Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category


40 years of Apple: Apple’s most innovative products

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Since the 1970s, Apple has been at the front of the new technology pack. Here’s a look at 18 of its most influential and impactful products.

Apple’s most innovative products
Recently TIME Magazine issued a fascinating list ranking the 50 most influential gadgets of all time. Not surprisingly, Apple’s iconic iPhone appeared in the top spot, while two other Apple products—the iPod and the original Mac—also managed to crack the top 10.

In light of TIME’s ranking, not to mention the fact that Apple last month celebrated its 40-year anniversary, we felt it was time to dust off the history books and take a look back at Apple’s most influential, impactful and important products throughout the company’s illustrious history.

While Apple today is typically associated with the iPhone, the company’s track record for innovative products stretches all the way back to the 1970s.

That said, the following slides highlight Apple’s most important and revolutionary products over the past 40 years, from the original Apple I all the way through the iPhone 6s.

Bondi Blue iMac
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the future of the company was not entirely certain. Apple was famously saddled with a convoluted and confusing product line. More than that, the company lacked direction and a true sense of purpose. As a result, there was a lot of pressure during the 1997/1998 timeframe for Jobs and Apple to deliver something special.

The original Bondi Blue iMac was the first major product released under Jobs’ second tenure at Apple, and it delivered in a major way. Released in 1998, the iMac featured an all-in-one design along with an elegant translucent blue shell. To put it mildly, the original iMac did not look like other computers, thus embodying Apple’s ad slogan at the time—Think Different.

The iMac was an eye-catching machine that quickly became a hit. More broadly, it signaled that Apple was a force to be reckoned with in the tech industry again. Notably, the original iMac shipped without a floppy drive and introduced the world to the ‘i’ product branding scheme that still defines the company’s products today.

iBook G3
Much like the Bondi Blue iMac, Apple’s 1999 iBook G3 stood out with a colorful and original industrial design. But what makes the iBook G3 such an important computer is that it was the first consumer laptop to feature 802.11b Wi-Fi networking built right in. Though most of us take Wi-Fi for granted today, wireless networking was far from ubiquitous in the late 1990s.

Without question, the iBook G3 was a forward-thinking machine that helped introduce many users to the joys of Wi-Fi. Also notable, if not downright quirky, is that the iBook G3 featured a colored plastic handle for easy transport.

Original 1984 Mac
Apple’s 1984 Mac helped usher in a computing revolution and is today considered one of the most iconic and influential products ever released. Featuring an all-in-one design, the Mac was the first mainstream computer to ship with a mouse and the first computer to introduce the world to a graphical user interface (GUI). Suffice it to say, the Mac revolutionized the way we interact with and use computers by making the entire computing experience much more intuitive and inviting. As a point of interest, Apple’s 1984 Mac was originally priced at $2,495.

Original iPod
If the Mac changed how we interact with computers, the iPod completely and forever changed how we listen to music. Much more than just an advertising slogan, “1000 songs in your pocket” was a reality that was every music lover’s dream come true.

Instead of having to lug around binders full of CDs, music fans for the first time could carry their entire music collection in one lone compact device. While initial iPod sales were somewhat modest, the device would eventually go on to become one of Apple’s most profitable and iconic products.

Over a period of six to seven years, Apple skillfully and masterfully iterated the iPod with tons of new features and form factors. It added more storage capacity, more colors and eventually video capabilities. Bolstered by creative marketing campaigns, the iPod was a money-making machine for Apple and a beloved device for millions of users for years on end.

PowerBook 520
While Apple today is primarily associated with the iPhone, the company has a long history of introducing incredible innovations in the notebook space. With that as a backdrop, there’s no question that Apple’s most legendary and innovative notebook was the PowerBook 520.

Originally released in 1994, Apple’s PowerBook 520 is one of the most important laptop releases in computer history. The sheer number of computing “firsts” associated with the notebook is staggering. Specifically, and most importantly, the PowerBook 520 was the first laptop to feature a trackpad instead of a trackball. It was also the first laptop to feature built-in Ethernet connectivity.

It’s fair to say that the PowerBook 520 effectively created a blueprint that all other laptops would eventually follow.

Original iPhone
What can be said about the iPhone that hasn’t already been said? Released in 2007, the iPhone immediately altered the technological landscape for good—and for the better. In one fell swoop, Apple showed us what the future of computing looked like, and it wasn’t long before other companies followed suit with their own iPhone copies. The iPhone remains a truly once-in-a-lifetime product whose impact is perhaps unrivaled by most every other product that has been released in recent memory.

Consequently—and unsurprisingly—the iPhone is Apple’s most lucrative device in company history, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for the company over the years.

Apple II
The Apple II, originally released in 1979, helped revolutionize the world of computing as we know it. The obvious successor to the Apple I, the Apple II was famously the brainchild of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

What made the Apple II so unique is that came with support for color graphics and allowed owners to customize the machine with items such as more memory. When sales of the Apple II took off, many Apple employees quickly became extraordinarily wealthy.

More broadly, the wild success of the Apple II sparked a period of tremendous growth for Apple, as it remained the world’s top purveyor of PCs for a notable period of time.

PowerBook 100
Considered by many to be Apple’s first true laptop, the PowerBook 100 was released in 1991 and featured a trackball. While seemingly a clunky solution for user navigation by today’s standards, it certainly did the trick a few decades ago. And while the PowerBook’s 5.1-lb. frame and 9-in. display aren’t all that impressive compared to today’ svelte notebooks, it was particularly impressive back in 1991. Originally priced at $2,500, the PowerBook 100—which was actually designed by Sony—came with a 16-MHz processor and 2MB of RAM.

Following up on the success of the iPhone was no easy feat, but Apple managed to surprise everyone when it released the iPad in April 2010. While the iPad initially got off to a slow start sales wise, things picked up as Apple’s iconic tablet quickly became one of the most successful and popular consumer electronic products in history.

In a very real sense, the iPad kick-started the tablet era. While the iPad obviously wasn’t the first tablet to hit the market, it was undoubtedly the first tablet to go mainstream and quickly ushered in a wave of competing tablets from the likes of Samsung and eventually Microsoft. While iPad sales today have seemingly slowed down a bit, there’s no denying that the product will always hold a unique place in computing history.

