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What to Expect from Apple’s Keynote Monday at WWDC

Apple’s stock continues to jump up, and there’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm as everyone looks ahead to Apple’s keynote on Monday at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Stock analysts and fanboys have been wondering if Apple still has its mojo in the post-Steve-Jobs era, and CEO Tim Cook has continued to promise that new product categories are coming. Everyone seems to be anticipating we will indeed get something new on Monday-if not hardware, then almost certainly a new platform or two. Let’s take a look at what we know is coming, what seems likely, and what’s rumored.

Apple to Introduce iOS 8

The whole point of the event is to whip up enthusiasm among developers to create software for the iOS and Mac platforms-and to offer sessions in which they’re actually shown how to do specific things. So we know Apple will introduce iOS 8 and Mac OS 10.10. Some pretty solid rumors-including screenshots-have given good evidence for new features of iOS 8.

Healthbook – A chief new feature of iOS 8 is expected to be a new health-and-fitness app called Healthbook. Rumors and a screen shot, if authentic, suggest the app will let you track blood work, heart rate, hydration, blood pressure, physical activity, nutrition, blood sugar, sleep, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, and weight. The fitness feature will likely be similar to other fitness-tracking apps that record information such as how far you’ve walked and how many calories you burned. The weight feature will probably let you track body mass index and body fat percentage. The nutrition feature is expected to let you record the food you eat and help you maintain a diet. In a sense, this is a new platform, in that some of the features will require external accessories to be attached to the iPhone. This new platform will likely work across not only iOS devices but also future wearables from Apple, such as the rumored iWatch.

Maps – Apple is expected to roll out a greatly improved version of its Maps app. Apple has purchased a number of map-related companies with technologies that will help make this new version more robust and feature rich. It’s expected to have improved data and to also feature public transit directions. In addition to train, subway, and bus information, the app will include improved directions to major airports. 

iTunes Radio – For months it’s been rumored that iTunes Radio will be a standalone app in iOS 8. Apple’s recent purchase of Beats seems to confirm that Apple has something in mind regarding its streaming music service. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on stage at some point. There have also been rumors that Apple will add the music-discovery service Shazam to iOS 8.

Preview and TextEdit apps – One rumor, based on a leaked screenshot, suggested that iOS 8 would have two new apps, Preview and TextEdit. But according to the rumor, their functionality would be limited to viewing files in iCloud that have been created in the corresponding apps on the Mac. There’s also a rumored Tips app.

Split-screen multitasking – A number of rumors have said that iOS 8 will allow you to use two apps simultaneously side by side on an iPad. This is already possible with Android, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Apple bring it to iOS 8. However, most recently a rumor passed along by a writer for the New York Times said that it won’t be ready in time to introduce at WWDC but would still be part of iOS 8 when it’s released in the fall.

Rumors of New Smart Home Platform

One of the hottest rumors to surface in recent days was the report that Apple will introduce a new smart home platform on Monday. This is big. The so-called Internet of things is big-devices such as toilets and refrigerators that are now connected to the Internet. You can already buy a range of products that you control with your iOS device, from light bulbs to thermostats to home security systems. But they all work in different ways and aren’t always easy to set up. Apple’s vision is apparently to create a common platform for all these gadgets so they’re intuitive to use and easy to set up. Think of how easy it is to set up Apple TV via Apple’s iBeacons technology: you simply tap the Apple TV with your iOS device. iBeacons may be a central facet of this platform.

Apple is known for creating a platform that “just works.” Their devices and computers and apps and cloud all work together seamlessly. It’s exciting to think about how that ecosystem would expand with the smart home platform. Apple wouldn’t likely themselves make the accessories, but would create tools for developers and then simply certify the accessories as being compatible with their smart home platform. And they’re expected to sell many of these accessories in their Apple Stores.

The Mac and OS 10.10

Apple will introduce OS 10.10 Monday, with most people expecting it to feature the same sort of major overhaul that we saw in iOS 7, including some of the same design touches. It’s also rumored they’ll introduce a new iMac. 

Watch the WWDC keynote via live streaming

I’m betting that the biggest news of the event will be Apple’s new focus on health and fitness, and their new smart home platform. But we won’t know for sure on any of this until Monday. Fortunately, you’ll be able to get the news as it happens, since Apple will again be live streaming the keynote. Our blogger Todd Bernhard explains how to watch it in this post.


