Monday, August 24, 2009

Apple Remote Desktop 3.3 [MacOS]

Apple has released version 3.3 of its remote administration tool, Apple Remote Desktop (ARD). The update is available both via Software Update, and from the Apple website.

According to the release notes, the update comes with a number of improvements, including the long-desired ability to send function keys and system shortcuts (Force Quit, cmd-Tab for application switching, cmd-shift-Q to log out) to the remote Mac; previously those commands would execute on the administrator's machine, which could cause undesired behavior. Also included are support for wide-area Bonjour connections and improved performance when using a shared screen.

If you're just starting out with ARD, be sure to check out some of the great tutorials Apple has posted online. From getting set up, to providing remote assistance to users, to automating routine tasks; as Apple might say, "there's a tutorial for that."

Regator [iPhone]

Catching up on the happenings around the blogosphere is a difficult task. Luckily, I happened to stumble upon John Burke's Download Squad piece on the release of Regator [iTunes link].
So, if you'd like to get caught up on the latest news, insights and commentary on Rod Blagojevich around the blogosphere (now that's a tongue twister), Regator could be of assistance.
Regator's user-interface is similar to USA Today's iPhone app [iTunes link]. A horizontal menu displays a number of categories -- such as sports, lifestyle, and entertainment -- that are touch-scrollable. Tapping on a category displays its subcategories. For instance, NBA news would fall under the basketball branch of the sports tree. While a breadcrumb trail displays your viewing hierarchy, the browsing menu disappears as you scroll down; this was my only annoyance with the app, although it's a relatively minor one.
Regator's stand-out feature is what it calls "trends." Like a tag cloud on a blog, in which bigger clouds are usually associated with more hot topics or issues, trends provides a listing of the latest hot topics around the blogosphere.
For instance, a look at sports trends shows Tiger Woods at the top of the list -- which is no surprise given Y.E. Yang's surprising victory over him this past weekend. And Brett Favre's retiring-unretiring-retiring-unretiring-retiring-unretiring puts him near the top of the trends list as well.
Regator is available as a free download at the iTunes app store.

Storyist 2.0, a professional's writing tool [MacOS]

Over the past several months, we've been publishing a series of reviews of writer's tools (last year we posted some great writing tools for students). While a few of the tools that have been covered in depth have been minimalist writing environments such as WriteRoom, there are more powerful and complete writer's tools that are available for Mac users.

One of those tools is the recently updated Storyist 2.0 (US$59 as a download, or US$29 upgrade from a previous version) from Storyist Software. This application is very complete, with capabilities for completely planning out a story before writing it, as well as managing the writing process while the story is under construction.

I started testing this application a while back, and actually had a lot of my review written before it became stale and disappeared from our queue of posts. The reason it took me so long to write the review is that Storyist works differently from my brain, and it took me a while to get used to it as a tool. Every writer has his or her own particular style of writing, and I find that pre-planning the writing process just doesn't work very well for me. I prefer to jump in and start writing, but want a way to capture important information about characters, settings, and plot points so I can refer to them later. Storyist can also be used for this method of writing, so I found it to be more useful to me after learning how to navigate its many features.

My reason for looking at all of these writing applications for the Mac is not just to write a lot of reviews, but to actually find a tool that can help me in my personal dream to become a novelist. Last November, I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. The creators of NaNoWriMo realized that the only thing that keeps many people from reaching their personal goal of writing a publishable novel is just sitting down and actually putting words on the virtual paper of our computer screens. They created an annual event in which budding writers can participate in writing a 50,000 word novella during the month of November.

I was a "winner" in my first NaNoWriMo last year, which meant that I actually wrote more than 50,000 words (about 1,670 words per day average). My novel wasn't by any means complete, and it certainly wasn't publishable, but I had proven to myself that I could wedge the joy of writing fiction into my daily life. The other thing that I learned is that although my imagination was able to come up with a plausible plot line, engaging characters, and interesting settings, I needed to organize the flow of my writing. The novel was actually only at about the one-third point in terms of telling the story when it came to its premature 50,000 word limit.

As I've mentioned in other reviews of writing tools, there are some tools like WriteRoom that excel in letting you simply get words out of your brain and into the computer. For first-time NaNoWriMo participants, something like WriteRoom is perfect, as you're not really worrying so much about writing something readable as much as you are just getting that daily quota of words chugged out. Once you've had that first experience of proving to yourself that you can indeed generate a lot of words and dialogue, the next goal is to think about writing a more complete story within the 50,000 word box, or at least knowing where your story is going so that you can complete it after NaNoWriMo ends. That's enough about NaNoWriMo, but I'll refer to it as I write the remainder of this review of Storyist.

