The Best New Features in OS X Mountain Lion

Apple has officially launched OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, and there are a ton of new features in this latest release, including an integrated notification center, better iCloud support, and Messages. Here’s a quick breakdown of these new features, as well as a few other notable additions.

Notification Center

If you use iOS 5 on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, then you know about Notification Center. It’s a handy drop-down menu that consolidates all of your notifications, and it’s finally in OS X. Whenever a notification comes in, it’ll let you know by displaying a small pop-up window in the upper-right of the screen. To see all of your notifications at once, you can simply swipe to the left from the right edge of the trackpad to bring up Notification Center in its entirety or you can click the small menu bar icon at the top-right.

Messages

Messages on OS X Mountain Lion is a lot like iChat, but it lets you send messages to other iOS devices right from your Mac. Your messages will also stay synced between all of your Apple devices, so if you start a conversation on your Mac, you can finish it on your iPhone if need be.

iCloud

iCloud has been available on the Mac since OS X 10.7 Lion was released a year ago, but it just got better with automatic syncing and updating of files, which means anything that you update on your Mac through one of Apple’s default applications will automatically be updated on all of your other Apple devices.

AirPlay

AirPlay Mirroring has finally come to the Mac. This will allow you to duplicate your Mac’s screen onto your television wirelessly. You’ll just have to make sure you have an Apple TV or other device that can receive AirPlay transmissions in order to take advantage of this new feature.

Notes and Reminders

Mountain Lion now comes with Notes and Reminders, which are already very familiar to iOS 5 users, and they work in the same way as iOS but with a little more screen real estate, obviously. They work seamlessly with iCloud as well, so you’ll have all your notes and reminders synced across all of your iDevices.

Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is a new anti-malware feature on OS X that allows you to control how apps are downloaded and installed so that you don’t accidentally download anything malicious. You can manually choose whether you want your Mac to download new apps from the Mac App Store only, or download apps from the Mac App Store and other places as well.

OS X Mountain Lion is available now for $19.99 in the Mac App Store.

How to thoroughly clean your keyboard

After realizing that I’ve never cleaned my Logitech K340 keyboard since I got it a couple of years ago, I’ve been wondering what kind of hidden infestation lied underneath those keys. And I’m about to find out as I venture my way towards a clean keyboard.

Knowing our readers here at Techerator, we’d assume that you pretty much live at your computer. You probably eat at your computer and designate your keyboard as a spill zone of sorts. So, like me, you probably can’t even imagine what kind of crap made its way inside.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to thoroughly clean your keyboard and seriously make it look and feel brand spankin’ new. Before we begin, though, it’s important to know that the method that I’ll be using is exhaustive, but it doesn’t require you to take apart your keyboard other than snapping off the keys. If you feel inclined to, you can clean your keyboard by completely disassembling it, removing the circuitry, and giving the shell and keys a scrub bath in the sink. Otherwise, follow along!

What You’ll Need

  • A dirty keyboard
  • A bowl of hot water (not scorching though)
  • A cleaning sponge
  • Q-tips
  • A screwdriver
  • Compressed air
  • A camera

Disassembly

Before you begin any disassembly, take your camera and snap a photo of your keyboard. This is crucial because you’ll want to know where all of the keys go after you take them all off.

Start off by taking your screwdriver and carefully prying off each of the keys. I like to cover the key with my other hand to prevent the key from flying across the room after popping it off. You’ll also probably notice that some keys will be harder to remove, like the spacebar. These keys have metal rods attached to them that also attach to the keyboard. You can simply add a little more force to pop it off or if you want to be even more careful, you can get under the key to slide off the metal rod.

After all the keys have been removed, you should now be covering up your mouth to prevent projectile vomiting. You’ll probably notice all the gunk and crumbs that are lying about.

As you can see from the photo below, I’ve separated the “special” keys from the “non-special” keys. The special keys are much dirtier because of the little metal rods that are covered in grease, which attracted more gunk and crumbs.

Cleaning

Dump all of your keys into the bowl of hot water. Hot water helps to separate the gunk from the keys more easily. I put the special keys in a separate, smaller bowl as a mental note to clean those more thoroughly.

