Tag Archives: iphone

Hands-on: Apple’s all-new Music app in iOS 8.4

With the release of the first developer beta of iOS 8.4 this evening, Apple gave us the first look at the oft-rumored redesign of the Music app. With the expected announcement of Apple’s streaming music service happening in June, the Music app redesign has been expected for several months now. The newly introduced Music app offers a handful of new features in the first beta of iOS 8.4, as well as a redesigned interface that’s similar to iTunes on the Mac. Let’s take a brief look…

When you first open the new Music app you’ll quickly notice that the standard tabbed interface has been changed dramatically. Along the bottom of the app are now three tabs for “My Music,” “Playlists,” and “Radio.” You can swipe left and right to navigate between the interfaces. The “My Music” interface shows your recently added music along the top, similar to the recently added section in iTunes on the Mac. Unfortunately, however, you only see the three most recent items added. The interface makes it look like you should be able to scroll horizontally to view more, but you can’t as of beta 1. Although, there is a “more” button that allows to view additional recently added content in the upper right corner.

Below the “Recently Added” section is all of your music, whether it is stored locally on your device or in the cloud. By default, the music is broken up by artist, although there is an arrow you can tap to choose to sort by artists, albums, songs, music videos, genres, composers, or complications. If you click the three dots next to a selection, you have the ability to play it next, add it to Up Next, make it available offline, and delete it. Gone is the ability to swipe left to delete a song and gone is the cloud icon that used to allow you to download a song. You now have to click the three dots to perform either of those tasks.

One of my favorite features in the iOS 8.4 Music app is the ability to manage your queue of songs. Apple has offered this in iTunes on the Mac for a while now, but never on iOS. With iOS 8.4, however, you can now choose to play a song next, or add it to your full queue. Spotify and other music apps offer features similar to this, so it’s nice to see Apple finally catching on.

Tapping on an artist from the artists page will bring you to all of the content you own by that specific musician. With a hero image at the top that fades to be the color the top menu bar as you scroll down, it’s a really pleasing interface. It can get a bit overwhelming if you have a lot of content by a single artist, but no more so than the original iOS 8 music player did.

No matter where you go in the new Music app, you’ll always see a playback bar at the bottom the interface with the ability to play or pause a song. Swiping up on the menu bar will pull up the newly designed player user interface.

The player interface itself in iOS 8.4 has been dramatically overhauled. The album artwork takes up roughly half of the interface, while the controls take up the other portion. Along the bottom of the interface are options for shuffling, repeating, viewing your queue, deleting the track, and downloading the track. The bottom portion of the interface is somewhat translucent with the shade adjusting depending on the color of the album to which you’re listening. To get out of the player interface, you can either click the down air in the upper right corner or swipe down on the album artwork.  Overall, I like the new player interface and how spread out it is compared to the original iOS 8 Music app.

Moving to the Playlists interface you’ll see another recently added section at the top for your recently modified or created playlists. Below that is a list of all your playlists with the ability to edit and delete them, as well as create new ones. The Playlists interface is somewhat bland at this point, with there being no options to sort or order them. Although it’s important to keep in mind that this is the first beta of the app, so Apple can and will adjust things as time progresses.

Finally, the Radio tab shows your recently three most recently played stations along the top. Below your recently played stations are the featured stations from Apple, with more featured stations broken down my genre visible below that. As of beta 1, there doesn’t appear to be any way to view your saved iTunes Radio stations. Instead, you rely solely on your recently played stations and search to find content other than what is featured by Apple.

The iTunes Radio interface almost feels cramped with the iOS 8.4 Music app. The album artwork for stations is so large and pushed together that it’s somewhat cluttered. Also, Apple needs to add back the ability to save iTunes Radio stations. It’s a pain to have to search every time you want to find a station to listen to. Also gone is the “info” screen that allowed you to tune stations and choose between clean and explicit versions of tracks. Again, this is a beta so things can and will change.

