Apple Announces Apple Music at WWDC 2015

After months of speculation following their acquisition of Beats, Apple has announced its own streaming music service.

1433792824-apple-musicAt yesterday’s WWDC keynote, Eddy Cue (Apple’s VP of Internet Software and Services) introduced Apple Music, “a revolutionary streaming service” that gives users access to a collection of over 30 million songs right from their iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, or Android phone. Users can also access their ripped CDs and previous iTunes purchases.

In addition to creating their own playlists, users have access to a variety of curated playlists from noted entertainment personalities. Apple has hired an impressive team of DJs, musicians, and other experts in the field to curate exclusive playlists to fit any mood, genre, or situation. In addition to human curation, you can explore Apple Music using Siri. Ask anything, from “play me songs by The Cure” to “play the greatest hits of 1993″.

Apple also launched Beats 1, a 24/7 live music radio station broadcast to over 100 countries, with programming by DJ Zane Lowe in Los Angeles, Ebro Darden in New York, and Julie Adenuga in London. In addition to a curated selection of songs, Beats 1 will offer exclusive interviews, guest stars, and news on the latest and greatest in music and music culture.

Apple Music Radio, a new and improved version of iTunes Radio, allows users to create custom stations based on their favorite songs or artists to discover other tunes that fit their taste. And in other news that’s sure to delight music lovers, with membership there is no limit to how many songs you can skip– yay!

In a move that’s somewhat surprising given the failure of 2010’s iTunes Ping, Apple is launching a new social network feature called iTunes Connect. With Connect, artists can share lyrics, photos, videos, and exclusive sneak peaks with their fans. Fans can follow their favorite artists, comment and like posts, and share content with friends via iMessage, Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Apple Music launches on June 30 in over 100 countries. Users can try it out with a free 3-month trial, after which the service is $9.99/month, making it an attractive competitor to the equally-priced Spotify. Users can also opt for a family plan, which gives access to up to 6 family members (iCloud Family Sharing required) for $14.99/month.

Woman Accidentally Tosses Out Apple 1

Apple1-1

It’s true what they say, Apple computers really hold their value. And this one is worth six figures.

A Silicon Valley area woman donated a box of old electronics to a local recycling center after her husband died, but little did she know, she was tossing out a lot of dough, in addition to a piece of history.

According to Venture Beat, the woman dropped off the items, including an original Apple 1, at Bay Area Clean, who didn’t didn’t think the computer was real at first. Later they discovered it was and was sold to a private collection for $200,000.

Bay Area Clean president Victor Gichun said the woman left no contact information but if she shows up, she would get a check for $100,000, as the company’s policy is to give 50% back to the original owner, upon sale.

Only about 200 of the Apple 1 were produced, and assembled by hand by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ron Wayne in 1976.

Another Apple 1 sold last year for $365,000.

Todoist for Apple Watch is here

Todoist LogoTodoist is my favorite to-do list management app. I use it every day on my Mac and my iOS devices. Earlier this week, Todoist released an Apple Watch version of the app that brings many of the app’s functions to Apple’s smallest screen. Here’s a list of key features:

  • Glance View allows you to view your next upcoming task and the number of tasks you have left for the day.
  • Main View gives you access to your Inbox, Today view, Projects, Labels (Premium), and Filters.
  • Quick-Add with Voice Command allows users to add new tasks to Todoist by simply speaking them into the watch.
  • Reminders will provide a gentle buzz on the wrist when you’re near a certain location or at the exact date/time associated with your task.
  • Notifications are a great way to keep up with shared tasks, as Todoist will let you know when someone sends you a new task or comments on an existing task.

Todoist worked hard to make use of the Apple Watch’s small display to ensure its app worked well with a minimalist design. The primary objective with the app’s layout is to keep things focused and distraction free. Todoist carried this mindset over from its other apps which are set up to allow you to focus on whatever you need to work on now, so you’re not burning brain cycles thinking about stuff you need to do tomorrow, next week or next year.

In order to start using Todoist on your Apple Watch, just download the app (if you don’t have it already) to your iPhone, open the Apple Watch app and enable Todoist on your watch in the “My Watch” tab.

