Apple’s Social Offerings Remain Lacklustre

By Alex Brooks Gorillaz Perform at Glastonbury Festival in 2010 | Photo by Bethan Phillips
Music has for centuries been enjoyed by groups of people. Music is by definition an art and art is intended to be enjoyed and shared. To this day millions of people attend live concerts, music festivals and musical shows—all to share the experience of music. But music is often listened to and enjoyed on an individual basis these days and whilst we’re all very sociable, maybe more so than ever, music is all too often enjoyed by a single pair of ears.
This trend towards unsociable music isn’t new, the advent of personal music players in the 1980s made it a norm to have music directly injected into our heads without anyone around us being any the wiser. Thankfully the trend is reversing, but Apple seems to have not been invited to the party.

The principle of sharing the song currently been listened amongst a group of peers made its first waves on the internet in 2002 with the advent of Started in 2002 the service simply offered the ability to share the song currently being listened to on its website, with time built up an impressive picture of an individuals musical taste. was always listening and for me alone has over five years of music data, for some of my friends over nine years.
I’ll return to important subject of listening habits later but for now let’s continue to focus on the social element. I recently regained an interest in Spotify, it had been a few years so I was guessing the collection had grown somewhat and it was time I explored some music outside of my iTunes. Suffice to say Spotify has blown me away, not just in terms of choice (although that is impressive), but in terms of how I can interact with my friends and the wider community.
iTunes 10 with Ping a music-orientated social network
Collaborative playlists, easy sharing of playlists and a constant live stream of all the music that my friends are listening to flowing by makes for a more immersive exploration of music. Apple doesn’t underestimate the power of friends sharing what they’re listening to, with the huge iTunes ecosystem Apple attempted in 2010 to create a music based social network called Ping. I’ve discussed this before back in 2010 and concluded the similar; Apple doesn’t do social well, never has done and maybe never will. Problem is that two years down the line we’re more connected than ever and Apple more than ever looks like the train has left the station and they’re still fumbling with their luggage.
The solutions are now in front of Apple’s face, services like have been forced into the background but the likes of Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora have supreme sharing and discovery. The kind of sharing and discovery that has time after time helped me discover and listen to new music.
Don’t get me wrong Apple has services to aid in music discovery, based on the thousands of songs I’ve bought I get average recommendations. Apple clearly underestimates the power of changing trends and how a large network of friends are the key to seeing that change.
Spotify opened my eyes in another way though and that was with the built-in apps. This is more shocking because Apple invented this game, they created the App Store and they cemented the idea of a platform and developing on a platform. Spotify has taken this idea and run with it.
Guardian Music app inside Spotify
Without going into too many specific examples the likes of having recently reviewed albums by The Guardian listed with their star ratings or having Rolling Stone magazine recommendations. How about apps curated on popular music around you or playlists created from all that recommendation data on Spotify has it all and it works superbly.
I have zero doubt that Apple could pull this off but there is a missing piece. It’s a piece that has been rumoured year after year for a while now and it comes down to streaming. Apple without a doubt has the largest collection of online music but I can’t get to it all readily. Without that ability to compile a playlist of 50 songs that I don’t own and have never heard is impossible without the ability to stream them.
iTunes streaming may never come but in the meantime it’d be wise of Apple to re-energise its Ping adventure, the share of music listening might be shifting away from Apple and it needs to claim it back. Although I have no doubt that Apple is still the offline listening king.
Or is Apple holding out for its streaming service to wipe the floor with the competition and create the largest music social network in the world without piggybacking on Facebook?
You can follow me on Twitter @alexbrooks, or follow @worldofapple for the latest on Mac refreshes this year.

