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Apple Special Event September 2015 #apple

Apple’s September event has come and gone. Re-watch the keynote at Apple’s website.

Well, all the common rumours are pretty much on the spot.

Tim Cook is changing the keynote style. Unlike Jobs who likes to talk about statistics before the actual announcements, Tim Cook seems to prefer to just go straight to the announcements.

First, Apple Watch. WatchOS 2, and new models (color) and bands. I thought smartwatch is just an expensive fad. I do own a Motorola 360, and I only bought it due to the price cut when the Apple Watch was released. At $400, I’m still not convinced whether it is worth it to get a first gen product. Time has proven again and again that Apple’s second revision of the product is much better (iPad, iPhone, iPod nano). With Apple pushing apps on the Apple Watch, I am going to wait for the next revision to see if it is finally worth the price.

The more important here to me is the partnership with Hermes. The lay people amy brush this away, but this is the next step of Apple as a business. Apple is making itself into more of a brand company, and it is selecting luxury partners. We will see how Apple progress, and how the other tech companies are confused how Apple is making so much money.

Next up is iPad, and yes, the rumours are correct. We are getting a 12.9″ iPad Pro, with stylus support called Apple Pencil, and a smart keyboard cover. Yes, sounds like the same concept as Microsoft’s Surface.

What’s amazing is the inside. It is sporting an A9X chip, and simply listening to Apple’s claim on what the chip can do is quite mind boggling. Apple claims that it is faster than 80% of the laptops out there. That’s a huge claim, considering intel has been making great improvements on its Atom and Core processors. GPU performance claim is also huge, 2x the 8X, and Apple is claiming it is faster than 90% of laptops out there. Being able to edit 4K movies is a jaw-dropping capability, considering that even my Macbook Pro is still choking on 1080p videos in Final Cut Pro X.I am wondering how Apple does it. Having said that, I am guessing majority of laptops out there are running Atom and low end Celeron and Pentium processors, and thus explain the claim of GPU superiority of the A9X. I mean intel integrated graphics are not the greatest, but I doubt the A9X can match the Iris GPUs, which are in the Macbook Pros.

Other features are 4 speakers, and the new connectors for accessories, including the smart keyboard. However, just like Microsoft, the keyboard cover is sold at a premium, for $170. Oh and there’s the stylus called Apple Pencil, for an extra $100. But it is charging from the lightning connector? It is stupid, having the pencil sticking out on the huge iPad Pro. Maybe Apple Pencil 2 will have a rotatable lightning connector. I harp on Microsoft for note including the keyboard cover with the Surface, but at least Microsoft included the stylus on the Surface Pro.

As usual, Apple made videos starring Johnny Ive to narrate technology into an alluring advertisement. This is the magic of Apple, as it made me interested into getting the iPad Pro. However, I think 12.9″ is too big. I think the iPad Pro is a test bed. When you look at the models available, it has a weird lineup, inconsistent with previous iPads offering. Apple only offers it in 3 models, 32GB, 128GB, and 128GB + cellular. There’s no 32GB + cellular, nor 64GB models. They are expensive too. 32GB model is $800, and the 128GB + cellular is $1080. Yes, finally a $1000 iPad… Sounds like Apple is still determining how the market would react and what kind of demands they would have. Personally, I will be waiting for an updated regular iPad with the Pencil support. That would be a more ideal size for students.

Interestingly, Apple updated the iPad mini into iPad mini 4 without actual announcement. The iPad mini 3 was silly, only adding Touch ID over the iPad mini 2. The mini 4 is a more appropriate update, adding the A8 chip. Interestingly, Apple is keeping the mini 2 for the lower price point instead of the mini 3. iPad mini 2 now starts at $270, which is quite a steal imo (the refurbished 16GB wifi is getting close to the $200 price point, being sold at $230). Imagine an iPad at almost the same price as an iPod Touch. On the other hand, Apple now has a sale of iPad lineup, contrasting their typical simple product line up. Now Apple has iPad mini 2, mini 4, iPad Air, Air 2, and the Pro. That’s a lot of models.

Next up Apple TV. Apple finally is making its long-rumored attempt at gaming console, again. The interesting part is the Siri user interface, using the Siri remote with a trackpad on it. It is powered by the A8 chip. It is interesting how this can be clocked as now it doesn’t have as much physical restrictions as Apple’s portable devices. Apple is selling this new Apple TV at two capacity sizes, 32GB for $150 and 64GB for $200. I think this class of device should be simplified, meaning Apple should just sell the 64GB model for $149. I think this is Apple’s trick in upselling. Why? Apps. The new TV will run sophisticated apps just like other iOS devices, including games. I’m guessing Apple is banking for consumers to pay more for more storage for the apps. It will be interesting to see how Roku and Amazon would react to this. Apple’s huge advantage is its huge movie library.

And lastly, the iPhone 6S/6S+. The rumours are pretty much spot on. It has the same outer appearance as the 6 obviously, and there’s a rose gold color option. It is running the A9 chip, and retaining the same capacities and price points as the previous iPhone 6. It has the force touch called 3D touch. Camera is upgraded, with 12MP on the rear and 5MP at the front. It is 4k capable also. Can’t wait to get my hands on this, although I am concerned about the smaller battery and rumours that it still only has 1GB of RAM.

One interesting feature is Live Photos. Basically the camera will be capturing extra frames for a second before and a second later when you press the shutter button, giving you a quick video clip in addition to the picture itself. It reminds me of HTC Zoe, which I said in the past for Apple to copy it. The problem with HTC Zoe is that it is keeping multitude of pictures, creating confusion when backing up the photos as now you have tons of pictures of the “same” thing (which creates the frames of the quick snippet). Looks like Apple made things more seamless. Will be interesting how services like dropbox would deal with live photos.

Another interesting move is for Apple to do its own iPhone instalment plan, which makes you “subscribe” to Apple starting at $32 a month. Apple will give you an unlocked iPhone with AppleCare+, and you will get the new one every year. This is definitely a jab at the carriers as now people can get an iPhone for just $384 a year, and it’s unlocked to boot. This is Apple’s solution to attack the cheap Android phones. Very bold and interesting move, and I hope it gets adopted outside the US where people prefer unlocked and no-contract.

iCloud storage is also updated, with 50GB for 99cents a month. Sounds pretty sweet to me and I might finally bite (although it has not shown on the iCloud purchase setting page yet on Yosemite).