Let your keys soak for a while. In the meantime, take your compressed air and blow off all of the loose crumbs on the keyboard.

Next, get your cleaning sponge wet and begin to wipe up any gunk that stayed put, making sure to also clean the outside shell of the keyboard. Use the Q-tips to get to hard-to-reach places.

When you’re done with the overall cleaning, go back to your soaking keys and give each key one last cleaning with your fingers and then place them on a towel to dry.

Finishing up

Sometimes water will get into small crevices in the keys, which can be problematic since that’s a difficult area to air-dry. To fix this, simply blast a little compressed air into the keys to blow out any water.

After the keys are completely dry, you can then place them back on the keyboard. This is where you can play a fun little game and see if you remember where all the keys go. If you don’t know exactly, refer to the picture that you took earlier.

After all of that’s complete, you should be staring at a perfectly clean keyboard! Give yourself a pat on the back.

Verizon’s “Share Everything” data plans actually aren’t that bad

Verizon recently announced their Share Everything mobile plans and are set to put them into action on June 28. The company says that it’s a great way to easily share a bucket-full of minutes, text messages, and data amongst a family, but some users are skeptical.

If you’ve read the internet lately, many people have been giving Verizon a lot of grief about these new plans. But after looking everything over myself, Share Everything data plans are actually not a bad way to go. Let’s break it down and compare some things.

First though, let’s look at the details of these new plans:

Okay, let’s begin comparing Verizon’s current FamilyShare plans with their upcoming Share Everything plans. First, we’ll see what the monthly cost is of a FamilyShare plan with two people with smartphones:

  • 700 Anytime Minutes – $70
  • Unlimited shared messaging – $30
  • Two 2GB data plans – $60
  • Additional line for 2nd person – $10

Total cost per month: $170

If these same two people wanted to go with the Share Everything plan, this is how it would look:

  • Line access for two smartphones – $80
  • 4GB data plan (w/ unltd. min. and msg.) – $70

Total cost per month: $150

The Share Everything plan is $20 cheaper and includes unlimited minutes instead of just a limited 700. Seems like a better deal to me. Now let’s bump it up to a family of four where all of them have smartphones. Here’s what a normal FamilyShare plan would look like:

  • 700 Anytime Minutes – $70
  • Unlimited shared messaging – $30
  • Four 2GB data plans – $120
  • Additional lines for 3 people – $30

Total cost per month: $250

This is what the monthly charges would be if that same family went with a Shared Everything data plan:

  • Line access for four smartphones – $160
  • 8GB data plan (w/ unltd. min. and msg.) – $90

Total cost per month: $250

It’s the same cost! But yet again, you get unlimited minutes with the newer shared plan and you have a whopping 8GB of data that you can share amongst the entire family. So if mom hardly uses any data, then all the better for the rest of the family.

However, Verizon’s Share Everything plans still don’t solve the one problem that most carriers are guilty of with contractual plans: There’s no middle ground. Carriers only offer their customers either too little or too much with their plans, intentionally not including any kind of middle ground. Why? Because the middle ground is the sweet spot that’s of greatest value to the customer. And when the customer gets the greatest value, the wireless carrier loses in a way.

And Verizon really isn’t doing anything revolutionary with these new shared plans. Sure, depending on how big of a family you have and how much data you use, the Share Everything plans could save you a few dollars and simplify things a bit, but it’s all simply just a reworked way to divvy out minutes, messages and data.

In the end, just by looking at the charts above I can see how users would scoff at Verizon — $40/month just to add a smartphone line to a plan? That fact alone seems like highway robbery, but you have to look at the whole picture and do the math. Verizon’s Share Everything plans certainly aren’t any worse than what they’re offering now, and in some cases, it could be a better way to go.

Inside Apple’s USB Power Adapters

If you own an iPhone, you most likely are in possession of Apple’s 5W USB power adapter, a great little contraption that charges your iPhone via a wall outlet using your normal USB cable. From the face of it, it’s a fairly elementary device. It simply takes alternating current from the wall and turns it into five watts of five volt power.