Source: World of Apple


Ivy Bridge Macs

By Alex Brooks As the fifth month of the year continues to progress the time is nearing for Apple to release a flurry of new Macs. Unlike the days of IBM’s PowerPC CPU architecture it’s now relatively easy to pinpoint when and what Macs are going to get refreshed at what point during the year and that is all down to Apple’s use of Intel’s architecture.
Last year Intel released Sandy Bridge and up to this point all Macs but the Mac Pro take advantage of the Sandy Bridge architecture. In addition Thunderbolt connectivity became a standard across Apple’s lineup of Macs, slowly pushing Firewire into the past.
In 2012 Intel’s new architecture is named Ivy Bridge, on a technical level the architecture marks a huge leap from the previous Sandy Bridge taking advantage of a 22 nm die shrink process. Some other headline improvements over Sandy Bridge include PCI Express 3.0 support, integrated USB 3.0 and the use of tri-gate transistors (sometimes known as 3D transistors) which offer the same performance as their “2D” counterparts but are said to offer up to 50% less power consumption. Apple may choose not to be cutting edge with all the technologies available in Ivy Bridge as the company tends to enjoy setting its own trends.
Outside of the real technicalities of Ivy Bridge the raw numbers look promising over Sandy Bridge; CPU performance is said to increase between 5% and 15% and integrated GPU performance between 20% and 50% (for the recored the integrated GPUs are HD 2500/4000).

Intel Processor Microarchitecture Schedule
As mentioned above Ivy Bridge carries support for USB 3.0, making use of the same connector and being featured on PCs for several months now it’s certainly the year we see Apple make the upgrade. Unlike what has been reported elsewhere the Ivy Bridge architecture does not carry inherent support for Thunderbolt but Intel’s new controller named Cactus Ridge was out on the market earlier this year. Cactus Ridge marks Intel’s second-generation Thunderbolt controller and carries a smaller footprint and less power consumption, the developments to the Thunderbolt architecture aren’t just good news for Mac users in terms of less power consumption, heat generation and footprint but also will push other manufacturers to adopt the technology.
Ivy Bridge is set for release across the whole of 2012, currently quad-core processor models are already on the market and PCs with Ivy Bridge are on sale. Dual-core mobile CPUs are not expected until June 2012 but Apple has been known to get advanced purchasing rights in the past.
But enough talk about what Ivy Bridge is about, let’s take a look at what we can expect from Apple in terms of Mac models this year. For desktop models this remains a not too difficult task but for Apple’s notebook models this year it’s widely expected that there will be a big shakeup. Intel also hasn’t quite finished releasing all Ivy Bridge details so more suitable chips may come clearer after this has been posted.
Currently five notebooks make up Apple’s portable Mac line ranging from the ultra-portable 11-inch MacBook Air to the not so portable 17-inch MacBook Pro. Rumours have been circulating for some months that Apple will not only try and condense the choice but also amalgamate the lines. It’s expected that Apple will make bold moves and push the Pro models towards a more Air like form factor but there is little consistency in rumours with some claiming Apple will remove the 17-inch model all together and others claiming it will stay.
Naturally if Apple decides to go the way of thinner, lighter notebooks then the same (or similar) processors that adorn the current MacBook Pros will be unsuitable. Intel has already admitted that Ivy Bridge runs hotter than Sandy Bridge and anyone who has used a current MacBook Pro would raise an eyebrow at that.
Rear view of Mac mini (Mid-2011)
Mac mini
Let’s deal with the desktop first then starting from the bottom up. Apple’s Mac mini was last updated in July 2011 and was largely a minor update gaining Thunderbolt and Bluetooth 4.0 support and upgrades to Sandy Bridge, here’s how the Mac mini currently specs (low end to high):
Intel Core i5-2415M, 2.3GHz dual-core
Intel Core i5-2520M, 2.5GHz dual-core
Intel Core i7-2620M, 2.7GHz dual-core (optional upgrade)
Intel Core i7-2635GM, 2.0GHz quad-core (Mac mini server)

Candidates from the currently announced Ivy Bridge lineup for a future Mac mini update include (low end to high):
i5 3320M, 2.6GHz dual-core (low end)
i5 2260M, 2.8GHz dual-core (high end)
i7 2530M, 2.9GHz dual-core (high end option)
i7 3720QM, 2.6GHz quad-core (Mac mini server)