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iOS 7 Tips & Tricks: Settings

Humans use only 10 percent of their brains. Actually, that’s a myth, but it’s probably not a myth that many of us utilize only about 10 percent of our iPhone’s capabilities. In this weekly column I share tips and tricks for beginners, or anyone who wants to make use of the other 90 percent of their iPhone’s abilities.

My family celebrates Thanksgiving with many different kinds of delicious foods. This week, I’m going to give you a smorgasbord of helpful tips.

1. Safari Autofill

Did you know that Safari can fill out virtually any form for you on the web? If you so choose, Safari can automatically fill in contact info, user names and passwords, and if you’re feeling trusting, even credit card details. To do this go to Settings > Safari > Passwords > Autofill.


2. Save Precious Data

Don’t have an unlimited data plan? Then it’s important to keep track of what’s using all that data so you don’t go over limit. To see which apps are going to potentially use your data, go to Settings > Cellular and scroll through the apps. If you want to restrict a certain app to only use Wi-Fi, slide the toggle to the off position.


3. Customize Today View

The Notifications drop down menu (accessed by swiping your finger from the top of your screen towards the bottom) gives you all kinds of information about your day. It shows you reminders, weather, calendar events for the day, and what time your day starts tomorrow (always early for me). But, if you’d rather not include stock information, for example, you can choose to dismiss it from your day. Go to Settings > Notification Center and turn off Stocks. Same goes for Reminders, etc.


4. Disable Advertising Tracking

You may not realize it but iOS 7 enables the use of the Advertising Identifier (iAd), which allows apps to serve you targeted ads depending on your location. You can choose to turn this feature off by going to Settings > Privacy > Advertising and toggle Limit Ad Tracking to the On position. This will opt your Apple ID out of receiving ads targeted to your interests. However, iAd notes that by turning Limit Ad Tracking On, you will still get ads, but they won’t be based on your interests. If nothing else, it will help limit those impulse buys that may get you into trouble. 

iPhone 5-friendly version of video player AVPlayer — review and tips & tricks

I’ve been asked by several of my readers to post a detailed review of, along with It’s Playing and GoodPlayer, the best generic iOS media player, AVPlayer(HD).  Below, I provide you with a video / audio / subtitle / container type-dependent list of pros and cons so that you can see whether the player does fulfill your needs or not. While AVPlayer is truly an amazing player, there are some things it’s entirely incapable of or where some of the alternatives are considerably better. It’s based on this list that you will want to decide whether the player is for you or not, at least when it comes playing back some specific multimedia formats. For example, if you want to play back HTTP / MMS network streams like WMV TV streams or local direct DVB recordings (as TS files), you’ll want to prefer GoodPlayer; if you need multiple embedded subtitles displayed at the same time, nPlayer; if you need niceties like DSP’s, It’s Playing etc.

Let’s start with some tips you need to know, independent of the multimedia format you’re trying to play back.

1. Essential tips and tricks

1.1 If you have a Retina-screen device (iPhone 4+ / iPod touch 4+)…

You’ll want to enable the “Retina Display” option in Settings. It’s annotated at the top of the following screenshot:

Also note that, in most cases, you’ll also want to enable the, on the screenshot above, annotated-at-the-bottom “Enable Hybrid Decoder” option, should you want to play back MKV and/or AVI files with hardware acceleration.

1.2 Selecting audio and (embedded) subtitle tracks

Unfortunately, selecting AVPlayer’s active audio and embedded subtitle track is far from being intuitive. I’m too always being asked about how this needs to be done (an example, new question is HERE).

During playback, it’s impossible to change the active track – as opposed to almost all other multiple audio / subtitle track-capable players. (For example, with GoodPlayer, a double-swipe up/down and left/right for subtitle and audio track change, respectively.) It needs to be done in the file list view. In the following mini-tutorial, I show how it needs to be done. For the tutorial, I use the standardized Harry Potter test video MKV available for download HERE. It has two audio tracks (English and Hindi).

First, in the file list view, tap the tool icon in the upper right corner. It’s annotated in the following screenshot:

Now, tap the now-displayed arrow icon on the far right of your video. It’s also annotated in the following screenshot:

On the now-displayed dialog, tap the Tool icon in the audio row (annotated):

In the list, select your audio stream :

Unfortunately, only the stream index is displayed, not the language code or the human name of the tracks (unlike with most other players), which means it’s not very easy to select the track you’d like to read / listen to. This is a major problem with AVPlayer, which, hopefully, will be fixed in the future.