Storyist 2.0 seems to me to be the consummate writer's desk from the days of typewriters, all condensed down to one piece of elegantly crafted software. The typewriter is the manuscript, either a story or a screenplay/script, and there are other tools to help you out. For instance, many published novelists plot out their stories in advance, writing plot points onto 3 x 5 note cards, then pinning those cards onto a board on the wall. Sure enough, Storyist provides the electronic equivalent of those note cards, pinned to a virtual corkboard on the screen. Other cards provide summaries of settings, and there are cards which can be used to describe characters (including their physical description) in detail.

The "cards" don't need to be note cards; Storyist also provides sheets for settings, characters, and plot, which are templates for filling in the details on these important novelistic attributes. For writers who are more outline-oriented, Storyist even has a way of capturing information in outline form.

The point here is that Storyist 2.0 is very flexible, bending itself to the most workable method for just about any author. For me, however, that flexibility was somewhat confusing until I had used the application for a while and realized that I didn't have to use all of the tools, just what was useful and comfortable to my way of writing. If there's one negative point to make about Storyist, it's that it can be confusing to beginning users. Sure, the novel manuscript includes a Getting Started description, and there's an extremely complete User's Guide available for download (if you're thinking about using Storyist, read this first!), but I think it would be useful for Storyist to include a short video summary of the tools for those who don't want to "Read The Frickin' Manual."

Let's dive a bit deeper into Storyist 2.0. When you first start up Storyist, you're asked to choose a template for your project. There are four templates; novel, screenplay, stage play, and blank. For my purposes, I pulled up the novel template:

The screenshot above shows a number of the user interface details of Storyist. You can accumulate information about a writing project into a project file (the briefcase icon at top left). The project file can include multiple manuscripts, notes, and information about characters, settings, and plot points. Commonly used tools are available from the menu bar at the top of the page, while links to individual items that you've created are listed down the left side.

The formats used by Storyist are common in the industry. If you're a novelist and want to send a copy of your opus off to a pile of publishers, most are going to want to see a printed manuscript in a particular format. They like to see double-spaced, left-aligned, 12-point Courier type, with certain margins, so that it's simple to estimate a word count from the number of pages you've submitted. Using Storyist's default novel template, you'll be able to complete your Great American Novel, print it out, and send it out to those 1,200 publishers who are just waiting to send you a rejection slip.

That's not to say that you can't use your own format for writing. There's an Inspector tool for changing text formatting, styles, page attributes, and keeping track of your writing goals. The last tool (at right) is a very handy one to use for a goal-driven writing competition like NaNoWriMo, since you can set your final goal and daily goals, track time, and otherwise become obsessive about how many words you have left to write.

One thing I like about Storyist is the ability to get into detail about your characters. While I was writing my NaNoWriMo entry last fall, I had several lead characters who I had a very good mental image of. Since those characters were in most of the major scenes in the novel, it was important to know how they'd react to a situation, what physical characteristics they had, even what their relationship to another character was or how it would develop. There were other minor characters, however, who would show up from time to time and I really didn't have as much of an idea of who they really were! Using the Storyist character sheets (or cards) would have helped me keep track of these imaginary people.

Here's one situation where the Storyist user interface had me boggled. I like to keep notes on note cards, so I thought I'd use one of the virtual note cards to create some character details. In the proper mode, I saw cards for protagonist and antagonist characters, and wanted to add a picture to the protagonist card. Simple, I'll just drag a picture to the card and drop it. Wrong. The picture ended up as a separate element on the page, so I deleted it. What I found after digging into the online help for a little bit was that I needed to add that picture in the Character Sheet view by dragging and dropping the picture onto a drama mask icon.

The best way to think about the user interface is that you essentially have three different ways of working; with the story sheets, with note cards, and with an outline. Sorting out which of these three views is going to work the best for you is half the battle in becoming best friends with Storyist. You do need to realize, as I did, that you'll sometimes have to move out of your comfort zone (your favorite view) a bit to add details to characters, plot points, and settings.

If you have written a draft of a story in another tool like Microsoft Word, and you need to import it into Storyist, the application has a powerful Import Assistant that works quite well. I wanted to import my 2008 NaNoWriMo story into Storyist, and upon selecting the original Word document, I was surprised to see that the Assistant was going to customize an Automator workflow for me to perform repetitive tasks such as removing curly quotes and replace them with straight quotes. The custom workflows can be saved for future imports. Storyist also has an impressive export capability in case your publisher wants to see the document in Word, Open Document, or several other formats. Screenplays can be exported to Final Draft, considered by many to be the industry standard for script writing.