Overall, the Music interface Apple has previewed with the first developer beta of iOS 8.4 is promising. Its similarity to iTunes on the Mac will make it familiar to many users. There are still some areas in which Apple needs to improve it, however, and that’s to be expected with a beta. Some of the buttons are awkwardly small, while the iTunes Radio interface is cluttered and unintuitive. Nevertheless, I’m a fan of the overall design direction Apple has taken the Music app and I think, especially when coupled with a streaming music service, it will be unmatched by its rivals. More images below:

Here’s the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

Though the new iPhone is called the iPhone 6, we’re actually on the 8th generation of iPhone that has existed. But who cares about that. Let’s just see how much the camera—maybe the most important feature on the iPhone after messaging—has improved over those 8 generations. Hint: a lot.

Lisa Bettany compared the new iPhone 6 camera to those of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G and original iPhone by taking the same shot on each. The particular shot above shows the camera’s performance when backlit. You can definitely see the difference when you zoom up close.

Here’s a portrait comparison:

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

And a very impressive lowlight:

Here's the same picture taken with every iPhone that has existed

You can see the comparison in much more detail here. In short: it gets better. Duh. But it’s impressive to see by how much. Things might look good from afar on all of them but the cameras of the early iPhones were pathetic shooters. Things that used to be unusable can actually be considered stunning now and what worked in perfect conditions, works even better now.

Apple Watch Meta Review: Not Perfect, But Full of Potential

Apple Watch Meta Review: Not Perfect, But Full of Potential

The Apple Watch won’t be on your wrist until this Friday at the earliest, but the first reviews of Apple’s new wrist computer are just coming in.

The verdict? It’s not a perfect product. It has some first generation flaws, and other quirks. There’s a bit of a learning curve. And you probably shouldn’t buy one. But. But! It’s the best smartwatch out there and just oozes potential.

And by all accounts, yes, the Apple Watch battery can make it through the average day, if only just barely.

CNET:

I’ve been using the Apple Watch for a week. I’ve worn it on my wrist every day, doing everything possible that I could think of. I’ve tracked walks and measured my heart rate, paid for lunch, listened to albums while exploring parks without my phone, chatted with family, kept up on email, looked for Ubercars, kept up on news, navigated on long car trips for Passover, controlled my Apple TV with it and followed baseball games while I was supposed to be watching my 2-year-old.

The watch is beautiful and promising — the most ambitious wearable that exists. But in an attempt to do everything in the first generation, the Apple Watch still leaves plenty to be desired. Short battery life compared with other watches and higher prices are the biggest flags for now. But Apple is just setting sail, and it has a long journey ahead.

Geoffrey Fowler at the Wall Street Journal:

This description may either strike you as helpful or oppressive. It has made me more present. I’m less likely to absent-mindedly reach for my phone, or feel compelled to leave it on the table during supper.

With the Apple Watch, smartwatches finally make sense. The measure of their success shouldn’t be how well they suck you in, but how efficiently they help you get things done. Living on your arm is part of that efficiency—as a convenient display, but also a way to measure your heart rate or pay at a cash register. This is a big idea about how we use technology, the kind of idea we expect from Apple.

Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal:

After over a week of living with Apple’s latest gadget on my wrist, I realized the company isn’t just selling some wrist-worn computer, it’s selling good looks and coolness, with some bonus computer features. Too many features that are too hard to find, if you ask me.

… There are so many things the watch can do, so many menus and features you must spend time figuring out, that for better or worse, you end up shaping your own experience.

… Unless you opt for the cheapest $350 sport version, you should really wait for the future.

The New York Times:

The Apple Watch is far from perfect, and, starting at $350 and going all the way up to $17,000, it isn’t cheap. Though it looks quite smart, with a selection of stylish leather and metallic bands that make for a sharp departure from most wearable devices, the Apple Watch works like a first-generation device, with all the limitations and flaws you’d expect of brand-new technology.

