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.
It’s been well over a month since I started using the Apple Watch and after reading Dan Frommer’s post last week on his one month thoughts here’s my take so far.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
A lot of the talk prior to the Apple Watch release was battery life. 18 hours sounded pretty short but the reality is that battery isn’t an issue. Charging overnight is fine and even if I didn’t I’d still get a good few hours out of the next day.
I’ve worn the Watch every day and it’s been comfortable and sweat free despite the plastic feeling strap and also the doubts expressed in some reviews. In fact I’m surprised how normal the Apple Watch feels. It’s become part of my day to day and I’ve never not thought about wearing it. I always did wear a watch during the week (hardly ever at weekends) but this has changed with the Apple Watch and it’s primarily down to one thing – activity tracking.
Activity tracking is addictive
I’ve used a Fitbit for three years so no stranger to the addictiveness of tracking steps and activity but the Apple Watch makes it easy to see visually how you are doing. It’s very clever (apart form the stand metric) and for the first part of May I was determined to complete my circles each day. Extra runs, walks at work, walking to the underground instead of driving into town are all positive activities that I was doing to get my circles filled.
The downside, and it may be entirely unrelated, is that my knee has taken a bit of punishment so from the middle of May I’ve had to lay off doing any fitness work.
I’ve found the heart rate tracking interesting. While it’s nothing new and I could have worn a tracker for years I like the fact that the heart rate tracker is hidden in the Watch and it’s fascinating to see heart rates rise at unexpected times – meetings, driving…times where I’m obviously feeling more stress.
Apps are pretty weak
Despite the 1000’s of Watch app’s already released there’s only a few I use frequently. Todoist is really useful and it’s notable that they waited until the Watch was out and developed on an actual device – it shows. Dark Sky is great and the updated Overcast is a nice way to control podcasts.
Messages is fine especially the smart replies that are offered but the Digital Touch features are pretty poor in use. Most of the time if I want to run an app then I’ll goto the phone as it’s quicker – hopefully watchOS 2 will help improve the speed of many of the app’s.
Notifications and Siri
Once I got control of my notifications I was actually impressed how useful they were. Reading notifications for Messages or WhatsApp was quicker than unlocking the phone especially if you just need the information and don’t need to reply.
I actually find the BBC News notifications useful now as I can quickly see when there’s breaking news, something I used to have turned off as it was a faff to get them on the phone.
One thing I can’t get used to is Siri. It does work well but it still feels a bit awkward to use day to day…it’s that talking to the wrist that feels a bit off. I need to persevere though as it is reliable and is a great way to send a message or add a todo.
July should see the launch of Apple Pay in the UK. I can’t wait to pay for stuff with the Watch. Then in the fall comes watchOS 2. Alongside app’s that actually run on the Watch, third party complications will be a great new feature so I can replace in built weather app complication with Dark Sky’s…I hope. New faces and the time travel feature, a nightstand mode although it probably ruins any stands that have currently been sold and some nice add-on’s for Siri are all solid upgrades.
I still wouldn’t recommend an Apple Watch if you are unsure of it but equally I wouldn’t put anyone off from a purchase if they wanted one as it’s useful and interesting to see how it will take off over the coming months. It’s a great 1.0 product but not yet essential.
So Apple did come through for a lot of people on Friday and many got their hands on an Apple Watch, myself included. I hadn’t seen one in the flesh until Friday when I popped into the Apple Store and got quite the surprise – the watch is much smaller than I expected. It comes in two sizes and I went for the larger 42mm, but even that wasn’t the brick I expected and the 38mm looked really well sized for a smartwatch. I was also pleased with the decision to stick with the basic Apple Watch Sport model. The Apple Watch version did look really nice but overall I wasn’t sure on any of the straps outside of the default Sport band. That’s not quite true – I hated the look of the Milanese Loop and the Leather Loop. Anyway, it was the evening before I finally got to play with my watch and then put it through it’s paces over the weekend. Thoughts below.
I expected good packaging from Apple but not quite the monolith I received through the post. The Sport comes in a long white box and inside is a long white heavy duty plastic case holding the watch along with the magnetic charger, plug and small/medium strap that can be swapped for the default medium/large strap.