Writers who are familiar with Storyist and who are considering spending the US$29 for the upgrade probably want to know what has changed in version 2.0. One of the big changes, and the thing that I like the most about Storyist 2.0, is the full-screen mode. This was what I loved about WriteRoom; the ability to have nothing but a blank piece of paper on the screen capturing my keystrokes. With Storyist's full-screen mode, you can jump into creative mode very easily, yet still fall back to the rest of the set of powerful tools when you need them. There are now split views for viewing your test, storyboards, and outlines simultaneously.

For writers with multiple monitors on their desks, you can open multiple project windows to avoid switching back and forth between windows on a single monitor. Once you have your windows set up the way you want them, you can save your workspace arrangement.

Sticky-note type comments are a new feature in 2.0, as are bookmarks for returning to frequently-viewed locations in your text. Storyist has added changes to the outliner, such as one-click editing and a yellow background to the outline pad. In the storyboard view, one of the most obvious changes is the addition of a collage view. This allows writers to create a collage of text and images in order to visualize story elements.

Storyist 2.0 also allows multiple manuscripts or scripts in one project; for instance, if you were a writer for a TV series and wanted to work on multiple scripts for a season in order to keep a story line accurate, you could have the season be a project, with each episode being a particular script.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, Storyist 2.0 is a US$29 upgrade for owners of previous versions of the software. However, if you purchased Storyist after 9/1/08 and before the release of 2.0, you can get the upgrade for free.

If you're thinking that Storyist might be the writer's application for you, there's a free full-featured, time-limited download available. I'd recommend downloading and installing Storyist 2.0, but make sure that you take the time to read the comprehensive user's guide before getting started. You will be much more productive and much less confused than I was when I started my journey with Storyist 2.0 without reading the guide.

In summary, Storyist 2.0 is an incredibly powerful writing tool that is flexible enough to handle almost any writing assignment. Writers who like to pre-organize their stories will be ecstatic about the depth of management tools provided by this application, while those like myself who like to "write first, organize later" can use the Storyist tool set to their advantage as well. I know I'll be prepared to write my second NaNoWriMo novel with the right tool this time -- Storyist 2.0

MINI Roadside Assistance can get you and your MINI out of trouble spots

So, say you're driving your MINI to Las Vegas for your buddy's

bachelor party. During the drive, your car overheats; it's 120 degrees

and you forgot were too lazy to check the coolant before you left,

what'd you expect to happen? Well, no need to worry -- roadside

assistance is just a few taps away with MINI Roadside Assistance.

MINI Roadside Assistance is available as a free download. MINI

Cooper not included. More info and a demo video are available at

Update : Bug-bashing Bento 2.0v5 [MacOS]

FileMaker issued an update to their Mac database application Bento this morning. Bento 2.0v5 is a bug-fix release, with no new features added to the application.

According to the download notes, Bento 2.0v5:
  • Resolves an issue related to duplication of Address Book and iCal information when synchronizing with Bento for iPhone and iPod touch. They've also posted details on removing duplicate entries.
  • Resolves an issue related to library icons when importing library templates. This issue was originally reported as fixed, but Filemaker has updated the release notes and now indicates that it is NOT a fix in this build.
  • Resolves an issue related to importing Bento databases to FileMaker Pro
The download weighs in at 76.1 MB, while the expanded disk image is a full 127.9 MB in size and replaces the existing Bento installation. FileMaker also notes that this release includes the changes that were delivered in Bento 2.0v4, which added compatibility with Bento for iPhone and iPod touch as well as improved performance of the application.

Clarification on the iPhone Spotlight email issue

Earlier today, I posted about the ability to find previously deleted emails using the Spotlight search on the iPhone, adding to the already intense swarm of news surrounding this issue. My findings were that, by ensuring your trash folder was emptied and refreshed, the problem appeared to be solved.

However, many of you responded indicating that this did not work for you, and that you were still seeing cached messages. Then Cult of Mac posted an update to their original piece, suggesting that the problem was more specific to POP accounts. Although I had tested both POP and IMAP accounts with similar results, I decided to investigate further.

