Gradient, made by JUMPZERO, is a simple yet powerful Mac OS X app that lets you easily create CSS gradients by getting rid of the clumsiness of vendor prefixes. The user interface is beautiful and works wonderfully. Gradient is in open beta for any designer that wants to help test the app out or see what Gradient will be able to do.  In Gradient, you can pick/select/input the colors and then define which type of gradient you’re looking for; click the Copy button near the bottom of the application window and paste the generated code into your favorite editor.

Gradient is customizeable as to which browser needs support by opening the preference pane and activating the radio buttons for the browsers you are going to support. No need for Internet Explorer? Simply uncheck the button. Gradient not only supports linear gradients but radial as well, just move the slider over to the type you need. The gradients’ directions can be altered by the directional arrows for linear and by using the radial-center-matrix-button for radial gradients. Before you decide to copy the CSS, you can preview the code in-app by clicking the CSS button. A hovering code box pops up and displays your code all within Gradient.

Gradient lives in your dock, menubar, or whatever mix you want. You can click the menu bar icon to activate the app and get to work. You can also click either of the two large top colors to bring up the OS X built-in color selector or click the magnifying glass icon to bring up the zoom tool to use on every pixel of your Mac’s screen.

Gradient feels very polished for only being in beta 2, and it looks like this will be a great tool for web designers looking for a simple yet intuitive way to create CSS gradients. Gradient’s development roadmap consists of adding HSL input & output, SASS syntax and multiple step gradients. No details on the app’s release date have been provided, but it should be soon according to the website.

Earlier this week, it was reported the final version of iOS 5 for the next-generation iPhone would include a new functionality called “Assistant”. Based on the acquisition of Siri in 2010 and allegedly using some of Nuance’s voice recognition technologies, Assistant is said to be the next iPhone’s biggest new software feature, which will allow users to “speak” to their device to complete a variety of tasks such as sending text messages, creating calendar events and reminders, or get information on a specific topic only with their voice. Assistant will apparently put the next iPhone’s A5 CPU and 1 GB of RAM to use, providing an effortless experience to execute voice commands with a natural language.

Based on this week’s report and details from “sources with knowledge of the feature”, MacRumors has mocked up Assistant’s activation screen and asked Jan-Michael Cart (author of several iOS 5 and OS X concept videos) to create a quick demo showing what Assistant should look like.

After a long press on the home button, the screen fades and slides up, just like with the multitasking interface. Revealed is a silver icon with an animated orbiting purple flare which indicates a ready state. From what we’ve been told, this image is a close representation of the actual Assistant interface.

From there, the user may be taken to a conversation view that somewhat mimics Siri’s original interface, but in Apple’s own styling.

You may remember MacRumors also commissioned a mockup of the iPhone 5 design in what has become an unofficial representation of the rumored “completely redesigned” device. The Assistant mockup posted today shows an equal attention to detail, and undoubtedly resembles something Apple could do with the multitasking tray, linen background, and styled buttons. Obviously, Apple’s official design will be different, but you can get the basic idea of this feature by looking at the video below.

Voice commands aren’t new to smartphones, but looking at the video and trying to imagine what would Apple do with reliable voice recognition tech, I assume Assistant could still feel “revolutionary” in some way, especially if Apple has really managed to build a “conversation view” that would let you give detailed instructions to your phone. Imagine being able to create quick reminders when you don’t have time to type (for example, while you’re driving) or dictate long emails and text messages directly to your iPhone, which would transcribe everything for you. Assistant is still a rumor, but an exciting one to think about.

Apple will hold a press conference in Cupertino on Tuesday, October 4th, where it’s widely expected to unveil the new iPhone.
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Sep
30
2011

#MacStoriesDeals – Friday

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Here are today’s @MacStoriesDeals on iOS, Mac, and Mac App Store apps that are on sale for a limited time, so get them before they end!

