Apple Watch Series 3 Review and Thoughts

The Apple Watch series 3 reviews are starting to show up online. My favorites were from John Gruber and 9to5 Mac. There also appears to be some sort of bug with unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks but I expect that will get sorted out.

While Apple’s marketing is focused on the fact that the cellular Apple Watch makes telephone calls, I think the more relevant point for nerds is the always on Internet connection. Having your watch be able to use Siri, connect to the Internet, and otherwise interact with the world without having to first go through the middleman of your iPhone seems to be a significant benefit. All of this said, the cellular companies charging $120 a year for the connection seems pretty steep.

Which iPhone for Non-Geeks?

Apple's review embargo on the iPhone 8 reviews lifted today and there are several positive reviews out concerning the new hardware. I've received several emails from listeners asking for advice about choosing between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. If you’re reading these words, there is a good chance you are already in the iPhone X camp. However, what about all those people out there that don’t live and die by this stuff? I’ve yet to touch either device so you can take my advice with a grain of salt but from the outside, it seems to me that the iPhone 8 is the default recommendation when non-geeks ask which iPhone to buy.

Except for the addition of a glass back in lieu of aluminum, the iPhone 8 is largely the same design Apple’s used for the last four years. It's tried and tested. Moreover, the iPhone 8 has the higher speed A11 processor that you will also find the iPhone X.

The iPhone 8 camera got better than the iPhone 7 and, with that new glass back, the device now supports inductive charging. Speaking of the glass back, early reviews say it's a lot easier to hold than the prior aluminum casing. In addition to all of these improvements, the screen also got better with the true tone feature getting added.

Finally, it is going to be a lot easier to get your hands on an iPhone 8 than iPhone X. Telling a non-geek they need to be awake, online, with credit card ready at some point in the dead of night to get their phone simply verbalizes the insanity that us geeks live in every day. I think getting your hands on your own iPhone X is going to be difficult for the foreseeable future.

If the iPhone X didn't exist, I'd be perfectly happy with an upgrade to an iPhone 8 this year. I, however, am a geek and the fact that something even newer and shinier exists would drive me nuts if I went with an iPhone 8 instead of an iPhone X.

My non-geek sister, however, could care less. She has a two-year-old phone and just wants a great iPhone. She's never heard the term edge-to-edge and would not want to deal with the inevitable issues that will arise from the iPhone X's new design and new user interface implementations, all of which will most likely be better in the second (or third) iteration anyway. That's why when she asked me which phone to buy a few days ago, I told her to get an iPhone 8.

MPU 396: Apple Event and iOS 11

This week’s show includes our takeaways from the September 12 Apple event. We dive deep on the new hardware, and I give Katie a hard time about buying a new iPhone. We also start discussing the features available in iOS 11, which will ship in just a few days. I’ve spent a lot of time using this beta software and have some thoughts and ideas on what works and what doesn't and how to get the most out of it.

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Craig Federighi Talks FaceID on the TalkShow

This week Apple’s software head, Craig Federighi, joined the TalkShow podcast to explain and answer questions about FaceID. It’s a great Sunday afternoon listen.

I think my favorite part was the disclosure that if you pick up your iPhone X and swipe from the bottom to the home screen, the iPhone will start the animation while it is simultaneously verifying your face and unlocking the device. There shouldn't be any delay, which is exactly the behavior I would expect.

Before this, I was concerned that you would have to unlock before swiping into your home screen, which would drive me nuts every time I turn the phone on.

The $1,000 iPhone

Because I’m such a geek, I often hear from my non-geek friends following a big Apple announcement. I would like to think my friends are generally pretty smart people. However, rarely have they actually watch the event. Instead, they’ve seen a headline or two or seen a joke on late-night TV somewhere and I’m always curious to see what these generally smart people actually take away at the end of all those filters.

By far, the most feedback I have received from friends on this week’s announcement is their outrage over price. Many are under the impression that the iPhone now starts at $1,000. I can see how they get that impression reading the headlines. I gently tell them that while there is a new $1,000 iPhone, there is a less expensive update that is still very nice. That usually quells the outrage.