Online, you will see people claiming that the whole thing is underwhelming, mainly because the rumours pretty much nailed everything down, thus no “new” surprises.  However, I think this is a huge turning point for Apple. I can see the A9X as the starting point for Apple to consider an Ax powered Macbook. The Apple Pencil might create a new feature set for future iPads. The new Apple TV is Apple’s attempt to attack the gaming console market with a full app store ecosystem. And finally the iPhones 6S/6S+, creating a new UI experience with 3D Touch. People judge books by its cover. So people will be more excited when they see a new Android device that look different (but only having minuscule improvements inside), while scoff off Apple’s S-cycle iPhones that carry a lot inside but appear the same externally. I mean seriously, look at the Xperia Z3, Z4 and Z5. The 6S brings a ton more over the 6 than Sony did for its Xperia flagship.

I have posted about how I am considering switching back to iPhone, and the 6S is the obvious candidate. I will be waiting on the side for Apple Watch 2 and iPad Air 3 with Pencil support. I was considering getting the retina Macbook when Apple updates it with Skylake, but the iPad Pro muddles the water. Can’t wait what Apple can do next year with the A10.

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Posted by on September 11, 2015 in impression, Keynote

 

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Installing Windows #rant

I am a Mac user, and there is a reason why I switched to OS X a while back. Well, apparently there is a Windows only program that I have to use. So, here’s an adventure in installing Windows 8.1 on my Macbook Air.

First thing first, I would need an ISO of Windows 8 for OS X’s boot camp. Why Windows 8? I have a Windows 8 upgrade key, and no, Windows 8 key cannot be used to activate Windows 8.1, despite Windows 8.1 being a free update. It’s amazing the things Microsoft went through to make sure legit users are inconvenienced.

Now the ISO itself. Guess what, Microsoft does NOT provide one. Yeah, Microsoft has gone above and beyond to ensure that you rather purchase a new Windows 8 computer. If you have a friend with a Windows 7/8 PC, you are in luck as you can simply download the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant and it will allow you to download the installation set and create an ISO.

But what if you are stuck with only a Mac at your disposal? Well, Microsoft does provide an ISO for the Windows 8 Enterprise trial. (Hint: their link for the 64bit actually will download the 32bit version, and vice versa.) Yes, Microsoft, a huge software company, cannot even put the right link to their software. Just another step to discourage user from downloading an ISO, I guess.

After downloading that and running boot camp, I managed to install Windows 8 Enterprise trial. Can I use my key to activate this into a regular Windows 8? Nope. Apparently this trial version cannot be used for anything other than a trial. But at least I have a Windows installation now that I can use to download Windows 8 upgrade assistant, right? Nope. Apparently Windows 8 was not available for download in my area for some reason. WTF Microsoft? Still, all hope was not lost. I Googled “upgrade windows with only a product key,” and Microsoft has a utility that can download an ISO for Windows 8. Great, progress.

Now that I have a real Windows 8 ISO instead of the trial, I purged the Windows 8 Enterprise trial install, created a new boot camp with an actual Windows 8. So far so good. But then it cannot be activated since my key is an upgrade key. Yes, Microsoft makes sure that you cannot use the product you bought. Good thing there is an easy workaround for this one, using the “rearm” technique. I still had to make a phone call to a Microsoft rep that gave me a set of numbers, but finally my Windows 8 install was activated. So time to update to Windows 8.1. Easy, right?

Nope. Windows 8.1 is available from the Windows store, and Microsoft forces you to download it from the store (no ISO). If you use the utilities I mentioned above, they will tell you to go to the Windows store. Problem is, downloading Windows 8.1 from the store would always result in an error and failing to install. This was extremely annoying as the error happened AFTER I had to wait for the 3+GB download to finish. Subsequent retries forced me to redownload the whole thing again and again. Oh my Lord.

After browsing the net to find a solution, I finally decided to do a “reset” of Windows 8. This is a nice feature of Windows 8. It basically “re-install” your Windows 8 installation without deleting your data. Programs not from the store will be deleted, but it’s still more convenient that having to do an actual full re-install. Problem is, this process uninstalled all the Apple drivers and boot camp, so I had to re-install those afterwards. Oh, and of course there were 92 patches that I needed to download and install for every fresh Windows 8 install I did.

After days of downloading, installing, and installing stuff, finally, Windows 8.1 update from the store managed to run properly. Yes, finally! Such a ridiculous process. Really, does Microsoft expect a lay person to be patient enough to go through all these just to use a Microsoft product?

So Microsoft, if you want people to install Windows from your store like Apple, make sure it fuckin works. If you cannot do that, the least you could’ve done is to provide straight ISO downloads so people can simply do an update the traditional way. But no, you rather have your legit customers annoyed and confused.

There is a reason why I switched to OS X.

/rant

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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WWDC 2014 Impression

Apple was streaming the keynote live, and it is up for streaming on demand. This is a great trend as couch commentators like me can talk crap about it without having to wait for Apple to “post produce” it.

Anyway, let’s get on it.

As usual, the keynote started with a video of people saying how various apps have changed their lives. Looks like the focus is on the people. It would’ve been great if Apple had mentioned more groundbreaking apps instead of some useless ones like Candy Crush, but oh well. Tim Cook started with the usual stats. Mavericks vs Windows 8. Oh, Windows 8 only has 14% of market share. But 14% of how many users Tim? Remember that world wide market share of OS X is really tiny, minuscule compared to Windows. So even 10% of Windows users count as a LOT. Typical Apple reality distortion technique. Fact is, we are seeing more and more Windows devices in tablet form factors that are only $300-$500. 

Craig was up next to talk about the new OS X. Craig Federighi always seems like a d-bag to me, but the script of the keynotes and his jokes were usually quite funny. The joke was on trying to find new name for the next OS X. OS X Weed? That would’ve been awesome. 😀 So the next OS X will be named Yosemite. And, another video, showing the new flatter look, inspired by iOS7.

