Why I Really Don’t Want an Apple Watch

I’m not going to lie, the Apple Watch is pretty cool.  And I can definitely see why it’s useful.  But every time I think about getting one (read: think about getting on in like two years when they’ve improved and I have money), I hit this mental block.  But it’s not just the Apple Watch, it’s really smartwatches in general that I have a problem with.

Every time I so much as think about putting an Apple Watch on my wrist, I tense up.  I’m already so addicted to my phone, and the thought of being even more connected just gives me anxiety.  At least when my phone’s in my pocket, I can (do my best to) ignore it when it buzzes.  But when it’s on my wrist, the amount of self control it would take to not just glance down at it seems ridiculous.  I don’t want to see every little message I get right there, instantly.  I’m sure it’d be nice in certain situations, especially if Apple would add a VIP list for iMessage.  That way, if someone in my family texts me, I can just glance down at it real quick and see what they said.  But it wouldn’t work that way.  Instead, I’d get all kinds of notifications, and it would make it even harder to ignore my digital life even for a moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think smartwatches are evil.  And I don’t think anyone who gets one is necessarily a pathetic techo-addict.  Depending on how many alerts you have coming in, and how important they are (if your job requires lots of prompt digital communication, for instance), it would be really nice to not have to pull your phone out of your pocket every time it goes off.  And Siri would be nice too – for things like setting reminders or texting someone.  But there are lots of things that I pull my phone out for that really aren’t important – things where I would probably do better to just let the impulse slide.  And that becomes so much harder to do when the screen is right there in your field of view, without its protective denim shield.

So that’s my opinion right now.  I’m a big fan of smartphones; I think they provide more than enough utility to outweigh their drawbacks.  But I don’t think smartwatches are over that hump yet.  I’m guessing they’ll get there eventually though.  Some people would say we’ll never find anything worth doing on that small of a screen, but didn’t we say that about the iPhone too?  ••

Apple’s September 2015 Event

I know the title says “September Event,” but this might have been Apple’s only event this fall.  That’s what sources were telling us leading up to last Wednesday, and it seems like they were right.  This event was jam packed, and did cover pretty much every Apple product.  So what all happened?  Let’s dive in:

Apple Watch
First comes the Apple Watch.  No Watch 2.0 here (it was, after all, just released in March), but there were a few new color combinations.  The Sport model now comes in yellow gold and rose gold aluminum.  In addition, there’s a whole slew of new bands, both colors and styles.  Finally, they briefly mentioned watchOS 2, but they didn’t give much of a demo.  To be fair, they had already demoed it at WWDC, but in the past Apple’s always given a refresher demo right before the release in the fall. For the people who had seen WWDC, it was a little repetitive, but it was probably still worth doing.  However, Apple had so much to talk about at this event that I guess they just didn’t have time.

iPad
Enough of the boring new-colors announcements.  Apple has released an enormous new iPad Pro.  It has a 12.9″ diagonal screen (compared to the iPad’s 9.7″ and the iPad Mini’s 7.9″) that looks like it’s going to be stunning.  It can run two apps at the same time, side by side (the same feature we saw demoed for the iPad Air 2 at WWDC).  For those in the business world, there’s a keyboard case; for those in the creative world, there’s a stylus, dubbed the Apple Pencil.  This new iPad won’t come cheap, however.  It starts at $799, plus $99 for the Pencil and $169 for the keyboard.  Other than the new iPad Pro, Apple also released a new iPad Mini (the 4th generation), with specs on par with last year’s iPad Air 2.  This was the first year we didn’t see a new regular sized iPad.

