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PC Games on Your iPad, Courtesy of HTML5

The iPad is already a strong entry in the mobile games realm, with its large, high-resolution display, touchscreen interface and support for external devices like keyboards. Plus it has the iPhone/iPad development community cranking out innovative games all the time, too.

In addition to all that existing gaming goodness, it looks like you might very soon be able to play a whole host of your favorite PC games on the platform, too. Not natively, of course (though ports of classics seems to be the thing to do these days), but via game streaming service Gaikai, which, much like OnLive before it, aims to remove the steep hardware barriers associated with many advanced video games.

Gaikai was shown running on an iPad (on Touch Arcade), and playing World of Warcraft on the device. Whether it’s a good thing to put WoW in the hands of addicts wherever they happen to go is another question entirely, but the promise of PC games running untethered on a device in your lap is intriguing indeed. I’m not a WoW player myself, but Starcraft II is landing late this July, and I somehow doubt it’ll be accompanied by a native iPhone port at the same time.

But will the gatekeepers at Apple allow Gaikai to invade its playground? The move could potentially have serious consequences on the App Store’s economics, since conceivably, Gaikai could stream any game to the iPad and other Apple devices, not just ones sanctioned by the Mac maker. Gaikai’s Dave Perry says Apple basically can’t block the service.

The reason being, Gaikai is HTML5-based technology. That means that its browser-based player will work fine on mobile Safari out of the box, unless Apple goes out of its way to shut down access to Gaikai specifically, which would fly in the face of certain recent correspondence by Steve Jobs himself regarding the closed nature of Flash versus the open nature of HTML5.

Gaikai shows the way to sidestepping iCensorship altogether, at least in terms of streamable web content. At this stage in the game, Apple has basically painted itself into a corner wherein it has to condone anything done using the HTML5 standard, versus rich media that uses browser-based plugins like Flash and Silverlight. It won’t work for all apps (like the one that allows you to sync wirelessly, for instance), but it should allow content providers to publish whatever kind of iPad and iPhone-targeted material they want without blocking fears.

We’ll see the Gaikai North American beta launch in the comings weeks, and then we’ll find out just how much openness Apple can tolerate. Hopefully it’s just enough to see me playing Civilization 5 on my iPad this fall.

Apple Posts iPad Guided Tours

Apple’s marketing push for the iPad is going into full swing now that the launch date of the device is only days away. There’s the TV ad, for instance, but what caught my attention today was the series of “Guided Tour” videos Apple posted on its website yesterday.

Each video features a narrator telling you about the iPad’s various feature, while an anonymous pair of hand (and crossed legs to support the device, which seems to be the only way to hold it comfortably) demonstrates exactly how to use the feature being described, including how various gesture controls work within that app.

Needless to say, the narrator is quite enthusiastic about how easy, simple, and innovative everything is, though I suppose if they were strictly relaying information this would be a third-party walkthrough, not an Apple marketing tool. In most cases, iPhone owners will already be familiar with many of the gesture controls and interface elements, but the iPad does have quite a few unique features owing to its greater screen size.

Not all of the claims made in the videos are completely defensible. Saying that a keyboard that’s “nearly the same size” as a standard one makes for “effortless typing,” for instance, doesn’t really convince me, especially when the guy doing the demo is hunt-and-peck typing fairly slowly while you’re saying it.

Seeing all the features detailed and laid out in this way definitely does make me want an iPad even more than I did before, though. A lot of the elements seem, upon reflection, to fill gaps present on the iPhone’s OS. Meaning that things I wish I could do on my iPhone, but can’t for lack of space or other reasons, are implemented on the iPad.

My favorite elements are the iPhoto integration in the Photos application, which should help make iPhoto much more interesting, the iPad camera connection kit, which finally means I can shelve my 30GB iPod Video with its camera connector on trips, and the much-improved YouTube app, since using the iPhone version is one of my favorite time-killers.