… Still, even if it’s not yet for everyone, Apple is on to something with the device. The Watch is just useful enough to prove that the tech industry’s fixation on computers that people can wear may soon bear fruit. In that way, using the Apple Watch over the last week reminded me of using the first iPhone. Apple’s first smartphone was revolutionary not just because it did what few other phones could do, but also because it showed off the possibilities of a connected mobile computer.

The Verge:

The Apple Watch is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus.

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well. For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

Bloomberg Business:

The Apple Watch can certainly make you a worse dinner guest. But it can also make you a slightly better one. The difference is whether or not you’re willing to think about what really matters vs. what seems to matter.

The watch is not life-changing. It is, however, excellent. Apple will sell millions of these devices, and many people will love and obsess over them. It is a wonderful component of a big ecosystem that the company has carefully built over many years. It is more seamless and simple than any of its counterparts in the marketplace. It is, without question, the best smartwatch in the world.

Re/Code:

Some people have already decided they’re getting Apple Watch on the day it comes out. Because they love Apple. Because they like new things and being the first to buy them. Because there has been so much hype around this product.

But Apple Watch is not a cure-all, and it’s likely not a timepiece you will pass down to your grandkids. It is a well-designed piece of technology that will go through a series of software updates, until one day, years from now, when the lithium ion battery can no longer hold much of a charge and it won’t seem as valuable to you.

The Waterproof iPhone Plan

The Waterproof iPhone Plan, and Everything Else You Missed Yesterday

We’ve heard it all before—waterproof iPhones. It’s a patent rumor that goes back years. But a new patent, posted yesterday, is Apple’s second water-phobic patent in as many months. Whereas the patent last month tackled nano-coating and silicon seals, this one focuses on making sure that no pesky H2O molecules sneak past your hardware buttons. But patents are just that—patents. But if Apple could make a smartphone completely waterproof without sacrificing design (which Jony Ive would never allow), well… that would certainly be something. [Patently Apple]

iPhone 6 : September 9th!

Report: Apple’s Next iPhone Coming September 9

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

 

Re/code’s John Paczkowski is reporting that Apple will hold an iPhone event on September 9. This is presumably when the company will announce the iPhone 6. The event also falls almost exactly one year after the last iPhone event.

Although Paczkowski is one of the most reliable sources of Apple news, we’ve seen all kinds of conflicting reports about the iPhone 6 launch. So you’ll just have to wait and see, like always. And it’s also unclear how long we’ll have to wait and see before you can actually buy the new device. Nevertheless! Now is a great time to catch up on iPhone rumors.

iPhone 6

In case you’ve been living in a cave the past six months or so, you should know that Apple isalmost definitely going to be releasing a new iPhone with a bigger screen. It’s very possible it will be called the iPhone 6, and some think that Apple will offer the new phone in different sizes, perhaps a 5.5-inch and a 4.7-inch, which would be a slight bump to the current iPhone 5S’s a 4-inch screen size. The jury is still out, however, on whether the new iPhone will feature a curved screen, though reliable sources have tweeted images that show just that.

 

It also remains a mystery whether the new screen will be made of sapphire. Why is that important? A sapphire iPhone would be a tougher iPhone.

 

 

Since Apple’s last iPhone, the 5S, mostly included under-the-hood upgrades, though, you can definitely expect the iPhone 6 to feature a pretty significant design update. Leaksagain, reliable leaks and lots of them—show a new case that actually looks a lot like the original iPhone with a sleek silver back and curved edges. Most of the leaks show a case with a 5.5-inch screen size.

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

Image via Sonny Dickson

 

However, there will be more to the iPhone 6 than a new case and bigger screen. Details on the improvements to the device’s guts are a little blurry, though. Though some of the leaks show a logic board that looks roughly the same as those in the current iPhone line, the new phone will almost certainly be upgraded to an more robust A8 processor. Recent reports also say the iPhone 6 will come with near field communication (NFC) technology as well as an upgraded Wi-Fi chip. Some people even think the LTE radio will get an upgrade, and wireless charging will become a reality.

