs. The 5C will come in 16 and 32 GB flavors ($99 and $199 on contract, respectively), in green, blue, yellow, red or white. Molded single piece plastic back and full touchscreen front. It does have a 4″ retina display as well, along with a 8 MP camera. It is essentially a colorful plastic version of the iPhone 5.

The 5S packs a lot more brainpower, as well as color choice. The cool with this one is a new 64 bit A7 mobile processor. It is claimed to be the first of its kind. It will also feature a mobile “coprocessor” to better read and track device movement. It will then use the better motion knowledge to feed you the information you want – driving directions while in a car and walking directions while on foot. New dual flash to improve picture quality, and a fingerprint identity sensor, which “snaps a pic” of your print and will then let you unlock and authenticate with iTunes using only your print. You can use multiple prints on the phone. The camera has a larger image sensor and aperture and increase in light sensitivity. There are all sorts of support features for the camera for stability and image improvement and a slow mo mode for video. You can live zoom the video while recording. With a nod to Instagram, you can also employ square format and filters on your photos within the app. Better Facetime now with an HD Facetime camera. You can get it in gold (ugh), black and grey / silver, for $199 on contract for the 16 GB,  $299 for the 32 GB and $399 for the 64 GB, on contract.

iOS 7, not surprisingly, is built to fit the 5S – it is now a 64 bit operating system. I won’t go into exhaustive detail on it, as I did discuss it already in another post here. I will add though that the Apple apps that have been paid to date (iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Numbers) will be free on at least these new devices and iOS7 compatible devices. Now THAT is cool.  iOS 7 will be available on September 18, 2013 and it is anticipated the phones will be available within a couple days thereafter.

Will I buy one? I am not sure. My iPhone 5 is still more than serviceable. I am thinking I will wait and see how well iOS 7 runs on it. If it gets laggy, I might consider the upgrade as I have little patience for slow phones. Will you buy one? What do you think? Does Apple still have the shiny? It will be interesting to see the sales numbers and whether Android really has taken a chunk of Apple’s territory.

iOS 7 and What It Means For You

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Been away for a few weeks focusing on other tasks. What better way to jump back into the Studio than with the shiny new iOS 7 straight from day one at WWDC. Admittedly I missed the keynote, but I have all the goods you need to know right here. Enough with the rumors, which I have been studiously avoiding over the past few months, let’s get down to brass facts.

There are a lot of changes – Apple clearly is interested in keeping people interested in their devices, which is no surprise given the mounting consumer interest in Android software and hardware. The first thing you will notice when you get to load up the shiny new OS is the new look. It’s called flat design and it quite literally takes the 3D out of the icons, pages and apps.

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But pretty is as pretty does, right? What will iOS 7 do?

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.12.54 AMControl Center: Control Center is an overlay screen that offers quick access to your most used controls and apps. Swiping up from any screen, even the Lock screen, will get you into Airplane mode, Wi-Fi on or off, screen brightness, and even a flashlight. There goes my Flashlight app.

Notification Center: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.17.28 AMBeefed up and more usable - Notification Center gives you alerts for  mail, missed calls, still to-dos, and more. “Today” is new and provides a summary of the days’ important features, such as weather, birthdays, traffic, etc., with a nod to tomorrow’s events. Looks a bit like Google Now in aspect. Swipe down from any screen, as usual.

Multitasking: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.24.25 AMIt’s gotten smarter. App updates happen automatically now in a strong Wi-Fi signal without battery drain. It will learn when you like to use what app and update the app before your usual use. Access preview screens of open apps and flick them closed (Hello Android and WebOS). Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all, and these are undoubtedly nice adds to iPhone / iPad / Touch users.

Camera & Photos:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.29.10 AM Some tweaks and nods to Instagram, with square format options and filters. Plus easy access to still shots, video and panorama shots. Fun. The Photo app also has some upgrades – Collections, Moments and Years. Photos will be automatically slotted into these categories to make for a bit better organization of those sometimes vast libraries.

Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.32.46 AMAirDrop: This has been available on Macs but it has now made its even more useful entre onto iOS. AirDrop is a sharing tool – quickly and easily share photos, videos, contacts — and anything else from any app with a Share button. Tap Share,  select the person you want to share with and BAM – using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the media is transferred. Transfers are encrypted too, which is nice. iPhone 5 and later iPad and Touch versions only.

Safari:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.36.52 AM Much better than before and finally catching up to some of the other decent mobile browsers. Unified search / address box. Nicely executed visual tabs – think overhead Coverflow view. Full screen so you can take full advantage of those tiny screens. Swiping allows you to quickly move forwards or backwards through pages. Improved interfaces with Reader and Twitter. And a password storage keychain for Safari via iCloud. Or have Safari generate passwords for you. Finally up to 21st Century standards.

iTunes Radio:Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.39.31 AM Seems strange that the pioneer of digital media retailing took this long to develop its own radio streaming app, but here it is. It’s not really radio reinvented as Apple proudly claims – its a lot like other streaming radio apps that allow you to build stations that get more personalized the more you listen. Nice that it’s free, though.

Siri: Screen Shot 2013-06-11 at 11.42.56 AMStill a work in progress, but definitely progressing. Siri has a new flat look and can speak to you in either a male or female voice. It is faster, and checks more sources. Unfortunately, it will be defaulting to Bing for web search rather than Google, which I think is a step down. It will perform more tasks now, like  returning calls, playing voicemail, controlling iTunes Radio, and more.

App Store: Some minor tweaks with a new “Apps Near Me” category that offers suggestions on apps that are popular in and around your locale. A good add for parents is a new Kids section that offers suggestions based on age. And, as noted above, apps will now update in the background, which is a welcome change.

Find My Phone: It’s gotten a little better. Your Apple ID and Password need to be inputted to actually turn off Find My iPhone or erase the device. Good luck with that, phone thieves. Find My iPhone can also continue to display a custom message, even after the device is erased. Also, your Apple ID and password are required before anyone can reactivate it, so it becomes quite onerous to do nefarious things with someone else’s device.

What about iPhones for business users? Along with some of the obvious usability improvements (business users love those), AirDrop and stronger phone security, some other commenters have noted certain features on the SDK slides that might be interesting to the enterprise.

Enterprise Single Sign-on This allows users to authenticate once to the enterprise, and then get access to apps without having to repeatedly log in. Reduced log ins is a good thing.

Per-app VPN - Virtual Private Networks are necessary for mobile/remote users, possibly allowing better user experience and ease network burdens.

App Configuration Management presumably, mobile app management, perhaps offering the ability to push apps to or remove apps from managed devices. Maybe even prevent loading unauthorized apps.

App Store Volume Purchase possibly an improved volume purchasing program, which would benefit larger businesses and educational clients.

Smart Mailboxes likely similar to smart mailbox feature in OS X’s Mail app. They act as permanent email searches, which makes it easier to find emails matching certain characteristics. Better search means more efficient communication.

PDF Annotations I love this one! No more opening your PDFs in a particular app to annotate them? Sign me up!

Wi-Fi Hot Spot 2.0 Likely better mobile hotspot/tethering.

Phone, FaceTime, and Messages Blocking Believe this to be blocking of communication based on phone number, email, or other factors. Sort of like the next generation of Do Not Disturb.

Peer-to-peer Connectivity probably involves the new AirDrop feature.

Data Protection By Default better security for apps. Possibly part of the data encryption that is already in place. And probably involves that encryption that will accompany AirDrop sharing.

I haven’t identified all the changes with iOS 7 and there could be additional features added (or subtracted) before it all rolls out in the fall. Nonetheless, there is a lot here to sink your teeth (or your fingers) into so kudos to Apple for coming to the party with something to offer.

Let’s Talk iOS Gmail

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Native email on the iPhone and iPad has always left a lot to be desired, particularly if you are a Gmail user. Same has historically been true for Gmail users on iOS. However, with a major refresh of the universal iOS app yesterday, Gmail has really come into its own on the Apple mobile front. I’m not sure whether buying uber-popular email app Sparrow had anything to do with it or not – I’m just happy with the results.

