Apple continues to mess with release schedule to keep competitors, customers guessing

For quite a few years, Apple’s consumer electronics have been on a contant and predictable yearly update cycle; a new iPad before Easter, a new iPhone in the summer, new iPods in September.

This year, however, they are doing things a little differently.

We first saw indications that Apple were going to play around with their release schedule in February, when John Gruber theorised that Apple may surprise us all by releasing the iPad 3 in September, only six months after the (at that time unannounced) iPad 2. Not long after, we started hearing reports that the iPhone 5 would be delayed, possibly until the start of 2012.

All of these were dismissed as speculation at the time. Apple’s update cycles were constant and not to be meddled with; no iPhone in June or July was against the natural order.

Since then, evidence – and evidence, not just speculation – has been building up that Apple’s release cycle is being mangled by the company. Let’s take a look at this on a product-by-product (or product family where appropriate) basis.

The iPhone

Previous years have seen a consistent iPhone pattern. A preview of the new version of iOS in March or April was followed by an announcement of the new iPhone hardware at WWDC in June, ahead of a July release. This happened in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

But not in 2011.

It is now late June. WWDC has come and gone. The first preview we saw of the new version of iOS – iOS 5 – was at WWDC itself, and there has been no mention of a new iPhone in official channels anywhere. Current speculation (save for one new rumour suggesting an August release) suggests a release in September at the time when Apple usually announces the new iPod lineup, in time for the lucrative Xmas period.

The release of the Verizon (née CMDA) iPhone in February and the long-awaited white iPhone 4 in April are probably related to the next iPhone’s belated launch. Whether they are seen as excuses for Apple to push a release of an iPhone 5 back a few months with the promise of ‘new’ intermediate hardware, or are even perhaps the causes of a delay to the iPhone 5, we may never know.

The iPods

Apple’s iPod cycles have been equally as predictable as the iPhone’s, and for far longer. And yet, we are already seeing deviations from the ordinary on this front.

Usually, new iPods are announced in September; the preceding three months feature Apple’s annual ‘Back to School’ promotion where any eligible educational purchaser can get a free iPod when buying a Mac. This helps clear out iPod inventory ahead of the September refresh.

This too has been thrown out of the window, it seems. This year’s Back to School promotion features not a free iPod, but a £65 voucher for the Mac App Store. There are only a few reasons why Apple are doing this; either it was going to cost them too much with possible reduced margins on Macs to include an iPod with every purchase, perhaps they have been far more prudent than in recent years with regards to reserve inventory, or they need to maintain supplies of iPods a little longer in order to refresh the lineup a little later than usual (a fourth option is of course that someone at Apple genuinely believes that students would rather have £65 to spend on apps than a free iPod). This would allow the next iPhone’s rumoured September release to have the stage all to itself.

The iPad

The iPad, being a relative newcomer to Apple’s product lineup, doesn’t have the long history of release schedules as its siblings. In fact, two releases is by no means enough to establish a reliable pattern. However, both of these releases have taken place not long before Easter so it is not presumptuous to assume that the next iPad should be here in March or April 2012.

Right?

However, with the evidence that Apple is already playing about with its expected release schedule, combined with a new rumour suggesting a September release and increased competition from other tablet makers, it is no longer far fetched to say that we could see the iPad 3 before the end of 2011. Releasing the iPad 3 as much as six months ahead of its expected release date, as the rest of the tablet market (such that it is) scrambles to catch up with the iPad 2, will cement its place as the only tablet worth buying for years to come.

It is possible that Apple are looking to align all of their consumer products to a single release cycle in September, in time for the Xmas shopping rush where Apple usually makes the most money. By delaying the iPhone 5 by three months, and bringing the iPad 3 forward six months, Apple’s competitors will be struggling to keep tracks with what used to be a reliable schedule.

Alternatively, perhaps the days of annual, reliable update cycles from Apple are the thing of the past. Previously everyone knew when to expect the iPhone, iPod or iPad, and as such sales will decline noticeably after about nine months of a product being on sale, in anticipation of a newer, greater model just around the corner. But it isn’t just the customers who notice these release trends; Apple’s competitors do too, and seem to be beginning to rely on the annual cycle to push out newer technologies long before an iPhone update.

