Tagged: Apple

A Month with my New, Refurbished Apple Watch Series 3, or Series 3 > Series 0

When Apple introduced the fourth version of Apple Watch, which they called Series 3, I was excited about upgrading my first-generation Apple Watch, but I wanted to wait until either Apple began to sell certified refurbished watches or I received one as a gift.

Since late February, I have been using a Series 3 GPS (the non-LTE) model that replaced my nearly three year-old, first-generation Apple Watch, which we nerds derisively call “Series 0” because it did almost nothing. As for how I got this shiny new watch, I was able to scoop up a refurbished 42mm, Series 3 in Space Black when Apple began stocking them in late February.

The new (refurbished) watch is a significant upgrade over my first-generation Apple Watch for three key reasons:

  1. It is much faster. As friends and strangers alike asked me whether I would recommend an Apple Watch, I usually said no. Its best feature, I noted, was that it could tell time. But I was hoping for something like an iPhone for my writst. The Series 0 did not offer that, but the Series 3 works like I wish Apple Watch did back in 2015.

  2. It is much more useful. The faster processor and the dual-core architecture of the Series 3 offers much more utility over the single-core processor of the Series 0. Most of it is because of speed. I can use my Apple Watch almost like I can use my iPhone. Even Siri has become useful. Not only does it talk, when I bark the command “start a cycling workout,” it will really start a launch the Activity app and start a Cycling Workout. And it will actually start recording my bike ride before I’ve ridden at least two miles, as used to happen with my Series 0.

  3. The battery lasts a lot longer. Nearly three years of daily charging cycles had taken its toll on my Series 0 battery. Whereas the Series 0 would get through about a day and a half between charge cycles when it was new, the aging battery had noticeably degraded. I could barely get through my waking day between charges.

    The new battery on my Series 3, on the other hand (pun alert!), has gone as long as two full days between charges. And the battery also appears to charge a lot faster. The new battery allows me to wear my watch to sleep, and despite my skepticism of the quantified life, I have been enjoying monitoring my sleep.

  4. The display is noticeably brighter and with better color. It’s funny how Apple continually ups the ante with displays, even when the previous ones were more than adequate. I didn’t think the display on my iPhone 3G was deficient, but when iPhone 4 introduced us to Retina displays in 2010, there was no going back. The same has been true for iPad Pro’s ProMotion, True Tone display over whatever display my previous iPad, the 2013 iPad Air, was sporting.

    The display on the Apple Watch Series 3 is much clearer and peering at it is a significantly nicer experience. Who knew?

Overall, I’m happy to have upgraded. The Series 3 is significantly more useful than my first-generation Series 0, and the Watch has become a bigger part of my day-to-day activities. The only downside I noticed is that the Series 3 is thicker than a Series 0. MacTracker reports that indeed the newer Apple Watch is 0.45 inches thick compared to 0.41 inches thick for the older one. But it doesn’t feel any heavier so who cares?

If my cousin, who once came to this site to gauge my opinion of the then-new iPhone 7, is reading this, I say this: Apple Watch Series 3 is the Apple Watch I’ve been expecting since they were announced in 2014. It’s about time!

There’s No Accounting for Taste

Longtime readers of this site know that I am almost universally appreciative of everything that Apple does. But over the last few years, there was one thing about Apple that has bugged me: their taste in music—and now TV shows—is pretty lame. I think this casts a shadow over their otherwise nifty products, which reflect a refined sense of taste in their hardware and software design that is unmatched. And now that they’re getting involved in TV and movie production, I worry about what they’ll produce.

iTunes Podcast Directory

Back in the summer of 2005, Apple first entered the podcasting game by integrating it into iTunes. Up until that point, listening to podcasts was an exclusive domain for nerds. It required third-party software: I used iPodder. It required some understanding of RSS and how it worked, and it required expertise in knowing where to find podcasts in the first place. I vaguely remember listening to a subscribing to a few podcasts back then. Some related to “budget rock” music, some to news and politics, and a bunch other nerdy fare. Suffice to say, these reflected my own personal tastes.