Then get ready for your productivity level to soar!

Rewards Program may come to Apple Pay

Apple LogoCredit cards, debit cards, rewards program cards, ID’s… The list of small plastic rectangles we’re saddled with is just one of the costs of doing business in the 21st century. Technology has been relatively slow in terms of providing solutions to the glut of cards we have to carry around every day. The rise of mobile apps has given us some relief, as many rewards programs are now operating with a simple scan of a barcode on a smartphone screen. But due to the complex nature of banking security and credit cards, mobile payments have taken longer to catch on.

We’ve seen some progress in this field recently with the introduction of Apple Pay. And while it’s incredibly swift and convenient for users of iPhones and Apple Watches to tap their devices against a payment terminal, Apple Pay has experienced a relatively slow rollout. There are still only a limited number of vendors that accept the service for payment and there are still many payment institutions that don’t even support it. And now Google is prepped to launch its own mobile payment system, one that could bring simple tap-to-pay technology to the millions of Android phones on the market.

Faced with these challenges, Apple may be looking at ways to increase user and vendor adoption of Apple Pay. Rumors are circulating that the company may introduce a rewards program of its own at the upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference in June. Details are slim on what this program could offer. Maybe it’d be a points system that’d allow users to trade in those points for products from the Apple Store. Or perhaps Apple would limit its rewards program only to digital products such as music, movies and apps. And since Apple Pay works with third-party banks to handle customer accounts, it seems possible that users could actually collect rewards thru this proposed Apple program as well as whatever rewards system are in place with their connected accounts.

Time will tell if the Apple Pay rewards program becomes a reality. Regardless, it’s good to see that Apple is working to expand its mobile payment service. My pockets are getting heavy under the weight of all of these cards!

iOS Bug Causes Text Message Crashing

Apple LogoApple’s iOS is generally considered to be a world-class operating system for mobile devices. But some things slip thru even Apple’s meticulous fingers. It was recently discovered that a specific string of text, sent as a text message, will immediately cause the recipient’s iOS device to crash. The bug requires no action on the part of the person receiving the message. As soon as the text pops up in the form of a system notification, the device will immediately crash and reboot.

The flaw was originally discovered by some Reddit users. They noted that if a very specific combination of Arabic characters are strung together and then sent as a text message, the receiving device will automatically truncate the text with an ellipses (…) at the end when it’s displayed as a system notification. And there’s something about that particular character string that iOS really doesn’t like, resulting in a hard reset of the device.

Considering that it takes such an odd combination of circumstances to trigger this iOS bug, it’s doubtful that most people will be affected by it. Of course, some pranksters will surely make use of it while they can. Apple has already acknowledged the problem and has said it’ll be fixed in a future update.

In the meantime, if you do receive an errant message that triggers an annoying crash, after your device resets, go into the Messages app and delete the conversation. And then consider blocking the sender, at least until the next iOS update comes out.

Setting Up A Projector Room

Projector MountedOver the years I’ve spent a fair amount of money on different types of electronics. Back in the 1980’s much of that money was spent on a never-ending succession of high fidelity amplifiers and speakers. I still have most of that equipment and it still functions quite well to this day.

In the 1990’s my purchasing patterns shifted to a voracious appetite for personal computers, peripherals and software. Though I seemed to derive enjoyment at the time, I have comparatively little that remains useful today with the exception of a fairly massive 25-year-old computer desk.

From the mid-2000’s forward my computer-buying habits slowed somewhat, but I partially shifted from Windows to Apple machines. In the past couple of years my adoption of Android smartphones has mostly usurped my computer usage, completely freezing any urge to acquire new computer equipment. The computers I have – two older Apple laptops, two Mac Minis, a Compaq machine running Vista, and an Asus Netbook running Windows XP, all work remarkably well after equipping most of them with modern SSD’s. I record podcasts, write occasional articles, and do my taxes once a year and that is now the extent of my computer usage. Barring some unforeseen disaster, these older machines should last well in to the foreseeable future.

Of all of those consumer electronics purchases, few things stand out as being really enjoyable. Though I enjoyed the computers at the time, the investment in stereo equipment still delivers satisfaction, some of it 30 years on.