Apple TV
This was huge.  People have been waiting for this for years.  To drop the most important part on you in one sentence: The new Apple TV runs apps.  There’s an app store, which will include everything from entertainment channels to games.  Games can be played on Apple’s new remote.  It has motion sensors like a Wii Remote, a few buttons, and a small touch surface.  But most importantly, it also has a microphone.  That’s right, the new Apple TV has Siri.  You can use Siri to search for TV shows and movies from iTunes, Netflix, hulu, HBO, and Showtime all at the same time.  Pretty cool.  You can also ask Siri to show you the whether or sports scores in the middle of your show.  The thing that stuck out to me most, however, was that you can ask Siri, “What did she say?”, and it will skip back 15 seconds in your show and turn the captions on for just that 15 seconds.  Someone should’ve thought of that years ago.

iPhone
Yes, of course you’ve been waiting for it, there are new iPhone available.  There’s the iPhone 6s and the 6s Plus, in the same two sizes as last year.  They’re also available in a new color, rose gold.  This is an S model year, so there aren’t that many big improvements.  The biggest one is called 3D Touch.  As far as I can tell, it’s the same as Force Touch on the Apple Watch (in fact, Federighi accidentally called it that once on stage and had to correct himself).  This means that the iPhone’s screen now registers how hard you’re pressing on the screen.  This allows you to do cool things like preview links sent in a text message.  Press hard on the link, and it pops up in a little window.  Press even harder, and it pops to full screen.  Pretty neat.  The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus also have improved cameras, as usual.  They now shoot 4K video, which is cool, until you realize that Apple is still selling the 16gb model of the iPhone.  Let it go, Apple.

iOS
At the end of the iPhone demo, iOS got a short spot.  All it really had was a demo of 3D Touch; like watchOS, they just didn’t have time to redo the WWDC demo.  We did get a release date, however: Wednesday, September 16.

Oddly enough, the Mac didn’t seem to get any time at the event.  It’s not a surprise that there’s no new Mac hardware; we did just get that new Macbook back in March.  But I would’ve thought that they’d at least give 10 minutes to show off OS X El Capitan, and then announce a release date.  That would seem to totally wrap up the product line in a single fall event.  Apple’s website now says that El Capitan will be available on September 30, but I don’t think that was even said on stage (maybe I just missed it?).  Of course, it’s not like this event was lacking in news just because they didn’t talk about the Mac.  ••

WWDC 2015 Recap

In case you missed it, last week was Apple’s annual World Wide Developers Conference.  The highlight of the week was the main keynote, which took place Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I had to work during the keynote, but I watched most of it later in the week.  There were four main topics in the keynote: OS X, iOS, watchOS, and Apple Music.

OS X
First up was the latest version of the Mac operating system.  Named El Capitan (for a landmark in Yosemite national park), Apple said that this update would focus on “Experience” and “Performance.”  Basically, what this means is that it’s a relatively minor update, one that will focus more on bug fixes and small features than large ones.  I think this is good; it’s a welcome rest from the breakneck update pace we’ve seen – and suffered from – over the past few years.

iOS
Next up (as to be expected) was iOS 9 – to be available this fall.  There’s a couple key parts to this update.  First are some features focusing on “intelligence.”  These includes improvements to Siri, but also a brand new Spotlight search function.  This replaces the current search in iOS, but also tries to proactively serve you apps and information it thinks you might need right then: everything from the apps you use each morning to news stories relevant to your location.  The next huge feature focuses on the iPad.  The iPad is finally getting a split screen view – the ability to run two apps at once.  This is huge, but unfortunately it’s not available on all iPad models.  iPads from the previous two years can run one app full screen and have another app at iPhone width “slide over” from the side.  The iPad Air 2 can also run two apps simultaneously that each take up half the screen.  Hopefully this will greatly improve productivity on the iPad.  There were two more quick things that are important.  First, iOS 9 will only take 1.3gb to download, instead of last year’s ridiculous 4.6gb.  The final thing wasn’t even mentioned in the keynote, but I think it’s super important: iOS 9 will be available to all devices that have iOS 8.  Normally, Apple drops one old model each year; I’m hoping this change means that iOS 9 won’t slow down older devices as much.

watchOS
Apple also unveiled the latest version of the Apple Watch software: watchOS 2.  This version will allow developers to create native apps that run on the Watch.  Previously, developers could only create apps that technically “ran” on the iPhone and projected their interfaces to the Watch.  This was a cumbersome, temporary arrangement, one which meant that all third-party apps were pretty slow.  Apple is finally giving developers what they were promised last year.

