Apple’s new 16″ MacBook Pro has finally addressed the keyboard issues of the last few years by going back to an old design and ditching the butterfly keys. Marco is convinced. If the post doesn’t convince then the podcast will. Great to see Apple caring about the Mac again.
Apple Arcade launched with iOS 13 and I’ve come to the end of my free trial month. It’s been much talked about…will it change mobile gaming? Will the quality of games encourage sign-ups? Is it just Apple trying to grab another slice of service revenue?
Apple Arcade promised 100 games at launch but like many products Apple launch now the details were opaque. On day one there were around 70 titles and after a couple of days they added another 3-4. Since then they’ve dropped around 5 new titles every week and on Friday 8th Nov they’ve hit 100. Impressive considering the variety of titles available.
While cloud saving meant an easy shared gaming experience on iPhone and iPad Pad, Arcade extends that to Apple TV and the Mac. For some games this works well and means you can continue that favourite game wherever you are.
However the platforms can offer really different experiences. iOS is driven by touch unlike the other two. There are games like Mini Motorways that while you can play them on the Mac or Apple TV just aren’t as good and that’s purely down to the interface. Conversely Sayonara Wild Hearts shines on the Apple TV when used with a controller while on iOS it feels a different game as the touch controls are lacking.
Of course you can pair a controller with iOS and with 13 now supporting Xbox and PS4 gamepads Apple are finally taking gaming + controllers seriously, but you are more likely to pair a pad on the Apple TV and Mac.
Apple Arcade costs £4.99 a month. £60 a year. One full priced digital title on Xbox or PS4 costs £60 so do you get value for money? Yes. Will I have the same opinion in 6 months time? Not so sure.
Today’s mobile games are full of in-app purchases, adverts or a grind of some sort to get more coins to unlock some special move or worse multiple in-app currencies to unlock various things. I’m looking at you Mario Kart which is so unlike a Nintendo game it hurts. Apple Arcade games guarantee no in-app purchasing. No adverts. No grinding either – just a clean experience which is far from what we see in mobile gaming today.
Value would also be questionable if Arcade was all full of the one type of game but the initial launch is packed with a variety of genres and each type has one or two hits in their category. There’s no doubt there’s a few stinkers in there. Sonic Racing is surprisingly poor and there’s a couple of other games that have been written with microtransations in mind and had them quickly stripped for Arcade.
The main challenge around value is how many titles keep coming to Apple Arcade? How long do existing titles stay in Arcade? Arcade’s value would diminish if Mini Motorways or Grindstone which have a lot of repeatability disappeared from the service after 9 months. While thats an unknown we are seeing great new titles like Guildlings appear more than 6 weeks after Arcade launched so I’ve a good feeling that we’ll see more enjoyable titles into the new year.
One other aspect of value is to the developers. There’s not been much said on how developers are rewarded for titles in the Arcade store. Does it depend on number of downloads? Number of plays? Paid up front? Hopefully the first developers and studios making games for Arcade are being rewarded by Apple – they’ve certainly got the money to ensure developers get what’s due but the App Store shows it’s often a race to the bottom.
All the above doesn’t matter a jot if there aren’t games worth playing. Some of my favourites so far:
- What the Golf – You think you are getting a golf game set in weird places, instead you are getting a more anarchic version of golf that’s so much fun. Love this.
- Assemble with Care – A short but beautiful game in which you fix objects. Reminds me of The Reassembler with James May.
- Grindstone – First class puzzle game. Simple at first but the more you play the more complex it gets where you have to apply more strategy to get through the round. First Apple Arcade title to get an Edge 9.
- Super Impossible Road – I loved Impossible Road and this is a deeper version of the original that first came out on the PS4 a few years ago. It’s now on iOS and it’s very good. Has a career more and multiplayer too so a lot more depth.
- Mini Motorways – Follow up to Mini Metro swapping trains for cars. It’s got a bit more complexity and while good, I’m not enjoying it as much as Mini Metro.
- Where Cards Fall – It’s a puzzle game but relaxing at the same time. You play a character looking back on his life so far and it does make you think about events in your life too.
- Guildlings – Only just out but a really enjoyable RPG/puzzle game. Seemingly short again but this is Chapter One so more planned in the future.
There are so many that I’ve yet to try out of the 100, but also worth a shout are Sayonara Wild Hearts and Frogger in Toy Town. Frogger was previewed at an earlier Apple event and looked a bit rough but the gameplay gets quite tricky at times and the graphics are really well done.
Should you subscribe?
For me Apple Arcade is well worth the £4.99 a month it currently costs. Should there be a dearth of new titles or favourites disappear then I might have second thoughts but so far it delivers a great gaming experience thats free of adverts, in app purchases and the grinds that have killed much of the good in mobile games.
There’s a definite focus on smaller more unique games compared to AAA titles seen elsewhere but it also introduces, for me anyway, games that I might not have bought had they appeared in the normal App Store especially if the developers were forced to cram in adverts or IAP’s. I’m looking forward to seeing what other titles land over the coming months and whether Apple can keep up this strong start. The games so far have been a nice contrast to what we usually see on the App Store or on the major consoles. Well played Apple.
It’s September. It’s Autumn. It’s Apple release time. Not only do we get OS update’s across the ecosystem and this year Apple really are spoiling us with multiple iOS updates in September alone (bugs!) but we get the annual launch of new iPhones.
This years updates focus on the camera and extra battery life. I’m not triggered by the three camera’s as some were but there’s no denying the bump is getting…large. However visiting the Apple Store yesterday the design certainly camouflage’s the bump better than I expected from the pictures. I also love the smoky glass on the back compared to previous years.
The camera’s though are special. The new ultra-wide is a really nice addition to the iPhone. The clarity and tones from testing in the store today were impressive. Didn’t try the video but the embed below from Andy To is so good. For a more detailed review of the camera, Austin Mann’s write up is well worth spending time on.