Today, I derive the most use and gratification from my smartphone. It is always with me and it ably handles most functions.

However, that doesn’t stop me from looking at and experimenting with consumer electronics. Back in the early 2000’s, I briefly considered buying a projector. At the time I didn’t think I had a good place to put it or use it, and the idea quickly got pushed aside. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t buy one then, because consumer video technology was still standard definition and projectors of the era were expensive and primitive by today’s standards.

Fifteen years later, projector technology is radically better and far less expensive. Don’t get me wrong – it is possible to spend a fortune on modern projection equipment if you want the latest and greatest and your budget allows. However, it is possible today to get really great bargain projectors that can offer great value and performance.

When I bought my house 20 years ago, for whatever reason one of the extra bedrooms ended up as a junk room. I have no one to blame but myself – it was easy to just pile stuff in the room, close the door, out of sight, out of mind. Over the years I had given little thought about what to do with that extra room. It is fairly small – 9 and ½ feet by 13 and ½ feet, but nonetheless it could be made into a useful space.

A few months ago I started thinking about projectors once again. I purchased an Android-powered pico projector from Amazon to bring with me when I travel. I then realized a great use to put the junk room to – clean all of the junk away, and set up a larger wall-mounted projector capable of projecting about a 95” inch diagonal image on the opposite wall.

Projection ScreenI just happened to have plenty of extra speakers and an old surround sound receiver that had been lying around in the junk room for a few years. After a bit of research I purchased an inexpensive $350 dollar LED-powered Android 720p Chinese projector from Aliexpress.Com. After doing how-to video research on YouTube I purchased lumber and a friend helped me make a large wooden 16 x 9 format frame. I purchased Carl’s Place blackout cloth via Amazon, and with the same friend’s help I now have a large homemade projector screen that cost me a total of about $75 dollars in materials.

I purchased a projector wall mount from Amazon that was under $50 dollars, plus a few other odds and ends. From Walmart I purchased an inexpensive Sony BluRay player for under $50 dollars that even includes WiFi support and the important apps I need – Netflix, Amazon Videos, Hulu Plus and YouTube. I purchased a 5 input HDMI switcher from Amazon for under $20 dollars as well as well as a $15 dollar 25’ foot long HDMI cable to run up the wall to the projector. I even purchased an HDTV tuner that includes an HDMI output from Amazon for about $25 dollars. On the more expensive side, I purchased a 10” inch Klipsch subwoofer from my local Best Buy store for $300 dollars.

All together, I’ve spent less than $1,000 dollars. The resulting projector system for that price is impressive. I can stream HD content from the Internet, I can play BluRay discs, or I can watch local over-the-air digital TV. The digital TV tuner even has a USB port that will accept up to a 2 gigabyte hard drive if I wish to utilize its HD DVR functionality! All sound is routed through the surround sound receiver.

One Man Theater ChairBest of all, that once-upon-a-time useless junk room now has a great use. I have 100% control over the light so the resulting projected 95” inch 720p image is crisp and clear.

Some people might scoff at my purchase of what is essentially a no-name Chinese projector as opposed to spending a few hundred dollars more and getting a name-brand projector such as an Epson or one of the other brands of HD projectors. My reason for going with the no-name Chinese 720p LCD projector is simple – it uses a Cree LED lamp that will likely last 30,000 hours or more. Most name brand projectors use conventional bulbs that must be replaced after only 3,000 to 5,000 thousand hours and can cost $150 and up – way, way up in some cases, more than I paid for the no-name 720p Chinese projector. Especially for a first-time purchase, why not go with a projector using an LED bulb? I’m willing to spend money on electronics – if I didn’t like it, I could always go with another more expensive machine later.

It turns out that I really like the no-name Chinese projector. It has two HDMI inputs along with various analog inputs, outputs, USB and even an SD card slot. It runs Android 4.2.2 and even came equipped with a wireless mouse, along with a remote control. If I wish, I could easily also pair it up with a wireless keyboard and use it as a computer with a large projected display. The Android 4.2.2 comes with the Google Play Store so that means it has access to all the Google Play Store apps. At $350 dollars, I consider it a true bargain.