The case is in total contrast to iPhone and iPad packaging – almost nothing is recyclable and it is huge in comparison to the tiny box the iPhone comes in. I know the watch is a different market but still quite surprising. The other thing I like – the delivery box for the watch fits the sport box, the lid of the sport box slips off with just enough friction, the case itself separates nicely. Design. It shows throughout the Apple product line and not just the final product – everything. Speaking of which…
The watch is lighter than expected and fits my wrist well. The curved glass screen fits well with the body and feels seamless. It’s rounded, it feels nice in the hand, it feels more touchable than a phone or tablet. Is that the route to making a wearable that people actually want? The digital crown on the right hand side is an infinite scroll wheel and a button and the main way of interacting with the watch aside from the touch screen. It feels nice to use and I’ve had no real issues with it. Below that is the side button – couldn’t there have been better name? It’s used to launch your favourite contacts (and a double tap for Apple Pay in the USA) but it feels like a sleep button more than anything else.
The screen itself is excellent. Apple call it a Retina display and it’s hard to argue as you don’t see the pixels and it’s hard to determine the screen edge at all. It’s night and day compared to the Pebble I tried a couple of years ago. It was also pretty clear outside in the sun yesterday while running. On the back of the watch you find the heart rate sensors and the inductive charging system. This is the first Apple product to support inductive charging and as expected it’s easy to use as it uses magnets, so you place the watch on the charger and it aligns. Also underneath are two buttons to release the bands as they are interchangeable. I guess third party bands will come out soon but there is a fairly good, if expensive, range available from Apple. I can see these being big Christmas sellers.
I had a niggle that the band, made from high-performance fluoroelastomer, would feel quite rubbery but it’s actually soft to touch and is comfortable on the wrist. During normal use I haven’t found it to get sweaty underneath the band but during exercise is does become a sweat collector especially where the band loops within itself. The watch is waterproof despite the mixed messages from Apple which is strange – I’ve showered a couple of times with it now and it’s fine, but I’ll be removing it after runs purely due to the sweat issue.
One last point – the UK now has a folding plug included as standard. Happy days! Far more practical for travelling and nicely designed but it’s £25 for the folding plug against £15 for the standard 5W plug from the Apple store. I’m hoping that this will be the standard plug for iPhones and iPads in the future but the price difference makes me suspect not.
Setup and Controls
Setting up the watch was smooth – a credit to Apple. Switch on the watch and to pair it with the iPhone was a simple case of taking a picture of a pattern on the watch face. Boom. You then enter your iCloud credentials and the iPhone then started to install supported applications on to the watch. This took quite a while to complete but once done it was time to play.
There are many ways to interact with the watch and some are more than a little confusing. The digital crown works and more importantly feels fantastic – the resistance is just right. Although it offers no change in resistance the combination of the feel and good software tricks the mind – getting to the end of a list and I still think the resistance changes…but it doesn’t. The digital crown is also a button and mostly makes sense but I still get confused between it and the side button. Press the digital crown to take you to installed apps. You can then swipe around the apps or use the crown to zoom in and out of applications. It can be quite a faff to find and select the right app especially if you try and do it during a run.
The side button takes you to your favourite contacts and from there you can message, call or digital touch them if they have a watch. This feels a waste of a button and it would be great if you could map this to something more useful, like take you back to your watch face. It feels like a home button – let me use it as one.
The screen itself supports touch but not multitouch, hence the digital crown for zooming in and out. Touch has worked OK but there’s a few times now where a touch isn’t registered – not sure if it’s just aggressive touch zones or v1 software but it is annoying. The watch also supports a force touch gesture – tap normally and then press a bit harder. You get a nice bit of haptic feedback when this works and is used almost like a right click. It lets you customise watchfaces, clear notifications and many apps also support it but you won’t know until you try. Discoverability!
Swiping up on the watch will display Glances. These are like widgets and there are default ones like power, heartbeat and also third party app’s can add their own Glances. Apple’s own Glances have worked well for me but third party ones are generally slow and a bit buggy right now. Finally you can swipe down for notifications with the all important force touch to clear them.
As I said, lots to get your head around and very different to iOS. Time will tell if it becomes second nature but it’s been quite confusing to navigate between apps and the watchface so far.