Apple Music
The last part of the keynote was dedicated to Apple’s new music streaming service: Apple Music.  This service will replace both iTunes Radio and Beats Music.  For $9.99/month, you get unlimited streaming of everything Apple Music has, including many playlists handmade by music experts, not algorithms.  This was one of Beats Music’s key selling points, and Apple is making sure that it doesn’t go away.  The second part of Apple Music is an enormous, worldwide radio station called Beats 1.  This is set up like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  It will be broadcast from three studios worldwide (in LA, New York, and London).  I’m actually kind of excited to try Beats 1; it sounds intriguing.  The final part of Apple Music is called Connect.  This is almost like a social network for music artists.  Connect allows artists to post photos, videos, lyrics, and even demos directly to Apple Music.  Fans can follow artists to get access to this bonus content.  Apple seems convinced that this is the next big way for people to follow their favorite artists, but I’m not sure that people will adopt it in place of Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

So as you can see, Apple had a lot to talk about last week.  They released updates to their big three operating systems, and also unveiled their new attempt in the music streaming industry.  Unfortunately, there were no updates to the Apple TV, but I’d still say we still got plenty of cool new stuff.  I guess we’ll just have to hope again for a new Apple TV next year.  ••

Follow Up for Apple’s “Spring Forward” Event

In case you missed my post last week, Apple had an event last Monday.  We saw a lot of cool things last week, not the least of which was the Apple Watch.  Here’s a rundown of exactly what happened Monday.

HBO
I don’t think anyone saw this coming.  Apple lowered the price of the Apple TV (from $99 to $69) and announced an exclusive deal with HBO.  HBO’s new stand-alone streaming service, HBO NOW, will be available only on Apple devices (including the Apple TV) for the first three months.  This is huge.  HBO NOW has enormous potential to disrupt the TV industry, and this deal could really sell some Apple TVs.  Unfortunately, there was no much-need Apple TV update, but the lower price indicates that we might see one next fall.  (Also, the HBO presentation resulted in the most hilarious tweet I saw during the event.)

MacBook
As I predicted, Apple unveiled the newest version of their MacBook laptop line on Monday.  However, this isn’t technically a new MacBook Air.  Dubbed simply the “MacBook,” this new laptop is super thin and light, and yes, it does have a retina display.  The craziest thing about this laptop, however, is the fact that, aside from the headphone jack, it only has one port.  One.  Basically, in order to get the computer that thin and light, Apple had to remove all connectors except for a single USB-C.  This can be used to power the laptop or attach peripherals.  You can only do both if you buy an adapter (conveniently, Apple sells one for $79).  Apple’s argument here is that most things we connect to a computer can now be wireless, whether its a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard or AirPlay video out.  I’m not sure whether Apple will stick to this story or whether, in a year or two, they’ll figure out how to fit a USB 3.0 port in this thing.