First, to clarify: The problem here is *not* with Spotlight caching the contents of your email, as many have suggested. Spotlight simply indexes the available content on your phone, and logs a pointer to it. When you tap a search result, it opens the associated application and tells that app to view the content. In this case, it sees an email message and asks to open it, which it does, because still has the message content stored locally. Secondly, this appears to be specific to POP accounts. On IMAP or Exchange accounts, deleted email messages do appear in Spotlight results until the trash folder is emptied, as described in my earlier post.

I created a fresh account and configured it for POP access, then downloaded the mail. Searching spotlight, I could see the message I was looking for. I then went back to the message and deleted it, and that's where the fun starts. I conducted this same test multiple times, and found that sometimes, the message would now show up in Spotlight twice, one result opened the message, intact, with the Inbox listed as the folder to return to; the other displaying a message in the trash folder, but with an error displaying the body of the message. Other times, I would only see one result, pointed directly to the trash.

So I would then attempt to delete the message from the trash folder, which also yielded mixed results. In most cases, the message was still indeed visible from Spotlight. On the messages which had previously shown up twice, then tapping the search result would cause the message to display normally, but show that it was in the inbox. On other messages, it was more interesting, as the message would sometimes appear in the trash, and sometimes in a "Deleted Items" folder, and sometimes would crash when trying to display the message. On one occasion, however, the message did disappear from the Spotlight results as expected, so it seems that the exact outcome varies from occasion to occasion.

Contrary to my previous opinion, this is definitely a bug, and some users have even reported that Spotlight is turning up a history of ALL of their deleted messages, not just those that were recently deleted. For those who are experiencing this problem, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the problem appears to be completely fixed in iPhone OS 3.1. That means the bad news, of course, is we have no idea when exactly the fix will be available publicly or if Apple is considering releasing an interim 3.0.2 update to address the issue. Further complicating matters, aside from deleting and recreating the mail account on your phone, there doesn't appear to be any workaround to preventing old messages from the Spotlight results until a software update addressing the issue becomes available.

Can't upload pix to MobileMe? Apple has a fix for that

If you've been trying to upload a picture from your iPhone to a MobileMe gallery, and are getting the message "Unable to connect to MobileMe" message you're not alone.

The problem appears to be related to a bug in user name recognition. Apple has published a KB article dealing with the issue. The problem seems to be triggered if your member name is in mixed case, or if it is in all caps. MobileMe requires the user name be in all lower case letters, although the same rule does not apply to passwords.

Apple suggests you go to your iPhone settings, and under account info make sure your name is all lowercase. If not, a visit to the KB article would be advised. The fix is simple: just delete and re-enter your account details, getting your member name in a form Apple will like. When the bug is fixed, this workaround won't be needed.

Apple needs to continue to pay close attention to MobileMe. My perception is it has become generally more reliable since the ugly launch in 2008, but the support page still reports a few new glitches per week. Lately I've noticed a few mail outages/slowness and difficulty getting to my iDisk.

Apple Store UK says Snow Leopard ships by August 28th

There's been a lot of news circulating around about the upcoming release of Mac OS X 10.6. First, Snow Leopard hit Amazon's pre-order list (and soon topped it) and days later, there were reports that Snow Leopard had finally reached gold master.

Today, Apple's UK store has posted information about Snow Leopard and Apple's "Up-to-Date" program, with an interesting note: Ships by August 28th. If this is true, it would confirm rumors that the next major release of the Mac operating system would be released ahead of the September release date set by Apple.

While the page is public, there's no way to order it yet. This could be a simple error or an outdated page but has Mac fans in a buzz as the release gets closer.

Wikimedia Foundation creates official iPhone app

The Wikimedia Foundation has just released a free app for accessing the web based encyclopedia right on your iPhone or iPod touch.

Wikipedia Mobile [iTunes link] brings the full boatload of Wikipedia knowledge to a nicely formatted iPhone screen. In my tests, it responded quickly, and without any glitches over Wi-Fi and the 3G network.

The only issues really are that there are already dozens of similar apps available for the iPhone. In fact, if you go to the Wikipedia site in Safari things are nicely optimized for the iPhone screen. Of course the app has a built in history button, but Safari does too.

Some of the other Wikipedia apps I've tried are Wikipanion [iTunes link], which has more features, including changing the font size, and Wikiamo [iTunes link] that allows landscape view, reading of saved material offline, and links to other languages.

I'd like to see the ability to email entries to myself or others, and the Wikipedia Mobile support page just goes to the home page of Wikipedia. That's not too helpful.

One other odd thing. When trying to install the software on a first generation iPod touch, users are reporting it fails with an error message saying a microphone is needed. Huh?

