All Posts, Reviews

Hands On with Podcasts, Apple’s Newest App


One of the strangest things about the launch of the iOS 6 beta was the absence of native podcast playback. Traditionally a marquee Apple feature, the bundled Music application lost the podcast tab it had sported since its launch. Yesterday, Apple cleared up the confusion with the release of a stand alone podcast application for iOS.

The application, as you would expect, is fairly easy to use. Upon first launching Podcasts Apple automatically imports podcasts you already listen to, a nice touch more podcast apps should include. There’s a catalog button in the top left corner you can tap on to import and search for new podcasts, and a toggle to switch between audio and video feeds. The bottom of the application switches between synced feeds and Top Stations, an Apple curated list of the most popular shows. The list can be broken down by genre, and is fairly handy tool for finding new content.

Like much of iOS 6, Podcasts sports a refined interface that moves away from the somewhat dated grey and blue of iPhones past. The majority of the application is stately black, none of that nasty stiched leather or fake pool table stuff here, and dominated by large podcast art work. It’s a suprisingly refined look, and a breath of fresh air after grappling with the creeping skeumorphism of recent Apple software updates. The few graphical metaphors that draw upon physical objects, like the controls for playback speed, seem inspired by meatspace, not copied from it. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be the difference between binary beauty and pixel induced nausea. The most annoying part of the interface was the catalog—it’s just a mirror of the old iTunes podcast section, and opening it served as a jarring reminder that the rest of iOS 5 doesn’t look this good.

Podcasts probably isn’t going to offer power users much they don’t already have in existing applications, like the ever wonderful Instacast. Aside from top stations, there’s nothing in Podcasts that hasn’t already been implemented in other podcatchers. In fact, moving to Podcasts could mean sacrificing valuable functionality and content. You lose the ability to import RSS or Atom feeds, which means you can only consume syndicated content Apple approves. If your tastes are a little more…. adventurous than Cupertino cares for you may not find Podcasts is for you.

Just as interesting as the app itself is the questions it raises. Up until now, podcasts have been an integral part of the iPhone and iPad operating system. Hell, without Apple integrating podcasts with iTunes and the iPod web syndicated audio and video may never have exploded in popularity like it has (sorry Zune fans, thems the breaks). But, Apple decided not to announce Podcasts on stage at WWDC with the rest of iOS 6, even though the app was launching later the same month. It’s no longer even clear that podcasts will be included in iOS. It could be that, like other Apple applications, Podcasts will simply be left in the App Store to sink or swim on its own. But that would cut core functionality from a mature operating system with millions of customers, something Apple would almost never want to do. But Apple continuing to install Podcasts by default raises its own set of questions— if Podcasts is being left in the OS, why the early release and late announcement? If Podcasts is part of the operating system, why not announce and launch it with the operating system? It’s not as if current podcast integration is broken, and users who need more robust functionality have been happy to buy third party programs. It’s weird, and a little confusing—hopefully we’ll see some clarification in the next few weeks.

Editor’s Note: Technical problems made it difficult to import the screenshots we took. All images are courtesy of ArsTechnica.

All Posts

Apple details iOS 6 at WWDC 2012, launches this Fall

Apple’s SVP of iOS Software Scott Forstall has just announced iOS 6, the next version of “the world’s most advanced mobile operating system”, at WWDC 2012 in San Francisco. The update brings over 200 new features, ranging from Siri upgrades to an entirely new Maps experience developed in-house at Apple. While developers can get their hands on the iOS 6 Beta today, users will have to wait until iOS 6 officially launches this Fall. So, what’s new in iOS 6?

Siri upgrades
Siri has been updated with a number of new features and commands; Scott Forstall says she’s been “studying up” since she was born 8 months ago. Siri can now report sports scores and stats. During the on-stage demo, Forstall asked her questions like, “What was the score of the last Giants game?”, and “What is Buster Posey’s batting average?” Siri replied in kind, with new cards displaying game scores, player stats, and other useful information. Siri can now sort restaurant recommendations by rating, and through a new partnership with Rotten Tomatoes, she can look up movie times, ratings, and trailers. You can also search for a specific actor to see a list of their old and recent movies. Siri can also launch any app now by simply saying “Play Temple Run” or “Launch Twitter”.

