The new Apple TV: compact, stylish, and riddled with issues

I really want to love my tiny, stylish new Apple TV box, but I’m finding it rather difficult.

For those that don’t know, the Apple TV is a streaming media device. It connects to your TV via an HDMI cable and allows you to buy and play content from Apples iTunes store and a few third-party providers. It also lets you play shared iTunes content held on other computers on your network, and use AirPlay to mirror your Mac, iPhone or iPad onto your TV.

Or at least that’s the theory.

First impressions were good. The Apple TV’s packaging is typically minimalist and stylish and the unit itself is surprisingly compact. The initial setup was straightforward, requiring me to connect HDMI, optical audio and power. Upon start-up, the unit requested my Wi-Fi details and my iTunes username and password.

The basic menu is attractive in high-definition, and looks like something between iOS and the iTunes store. From the initial switch-on, you can see all the latest movies available for rental and purchase, and obtaining something is a simple matter of a few clicks on the diminutive silver remote.

The Apple TV
The Apple TV

So far, so good. Or at least it was until we decided to rent an HD movie. After taking our money quickly and efficiently, our Apple TV told us we had to wait 50 minutes until our movie was ready to watch. The device advised us that we could reduce the waiting time by selecting a lower resolution – but doing this actually increased our waiting time.

Sadly, this delay has occurred on more than one occasion, and it only takes a quick Google search to find that the problem has affected hundreds of unhappy people. Before anyone blames our download speed: we have a perfectly fast home Internet connection, and one that buffers other HD content almost instantly. This is an Apple TV or iTunes problem. Sometimes it doesn’t occur at all – but when it does, it always seems to be when the popcorn is warm and a group of people is waiting – not good.

Unfortunately, our problems don’t end there. One of the main attractions of the Apple TV is AirPlay, which gives you the ability to echo your Mac screen straight to the television. While the screen echo usually works, the audio output transfers to the TV perhaps one in four times. Sometimes it works, other times we must restart the Apple TV or sometimes the Mac’s Web browser. There’s no consistent pattern (and believe me, I’ve read and worked through the forum suggestions).

The outcome of this is that often there’s more fiddling around involved in watching a streamed TV show via the Apple TV than there used to be when we dragged an HDMI cable across the room. So much for progress. Since I’ve had the Apple TV, my meal is often getting cold before my chosen TV show starts.

It’s all a terrible shame, because some of the time the Apple TV works exactly as it’s designed to – and when it does, it’s great. But it’s all not quite good enough.

Aside from Netflix (which is not available where I live), Apple TV ties you firmly into Apple’s media ecosystem. By purchasing one, you are committing to buy a significant quantity of media from the iTunes store, where it often costs more than it would elsewhere.

I was prepared to make this commitment, but the Apple TV simply doesn’t live up to the quality of the other Apple products that have won my heart. It’s not on my “things for eBay” pile just yet, but it’s on seriously thin ice.

Ask Techerator: Can I copy photos from my iPad to an external hard drive?

As the popularity of Apple’s mobile devices like the iPad continues to increase, consumers are looking at ways to replace their personal computers for an iPad. This frequently raises a question: Is there a way to connect an external drive to the iPad to transfer photos?

The short answer is no you cannot directly connect an external drive to your iPad; however, I have listed some alternatives below.

Option 1: Syncing to computer

The easiest way to store photos from iPad to external drive is to transfer the files to your computer first. Before setting up syncing, make sure the latest version of iTunes is downloaded. You can change your sync options at any time.

How to sync via USB

  1. Connect the iOS device to your computer using a USB cable.
  2. For Mac users select iPhoto, on the left hand side you should see the iPad listed under device. To Import select the photos and select import.
  3.  On a Windows PC the autoplay window will pop up when the iPad is plugged in. Click “Import Pictures and Videos using Windows”. Select Import.
A few other ways to transfer photos to PC is by using iCloud or Dropbox.

Once all photos have been synced to your PC you can then plug-in your external hard drive to copy them over.

Option 2: Connecting to external hard drive

As mentioned above there is no direct connection between the iPad and external drive. However, currently on the market there are a few wi-fi drives that can be used in conjunction with the iPad.