So, what’s new? Translucency everywhere. Kinda like Windows Vista. New dock (flat, just like right now if you put the dock on the sides), new trash can icon. Dark mode, with white on black translucent background. I have a feeling I will like the dark mode, a lot.

A big update is for the notification center. Now you can have different widgets on it. Just like… yes, Windows Vista’s Gadgets. Remember those? 😀 New Spotlight. In previous versions of the OS, Spotlight has always been on the top right corner, out of the way, simple. In Yosemite, it will be at the center of the screen with huge search bar. I don’t like it. It feels that it is on my way, blocking what I am doing. Why the change? It was fine on the top right corner. Context wise, it fits as the search icon is on the top right corner. In Yosemite, having it in the middle of the screen just doesn’t feel natural. Boo. On the bright side, you can do unit conversion on Spotlight now. Sounds like it’s baby step of putting Siri on OS X. Maybe next version. Spotlight has become universal search ala Siri.

Oh, Craig kept showing the translucency. Seriously, who cares? Do people really want to be reminded how Yosemite is copying Windows Vista?

Next, iCloud Drive. What? Remember when Steve Jobs announced iCloud, how it’s not another “drive in the sky.” Well, Steve Jobs is rolling in his grave now. iCloud is basically just like Dropbox/SkydriveOneDrive/Google Drive in Finder. I don’t think this is the vision of iCloud. Is this the signs of Apple crumbling without the vision of Jobs? Mail drop, basically using iCloud as a reservoir for your email attachments, kinda what Microsoft and Google have been doing (using OneDrive and GDrive respectively). Oh, the file size can be up to 5GB. Whoop dee doo, as free iCloud accounts has ONLY 5GB. :roll eyes: An interesting feature is the built-in markup within Mail. Signature on PDFs is also great.

Safari now has more awesome bar, with built-in Siri Spotlight. More power efficient, which is great (poor Firefox, but I still prefer Firefox). Demo by somebody named Brian. Err, yeah, not sure who he is… 😀 I don’t think Favorites in the search bar is good. If you only have few websites, sure, but I have a boatload of sites in my Favorites. I never realized the “Send to” feature though, even though it’s been there, at least on Mavericks. The auto shape and dialog bubble recognition of the new Markup feature in Mail looks neat though, but I hardly use the OS X Mail app anymore ever since I have the iPad.

Airdrop between iOS and OS X. Finally! Although I wonder if there’s a limitation on which hardware is supported. The Hand-off feature seems too good to be true. Will have to see how it works in real life. Ability to do a hotspot when you have an iPhone nearby is awesome though. iMessage syncing all messages with all devices. And phone calls too, including using the Mac as a speakerphone. Gee, sounds familiar… I think Palm did this, and Motorola also did something similar. Of course, Palm is gone and Motorola is bought by Lenovo. These features may not be new, but Apple’s implementation across all Apple devices and Apple’s presence would probably put these feature to the mainstream. Oh, and a call to Dr Dre, hinting on Apple’s purchase of Beats Audio.

Free OS X Yosemite in the fall, with public beta program in the summer.

100 million iPod Touches. Maybe it’s time to update that Tim. Oh, time for a jab at Android, and how people bought an Android device by mistake. Ha ha Tim, very funny. Your iPhone is not water proof yet Tim. What Tim Cook was suggesting is the superior experience of iOS, unless if you have A5 devices or older, which are bogged down by iOS7. Another jab to Android is fragmentation. Valid point this time. Malware on Android, 99%… Err, oookay, good point, but Apple has its own problems.

iOS 8. “Giant release.” Spoiler: new programming language with Swift.

Craig is back (since no more Scott Forstall). Interactive notification, eg. ability to reply to a message right in notification. Android has something similar, but it’s not universally supported, and the variants between OEMs don’t help either. Better Safari UI for the iPad. One thing I find annoying with the Mail app on iOS is that when I’m composing a new email, I cannot do anything else. No multi-tasking within the mail app. This is highly annoying. Luckily, looks like Apple noticed that, and on iOS 8, you can swipe down the compose “window” to get back to there mails. Nice! People probably won’t appreciate this as I see most people are still using web-based emails (instead of using the mail app to access their accounts).

The task switching screen is now cluttered with favorited contacts at the top. Not sure if this is a good idea as there’s no context between the task switching screen and contacts. On the iPad demo, the auto recognition of messages for calendar events seems neat. Spotlight on iOS gets richer ala Yosemite (and overlapping with Siri). This extends to the search bar on Safari. QuickType, predictive typing. Just like the various keyboards on Android like Swype or Swift key. Neat, but I rather have support for multiple language in one keyboard instead of switching keyboards back and forth. Continuity brings integration with iDevices. This is going to be great.

Messaging app gets a lot of improvement. I still think iOS Messages to be better than the dozens of SMS apps on Android. Video and voice messages. Nothing new, but iOS 8 makes it easier to actually do it right on the Messages app. The summary on group messaging is great. Many SMS apps, even well known ones, on Android cannot even handle location on Vcards properly (many not at all). The skit with Craig is pretty funny. I can see the auto reply audio messages can be frustrating though, with people sending unintentional messages. Looks like now Apps can share files, instead of importing and exporting stuff when dealing with multiple apps.

Enterprise, with Craig focusing on security and privacy. Those two words seem to be the buzz words of the year. Imo this is where Android is lagging.

Health. Yup, the rumored Healthbook, dubbed HealthKit and Health app. Integration with other apps and Mayo Clinic. This is going to be interesting, and we will see which companies that can adopt this. Healthcare companies are usually slow in adopting new techs. Interesting is also the mention of Epic. Many hospitals are using Epic, so this can be huge. See, a lot of tech bloggers only care about iWatch, but Apple is taking a much bigger leap than the others by working together with healthcare providers. That’s real innovation. 

Family Sharing, a long awaited feature. It’s basically the ability to aggregate purchases of family members, and great notifications for parents.

Updated Photos app. Seriously, I think it’s time for Apple to just consolidate iPhoto into this. Updating the stock Photos app seems dysfunctional when there’s iPhoto (that seems to be ignored). The new editing features are really great. It basically make the editing I usually do in Lightroom into a simple scrollable setting. The inter-devices editing is great as previously, you will have multiple copies of the photo. Photos on the Mac? WTF happened to iPhoto? Did Apple just kill iPhoto? Oh, and an app for Windows too? This is BIG imo.