One other tiny change is a slightly thicker case alongside a drop of 3D Touch but coupled with a redesigned battery gives a 4 or 5 hour increase in life if you go for a Pro model. Compelling changes…and don’t forget that new Pro colour. More speed, better screen, what’s there not to like?
Well…the price for one. My iPhone X is 2 years old and was by far the most expensive phone purchase I’d made. I said at the time I’d be moving to at least a 2 year upgrade cycle so now’s the time to move to a new phone.
But the X is still doing well. Fast, good battery life and the design hasn’t really moved on since the X. Looks exactly the same from the front and sides.
So I want a new iPhone.
I don’t need a new iPhone.
And at £1200, I’ll be giving the iPhone 11 Pro a miss this year.
Need vs want.
In the past I’d upgrade yearly and enjoy those incremental, sometimes large incremental, improvements especially in years 1-5. Now the changes are smaller and not enough to see me change yearly, even every other year. I’m also surprised that both Glasgow Apple stores still have stock of the Pro models three days after launch. Mmmmm.
Need vs want.
Still very tempted…but the credit card will stay locked away for another year.
Just over a year ago I upgraded to the 10.5 iPad Pro with folio keyboard and Apple Pencil. I was convinced this iPad would do me for another 3-4 years…until Apple brought out a brand new iPad Pro design and a version 2 Apple Pencil. The message from Apple this year is the iPad Pro will make you rethink what an iPad and hence a computer is capable of. Does it?
I love the new design of the iPad Pro. Flat edges and thin across the whole iPad it feels great in the hand. I wondered if the flat edge would feel uncomfortable when holding the iPad for a while but I’ve had no issues so far. The design reminds me of the iPhone 4 & 5 which were a favourite of mine. I’d love to see a similar design introduced for next years iPhone’s.
The rounded corners are now matched with rounded screen corners. Apple have brought their Liquid Retina LCD to the iPad – Liquid Retina seems to indicate rounded corners – and it looks fantastic. Despite it not being an OLED I struggle to see the difference in playback of videos when I compare the iPad to the iPhone X. The screen still has all the new tech that was introduced last year including ProMotion and TrueTone which ensures a fantastic image at all times.
Many have said this is a borderless iPad and the screen is edge to edge…but it’s not. It’s close to the edge but there’s an undeniable border that runs around the whole screen. The difference is that it’s constant and you really can’t tell which way is up unless you look at the back and see the Apple logo. The thinner border also houses the main difference from every other iPad so far as there is no home button or Touch ID.
Face ID is now tucked into the iPad Pro (no notch!) and so far it’s been better in use than the iPhone. It works in any orientation, it’s faster than my iPhone X and if you do have your hand covering the front facing camera it will alert you with an on screen dialogue. It also feels more frictionless than Touch ID. I will be working on the iPad and when something needs to unlock like 1Password it just happens assuming camera isn’t blocked. Face ID has really speeded up my iPad usage.
The removal of Touch ID has lead to Apple tweaking both iPad Pro design’s. The smaller iPad is no longer a 10.5″ screen but moves to 11″. The larger iPad 12.9″ screen stays the same but the footprint of the iPad has now shrunk. Due to this shrinking and the overall thinning the 12.9″ now takes up 25% less volume than last years model. This lead to a tough choice. I didn’t pre-order the iPad Pro as I wanted to see the new models in the flesh. Last years 10.5″ iPad Pro was great as a consumption device and was OK as a laptop replacement but there were times when the keyboard felt small and multi-tasking two apps was a bit tight on size. Could I move to this years 12.9?
Yes. On comparing the 11″ and 12.9″ I much preferred the bigger screen and felt the compromise in weight was one I could make. In practice over the last week it’s been the right choice for me. Using the iPad with the keyboard has been far more comfortable, video watching on the larger screen has been great and general browsing and reading is a bit more clearer. Yes it’s more weighty and slightly more cumbersome but it’s not been enough to make me think about swapping back to the 11″.
Faster and Louder
Powering this years iPad Pro’s is the new A12X chip. The performance of this is pretty astounding. I’ve ran a Geekbench test against the new iPad Pro and my current 2017 iMac and iPhone.
The iMac is more than 2.5 times the cost of the iPad Pro and has a noisy fan at times when you stress it unlike the iPad Pro but the Geekbench scores are close. App’s fly on the iPad – it’s faster than last years model which was already a really good performer. It feels like Apple could replace Intel with ARM chips in Mac’s now, especially for the MacBook Air and Pro’s.
The other significant change is in the connector – lightning has been dropped for USB C. USB C is more capable than lightning, it can supply more power for example. There are also thousands of USB C peripherals out there but at the moment it’s trial and error if the iPad Pro supports it thanks to iOS.
Worse is the limitations around files. Plug in a camera or an SD card via an adaptor and it will be recognised and allow photos or videos to be imported. Anything else however is ignored. Plug in a flash drive with a Word or Pages file – ignored. Zip file – ignored. Music files – ignored. Support for browsing of external drives seems trivial to add to iOS especially with the Files app that arrived with iOS 12. This shouldn’t need to wait until iOS 13 – why not a 12.2 or 12.3 feature? It would bolster Apple’s claims about rethinking what an iPad can do and would have silenced a lot of negativity if it had came alongside the iPad Pro release.
Always the butt of jokes, the camera’s have seen some upgrades too. The rear camera is new and unique to the iPad, isn’t as good as the new iPhones but does take a good picture and is also great for scan’s. The camera bump is pretty large but doesn’t cause the iPad to rock when placed flat. The front facing camera is the same as the XS and XR (thanks Face ID) so unlike the rear supports portrait mode.
Something that has been dropped is the headphone jack. This feels mean especially for something advertised as a Pro machine. Yes you can buy USB C adapters (and unlike the phones no adapter was included with the iPad Pro) but it feels like a mistake to me. However the 4 speakers are improved over last year. Louder and clearer the sound on the new iPad is excellent for something so thin.