One last note on the display – it’s off 90% of the time. It only displays when you lift up your wrist and it then switches on for a few seconds…and then it’s off again. I did have a worry about how reliable this would be and some early reviews said it took a while to display but I’ve had no issues although I would like the display to stay on for a few more seconds sometimes. I also don’t have many false positives – switching on when I didn’t expect it – so this goes down as a success so far.
Watchfaces and Complications
Apple have supplied a good mix of watchfaces so most users should be able to find something they like. Each offer a range of customisation, from increasing the dial detail to selecting a primary colour for the date and second hand. Most faces also offer Complications – widgets that add information to the face. Day and date, battery life, weather, moon phase, activity, stocks, alarms, timers and world times. These are great and allow you to build a useful watchface – far more useful than a standard watch. However not all watchfaces allow you to add Complications. It’s also no big surprise that as of right now, third party Watchfaces and Complications aren’t supported. It’s like the early days of iOS. Little was allowed but each version offered more and more and I fully expect future O/S versions to allow at least custom Watchfaces and eventually third party Complications – I’d love to see Dark Sky weather information rather than the stock app, especially as clicking on the Complication launches the application.
Glimpses and Notifications Glimpses let you access information via small widgets that are only one screen tall. Default ones allow you to switch to do not disturb or airplane mode easily, control your music, take a heart beat measurement, see the current battery levels, get a quick update on todays activity level, see todays calendar, your current locations weather, your current location on a map and also world times. I also ended up with a lot of third party Glimpses but most were slow and I’ve turned them off. Glimpses are really running on your iPhone and the third party ones offer little or no value right now.
Notifications at first were overwhelming. I never really worried too much about notifications on the iPhone but the watch displays all the iPhone notifications and it was far too invasive to see and hear them buzzing on the watch. This isn’t the watches fault though – it’s down to me as the user to take control of this and manage them more effectively which I’ve now done. I only get the messages that are important to me and I’m happy now with the information I receive and can act upon. It’s also easy to clear old notifications with a simple force touch, something that iOS desperately needs.
Day one of the App Store on iOS saw a few hundred apps. Day one for the Apple Watch saw over 3000 applications available and almost every one of them had been written without being tested on an actual physical watch…and it shows. I installed all available applications and with hindsight I should have been more selective, but then again I wouldn’t have known how they performed if I hadn’t. The app’s all run on the iPhone and display their results on the watch. The ones I’ve kept, like Dark Sky and 1Password are very useful and show the possibilities of app’s on the watch platform. However the official Twitter and Instagram clients are poorly thought out. I’m not going to click through my Twitter timeline 5 tweets at a time. Equally while the screen is great, it’s not the best place to experience my full Instagram feed. Both feel like app’s being available for the sake of it rather than a user getting benefit from them. They also feel slow.
I’m sure we will see lots of iteration over the coming weeks and months as developers actually use their apps on a physical device rather than the simulator but I expect, like the original iPhone, we won’t see a good third party application experience until developers can write an app thats runs on the watch rather than on the iPhone. Next year perhaps as I can’t see this being dropped in at WWDC?
Phone, Messages and Digital Touch
A lot was made of using the Apple Watch to make and receive calls, message your friends or send a Digital Touch to folk that also have an Apple Watch. So far I’ve been pretty disappointed with most of these features.
The watch hardware, speaker and microphone, work well and it does allow for calls to be made and received. In fact it’s far better than I expected. However the software leaves a lot to be desired and I’ve found the experience buggy. As for messaging, the dictation via Siri has been really good and exceeded expectations. You can also setup stock answers so you can quickly reply to messages and again this works well. However the new animated emoji is horrible. What were they thinking?
Digital Touch also seems superfluous. You can send a fellow Watch owner a series of taps, a sketch or your heartbeat. While it works I find it a bit annoying in practise and always default back to messaging. I’ve also found audio messaging far more reliable on the watch than on the iPhone. Is this due to an improvement in Siri or something the watch is doing – hard to tell.