Kingston Wi-Drive

Image Credit: Kingston

As an external hard drive, the Kingston Wi-Drive supports both PCs and Macs and iPad’s out of the box, but its performance is about the same as a USB flash drive. The downfall is that it is about $60 for only 32 GB of storage.

Access to the drive is done over the 802.11 g/n protocol, just like your typical home wireless hub and can be shared with 2 people. This device is a great way to add storage to your iPad, but with the small amount of storage it is not a great long-term storage option.

Seagate GoFlex Satellite

If you are looking to transfer our photos from iPad to eternal drive without using a PC, then the Seagate GoFlex Satellite  is the best option. It has a built-in wireless-N access point (with a 150 ft range), to which up to three wireless devices can connect.

For the best experience you will need to download the iPad app Go Flex Media. The app can also download selected content from the GoFlex Satellite drive onto the iPad so that you can access them without having to use the drive, or when the drive is out of battery. The downloaded content can only be played and viewed via the GoFlex Media app, it can’t be integrated into the iPad’s library.

Image Credit: Seagate

The GoFlex comes with 500GB of storage space for about $160, which is more expensive than the Kingston drive, but offers a substantial more storage space.

Conclusion

While you cannot directly attach an external drive to the iPad to copy photos, you do have a few options to perform this task. If you have a better method of getting photos over to an external drive feel free to leave a comment below!

How to create a slideshow on your iPad

The iPad has many uses and one its features is presenting slideshows of your photos. In fact, slideshows look fabulous on the iPad. How do you create a slideshow on the iPad? You can create slideshows through the built-in Photos app or using a third-party app.

Adding photos to your iPad

Whether using Apple’s Photos app or a third-party app, you must have the photos you plan to use on your iPad. You can load photos from a memory card using the Camera Connection Kit sold by Apple, or you can load them through iPhoto and iTunes.

To load photos using iPhoto you need to have an album in iPhoto with the photos you want to add to your iPad. Next,with you iPad connected to the computer, go to iTunes and select your iPad in the devices list on the left. Choose the “Photos” tab and click the options that allow you to load photos from specific albums. Choose the specific album (or albums) you want to load onto your iPad.

For the purpose of making a slideshow it is a good idea to have the album specifically assigned for your slideshow. It should not contain any other photos in it. You can use another album for that.

Now you are ready to make your slideshow.

Making a slideshow with the built-in Photos app

Let’s start with the easiest and quickest method based on the idea that you loaded your photos through iPhoto. After synching your photos, open the Photos app on your iPad. The photos will be grouped into an album with the same name as the one you created in iPhoto. Open that album.

On the top right of the screen you will notice a “Slideshow” button. Tap this button and another window will open. In this window you can set basic setting for the slideshow such as a theme. Pick your settings and play the slideshow.

If you aren’t loading your photos through iPhoto, but are loading from your camera the process is just as easy. Instead of making and loading a playlist through iPhoto you make the album in the Photos app. However, you do need at least iOS 5 installed on your iPad. Earlier versions of iOS do not allow you to create albums on the iPad.

Next, open the Photos app on your iPad. Find the photos you want to use and tap the curved arrow in the top right of the screen. Tap all of the photos you want in the slideshow. Now tap the “Add To” button and choose “New Album.” Enter a name for the album and these photos will now be in that album.

To create the slideshow, go to the album and follow the same steps laid out above for playing a slideshow in the Photos app.

One important note is that you are not creating any specific slideshow file when you follow these methods outlined above. You are only using the Photos app to play a select group of photos in a slideshow. To actually create a slideshow file you will need to use one of several apps available in the App Store.

Creating slideshows in a third-party app

If you do a search for “Slideshow” in the iPad App Store you will be presented with numerous apps that can create a slideshow for you. Each one will have different features and you will have to read the features and the reviews and decide which one might work for you.

You can also consider using Keynote to create slideshows, which another great option on the iPad. It is a lot more complicated than using the method of using the Photos app, but it does give you more control. You can choose transitions on a per photo basis, add music if you want, and export it from the iPad to your Mac.