Final point is on battery life. Apple change each year how they define battery life. 10 hours, full day etc. I’ve found the battery life to be much the same as previous iPad’s. Long lasting especially when compared to a laptop, so a full day of work is easy to achieve.
So far, so positive. The new Folio Keyboard has also seen some design changes. There is a new smart connector for the keyboard and rather than attach at the side of the iPad the new folio covers the entire back. In fact the back of the iPad plays an important role in aligning the keyboard via magnets. On the back of the iPad Pro there are over 100 magnets used to align the folio when connecting. This works so well. Easy to take the keyboard off an on and no worry about whether it’s on and aligned properly.
The outside material of the folio feels a little different to the last model. It feels a bit softer but it also picks up fluff and dirt easily which is annoying. It’s also a shame that the new iPad is then wrapped in a solid flat grey case – there’s not even an Apple logo on show. In some ways it matches the industrial design of the iPad but it is bland compared to the naked iPad.
The folio is far more comfortable to type on my lap. Little movement, and the wider keyboard is far more comfortable than the older 10.5. The majority of this post was written using the new keyboard and it’s far less cramped than the 10.5 version. However the keyboard itself feels a missed opportunity. There are still no backlit keys – not even a caps lock indicator. There are also no media or shortcut keys which seems lacking for a Pro device.
They new folio allows for two positions, desk and lap. It’s nice to have two options but it’s nowhere near as flexible as something like the Surface Pro. I’ve had no major issues with the angles provided but I’ve seen others complain about neck strain as neither angle is exactly right.
While the keyboard is more stable in general the iPad on the folio seems to flex more than with the last design. The image below shows the 2017 iPad Pro 10.5″. There’s a bit of movement when you poke the screen.
The second image shows the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9″. There’s much more movement including the keyboard itself. Not sure if that’s a symptom of the new design, it’s due to the bigger iPad or just that the keyboard is new and needs time to settle.
So the folio keyboard isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. Worse – it costs £200. Like most Apple products this year they’ve all went up by around 20%. I can justify that to myself when I see new features or technology but there is nothing in this keyboard that shouts new…or Pro. I felt a bit wronged when buying the folio and I’m looking forward to seeing some third party options appear in the coming months that address the folio’s shortfalls.
Unlike the folio, the new Apple Pencil has been totally redesigned and address’s all the issues with the first version. The first difference is the matte finish. It feels much more comfortable in the hand aided by the second noticeable change. Instead of being totally round the pencil now has a flat edge that serves two purposes – it magnetically connects to the edge of the iPad and it also stops the pencil from rolling. I also find it more comfortable to hold.
While magnetically connected to the iPad the pencil wirelessly charges. This means unlike the older pencil which you could never find and if you did it was usually not charged, the new pencil is always to hand and charged and ready for action. The wireless charging means there’s no more awkward charging via a port and the pencil is slightly shorter, feeling more balanced in hand.
The final change is a button. An Apple product with a button? Don’t be daft, it’s a double tap in the lower third of the pencil that activates an alternate function which is set per app. So in Notes you are drawing with the pencil and a double tap swaps to the eraser. I’ve found it a bit awkward to use but easier the more I do it.
The Apple Pencil has also seen a 20% increase in price which for me is more justifiable compared to the old design as it includes gesture support and wireless charging. However Apple no longer supply a spare tip with the pencil. That’s tight.
In the last week I’ve used the pencil far more regularly. Comments on a PDF, signature on a doc, editing photo’s in Lightroom and just general navigation. A fantastic update.
Elephant in the Room
Apple want to class the iPad as a computer and given the power it has that’s no surprise. However reviews to date have identified one major flaw – iOS – and I have to agree. I use my iPad every day and it replaced the MacBook Air that I had. However I couldn’t give up on my Mac as iOS doesn’t let me do what I can easily do on the Mac. There are also tasks that despite the improvement in iOS 11 and 12 are faster and easier on the Mac either down to the maturity and flexibility that macOS offers or the support of things like a mouse, trackpad or large monitors.
I’d like to see iOS improve in a number of area’s:
- Let me pick default apps. There are great mail, calendar, task management and browsers in the App Store all hampered by the fact that you can’t make them the system default.
- Let me browse attached storage. Seems a no brainier to add and soon.
- Make better use of the large tablet interface. An 11″ or 12.9″ screen should let me do far more than the default iOS springboard currently does. It really is just a bigger iPhone.
- Mobile Safari doesn’t cut it anymore. Give us the same functionality and power as desktop Safari…or let me default to Chrome.
- Multi user? I don’t need it but the iPad has everything from a hardware perspective that would allow multi user support and it seems more important to add with the price of the devices now.
Will we see any of this in iOS 13? No idea and undoubtedly won’t see them all if any. If you are picking up an iPad Pro hoping that these features come in the next 12 months then prepare for some disappointment. One last ding on Apple and software – where are the pro apps? They paraded Adobe at the iPad Pro launch and talked up Autodesk but where’s Logic? Where’s Final Cut? Pro users need Pro software and not seeing Apple’s Pro app’s on the iPad is a real negative.
I love the new iPad Pro. The design is great – a thin all screen slab that is also a really fast computer. It feels more like the device Jobs promised in 2010 when he showed the iPad for the first time. The screen increase to 11″ and shrinking of the 12.9″ body will lead to more moving to the larger iPad. The keyboard is a kludge but the gen 2 Apple Pencil is a fantastic step up and improves in every area.
Will it replace you current computer?
It totally depends on what you use your current computer for. I fallback often to the iMac and I couldn’t move to being iPad only right now not due to the hardware but solely down to iOS. 2019 is a big year for software on the iPad. Real Photoshop from Adobe will land and there will be much speculation on what iOS 13 will deliver for the iPad. For too long the iPad has seen little attention to differentiate it from the iPhone. Apple, it’s time to unlock the iPads potential.