Health and Activity
This was the primary reason I wanted to try the Apple Watch and so far, so good. The activity app shows you three key stats – Move (calories burnt), Exercise (minutes per day) and Stand (stand per hour) as a series of circles. Complete the circles before the end of the day and it’s thumbs up. Complementing this is the Workout app. Here you can pick from a series of indoor and outdoor activities, set a time or calorie goal and then the watch will track you as you complete the workout. During a run or cycle it gave me some haptic feedback on how far into the workout I was and at anytime I could swipe to see pace, heartbeat and some other useful stats. The Workout app looks simple but works really well. For my runs the step count was very similar to my Fitbit but not so much for the cycle where the watch tracked far lower. You also get badges for completing workouts and reaching goals – not sure they are much of a motivation but if you are motivated by such things then there’s plenty of goals to chase.
The Apple Watch will also track your heartbeat throughout the day and you can take a reading at anytime. This has matched the readings from elsewhere so I’m happy to say this is accurate as long as the watch has good contact with your skin and isn’t too loose. It seems to take a reading every ten minutes but during an activity will read every five seconds, using up far more battery. This can be toggled off but I’d only do that on something like a hill walk over a few hours. Hour long runs and cycles won’t kill it too much.
You also get an Activity app on the iPhone and this shows you your activity in more detail. I love the app and it completes and complements the Health app. Overall the Health and Activity aspects of the watch have been excellent and I look forward to further improvements with the software over time…like easily extracting individual workouts, sharing of heart rates etc.
A lot of the negative talk around the Apple Watch was it’s “18 hour day”. This was the figure that Apple quoted with regards battery life. There are no sleep tracking functions on the Apple Watch so the expectation is that you charge your watch overnight and that full charge will last you through the day. So far that has been the case…with ease. This first full day saw lots of tinkering and experimentation and also an hour long cycle and after 17 hours I still had 25% charge remaining. Day two saw a cycle and an outdoor run and again I had plenty left at the end of the day. Today at work was pretty busy, so not much interaction with the watch. I’m 14 hours into wearing the watch and battery is at 69% which is great. So fears about battery life on the watch seem pretty unfounded at the moment – just don’t forget your charger if you are away on an overnight. It would be great to have a battery that lasts a few days or even a week but it feels like we are a few years away from seeing that or some sort of step change in battery technology.
Battery on the iPhone however is impacted slightly. Your phone is connected permanently to the watch, you setup much of the watch from the phone and third party apps all run from the phone so some impact is expected but it’s something to keep an eye on.
Performance and Bugs
Before wrapping up there are a couple of niggles to share. Firstly there is definitely some spotty performance when using the watch. It’s not consistent and I can’t narrow it down to a certain app or function, but from time to time first and third party app’s will stutter more than expected. I also find touch inputs aren’t recognised sometimes. Not sure if it’s me pressing too hard and the watch is confused between a touch and a force touch or that the touch area isn’t quite right but I’ve noticed it a few times now in different apps. The good news is that I haven’t seen any lag when lifting my wrist and the screen switching on – worked 100% for me so far.
There are also issues when you are on the edge of bluetooth connectivity. The watch will still be connected to the phone but performance is so poor that you may as well not be – app’s fail, you can’t answer calls but the watch thinks it has. I’ve also had issues with answering and placing calls in general. When it works it’s great in a ‘from the future’ kind of way, but when it fails it’s just frustration. However I have faith that these can all be addressed with updates over time – there’s no showstopper issue that I’ve found so far and it is v1.0.
Firstly, you don’t need an Apple Watch. It’s arguable that no smart watch or wearable is required right now. At this point in time it’s not essential and the third party app’s leave a lot to be desired. It has some bugs and it does feel like an iPhones second screen at times. So if like me a few weeks ago you have some FOMO on the Apple Watch then don’t worry – next years model will be so much better and there’s no desperate reason to jump on this version!
However the foundations are great. The hardware is really solid and the bugs and issues I’ve mentioned are all easily fixable in software. If you are all in on the Apple platform then the Apple Watch, even this early version, makes far more sense than the Pebble. I’ll continue to use it day to day and so far I’ve found it to be an enjoyable experience rather than a frustrating one. I’ve got no regrets and look forward to seeing how the platform evolves over the comings months and what developers start to deliver once they can actually write app’s for the phone. The true test will be if it’s still on my wrist in six months time. If it is, then Apple are really onto something. Again.