Regardless, for now we’ll have to wait and see what Apple has up its sleeve.

New skin

Apologies if that headline has given you a creepy, Silence of the Lambs-style vibe. As some of you may have noticed, this site is sporting a new look – I simply felt that the old iOS Notes app look was getting a bit gaudy, and wanted a change.

This new look seems to be a little more in line with what you’d expect from a blog with this subject matter.

I shall now commence dancing around the basement wearing the old skin like a coat.

My iOS 4 wish list: How does iOS 5 stack up?

Looking back over some old posts on this blog, it occurred to me that almost exactly a year ago I made a post of my 5 most-wanted features for the forthcoming release of iOS 4 that I didn’t expect to get in that release.

Now, with iOS 5’s key new features announced and the first beta in developer’s hands, I figured now was a good time to revisit that wish list and see just how many of those abstract wishes have become a reality.

1. Safari Reader for Mobile Safari

Oh yes, Apple came right out with that one and brought Safari Reader compatibility to the iPhone and iPad. Although since I made that original post a year ago I have gotten quite used to using Reeder combined with Instapaper for reading longer articles on the go, it will nevertheless be pretty nice to instantly switch a webpage to Reader mode without having to bounce it into Instapaper first.

2. Wish List support for the iTunes, App and iBook Stores

There’s sadly no sign of this yet, although the new ability to download already purchased items to your phone is a (admittedly very small) step in the right direction.

3. A photo slideshow for when the iPhone is charging

No sign of this yet either; although now I have an iPad I seem to be missing this feature less. It would be nice, though.

4. Live app icons

Although we haven’t got this as such, the widgets in the notification pulldown show that Apple are at least thinking of alternative ways of providing information.

5. More wireless integration with MobileMe

Technically, we didn’t get this. But only because Apple have decided to shut down MobileMe and replace it with iCloud, which will allow for wireless backups of iDevices, and, more importantly, allow all apps to sync data wirelessly between devices. The examples Apple showed at the WWDC Keynote were simply files syncing across devices and the desktop in the iOS/OS X versions of the iWork apps, but they also announced the ability for developers to access this data sharing – meaning it should soon be theoretically possible for, say, Angry Birds to sync game progress between two different devices, and maybe even the desktop version of the app as well.

It does potentially sound a death knell for apps which charge for the privilege of syncing between devices, such as the to-do app I’ve recently started using that wants £11.99 a year to keep my data in sync between the iPhone and iPad versions. When the iCloud is offering this sort of service for free, people won’t like paying for it to be done through a third party (and potentially less reliable) server, unless that syncing services offers something above and beyond what the Apple’s cloud service can offer. Perhaps a to-do app is a bad example, however, as the new Reminders app included with iOS 5 will probably kill off all but the most advanced to-do and reminder apps in the App Store.

With iOS 5, iCloud and OS X 10.7 ‘Lion’ all coming in the next few months, I’d say the future is looking pretty rosy.

 

Why the original creator of WiFi Sync probably doesn’t have a leg to stand on

One thing that was quickly remarked upon after Apple’s announcements at last week’s WWDC Keynote was that once again Apple had effectively rendered some third party apps redundant, such as most basic ToDo apps.

What was also remarked was the ‘curious’ similarity between iOS 5’s new WiFi Sync feature and a jailbreak-only app that was rejected from the App Store last year. As it was originally submitted to Apple, developer Greg Hughes finds it awfully suspicious that it is now available as part of the OS and with the same name and logo to boot, and is seeking legal advice.

To all this, I say codswallop.

Let’s take a look at this and see why Greg Hughes probably doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on*.

*note: I know little of the law, I am just, as I often do, calling it as I see it.

The name

WiFi Sync vs WiFi Sync. How exactly can Apple think no-one will notice the near-identical names and purposes of these features?  But hang on. What, exactly, is it that this new feature of iOS is offering? Syncing over WiFi. How many choices are there for names that explain exactly what’s going on without overcomplicating things? My list comprises of Syncing Over WiFi or WiFi Sync. As you’d expect from Apple, they went for the snappier one.

