Tagged: Apple Watch

Dear Cousin, Here’s What I Think About Apple’s September 2017 Event

Apple Watch Series 3

Of all the products introduced at Tuesday’s Apple Event, I’m most excited about the new Apple Watch Series 3.

After the September 2016 Apple Event, where Apple introduced the iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, AirPods and other things that I already forgot about, one of my cousins went to this site looking for my opinions about the then-new iPhone 7 family. I never got around to posting anything.

Sorry, Denise.

But if you still care what I think a year later here are my takeaways from what Apple introduced in September 2016:

  1. The iPhone 7 was basically an iterative improvement over the iPhone 6S, which itself was an iterative improvement over the iPhone 6. In fact, I almost wanted to call the iPhone 7 the iPhone 6SS. If you had anything older than an iPhone 6, then I hope you got an iPhone 7! In fact, in 2017, you still can.
  2. The AirPods are really cool, no matter what you hear about them. I have been using them since March, and I really like them. They work great with Apple products, and they sound just as good as the EarPods. If you can wear EarPods and like their sound quality, you’ll never go back to your wired EarPods. I haven’t!

This year, however, I couldn’t bear to let my cousin down and wait another year to post my thoughts on the new products introduced at the September 12, 2017, event. So, cuz, here are my thoughts on the stuff Apple introduced last week.

Apple Watch

I bought the first Apple Watch, even though I had mixed feelings about whole idea of a smartwatch in the first place. Although I eventually caved and bought one, I still have mixed feelings about Apple Watch in general.

First, it didn’t work like I expected. I was hoping to have apps on my wrist that would in many cases replace the need for my iPhone. However, the first-generation, which nerds mockingly refer to as the “Series 0,” Apple Watch is too darn slow for that. The recent improvements in watchOS made it a little better, but it’s maddeningly slow to open an app and get the information I need.

Second, while I found only a limited amount of utility with Apple Watch, I can’t go a day without wearing it. Part of this is because it tells time, and, it turns out, that I find that glancing at my wrist to check the time to be very useful. Also, some apps work really well as complications. For example, Dark Sky gives me the current temperature and the likelihood for rain. Also, Fantistical has a really cool complication that tells me about my current or upcoming appointments. And because I color-code my calendars, I can tell what kind of event it is: red for teaching, green for softball and cycling, blue for leisure and cultural events, yellow for travel, etc.

Third, like many others, I’ve enjoyed using Apple Watch for fitness, even if I loathe the idea of self-tracking. Apple Watch has been cool for tracking my physical activity, especially to compare my active days to my inactive days.

However, the new Series 3 watches look like really compelling upgrades. Not only does the improved processor sound like a worthwhile upgrade, perhaps making Apple Watch work like the app watch I always wanted, having a real GPS and an altimeter would be cool for outdoor adventures. The only question I have is whether I would care to spend an extra $70, plus $10 each month, for LTE.

Yes! I’m going to upgrade from my current, first-generation Series 0 to a Series 3, but I might wait until I can get a refurbished one… or one as a Christmas gift (hint, hint).

Apple TV 4K

I don’t have a 4K TV, and I already have an Apple TV that I got “free” when I signed up for DirecTV Now last year. Nonetheless, $179 seems like a lot to spend on a streaming box, even if it’s a premium one from Apple.

No. If you have a 4K TV and can get a good deal on a Apple TV 4K down the line, this might be something for you. But at the moment, it’s not for me.

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

Note: I’m not in the market for a new iPhone so I don’t have much to say about this or the iPhone X.

If the iPhone 7 was really the iPhone 6SS, as I quipped earlier, the iPhone 8 is certainly more than an iPhone 7S (or if you prefer, the iPhone 6SSS). However, there are some nifty new features that you can’t deny:

  • True Tone display.
  • All-glass body, kind of like the iPhone 4, which was my favorite of all the iPhone designs.
  • A better camera, as you expect from a new iPhone each year
  • The A11 Bionic chip that might not excite many people, but the idea of six cores working together—instead of just two or four—will make this phone scream in terms of performance.
  • The new, really cool Gold color!