Apple is introducing a feature called “Eyes Free”, that will see the company partner with auto makers like GM, BMW, Toyota, and others to add a “Siri button” to cars. Scott says we will start to see this within 12 months. In addition, Siri is also gaining local language support for Canadian English and French (because we’re the ones with the accents…), Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Korean. Siri is also coming to the new iPad… iPad 2 users, we’re out of luck.

Facebook integration
Next up is Facebook integration. Just like Twitter, users can sign in to their Facebook account in Settings, and their credentials will be shared system-wide. You can share photos, webpages, map locations, iTunes apps, etc. You can even update your Facebook status directly from Notification Center thanks to a new “Tap to Post” button that sits next to a new “Tap to Tweet” button. Facebook integration is also coming to the iTunes and App Stores, allowing users to “Like” songs, artists, movies, TV Shows, and apps.

Phone and FaceTime
Apple is also bringing some enhancements to the phone experience. The first major change is the ability to reply to a call without answering it. Scott gave the example of being in a meeting, and needing to let the person know that you are busy without answering your phone. Similar to the quick-access Camera button users see now on their lock screen, a Phone icon will appear next to the “Slide to Answer” slider when a call comes in. Sliding this icon up will present users with a host of options for replying, such as sending a text, or even a predefined message such as “Call me later”.

A new Do Not Disturb mode has been announced for iOS as well. Do Not Disturb is a new toggle in the settings app; turning it on will ensure that your phone does not ring or light up the screen when a call, message, email, or other notification comes in. Your phone still receives these messages, it just doesn’t alert you. In addition, users can schedule Do Not Disturb to turn on at a specific time, say every night before you go to bed, so that your phone does not disturb you in the middle of the night.

iOS 6 will also enable FaceTime over cellular, a feature many users have been clamouring for since FaceTime was introduced back in 2010. Apple is also unifying your phone number and Apple ID, so if someone FaceTime’s your iPhone, you can answer on your iPad or Mac. The same goes for iMessage, which hopefully means that texts you receive from non-iPhones will be forwarded to your other iOS devices, though this is unconfirmed.

Mobile Safari
Apple is including some updates to Mobile Safari in iOS 6. iCloud Tabs allows you to keep open tabs in-sync across your Mac and iOS devices, while Offline Reading List is a fairly self-explanatory new feature. One really nice feature: you can now upload photos to any website using Mobile Safari. Apple is also adding support for full-screen browsing in landscape mode.

Apple’s default Mail app has seen some significant updates that will make it more competitive with the likes of Sparrow. One of my favourites: pull to refresh! Apple has also introduced a new VIP inbox, which ensures that you never miss a message from people you mark as VIPs. Another major addition to Mail is the ability to add photos and attachments to a message directly from the compose window.

Apple has introduced a brand-new app called Passbook, that collects boarding passes, movie tickets, retail coupons, loyalty cards, and more all in one place. The app organizes all of your passes and tickets for easy and quick access at a store or movie theatre. Passbook also displays coupon expiry dates, remaining gift card balance, and where your concert seats are. Geolocation will pull up a card automatically when you are near a store or business for which you have a card or coupon. Cards are live, so a boarding pass, for example, will auto-update with time or gate changes. Apple has created templates for devs to use to integrate with Passbook, and we can only assume this will tie-in to NFC should Apple include that in future iPhones.

Apple Maps
Apple has announced their new Maps application, developed entirely in-house. The new app is integrated with Yelp for local business listings, and the app includes new, very detailed info cards. Apple is also building a traffic service to show construction, slow downs, and accidents. Turn-by-turn navigation is built-in, with a very GPS like display that will also appear on your lock screen. And, of course, you can get directions using Siri, or ask her important travel questions on the fly, like “Where can I get gas?” There is a new feature included called Flyover that displays 3D aerial views of major cities. The 3D models Apple showed off look fantastic, highly realistic and beautiful. The app is said to be very smooth and responsive.

Redesigned Stores
All three of Apple’s digital stores have been redesigned for iOS 6. The iTunes Store, App Store, and iBookstore are all sporting darker looks with redesign top and bottom navigation bars. In addition, the layout of the stores has been updated: the iPad features a large Cover Flow-like area at the top, while the iPhone has edge-to-edge images.

iOS 6 will be compatible with the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S, as well as the 4th generation iPod touch, iPad 2, and new iPad. Developers can grab the iOS 6 Beta right now (we’ll be going hands-on soon) while users will have to wait until the Fall to update. To see more images and check out everything that’s new in iOS 6, head on over to Apple’s iOS 6 Preview page.

