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?  ••

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OS X El Capitan Review

The new version of Mac OS X is here!  It’s not a major upgrade; Apple said that they’ve got a big focus on performance this year, just like in iOS 9.  However, there are some new features that are definitely welcome.  Interestingly enough, several of them are features that started on iOS.  I think that says a whole lot about the world we live in now: mobile is becoming more important that desktop.

There’s several apps that I use a lot that have gotten new features, but I want to start with an OS-wide feature: split view.  This is actually similar to the new iPad split view features on iOS.  You can now run two apps next to each other in full screen.  Simply click and hold on the green full screen button on the first app, then drag it to one side.  You’re then presented with thumbnails of your other apps to fill the other side of the screen.  Once you’ve got these two apps open, you can leave them at half and half, or you can drag to give one of them more room.  This is definitely a useful feature (one that I’ve missed since coming to the Mac – Windows added this feature in 2009).


Next up is the mail app.  This one’s short and sweet: you can now swipe left and right on messages to mark them as unread or delete them – just like in iOS.  I use this feature all the time on my iPhone, and I’ve definitely wished I had it on the Mac.  Now I do!

After that comes the app I used more than any other: Safari.  Safari has added a feature called pinned sites.  This allows you to leave certain tabs open in the background, permanently, without them taking up lots of space in your tab bar.  It’s great for sites you use all the time.  I haven’t decided which (if any) sites I’m going to put there, but it’s definitely a cool feature.  Also, Safari has added a way to see which tabs are playing sound and mute them, also helpful!


The last thing I want to talk about it the photos app.  It finally allows you to geotag photos!  Both Photos for Mac and iOS already supported viewing geotags, and the iOS Camera app could geotag its photos, but neither one allowed you to edit or add geotags.  I had an app for this both on the Mac and iOS, but it was a pain.  Now, you can finally do this directly from Photos for Mac.

Even though there aren’t any crazy new features in OS X El Capitan, it’s still a solid update.  I mentioned performance at the beginning but I didn’t really talk about it yet: this update hasn’t made my computer feel any faster or slower (although that SSD I put in last spring helps).  Same as iOS 9, I’d say no change is a good thing (last year’s update definitely made it slower).  So all in all, I’m a happy customer, and I’m feeling good about how long my Mac will last.  That’s definitely a feeling Apple should want to cultivate in their customers.  ••

iOS 9 is Here!

Last Wednesday was the official release of iOS 9.  After updating a day late, I’m really liking the new version.  There’s lots to talk about, but I’m going to highlight my two favorite features: the improved Spotlight search and iPad Multitasking.

Spotlight
Spotlight has been moved to a new-old home, to the left of the first home screen.  This is where it was before iOS 7 (interestingly enough, however, you can still access Spotlight by pulling down from any home screen, but you won’t get as many suggestions).  Right at the top of the new Spotlight are “Siri Suggestions” – contacts and apps that iOS thinks you may want to use right now.  So far, they just seem to be recents, but Apple has said that these will slowly tailor based on your usage.  Check Twitter and Facebook every morning?  Those apps will show up at that time.  Under that is “Nearby” – a group of buttons for finding restaurants, gas stations, and the like.  These too will change based on whether it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Finally, underneath that are a few top stories from the News app, which makes its iOS 9 debut.  What’s cool is that you get all this information by just swiping into the Spotlight screen.  If you actually start to search, you’ll see similar results to what you’d have seen in previous versions of iOS.  Except for one major thing: you can now search the content in third-party apps right from Spotlight.  Dropbox, among others, has already added support for this feature, and I think it’s going to be super useful.

iPad Multitasking
Unfortunately, iPad multitasking is a little fragmented.  Let me break it down.  The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Pro (so the newest model of each size), can truly run two apps at the same time.  This can be done either with both apps taking up half the screen or with more of a 3/4 split.  So that’s great, but I have an iPad Mini 2.  Well the iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; and the iPad Pro can also do what’s called “slide over.”  This is where one app keeps running in the background, and an iPhone-width app slides over it on the right hand side, taking up about 1/4 of the screen.  Like this:


This is useful, but so far not many apps have been updated for it (disappointingly, not even all of Apple’s apps support it.  Why doesn’t Music?).  Hopefully this will get better though.  The final feature of multitasking, which comes to the same models that get slide over, is picture in picture.  This is available both for video apps like Netflix and things like FaceTime, so that’s really cool.