 

Obvious changes include improvement in the physical UI, which is simpler and easier to view, and responds beautifully on my iPhone 5. Other improvements clearly had me in mind as well – I am thrilled that the newest version not only has multiple sign in, but allows really simple switching between accounts with icon-based buttons. You can add up to five Gmail accounts within the app – I’ve filled up four slots already.

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Another new benefit is better integration with other Google products – clearly the direction Google has been heading in with all its products. You can now add calendar invites and events from within Gmail without having to switch to another app. And you can post to Google+ from within your Gmail, such as +-ing a post.

 

There are notifications, now, if you prefer to have your incoming email accompanied by a charming tone and a lock screen note. Really. Some people like that.

 

Easily add photos or scribbles to your emails. Yes, scribbles. You can draw something and attach it.

 

Search in the iOS app is now predictive – Google will offer up options as you type your query. Certainly speeds things up a bit. And, with infinite scrolling you can slam through 150 emails with a few swipes, without having to reload after 50 items.

 

All of the new features have usability in mind. I like the new app so much, I am thinking of moving it to the tray. A lot of these features have already been available in the Android version, which really is no surprise at all. And Google also updated the Android version yesterday as well, keeping it well ahead of the iOS version with pinch-to-zoom on individual messages and swipe (left or right) to delete or archive. There is also an ability to “auto-fit” a message to your phone’s screen, a thumbnail view of attached images that can be tapped to open a swipeable gallery, and the ability to attach phone-captured videos to an email. For phones with Android 4.0 or higher, unfortunately, but still pretty cool.

 

Both apps are free. What are you waiting for?

Welcome New iPhone 5 (and other assorted items)

Yes, months of waiting are over. Yes, it’s called the iPhone 5. Like its predecessor, it’s all glass and aluminum, but only 7.6 mm thick, 18% thinner and 20% lighter than the 4S.  Same retina display density as the 4s, but a bigger, 4″ screen, which bumps it up to 1136 x 640 res and 44% more color saturation. That means an additional row of icons per page. Apple has updated all of the Apple apps to accomodate the new phone. Bigger screen means more data on each screen. And it promises to be fast. HSPA+ and DC-HSPDA and  LTE – fast. The antennas will switch seamlessly and you should be able to secure 4G speed wherever available worldwide.

Wireless is improved as well – the 5 will support 802.11 a/b/g/n at up to 150Mbps. New processor too – the A6 is 2x faster on processing and graphics, and smaller than its predecessor. Hopefully for a bigger battery. But all things considered, the numbers aren’t bad for all this new, faster, shinier hardware: Apple is indicating 8 hours of 3G talk, 225 hour of standby, 40 hours of music, 10 hours of wi-fi browsing, and 8 hours of LTE  browsing. The camera appears to be pretty much the same as 4S, with 8MP, faster capture and a smart filter for better color matching. Oh, and Panorama mode!  iOS6, which will come on this phone, includes a new Shared Photo Streams feature which allows you to share photos with friends, who can then comment on them or like them.

Video is updating too – it will still be 1080p but will have better stabilization and facial recognition features. The front camera is getting bumped to  720p.  You will be able to take pictures while recording video. Three mics on the device to improve audio capture.

Now, about that connector. The new one is called Lightning. Lightning is an all digital design, with 8 pins instead of 30. Needless to say, much smaller and incompatible without an adaptor with any of your existing iPhone peripherals. Of course, Apple is making the adaptor. Oh well. Wonder what that will run cost-wise?

iOS6 had its debut back in June, but the finer details as applied to the iPhone 5 are now cast. New Maps, with 100 million! points of interest and related info including Yelp reviews and photos and turn by turn directions. Not quite up to Google standards without walking and public transportation directions, but slick nonetheless. Access 3D satellite imagery by pressing the bottom corner of the screen.

