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Who'd have guessed? Apple held a press conference today to discuss future product and marketing plans, including the Mac OS X 10.4 release date, several iPod marketing and sales partnerships, and a look ahead at new Power Macs. Elsewhere, Geoff Duncan covers a ban on Wi-Fi in Seattle coffeehouses, Glenn Fleishman peeks up a Mac mini's skirt, and we relay the news of a laptop bag that uses the Sudden Motion Sensor to protect laptops and the story of a user who accidentally received a free copy of the Mac OS X 10.4 golden master.
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Matias Adds Sudden Motion Sensor Tech to Laptop Bags -- Laptop bag designer Edgar Matias announced today that his company has licensed Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor technology for use in a new line of bags for PowerBook and iBook portable computers. First announced in the 31-Jan-05 revision of Apple's PowerBook G4 line, Sudden Motion Sensor technology automatically detects changes in axis position and accelerated motion, then instantly parks the heads of your hard drive to reduce the chance of data loss. The new models in Matias's Laptop Armor/Inflatable line of bags includes a similar sensor chip. When the sensor detects that the wearer is toppling (backward, forward, or to either side) due to the weight of the bag's contents, self-inflating balloons deploy around the bag to add further protection to the laptop and the person; balloons in the forward-facing backpack straps provide protection in the event of a forward topple. A vital catalyst to speed the inflation of the balloons is a secret ingredient derived from domesticated foliage grown widely in British Columbia, Canada. The company refused to elaborate further. Once deployed, the bag must be returned Matias so that the bags can be refolded and the internal air canisters replaced. For an extra $50 up-front fee, Matias will perform this service up to five times. People with exaggerated balance issues can also opt to purchase a $35 self-refill kit that includes the replacement canisters and detailed folding instructions. The Laptop Armor/Inflatable bags, ranging in size to accommodate all Apple laptop sizes, are available as of 01-Apr-05 for $200. [JLC]
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
This story comes from Littleton, MA, where TidBITS reader Nancy Kotary writes:
"Recently the weather here turned very cold (again!), and right about the same time, I noticed my 15-inch PowerBook G4 was acting up. I'd come home to find all sorts of weird windows open, or new folders on the Desktop with names like "ag899uiogheo". I was about to take it in for repairs when I accidentally discovered the cause: I'd been leaving the computer open, and my cat had taken to lying on the warm keyboard.
"I didn't have the heart to close the computer after that, and besides, it was sort of fun to see what sort of random havoc the cat would cause. Yesterday, though, I got surprise when I peered over the cat's curled-up form at the PowerBook screen and saw that Software Update was running and some huge download was in progress. It took four or five hours to complete, and when it was finished, it turned out to be the golden master installer image for Mac OS 10.4! I was able to burn the disk and install that same day - for free!"
Our conjecture is that there must be some secret combination of keys which causes Software Update to "see" the Mac OS X 10.4 installer as an available download. Perhaps this was put in as an Easter Egg (all this happened surprisingly close to Easter), or maybe it was just a convenient way for the Apple folks to obtain the latest build during development. There's no way to learn what combination of keys and buttons the cat may have pressed, so, like the Lost Chord, this feat of downloading a free Mac OS X 10.4 installer will probably never be repeated.
by Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Plasticsmith has done it again. The company that brought the newly minted Mac mini its own "mini skirt," a plastic riser with an optional glow, have added a new stand to their line-up: the mini hover skirt.
As fans of science fiction and unusual watercraft know, a hover skirt is set of air jets ringing the bottom of a craft; the downward-pointing jets provide air pressure to raise the craft enough off the ground to avoid friction, allowing less-expensive propulsion over both liquid and solid surfaces.
The mini hover skirt is a combination of goof and practical: the unit which snaps onto the bottom includes a quiet but high-powered air blower which cools the often toasty Mac mini while producing a space-age sound effect.
For those who invested in the Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme options for their Mac minis, the mini hover skirt can be equipped with an optional battery to remove all wires. Unfortunately, the battery option does raise the sound pitch from ocean waves to vacuum cleaner.
But if you enable follow-along mode and install Salling Clicker, you can have the Mac mini follow you around the room. For instance, using a Bluetooth Jabra headset, you could use the Mac mini in headless mode to read Web pages to you that it retrieves over a Wi-Fi network and relays to you via Bluetooth.
