Saturday, March 05

HeartWatch and Sleep++ Hit 2.0

Recent 2.0 updates to two apps, Sleep++ and HeartWatch, are bright spots on a presently dim Apple Watch app horizon.

I don’t currently have a strong interest in sleep tracking, so I can’t verify the strong reviews the Sleep++ is getting. HeartWatch, however, is an app I have been using ever since I first heard about it over on MacStories. The 2.0 release is a huge update that not only improves heart rate tracking but also provides a substantial upgrade in the visual representation of your heart data. I love going into the app every day to see how I’m doing in the three basic heart rate zones.

The Apple Watch is not yet a mainstream must have, but it is shaping up to be a compelling health tracking platform and these are just two apps that can give you a peek into a healthier lifestyle.

Thursday, November 12

The New Apple TV

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I pre-ordered an Apple TV as soon as Apple began accepting orders and, yes, I paid extra for release day delivery.

Here are some quick thoughts after a few days of messing around with it:

Siri: Siri on Apple TV isn’t perfect or comprehensive yet, but it is pretty close to great. Search is awesome, asking about weather, sports scores, and stocks is nifty and useful, and playback tricks like “go back or skip ahead x seconds” and “what did he say” have already passed the inflection point from gimmick to standard usage pattern in my house. We’ve legitimately used “what did he say” several times while watching a quiet scene in a movie or TV show; and when the 10-second skip/go back feature on the standard touch interface doesn’t cut it, we use the Siri command “go back/skip ahead blank seconds” for more precise movement. Macworld has a great list of all the things Siri can do on the new Apple TV.

Siri / Touchpad Remote: I love the new remote. I do sometimes inadvertantly initiate scrubbing but I’d personally rather have that over what we previously had. I still use my Fire TV occasionally (primarily for Amazon Prime content) and I miss the touchpad interface when I do. Navigation feels more convenient with the added buttons, though it does take a bit of effort to acclimate and remember what is there and where. Understandable and probably almost unavoidable. There are some shortcuts that are nice, so take a moment to learn some of those. Like the rest of the tech press, I’m disappointed that the Apple TV Remote apps on iOS and Apple Watch weren’t upgraded to support the new Apple TV. Hopefully that is coming. I can live with only having the new remote, though, so it’s certainly not something that’s preventing me from enjoying the overall experience.

Apps: The App Store gets the nod for Most Important Underwhelming feature of the new Apple TV. Why? Because apps are old news both to smartphone users and owners of other streaming boxes (I see you Fire TV, Chromecast, and Roku). But. BUT. While all of those platforms are perfectly capable, I think it’s only fair to tip your hat to the depth and breadth of Apple’s App Store, their developer tools and, most importantly, the creativity of the vastly diverse stable of developers already entrenched in Apple’s ecosystem1. If there is a future beyond the existing TV paradigm, I agree with Apple that it is in Apps.

Setup: The magical setup mostly worked for me – I did eventually have to enter my iTunes password and my 3 year old does like to play with the remote so I haven’t relaxed the password requirement for purchases yet. Adding an option to use an iPhone with Touch ID to authenticate purchases initiated in the TV would be awesome. I also had moments of uncertainy during the setup process about whether everything was working correctly – it was and did setup as easily as advertised, I just didn’t always know it was working, so the feedback loop could be better. Signing in to non-Apple apps is a pain, but for most users this is a process that shouldn’t be required frequently so it’s mostly bearable2.

Connectivity: New – a USB-C port for “diagnostics only”. Gone – optical audio out; which was a problem for me and my older TV. Solution? I bought a new TV.

Verdict: If you’ve been holding out for this new Apple TV, it is well worth it to make the plunge now, even at the higher price point. If you have an Apple TV right now, especially a 3rd generation, and you’re mostly happy with it, there’s probably not a compelling reason for you to upgrade unless any or all of the following is true:

  1. You’ve been dying to play Alto’s Adventure (or any other great iOS game that is compatible with Apple TV) on your big screen TV.
  2. You are very intrigued by the promise of Apps on your TV.
  3. It is worth $150-$200 to have a remote that doesn’t require line-of-sight (IR) to operate your Apple TV (if I was on the fence, this probably would have been enough to tip me over).
  4. You are a Siri pro on iOS devices and you’re eager to have the same experience with your TV.
  1. Michael Rockwell covers this point exquisitely in his guest post for Samantha Bielefeld.

  2. Or not, if your experience was anything like Jason Snell’s.

Monday, September 14

A New Dimension to Multitouch

App shortcuts are cool, but to me the killer feature of Apple’s new 3D Touch interface is peek & pop. Here’s a great description of the feature from TechCrunch:

The most important 3D Touch use case lets you peek into content — this way, you can preview an email, a photo, a link, an address, a message and go right back to where you were. It saves you a couple of taps and breaks the traditional tree hierarchy. In many ways, this feature is reminiscent of Quick Look on OS X.