However you access it, Wikipedia is a great resource, and the Wikimedia Foundation says it will be updating the app frequently based on user requests. The current version is 0.1, so I think this app is just getting started.

Your iPhone and iPhoto library are in sync with Simplify Photo

Like its music app on the iPhone, which allows you to use your iPhone to tap into your desktop's music collection, Simplify Media provides similar functionality with photos through its Simplify Photo [iTunes link] iPhone app. Many of us are forgetful in some form, and this trait is especially magnified when one proceeds to show others an "awesome photo" on your iPhone that, sadly, didn't get synced. Instead of telling your friends that you'll show or email them the photo later -- assuming you even remember to -- you can use Simplify Photo to view your entire iPhoto collection.
While increased megapixels in digital photography brings with it the promise of better picture quality, in most cases it comes at a file size premium. And because storage space on your iPhone is a finite resource, you can choose to set aside dedicated space for those really important photos and use Simplify Photo for those that are not as important but would nonetheless like to have access to just in case.
Simplify Photo is available for 99 cents on the iTunes App Store, while the required desktop client (available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux) is available as a free download at the Simplify Media site. The desktop app allows you to not only specify which iPhoto albums and events to sync, but the people as well -- via integration with the app's "Faces" facial detection feature. And if you're not exactly sure which album or event a photo is stored, you can use the app's search feature, which searches your photos' tags, titles and comments.
But the standout feature of Simplify Photo is its geolocation support. Like iPhoto '09's places feature, Simplify Photo displays a map with various dropped pins; and tapping on the pins will display the photos taken in the vicinity.
If a picture can say a thousand words, then Simplify Photo's desktop syncing capabilities have the potential to make your iPhone speechlessly filled with photos.

Twitterrific updated to 2.1, adds many new features

The Iconfactory's Twitter for iPhone client app, Twitterrific [iTunes link] , has been updated to 2.1. The new version has added several new features that make it far more useful than before. A few highlights:

  • New "Load More..." button at the bottom of the timeline to retrieve older tweets
  • New "Following" and "Followers" lists in author view
  • Support for recording, posting, and viewing videos (recording and posting require iPhone 3GS)
  • Built-in browser now supports landscape orientation
  • Image links are now displayed in a photo viewer
  • Long uploads now show a percentage completed
  • Added in-app email support

The update comes with bug fixes as well, including improved typing speed, plugged memory leaks, and many more.

Twitterrific is the only Twitter client app I've used for my iPhone so far. The free version may be ad-supported, but even before this update its smooth interface and impressive functionality were enough for Twitterrific to make it to my iPhone's first page of apps. So far the update seems to run far smoother, and the added features, particularly "Load More..." and the Following/Followers lists, ensure that this will most likely remain my Twitter app of choice.

I don't have a 3GS, so I wasn't able to test the video upload feature in Twitterrific 2.1. Our own Dave Caolo used it on his 3GS to upload a ten-second film, and he said it took less than thirty seconds to upload it over 3G.

Oddly enough, even though the app has a built-in internet browser, it's still only rated 4+. Other apps have run into approval hurdles from Apple's app store requiring them to be rated 17+ because the built-in browser "could be used to link to objectionable content." Perhaps we're seeing the end of this practice?

Watermark your iPhoto pictures with Impression

Blue Crowbar Software is a small Belgian Mac development firm that is quickly making a name for itself for its innovative iPhoto and Aperture plugins. We've previously covered iPhoto2Twitter here on TUAW, and now Blue Crowbar has announced a new iPhoto plugin for adding watermarks to pictures in your iPhoto library.

Watermarks are those faint, transparent designs that websites often use to mark exclusive photos when breaking a big story. For example, many of the great fake iTablet "photos" that we've received during the past few weeks have been emblazoned with a watermark for one Mac site or another. Impression (€9.90 -- about US$14.10) works in iPhoto to put watermarks onto your iPhoto pictures. If you're worried that a watermark might ruin a perfectly good picture, don't be. Impression makes a copy of the picture, then creates a watermarked version which is also saved into your iPhoto library.

Like iPhoto2Twitter, Impression works through the File > Export command. Once installed, Impression has its own pane on the Export settings panel. Select a photo or group of photos, Choose File > Export, click on the Impression button, and then use the buttons in the heads-up display. Those buttons allow you to select a PSD, PNG, or RTF file containing your watermark, rotate the watermark, or change the margins, transparency, and location of the watermark.

You can try out Impression for free by downloading it from the Blue Crowbar website (click starts download).