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Sep
30
2011

Apple has released a new beta of iTunes 10.5 to developers this afternoon, re-enabling some iTunes Match functionalities that have gone missing after the iCloud music library reset that several developers reported on Apple’s Dev Forums this week. iTunes 10.5 beta 9, available now, contains bug fixes and improvements over iTunes 10.5 beta 8, which was seeded earlier this month.

iTunes 10.5 is required to sync devices running iOS 5, and it brings a number of optimizations and improvements to iTunes’ code, which now runs natively at 64-bit on Lion. The first beta of iTunes 10.5 that implemented support for iTunes Match — Apple’s upcoming backup and scan & match service for music in the cloud — was seeded in late August.

iTunes Match will launch this Fall alongside iCloud, and it will be compatible with OS X and iOS 5 devices.

As noted by AppleInsider, Apple has removed iPod click wheel games from the iTunes Store, pulling a link to the category from the App Store’s dropdown menu inside iTunes, and also removing listings for those games that users could play on a click wheel-based iPod. It’s not clear when Apple made the change exactly, but it appears to be recent. Apple updates the App Store’s homepage every week with new features, banners and links to special sections, and the removal of iPod Click Wheel Games (which had their very own category) might have been part of a weekly refresh. There were around 50 games for click wheel iPods in the iTunes Store, including classics like Vortex and Klondike, or other titles like Song Summoner by Square Enix.

Click wheel games were compatible with the iPod classic, as well as older versions of the iPod, iPod nano and iPod mini. They allowed users to control games using an iPod’s touch-sensitive click wheel, and they’re still mentioned on Apple’s iPod classic Features page. Development of click wheel games never really took off with third-party developers, as Apple didn’t make a software development kit publicly available.

The FAQ page for iPod Click Wheel Games has been marked as “archived” and “old article” by Apple on September 21, 2011. The article still reports click wheel games are available in the iTunes Store, but old direct links for such games aren’t working anymore, and games no longer appear in iTunes’ search results.

The removal of click wheel games comes amidst rumors of the discontinuation of the classic and shuffle iPod lines, quite possibly with a formal announcement as early as next week at Apple’s October 4th keynote. The iPod classic was rumored to be nearing discontinuation before, as Apple didn’t announce a refresh at last year’s music event in a clear focus on iOS devices (and the updated iPod nano). Apple’s Steve Jobs allegedly confirmed in an email to a customer that they had no intention to cease production of the iPod classic, which remains the only iPod to offer high capacity with 160 GB of storage. Speculation surrounding the iPod suggests Apple would axe the Classic to make room for a new 128 GB iPod touch, although this year’s iPod touch refresh is believed to be a minor one and there have been no signs of a 128 GB iPod touch in the past months. A 64 GB iPhone prototype surfaced earlier this year, if this can be an indication of Apple looking to bump the storage sizes of its iOS devices.

In 2010, the iPod classic was the 5th most popular MP3 player in the United States.

ClickToFlash, the popular plugin to block Adobe Flash content in Safari and make videos play in higher quality through HTML5, had to go through a series of changes after Apple released Safari 5.1, which dropped support for WebKit Plugins. Those of you who use ClickToFlash on a daily basis may have noticed that ClickToFlash for Safari 5.1 recently got a new home, and it’s been developed by Marc Hoyois as a Safari extension called ClickToPlugin.

Marc Hoyois actually offers both ClickToPlugin and ClickToFlash rewritten as a Safari extension — the former is simply a broader version of ClickToFlash that doesn’t stop at Flash content, but prevents Safari from launching a variety of plugins, including Facebook Video Calling and Java. The same functionality of ClickToFlash is still there, only it’s been split in two versions depending on what you need (if you only want to block Flash, get the new ClickToFlash extension) with a new settings page. As usual, the extension replaces content with a placeholder that doesn’t load automatically and, when possible, allows for a direct plugin-to-HTML5 conversion that, in the case of YouTube, will allow you to load a video’s source in higher quality. ClickToFlash/ClickToPlugin comes with several preferences to tweak and support for many video websites — you should check out the complete list of features and screenshots of the settings at the developer’s website.