However, according to Ken Shirriff (who recently tore open one of these power adapters), the circuitry is “surprisingly complex and innovative.”

Shirriff conducted an exhaustive analysis of the 5W iPhone charger and posted about it on his blog. He found out some pretty amazing things about Apple’s tiny USB wall charger. For those that are knowledgeable about circuitry and the like, you’ll find Shirriff’s writeup to be both extremely informative and interesting (with circuit diagrams drawn out even), but for those who just want to know why the damn thing costs a whopping $30, Shirriff has this to say:

Apple’s power adapter is clearly a high-quality power supply designed to produce carefully filtered power. Apple has obviously gone to extra effort to reduce EMI interference, probably to keep the charger from interfering with the touchscreen. When I opened the charger up, I expected to find a standard design, but I’ve compared the charger to the Samsung charger and several other high-quality industry designs, and Apple goes beyond these designs in several ways.”

Some of the ways that Apple went above and beyond are apparent when looking at the small details. Apple used “super-strong AC prongs,” as well as a “complex over-temperature / over-voltage shutdown circuit.” Overall, Shirriff says that Apple’s 5W USB power adapter packs an impressive amount of complexity into such a small space.

However, Shirriff notes that even though Apple’s 5W USB power adapter is higher quality than most other USB adapters, that doesn’t mean that the $30 price tag is necessarily worth it. He says that Apple’s USB charger probably only uses about a dollar more on parts than other, less-expensive chargers that cost $6-$10. So essentially, Apple is making a huge profit off of each power adapter that they sell.

Image Credit: Alan Levine

Counter-argument: There WILL be a future for smart watches

A few weeks ago, we published a great piece about smart watches and the passing fad they may ignite. This article points out that you’re essentially paying upwards of $150 to avoid having to remove your phone from your pocket, and that smart watches are just a stopgap before the next big thing comes out (Google Glasses, in this case).

Both of these arguments are valid and I completely agree, but these are also reasons why smart watches will have a future for consumers.

Smart watches keep your phone safe in your pocket

I recently bought a watch just because it was easier looking at my wrist instead of having to fish out my phone from my pocket to see the time; for this reason, having a watch lowers the risk of dropping your phone. I would know because that’s exactly what happened to me. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to see what time it was and before I knew it, my phone was on the ground. I ended up not having a good enough grip on it when I took it out of my pocket. You might say I just have clumsy hands, but this kind of thing simply happens to the best of us.

So, really, getting a smart watch (or any kind of watch for that matter) just to save you from having to fish out your phone from your pocket is a really nice convenience that could also save your phone from destruction.

Expensive, but it’s not just a simple watch

As far as the price of smart watches, $100 for the Pebble smart watch isn’t that bad of a price for the technology you’re getting. A lot of people spend much more on less sophisticated designer watches, so spending a hundred dollars on a watch that has Bluetooth, a digital display and can do more than just tell the time is quite impressive.

The next big thing isn’t here yet

As far as smart watches being a stopgap, that may be true, but who really knows when Google Glasses will be available to the public? (Google co-founder Sergey Brin says Google Glasses may possibly be releasing next year). When they eventually do hit the market, will they even be marked at a price that a majority of the public can even afford? And even if they were affordable, how long would it take for Google Glasses to be in style and be a normal part of life? A couple of years? Maybe even longer?

Conclusion

Overall, it’s hard to tell at this point what the fate of smart watches will be in the future; it’s still too new of a technology to really analyze and figure out. Smart watches might be here to stay for a long time or they really could just be a stopgap. In any case, I wouldn’t write them off just yet.

For me, smart watches are devices that I could see myself really getting into and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

What will technology be like when Generation Y gets old?

When I think about the future, I wonder what technology will be 40 years from now. Today’s older generation love to boast to the younger crowd about how they got through life without computers, tablets, or smartphones. However, when I’m older, what am I going to say to the younger generation? “When I was your age, we didn’t have mind-controlled submarines!”?

