10.5″ iPad Pro

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.

iPad Pro 10.5″ with Keyboard

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.

Learn to love the bump

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.

Gorgeous screen, scrolling text easily readable

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!

Eleven Heaven?
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.


Two days from now and we’ll have just sat through the WWDC 2017 keynote. WWDC is predominantly a software event with focus on new iOS and macOS releases but Apple’s hardware has been stagnating so expectations for Monday are high. What do I hope/expect?

  • iOS improvements especially for iPad. My iPad is 3 1/2 years old and I want to see a jump in functionality for iPad users.
  • A new iPad! I’d like to pick up one along with a keyboard and pen. I’m not sure what to expect from new hardware although the rumours of an in-between size of the two current pro’s and more glass/less bezel sounds pretty compelling.
  • macOS – hope Apple can show the Mac a little love. I like the idea of going to macOS 11 and linking numbering to iOS but doubt it will happen. Hopefully there’s something on the software front as I expect any Mac hardware updates will be CPU only. How about killing iTunes which has been on many people’s wish list for years? Fingers crossed.
  • Photo’s. Really needs some love after a promising start especially when compared to Google Photos.
  • One more thing…Siri speaker? I’d prefer a 4k Apple TV at a reasonable price to be honest.

A fairly modest list of wants really. It will be interesting to see what’s shown that hasn’t been predicted or talked about, and also how they stack up against Google and Facebook and the industry in general which is focussing on AI and AR. Changing of the guard, my tastes changing or the appeal of something new? All I know is Apple isn’t delivering for me like they used to. Roll on Monday.

10 Years of iPhone

9th January 2007. I’d been an iPod user for many years and a Mac user for six months and really enjoyed Apple’s keynotes at the time even if it was watching on the live blogs rather than on a video stream. Apple never attended CES but always used to dominate the show with an announcement of a new product or updates to an existing line but the announcement of the iPhone was special.

It’s still great to watch it now. Steve Jobs in his prime, a product that was a game changer compared to everything else on the market and by far the best tech announcement in my lifetime so far. When re-watching the announcement a few things stand out:

  • Steve starts with such confidence and in just over three minutes has already announced the iPhone name and has the audience eating out of his hand.
  • Slide to unlock demo is the first hint at the innovation to come and what the touch interface will bring.
  • Demo of the iPod and the build up to how will you select an artist…the first demo of touch scrolling and the gasps from the audience. So good.
  • Amazing to see the first mention of the camera and photo’s was in the phone section rather than internet communicator. Total contrast to today’s demo’s and the focus on photos.
  • Pinch to zoom – another gasp.
  • How slow Safari was to load pages.
  • Let me bring Dr Eric Schmidt onto the stage. How times have changed as back in 2007 Schmidt was on the board and Google was a big part of the demo.
  • Totally forgot that a bluetooth headset was announced alongside the iPhone.
  • Near the end of the launch Steve said the iPhone is like having your life in your pocket, the ultimate digital device. How true.
  • He then finished with a quote – I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been from Wayne Gretzky. Hard to look at todays Apple and feel the same could be said in 2017.

When you look at what the iPhone launched against at the time it really was a jump forward and offered some game changing features that we now take for granted. Swiping, pinch, large touchscreen and literally no buttons. Yet I didn’t buy the first one – no 3G was a deal breaker for me and sure enough only a few months after launch Apple announced a new version that had 3G and more importantly removed reliance on web apps and brought with it the App Store. For more on the history of the iPhone, this post from the Internet History Podcast is well worth a read.

The version 1 iPhone is the best product launch I’ve seen. Now we carry computers in our pockets and for the majority of people it’s the only device they need. What will the next 10 years bring? Hard to tell but I can’t wait to find out.

Apple AirPods

7th September seems an awfully long time ago. Apple announced the iPhone 7, removed the headphone port but also heralded a wireless future…October will see the release of Apple’s AirPods which will make you totally forget about wired headphones. Except October came and went with no AirPods released. Last week they announced availability online and also in store from December 19th. I’d had no big inclination to buy them but I was keen to get rid of the wires, EarPods had suited my ears up to now and I was keen to play with a new toy – what is there to lose? I’ve used them for four days now, in and around the house and also on a couple of longish walks so felt that was enough time to share some views.