Intel is expected to release the majority of these chips in June 2012 so don’t expect a Mac mini refresh until July or August.
The iMac is historically the first desktop Mac to move over to Intel’s new platform, last year the iMac received an update in early May and in addition to the update to Sandy Bridge the iMac also gained Thunderbolt connectivity, and a HD FaceTime camera. Here’s how Sandy Bridge shaped up on the iMac (low end to high):
i5 2400S, 2.5GHz quad-core (21.5-inch low)
i5 2500S, 2.7GHz quad-core (21.5-inch high, 27-inch low)
i7 2600S, 2.8GHz quad-core (21-inch option)
i5 2400, 3.1GHz quad-core (27-inch high)
i7 2600, 3.4GHz quad-core (27-inch option)

There are quite a few potential candidates in the Ivy Bridge lineup, here are my most educated guesses (low end to high):
i5 3550S, 3.0GHz quad-core (65W mac TDP, 6MB L3) (21.5-inch low)
i5 3550, 3.3GHz quad-core (77W max TDP, 6MB L3) (21.5-inch high, 27-inch low)
i7 3770, 3.4GHz quad-core (77W max TDP, 6MB L3) (21-inch option)
i5 3570K, 3.4GHz quad-core (77W max TDP, 6MB L3) (27-inch high)
i7 3770K, 3.5GHz quad-core (77W max TDP, 8MB L3) (27-inch option)

A number of the Ivy Bridge CPUs listed are already available on the market but expectations are for an iMac refresh in late May or June.
Mac Pro
Apple’s Mac Pro is not a desktop computer that sees regular updates even if the CPUs featured inside have gone through revisions. The Mac Pro was last updated in August 2010 and is in a strong position for an update. The Mac Pro has historically made use of Intel’s high-end Xeon processors the breed available in the current Mac Pros is based on the Nehalem architecture.
With Apple not sticking to regular update cycles it’s best to skip right over the Mac Pro, it’s best tackled on its own in the future. If I was a betting man though I’d put money on an update this year, possibly a significant one.
MacBook Air family (Mid-2011)
Time to move onto the notebooks. As discussed briefly further up, this year looks set to mark a serious milestone in Apple’s lineup of portables. Whilst over the last couple of years Apple has been trimming down on the number of models available, most notably removing the MacBook, there remains a dense lineup with some notebooks not having clear distinctions from others.
Marco Arment has already done a bit of leg work in the notebook arena and also brings up the same questions that I would after looking at the rumours and Intel’s Ivy Bridge lineup. The rumours in their current state are scattered across the landscape but a defining pattern amongst them is that Apple will do away with the MacBook Pro type format and make all of its portables more like the MacBook Air, i.e. thin, light and presumably without an optical drive.
In terms of CPUs this raises a very big question as to how Apple wishes to serve its customers who seek a bit more power on the road. The current 15-inch MacBook Pro base model makes use of the Sandy Bridge Core i7 2675QM quad-core processor clocking in at 2.2GHz, despite having a thermal design power (TDP) of 45W this chip runs hot. Some of this is said to be down to the discrete-GPU but either way a processor with a 45W TDP with four cores is a lot to cram into a relatively thin notebook.
The proposal is of course to make an even thinner 15-inch model which naturally rules out using 45W processors and looking at Intel’s lineup probably rules out any quad-core processors too. As Marco points out in this post, Apple will most likely have to drop the discrete GPU and make use of one of the 17W dual-core Ivy Bride processors in a 15-inch MacBook Air. Based on these assumptions we won’t be saying goodbye to the Pro model anytime soon and only serves to confuse Apple’s notebook lineup even more.
Without more coherent rumours it’s impossible to see where Apple is going with the MacBook Pro. As for the rumoured retina display, they’re not relevant to a discussion on Ivy Bridge but more pixels require more horsepower, this certainly seems like an innovation on our doorstep and one heading for the current form-factor MacBook Pro.
Early-2011 MacBook Pro family
The MacBook Air is an easier prospect, this years refresh is set to be a simple speed bump. I don’t see the rumoured retina displays making it into the Air lineup just yet, here’s how the current Air lineup looks (low end to high):
i5 2467M, 1.6GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 3MB L3 cache) (11-inch model)
i5 2557M, 1.7GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 3MB L3 cache) (13-inch model)
i7 2677M, 1.8GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 4MB L3 cache) (11- and 13-inch option)