Whichever app you choose to use, you will still need to load photos to the Photos app using one of the methods described above. All of these types of apps access the photos  stored in your Photos app.

Now you have several options for creating slideshows on your iPad. If you have a preferred technique or app for creating slideshows leave a comment below!

Flipboard is a beautiful magazine app that may change the way you consume media

Every once in a while an app will be introduced that so thoroughly captures the essence of what a smart phone or tablet can achieve, that it will immediately change the way you use your device. Flipboard, the magazine style app, available on both iOS and Android systems, will so thoroughly revolutionize the way you receive the news that it will leave you wondering how you ever lived without it.

Flipboard is a news app that gathers your social media and news feeds and converts them into a personalized magazine. The app will take your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds, along with any news category you choose and present them in a gorgeous magazine style layout.

The Flipboard app allows you to choose from your favorite news categories, such as sports, technology, business, film, science or virtually any other topic of interest. The app will then gather the top stories from various sites regarding each topic and present them in a magazine style layout.

Flipboard is wonderfully designed, easy to navigate, and simply beautiful to look at. The app is available for both smart phones and tablets, but Flipboard is best experienced using a larger device. The whole purpose of a magazine style app is to have it feel like a magazine, and using a tablet will give you that experience. One of my favorite elements of the app is the ability to swipe your device to change the page.

When the iPad was released a few years ago, there was talk that it would change the way we consumed magazines. Unfortunately, up until now, that has not been the case. Most magazines are just a scanned copy of the print version. But Flipboard has found a way to turn your simple news feed into a beautifully designed and engaging experience. The app will show you news stories in medium-sized thumbnails, and will then enlarge once you click on them. Flipboard will even allow you to go straight to the original website the article was published on.

Overall, Flipboard is an engaging and well designed app and will completely change the way you receive your social media and news. It will probably find a permanent home on your smart phone or tablet and become indispensable for viewing news stories or social media updates. Flipboard is simply one of the best apps I have ever used. I cannot recommend it more highly. I would rate this app a 10/10.

Flipboard Image Gallery

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Facebook or Fakebook – It Doesn’t Matter

It was recently revealed that Facebook doesn’t have as many users as the official figures would suggest. Within the 955 million monthly active users the social networking site boasts are millions of bogus accounts, made up of duplicates, misclassifications, and undesirables.

The thing is that although this “news” made it on to technology websites around the world, no one could have been surprised by the figures, and even less could have cared about them. Because it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

Bogus Facebook Accounts

As Craig Lloyd previously noted, Facebook IS fast approaching 1 billion users, with 955 active on a monthly basis. This is up from the 901 million recorded in April, showing that despite a slowing in the rate of growth, Facebook is still expanding. We know the size of Facebook’s userbase thanks to the company’s quarterly filing (via Indystar) with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. With Facebook now being a public company we’ll be able to track its growth and other statistics more easily than was previously possible.

Facebook is also now required by law to include in the filing any factor that could impinge on its future success. The idea being that shareholders need to be able to make more of an informed decision whether to hold on to or sell their shares in the company. Hence the revealing of an estimated 83 million bogus Facebook accounts.

The 83 million is made up of: 45.84 million (4.8 percent) duplicates where one person has set up two or more personal accounts; 22.92 million (2.4 percent) miscategorized where a person has created an account for a pet, child, or organization rather than a page; 14.33 million (1.5 percent) undesirables dedicated to spamming or other improper use.

Everybody Knew – Nobody Cares

I guess the news here is that Facebook itself is fessing up about the number of bogus accounts it has, but the manner in which the mainstream tech press lapped this up you’d think it was a shocking revelation. It isn’t at all.

Everyone with even the slightest notion about how Facebook works knew its numbers were off, and that there is a sizable proportion of bogus accounts. Hell, I am myself responsible for one of them, having created a Facebook account for my cat. What can I say, I was bored and lonely.

And really, who cares? Shareholders, of course, but then seeing as (at the time of writing) they’ve seen the value of their Facebook stock fall by 50 percent I’d say they have bigger concerns over Facebook’s future than the existence of some bogus accounts.