Image Credit: GDGT
All Posts

Apple Releases Maps with 3D, turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration

During WWDC 2012, Apple announced the release of a new Mapping solution for iOS 6. Built from the ground up by Apple, Maps has over 100 million points of interests, crowd-sourced traffic data, turn-by-turn navigation with Siri, and is integrated with apps like Yelp.

You can ask Siri questions like, “are we there yet?” or “where can I get gas?” and she can properly answer your questions. With Yelp integration, you can get inline cards depicting restaurants with key information and reviews. The new Maps app will have metro transit integration as well, with 3rd party developers leading the way.

There is a new feature included called Flyover. 3D models of cities around the world, it looks stunning and very realistic. Satellite and 3D views are included; 3D appears automatically when you zoom in close enough.


Apple Press Release:

SAN FRANCISCO―June 11, 2012―Apple® today previewed iOS 6, introducing over 200 new features to the world’s most advanced mobile operating system, and released a beta version to iOS Developer Program members. iOS 6 will be available to iPhone®, iPad® and iPod touch® users this fall as a free software update. New iOS 6 features include: an all new Maps app with Apple-designed cartography, turn-by-turn navigation and an amazing new Flyover view; new Siri® features, including support for more languages, easy access to sports scores, restaurant recommendations and movie listings; Facebook integration for Contacts and Calendar, with the ability to post directly from Notification Center, Siri and Facebook-enabled apps like Photos, Safari® and Maps; Shared Photo Streams via iCloud®; and Passbook, the simplest way to get all your passes in one place.

“iOS 6 continues the rapid pace of innovation that is helping Apple reinvent the phone and create the iPad category, delivering the best mobile experience available on any device,” said Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iOS Software. “We can’t wait for hundreds of millions of iOS users to experience the incredible new features in iOS 6 including the new Maps app, expanded Siri support, deep Facebook integration, Shared Photo Streams and the innovative new Passbook app.”

iOS 6 includes an all new Maps app with vector-based map elements that make graphics and text smooth, and panning, tilting and zooming incredibly fluid. New turn-by-turn navigation guides you to your destination with spoken directions, and the amazing Flyover feature has photo-realistic interactive 3D views. Real-time traffic information keeps you updated on how long it will take to get to your destination and offers alternate time-saving routes if traffic conditions change significantly. Additionally, local search includes information for over 100 million businesses with info cards that offer Yelp ratings, reviews, available deals and photos.

Siri, now available for the new iPad as well as iPhone 4S, includes language support for English, French, German and Japanese, and adds support for Spanish, Italian, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese. Siri is optimized for use in 15 countries and helps you get even more done with just your voice, whether it’s finding the latest sports scores or making restaurant reservations. You also can ask Siri to update your status on Facebook, post to Twitter or launch an app. Additionally, Siri takes hands-free functionality even further with a new Eyes Free mode, enabling you to interact with your iPhone using nothing more than your voice.

Built-in Facebook integration is the best ever in a mobile device, allowing you to sign in once and post from Notification Center, Siri and Facebook-enabled apps, including Photos, Safari and Maps. Your Facebook friends’ information is kept up to date across all your iOS devices, automatically updating details in Contacts when they change, and scheduling events and birthdays in your Calendar. You can also “Like” content directly from the App Store™ and iTunes® and see what your friends recommend.

With more than 125 million users already enjoying iCloud, iOS 6 introduces new ways to share photos with friends and family using Shared Photo Streams. Simply select the photos you want to share, pick which friends you want to receive the album, and the Shared Photo Stream album is instantly available on their iOS devices, iPhoto® and Aperture® on their Mac®, via the web or even through Apple TV®. You and your friends can leave comments on or “Like” any photo in a shared album.

The new Passbook app is the simplest way to get all your passes in one place, such as boarding passes and baseball tickets. Passbook lets you scan your iPhone or iPod touch to use a coupon, get into a concert or check into your hotel. Passbook automatically displays your passes on your Lock Screen based on a specific time or location, so when you walk into your favorite coffee shop your loyalty card appears and you can scan it to buy a coffee or check your balance. Passbook can even alert you to last minute gate changes or flight delays at the airport.