The last thing I want to talk about is performance and battery.  I mentioned in my WWDC post that iOS 9 is available for all phones that got iOS 8.  I was hoping that this, coupled with the fact that Apple trumpeted iOS 9 as improving performance, would mean that iOS 9 wouldn’t slow my phone down.  So far, my phone has been about the same (hooray!), but my iPad is definitely slower (this makes no sense, they’re the same model year).  Still, this is better than the usual performance hit we’ve gotten used it.  So far, battery doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.  I’ve yet to try out the new Low Power Mode, but I think that’s a good idea too.  All in all, I like iOS 9, and I hope developers continue to add support for all the cool new features.  ••

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.  ••

A Brief History of iMessage

Six months ago I didn’t have iMessage.  Sure, I had it on my iPod Touch, but I only ever used it a couple times to send photos.  Most of the time, I was using regular SMS texting on my old phone.  But then that changed when I got an iPhone last January.  Suddenly, I was exposed to the world of iMessage.  What is iMessage?  Basically, it’s Apple’s replacement for SMS.  It only works from one Apple device to another, but when it does work, it’s dramatically better.  Even more genius, Apple has managed to make sure that just about every iPhone owner uses iMessage.  So how did iMessage evolve in just four short years?  Let’s look at its history.

2011, iOS 5
iMessage was first announced at WWDC 2011, and right from the start it contained all the core features it needed to be a success.  The most important part of iMessage, in my opinion, is the way it handles picture messages.  SMS takes forever to send a picture, and then it’s a scaled down version.  iMessage sends pictures way faster, and at full resolution.  It even includes all the original metadata (date, location, etc.).  This is great.  Even regular texts send faster over iMessage.  It’s able to do this because it works over the internet (WiFi and 4G) instead of on regular phone service.  Because of this, it just works better than SMS.  Even at this early stage, iMessage also included the ability to send locations and contacts, as well as read receipts (the option to tell someone that you’ve seen their message).  So from the start, Apple created iMessage to be good.  But then they went in for the kill.  Using iMessage would be completely automatic and take place in the same app as SMS.  This meant that users would have to do essentially nothing to start using this service.  After that, their iPhone would automatically determine whether or not the recipient of a text had iMessage.  If they did, it would send an iMessage (colored blue).  If not, it would send a regular SMS (colored green).  There was nothing the user had to do.  This was genius.  Any other messaging app would have to force people to download it, then remember which app to use for each person they text.  But Apple got around that.

2012, iOS 6
The most important iMessage feature to come to iOS 6 focused on the iPad.  From the start, your iPhone could send iMessages from either your phone number or the email address for your Apple ID.  However, your iPad could only use the email address (“because it’s not a phone,” was the original argument I guess).  However, that all changed with iOS 6.  Now, you could receive iMessages sent to your phone number on any device.  This, like the bundling of iMessage into the existing Text app, reduced the friction and effort required of users to almost zero.  Good move, Apple.

2013, iOS 7
iOS 7 didn’t bring many feature updates to iMessage, it mostly focused on the look at feel of the Messages app.  There were, however, a few new features to make it easier to view sent images or the contact information of the person you’re talking to.  However, like much of iOS 7, the Messages app mostly just got a visual facelift.

2014, iOS 8
iOS 8, on the other hand, added lots of new features to iMessage.  Most of them focused on group messaging.  iMessage has always supported group messaging, but it hadn’t gotten much special attention until now.  iOS 8 allows you to rename, mute, or leave group messages, to make sure you don’t get stuck receiving dozens of notifications from a group you don’t care about.  This is really helpful.  As someone who spends a lot of time in group messages, these improvement are all more than welcome.  iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite also gave the Messages app new abilities regarding, ironically, SMS text messages.  With these updates, you can now send SMS messages from your iPad and Mac, as long as your iPhone is on.  This can be a little buggy, but it is nice whenever I have to text a green bubble friend from my computer.

2015, iOS 9
According to Apple’s iOS 9 Preview page, there aren’t any earth shattering new features coming to iMessage this fall.  However, there could be plenty that we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps the coolest thing we know about as of now involves improvements to Siri.  In iOS 9, if you’re looking at an email, webpage, or iMessage, you can say, “Hey Siri, remind me about this when I get home.”  Siri will then create a reminder for what you’re seeing on screen.  The entire reminder is essentially a link; clicking on it takes you back to what you were looking at before.  Definitely useful!