This has also been a learning experience. I’ve found over the years that regardless of how much I research something, I never really know about it until personally taking action. The only thing I would change about the room setup at this point would be to go with the so-called “Flexigray” screen material from Carl’s Place as opposed to their black-out cloth which is bright white and the most commonly used projection screen material. Because the room is so small and has light colored walls and ceiling, when the projector is on in the otherwise pitch black room it lights up the room enough to create enough stray bounce light from the side walls and ceiling to slightly interfere with the projected image. At this point I could either take steps to darken the walls, or re-cover the screen with the Flexigray material which has superior stray side light rejection properties, thus creating better black levels. I probably won’t make any changes anytime soon – the current projected image really is just fine. But, it’s something I learned and something to keep in mind for future reference.

For under $1,000 dollars, I’ve managed to create an amazingly enjoyable experience. That same money could have easily been spent on the latest gadget being pushed – say an overpriced smart watch – a dubious solution in search of a problem that comes packaged with planned obsolescence for your spending convenience.

Even though it has only been a couple of months, I already know that setting up this projector room is one of those rare things that offers genuine satisfaction and enjoyment, as opposed to all of those things that soon enough ended up unused and obsolete in a pile of dusty junk.

Line 6 brings Amplifi Remote app to Apple Watch

Line 6 logoLine 6 is a musical instrument and audio equipment manufacturer that’s been a real industry innovator for nearly two decades. I bought my first Line 6 guitar amp back in 2001 and have been hooked on the company’s products ever since. At this point, it’d be a neck-and-neck battle between Line 6 and Apple as far as which company has made a bigger dent in my overall net worth.

One thing that Line 6 has done recently that’s really intriguing is the development of “remote” apps that work wirelessly with its various products. The first of these connected-app lines is the Amplifi guitar amp/smart speaker system.  Amplifi was designed to bridge the gap between practicing at home and jamming with other musicians. At home, the Amplifi could be used as a speaker for entertainment systems. At the rehearsal space, Amplifi also works as a full-power electric guitar amp.

Amplifi is also the first Line 6 product to use a remote app to control different features of the device. The app originally launched for Android and iOS, running both on iPhone and iPad. Now, Line 6 has brought its Amplifi Remote app to Apple Watch:

The new AMPLIFi Remote v2.11 update enables guitar players to control and access guitar tones via Apple Watch. Guitarists can now access tones, control levels, search the Line 6 Tone Cloud, and use the tuner, right from their wrist. AMPLIFi Remote works with the entire AMPLIFi family, and provides guitarists with unprecedented control over every aspect of their guitar tone and effects.

Amplifi Remote features such as Tuner, MyTones and master/instrument level controls will be accessibly directly on the Apple Watch version of the app. Users will also be able to do a “dictation search” of Line 6’s Tone Cloud service, which will allow them to use vocal requests to search thru guitar tones saved to Line 6’s cloud service. Tones can then be quickly loaded onto an Amplifi device for immediate use.

It’s great to see Line 6’s continued development of things like the Amplifi Remote App. The company has also started rolling out other products that work with similar apps. I’m definitely excited to see what else Line 6 comes up with this year.

IFTTT Brings Apps to iPad and Apple Watch

IFTTT logoIf This Then That, better known as IFTTT, is a popular service that ties a plethora of online apps. services and devices together to perform specific tasks. For example, you could create an IFTTT “recipe” (the term that IFTTT uses for actions created thru the service) to automatically save your Instagram photos to Dropbox. IFTTT can also be used to work with things like smart sensors, home automation systems and more.

The IFTTT interface itself is accessed mostly thru the company’s website. There, you can search for recipes created by IFTTT staff and users. Once you find a recipe you’d like to try, just add it to your own IFTTT account where you can then configure the recipe to specifically work with your own user accounts across whatever services are referenced in the recipe. Along with that interface, IFTTT also offers its own apps that work in complementary ways to IFTTT’s core functionality:

  • Do Button: This app gives you a simple one-button interface to trigger the recipes that you’ve made thru IFTTT.
  • Do Camera: Create a “personalized” camera that will automatically share your photos with services like Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote and more.
  • Do Note: Use this app like a “digital notepad.” Make a quick note and then use IFTTT recipes to share it with Evernote, Google Calendar and more.