The mini hover skirt's price is expected to float between $800 and $1,000 depending on options. A tracking device for Mac minis that manage to get away is an extra $50.
by Geoff Duncan <email@example.com>
Seattle's City Council has passed an emergency measure to ban free Wi-Fi access within city limits, following testimony from experts and fire officials regarding their investigation of last week's explosion at the popular "Beans, Beans, The Magical Fruit" coffeehouse. The measure takes effect immediately; individuals or businesses found to be operating unregulated Wi-Fi access will be subject to misdemeanor charges, confiscation of Wi-Fi equipment, and fines of up to $5,000. Seattle will also create a Wi-Fi Testing Foundation (WTF) to assess and regulate Wi-Fi access within city limits. The WTF will consider a proposal in which users of Wi-Fi would be required by law to limit their use in coffeehouses to email and text-only Web sites (or Web browsing which images turned off).
Lead fire investigator Cindy Aerie noted that while the official investigation was not yet complete, all evidence indicated the explosion was caused by the owners' re-locating one of the establishment's two high-capacity espresso machines to make room for more seating. The machine's new location was at the center of an invisible "Wi-Fi hotzone" within the building, where transmission traffic from wireless Internet users and hardware both inside the coffeehouse and from nearby homes and businesses focussed and excited water molecules in the air and within the coffee machine's boiler.
"Apparently there was no way the owners could have known the danger of the situation," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.
According to Aerie, "It was as if the owners placed the coffee machine inside a low-power microwave oven for several hours." Investigators believe that after hours of normal use combined with exposure to the Wi-Fi radiation, the coffee machine's water tank exploded from unexpected internal steam pressure.
Flying debris from the explosion injured five Internet users in the coffee shop. The injured patrons were all believed to be "bloggers," although Washington state privacy laws prohibit publication of their names. All were taken to Seattle's Harborview Medical Center for treatment; four have been released while one remains hospitalized in satisfactory condition.
Fire officials expect to issue an official finding on Monday.
City councils in Tacoma, Everett, Renton, and the tech-heavy communities of Kirkland, Bellevue, and Redmond east of Seattle are expected to take up similar measures to ban free Wi-Fi service this week.
"We must consider public safety," said Bellevue councilman Don Davidson.
However, opponents argue the economic impact of banning free Wi-Fi might be substantial in an area still struggling to emerge from recent economic doldrums. "Banning free Wi-Fi may substantially decrease productivity among contractors, off-site workers, and the employees of many area enterprises," noted Ijay Kae, a supervisor for NuttinButNet, an Kirkland technology firm. "We may find we have to outsource jobs to areas which still offer unregulated Wi-Fi. Perhaps even overseas."
The online community, however, seems to be taking the new regulation in stride. According to a blogger going by the online name Tribble: "It's not like we have time to read all the material in blogs anyway. It's a win-win: now we have less to read and more to complain about."
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In a rare break from form, Apple Computer today held a press conference to announce its forthcoming product plans. Some industry watchers attribute the move to prodding from partner Motorola, which was forced to delay the expected announcement of its iTunes phone due to a disagreement with Apple. Ron Garriques, president of Motorola's mobile phone division, who had noted that "Steve's perspective is that you launch a product on Sunday and sell it on Monday," reportedly convinced the mercurial Jobs that Apple would be better served by laying its plans on the table this time.
In another surprising occurrence, Apple also actually invited us and other Web publications to cover the press conference, providing a QuickTime-based webcast and taking questions via conference call. As a result, we have complete coverage thanks to the efforts of a number of staffers and friends.
iPod double-shuffle -- Although the bulk of the press conference was devoted to discussing forthcoming Macintosh models, as you'll see in the subsequent articles, Steve Jobs did take a few minutes at the beginning to discuss new iPod marketing efforts.
As with the iPod U2 Special Edition, the first marketing push involves a repackaging of an iPod, this time in conjunction with gum giant Wrigley. The diminutive iPod shuffle, which is eerily reminiscent of a package of chewing gum on its own, will receive a green jacket that makes it look like a package of Wrigley's Doublemint gum. But it's not just a pretty package; the new iPod will sport 2 GB of RAM, a configuration that warrants its name - the iPod double-shuffle - and $200 price. As with Apple's recent Pepsi promotion, specially marked sticks of gum will have codes that redeemable for free iPod double-shuffles. Wrigley's will also be outfitting all of its in-store displays with ads promoting the iPod double-shuffle, and the company plans a series of television ads touting iPod double-shuffle wearers as being able to "walk, chew gum, and listen to twice as many tunes."