So as you can see, iMessage is actually pretty complicated (especially for something that’s so simple to use).  The smartest thing Apple did with iMessage, though, isn’t in the list above.  Apple made iMessage exclusionary.  Now that I’m used to iMessage, regular SMS feels archaic and obnoxious.  I have no idea if my Android friends got my messages, I can’t send them photos easily, and you can just forget about sending videos.  I’ve heard more than one person I know say that they don’t want to switch to Android because they’ll miss out on iMessage.  That’s the kind of feature that Apple does best: one that’s so good that you’d never leave their ecosystem because of it.  ••

First Thoughts on Apple Music

Last week I wrote about the headache that I had signing up for the Apple Music trial, but I didn’t actually talk much about the service itself.  This is partly because I was at church camp that week, and I hadn’t had much time to play around with Apple Music.  That’s changed now.  After a little over a week with the service, I think I can safely say that I think Apple Music will be a success; it’s definitely a success in my book.

Apple Music is, at heart, a streaming service.  This means that you have access to the entire catalog of music for one flat subscription rate.  However, Apple Music does something that Spotify didn’t do.  Apple Music jumpstarts your streaming library with the songs you already have on your device, both from ripped CDs and the iTunes Store.  However, after that Apple Music wants you to explore.  This brings me to the Music app’s new layout.  There are five tabs at the bottom, For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music.

For You
When you first sign up for Apple Music, it asks you what genres of music you like the most.  After that, it asks you what artists you like (from a list based on the genres you picked).  Apple Music uses this information to start the For You section.  Over time, as you “like” songs (with a heart button), these suggestions become more refined.  I’ve found the For You tab to be pretty cool, especially when it lists an artist I’ve heard on the radio once or twice but don’t really know.  However, I don’t know how much I’ll be using this tab.

New
This tab I’m more excited for.  I mostly listen to Christian music, and I like that you can filter this tab by genre (although I wish it’d remember what genre I’ve picked).  Right off the bat I’m seeing new songs from Hillsong, MercyMe, and for KING & COUNTRY.  This is a sign of good things to come.

Radio
The spotlight of the Radio tab is Apple’s new, worldwide, 24/7 radio station called Beats 1.  This isn’t set up like Pandora, with a computer algorithm picking songs for you.  This is more like a traditional radio station, with DJs and interviews as well as music.  I haven’t really listened to it (like I said, I’m mostly interested in Christian music), but I definitely like the idea of a hosted station.  I used to listen to the radio a lot, and it’s fun getting to know DJs and hearing their stories and news.  The radio tab also has more traditional internet radio stations, based off genres, artists, and the like.  From the little bit I’ve used it, the Christian genre station is really good.

Connect
Connect is an interesting tab.  It’s almost like a social network for artists, a place for them to post songs, lyrics, videos, and other (sometimes exclusive) content.  It’s also a place for them to make announcements about upcoming albums.  This is a cool idea; the problem is that it gets crowded quickly.  On Spotify, I followed all my favorite artists mostly just to get notified of new releases, but then I just got a bunch of stuff about new playlists they’d made.  A little disappointing.

My Music
Up until this point, it seems I’ve been rationalizing why each tab isn’t for me (except for New I guess).  However, My Music where the rubber meets the road for Apple Music.  Apple Music lets me listen to just about whatever I want, whenever I want.  That’s fantastic.  The My Music tab is split into two sections.  The first shows all music by artist, album, etc.  This view is pretty self-explanatory.  The second view focuses on playlists.  Unlike most of the other discovery tools on Apple Music, I am excited about playlists.  All the playlists on Apple Music were created by real people – not computer algorithms.  This seems really cool to me.  There’s nothing worse than listening to a great Pandora station when all of a sudden the mood is killed by an out of place song.  So far my favorite playlists have been the “Intro to *Artist*” playlists.  These are a cool way to get into someone’s music.  I just wish they were available for more artists.

So as you can see, I’m pretty bullish on Apple Music.  It’s not perfect, and the app is actually kind of buggy right now, but that will get better with subsequent updates.  As of now, I’m pretty sure my family’s going to pay for it in a few months (once we get this whole trial mess sorted out), and I can definitely see myself using it.  A lot.  I just need to figure out if Apple Music is included in T-Mobile’s unlimited music streaming deal…  ••