Improvements to Notifications – access and update your applications, like Twitter, right from Notifications. Full screen mode in Safari. iCloud tabs to keep track of your browser sessions across devices. Mail has VIP filtering which allows you to set priorities for certain email senders. Passport which keeps important data close and integrates with your lock screen so you can flash your digital boarding pass at the airport.  Siri knows more about things like sports and movies,  can launch apps or post to Facebook for you if you ask her and even make a reservation for you through Open Table. Definitely getting more like Alfred here.

Same color scheme too – black or white. There is no room for grey area with this one.

All in all, improvements but no innovations. Positives but no “OMG!” But, the price remains the same – $199, $299 and $399 for 16G, 32G and 64G models, respectively. Gotta give Apple some credit for that. And the 4S and 4 get big price drops. I am using a 4 now and scoring a 4 for free on contract is pretty amazing – it is still a great phone.

You can preorder on September 14 and it will ship on September 21 – the day after my birthday (how appropriate).  For those not upgrading, phones from the 3GS forward will get iOS 6.

There were a few other announcements during the press conference as well – new iTunes and new iPods, the latter being far overdue for an overhaul. New iTunes incorporates more social features and integration with Twitter and Facebook, so might as well kiss Ping goodbye. New look too. More visually appealing with thumbnails of album covers instead of a text list. Access more functions in iTunes from a single screen, which is also a welcome change. Another cool add is a mini player that looks like a little bar and will allow you to play, pause, skip, and adjust volume. Very nice if you don’t want the whole of iTunes taking up your real estate. New iTunes in late October. Some updates to the iPods, but nothing earth shattering. Oh, and new earbuds, er EarPods. Like iPods, but for your ears.

Gotta love a company that closes its product launch with the Foo Fighters.  Didn’t even know they played “private” parties.

Oh, and yes, I will be getting one. In White.

Have You SEEN The New Outlook.com?

Wow. Really. This is not your father’s Microsoft Hotmail. At the end of July, Microsoft announced its new Metro-styled Outlook.com Preview, which you can upgrade to from your Live or Hotmail accounts. The look is fantastic. Even the animations are top-notch. Clean and easy to read and navigate, this new, free, web-based email client can really look Google and its venerable Gmail right in the eye.

 

The UI is impressive, while the layout is familiar – three columns containing your left navigation / folders and such, the main center panel with your message lists and open messages and a far right column with the new Command Bar that dynamically changes depending on the email you are looking at. When you connect your social accounts, that bar will show key information from those social sites pertaining to the message sender / recipients in the right column. That column also holds messaging activity, as well as Microsoft-served ads.

 

 

The top bar contains the key functions  - hover over “Outlook” in the far left corner and click the drop down arrow to see nav buttons to People, Calendar and SkyDrive.

 

 

“New” opens the email editor, which contains simple but effective formating tools, again in that clean interface. Because I created a new name for my Outlook account, I can select in this dialog whether I want to send the email from my new Outlook account or my old Windows Live account. You can send, save as draft, spell check, change from rich format to plain text to HTML, select high, normal or low priority, attach files or cancel the process entirely. Much is hidden in this interface but these tools are very intuitive and easy to figure out. Click on the dialog bubble to the right along the top bar and open a message box for instant messaging via Skype (coming soon), Facebook Chat or Windows Live Messenger. Click the gear to access the various options available to modify your mail settings and other details. Click on your name and picture at the far right to edit your account settings and availability for chat.

 

The default is for threaded conversations, again much like Gmail, which is new to Microsoft mail products. But much of the underlying Hotmail remains – simply right click on elements and you will get context menus that reveal those features. Another cool feature – web versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint are built in, and can be edited on the site. Currently no offline support, but hopefully this is something Microsoft will add down the road.