MacBook Air
The MacBook Air was originally introduced at Macworld 2008 when Steve Jobs, who always had a flair for the dramatic, pulled it out of a manila envelope on stage to demonstrate how thin it was. Upon its release, the MacBook Air was touted as being the thinnest laptop ever developed. Additionally, the original MacBook Air is notable for being the first modern Apple laptop to ship without an optical drive, a controversial move at the time.

iPod Mini
While not the first iPod ever released, the iPod Mini was the first iPod model to be a breakout hit. Positioned as an ultra-portable flash-based MP3 player, the iPod Mini—thanks to a compact form factor and a collection of vibrant colors—became an immediate hit. It was released in February 2004, and for most iPod owners, it represented their first foray into the Apple ecosystem.

Apple I
The granddaddy of them all, The Apple I is the machine that helped put Apple on the map. Famously developed in a garage—primarily by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak—the Apple I may seem ancient by today’s standards, but back in 1976 it was somewhat revolutionary insofar as it didn’t require vast technical skills to assemble.

While users were still required to supply their own keyboards and monitors, the Apple I’s ease of use relative to other computers of the day was the forbearer of Apple’s “It just works” tagline. Extremely rare today, working Apple I machines often sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auctions. As a quick point of interest, the specs on the Apple 1 included a 1-MHz processor and 4KB of RAM. Also interesting is that the initial price for the machine was $666.66.

App Store
While the initial iPhone was unquestionably a game-changer, the introduction of the App Store one year later pushed the value proposition of the iPhone into the stratosphere.

For the first time, lone developers had a means by which to develop their own applications and make them available to millions of users at a price point of their own choosing. Indeed, the App Store today is effectively its own economy, having earned developers billions of dollars over the years.

Aluminum iMac
In August of 2007, Apple introduced a completely redesigned iMac that thankfully utilized an aluminum and glass construction as opposed to the white polycarbonate of its predecessor. Apple’s 2007 iMac design is still in use today, though the machine has gotten noticeably thinner in recent years. Still, the original aluminum iMac was a sight to behold. In addition to a sleek new look, Apple’s 2007 iMac also introduced larger screens, as the machine was available in 20-in. and 24-in. form factors.

Originally released in January 2001 as a basic media player, iTunes would eventually go on to become Apple’s digital hub and the means by which users hooked up their iPods and later their iPhones to their media content.

In 2003, when Apple added the iTunes Music Store, Apple forever changed the way we listen to and purchase music. These days, iTunes is a popular target for critics who call the software bloated, clunky and dated. While such proclamations are perhaps true, iTunes in the early 2000s provided a clean and intuitive interface that helped make using an iPod such a frictionless joy. It also made burning CDs a breeze.

More than that, iTunes—and the accompanying iTunes Store—demonstrated that consumers were more than willing to pay for TV shows, movies and music if doing so is easy and affordable.

Aluminum PowerBook G4
Apple’s PowerBook series began in 2001, but it wasn’t until the Aluminum PowerBook G4 was released in 2003 that we truly saw a desktop-equivalent laptop from Apple hit store shelves.What also made the PowerBook G4 so special is that it helped inform the industrial design of future Apple laptops for about five years.

iPhone 5s
While some iPhone models have been incremental upgrades, the iPhone 5s—thanks to the inclusion of Touch ID—was a real step forward in mobile innovation. In a world where most people didn’t use passcodes, the iPhone 5s introduced the world to Touch ID, instantly and seamlessly making our phones more secure in the process.

In short, the iPhone 5s brought advanced fingerprint technology recognition to the mainstream, thus prompting other device manufacturers to follow with their own implementations. Since the iPhone 5s, Apple has built on Touch ID with the release of Apple Pay.

Original MacBook Pro
In addition to being Apple’s top-of-the line notebook, the 2006 MacBook Pro is noteworthy for being the first Apple laptop to ship with an Intel processor. If you recall, Steve Jobs’ June 2005 announcement that Apple was transitioning away from the PowerPC platform ruffled more than a few feathers. That said, the transition to Intel was rather seamless, and current CEO Tim Cook is often given a lot of credit for that. No doubt helping matters was that consumers absolutely flocked to the original MacBook Pro in droves.

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13 critical questions for Apple heading into 2016

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Keeping the ball rolling
Apple had a tremendous 2015. Not only did it make more money in 2015 than ever before, it set a new iPhone sales record and managed to introduce a number of new products, with the Apple Watch and the fourth-gen Apple TV being the two most notable examples.

But in the fast-moving world of technology, it’s not so much about what you’ve done, but what you will do in the future. That being the case, there are a number of issues and questions looming over Apple at the moment, and the company in 2016 will be under the spotlight once again.

Can iPhone sales stay strong?
Over the last few years, the iPhone has been Apple’s primary revenue generator and is responsible for the vast majority of the company’s billions. In 2016, however, many analysts have said that iPhone sales may decrease for the first time in history. Naturally, iPhone sales can’t keep rising indefinitely, so it will be interesting to see if Apple can keep iPhone sales on the up and up over the next 12 months.

Will the Apple Watch go mainstream?
Though Apple has yet to disclose any Apple Watch sales figures, Tim Cook has said that sales have increased each quarter. What’s more, the Apple Watch’s launch has already proven to be more successful than that of both the iPhone and iPod.

Still, the Apple Watch remains a niche product. With the Apple Watch 2 set to be unveiled this coming March, 2016 may be the year that Apple’s wearable makes the leap from interesting tech gadget to a mainstream device that can contribute substantively to Apple’s bottom line.

Can shares of Apple stock rebound?
As a wildly successful tech company, it’s somewhat preposterous that Apple’s P/E ratio is as low as it is. Then again, the world of Wall Street tends to operate with a “what have you done for me lately” mentality. While shares of Apple reached the $130 range in 2015, the company’s stock price has fallen back down to $106 levels in recent weeks, shedding billions in value in the process. It remains to be seen if Apple can continue to increase in value after a somewhat stagnant 2015 in the stock market. That said, it will also be interesting to see if Apple continues its aggressive share buyback program as a means to keep its EPS afloat and rising.