To sum up, a significant percentage of Facebook is actually Fakebook, but it really doesn’t matter.

Rupert Murdoch joins Twitter, the world laughs

I never thought I’d live to see the day Rupert Murdoch joined Twitter. But it’s happened. And it’s wildly entertaining watching the most-famous n00b in the world try to get his head around the micro-blogging social network. Long may it continue.

Rupe Is No Dupe

If a celebrity or famous face isn’t on Twitter then there will be an account either claiming to be them or openly spoofing them on the site. That’s just the way it is. So when a new Twitter account claiming to be owned by the real Rupert Murdoch appeared on the site, few people actually bought into it.

That was until the account was verified and then promoted by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, at which point the number of followers began multiplying at a rate of knots. At the time of writing @rupertmurdoch has just over 100,000 followers, but I suspect that number will keep climbing.

Why The Interest?

Why should we care that Murdoch is on Twitter? Because this is a man who controls a huge portion of the world’s media, and he can, unfortunately, help elect presidents and prime ministers. Hearing his unedited views on what is happening as they come fluttering into his head is fascinating.

There is also the fact that Murdoch is not a fan of the Internet. He hates what it has done to print newspapers, and struggles to see why people should be able to read news openly and freely when he could previously charge for it.

Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff summed up Murdoch’s views on the Internet in a 2009 Vanity Fair article, suggesting, “For him it’s a place for porn, thievery, and hackers.” Which it is, I guess, but it’s a lot more besides. Something it has taken Murdoch an age to latch on to.

Along For The Ride

It has already been fun following Rupert Murdoch on Twitter. We have had opinionated tweets such as, “Steve Jobs biog interesting but unfair. Family must hate,” and “Obama decision on terrorist detention very courageous – and dead right!” Which, whether you agree or disagree with the sentiment, is interesting to hear.

Proving the guy has lost none of his powers of classless promotion we have had tweets saying, “I LOVE the film ‘we bought a zoo’, a great family movie. Very proud of fox team who made this great film,” and “Got to watch Foxnews at 5 EST. Liberal Bob Beckel and team great replacement for Beck and much more fun.”

But by far the most fun to this point has been watching an old media dinosaur trying to get to grips with this new-fangled technology we call social networking. He has deleted a joke tweet – “Maybe Brits have too many holidays for broke country”. Murdoch has also randomly tweeted to a couple of random people, except he seems to have forgotten to include a message after their names.

Entertainment At Its Best

Twitter is awash with famous people, most of whom tweet nothing but garbage and plugs for their various moneymaking ventures. But I’d rather see Rupert Murdoch tweeting than I would Kevin Smith or Ashton Kutcher. It’s certainly more entertaining than reading any of Murdoch’s newspapers or watching any of his television channels.

Image Credit: Joe Wolf
Image Credit: World Economic Forum

Louis C.K. Treads New Media Distribution Path

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is something of a revolution kicking off in the way media is distributed. It’s all going digital, the idea of ownership is changing, and, most crucially, the big media companies who currently act as middle-men are being subtly shunted out of the picture.

The latest advocate of this new way of doing business is Louis C.K. His self-distribution and honor box experiment with Live At the Beacon could pave the way for future entertainers to reach their fans and make money in the process.

Self-Distribution

Self-distribution isn’t a brand new idea. Music artists such as Radiohead and Trent Reznor have tried it before, offering albums up for download either for free or on a pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth basis. Both were highly successful, with fans supporting the effort. But both have since reverted back to using more conventional methods, suggesting the ties to record labels with their huge marketing budgets are still too tight.

There is also a self-publishing revolution occurring with a little help from Amazon. Thanks to the success of the Kindle and other eBook readers, budding novelists are now selling their written works directly through these sites. They no longer have to wait for an agent to take them on and a publisher to take note.

Louis C.K. Live At The Beacon

Louis C.K. is offering Live At The Beacon directly through his website for just $5. For that, fans can either stream or download the stand-up show. And they are doing so in their thousands. C.K. spent a small fortune putting the system in place but has already made a profit, doing so just a few days into the experiment.

