Saturday, December 29, 2012

RapidGroove Resolutions 2013

Are you making some new years resolutions? Here are a few of mine.

1. Choose more healthy foods, exercise more often, get in better shape (me and at least half of everyone over 40!)
2. Squeeze in a little more time to play piano. I miss it.
3. Get an evening out with friends at least once a month, leaving work and school and maybe even my smartphone at home.
4. Fish for and land at least one species of fish I've never caught before.
5. Write a RapidGroove blog entry at least once a month. When possible, post an edited-down version of one of my papers for school (as suggested by my friend S).

Look for me to make good on that last one early in January, as soon as a paper of mine gets graded and returned. I've written about 15 papers for my program so far. Not all of them seem suitable for blog posts, but when they do, I'll edit them down and post them here.

So what are your resolutions? I'd love for you to post a few as comments below this blog entry.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Groove Has Been Less Rapid

Until a few months ago, I had been blogging a few times a week, most weeks, for well over a year. Then, a few months ago I lost access to discretionary time. I gave up writing this blog, reading for pleasure, cooking, playing the piano, and seeing friends. And I did it willingly!

What has taken the place of those activities I enjoy is the time I now spend on graduate school. Though I work as a staff member at the University of Pennsylvania, as of this past summer I am now also a student at Penn. I'm in a program at the Graduate School of Education pursuing an Ed.D degree in Higher Education Management.

The program is at least in part designed for people aspiring to the post of president of a university or other very senior university administration positions. I'm really not looking to become a university president, which is good, because I'm also not qualified to be one. But I really do like being a contributor at a university and would be glad to know a lot more about how they function beyond the areas in which I usually work.

The course work is demanding, requiring several hours a day every day just to keep up with the reading, research, and writing. But it's really interesting stuff, including the history of higher education, public policy, academic governance, strategic management, and much more. My experience is that it has been fun to be pushed hard intellectually in areas outside my comfort zone.

But what about the blogging I've left behind?

Honestly, I don't know. I started the RapidGroove blog at a time when I had a lot less to do. I could throw in the towel now that I'm otherwise occupied. But I don't want to. For one thing, there are still plenty of topics I want to write about. I stumble across a few great topics every week.

Here are a few I've thought about lately:

  • climate change, 
  • the "fiscal cliff"
  • the lottery, 
  • evolution of payment systems, 
  • robot news,
  • oysters,
  • and the ever exciting "tech predictions for 2013"

Can't say when I'd get around to writing about any of them, so I'm thinking about the future of RapidGroove. The obvious options are (1) squeeze in a blog or two a month, (2) find some other writers to share the load and/or help me write up some of the ideas I have, or (3) call it quits.

Since you've been kind enough to read this far, how about leaving me a comment with your thoughts on what should be next for the RapidGroove blog? I'd appreciate your input!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Voting Is Like Winning The Lottery

Or maybe it should be

Democrats and Republicans can probably agree on this: voter participation and turnout in the U.S. is never as high as we wish. A very significant percentage of voting-age Americans just don't vote.

Another voting-related problem for the U.S. is that not everyone is well-educated about the issues that make up the substance of the debate between major candidates. In some cases they may not even have a clear understanding of how government works.

If more of us were informed on the issues, the politicians and the media might not get away with sound-bites and attack ads quite as easily. Politicians would have to raise their game and speak to the issues. The media might recognize that we want substance, and would hold politicians to a higher standard during interviews and debates, calling for clear answers to the questions asked.

We the people deserve at least that much.

Perhaps we should provide some modest incentives toward getting us there. What if each state had a $250,000 lottery on election day? Each citizen who votes can choose to take a short (4 or 5 question) multiple choice quiz on the basics of civics as taught in 6th or 7th grade. Basic stuff. How many branches are there of the federal government? Which of the following are the roles of congress? What is a filibuster? How long is the term of a Supreme Court Justice? How long is the term of a Senator?

Nobody would be forced to take the quiz. But if you do, your quiz gets a number and is entered into a lottery. You walk away with a matching number. Quizzes get sorted by machine reader into those that score 100% (entered in the lottery) and those that don't (not entered). One winner is selected at random, and the number is published. The holder of that number wins $250,000.

