The iPad Pro

Question: Does the iPad 2 need better specs to better compete with the other tablets on the market?

Answer: First off, this is a trick question. Most of the promised iPad competitors aren’t on the market as yet. There are the Android-based Motorola Xoom and Galaxy Tab (neither of which have really reached the end of their gestation periods as yet). And that’s about it. We’re still waiting for the tablets from HP and RIM and presumably others.

Even so, I expect the answer to be “No.” Apple has argued (successfully in my view) that what matters most is not who has the fastest processor or greatest amount of RAM or largest higher-definition screen. What really matters is which platform delivers the better overall experience. That’s why, as pointed out in a PCMag article, Apple doesn’t even list the megapixel size of the iPad’s cameras — or tell you how much RAM is installed.

If the iPad’s screen resolution is good enough to be stunning, if its speed is adequate for all that you do — a small deficit of specs won’t affect purchase decisions by today’s consumers. Plus, there is all that the iPad can do that its competitors can’t…starting with working as an iPod for your music and continuing with the unmatched collection of apps in the App Store.

Add to to all of this the fact that “he who gets to dominate the market first typically stays first” — even when late-coming competitors offer marginally better products. According to some reports, Apple had as much as 100% of the tablet market in 2010 and can be expected to hold on to most of that share in 2011. Unless a competitor comes up with a “game-changing” device, don’t expect any of them to successfully challenge the iPad. I know some people will point out that Android has taken a lead in market share in the smartphone arena. But this is different. There are no two-year phone contracts with tablets and they are not linked to a specific carrier. In fact, I suspect the majority of iPad buyers don’t even get a 3G model. Android devices will have a much tougher time gaining share here.

Finally, as I argued in a User Friendly View column (and as echoed by a New York Times analysis), a key — perhaps the key — factor that gives the iPad 2 an unbeatable edge is its lower price. When you can get the caché of Apple (who usually extracts a premium for its products) and spend less money than on a competing device, why consider anything else?

Yes, I’d like to see the iPad 2 have better cameras (the ones included now really suck and are not at all what I expect from Apple). And sure, Apple could throw in a bit more RAM. Oh, and how about a Retina Display? But are the lack of these features going to get me to consider buying something other than an iPad? No way. And I’m far from alone. Just ask all the people who still can’t get an iPad because demand has far outstripped supply.

The iPad Pro

All of that said, trying to accurately predict the future in the technology universe is ultimately a fool’s errand. The time may yet come when Apple will feel compelled to compete on specs. Assuming that time comes, how might Apple fight a spec war without sacrificing the iPad’s price advantage?

To get the answer, Apple need look no further than its laptops: The MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Why not make a similar distinction for the iPad: The iPad and the iPad Pro?

The iPad 2 (and its successors) would remain the iPad and maintain a starting price no higher than $499. The iPad Pro would offer all the features that might otherwise give the competition some advantage — and sell for about $150 more.

Developers might have a few problems making sure their apps are compatible with both lines of iPads. But I don’t expect this to be a major hassle. Otherwise, it should be smooth sailing.

In one move, Apple can claim to have both the least expensive tablet and the most feature-packed one. Game. Set. Match.

P.S. Some have predicted that an eventual “iPad Pro” will be a combination of the MacBook Air and the iPad. To me, that’s a different animal, separate from what I am considering here.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, Technology | Comments Off on The iPad Pro

Angry Birds Seasons St. Patrick’s Magic Blocks

Yet one more in my series of posts about Angry Birds….

Rovio taketh away. Rovio giveth back (sort of).

As I discussed previously, the Seasons Greedings section of Angry Birds Seasons contained a secret feature called “magic spots” (also called “magic Santas”). Knowing how to activate these Santas could lead to otherwise-impossible-to-get incredibly high scores. Unfortunately, Rovio considered these Santas to be a bug — and removed the feature in the Seasons update that added the Hogs & Kisses (Valentines Day) section.

With the latest Go Green, Get Lucky (St. Patrick’s Day) update, Roxio has not restored the magic Santas. But it has given players a new “magic” feature in the Go Green section. This time it is not a bug — so you can be rest assured it will stay put in future updates.

