Using an external drive with Time Capsule

Use an External USB Hard Drive with a Time Capsule and Save $$$

You can plug any USB hard drive into a Time Capsule and expand the available disk space of the Time Capsule that way. This is then accessible as usual as a Network Attached Storage device for your Mac backups or whatever, and you can then even directly backup wirelessly to that external drive connected to the Time capsule using Time Machine.

I had no idea this was possible. All the more reason not to go for the 3GB Time Capsule instead of the 2GB model. Although in theory an Airport Extreme with an external drive should accomplish the same thing as a Time Capsule, in practice this appears to be less relaible and is not supported by Apple.

Retina

Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, after seeing a graphical user interface for the first time at Xerox, “within 10 minutes it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday.” While it’s arguable whether or not the retina display on the new MacBook Pro has the same impact as the graphical user interface, I had a similar reaction after using this computer. We have come to accept pixelated, slightly blurry text and imagines from computer screens, but it does not, should not be like this.

The retina iPad creates a similar effect, but for some reason it’s more striking with the the MacBook Pro, perhaps only because I’ve been more accustomed to seeing the non-retina version for longer, or perhaps because retina iOS images first appeared two years ago with the iPhone 4.

The MacBook Pro is an impressive laptop in many aspects, but it’s really the screen which has to be the driving force for buying it. Right now, it’s the only way to buy a retina Mac. The key question is when the rest of the line will go retina as well. iMacs would be the most impressive, but it’s hard to imagine that screens as large as 27 inches could expand to four times the pixel count without a significant cost difference at this point. The expectation is that we’ll see these machines next year. I think that’s possible, though possibly still optimistic.

The Airs seem like a logical target as well, but the current 13″ Air packed the old 15″ Pro’s 1440×900 screen into a smaller space. For the Airs to go retina without losing real estate, an even higher pixel density will be needed. In addition, it’s clear from using the Retina MBP that the GPU is struggling to keep up at times. The Airs lack a discrete GPU, so Intel has a significant amount of work to do with their integrated chipsets to make retina Airs a reality.

Lastly, it’s striking how bad apps that have not been updated for the retina display can look. While some of this is a just a contrast with the crisper surrounding images and text, it’s clear that low-resolution graphics actually look worse on the retina screen than they do on a standard screen. An update to Microsoft Office, where many people spend a good deal of time, is clearly needed. Even Apple’s own iWork apps are not retina-compliant, though I assume the delayed update is just waiting on Mountain Lion.

I don’t mean to overstate the downsides: the screen really is quite impressive. If I were buying a new computer today, I would accept the extra heft over my 11 inch Air in return for those extra pixels. The reality is, however, that there are still compromises with using this machine in the current environment.

Can’t Touch This

Galaxy Player 4.2 by Samsung Aims at iPod Touch, and Falls Just Short – NYTimes.com

In the end, the Player should hold special appeal for a significant customer niche: rebels. The technologically sophisticated. People who would enjoy the freedom of removable cards and batteries. Parents who might like that peculiar business about making phone calls through a cheaper phone. People who own recent Samsung televisions (the Player doubles as a remote control). Anyone with a dominant anti-Apple gene.

The iPod Touch has proved to be a popular successor to the iPod and, like it’s predecessor, it’s been difficult to copy. It’s a declining market, however. Despite Pogue’s enthusiasm for the no-contract device, it’s relative sales have been declining. People want connectivity everywhere.

I suspect the smaller, less expensive iPad rumored to be coming this fall will further chip away at the market for the iPod Touch.

WWDC as launchpad

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) runs from June 11-15 this year. For the first 4 iPhones (original, 3G, 3GS, and 4), this developer-oriented conference also served as the launch event for new hardware. New hardware typically offers some new capabilities for software developers, potentially justifying its prominence at this event, but each phone was also accompanied by the release of a new version of iOS (originally iPhone OS). 2011 was a bit different – instead of a March event highlighting upcoming features of iOS 5, WWDC served as a preview event for the software, which was eventually released in the fall with the iPhone 4S.

This year looks like it will be different. While we won’t see the new iPhone at WWDC, we will likely see new Macs. The most exciting of these will be a new, slimmed-down MacBook Pro with a “retina” display, a high-resolution (I’m predicting 2880×1800) screen that, instead of adding more workspace, increases the sharpness of everything. It’s the kind of change that is hard to appreciate until you see it. In addition to the Pros, we’ll almost certainly see new MacBook Airs. My suspicion is that they won’t include the retina screen by default since the Air is more price-sensitive than the Pro, but it may be an option.