Will people start using Apple Pay?
Apple Pay, the digital wallet that many had been anticipating, launched with a whole bunch of fanfare with the iPhone 6. And the iPhone’s Touch ID sensor makes Apple Pay extremely easy and convenient to use. Nonetheless, consumers still don’t seem to be using the service all that much. Perhaps Apple Pay solves a problem that doesn’t really exist, or perhaps it just needs a little bit more time to catch on. Either way, with Apple recently inking an Apple Pay deal in China, 2016 will probably be the year when we find out if Apple Pay is the wave of the future, or if consumers truly don’t mind carrying a wallet around with them at all times.

Can Apple turn iPad sales around?
The iPad burst onto the scene a few years back and quickly became a runaway success. Over the last two years, however, sales have been steadily dropping with each passing quarter. While Apple has tried all sorts of things to bolster sales, nothing has managed to work so far. While it’s possible that the iPad Pro might help strengthen overall sales, that remains to be seen. Of course, this isn’t to say that the iPad line is a failure. Indeed, some have speculated that the iPad is simply being cannibalized by larger iPhone models.

Will Apple’s TV subscription service see the light of day?
Due to licensing and bundling issues, Apple reportedly suspended its plans to release a TV subscription service, which it initially intended to release alongside the Apple TV 4. There’s no denying that a lower-cost TV subscription service from Apple would be a great incentive for users to cut the cord. Alas, we’ll have to wait and see if Apple plans to resurrect its live TV plans anytime soon. Truth be told, the odds of this happening don’t seem all that great given that channel owners don’t need Apple as much as Apple needs them, as well as the difficulty of securing favorable licensing terms from content owners looking to maximize their profits.

Will Apple Car rumors speed up or drive away?
The biggest Apple rumor of 2015 was undoubtedly talk of Apple developing its own electric car. Recent reports have suggested that Apple’s car team features about 1,000 employees. Additionally, some reports have said that Apple may be aiming for a 2019 automotive release. Apple, however, has no problem scratching product initiatives if they don’t “fit,” either from a technical or financial perspective. We saw this play out with the rumored Apple HDTV, and most recently with Apple’s live TV subscription service. In 2016, we’ll probably get a better grasp as to whether or not Apple’s car plans are the real deal, or if it’s nothing more than an exploratory initiative.

Will developers embrace Apple TV?
Complete with a Siri-enabled remote, Universal Search, and a dedicated App Store, the new Apple TV is the most exciting set-top box Apple has ever delivered. With the Apple TV featuring support for its own App Store, the door is open for developers to potentially release some game-changing apps for the device, and in turn, help transform the Apple TV into an integral part of the living room experience. While we haven’t seen anything yet, it’s still early in the game. 2016 will help determine if developers can do for the Apple TV what they did for both the iPhone and the iPad.

Will 2016 bring us the 4-inch iPhone 6c?
Apple’s new iPhone models are all about offering larger form factors. That’s great for people who prefer a bigger screen, but many individuals still enjoy using the company’s 4-inch form factor. Thankfully, there are rumors suggesting that Apple in early 2016 might introduce an iPhone 6c. According to reports, the iPhone 6c will be a more economical version of the 6s with an A9 processor, a 4-inch form factor, and Apple Pay support. As for 3D Touch? Well, that may remain an iPhone 6s-only feature.

Can Apple’s tremendous growth in China continue?
Apple’s tremendous success in China over the past year has been one of the key drivers of the company’s impressive sales. But now that Apple has seemingly conquered every large market on the planet, some of the more pessimistic analysts have said that Apple’s dominance in China will either peak or decline in 2016. Tim Cook, meanwhile, vehemently disagrees. Whenever asked, Cook points to China’s emerging and voluminous middle class as proof that Apple still has a lot of room to grow in China. Specifically, some estimate that China’s middle class will grow from 300 million to 500 million over the next few years.

Can Mac sales avoid the fate of the iPad?
Thanks to a new MacBook and enhanced iMacs, Apple managed to keep its Mac line growing, an impressive feat as the rest of the PC industry continues to decline. In 2016, we’ll see if Apple can continue to keep its Mac line vibrant. What’s more, as the integration between devices continues to increase, it’s not outlandish to assume that Mac sales might increase dramatically over the next 12 months. But as the decline in iPad sales has shown us, nothing in tech is ever a guarantee.

Will Apple make any bold acquisitions in 2016?
Apple has more cash than it knows what to do with, to the tune of over $200 billion in the bank. Of course, the bulk of that cash is overseas, and Apple is hesitant to bring it back to the United States due to repatriation taxes. Still, with more money in its bank account than one can fathom, it’s always interesting to see if Apple will make any notable acquisitions in 2016. In 2015, Apple acquired 15 companies, most of them small. Recently, there have been rumors that Apple might be on the verge of making a bold acquisition, with GoPro reportedly being one such target.

Can the Apple TV become a legit gaming console?
So far, most of the apps on the Apple TV have been games. Still, it’d be quite a stretch to call the Apple TV a legitimate gaming console. For starters, Apple requires that all games make use of the company’s Siri-based controller, which, from personal experience, isn’t necessarily an ideal gaming controller. Beyond that, it remains to be seen if the Apple TV 4 will prove to be the place for console-quality games. While it’s great for casual gaming, the set-top box will arguably have to house “Call of Duty”-quality games if it truly wants to give devices like the PS4 and Xbox One a run for their money.

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5 dead operating systems, and what their ghosts can tell us

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We conduct a séance of sorts to call forth the souls of operating systems past—not so we can gaze upon their ghastly interfaces, but to learn from their tragic demises.

Tremble, mortals! Halloween is upon us. Ghosts, ghouls, and other undesirable creatures are prepared to slink out of their domains and into ours—it’s said that even the dead can rise on Halloween.

In that spirit, let us light some candles, cover the mirrors, and conduct a séance of sorts to call forth the souls of operating systems past. Not so we can gaze upon their ghastly interfaces, but to see if we can learn anything from their digital carcasses and signs of a life well-lived—or not. Who knows, perhaps they bring secrets from beyond the grave.

