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An Active Apple

June 28, 2010
By Dave Hecei,

Summer is a time for barbecues, beach parties, and vacations. It is usually not a time for tech roll-outs, but Apple would say otherwise. Just this last week Apple released the 4th generation iPhone, appropriately named iPhone 4. They also released iOS 4, an updated iPhone OS for previous models, and earlier this month, a newly redesigned Mac mini.

Of course the big news is the new iPhone 4. This new iPhone is the first real remake since the original iPhone. Previous models where identical on the outside but each newer model had some improvements on the inside.

The iPhone 4 has an all-new design. Instead of looking more like an iPod, the new iPhone is flat on the front and back. This is due to both the front and back being made of glass. You may think that this would make the iPhone more fragile, but this glass is special. According to Apple, this glass is chemically treated to not only help resist fingerprints and other smudges, but to be 20 times stiffer and 30 time harder than plastic. This also allows the iPhone to be thinner. Another benefit is that glass is much more recyclable than plastic, making the new iPhone even more environmentally friendly.

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The look of the new iPhone is quite striking. The front and back glass pieces are brought together with a band of stainless steel that wraps around the outside. In fact, this band is actually in two pieces and also acts as wireless antennas - one for WiFi and Bluetooth and one for cellular. The iPhone is available two colors, white or black. The big difference from previous models is that the white model is now very white.

On the inside of the iPhone we find lots of new goodies. The processor is now the Apple design A4 chip, which is also used in the new iPad. The screen is the same physical size, but instead of showing 480 by 320 pixels it now shows 960 by 640 pixels. Apple calls this new screen technology - Retina. Technically, the screen has a density of over 300 ppi (pixels per inch). The end result is superior sharpness. The new iPhone 4 also has more RAM inside, now 512MB. We are not talking about storage here, which is still either 16 or 32GB, but RAM memory. The more RAM you have the faster you can go and more things you can do at once.

And this brings us to the new iPhone operating system. Released for previous models just days before the new phone hit the shelves, iOS4 has many new features. The most talked about is multitasking. This is not true multitasking, like on your desktop computer, but it is a way for Apps to stay active in the background and hopefully not putting a major drain on the battery. Now you can finally listen to Pandora Radio while working in other Apps.

Other new features are two cameras, one on the front and one on the back. The back camera is for stills and video, even in HD. It features a 5MP sensor that seems to be a nice improvement over the iPhone 3GS. The front facing camera is used for video calls or chats. At the moment the only thing that can use it is Apple's FaceTime. This is a simple to use videophone feature, but it only works with other iPhone 4 owners AND you both must be connected to a WiFi network. It does not use the cellular network. Reports across the Internet point to a big vote yes for FaceTime.

For other iPhone models, except the original iPhone, iOS 4 is available as an update. It brings many nice new features and fixes to the iPhone, while not all of these are available depending on the phone you have. For 3GS owners not going to a new iPhone, iOS 4 is a must have. It doesn't quite bring it up to the level of the new iPhone, but it does give it many of its features.

Not to be outdone with mobile releases, Apple finally updated the Mac mini. The mini is Apple's smallest and also least expensive Mac in the lineup. The new mini is not a speed improvement but the first true remake of the mini, which has been around since the G4 PowerPC days. The mini is now slightly wider, 7.7-inches square, and 1.4-inches high. The original mini was 6.5-inches by 2-inches high.

Like the MacBook line, the mini is now made from a solid block of aluminum. It is then machined to allow for all the internal components. This makes the mini feel a bit heavier, but it does make for a super tough and rigid unit.

Unlike the previous minis, the new model is much easier to upgrade. Flipping the mini over we find a large black rubber piece that rotates slightly for removal. Behind this is easy access to two RAM slots allowing the mini to have up to 8GB of RAM. With a bit more work, the main board, the hard drive, and optical drive can also be removed, though not recommended.

On the back of the mini are the usual ports. Ethernet, mini DisplayPort, Firewire 800, 3-USB 2.0, and audio jacks. What is new back here is an HDMI port. This is used to connect the mini to an HD television. With the included adapter, you can also connect it to any monitor with a DVI port. There is also an SD memory slot for your still or digital video camera cards.

Inside the mini is a slightly faster processor, 2.4GHz, and better video, GeForce 320M. It comes with 2GB of RAM, 320GB hard drive, DVD SuperDrive, 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, and Bluetooth 2.1. Build to order options includes a 2.66GHz processor, 500GB hard drive, and up to 8GB of RAM.

The big surprise is the missing power brick. The new min how has a standard two-pronged A/C power connector in the back. This means that the power supply is now inside the mini. Previous models had a huge, and heavy, external power supply. Now you can pack up the mini and easily take it from room to room or even to work.

The mini still does not come with either a keyboard or mouse. If you already have USB ones, you are set. But since the mini is so small and makes an ideal media server for your HDTV, why not take this opportunity to get a wireless set. The mini does have Bluetooth built-in, but these can be pricey. I like the Microsoft wireless keyboards and mice. I really like the Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 5000 (street price around $35).

The iPhone 4 is priced at $199 for 16GB or $299 for 32GB and is available in black or white. The new Mac mini is priced at $699 for desktop model. There is a server version running at 2.66GHz, with OS X Snow Leopard Server, no DVD/CD drive, two 500GB hard drives, and 4GB of RAM priced at $999.

Apple is not a company to sit idly while others are busy. Google's operating system for phones and mobile devices is starting to take off in a big way. So far this year Apple has brought out new notebooks, the arrival of the much-rumored tablet - the iPad, a whole new iPhone, and now a whole new Mac mini. This summer has been very active.



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