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Apple News
Monday, 2013 October 28 - 10:05 pm
I'm a bit behind on Apple news, so let's catch up.

iPhone 5s
I've had my 5s for a couple of weeks now, and for the most part, it's great. Yes, I had the sensor mis-calibration issue until the latest software update, and there were the occasional iMessage issues early on too. But now it's stable and working fine.

The main thing I've noticed is that it's incredibly fast. Like, you won't appreciate how slow your two-year-old phone is until you use this one. Between the LTE internet and the A7 CPU, I'm just amazed at how fast it all works.

The camera is excellent, as expected. Speed makes a difference here too, as shutter lag is significantly reduced, and you can take more pictures in less time. The two-tone flash is an improvement over the previous harsh-blue LED, though you'll still want to turn it off for best results, when lighting permits. Slow-motion mode works excellently and is fun to use.

The main thing that everyone talks about is the fingerprint sensor, but the amazing part of it is how little you notice it after a while... it just becomes an easy and expected part of your usage. Now I can't imagine having to go back to entering the passcode all the time. My experience is that the fingerprint sensor works 90%+ of the time, with the only trouble coming when I'm lazy and I don't put my finger squarely on it.

And yes, mine is gold. It's a very subtle and tasteful gold, though; at a distance or in non-perfect lighting you'd barely be able to distinguish it from the silver. I got the Apple beige leather case at first to go with the gold finish, but I found that it quickly picked up blue stains from my jeans pocket. So I wouldn't recommend that case. There are a lot of good third-party options, but make sure you to read the reviews carefully... some cases interfere with the camera, the proximity sensor, or the fingerprint reader.

Would I get this phone if I'd had an iPhone 5 before? No. It's probably not enough of an upgrade to cut short your two-year subsidy cycle. But for iPhone 4S or older phones, it's a definite yes.

iPad Announcements
Last week Apple brought out the new iPad Air and the Retina iPad mini. (Apple has it capital-A "Air" and lowercase-m "mini", in keeping with past patterns.) The iPad Air is the new flagship at $499, while the Retina iPad mini is $399.

As far as I can tell, the only difference between these two devices is 2" of diagonal screen size and $100 in price. They both have A7 CPUs, identical cameras, and 2048x1536 resolution. So it might be a little bit difficult to decide which is the machine for you: I think I'd recommend for most users that they go with the mini unless the smaller screen size is really a deal-breaker (like, if you have fat fingers or bad eyes).

Meanwhile, the iPad 2 remains for sale at $399, and the non-Retina iPad mini remains for sale at $299. The iPad 2 is a bit of a head-scratcher; I have to believe that it's for educational, government, and corporate buyers who want the lowest-cost device possible, and who might be heavily invested in 30-pin accessories. No rational consumer would pick up the iPad 2 over the Retina iPad mini.

The non-Retina iPad mini, meanwhile, is the entry level device. I think its sole purpose is to get shoppers in the door, saying "look, we have an iPad starting at under $300". When those shoppers see the new Retina model, it's probably not a tough sell to get them to shell out another $100 for it.

A few things that weren't announced: first, we did not get a fingerprint sensor on the iPad. I'm pretty sure that it's a supply chain issue: they probably need every one they can get for the iPhone 5s. Second, we did not get a larger iPad "Pro" or some kind of hybrid device... I'm not surprised about that.

Other Announcements Last Week
We did not get any news about wearables or the Apple TV. We did find out the Mac Pro would start at $2999... there's no pretense about this being a consumer machine.

There was a big announcement about Mac OS X Mavericks... it's available now, and it's free. Yes, free. Apple has got its "deferred income" accounting in line with U.S. accounting rules, and so it can give away software for free. This is a big deal, because now Microsoft is the only vendor that charges for an operating system. The executives at Redmond may well be in full-on panic mode.

iWork and iLife are also free, with the purchase of a new device. Both suites have now been updated, and the big news is with iWork is that it now works practically identically between Mac OS X, iOS, and iCloud. The iCloud part is important because now Mac and iOS users have a way to share their documents with Windows users... this is another arrow aimed squarely at Microsoft, this time at the Office hegemony. As for Google, their web-only office suite seems a bit cumbersome now; they'd be wise to scramble and push out native Android versions, and maybe even Mac and Windows versions too. (They need something other than a Chrome-based web app, even if that app does have offline editing capabilities.)

Finally... there's the new MacBook Pro, with Retina display. The price on Retina MacBook Pros has come down by $200 for both the 13" and 15" versions. The 13" now starts at $1299, which as you may recall, was the entry price for a non-Retina MBP in 2008. The 13" non-Retina MBP still exists, for those die-hards who still think they need an optical drive or Firewire. I wonder if we've seen the last of 17" laptops? They seem like a bit of a dinosaur now.

Apple Earnings
Apple just announced 4Q 2013 earnings... $7.5 billion in profit on $37.5 billion in revenue. That's record revenue for the September quarter, and that's mostly thanks to record iPhone sales for that quarter (33.8 million iPhones). Keep in mind that the iPhone 5c and 5s were only available at the very tail end of the quarter (a fact that some reporters seem to have missed).

Guidance for 1Q 2014 is $55-$58 billion in revenue, which would again be a record high.

Apple stock is fluctuating after hours... it's still trading in the $515-$530 band that it's been in for a while. That's not a surprise, as the earnings and guidance were pretty much in line with expectations. The "technicals" (patterns) on the stock suggest that it's poised to break out above that range soon; investors seem to be just waiting for the right catalyst. I expect that that catalyst will come early next year, perhaps as soon as January or as late as April, but sometime in that range... I can't shake the feeling that Apple has got a big new product announcement brewing.
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Posted by Ken in: techwatch

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