And now, your photos, and videos, will be using the iCloud drive’s storage space (previously, photo stream doesn’t count). Oh and yes, stingy Apple only gives you 5GB free. For photos, that may be okay, but for videos? Come on Apple. Of course, Apple wants you to pay more. 99c per month for 20GB. In contrast, Google gives you 15GB free. Microsoft gives you 7GB free, and an additional 3GB if you use the auto camera upload feature. Apple’s 5GB free doesn’t look as great anymore. Apple has 200GB plan for $3.99 a month. This is actually not that bad. In comparison, Google gives 100GB for $1.99 a month, while Microsoft wants $100 annually for 200GB. Dropbox, which imo is the gold standard, offers 2GB free (with many promotions to add more free storage), and 100GB for $9.99 per month. So iCloud drive is not bad if you are willing to spend some money, but for freebies, you get better deal elsewhere.

Okay Hey Siri, basically a copy of Okay Google. No demo, so I wonder if this would be more of a feature for the new iPhone. I would think the “always on” feature would drain the battery on current and older iPhones.

Tim is back. Now developers can bundle apps. App previews, which is just a video trailer/preview for an app, something that is nothing new on Google Play. TestFlight, ability for debs to invite users to beta test their apps. Craig (Superman… Really? :roll eyes) came back to the stage with some new features form the SDK, namely extensibility. It allows apps to share things back and forth more openly, just like Android, but Craig said it is still secure. Yes, hopefully more apps will utilize the sharing feature. Widget on notification tray. By the way, the extension has three dots, just like… Android. The extension on Safari seems awesome though. The demo is for Bing translate, but I’m hoping there will be deeper extensions to allow things like Adblock or things like that.

Third party keyboards. Say what? Yeah, now iOS allows third party keyboards. Hopefully there will by Swype for iOS. TouchID for 3rd party apps. Camera APIs for manual controls. I can sense more fancy camera apps. HomeKit API, common protocol for home automation. CloudKit, basically offering developers a free “server.”

Metal, replacing OpenGL. (?) Yeah, Apple was big in pushing OpenGL ES as the standard, but now that they are the major player in portable gaming, looks like Apple decided to do its own, called Metal. SpriteKit for more casual games. SceneKit, to create 3D games easier, I guess? I sense Apple pushing more into gaming. Maybe a new beefier iPod Touch? Of even games on an Apple TV? Very interesting, but I wonder if this is more of an incentive to make games exclusive to iOS.

New programming language. This is very big. From Objective-C to Swift. Native Cocoa and Cocoa Touch. It is going to be interesting how this would attract new developers, and how current developers would adopt it.

iOS 8 in fall, supporting anything with an A5 chip onward. Yes, no iPhone 4 there, so that’s it for iPhone 4 users. The support for A5 is important as many small businesses are still using the iPad 2 (since Apple themselves was still selling it until recently).

Tim returned to wrap up the keynote. No hardware here folks, purely software. We actually saw a lot of new stuff here. iOS 8 is pretty much redesigning iOS under the hood with Metal, Swift, and the various Kits in the new SDK. Now I’m actually excited to see what Apple has in store for the iPhone 6 to take advantage of many of these new features. My 2 cents.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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WWDC 2014 Prediction

Obligatory post about the next Apple event. To be honest, I don’t feel like it’s going to be as exciting as some people would be hoping. Part of the excitement of past Apple events was the performance itself, by Steve Jobs. His mastery in the presentation is what makes the events enjoyable imo. Now, it relies more on the products.

So, what to expect on this WWDC? Well, the banners are up, so we will see announcements of iOS 8 and the next OS X. The next OS X is rumored to be called Yosemite. There are rumors that it will get some design cues from the “flatness” of iOS7. I think the big push will be on tagging. I think Apple is inching itself away from the traditional file system. Tagging is helpful, but it is not pushed as much as it is supposed to. Many apps still rely on the old file names paradigm, thus only provide that interface to the user.

Another interesting step is whether Apple is going to introduce OS X on ARM. I think this will be the next big thing. It’s no secret that Apple has prototypes of MacBooks running their Ax SoC. The move to 64 bit on the A7 is a big hint on what’s to come. These SoCs are becoming more and more powerful. Sure, they won’t be challenging intel in a Mac Pro anytime soon, but imagine an even lighter and thinner Macbook with even better battery life. And while on it, comes with built-in cellular radio. That would be THE laptop for everybody.

iOS 8’s banner has what seems to be an ocean background. I’m hoping for waterproof iPhones, but I think this will be more about the iOS, not a new iPhone. Can’t expect too much other than for Apple to fix the bugs of iOS7, and optimize it further so it is lean and fast. Right now, even on 7.1.1, my iPhone still has the annoying springboard restarts, even when it is just lying on the table. That’s ridiculous. But typical Apple, I’m afraid they will focus more on utilizing the co-processor of the A7 SoC, thus pretty much rendering anything with the A6 or older to be “less desirable.” Planned obsolesce. Annoying, but won’t be too surprising. When I had the iPhone 4, I thought I would not need to get any newer iPhone. It runs iOS6 okay. I upgraded to the iPhone 5 mainly for the camera and RAM. But we saw iOS7 putting the aging iPhone 4 to its knees. Even A5 devices are not doing so hot on iOS7, and Apple is still selling the 4S and iPad mini. Apple is using software to entice people to upgrade. I just hope Apple sees the legacy they have created. Due to the popularity of the iPad, there are a lot of people and businesses that are still using the old iPad 2, or even the original iPad. Imo Apple needs to start thinking about legacy support. The least Apple should do is optimize iOS8 to run great on the older devices, instead of just putting in more useless animations to make the older devices buckle.

Another rumor is Health book and wearables. There are leaks of a new Health book app, and the rumors of wearables from the legendary iWatch rumor to simply certifications of health/medical devices that are compatible with iDevices. I have a feeling the later to be more accurate. And I still think Apple won’t do an iWatch. The iWatch was simply a rumor conjured up by the tech bloggers, just like the rumor about Apple making an actual television. The tech bloggers keep using the iWatch rumor so much that they themselves are believing that it would be real. Personally, nah.