Of course, we’ll be seeing a preview, and almost certainly an initial developer release of iOS 6. No one knows for sure what it will include, but the general consensus is that it will replace the Google-based Maps app with an internally-developed system based on Apple’s various mapping acquisitions. Aside from 3D maps, I wouldn’t be surprised to see integrated turn-by-turn directions and traffic information. Aside from Maps, though, the rest is up in the air. Minor updates to the standard apps (e.g. Mail, Calendar) are a given. We might see better support for new business models such as paid upgrades or subscription-fee based apps. Other opportunities for improvement are 3rd party notification center widgets, more lock screen options, and more robust iCloud support throughout.

Mountain Lion has already been announced, and I suspect the release date will be announced at WWDC. What’s not clear is whether Mountain Lion itself is ready for release and whether the new hardware (including retina display) is dependent on it. Pre-release versions of ML have only recently become somewhat stable, and a WWDC release seems a bit aggressive. My bet is that the hardware won’t be held up by ML, and that a point-release of Lion could bridge the gap if needed.

Cards on the table: iPad HD

As pretty much everyone who cares knows by now, there will be an Apple event tomorrow that will introduce the new iPad. It’s prediction time. Here’s what I’m guessing we’ll see.

  • The new iPad will be called the iPad HD and, other than some minor tweaks to the shape of the back, will look essentially the same as the iPad 2 when turned off.
  • It will have a high-resolution, 2048×1536 screen.
  • It will have a faster processor. I’m betting this will be the quad-core A6 processor, but a faster dual-core processor (A5X) is also possible.
  • It will have better cameras and “FaceTime HD” will be touted as one the advantages.
  • A new Apple TV will be released. It will be basically the same as the old Apple TV, but will support 1080p video.
  • There will be new apps/features to highlight the strengths of the new iPad. This is most likely to include photo editing (e.g. Aperture).
  • It will have Bluetooth 4.0
  • The 3G models will be replaced by LTE models, at least in the US, for carriers that support LTE. FaceTime over LTE will be touted as one of the advantages.
  • We’ll also see the announcement of some major new iPad apps, most likely Microsoft Office.

Siri is a wildcard. I give it a 50% chance.

A new Apple TV

Sources: New Apple TV launching in March, near-immediate availability hinted for new iPads | 9to5Mac | Apple Intelligence.

The new Apple TV is rumored to include a faster processor, possibly a variation of the dual-core A5 chip. The dual-core A5 chip has been said to be required for the Apple TV to finally stream 1080p quality video, but Apple is also working on an “A5X” chip that is dual-core, which also includes an improved graphics engine. Those two components of the chip would likely delivery the smooth video playback that Apple would include in such a product. Other possibilities from the rumor-mill include a redesigned Bluetooth 4.0 remote control, and Siri support, but those are not rumors that we can independently confirm yet. This new Apple TV would make sense to launch with a new 1080P movie service from Apple’s iTunes Store.

There have been rumors for some time that Apple is planning a TV set, but it sounds like there’s a more imminent release of an updated Apple TV, the box that plugs into your regular TV. I’ve been a big fan of the current iteration – it’s great for streaming home movies to your TV, and there’s been a recent push to turn it into a mirrored display, reflecting what you see on your iPad (or soon, your Mac).

I’m not sure how much difference 1080p video will really make; just reducing the compression of existing video would probably make a bigger difference. That said, improved quality is always nice. I’m guessing there’s got to be something more than a slightly faster box with slightly improved video quality. Apps could be a game changer.

Six months in: 11 inch Air is the way to go

About six months ago, I needed to buy a new computer. I knew the MacBook Air was the right machine for me. Easily more portable than my heavy MacBook Pro, and powerful enough for just about anything. I struggled, however, over which model to buy: the 11-inch or the 13-inch. The 11-inch was clearly smaller and lighter, but I feared I would miss the increased screen real estate of the 13-inch. Those fears were misplaced. I went with the 11-inch and I love it. Compared to my wife’s 13-incher, it’s much easier to grab and go with one hand. As a result, I end up taking it with me much more often. The key is that the screen is quite wide due to the 16:9 aspect ratio (compared to the more typical 16:10 ratio of Macs past). While one might think that height is more important in this web-centric age, it’s actually width that is key for working with multiple windows simultaneously (e.g. a web page and a text file, or two text documents). The 11″ Air’s screen hits a sweet spot, and I have no trouble getting real work done on it. I should note, however, that when I’m at my desk, it’s hooked up to the massive 27″ Thunderbolt Display, so the calculus may be somewhat different for those who don’t plan to use an external monitor.

Despite that, I’m quite happy to work with this machine as a laptop alone. Do be sure to buy the model with 4 GB of RAM, as you can’t upgrade it later. I decided to stick with the standard 1.6 Ghz processor, however, given some complaints that the upgraded 1.8 Ghz model is prone to more heat generation and noise issues.