Where To? tells you 'where to'

Where To? [iTunes link] is a nice destination finder for the iPhone. The latest version is on sale on the App Store through today for US$0.99. Note: The iTunes store says it works on an iPod touch, but some people are reporting it won't install.

It cleverly integrates maps, a web browser, and a tracking mode to show new points of interest as you move. You can share destinations that you find with email, SMS and the clipboard.

You can also search any one of 600 categories or ask the app to surprise you with, for example, a restaurant recommendation.

The app supports English, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

How did it work? Pretty well. It's nice to have all the tools you need in one app, although one of my favorite apps, AroundMe [iTunes link] integrates maps, but has no browser. AroundMe is free.

It would be nice to get some integration into the new nav apps that are proliferating, because Where To? has a far larger POI database then say Navigon or TomTom. I did save a POI from Where To? in my contacts, then opened that contact in Navigon and that worked fine, but it's a little fiddly.

There are a few glitches in Where To? While searching for some nearby lakes, the app found some businesses with "lake" in the name. I think the app is focusing too much on the business name, and not whatever category meta-data it is using.

All in all, this app was worth the original $3.00 asking price, and today at $0.99 I'd give it a whirl for sure.

Dropzone [MacOS]

One of my favorite new tools is Dropzone from Aptonic Software. Cory mentioned it back in early beta, but it's come a long way since then. Dropzone lets you set up "destinations," and when you click its icon in the dock it pops up a HUD-style window with icons for each destination. You can drop files and text onto each icon, or have them launch apps and run scripts with a click. It comes with ready-made destinations for everything from Flickr uploading of dropped images to zipping and emailing a collection of dropped files. The beauty of Dropzone is that the average user can set up all of the destinations they would normally launch other apps for, but users in more advanced stages of geekery can construct their own destinations using the Ruby-based Dropzone API.

My personal Dropzone setup includes destinations for creating projects or opening files in TextMate, opening a folder in GitX, sending files to my Amazon S3 account (puts a publicly-accessible url in my clipboard), filing based on OpenMeta tags, mounting and unmounting FireWire drives, making quick Backpack reminders, and the list goes on. I've even got one that scans dropped text for "http://" links and creates a for me. Some of these scripts I've written, some were just a matter of customizing the existing destinations. Either way, I've got all of these capabilities no more than a click or drag away.
Creating your own destinations just requires a little Ruby-fu. "But I'm the farthest thing from a level 12 Ruby Mage," you say. Don't sweat it, let the community do it for you. Several scripts from my personal setup, along with a great selection of others, are available in the user-contributed actions section of the Aptonic Software website. Additionally, included actions like the application launcher allow full customization just by selecting the application to trigger.
Dropzone is available for a free trial, and can be had for $10US. Give it a try and see if it doesn't speed up your workflow. If you create any scripts you'd like to share, be sure to let the author know!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Snow Leopard is the top Amazon pre-order

It's currently the number 1 pre-order item at Amazon. While there's no official release date available, Amazon notes that Snow Leopard can be expected "...sometime in September."

What's interesting is that Apple's $29US release will be issued only a month before Microsoft's Windows 7 (in fact, reader Chris Tebb points out that many Amazon users checking out Snow Leopard go on to buy Win 7). Microsoft hopes to dig itself out of the hole created by public reaction to Vista, while Apple is giving Mac OS X Leopard a shine. For more on Snow Leopard, check out the official page and our own continuing coverage.

The history of the mythical iTablet

Stefan Constantinescu of IntoMobile has written a lengthy piece dissecting the long, tortuous history of the Newton II/Apple Tablet/iTablet/Tablet Mac. It's a pretty comprehensive look at seven years worth of speculation, rumor, outlandish analyst claims, more speculation, more rumor, and event after event with no release of what's become Apple's most infamous vaporware product.

The article is definitely worth a read (as long as you're not sensitive to its occasionally salty language), but the conclusion Constantinescu reaches at the end of the article is perhaps most interesting of all:

"The Apple Tablet does not exist. What do I believe will happen? [...] I believe what will be announced at the end of this year, or early next year, is a new MacBook with a 10 or 11.6 inch screen. The screen may or may not be touch enabled. This will be the first Mac portable with a 16:9 aspect ratio LCD. Why wide? One reason: foot print. With a wide LCD, a laptop in the open/closed position can house a wider keyboard."

While that certainly sounds plausible, there's one thing I have to wonder: aside from a slightly wider keyboard and a possible touch screen, what distinguishes that theoretical miniature MacBook from the glut of netbooks made by other manufacturers, products that Apple has derided as underpowered machines that provide a dismal user experience?