If you’re still not sure what all the fuss is about, or if you’re just getting anxious waiting for the delivery guy to show up at your door Saturday morning and want the next best thing to a hands-on experience, check out Apple’s Guided Tour series of videos. There’s 11 in total, covering topics from Safari to the iWork suite, and they’re much more rewarding than either the iPad announcement event or the iPad video that features Apple execs waxing poetic about how awesome the thing is sitting in front of a white background.

Final Word on AT&T 3G MicroCell: Meh

For many iPhone users held hostage by AT&T’s second-rate 3G network, the announcement that a nationwide rollout of the AT&T 3G MicroCell will begin in April sounds like a long-awaited promise of coverage rescue finally coming true.

Certainly that’s what I thought when I started using the MicroCell last year, but six months later I haven’t found cellular freedom at home so much as a better jail cell for me and my iPhone.

Regarding the announcement, AT&T says only that the nationwide launch will begin in mid-April, with “new markets activating in cities across the continental U.S. for the next several months.” To date, that’s mostly been regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, with San Diego and Las Vegas being recently added.

However, browsing the MicroCell support forum, posts are appearing declaring MicroCell availability in Arizona, New Mexico and New York—not New York City. Expect the MicroCell to be available in most U.S. cities by the end of 2010. Now that the “when” has been answered, the question is whether there is any value for the iPhone user with poor coverage at home.

How’s that image for an answer. Instafail. Despite the “five bar” coverage in my house, I will intermittently and without any discernible pattern have calls fail immediately after initiating them. A second attempt always succeeds, but it’s frustrating, and it happens on both my iPhone and my wife’s iPhone. After six months of being a beta tester, replacing one problematic MicroCell, troubleshooting various problems with tech support and discovering solutions on my own, I still have problems.

Other problems include what I would describe as passive-aggressive xenophobia on the part of my MicroCell towards people in call centers, presumably on other continents. Calls to call centers represent the most frequent of infrequent in-call drops. However, I also drop calls if I let the kitchen get between me and the MicroCell, even if the distance is less than 20 feet. Even keeping the kitchen out of the way, the range of the MicroCell could be better. In two different houses, I find 50 feet and a wall or two is the upward range limit.

Should your MicroCell itself drop out—and it will—it’s pretty easy to get running again. Disconnecting power and reconnecting will almost always have it back online within 15 minutes. Should that not work, it will be necessary to re-register the MicroCell on AT&T’s website, then reconnect it with your network. It’s a tedious and time-consuming process, but I haven’t had to do that since November, so perhaps that’s one problem fixed.

What will these problems cost you? The MicroCell sells for $149.99, though qualified purchasers can get rebates of up to $100, making the cost of network coverage that AT&T should already be providing only $50. To get the rebate, you have to sign up for a MicroCell calling plan at $19.99 per month. If you don’t get a MicroCell calling plan, calls will be deducted from you cell plan minutes. Seriously, is this a great deal for AT&T or what? Unburdening their network woes on the backs of broadband providers and getting AT&T cell phone users to pay for it—brilliant!

So, should you get a MicroCell? That’s not really the question. Rather, the question is can you replace your POTS or VoIP landline with a MicroCell and iPhone? My experience is that you cannot. While you can count on the AT&T 3G MicroCell to extend “five bar” coverage to your home, the bars are still a prison, and AT&T remains the iPhone’s jailer. Those of us desiring to cut our landlines don’t need an AT&T 3G MicroCell, we need a Verizon iPhone.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Metered Mobile Data Is Coming and Here’s How

My iPad Wish List: 10 App Requests

Watching the iPad’s first television spot on the Oscars Sunday night, I got giddy all over again in anticipation of getting my hands on this hot new product. Though it’s still a few weeks away, I’m even more excited for the applications that will be coming to the platform. Here’s my top 10 list of apps that I want to see developed for the iPad.