It’s certainly interesting to think about, and while we can’t accurately predict what new technologies will be invented during the next 30 or 40 years (since anything can happen), it’s still fun to predict at least how technology might evolve over the next few decades.

In my opinion, technology has evolved and progressed so quickly the past 10 years alone that I feel like it’s going to reach a plateau soon. We’ll still have the traditional computers, tablets, and smartphones, but they’ll simply be thinner, lighter, and much faster. That is until a completely new revolution comes along, like when personal computers came into fruition or when the automobile was invented.

Then again, I have no idea what “completely new revolution” will come since it hasn’t even been invented yet. I mean, before automobiles and planes were invented, nobody had any idea that we’d be able to travel to another part of the world in less than a day. That’s how I feel about the future of technology when I’m 65 — what crazy new things will be invented at that point that I never would have dreamed of?

The only reason that I say that technology might be reaching a plateau soon is that Moore’s Law simply cannot last forever, even though it’s lasted almost a half-century so far. It’s said to only be around until around 2020, give or take a few years.

If you’re not familiar with Moore’s Law, it’s basically an observation of sorts where the number of transistors that can fit onto an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years. It’s named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore and coined by computer scientist and former Caltech professor Carver Mead.

One of my biggest questions is, when Moore’s Law eventually collapses, how will technology evolve? Will there be another “law” that replaces Moore’s Law? Or will technology simply just evolve at a slower pace than before?

Image Credit: Sean McEntee

The year of the Angry Bird, and what’s next for Rovio

Rovio, developer of the immensely popular Angry Birds series, announced that their earnings for 2011 topped $100 million resulting in over $65 million in net profit, up from approximately $10 million in revenue from 2010. Merchandise sales alone accounted for 30 percent of that. Those numbers don’t even include their newest, record-breaking creation, Angry Birds Space, which released earlier this year and gained over 50 million downloads in 35 days.

Rovio’s 2011 lineup consisted of Angry Birds, Angry Bird Seasons, and the movie-themed Angry Birds Rio, all of which raked in almost 650 million downloads in 2011.

Rovio was founded in 2003 and didn’t gain a lot of popularity until late 2009 when they launched Angry Birds for the iPhone. Now, the Angry Birds series has seen over 1 billion total downloads and around 200 million active users as of the end of 2011. Rovio’s many versions of Angry Birds have stayed at the top of the charts ever since their releases.

Rovio expects 2012 to be another great year for them. CEO Mikael Hed says that they “are very optimistic about 2012 due to significant investments in product development, cutting-edge branding, brand protection and corporate infrastructure.” Hed also said that Rovio needs to be “continuously developing new and innovative products and services” in order to ensure continuous success.

Hed mentioned that they plan on releasing several more games in 2012, including a non-Angry Birds title called Amazing Alex, which will be a reboot of Casey’s Contraptions, a long lost mobile game from developers Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut. It turns out, Rovio bought the IP to the game, so they’re currently re-working and re-branding the title to fit within their style. Amazing Alex will be released in approximately two months and will include an educational element, as well as being a fun and entertaining game about constructing Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to complete a variety of objectives.

Because of Rovio’s immense success, the company is also preparing itself for an IPO next year, according to Reuters who cited that Anders Lindeberg, Rovio’s head of investor relations, said that the Finnish-based company is “is preparing itself and getting ready” for a stock market listing in either New York or Hong Kong.

Will 2012 be another great year for Rovio like CEO Mikael Hed claims? It certainly looks that way so far, but only time will tell to see if the developer still has it in them to come through with fun and entertaining titles.

Image Credit: Yaniv Golan

Is using Apple’s Cards app too impersonal?

Apple recently came out with Cards, an iOS app that allows you to create and customize real greeting cards and send them out to your loved ones for only $2.99 per card, all of which happens through the app. Apple completely takes care of the postage, prints the cards out, and then snail-mails them for you, which is quite impressive. The nice thing I like about the cards is that Apple uses a centuries-old printing method called letterpress, where the design gets embossed into the paper as ink is added.