I’ve been an Apple Watch user sine it first came out in 2015. It was no surprise as I love my Apple products and I’ve been interested in wearables for years importing the very first Fitbit to track my steps.
However I resisted upgrading from the original Series 0 waiting for a bit of a redesign which the Series 4 finally delivered. I’ve been using the new watch for just over a month so how has it performed?
The new watch comes in a slightly bigger size along with a far bigger screen. It’s not quite edge to edge but the bigger screen makes for a far more readable display. I plumped for the 44mm and it’s really comfortable on my wrist. Now that I’ve seen both sizes I prefer it over the 40mm.
It also feels comfy to wear. Like all smartwatches it’s pretty thick but not ridiculousy so. I went for the Cellular version this time and thankfully the red crown has been replaced with a small red line around the crown instead which is far more pleasing on the eye.
Cellular has worked well. I’ve streamed music and podcasts while out and about around Glasgow listening via AirPods and without the phone. Speeds are good, easy to select content and calls have come through with clear audio.
Speaking of speed, the Series 4 is really quick. Apps launch quickly, taps are recognised without a pause…it makes for such a different experience compared with the older watch.
Couple of other points. Battery life is excellent. I use the watch all day, keep it on overnight for sleep tracking and charge it for an hour while getting ready for work. Around once a week I need to do a top up at night but I’m fine with that. For an overnight trip I no longer need to pack a charger.
The crown – it’s digital but the haptic feedback is so good. The sport loop straps are more comfortable than the sport bands…although there are far too many colour choices. Damn you Apple.
Despite all that’s great about the hardware it’s hard to avoid the obvious miss – the always on screen. Will come one day but still feels a few years away which is a shame. Can never truly call it a watch until it’s always on and you don’t need to flick your wrist to trigger the screen.
It’s also a shame that that ECG feature isn’t available anywhere yet and hasn’t been cleared for UK use. It’s that breakthrough that made this watch so appealing.
While the hardware delivers I can’t say the same for the software. The most noticeable addition is the new watch faces in particular Infograph and Infograph Modular. Infograph is the face seen in most of the adverts for the new watch as it shows of the increase in the size of the screen. You can customise the hell out of this face and can show up to 8 complications.
New in Series 4 are complications around the edge of the clock face. Some of the new ones are great like weather showing upper, lower and current temperatures or the activity rings that show the individual totals as you progress through the day. We are also seeing more and more third party complications that can take advantage of the new display.
However it’s hard to get an Infograph setup that looks clean and elegant. It’s informationally dense but you can’t say it looks nice. There’s also a lot of complications that you can’t use on other faces like Utility or if you can they look out of place.
Other new faces like Fire and Water are nice but you’ll use them once and then swap back to something more useful. Series 4 has more watch faces available than before but the choice in some ways feels more limiting. With the extra hardware and complications you want to be able to do more not less. The watch is your most personal device but Apple really limit what you can do.
I’d expected Apple to open up watch faces to developers by now. You can on Android and it feels an obvious step for them to take, but when? Others are impatient as well – see this post from Marco Arment and some watch face fakery from Steve Troughton-Smith.
It feels like there’s a really small team working on watch faces at Apple. Each new release has a new watch face or two with the others hardly touched and worse it will be almost a year until we see Watch OS6 assuming Apple do address these issues in the next update.
Other improvements – workouts auto detects activity and offers to start or stop monitoring. Walkie Talkie is now there which is basically an always on audio chat. Works well but be warned that if you have one enabled with someone and they send you a message it will play automatically – be careful who’s listening.
Siri hasn’t changed much in this release but you can now ask it things without saying ‘Hey Siri’. I’ve found it really hit and miss to work though. When it works it’s great – fast and sometimes reliable answers but it is Siri so what do you expect. However there’s too many times where I’ve had to try 2 or 3 times before it triggers and that unreliability stops me from using it at all.
There’s also some issues elsewhere in Watch OS5.
I use the watch as an alarm – when it’s on the wrist the alarm appears like the screen on the left. When it’s on the charger it appears like the screen on the right. Why are stop and snooze the opposite way round on each screen?
I’ve also has some days where complications just don’t update until you click on them and the app is launched. Worse, I’ve clicked on an alert or notification and the watch resets showing only the Apple logo for a minute until it has rebooted. Hopping the 5.1 update that came out last week addresses some of the instability.
Was this a good upgrade? Yes. Watch OS5 isn’t supported on Series 0 and the faster hardware coupled with much better battery life has delivered a fantastic platform – I’ve finally given up on the Fitbit too.
However the watch feels like some other Apple products right now. The hardware is far better than the software allows it to be. Here’s hoping that Apple are listening to their community.
Today’s the day that Apple release their biggest products of the year. New iPhones, new Apple Watches. Huzzah! From the keynote last week and also the reviews that have come out I’ve a few thoughts on this year’s products that are longer (almost) than a tweet or two.
- The iPhone names are just bonkers to me. Everyone calls the iPhone X the iPhone X and not the iPhone 10. I’ve been that guy that corrects people too – what a twat. So this years iPhones being called iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR means even more that they will be called XS, XS Max and XR. No one is going to see XS and think that should be pronounced 10S. The names probably don’t make any dent on sales but just doesn’t make sense to me when everyone (quite rightly in my opinion) praises Apple for their marketing genius.
- iPhone XS is one of the smaller S upgrades we’ve seen. Same screen, faster chip, slightly improved camera, it records in stereo, slightly tweaked colours and that’s about it? Looks the same too.
- The XS Max is exactly the same as the XS apart from being a bigger screen and slightly improved battery life. Prefer this than when the Plus phones came out and it wasn’t only the best screen but also the best camera – that stung if you didn’t want. huge phone.
- The XR surprised me. Expected lesser screen, last years A11 chip, last years camera etc but the only difference is a larger but less pixel dense screen but all this years goodies in the XS are in the XR apart from the dual camera’s. And the XR comes in some great colours.