An update released earlier this week for the ClickToPlugin/ClickToFlash extensions adds a feature Mac users have been requesting since the introduction of iOS 4.2 last year — AirPlay support in Safari for Mac. While AirPlay had been enabled first in Apple’s iOS apps, then the Mobile Safari browser and third-party apps, Mac users were only given AirPlay support for audio in iTunes, but nothing related to video streaming on OS X. A number of hacks and utilities surfaced to send Mac video to an Apple TV or AirPlay receiver and even turn a Mac into an AirPlay-compatible device, but there’s never been a way to easily select a video in the browser, and instantly beam it to an Apple TV with the click of a button.

The latest ClickToPlugin adds exactly this feature in combination with its built-in HTML5 video recognition and a second utility available on Marc Hoyois’ website called Media Center. Version 2.5.2 of Hoyois’ extension adds a new “AirPlay” option in the HTML5 media player (the one you get if you, say, decide to replace Flash content on YouTube with HTML5 video), enabling you to send video to an Apple TV on your network. The Apple TV’s hostname or IP address needs to be specified in ClickToPlugin’s settings, but it’s set by default to apple-tv.local, which is what Apple gives you with an Apple TV out of the box. The default hostname worked for me and found my Apple TV (connected with WiFi first, then via Ethernet to my AirPort Extreme).

Once ClickToPlugin is set to fetch HTML5 video instead of Flash (you can optionally choose a default resolution — I picked 720p) and the Apple TV is configured to accept incoming AirPlay streams (the extension has support for AirPlay passwords, too), you’ll be able to try AirPlay in Safari by opening a YouTube video, like this one, and choose AirPlay from the source selector on the top left. If your settings are correct, the video should start playing on your Apple TV.

Media Center works in conjunction with the latest ClickToPlugin in that it adds a contextual menu item to links and HTML5 media to download a video file, open it in QuickTime, or send it to an Apple TV via AirPlay. Some of these functionalities are already provided by ClickToPlugin, but I like Media Center’s AirPlay action on right-click and, more importantly, the toolbar button that allows you to stop a a video from being streamed to the Apple TV.

In my tests, ClickToPlugin and Media Center have been fairly reliable, streaming 720p content from YouTube to my Apple TV, although I’ve experienced some connection drops (the video would stop playing after a few minutes on the Apple TV) and errors with the Vimeo website. I need to mention, though, that I’m running OS X, Safari and Apple TV beta software, so that might be the culprit. Even with these betas (OS X 10.7.2, Safari 5.1.1, Apple TV Software beta 6), ClickToPlugin’s AirPlay support worked fine most of the time, and I’m sure optimizations for the new OS and Safari will be available once Apple publicly releases the updates. I’ve also noticed you don’t have to keep a tab open after the video starts playing with AirPlay, but Safari can’t be quit or you’ll lose the AirPlay stream.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see native AirPlay support by Apple in a future version of Safari for Mac (or, even better, systemwide AirPlay support on OS X), but right now, ClickToPlugin and Media Center provide an interesting solution for those who want to comfortably enjoy video from their web browser on a widescreen TV. The extensions surely need some work and refinements, and it would be great to see them land on Chrome someday (if it’s even possible, I don’t know).

Go download ClickToPlugin and Media Center on Marc Hoyois’ website.

As Firefox 7 hit the public channel earlier this week, Mozilla has published a new blog post detailing some of the features of the new Firefox 8, now available in beta. Keeping true to their renewed schedule for Firefox updates, Mozilla aims to release a new version of their browser every six weeks, which has lead to some confusion among users as to whether it’s really necessary to call every update a major release when there are only minor differences to test.

Firefox 8 will deliver some improvements to tab management, allowing users to choose whether tabs should load at start-up, or only when they’re selected. This should allow for faster start-up times when windows with many tabs are restored; from a first test, it indeed appears Firefox 8 will restore the last opened tab, display other tabs’ titles and favicons, but load their contents only when the user clicks on them. Mac users can find this new option under Preferences -> General. Also, a new tab animation should make it easier to re-order tabs.