That's not a huge amount of money for a state, even in tough financial times. But it's a very nice win for a citizen. And I bet it drives both voting numbers and public civic awareness up by a lot.

Voting really already is like winning the lottery in that your participation in the political process is the baseline for participatory government. By participating, you have a voice in how your country is run. But maybe an additional incentive to both get more of the vote out and to encourage more of the population to understand the basics of our government, could be helpful. Voters can win the lottery in more ways than one.

Do you like this idea? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Monday, September 10, 2012

Apple Ready To Announce iPhone 5

On Wednesday September 12, Apple will hold an event that everyone expects will be the announcement of a new iPhone.
The next iPhone will be slimmer, will use a new smaller dock connector, and will probably be the first to depart from the 3.5” screen used since the original iPhone. Smartphones today tend to have larger screens – the better to view video, and the better to provide underlying real estate for 4G carrier network chip-sets. And more battery. A 4” screen in a 16x9 pixel aspect ratio will lend itself well to watching content formatted for HDTV.  
This iPhone will also be the first fully 4G iPhone with LTE capability.
Some of the additional speculation has been around a new processor (A5X or A6?) and whether or not the new iPhone would include Near Field Communication (NFC) hardware. I think the final decision on both will be driven by power and battery considerations. For user satisfaction, having the fastest processor is not as important as maximizing battery life. NFC hardware would likely enable some new interactive applications and some new-age commerce possibilities, and is likely to be very important to Apple’s future plans for the iPhone’s role in commerce (consider the iOS 6 Passbook application, and what it might grow into over time). But without much merchant infrastructure in place today to support NFC, I think Apple could decide to hold off another year, saving cost, power and battery. Passbook can handle coupons, boarding passes and theater tickets today, and direct financial transactions (such as credit sales) in the future once more merchants are ready and on-board. The iPhone that gets released a year from now, in 2013, could add the NFC hardware capabilities to leverage that software.
I wouldn’t complain if we saw A6 and NFC now, of course!
Though names like “iPhone 4G” or “4GS” or even “the new iPhone” (really?) have gotten some web-rumor discussion, a large shadow on the invitation in the shape of a “5” has most people speculating that the new phone will be called the iPhone 5.
Some have speculated that we’ll also hear about an iPod Touch in the same 4” slim form-factor, as well as a small-form iPad to compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Google Nexus 7. I think both of those product announcements are likely, but will take place a month later in October. Why should the iPhone have to share the stage?
Summarizing my prediction: iPhone 5, new/smaller dock connector, 4G LTE, 16G/32G/64G models, 4” screen 16x9 aspect ratio, A5X processor, no NFC hardware, availability later in September.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Amazon Kindle Models Coming

The recent success of the Google Nexus 7 – a popular new 7" Android tablet – presents a challenge for Amazon, and perhaps Apple. Amazon is expected to step up to that challenge later this week.

With the Amazon Kindle Fire now officially sold out, and an Amazon press event scheduled for September 6th, everybody knows that a new Kindle Fire is coming. 

Most of the rumors agree on the obvious gadget upgrades, such as a faster processor and increased screen resolution (1280x800 likely). Inclusion of a camera seems very likely, too, and would enable personal video conferencing through Skype and similar apps. It's also expected that we'll see some improvements to the user interface and a more modern underlying Android OS, though Amazon doesn't expose the Android OS on the Kindle Fire and that's not expected to change in a new model.

Some gadget-watchers have speculated that Amazon will release both a 7" and a larger 10" tablet, the latter aimed at direct competition with the Apple iPad. Other sources, including The Verge, believe that we'll see two new versions of the 7" tablet (actual dimensions today, 7.5" x 4.7"). An entry level tablet with minimal storage, and a higher-end tablet with higher-end hardware specs. 

I'm inclined to believe The Verge. Amazon has been successful with their 7" form factor and doesn't have a good reason to complicate things by taking on Apple.

Also expected to be announced is a new model of the successful Amazon Kindle e-reader with a new display technology called Paperwhite and a backlight feature that has been well-liked in recent B&N Nook models.