- The XS is the smallest phone you can buy from Apple at 5.5 inches. That’s not small and by killing the SE they will lose some customers to Android.
- The new A12 chip and it’s neural engine is quite the upgrade from last years and is driving a jump in computational photography. Smart HDR looks much better than the HDR modes we’ve seen in Apple products up to now. The amount of computing that is taking place when you press the (virtual) shutter button is boggling. Google’s Pixel 2 was regarded as the best smartphone camera in the last couple of years thanks to how much computation they were doing. Apple have made some big improvements this year and in some tests so far looks better to my eyes than the Pixel 2, but in other tests the Pixel 2 produces the better image. That’s before the Pixel 3 come out next month. To read a lot more about the camera improvements I recommend reading John Grubers iPhones XS review which details a lot of the camera improvements in the XS. Apple really buried the improvements on stage.
- Not iPhone related, but Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12 is worth spending some time on. Apple acquired the Workflow app and team 18 months ago and Shortcuts is the result. Can get some great results from Shortcuts and really make Siri more powerful than it currently is. Many app’s have updated this week with Siri support but their features are pretty buried which is something that Apple need to help surface.
- Apple Watch series 4 was the standout for me from last week’s keynote. Bigger screen, focus on health, complications, new colours, faster chip. All in all this was more exciting and a bigger leap than the phones that Apple launched this year.
- Apple gaining FDA approval to market the watch as an ECG device is a big deal. It’s only one rather than 12 points that a standard ECG captures but being able to do this anytime and pass that info to a medical professional has major implications. Alongside the fall detection and some other heart notifications it’s good to see that Apple finally have clear focus on what the Apple Watch is and isn’t.
- Prices go both phone and watch have creeped up this year. Buying Apple was always expensive but it’s getting ever steeper. Increasing price a way of keeping up overall sales as numbers decline in an ever saturated market? Time will tell.
- No AirPower. No new AirPods. Shocker. All the rumours say AirPower is dead but it appears in the XS leaflet that people will get with their new phones. So still in development? Apple should stop previewing products that aren’t ready and get back to what they were good at – here’s a new product, buy it in a couple of days for delivery next week. Stop the bullshit.
- No iPad or Mac news either so expect some press releases or an event in October. If the iPad is slimmer borders, Face ID, USB C as many rumours are stating then I can’t see that being a press release.
So did I buy anything? No new iPhone for me this year. Small update really when you look at the iPhone X that I currently have and with phones now at £1k it’s an every 2-3 year purchase like an iPad for me. I did order a new watch though. The Series 0 has done well but struggled in the last 6 months with speed and also battery life. Really looking forward to getting the Series 4 as I use the Watch for workouts, notifications etc and being able to playback music and podcasts, answer calls etc without a phone during a workout will be a real step forward for me.
If you are getting a new phone or watch today (or next month!), enjoy it. The last year with the X has been great – easily the best phone Apple has made…until now.
Tomorrow is the start of the year for Apple. WWDC 2018 is the first look at the next versions of iOS and macOS…and whatever else Apple wants to show. Last year I had some hopes and wishes which turned out to be pretty good. New iPads were excellent and the improvements in iOS for iPads were beyond what I expected.
12 months on and here’s what I’d like to see Apple announce tomorrow:
- Siri is really at the heart of so much for Apple but is embarrassingly behind the competition. This isn’t new but I can’t understand how Apple have allowed themselves to get into this position. Google and particularly Amazon have delivered on voice assistants and left Apple for dust. The heart says Apple need to show something tomorrow, the head says this is next year based on recent hires. The Apple ecosystem is crying out for a Siri reset that is much more capable and is open to more developers.
- The Mac is another part of Apple that feels unloved. The hardware is great (keyboards?!?!) but the software is being left to wither. Where iOS is felt by many the future for Apple and the sales suggest that’s the right strategy that shouldn’t be to the detriment of the Mac. It could do so much more but either strategy or lack of engineering means it isn’t delivering what it once did. Would be great to see Mac get some love tomorrow.
- Not so much split iTunes, but give us an Apple Music app on the Mac that lets me access and stream music as quickly as I can on iOS.
- Default apps on iOS. This is another heart over head, but it really holds back the platform in many ways. Why can’t I set Todoist instead of Reminders, Chrome instead of Safari?
- Custom watch faces. I’m still rocking the original Apple Watch but hope to upgrade to a new version later this year. Would be great to get third party watch faces. Imagine a running app with a totally custom face that could show you competitors, last run times against a route? A Plex watch face that told you when the current film you are watching will finish and let you do some basic playback control.
- Release more frequently. Yearly updates don’t cut it anymore and it just makes apps like Photo’s seem dated when compared to Googles offering.
In many ways I’m looking forward to tomorrows announcements as so little has leaked. It also feels an important WWDC for Apple. They’ve already said they will focus on maintenance and releasing less and it seems like hardware is later in the year so you wonder what will make the headlines tomorrow…and the details and titbits that will come out throughout the week. Roll on 18:00 tomorrow.
The iPhone X. Is it the future of smartphones, an expensive rehash of the iPhone 8 or is Apple playing catch-up? I’ve spent a few weeks with the new iPhone X and I have a few thoughts.
Unboxing and Setup
The first time you switch on an iPhone X the screen just hits you. Bright colours, deep blacks and a phone that really is all screen…apart from the notch.
Setting up FaceID was painless. Scanned my face a couple of times and I was good to go. As for the rest of the setup, Apple has done a lot to make the process easier than ever. Out of the box the iPhone X came with iOS 11.01 and not the recently released 11.1 which I needed so I could restore from backup. I had toyed with the idea of starting fresh with the new phone but impatience got the better of me. Anyway, instead of having to manually connect to WiFi and iCloud on the new device you can now easily transfer usernames and passwords from another iOS device. In less than a minute I was online and downloading the update.