A lot of speculation on the hardware is pure speculation. However, improvements in iOS 8 suggest that the camera technology will see upgrades at the very least. Other iOS 8 improvements hint at the possible addition of new hardware to support HealthKit and the suite of fitness tracking features that come with it. Meanwhile, the new Metal game development tool has some people thinking that the iPhone 6 will come with a console-level graphics engine. Apple, at least, says it’s ten times better than the existing graphics engine.

 

iOS 8

 

Speaking of iOS 8, now is the perfect opportunity to remind you of all the fun new features the new operating system will bring to all iPhones—except iPhone 4 and older, boo hoo.

Whereas the iPhone 6 will feature a lot of design upgrades, iOS 8 is all about the backend. One thing people seem super excited about, again, is the HealthKit API and the corresponding Health app. Together, these two things will bring all of your fitness and health tracking to one place, and maybe even make that data useful.

Report: Apple's Next iPhone Coming September 9

Speaking of making things more useful, a very exciting new feature called Extensions will finally let apps talk to each other. That means that developers can build apps with specific toolkits for other apps to use, say a Bing translate tool that you can use for any foreign language content. All apps will also be able to use Touch ID, now, which could eliminate the need for usernames and passwords for good on iOS.

The rest of the iOS 8 updates are mostly incremental but inevitably relevant. HandOff will make switching between iOS and OS X devices completely seamless, meaning you can start writing an email on your iPhone and instantly finish on your MacBook Pro. You will also be able to make phone calls and send texts from your Mac.

Meanwhile, notifications will see some improvements, as will Spotlight. Siri will evidently get better, and so will iCloud with the introduction of iCloud Drive. The keyboard will also improve thanks to some Android-inspired features, and you’ll finally have the ability to add third party keyboards. Read more about iOS 8 here.

iWatch

Who knows! Apple’s definitely thinking about making a smartwatch, and it’s been reported that such a device is already in production. Don’t expect to see anything at the September event, though.

 

What’s Sapphire Glass, and Why Would Apple Want It In Your iPhone?

 

What's Sapphire Glass, and Why Would Apple Want It In Your iPhone?

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Internet’s ever-whirring rumor mill, you might be under the impression that Gorilla Glass—what most flagship smartphones use for their displays—is about to receive some stiff competition. But what is sapphire glass, and why does it offer so much promise?

Reports earlier this year claimed that Apple had purchased enough sapphire crystal furnaces to make 200 million five-inch iPhone displays, and we’re now starting to see signs that there may have been some truth in that speculation. We’ve already seen, for instance, videos of a purported iPhone 6 display, claimed to be made of sapphire glass, being subjected to all kinds of torture and surviving. Material scientists reckon that even if the display in the video isn’t an iPhone screen, it “could well be” sapphire glass that’s withstanding such torture.

While that video may seem miraculous— how does it survive all that?—it’s less so to anyone familiar with sapphire glass. While the name may make you think of expensive jewelry, sapphire is actually a wonder material that would be a welcome addition to our phones.

Beyond Bling

Sapphire isn’t just a gemstone. It’s simply a transparent crystal that happens to take on some attractive hues—yellow, purple, orange, green or red—when it forms naturally. A red sapphire is known as ruby, but more typically you’ll see blue sapphires on rings, earrings, or crowns (if you’re into the royalty thing). Beyond all the bright and shiny fluff, though, sapphire is an optically transparent crystal in the same mould as the likes of diamond or glass.

If you’re concerned about those aforementioned hues and how they could cloud something like a phone screen with unwanted color, don’t worry. It’s impurities within the crystals—iron, titanium, chromium, copper or magnesium, say—that provide the coloration. If you can find sapphire without those impurities you’re left with a clear crystal, just like the glass in your windows.

 

Pure sapphire can be hard to find, though, and it’s impractical to remove the impurities retroactively. Sapphire gemstones are usually mined like other precious gems, in small quantities, and they’re almost impossible to process. That’s why synthetic sapphire, first created in 1902 by a French chemist called Auguste Verneuil, is typically used for more practical applications—like the glass that covers the face of your watch.