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple's Podcast Directory, July 2005

Apple sought to introduce podcasts to the masses when it integrated podcasts into iTunes 4.9, making it easier to add podcasts to your IPod. They also added Podcasts Directory to the iTunes Store, a feature that remains to this day. However, I disliked the store because it highlighted the podcasts of the big media companies, especially Disney, a media conglomerate that Apple has had a close relationship by virtue of Steve Jobs and Pixar. I wrote as much on the old, Moveable Type version of this site:

But what is most significantly different from all the various podcasting directories and the new iTunes is that its podcast directory spotlights the podcasts from large content producers. When you first open the directory, you’ll note the presence of the big media companies. When I opened the directory this afternoon, I got a podcast for ABC News and one for ESPN. Clearly, there’s an arrangement with Disney. But the other partnerships seem a bit more tailored for the iPod crowd’s tastes, according to Madison Avenue. There’s NPR affiliates (KCRW, WGBH), CBC, and Bravo’s Queer Eye. If you dig a little deeper, you can find a large number of independent podcasts, but it’s like finding that rare imported beer at your supermarket. You’re going to have to dig past all the Bud, Miller, and Coors to find it.

The popularity and variety of podcasts has exploded since 2005, although its rise has been uneven. While there have been podcasting stars, such as Adam Carolla and Serial and now Bill Simmons and The Daily, podcasting remains a relatively open platform with an wide variety of choices for every possible taste. Podcasting in 2018 is not wholly determined by the Podcast Directory of 2005.

Keep Music Personal

Another example of my distaste for Apple’s taste is the live musical performances integrated into many keynotes.1 I relish each and every keynote address and product launch Apple does. These are not just well-produced media events; they’re often studies in great theater. But I cringed, for example, when John Mayer came on at the end of the iPhone’s introduction at the 2007 Macworld Expo.

John Mayer playing at the Macworld 2007 keynote where the iPhone was announced / Photo by Derrick Story

It’s understandable if no one remembers Mayer playing this keynote. After all, he followed the introduction of what would become the most influential computing device in a generation, and no one can really tell you what else Apple also announced that day. I don’t have anything against John Mayer. I hear he’s a fine musician, and I feel bad that he had to follow the iPhone in the same way I feel bad that the Rolling Stones followed James Brown in The T.A.M.I. Show. But having these performances felt like Apple was trying to shove some middle-of-the-road rock music into our iPods and, later, our iPhones. Apple has continued this tradition with having Coldplay’s Chris Martin perform in 2010 and Sia take the stage in 2016. Neither is music that I would ever listen to on my own. And when these performances start, I always stop watching the keynote.

The public seemed most upset about Apple’s middle-of-the-road tastes in 2014 when they “bought” U2’s new album, Songs of Experience, and added it to everyone’s iTunes account. Undoubtedly there must have been some U2 fans who appreciated getting this album on their iPhones, but I think Apple overestimated the breadth of U2’s appeal. A lot of people were angry about this unwanted gift. Even if U2 was the most popular living rock band in the world, which they arguably were, I understand the backlash because, for years, Apple has marketed their devices as personal and adding U2 to everyone’s device seemed invasive.

I initially feared that Apple Music would turn out to be a disaster because they focused so heavily on the Beats Music aspect of it. I watched the June 2015 WWDC keynote with great interest, and the Apple Music introduction was by far the least impressive of all their announcements that day. Not only that, the Beats Radio stations and programs reminded me a lot of what we saw featured in the iTunes Podcasts Directory: a bunch of middle-of-the-road offerings that betrayed why I liked podcasts and streaming music versus terrestrial and satellite radio, and why I liked buying CDs online instead of the limited selection at the local music store.

If you watch the video of the Apple Music introduction, there’s something off-putting about watching Eddy Cue make playlists. His personal, eclectic taste isn’t mine. Did you just tell me to listen to Loren Kramar? Kramar, by the way, hasn’t released anything since the 2015 single that Cue demos.

There’s no way for me to prove this, but I think that Apple Music is succeeding despite Beats Radio not because of it. Apple Music is doing well because it lets users stream music in much the same way Spotify does, although I suspect Spotify’s recommendation algorithm is better than Apple Music because Apple kinda sucks at AI.

All Apple Music had to do to succeed was flawlessly allow subscribers to find and play whatever music they want, reflecting each user’s personal taste, not the middle-of-the-road taste that Apple seems to espouse.

Now, We Add Pictures to Sound

On a recent episode of the Upgrade podcast, Jason Snell and Myke Hurley reported that Bryan Fuller had left the Apple’s revival of the 1980s anthology TV series Amazing Stories. They speculated that Fuller left because he wanted the license to produce adult, dystopian programming, something like a Black Mirror on Netflix, but that Apple wants programming that is safe to show on a big screen in Apple Stores. They reason that this caused some creative friction between Fuller’s and Apple’s goals, and that led to Fuller’s exit.