With both subtitles and audio tracks, the first will be the default. With subtitles, you will need to separately enable displaying the manually (or automatically, see previous sentence) during playback with the icon annotated in the following screenshot:

Also note that this has also been shown with ProPlayer in the section “UPDATE (09/11/2012, even later):” HERE. ProPlayer is a slightly dumbed-down version of AVPlayer(HD); this is why its track selection needs to be configured in exactly the same way as in AVPlayer(HD).

1.2.1 What about external (non-embedded) subtitles?

The player automatically loads and displays SRT files of the same name as the main video file, also transferred to the Documents folder of the app via either iTunes File Sharing or Wi-Fi / FTP. An example of such a naming convention:

monsters-samefilename.m4v <- the video file <- the subtitle file

I’ve also uploaded two files named in the same way to HERE (a simple M4V file without any embedded subtitles) and HERE (an SRT file with one minute’s worth of subtitles), respectively, so that you can give them a try.

It isn’t possible to separately load an arbitrary, external SRT file, unlike with several other players (yaPlayer, CineXPlayer, It’s Playing etc.) This also means, should you want to switch between non-embedded subtitle tracks, it won’t be possible as there can only be one again, with the same name as the main video file itself). You will want to embed all those tracks in your video file (if the container allows this) and, then, select from them in the way as explained in the beginning of the parent section (1.2) of this section. For quick subtitle embedding, you’ll want to use Subler for iOS-native file formats and, say, iMkvToolnix for MKV’s.

2. When AVPlayer should be preferred to other players?

2.1 AC-3 audio

If your video files only contain AC-3 audio tracks so you must play them back. As AC-3 is officially licensed by the developers and, therefore, won’t be removed, you can be sure you’ll be able to play back your AC-3 audio even in the fututre.

What is more, the AC-3 audio track is played back even with hardware-accelerated video playback of native Apple formats (MP4 / M4V / MOV), unlike with 8player, one of the other, very few apps to play back AC-3 (see THIS), which can only play AC-3 audio when decoding in software (which is VERY slow with 8player).

2.2 MKV container

As has pointed out in several of my articles, the MKV container is far superior to the containers Apple officially uses and hardware accelerates (MP4 / M4V / MOV).

I’m happy to report that AVPlayer’s MKV playback is excellent (if you do enable hardware decoding, see first screenshot in section 1), with all possible (generic) configurations. The player, in the (non-default) hardware-accelerated mode, uses one of the fastest remuxers – far-far faster than that of both CineXPlayer and PowerPlayer and visibly faster than that of It’s Playing. (These three players also use hardware-accelerated MKV playback.)

DTS audio tracks don’t cause problems either. This is unlike with BUZZ Player (no HW acceleration with MKV’s with DTS) or CineXPlayer (absolutely no DTS support). There are no problems with the audio transcoding quality either, unlike with the current version of several other hardware-assisted MKV players (like MobiPlayer Pro)

2.3 Other video and container formats

1080i60 MPEG-2 decoding (e.g, direct ATSC TV recordings as .ts files) works great

MS-MPEG4 decoding is very fast

(Camera) M-JPEG decoding is very fast and flawless

WMV playback (see THIS) is excellent – in addition to fast decoding, both WMA Pro audio and videos with an intro are supported. Even the  1080p30 direct HD-DVD rip (a standardized test video available HERE) with VC-1 video is played back with just-acceptable (between 10 and 20, depending on the scene) framerate, which is pretty much a feat, given that most other players only deliver 1-2 fps with the same video.

Software H.264 decoding is very fast – one of the fastest players. You won’t, however, be able to play back any kind of 1080i60, let alone 1080p60, non-hardware-decodable container (e.g., camera AVCHD MTS)

2.4 Generic advantages

With iOS-native files, Apple’s own Closed Captions (see THIS) are displayed in the (default) hardware-accelerated mode

16:9 screen support is flawless – I haven’t encountered glitches on my iPhone 5

Supports screen filling on the iPhone (for example, to stretch 4:3 recordings to fill the entire 16:9 screen; more info HERE)

Supports gesture-based fast forwarding and rewinding (see THIS). The only disadvantage is that it uses 10-second steps only in both directions, which isn’t the most ideal for, say, quickly fast forwarding over a several-minute-long ad block)

Supports redefining gestures

Has support for speed changing during playback

VobSub (bitmap DVD) subtitles are supported; an example screenshot:

Note that this shot has been taken of an MKV file. AVPlayer seems to be still crash on encountering iOS-native files with VobSub subs; for example, THIS one (linked from HERE). For them, you’ll want to prefer It’s Playing or ProPlayer. (The latter is also recommended in the previous, just-linked article.) For example, this is how It’s Playing renders the VobSub subtitle track of the video:

3. In what cases should other players be preferred

You have files with several subtitle / audio tracks and the complete lack of at least language code display makes it very hard to find the tracks you prefer.