Some hardware rumors are an updated Apple TV. I think at least Apple need to update the chip as the last Apple TV is still running a single core A5. However, this can wait for the later events, not in WWDC.

How about new Macs? Apple is just starting to ship the new Mac Pro, so I doubt anything new on that. Intel does not have a full refresh on their lineup yet, so I don’t think any of the laptops would see a refresh. The rumor is for a 12″ retina Macbook Air. Not so sure about this, but the Macbook Air do deserve some refresh on their screens. More and more Windows tablets have better screens than the current Air. If Apple is doing a new hardware design, I think it would be linked towards the goal of making an ARM based Macbook, so I don’t know if we will see anything right now.

The only hardware remaining that has not received Haswell treatment is the Mac mini, but updating the Mac mini is not that exciting unless Apple is doing some major hardware update (making it look like a mini Mac Pro, for instance). There’s a rumor of a cheaper iMac, but even if that’s the case, I think that will be only for the educational institutions, something that Apple has been doing in the past. The current iMacs are all running pretty up-to-date hardware. If Apple need to do something, my wish is to make the fusion drive as standard.

Another rumor is the iPad Pro, or something like that. Basically a larger screen iPad with multi-windowing system. Maybe that’s what iOS8 will bring. Samsung definitely thinks Apple would do this as they came out with their 12″ Tab Pro. I personally think the 12″ ARM running Macbook to be more plausible than this larger iPad.

On the business side, there’s the purchase of Beats audio. However, I don’t know how this would relate to WWDC. Even if Apple is announcing some new music streaming services or whatnot, the typical September media even would be more appropriate.

We will see what will happen in the next few days. I have a feeling this will be focused on developers, not hardware, so it might be disappointing to the gadget-lusting tech bloggers. I can’t wait for the headlines next week about Apple can no longer innovate and that they are doomed. 

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Smartphone Buying Guide 2013

Since many tech blogs are doing a smartphone buying guide thanks to the holiday shopping season, I’m going to do one too with my own bias. 😀 If you read my blog for sometime, you know how I feel about provider locking, so this guide will focus mostly on GSM unlocked phones and GSM carriers/MVNOs. It’s actually pretty easy since unlocked phones is not the norm in the US.

Carrier Choice

In the US, there are only two major GSM carriers, AT&T and T-Mobile. Among those two, T-Mobile offers the best bang for the buck, and also the carrier that has a lot of MVNOs. The catch is coverage. So I would check their coverage first. Another great way to check coverage is to ask friends and family members as it will give you better real-life testimonies. Note that the coverage on T-Mobile’s website is assuming you have a phone with AWS band support. Unfortunately, since the number of carriers that use this band is extremely small, most phone manufactures don’t bother supporting it. Luckily, T-Mobile has also started to refarm the 1900 band for 3G in some areas, which is more widely supported than AWS as AT&T also uses this band. You can check this site to see if your area is a refarmed area. Note that this site is generated from user input, so the data is definitely more limited.

If you are not lucky enough to be covered by T-Mobile, next step is AT&T. In general, AT&T is more expensive, and has less choice in MVNOs. Their 3G speed is also slower than T-Mobile’s HSPA+. The upside is coverage is better in general, although I have been in areas where T-Mobile actually has better coverage than AT&T. This is their site for their coverage. Again, better gauge is to ask your friends or family members as the general map coverage usually assume that you are outside, not indoors. AT&T uses 850 and 1900 bands for 3G, and they are supported by many phones.

LTE

Both AT&T and T-Mobile have started to offer LTE. The main advantage of LTE imo is the much lower latency. Browsing the internet under LTE feels more like a landline broadband than a cellular connection. Speed wise, however, is not much faster, at least in my experience. You see people on the internet bragging how much faster their LTE speed is, but so far in my experience in trying Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s LTE, I usually get around ~10-20Mbps down at best, which is not much different than a good HSPA+ connection.

T-Mobile uses LTE band 4, and AT&T uses band 4 and 17. In short, phones that supports AT&T LTE will support T-Mobile LTE by default. LTE coverage is still very limited. I would rather have a good HSPA+ coverage than a paltry LTE coverage.

If you really must have LTE, then your provider selection is more limited. So far, I think there are no T-Mobile MVNOs offering LTE service, so to get T-Mobile LTE, you have to get a T-Mobile plan. AT&T only offers LTE on their own plans and their MVNO Aio wireless (at lower speed of 8Mbps).

Picking Your Plan

I have posted quite a bit of discussions on different MVNOs in this, and this posts. Just to quickly recap and to update things a bit:

T-Mobile and Its MVNOs:
Cheapest with good amount of data: Ultra mobile. $19 a month gives you 250 minutes, unlimited SMS, and 50MB data. You can add 250MB for $5. This is the provider I’ve been using so far.
Best deal for heavy data user: T-Mobile monthly 4G. No need to go to Walmart. Just order the SIM online from T-Mobile themselves. $30 a month gives you 100 minutes, unlimited SMS, and 5GB data at 4G speed (2G speed afterwards). This deal is so good that T-Mobile themselves are not making it easy to find it.
For unlimited talk: Straight Talk offers either AT&T or T-Mobile SIM. $45 a month gives you unlimited voice, unlimited SMS, and 2.5GB high speed data. It’s good that they specify the limit now. Another option is Simple Mobile or Spot Mobile, both are offering $40 a month for unlimited voice, unlimited SMS, and 1GB high speed data.
$50 and up: If you are willing to spend more, Simple Mobile offers $50 plan that gives you 3GB of high speed data (unlimited voice and SMS). If you are a really big spender, T-Mobile will give you unlimited everything for $70 a month.
Longest expiration date: This is a great option for a backup SIM. Spot Mobile offers a pay-as-you-go plan with $5 good for 90days.

AT&T and Its MVNOs:
Cheapest with good amount of data: Airvoice Wireless offers $40 a month, unlimited minutes, unlimited SMS, and 1GB data.
Best deal for more data: Straight Talk. $45 a month, unlimited voice and SMS, 2.5GB high speed data.
$50 and up: Red Pocket offers $60 a month, unlimited voice and SMS, 3GB data. If money is no object, Aio Wireless has a $70 a month plan with unlimited voice, SMS, and 7GB data.
Longest expiration date: Airvoice Wireless pay-as-you-go has $10 credit that is good for 90 days.