It goes a little beyond that, of course. This sounds all very similar to the trademark battle Apple is currently fighting over the mark ‘App Store’. Isn’t it a little hypocritical of Apple to defend one mark whilst trampling all over another? Well, apart from the fact that ‘WiFi’ and ‘Sync’ are in common usage and have been for years, while ‘app’ is something that only started to come into use with the launch of Apple’s App Store? Oh, right.

This is already looking like less of a ‘coincidence’ to me. But what about that logo? How can that be explained away?

The logo

TUAW raises the notion that the similarity between the two logos is either an ‘amazing coincidence’ or a case of Apple plagiarism. At first, the evidence seems pretty damming. This is the ‘original’ WiFi Sync logo:

And this is Apple’s ‘new’ WiFi Sync logo:

Well look at that. How can Apple possibly think they could get away with this one?

Except, let’s take a closer look at the logo itself. Don’t the elements of both of them look familiar?

Ah yes. It looks to me like Apple’s long-standard WiFi icon inside the almost as long-standing iSync icon. Here they are separately:

WiFi. Sync. This is all starting to make a lot more sense.

So, unless Mr Hughes can provide proof that Apple have in some way stolen the mechanism with which his app worked, he likely won’t get anywhere. Of course, the press do enjoy a good underdog-versus-major-corporation story, so expect them to milk it for a little while, alongside pictures of Greg looking a bit upset. Okay, he doesn’t really pull it off in that example. But still.

The iPad Experiment

Long story short, I’ve been promoted in my day job. With it comes a new problem; my desk will will contain a Mac Pro workstation for editing. However, as my role as a Supervisor I’ll also have to do admin type things, something that would take up resources and time from the edit machine. It’s also a relatively open access machine, meaning I wouldn’t want Mail running with all my email accounts accessible whilst someone else is using the computer.

The problem is this: with a dual-monitor edit station there will be no room on my desk for another computer for admin. I could, I suppose, set up my existing admin computer – a Mac mini – somewhere else and use Back to my Mac to connect to that, but that itself has its own issues; firstly, I’ve found BtmM to be at times unreliable, secondly the lack of audio in Back to my Mac means I wouldn’t get audible alerts for emails etc, and finally it would still require running something on the edit Mac, only this time something that will pinch valuable network bandwidth.

The solution I have come up with is a good one, and to my knowledge it has not been publicly tried before. This solution is somewhat theoretical, but I’ve decided to throw myself into it headfirst.

The solution is The iPad Experiment.

The Theory

So, I thought to myself, what exactly do I need from an admin computer? I managed to sum up the key requirements in two words: Exchange, and iWork. Exchange for access to Mail and Calendars, and iWork for the inevitable word processing, Keynote presentations and spreadsheets I’ll have to deal with (I should note that I’m saying iWork, as opposed to Office, simply because that’s what I currently use on my admin computer).

What else do I need from an admin computer? In my current situation, it needs to be compact and take up as little space as possible, in all possible dimensions (small footprint, not too tall, not too wide… basically, not an iMac which, although it has a small footprint, takes up quite a bit of space). The Mac mini is obviously a diminutive computer, but still needs a monitor which will likely take up as much space as an iMac.

It should also be portable. It needs to be portable because it will be sharing a relatively small desk with a Mac Pro which I, and my colleagues, need to be able to get unfettered access to when necessary.

When it comes down to it, the best device that ticks all of these boxes is the iPad.

In Practice

So how, exactly, am I going to be able to use an iPad of all things as a replacement for an office desktop? As far as I’m concerned, it’s relatively simple. The iPad provides email, internet, calendars, word processing, slide presentation and spreadsheets, as well as being able to preview a number of files formats either directly or through third party applications. This is pretty much all I need.

I’ve loaded up my new iPad with various software, from the iWork collection to AutoCAD to note taking and doodling apps.

As for getting files onto the iPad, I will primarily use my iDisk. I will be looking into Dropbox as well. Certain larger files, such as videos for previewing to clients, I will sync via iTunes at home to avoid relying on a network connection for such a large data file.