His decision to put the content online with no DRM protection means Live At The Beacon has made its way onto torrent sites, but the majority of people are paying for the goods. C.K. has connected with his fans directly, made the download as easy as possible, and made it affordable to all but the tightest of individuals. And he is being rewarded for doing so.

A Path To The Future

Louis C.K. is traversing a less-traveled path than many of his comedian brethren. But even he has retained the right to sell the rights to Live At the Beacon to a traditional media company further down the line. This suggests an unwillingness to fully commit to this brave new way of distributing content, which lessens the importance of the whole experiment a little.

Still, even if C.K. does bail, someone else will now pick up from where he left off. Whether it be a fellow comedian or an entertainer from another field. If the trickle becomes a waterfall then the media companies who presently control the middle-ground between content creators and consumers will have to take note. Or stick their heads in the sand and refuse to accept the world is moving on without them. As they usually do.

Image Credit: Tyler Ross
Image Credit: Wes Bryant

Why Ashton Kutcher, aka “aplusk”, hates Twitter

I can’t say I’ve ever been a particular fan of Ashton Kutcher. But his erroneous, ill-informed tweet and subsequent throwing of toys out of his Twitter-branded pram has me thinking he’s an absolute idiot.

In a nutshell: Kutcher claims to have heard about the firing of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno in passing without hearing the full facts. He tweeted in defense of Paterno, talking up his career, after assuming the 84-year-old had been dismissed for being too old and no longer getting results. He then heard the full story, deleted his tweet, and apologized for the simple error of judgment.

That should have been the end of it, but Kutcher decided this one thing was enough to force him to give up Twitter altogether. And he explained his decision in a rambling blog post full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. He’s too busy making crap TV shows to worry about trivial matters such as these, I guess.

Paterno, Schmaterno

As a Brit, the Paterno story had not entered my field of vision until, strangely enough, Kutcher had his say. Now I actually know the back story and why people were so incensed at Kutcher’s supposed lack of empathy for the alleged victims of the crimes surrounding Paterno’s dismissal. I’m still not particularly interested because football is, as we all know, a stupid sport. But still.

I have already ranted about the way celebrities are increasingly using Twitter purely for self-promotion, leaving behind the connection and personal involvement with fans that the platform once represented. And this amplifies that issue even more so. Because of the fallout of one mistake, Kutcher has decided to dismiss the whole idea of Twitter and hand over tweeting duties to a team of publicists. Way to connect to the fans.

Twitter Is Bad, Mmkay

It’s as though Kutcher has flipped a switch. Last week he was a Twitter advocate and investor who would talk up the power of the platform at every available opportunity. Now, he doesn’t want anything to do with Twitter and thinks it has somehow been ruined by becoming mainstream. Or perhaps because there are too many ordinary folk reading his boring updates.

His assertion that “clearly the platform has become too big to be managed by a single individual” is ludicrous. He’s acting as though tweeting is some kind of job when actually it’s just writing short, snappy updates from your phone. The fact that all Kutcher’s tweets will now be channeled through an editing process to make sure he doesn’t make another faux pas shows just how disconnected to his fans and out-of-touch the man has become.

Kutcher has now added another reason to the increasingly long list of reasons to dislike him. And Twitter has lost someone who, up to now, has been one of its biggest cheerleaders. I suspect the number of people following Kutcher will start to drop off sharply very soon, and all because of a tweet that most people wouldn’t have heard about or taken any notice of had he just apologized and moved on. Another example of the Streisand Effect in action.

Image Credit: Xioubin Low
Image Credit: Robert Scoble

Diggnation Ends In December–What Can Fill The Void?

Love it or hate it, Diggnation is a popular podcast that has helped put web-based television on the map. The premise is simple: two dudes (Alex Albrecht and Kevin Rose) sit on a couch, drink beer, and discuss some of the top news from the social news bookmarking website Digg.com. Unfortunately, the days of Diggnation are numbered, as Kevin and Alex recently announced they will end their 6+ year run at the end of 2011.

