TidBITS#1098/11-Oct-2011

The day before Steve Jobs died last week, Apple held a special media event to unveil the iPhone 4S. Also discussed that day were release dates for iOS 5 and iCloud, minor updates to the iPod touch and iPod nano, and a slew of statistics about the state of Apple’s business. We have all the details for you, along with additional information about Sprint’s unlimited data plan and what the iPhone 4S’s dual-standard GSM/CDMA support means for users (not much), plus a look at the release of BBEdit 10.1.
 
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iOS 5 and iCloud Set to Arrive October 12th

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>
  2 comments

At the iPhone 4S event last week, Apple revealed that the much-anticipated iOS 5 and iCloud would become available on 12 October 2011, but apart from the release date, only one new marquee feature was revealed: a geolocation app called Find My Friends. Apple also spent quite a bit of time showing the new Cards app for iOS 5, which lets you order and have Apple send customized greeting cards.

We covered iOS 5 and iCloud at their introductions, and no additional light was shed on either the mobile operating system or the new hosting service beyond available dates. Apple said that iTunes Match, the separate subscription service for uploading your own library of iTunes music not purchased from Apple, would come online in iCloud in late October. (See “iOS 5 Cuts the Cord and Addresses Numerous Irritations” and “iCloud Rolls In, Extended Forecast Calls for Disruption,” both from 6 June 2011.)

The surprise Find My Friends app lets you track the location of anyone who knows you well enough to share their current location in real time. It’s undoubtedly based on the same core code that powers Find My iPhone, which some of us have used in the past for tracking family devices. But using Find My iPhone for tracking someone else requires that you know their MobileMe password, whereas Find My Friends will provide simple privacy controls to avoid the creepiness factor, allow temporary sharing of location information for people you’re with for only a short period, and set blocks of time when location sharing is active so it can automatically turn off at the end of the day. You can also flip off all tracking with a single click. Parental controls will allow tracking to be locked on.

Without poking too much fun at Apple, spending nearly five minutes of a keynote showing how one could use an app to design and order a greeting card that Apple prints and mails on your behalf seemed a little excessive. You can take a photo and use the app to place it appropriately on a template, and then add text. Cards cost $2.99 to purchase and mail in the United States, and $4.99 to send outside America’s borders. The app works only with iOS 5 and will be available when iOS 5 ships. Apple has tried its hand at ecards and printed cards for many years — some executive must have an obsession with the matter.

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BBEdit 10.1 Further Enhances Text Editing

  by Adam C. Engst <ace@tidbits.com>
  1 comment

In a day and age where many companies seem to consider release notes a sign of weakness (“Improves stability and security”), it’s nice to sit down and read through the extensive release notes from a BBEdit release. Bare Bones Software just put out BBEdit 10.1, and true to form, the new version features well over 100 changes. It’s impossible to generalize, of course, but I expect most software releases have plenty of changes — the companies just don’t want to admit to many of them. But how else can you know if some confusion you’ve had in using a program was really just a bug that has now been fixed?

With BBEdit 10.1, Bare Bones has added a few welcome features to the already beefy upgrade of 10.0 (see “BBEdit 10 Improves UI, HTML Markup, and EPUB Editing,” 19 July 2011). Most notable is an enhancement to BBEdit projects — the File > Open File by Name command now displays a modeless window that lets you search for the names of files in the frontmost project or active Xcode project and then open the found documents. A search history is retained too. This feature is probably most useful for developers, but anyone who works with projects containing many files will appreciate it. One neat extra: you can drag the favicon of a Web page to the Open File by Name window’s text field to open a copy of that document’s HTML source.


Also new are improvements to the Preview in BBEdit feature so you can now preview documents that aren’t in HTML or in a language like Markdown that’s designed to generate HTML. So if you preview a document containing code, it will be rendered nicely for display, which could be useful for publishing code listings. Plus, you can create a CSS file that will determine how a particular language should look when previewed.

Other minor new features include a Tile Two Front Windows command that appears in place of Window > Arrange when you hold down the Option key; an option in the Multi-File Search window to target searches to the frontmost project; and three new expert preferences to tweak HTML image tags, control the default language for new documents, and report on how long a Replace All operation took.

Speaking of Replace All, BBEdit 10.1 has improved the performance of single-file Replace All actions by four to five times, or even more on Macs with more than two cores. Other changes to existing features include the preservation of document widths when entering full-screen mode in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion (reverse this behavior by Command-clicking the full-screen button or by setting an expert preference), the elimination of full-screen as an option for FTP browser windows because it’s just silly, the removal of the unnecessary horizontal scroll bars in difference windows, and ergonomic improvements to the HTML markup panel.