Restoring from backup, encrypted of course so all passwords are saved, also brought a new surprise. My Apple Watch was unpaired from the old device and setup for the new phone. Another small step to make the swap to the new device a little more painless. And with that it was time to finally use the iPhone X.
So What’s New?
The iPhones move to all screen means saying goodbye to the Home button, a staple of the iPhone and every iOS device for the last 10 years. The first couple of days were pretty rough as muscle memory found me reaching for the old faithful, but the new gestures for the iPhone X more than made up for it. In fact after a few days the gestures now feel more fluid and faster to use than relying on the Home button. Swiping to multi-task or move to another app is so much quicker via a gesture compared to using the button.
Embracing the notch is the mantra from Apple and in practice I just don’t notice it. The screen is gorgeous and if the price to pay is having a small notch in landscape video’s then it’s a price worth paying. Above are three of the app’s taking advantage of the larger screen. Halide was already a great camera app but the iPhone X update has placed extra information in the two horns (what else do you call them?) at the top leaving more room to focus on controls and the image.
Overcast has included a pure black mode like many other app’s. This looks so good on the OLED screen and also helps with battery life. Finally Netflix which again looks great on the X’s screen especially during playback of HDR content.
FaceID was met with a lot of questions in the run up to the launch. Will it work, is it fast, can it be hacked, will it be awkward and can it really replace TouchID? At first it felt a bit slower as I was waiting for FaceID to work then swiping to unlock the phone but I was “doing it wrong”. Instead of waiting just swipe, and the phone will unlock as if by magic. Most app’s are now updated replacing TouchID with FaceID so unlocking 1Password or Day One are done just by looking. Buying via Apple Pay is also easy, just double tap the side button and look at the phone to pay. Simple. Accessing sites in Safari and using FaceID to fill in a password is awesome. Slightly slower but more secure, and if you aren’t worried about someone logging in using a password in Safari as only you can only unlock the phone you can always disable FaceID for Safari passwords.
I had early issues with unlocking overnight and early morning. I think it was because I wasn’t aligned with the camera properly and also holding the phone to close to my face but since those first couple of days I’ve been trouble free. Face ID also trains when you unlock with a pin code after it’s failed so whether it’s me that’s got more used to it, or the system itself has better aligned to my face I’ll never know. It’s not like TouchID wasn’t without issue. Wet or dirty fingers failed and I certainly had to re-add a finger or thumb over time to make it more reliable.
Tap to Wake is another iPhone X only feature. While it works as advertised, the limited angle offered by the camera means it won’t always unlock unless the iPhone is directly in front of you, or on an angled stand on your desk. Handy when raise to wake doesn’t fire or seems to time out, but not the best when on a flat surface.
Also new are the camera’s. I’ve not had an iPhone with a dual lens so was looking forward to trying the new system and I’ve not been disappointed. Both lenses have taken great pictures and Portrait mode does take some great photo’s. Yes it’s false and some pics can look a bit wonky compared to using a grown up camera with some nice glass, but it’s a phone lens producing some fantastic photos in the right conditions so it’s hard to knock it. The video is also super smooth and if you switch to slo-mo you get 240fps which looks great.
The front camera also supports Portrait mode and has an extra trick up it’s sleeve. Rather than using a dual lens, the front camera uses the TrueDepth camera that powers FaceID to deliver a slightly better/different Porttrait mode effect. This can be best seen using an app like Focos which allows you to visualise the depth map that was captured using Portrait mode. Video above shows Focos in action.
Final notable addition is Animoji. This feature relies on the front facing camera and TrueDepth sensor to animate your face in real-time with a variety of different emoji’s. It’s a great demo of what the hardware can do but it’s a shame you can only access it in the Messages app unless you get creative. Surely Apple will open this up over time via a standalone app?
I’ve deliberately left out wireless charging as I don’t have a charger and it’s not something I’m interested in at the moment. I’ve charge cables everywhere I go and don’t want to replace them with a wireless system where charging is slower. No doubt that will change over the coming months but for now this is something I happy to pass on.
Day to Day with the X
One of the biggest surprises has been battery life. I moved from a year old iPhone 7 and the battery life on the X is much better. Even on heavier than normal days I still have around 30% battery life and typically have around 50% which is fantastic. Not sure if it’s the OLED screen or the bigger battery but it’s something I didn’t expect.
The screen is something I’ve really gotten used to along with gestures and no home button. Moving back to my work device (iPhone Plus) and it feels a bit alien now. It’s amazing how quickly the new becomes the norm and what was once normal now feels dated. The X is physically smaller than the Plus but the screen is bigger and the X is easier to handle.
I vowed before getting the phone that I’d go caseless. It feels great in the hand and looks amazing. However the night before it arrived I ordered a case and I’m glad I did.
iPhone X on the nightstand, caseless. Dog wakes me up this morning, bumps into nightstand, iPhone drops. This is the result 😔
(Genius Bar appointment tomorrow. I have AppleCare. That’ll teach me not to use a case and leave my iPhone close to the edge.) pic.twitter.com/vdfyEtUGoF
— Federico Viticci (@viticci) November 19, 2017
Ouch. Accidents happen and with a glass back that costs over £500 to replace it’s just not worth the risk even with Applecare. The X felt pretty slippy and my hands are dry which doesn’t help. The case is a pretty cheap clear one but I’ll upgrade in a few weeks once most case manufacturers have their decent cases out. Challenge with the X is getting a case that doesn’t interfere with the gestures.
As ever with a new device there are a few niggles. On the iPhone X the swipe up gesture unlocks the phone so how do you get to control centre? Swipe down from the top right. It’s awkward and not ideal. iOS 11.2 has seen a slight change in the addition of a bar under the top right horn highlighting you can swipe. Really Apple? That’s it? You also end up fighting the gesture when moving between devices. I’m hoping Apple will change that how to trigger control centre before iOS 12.