As you can see, it is clear that T-Mobile offers more bang for the buck, so pray that you have good T-Mobile coverage. 🙂

Picking a Phone

You have decided on your carrier and your plan. Now’s the fun part, picking your phone. 🙂

Under $100:
The Lumia 520/521 is really a good Windows Phone 8 phone at this price range. Unfortunately, you will be stuck with either AT&T goPhone plans or T-Mobile’s prepaid plans unless you can get them unlocked. Seems like since it’s a popular phone, it is getting harder and harder to find unlocks for these phones. Another catch is the 521 T-Mobile version doesn’t seem to support band I (2100) for 3G based on the spec on T-Mobile website. Something to think about if you travel as band I is the most common band used for 3G in Asia and Europe. Caveat emptor. I would spend more money to get better flexibility of unlocked phones.

~$200:
Motorola’s Moto G. There is no contest here unless you start looking at used phones. $180 for 8GB, $200 for 16GB. 720p screen, quad-core Snapdragon 400, near stock Android. It’s not shipping yet, but it’s the best deal on paper right now. It even makes the Nexus looks expensive. 😀 No LTE, but at this price point, who cares. Do note that there are two versions being sold, a global version and a “US” version. The US version supports AWS, which is useful for T-Mobile coverage, at the expense of lacking 2100 band support (the frequency band used for 3G in most Asian and European countries). Both versions do support 850 and 1900 bands, so if your carrier is AT&T, or T-Mobile has refarmed the 1900 band in your area, my vote is for the global version.

If you are a Windows Phone fan, Microsoft is selling the HTC 8X unlocked for $250. 16GB, 720p SLCD gorilla glass screen, dual-core Snapdragon S4, quad-band HSPA (no AWS though), LTE support for AT&T and T-Mobile. It’s a much better phone than the Lumia 520, but value wise, imo the Moto G trumps this. Check out my quick impression of the HTC 8X.

~$400:
Google Nexus 5. Penta-band HSPA, LTE support for AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, Snapdragon 800, 1080p screen, latest Android KitKat. 16GB is $350 and 32GB is $400. Hard to beat at this price point. The only downside is probably the camera app. Check out my impression here.

Sony Xperia ZR is available around $450. It’s no Snapdragon 800 like the Nexus 5 and no LTE, but it is still a decent phone with penta-band HSPA, quad-core processor, 1080p screen, 2GB RAM, 8GB storage with SD slot, and it’s water proof. Something to check out if you need a phone that can withstand the environment a little bit. If you don’t need the water proofing, the Xperia ZL is bigger, supports LTE, and has 16GB storage instead. It’s hard to beat the Nexus 5 though for your money.

~$600:
The HTC One is available unlocked in regular Sense or stock Android versions. Ironically, HTC used to sell this for cheaper at $580 before the Google Play stock Android version came out. Spec wise, it has been upped by the Nexus 5, but it is still quite a beast with 1080p screen, LTE support (both AT&T and T-Mobile), Snapdragon 600, 2GB RAM, and 32GB storage. It only has tri-band HSPA though, no AWS support. I prefer the Sense version due to HTC Zoe as an added value. The GPE version is just stock Android, and at that price, might as well save the money and get the Nexus 5 instead.

iPhone:
iPhone is unique as it is only made by Apple. I wouldn’t get the iPhone 5c (16GB for $550, 32GB for $650). It’s basically a cheapened iPhone 5. If you are going to spend some $600, might as well get the iPhone 5s. Starts at 16GB for $650 and up to a whooping $850 for 64GB. It’s magical. Of course, the iOS experience is unique on iPhones, so the price premium might be worth it.

Well, there you go, my smartphone buying guide for 2013. 😀 Imo the real winner this year is the Moto G. Motorola was going to delay the Moto G in the US until next year, but looks like they were wise enough to ship it by December 2nd instead, and still catch the holiday buying season. At $200 for its spec, it really does offer great value, even arguably better than the Nexus phones. At this point, you have to really love your carrier to still buy a carrier controlled phone with contract. Nexus 5 is changing the game again, bringing top high end spec at mid-range price. iPhone is as magical as ever, and Apple doesn’t seem to be bothered by the low cost offerings of Android.

Hopefully this can bring some perspective into the plethora buying guides thrown in by tech blogs that are mostly focused on carrier controlled phones. ^_^ What phone do you want from Santa?

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Buying guide

 

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Apple Special Event October 2013 Impression

Well, that was quick. Apple live streamed their keynote, and the stream is already available. As an armchair critic, time for yet more 2 cents from me. 😀

The keynote started with a very deep video that is basically Apple explaining to those bloggers that are shouting that they are no longer innovative because they don’t have huge phones with swimming fish as a wallpaper like Android. Typical Apple, the video is highly produced. It’s simple, yet enjoyable to watch.

As usual, the keynote started with Tim Cook with the stats. 9 million iPhones sold since the 5s/5c launch. Damn, and I thought we are in recession. Tim Cook showed a video, a very highly produced one, showing the launch day with people lining up and getting excited. Plenty of Asians in the video, kinda hinting Apple is serious in targeting China as their market. This is one of the reasons watching Apple keynote a lot more enjoyable than any other companies’. They just produced their stuff extremely well, unlike the other companies that seem to stuck in the 90s style of rigidity. I mean seriously, try watch Samsung or even Microsoft’s presentation for the Surface 2. And they wonder why Apple is garnering the brand awareness and mindset of the public. Genius marketing.

Oh, in the video, there’s a dude buying five of the 5c cases. Scalper alert!

“Biggest and fastest software upgrade in history… ever.” Yeah, Cook was talking about iOS7. Sounds great, but can you fix the battery drain and cut back on the animations please? They are getting old after two days. Tim Cook stated how great it is that consumers can experience the latest features. Yes, tell that to iPhone 4 owners.