Either way, it got me thinking. Apple may have a messaging problem on its hands. If everyone believes that all new iPhones start at $1,000, there is a non-zero number of people who won’t even go into the store to find out that is not true. I will be curious to see if they somehow cover pricing in any of their advertising around the iPhone 8.

Home Screens – Jason Tate

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This week's home screen post features Jason Tate (website)(Twitter). In addition to running Chorus.fm, Jason also hosts the Encore podcast, about the music industry. Jason's also an Apple geek. So Jason, show us your home screen.

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What are some of your favorite apps?

The big three are Drafts, Launch Center Pro, and Omnifocus. Omnifocus helps me run my life, and it was thanks to your great video courses that I was able to tap into the power the app offers. Drafts has become almost indispensable for me when handling text on the iPhone. Whenever an idea hits me I instinctively open Drafts. I know that I can easily move the text to a better place (event, todo, note) after it's written out. And lastly, there's Launch Center Pro. Which is kind of a cheat, because I use it to tie-in with Workflow to perform a variety of different tasks and give me access to a bunch of things I want to get to quickly, but don't use enough to keep on the home screen. (E.g. 3D Touch to bring up fast access to the phone, settings, and different logging workflows I use.)

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Overcast and Tweetbot. They just feel like such staples in my life now that I don't know what I'd do without either. One for listening to podcasts, learning, being entertained, and one as a machine to check in on whatever fresh horrors are going on in the world at any given moment. (Also memes and @Darth photoshops.) 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Probably the Music app. There's still some things that bother me about how it's designed, and I feel like I'm one of the weird ones that hasn't had many issues with Apple Music, but I do really like the app and service. Having access to my collection of music, anywhere, is something I've dreamt about since I was a kid. Now that it's here, I still sometimes can't believe how great it is. 

Beyond that? It would be Letterboxd. It's not on the home screen, but it's such a great little app to log what movies I've seen and see what other people are watching and enjoying. 

What app makes you most productive? 

Omnifocus, and there's not a particularly close second.

What app do you know you're underutilizing?

Ulysses. I use it mostly as a way to access all of the text documents that are stored in the app or in Dropbox. It has a fantastic, and very fast, search. However, I know I'm just scratching the surface of what the app can do.

What is the app you are still missing?

It seems silly, but I just don't think there's a photo app that has been cracked yet in a way that works right for me. I've tried a variety of third party apps, and all the big ones from the regular players, and none of them seem to stick, or feel right, for handling, managing, and searching my photos. It's like all of them are close, but missing just enough to make it really work.

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

From top to bottom: Dark Sky, to give a quick and easy look at what the current weather is and what's coming up. I live in Portland, OR, so knowing at a glance if I need to grab a coat with a hood when walking out the door is essential. Fantastical, so that I can get an overview of what events are on my calendar for the day. Streaks, which I use for a few select "habits" I'd like to maintain and track. Launch Center, where I just have quick links to Settings, Bluetooth, creating a Draft, and getting directions to a location. Then I have an ESPN widget to track my favorite sportsball teams and scores, and the batteries widget is at the bottom.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

At this point it's the incredible app ecosystem that continues to produce great apps that I think are second to none. There's a high bar for great software, and developers continue to impress me and release fantastic updates to apps that I don't think I could live without.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

I think I'd work on a more robust backup and photo solution. iCloud Backups feel like a half measure to me, it's almost as good as I think everyone wants it to be. The goal would be: your phone could be thrown in a lake somewhere, and you could sign into a new one and all your stuff would be there without much work. You wouldn't need to worry about managing your backup "cloud space" and deciding when or what you want to backup. I think that's the direction they're moving in, but it's not in a place where I'd trust it completely. Especially with photos or other important documents.

What's your wallpaper and why?

