Connected Home EXPRESS
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March 5, 2003--In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- A Look at iPhoto 2 and iTunes 3
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- AOL Turns Off AOLTV
- The Real G Is Coming Soon
- Napster Revival
- Game Over for Atari
- Join The HP & Microsoft Network Storage Solutions Road Show!
- Start Your Spring Training with Windows & .NET Magazine Web Seminars
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Digital Media Players
- New Poll: Digital Cameras
- Tip: Consider a Low-Cost Digital Camera for the Kids
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Get Help from the ConnectHome Neighborhood Program
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
* A LOOK AT iPHOTO 2 AND iTUNES 3
In the last issue of Connected Home EXPRESS ( http://connectedhomemag.com/mobile/articles/index.cfm?articleid=38083 ), I looked at Apple Computer's most recent consumer-oriented movie-editing application, iMovie 3, which I believe has some ease-of-use problems but excellent audio-editing capabilities. In this issue, I examine two of Apple's other iLife applications: iPhoto 2 and iTunes 3. I'll save iDVD 3 for a future examination of DVD movie-making applications.
Apple iPhoto 2
Like most of Apple's applications, the original iPhoto release was hailed for its simplicity, and it represented a huge improvement over Apple's previous Mac OS X-based image-acquisition software, the reviled Image Capture. But iPhoto 1.x was almost too simple; the application reminded me of an old adage about the Macintosh OS: "If it can be done, Apple will do it in the most elegant possible way. Otherwise, it'll be impossible." Here's what I mean: iPhoto 1.x was nice because you could plug in a digital camera and simply download all the images to the application. But iPhoto fell short in customizability: The application didn't have a way to specify which photos you wanted to download, and if you wanted to download just a few of them, you were out of luck. I take this feature for granted in Windows XP.
The photo-downloading problem hit home during a recent trip to Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. During the trip, I took several hundred pictures, downloading them each day from my 5-megapixel camera (which included a 1GB IBM CompactFlash--CF--hard disk) to iPhoto 1.1. However, I didn't delete the pictures from the camera each day because I had capacity to spare, and I planned to also download them to XP after the trip. So, each day, the process of downloading the photos took longer and longer, because iPhoto would mindlessly redownload all the camera's images each time. On the last day, I started the download to my iBook in the rental car in the Hoover Dam parking lot, drove the hour back to Vegas, and had to sit for 10 minutes in the rental car parking lot waiting for the photos to finish transferring over the pokey USB interface. That's ridiculous.
I had hoped that the recently released iPhoto 2 would fix this problem, but it doesn't. Instead, iPhoto 2 is another evolutionary release, with a few small but important improvements. First, you can now archive your photos to CD-ROM or DVD, directly from the application. This feature is a wonderful convenience, of course, but it's even more important when you consider how Apple downplays the location of photos in the file system so that users don't have to worry about that complex concept. After you archive your photos to disc, you can reinsert the disc into any Mac and view them from iPhoto 2.
Another nice new feature is Enhance, which provides much of the automatic photo-enhancing functionality from Adobe PhotoShop Elements in a simpler (and free) format. When you click the Enhance button in iPhoto 2, the application scans the currently selected image and changes its color and contrast. Apple iPhoto 2 also includes a handy red-eye corrector and, as with previous versions, can convert images to black and white.
I've always liked iPhoto's photo-management features. The application treats photos the way iTunes or Windows Media Player (WMP) treats music files. It collects them into a library, then subdivides them into playlists, which iPhoto calls photo albums. iPhoto's photo albums don't duplicate the photos; they collect your photos into different views, so you can add the same pictures to two or more albums. iPhoto's photo albums are an excellent organizational paradigm.
This version of iPhoto also includes some interesting integration features that make it work better with other iLife applications. When you display a slide show, for example, you can choose music from your iTunes music library from within the iPhoto application, which is handy. And your iPhoto library is directly available in other iLife applications where appropriate, including iMovie and iDVD.
Overall, iPhoto 2 is a decent upgrade and one that all Mac OS X users should immediately download. I just wish the application offered a way to select photos to input from a camera or other photo source. http://www.apple.com/iphoto
Apple iTunes 3
Apple released iTunes 3 late last summer, but the recent introduction of other updated iLife applications exposes the new iTunes integration features that I mention above and in the last issue's commentary. Overall, iTunes 3 is an excellent, easy-to-use application and my favorite pure media player. By pure I mean that iTunes isn't an all-in-one media player like WMP 9 or RealNetworks' RealOne Player. Instead, iTunes focuses on only music, letting you rip (copy) audio CD music to the hard disk, burn (create) custom-mix audio CDs, and organize your digital music in a simple, logical manner. iTunes also offers Internet radio functionality that is, in typical Apple style, simple and elegant. And, of course, iTunes integrates with Apple's excellent iPod, which is the nicest portable MP3 player you can buy.
An outstanding new feature in iTunes 3 is Smart Playlists, which tracks the audio that you've listened to and rated and gives you automatically generated music lists such as Top 25 Most Played and My Top Rated. You can also make your own playlists and copy either type of playlist to an iPod.