I am talking about the “magic” wooden blocks. These are the ones that have a clover-leaf icon. These blocks can be found in (at least) four levels of the Go Green section: 1, 6, 11, and 14. Here’s how they work: If you hit/destroy a special “magic” clover (which will be one specific clover of the several scattered about the display), the corresponding magic block(s) explode.

As an easy example, check out level 11. With your first shot, hit the chair at the upper far right in such a way that it knocks over the pot of gold behind it. The pot will fall and hit the TNT below, destroying the clover to its left. This is the “magic” clover. It will cause the “magic” block in the center of the wood construction to explode. The result is that, with your next shot, you’ll have an easier time getting the rest of the wood structure to collapse.

Unlike the magic Santas, exploding these magic blocks will not necessarily lead to a higher score than you could otherwise get. At least that has been the case for me. In particular, I did not find the magic blocks to be helpful for levels 1 or 6. They were useful, however, with levels 11 and 14.

For level 11, the magic block caused me to alter my strategy. Rather than go for the chair on the first shot (as just described), I crashed the yellow bird into the thin vertical block at the lower left, hitting with enough force to continue and damage the thicker block behind it. With my second shot, I dropped the egg bomb near the front of the chair, aiming in such a way as to get the pot to fall (and hopefully also destroy the piles of gold coins around the chair leg). When the TNT explodes and the clover is destroyed, triggering the magic block effect, the entire wood structure typically collapses (thanks to the groundwork of the first shot) — leading to a higher score than I could get any other way.

Does the new Angry Birds Rio have any similar “magic” feature? I don’t know yet. If you find one, let me know.

Magic Santa downgrade. Still unhappy about the loss of the magic Santas? After getting my iPad 2, I used my original iPad to test out my theory that I could downgrade to an older version of Angry Birds — so as to access the removed “magic Santas” while still retaining my current high score. I can confirm that it worked. The procedure is somewhat of a hassle; I don’t recommend it unless you have some time and patience. Here is a list of the steps:

  1. Use PhoneView (or similar Mac OS X application) to save your current Angry Birds Seasons high score file to your Mac (as covered in more detail here).
  2. Delete the current version of Angry Birds Seasons both from your iOS device (e.g., iPad) and from the ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media/ Mobile Applications folder on your Mac. Make sure you empty the Mac’s Trash.
  3. Put the saved pre-Valentines Day older version of Seasons in the same Mobile Applications folder on your Mac. [Note: If you didn’t save the older version when you had the chance, you are pretty much out of luck.]
  4. Launch iTunes and double-click the app in the Apps section of your Library. If iTunes claims it cannot find the file, accept its offer to let you relocate it.
  5. Sync your iPad to install the older version on the iOS device.
  6. Play the game a bit, to see that it all works — and generating an initial high score file.
  7. Returning to PhoneView, replace the installed high score file with the one you saved in Step 1. You should now be good to go. You can play Seasons Greedings with the magic Santas feature restored.

When done improving your score, reverse the procedure (downloading the app from the iTunes Store if needed) to get the current version of Angry Birds Seasons back — with your new improved score installed. Until then, be sure not to inadvertently update the app by downloading it when you select to “Download All Free Updates” in iTunes.

Posted in Apple Inc, Entertainment, iOS, Mac, Technology | Comments Off on Angry Birds Seasons St. Patrick’s Magic Blocks

Installing Lion Developer Preview

I’ve just installed the new Mac OS X Lion Developer Preview. As a developer, I am restricted from saying much about the new OS itself. However, I believe I can mention a few details about how the Installer works. It’s worth discussing because there are significant changes from prior OS X installations — changes that will affect everyone when the new OS finally goes on sale to the public.

Developers use an App Store redemption code. In order to obtain the Mac OS X Installer, developers need to go to Apple’s Developer site, log in to their account, and obtain a Mac App Store redemption code. Next, they launch the App Store application, click Redeem from the Quick Links section and enter the code. It doesn’t matter whether or not the App Store account name is the same account as for the Developer account. The Mac OS X Lion Developer Preview will now download. In the Finder, the Preview has a more generic name: Install Mac OS X. You’ll find it in your /Applications folder.

