Apple Watch Series 4

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?

Hardware
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.

Software
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.

My current Infograph face

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.

Verdict
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.

Apple Day 2018

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.

iPhone X

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.

Apps embracing the notch

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.

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.

iOS 11.2 adds a horizontal bar to highlight where control centre is now

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.

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

Performance
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.

Accessories
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.

Verdict
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.

Mojo

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.

iOS
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.

Apple TV

I’ve long been frustrated with Apple and it’s ‘hobby’, the Apple TV. While Amazon and Roku brought out devices that supported app’s and allowed you to install whatever you wanted Apple stuck with old hardware and annoyingly limited software. The announcement earlier this year of a new Apple TV with better hardware, a touch driven remote and more importantly an App Store and tvOS was the shot in the arm the platform needed. I couldn’t resist a purchase and it came through last Friday. Some thoughts follow on the first couple of days.

  • The hardware is the same footprint as the older Apple TV, just a little taller. It’s a shame that the optical out has been dropped but only a few will miss it I guess.
  • Setup was straightforward by using the iPhone to pair/setup the Apple TV.
  • Inputting a password is p a i n f u l. Especially in this day and age of long and strong passwords. You can’t use a bluetooth keyboard or any other iOS device to input the password. Ouch.
  • The new remote feels quite cheap for an Apple product. The touch/swipe is fine and it has more buttons than expected but the click feels…cheap. Strange.
  • The remote has been reliable in use though as a remote and also as a controller for apps and games. It’s bluetooth as well so no line of sight worries.
  • Siri does work well as an input method and the universal searching support is impressive. Can’t wait for Apple to open up the API for this…but fear it could be a long time for some app’s like Plex.
  • On first launch the Apple TV feels a bit empty compared to the old model which came preinstalled with lots of apps/channels. To the App Store!
  • The App Store is easy to browse and install app’s and there’s lots of titles on day one, a few hundred by the looks of it. However discoverability is awful. No categories, no charts so you are left with Apple’s picks on the front page or searching for apps. It feels rushed and incomplete. Unless you search for Youtube you wouldn’t know the app existed. Shocker.
  • So much hidden functionality with the Apple TV so it’s well worth reading through the user guide.
  • The UK has very little video content at launch. No BBC, no ITV, no Channel 4, 5 or Sky apart from Sky News. Surprising but I expect that to pick up over the coming weeks and months – BBC have already confirmed iPlayer is coming.
  • Games are very much iPhone and iPad staples but some play very well on the big screen. Crossy Road and Geometry Wars are really good.
  • No Amazon Video which is a shame. Is this Amazon playing hardball and saying to customers pick up a Fire if you want to view video on your TV? You can Airplay from an iOS device but it’s not as convenient.
  • I picked up a SteelSeries Nimbus Wireless Gaming Controller and it does make a big difference to gaming on the Apple TV. There’s a real opportunity for Apple to be the kings of casual gaming over the coming years.
  • Surprised the Remote app for iOS hasn’t been updated to support the new Apple TV.
  • Another issue – Siri can’t be used for Apple Music. Seriously, WTF? It’s coming next year according to Apple but again it feels like Apple have released the Apple TV ahead of when it really should have been and the software has suffered. Siri is also quite dumb compared to Siri on iOS. Weird.
  • The Apple Music app is pretty bad by the way. So much great content hidden by a clunky app.
  • The Apple TV front end looks really nice and it’s easy to navigate around quickly. You can put your most used app’s in the top bar too, not just Apple’s own ones which is good to see.
  • No Plex on day one. Sad face. It’s coming soon though, just a victim of the app review process.

The Apple TV has great potential but it will need a software update to unlock it. I still can’t believe that a company with so much experience of App Stores has dropped the ball so badly. The discoverability is that bad. Same with Siri and Apple Music. I guess holiday sales are important after all.

If you are in no rush then wait six months for the updates to drop and hopefully resolve some of the obvious issues. For me it’s a great step up on the previous Apple TV and it will soon be my platform of choice for Plex, streaming video and probably quite a few casual games. Is it the future of TV? Maybe but not yet.

Small Steps

Apple released iOS 9, watchOS 2 and OS X El Capitan over the last couple of weeks. What’s remarkable about the updates, and it looks to be the same for the upcoming version of Android, is the lack of much new in iOS or Mac OS X. There’s much under the hood but for end users there’s little to get excited about.