Coda

As a graphic designer and web developer, Coda is a staple in my workflow. It features a built-in FTP system, which could be problematic to port to a mobile device, considering there isn’t a traditional file structure to store data. However, perhaps the iPad’s new file storage system will provide an adequate solution. Regardless, as someone who codes, it would be awesome to sit next to a client and modify code and push changes to a site all from my iPad while they load and test the revisions on their own desktop.

Photoshop

Before you laugh, remember that Adobe has already released Photoshop Mobile for the iPhone, and all things considered, it’s not such a bad application. A larger iPad version could allow support for opening and manipulating native Photoshop files as well as working between multiple files. CS4 introduced a new tabbed approach to viewing multiple documents at once. A similar setup could easily be implemented on the iPad.

Katamari Damacy

What’s a fun touchscreen device without a fun game? Katamari already exists as an iPhone app so it’ll scale up decently on the iPad. But given the advanced graphics of the iPad and the larger screen, a native iPad version is a must. If you’ve never played Katamari, check out this clip below.

iMovie

Call me crazy (it doesn’t hurt to be wishful) but the feasibility of an iMovie-like app is certainly within the realm of possibility. I would have never expected Apple to introduce video editing on the iPhone. Nevertheless, along with a video camera, the iPhone 3GS allows for simple video edits. Why couldn’t we have a larger implementation of this on the iPad, provided it gains a video camera at some point? With the larger screen, there’s plenty of room to view a larger timeline, add transitions or effects and with one tap, upload your masterpiece to YouTube.

iChat

I’m actually quite surprised this app still hasn’t made it to the iPhone yet, but as a platform that’s designed to be “the best way to experience the web, email, photos and video,” the iPad seems like the perfect device for iChat, especially if a future model gains a video camera.

Screen Sharing or Remote Desktop

There have been a number of third-party developers that have created similar apps for the iPhone, but I’m honestly shocked to see that Apple hasn’t implemented its own solution yet. With a larger screen and almost full-size keyboard, remotely accessing and interacting with other Macs on my network would be a breeze on the iPad.

Preview

While the iBooks application will open books that are in EPUB format, I’d love to see a more robust implementation of Preview available on the iPad (and iPhone). Specifically, an app that is capable of annotating PDF files and provides support for links within PDFs. Since I’m also an academic, some of the journals I read (as PDFs) contain bookmarks to other articles or chapters and currently, none of the built-in applications on the iPhone support interacting with them.

Hulu

I don’t care how it has to happen or if it involves Flash or not. Who doesn’t want Hulu on the iPad? Even if it required a small subscription, I would love to be able to access my Hulu queue on the go. Better yet, since the iPad is a closed system, the app could download and cache content so it wouldn’t necessarily have to be streamed in real time. This could be a great solution to save AT&T’s crowded bandwidth for 3G models and allow WiFi-only models to still play even if a network isn’t around. I’d pay for that; would you?

Bento/Filemaker

Now that we have iWork, how about a real implementation of Bento (or FileMaker if that’s not too much to ask)? The current iPhone version is pretty pathetic and really hard to use to manipulate larger databases. While FileMaker may be a stretch, I’d put serious money on seeing an iPad version of Bento before the year is out.

An Improved iTunes App

It looks as though the new iTunes app represents a step ahead of the current iPhone version, but there are still some missing features that would make this app a rock star on the iPad. Adding support for Internet radio, browsing my other libraries by Home Sharing or support for iTunes Extras and LPs would be amazing. Honestly, why hasn’t Apple announced support of iTunes Extras and LPs? The specs call for a viewing area of 1280×720 (the 720p high definition standard). They also call for building your iTunes Extras with what’s called a bleed graphic, or a graphic that can “fill in the extra space” if you’re viewing it at a size greater than 1280×720. Now given that as a way to compensate for a difference in aspect ratios, if you were to scale down an iTunes Extra for the 1024×768 display, wouldn’t it just make sense? Come on, if the Apple TV can do it (and we all know how excited Apple gets about that product), shouldn’t the iPad as well?