Windows XP
Windows XP proved to be a hit since its inception. Sure, it took Service Pack 2 to create the operating system we call XP today, but at the operating system’s launch in 2001 the basics were already there. It’s a good thing too, as Windows XP was destined to live long past its shelf life.

Windows XP’s extended life started with Microsoft’s Sisyphean effort on project ‘Longhorn,’ which included ambitious hopes for new features. As due date after due date slipped for Longhorn, more people became invested in the familiar and near-universal XP, and to disdain change of any kind.

When Longhorn finally emerged from its 5.5 year development in 2007 as Windows Vista, users were shocked and appalled by Microsoft’s proposed XP replacement. It took another two years of development and the release of Windows 7 before Windows XP would finally begin to lose ground. Yet it was another four to five years (depending on whom you ask) before Windows 7 would replace XP as the most widely used operating system in the world.

Today, four iterations of Windows after XP, the 14 year-old OS still claims more than 12 percent of online PC usage worldwide, according to Net Applications. This is despite the fact that Microsoft ceased delivering security updates for XP in April 2014—a year and a half ago.

Lesson learned: Don’t let your software live on too long, or it will grow up to be a dangerous zombie.

Windows RT

When Microsoft announced Windows RT, originally known as Windows on ARM, people were excited about the possibility. Finally, the energy-efficient ARM processor architecture—ubiquitous on mobile devices—would earn its own version of Windows.

What became Windows RT, however, was a terrible joke of an OS. Like Windows 8, RT offered a dual-identity desktop interface and modern UI. The desktop was hobbled, because it couldn’t run any other traditional Windows software—just Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office. Windows RT users didn’t have much to do on the touch-friendly side of Windows either, due to Microsoft’s poor efforts to convince developers to build Modern apps for the Windows Store.

Toward the end of its life, RT was no better than a glorified web browser with a smattering of ho-hum apps. Meanwhile, Intel’s Atom chips quickly closed the gap with ARM’s energy efficiency, leaving little reason to opt for Windows on ARM.

Microsoft was never clear enough on what it wanted to do with Windows RT. The result was a poorly thought-out ecosystem that led to death by indifference. Windows RT tablets aren’t being upgraded to Windows 10, and even Microsoft’s own budget Surface line ditched Windows RT for Windows proper in its third iteration.

Lesson learned: Ghosts of Windows RT linger on in Windows 10’s universal apps and Windows Phone compatibility, but Windows RT was nothing short of a disaster with consumers—understandably so, given its radical new interface and limited software capabilities. Even if you’re trying to move an ecosystem forward, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Mac OS in all its graphical interface glory.
One of Apple’s founding principles is that PCs—and technology in general—should be a delightful, even magical, experience. That vision came to the fore with the original Macintosh operating system. The first Mac OS was a revelation that popularized the visual PC interface and mouse navigation for home users.

The downside, however, is that a lot of what made Mac OS so magical required technological trickery and clever solutions to help a constrained system perform beyond what was expected. Original Macintosh users were forced to constantly swap out disks constantly because of RAM restrictions.

It was a pain to do—sometimes literally—but many people didn’t mind because the user experience on the screen was simply so much better than anything else out there.

During the early days of computing, IBM was a dominating force with its line of personal computers. When the company began producing the operating system OS/2 with Microsoft, the plan was to use the new OS to push even more sales of IBM hardware. That worked for a while, but the end of the line for OS/2 took shape once Microsoft produced Windows 3.0. After that, Microsoft ceased co-development of OS/2 to focus on Windows, and IBM was chasing Microsoft ever after. Pundits still argue over whether early Windows or OS/2 was better.

Regardless, OS/2’s undoing was that Microsoft outflanked IBM at every turn.
Microsoft bundled Windows with all kinds of hardware, as it does today, while OS/2 was sold separately and designed to push IBM machines. That approach just didn’t work when faced with the juggernaut that was Microsoft—it also didn’t help that Microsoft cheated. Once Windows 95 came out, OS/2 was all but done. IBM’s operating system faded out by 2000, but just like with Windows XP, you can probably find the odd ATM or small business inventory system still running on OS/2.

Lesson learned: Even juggernauts can fall. Adapt—which is exactly what Microsoft’s trying to do with Windows 8 and 10—or die.
The ghosts of Linux past

In 2015, we officially bid goodbye to Mandriva, a once-popular Linux distribution. This version of Linux started out life as Mandrake until the company running the distro merged with Conectiva in 2005 to become Mandriva. Many veteran Linux users cut their teeth on Mandrake or Mandriva, including PCWorld’s own Linux watcher, Chris Hoffman.

Get it? A penguin skeleton?
Mandriva lost its spot as the “easy Linux” distro after Canonical’s Ubuntu appeared in 2004. Seven years later, development ceased. Mandriva is just one of the many Linux distributions that have faded into oblivion—CrunchBang, supported by a single developer, is another one we recently covered.

Linux may be a force in the server world, but it has never succeeded at winning over masses of desktop users. Its openness encourages many developers to create their own Linux distributions and then fight with the hundreds of other distros for a slice of a tiny user base. Unsurprisingly, there’s a healthy amount of churn among distributions, even the popular ones.

Lesson learned: Like your Linux distro, but don’t fall in love. You may wind up leaving the party sooner than you think.

That’s the end of our ghoulish walk through the graves of operating systems past. Now we close the PC crypt for yet another year…until the ghouls of dead PCs past rise again.

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Apple shows iOS 9’s major upgrades, from multitasking to picture-in-picture

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Apple shows iOS 9’s major upgrades, from multitasking to picture-in-picture

Side-by-side apps, video overlays, and much more are coming to iPads when Apple’s mobile OS releases this fall.

Major changes are coming to our iPads, from the way we select text, to the way we interact with our favorite apps and play videos.

Speaking at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday, Senior Vice President Craig Federighi showcased an updated version of iOS 9 that included a few new features designed specifically with tablet users in mind.