With its Ivy Bridge processors Intel is offering almost identical chips to those Sandy Bridge ones used in the MacBook Air carrying a slight clock speed bump and making use of the 22nm die which should reap some power saving, although the process does not affect the physical size of the processors.
Here’s how the Ivy Bridge MacBook Airs will shape up:
i5 3317U, 1.7GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 3MB L3) (11-inch model)
i5 3427U, 1.8GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 3MB L3) (13-inch model)
i7 3667U, 2.0GHz dual-core (17W TDP, 4MB L3) (11- and 13-inch option)

That’s a complete summary of where I believe Intel’s Ivy Bridge processors will land on Apple’s Mac lineup, barring the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro lineup.
As for timeframes, it all comes down to when Intel begins shipping the chips in good volumes. Apple has been known to get chips before other manufacturers, here’s what I’d say timeframe wise for refreshes:
Mac mini – July/August 2012
iMac – late May/June 2012
Mac Pro – impossible to say, potentially anytime now
MacBook Pro – limited knowledge on potential refresh, expect around July/August 2012
MacBook Air – July/August 2012

You can follow me on Twitter @alexbrooks, or follow @worldofapple for the latest on Mac refreshes this year.

Source: World of Apple


4G or “4G”?

By Alex Brooks iPad with Ultrafast 4G LTE on Apple’s US website
Outside of the United States Apple has been making headlines that aren’t exactly positive and it’s all surrounding how the company has chosen to advertise the new iPad. As is common knowledge these days Apple took the bold step to include LTE connectivity in its latest iPad model as one of the major features. Ahead of the iPad release I shot down the chances of Apple including LTE, stating primarily a lack of international adoption as a key reason for Apple to wait a year. I later relented and suspected it was inevitable.
However, LTE in the iPad is seemingly causing Apple more headaches than they would have envisaged and since before the iPad was even announced has been a point of frustration for myself and many others. This breaks into two simple ideas, the first idea being that LTE actually constitutes as true 4G connectivity and second the reason as to why Apple hobbled the iPad internationally?