Steve

It’s been 3 weeks since Steve Jobs died. The response in the press has been much more substantial than I expected, partially fueled by the lead-up to and release of the Walter Isaacson biography. It’s no doubt, though, that the loss is felt most strongly by Apple fans. This is not because of any personal attachment to Steve. We didn’t know him, or really even what he was like. It is important what he represented.

The mid-90s were a tough time for Apple fans – the company was regularly referred to in the press as “beleaguered”, and the general perception was of a company in the last throes of a prolonged decline. Despite the gloomy atmosphere, there was still one event which could bring home: the annual Macworld Expo. Apple regularly announced major products at these conferences, and each year there was the hope that a killer product, something that could restore the company to its former glory, would emerge. It never did, though, and I often debated about jumping ship (ironically enough, the alternative platform I flirted most with was the NeXT).

When you’re a kid, it’s easy to get excited about an event like a birthday, or a holiday like Christmas. This year could bring a really cool new toy. As you get older, these events lose some of their luster, and serve more as a mere marker of the passing years. This is what Macworld Expos were beginning to feel like.

Then Steve returned and the Expos became exciting again. The new products were actually interesting. Before the rumor sites got so aggressive, we’d often have no idea what would be in store for us. Those of us excited by technology actually had new things to be excited about. It restored that childhood Christmas. When he was bearded and before his dramatic weight loss, Jobs even began to look a bit like Santa Claus. Eventually, the Expos gave way to more unpredictably timed Apple events, but in a way it was more exciting, because any week could bring Christmas.

There will certainly be more products from Apple. What’s less clear is whether that same magic will be there.

Who will show up next time? A new Santa, or just some guy in a Santa costume?

Shared reminders in iCloud

Tasks have traditionally been an afterthought in iOS and MobileMe. Until iOS5, the operating system didn’t even include a task list. That changed with the new reminder’s app. What may be less obvious is that, with iCloud, it’s now possible to share your task list with someone else.

Reminders have now been separated from standard calendars in iCloud, and can be independently managed. If you log in to iCloud.com and switch to the calendar, you’ll see a list of both standard calendars and reminder lists on the left. These can be easily shared with another individual by clicking the sharing icon to the right of each list name.

Sharing iCal Reminders

You can set a default reminder list in iOS and Mac OS, so that new reminders are assigned to the appropriate list.

S Disappointment

For many Apple followers, particularly iPhone 4 owners, yesterdays’ iPhone 4S announcement can be summed up using one word: disappointing. The reason is simple: internal changes don’t create the same impact as external ones. The new phone could have had twice the battery life, 10 times the processing power, and new location capabilities that could pinpoint your location to a single square inch, and it would still feel disappointing if it looked the same as the prior phone. We are, for the most part, visual beings. If something looks the same as something else, we think at some fundamental, unshakable level that it must BE the same. In contrast, relatively minor internal changes paired with a dramatic visual overhaul would feel like a new phone.

I don’t think the importance of this should be dismissed. Many would-be upgraders, particularly those with iPhone 4’s who might have traded up for a redesigned phone, will hold off. It’s a real danger for Apple, and I’m sure they know it. No one knows for sure, but I suspect the 4S was a plan B. Apple had hopes to combine the internal changes with a visual overhaul, but it just couldn’t happen in time, and they were already delayed from their usual cycle.

The internal changes, however, are not insignificant. The phone will be dramatically faster. The camera quality appears to be significantly increased, addressing issues with low light performance and video stability; for many the iPhone might now legitimately replace both a point-and-shoot and a camcorder. How can these changes not be significant motivators to upgrade for people like me who use their phone for everything. All. The. Time. Add to this dramatic, and possibly game-changing voice recognition – scratch that – voice COMPREHENSION, and how can existing users not be driven to upgrade?

Because it looks the same. And if it looks the same, it must BE the same.

Some may argue that the 4S is missing some technologic features as well, such as LTE, NFC, and a larger screen. This is true, but in practice, most of these don’t make much of a difference. A larger screen might be nice, but change the ergonomics of the device and potentially power consumption as well. If Apple pushes screen size too far, it either creates a headache for developers who have to retool their apps or drops the resolution to below their much-marketed retina threshold. LTE (or “4G”) has great promise for boosting speeds when WiFi is unavailable, but current chips are seriously detrimental to battery life. Furthermore, LTE coverage in Verizon is limited to a handful of cities, in AT&T to 4 cities, and in Sprint to 0 cities. Worldwide, there’s a similar lack of support. It just doesn’t make sense as a major feature for 2011. NFC? Google is trying to push their wallet, and the technology looks impressive, but there still isn’t an obvious use. Apple doesn’t launch hardware features that have no demonstrable use for their users.

But it still looks the same.