I’m a long-time fan of the show and have been watching it from its early days in 2006. Albrecht and Rose have a chemistry that isn’t common in podcasting, and you can’t help but laugh as the two former TechTV friends joke around with their producer (Preggar) and cameraman (Hippie Glenn). Perhaps the best part of the show is getting a candid look at Silicon Valley shaker Kevin Rose and hearing about his many connections in companies such as Facebook and Apple.

But now it’s coming to an end and I need something to fill my Wednesday nights. Is there anything out there that can fill the shoes of Diggnation? Here are a few possibilities.

Foundation (Revision3)

The brainchild of Kevin Rose, Foundation is a series of in-depth interviews with the founders of important start-ups in the Bay area. As an angel investor himself, Rose is able to get to the heart of the start-up process during these casual conversations. Foundation is an inspiring look at the movers and shakers in the tech industry. Definitely worth a look.

Totally Rad Show (Revision3)

While Kevin Rose is developing Foundation, Alex Albrecht has been crafting the Totally Rad Show (TRS) into a prolific video game and entertainment podcast with a big following. I gave it a chance and to be honest, it wasn’t my cup of tea. Still, Albrecht and co-hosts Dan Trachtenberg and Jeff Cannata know their stuff. They keep it fresh by constantly changing locations and format; I can appreciate the effort. It’s a must-see if you’re into video games.

This Week In Tech (TWiT)

I’m a big fan of This Week in Tech because  it’s so reminiscent of The Screen Savers. Leo Laporte brings in regular guests like Patrick Norton and John C. Dvorak to discuss the latest in technology news which often goes off the rails in a funny and informal style. A few episodes made me a fan of Dvorak, who is famous for his crotchety rants and his own regular podcasts No Agenda and the now-retired Cranky Geeks.

Circuits of David Pogue (New York Times)

David Pogue is a riot and posts short tech-related videos in a unique way. His videos are generally funny and intended to show the good and bad aspects of a product or service without explicitly stating them. For example, his recent post about Google Wallet shows the convenience and impracticability of Google’s newest game-changer. Pogue’s videos will keep you busy and informed.

Personal Technology (All Things Digital)

Walt Mossberg is a technology columnist for the Wall Street Journal and has a lot of useful tips for picking out products, from digital cameras to tablet PCs. Mossberg is also a prolific blogger and event host for All Things Digital and has rubbed elbows with the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Mossberg’s perspectives are informative, relatable, and dog-gone-it useful.

Conclusion

In truth, I don’t think anything will be able to take the place of Diggnation if you’ve been watching for as long as I have. Revision3 and TWiT have a slew of great tech shows like TekZilla, Giz Wiz, and the Giga Om Show,  but nothing I’ve found can match the comedy and attitude of Diggnation.

All good things come to an end, and we’ll miss Diggnation, but hopefully these other great podcasts will keep you from being left in the lurch.

GIVEAWAY: Win a 3 month subscription of Slacker Premium Radio

Only a few years ago, I couldn’t see an end to the music piracy/RIAA debacle. It would go something like this: A new music sharing application would emerge, it would be promptly used for illegal activities, and then the RIAA would roll in and hand out lawsuits which usually ended in the service being shut down (or being shut down then having their pants sued off).

Now I sit here in the glorious future, and legal music services are everywhere. To make things even better: we’re giving away three 3-month subscriptions to Slacker Premium Radio!

Slacker isn’t exactly new of course – the streaming radio service has built a very positive reputation since its inception in 2007. You can access the service on iPhone, iPad, Android, Palm, Windows Phone 7, BlackBerry, and many other devices.

In addition to the features provided by their standard streaming service, Slacker Premium offers:

  • No advertisements
  • Unlimited song skips
  • On-demand access, giving you full control over the Slacker library. If you want to hear a specific song or artist, just select it from the library and play.
  • Custom playlist creation
  • Play music without an internet connection: Slacker will store up to 1,000 songs on your mobile device so you’ll always have your music, even if your data connection gives out.

How to Enter

Nobody likes a complicated giveaway, so to enter the contest simply post a comment below. Just make sure to use a valid account, whether it be email, Twitter, Facebook – we’ll need to contact you if you’re selected.

Entry will close at 10:00 PM Saturday, September 3rd. Good luck!