Despite Steve Jobs's renowned reality distortion field, news of this promotion prompted lots of snickering in backchannel iChat sessions that many of us were using during the press conference. Although we don't see Apple losing much on the deal, since it can't cost much to change the case and pop in more RAM, it does seem as though Apple is in real danger of diluting the iPod and iTunes brand by hiring it out to every two-bit candy and soda company that comes knocking. That's especially true when the result is an iPod - like the U2 Special Edition - that moves away from the iconic white-on-white look.
Dell Dropping DJ for iPod -- No one ever accused Michael Dell of walking away from an opportunity to make money. Dell Computer, which has a long history of selling products produced by other companies, has reportedly discontinued its line of MP3 players in favor of reselling Apple's iPod line. "Hey, we're not proud," said Michael Dell in a brief on-stage appearance with Steve Jobs at today's press conference. "We're in business to make money, and if we can sell a boatload of iPods that work seamlessly with our PCs, everyone wins." Dell also said that the company would be bundling iTunes and QuickTime with every computer sold.
The Dell partnership makes a lot of sense for Apple, since Dell sells vast numbers of PCs every day, and aggressively pushes other products during the sales process. As with the HP partnership, Apple simply gains access to another large retail channel, and further advances the iPod's fortunes.
by Matt Neuburg <email@example.com>
Following the quick coverage of the new iPod double-shuffle, Steve Jobs moved into current news, announcing that at long last the new version of its Mac OS X operating system is ready, and will be coming soon to a retail outlet near you. (OK, so that's not really news.) Mac OS X 10.4 will be available in stores and online starting at midnight, 22-Apr-05.
In a surprise move, Apple revealed that the official name for this release would be "Mac OS X 10.4 Wombat." Even though Apple has been referring to this version of Mac OS X for over a year as Tiger, has distributed seeds to developers under the code name Tiger, and has portrayed a "Tiger fur" motif in the logo and in desktop screen shots, at the last minute, all of that was scrapped, and the Wombat designation was substituted. (Apple's Web sites referring to Mac OS X as Tiger have not yet been altered, and apparently won't be until after the product is in customers' hands.)
The purpose of this change, according to Steve Jobs in a post-conference question session, was to "stick it to those know-it-all rumor Web sites such as ThinkSecret." Jobs was particularly proud of the fact that a wombat isn't even a big cat, unlike previous Mac OS X code names such as Jaguar and Panther. "We knew those rumor sites would never be able to guess this one, not in a million years. It's not a cat! It's not even fierce!" said Jobs. "It's one of those cute little marsupials from Australia." Asked about how this change might be expected to impact developers who have already prepared software that is "Tiger-ready" and publishers who have already announced books with the name "Tiger" in the title, Jobs said: "They'll get over it." He was also dismissive of the question of how the sales of Mac OS X might be impacted by a name that, in Australia at least, can be a way of calling someone a bozo. After all, Jobs noted, wombats in captivity are easily house-trained and come when called - which, as he said, "will be true of Mac OS X 10.4 Wombat as well, thanks to its Automator feature."
by Glenn Fleishman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Apple's huge success with the Mac mini's small form factor and low price has caused the company to look more closely at making computers in a variety of small sizes. That push was reflected in a long segment of today's press conference, with Steve Jobs laying out the reception the Mac mini has received with users and the press. He then jumped into the product announcements, and oh, what announcements! Just as the iPod broke from the pack of MP3 players and took over that market, these diminutive new Macs - the micro, nano, and pico - promise to change expectations of what computers are and how we use them. Steve Jobs said that Apple anticipates shipping all three models in the second half of 2005, in time for the holiday shopping season.