I’m also hearing glitches on the AirPods since moving to the X. Every couple of tracks I’d hear a slight playback glitch but thankfully since iOS 11.2 was released earlier this week this seems to have been resolved.
So is it worth it?
The iPhone X is expensive. It cost over £1000 but the iPhone X has left me in no doubt…this is a fantastic device and it really ages the previous generation iPhones. They look dated and feel even more so when using them. This is a real jump in function and feel. FaceID just works and it reduces TouchID to yesterdays news. It’s also as close as we are going to get to an all screen device until the tech in the notch can be tucked behind the screen. No doubt that’s only 2-3 years away, but once you get used to this much screen without the borders it’s hard to use anything else without it feeling old. Gestures also make using the iPhone X a far more fluid experience helped by FaceID.
Apple have been accused of being stagnant regarding the iPhone despite the hardware inside being best of breed however with the iPhone X they have reimagined what a
smartphone personal computer looks like in 2017. This feels like the start of a new generation of smartphones from Apple and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
There was a flurry of leaks and confirmations from Apple last week around the future of the iPhone, the Apple Watch and the Apple TV. The plan at the moment is to buy an iPhone X at the end of October…and thats it. Here’s my take on what they announced and why I’m hopefully picking up an X.
- iPhone 8 was more of a 7S although I liked the introduction of the glass back. The design looks much better than todays model.
- iPhone 8 getting wireless charging and the same processor of the X was a surprise..in a good way.
- iPhone X looks fantastic. Love the design, the screen is the big plus point, dual camera’s with OIS. Whats not to like? The future of smartphones and the best phone Apple make today. Love it.
- The price is of course a headline grabber, but it’s my most used computer and my least used phone and in that context the price isn’t an issue (assuming my kitchen doesn’t bankrupt me).
- Face ID in principle looks OK. In practice we’ll need to see just how good it is. Had similar concerns about Touch ID which now feels so robust despite the issues with wet/dirty fingers.
- No home button = more screen = the way all phones are moving to. More gesturing looked hit and miss. Swiping along the button to multitask looked great. Swiping down from the top right of the screen to get to control centre looks awkward. It’s one of the things that only extended use will show if it works or not, but 10 years of muscle memory will be awkward to move from.
- The notch. The brow. The sensor housing. It’s where we are today with technology. Look at the tech packed into the notch – it’s amazing. I saw it described as a Kinect sensor which is a great way to look at it.
Would I prefer no screen ears either side of the notch? No. I want the whole front of my phone to be a screen. I’m happy with the compromise of the notch. In 3-4 years they will tuck behind the screen but for now it’s a compromise. Look at video playback, what would you prefer?
There’s a direction of travel and all screen, many gesture, no button smartphones are the future. Screens from MKBHD’s hands on video which is well worth a watch.
- The camera’s and wireless charging in the X are very interesting. So much packed into a compact design and again surprised in a good way that Apple went with a global standard for charging rather than forge their own direction.
- The overall design of the X, metal band on the edges and the glass front and back looks so good that I’ll be going careless assuming it’s not like a bar of soap in the hand. Also means I’ll be picking up AppleCare.
- The iPhone has moved to a 24 month purchase at this price point.
- Series 3 is the same design but now comes with cellular.
- To pack in a cellular option into that small a case design without impacting on battery boggles my mind. To be able to stream from Apple Music, make calls and texts and track walks and runs all from that little device is great.
- Price looks to be OK, and of course you need another monthly contract to use cellular. That means EE in the UK who seem to have exclusivity but not sure for how long. £5 a month on top of your normal mobile phone bill isn’t too bad to be honest although this seems to be an initial deal.
- As I’m not running I’ll be giving the Series 3 a miss for the moment. If I get back out and about with running or if there’s a reliable method of listening to podcasts via the Apple Watch and AirPods then I’ll consider purchasing the Series 3.
- Finally a 4K version. HDR support is great too.
- Finally an Apple TV supports gigabit ethernet.
- Why offer 2 sizes – 32GB and 64GB? What does that bring me as a consumer? Apple should offer just one size.
- The deal to bring 4k free to iTunes users who have purchased HD films is fantastic. I’ve bought Blade Runner on VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray and will no doubt pick up the 4k remaster. Paying once was a nice surprise at the event.
- The TV app comes to the UK but looking at the slide only Channel 5 is playing ball. Pooh.
- Fix the fecking remote. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.
- The price still feels high but I’m sorely tempted to pick one up…maybe near Christmas.
Maybe one more event this year to talk about the HomePod and iMac pro? Hope so as it’s not like they haven’t got their own theatre to show it in. Even if there’s not, I’m really looking forward to the iPhone X. New form factor, new screen tech (for Apple), removal of the home button and Face ID. Fascinated to see how it all hangs together coupled with iOS 11, AR and of course Animoji. Now if only Apple could have fixed the Apple TV remote…I guess thats next year?
My iPad Air was getting long in the tooth. Over three years old it was slow to launch apps and didn’t fully support running two apps at the same time. During that period Apple had launched the 12.9” Pro which was tempting but just a bit too big for my needs. The 9.7” Pro was also launched but just felt like more of the same. I really wanted something in between. So when Apple announced a 10.5” iPad Pro I decided to go all in and order one to not only replace my current iPad but also my MacBook Air which was 5 years old. It’s been a few weeks since the iPad was delivered so I’ve had plenty time to form some opinions.
Design & Hardware
The 10.5” iPad Pro is slightly taller than the existing 9.5” but not by much. The screen however is 20% bigger and the bezels have been reduced. They aren’t invisible and there’s certainly still a chin and forehead but I really like the size/screen ratio and for me it’s a better size than the 12.9”. It’s portable, light and easy to use in the hand when reading but big enough for real work whether that’s writing this review, using Office or photo retouching. Running apps side by side is also much more comfortable than the 9.5” but I’ll talk more about that later.