Certainly, these are all great improvements, and I like the new storage tiers: 64 and 256 GB are great. Power users will appreciate having a quarter-terabyte in their hand, and casual users will be fine with only 64 GB. It’s hard to believe that the original iPhone could only store 4 and 8 GB!

However, as I am still really happy with my iPhone 7, and the 4.7-inch iPhone 8 lacks the dual-camera to power the computational photography features of the iPhone 8 Plus, I’m saving my money for another year.

No. The iPhone 8 represents the maturation of the 6-6S-7 form factor. But that does not warrant me to upgrade my iPhone 7. In fact, I would pause before upgrading even an iPhone 6S, unless that phone feels especially sluggish to you.

iPhone X

Finally, there’s the iPhone X. If you notice, I didn’t consider the Plus-sized phones. That’s because I don’t like the 5.5-inch phones. They’re too big, and I derisively call them “Dad Phones,” to associate them with “dad jokes” and “dad jeans.”

That’s why I like that Apple brought the features and the display of the big, 5.5-inch phone to smaller, 4.7-inch form factor. The bezel-less design looks great. Face ID is a pretty significant technological breakthrough, and I am confident that someday we will see this is in every Apple product—like we did with Retina Displays and with Touch ID.

Bravo, Apple!

Although I’m very impressed with all the engineering that went into making iPhone X possible, there are two things I don’t like about this phone:

  1. That unsightly notch! I understand that the notch is where the camera, speakers and microphone live, but it looks ugly. It makes the display look like a dog-eared file folder, which seems like a strange design metaphor to use for a “future” phone.
  2. While I applaud the decision to get rid of the home button, I am skeptical how great the phone will work without it. The new swipe gesture to go home and to switch apps appears to be a great solution because it relies on the decade-long muscle memory we’ve developed for pressing that button. However, that feature only seems to work when the phone is awake, much like it does on the Apple Watch. That might pose a problem: Raise to Wake doesn’t reliably work for me so pressing the screen, as I do on Apple Watch, will have to be the new default gesture. Or maybe Raise to Wake will work 100% of the time now… who knows?

These are admittedly minor quibbles. But then again the advantages of this particular phone also appear similarly trivial. It’s cool, but I still don’t see this as a fully baked product, as I do see with Apple Watch Series 3 or with iPhone 7 and 8.

No… Not yet. We all know this will not be the only bezel-less iPhone Apple will ever make. I certainly look forward to what they will introduce in the coming years because while we’ve seen the evolution of the iPhone mature in the 6-6s-7-8 and series, iPhone X looks to be beginning of a revolution for Apple’s smartphone.

Software

That’s not to say that you won’t get anything new from Apple without spending money this fall. Every Apple product noted above, and even ones not mentioned such as the Mac and iPad lines, are due to receive really compelling software upgrades.

Software Upgrade Target Hardware Release Date
iOS 11 iPhone and iPad September 19
tvOS 11 Apple TV September 19
watchOS 4 Apple Watch September 19
macOS High Sierra Mac September 25

I am planning on upgrading the software on my devices as soon as they are released, except that I might wait to upgrade my Mac to High Sierra and APFS.

But, dear Cousin, I should offer this warning first: between download time and the painfully long amount of time it takes to update the software on Apple Watch, you might spend a good part of the day doing these upgrades.

Once these upgrades are done, however, it might feel like you got all-new devices. Or they might start running slow and make you wish you bought new ones.

Ride with GPS Now Supports Apple Watch Navigation for Bicycle Routes

When Apple announced the Apple Watch back in 2014, I was at first skeptical about its utility but then after some consideration I reversed my position and saw how a smartwatch could be useful. One possible function that excited me was using the watch for navigating bicycling routes planned with route-planning software, such as Strava or Ride with GPS. At the time, I wrote:

In due time, I can see [Strava and Ride with GPS] making apps for the Apple Watch, just as they do for iPhone and other smartphones. Their smartwatch apps could communicate with an iPhone, securely stored in a Ziploc bag and safely tucked away in a jersey pockets. In fact, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that both of these companies have at least considered developing for the Apple Watch.