The AirPods aren’t just wireless earphones. The case they come in is also a charging and storage device. When you first unbox the AirPods and open and close the case it just feels right. There’s a nice weight to the case and the lid has a nice magnetic close – it’s great for fidgeters.

When you first unbox the AirPods the case has some charge as do the AirPods but it looks like the amount of charge varies looking at posts on Twitter. The AirPods battery life is around 5 hours and a fully charged case + AirPods will provide around 24 hours of battery life. Popping the AirPods in the case for 15 minutes will provide around three hours of charge so if you do run out of juice it doesn’t take long to get back up and listening. The case is charged via a lightning port on it’s base and before you throw out or store your AirPods box remember to take out the charging cable.

One of the slams against the AirPods is that you’ll lose them – I just don’t get that. You’ll use the case to carry them around and unless you are a total klutz I just don’t see them being lost. If you do lose one of the AirPods a replacement will cost £69 from Apple. The case however is easily pocketable and really makes for a great carrying and charging solution. Switching on the AirPods is also really easy – just remove them from the case. To switch them off place them in the case…which also uses magnets to snap the AirPods back into place. Something I have found with the AirPods is that they are on the slippy side. They are small and I find it a little bit awkward getting them in and out of the case and into my ears. Potentially I can see this getting worse over time as they get a bit greasy from use so maybe the replacement from Apple will be a thing, not for lost AirPods but for broken ones as I’ve dropped mine a couple of times already.

Smart Apple
Opening the case near your iPhone pops up a pairing screen. Click on the Connect button and the AirPods are paired, renamed and the pairing information is sync’d across your devices via iCloud. The AirPods are at their heart just a set of bluetooth headphones but Apple have added a series of touches that make them the easiest bluetooth headphones to use. To see the current battery levels, open the case near the phone and up will pop the current charging level of the case and the AirPods. Pop an AirPod into your ear and you hear a small chime letting you know that the AirPods are on and connected. A duller chime will tell you the battery is almost dead.

Another nice feature is removing one AirPod will cause the audio to pause. Replacing it will cause it to resume. This in many ways makes up for the lack of controls but not totally as you need to rely on Siri – more on that later. At work if someone approaches or I want to answer a call I need to pause and take out my headphones or just let them play and move back through the song or podcast. Now I just remove an AirPod, carry out a conversation, then place it back and the playback resumes. You can also just use one AirPod if you are making telephone calls. Each AirPod has a built in mic and you only need one for making and receiving calls. I’ve had no issues on a couple of calls so far with the AirPods although they weren’t outside so I’m not sure how they perform in windy conditions.

So…Siri. I don’t get on that well with Siri and if there’s a major downside to the AirPods so far is their reliance on Siri to carry out commands. To invoke Siri you double tap on the AirPod and then ask Siri to change volume, skip track etc. It’s clumsy. It’s slow compared to a physical button. It’s weird, especially in public. It’s also not always accurate which a physical button usually is. It’s the biggest miss for me compared to wired headphones that have some form of clicker.

You can visit the bluetooth settings in your iPhone to change the double tap behaviour from Siri to play/pause or just switch it off. It’s a shame there isn’t some more options here. Why can’t I configure a single or triple click? Why can’t I configure the double click to skip tracks? Why can’t I configure each AirPod to act differently to a tap?

Another thing thats weird is that if you have no internet connection…then no Siri…and no changing the volume via Siri – it just fails. Very un-Apple like and kills the experience. I’ll rely on using the phone or watch to make volume changes or skip tracks as it’s far easier and quicker.