Of course, nobody except Fuller really knows the exact “creative differences” that led him to leave the series, and Snell and Hurley indicate as much. But their reasonable speculative explanation shows that Apple has established a specific taste for content, and it’s not necessarily as groundbreaking as they might think it is.


  1. There’s also the comedic bits at the beginning of recent keynotes. While I normally like James Corden, I’d much rather listen to Craig Federighi tell some dad jokes about macOS than watch Carpool Karaoke with Tim Cook and Pharrell

Apple, Lithium-Ion Batteries, and the Slowdown Conspiracy

I have few friends and family members that marvel at how I always seem to have the newest iPhone. That’s not actually true. I only get a new phone, usually on launch day, every two years, and I certainly didn’t get an iPhone X this year. I suspect that they think I’m always going to get a new phone because some of those friends keep their trusty iPhones around for a while. Case in point: I have a friend with an iPhone 5s, a phone released in 2013. Four years is a couple of epochs in the history of smartphones.

That same friend who carries a four-year old iPhone is constantly searching for a free power outlet to charge her phone or using a portable battery pack to keep it going throughout the day. She reports that the battery level will quickly go from 50% to 40% to 20% to dead in a short amount of time. She insists that she will buy a new phone soon so she can stop worrying about this. However, I insist that if she’s never replaced the battery inside her phone, her phone powers off because the battery is four years old and can’t hold a charge like it did when a year ago, much less like it did when it was new.

The lithium-ion batteries in our devices offer the best mass-produced, battery technology around, but it is often the first thing to fail on our devices. A lithium-ion battery will last between 500-1000 charge cycles. If you run down your battery every day and charge it at night, that is one charge cycle. Many of us do this multiple times per day. That means that we’re likely running our phone batteries through 500 charge cycles in a single year. Replacing a battery—something that costs between $40 and $80 and takes about an hour of time—will give the device a whole new life.

Earlier this month, Apple publicly admitted that it slows down the processor in older phones with aging batteries to prevent the sudden shutdowns that my friend—and many others—experience every day, especially in cold weather. The processor slow down, I suspect, is like what happens when a user turns on Power Save mode. Operations on the phone get slower but not so much so that the phone becomes unusable. In fact, I’ve seen many users keep their phones on Power Save mode almost all of the time, ostensibly to run their phones longer without needing to charge it throughout the day.

Conspiracy theorists believe that Apple slows down older iPhones to get people to buy a new iPhone. There are many reasons why this is not a credible theory, including:

  • it’s unlikely that Apple software engineers are adding code to slow down iPhones when they reach a certain age because it seems antithetical to what Apple as a company does.
  • a lot of these older phones are still for sale as new phones, including the 2015 iPhone 6s and presumably will still support for another two years.
  • if people feel their iPhones get prematurely slow, why would they buy another iPhone instead of ditching Apple altogether?

The irony of this conspiracy theory is that Apple slowing down the phones was an attempt to get people to use their phones longer, not to buy new ones. The slowdown was designed to stop this very process:

  1. Aging iPhone either suddenly shuts down or runs down in battery level, e.g., from 20% to dead, in a short amount of time.
  2. User gets frustrated and begins to consider buying a new phone.
  3. User buys a new phone.

Yes, this solves the battery problem, but if your got a flat tire on a bike or a dead car battery, you wouldn’t buy a new bike or a new car, would you?

Instead, if a user updated her iPhone 5s to 10.2.1 or iPhone 7 to 11.2, her phone with a depleted battery would slow down to maintain a charge longer and prevent those sudden shutdowns or rundowns. And given how most smartphone users under-utilize their phones, it’s likely this decrease in performance would go unnoticed. The benchmarking scores, which show a 50% decrease in performance, push the iPhones much harder than ordinary users do.

Anecdotally, I ran my iPhone battery down to 20% yesterday in less than six hours, which is likely the topic for another post. But during its last twenty percent charge, while in Power Save mode, the phone lasted for another three hours. I was still able to use the phone without it performing significantly slower.

It wouldn’t surprise me that people were using a perceived slowdown as a reason to buy a new phone, not because it actually was any slower but because they simply want a new phone. Or, they wanted to buy a new phone because, like a sell-by date on a packaged food item, they felt it had gone bad, even if it still passed the smell test and was still safe to eat.