While I don’t use Strava, I learned earlier this week that Ride with GPS’s Apple Watch app can now display alerts for navigation. While I still rely on a Garmin Edge bike-mounted computer for navigation and to record my rides, this helps bring the smartwatch closer to what I saw as its potential. In fact, if you have an Apple Watch Series 2 (the one with a built-in GPS), you can leave your phone at home: the Apple Watch will navigate and record your ride all on its own.

I’ve said it before, but it might bear repeating. Sorry, Garmin. The days of the dedicated GPS bike computer appear to be numbered.

I Quant Do This Anymore

WNYC’s Note to Self recently asked its listeners to share stories about using mobile apps and fitness trackers to quantify their daily progress—with dieting, sleeping, fitness—for the episode, Your Quantified Body, Your Quantified Self.

I’ve maintained a pretty ambivalent attitude towards the new wave of trackers that have emerged over the last decade with the advent of the smartphone and the proliferation of wearables. In the mid-2000s, I used to employ a heart rate monitor to do interval training for bicycle rides. I have since soured on the practice. After sinking hundred of dollars on a couple of Polar devices, I learned that the best way to train is to simply put in the miles and find a few hills along the way. Of course, others swear by it so your “mileage” may vary.

However, I have unwittingly resumed tracking my activity after getting an Apple Watch. The stock Activity app not only counts my steps, but it awards me circles for meeting daily goals. If I keep active for thirty minutes throughout the day, I get a green circle. If I avert sitting for a full hour, twelve hours throughout the day, I get a blue circle. And if I burn 870 calories, I get a red circle. I regularly meet these goals, but unless I bike more than fifteen miles or take a very long walk, it’s easy to miss meeting the calorie-burned goal. Thus, no red circle for me.

In the episode, we hear about people becoming anxious in meeting their goals, including walking laps around their kitchen before bedtime in order to walk the requisite number of steps. This resonated with me because, once, I was twenty calories short of my daily goal. My solution? I walked to the corner pizza shop to burn those twenty-plus calories and to get that elusive red circle. But I also bought 300-calorie slice of pepperoni.

Obviously, it would have been better not meeting my calorie-burned goal. The Apple Watch and its activity tracking couldn’t save me from my own poor eating choices, and because it does not record my eating, it was none the wiser.

We also hear that for many who obsessively tracked their fitness, dieting, or sleep, they almost invariably were overcome with anxiety, fearing they would not meet their goals. Ultimately, this anxiety leads to their abandoning the trackers. One participant noted that instead of using the notifications to make exercising a regular habit, she noted that dismissing and ignoring the reminders became the habit. Overall, the participants all soured on the experience, much like I did with heart-rate monitoring a decade ago and with journaling and habit-tracking in recent years.


I should note that I have found this podcast series and New Tech City—its predecessor as a segment on WNYC radio—to be bothersome. The host is too technoutopian for my taste and seems very cozy with the technocratic entrepreneurs that she profiles. In this episode, instead of conceding that trackers offer only temporary benefits for most, she imagined possibilities for “what will they think of next?”

You might take a personality test before you choose a tracker, one that understands that you are a social butterfly, and you need social support. You need that competitive edge with your friends… Or you would respond better to a fitness tracker that lights up in soothing colors, indicating it’s lovely outside, the sun is about to set, and right now would be the perfect time to take a twenty-minute walk.

Did you get that? It’s not that constantly tracking our eating, sleeping, and exercise are unnatural processes that as humans we will invariably abandon. It’s that the tracking devices and apps simply don’t have enough data. Yet.

Four Weeks with the Apple Watch

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

My first Apple Watch Sport, in all its Space Black glory.

After kvetching about its purpose, my need for one, and its place in the personal computing ecosystem, I recognized that having an Apple Watch could serve a very important purpose: it would free me from retrieving my iPhone in specific situations, such as when riding a bicycle. Like other commenters, I saw its primary function as the computer-you-have-on-you so you can stay off your computer.

The smartphone exploded because, like its built-in camera, it was always with you, and because it was always there, you used even more than a computer and in ways you never used a personal computer. The watch isn’t there yet, and who knows if it will ever approach that level of utility. But in the last four weeks, I’ve really appreciated some of the things Apple Watch does that a smartphone, such as my iPhone, does not do.

The following are not revolutionary differences, but instead are minor tweaks to my own personal computing.