 

When you connect your social sites, Outlook will attempt to merge contact information for individuals from the various sites into one contact card. With the new look over at SkyDrive, switching between Mail, Contacts and SkyDrive will offer a seamless experience. Unfortunately, the Calendar app is still pure Hotmail, which looks a bit bizarre next to its shinier cousins. Mobile looks great – the simple interface works beautifully on phones and tablets. SkyDrive has just moved out of preview – along with the similar UI, you get a new desktop and tablet browser with instant search, contextual toolbar, thumbnail multi-select, drag-and-drop organization, and HTML5 sorting, desktop & OS X apps for faster uploads, SkyDrive for Android which allows access, uploading and sharing from Android phones. Together, Outlook.com and SkyDrive are building a credible competitor to Gmail, Docs and Google Drive. I will offer more detail on the new SkyDrive UI in a separate post, but take a look below at how great it looks:

 

 

The image above to the left in the docs pane looks blurry because I snapped the screenshot while the slideshow was rolling through the images – a really great feature.

 

I am very impressed with Microsoft’s direction here. Along with rumors about a $199 Surface Tablet, the press on Windows 8 and the great Metro interface and the new look and feel of Microsoft’s web applications, I believe they get the importance of modernizing the Office experience. I am excited to delve into Outlook.com and Skydrive and give these apps a run for their money. And, maybe, my next tablet may be a Windows-based slate. One never knows.

OS X Mountain Lion – Is It For You?

 

OS X Mountain Lion is now out and available to Mac users everywhere. For $19.99, you can tap into Apple’s latest OS for its more traditional computers. But the new OS brings Apple’s traditional computers as close to their popular iPhone and iPad products as Apple has ventured yet. Some really smart people I know predicted this move a couple of years ago  - Apple’s migration to a single OS that favors its mobile and spreads iOS functionality to all Apple computers. So, if you are wondering whether to upgrade, you should first ask yourself: how much do I like the iPad and iPhone interface?

 

Another question you should ask yourself is: how much do I use or want to use iCloud? Last year’s Lion knocked on the door of the then-newly introduced iCloud integration, but Mountain Lion just barges right through with a fanfare.

 

Finally, you should take a look at your set-up and ask: do I use a Mac, an iPad and/or iPhone? Because with all the great integration across devices, you will want to make sure you are actually using the devices this new operating system favors – Apple’s own products.

 

There are more than 200 new features, and I won’t list them all in this post, but you can see them all here.  I will highlight some. First, there are the iOS features that you can now find on your Mac with Mountain Lion: Notifications, iMessage (in which you can easily switch to Facetime Video Chat), the iOS Share button now available in Safari, iPhoto, Preview and offering one-click sharing to your favorite social networks after you log into them once. Another feature, which some might find troublesome, is the same gatekeeper mentality found in the iOS app store now protecting your Mac from downloads – the Gatekeeper application pushes you to download  from the Mac App Store or a registered Apple Developer (I used to be one!). The idea is to protect you from malicious or undesirable downloads, but the obvious downside is limiting access or making access to other fine applications that don’t necessarily fit these narrow parameters more difficult.

 

As noted above, iCloud is far more able in the new OS – you can now get synced access across devices for Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, FaceTime, Game Center, Safari, Reminders, iTunes, the Mac App Store, and Notes. With iCloud documents from the Pages app, you get a new document library with views, sharing and foldering.

 

Safari has a unified search box / url box, a la Chrome and iCloud tabs to be shared across devices. Like previous integration of Twitter in Lion, Apple has now married Facebook with single sign on and Facebook sharing features throughout. You can also match your contacts with their Facebook photos, so they look prettier (or not as the case may be). Game Center is now incorporated on your Mac. Dictation is now available in any app via a keyboard shortcut. There is AirPlay mirroring from your computer to your TV as well.

 

These are the high points. My sense is that you will get a lot of value for your buck with Mountain Lion is you are sold already on Apple’s mobile OS. Even more bang for your buck if you are sold on iCloud. Nonetheless, even if you are not so sure on these, there are improved security and system features that fill out the $19.99 price tag without making you feel like you bought a bag of air. All in all, Mountain Lion offers some very nice features for a very nice price, many that will make managing your business and personal life easier.