Let’s start with QuickType, an enhancement to the iPad’s onscreen keyboard that includes new shortcuts and turns into a trackpad when you place two fingers on it. The trackpad can be used to select text, move objects around, and generally combine the convenience of touch controls and the precision of a mouse.

iPads will also get access to true, onscreen multitasking, which allows two apps to run side-by-side on the screen at the same time. The new feature, which Apple calls Split View, opens two resizable virtual windows on the screen. Users will be able to control each app independently, transferring information from one to the other using simple gestures, and quickly change the program running inside each panel using a brand-new app switcher. Note: While multitasking will work on most recent iPad models, Split View will be available only on the iPad Air 2.

Finally, a new picture-in-picture feature allows users to play a video from one app while using a different app. The video appears in a tiny window can be moved around, or even pushed temporarily off-screen to allow you to focus on your work while your favorite movie or game keeps playing along. The window also includes a set of simple controls that let you pause the video or close and dismiss it without leaving the current app.

The new iPad features will arrive with iOS 9 this fall, with a public beta program open to all starting in July.

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Best Buy remains in MCX group despite move toward Apple Pay

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It’s not clear whether the retailer will ever adopt CurrentC mobile payments

Best Buy explained Tuesday that it will support Apple Pay mobile payments, while also remaining a member of the MCX group of retailers that has promoted an alternative payment system called CurrentC.

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“We want to give our customers as many options as possible in how they pay for goods and services at Best Buy,” said a Best Buy spokesman.

Best Buy used similar language in its announcement of Apple Pay support yesterday, but it wasn’t clear whether the firm would abandon MCX or its CurrentC payment approach.

Asked whether its support for Apple indicated Best Buy won’t back MCX and CurrentC, the spokesman said only, “We remain a member in MCX.” It isn’t clear that remaining an MCX member means Best Buy will ever launch CurrentC.

Playing Switzerland does make the most sense for Best Buy, as Apple Pay has steadily gained prominence, with 67 retailers and more than 700,000 merchant locations, with 14 more retailers on the way.

And, Best Buy evidently wants to continue its allegiance in some form as a founding member of Merchant Customer Exchange (MCX), which is comprised of 62 retail chains. The founders, including retail giant WalMart, have been opposed to paying swipe fees of 2% or more to banks that use credit cards. (Apple Pay relies on Visa, MasterCard, American Express and, as of yesterday, Discover as well as the banks associated with those cards.)

Apple Pay relies on Near Field Communications (NFC) technology for mobile payments at both point-of-sale terminals and in its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S phones as well as the new Apple Watch.

CurrentC could eventually use NFC, but trials of the technology have relied on QR codes and Bluetooth. MCX now plans to launch an early version of its CurrentC mobile payment app mid-year in an unnamed, mid-size market.

Best Buy has not turned on NFC payments in newer payment terminals in any of its stores since 2011, the spokesman said Tuesday. “We will have NFC terminals at all 1,400 US stores when we roll out Apple Pay in stores later this year,” he explained. He refused to discuss Best Buy’s position regarding swipe fees.

In reaction to the move, MCX Chief Operating Officer Scott Rankin said via email that “Best Buy remains a strong MCX partner and supporter of the CurrentC initiative…. We understand, and strongly support, our merchant partners’ quest to do what’s best for their customers.”

Rankin suggested CurrentC can co-exist with Apple Pay, stating, “We are of the firm belief that there needs to be at least two to three major players within the mobile payments ecosystem for it to succeed. We remain steadfast and passionate about CurrentC.”

Rankin said that all MCX merchants agree to use CurrentC exclusively, but said those provisions include expiration dates and “are limited in both time and scope.”


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Update: A mobile payment battle is blazing

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All eyes are on Samsung Pay and its embedded LoopPay inside the Galaxy S6 smartphone

Mobile in-store payments could grow dramatically in the U.S. as the result of a battle brewing among tech giants Google, Samsung and Apple.

In the latest development, Samsung today revealed Samsung Pay, a new mobile payment strategy, combined with its new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge smartphones. Samsung Pay relies on two technologies: a new magnetic transmission capability from startup LoopPay embedded as a copper ring inside the Galaxy S6 and the older Near Field Communications technology used in earlier Galaxy S smartphones.

The two phones will ship April 10 in 20 countries , including the U.S., but Samsung Pay will not go live until this summer, first in the U.S. and South Korea.

Having both mobile payment technologies embedded inside the Galaxy S6 will allow its users to make purchases at up to 90% of the estimated 12 million payment locations at U.S. stores. That’s because the lion’s share of the older point-of-sale terminals in use in the U.S. still have magnetic stripe card readers which support the new Galaxy S6 technology.

By comparison, Apple Pay and Google Wallet rely on newer NFC-ready terminals, which are gradually being rolled out in the U.S. and should reach about 50% of point-of-sale locations by year’s end, according to estimates by credit and debit card companies. While NFC grows, magnetic technology could help fill the mobile payment gap.

“Samsung Pay certainly heats up the competition, and that’s a good thing for mobile payment adoption,” said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan in an interview. “But Samsung still has a lot of work to do to improve the user experience before it can effectively compete with Apple.”

Informal field tests by Gartner of the magnetic LoopPay technology showed inconsistent performance when used with some magnetic readers on stores’ point-of-sale terminals, Litan said. Gartner used LoopPay’s magnetic technology incorporated inside its earlier phone cases and fobs, not the same technology embedded in the Galaxy S6. Embedding the copper ring inside the Galaxy S6 will hopefully reduce the inconsistent performance, she said, but LoopPay “is definitely not going to work at every magnetic-stripe reader.”

Samsung and Visa were investors in startup LoopPay last summer, and Samsung on Feb. 18 announced it had acquired LoopPay for an undisclosed sum.

MasterCard confirmed that it will support Samsung Pay by deploying tokenization software for both magnetic and NFC transactions. Other credit and debit card companies, such as Visa and American Express, will follow suit with tokenization and will also support Samsung Pay, Samsung said. Major credit card companies and banks have backed Apple Pay with NFC, which rolled out last fall for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, and have already widely marketed the concept. Bank of America, Chase, Citi and US Bank are also on board with Samsung Pay, Samsung said.

Google Wallet, which first emerged in 2011, was slow to catch on, but Google on Feb. 23 announced a deal to buy technology and capabilities from SoftCard, another NFC-based mobile payment system. The purchase means that Google Wallet will be pre-installed on new Android phones at Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile later this year.