When the slide advertising 4G LTE connectivity appeared at the iPad 3 launch in March my jaw hit the desk. I was expecting the feature so that came as little surprise but Apple’s insistence on calling it 4G baffled me, I naturally and wrongly assumed that Apple would take the higher moral ground over the carriers. It does appear that the carriers now have had one over on everyone.
From here it gets a bit complex with plenty of acronyms to boot, and before we dive right in let’s just clarify exactly what kind of 4G is included in the iPad. Unfortunately Apple offers no insight on its website but as we know that the new iPad packs a Qualcomm MDM9600 we can decipher what kind of connectivity is on offer. The MDM9600 brings to the table support for UE Category 3 LTE, CDMA2000 1x/EVDO Rev. A and B as well as all the 3G connectivity to allow it to roam internationally but notably packs DC-HSDPA+ and HSPA+ for up to 42 Mbps download speeds. All this tells us is that the chip supports LTE with a maximum downlink of 100Mbps and uplink of 50Mbps.
Unfortunately it’s more complicated than this, we can however refer to the definitions given by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as to what is and isn’t 4G. This is more complicated than it should be too as the ITU have moved the goal posts on the definition, a move I would say is to suit the carriers.
In October 2010 the ITU completed a long assessment of what did and didn’t qualify as being included in the ITM-Advanced standard (4G to me and you). At the time the ITU ruled that the only 4G technologies would be LTE-Advanced and WirelessMan-Advanced, not that this ruling stopped providers like Clear, with their WiMax product, advertising services as 4G.
The criteria the ITU set for a technology to be true 4G in October 2010 was a 100Mbps downstream for high mobility (fast moving vehicles) and 1Gbps for low mobility (walking or slow moving vehicles).
It didn’t take long for the ITU to move the goalposts though. After T-Mobile was allowed to advertise it’s 100% 3G HSPA+ network as a 4G network a very discrete change made its way into the ITU specifications. The press release from early December 2010 is still online for reading, here’s the good bit:
Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that “LTE-Advanced” and “WirelessMAN-Advanced” should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced. As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as “4G”, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed. The detailed specifications of the IMT-Advanced technologies will be provided in a new ITU-R Recommendation expected in early 2012.
This obviously opened the doors to all sorts of technologies being considered “4G” including LTE as we know it today, HSPA+ and WiMax. None of which can get anywhere near the original ITM-Advanced specification of 100Mbps downstream for high mobility and 1Gbps for low mobility.
In December 2010 Philip Solis at ABI Research wrote a blog post about the change, it remains poignant today.
It has now passed “early 2012″ and the ITU, an organisation closely associated with the UN, has yet to release a more solid definition of 4G so we’re stuck with a specification that none of the currently named 4G technologies adhere to and of course giving free reign to carriers who have begun widespread labelling of 3G services as 4G. That said the FCC and similar authorities in other countries seem to have no legal jurisdiction over the terms 2G, 3G or 4G.
Apple is just as guilty of this as anyone else and is of course just bending to the will of the carriers, probably most notable is the recent iOS 5.1 update which began showing 4G symbols on iPhones that were connected to HSPA+ 3G networks, even when the speed of said network was potentially abysmal.
Apple’s iPad is causing another kind of 4G related controversy, a controversy which is firmly outside of the USA. It started with and has been most publicised in Australia where the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took issue with Apple using the term ‘WiFi + 4G’ to describe the iPads being sold in Australia. There are LTE “4G” services available in Australia but they’re not compatible with the iPad due to the frequency band that Australia’s networks run on.
In this particular case Apple was initially resistant to the pressure but has since relented, if you look at the Australian online Apple store whilst the iPad is still advertised as being a ‘WiFi + 4G’ (which I suppose it technically is) the accompanying text reads “not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks and WiMAX networks.” On the actual product page itself it’s difficult to find any mention of 4G at all.
iPad models as seen on the Australian Apple Store (As of 2 May 2012)
Now the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has begun looking into the branding of the iPad in the UK. The ASA has received a number of complaints regarding the branding and has in the past instructed Apple to clarify that the iPad is not compatible with (currently non-existent) 4G networks. According to the BBC Apple advised the ASA that “no further reference to the 4G capabilities of the iPad will be made on their UK website”. Yet the UK website is still plastered in references to the 4G capabilities of the iPad with no clarification on whether it’ll work or not.
iPad models as seen on the UK Apple Store (As of 2 May 2012)
We know Apple is stubborn, not only in getting its own way but in the consistency of its marketing material worldwide. There are a number of baffling points here though, why would Apple only release an iPad with LTE capable of working on the 700Mhz band which is only used in North America? And then why on the full knowledge that the new iPad has 4G that doesn’t work in the likes of Australia and Europe did it insist on advertising so?
Even in the US this whole LTE thing is a bit of a debacle, AT&T operate what’s called a Class 17 700MHz network which primarily operates in the 704MHz to 787MHz range where as Verizon runs a Class 13 700MHz LTE network operating between 764MHz and 787MHz. Which not only means Apple has to make two different kinds of iPad but that consumers need to make a choice when purchasing.
In Europe and the UK it looks likely that the 800MHz band will be used for LTE across the board, which is not at all compatible with the current generation iPad. In Australia where LTE rollout is making good progress the band used is 1800MHz—also not compatible with the current iPad.
Map of worldwide LTE rollout (Red = commercial LTE, Dark blue = roll out commitment) Source: Wikipedia
It’d be wishful thinking to expect Apple to revise the iPad for emerging LTE networks outside of North America, for that we’ll have to wait another year. For now Apple should remove references to the iPad being 4G compatible but that brings us right back to what exactly does “4G” mean?
In the future it’s unlikely that the landscape will brighten at all. Next year Apple will almost certainly begin to make use of Qualcomm’s new 28nm chips for greater power efficiency and we can expect an expansion upon the bands supported and therefore an expansion of the networks supported around the world, that’s not to say that Apple might have to make a number of models for use in different areas of the world.
Even further, some 3-7 years we can expect the move towards LTE-Advanced to take place. In its current form LTE-Advanced is a true 4G technology capable of very high speeds even to fast moving vehicles. Whether we’ll see a worldwide unification of standards and a concerted push towards adoption; I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Source: World of Apple