Apple Watch
Obviously, the most important thing discussed at the event was the Apple Watch.  We saw some cool app demos (including Shazam and some connected home stuff), and we also got our answers regarding battery, pricing, and bands.  Before I talk about pricing, let’s cover battery really quickly.  Apple says that, during normal usage, you can expect 18 hours of battery from the Apple Watch.  This fits what they said in September, which was that the Watch would last all day and then you’d charge it every night.  As long as it really lasts all day (and not just barely all day), this should be OK for most people.  Now let’s talk pricing.  First is the Apple Watch Sport.  This model is $349 for the 38mm, and $399 for the 42mm.  It only comes with the rubber sport band, but you can buy the other bands and put them on the Sport.  Thing is, though, the other bands are $149 – $449, depending on which one you get.  The flagship Apple Watch model starts at $549 ($599 for the 42mm), and goes up to $1099, depending on which band you get with the watch.  Again, you can buy additional bands (including the sport one) and switch them out.  Finally, there’s the Apple Watch Edition.  This model starts at $10,000, will have limited quantities, and can only be purchased in certain Apple Stores (which will, I’m sure, provide a high-end jewelry experience).  Also, the Edition’s bands are not interchangeable; you have to pick one and stick with it (hilariously, the rubber sport band is still an option).  If you’re curious as to exactly what each model costs, you can see the full lineup of watches here and the additional bands here.  There’s also this really cool spreadsheet that a guy named Rob Griffiths put together with a bunch of stats (including the price) for each model.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, there were no mention of any iPads at this event.  Even still, this was a huge day for Apple.  I personally can’t afford an Apple Watch, but most everyone on my tech podcasts seem really excited about getting their hands on one.  Maybe in a few years the prices will come down a little and I’ll get one.  Only one other problem remains: I beat the heck out of my watch.  I know these watches are supposed to be sturdy, but I really don’t want to pay upwards of $400 for a watch and then just break it the first time I get a little clumsy.  ••

Predictions for Apple’s March Event

Yes, you read that correctly.

If my research is correct, Apple hasn’t had a spring event since 2012 (when they unveiled the 3rd generation iPad, in case you were wondering).  However, Apple is all set to have their latest press event on March 9.  If if we weren’t already sure that this event would showcase the Apple Watch in full detail, the title of the event, “Spring Forward,” certainly confirmed it.

So what exactly is going to happen at this event?  There are lots of rumors swirling around, but I’m guessing that we’ll see at least two if not three new things.

Apple Watch
First and foremost is, obviously, the Apple Watch.  This was unveiled at an Apple event last September, but we there’s still a ton of stuff we don’t know about the Apple Watch.  The most notable detail is pricing.  Apple told us last September that the Apple Watch would start at $349.  However, that doesn’t clear things up as much as you might think.  Let me explain how complicated the Apple Watch Product line is.  There are three main models.  The flagship one is simply called the Apple Watch.  This is the mid-range model, available in silver or black stainless steel.  My guess is that this model will be somewhere around $500 – $700.  The second model, the Apple Watch Sport, is the cheaper one.  Also available in silver or black, this model is aluminum and has a rubber watch band.  The aluminum and rubber mean that this watch is the more durable one, living up to its “Sport” name.  This, for sure will be the one that starts at $349.  However, I’ve neglected to mention that there are also two sizes to the Apple Watch.  These could be differently priced (like the iPad), or they could be the same, since it seems one is geared towards women and the other towards men.  So, as you can see, Apple Watch pricing is far from definitive.  But I haven’t even talked about the last model.  The Apple Watch Edition is 18-karat yellow or rose gold.  This model is Apple’s attempt to enter the fashion industry.  All bets are off as to what the price of this model will be, but I think it’ll be $10,000 – $20,000.  This sounds absurd, I know, but Apple is shooting for the super high end market.  Think Rolex here.  The Apple Watch Edition isn’t just aiming for the high end consumer market, it’s aiming for the people who have so much money to just throw away that they buy the most expensive watch they can find just to show off.  I’ve given prices for each model here, but they’re really just educated guesses.  You can bet that a good majority of my post next week will be devoted to Apple Watch pricing.