Turning to the bugs fixed, if you’re a serious BBEdit user, I particularly recommend that you scan through the full release notes on the Bare Bones Web site to see if you might have been running afoul of anything that is now fixed.

Fixes range from stuff that no one should ever have seen (delays when working with projects that contained close to a million files) to things that might have been maddening to particular users (a problem with saving Zip archives that caused Adobe Digital Editions to “freak out”). Most amusing among the release notes this time is:

After moving numerous mountains and ignoring several inconsequential molehills, the cause of The Great TeX Math Environment Syntax Coloring Inconsistency Bug of Pain (2011 Edition) was finally identified and killed in battle. Lok’tar! Pnoies fhtaghn!

BBEdit 10.1 is a free update for all owners of BBEdit 10.0; it’s accessible via BBEdit > Check for Updates, via the App Store application for those who purchased via the Mac App Store, or directly from the Bare Bones Web site as a 13.7 MB download. New copies and upgrades cost $39.99 direct from Bare Bones or via the Mac App Store through 19 October 2011, after which the price for new copies will jump to $49.99.

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Tim Cook Shares Apple’s Latest Numbers

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>

At the iPhone 4S announcement last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage carrying the script that Steve Jobs had honed to perfection, recapping recent Apple store openings and giving a numbers-heavy overview of how Apple’s various products and businesses are doing.

Apple now operates 357 stores in 11 countries, including 6 stores in China, which still represents a largely untapped market for Apple. The just-opened Hong Kong Apple store, for instance, received 100,000 visitors on the opening weekend and sold more Macs on its opening day than has any other Apple store.

Even while the brick-and-mortar Apple stores continue to be key to Apple’s success in selling hardware, the company has managed to transition software sales to the iOS App Store and Mac App Store. It’s likely that the ease of downloading boosted sales of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, which has had 6 million downloads so far. Cook said that Lion’s uptake rate was 80 percent higher than Snow Leopard’s, and it took Lion only 2 weeks to reach 10 percent of the Mac installed base. Windows 7 took 20 weeks to reach the same level of penetration. Cook said Apple has 58 million Mac OS X users.

As impressive as that number of users sounds, it’s nothing compared to the 250 million iOS devices that Apple has sold so far. And although Cook didn’t break out iPhone sales specifically, he did say that the iPhone 4 accounts for over half of all iPhones sold to date.

The iTunes Store now contains 20 million songs, and over 16 billion songs have been downloaded in the past 8 years. Cook used the term “mind-boggling,” which doesn’t seem like hyperbole. Of course, the iPod was a key driver in those sales, and Apple has sold over 320 million iPods so far, with over 45 million in the last year. (Both of those numbers include the iPod touch, which Apple considers both an iPod and an iOS device at different times.)

Although Apple didn’t talk about the Mac App Store’s results beyond Lion downloads, Cook did share numbers from the iOS App Store. It now contains more than 500,000 apps, 140,000 of which are made specifically for the iPad. Customers have downloaded more than 18 billion apps, and Cook was careful to point out that Apple has paid developers more than $3 billion, which means that Apple has brought in roughly $4.3 billion in app revenue so far.

As always when Apple shares these numbers, it’s worth remembering that although there’s no reason to disbelieve them, there’s also no question that Apple is cherry-picking those numbers that will sound the best and couching them in terms that present Apple in the brightest light. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Apple is on top of the world right now.

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iPod touch and iPod nano Receive Minor Updates

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>
  1 comment

As Apple’s iPod business slows in favor of iOS device sales, Apple is devoting little attention to the music-focused iPods. And even the iPod touch announcements at last week’s media event were nothing more than minor cosmetic and pricing changes compared to major improvements — such as the Retina Display and a front-facing camera — added in previous models.

As far as we can tell, the only physical change Apple made to the iPod touch is the addition of a white model. Pricing has changed slightly too, with the 8 GB model dropping from $229 to $199, while the 32 GB and 64 GB models keep their $299 and $399 prices. The new models will be available on 12 October 2011 to coincide with iOS 5 and iCloud.

In essence, the new iPod touch gains new features by virtue of coming with iOS 5 and working with iCloud. Although nothing was said about compatibility with older models, the company has previously said that iOS 5 would run on the third-generation and later iPod touch models.

The iPod nano retains the same form factor, but Apple made a few changes both in the hardware and the software. On the hardware side, the Nike+ sensor is now built in, so no extra dongle is required for it to track your walks and runs. On the software side, Apple increased the size of the icons to make it easier to swipe between them. Also, because of the popularity of watch bands designed for use with the iPod nano, Apple added 16 new clock faces, including Mickey Mouse and LED designs.