El Capitan
A couple of the biggest changes are really for laptop users – split view and mission control. Split view lets you focus on two apps easily at the same time. Nothing you couldn’t do before but maximises focus on the job in hand. Mission control makes it easier to work with multiple screens and desktops and the changes are much welcomed – it’s far improved over Yosemite.

Spotlight improvements are OK but won’t replace Alfred for me. Notes is much improved and really is quite the credible competitor to Evernote which is something I need to look at going forward and Photo’s finally add’s some much needed editing features plus support for extension. For me the best new features are a couple of the smallest.

Pinned tabs but oh so drab
Pinned tabs but oh so drab

Apple have stolen pinned tabs from Chrome and also the ability to see which tab is currently ‘speaking’ and allowing you to quickly mute Safari. However the pinned tabs are so drab looking – why Apple? Also it’s criminal that Safari updates, and many of the App updates, are now tied to a yearly OS update from Apple, especially when the App updates are so small. I doubt Apple will change that strategy as it’s the same across all their platforms. It’s also criminal that Safari really feels like the new IE.

Anyway, it’s free and it’s been stable for me so far so it gets a grudging thumbs up.

iOS 9
I didn’t take part in any of the open beta’s or put on a developer build this year so iOS 9 is relatively new for me but again there is very little to get excited about. It says it all when much of the talk was of a new system font, San Fransisco, which is nice but isn’t really ‘a feature’.

Notes see’s a good upgrade and there is also now a News app but only in the USA right now, seemingly 9.1 will bring that to the UK. Passcode is now Wallet which makes more sense although there still isn’t much support for it.

The iPad updates are probably the most interesting. Slide Over allows a second app to be running at the same time as a main app is visible. It works well but I have a couple of issues with it. You can’t search for an app so you need to scroll through a list of apps that support Slide Over which is only going to grow. I also tend to launch Slide Over when I’m reading on the iPad accidentally. I’m sure it’s just muscle memory but it niggles.

Split View is an extension of Slide Over and allows two apps to run concurrently. For app’s that support it this is excellent but I’m surprised at how many Apple app’s don’t currently work in this mode. The final iPad nicety is picture in picture meaning iPlayer can run in a small window while you work on a document. Works well but again not all apps support it.

Siri has seen a few new features but I still struggle to get into the habit of using it, mostly due to it not working reliably. When it does it can be quite magical but when it doesn’t I just feel frustrated.

The best new feature for me so far has been app linking and slightly behind deep linking. App linking shows when you jump to Safari from an app, say Facebook. In Safari you get a link to jump back to Facebook so rather than double tapping home you just click the link and back to the app you go. Makes for far quicker navigating through iOS. Deep linking is for certain app developers only like Twitter. A tweet link will now open in the main Twitter app rather than in Safari. Better experience although I’d have preferred there to be an option to pick third party apps like Tweetbot instead of the main Twitter app.

So lots to like in iOS 9 but quite an incremental update. If it allows Apple to focus on stability and improving iCloud then all the better.

watchOS 2
This was probably the most anticipated Apple release – could watchOS 2 unlock third party apps and make the watch more usable? Kind off.

Watch faces have a few new options. There are now time lapses which do look great but don’t support any complications. Equally you can now pick a photo or photo album to be used as a watchface background. These can look great but again lack complications. The photo option has also spawned Apple Faces which has a great set of custom photos that can look really good on the watch. I really like the see through watch.

The other tweak to watchfaces is to add some colour. Utility now shows activity rings with colour and I love that change. However it’s caused much angst among some Apple fan’s due to the lack of control they now have in setting the colour in the Utility watchface. I’m surprised Apple didn’t add a multicolour option so that everyone would be happy – maybe watchOS 3. Speaking of complications we’ve now got third party complications which means I can now have Dark Sky instead of the default weather app and I’m sure there will be more from other dev’s going forward.

I’m really liking Nightstand – turn your watch onto it’s side and it turns into an alarm clock. The watch will display the time and alarm then switch off the screen. Touch/move the watch through the night and the screen lights up for a few seconds. Simple but effective.