MacBook Air
There was a story a few months ago in 9to5Mac which contained supposedly leaked information regarding the latest edition of Apple’s MacBook Air (the low end of their laptop line).  People have been clamoring for a retina display-equipped Air for years now, and it seems like they may finally get it.  If 9to5Mac’s sources are correct, the new model is 12″ across, but it reduces the size of the bezel to keep the screen size of the current 13″ model.  However, the most revolutionary part of this rumored model is the fact that it only has 2 ports: a headphone jack and a USB-C connector.  What is USB-C?  It’s a new type of USB technology which can not only connect peripheral devices but also deliver power to the laptop.  This of course opens lots of questions.  How do you (or can you) charge your laptop and sync your iPhone?  Is there an adapter to buy?  I don’t know for sure if we’ll see this device next week, but I’m guessing we will.

iPad Pro
The last device we may see next week is a 12″ iPad Pro.  Larger than the current 10″ iPad Air line, this model would include a stylus and cater towards creative professionals.  Apple has historically pooh-poohed styluses, and because the iPad’s screen isn’t designed for the increased precision of styluses, third-party styluses just don’t perform as well as, say the Surface‘s stylus.  I see a lot of people take notes on Windows Tablets at SPSU, so I know that this is a feature people are interested in.  I’m less inclined to believe that we’ll see this device next week (I’m guessing it’ll come in the fall), but it is possible.

So long story short, this week is going to be an exciting week for Apple.  I’ll be back next week with a recap of what happened, which will most definitely include lots of details about the Apple Watch.  Stay tuned!  ••

Microsoft Band: Fitness Friend or Bandwagon Bluff?

Recently, Microsoft announced their entry into the smartwatch/fitness tracker market: The Microsoft Band.  As the name implies, this product leans more towards the fitness band end of that spectrum.  Smartwatches seem to be all the rage these days, but only time will tell whether they’ll actually catch on or if they’re just another tech fad.  Still, for the time being, people are definitely interested in smartwatches, and getting into this market is a good move for Microsoft.  From what I’ve seen on Microsoft’s website, I actually think they have a shot with this one.  Ultimately, the product’s success will come down to whether or not it actually performs well, but Microsoft has taken several preliminary steps that will definitely help its cause.

Fitness First
As I said, the Microsoft Band is a fitness tracker first, and a smartwatch second.  This strategy directly contrasts with the Apple Watch.  For the time being, I think that this is a good play for Microsoft, even if it is a safe one.  The smartwatch market is young, and we’re still figuring out exactly how much you can, and can’t, do on such a tiny little screen.  This means that any smartwatch that attempts to do too much might end up frustrating users.  Microsoft has given the band a fitness focus, including features such as step counting, GPS run tracking, and heart rate monitoring.  The band does pair with a smartphone and give you push notifications, but from what I can tell that’s about all it does as far as smartwatch features go.  This may be enough however; any additional functionality may be so cramped that it’s not worth the saved effort of pulling out your phone.

Partnerships
I didn’t actually hear about the Microsoft Band from Microsoft; RunKeeper told me.  Microsoft has partnered with what are arguably the three most popular fitness apps: RunKeeper, MapMyFitness, and MyFitnessPal.  I like this approach.  It says, “We’re a technology company and we admit that we’re not exactly experts on fitness.  Therefore, in order to give you a good product, we’re partnering with people who do know about fitness.”  The best way for a tech company to shoot themselves in the foot is to create a poorly executed knock off of a service people already use and like.  By humbling themselves and partnering with others, Microsoft has avoided this problem.

Cross Platform
I’ve saved my biggest point for last.  The Microsoft Band will work with both iOS and Android, in addition to Windows Phone.  This is hugely different from other smartwatches on the market.  There are certainly benefits to a company only allowing their watch on their platform.  Most important is the fact that doing so will give your users a more coherent experience.  However, for someone like Microsoft, whose smartphone platform isn’t as popular as others, making their watch cross platform is definitely a good move.  Microsoft was also smart enough to use the Microsoft Band as a hook for the rest of their platform.  In the same way that the Apple Watch has Siri, the Microsoft Band has Microsoft’s personal assistant, Cortana.  Cortana does about what you would expect it to do, but there’s a catch.  Cortana is only available if you have a Windows Phone.  This approach, “Sure, this product works with what you’ve got, but it works really well with our other products,” is a good one in my opinion.  Worst case, people keep pulling out their iPhones to use Siri.  Best case, the Microsoft Band becomes another reason for people to use Windows Phone.

