Will Microsoft’s Living-Room Quest Finally Pay Off?

Most of the digerati remain skeptical about Microsoft’s long journey to becoming a key player in the digital home will ever pay off. But recently the company has been swinging a hot bat, with its Xbox 360 and a legitimate holiday hit in the Kinect.

The Smart Mac: Address Book & Mail

Apple’s original implementation of “smart” file management isn’t just limited to the Finder, and in fact, you’ve probably seen it more often in other applications like Address Book and Mail.

Here are some ideas of how you can harness the power of these two applications using the same idea as Smart Folders.

Smart Groups

Address Book provides support for smart groups which allow for dynamic content, just like a smart folder. As new content is added that meet your guidelines, the group will automatically update.

Creating a Smart Group is as simple as going to File and selecting “New Smart Group…” or by clicking the plus icon (+) in the lower left corner of the Address Book window. Then give your group a name and set of criteria. As you add your second criterion, you’ll have the choice for your group to consist of any of your rules or all of your rules.

Here’s some ideas for useful smart groups. Read More about The Smart Mac: Address Book & Mail

Battle of the Vaporware Tablets

Do you know what tablet computers and jetpacks have in common? It’s not a kerosene-burning jet engine strapped to your back, though Adobe Flash on a MacBook can feel like your pants are on fire. The shared problem is that the present reality of future technologies always seems to disappoint, often resulting in products never coming to market.

It’s called vaporware, and that would include the long-rumored Apple tablet. That tablet, like other Apple products that actually exist, has been getting all the attention as of late, and that’s a shame. There are a number of other existentially-challenged tablets not out there right now. Here are my top five, ranked by the likelihood they will remain in the ether for all time.

#5 CrunchPad/JooJoo

Michael Arrington’s CrunchPad was supposed to be “a dead simple tablet for $200,” but has ended up as a combo $500 webpad and Silicon Valley legal drama. Arrington’s partners, FusionGarage, dumped him and claimed ownership of the renamed JooJoo, which means “magical device” in “African.” Note to FusionGarage: “African” is not a language.

Overhyped by Popular Mechanics as one of the “most brilliant” products of 2009, there’s really nothing magical about JooJoo’s specs: 2.4 pounds, 12” display, 4GB SSD, Wi-Fi, camera, up to five hours of battery life. The OS runs a customized Ubuntu and WebKit browser. It’s the ‘browser as the OS’ concept, similar to what Google’s doing with Chromium/Chrome, but without the backing of a company worth $200 billion.

Despite perpetually shipping in “8 to 10 weeks” since early December, and the uncertainty of litigation, JooJoo probably will ship in early 2010. That earns it fifth place among vaporware tablets today.

#4 Freescale Smartbook

Nothing says vaporware like “reference design,” and that’s the Freescale Smartbook. The former Mac PowerPC fabricator showed off a tablet prototype—another vaporware synonym—at CES. Freescale claimed the tablet could be made for $200 and reach market by summer, easy to say when you’re not doing the making.

The Smartbook is built around a 7” display and weighs less than a pound. Internal specifications include a 1 GHz ARM CPU, 512MB RAM, 4 to 64GB storage, microSD slot, Wi-Fi, 3G modem option, and camera. All-day battery life is promised. There’s also an optional keyboard and docking station that when combined with the giant bezel makes the screen look minuscule. The operating system demonstrated at CES is custom Linux, but doesn’t appear much customized for touch.

Unlike the CrunchPad, the Smartbook probably won’t even make it to the perpetually shipping phase of the vaporware life cycle, but at least one has been built.

#3 OLPC XO-3

The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization has provided the world’s poorest children more than a million computers and counting, and the XO-3 will never be one of them, but then it doesn’t have to. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.” With a design goal like that, how can you fail?

Hypothetically available in 2012 for $75, the XO-3 “will feature a new design using a single sheet of flexible plastic and will be unbreakable and without holes in it.” The page-sized display, 8.5 by 11 inches, will have “both reflective and LCD capabilities,” making it viewable in the sun and as an e-reader. Internally, the XO-3 supposedly will have an ARM CPU running at 8 GHz, though Negroponte admits that’s a “provocative” target. You think? People in the Star Trek reboot don’t have kit like this, so yeah, provocative works as well as vaporware.

#2 Microsoft Courier

In 2001, Bill Gates introduced the Tablet PC to the world, and nearly a decade later Steve Ballmer did it again, but not with this device. Instead, a wildly gesticulating Ballmer claimed the “Slate PC” moniker at CES, showing off a nameless, nothing-new tablet from HP that will be available sometime this year, not that anyone cared. People wanted Courier.

That’s the name of this device, as first reported by Gizmodo in September. The booklet—so much for Slate PC—has two 7” displays connected by a hinge, multi-touch and stylus input, camera on back, maybe inductive charging for power. The OS appears to be designed for the device, so it’s not a Windows 7 tablet, and there are plenty of applications designed for it, so it’s not Windows 7 tablet. No word on battery life, price, or availability, except that it’s supposed to be in the “late prototype” stage of development, which makes one wonder why Courier wasn’t at CES.