What are your thoughts on apps you’d like to see? Share your thoughts in the comments below. The great thing about Apple’s developer community is that they keep up with what’s discussed in the blogosphere. You never know; a developer might see your suggestions. So, share what you’d like to see on the iPad!

Why Not to Buy a Mac (Now)

The simple if unsatisfying answer to the question of when to buy a new Mac is when you need one.

There’s nothing a Mac bought a year ago can’t do today, and nothing a Mac bought today won’t be able to do a year from now, just not as well.

That’s the problem for those seeking to maximize the value of their next purchase. If one believes the hype from none other than Steve Jobs himself, Macs are going to “take Apple to the next level” in 2010, and who doesn’t want to level up with Steve?

But even without the hype, there are three–well, really, two good reasons and one forlorn hope–to wait a while before purchasing your next Mac.

While Steve Jobs just pronounced Apple a “mobility” company at the iPad event, it’s actually been one for awhile. More than two out of three Macs sold are laptops, and if you are in that majority you should definitely wait for Arrandale.

That’s the mobile CPU from Intel launched at CES under the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 variants. Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies for improved parallelization and increased speed on demand have resulted in double-digit performance increases without a decrease in battery life.

Regarding performance, the desktop Core i5 and Core i7 can already be found in the high-end iMac, which admittedly are quad-core versus dual-core for the mobile versions. Nonetheless, Macworld found the that the “2.66GHz Core i5 iMac is the fastest standard configuration Mac we’ve ever tested,” and can be as fast as Xeon-based Mac Pros.

This is the kind of upgrade worth waiting for, and the wait shouldn’t be long. The MacBook Pros and the MacBook Air were last updated in June, meaning they are due for an update even without significant new technology. Keep in mind the MacBook, last updated in October, may continue to use a Core 2 Duo for market segmentation purposes. Since the iPad is set for launch in late March, and companies like HP are already selling Arrandale laptops, expect an update within weeks, possibly even sooner.

There’s something else HP is selling, the Envy 15 laptop with USB 3, and that’s the second reason not to buy a Mac right now. USB 3 has transfer rates of up to 4.8Gbps, though real world rates won’t be nearly that high, but then USB 2 doesn’t reach its theoretical maximum of 480Mbps, either.

We can expect that USB 3 will be multiple times as fast as USB 2, which is the kind of benefit instantly recognizable to anyone downloading images from a camera or backing up to a USB drive. While there are very few USB 3 devices available today, that will change quickly this year.

As to when to expect USB 3 Macs, a recent rumor in DigiTimes suggested Genesys Logic is sampling device controllers for Apple now, a claim which the company denied. Whether there’s truth in the rumor or the denial, Apple is undoubtedly working on USB 3 for Macs. The new bus could conceivably be part of the next round of updates in the spring, but if not then expect USB 3 Macs in the fall.

Something not to expect this spring, and that is suspect this year, would be Macs with Blu-ray. Just last month, it was attributed to Steve Jobs that Blu-ray is still a “mess,” and that Apple is waiting until Blu-ray sales “take off.”

According to market researcher In-Stat, that could be about 2013, if by “take off” one means exceeding sales of DVD players. Unfortunately, the predicted adoption rate for Blu-ray in PCs is even worse. Metrics firm iSuppli projects that by 2013 only 16 percent of PCs will come with Blu-ray drives.

If, like me, you are waiting for a Mac mini with Blu-ray, you probably won’t be buying this year. However, for those who plan on keeping their next Mac for one to three years, a Mac mini with Core i5 and USB 3 can likely be had this year.

The same can be said for every other Mac, too. While 2010 may or may not take Macs to the “next level,” both Intel’s new Core processors and USB 3 are significant upgrades. That’s why if you need a Mac today, buy one, but if not, tomorrow is definitely worth the wait.

Alleged Core i7 MacBook Pro Benchmarked

A sharp-eyed MacRumors forum member spotted what is either a hoax or the highly inappropriate use of a next-generation MacBook Pro this weekend.