Whether any of the new models will have a 4G carrier networking option is still an unknown.

September and October should be interesting times for gadget hounds. Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and others will have announcements in the coming days and weeks, to announce phones and tablets for the upcoming holiday season.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Topics I Might Have Blogged About

... if I wasn't taking August off from blogging

If I wasn't taking August off, there are two stories that I might have written about. 

The first involves Mat Honan, a well-known and well-respected technology writer at Wired who got cyber-rolled in early August. Honan's iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro were wiped, and his email accounts and Twitter account were taken over. The amazing thing about this story is that no high-tech was involved. Everything the hackers did was achieved using a little social engineering and knowledge of the customer support practices of two large tech companies. 

Check out the story in Mat's own words in the following video and in the links below. Take a moment to consider whether you are/were vulnerable to a similar attack.

The second big story this month that I might have written about took place a few days later: the Mars Curiosity rover. With very little fanfare, NASA landed a car-sized rover on Mars, with a mission to study the planet to see whether there is evidence that Mars might have supported life in the past. 

Curiosity is a rolling lab that landed on the surface of Mars using an incredibly complex (worthy of sci-fi movies) system of parachutes, jets, and cranes. Anything could have failed, but it all worked flawlessly. Curiosity is now taking photos and preparing for a long-term rolling mission on the red planet.

I'll be back in September with fresh blogs and hopefully with some material written by friends and colleagues. Interested in writing for RapidGroove? Drop me a line with your ideas and we'll talk about them.


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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

RapidGroove Rerun: Clams On The Grill

Thanks for visiting RapidGroove during our August month off. We'll be back in September with talk of upcoming iPhones, Microsoft Surface tablets, and more.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this popular past blog post "Clams On The Grill."  This post originally appeared in July 2011. Click the link below to have a closer look!

Clams On The Grill

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

RapidGroove ReRun: Scallop Sauté

Thanks for visiting RapidGroove during our August month off. We'll be back in September with talk of upcoming iPhones, Microsoft Surface tablets, and more.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this past blog post on an easy and delicious way to prepare scallops. This post originally appeared in April 2011. Click the link below to have a closer look!

Scallop Sauté at

Monday, July 30, 2012

August Break for RapidGroove

As I did last year, I'll take the month of August off from RapidGroove. During the month, I may post a few favorite RapidGroove Reruns – blogs written in the past that some of you may have missed. When I return in September, I hope that it'll be with a few other writers to share the RapidGroove blog with me while I spend some more of my time pursuing an additional graduate degree here at Penn.

Are you already a blogger interested in getting more exposure for your posts? Not yet a blogger but want to write? Get in touch. I have room to add a few more writers to share in RapidGroove and would be glad to hear about your ideas.

Meanwhile, to the person who asked me about new iPhones yesterday... here is my prediction.

New iPhone to be available in October:

  • 4" diagonal retina-display screen
  • Slightly thinner than iPhone 4S
  • 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB storage options
  • New, smaller dock connector (and adaptors!)
  • iOS 6, with new car navigation features
  • Capable of operating on at least two 4G networks: AT&T and Verizon
  • Most likely names: iPhone 4G or iPhone 5
See you in September!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Next Thing To Disappear

Things come and things go. I'm old enough now to start sentences with "I remember when we used to..." at which point teenagers and twenty-somethings roll their eyes. But the world does change and when it does things that some of us remember disappear for good, never to be experienced by the generations that follow.

Here are some of the things that have (mostly) disappeared during my life:

  • Typewriters
  • Transistor radios
  • Rabbit-ear antenna on every television
  • Rotary dial telephones
  • LP records and 8-track tapes (and even cassette tapes)
  • Cigarette lighters in cars
  • Film cameras and 1-hour film developers
  • Milk-men, milk trucks, milk boxes on the front steps
  • Paper boys delivering daily newspapers, and stopping by weekly to collect
  • Cars with simple engines you could tune-up at home
Maybe some of those things still are common in your corner of the world. And maybe your list of things that have disappeared is much longer or much different than my list. And maybe by now I sound like a grumpy old man. But I promise, I have a point.