Just watching the concept video for Courier, how could one not declare Microsoft the winner in the Battle of the Vaporware Tablets? Because once again Apple has been there and done that.

#1 Apple Knowledge Navigator

Even twenty years later, the Apple Knowledge Navigator concept reigns supreme among vaporware tablets. Opening the booklet reveals a pair of magical panels that appear to merge into a single display, that display having speakers on the sides, web camera and data card slot on the top. Nice touch how it tilts upward for typing, but touch is almost an afterthought.

Most of the machine-human interaction is done via a bow-tie wearing “agent,” or AI, through voice. This is vaporware at its finest, not just a demo, but like living in alternate reality, just like Apple in the late ‘80s under John Sculley. We will see whether Apple under Steve Jobs, who killed Apple’s first tablet, the Newton, can do better. Don’t expect talking heads in mock-turtlenecks, but it would be unwise to bet against the real Apple tablet in 2010.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Is The Age of the Web Tablet Finally Upon Us?

How-To: Create Your Own iTunes LP

iTunes LP Logo

The iTunes LP is the new format Apple has been pushing in iTunes. It’s more like a DVD than anything else. You have menus, music, photos, liner notes and videos. Since this is such a fresh format, not many albums are available in it yet. The good news is, you can make your own.

I’ll take you through the process of creating your own iTunes LP that you can distribute yourself. Read More about How-To: Create Your Own iTunes LP

Retail Rumors: Apple to Build New Prototype Store

Dream bigger,” Steve Jobs told a Disney executive as they discussed plans to reinvent the media company’s retail outlets. He insisted Disney develop a prototype store, much as Apple did before it launched its first brick-and-mortar outlet at Tysons Corner, Virgina, in May 2001. As the majority shareholder it’s in his best interest, of course, for Disney to be successful, but you have to imagine he’d offer the same advice to anyone.

Well, it has been almost nine years since Apple got into the retail store game and with Microsoft (s msft) blatantly copying Apple with their recent move into retail, it’s time for a change. As last week drew to a close, clues emerged suggesting Apple is looking to reinvent its retail store design, and once again it’s developing a prototype. This time, however, it’s not tucked away in an aircraft hangar at Area 51, but can be found at 340 University Ave, Palo Alto.

On Friday SiliconValley.com reported:

[Apple] will build an Apple Store that project developers referred to in planning documents as “a new prototype for the company.” The facade will be entirely transparent at ground level, vast skylights will flood the store with natural light, and trees will grow inside, fed by the sunlight from above.

It sounds so beautiful. Quite unlike the building that currently stands at 340 University Avenue;

Not much to look at now, but, give it time... Image from Google Maps

According to the report the architectural review board voted unanimously to approve the plans which, although referred to as a “renovation,” include completely demolishing the facade and roof of the building. It seems the structure has been altered so many times in recent years it doesn’t qualify for historic protection.

The plans credit architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson — the same firm behind Apple’s iconic Fifth Avenue store in New York, whose entrance resembles a giant transparent-cube. SiliconValley.com’s Will Oremus says several sources have told him Apple is behind the project, while Alexander Lew, chair of the arhitectural review board, said:

Apple is pretty secretive… But at the same time, when you look at it, the design is pretty unique. …I think a lot of people have kind of guessed.

The whole design is inside-outside, with everything completely exposed. With the huge skylight, there’s going to be lots of daylight and it will feel more like an atrium inside. … We’re excited about the project.

Naturally, Apple declined to comment on the plans. Shocker, eh? Thankfully, the proposal includes some tantalising descriptive prose detailing the vision for the new store, the beginning of which should sound familiar to anyone who has ever visited an Apple store.

The proposed store is a new prototype for the applicant. Fully half the function of the store serves to provide education and service to business as well as customer patrons in addition to product sales. The store is a commons for the applicant’s community to gather.

[The all-glass store front] dissolves the boundary that traditional store facades create. By not breaking the horizontal ground plane of the sidewalk with opaque wall or landscape element, for example, the street is made part of the store’s interior; the pedestrian is in the store before entering it.

Of course, we don’t know absolutely for sure if Apple is responsible; I suppose this could be Microsoft’s doing. And while we’re at it, Apple’s much-rumoured-tablet might run Windows 7 and feature a hardware keyboard and built-in fax machine.

I’m trying to imagine what makes this “prototype” so special and new. Aside from the interesting aesthetics (Apple does like its glass-walled cathedrals) what will make this store different?

The NYC Upper West Side store has been likened to a Cathedral. Image by Apple, Inc

Are we talking the tried-and-trusted Scandinavian furniture we see today in all other Apple stores, or will we be treated to a complete overhaul? Touch-enabled surfaces everywhere? More room dedicated to iPods and iPhones? A new Tablet Bar?

I’m holding out for a luxurious coffee bar in every Apple Store 2.0. If it did that, I could practically live in my local Apple Store. What would you change in yours? Share your ideas, and coffee-cravings, in the comments below.

