The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

Apple Watch

My thoughts on the new Apple Watch, Apple TV, and iPhones…

In their September 2017 keynote, Apple launched the Apple Watch Series 3, the Apple TV 4K HDR, and three new iPhones—the 8 and the 8 Plus, and the X.

Here are my quick thoughts on each, and my buying plans…

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a nice evolution of the watch. The LTE doesn’t really interest me, as I’m sure it’ll require another $5 or $10 a month to my wireless carrier, and I almost always want my phone with me. (If I swam regularly, I might feel differently about that.) The much-faster CPU would be a nice upgrade over my original-generation watch, but the Series 3 is nearly a full millimeter thicker than the original…and honestly, I think the first version was already borderline too thick.

Will I buy? At this time, the outlook is doubtful; my watch is working fine, and a faster CPU isn’t worth the added thickness and $359 of my money.

Apple TV 4K HDR

Support for 4K is welcome, and long overdue. I’m not so sure about HDR; sometimes I find HDR images tend to look artificial, and I don’t know if I’d find the same issue in moving images. A real added bonus was Apple’s decision to provide the 4K version of movies you’ve purchased for free—this from a company that charged us to upgrade the quality of our music files a few years back.

I wish Apple wasn’t so damn set on streaming everything, though—I would much prefer to store movies directly on the device, to make it more portable and not subject to the vagaries of wifi, device positioning, and network load. Those times are gone, though, so now the only choice is whether or not to spend $20 more for the 64GB version.

Will I buy? Yes, and I’ll spend the extra $20 for the extra 32GB. I’ve been moving an Xbox One back and forth from the game TV to our 4K TV to watch 4K content, so this will be a simpler solution.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and iPhone X

Let me get this out of the way: I do not like the iPhone X. Well, that’s not true. I think almost all of it is absolutely stunning, and I really want one. Unfortunately, that’s “almost all,” and there are two things that aren’t perfect that will keep me from buying this phone…

The Notch. I absolutely, positively hate the cutout at the top of the phone for the sensors. In case you (somehow) missed it, this is the notch…

I would have much preferred if Apple just blacked out that entire region, giving up that marginally-usable pixel space for a cleaner appearance. I understand that videos can play cropped, so as to not be “notched,” but it’s the presence of the notch in other normal views that really gets to me. It’s everywhere.

Many people won’t notice, or won’t care about the notch. I wish I could be one of those people, but I can’t. During the keynote, all I could focus on whenever the phone appeared was the stupid notch. It simply grabs my eye, and I cannot unsee it when it’s there. (Maybe a future software update will stop drawing the desktop up there, which would make it look much nicer to my eye.)

Face ID. Apple has told us facial recognition is more secure, and I have no reason to doubt them. They also told us it’s fast, and it seemed to be in the demo. But secure and fast can’t override the absolute convenience of Touch ID. I can use Touch ID as I remove my phone from my pocket (press plus press-click), and it’s ready to go as soon as it’s out of my pocket. I don’t have to look at my phone unless I want to; if I have to look at my phone every time I want to unlock it, that’s going to get annoying. Very quickly.

Apple Pay is even worse. Today’s system is as near-magic as any tech I’ve ever used: Hold the phone near the register, rest finger on the home button, and you’re done. With Face ID, it appears (based on the demo in the keynote), I’ll have to both double-tap the side button and look at the phone to use Apple Pay. Ugh.

There are also some security considerations with Face ID, as pointed out by Ian Schray. The police cannot compel you to put your finger on your phone without a warrant…but can they compel you to simply look at your phone?

Other than these two no-go items, I really like everything else about the iPhone X. It’s only marginally larger (.20 inches taller, .15 inches wider) than an iPhone 7, yet has a screen that’s 30% larger and has more pixels than the gigantic Plus model phones. It also has the double cameras, which I would love to have on my next phone.

While you may not consider the notch and Face ID as deal breakers, they really are for me. I’ll go look at one in person, of course, but I simply cannot unsee the notch, and I hate the idea of having to look at my phone to unlock it, and taking more steps (and time) for Apple Pay.

So that leaves me with the 8/8 Plus versus my current 7. I think the new CPU, faster Apple-developed GPU, better cameras and sensors, 240fps slow-mo 1080p video, wireless charging, and the glass design make the iPhone 8 a compelling upgrade. As noted, I’d love to have the dual cameras to work with, but I think the Plus-size phone is just too big for daily use, so I think that’s out of the question. (I will visit the Apple Store again to see the 7 Plus before I decide for sure.)

Will I buy? As of now, yes, I plan on buying an iPhone 8, and hoping that…somehow…Touch ID survives for a long time to come, lest that iPhone 8 be my last new iPhone.

iOS App: Jollyturns tracks your day on the mountain

I spent yesterday at Mt. Bachelor, enjoying a bunch of fresh snow and surprisingly light crowds. To track my tracks, I’ve been using an app called Jollyturns Ski & Snowboarding. The app is free and includes one ski area; you can buy five more for $3.99, or $9.99 gets you “every ski area in the world.”