Synthetic sapphire is generally made by applying incredibly high heat and pressure to aluminum oxide powder (sapphire is, after all, just a compound of aluminum and oxygen). Heat-treated to remove its internal stresses—which can cause weakness—and processed into sheets, this synthetic sapphire is referred to as sapphire glass. And that’s what would end up on your phone.

A Glass Act

But what’s so great about a sheet of sapphire glass that it should feature on the front of your phone? Well, first, to completely put your worries of blue tinges at bay, it’s highly transparent to wavelengths of light between 150 nanometers and 5500 nanometers. For context, the human eye can only discern wavelengths from about 380 nanometers to 750 nanometers. So it passes the first and most and important screen test: you can see through it.

But the real charm of sapphire glass is its hardness. It’s nearly twice as hard as standard glass, and nearly as hard as diamond. In practical terms, that means it’s almost impossible to scratch, unless you happen to carry a bunch of diamonds in your pocket. It’s not just hard, though, but strong, too: sapphire crystals have a compressive strength of 2,000 Mega Pascals, about ten times that of stainless steel.

No surprise, then, that the stuff is used increasingly frequently for applications where optical transparency, high strength, and scratch-resistance are required. Think shatter-resistant windows in armored vehicles, bullet-proof glass, or screens and visors in military body armor suits. But there are more mundane applications too: it’s used in scientific experiments that need an optical window into a harsh environments, and even at checkouts. Yep, those little glass windows that cover barcode readers are often made of the sapphire glass, to ensure the optics of the device aren’t rendered useless by heavy scratching of normal glass.

Sapphire vs. Gorilla

Harder than Gorilla Glass, stronger than steel, and perfectly transparent? That all sounds like very compelling evidence to slather the screen of your phone in sapphire glass right now. So why isn’t it everywhere? It’s expensive as hell.

The cost comes largely a result of the manufacturing process, which produces big block of sapphire, called a boule, which has to be sliced into thin sections using a diamond saw or laser(!). Corning estimates that it costs about ten times as much to manufacture as its Gorilla Glass, and while that’s probably an aggressive estimate, even if it’s five times that’s still a big chunk of change.

It also weighs in at 67 percent heavier than Gorilla Glass—with a density of 3.98 grams/cm3compared to the 2.54 g/cm3. That means that to match it gram-for-gram, a screen made of sapphire would need to be rather thinner. That’s great for our pockets, but just because it’s hard and strong doesn’t mean that it’s unbreakable, and making it thinner makes it more vulnerable. While the fracture toughness of sapphire is theoretically around four times greater than Gorilla Glass, tests by Corning—again, not an unbiased source—suggests that it could be more brittle when used at the same thickness as its screens. In other words, while sapphire glass may be more scratch-resistant, it’s not necessarily any more shatter-resistant.

So what would sapphire glass mean? A phone in our hands withstands scuffs and scratches way better than before, possibly at the cost of a little impact resistance. But most of all, a little competition on the part of the phone you use the most.

Image by Wetsun under Creative Commons license.

 

The Race to Save Your Car’s Dashboard

The Race to Save Your Car's Dashboard

Earlier this week, Google showed off Android Auto, a dashboard navigation and entertainment system powered by an Android smartphone. It’s almost identical in concept to competing designs from Apple and Microsoft. For perhaps the first time, these companies have a unified vision for the future of in-car electronics. And that’s the best news car buyers have heard in years.

To understand what’s right with these new designs, we first have to study what’s wrong with the current trends in in-car entertainment. It all comes down to two problems: lack of standardization, and obsolescence.

Your Car’s Dashboard Is Outdated and Dumb

For the most part, a car’s dashboard electronics are designed and built by the car manufacturer. This tradition was acceptable when the most complicated device in the car was a radio or tape deck. But today, each of the several dozen car brands in the North American market has its own design philosophy for things like GPS and entertainment systems. And none of them is particularly good at it.