Building on Apple’s commitment to provide innovative solutions for education and accessibility, iOS 6 introduces Guided Access. This new feature allows a parent, teacher or administrator to disable hardware buttons to lock an iOS device into a single app, especially useful for test taking or helping someone with a disability stay focused on learning. Guided Access also includes the ability to confine touch input to certain parts of the screen.

Additional new iOS 6 features include:

  • enhancements to Safari, the world’s most popular mobile browser, such as iCloud tabs, offline reading lists, photo uploads and full screen view;
  • support for FaceTime® calls over cellular networks;
  • the ability to set up a VIP Mailbox, making it easier to quickly view messages from important people you designate as VIPs;
  • the option to decline incoming calls with a quick message, set a callback reminder and enable a new Do Not Disturb option; and
  • a whole new set of improvements and services specifically for iOS users in China, such as improved text input and built-in support for popular Chinese services including Baidu, Sina Weibo, Youku and Tudou.
Eric Leamen contributed to this report.
Mountain Lion
All Posts

OS X Mountain Lion Ships In July, Developer Preview Out Today

Apple has just announced that Mountain Lion, the latest version of OS X, will ship next month. Users on Lion or Snow Leopard—Lion’s aging predecessor—will be able to buy the upgrade for twenty dollars in the Mac App Store. Users who buy a new Mac will receive the update for free. Customers who are still running Leopard or any of its predecessors will need to upgrade to Snow Leopard or Lion before they can upgrade to Mountain Lion. Developers who need to test compatibility or add Mountain Lion specific features to their apps can download the Mountain Lion developer preview today.

You can read Eric’s in depth preview of Mountain Lion here, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our Mountain Lion coverage on the front page. If you need more details you can check out the press release below.

SAN FRANCISCO—June 11, 2012— Apple® today announced that OS X® Mountain Lion, the ninth major release of the world’s most advanced desktop operating system, will be available in July as a download from the Mac® App Store™. Mountain Lion introduces more than 200 innovative features including the all new Messages app, Notification Center, system-wide Sharing, Facebook integration*, Dictation, Power Nap, AirPlay® Mirroring, Game Center and the enhanced security of Gatekeeper. With iCloud® built into the foundation of OS X, Mountain Lion makes it easier than ever to keep your content up to date across all your devices.

“The pace of innovation on the Mac is amazing, OS X Mountain Lion comes just a year after the incredibly successful launch of Lion,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With iCloud built right in and the new Notification Center, Messages, Dictation, Facebook integration and more, this is the best OS X yet.”

Using your iCloud account, Mountain Lion makes it easier than ever to set up your Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, Reminders and Notes. The new Reminders and Notes apps help you remember important tasks and jot down your thoughts quickly, while iCloud automatically keeps everything up to date. Documents in the Cloud works with iCloud-enabled apps including Apple’s iWork® suite so you can always access and edit your documents on any device.

The new Messages app replaces iChat® and brings iMessage™ to the Mac, so you can send messages to anyone with an iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch® or another Mac. You can include attachments, high quality photos and HD video, and your iMessages appear on all your devices so you can pick up a conversation right where you left off. iMessage includes group messaging, delivery and read receipts, typing indicators and secure end-to-end encryption. The Messages app also supports traditional instant messaging services, including AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk and Jabber.

Mountain Lion streamlines the presentation of notifications, and with Notification Center you can see all your notifications from OS X and third party apps in one convenient place. You can customize which apps send you notifications, the type of notification you receive, and how many items are shown in Notification Center. When you want to focus on your work or watch a movie, you can choose to temporarily suspend all notifications.

New system-wide Sharing is built into Mountain Lion, making it easier than ever to share links, photos, videos and other files. Clicking the Share button allows you to share quickly without having to switch to another app, and you just need to sign in once to use third-party services like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo. Facebook and Twitter are integrated with Notification Center so you can receive notifications when someone sends you a message or mentions you in a post or Tweet.

With built-in support for Facebook, you can post photos, links and comments with locations right from your apps. Once you’ve signed in, your Facebook friends automatically appear in Contacts with their profile photos. Your Facebook notifications work with Notification Center in Mountain Lion, and you can even update your Facebook status from within Notification Center.