TAB Welcomes: Andrew Flocchini

From the frozen tundra of Minnesota I hail, not by choice but by birth. I bring with me a head full of useless knowledge and trivia. I know, “Is this guy some sort of Superhero?” No, just an ordinary man, or am I?

I’ve always been a tinkerer and owned many PC’s throughout my life. One day I grew tired of always troubleshooting and wanted to just enjoy the computer. From that point on, I was a Mac user. Using my machines to edit movies and other multimedia content.

I work in Higher Education as an Apple Admin at a college in Minnesota. Since I came onboard, we have been making the switch to becoming a 100 percent Apple campus. Before I was here, there was a big fear of Macs. Now there is a love affair. I created the site ADaMac to journal my troubleshooting experiences and hopefully help other Admins out who had nowhere to turn. A large-scale mixed Apple/Microsoft environment , can be tricky at times. Aside from Apple, I have a wife and two kids that keep me pretty busy. I love music, film & of course video games. I’m also a volunteer Firefighter in my city. My feeling is that I want to have a lot of experiences to look back on.

So how did I become a writer for TheAppleBlog? I guess I sent the right email at the right time because here I am. I’m very excited to have a little part of the site and I will do my best to contribute the best articles I can.

You can follow me (because I’m so interesting) on Twitter @flocchini.

Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet

So, Microsoft (s msft) has unveiled a new tablet PC — a prototype made by HP, dubbed (not coincidentally) a Slate. Fake Steve Jobs suggests it ought to be called the “meh,” and he’s dead right, while the UK’s Telegraph said it could be a “major blow” to Apple, and they’re just dead wrong.

I’d like to laugh at this crazy last-minute pantomime display of “Me too!” (all dressed-up, it seems, as “Me first!”) but I can’t because the whole thing reeks of desperation.

In my personal blog yesterday I made some (not particularly original) predictions about Microsoft’s new tablet. I said it would fail, and that it would fail because it would run the full version of Windows 7 and require a stylus. My stylus prediction proved incorrect (so far; just you wait for the “Microsoft Slate PC Student and Business Edition” which will likely have a stylus and fold-out keyboard. That’s right, aka “a notebook”.)

Now, I know what the first comments down below will be; I’m a shameless Apple fanboy and this is pointless Microsoft bashing, yada yada… but while the former might contain an ounce of truth, this is by no means a pointless exercise. There’s good reason to study the Microsoft slate; while it doesn’t precisely tell us what to expect from Apple’s tablet, it does demonstrate what not to expect. Read More about Microsoft’s Slate: Exactly Unlike Apple’s Upcoming Tablet

App Store: 3B Downloads Today, 10B Tomorrow?

Even as the excitement over the tablet reaches seizure-inducing levels among personal technology enthusiasts, Apple (s aapl) flipped on another publicity strobe light with the announcement of 3 billion downloads from its App Store.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was astonished yet ebullient in a press release:

“Three billion applications downloaded in less than 18 months — this is like nothing we’ve ever seen before…The revolutionary App Store offers iPhone and iPod touch users an experience unlike anything else available on other mobile devices, and we see no signs of the competition catching up anytime soon.”

And he wouldn’t be Jobs without getting a jab in at the competition. With more than 100,000 applications, running on some 60 million devices, the App Store is a behemoth next to competitors Google (s goog) and Palm (s palm). Google’s Android Market has somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 applications to choose from, while the anemic App Catalog of Palm has just managed to reach 1,000 applications.

The funny thing is, Apple may have had no idea this would happen. Read More about App Store: 3B Downloads Today, 10B Tomorrow?

Rumor Has It: Apple Looking to Acquire AdMob Competitor

The Google/Apple war appears to be in the arms race stage at the moment, with the Nexus One set to be unveiled today as the latest weapon in the Google (s goog) arsenal. Apple (s aapl), for its part, appears to be momentarily playing catch-up, with plans to acquire another mobile advertising company now that Google is in the process of snatching up AdMob.

Quattro Wireless is the advertising company in question, and while it is much smaller than AdMob, which is by far the industry heavyweight in the mobile space, it will allow Apple to stay in competition with Google in this increasingly lucrative market. Read More about Rumor Has It: Apple Looking to Acquire AdMob Competitor

Magic Mouse Drains Keyboard Batteries

So the holidays are over. The food portions are returning to healthy sizes but the damage is done. New Year resolutions you’ve been ruminating on for weeks must now be taken seriously. It’s time to get in shape. No more excuses! No more distractions. You have that nice new Mac so you think, “Hey, I’ll type ’em up and print ’em out! If they’re pinned up on the wall I can’t possibly fail!”

Only, you might have a problem doing any typing if recent reports prove accurate. It seems the combination of Magic Mouse and Apple Wireless Keyboard are a toxic mix. Over on the Apple Support Discussions forum users are reporting that, since installing their Magic Mouse, their Apple Wireless Keyboards have been guzzling power like there’s no tomorrow.

Brand new, planet-killing alkaline batteries don’t make it through a full week. Tree-hugging rechargeables manage less. Users have been forced to revert to backup mice (mouses?) or switch-out their keyboards for a more traditional, wired variety. Read More about Magic Mouse Drains Keyboard Batteries