Other features like Time Travel and improved Siri are welcome but the most anticipated, app’s running natively, has proven to be a bit of a false dawn. Certainly Dark Skies and PCalc now run a lot faster. PCalc in particular is a handy app to have on the watch now that it runs so quickly. Many others though are still relatively slow and I’m not sure if this is as good as this hardware will allow or wether we’ll see further improvements.

So some nice updates but I’m left wanting more. I’d love to see custom watch faces, I’d love to have fuller control over a watch face as well. I want better performance. But the watch for me has been really useful as a notification device and for that alone I wouldn’t want to lose it. watchOS 2 is a definite step up and hopefully we’ll see some more from dev’s over the coming months.

Spring Forward

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.

Apple TV

  • 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?

ResearchKit

  • 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.

MacBook

  • 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.

Apple Watch

  • Strange intro as Tim Cook recapped all the features.
  • Christy Turlington Burns was on stage to enthuse about the Apple Watch, running marathons and blogging about it at Apple.com. Felt totally false.
  • 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.

IMG_0333

Misc

  • 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.

Mac Apps 2015

A recent post from Gordon on his current Mac App’s spurred me to look back at my last post on this in 2012. Has much changed?

Well Safari is now my browser of choice, iTunes still where my music is but podcasts are now in Instacast. A couple of smaller app’s have been eaten by Mavericks and Yosemite but I still look to third party app’s for most of my day to day needs. When Yosemite came out I nuked the iMac and dropped a few app’s so there are a few changes in the list. Hopefully there are one or two gems in the list that are new to you.

Alfred
http://www.alfredapp.com/
Free, PowerPack for £15

For a longtime I used Quicksilver and then Launchbar as a keyboard launcher but around three years ago I moved to Alfred and I just can’t let it go despite Spotlight catching up in Yosemite. Alfred allows you to drive your Mac fully from the keyboard – launch app’s, search the web etc. Buy the PowerPack and you can extend via scripts from the Alfred community or ones you write yourself, control iTunes and access a full clipboard history and also snippet library. A lovely app that will become your most used app if you let it. With Alfred Remote now out for iOS you can launch apps, scripts, URL’s etc from your iPad or iPhone. Already I have a podcast tab setup in remote so I can quickly setup or jump to app’s I need while podcasting. Despite having two screens, launching app’s quickly via touch is very useful.

Dropbox
http://www.dropbox.com
Free with paid options

I think everyone has a Dropbox account so there’s not too much to say with this one. I store all my documents in Dropbox so I can get them anywhere – Mac, iOS or on the web. Its great for sharing podcasts and files with the folk I work remotely with. Although there is only 2GB free, you can earn up to 18GB free and with so many app’s plugged into Dropbox via it’s API’s it’s a great way of sharing between desktop and mobile. It’s also reliable unlike iCloud.

SuperDuper!
http://www.shirt-pocket.com/SuperDuper
$27.95

Still my goto app for backups. What do you mean you don’t backup? Criminal. SuperDuper! creates a fully bootable backup on a drive of your choosing that should your drive or computer fail allows you to fully restore from that point in time. As it’s a bootable backup you can also boot from it should you find yourself in trouble. I’ve certainly needed it a couple of times and it’s never let me down. Backups can be scheduled and once the first backup is complete daily/weekly incrementals take no time at all.

backblazeBackblaze
https://www.backblaze.com
$5 a month

I use Backblaze for online backup of my computers. Unlike the other online services I tried, Backblaze is quick and reliable to upload data and supports unlimited amount of data. You can easily retrieve individual files and if the worst happens and you need everything you can download it all slowly or send of a disk to get your data more quickly.

evernoteEvernote
http://evernote.com/
Free, Premium account £35 per year

Evernote is my digital filing cabinet. Notes, images, pdf’s, web pages, receipts, bills, contacts, recipes, lists etc etc etc all go into Evernote. The client allows for rich enough text editing, images are OCR’d to allow for some great searching and there are good options for notebooks and folders. The web clipper works really well too. I upgraded to Premium which allows for 1GB of uploads per month, secure notes, collaborative notes and also a history of changes. One niggle – exporting from Evernote still not great so I’m tied into the service more than I’d like. The iOS apps are excellent too so my digital stuff is available everywhere.
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