Another new feature of Firefox 8 is Twitter integration in the search box. By clicking on the search provider’s icon (by default it’s Google), users will have the option to choose Twitter and enter terms to look up on the social network’s Search page.

Firefox 8 also includes:

  • Enhanced control of add-ons: Users will receive a one-time notification to review and confirm third party add-ons they want to keep, disable or delete. When Firefox starts and finds that a third-party program has installed an add-on, Firefox will disable the add-on until the user has explicitly opted in, giving users better control over their Web experience.
  • CORS for WebGL textures: Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) enables Web developers to load textures from other domains for WebGL in a secure way.
  • WebSockets updates: Firefox now prevents the use of plaintext WebSockets when created from an SSL page, which improves security for users.
  • HTML5 Native Right Click Menu: Web developers can now add items directly to the Firefox right click menu using simple HTML5 markup.
  • HTML5 media elements: Developers can add a lot of video and audio elements to a website without impacting performance

Firefox 8 is expected to be available later this year. The first beta can be download from Mozilla’s website here.

JAMBOX 2.1 Software Update

When Jawbone shipped the 2.0 software update for the JAMBOX (my review), I was very disappointed. Not only I couldn’t experience the three-dimensional binaural recordings (in spite of listening multiple times to the dedicated Spotify playlist) — the update itself made overall audio quality considerably worse, even with LiveAudio turned off. I’ve heard mixed responses about the 2.0 update (some people seemed to love it, others couldn’t stand it at all), and whilst it didn’t stop me from using the JAMBOX every day, I was definitely looking forward to the “fix” that Jawbone promptly promised. On 2.0, sound was distorted, “cold”, fuzzy — it wasn’t the same JAMBOX I bought.

With the 2.1 update released this week, Jawbone seems to have fixed most of the annoyances that creeped into version 2.0. I still can’t fully understand (or, for that matter, hear) LiveAudio, but the JAMBOX engineers have restored the device’s original audio and introduced a new Sound Clarity option that delivers distortion-free audio at high volume levels when LiveAudio is off. From Jawbone’s email about the update:

You can also enjoy a clearer, distortion-free sound when LiveAudio is OFF by turning Sound Clarity ON. When Sound Clarity is ON, the software uses an audio tuning algorithm that cleans up distortion at high volume levels. Sound Clarity is OFF by default – to turn it on, go to Advanced Settings in MyTALK and set “Sound Clarity” ON.

After a full day of testing, I can say I like this latest software update. A lot. I’ve listened to Pink Floyd, Biffy Clyro, Kasabian, Blink-182, Bon Iver and Noel Gallagher this afternoon, and sound quality was at the same level of my original JAMBOX review. With Sound Clarity on, the JAMBOX perhaps loses a bit of detail and bass deepness, but there’s a sensible gain in loudness with clearer sound.

Go update your JAMBOX right now. You can visit mytalk.jawbone.com to download the latest Jawbone Updater for Mac, and then configure LiveAudio and Sound Clarity directly in your browser. Highly recommended.

Reuters: Brazil’s $12 Billion iPad Deal Is “In Doubt”

According to Reuters, Brazilian officials are claiming the $12 billion deal between Brazil and Foxconn, maker of the iPad, is “in doubt” because of a lack of an agreement on tax breaks, work conditions, and other “crazy demands” by Foxconn. It appears the talks between the local government and Foxconn have been difficult, mainly due to Brazil’s high taxes and non-skilled workers that don’t meet Foxconn’s expectations. These demands may also include priority treatment at Brazilian customs, Reuters reports.

We’re dealing with a lot of issues, like the (Taiwanese) trying to figure out how to do business in Brazil … and Brazil figuring out how to produce these complicated products,” a second government official told Reuters.

Maybe we will end up starting with something smaller.

The deal between Foxconn and Brazil was announced back in April by Brazilian’s President Dilma Roussef, with production set to begin in July. The date was then pushed back to November, and more recently Brazilian Minister of Science and Technology, Aloízio Mercadante, said that the new factory was “ready” and making iPads that would start shipping in December.