If we can look back and see that things have disappeared, can we look around us in the present and guess at which of the things that we have now will disappear in the future?

This is my challenge to you. Look around you and consider the items in your life. Which of them will disappear in the next decade. Surely you admit that some of these things will fade away. Which?

Leave a comment and tell me at least one thing that is about to disappear. Try this exercise on your friends, and post their answers, too.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

First Verizon, Now AT&T Pool Data

Shift From Minutes To Megabytes

AT&T is following Verizon down the path of shared-data plans under the branding Mobile Share. In a nutshell, this involves buying a pool of data (as opposed to a pool of minutes) and then applying smartphones and tablets to use that pool.

This move was certainly anticipated. Verizon made a similar move earlier this year. Clearly the large carriers know that growth in data usage and drops in minutes require a response. Part of that response is in the infrastructure the carriers must build, such as a broad deployment of 4G data. Another part of that response is the careful crafting of monthly plans that are attractive to customers while recognizing the voice and data trend lines and protecting carrier revenue streams.

Plan As Announced at
Specifics around the AT&T plans are published on the website. Notable, consumers choosing to move in this direction do not need a contract extension. They choose a data plan capacity from 1GB to 20GB and pay an associated price, and then pay additionally to add smartphones and tablets to that plan. Tethering does seem to be available as part of these plans, which should be a nice convenience for users and an additional revenue opportunity for the carriers.

Have any of you moved to one of these plans on the Verizon network? Are some of you planning the move on the AT&T network? Are the prices attractive? Will it change the way you use some of your devices, such as getting carrier plans for tablets or using a phone to provide Internet access for laptops when out of WiFi range?

Leave a comment and let us know.


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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ouya Game System

$4M Overnight. What now?

I'm not much of a game system guy, so I don't tend to blog about gaming. But this one has me paying attention. 

As of July 12th, after only a few days on Kickstarter, the Ouya game console folks have raised $4 million. Ouya had initially set out to raise $950,000. They got that much in less than a day.

Makes me wonder... how does a small company change it's plans when it gets at least four times the working capital it asks for?

Every time a kickstarter project raises a lot of money, people begin to wonder whether we are seeing a scam in the making. After all, Kickstarter projects come with no guarantees. I admit that this could be a scam, but I'm betting it isn't. The premise is very reasonable: Low cost hardware to run a mature operating system as part of a more open and accessible (when compared with Roku, AppleTV or Google TV, or other devices hooked to your HDTV) home entertainment experience.
Ouya will be an Android-based game console that can output 1080p HD video. It's planned to have 8 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, and will sell for $99 with a planned release in March 2013

Would a true Android OS under the covers mean that this device could provide a bridge from the huge library of Android phone and tablet apps to your living room television set? If so, not only could this be a great way to play games but it could bring a long list of quirky, creative, fun apps to a big screen for a shared experience.

Is it real? Will they be able to bring it to market for $99 in less than a year? If they do, will the games be there? I don't know, but I'm rooting for them.


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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Big Battles Among Little Tablets

Back on June 27 I blogged about the Google Nexus 7, the latest entry in the 7" tablet space. The Nexus 7 looks very interesting, but probably won't be the big news for long. Apple clearly owns the larger tablet space for now, but dominance in the smaller tablet space may still be up for grabs and new models are probably coming soon.

Some early models of the smaller form-factor tablet, such as the Blackberry Playbook, were failures while others such as the Kindle Fire and B&N Nook have been successes. The rumors are now heating up about a next generation of 7" Amazon tablets to compete with the new Nexus 7. Most rumors suggest an updated low-end model without a camera, and a higher-end model with a camera and higher resolution display. One or both models are rumored to have 4G carrier network  capabilities. What else might we see? Will any of these new tablets have NFC (Near Field Communications) hardware for payment or access functions?

One possible addition to this product space is an Apple iPad Mini. There has been lots of speculation. On the one hand, Apple doesn't need to dilute their product line as long as their iPad continues to sell so well. But on the other hand, releasing an Apple branded 7" tablet right now could take all the attention (and most of the sales) away from Google and Amazon.