Last nights Apple event was interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly they were finally detailing the Apple Watch and it’s been five years since Apple launched a new product category and it always fascinates me how Apple pitches and shapes their message. Secondly, so many people predicted that the keynote was all about the watch….wrong! Finally, no one predicted that Tim Cook would start with the Apple TV. Here are my quick thoughts on the products and message from last night.
No one expected Apple to lead with the Apple TV but the HBO Now announcement was a big deal. Exclusively launching on Apple TV for the first three months and in time for the new season of Game of Thrones this was what many users were wanting for years although $14.99 a month seems a bit high compared to Netflix.
Apple TV drops to £59. Thats it. No new hardware, no app store. I’m not the only one that was disappointed with that. Surely the hardware will see an update this year? Surely?
Following on from puff pieces on CarPlay and HomeKit I wasn’t expecting much on health but ReasearchKit was afforded 15 minutes on the big stage and afterwards it was clear why.
This is a massive opportunity that started with the M7 processor in the iPhone 5S. Data is being captured and while it’s mostly seen as steps, it’s only going to get richer and help with medical research and diagnosis.
Apple Will Not See Your Data – clear message to customers and competitors on what differentiates Apple. Apple will need to be repeat this again and again along with the security message that they have been playing out recently.
Cynical view – we’re about to sell a $10000 watch so contrast it with a good news story but I don’t believe that to be the case.
Apple will open source ResearchKit so it can be run on any platform.
5 apps already available and more on the way – this will be very interesting to watch over the coming years as the technology packed within phones and watches gets ever smarter.
My favourite part of the whole event. The new designs shown throughout the new MacBook were impressive.
The new keyboard mechanism looked great although early feedback seems mixed.
The force touchpad shows so much invention…apart from it’s name.
12 inch and Retina but so light and thin.
USB-C. One port. £69 adapter to get a data, video and power connector at the same time. If I look at my MacBook Air usage now though, that one port is enough.
CPU is a bit stingy looking but…Fanless! How will I tell when Flash is running? (clue – it’s not installed cause it’s a piece of shit)
All day battery is good but you are basically buying a battery with a screen and keyboard.
I’ll wait for reviews to see what playback looks like but assuming it’s OK, I’ll be buying a MacBook this year to replace the current Air and probably the iPad too. Next year, an iMac Retina to replace the five year old iMac. I do think the MacBook is the future of laptop design and the only other niggle is that this is rev 1.0 of the MacBook and the next version is probably the one to buy. But thats too much like common sense.
Strange intro as Tim Cook recapped all the features.
Kevin Lynch took to the stage to demo the Apple Watch in a real world scenario. Flawlessly done but pretty dull including the ubiquitous airport gate change demo.
18 hour battery and the news that it’s replaceable still feels a 1.0 target being met. Like the heavy first iPad Retina which was updated after 6 months. I don’t think we’ll see a 2.0 watch that quickly but I do expect next years product to be much better.
It was then onto pricing which was pretty much in line with much of the speculation including the expensive Edition pricing.
Apple never really sold a compelling reason as to why I need an Apple Watch. I found this part of the event underwhelming and pretty disappointing compared to other product launches. Will I buy one? Probably not although there is a bit of me that feels I should have one to try. I bought and instantly sold a Pebble and if the Apple Watch had a GPS I’d find it a more compelling product. It’s a wait and see right now.
Apple has mastered rolling out their products around the world quickly and efficiently. The same can’t be said for their services. Apple Pay, iTunes Radio, Beats, HBO Now and the initial batch of ResearchKit app’s are all US only. It’s only getting worse and becomes a bigger issue when the services are being used so heavily to promote the product. I hope they start to take this more seriously and while licensing is a complex issue, money helps and they have a lot of money so if anyone can fix it I expect it to be Apple.
Battery technology is becoming more of an anchor compared to the rest of the technology in our products. There’s clearly no Moore’s law for batteries.
Did anyone else expect more from Apple when it comes to their stores and promoting the Apple Watch than a new…table.
Overall a great keynote and one of the most interesting for years. The watch will sell millions but ResearchKit and the MacBook were the stars of the show. No one predicted that.