MasterCard said it agreed to support Samsung Pay with the LoopPay magnetic payment option only after setting up the tokenization security technology to support it. Tokens are crytographs, a kind of code, that are used instead of a customer’s actual credit or debit card number to bolster security, and have been used with NFC payments in Apple Pay and other payment systems.

“Tokenization is how we got comfy with the magnetic secure transmission (MST) technology portion, and we wouldn’t have supported [Samsung Pay] without [tokenization],” said Sherri Haymond, group head of MasterCard channel management.

When a MasterCard customer with a Galaxy S6 ready to make a purchase approaches a point-of-sale terminal equipped to handle either magnetic or NFC payments, the system is set up to give preference to NFC payments, Haymond said in an interview.

“We’re viewing this MST as a bridge technology to enable consumers to take advantage of digital payments while NFC catches on,” she said. “We do believe NFC is the wave of the future.”

Mobile payment adoption is based on a complex set of technologies and business relationships. A major stumbling block in the U.S. has been the conversion of millions of payment terminals at U.S. retailers to more secure technology that supports smart cards and, usually, NFC. In addition to Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Samsung Pay, many experts are watching a consortium of large retailers called MCX that includes WalMart and Best Buy to see how MCX will affect mobile payment rollouts. MCX is not relying on NFC, at least initially, and may or may not support the LoopPay magnetic approach.

“How MCX members respond to Samsung Pay will be fascinating to watch,” said Tim Sloane, an analyst at Mercator Advisory Group. The mobile payment space “is really getting interesting.”

Unlike MCX, Samsung Pay will still rely on credit and debit cards and the banks that extend credit to consumers. Many merchants, including those in MCX, object to paying banks a fee of about 3% per credit-card transaction while also having to update their point-of-sale terminals to support smart cards. Merchants have an Oct. 1 deadline to upgrade their terminals to accept smart cards to avoid financial liability in the event of credit card fraud with older magnetic stripe technologies. Many of the updated terminals, estimated at about 80%, also support NFC payments with smartphones.

The technology changes have been a burden for merchants. “Merchants are really frustrated with all these mobile payments,” Litan said. “The systems are opaque and banks are keeping information close to the vest.”

What’s apparent with Samsung Pay and other mobile payments is that the rate of adoption is not only about new technologies, but also business partnerships. So far, Apple has excelled in creating partnerships with credit card companies and major banks, as well as many large retailers. Apple and its bank, card and retail partners have aired a steady stream of TV ads and other promotions to show the ease of using Apple Pay with NFC for quick in-store payments.

“The path to mobile payments is not only in the technology, but how many partnerships you can form with financial institutions and retailers willing to accept your particular solution,” said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. “If Samsung can build an ecosystem that provides for its technology, then it can be a player. Apple, almost by default, will have such an ecosystem. Everyone seems to want to support whatever Apple does, because of its weight in the marketplace. We’ll have to see if Samsung can bring the same weight with its payment technology.”

Various things could happen to help Samsung with Samsung Pay. If, for example, Samsung decides to license the LoopPay magnetic transmission technology to other device makers — even Apple and Google — then Samsung could reap benefits. On the other hand, if Samsung Pay turns out to be highly successful, both Apple Pay and Google Wallet could ultimately be “marginalized,” Sloan said.

While that scenario may seem far-fetched to many, Samsung Pay has opened a lot of eyes.

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Apple readies another crack at ending Yosemite’s Wi-Fi ills

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Quickening tempo of 10.10.2 beta releases hints at impending release

Apple is putting the final touches on the next update to OS X Yosemite as it again tries to stamp out Wi-Fi problems customers have experienced — and reported — since the operating system launched three months ago.

In a seven-day span, Apple released two iterations of the beta of OS X 10.10.2, the first on Jan. 14, the second on Jan. 21, hinting that the final release is imminent.

Apple, like most developers, typically shortens the interval between builds the closer it comes to a final release.

As they have before, the cryptic release notes for what was pegged as build “14C106a” called out “Wi-Fi” as one of the few areas for testers to focus on, according to numerous online reports and confirmation from registered Apple developers.

On Monday,, citing Apple employee sources, said that an even-newer beta, tagged “14C109,” is circulating within the company and comes with a claim of, “Resolves an issue that may cause Wi-Fi to disconnect.”

Mac owners who have had trouble connecting to — and staying connected to — wireless networks are hoping that 10.10.2 will finally give them relief.

“I suspect Yosemite 10.10.2 [14C106a] is nearly there as to Wi-Fi,” wrote an optimistic “hexdiy” in a message last Wednesday on Apple’s support forum.

A handful of comments that referenced earlier beta builds said things looked promising. “I installed [Jan. 14’s 14C99d] and after several days, the problem seems to have gone away,” said kbastian.

Those messages were just two of nearly 2,200 on a massive support thread opened Oct. 17, the day after Apple released Yosemite. The thread has been viewed more than 683,000 times, an extraordinary number for the Cupertino, Calif. company’s support discussion forums.

Messages from frustrated, even furious, Mac owners continue to accumulate.

“Yosemite on my machine today is almost unusable,” reported ausappleuser last week. “Will it be fixed though? I have ceased to care and will be moving on.”

“If I was Apple, I would be totally ashamed and embarrassed,” chimed in Gianvito Fanelli. “This is the third month that I CANNOT use the Internet properly. Continuous drops with a few moments of peace.”

Apple’s first crack at cleaning up the Wi-Fi disconnect mess, Yosemite 10.10.1, which was released Nov. 17, did not cure users’ Internet ills, according to reports on the same thread last year.


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The must-have iPad office apps, round 9.5

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Google’s newly completed Apps suite can’t beat Apple’s improved iWork or Microsoft Office

The on-the-go business app toolkit for the iPad
Of the tens of thousands of apps available for the iPad, only a relative few are must-have tools for business use. In the last year, the landscape for iPad office apps has changed dramatically, with multiple updates to iWork, the introduction of Microsoft Office, and Google’s elimination of the beloved Quickoffice with its own Apps suite.

Read on for our picks of the best native office editors, cloud office editors, and native companion productivity tools for the iPad. (Most work on the iPhone, too!)