Sound and Fit
Headphones are no use if they don’t sound good and are comfortable to wear. Lets deal with the sound first. At work or out walking I listen to a mixture of podcasts and music. The sound quality of the AirPods to my ears is better than the EarPods but clearly isn’t the best out there. For me the quality is good enough. Audio is clear and plenty loud for my needs apart from on the underground. They aren’t noise cancelling so for airplanes there are better options. Flipping between AirPods and EarPods there is slightly more bass with the AirPods but I’ve some older in ear buds that sound much better. At work though I don’t want to be totally isolated from whats going on so the AirPods are good for me…I know others think differently or work in scenarios which mean they don’t want any distractions. If thats the case then the AirPods aren’t for you.

Fit is more tricky. When I was running I had real difficulty getting in ears that would stay in my ear without having to fix them every minute. However the EarPods stuck in my ears no matter how sweaty, windy, wet it was. The AirPods are a slightly different shape to the EarPods but again they fit perfectly for me. They are comfortable, never feel like they are going to come out and I’ve worn then for hours and you forget they are even there. I did a shake test which shows they don’t come out for me. However I know others for whom the AirPods just don’t fit. They slip out easily or are really uncomfortable.

So the fit is fine but there’s one last niggle – do AirPods look weird? I don’t think there’s much difference between AirPods and EarPods but they do look…odder. Longer and they stick out slightly. The design is where we are with batteries right now and how much can be packed into such a small volume. I’m fine with it and I’d rather walk around with AirPods than a large over the ear type device.

Should You Buy?
AirPods aren’t cheap at £159 and that will put off a lot of buyers. For the price you can definitely get better sounding wireless headphones but for me the upgrade over the EarPods and the move to wireless are well worth the asking price especially as they work so well with other Apple products. If EarPods haven’t been an issue for you and their sound quality has been good enough then the AirPods are a great purchase. It’s Apple’s most delightful product in years.


I recently wrote about being 10 years on a Mac. It’s been a remarkably stable time with access to a lot of great software and hardware. However there’s no getting away from it – Apple have been stagnating when it comes to Mac’s.

Going back 10 years and there was a marked difference between buying a Mac and buying a PC. Apple owned the software and hardware process and there were very few product lines compared to the hundreds of PC’s available and the crapware that afflicted every PC from Dell to HP, Dan to Acer. They all did it and it stunk. No virus or malware issues either. And for me the difference in how the hardware was designed was massive.

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?
PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

This was also the time of the Mac vs PC adverts that went on for a few years. How times have changed.

This week saw Microsoft and Apple launch new desktop and laptop products. The difference between then couldn’t be more stark and shows that Microsoft have got their mojo back…and Apple are looking a little lost.

The problem for Apple is iOS. It’s a great problem to have, but Mac and iOS are two very different platforms that share quite a bit in common. iOS is the rising platform, dominant in sales and very much the future of computing. Mac is much loved amongst the Apple community but sales in the desktop and laptop market are going down. Global PC sales have declined for eight consecutive quarters. End users aren’t upgrading their PC’s as often – my desktop and laptop are over 5 and 4 years old respectively and still going strong.

However iOS is Apple’s touch driven environment and Mac’s have been left behind in that regards. Is it the right approach? Well Microsoft don’t think so and having messed up so much in the past on mobile they’ve bet on having a unified operating system. So Windows 10 works anywhere, mouse or touch driven, so you can take advantage of your hardware depending on the situation you are in. They are also hitting their stride when it comes to hardware. A few years ago the Surface Pro was a nice device but version 4 is great and with the Surface Book and now the Surface Studio there’s a real wow around Microsoft’s hardware from a design perspective.

Microsofts Surface Studio
Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsoft are courting creatives. IBM have rolled out Macs across the enterprise. Microsofts new devices are not cheap unlike Windows products of the past. Good design costs money and the small creative market are willing to pay to get the best devices. Software is not really locked to platforms. Adobe allow you to work on Mac or PC and the experience on both is pretty much identical. The Mac App Store hasn’t done the Mac platform any favours. Equally the emerging VR market is a Windows exclusive right now. Apple hardware isn’t powerful enough to drive any of the VR platforms and they’ve yet to show their hand when it comes to AR or VR apart from Tim Cook verbally favouring AR.