The iPod nano is available in seven colors and now costs $129 for 8 GB and $149 for 16 GB. It’s available immediately.

Although it merited only the briefest mention in the Apple keynote, the iPod shuffle remains available for $49; as far as we know, there are no changes.

And yes, the iPod classic continues to soldier on, with 160 GB of storage for $249.

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New iPhone 4S Adds Voice Recognition and Goes Global

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>
  10 comments

The iPhone 4S announced at Apple’s media event last week features upgrades across all its systems, with the addition of voice recognition and dictation through a new component called Siri. Improved internals mean a faster phone and notably faster graphics, as well as a potential doubling of the highest mobile downstream rates. What doesn’t change is the industrial design of the phone, which retains the look and feel of the iPhone 4.

An improved camera will produce better photos in low-light conditions, take photos more rapidly, and shoot 1080p high-definition video. An upgrade to the phone’s cellular systems, incorporating both GSM and CDMA technologies, means that the iPhone 4S can be used on any network in the United States and most networks worldwide.

The new phone will be available on 14 October 2011; Apple started taking pre-orders on 7 October 2011 and racked up over 1 million pre-orders in the first day. In the United States, with a two-year contract for cellular services, the iPhone 4S will cost $199 for 16 GB of storage, $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for 64 GB, retaining the same pricing as the iPhone 4 had for the 16 and 32 GB models. (There was no 64 GB iPhone 4.) Yes, they will be available in both black and white versions. Apple will also continue to offer two older phones at reduced prices under two-year contracts: the iPhone 3GS for free and the iPhone 4 for $99, both with 8 GB of storage.

Although this may not be as significant a deal as the addition of Verizon Wireless, the iPhone 4S will also be available from Sprint Nextel in the United States, leaving T-Mobile as the odd carrier out. We’re sure existing Sprint customers will appreciate this. Sprint’s coverage area is among the poorest, and it has been hemorrhaging customers for years. However, among the four major U.S. mobile operators, Sprint retains the only unlimited mobile data usage plan for new customers. (AT&T and Verizon have grandfathered unlimited plans, and T-Mobile throttles services to dial-up modem rates after a monthly limit is reached.) While the free iPhone 3GS will be available only on AT&T’s network, the subsidized iPhone 4 will be available for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint customers.

Outside the United States, the iPhone 4S will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom on 14 October 2011. Another 22 countries will follow on 28 October 2011, and Apple plans to hit a total of 70 countries by the end of the year.

Siri Voice Recognition -- The iPhone 4S feature we’re dying to try is Siri, a voice-recognition and voice-synthesis system that’s tied in with expert-system analysis of what you say. You can ask Siri for information, such as recommendations for nearby restaurants or the current weather, or use it for dictation. It can speak to you and read items and documents.

During the keynote, Apple’s Scott Forstall demoed Siri with a variety of questions. When asked what the weather would be like today, Siri returned the forecast. Queried for a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, Siri responded, “I’ve found five Greek restaurants, and I’ve sorted them by rating.” Siri has direct access to Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha, and can thus define words and make calculations, such as how many days until Christmas. Other examples include setting timers, looking up contacts, creating notes, and searching the Web.

Siri isn’t limited to command and control, though. Forstall showed Siri reading email messages in the notification queue, and you will be able to compose and dictate email to Siri. The real question is how accurate Siri will be in real-world usage, since there’s little more annoying than talking to a command-and-control system like a toddler or correcting egregious errors in dictated text.

Initially, Siri will work in English, French, and German, and Apple is calling it a beta, promising more languages and services in the future.

It’s worth noting that Siri runs only on the iPhone 4S, undoubtedly due to needing the processing power of Apple’s dual-core A5 CPU. That chip provides up to twice the performance of the iPhone 4, and the dual-core graphics are supposedly up to seven times faster. Despite that, talk time has been increased to 8 hours.

A Clearer Picture -- The best camera is often the one you have in your pocket, and while the iPhone camera has improved over time, there’s no question that it hasn’t competed well with even point-and-shoot cameras. With the iPhone 4S, Apple is aiming at that market, switching to an 8-megapixel sensor that takes photos at 3264 by 2448 pixels, which should be sufficient for an 8-by-10-inch (20-by-25 cm) print.

As Charles Maurer has discussed in a number of TidBITS articles, the raw number of pixels in a sensor isn’t the only important factor in image quality. The iPhone 4S has a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that enables it to gather 73 percent more light than the iPhone 4 sensor. It also features an infrared filter for improved color accuracy and uniformity. Then there’s the lens, which features five lens elements to provide 30 percent better sharpness.