Mac micro -- Leading off the new line is the $250 Mac micro, which Apple says will be about the size of a thick paperback book and will weigh less than 3 pounds (1.4 kg). The Mac micro will come with a 450 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and either a 30 or 60 GB 1.8-inch hard disk (the same as is used in the iPod). Standard ports include mini-DVI (supporting VGA and composite/S-Video via an adapter), modem, 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, and FireWire, which will hopefully put to rest the rampant speculation about Apple's commitment to the high-speed bus.
The company expects the Mac micro to be used by people who need to carry their work with them, but who have access to keyboards, mice, and large monitors wherever they are. Also missing is an optical drive; Jobs said that Apple expects many Mac micro users will have access to other Macs (such that they can install by putting the Mac micro into FireWire Target Disk Mode) and in questioning afterwards, noted that the lack of the optical drive was also "a third-party opportunity."
Mac nano -- If the Mac micro is just too large for you, or if you want something that includes a built-in screen, the Mac nano may be the answer. Surprisingly, the $150 Mac nano uses the incredibly cheap PowerPC G3 processor, which is still in wide production, combined with a 30 GB hard disk. With just 256 MB of memory, the Mac nano uses a "nano-kernel," a highly stripped-down version of Mac OS X that might make some full-scale Mac users jealous of its speed, which is also improved by losing the Aqua interface. Aqua wouldn't make sense on the Mac nano anyway, since it has been fitted out to look like an iPod photo, complete with a 2-inch color screen (160 x 128 pixels). Input is via stylus on the touch-sensitive screen, and the Mac nano relies on an iPod-like click-wheel for navigation. Like an iPod, the Mac nano uses FireWire to charge its battery (10 hours of battery life) and sync with a full-fledged Mac. Other features include integral Bluetooth and a composite/S-Video output along with audio out.
Clearly, the Mac nano is Apple's long-awaited PDA, and Jobs said that developers could retrofit Cocoa-based Mac OS X applications to run on the Mac nano merely by using Xcode to create a small-screen interface. As an example, he showed a version of iPhoto that offered all the power of the full program in miniature (well, except for the Adjust panel, which works only on PowerPC G4- and G5-based Macs).
With Apple getting into the PDA game at last, the primary question that remains is if a future version will build in cell phone capabilities.
Mac pico -- Finally we come to the $50 Mac pico, a 3 ounce (85 gram) recording and display device that represents Apple's foray into the world of ubiquitous computing. The entire point of the Mac pico is that it's so small and cheap that you can have a number of them scattered around your house and office. It will sport a 2-inch color LCD display, 256 MB of static RAM, and accept input via a finger or stylus on the touch-screen or a built-in microphone. A mount on the back uses adhesion technology derived from studies of gecko feet to stick to any surface without suffering reduced stickiness over time.
The Mac pico runs off battery power, of course, and can charge either from an induction-based plate to which you can stick drained units, or via solar power generated from a group of solar cells that service as the bezel around the LCD screen. Battery life scales inversely with usage, but power-saving technology enables the Mac pico to consume virtually no power when not in use.
Apple anticipates the Mac pico being used to record data, either via the touchscreen or through the microphone. Once entered, the data can be transmitted to a more full-featured Mac via Bluetooth or simply recalled and displayed on the internal screen; the Mac pico uses a HyperCard-like metaphor and provides forward and back buttons for navigation through the screens.
by Apollo Fris <email@example.com>
If you thought Apple's Power Macintosh G5 models were growing a little old in the tooth and wondering when Steve Jobs would make good on his 3 GHz promise from the June 2003 Worldwide Developer Conference, you have longer to wait, but it should be worth it. Apple announced today that in the next year it will release a new series of high-end desktops ranging from 3 GHz to 3.6 GHz using a new PowerPC chip from IBM. However, Apple has decided to break from the G3, G4, and G5 naming convention, evidently due to potential trademark conflicts.
Although the "G6" designation would be the most obvious for the next generation of Power Macs, G6 has already been extensively advertised by Pontiac as "the first ever G6" for their new performance sedan. It's also the name of a digital camera from Canon. Can you imagine the confusion of connecting your G6 to your G6 in a G6? Worse, G7 and G8 are taken as the names for the "Group of 7" industrialized economic powers and the "Group of 8" which includes the G7 and Russia. Moving up, G9 was unfortunately taken as the name of a watch by Suunto.