All of these apps were originally available for iPhone only. But IFTTT recently brought all of these apps to iPad and Apple Watch. The company is touting this move as “small, medium and large” versions of its apps for the different devices. Now it’s easier than ever to access and activate your IFTTT recipes.

I’ll admit, I’m still kind of an IFTTT newbie. But with the ease of use provided by these new apps, I’m definitely going to be looking into using the service more.

Special Needs Customers Can Make Apple Watch Demo Appointments

Apple LogoApple has made a point of adding accessibility features to its products for years. Everything from the Mac to iOS devices has user-enabled controls and configurations for things like voice-to-text, alteration of the screen thru focused zooming in and more. And while it seems like the company’s new Apple Watch wouldn’t necessarily be that useful for customers with visual or other kinds of impairments, Apple wants to prove that misconception wrong right out of the gate. That’s why users with special needs can make appointments to test out an Apple Watch, with specific guidance from an Apple Store employee that can demonstrate all of the watch’s accessibility options.

Customers who are interested in making one of these appointments can do so thru the Apple website, the Apple Store iOS app or by calling 1-800-692-7753. When making an appointment, it’s a good idea to note that you’re a disabled user and you’d like to try out the Apple Watch’s accessibility features. This way, the store can have an iPhone preloaded with the full Watch OS and paired with an Apple Watch ready when you arrive. (Apple Stores don’t normally have their watches fully set up like this for customers who just walk in off the street, that’s why it’s important to make an appointment in advance.)

Anytime you’re going to purchase a new item (especially something that can be pricey like an Apple Watch), it’s a good idea to try it out and really see if its right for you before handing over the credit card. It’s great that Apple is continuing its commitment to disabled users by allowing them to make these special appointments. Hopefully, the Apple Watch will prove to be a true asset to those who are in need of assistive technology.

WatchPlate will Gold Plate your Apple Watch

WatchPlateDeserved or otherwise, the prevailing perception of the new Apple Watch is that it’s an accessory for rich people. It’s unclear at this point if Apple sees this as an asset or a liability. Regardless, now that the Apple Watch is officially on the market, all kinds of third party accessories and services are jumping in to fill the needs of Apple Watch owners. And while the third-party Apple Watch market may never reach the kind of saturation point that’s happened for iPhone accessories, this market is still likely to generate some real profits. The latest example of that is WatchPlate, a new service that will add gold plating to any Apple Watch.

WatchPlate works by placing an order thru the company’s website. From there, you’ll receive an e-mail with a prepaid FedEx shipping label. Take your Apple Watch to any authorized FedEx drop-off point and it’ll be whisked away to WatchPlate where it’ll undergo the gold plating process. The company estimates that your Apple Watch will be back in your hands (and on your wrist) within three business days of when its received by WatchPlate.

WatchPlate charges a $399.00 flat fee for gold plating an Apple Watch, a watch band or both. Shipping is free anywhere in the world. The plating can be done in either yellow or rose gold and WatchPlate states that it uses only 24 karat gold in the process. WatchPlate also recommends that users regularly clean and maintain their gold plated watches to ensure longevity of the plating. If needed, the company will re-plate a watch for a flat fee of $199.00.

There are a couple of things to be aware of before placing a WatchPlate order. Gold plating is only possible on stainless steel models of the Apple Watch, which excludes the Sport edition. And when it comes to potentially voiding an Apple Watch warranty, WatchPlate says:

It is possible. The process involves dipping the watch in about 3 inches of fluid for about 20 minutes total. This is much easier on the watch than Apple’s recommended maximum of 3 ft submersion for 30 minutes. That being said, because this is a new service, we don’t know how Apple’s warrantee policies could change regarding gold plating.

If you’re concerned about your watch breaking during its warranty period and it’d be difficult for you to buy another one out of pocket, you may want to proceed with caution when it comes to gold plating the device. If that’s not a concern, and you can stand to be without your shiny new watch for a few days, head on over to WatchPlate and make that new accessory truly stand out.