While Apple does have a history of taking existing products, putting their own spin on them, and gaining industry laurels for innovation as a result (iMac, iPod), the introduction of a product like the one Constantinescu is talking about seems a little bit too much "Me too!" even for Apple. Such a device would also heavily cannibalize sales of the MacBook Air, to the point of making that device largely irrelevant.

After reading this piece, our own Aron Trimble noted, "I don't think it makes any more sense to speculate on what Apple will not do than to speculate on what Apple will do." Despite the fact that I pretty much did just the same thing, I agree with him.

The only thing that's certain about all of this: until Apple releases something like an iTablet, or definitively says "We will never, ever make this product, and we mean it, pinky swear!" the speculation will never end.

What do you think? Do you agree with Constantinescu that the long-rumored Tablet Mac will never see the light of day? Let us know in the comments.

GarageBand updated to 5.1

On what seemed like a somewhat slow Monday, Apple has updated GarageBand '09 to version 5.1. This update adds a few new features, improves compatibility and stability, and also fixes a security issue.

The changes include:
  • GarageBand track effects and Audio Units can now be added to a guitar track.
  • Improved support for Apogee audio interfaces.
  • Faster switching to full screen in Magic GarageBand.
  • Improved access to audio monitoring settings.

This update weighs in 139.29MB, and is available to download in Software Update or from Apple's support download page. If this updates improves or fixes any problems you might have in GarageBand, feel free to leave a comment below.

MacBook Pro owners report hard drive lag

There's a thread at Apple's Discussion Boards about an issue that's bothering a number of users. Specifically, the current model 17" MacBook Pros seem to be experiencing hard drive lag. Several users report hearing the hard drive park itself, but at inappropriate times, causing the Marble of Doom to appear and bringing all tasks to a halt. This comes a short time after other users have reported a strange beep.

One user reported no red flags while running Activity Monitor while another went so far as to swap the hard drive to no avail. If you're having this issue, or if you've solved it, please let these folks know.

More red meat for the FCC to chew on with AT&T and Apple

Remember all the flames about whether Skype would come out for the iPhone last year? Then, at the 2008 conference last year, none other than Steve Jobs told the assembled multitudes that he would love to see a VoIP application for the iPhone as long as it used Wi-Fi and not the cellular data network. That, of course, was designed to protect AT&T, and while AT&T might not have insisted, Jobs knew he couldn't allow a full version of Skype or any other similar voice client.

That caused the internet advocacy group Free Press to complain to the FCC, but nothing really happened. Now there is a new president, with a different view of net neutrality than that held by the Bush Administration. There's a new FCC Commissioner as well, Julius Genachowski.

I would expect this whole area of restricting freedom of access to be a big issue in the coming weeks and months. We may not hear what answers Google, AT&T and Apple give to the FCC queries right away, but they'll likely leak out eventually.

We may yet see some changes in some of these restrictive policies and more competition among cell phone providers and carriers. That benefits just about everyone. Perhaps the fight over crippled or banned apps like Skype, Google Voice and the SlingPlayer for iPhone has ignited a debate that could finally change things.

Interview with Apple logo designer

There's a great interview at CreativeBits today with Rob Janoff, designer of the Apple logo. That simple Apple with the chunk bitten out is as iconic as the company and products it represents. The logo has undergone several tweaks over the years, from the original rainbow to the aqua version that accompanied the original iMacs to the glassy version we see today.

Fanatics will remember that the logo was introduced with the Apple II in 1977. Rob talks about this and other insights into the design's history, like the fact that he originally presented only two versions of the logo to the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak): One with and one without the "bite." Other tidbits include why the original design had stripes and what the bite really represents. It's an interview worth reading.