Also, iTunes 3 includes a nice cross-fader (which unfortunately doesn't work on the iPod or CDs you create with iTunes), volume leveling so that all songs appear to play at consistent volume levels, and the expected visualizations and mini-player mode. One iTunes limitation is that it lets you rip audio only in MP3 format, despite the availability of newer and more capable formats such as Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 and the MPEG-4-based Advanced Audio Coding (AAC); I hope to see support for at least the latter format added to a future update. The application also supports Audible format so that you can download and listen to eBooks.
Like iPhoto, however, iTunes' biggest strength is its media management. The way Apple graphically presents your music collection in the iTunes UI is inherently logical, and this simplicity eludes the competition. I highly recommend iTunes 3.
iPhoto 2 and iTunes 3 are available as free downloads. Both products require Mac OS X 10.1.4 or later.
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
* AOL TURNS OFF AOLTV
Contrary to what many companies in the computer industry believe, interactive TV isn't the next big thing--at least not yet. The latest casualty in this arena, AOL, recently announced the death of AOLTV, an attempt to meld its online service with cable TV. The service will still be available to current subscribers, but the company is no longer selling devices for the service or accepting new subscribers. AOL has been struggling recently because of a decline in the advertising market and trouble with its merger with Time Warner. The interactive TV unit appears to be a victim of AOL's troubles--that and the fact that no one is particularly interested in paying extra for this stuff.
* MICROSOFT: WE'RE #2
Microsoft has claimed victory in its quest for video game console domination. Sort of. The software giant announced that it's in the number-two position in the market, right behind Sony's PlayStation 2. After an impressive January, Microsoft said Xbox owns 24 percent of the US video game market share, double the Nintendo GameCube's share. In addition, Microsoft is expected to announce shortly that its Xbox Live service has signed up 350,000 subscribers since its November launch. However, that number also lags significantly behind the number of people who use the PlayStation 2's online adapter. Hey, Microsoft is number two. That's almost number one, right?
* THE REAL G IS COMING SOON
Although networking vendors are already touting the availability of faster 802.11g wireless products, the Wi-Fi Alliance still hasn't finalized the technology standard. The alliance announced that it will complete interoperability tests by July, with expected completion and retail availability by August. The 802.11g standard provides transfer speeds as fast as 54Mbps and is backward-compatible with the widely used 802.11b standard. Many vendors, most notably Apple Computer, have taken a gamble on releasing 802.11g products based on a draft standard. One large vendor that starts with an M told us it's going to refrain from releasing a device until the 802.11g standard is complete because, according to the company's engineers, updating to the final standard might not be as simple as providing a software (BIOS) update to existing devices. With all the confusion about different wireless standards, the outcome will be interesting. Stay tuned.
* NAPSTER REVIVAL
The brand every music company loved to hate is coming back, but this time Napster is expected to have the full support of the recording industry. Roxio, which recently bought Napster's assets and brand, has announced plans to relaunch the service by the end of the year. The new service isn't expected to be anything like the Napster everyone grew to love, however. The only similarities will be the Napster name and the ability to download music. The music is expected to be available through a fee-based subscription model. Who said you couldn't make money on the Internet?
* GAME OVER FOR ATARI
Atari is dead. Long live Atari. Atari's most recent owner, Midway, quietly put to death the company best known for catapulting the home video game industry into a billion-dollar industry. Atari, which several companies in the gaming industry have recently owned, was operating as Midway Games West. The division was unable to survive Midway's most recent cuts and will soon cease operations. As longtime fans of the classics, we'll miss Atari. Good night, old friend.
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* RESULTS OF LAST WEEK'S POLL: DIGITAL MEDIA PLAYERS
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "What digital media player do you use most often?" Here are the results from the 234 votes:
- 6% Apple Computer's QuickTime
- 8% RealNetworks' RealOne
- 65% Windows Media Player (WMP)
- 19% MUSICMATCH Jukebox
- 2% Sonique
* NEW POLL: DIGITAL CAMERAS
The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you own a digital camera?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes or b) No.
* TIP: CONSIDER A LOW-COST DIGITAL CAMERA FOR THE KIDS
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
My 4-year-old son recently took an interest in photography, and rather than let him handle our relatively expensive digital camera, we decided to purchase some disposable cameras so that he could run around taking snapshots. The problem with disposal cameras is the price: When you factor in the cost of developing the pictures and that only a handful of the pictures he takes come out well, disposable cameras are pretty expensive. So we gave him an inexpensive 1.1 megapixel camera for Christmas. The camera isn't of particularly high quality, but the images it produces are acceptable, and our son can delete pictures on the fly if they come out poorly. Best yet, we don't have to develop rolls of film or print images to see how they came out, which lets us selectively save only the best shots. In the end, spending $100 or so on a digital camera has already saved us a lot of money. The idea might work for you as well.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
* GET HELP FROM THE CONNECTHOME NEIGHBORHOOD PROGRAM
ConnectHome, a national dealer network for residential automation and networking sales and installation, announced its ConnectHome Neighborhood program. This program is designed to help home buyers identify and select trusted builders that have partnered with ConnectHome home-technology integrators. For more information, contact ConnectHome at 800-422-4024 or on the Web.
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Copyright 2003, Penton Media, Inc.