When you are done peeking, you have three options. You can press a little deeper to actually go into this email, message or calendar view. You can remove your finger and go back to your feed, email list or camera view.

The inevitability of this feature coming to iPhone left me underwhelmed. Now that it’s here and I better understand what it can actually do, I find myself pressing hard on my iPhone 6 trying to will the feature into retroactive existence.

What the heck is Angela Ahrendts doing at Apple?

Tim Cook & company probably got it wrong when they hired John Browett. Not that Browett isn’t good at what he does, but he just probably wasn’t a great fit at Apple. In hiring Angela Ahrendts away from Burberry, they didn’t back away from Think Different. In fact, it appears they doubled down on it:

The courtship was a slow one. Ahrendts would have to relinquish her CEO title, move her husband and three kids—the youngest of which was still in high school—5,000 miles from London to the Bay Area, and change industries. She was nervous. She says she told Cook, “ ‘Don’t believe everything you read. I’m not a techie.’ And he looks at me, and he goes, ‘I think we have enough techies here.’ And I said, ‘But you don’t understand. I’m not even really a great retailer. I hired great retailers.’ And he said, ‘Well, last time I looked we were one of the highest-productivity-per-square-foot stores of any company on the planet. So I think we have a lot of those too.’”

I love everything about Tim Cook’s strategy: let the teams at Apple do what they do, but give them a leader that knows how to lead and how to equip them with what they need to succeed.

(hat tip: The Loop)

Wednesday, September 09
Thursday, July 30

The new 9to5

Familiar, yet refreshing new layout from 9to5mac (and the rest of the 9to5 network). They’re sticking with ads, but in a more considerate way. You have to walk before you run; this is great progress.

On a related note, great timing, coincidental though it may be.

Wednesday, July 22

What Happens when an Apply guy explores Material Design?

Speaking of Material Design, these remixes of OS X/iOS app icons based on Material Design principles are not terrible. Some of them are downright nice, in fact. My personal faves are the Finder and Photos icons. The post wraps up by highlighting some great animation work that has been applied to some of Google’s app icons.

Sunday, May 31

More Thoughts On Jony Ive

My comments earlier this week regarding the surprise Jony Ive promotion at Apple didn’t pay proper service to two other great takes on the news. I linked to both of them in the post, but they influenced my thoughts enough to bring them to the forefront here. We’ve also heard from a few more influential voices, so I’m adding their insights as well.

First, Joe Cieplinski writes in Jony Ive’s Long Goodbye:

Just as the February New Yorker article served to introduce us to Richard Howarth, and the Wired piece in April introduced us to Alan Dye, all three of these pieces have served as a preparation for the eventual retirement of Jony Ive from Apple. This is one, long, calculated PR move. And it’s being executed flawlessly.

I found Thompson’s take to be more insightful, but for some reason, Cieplinkski’s post felt a bit more optimistic about the prospect of Ive’s eventual departure. I can’t really explain it. I disagree with Cieplinkski’s assertion that I’ve will be gone in “a year or two”.

More open-ended about the future but still determined to mark the beginning of the end is Seth Weintraub writing for 9to5mac:

So there’s this compromise. Ive gets two subordinates to run his two incredibly important programs then gets to spend a reasonable amount of time in the UK with his kids who then aren’t forced to grow up talking like Americans and pronouncing ‘aluminum‘ like animals.

I share Weintraub’s general sense that this could be Apple’s way of capitulating to Ive’s desire to spend more time with his family outside of California, which is almost impossible unless Ive carries fewer managerial responsibilities. And I think it’s fair in this case to take this at face value; that an overburdened executive really needs to shed some responsibilities in order to maintain his effectiveness and ability to serve his tole in the company the best way he can.

Personally, I think John Gruber nails it perfectly with this:

A simpler way to look at this would be to see Ive having been promoted to, effectively, the new Steve Jobs: the overseer and arbiter of taste for anything and everything the company touches.

That’s exactly what I was getting at when I mentioned the Ive and Jobs lunch routine – that Ive’s ascension is a formal recognition of his complementary role as the visionary to Tim Cook the operator. Jobs the CEO was the arbiter of taste for all matters Apple, while Tim Cook, then COO, was the man who carried out the vision. Today, the power dynamic is symbolically reversed, the operator as CEO and arbiter of taste now as a subordinate CDO. But just as I imagine Jobs the CEO trusted Cook’s operational decisions, I bet Cook the CEO trusts Ive’s product and design authority.

Finally, Jim Dalrymple weighed in by quoting Gruber and suggesting a little of column A and a little of column B may be at play here, highlighting Apple’s propensity for laying out their succession plans years in advance:

Personally, I think it’s both. Jony deserves a “chief” title and this is a perfect way to introduce the public to the other lead designers on Jony’s team. I don’t think Jony is going anywhere in the near future, but it’s important for Wall St. and the public to realize that he won’t leave a giant vacuum when he does leave.