For typing, I’ve bought an Apple Bluetooth Keyboard which will allow me to type at speed or in bulk. To be honest the on-screen keyboard, especially in landscape mode, is pretty much as good as a physical keyboard for most small typing tasks.

Known Issues

There are some problems I know I will encounter in trying to use solely an iPad as an office/admin computer. Firstly, printing. In initial testing I’ve not been able to get AirPrint working over our network with our networked printer – I’m guessing it’s because the printer is not connected directly to the Mac. I will be looking more into this in the coming weeks.

Secondly, our fault management system’s thin client is not compatible with Safari or Mobile Safari. The creators of the system have made a simple iOS app for it but this does not appear to be compatible with our installation at this time. This is something I am simply going to have to fall back to Firefox on OS X for.

We also have a shared network drive which we use to move and share large files. Unfortunately the iPad cannot connect to this, unless I can find a way of it presenting itself as a WebDAV drive (a cursory Google search showed a glimmer of hope on this front).

Benefits

There are some other significant benefits to using the iPad over, say, a laptop or desktop machine.

I can easily grab my iPad to take to a meeting, or stroll around rooms. My office becomes truly mobile as I can set up on any desk instantly without having to lug too much weight around.

Since it has handwriting recognition apps (third party) I can scribble notes without using paper that I’d inevitably lose (or have to file somewhere, or type up); the video playback means I can take sample or rough cut videos to client meetings (and if I make them in the right format, actually edit them on the fly during the meeting with iMovie) and since it is my primary machine, if I’m in a meeting I’ll more than likely have the file being discussed to hand, even if I’d forgotten about it.

I can also easily pick up my work on the train, since i have a 3G iPad I can send and receive emails as if I was in the office without one of those silly 3G dongles hanging out of the side of a laptop, threatening to damage a USB port if someone bumps it.

The Start

Moving up into my new role has proven a bit of a distraction from writing my blogs as I settle in, so whereas this post was originally meant to be posted whilst I waited for the iPad 2 to be delivered, I must say that the iPad Experiment is already in full swing. The results of those weeks will be covered in a forthcoming post, The iPad Experiment: The First Two Weeks.

It’s Fastest Finger First as Apple allows online reservations for iPad 2

All over the UK (and select other countries, including Canada but not, for some reason, the US) a new game is becoming popular. Every evening, at at a few minutes to nine in the evening, people across the globe are sitting at their computers, trying their luck at getting their hands on the big prize. Only a few make it. Most are disappointed.

Apple have enabled reservations for the iPad 2 in Canada, the UK, France, Germany and presumably every international iPad 2 country in which Apple has a retail presence. Quite why they’re not doing it in the US I don’t know – I can only presume the fact that America has the lion’s share of Apple Retail Stores makes it too much if a challenge.

At 9pm every evening, Apple makes a selection of iPads available for reservation for pickup the next day via their retail store webpages. If you’re quick, you might be lucky. I was lucky enough to reserve one for the Covent Garden store yesterday and picked up a fresh iPad 2 this afternoon.

Whilst picking it up, the Apple Store employee I was chatting to said that at 9pm in the store you can often find the security guards furiously refreshing the pages trying to get their hands on one.

With reports of queues still forming in the US, it is refreshing to see that we actually may have it better than America for trying to get ahold of Apple’s latest gadget.

I should also note, if you think it’s hard to get your hands on an iPad 2, spare a thought for those after the red leather Smart Cover or the iPad 2 Dock, both of which are, I discovered today, even more elusive.

iPad 2 goes on sale in the UK amid long queues, online ordering issues

The queue for the iPad 2 as of 8.30am this morning. From ipad2queue.co.uk.

The iPad 2 has finally gone on sale in the UK. Queues around the country have been long at Apple’s official retail outlets, numbering in the hundreds in many cases.

Online orders began around 12.30am in the early hours of this morning. Unlike US customers, UK customers were met with 2-3 week shipping times from the start (compared to US users’ 3-5 days). These times have now slipped to 3-4 weeks.