Apple’s fault here was in not telling its users that this was how they fixed the sudden shutdown problem in iPhone 6s earlier this year by not showing the battery’s health and the number of charge cycles it has undergone in iOS. I hope the promised software update in 2018 will do just that: allow the user to determine whether their battery health is low and know that replacing the battery will bring the phone back to life.

iPhone X Goes on Sale at 3:00 AM; I’ll Be Asleep

It’s been several weeks since the September 2017 Apple Event, where the company introduced the iPhone X, as well as the Apple Watch Series 3, the iPhone 8, and the Apple TV 4K. All of these products have been available for a while now, except for iPhone X. The iPhone X will be available for preorder on Friday, October 27 at 12:00 AM, US Pacific Time, which is 3:00 AM where I live. In years past, I’ve set an alarm for 2:55 AM, launched my Apple Store app, and preordered my phone for delivery the following week.

This time, I’ll be skipping the 3:00 AM preorder routine for two reasons:

  1. I still really like my iPhone 7. Also, iOS 11 made my phone run (or seem to run) a little faster. Another consideration for sticking with my iPhone 7 is that I still have about $300 left to pay on my AT&T installment plan.
  2. The iPhone X is basically a new product for Apple. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t have a great track record for new products. Think about how bad the original iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch products were compared to the second iterations. The iPhone 3G, iPad 2, and the dual core Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2 were all vastly superior to the first versions of the product. I expect the iPhone X hardware to be like a first-generation product, not the twelfth iteration of iPhone, although the maturity of iOS will likely mitigate some of this.

But again, this is just me. I know plenty of people that want this phone, and I certainly hope they don’t have to wait long to get their hands on one. If you are one of the hopefuls, remember to…

  1. Download the Apple Store app for your best chance at buying the phone and getting it on launch day.
  2. Set your alarm for a few minutes before midnight (US Pacific Time).
  3. Launch your app at the stroke of midnight (US Pacific Time) and begin shopping. If iPhone X does not yet appear for sale, swipe-quit the app and try again.

Since I live in New York City, where Apple stores abound, I usually opt to pick up the phone at the store. Not only do I not have to pace around my apartment or office as I await a UPS or FedEx driver, I also get to experience a little of that launch day atmosphere. Plus, I can usually get the new phone as early as 8:00 AM a week after placing my preorder.

The 2016 Mac Notebooks Can’t Take “Crumbs in the Keyboard”

It’s been a year since Apple released the 2016 models of the current MacBook Pro and MacBook notebooks, and it looks like the new butterfly-switch keyboard suffers from a major design flaw that allows a piece of dust—or a crumb in the keyboard—to render it useless.

This is not something I’ve experienced firsthand, as I own a 2015 MacBook Pro. That was the first one to offer the new 3D Touch Trackpad, but it still used the legacy scissor-switch keyboard.

Apple blogger John Gruber has taken up this cause and rightly argues that a notebook computer keyboard should be “totally reliable. So reliable that it’s confusing when something does go wrong.” He also notes that Apple laptop keyboards have been “totally reliable” until the release of the 2016 notebooks, although I can point out a different experience with my second Apple laptop—a 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4, released in early 2005.

This was a great laptop, and I used it from 2005 to about 2009, when I sprung for a unibody MacBook Pro that I used for another six years. One major part of its longevity was that I was able to upgrade the RAM after a couple of years, and after running out storage, I was able to replace the hard drive with a larger one. Waiting a couple of years for these upgrades allowed the price of memory and storage to drop.

But this particular laptop did have one notable flaw: the keyboard. The keys were a bit spongy, and they lacked a satisfyingly quick “tap.” This was more or less typical of Apple keyboards before the Aluminum keyboard from the late-2000s. Another issue with this keyboard is that the key caps would break.

I experienced this on multiple occasions, but at the time, I could take my Powerbook to any Apple Store, and a Genius would replace the key cap at no charge. This took about ten minutes. As with the easy upgradability of the memory and the storage, the easy repairability of this Powerbook model made this a very long-lasting machine.

This was also true of my 2009 MacBook Pro. Because I could open the case and remove parts as needed, I was able to rescue it after I spilled seltzer on it by opening the case. And when I broke the fan cable in trying another repair, I was able to solder it back on to the logic board.

However, this is not true of the current MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup. Apparently, if a single piece of dust or a crumb gets underneath the key cap, you won’t be able to type. And removing the offending scrap of food could require replacing the entire top case.

Over the last decade, Apple has made their laptops much harder to repair in order to shrink their size and weight. Many of these steps offered other benefits. For example, when Apple stopped making batteries that you could remove and swap with a spare battery, the life of the new built-in battery increased: from three hours to about seven. Yes, the laptop became thinner, but it offered such a dramatic improvement in battery life that no one missed carrying (and charging) a spare battery.