Whats frustrating for me is that Apple look to be slowing down. Stagnating. The Mac market is getting smaller so is the ideal market to innovate in. In contrast last weeks announcements were pretty snooze worthy. Pricey laptops, confusing naming strategy coupled with a lovely new Touch Bar. The laptops aren’t using the latest chips and the RAM looks stingy. Add to that a greater than three years old Mac Pro, and ageing iMac and Mini. What’s going on?

Worse for us in the UK is that all Mac prices rose last week thanks to Brexit. While I can understand the rise for the new MacBook Pro’s and the iMac’s, it’s a disgrace that the ancient Mac pro rose by £500. Poor decision Apple or don’t you care? Seeing as the Mac Pro website still references Aperture, a product that Apple killed over 12 months ago, I’m thinking they don’t care.

Or has Apple got too big? The video above from Steve Jobs is prophetic and could describe todays Apple. This years iPhone is undoubtedly a great phone but it’s safe. Compare it to the Xiaomi Mi Mix which is a gorgeous new Android device and shows some true innovation with regards design and materials.

Xiaomi Mi Mix - stunning new Android phone
Xiaomi Mi Mix – stunning new Android phone

Apple for me right now feels conservative. Undoubtedly making bundles of cash but hedging bets and not as exciting as they once were. However the likes of Microsoft, Google and Samsung have some great products out there. As a tech lover I’m spoiled for choice. Earlier in the week a colleague said they were worried at Apples approach. I’m personally not worried as it’s easy to move platform so I’ll always have access to the best hardware and software…but that should give cause for concern for Apple. Over time if people start to move away, especially developers and creatives, then it could be the start of a slow decline. Hopefully Apple will prove me wrong in 2017. They need to find their mojo again.

10 Years on a Mac

Hard to believe but it’s 10 years since I moved from PC to Mac. 10 years! I’d been using an iPod for a few years when in 2006 Apple moved to Intel processors and updated their iMac design. It was all too tempting so I said farewell to viruses, tara to malware and hello to hassle free Mac computing. That was the plan and for the most part it’s been true. Here’s some thoughts on my Mac/Apple journey inspired by this post from Elaine Giles earlier in the year.

iMac up and running

Macbook ProI loved that first iMac and picked up an 80Gb iPod at the same time. The first three months was so good that at Christmas I bought a MacBook Pro. What a great laptop that was. Fast, quiet, quick to boot and the design was to die for. 2007 saw the release of the iPhone but it just wasn’t for me. No 3G, no app’s. It was a lovely first phone but not enough to make me move. So I stuck with my Sony Ericson, remember them, and waited for Apple to update their Jesus phone.

2008 saw Apple release the iPhone 3G, iOS 2.0 and the App Store. I jumped in and picked up a 16GB iPhone 3G and bought far too many app’s on day 1. Super Monkey Ball, MotionX Poker and Twitterrific were all stand out app’s even in those early days. The iPhone and success of the App Store started a shift in focus for Apple, developers and consumers.

Subsequent iPhones increased in power and performance and I lapped them up. The 3GS, the 4 and 5 all followed and unlike other phones they kept their value in the second hand market remarkably well.

In 2010 Steve Jobs revealed the iPad. I still remember myself and Shak both dismissing it as a big iPhone…and then a few weeks later queuing for one at the Apple store in Glasgow. For me it was definitely a consumption device. Magazines, books and comics all worked really well on the iPad especially the retina model which came out in 2012. At the end of 2013 I moved to an iPad Air which I still use today.

I tried a couple of keyboards during the various iPad’s I’ve owned and went through a few different styluses but none really stuck. I did do a few work related tasks on them but the iPad remained mostly a media consumption device. When the iPad Pro’s came out I was close to picking one up but stuck with the Air mostly due to the cost and initially being unsure of the 12″ iPad Pro.

2014 saw me move to the iPhone 6 and this year I picked up an iPhone 7. It’s a fantastic phone but it feels the end of the line with a redesign likely next year. Competitors are using better components and catching up on the camera front…and many feel their phone camera’s are now better than the iPhone’s but at least the iPhone doesn’t explode.