I think it's likely we'll see a crowded 7" tablet market in the second half of 2012, with most or all models in the $200-$250 US price range, and that they'll be very big sellers through the holiday season.

Are you looking for a 7" tablet? Does it need to have a "retina" display? Does it need NFC? What features are "must haves?"

Leave a comment and let us know!


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Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I'm on vacation this week, fishing, grilling, swimming, soaking up sunshine... so no new blog posts this week. I was slightly tempted to say something about Instagram and others suffering outages, but I'm sure there's plenty of media coverage.

I may post a RapidGroove ReRun later this week. And I'll get back to new posts next week.

Happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Google Nexus 7 Tablet Announced

Google Joins The Tablet Battle

As was widely rumored, Google showed a 7" tablet at Google I/O earlier today. The search giant announced the Nexus 7, a new tablet device similar in size (7") and price ($199) to Amazon’s Kindle Fire. The new tablet, developed jointly with hardware maker Asus, will make it easy to access media available on the Google Play service, just as the Kindle Fire can easily access books, movies and other content available at Amazon. The Nexus 7 is available for order now and will ship next month.

One very interesting component of the Nexus 7 is NFC (Near Field Communications) hardware. This might make a variety of new applications possible, from exchanging data easily among NFC-equipped Android devices to financial applications with vendors equipped to take payments through NFC approaches.

After taking on Amazon with the Nexus 7, Google took on Apple with another device, called Nexus Q. The Nexus Q will compete with Apple TV (and Roku) boxes, and will stream content from Google Play and YouTube to be played through televisions and/or standalone speakers.

As they did with the Nexus One phone back in 2010, Google may be introducing their own hardware in order to launch some of their new capabilities in the way that works best for them. That is, these new Nexus products may be reference implementations so that other equipment manufacturers will have a head start on how to build future Android devices that leverage the latest "Jelly Bean" version of the operating system, and that will match and then build on capabilities of new hardware such as NFC.

Are either of these new Google devices on your shopping list? How will they serve your needs better than, say, a Kindle Fire or an Apple TV? Leave a comment and let us know.


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Friday, June 22, 2012

Tesla Model S Sedan

Tesla Motors makes electric cars. Really cool, really expensive electric cars. They don't make gas-powered cars and they don't make hybrids. To learn a little about the company and see a brief Tesla history, see the timeline in the Washington Post.

On June 22, 2012, Tesla is slated to deliver the first of their new Tesla Model S Sedans. This car is a four door sedan with a "fast back" design and is expected to go from 0 to 60 MPH in under 6 seconds, and travel 300 miles on a charge. That's impressive.

I'm no car expert, but it's clear to see that there's lots of buzz and lots of consumer interest in electric and hybrid cars. Toyota, Ford, Nissan, Chevy and other big names are doing some interesting things. Tesla, though, is a tiny company. Their cars seem to have great style and great performance. If they can continue to deliver through an expanding line of car models, ramp up their production and reduce costs (in part through economies of scale as sales increase), this company might become a major player in the next wave of cars.

I'd love to see more of the sporty Tesla Roadster, the sleek new Model S sedan, and eventually the gull-winged Model X in every day use.

What do you think of Tesla? Have you seen one of their cars in person? Would you buy one, and if so at what price?

Leave a comment and let us know.


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Monday, June 18, 2012

Microsoft Challenges iPad

Surface: A New Tablet Computer

Rumors have swirled since last Thursday that a Microsoft announcement on June 18th would be a tablet, an iPad competitor. On Monday evening Microsoft announced the "Surface," a slim tablet with a 10.6-inch screen, a "kickstand" to position the display, and a keyboard/cover. It has an integrated camera and runs Skype. One version of the tablet will run Windows 8 RT, and another will run Windows 8 Pro. Unlike the iPad, the Surface will have USB 2.0 and MicroSD interfaces.

Some details were not immediately available, including pricing, ship dates, and whether the new device would support carrier/cellular network connectivity.