However, these steps have now gone too far. Apple has prioritized the lightweight and thinness of their notebooks over the repairability and upgradability. At first, they made the memory permanent. Whatever memory you have for your MacBook or MacBook Pro notebook is basically all you will ever have. Upgrading the storage is also next to impossible. But those are solid-state components, and it’s unlikely that you will need to replace those under normal circumstances. As my dad told me when I was kid, solid-state parts don’t break, but moving parts do.

Curiously, the keyboard is the only part of the MacBook and MacBook Pro that moves and it is just as important as the memory and the storage. For that reason, it needs to be both functional and serviceable. Sadly, should you be eating lunch while working on your MacBook Pro might be render the keyboard to be neither functional nor serviceable.

Panic over the Bluetooth and WiFi Buttons in iOS 11

iOS 11 came out yesterday. iOS 11 release day is an exciting occasion for many people. Hardcore users anxiously await 10:00 AM Pacific Time after which they can download and install the update. Developers push updated versions of their apps to take advantage of new features available to iPhone and iPad users. (The feature that developers seemed most excited to utilize was drag-and-drop.) And then, the tech press gets crazy trying to find something wrong so they can write headline-grabbing warnings about some supposedly fatal flaw in the operating system.

One such iOS 11 “flaw” that has been getting some panicked attention is the Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center. In previous versions of iOS, turning off either of these radios from Control Center completely disabled these radios. However, in iOS 11, they remain active to allow connections with Apple devices and services, such as “AirDrop, AirPlay, Apple Pencil, Apple Watch, Location Services, and other features.” You can see that the Bluetooth button in Control Center does not disable Bluetooth in Settings in this video.

Writing for VICE Motherboard, Lorenzo Francheschi-Bicchierai notes that turning off WiFi or Bluetooth has a lot of utility for security reasons because it “reduces your exposure to potential attacks.” The new Bluetooth and WiFi buttons in Control Center interface will not quarantine you from such an attack.

However, none of these pieces mention that you can disable WiFi and Bluetooth with one tap: you can activate Airplane Mode.

I tested this myself when I saw that AirDrop still works when I turn off Bluetooth and WiFi in Control Center. However, AirDrop didn’t work after I turned on Airplane Mode from that Control Center button.

While turning off WiFi and Bluetooth might seem like a way to disable to radios in your phone there are at least two others that are still running, independent of WiFi or Bluetooth:

  1. Cellular radios. You can still connect to your cellular network without WiFi or Bluetooth and those radios still operate.
  2. GPS. I learned this when I turned off Bluetooth and WiFI on an airplane, and a photo I snapped while airborne had geolocation data. Apparently, sitting near the window was enough to receive a GPS signal.

As with Bluetooth and WiFi, you can disable these radios with a single tap of the Airplane Mode icon.

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.

Why You Shouldn’t Believe That You Shouldn’t Buy AirPods

Back in September, shortly after Apple announced the new AirPods, the folks at Lightning Cans posted a lengthy article explaining why you shouldn’t buy Apple AirPods.

Their conclusion is based on two claims. Unfortunately, both are wrong.

“Because AirPods use Bluetooth, and Bluetooth ‘Is Terrible,’ Thus AirPods Sound Terrible”

First, they claim that AirPods will produce terrible audio because they use Bluetooth, and Bluetooth produces terrible audio. In both theory and in practice, sending an audio signal over a wire is much better than sending one over a wireless connection. As the article notes, “Audiophiles have long been repulsed by Bluetooth audio. The frequency range is limited, the sounds are distorted, connecting can be a nightmare and audio can stutter or stop mid-stream.” But Apple might have overcome many of these challenges, not by sending a raw audio signal over the wire, but instead sending a digital audio stream that is decoded by the new W1 chip.

In practice, these standard criticisms against Bluetooth headphones aren’t there with the AirPods. The quality of the audio is about the same as what you get with the wired EarPods. I wouldn’t have expected any less (or any more) than that. However, there are some issues with audio dropping out from time-to-time. I notice this mostly when I’m streaming audio in busy areas, such as Union Square in Manhattan, for example. I’m not sure if this is because my iPhone can’t stream the audio, using the cellular radio, and send the digital audio signal to both AirPods, in a crowded area with a lot of radio interference.

