Radiohead fans woke up to a fun surprise recently when frontman Thom Yorke released a surprise new album on BitTorrent through its new “paygate” feature for Bundles. BitTorrent has work to re-brand itself from a pirate’s paradise to a legitimate place for artists to distribute their music. BitTorrent’s first bundles kept content behind a gate unless you provided more info, like your email address. Thom Yorke’s newest album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is the service’s first paygated Bundle. Anyone can download the single and video for free, but unlocking the rest of the album costs $6. It’s fitting that Thom Yorke is the service’s first paid artist – Radiohead released its 2007 album “In Rainbows” as a download with a pay-what-you-want model. BitTorrent takes a 10 percent cut, but the publisher and artist get the rest of the money and the associated fan data. Time will tell if BitTorrent’s service is a viable option for artists to launch new music, but as a platform with more than 100 million downloads, it’s at least worth a look.
When the iPhone 4 was released in June 2010, people noticed that holding the device in a normal, natural way caused it to drop calls. Apple’s suggestion? If it doesn’t work when you hold it a certain way, don’t hold it that way! It wasn’t the message new iPhone 4 owners were expecting, but it was prescient. The iPhone 6 is facing a problem of its own – its “form-fitting” case shapes itself to match your backside – if you keep the device in your back pocket. In other words? It bends. Sadly, it does not bend back. Apple says this isn’t true, and that the iPhone 6 meets its high quality standards. Apple also says only nine people of the 10 million iPhone 6 owners have complained. If your iPhone is bent, Apple has nothing that might comfort you. While we wait for Apple to offer a solution instead of a non-explanation or denial, we consider all the possible meanings of the phrase “bend over.” It’s what Steve would have wanted us to do.
Amazon’s Kindle Voyage is the company’s best e-reader ever. Its biggest improvement over the Kindle Paperwhite is in its screen, which has a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. The text is more clear and crisp than ever, making it the best reading experience ever on an electronic device. The Voyage also includes an ambient light sensor, which dynamically adjusts the screen’s brightness depending on your settings. If you’re reading in the dark, the screen gradually gets darker as your eyes adjust to the darkness over time. The Voyage also has a new way of turning pages, called “PagePress,” which lets you gently squeeze the left or right bezel to turn the page. The Voyage also added some nice software features, too. It tracks how quickly you’re reading and displays how much time you have left until you finish your current chapter. “Word Wise,” meanwhile, expands the text to add hints and definitions for tougher words. If you’re looking for the next great e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle Voyage ships in late October for $199.
Are you debating whether or not to upgrade to iOS 8? Software launches can be buggy, but iOS 8 can do a bunch of cool things iOS 7 can’t – especially when it comes to texting and typing. The best new addition to iOS 8 may be the option to install a third-party keyboard. That means you can pick up keyboards like Swype, Fleksy or SwiftKey and start typing as quickly as your Android friends. iOS 8 also give you the ability to leave group chats. Can’t be bothered at work while your friends make plans? Don’t care about your fantasy football league as much as everyone else? A few taps and you’re out of the conversation. Speaking of messages, iOS 8 lets you send voice messages instead of text. Press and hold the record button in the bottom right corner, then send it off with a single tap. And if you get a text, you can now reply to it directly from the pull-down menu without having to leave the app you’re in.
Third-party widgets have been a staple on Android for years, but they’ve finally made their way to iDevices with iOS 8. Sort of, anyway. Apple still won’t let you install widgets to your home screen, but you can add some widgets to your Notification Center. Here’s what to do. First, make sure all your apps are up to date. The App Store has allowed automatic updates since iOS 7, so chances are good you’re all set there. Next, head into Notification Center by swiping down from the top of your home screen. It’ll look similar to how it did in iOS 7, but at the very bottom is a new button: Edit. Tap Edit, then scroll down to the “Do Not Include” section. Apple disables all third-party widgets by default, so add whichever widgets you want to the list above, and re-arrange their order to your liking with the hamburger icon to its right. Not all widgets are created equal, so pick and choose the ones that make sense with how you use your phone.