Numerous users reported checkout errors and were unable to complete their orders – some of these later reports to have inadvertently ordered several iPads. Users have also found themselves unsure of their order status due to the order checking pages on the UK Apple Store being non-functional most of the day (it appears to be working currently, although it is still a little sluggish).

Queues will probably last into the evening, and there are reports of queuers going away disappointed. It is not clear at this time how long shortages may continue.

Current queue statuses can best be obtained from the dedicated iPad 2 Queue blog, ipad2queue.co.uk.

Is the shortage of iPad 2s deliberate?

Image: eviltwin (Flickr)

Once again another Apple product launch has resulted in long lines and an apparent complete sellout of the product.

Just this morning, the shipping times on the online Apple Store have slipped again, this time to 4-5 weeks.

Every time this happens I face claims from my colleagues that the shortages of the new product is a deliberate ploy by Apple in order to increase demand by making it appear ‘limited’ in supply, thus making it more desirable, as well as increasing publicity for the company and its new product.

That’s a load of tosh, if you ask me.

When it comes down to it, what is better for Apple? Seeing queues reportedly almost 3,000 strong at a single store, and yet turning many people away disappointed, or selling an iPad to everyone who wants one, making millions more dollars and having some wapping great sales figures to boot?

As far as I’m concerned, it makes no sense for Apple to fake a shortage. There’s no need to artificially inflate the desirability of the iPad 2; it’ll sell like hotcakes regardless. And anyway, any small gains they might make with an increase in demand caused by manipulating stock levels are nothing compared to the amount of money they’d make if they could fully meet demand from day one.

Plus, I seriously doubt anyone can mass produce a device like the iPad 2 in such quantities in such a space of time.

Rest assured, for those of you in States, and those in Europe when the iPad 2 launches next week, Apple will be doing their best to get an iPad into the hands of everyone who wants one (according to their press release, which I believe is identical to the one from last year’s iPad and iPhone 4 launches).

iPad 2 reviews start appearing

With only a day to go until the iPad 2 launches in the US (why, WHY make us wait another two weeks in the UK, Apple? WHY?!), the reviews are beginning to appear from all those even luckier bastards who have got their hands on a review model.

At the risk of sounding lazy, AppleInsider has a pretty decent roundup of the reviews so far.

My own points to note:

 

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

Smart Covers are so cool that I can imagine iPad 1 owners who think they’re happy to stick with what they’ve got changing their minds and deciding to upgrade upon seeing Smart Covers in person.

 

And from Engadget:

In all, it’s an incredibly handsome and svelte package. Pictures don’t quite do the iPad 2 justice — it feels really, really great in your hands. Not only does the construction give it a feeling of heft and permanence, but the thin profile combined with the new, tapered edges make holding the device a real joy. Apple is known for its industrial design, and they didn’t just chew scenery here; the iPad 2 is beautifully and thoughtfully crafted.

One of Engadget’s accompanying pictures also puts into perspective the difference between the two tablets in a way better than any of Apple’s promotional imagery:

It looks like the iPad 2 compared to the iPad is on a par with the MacBook Air display compared to the MacBook Pro. Very impressive. March 25th can’t come soon enough.

Apple announces iPad 2 with dual colours, dual cameras and dual cores

As expected, Apple today announced the iPad 2, featuring a new dual-core A5 chip boasting 2x CPU and 9x GPU power, front- and back-facing cameras, a ‘Smart Cover’ system, iOS 4.3, and available in black and white “from day one”.

As was rumoured yesterday, Steve Jobs did indeed make an appearance – in fact, he led the presentation as if he wasn’t off sick at all.

In fact, most of the rumours regarding the iPad I listed this morning have come to pass.

The iPad 2 is due for release in the UK on March 25. It’ll hit the US first, on March 11. There is no word yet on how we in the UK can go about buying one but there is currently no preorders available for US customers.

Full details are now available on Apple’s website.

Oh yes, and if you don’t think the improvements in the iPad 2 are worth it, Apple have knocked about £70 off of the prices of the first generation iPad, and you may also be able to get better deals elsewhere.