 

 

WWDC 2012 – The (Near) Future of Apple

 

Lots to digest from today’s WWDC Keynote, the first fronted by current CEO Tim Cook. Glaringly, albeit unsurprisingly, absent from the keynote was the famous “One More Thing.” But there was plenty more present than absent, in my opinion, in the offerings.

 

It’s hard to give every detail, as the keynote did not attempt to list or explain every detail. With over 200 new features in iOS 6 alone, it would have taken a lot more than two hours to do the list justice. The keynote hits the highlights and the next few days and months will fill in the blanks.

 

The high points include a refresh of the MacBook Airs and MacBook Pro, some with quad core Ivy Bridge processors, up to 8 GB of RAM, improved graphics, and USB 3.0 ports. The real star of this part of the show, though, was the new MacBook Pro 15.9″ with a full blown, 2880 by 1800 resolution Retina Graphics display. With a price as stunning as the new display at $2,199. Ouch.

 

OS X Mountain Lion will bring lots of cool new features as well. The new OS X will include the same dictation function found on the new iPad, with the ability to update statuses on social networks and more. More and better iCloud syncing, including documents, reminders and notes. iMessage is coming to the Mac via Mountain Lion. New Notifications bearing a striking similarity to the iPhone / iPad notifications. Airplay mirroring from your Mac to your Apple TV. Game Center. A Power Nap state allows the Mac to run certain updates while in sleep mode. Safari is about to get measurably better, with a similar search function from the URL bar as Chrome has already been employing, syncing of tabs across devices, greater speed, and more. Mountain Lion will come with a much more modest update price of $19.95.

 

Then, the keynote turned to iOS 6. For me, the best news was Siri coming to the new iPad! Siri is also getting more full featured, with the ability to launch apps and provide sports knowledge, movie listings, and better restaurant interfacing. Like Twitter in iOS 5, Facebook is getting heavily integrated into iOS 6, with instant share for photos, websites, maps and other things. Facebook events and birthdays will sync with the iPhone calendar. And Siri will go hands and eyes free with integration of hardware by auto makers –  Siri and the iPhone will be accessible with the press of a button on the steering wheel.

 

There is a great new set of features for the phone app, believe it or not, including dismissing incoming calls and sending a message to the caller.  Or setting a reminder to respond later. Facetime, previously WiFi only, is about to go cellular too. You can set a “Do Not Disturb” button to silence notifications. Shared Photostreams encourages social photo sharing and commenting. There is a gorgeous new Maps app that all but kills third party navigation apps like Navigon – 3D mapping, turn by turn directions from Siri, Siri integration to launch the mapping app, crowd-sourced, realtime traffic information, and all of this on the lock screen. And it integrates with Yelp to help you find businesses while traveling.

 

iOS 6 also includes the cryptic new Passbook, which collects data such as movie tickets, train tickets, airline tickets, sporting event tickets, making them available in one application. The tickets, etc., will have QRCodes and 2-D barcodes. Passbook will allow you to  purchase tickets through Fandango, have them sent to your iPhone, and then offer access to the movies by simply flashing your iPhone. The lock screen, no less. Same with airline tickets. Very cool.

 

Mobile Safari is also getting spruced up with the ability to sync open tabs from Safari on a desktop to Safari on an iOS device via iCloud. There is also a Read It Later type Reading Lists functionality with a list of items for later perusal when off line. Email has been improved with the ability to designate VIP email senders which allows you to prioritize emails on your iPhone. You will be able to add pictures and videos to emails directly from the email application, rather than the Photo application. There will also be the ability to use different signatures for different email accounts. About time.

 

And this is just a partial list. Looking forward to getting the release in the Fall (maybe September – I am hoping). While I was a bit disappointed not to hear officially about the new iPhone, I was not displeased with the updates to the old standbys, including the introduction of some cool new features. I have seen the (near) future of Apple, and it shines brightly, in very high resolution.