One of the most convenient and exciting new features in iOS 8 is “Bundles.” Located in a new section of the App Store, “Bundles” lets developers package together multiple apps that you can download with a single tap. Right now, most of the best-selling bundles are collections of games. For example, the top bundle is three different Cut the Rope games for $3.99, which is $3 less than the games individually. Bundles are great for gamers, and they’re very similar to what Humble Bundle does with computer games. But “Bundles” in iOS has the potential to do far more than save you a couple bucks on games. Google could put together a convenient bundle that combines Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. Companies that have been breaking features off their main apps could put combine all those apps in one place. That means a single tap could let you download Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Hyperlapse, Paper and Slingshot. Bundles have the potential to fundamentally change the way we download apps – and use our mobile devices.
MakerBot’s Replicator Mini, the company’s entry-level 3D printer, has made its way into Home Depot stores. Calling the Mini an “entry-level 3D printer” is a terrible name for it, because it’s spectacularly interesting. 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – lets you create almost anything you can imagine, one layer at a time. 3D printing is not meant to make stuff you already know. Sure, you can print combs and replacement parts, but you can also create things no one’s ever imagined, like new action figures, home crafts and jewelry. You can take files that already exist and 3D print them, or you can create brand new files using 3D software. You can 3D print just about any material – including wood, metal and even food. The Replicator Mini, which costs $1375 and is now available at a dozen Home Depot stores and on the company’s website, is a key to unlocking your imagination. You can put it in your home, connect it to your computer and change the future of creativity.
The recent iPhone 6 and Apple Watch unveiling makes one thing perfectly clear: Apple has no interest in the several billion people who don’t own smart devices. It doesn’t care if you can’t afford its products and services. Apple is focusing solely on an affluent audience. If you want to buy an iPhone 6 and Apple Watch, you’re going to wind up spending about $5,000. That’s $500-$1,000 for the iPhone, case and tax, depending upon whether you sign up for a new two-year contract or buy the phone outright. Factor in another $2,400 for your monthly cell phone bill over two years, and $500-$750 for the Apple Watch and a cool band. Apple hasn’t announced full pricing on the Apple Watch, so that last number might in fact be a lot higher. Apple doesn’t care about the billions of people who don’t have the money for these new gadgets. It is instead laser-focused on a fashion-conscious aristocracy that also lines up with its developers, advertisers and its business partners.
The iPhone 6 and Apple Watch are nice, but Apple’s most disruptive new product is Apple Pay, its mobile payments platform. Powered by near-field communication and Touch ID, Apple Pay lets you use your mobile device to make a purchase at participating retailers, like Macy’s, Staples and Subway. Apple Pay also changes the way we make mobile purchases through in-app purchases. In apps with Apple Pay enabled, you can buy items with a single touch. That means no need to enter credit card information or billing and shipping address. It’s all just there. Worried about security? Apple’s got your back. Your credit card number is never given to any merchant; instead, Apple Pay uses a one-time payment number and a “dynamic security code.” There’s no record of where you shop, what you buy, or how much you spend. Lose your iPhone? No worries! You can suspend all payments through “Find My iPhone.” If you’re picking up a new Apple device, look for Apple Pay when it starts rolling out to participating retailers in October.
What exactly is an Apple Watch? No one – not even Apple – knows. It may be a gateway to health and wellness, sports and fitness, quantified self or personal navigation. It may be none of these things. It may be a platform for app developers or a failed attempt at a user interface. As of today, the Apple Watch could be anything… and that’s the point. It’s clear what the Apple Watch is not, though: a pocket watch strapped to your wrist. It was not designed to tell time any more than the iPhone was designed to make calls. We’ll find out exactly what it is and what people will use it for when it launches early next year. For now, it looks like a great first attempt at a new interface in a connected world. But until it has a “killer app” that makes it a “must have” device, it doesn’t mean much. Exploring the Apple Watch will be fun. Let’s see what Apple and other developers create to inspire consumers.