For each area, you can see a summary page with current conditions and info on lifts, runs, and restaurants, as well as a zoomable scan of the official trail map. (For Mt. Bachelor, that means four maps, as they have quite a bit of terrain.)

You can drill down into run type to find a specific run; it’ll be highlighted on the map. (Though if your area has more than one map, you may need to switch views to see the run on the proper map.) Click on a lift name, and it will be similarly highlighted on the map. Ditto for restaurants.

Jollyturns can also find and map your friends on the mountain, assuming they’re using the app, of course. I haven’t yet tested this social aspect of the app.

The one thing Jollyturns doesn’t do is track your runs on a map—there’s no way to see exactly what you skied in a given day. This is no longer true as of the latest update—you can view your tracks on Google Earth on the iPhone, or export as KML (or a couple of other options). As an example, here’s a map from my February trip to Mt. Bachelor, as seen in Google Earth on the iPhone:

Beyond the map, you can also see how much you skied (vertical feet), how far you skied (miles), and your peak speed. I’d love it if it would map my day (I assume there are other apps that do this, but I haven’t gone looking…recommendations?), but what it does do, it does well.

Jollyturns also includes an Apple Watch app—it provides a quick view of your vertical feet, distance, and peak speed. I much prefer a glance at my watch versus digging out the iPhone from multiple layers of clothing.

The one caveat I will add is that running Jollyturns can suck your battery down, as it’s updating location info via GPS, and doing so quite often. Yesterday, after 4.5 hours of continuous skiing, my phone was down to about 25% battery. So if you want to make sure you get all-day phone battery life while skiing, Jollyturns is probably not the app for you.

On the subject of Apple devices and battery life

In one of his recent “Hey Apple Fix This” columns for Macworld, Kirk McElhearn wrote about Apple’s seemingly never-ending pursuit of thinness and its affect on the battery life of its products.

When I got this laptop, replacing a 13-inch MacBook Pro, I was very happy that it was thinner and lighter, but my goal was not to own a computer that could give me paper cuts; I wanted a computer that was practical.

While I completely agree with Kirk about the stupidity of pursuing thinness at the cost of better battery life, as a work-at-home person, the battery life of my Apple devices isn’t usually an issue…until I have to take a trip, that is. Recently, I headed to San Francisco for a special “Thanks Sal!” dinner, thanking Sal Soghoian for all he’s done for Mac automation over the last 20+ years. This was a very short trip—a 75 minute flight, one night away from home, then 75 minute flight back home. (Plus approximately 2,500 hours in the two airports.)

Because we’re a small two-person company that writes Mac software, and it’s my job to support our customers, I always have to bring my Mac (a late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). And my iPhone, to contact my family/friends and check email. And my watch, because I’ve gotten used to having it around for notifications and weather and such. And to pass a bit of time in the hotel room, I’ll usually bring my iPad.

Because of Apple’s thinness decisions, only one of these devices (the iPad) can make this very short journey without needing a recharge. That meant I’d need to bring a Lightning cable (iPhone/iPad charge from computer), my Apple Watch charging cable (charge from computer), and my MacBook’s power brick with wall adapter (I did leave the extension section at home, though).

All of that to support a simple overnight trip. Two-day battery life out of my devices would be so worth some extra thickness. (If I owned a newer laptop, it would have been even worse, as I would have needed some USB adapters, too, I’m sure.)

As an aside, what I didn’t bring was an in-car charger, and that turned out to be a mistake. I drove a roughly 60 mile round-trip (2.5 hours in the car, with traffic) on Friday to see a friend, using my iPhone for navigation both directions. The rental car didn’t have any USB jacks, so I was using my iPhone on battery power.

By the time I got back to the hotel, my phone had entered power saving mode. Thankfully, I was back early enough to charge it before the evening’s festivities started. This seems like unusually high battery drain, but I don’t do a lot of in-car navigating with my iPhone, so I don’t know. (I used Apple Maps on the way there, and Waze on the way back.)

Useful site: iStockNow finds Apple products

During today’s recording of our The Committed podcast, Ian mentioned a site he uses to check for sometimes hard-to-acquire Apple products. The site, iStockNow, is very nicely designed and makes it really simple to check availability not only at your local stores, but also globally.

Start by clicking the left-side filters section for the products you’d like to check on, then view the map on the right to see where they’re in stock. For example, a search for the 15″ MacBook Pro Touch Bar in Space Gray shows that it’s available throughout North America, except in Mexico City:

But if you search for a 42mm Apple Watch in Stainless Steel in retail stores, you’ll see that most of North America is a sea of red. Zoom in on the map, though, and there are some stores with stock:

When you find a store with inventory—the green pushpin—click on it to get the details of that store’s inventory:

If you’re looking for something particularly hard to find—cough AirPods cough—iStockNow may just help you secure your item. According to Ian, at least, that’s exactly how he got his AirPods!