Back to the Mac
So iPhone and iOS has become the focus for Apple but I still love the Mac. May 2011 and I upgraded to a new iMac. This was a great machine – 27″ screen, SSD and really fast processor. In fact it was so good (after a 16GB RAM upgrade) that over 5 years later I’m still using it. It still copes with most things I throw at it although there are two main shortfalls. It really struggles to process 4k video which both the camera and drone support and secondly it’s not a retina device.

This is also true for the MacBook Air I picked up in 2012. Non retina and not in any way a powerhouse but it does the job for me in a few key area’s that the iPad Air doesn’t. So apart from the iPhone my other Apple products are all getting long in the tooth. I almost forgot – 2015 and the Apple Watch. It’s been OK and Watch OS 3 makes a big difference but I’ve not moved on to the latest version until I see some app’s that will make a difference. I don’t need a faster CPU to get a notification more quickly.

The sorry state of Mac hardware
The sorry state of Mac hardware

The main reason I haven’t updated the Mac’s is mostly thanks to the slow progress that Apple have made with Mac hardware. Certainly the move to retina is great but if I look at the current Mac platforms, they are all old. Buy a Retina MacBook Pro today, which is probably their flagship Mac platform, and the hardware is over 500 days old. That’s shocking. How many people are buying a Retina MacBook Pro today not knowing that the inner hardware is that old. Same for the MacBook Air although I’m assuming sales of the Air are now very small – the bezel looks dated and it’s a non-retina screen.

The Mac platform is clearly secondary for Apple. The Mac App store is a mess in comparison to the iOS version. The latest Mac release, Sierra, has very little for Mac users. Compare Messages in iOS which saw a massive upgrade in iOS 10 to the Messages in Sierra. Crickets. And where is the hardware from Apple that would support any sort of VR headset? If you are in any way interested in the Oculus or Vive platforms then a Windows PC is the only option.

What’s Next
Over the next 18 months I’ll be replacing my iPad, MacBook Air and iMac…and probably my iPhone too! With iOS and iPhone I have no complaints and I love the platform. My current thinking is that I’ll replace the iPad and MacBook Air with an iPad Pro. No idea on size, but the keyboard and Pencil support of both Pro models will leave me needing only one device to replace the current iPad and Air.

As for the iMac, that’s a more tricky decision. My gut feel is I’ll update to the latest Retina iMac and sufficiently future proof it with fast CPU, SSD and lots of RAM. However I don’t think I can ignore Windows for much longer so I can see me also picking up a 4K second monitor (to replace the current non retina 27″ ASUS) for the iMac and plug in a Windows gaming PC that will allow me to play with one of the VR platforms. That purchase will wait for one of them to be seen as leading as at the moment it’s early days in the VR space.

I depend on my Mac, more than the iOS devices, and it’s where I get most of my work done. Unless iOS devices and iOS itself see’s some significant changes I won’t be able to shift to being iOS only so I do hope that Apple release updates to Mac’s soon – the platform needs some love! Despite my negativity I won’t be leaving the Mac though. Even some stale hardware and unloved Mac updates are better than Windows 10 and it’s woes. Here’s to the next 10 years with Apple.

iOS 10, iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch

I’m a bit later than normal with iOS 10 impressions and iPhone 7 thoughts this year. I didn’t take part in any of the public beta’s so iOS 10 was new to me when it was released on September 13th and I wanted to use the new iPhone for a while before jotting down my thoughts. So without further ado…

iOS 10
iOS 10 features a number of updates, some big but most not so much. A few thoughts on the new features first.