No goodies like rendering more than one embedded subtitle track at a time, unlike with nPlayer (see THIS). There is only support for the less-generic, external SMI dual-language subtitles (see THIS for more info). Embedded subtitles are waaaay more flexible than pre-generated SMI subs with fixed language pairs, particularly if you want to pair more than two languages.

OGG videos are still played back with color palette problems (while the playback itself is fast). An example (with the Big Buck Bunny 1080p OGG video available HERE):

Playing back streaming ((local) network) sources is still very restricted: only FTP (with pre-downloading) is possible – no HTTP / WebDAV / UPnP / SMB etc. (Please see THIS and THIS for better choices for UPnP and SMB, respectively.)

DVB TS support is weaker than that of, say, GoodPlayer: 1, DVB subtitles, while displayed, not only lack color information, but also are hard to read as they use wrong colors:

2, dynamic aspect ratio switching (between 16:9 and 4:3) isn’t paid attention to; that is, playback doesn’t automatically adjusts the aspect ratio when the stream switches it.

MP4 / M4V / MOV metadata (see THIS) isn’t parsed / shown in any way, unlike with viPlay and VM Player (HD) – and, of course, Apple’s own, stock Videos player.

There is absolutely no ASS / SSA subtitle support, unlike with HD Player Pro (see THIS) and XBMC.

There is absolutely no DSP support (see THIS), unlike with It’s Playing (or even, when it comes to software-only playback and audio boosting) GoodPlayer. That is, if you do need to boost the audio volume, select one of the two just-mentioned players. (Again, with GoodPlayer, you won’t be able to boost the audio of any video played back using hardware acceleration.)

Release of iTunes 11 imminent, will include more iCloud integration

According to an article about Apple’s Eddy Cue in the Wall Street Journal, iTunes 11 is imminent, and may even be released today. The report says that the new version of this desktop software will have greater integration with iCloud, the principal benefit being that you don’t have to download all of your music and movies to whatever device you’re using. Your media will be ready and waiting in iCloud whenever you want to access it. The new version more closely resembles the mobile version in that regard.

According to the WSJ, iTunes 11 will allow you to stream music, movies and TV shows that you’ve purchased on any of your devices – no need to sync and download again. Purchase on one device once, and your media is then available to all your devices. You’ll still need to purchase and download the file to one of your devices the first time, but then it will be available to all.

The Journal says that Apple is feeling pressure from competing services such as Pandora and Spotify, which let you subscribe to their service and then stream music without first purchasing individual songs.

This seems like a good move. The cloud is the future. There have also been rumors that Apple itself will offer a streaming music service similar to Spotify.

GM announces Siri coming on three new autos

GM announced today that three of its new models will come with a button on the steering wheel that will activate Siri in the same manner as holding down the home button on an iPhone. The cars’ MyLink infotainment system will connect to the iPhone via Bluetooth. Drivers will be able to do things such as make voice-activated hands-free calls, play songs from their iTiunes library, send a text message, use their calendar, and ask simple questions, such as the latest sports scores. And for safety’s sake, they’ll be able to activate an eyes-free mode that keeps their iPhone screen off so they won’t be tempted to look at it while driving. In addition, even if drivers don’t activate eyes-free, Siri will be limited to answering simple questions or doing simple things that don’t require the driver to look at the screen – thereby helping them to avoid the temptation to do so.

GM’s Siri Eyes Free will be available on the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, the Spark minicar, and the Spark EV electric car. Last summer when Scott Forestall announced iOS 6 at the Worldwide Developers Conference, he said that Siri would also be coming to BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Honda. The Sonic and the Spark minicar are expected to be available early next year. The Spark EV electric car with Siri will be a 2014 model.

One interesting point is that GM’s MyLink infotainment system no longer has a CD player. Instead it relies on integrating with the driver’s smartphone. This shows clearly how music stored on, or streamed from, mobile devices is eclipsing the old media.