The field isn’t just fragmented, it’s positively shattered: hop out of an Audi and into a Cadillac, and you’ll face a completely foreign operating interface for basic functions like climate control, navigation, and stereo. Stumbling through unfamiliar sub-menus is a pain standing still; at 70 MPH, it’s a safety hazard.

Then there’s the technology’s lifespan. The average car takes three to five years to go from concept to production, and a particular model could stay on the market for several years after that with only minor updates. The current Jeep Wrangler, for instance, has been on sale since 2007 with only minor changes. And don’t forget, the average car on the road in the U.S. is over 11 years old.

That’s fine—or at least, tolerable—for engines and suspensions. But for your car’s more advanced electronics systems, it’s a lifetime. In a four-year-old car, once-cutting-edge GPS and stereo systems end up looking hopelessly outdated while you’re still making payments. Swapping in updated equipment is almost always too complicated or expensive to be worthwhile. Stuck with a nav system that was programmed before your cul-de-sac existed? Your only real option is to trade for a 2014 model. But don’t get too cozy: the 2015s are just around the corner.

Smartphone as Savior

Compare car tech to the smartphone ecosystem: even the most restrictive carrier contracts encourage you to upgrade every two years, and frequent software updates keep your pocket stuffed with the latest capabilities. Unless you’re getting into the fringe, your device most likely runs one of three standard operating systems, and while hardware manufacturers like to put their own spin on things, for the most part an Android is an Android and a Windows Phone is a Windows Phone.

So it seems logical to use the muscular, up-to-date, standardized device in your pocket or purse to power the functions you want on your dashboard: navigation, music, and communication. As of this week, three major players (and one outsider that preceded them all) offer slightly different variations on this theme.


Google

Android Auto is the newcomer. Unveiled Wednesday, it brings Google’s voice-activated commands and context awareness to a pared-down setup optimized for minimal driver distraction. We got to play around with Android Auto at its debut, and frankly, it could be a lifesaver.

Most smartphone-owning drivers are guilty of furtively trying to use their phones while driving, a dangerously distracting habit. Android Auto looks to solve that problem by putting your smartphone’s interface on the bigger, clearer screen in your dashboard, emphasizing voice control, and limiting you to driver-oriented apps when the car is in motion.

Once you plug your Android device into the car via USB (wireless linking is probably not far off, but not currently available), the in-dash screen takes control of the phone. A voice-activation button on the steering wheel summons your phone’s attention, allowing you to ask for Google Maps directions or select music from your streaming apps or downloaded songs. It can even answer Google Now-type requests, like “what’s the weather forecast tonight,” and context-aware notifications like “remind me to get gas on my way home.”

Reminders, text messages, phone calls, and navigation directions are all fed to you through your Android device’s robot voice—though for now, notifications pop up as a card on the dashboard screen that you tap to summon the voice. It’s all optimized for driving, with minimal on-screen text and maximal voice control ensuring that you’re never tempted to focus on the dashboard screen (or your phone’s even tinier display).

Your Android device already knows when you’re near your home or office; it’s already capable of reading a text message out loud and sending your voice-dictated reply. Bringing these tasks to your dashboard’s touchscreen, summonable with the tap of a voice command button, is a no-brainer, and Android Auto’s implementation shows how simple and driver-friendly a smartphone-powered dashboard could be.

The Race to Save Your Car's Dashboard


Apple

Google’s offering is strikingly similar to Apple’s CarPlay, which uses the same trick of throwing your iPhone’s app icons and Siri button onto your dashboard and steering wheel, respectively. Here, it’s Apple Maps for navigation, iTunes for music, and iMessage for communications—all summoned by Siri. It’ll look innately familiar to anyone who’s operated an iDevice.

There are key differences, though: as far as we’ve been able to see, CarPlay doesn’t offer the contextual awareness that makes Google’s in-car offering so intriguing. Hypothetically, that means CarPlay might not be able to do things like suggest a less-congested route when it senses you’re driving to work. Android’s system is open to developers building car-centric versions of their apps (think Spotify for the car), while Apple’s app ecosystem is still pretty closed off. And then there’s the fact that Apple’s navigation app hasn’t been quite as reliable as Google Maps.