The all-in-one Apple Watch spreadsheet

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not a watch guy. I own a watch I use for running. I own a few dress watches that I used to put on when I had a big fancy business meeting to attend. But those haven’t seen the light of day in decades. So I have zero interest in owning an Apple Watch. (I might be interested if you could use one to replace the phone, but it’s clearly an accessory device.)

But I am fascinated by this new business Apple’s going into; the sheer number of products and prices is pretty amazing: By my count, Apple will be shipping 38 separate models of watches. There’s a gallery page at Apple’s site where you can page through all of the watches, and get the details on each specific model. You can also view the watches in the store, where you can find pricing info.

Update: Kirk McElhearn pointed me to Apple’s Watch Sizing Guide, which contains information on band lengths. I’ve added two columns (Band Sizes, Band Size Range) to reflect these values.

Both of these solutions, though, require lots of paging and scrolling to get all the details. I was curious as to how all the watches compared, so I pulled data from those sources and made one massive spreadsheet:

If you’d like to download the file and look at it in Excel (or Numbers or whatever), here it is. Feel free to share; I merely compiled the publicly-available data and don’t really care what you do with it (though leaving the attribution in place would be nice).

There are some interesting facts hidden in all that data:

  • The lightest watch isn’t any of the Watch Sport versions. Instead, it’s the Classic Buckle Apple Watch (56 grams), which is a full six grams lighter than the next-lightest watch.
  • The heaviest watch—at a whopping 125 grams—is the Apple Watch Stainless Steel link (42mm in either stainless or space black). That may not sound like much, but 125 grams is over four ounces, or to put it another way, it’s like wearing a quarter-pound hamburger on your wrist (weight before cooking, of course). It’s also 2.2x as heavy as the lightest watch.
  • Color adds weight: in the Watch Sport category, the bands’ weight varies by color. Black is 37g, then pink (42g), green (43g), blue (44g) and white (47g). So somewhat oddly, to go light, go with black.
  • Band size only changes weight by one gram (modern buckle) or three grams (leather loop).
  • In the Apple Watch family, you can’t get a 38mm leather loop, or a 42mm modern buckle. I have no idea why they restricted these choices; it seems odd.
  • In the Apple Watch Edition family, there’s no 38mm classic buckle, and no 42mm modern buckle. Again, this seems an odd restriction.
  • I don’t have any plans on keeping this current as Apple (inevitably) adds more watches to the mix, but it was interesting seeing all the “day one” models in one spot.

My thoughts on Apple Watch upgradeability

Lots of people are talking about the possibility of an upgradeable Apple Watch.

In particular, the ultra-expensive Apple Watch Edition is the version that seems to inspire these conversations: Who’d pay $5,000 (or $10,000 or whatever) for a non-upgradeable high-end watch?

While this seems a fair question, I honestly don’t think upgradeability of hardware will be a major stumbling block for folks with this kind of money. Instead, they’ll be focused on two questions: Does the watch do what I want it to do now, and does it make the statement I want it to make? If they answer yes to both of those questions, then they’ll buy the watch.

A year from now, if Apple comes out with Apple Watch Edition 2 (gads, could that naming get any worse?), they’ll ask themselves the same two questions, and then either buy a new watch or keep the old watch. Remember that functionality will improve on the existing hardware, as Apple ships software updates over time, so it’s not like the watch will lose functionality as time passes.

Apple has never been in the “let us help you upgrade” business. They’re in the “let us help you buy a new device” business, and I don’t see their entry into the watch market changing that focus. If you want a new watch, they’ll sell you one. Perhaps, just perhaps, there will be a formal trade-in program for existing Apple Watch customers—but I think that’s all it would be, a simple trade-in credit when buying a new watch.

I just can’t envision “Apple Watch Specialists” at the various Apple stores, sitting around on benches, loupes on eyes, swapping out watch motherboards. That’s not Apple’s business, and it’s not a business I think they want to be in.

There is one minor exception to this: clearly there must be a relatively easy way to replace the battery on the watch; there’s just no way they’re going to require folks to mail in their watches for battery service. Perhaps the battery will even be a user-serviceable part…wait, what am I saying, this is Apple we’re talking about.

I believe the level of Apple-provided hardware upgradeability in the Apple Watch (all versions) will match that of the iPad or Mac lines: none. In theory, we’ll find out the answer in a few weeks when the Apple Watch is released. But in reality, Apple could take another year (or more) to figure out what to do for existing customers, as that’s not an issue they’ll need to address until the second generation Apple Watch is released.

The Robservatory © 2017 Built from the Frontier theme