InfoWorld scorecards: The major native office apps
In the past year, three major editing suites vied for adoption among iPad users: Microsoft Office for iPad and Google Apps for iOS both debuted to compete with Apple’s powerful iWork suite. At the app level, both Apple and Microsoft released major updates to their presentation, spreadsheet, and word-processing offerings. All support the native Office file formats, and iWork and Apps export to them as well.

A few office suites are still available from smaller providers (scored on the next slide), but for most people, the focus is on these three.

InfoWorld scorecards: The other native office apps
Despite the competition from the big three platform providers, a trio of established suites is still available for the iPad: the venerable Documents to Go Premium, the Android-derived Polaris Office, and Picsel Smart Office. Although all support the native Office formats, the unpleasant truth is that none is a worthy competitor to Apple’s or Microsoft’s apps.

Best word processor: Apple Pages
Apple’s Pages is good at layout-oriented documents, and it offers revisions tracking, tables, spell checking, search and replace, text formatting, graphics insertion, commenting, password protection, AirPrint support, and both ePub and PDF export. It also permits multiuser editing via the Web (but with no revisions), now with password protection.

The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple’s iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). Pages also supports Apple’s Handoff capability for Pages on other iOS devices and Macs.

You must copy a file before editing, as there’s no Save As feature once you begin editing. You can’t create or apply character styles, and you can’t create paragraph styles.

App: Pages
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Runner-up word processor (tie): Microsoft Word
Word for iPad is equivalent in editing capabilities to Apple Pages, missing password protection and comment insertion but supporting hyperlink insertion and allowing you to choose the proofing language.

Word doesn’t tie with Pages due to its poor file-handling and file-sharing capabilities — you can’t send documents to other apps, rename files, or manage file folders. But it now supports AirPrint.

App: Word
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12 per month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

Runner-up word processor (tie): Infraware Polaris Office 5
Perhaps the best office suite for Android, Polaris Office provides the capabilities you need and is similar to what Pages and Word provide, without Word’s file and sharing limitations. Plus, it offers direct access to cloud services for opening and saving files, allowing you to work more easily across platforms. Where Office 5 fails to measure up is in user experience, which is basic, and performance, which is a bit slow; it also lacks the sophistication of Pages and Word.

App: Polaris Office 5
Price: $12.99
Developer: Infraware
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

The rest of the iPad word processors
Google Docs (free with a Google account) is a midlevel word processor, awkwardly integrated with the Google Drive service and lacking core capabilities like table editing. However, it supports revisions tracking, printing, and (as of late October) the use of heading styles.

DataViz’s $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. It is slow and lacks key features: graphics insertion, paragraph styles, and revisions tracking. Its only advanced feature is its extensive support for cloud storage, including iCloud.

Artifex’s $9.99 Smart Office 2 is, in a word, unusable due to a very poor user interface and limited capabilities. Accessing cloud storage requires signing up for spam.

Best spreadsheet editor: Apple Numbers
Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet editor is great at data entry, especially numeric, date, and formula info. The keyboard even adjusts based on the type of data you’re working with. Cell formatting is less flexible than in Excel, and Excel users may dislike Numbers’ approach to creating worksheets: Numbers allows several on a page. It also nicely supports multisheet workbooks and provides CSV export, animated charts, and password-protected group editing via the Web.

It supports AirPrint and both PDF and CSV export.
The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple’s iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). Numbers supports Apple’s Handoff capability for Numbers on other iOS devices and Macs, as well.

App: Numbers
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Runner-up spreadsheet editor: Microsoft Excel
Although Excel for iPad has the same serious file and sharing flaws as Word, it works exactly like Excel jockeys would expect, with oodles of functions and a few key features like pane freezing that Numbers lacks. However, Excel may frustrate even Excel fans when they discover they can’t remove inserted charts.

Still, Excel’s instant familiarity will likely trump its deficits for current desktop Excel users, even if Numbers technically offers more capability overall.

App: Excel
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12/month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

The rest of the iPad spreadsheet editors

Google Sheets (free with a Google account) is like Excel to a certain degree. But using formulas is difficult, as is working with cell ranges via touch gestures.

DataViz’s $16.99 Documents to Go Premium offers the basics, but no more. It’s languished for several years, so it’s not a good investment choice. For example, it does not support printing or PDF export.

Infraware’s $12.99 Polaris Office 5 has a competent if basic set of spreadsheet features, but its user interface is awkward.

Artifex’s $9.99 Smart Office 2 is simply unusable due to a very poor interface and limited capabilities.

Best presentation editor: Apple Keynote
Simply put, Keynote is an amazing slideshow editor. We prefer it over PowerPoint even on a computer. On the iPad it works beautifully when creating complex slide transitions and element effects, which competing apps can’t do. It has lots of animation capabilities, password-protected Web-based collaborative editing, and the ability to remotely control a Keynote presentation on another Mac or iOS device.

It supports AirPrint and PDF export.
The mid-October update added direct access for saving and opening files from both Apple’s iCloud Drive and third-party cloud storage services (Box and Dropbox). It also supports Apple’s Handoff capability for Keynote on other iOS devices and Macs.

App: Keynote
Price: $9.99 (free on new devices)
Developer: Apple
Compatibility: iPad and iPhone

Runner-up presentation editor: Microsoft PowerPoint
The first release of Microsoft PowerPoint was neither basic nor sophisticated, with sufficient features for editing and basic presentation creation. But a revision boosted PowerPoint’s features significantly, making it nearly as capable as Apple’s glorious Keynote in terms of slideshow pizzazz. If only it allowed remote control of presentations from an iPhone!

App: PowerPoint
Price: Office 365 subscription ($10 to $12/month)
Developer: Microsoft
Compatibility: iPad

The rest of the iPad presentation editors
DataViz’s $16.99 Documents to Go Premium is less than basic when it comes to presentation editing, allowing only text touchup.

The free-with-Google-account Slides presentation editor is not quite as basic, but it doesn’t support transitions and has trouble saving changes and resizing elements. And it can’t show presenter notes while presenting — d’oh!

Infraware’s Polaris Office 5 runs slowly when working with slideshows and offers only basic capabilities.

Artifex’s $9.99 Smart Office 2 is unusable due to a very poor interface and limited capabilities.