A mention of iTunes radio with a plug for Justin Timberlake. Meh. Wake me up when all Avex’ catalog are in. Apps. Yes, we heard this before. Mac, with mentions of OS X, iLife, and iWork. Tim Cook seemed to be stumbling, hope he’s okay.

“The competitors are confused. They are making PCs into tablets and tablets into PCs.” LOL. Yes Microsoft, that’s you.

Craig was next with OS X Mavericks. Echo… Somebody is going to get some spanking later.

We heard many of these before in WWDC. Craig is claiming you can get an hour more battery life on the Haswell Macbook Air. That’s quite a feat if it’s true. Variable graphics memory allocation. Tags, which is not new as older OS X already has it, it was just called label. Why tags? I think this is Apple’s way of eliminating the file system from the user. I can see this being expanded on future versions of OS X, and the files and folders that we are used to getting more and more hidden.

Even Craig seemed to be stumbling, rushed. The presentation does not feel as tight as when Jobs was running the show.

Demo on Mavericks feature, showing integration between notification, mail, calendar, maps, etc.

Windows 8 pro for $199. Yep, jab #2 at Microsoft. Mavericks? Free! Even for those running Snow Leopard! Well, not completely unexpected. Many people have said this when Apple dropped its upgrade price to $20. Apple get their money from selling hardware. Still, a nice touch. I can see OS X updates will be just seamless in the future. Since it is free, it will be just an ongoing software updates. People do not have to worry anymore about what OS version they are running.

For me, I am sticking on Lion a bit longer (yeah, I have not even upgraded to Mountain Lion). It is always wise to wait for the first of second point update before upgrading an OS.

Phil was up next. Great reviews on Macbook Air. New retina Macbook Pro. That old Macbook Pro? Yeah, they are step children now that Apple doesn’t even upgrade it to Haswell. New Retina Macbook Pro is lighter and thinner. Gee, what’s new. 😀 Better battery life thanks to Haswell. Oh, and a keynote tip from Apple. See how Phill talked about the increased battery life, then showed a Macbook Pro with a screenshot from Batman movie, and then from behind, showed two more Macs and stated how you can watch the entire trilogy in one charge. Great presentation indeed!

Of course, everything is upgraded. PCI-e SSD, 802.11ac, Thunderbolt 2, Mavericks. Base 13″ model starts at $1299, pretty much set to replace the old Macbook Pro. Oh, best yet, shipping today! Again, this is why Apple is so successful. Many other Windows laptop OEMs have not even shipped their Haswell laptops that they announced earlier this year. The 15″ model is getting Iris Pro, with higher priced option for nVidia GPU, GT 750M. Interestingly enough, the 15″ model has less battery life than the 13″ model (8 hours vs 9 hours). 15″ starts at $1999 with Iris Pro, and shipping today too.

Mac Pro. In short, $2999, shipping in December. Yeah, not cheap. Nice, but too rich for my blood. Typical Apple, to entice you to spend that much money, they make a documentary on the making of the Mac Pro in the assembly line. Unlike Jony Ives’ documentary, the background is black. 😀 Can’t wait for the parodies people will make.

Next up was Eddie, with iLife, new versions for iOS and Mac. Finally, matching icons on the iOS version to match iOS7 style.  Eddie simply blazed through the apps without much demo other than Garage Band. I’m curious on the new iMovie and iPhoto, but alas, no demo. In-app purchase for Garage Band! Yeah, Apple made these apps for free, and they went into the IAP game. I just hope they don’t do that for iMovie effects.

New iWork. More syncing with iCloud and web version, plus collaboration! Take that Google Docs. Fun demo. Seems better rehearsed than Craig’s Mavericks demo. Free. Office 365 for $99 per year. Jab #3 at Microsoft. I guess it’s better to poke fun at Microsoft than Google.

They are all available today, but I cannot install them!! 😦 Why? They require Mavericks! No fun for me and my Lion. Oh, and no free iWork for me too. Have to buy new Macs. 😦

Tim Cook returned with stats for iPads. Yet more jabs at Microsoft in the most indirect manner. Yet another highly produced video showing iPad in a variety of usages, with Asians and Chinese in them. 😀 I wonder how they record the movie of the guy with a tent hanging on a mountain at the end though.

Phil with new iPads, finally! As expected, the new big iPad follows the iPad mini’s design with thinner bezel. The name becomes iPad Air. iPad Air? Doesn’t sound right. But I guess it’s better than what it could’ve been, ie. “The Newer iPad with retina display.” Even thinner than the previous iPad. What’s amazing is the weight, 1 pound. It runs the A7 SoC. Wait, no A7X? Yeah, I guess Apple sees the A7 is fast enough to push the retina iPad on its own. No TouchID though. No 802.11ac either. Same prices as the iPad 4, November 1, with a new breakthrough in LTE. Just one single SKU for LTE support for all carriers in the world, including all four US carriers. That’s amazing.

Previously, despite all iPads with cellular are unlocked, LTE support is carrier/region specific. You can buy a Verizon LTE iPad 4, for example, and although you can use it on AT&T, you will only get 3G/HSDPA speed. Seems like that’s over now with the iPad Air. It’s quite an amazing feat that we are at this point of universal LTE support this quick. Remember how long it took to even have phones with penta-band HSDPA? Yeah, that Nokia WinRT tablet with carrier branding? Good luck with that. The only downside left is the mess that is the iPhone 5s/5c, with every region having their own SKU with LTE that only works with the carriers in those region.

And, the iPad 2 lives! Yes, still at $399. More like the iPad for suckers, especially when you see the new iPad mini having the same price. I mean really, the iPad 2 was great, but it was released in 2011, running the old A5 SoC that doesn’t even get many of iOS7’s new features. You are better off buying a refurbished iPad 4 or the new iPad mini.

Of course, another documentary starring Jony Ives.

Ah yes, the new iPad mini. It finally received retina display thanks to the A7. And Apple didn’t stop there, they used that as an excuse to increase the price. The new iPad mini now starts at $399, shipping November (but no specific dates). Yeah, you still want to buy that iPad 2? 😀 Space gray is the new word for black. The old iPad mini hangs around at $299 for the 16GB wifi. I guess that’s Apple’s answer to the new Nexus 7.

Seriously, the iPad 2 and old iPad mini are for suckers, considering they are running a two generation behind SoC.