The biggest new feature is the screen. For me it’s the best screen I’ve seen or used on any device. Colours pop, text is smooth and video looks superb. Reading the Guardian, surfing via Safari, reviewing PDF’s in Documents or catching up on articles via Pinner is a joy. It’s responsive too and a real step up from previous iPad’s and any other tablets I’ve used over the years.
The reason is something Apple call ProMotion. The screen can run up to 120Hz but does this adaptively so when you don’t need that refresh rate it drops to preserve battery life. Apple also ensure you don’t have any frame rate issues when watching videos. The Pencil is also silky smooth with almost zero lag in most apps.
The new Pro has 4 speakers and is notably louder and clearer than previous versions. It makes for an amazing consumption device. Watching YouTube or Netflix, not only do the visuals pop but it sounds great too.
One other notable spec bump – the camera. I know, who wants to look a tit taking photo’s on an iPad but the best camera is the one you have with you and the iPad shares the same sensor and lens as the iPhone 7 so that’s a 12 MP camera that can capture 4K video. You also get a small bump on the back of the iPad and while it’s not got in the way in my use the design would look so much better without it. The size of the iPad gives you a bit more stability as well, so forget how daft you look, just use it.
This years iPad Pro has the A10X chip inside. Apple have been designing their own mobile chips for a few years now and yet again the performance of the A10X is staggering. Every app I’ve tried has been fast including more intensive apps like video or photo editors. If anything it’s overpowered for today’s software on the iPad which is great for the longevity of the device but also should give confidence to iOS developers that they can push their apps.
Another jump is the RAM which sits at 4GB. This in combination with the chip delivers some great benchmark scores, similar to a low end MacBook Pro. When swapping between apps there is zero lag even for apps that were opened a while ago. Apps launch quickly, it feels like you are resuming from wherever you’ve left out without delay and it really is a joy to use.
Couple of other performance notes. The Touch ID sensor has been updated and is as quick to use as the iPhone and the lightning port has been upped to USB 3 speeds which makes for faster charging and speedier data transfers. Overall the iPad Pro is, right now, an untapped beast.
Considering the price of the iPad the lack of in the box accessories is a tad disappointing, especially given that the charger supplied is not the larger 29W power adapter which costs £49 and comes with no cable. However the accessories released by Apple are really nice if again pricey.
The Smart Keyboard for the 10.5” is a good size. The slightly smaller iPad felt a little crampt when typing but I’ve had no issue with the 10.5. You don’t need to power it either as it draws everything it needs from the Smart Connector. The keys are comfortable, don’t feel too shallow and I can use it for extended periods without issue. The only thing it lacks is backlit keys which I miss. The only real negative is the price at £159…and the reality that it could do with being ever so slightly bigger.
The Apple Pencil has seen no changes this year but the more responsive screen makes the Pencil feel even better than when I tried it on last years iPad Pro. Comfy to use, the charge lasts well and if it does run out it doesn’t take long to get a workable charge into the Pencil. £99 doesn’t feel pricey as it’s such a quality piece of kit. One issue though – where to store it?
The Apple Leather Sleeve is a gorgeous case for the iPad Pro that solves the storage issue. The Pencil slots in at the top and the iPad and Keyboard fit snuggly in the case. The case is a soft leather and really does complete the iPad. The issue? Price again as it’s £149.
I picked up all three accessories and while it’s a fantastic combination the overall cost was £1116. Eek!
It can be argued that I picked the iPad Pro up early as it came with iOS 10 and iOS 11 brings a number of iPad specific updates that promise a step change for users. I skipped the first developer beta’s but jumped in with the public beta and I’m glad I did as it’s a more complete environment for iPad users than we’ve seen in the past.
The biggest change is the dock, which allows for a larger number of apps that you can launch from any screen than the six you could have before. You also see the last three app’s you’ve opened or iOS chooses to display thanks to handover. The dock can be seen on the home screen or by swiping up when you are in any app. Reminds me of the dock on macOS but crucially iOS 11 has changed multitasking and the dock is a key component.
You no longer swipe from the right and select an app to run in split view. Instead you drag an app from the dock and can leave it hovering on top of the main app or you can enter into split view, and this can now be left or right – you aren’t restricted as you were in iOS 10. However iOS 11 introduces the concept of app pairs, so you pair Tweetbot with Safari and can select them again when you swipe up from the dock. But you can’t pair Tweetbot with another app. If you only use a handful of apps, the dock method works great. If you regularly use more then multitasking feels awkward, slow to use and the best method is to use spotlight but that feels like a hack when you do it. It’s only a beta so things may get a bit smoother, but this feels a bit clunky.
You also get a files app in iOS 11 (finder!) and drag and drop between apps is great but only Apple apps support it and we need to wait until September to see third party releases with these features. Overall iOS 11 delivers a much better experience for iPad users and hopefully we’ll see some tweaks to multitasking to make it a bit smoother to use day to day.
It will be of no surprise that I love the iPad Pro. The 10.5” is the perfect size for me – still portable but large enough to be useable. In the weeks I’ve used it I’ve not touched my MacBook Air once. Something the new iPads have reignited is the age old question – can the iPad replace your Mac or PC?
It’s a bogus question. Whether it totally works for you depends on what you do. For me I still use an iMac for certain tasks but there’s no doubt I lean on iOS more than ever. For other users the iPad is all you need. In fact for many the iPad will be by far the best option compared to a Mac or PC. It’s all down to what works for you especially considering the iPad isn’t cheap. The cheapest MacBook or MacBook Pro is £1249 compared to the £1116 I’ve spent on the iPad Pro. You certainly spend less if you buy the iPad on it’s own but it’s so much better with the keyboard and pencil.
I’ve also seen some reviews that says the iPad Pro needs iOS 11. Bullshit. With iOS 11 you get a better experience, but the hardware upgrade alone makes it a great purchase…iOS 11 add’s a bit more as will future iOS updates.
Overall the iPad Pro 10.5″ is a fantastic device with potential to last for years. There’s no better tablet on the market.