But in all other respects—namely, one-tap or voice-only operation for navigation, music selection, and sending and receiving calls and texts—CarPlay and Android Auto are nearly identical. It’s worth pointing out that Apple was the first to show this type of interface in action,demonstrating CarPlay back in March of this year. Microsoft and Google both announced their offerings in short order, indicating that all three companies have had cars on the mind.

The Race to Save Your Car's Dashboard


Microsoft

Even Microsoft is eyeing the dashboard, having shown an in-car concept that broadcasts a Windows Phone’s UI on a car’s touchscreen. With big, easy-to-summon icons and a button for voice control, it would pretty much offer the same features as CarPlay and Android Auto, wrapped in decor familiar to any Windows Phone user.

The Race to Save Your Car's Dashboard

In a way, Microsoft’s been at this game the longest: Ford, Kia, BMW, Nissan and Fiat have all called on the company at various times to develop brand-specific digital dashboard interfaces. But the Microsoft CE-powered Ford Sync system wouldn’t look at all familiar to a Nissan driver; each brand got its own customized setup.

The still-conceptual Microsoft in the Car setup might be the closest yet to the platonic ideal of in-car tech: unlike Google and Apple’s offerings, Microsoft in the Car is built aroundMirrorLink, an OS-agnostic, non-proprietary automotive integration system that uses universal technologies like Bluetooth and Universal Plug and Play (UPnP). Unfettered by Apple- or Android-specific programming, MirrorLink promises seamless integration and on-dash access to an approved list of apps on your smartphone, no matter the brand or operating system.

That would really be the dream setup: a universal system that holds hands with whatever glowing rectangle you happened to plug in. A setup that wraps you car’s vital controls in the OS you’ve been using ten to 4,000 times a day, the one your thumbs (and increasingly, your voice) instinctively know how to navigate. A bring-your-own data briefcase that makes for seamless transitions whether you’re driving a rental, borrowing a friend’s pickup truck, or trading in your lease.

Forget about obsolescence. In this semi-realistic fantasy world, you could hang on to your car for decades, and as long as you upgraded your smartphone with the frequency of most smartphone users, you’d always have up-to-date digital capabilities. It’d be a great day for people who swap phones regularly, but hang onto their cars—or degenerates like me who buy $150 automotive zombies out of people’s backyards.

An OS-Agnostic Future?

The biggest hurdle to that future fantasy is the same problem that faces nearly every “smart” device: platform lock-in. When Apple announced CarPlay earlier this year, it named 16 carmakers that would eventually support the platform. Yesterday, Google showed 28 brandsthat have pledged allegiance to Android. Only nine automakers show up on both lists. You see the problem here.

Imagine if you had your heart set on the new-for-2o16 Snubnose Mangler, but it didn’t support your preferred smartphone. It’d be infuriatingly dumb to have to buy a new smartphone just to have it sync with the very expensive car you just committed to, or to skip the car you really want because you just renewed your phone contract and can’t stomach the idea of switching devices.

Ideally, by the time smartphone-powered in-car tech hits the streets, the major manufacturers will offer universal OS support in every vehicle. MirrorLink (and thus, Microsoft) hopes to encourage that with the Connected Car Consortium, an agreed set of standards that would provide for universal support. But that’s no guarantee.

When it comes to consumer tech, reality rarely even approaches the ideal. But with Android Auto, CarPlay, and Microsoft in the Car, we get a glimpse at a potential future where in-car tech isn’t already obsolete on the showroom floor. Hopefully, consumer demand (and maybe a mobile tech miracle) will bring us something even greater: universal smartphone support in every new car.

Hey, we can dream, right?

 

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

It’s Apple rumor season—really, when is it not?—and that means it’s also the season of mockups. But the next time you see an appealing iWatch mockup, keep in mind how deeply, deeply wrong most of us have been at guessing what the future of Apple might look like.