It also lets in a lot of light, with an f/2.4 aperture, which should result in good low-light performance. On the processing side, the camera can do face detection, which can improve focus, and automatic white-balance, which improves color, thanks to an Apple-designed chip. Most importantly, it boasts a mere 0.5-second delay between shots.

Apple has posted several unretouched sample photos for viewing and download, although notably they’re all shot in daylight. We’ll have to wait until the iPhone 4S is released to test the low-light performance of the new lens and processor.

On the video side, the iPhone 4S’s camera is capable of HD video at 1080p, with real-time digital image stabilization and real-time temporal noise reduction.

Cellular Networking -- The iPhone 4S is a “world phone” in the true meaning of that phrase for the first time. Past iPhones that worked worldwide were still restricted to the GSM standard, which dominates with billions of users. However, the competing CDMA standard used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel in the United States is still employed by hundreds of millions of cell phone owners. Apple made a special model of the iPhone 4 for Verizon. The iPhone 4S now includes both CDMA and GSM technology, allowing the sale of a single model around the globe. Unfortunately, the “world phone” turns out to be more about simplicity in Apple’s manufacturing process than portability for consumers. (See “Apple’s World Phone Isn’t Global for Customers,” 7 October 2011.)

The iPhone 4S promises improved 3G data speeds for GSM networks, doubling the previous HSDPA download rate of about 7 Mbps (raw, not usable) to 14.4 Mbps. AT&T and T-Mobile have deployed HSPA+ networks that are even faster than that, although those networks will support Apple’s new higher rate along with the previous slower speeds used by other phones. Networks with 14.4 Mbps and faster download rates are also available in many other countries. In practice, faster networks are better at handling capacity — more phones in use in the same area around a mobile base station — than in necessarily speeding up a given phone’s download performance.

Those hoping for an iPhone with LTE (Long Term Evolution) built in to support AT&T and Verizon’s in-progress 4G networks will be disappointed, but it’s not surprising. The necessary chips aren’t yet small enough and cheap enough to include in a handset as small as the iPhone, and they still consume too much power. (Carriers want to call HSPA+ a “4G technology,” by the way, and Apple joked about that during the announcement. But HSPA and HSPA+ are just faster renditions of 3G and share the same old architecture. LTE is something new.)

Apple also said it has created a unique two-antenna system for cellular connections that should improve call quality. While the company didn’t offer many details, it said that the iPhone 4S could switch between the antennas during a call, and this likely eliminates the “holding it wrong” problem that was overblown after the iPhone 4’s introduction. Most cell phones have areas which, if covered by skin, drop signal reception, and the iPhone 4 was no exception. With the capability to switch between two separately optimized antennas — perhaps with different polarization and different lengths — the iPhone 4S would presumably toggle between the two when signal quality drops.

Current iPhone customers of AT&T and Verizon can determine whether they’re eligible for Apple’s advertised pricing. The two-year subscription plan subsidizes the hardware’s initial cost; if you’ve recently bought an iPhone, the price may be higher. For example, Jeff Carlson purchased an iPhone 4 last year. AT&T shows that the 16 GB model will cost him $449 before 25 November 2011, or $199 after that date. You can check your eligibility at Apple’s site.

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Apple’s World Phone Isn’t Global for Customers

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>
  1 comment

The ballyhoo about Apple selling a hybrid GSM/CDMA iPhone, one in which the dominant GSM standard and less-used but still significant CDMA flavor are both available in a single handset, is overblown for consumers. Most iPhone 4S buyers won’t benefit at all.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s a terrific move for Apple, because creating a single phone that works in every market in the world with nearly every major carrier dramatically reduces manufacturing costs. (China is the only significant country where even the iPhone 4S won’t work universally, since one of China’s three carriers relies on the government-backed TD-SCDMA variant.)

The dual-standard iPhone 4S is also a boon for CDMA carriers, which have lagged in terms of selection of smartphones offered, giving such operators worldwide — including Sprint in the United States — access to the most advanced Apple phone. For Verizon Wireless, a CDMA phone that can roam onto GSM networks fits in neatly with its minority ownership by Vodafone, a major worldwide mobile operator which uses only GSM globally.

But Danny Sullivan, a long-time colleague who typically focuses on search-engine matters, read all the fine print and discovered that most consumers won’t benefit at all from owning a dual-standard iPhone 4S.

He notes that if you buy a phone under contract from a GSM carrier, CDMA is neither activated nor available. Obtain a phone with a contract from a CDMA provider, and GSM is turned on only if you pay the carrier to enable global roaming, and even then, the slot is likely locked to a SIM provided by the carrier to work with its international roaming partners.