So at today's press conference, Steve Jobs said Apple will skip a few generations and go from G3, G4, G5 straight to "GX", which is to be pronounced "G Ten" to match the marketing currently poured into Mac OS X. The new Power Mac GX models will to ship "around the same time as Mac OS X 10.X Platypus" and will sport several fashionable faux-fur enclosures that match the names of different versions of Mac OS X: Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Wombat, and Tiger (because the design work was already done when Apple decided to rename Mac OS X 10.4 to Wombat). The cutting-edge design and varied exteriors recalls the days when Apple offered several different colored cases for iMacs and Apple's current color options for the iPod mini. But the fur isn't just for aesthetics; more on its function later in this issue.
Jobs was reticent with other details surrounding the Power Mac GX desktop machines, likely because they're so far off (our estimate is the third quarter of 2006, given the likely release schedule for the next version of Mac OS X). Along with the new processors from IBM, the Power Mac GX will feature new wireless technologies that reduce the cable clutter Jobs is so notorious for hating, including wireless power transmission and a wireless display. "We finally got rid of those last cables" said Jobs.
by Apollo Fris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
While fur is typically associated with staying warm, the stylish new material covering Apple's planned Power Mac GX will improve on the cooling technology used in the current generation of the Power Mac G5. The Power Mac GX machines are rumored to be whisper quiet, and, while it's unclear if there is simply no need for a fan or if the fur has sound-dampening properties beyond its cooling properties, the quiet operation is expected to be well-received by sound- and video-processing users. Evidently, Apple's high level of R&D investment paid off with a bit of bio-inspired nanotechnology (patent-pending, of course). The fur coating - which Apple will undoubtedly label with a clever marketing name (Apple engineers are rumored to call it "iFuzz" internally) - actually pumps heat away from the processor and case interior with hundreds of microfluidic tubules into each individual "hair." The fluid cooling is similar to that used in the current dual 2.5 GHz Power Mac G5 models, albeit orders of magnitude more sophisticated.
The hairs themselves have thermoelectric properties, which means that they directly convert the excess heat into electrical energy which is sent back to the power supply, decreasing the power consumption dramatically. Thermoelectric cooling (also known as "Peltier cooling") has been used in the past by PC users who overclock their CPUs, but as far as we know, this is the first example from a mainstream computer manufacturer. (There's also an amusing use of Peltier cooling to keep beer cold; see the final link below.) Furthermore, thermoelectric materials are typically quite brittle, but somehow Apple has managed to work thermoelectric nanoparticles into an extremely flexible material.
The advantages conferred by the use of iFuzz are astounding. Not only does iFuzz improve cooling beyond existing liquid cooling and fan-based technologies, but the fur confers power savings both from decreasing or possibly eliminating fans, and from the power generated by the thermoelectric properties of the hairs themselves.
Not surprisingly, with both improved heat dissipation and electrical power, Apple is rumored to have a working PowerBook G5 (finally!) using a fur enclosure as well (Jobs made no comment about a possible PowerBook G5 at today's press conference). While the PowerBook is rumored to run "definitely on the warm side" and still requires a fan, the effect is "something like having a cat sitting in your lap." One Apple engineer evidently hacked the fan in the PowerBook G5 to sound like purring as a practical joke, though he noted that the net result was "a little disconcerting." To get an idea of what such a furry PowerBook might look like, check out this project to add fur to an iBook.
The iFuzz material is currently in testing by several government organizations to ensure it will hold up in a wide range of environments. In particular, given Apple's market share in education and home markets, the fur must withstand attempts to attempts to mangle, cut, flatten, or even eat the material. The US Environmental Protection Agency is also concerned about the nanotechnology used in the fur, particularly with increased sensitivity about asbestos fibers. The agency has sponsored research into the general topic of environmental and health consequences of nanometer-sized particles and nanotubes.
While such regulatory hurdles are to be expected with such an innovative product, Apple has evidently performed countless tests during development and expects few problems. A variety of other companies have contacted Apple with interest in seeing iFuzz in everything from refrigerators to automobiles - perhaps one day that furry cover on your driver's seat will be welcome on a hot summer's day!
[Dr. Apollo Fris is a computational and materials chemist at Cornell University, who researches molecular electronics and chemical nanotechnology. He regularly makes TidBITS publisher Adam Engst's noontime runs faster than they would be otherwise.]
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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