Also, while it is true that pairing a Bluetooth audio device, such as headphones or a speaker, can indeed be difficult, connecting these AirPods take no time. I opened the case with one hand while I had my iPhone in the other, and after one tap to connect my AirPods, I was listening to them in a matter of seconds. This process also invisibly paired my AirPods with my other devices: my iPad, my Apple Watch, and my MacBook Pro. This was the ultimate Apple experience: It Just Works.

In short, compared to the wired EarPods, AirPods sound just as good, and they work almost as well for keeping an audio stream going. However, there’s one difference between AirPods and EarPods: there’s no tangled wire that becomes a white bird’s nest in your hand.

“AirPods Require a Wired Connection for Charging”

Second, they claim that although AirPods are wireless, they require a charging case that is wired. They write, AirPods “have an internal lithium ion battery that works for a whopping 5 hours (so like, maybe a couple days), and then when they die, you need to put them into their special ‘charging case,’ which then needs to be plugged into a power source via a cable.”

This misrepresents how one charges AirPods. While it is true that you have to use the case to charge the AirPods, the case itself has its own battery. The charging case itself does not have to be connected to anything to charge the AirPods. However, because the case has a battery, which does become depleted after about five AirPods-charging cycles, it does need to be connected to a Lightning cable and a USB power source. You can use the same charging cable as the one you have for your phone. Moreover, charging the case takes a very short amount of time, less than an hour.

At some point, yes, charging AirPods requires a wired connection. But this is similar to what you have to do with just about any mobile device but less often. If you have an iPad, you normally don’t have to charge it on a nightly basis like you have to do with your phone. This is similar to what you do with the AirPods charging case. An occasional wired charge will suffice. But otherwise, using and charging AirPods is a wholly wireless experience.

Conclusion

This is the danger is writing a review of a product before it is released. Having used AirPods for a little more than two months, I can tell you that this is the best new Apple product the company has released in a long time. The audio is comparable to what you get with wired EarPods. Apple has produced wireless, Bluetooth earphones that sound as good as the wired ones. No doubt, EarPods provide a more reliable connection, but the convenience of going wireless outweighs those occasional connection issues.

Ultimately, consumer goods succeed not just on quality but on convenience. CDs provide superior audio fidelity than MP3/AAC files, but carrying around CDs is inherently inconvenient. And if you don’t believe that Bluetooth can succeed in the consumer space, I will admit my early skepticism about WiFi nearly twenty years ago: “isn’t Ethernet more reliable?” It is, but imagine what a smartphone would be like if we were tethered to a network router, untangling bird’s nests of Cat-6 cables.

And, no, they don’t fall out of your ears.

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Apple Pay Offers a Free Suburban New York Train Ride

Despite using Apple Pay since getting an iPhone 6 in 2014, I didn’t know until today that Apple maintained an offers page, or at least that they posted one for the holidays.

There’s some very compelling offers, such as…

That last one comes about a week too late for me. I did take an MTA Metro North train after Thanksgiving, returning from an short bike ride to Tarrytown, but this offer didn’t take effect until December 1.
Also, the offer expires on January 1, which is a shame. I would have appreciated a discount on the $36 round-trip fare to Greenport or Montauk when cycling season begins anew next year.

OS X-Files

I have been slowly catching up with the tenth season of the X-Files, otherwise known as the thing that Fox needed to air after the NFC Championship Game wrapped up in late-January.

The fifth and penultimate episode of the tenth season, “Babylon”, bears an uncanny resemblance to the recent events in San Bernadino and the aftermath of gathering information from one of the terrorists. In the episode, a couple of young Muslim men detonate a bomb an art gallery in Texas, exhibiting a painting that depicts Allah “sitting on a toilet defecating radical Islamists.” One of the suicide bombers barely survives the attack. The FBI is interested if he has any information about a larger terrorist cell or a possible future attack, but because he is in a persistent vegetative state and imminently close to death, he is not talking. To gather any possibly useful intel, Mulder and Scully each separately try to “listen” to his thoughts to uncover any useful information.

This reminded me of the FBI and Apple.

I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a stretch to relate this to the protracted battle between the FBI and Apple. In both the real-life and the X-Files cases, the FBI is seeking information from a “dead” terrorist. The real FBI is asking Apple to defeat its own security protocols to unlock his phone, while the TV FBI tries two different methods to read the bomber’s mind. To no one’s surprise, Mulder’s method seemed a lot more fun than Scully’s: we see a few familiar faces during “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Mulder.”

I won’t spoil how they try to get the information or whether they succeed, but I wonder what kind of software can the FBI compel someone to write to read someone’s thoughts. Is that covered under the “All Writs Act,” too?