The Viability of the Chromebook

 

I admit it. I have been interested in Chromebooks since they were first introduced over a year ago. I can’t help it – they have buttons and a screen, don’t they? When I first visited them, I wasn’t really moved by the specs or the reported performance. But, oh, what a difference a year brings.

 

Year two brings some new Chrome-puter offerings. Google has been working hard over the past year to improve its browser-based OS. This shows. And Samsung, the manufacturer of Google’s computing brainchild, has just introduced a couple of new Chrome-powered devices that step up the hardware. The Chromebook laptop and the Chromebox desktop. Both hover around the size of an iPad. Both run the Chrome operating system. And both offer worthy, reasonably priced options for all but the most hardcore geeks and power-users. Versions of the computer range from mid $300s for the desktop model to mid $400s and $500s for the wifi only and 3G laptop models.

 

Like booting your computer up in 7 seconds? The Chrome-puters have your back. The new OS is faster, able to work with Microsoft Office documents natively and offers viable multitasking. Another great reason to consider the Chrome-puters is the ability to sync your Chrome browser settings across devices – simply log in to the Chrome browser on your Chromebook and elsewhere and you will have the same exact experience.

 

There is no doubt that the Chrome-puters will be a great fit for heavy users of Google’s various applications. And don’t mind the browser-based apps – many of them look and perform just like local apps and often include off-line modes. There are apps for most any purpose – check the Chrome Store if you doubt it.

 

Bottom line: Chrome OS has always been easy to use, but the hardware deficiencies and glitches kept me initially at a distance. The newest offerings are starting to look very interesting. At least for a second, more portable computer than your bulky laptop. Especially if you love some Google. Yes, I’d say the Chrome-puters are getting viable. You can check them out online, or at select Best Buy stores in the U.S. Check out the official Google video below:

 

iPad 3, iPad HD, New iPad – Take Your Pick

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Yesterday came and went and the rumors have moved into the recycle bin as the reality sets in: the new iPad is here! With all the fanfare and hoopla that accompanies any Apple product launch, there necessarily comes the excited cheers of approval mixed with the bitter tears of disappointment. I marvel at the range of emotions an Apple launch invariably brings. But that is not what I really want to talk about here. I would rather talk about specs.

So, what is the iPad 3 – HD – New all about? Mostly processing muscle and display resolution. A lot of both. The new tablet does indeed support a retina display like its little brother iPhone 4S, with a whopping 2048 x 1536 pixels, 264 pixels per inch, for a grand total of 3.1 million tiny points of light. That’s a whole lot for a 9 inch screen. Four times the pixels of the iPad 2, and about a million more than your standard HDTV. The new screen should appear mostly pixel free with a great deal more color saturation. And, to run this visual marvel, the tablet is powered by dual core processor with quad core graphics capabilities – for you geeks, its an A5X chip. So, its going to run fast, and look great doing it.

What else is new? An iSight camera on the front and a better rear camera, along the design lines of the iPhone 4S’ camera (backside illumination, 5-element lens, hybrid IR filter), albeit with a lower resolution sensor at 5 MP. It will shoot 1080p video, though, which should look great in playback on that awesome screen.

With similar battery life and slightly thicker and heavier body, it is virtually indistinguishable to the eye from the iPad 2.

And that’s it for hardware.

UPDATE: I just learned the new iPad also employs the new Bluetooth 4.0 technology, which means it is Bluetooth Smart Ready – the first tablet to have this. What this means is crazy-long battery life for accessories like keyboards and headsets, and better functionality with the new health monitoring gadgets that are looking to bond with iPad apps.

Of course, Apple has to give a bit on the software too – iOS 5.1 is available right now for all your iDevices and will come preloaded on the iPad 3. While Siri is not built into this iPad (sadly enough), it does come with the ability to take dictation via a mic button on the keyboard. It will also be able to access the data net at quad core LTE 4G speeds – as soon as the carrier nets catch up. The tech does actually offer greater download and upload speeds, as the demos showed during the keynote yesterday. So, the new iPad will be faster on the Web as well. And, it can even act as a 4G hotspot, to serve as liaison between your other devices and the Web.