All this discussion leaves one question: How much does this thing cost?  The answer?  $199.  This seems just a little steep to me; I was hoping it would be in the $100-$150 range like the Pebble.  However, compared to the $349 Apple Watch, it’s not bad.  I don’t see myself buying a Microsoft Band (since I already have a fitness tracker that I like), but I do think Microsoft could have a winner here.  Only time will tell, but until then, I’d like to hear your opinion.  Let your voice be heard in the comments below!  Thanks for reading!  ••

Special Edition: Follow Up for the Apple Event

Today at 10am Pacific time (1pm Eastern), Apple had its September Event.  I watched the two-hour event live (after the stream quit glitching).  We saw a lot of cool stuff, most of which did line up with my predictions.  Here’s the full rundown on what actually happened.

iPhone
We did see new iPhones at this event.  I was correct that there was a 4.7″ iPhone 6, as well as a 5.5″ iPhone 6 Plus.  There was not, however, a 4″ model, which surprised me.  Apple will continue to sell the 4″ iPhone 5s and 5c as the $99 and Free models (with a 2-year contract), respectively.  I was also correct that there was not an iPhone 6c.  The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will be available for pre-order September 12, and for purchase September 19th.

iOS 8
iOS 8 was officially launched at the event, and will be available September 17th.

iPad
I was correct that there were no new iPad models at this event.

Mac
There were no new Mac models or software launched at this event.

Apple Watch
Apple announced a new smart watch at this event, the Apple Watch.  There are three models: the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Sport (a more durable model), and the Apple Watch Edition (an 18-karat gold model).  Each will come in large and small sizes.  The watch will link to your iPhone, showing your emails, messages, maps, music, as well as fitness data (a major focus of the Apple watch).  There is a completely new user interface, centering around a dial on the side of the watch, called the “crown.”  It reminds me of the old iPod click wheel.  The Apple Watch requires an iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus in order to be used.  The Apple Watch will be released in early 2015, and will start at $349.

Apple TV
As I guessed, there was nothing about the Apple TV at this event.

Beats
There was no big announcement concerning Beats, though they did pretend to buy Beats headphones in their demo of Apple Pay.

iPod
There were no new iPod models at the event.  I think the iPod’s days are seriously numbered.

The Death of 16gb
I didn’t quite get my wish, but I think I’ll get it next year.  The iPhone 6 comes in a $199 16gb model, but the $299 model is 64gb, and there’s an all-new 128gb model for $399 (add another $100 for the iPhone 6 Plus).  My guess is that next year there will be no 16gb model.

Apple Pay
This is going to be really cool.  You know those credit card scanners that you just wave your card in front of?  Now you can do that with your iPhone 6, 6 Plus, or Apple Watch (through near-field communication, or NFC).  Security was a big deal here, and Apple really went the extra mile (or several) to make sure nothing bad can happen.  All the credit card data is stored in the same secure enclave of your iPhone as your Touch ID fingerprint data is.  That brings us to Touch ID, which will be the way you access Apple Pay.  Finally, third-party apps (such as Target) can integrate with Apple Pay, allowing you to use that information instead of typing in credit card and billing info for each individual app.

U2
Apple closed the event by talking about their love for music, throwing in a plug for the iTunes Festival happening right now in London.  They then brought the band U2 on stage, who performed their new single live.  Apple CEO Tim Cook then had some playful negotiating with the band, eventually “deciding” to give the band’s new album for free to all 500 million iTunes members.

So, needless to say, Apple has been very busy during the last few months.  I’m really excited to see all these new devices in action, and I’m even more excited to get my hands on iOS 8.  You can be sure I’ll have a post detailing that when it releases, and I might also do some posts detailing other products individually.  If you’re interested, you can watch the whole event on Apple’s website.  Be sure to share this post with the buttons below so all your friends know that you’re up to date on the latest tech!