Microsoft has not made their own hardware very often. The last time they chose to build hardware to bring a new service concept forward was the Zune, and that device failed to gain traction in a market already committed to iPods and iPhones. Now Microsoft has chosen to build hardware again in a similar situation. They are challenging a wildly popular product in the iPad. Will things turn out differently this time?

Is this a good move by Microsoft? What killer features would you be looking for? What's the right price-point to get major sales and help to launch Windows 8 in a big way? How much would you pay?

Leave a comment and let us know.


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Friday, June 15, 2012

Domestic Drones

Surveillance Society?

A surveillance society is one where surveillance technology is very widely used to monitor what people do. The rapid increase in surveillance cameras in US cities and much of the rest of the western world has probably helped to solve many crimes, and may (or may not) deter criminals. But for some of us, it feels a little creepy to be watched so much of the time.

When aerial drones became a visible part of the way the US waged war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), I started to wonder about the possibility of law enforcement interest in the use of small surveillance drones within the US. By May of this year, it was no longer an idle thought and academic exercise. Reports began to appear about law enforcement interest and about practical trials.

I find this to be a disturbing direction, and a potential invasion of privacy. I'm in agreement with Senator Rand Paul (R, Kentucky) – at least on this particular topic. His opinion piece published in CNN makes the point that a mini drone capturing photographic or video content should require a warrant.

Recently the Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken notice. They are working to ban law enforcement use of drone surveillance, or to at least require "robust privacy safeguards that will protect citizens from unwanted and unconstitutional surveillance."

Should law enforcement move in the direction of drone use within the United States, and if so, what should the limits be? Can your local police department use drones to try to curb speeding and illegal parking, or are drones only appropriate for much more serious crime? In either case, what are the deployment implications, and what are the privacy safeguards for citizens?

Please leave a comment and tell us what you think. 


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Monday, June 11, 2012

WWDC 2012 News and Analysis

iOS, OS X, and some new hardware

Monday of this week was the opening day and keynote from Apple's WWDC at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. You can read about the announcements in any of the tech publications, so I'll just list them here in brief and then move into what I think the implications of those particular announcements are.

In brief, Apple announced:
  • Improved Maps. Severing their map relationship with Google, Apple is rolling out advanced mapping based on their own development, with optional 3D views and turn-by-turn directions.
  • iOS 6. The next version of Apple's mobile operating system includes roughly 200 updates and upgrades, including a Do Not Disturb mode, better offline information handling and improvements to Siri such as ability to launch apps, post on Facebook, and work with popular services like OpenTable, Rotten Tomatoes, and Yelp. Developer release available immediately.
  • OS X Mountain Lion. The next version of the desktop and laptop operating system will be released in July for $20. Like iOS, OS X also boasts hundreds of new features including better Cloud integration and a set of applications that are optimized to handle retina displays, which leads to...
  • New computer hardware, including a MacBook Pro models with great specs and an optional retina display with a huge (2880x1800) pixel count. Other hardware announcements included updated Mac Pro and MacBook Air hardware.
What we didn't hear about (and didn't expect to) was a new iPhone, a new smaller iPad, or a standalone Apple television set. It seems very clear that the iPhone is now on a fall upgrade cycle (look for the next iPhone in September or October this year), and the iPad is on a spring cycle. There's no reason to introduce a new mini-iPad when the current iPad is selling so well. As for the Apple Television set, I'm among those that think that it is being developed and will be announced. When? When Apple can reinvent the way we watch television. There's no sense in introducing a conventional TV with a few bells and whistles. Apple will get into this game when they believe that they can change TV the way the iPhone changed handhelds and the iPad defined modern tablets. 

A fall release of iOS 6 with FaceTime for carrier networks, enhanced maps, and a Siri with car integration hints at what the next iPhone will be. Clearly it'll have 4G LTE, which we knew once the latest iPad was released. But more than that, it seems as though Apple has plans for a device that will extend its reach to play a very large role in our cars. More than just a map tool and a music player, the next iPhone running iOS 6 will be a device that acts as our voice-controlled navigator in a way that surpasses the best current tools.

What news from WWDC surprised you? What did you expect to hear, but didn't? What do the announcements that were made imply for the future? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.


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