Archives For Apple

Due to the tremendous number of (accurate) leaks, there weren’t too many surprises from the new Steve Jobs theater located within the new Apple campus. But a couple of interesting items, that I hadn’t anticipated, caught my attention.

Apple TV Price Drop
I was convinced we’d see an Apple TV price drop of some sort, perhaps tied to a touchless-remote on the bottom-end, to bring them inline with the market leading Roku and Fire TV. However, Apple controls the supply chain like no other and is conceivably content with lower penetration but presumably larger margins. While not quite a surprise, again given those leaks, it was refreshing to see Apple will sell 4K movies for the same price as 1080P while upgrading existing purchases… for those who consume in that manner, anyway.

Expansive iPhone Lineup
While both the iPhone 8 and iPhone X were correctly predicted, in hardware if not name, I didn’t expect Apple would keep around so many former generations of phone. To meet a wide array of budgets and fend off the onslaught of solid lower-end Android handsets, the iPhone SE, 6S, 6S Plus, 7, and 7 Plus will join the 8, 8 Plus, and X on store shelves – in multiple capacities and colors. At least for now. Remember when they offered a single model? Beyond the expansive lineup, Apple is clearly committed to offering more than two years of updates (unlike the competition) — not that it’s a new m.o., but I do wonder if at some point they choose to fork the software a bit and continue to provide security patches to older OSes on hardware that cannot support the latest and greatest.

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Well will you look at that… While Sonos’ April FCC filing turns out to be rather pedestrian, a brand spanking new, though heavily redacted (until February 28th) FCC filing confirms one new connected speaker with integrated voice control:

The EUT is 802.11 a/b/g/n (HT20) Client Device. Product model S13 is a high-performance all-in-one wireless smart speaker and part of Sonos’ home sound system. S13 adds integrated voice control functionality with far field microphones. Moreover, the device will support multiple voice platforms and music services, allowing customers to effortlessly control their music on Sonos.

So, not only will Sonos be gaining voice control from Alexa-powered hardware and apps, the streaming pioneer will also bring native hardware integration. From the included imagery, there will obviously be a mic button (or, more likely, touchable surface like the Play:5) – on what I assume is the first refresh of their entire speaker line. But will the speaker(s) also provide always-listening capability like Amazon, Google, and Apple? And which voice services, beyond Alexa, might we expect?

I can’t tell you if this is an entirely new model or replaces an existing one, but with CEDIA around the corner, perhaps the wait won’t be long…

Update: Confirmation of Alexa support and a photo of the ecobee4 can be found here, ahead of a May 3rd announcement.

The ecobee4 smart thermostat, originally leaked last month by Apple, has just passed through the FCC. As to what it offers over the ecobee3 and its remote sensors, well, that remains mostly a mystery. We assume it will retain Apple HomeKit integration and there is some thought its profile will match the new and slightly revised ecobee3 lite.

But most curious, based on the FCC glamour shot above, is some sort of round opening along the top of the ecobee4’s enclosure. What I’d originally thought might be additional or relocated environmental sensors, versus an exhaust port, may actually be a small speaker given new intel I have received indicating tighter ecobee+Alexa voice integration. Incorporating Amazon’s voice assistant makes a whole lot of sense given the practicality (why clutter things up with yet another Echo Dot) and recent $35 million dollar investment.

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3 Weeks With Apple AirPods

Dave Zatz —  February 14, 2017

I admit it. I was one of those skeptics who initially mocked the wireless Apple AirPods ($159). But quickly changed my tune upon release.

And, having picked up my own pair of AirPods a few weeks back, I stand by my reassessment. They’re inferior in most ways to the wired Bose QuietComfort earbuds tips and Plantronics Voyager Edge that they replace. Yet the Apple experience, in totality, is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard to articulate exactly why, but I’m taking more phone calls and listening to more audio with Apple.

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In a move that probably surprises to no one, I can confirm reports that Echostar subsidiary Sling Media halted Slingbox production last year.

Sling Media, the video place-shifting pioneer, has stopped manufacturing Slingbox units, but will continue to sell Slingboxes that remain still in stock, Satellite Business News reported in its January 6 issue.

In fact, this seems like such an obvious and natural progression given the state of the industry and what I assume have been poor, waning sales, it didn’t even occur to me to blog the development. Of course, Slingbox was Blake Krikorian’s pioneering and liberating technology that brought us TV Everywhere before that phrase had been coined. Yet we always suspected it was something of a transitional approach, with much of that video streaming functionality now offered directly via television providers — originating either from their set-tops or the cloud. Granted, it’s more locked down and ad-infested – but also way more accessible to the general populace.

The Slingbox M1, introduced back in 2014, is effectively the last Slingbox… as it was rebranded the M2 in 2015, featuring no hardware changes but an expanded focus on advertising — part of a last ditch effort to justify the businesses continued existence. Similarly, that Slingbox hardware was intended to be partially repurposed as AirTV… but that was ultimately replaced by a different technical approach and outsourced hardware production.

Fortunately, existing owners have nothing to fear in the short term as Slingbox services will carry-on. Although I wouldn’t hold out hope for much in the way of application enhancements.

So what comes next?

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One of the primary drawbacks of most streamers is a lack of live over-the-air television integration. Sure, you can switch inputs away from your television’s tuner. But wouldn’t a unified interface and guide be cool? Bonus if it comes with universal search. Roku and Terk once went down this path but failed to deliver and Amazon may be working on something. Into the current vacuum, enter: Channel Master’s new Digital TV Hub.This small, single tuner box’s secret is HDMI pass-thru, similar to Xbox One and original Google TV implementations … but with hopefully more interest and appreciation.

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With Apple presenting Sling TV at WWDC this week, it’s safe to say their Apple TV television service remains on hold. Unfortunately, Sling TV still features a problematic interface and doesn’t provide access to “the locals” — like NBC and CBS. Further, while Sony’s PS Vue does include broadcast networks (in some regions) and a 28-day DVR, that service is currently limited to Playstation and Amazon Fire TV hardware. Well, today, Tablo has made good on their CES promise to deliver both live and recorded DVR television to Apple TV.

As a refresher, Tablo is something of a roll-your-own DVR. It’s a small headless box (starting at ~$200, plus service), featuring 2-4 tuners, that you attach a hard drive and an antenna to — with streamers like Roku, Fire TV, and Nvidia Shield delivering the video to your television. Of course, you can also view and manage Tablo from smartphones and tablets. Continue Reading…

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The newly released and highly regarded 2016 edition of the Roku Streaming Stick is already on sale for a mere $40. Boasting superior performance, compared to both its predecessor and the competing Amazon Fire TV Stick, this streamer represents an excellent value and is the best all-around streamer for most.

Of course, one size doesn’t fit all. And, for example, those needing Kodi would go for the full-fledged Fire TV, while others deep into Apple’s ecosystem would naturally gravitate to the iTunes-sporting, Airplay-mirroring Apple TV. While not my cup of tea, Chromecast remains an inexpensive option for those willing to control their television experience via a smartphone. Perhaps we’ll learn more about its future capabilities and Android TV this week from Google I/O.