  • The first noticeable change is to the lock screen. Raise to wake on iPhones changes the reliance on the home button. It means you can see notifications or interact with widgets with ease. There’s also a lot more information on the lock screen than before which I like. It also relies on swiping which may infuriate some people as features seem lost now – where’s the camera shortcut from before? No icon instead swipe to the right pane to access camera.
  • Today view is better as well, and widgets seem far stronger from app developers. Hue and Dark Sky are just two app’s that take great advantage of the Today view allowing me to see information far more quickly than I could in the past.
  • Control centre now has three screens/cards instead of one. Control, Music and Home. All makes sense and combining Raise to wake and accessing control centre makes Hue light control so simple. One weird button on Control screen – Night shift. Does it really need that massive button? Also nice to see 3D touch to alter settings like torch brightness, bulb brightness and camera options.
  • Siri supports third party app’s but hard to see much other improvement. Still lags to Google and Amazon.
  • Photo’s seems a bit broken. A couple of nice new features around creating video’s based on location, photo’s and it does a good job. However machine learning has now been added (surely just enhanced and not added) but it does this per device. So I’ve got 7,500 photo’s scanned on the iPhone but the iPad has only 6,000 photo’s scanned asking me to plug in and switch of the device to resume scanning. Seemingly when all devices have finished scanning a comparison is done via iCloud but this approach seems bonkers compared with Google. The intelligent searching, so asking for photo’s of tree’s, summer, dog’s etc, isn’t as good as Google’s. Apple made some big claims about computation on the devices as compared to computations on a cloud service but Google wins this pretty easily.
  • Third party dev’s can now take photo’s in RAW format which is impressive. Lightroom and a few other app’s have updated to allow this and it does help with editing.
  • Maps – still worse than Google Maps.
  • Music has seen a big UI change. Bold fonts, simplifying options and I prefer the new look. Makes getting to my music more easy. Playlist creation still sluggish, or is that just me?
  • News – similar UI change to Music. Nice.
  • Home – an app specifically for HomeKit applications. My only devices that support it are the Hue lights and they work really well with Home. A great update over previous iOS versions.
  • iMessage is now a platform. Massive emoji support, animations, effects, gif’s and it’s own app store mostly for stickers. I like it.
  • Upgrading to iOS 10 on my iPhone 6 was a pain. I use encrypted backups which helped but after upgrading my stored music had gone, my app’s aren’t installed so you have to wait a couple of hours for them to download and on day one the Apple server’s can’t really cope with demand so you get iCloud errors. Not the great user experience that it should be.

There’s some other small features elsewhere but overall a solid if unspectacular update. Performance on my iPad Air is a bit sluggish but other devices are all working fine.

iPhone 7
Tick-tock. Apple have followed the tick-tock model for phone design for a few years. iPhone 4 then 4S, 5 then 5S, 6 then 6S with each new number bringing a change in design while the S models were refinement. The iPhone 7 should have seen a new design but instead we got the ultimate refinement which see’s a slightly tweaked 6 design but given the iPhone 7 name. Most noticeable design changes were to do with colour finish of the phone. Jet black and black were the two stand outs for me. As I hadn’t upgraded in a couple of years I went with a black 128 GB iPhone 7. Some thoughts after 10 or so days with the phone…

  • Matt black looks really good. Love the finish of the phone although it does pick up fingerprints
  • It is so fast. App’s launch quickly, web pages render without issue. I’m still loving the speed increases after a number of days and considering the iPhone is my most used device this makes for a great reason to upgrade on it’s own.
  • Screen is slightly better than the 6 to my eye. The reviews talk endlessly about why it’s the best screen yet but it feels like diminishing returns with the current screen technology. Next year finally a move to OLED for Apple?
  • Crucially the battery is lasting longer than the 6 for me with everything running as it was before and my extra usage with the new device.
  • The camera is great. OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) is so good on video’s. The first video I took to show my Hue lights working for a friend was so good compared to what I could shoot on the iPhone 6. The pictures out of the 7 are also getting closer to some really high end camera’s. I didn’t go for a plus as I find the size just too big (I have a plus as a work device) but the dual camera support on the 7 looks to be great as well.
  • Removing the headphone jack. So in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big a deal I guess and Apple did include an adapter in the box so you won’t be stuck with £1000 headphones that no longer work. People will lose the adapter though and bluetooth isn’t as reliable or as good (yet) as a wired connection. I’ve held off upgrading my headphones for the last year as I expected this was coming so some form of wireless headphones will be bought soon…not sold on the Airpods though so who knows what I will pick up.
  • The home button is no more. It’s a pretend button with your brain tricked by the Taptic engine that a button has been clicked. Does it work? Sometimes. I’m mostly used to it although it does feel weird switching between 7 and 6S, from Taptic button to real button. There are times though that it feels like the whole bottom of the iPhone is clicking, not just the button.
  • Use of Taptic engine through the rest of the O/S though is great. Neat little touches as you resize an image, scroll through a list are much improved thanks to the new engine and iOS 10. An unexpected win.
  • 3D touch is much improved compared to the iPhone 6S. Much better feeling and used in many more places. Another win.
  • Live photo’s are improved compared to previous iOS/hardware and there’s been a couple of great gif’s create already 🙂