Dictation is built into Mountain Lion and allows you to dictate text anywhere you can type, whether you’re using an app from Apple or a third party developer. Mountain Lion also introduces Power Nap, an innovative new feature that keeps your MacBook Pro with Retina™ display and MacBook Air (second and third generation) up to date while it sleeps. Power Nap automatically refreshes Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Reminders, Notes, Photo Stream, Find My Mac and Documents in the Cloud, and when plugged in, downloads software updates and backs up your Mac using Time Machine®.

The revolutionary new Gatekeeper feature makes downloading software from the Internet safer by giving you control over which apps can be installed on your Mac. You can choose to install apps from anywhere, just as you do today, or for maximum security you can set Gatekeeper to allow only apps from the Mac App Store. The default setting allows you to install apps from the Mac App Store and apps from developers that have a unique Developer ID from Apple. In addition to checking daily for security updates, Mountain Lion includes app sandboxing to keep misbehaving apps from compromising your system, and kernel ASLR for improved protection against buffer overflow attacks.

Additional new features in Mountain Lion include:

  • AirPlay Mirroring, an easy way to wirelessly send an up-to-1080p secure stream of what’s on your Mac to an HDTV using Apple TV®, or send audio to a receiver or speakers that use AirPlay;
  • Game Center, which brings the popular social gaming network from iOS to the Mac so you can enjoy live, multiplayer games with friends whether they’re on a Mac, iPhone, iPad or iPod touch;
  • a faster Safari® with a unified Smart Search Field, iCloud Tabs that present your open tabs across your devices, and a new Tab View to quickly swipe through them;
  • new features for China, including significantly improved text input, a new Chinese Dictionary, easy setup with popular email providers, Baidu search in Safari, built-in sharing to Sina Weibo and popular video websites Youku and Tudou; and
  • over 1,700 new APIs that give developers access to the latest core OS and web technologies, as well as the newest features of OS X, including Documents in the Cloud, Notifications, Sharing and Game Center.

Pricing & Availability
OS X Mountain Lion will be available in July from the Mac App Store for $19.99 (US). Mountain Lion requires Lion or Snow Leopard (OS X v10.6.8 or later), 2GB of memory and 8GB of available space. For a complete list of system requirements and compatible systems, please visit: OS X Server requires Mountain Lion and will be available in July from the Mac App Store for $19.99 (US). The OS X Mountain Lion Up-to-Date upgrade is available at no additional charge via the Mac App Store to all customers who purchased a qualifying new Mac system from Apple or an Apple Authorized Reseller on or after June 11, 2012.

*Facebook integration will be available in an upcoming software update to Mountain Lion.

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

All Posts

Apple Helps Out Chinese Users, Improves Input and Adds Baidu

China is a growing market for Apple, and announcements at today’s WWDC keynote highlight that fact. Apple has just revealed that Mountain Lion will feature improved support for Chinese input and Safari will add Baidu, a popular search engine in China, as a search option.

You can read Eric’s in depth preview of Mountain Lion here, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our WWDC coverage on the front page.

Game Center
All Posts

Game Center Will Be in Mountain Lion, Ugly Felt in Tow

Apple has just demoed key features of Game Center for Mountain Lion. Game Center on the Mac will support head to head gaming across iOS and OS X. CSR Racing, a new title, will be one of the first games with iPad versus Mac contests. The announcement, along with news that Diablo III has been designed for the new MacBook’s Retina Display, signals a renewed Cupertino focus on gaming.

You can read Eric’s in depth preview of Mountain Lion here, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our WWDC coverage on the front page.

All Posts

Safari is All New With Fast JavaScript, iCloud Tab Syncing, and a Chrome Style Seach Box

Apple has just announced the latest version of Safari. The newest version of Apple’s own web browser has (at least according to Apple) the fastest JavaScript performance of any browser, a unified search and URL field, and iCloud Tabs—tabs that sync across all of your iCloud enabled instances of Safari. Also onboard is a straight from iOS visual overview of open tabs Apple is calling Tabview.

All Posts

Mountain Lion Borrows Universal Sharing From iOS and Android

Apple has just announced support for in application sharing across Mountain Lion. You can share links, images, and video with applications and services in normal windowed view and full screen. On stage demos at WWDC showed sharing with iMessage, Mail, AirDrop, Twitter, and Flickr.

You can read Eric’s in depth preview of Mountain Lion here, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our WWDC coverage on the front page.