Transfer Installer to another Mac. I downloaded the Installer to my Mac Pro. I then decided I wanted to install Lion on my MacBook Air. Initially, I tried launching App Store on my MacBook Air and locating the Developer Preview. Sure enough, I found it in my Purchases list (as I use the same App Store account on both my Air and my Mac Pro). However, clicking the Install button for the Preview had no effect. Nothing downloaded, there was no error message of any kind, nothing. This is probably not how things will work when all is said and done.

Apple states that the Installer will run on Macs other than the one to which you originally downloaded the Installer. The trick is that you don’t do this by downloading the Installer via the App Store on additional Macs. Rather, you “copy the Mac OS X Lion Installer application which was downloaded from the Mac App Store into the /Applications directory on your additional Mac.”

When I actually followed Apple’s directions, it all worked.

One caveat: This will work only “on Apple computers you have authorized to share content downloaded from the Mac App Store.” Among other things, this should limit pirating of the OS. Pirates won’t be able to give a copy of the Installer to just anyone and have it work.

Update: I recently installed Lion on a MacBook Pro that had never been authorized to share content from the Mac App Store. I assume Apple has not yet implemented and/or begun to enforce this requirement.

• Mac OS X server is now “free.” More precisely, you don’t have to pay extra for it, after buying the client version. That’s right. The server software and client software are combined into the same Installer. To access the Server software, click the Installer’s Customize button and select the Server option. In other words, you must choose client vs. server at the time of the install. There isn’t one OS version that allows you to switch between client and server.

• No more Install DVD! Big news! Developers no longer need to transfer a disk image to a DVD in order to run the Installer. The Installer runs right from the Mac. After selecting to initiate an install of Lion, the Mac restarts and the Installer launches as a pseudo-startup volume — via some Apple magic. When the install process is complete, the Mac restarts itself again — via the new Lion volume.

At least that’s the way it worked for me when I installed Lion on an external drive. I assume it would have been the same had I installed the OS to my Air’s internal startup drive, but I cannot yet confirm this for certain.

Looking ahead. Is this really the way the process will work when Lion is finally released to the public? I am guessing yes. You won’t be required to get a redemption code. Rather, you’ll be able to purchase Lion directly from the Mac App Store. Otherwise, I believe the process will be the same as it now exists for the Developer Preview.

Does this mean the end of selling Mac OS X in boxes? Does it mean Lion won’t be available on DVD? Does it mean you won’t be able to buy Lion from third-parties, such as Amazon? I’m less sure about the answers here. Apple may offer a DVD alternative for those unable or unwilling to go through the App Store. Regardless, the push is definitely towards online sales via the App Store.

Update: New Recovery feature. I discovered this after my initial posting: If you hold down the Option key at startup for a Mac with a Mac OS X Lion partition, you will see an option for Recovery HD. If you select it, you will be able to choose from among: Restore from a Time Machine Backup, Reinstall Mac OS X, or launch Disk Utility.

Posted in General | 3 Comments

Speculation re Future of 13-inch MacBook Pro

Peter Cohen and I had a brief exchange on Facebook/Twitter regarding my speculation about the future of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. For the benefit of those of you not on Facebook, here is a repost of the conversation:

Ted Landau
Idle speculation: Might Apple discontinue 13″ MacBook Pro when updates come out — directing that market to MacBook Air?

Peter Cohen
Interesting idea. Or, what will styling cues and technical changes will the 13-inch MacBook Pro inherit from the MBA?

Ted Landau
Yes. There are now three different 13″ MacBook models: white, Pro and Air. Each other size only has one model. Do we really need three 13″ models? Can Apple redesign the 13″ MacBook Pro to be more like the Air without it being TOO much like the Air? Seemed to me like eliminating the 13″ Pro would be the simplest answer.

Peter Cohen
You’re right – the 13-inch form factor is suddenly very crowded. You speak sense, Ted – the 13-inch MBP is suddenly looking very redundant. Of course, if Apple does something significant to differentiate a 13-inch MBP from the MBA or the MB, that’s a different story…i.e., Sandy Bridge, USB 3, 3D holographic display, sharks with laz0rs, etc.

Update: February 24: Turns out, I was wrong. The new MacBook Pro models announced today include a 13-inch version.

Posted in Apple Inc, Technology | Comments Off on Speculation re Future of 13-inch MacBook Pro