The video above was from St Rules tower in St Andrews on a pretty windy day and apart from me taking the video in portrait I thought the OIS did a really good job of keeping things stable. On Monday I took a trip to Finnich Glen and despite some challenging conditions the iPhone performed really well.

Panorama from Finnich Glen
Panorama from Finnich Glen
Finnich Glen
Finnich Glen

Overall I’m delighted with the iPhone 7. Fast, great camera and the haptic and 3D touch improvements are unexpectedly good. Shout out too for the Apple leather case which is a step up on previous versions. Metal buttons make all the difference.

Apple Watch
The Apple Watch has been out for around 18 months and the biggest step change is watchOS 3. It’s made my watch actually usable for third party apps and killed some of the other features like it’s focus on messaging to provide a dock which contains frequently accessed app’s. The change in day to day use is pretty startling. I can now access weather and news without waiting for 30 seconds while it refreshed. Activity stats are also readily to hand and messages is still there but as an app alongside the others not in its own unique place.

It’s also easier to swap watch faces so you can have one setup for work, one for activity, one for travelling. Along with the easy switching there’s a couple of new faces. One focussed on activity and one which is Numerals and a very simple display. Extra customisation with regards complications and third party watch faces are clearly for a future watchOS version.

The upgrade wasn’t without issue though. The first few days it felt like the display would take slightly longer to switch on. I also had a lot of hassle with third party complications but it looks like they were all third party developer issues as subsequent app updates have resolved all the issues. Overall watchOS 3 is a great update.

Apple also launched Apple Watch Series 2. It’s interesting to see Apple focus on sport and activity over timepiece and luxury which the first editions were all about. The new watches have far brighter displays, are now water resistant to 50 metres and now have a dual core processor which is twice as fast as the previous watch. While important upgrades the biggest for me is built in GPS. This means a run or walk no longer needs the iPhone to track it accurately. If I was running right now it would be an instant purchase but for now I’ll stick with my current watch.

The Future
Apple iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch Series 2 are great devices. iOS 10 is a strong mature platform and watchOS 3 proves that Apple isn’t scared to rip it up and start again. The reimagining of the device thanks to watchOS 3 is fantastic. However it’s clear that exploding batteries aside, Samsung have caught up and in many ways overtaken Apple from a design perspective and pushing new technologies out to consumers. Apple really have to pull out the stops for next years iPhone or risk seeing more people shift to Samsung and Android.

It also needs to up it’s gain with regards Siri as it looks tired when compared to it’s competitors. I also wonder if next year is when Apple shows it’s AR hand? 2017 feels like a year when Apple needs to knock it out of the park. Can it?

Placing Bets

We seem to be approaching a crossroads. Most of the big tech companies are focussing efforts on AI and bots. Just last week Google unveiled a raft of products, all currently unavailable but here in the fall, which are focussed on their AI technology and the amount of data amassed about their users. Google Home and Allo with Google Assistant at their core offer a compelling look at a voice or text driven future focussed on helping you do things easily or get to information without launching an app or taking much time.

Another key aspect is that you can do this on any mobile platform. For Google it’s not locked to Android and for Facebook and Microsoft they don’t have their own mobile hardware platform…sorry Microsoft.

So what next for Apple?