Tim Cook returned to wrap up the show.

So, how was my prediction? I got pretty close, although I got the order wrong. I thought Apple was going to do a 12″ retina Macbook to sneak in between the Macbook Air and the retina Macbook Pro, but looks like Apple managed to push the price of the retina Macbook Pro down, making the old legacy Macbook Pro a step child. Mavericks is free, which is unexpected but not surprising. New iLife and iWork. New iPads as expected, with a price jump on the retina mini, and the old ones linger around for suckers.

Of course, no Apple TV, and no smartwatch. Cue in the tech bloggers bitching on how Apple lacks innovation, ignoring the feat of engineering that brings 1 SKU to support all LTE around the world. As for me, I have been waiting for a retina mini since the original iPad mini was announced, so I’m getting that one. Bye bye Nexus 7, it’s nice knowing ya.

What’s on your shopping list?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Apple October 2013 Event Prediction

Another month, another Apple event, and another 2 cents from me.

Since the iPhone 5c/5s are out already, the checklist is getting shorter. Kinda obvious that this time, it will be new iPads.

First, redesign of the big iPad into a slimmer model, using the iPad mini’s design language. I think this is pretty much a given considering the leaks. The question is the inside. Will it have the fingerprint sensor that Apple debuted with the iPhone 5s? I think so as I think it will be running off a souped up A7 processor, probably dubbed A7X. Ever since the iPad 3, Apple always pushed their SoCs on the big iPad to take advantage of the bigger room and battery. Everything else will be familiar though, same price points as current iPad 4 with same capacities. I mean I don’t see why Apple would change anything as they are selling these by the boatload at these prices. I wonder how the LTE versions would fare though, considering the mess it is with the iPhone 5c/5s, with their multiple region specific SKUs that pretty much “lock” the LTE support only for that region.

Second, the mini. Last year’s mini was a disappointment due to the lack of retina display. Also, it’s running the old A5 SoC, the one on the iPad 2. I think Apple would finally put retina on the mini this time. The challenge of putting a retina display on the iPad mini is two-folds. One is the smaller battery powering the much higher resolution, while keeping the “legendary” 10-hour battery life. Second is performance/head dissipation, as the retina display requires more GPU power to drive. Apple learned that lesson with the iPad 3, where even the A5X was not good enough to drive the retina display. I think this time though, even the plain A7 would be able to do it. Apple has been pushing the GPU capabilities of their SoCs a lot, and I think now they can finally pair retina display with the mini. Also, I think Touch ID is going to be present, because why not (the A7 supports it). Same price points and capacities.

What else other than iPads? The retina Macbook Pros have not been updated to Haswell yet, which is not too surprising considering the number of Windows laptops with Haswell on the market are still very few. The iMac just got its silent refresh. I have a feeling the retina Macbook Pro update to Haswell might be silent too, unless Apple want to brag about the battery life and iris pro GPU. But other than that, there is not much to say about Haswell. Performance is not a huge jump compared to Ivy bridge, so the marketing point to spin is mainly the power savings.

Will the regular Macbook Pro get a refresh? I don’t know, and I doubt it. I think Apple wants to replace the regular Macbook Pro with the retina Macbook Pro real bad. The regular Macbook Pro didn’t even get a display upgrade last year. They are serve well thanks to their optical drive, and they are great as a stop gap between the Macbook Air and the retina Macbook Pro price points. If Apple can push the price of the retina Macbook Pro down, I think we will see the regular Macbook Pro abandoned/discontinued (or it won’t get any updates and will be just faded out silently). There is a rumor about a 12″ retina Macbook rumor, which I think Apple might do if they cannot push the retina Macbook Pro prices down to replace the regular Macbook Pros. It will bring back the old Macbook lineup as the stop gap between the Air and the Pro, now with retina! And with intel’s iris pro GPU, I don’t think we have to worry too much about intel’s GPU performance anymore. If this is true, then I can see them taking over the previous Macbook Pro price points, keeping the retina Macbook Pro as the higher end for better margins. Apple still want you to buy the Macbook Air if you want something cheaper.

Another mac that has not received the Haswell treatment is the mac mini. I think it will get a silent upgrade. The mini is not too exciting to be presented on keynotes, and since Haswell’s main advantage is power saving, it’s not that big of a deal on a desktop. The mini has received plenty of silent refreshes so it’s not too surprising.

Of course, when we talk about Macs, the question linger about the new Mac Pro. Apple said it’s coming this Fall. Well, it’s Fall already, yet nothing much else coming out from Cupertino. It would clash to do a big presentation for this with the iPads on the spotlight. Maybe a separate smaller event.

Then comes OS X Mavericks. I think it would be time to release Mavericks if Apple would also release the new retina Macs. It just gives you a nice flow in the keynote. And same story, $20 for all Macs. Rumor is that Apple might give it for free. Not outside the realm of possibility as $20 is already very inexpensive when you compare it to the price of a single Windows license. 

Apple TV? I don’t think we will see much of it. I mean the end point for that device is to playback 1080p content properly, and the current Apple TV already achieves that. Updating it won’t give much to talk about unless you are doing 4k, and I doubt we are there yet.

iPods? Nope. We already see a color refresh, so I doubt we will see any new ones until next year.

So let’s see how the keynote would go. First, Tim Cook will start with how great the iPhone sales is, and how great their retail business is. Next is the new iPads, and boom, retina iPad mini. Then it’s Mavericks release info and demo, followed by the refresh retina Macbook Pros. And one more thing, 12″ retina Macbook. Sounds good, right? 😀

Smart watch? Meh. Seriously, the rumors about Apple making a smart watch circulating a lot on tech blogs are because that is a rumor started by the tech blogs themselves, so they are basically using their own rumor as news, and keep regurgitating it. It is just a flame bait they will use later when Apple does not do one (simply because there is no reason why Apple would), to criticize Apple being not “innovative” anymore, and that Apple is “disappointing” for not fulfilling the rumors. Seriously, you have a phone that is smarter than ever. Why would you want a half-baked “smart” watch that can’t do much? Let a watch be a simple watch. I personally have stopped using a watch ever since I have a cellphone.

We’ll see what happens tomorrow, 10am PST.

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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