Of course, Apple’s proprietary apps are being updated to take advantage of the new speeds and resolution. Look for updates to iWork, iMovie and Garageband. With the feature set in these apps and the specs of the tablet, you have to take very seriously the iPad as content creation tool now. Take, for example, the new iPhoto app for the new iPad – you will be able to leverage that awesome touch interface to work some serious editing magic on your pics – up to 19 megapixels in size, as well as share and combine photos into metadata-laden journals. iTunes in the Cloud will now allow seamless streaming of purchased movies to all iDevices, which again should look wholly awesome on the new iPad.

The new iPad will hit the same price points as the iPad 2, which will be dropped $100. That’s good news – you can now get a very VERY nice tablet from Apple for $399 starting, and the new features at the same old price.

Of course, Web pundits are all over the map on the release, some bemoaning the label “New iPad”, others left wishing for more. Complaints and praise abound. But the bottom line is that Apple is still the tablet maker of choice and the iPad continues to set the standard that everyone else is trying to approach.

What do the new features mean for business users? Obviously, faster speeds and connectivity mean more efficient computing. For those who are not so fond of the on-screen keyboard, dictation mode will be a nice add. Improvements to iWork should also assist on the work front. If your biz is more artistically oriented, the new iMovie and Garageband, as well as new third party apps from developers such as Autodesk with their awesome Sketchbook app, will move the iPad further away from toy and further towards serious tool for creating music, movies and art.

Should you buy it? Well, I have developed a new philosophy with Apple’s mobile devices – skip a generation and get at least a couple of years use out of each one. Apple is not wildly innovating between models, offering only modest rather than life-changing improvements with each new release. Not that these improvements aren’t great and desirable, but they do not necessarily compel me to plunk down hundreds every time a new Apple device is unveiled. So, if you already have an iPad 2, maybe the new iPad isn’t so attractive, unless you can’t live without that fantastic display.

I currently use the original iPad. I still love it – it is a solid device that performs great and offers me tons of use. I take it with me instead of my laptop on business trips as I have enabled enough work arounds on it to meet pretty much every need I have. But, I will be buying a new iPad, having skipped the iPad 2′s cameras and software improvements, as the leap in functionality is much bigger between the original and the new, justifying the expense. I already know I will use the device, something I wasn’t sure of when I purchased the original iPad. And my son can’t wait until I hand down the original to him, so it is win-win-win all around for me.

For the record, I am going with the 32 GB, 4G model, which mirrors my original iPad’s specs. And, for the record, I had zero problem pre-ordering on Apple’s site, which apparently hasn’t been a universal experience. After I get my hands on it, I will check back here with my actual usage impressions and let you know whether it was worth the hype and the change. I am guessing, though, that I won’t be disappointed.

 

Updates to Google Docs Are Spiffy

Yes, I said spiffy. One of the questions most frequently asked of me is how to work on documents across devices and ensure that changes made in one place show up everywhere. There are plenty of different options for reaching this result, but one of my favorites is Google Docs. In its early days, Docs was a super-stripped down word processor that primarily offered the ability to access the document from anywhere. Heavy on the access, light on the processing feature set. But Google has been steadily improving the interface and the tools, making Docs more like a replacement of your local processor, rather than a supplement. And mobile improvements are high on the priority list.

Case in point. Google Docs Blog has just announced a few nice new features specifically designed for Android, including the ability to designate certain files as available for offline access and write-ability and improved view on Android-powered tablets. For files that you’ve selected to make available offline, Docs will automatically update the changes when you enter Wi-Fi. Or manually update when you are in a data connection by simply opening the file. For tablet users, get ready for a high-definition version of your document when viewing online. Swipe left and right to navigate through pages or use the slider at the bottom for quick maneuvering.

Some people are put off by working with their documents on their phones or tablets, but I have found the ability to do so very helpful in certain circumstances. Google Docs and Android users now have even more to love about mobile word processing.