Marco Arment had a great post last week – If Google’s right about AI, that’s a problem for Apple. Could Apple really be the next Blackberry?

In some ways I fear it’s heading that way. They seem far behind with AI. Siri was fine when it first launched but it’s stagnated, many of it’s founders have left Apple and launched a new voice driven product with AI at it’s core, and as Marco’s post highlighted you just can’t simply catch up in a year or buy your way out of a hole. In many ways the focus on security and privacy puts Apple at a disadvantage compared to it’s rivals. Opening up Siri to third parties would help somewhat but it still feels flawed as a service to me.

Using voice feels awkward, especially in public. There are some things that I don’t want to say out loud or are easier just to type. Using voice in private is something completely different and I’ve wanted to try an Amazon Echo for a while although will probably end up picking up a Google Home when it releases. Could Apple release a similar product? Of course. Would it integrate with third parties as quickly or openly as Amazon has allowed?

These are challenging questions for Apple that it has to address. The phone and tablet market has matured and while it’s still an incredible revenue generator for Apple it won’t last forever. Just ask Blackberry.

Apple also seems to be out of the AR/VR loop. It’s computer hardware can’t drive an Oculus although on the mobile side it could easily launch AR support as the hardware in the iPhone is extremely capable.

The niggle in my head is that it looks like Apple is playing catchup and it’s in the area’s of the business which it’s softer in – services and software.

WWDC is just over two weeks away and I can’t wait to see what Apple do and the future bets it’s placing. It feels like this years announcements are more critical than ever.

A year with Apple Watch

Time flies and it’s been a year since I picked up an Apple Watch. There’s been quite a bit of negativity around the Apple Watch in recent months – is it really justified?

For me it’s been a mostly positive experience. The Apple Watch as a notification hub has worked well and stops me reaching for iPhone/iPad just to see what the latest ping sound meant. Quick replies to messages is also a real plus. At a glance I also get info on weather and activity which has pretty much replaced the Fitbit for me. Being able to set timers and reminders easily has been useful and Nightstand since Watch OS 2 has been perfect. Finally, having Apple Pay available on the Watch is more convenient than pulling out the phone but there’s been couple of odd times where using the Watch has been made difficult due to weird scanners, especially with boarding passes…looking at you British Airways.

Whats inescapable is that app’s are generally poor. They are slow or of little value on the small screen. With the news that Watch apps must be native by June 1st I can only assume that big changes to the OS and faster hardware is on it’s way. Siri has also been a miss on the Watch as it’s just too slow to be of practical use. I also think Apple have missed a trick with watch face customisations. There’s a quite a choice but you should be able to do more with complications and why do watch hands obscure some of the complications? It’s a digital watch and should act as such.

The negatives are all fixable which is why I still believe in the Watch platform. It’s been convenient to use, battery concerns proved unfounded and I miss it when it’s not on my wrist. While not essential I’ll be sticking with it for now. Time will tell if future upgrades will keep the platform alive.

Day One 2

One of my favourite app’s across Mac and iOS got a really nice update this week. Day One is a journaling app that I’ve used for the last few years and version 2 brings quite the upgrade.

On first launch on either platform you’ll notice that you can no longer sync using iCloud or Dropbox. Instead Day One uses it’s own sync platform. Import your entries from Day One, setup an account and then sync. I found the process to be fast considering I’ve over 800 entries within my current journal.

The previous version had support for only one journal and relied on tags to separate out entries. I had tags for work, movies and runs. Version 2 still supports tags but now supports up to ten journals which can be individually coloured so I’ve setup individual journals and it makes for a much better experience.

Journal entries haven’t seen much change but each entry can now have up to 10 photo’s which is Day One’s 2 ‘finally’ feature.

These are paid updates and both versions are available for 50% off for one week only. iOS is fairly priced but Mac feels a bit steep for relatively little change – £14.99 rising to £29.99 in a weeks time. Future upgrades are promised though.

Day One 2 is an admittedly pricey app but one I can’t do without. It’s polished and if you value journalling of any kind it’s well worth a look.