It’s not always the case that time tells all, especially when secretive organizations like Apple are involved, but time will certainly provide some insight. In the meantime, it’s been a fun speculation-filled week. Here’s to hoping for many more years of Jony.

Tuesday, May 26

The Promotion of Jony Ive

Normally when an individual ascends to a C-level position in a company it marks the beginning of a bright new era of leadership for the company. But Apple is certainly no ordinary company and as such, the tea leaves read a bit differently for their executive shake-ups. News yesterday of Jony Ive’s promotion to the newly minted Chief Design Officer position at Apple has birthed a gaggle of “this is the beginning of the end” takes across the web. My personal favorite, Ben Thompson’s Jony Ive “Promoted”, The Implications of Not Managing, What About Apple? is perhaps the most insightfully bearish look into how this move turns the page into Ive’s final chapter at Apple.

Me, I’m not quite so pessimistic, though I admit there’s a bit of “say it ain’t so” in my optimism. I disagree with Thompson’s assertion that Ive stepping away from management duties marks a shift in his approach to product development:

In my estimation, whether Ive intends it or not — and I think he likely does, for what it’s worth — this is the beginning of the end of his time at Apple. To give up “management” in exchange for “thinking freely” is, when it comes to business, akin to shifting from product-focused R&D to exploratory R&D.

Thompson goes on to cite a Steve Jobs quote that supports this philosophy. But Ive stepping away could easily be construed as a means to becoming more product focused and less day-to-day minutiae. As many recent profiles have highlighted, Ive’s design responsibilities spill over into all aspects of Apple the company and are not just confined to the products they make. His responsibilities are numerous and significant and the one thing that can’t necessarily be replicated through training and mentoring are his ideas. Besides, isn’t “thinking freely” basically how Jony Ive characterized his working relationship with Jobs?

If becoming Chief Design Officer means Jony Ive is beginning a slow walk out of the doors of Cupertino, then it’s certainly a great loss for the company and its ardent followers. If it just means he’s being rewarded and recognized for his great product vision with more time to spend with his family where he wants to spend it, well then I say bring it on. I’m sure the design studio in Cupertino is top notch, but I for one can’t wait to see what comes from a man of Ive’s great genius inspired by the home he longs for and the people he loves. You go do you, Jony.

Saturday, May 02

Watch Out for the Unexpected

Despite protests from my closest friends, family, and advisors I joined the herd of Apple sheep who have been obsessing over the Apple Watch the last few weeks. While I didn’t go so far as to pre-order or purchase one I did schedule a try-on appointment at a local Apple Store just to get a feel for what this thing is like to behold, or more accurately, to be beholden by it.

Apple Watch with Milanese loop bracelet (2015)
Apple Watch with Milanese loop bracelet (2015)

A few people have chimed in this week about how difficult it is to truly get a sense of the ramifications of a product like this in one, two, three days or even two weeks. Multiply that difficulty by a million for my brief ten minutes with a demo loop-only try-on model. But, I did leave with some impressions so here are a few quick hitters:

It’s not as big as the pictures make it seem and it’s not as heavy as you’d expect. I’ve read this many times in other people’s first impressions, but I never fully trusted them. I don’t expect you to trust me either.

The digital crown is way cool. I’m still trying to decide if I’d prefer for it to have really subtle clicks (more like bumps) or if I prefer the silky smoothness of it as it exists today. It’s hard to choose between what exists and what doesn’t, but the execution of what Apple chose is superb.

Stainless steel looks awesome, Space Gray aluminum looks less like a downgrade than I expected. Still looks like a downgrade, but the degree is lower.

It’s dumb, impractical, and almost 100% novelty for me. I could really become accustomed to having one.

I left with this basic sentiment: the try-on experience was great from a service perspective (quick but relaxed, no real pressure, just gentle questions). In terms of the impact on my decision it mostly just confirmed everything I was already thinking after months of following the commentary and two weeks worth of reviews. Trying on the demo unit neither heightened or lowered my desire to get one. I still want one, almost purely for the sake of having one. Only time will tell if reason triumphs over wistful abandonment.

One consequence of the try-on experience did catch me by surprise though. On the way out of the store I spent a little time with the new MacBook and that experience made the choice for next computer purchase a little less obvious than I expected. I was wowed by the new design and features of the new MacBook, but the price and power combo scared me a bit because I expected my next computer to be a desktop-level workhorse1. The shine of the new MacBook introduced some doubt – maybe I don’t really need computing power as much as I need a combination of non-battery hindered storage hub (lower-spec, cheap new or used Mac mini) plus cutting edge ultraportable.

  1. I define desktop-level as iMac 27“, top spec Mac mini or close to it, or high-spec 13” MacBook Pro with Retina display.  ↩