Apple bought the domain name iPhone.org in 1999—almost a full decade before it actually announced its first phone. And in the years in between, the rumors flew: A confluence of forces, including a boom in consumer technology writing on the internet and the ubiquity of Photoshop, conspired to create a fecund environment for speculation by armchair critics and designers. Was Jobs designing a flip phone? Maybe there’d be a slide-out keyboard! Perhaps it’d latch on to your existing iPod. Anything was possible.

Yesterday, NOVA editor Tim De Chant tweeted an early iPhone mockup and reminded us all to “Be wary of iWatch mockups. Remember what we thought the iPhone would look like in 2006?” Inspired, I dug through the digital refuse that remains of the 2005 and 2006 internet to find more. And boy, did I find more.


An iSlider

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

Let’s start with the concept rendering De Chant linked to. It was designed by one “Nick C” in response to a competition Engadget held to imagine future Apple products in 2006.

“The best of two worlds,” the mockup reads—presumably they’re talking about the combination of an iPod and a phone, since this mockup looks like a hybrid of the two, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a form factor that looks much like an iPod Nano, with some random cellphone-ish buttons slapped on the edges. [Engadget]


An iPod-iPhone Hybrid

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

This mockup appeared on the now-defunct gadget blog Esato in September of 2006. It imagined the much-rumored iPhone as a flip-style attachment to the iPod—complete with a 2.2-inch screen and a 3-megapixel camera!

Many of these mockups were flip phones, and though that seems like a reflection of the style of the day, there was a pretty good reason to predict a flip phone: After all, Apple did patent one. [ESATO]


The iPhone as Blackberry?

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

So maybe the iPhone would be a flip phone. Or maybe, as this November 2006 concept imagined, it’d follow the lead of another big trend of the day: Slide-out keyboards. This mockup takes the beloved third generation iPod and chops it off to add a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, like a Sidekick or Blackberry.

But even the Russian gadget website that published it wasn’t convinced: “[T]he device looks very uncomfortable and awkward, and the introduction of the touch screen and use it to dial a number – illogical. Especially for Apple.” [Ferra.Ru]


An iPod Nano That Talks

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

This 2005 mockup of an “Apple iPhone R01” by Japanese designer Isamu Sanada imagined a brick-style phone that used a very similar form factor as the year’s second generation iPod Nano. It’s really not all that different from the cheaper phones of the day—except for the tell tale click wheel. [ AlZin]


The iFlip?

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

Sanada was a prolific speculator—and he didn’t just imagine iPhones, he did it all—so it’s worth mentioning another one of his guesses for its sheer creativity. In this version, the iPhone was actually two distinct pieces of hardware, connected by a soft bending hinge that would clamp down to keep the phone closed. It’s actually a pretty interesting solution to the design conundrum of the flip phone hinge. [Gizmodo]


An iPod With a Trackpad

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

In the end, this is the mockup that came closest to the thing Steve Jobs presented in January of 2007. This “leaked” rendering shows a device that looks roughly the size of an iPod Nano, with two major parts: A screen with UI prompts like a keyboard and iTunes interface, and a wide grey touchscreen—used to interact with the screen itself, presumably.

It’s weird camel of a concept. But oddly, it’s not far off the mark. The thing that set the first iPhone apart from all these mid-2000 mobile tropes was its touchscreen. Whomever made this knew that was the direction things were going—they just weren’t putting too fine a point on it. [MacDailyNews]


Now, About That iWatch…

In light of the fact that hindsight is 20/20, these concepts weren’t laughably far off. Even in the zaniest cases, the designers simply took what they knew about the current trends in mobile tech—sliding keyboards! hinges!—and gave it a Snow White-style makeover.

6 Early iPhone Mockups That Were Dead Wrong

But none of them could imagine the sea change the iPhone’s touchscreen and internals would bring, those hardware innovations that actually did change everything. So next time you’re reading about an iWatch that looks like an iPhone flattened into a bangle or duct-tape to a wrist, keep in mind: It’s easier to imagine the shape of things to come than the guts inside of them.

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