Apple says it will sell an unlocked version of the iPhone 4S next month, but the unlocked iPhone 4S will be available for use only on GSM networks. The CDMA capabilities might as well be non-existent. Read Sullivan’s article for all the fine points that he’s pulled together from various publicly available documents at Apple’s and Verizon’s sites.

For Verizon Wireless and Sprint customers who travel frequently, the GSM/CDMA switch might seem to be useful. The only problem is that all such travelers I know rely on cheap unlocked phones and foreign SIMs that enable them to pay an order of magnitude less than what Verizon and Sprint charge for using a U.S. phone to call and transfer data outside our borders.

The upshot is that Apple’s remarkable world phone is remarkable for the money it saves Apple and the markets into which it enables the company to expand while maintaining high profit margins. Like Google’s “open,” in which the meaning is really “open to handset makers to modify and control,” Apple’s world phone benefits international companies — not the global village.

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Sprint Keeps Unlimited Data for iPhone 4S Plans

  by Glenn Fleishman <glenn@tidbits.com>
  1 comment

Unlimited mobile data as part of cellular service plans has mostly become a thing of the past in the United States. AT&T was first to cut the offering in mid-2010, but grandfathered existing iPhone and unlimited service iPad subscribers. New customers or those who wanted to change plans could pick from tiered offerings with metered overage fees. Verizon Wireless introduced its iPhone 4 model with unlimited data, but earlier this year put the kibosh on that for new customers as well. To add insult to injury, AT&T is now throttling users with grandfathered unlimited plans who fall in the 95th percentile of data transfer use each month. T-Mobile’s unlimited service, by the way, throttles back to dial-up modem speeds after you hit a monthly maximum.

Sprint Nextel is the only carrier remaining with truly unlimited plans, and even it recently added a 5 GB limit to its $30-per-month mobile hotspot feature. News.com has confirmed that Sprint will offer the same unlimited plan for non-hotspot usage with the iPhone 4S, as it does for other phones.

Sprint’s plans with unlimited data and text messages range from $70 with 450 minutes to $100 per month for unlimited everything. Sprint doesn’t count calls to any carriers’ cell phone against minute pools, either. The proviso is that Sprint has a smaller mobile coverage footprint than Verizon Wireless, which uses compatible technology. As a result, Sprint roams customers onto Verizon’s network when out of its own service area, and roaming customers are limited to just 350 MB of usage on Verizon’s network in any month.

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ExtraBITS for 10 October 2011

  by TidBITS Staff <editors@tidbits.com>

The About Face award this week goes to Netflix, which has backed down on splitting the company into streaming and DVD businesses after complaints from customers. Also this week, we point to articles at Macworld about sandboxing worries and Thunderbolt complexity, note Microsoft’s dropping of Zune players, and explain the recent SSL certificate problems.

Netflix Backs Down from Ill-Considered Qwikster Split -- Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has sent email to all Netflix customers and posted on the company’s blog with a message that, while somewhat conciliatory, doesn’t exactly acknowledge that the decision to split Netflix into separate DVD and streaming companies was ill-considered. But it does admit that dealing two sites would be more difficult for customers, and summarizes with “This means no change: one website, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.” The next question is how badly Netflix’s missteps will have hurt the company, and if any competitor can take advantage of the debacle.

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Macworld Muses About Lion’s Sandboxed Future -- Over at Macworld, Andy Ihnatko ponders whether Lion’s sandboxing feature might mean that one of Apple’s best babies — interapplication communication — is being thrown out with the bathwater. Notice also the link to a Jason Snell article in a parallel vein. This is something that some of us here at TidBITS have been quietly worrying about for months.

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Where Are the Thunderbolt Devices? -- Seven months after the first iMacs shipped with Thunderbolt, there are only a couple of Thunderbolt-capable peripherals available. Why? At Macworld, Joel Mathis looks into that question, suggesting that the problem revolves around Thunderbolt’s complexity and cost.

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R.I.P. Zune Players -- Microsoft says it will no longer be producing Zune music players. Existing Zune players will continue to work with Zune services, and warranties will be honored. But with this move, Microsoft is implicitly acknowledging that the Zune players were never able to compete with the iPod, something that’s been painfully obvious for years. Microsoft will be focusing future mobile music and video efforts on Windows Phone, much as Apple has transitioned from traditional iPods to iOS devices.

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Secure Your Mac from Certificate Flaws -- A spate of problems has cropped up with rogue SSL/TLS certificates that have the potential to subvert the integrity of encrypted Internet communications. Over at Macworld, Glenn Fleishman explains the situation, and offers advice to Mac OS X users on how to put up their guard for the system and browsers.

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