InfoWorld scorecards: Cloud office apps
As Apple, Google, and Microsoft battle over in-the-cloud office editing on the desktop, the action on the iPad centers around native apps. But several cloud-based tools use iPad apps as the front end, doing the heavy lifting in the cloud, including AstralPad, CloudOn Pro, Microsoft Office Web Apps, and OnLive Desktop.

Cloud-based office editors: CloudOn Pro and Office Web Apps
The $48-per-year CloudOn Pro service used to be a nice way to run standard desktop Office from your tablet. No longer — a late-October revision eliminated that approach for Word documents, replacing it with a less-capable editor about on par with Google Docs. Excel and PowerPoint editing is still done via a Windows Server-based Office 2010 session, but they seem to run less smoothly than before. We can no longer recommend this product.

The hosted Office Web Apps work nicely in the iPad’s Safari browser. It’d be our choice for cloud-based traditional Office editor except it can’t access local iPad files or print. (Log in from Note: You need a Microsoft account or compatible Office 365 account.

Cloud-based office editors: AstralPad and OnLIve Desktop
The free AstralPad provides moderate editing capabilities, but it’s very slow, allows only two open documents, can’t print, requires manual keyboard activation, and has a confusing interface. It does allow access to Dropbox and Google Drive files.

The free OnLive Desktop is a horrible Office hosting service. Ignore it.

Amazon Web Services offers its WorkSpaces Windows-in-a-cloud service for $35 per month, which has an iPad app. However, it’s clearly meant as a PC replacement, not an iPad adjunct, so we did not test it.

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4 security tips for Apple Pay users

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A payments industry expert shares four tips to help you get safely and security started with Apple’s new contactless payment system, Apple Pay.

Many security experts agree that Apple Pay and contactless payment systems like it are an improvement over traditional credit-card based systems. However, Apple Pay is still new and relatively untested, and it’s wise to approach it strategically.

Peter Olynick, card and payments practice lead with Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a management-technology consulting firm, says the following four best practices are a great way to get started with Apple Pay.

First, don’t simply add all of your payment cards. “You should start off using one [credit card] … If there is an issue, you’ve mitigated the problem down to one card.”

Apple Pay aside, Olynick recommends having one credit card for your online transactions and another for “physical” in-store purchases. Most of your Apple Pay purchases will be made in stores, so you shouldn’t use your online card for Apple Pay, Olynick says.
Stick to Credit Cards, Avoid Debit Cards

You should also stick to credit cards, and not debit cards, when using Apple Pay, according to Olynick. Credit card companies typically offer much better fraud protection than banks that issue debit cards. If your account is compromised it’s the credit card company’s funds that are in limbo, and not yours, he says.
Avoid Items You Might Want to Return

It’s a good idea to make to sure that the first few purchases you make using Apple Pay won’t need to be returned. Sales clerks who are new to Apple Pay may not be familiar with the payment process, let alone the returns process, Olynick says. “Returns are always difficult, and you don’t want to use a brand new device if you might need to request a return.”
Closely Monitor Account Statements and Apple Pay Charges

Finally, watch your account statement very closely during the first few months following the Apple Pay launch, according to Olynick. Again, the system is new, and some growing pains can be expected. Some Bank of America customers report double charges on their statements, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re being charged the appropriate amounts for Apple Pay purchases.

“The security element is great, biometric is fantastic, but I want to be careful about leveraging any new technology,” Olynick says. “Apple Pay is getting a lot of press, and the bad guys are out there working really hard trying to figure out how they can get into this.”


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First Look: The iPad Mini 3, iPad Air 2 and more

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And hey, Stephen Colbert was there!
Apple, uncharacteristically, lost a little PR steam from a leak of some information on its new iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 models a day before the launch event, which took place on Thursday at the company’s Cupertino headquarters. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything new to learn – have a look at the new tablets, and more besides.

New models!
We’ve heard essentially the same pitch from Apple before – look at this beautiful construction, look at the powerful hardware we’ve packed into it, etc. etc – and today was just another verse of the same song, with Apple hyping the ultra-thin construction and updated technology in the iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3.

New cameras
Apple was also eager to highlight the new cameras contained in both new iPad models, which will let you take better pictures of that U2 concert you went to until everyone behind you shouts at you for blocking their view.

TouchID has finally made its way from the iPhone to the iPad, as both new models will contain the fingerprint scanning technology. This will be a boon for folks who own both an iPhone and an iPad, as they’ll be able to stop feeling silly when they absent-mindedly try to unlock their tablets with their thumb.

Apple Pay
Another feature introduced with the iPhone 6 models that has been ported over to the larger form factor is Apple Pay, though it will not support NFC-based payments like the phone.

Introduced with iOS 8, Apple’s continuity features allow users to do things like answer text messages sent to their iPhones from their MacBooks or other devices, as long as those devices are running either OS X Yosemite or iOS 8.1.

Under the hood, the new A8X chip in the iPad Air 2 promises a roughly 40% performance bump compared to the original iPad Air, according to Apple. The 64-bit chipset retains the extensive sensor set introduced with the iPhone 6 series, as well as the motion coprocessor.

The new iMac Retina
Thrown in at the end of the show was a new model iMac, featuring Apple’s high-resolution Retina display. In the case of the iMac, “high-resolution” might not even be the right term, given its whopping 5120×2880 pixels. That’s 14.7 million of them, as Apple was at pains to highlight.

New Mac Mini
Also announced was a new version of the Mac Mini desktop, which boasts some general hardware updates – the first in two years – like more modern Intel processors and more display ports.

OS X Yosemite
The newest version of Apple’s OS for larger devices, OS X Yosemite, finally launched at Thursday’s event. It’s a fairly major update, and it’s required to get most of the Continuity features working across all your Apple devices.

Pre orders start tomorrow, shipping by end of next week
Apple did the usual price cuts on previous-gen devices, and set the starting price of the iPad Air 2 and Mini 3 at $500 and $400, respectively. The Mac Mini will start at $500, and the iMac Retina will go for a hefty $2,500. The new iPads can be pre-ordered Friday, and should ship by the end of next week, while the desktops are available immediately.

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