I recently started using the app once I got my iPhone 4S not too long ago. I used it a few times by sending birthday cards to a couple of family members. It was nice not having to make a special trip to the store just to pick up a card and then finding out that I didn’t have any stamps, requiring another trip to the post office. Going through the Cards app was also certainly a cheaper route for me. Apple charges only $2.99 per card. Cards in a brick-and-mortar store cost anywhere from $4 to $6 plus postage.

Cards allows you customize your greeting cards by writing whatever message you want and insert a photo for a more personal touch. However, is the process of creating cards quickly through the app making us too lazy and therefore, making the process not personal enough?

When you send someone a hand-signed card, it essentially says that you took the time to actually go to the store to choose a card and head to the post office to get a stamp and slide it in the mailbox. That alone can make the recipient feel pretty special — to know that they took that kind of time to acknowledge you.

Then again, as society is going more digital, is sending a greeting card through an app becoming more acceptable? You be the judge. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Easel.ly lets you create HTML5 infographics for free

Infographics have become an incredibly popular way to convey statistics and information nowadays — almost too popular it seems, but there’s really no better way to display such statistics in a visually appealing way. If you’ve always wanted to create your own, but never wanted to bother to make one entirely from scratch, Easel.ly is a web-based tool that allows you put an infographic together quickly and easily.

To start off, you can choose an overall theme that your infographic will follow. From there you can change around objects and add some text. Within a matter of a few minutes or so, you’ll have a workable infographic to use for all sorts of purposes.

Easel.ly is still in beta form, so there’s a lot of things missing from it that would make it an awesome creation tool, such as more options for themes and objects, as well as being able to change the color palette (that’s coming eventually, though). Placing in charts is also kind of a crapshoot. There’s not a way to make custom charts inside the tool; there’s only static chart images that you can drop in. Then again, once the development team works out all of the kinks and adds some more features, Easel.ly might possibly turn into one of the best infographic creation tools.

However, Easel.ly isn’t the first tool that can create infographics quickly and easily. Visual.ly has been around for a little while longer, but it requires you to sign up first using your Twitter or Facebook account before creating infographics. This is where Easel.ly might get the edge; no sign up required.

However, even though users are now able to create infographics in mere minutes, should they? There is, in fact, a huge difference between a true infographic and just arranging facts and words into a semi-pleasing image. True infographics contain worthwhile information that is put into context. So, yes, anyone can create infographics in a way, but it still takes a smart and creative mind to truly create something that is both informative and appealing to the eyes.

Microsoft invests $300 million in Barnes & Noble; looks to spin off Nook business

In what may be considered an interesting and somewhat odd move considering past events, Microsoft has announced that they will be investing $300 million into a “strategic partnership” with Barnes & Noble to work on the future of e-reading by creating a whole new subsidiary of Barnes & Noble that will focus on all things Nook as well as its education/college business.

With Microsoft’s $300 million investment, they’ll own a 17.6 percent stake in the new business (valuing the new company at $1.7 billion), while Barnes & Noble will own the remaining 82.4 percent.

The first thing on the agenda so far is a Windows 8 Nook app, as well as working on spreading and popularizing the Nook Study software on Microsoft’s platforms. Just from these two things alone, Microsoft desperately wants content on their platforms. It seems they want their own answer to Apple’s iBooks and to offer Windows users an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

However, this could end up being a bitter mistake for both Microsoft and Barnes & Noble if things don’t go even remotely well. Microsoft has a recent history of catching up to established markets by siding with mediocre companies (their partnership with Nokia, for instance). Microsoft’s partnership with B&N, who – let’s face it – is a lesser-performing company in the e-reading market, could become a complete flop if not done right, especially when going up against powerhouses like iBooks and Amazon’s established ecosystem.

Then again, Microsoft lacks any real strategy to compete in the e-reader business in the first place, so this partnership with Barnes & Noble is certainly a good first step if they really want to compete. It will allow them to get more content onto their platform — especially Windows 8 tablets.

In any case, it’ll be interesting to see what consumers will get out of this once the competition is in full swing.

Image Credit: George Kelly