Last week the topic of the iTablet ranged into dream territory as we TUAWians discussed this speculative post over at Technologizer. Although some team members expressed reservations about the iTablet and its possible limitations, others of us let our hopes range free. With apologies to Robert Browning, at least I think it is Robert Browning, if our dreams do not exceed Apple's grasp, then what is the imagination for? So keeping that expansive philosophy in mind, here are the TUAW wishlists for the possibly probably upcoming tablet.
  While I'm still hoping for a dockable, one that works as a Snow Leopard desktop when docked and runs iPhone OS on the go, I'm not holding my breath either. Today's MacBook storage and battery options prove that with a dockable tablet, I could bring my entire world with me and use that world for reasonable periods of time -- but it would take a significant engineering effort to merge iPhone's ubiquitous touch screen technology with standard Mac OS X interaction models.
So, will the tablet really run Snow Leopard? Er, probably not. But could you imagine a MacBook shell, where you could slide the tablet into a frame where the screen normally sits? That would be freaking awesome.
Even as an iPhone-OS-only solution, an iTablet would provide wealth of on-the go applications through App Store. Assuming no great leaps forward beyond what we're already seeing in the iPhone OS 3.x SDK, an iTablet would be ready to provide existing iPhone capabilities with a beautiful big screen to work with.
If I had to pick two features that I'd want to see added, though, they would be wireless support for external keyboards and ubiquitous TV-out. Although the on-screen keyboard is fine for tip-tapping data into fields, there will be times that a tablet user might want to unfold a portable Bluetooth keyboard and use that for data entry.
TV-out support is currently limited to movie playback. Extending that to general application output would help position an iTablet better into the business presentation world. It would also be nice if an Apple Remote of some kind could be used with an iTablet.
Even without these features, an iTablet limited to the current iPhone OS will be a major technology leap forward just due to the increased screen real estate. I can't wait to start playing with big-screen iPhone applications!

If Apple produces a tablet that is even lighter than a MacBook Air, has video-out capabilities, and features built-in wireless broadband for Internet connectivity "everywhere,". If that tablet also has 10 hour battery life, some compelling killer touch apps, and can also replace my Apple TV,
Why do We want Mac OS X on a tablet like this? We'd like to be able to run my existing Mac applications on it. Of course, the very fact that such a device could cannibalize sales of the three MacBook product lines is a compelling reason for Apple to make it an iPhone OS device. As long as the iPhone development community can use the extra real estate on an 8.9" or 10" screen to give me Mac OS X-like functionality in a thin tablet, I can live with iPhone OS.

One more thing -- it would be cool if handwriting recognition through Inkwell or some other method was enabled for making quick handwritten notes and drawings, and of course building in the 2009 version of Newton Intelligent Assistance capability would be awesome, too!

In the spirit of the iPhone, first touted as "An iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator," We'd like to see the gap-filling device aimed squarely at the average consumer. An Apple tablet form factor device would serve as a photo frame, family calendar, internet communicator, and everything else folks have mentioned. Whether it runs Snow Leopard or iPhone OS is largely immaterial to me (although I see cases for both).

Outside of the Duo-esque form factor Erica describes, I doubt I'd use a tablet as a work machine -- not even with screen sharing. But as a centralized home media manager and internet communicator? That intrigues me. The ability to create a family calendar on any Mac and have it displayed on your wall (along with photos) can't be underestimated when talking about the home user. The latest functions of the iPhone 3GS, like video editing, would be great, and I think could be expanded upon. iChat, for example, and with video this time.

While I love the idea of a cell radio in the tablet, I'm leery of adding yet another monthly bill just to have a simple stay-at-home jumbo iPod touch.

CloudPad. We're moving past the App Store and back to the always-on, demand-and-receive application capabilities of online suites. Take the MobileMe and experience, sprinkle in the JavaScript speed of the latest Webkit builds, and get ready to rumble with Google and Microsoft's browser-based productivity tools.

Final Cut Touch
. It may seem contrary to think about power video editing on a device with less than 100 GB of storage, but imagine the sheer grace and effectiveness of a drag, stretch, drop and sweep-based UI for video editing work. Offer a model with a hard drive and a USB or Firewire port, and suddenly you can take your motion work with you wherever you go.

Namco's iPhone division considering... Tekken?

Actually, I'd play that. Namco recently announced that they were forming an Apple Games division to head up game development for Apple platforms like the iPhone, and in this interview, a producer for them who used to work for Apple says that they're excited to work on bringing great games to the handheld device. Like, for example, Pac-man, Galaga, and... Soulcaliber and Tekken. You heard that right -- fighting games haven't exactly made a splash on the iPhone, as they're primarily a button-based genre, and the iPhone, of course, has no buttons.

But that won't stop Namco's guy from putting the old head gears into motion: "It's just the controls that are a challenge. We are thinking about that." Think away, crazy man -- I'd love to pull out Yoshimitsu for a few rounds while waiting at a bus stop. Obviously, the easiest way to try and port these would be to put overlaid buttons on the screen, but that doesn't leave a lot of room for the fighting (and not having the tactile feedback would probably be a problem as well). Maybe some gesture-based accelerometer movement? Sky's the limit, right?.