Processor and memory benchmarks for a computer identified as “MacBookPro6,1? were posted at Geekbench, but that model identifier does not currently exist in the MacBook Pro lineup, nor does a MacBook Pro sporting Intel’s brand new Core i7 CPU. While Apple’s secretive nature and tight security would suggest these benchmarks are a fabrication, the benchmarks could also be the latest circumstantial evidence supporting an imminent MacBook Pro update.

Intel introduced the new Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs for laptops at CES on Jan. 7, which was followed by announcements of new laptops from companies like Dell and HP. A few days later a leaked memo of an internal incentive program aimed at Intel employees was revealed, one that offered a Core i5 MacBook Pro as a prize. While Intel admitted the incentive program was real, the company asserted the reference to the Core i5 was a typo.

That bring us to the Geekbench results, which appear to be typo-free. The specs for the Core i7 are correct, and the results are in keeping with expected performance gains, about 20 percent, over Core 2 Duo MacBook Pros at the same clock speed. While the most current shipping version of 10.6.2 is build 10C540, 10C3067 conforms to a non-shipping build. The new model identifier has also been noted in recent builds of 10.6.2 as well.

It’s unfortunate that Geekbench doesn’t report GPUs. While the integrated GPU for the Core i5 and i7 is significantly faster than that of the Core 2 Duo, significantly faster junk is sill junk. Specs including a 9800 series GPU from Nvidia would make a good hoax into a great one.

However, true benchmarks or hoax, the launch of the new Core family of CPUs from Intel a month ago and counting is the real pressure on Apple to update the MacBook Pro lineup, that and the launch of the iPad in March. For the MacBook Pros, the update window is closing, and that means the odds of the familiar yellow sticky note at the Apple Store are increasing every day. If you are considering buying a new MacBook Pro, seriously consider waiting just a little longer.

Rumor Has It: Next-Gen iPhone Named, Dated and Described in Korean Newspaper

The rumor mill surrounding the Apple tablet is so intense as to possibly beat out the hype surrounding any other Apple product to date, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one being talked about. Today, a Korean source reported details about the upcoming iPhone revision, which many expect to arrive in late June or July.

Telecoms Korea reported on a story by South Korean local newspaper ETNews that details the hardware capabilities and some new software features of the upgraded device. The story also maintains that the iPhone will indeed by named the “iPhone 4G,” despite it not looking like it will support 4G network connectivity.

The newspaper article cites internal sources at both KT, the exclusive iPhone carrier in South Korea, and Apple Korea as having provided the information. I suppose it’s possible that Apple is more willing to authorize product leaks from internal sources in the Asian market, where competition from established veterans like Samsung can be especially fierce.

While the list of new features doesn’t get into specific detail about things like megapixels or processing power, it still provides a tantalizing glance at the future of Apple’s little smartphone that could. According to ETNews, the iPhone 4G will offer up to twice the battery life of the 3GS, something that will come as welcome news to those of us who seem to have their devices plugged into the wall more often than not. Two camera modules will also be used, one of which will be front-facing to make video calling a reality, and not just the one-way kind currently made possible by Fring.

Video calling will initially be introduced in the Korean market, according to the paper’s sources, probably because the network infrastructure already exists there to use it, so it makes sense as a test market. The phone will also possibly support mobile TV, which is popular in Asia but has yet to truly appear here in North American markets. Hopefully Apple is also working to bring this feature to handsets on our side of the world, as I would really love to have TV access while enduring especially long commutes.

Lastly, the article claims that KT will be offering test models of the new device to corporate customers in April or May, prior to the official launch. This is the one detail in this particular rumor report that strikes me as odd. As far as I know, Apple keeps a very tight leash on its pre-release devices, limiting their distribution mostly (if not exclusively) to internal testers and executives. I doubt very highly that it’d authorize one of its carrier partners to go handing out the hardware before it hits the street, whatever the intended reason.

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