October 24, 2012
If you had been reading geek tea leaves recently, you knew that Apple was likely to unveil a new, smaller iPad on Tuesday. I figured that, but what I didn't realize is that Apple was going to pretty much revamp its entire product line in the span of about a month.
First, Tuesday's big news about the iPad. There are now two sizes available -- 7.9" and 9.7" -- two colors, two wireless options. I'm not sure that I think the $70 in savings will tempt that many people to opt for an iPad mini over an iPad 2. They both have the same resolution screen, which is the big difference between those models and the fourth-generation iPad with retina display. But I guess some people will. I think a $299 starting price instead of $329 may have helped just because of the first number being a 2 instead of a 3. It still looks like a decent tablet, but it's not the big boy with the retina display. If you want an iPad, go look at them first. If you're like me and can tell the difference in displays in about two seconds, you know what you want.
Last month's big news was a new iPhone. Bigger screen, LTE and a bunch of other upgrades. If you're on Verizon like me, the LTE upgrade is huge as long as you're in an LTE area. Most of Gwinnett is. If you live in Barrow like me, you might be out of luck for now. I'm sure LTE will eventually make it here since I'm sandwiched between the big Atlanta and Athens areas with LTE. Most of the time I haven't been able to get download speeds of even 2 Mbps. Quite often it has been about 0.5 Mbps. But considering how many calls I had dropped with AT&T and the fact that it's my only phone, coverage everywhere and slower data speeds won. The taller screen looks nice for apps that seemed to beg for more space, which is a lot if you get spoiled with an iPad or a big computer display.
What I think might go overlooked today is the additions to the Mac lineup, especially the new iMac and MacBook Pro with retina display. I use an iMac as my primary computer. I didn't think I would need a portable computer a couple of years ago when my MacBook Pro died, so I went with the cheapest iMac model available. Naturally I found a need for a notebook shortly after, but the iMac is still great for heavy-duty computing. If you do any work with video or photos, you can use the extra power compared to a notebook.
But what keeps happening is the death of the optical drive on Apple computers. Today's new MacBook Pro with a retina display and the new iMac both ditch the CD/DVD combo drive. I have pretty much given up hope that Apple will ever really support a Blu-ray Disc drive on a computer. You can use them through third parties to read, but you can't play videos back on a Mac. I'm not really sad to see Apple ditching built-in optical drives on its lineup because I rarely do use mine. But there has been no bridge between disc and storage for videos like CDs had with easy ripping. That's one reason people consume so much music on digital devices now. Counting on the movie and TV industry to bless us with some digital copy is counting on not having your videos on your computer.
What's sad is this is all some misguided attempt to stop movie piracy. Does anybody think high-damage movie pirates -- no, not the Jack Sparrow kind -- will be stopped by this? Those are the people who will find a way to bypass all of these digital rights management techniques. The rest of us who want to rip our videos to a computer so we can put them on devices such as iPhones and iPads are screwed unless we get really smart and find semi-shady ways around that DRM.
With Apple continuously selling a ton of devices and striving to enter the living room with a possible television set in the upcoming years, I think it's obvious where this split will go. I still prefer movies on disc because of the better quality and the ease of sharing. But I have bought maybe 10 CDs in the past five years, and most of those were because they weren't available digitally from iTunes or Amazon.
I wrote earlier this year about my first venture into buying digital movies -- "The Hunger Games" and "American Pie" in HD from iTunes. I'm not disappointed with either purchase, but I don't have the "this is the wave of the future!" feeling I had from my first iTunes music purchases. One reason is the fact that you don't actually own anything you buy from iTunes, Amazon or other digital media sellers. You basically have a lifetime, non-transferrable rental. If I kicked the bucket tomorrow, all of my iTunes purchases would technically be dead with me. Someone with my Apple ID and password could still have full access to them, but you can only use one Apple ID per computer or device. Music could be transferred because it no longer has DRM, but it would technically be breaking the law. Videos? No luck.
So this is a problem. I would say it's the main problem with our trending toward a discless future. It's not the way we have done things since we started buying LPs and VHS tapes. I didn't understand this until I started discussing it after those two movie purchases.
On one hand, I applaud Apple for moving forward and making optical drives an add-on so we can get thinner, lighter devices. After lugging my iMac in for service, the words "it's five pounds lighter" were music to my ears. The same goes for the lighter MacBooks, most of which do not include an optical drive any more. Neither does the Mac mini, Apple's cheapest computer option. But our laws, practices and technology have got to evolve with our devices. It's going to be a shame if we wait a couple of decades on this and only fix it when a lot of people realize their relatives didn't "own" anything in a media collection that cost the deceased thousands. My parents still have LPs that I would inherit, but if they owned all that music in digital purchases, it would sort of disappear. This can't be the way we do things.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.