About Apple Watch, About MacBook, About Face

Almost immediately after the Apple Event on March 9, I had formed two basic opinions about the two most noteworthy products introduced that day. First, I was ready to jettison my trusty old 2009 MacBook Pro for the new 12-inch Macbook with Retina display. Second, now that Apple had announced more details about the Watch, including pricing, I was intrigued but not convinced I could use one. I was also interested by the third big announcement, regarding HBO Now as a standalone product, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the runaway hit some had predicted it could be. However, in the two months since the Apple event, I have almost completely reversed my thinking on all these fronts.

The Apple Watch now seems like a must-have device

Many of my Apple-obsessed friends listed having a “Dick Tracy watch” as their primary reason for wanting an Apple Watch. They might be disappointed as some early reviews judge the sound quality as, shall we say, suboptimal. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, I realized the utility of the Apple Watch after taking a bike ride. It will save me from having to fetch my phone from my pocket or bag: something we do, according to David Pogue, over a hundred times a day.

The new MacBook seems like an overpriced and underpowered device

I have to admit that, despite keeping up with iOS devices and knowing a bit their specs and performance metrics, I am relatively uninformed about recent Mac desktops and portables. Sure, I know that these things were getting thinner and lighter. Yes, I knew that Apple had banished the optical drive and spinning hard disk from most of their notebooks. And, of course, I was absolutely convinced that a Retina display would be a must-have feature for my next computer.

However, I didn’t know exactly how much had changed since 2009. RAM has not only become more capacious, but also a lot faster. Apple has ditched SATA for a much faster PCI Express bus with multiple “lanes” for increased throughput. And for all that performance, it is now common to get through ten hours of work on a single battery charge, compared to four hours with my 2009 MacBook Pro. All of the reasons I liked the new MacBook were already available in a more powerful device: a Retina MacBook Pro. However, the most compelling reasons for getting a MacBook— the remarkable thinness, the lightweight two-pound frame, and fanless design—all come with a stiff performance penalty.

Despite sacrificing performance for portability, the pricing is not all that different between a new MacBook and a Retina MacBook Pro. Consider that the new MacBook retails for $1299 for 8 GB of RAM and a paltry 256 GB drive of storage. For $300 more, you get a more reasonable 512 GB of solid-state storage with a slightly faster processor. I would have only considered the latter model because that small storage can’t be upgraded.

On the other hand, the top-of-the-line 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, with a much faster processor, similar battery life, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and lots of ports, retails for $1799. But a lifetime of computer ownership has taught me to get as much RAM. Because Apple solders the RAM to the logic board, you are either stuck with 8 GB or you have to shell out another $200 to “future-proof” your computer with 16 GB of RAM. Upgrading to 16 GB of RAM is not possible on a new MacBook.

Product Display Max RAM Storage Battery Weight Price
MacBook 12-inch Retina 8 GB 512 GB 10 hours 2.0 lbs $1599
MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina 16 GB 512 GB 10 hours 3.5 lbs $1999

Andrew Cunningham, of Ars Technica, has come to a similar conclusion when reviewing the new 12-inch Macbook:

if you want better battery life and don’t mind the screen, go with the 13-inch Air. If you want a nice screen and don’t mind the weight, go with a 13-inch Pro. If you want a Mac on a (relative) budget, try the 11-inch Air. If you want the size, weight, and screen and can live with the dongles, performance, and battery life, that’s when the MacBook becomes a viable option.

I fell into the second camp: the user who really wants a nice screen and doesn’t think 3.5 pounds qualifies as heavy. And, although I do have an elegant solution, I hate carrying dongles!

Yet, the most compelling reason for going with the Retina MacBook Pro instead of the new MacBook is that Apple quietly updated the 13″ MacBook Pro on March 9. Not only does the Early-2015 13″ MacBook Pro come with a faster Intel Broadwell U processor, faster RAM, and an improved PCI Express bus for speedier solid state storage, it also comes with that intriguing Force Touchpad. It’s hard not to get excited about this first-generation MacBook, but at this stage, I’d prefer a more mature product over a completely new one with a lot of promise.

Or at least I do prefer that with computers. I already ordered an Apple Watch, and I’m running through the first-month trial of HBO Now.