My current wallpaper is a simple graph paper design. For the home screen wallpaper, I like something simple and non-distracting. I shift between enjoying a primary color with a "blur" effect on it, and these subtle lines. I've never been one for the completely solid color background, I want a little movement or structure to it, and this has felt like a good compromise. The lock screen is where I change up the photo more often, usually to whatever is striking my fancy on a particular month. It's currently Spider-Gwen.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Nope! Thanks so much for featuring my home screen and for the great podcast and blog. I'm on Twitter posting mostly about music @jason_tate, and doing the same over at chorus.fm.

The A11 Bionic Chip

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As part of Apple’s announcements on Tuesday, they spent considerable time talking about the silicon in the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X. It’s called the A11 Bionic. While there have been lots of chips in the A series from Apple, I'm not aware of them ever giving one a moniker, like “Bionic”. For someone of my age, the term bionic has a very particular cultural reference

One thing is for sure, with six cores and all its other bells and whistles, the A11 is a screamer. Geekbench scores show it matching (more or less) the processing speed of the currently shipping 13-Inch MacBook Pro. That’s crazy.

I don’t think this means we’re going to see the A11 driving a Mac but I do think it is worth noting the crazy-fast processing speed these pocket computers are achieving. I also think this fast chip is really the foundation of many of the new features in the iPhone. So many of the new features, from photo processing to FaceID, all wouldn’t work without the A11.

A Few Thoughts on the September 12 Apple Event

Like so many other nerds, I spent several hours today on the couch watching the Apple event. Several observations came to mind:

  • The new campus looks amazing. I’m going to call in every favor I have from friends at Apple to try and get a tour. I know there’s a lot of consternation about how the workspaces are set up at the place does look beautiful.
  • It was really touching how emotional Tim was when talking about Steve. It seems clear to me Steve's legacy will continue so long as the people that worked with him remain at Apple.
  • It took too long to get Angela Ahrendts on stage but I'mglad they finally did.
  • That Apple Watch heart initiative is going to save lives. Mark my words.
  •  The cellular Apple Watch is interesting. However, they were very coy in talking about what the cellular connection is going to cost you. After the event, we’re finding out it’s generally $10 per month with each carrier. I don’t see myself as an early adopter with the cellular watch. I don’t go anywhere except the ocean and the pool without my phone and when I’m in the water, I have no desire to receive calls.
  •  That being said, if you have an original Apple Watch you may want to consider upgrading. I have the Series 2 and the brighter screen is really nice. Plus, two years of processor upgrades means the entire watch (and Siri) will work significantly better on this Series 3 watch than the original.
  •  About that new AppleTV … If you’ve got a 4K TV and it’s kind of big, you should check it out. Otherwise, move along.
  • Going into the event, I was concerned that they wouldn’t be able to sell the iPhone 8. I was wrong. The iPhone 8 has several nice enhancements over the iPhone 7 and will be a significant upgrade for folks who don’t want to go with the iPhone X. True Tone display, better cameras, the A11 (Bionic!) and 4K video at 60FPS are all significant improvements.
  • Phil Schiller on the iPhone X screen, “First OLED great enough to be in iPhone.” Never change Phil. Never change.
  • I really prefer the announced two-tiered iPhone storage program. 64G and 256G are just right. The previous three-tier system added too much complication that was further aggravated by the fact that for years the lowest tier at 16G was way too small. I feel like the storage being offered now is more of a square deal for consumers.
  • The difference between the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X is that screen, face recognition, a better camera system (image stabilization on both lenses is a big deal), and $300. I'm in.
  • I would not want to be the person to deliver the message to Apple management that the iPhone X can’t ship until November. Ugh.
  • On the topic of the iPhone X ship date, I think the November ship date is only beginning of your quest to obtain an iPhone X. With no inside knowledge whatsoever, expect supply constraints and back orders. The MPU Facebook group did an informal poll and the desire among nerds for the iPhone X is eclipsing the iPhone 8.
  • I think wireless charging is not going to be much of a deal in the end.
  • Did you see the way Craig Federighi dealt with that iPhone snafu? They had a problem demo model, he picked up the backup and continued like a boss. His speaking skills have come so far.
  • There was no mention of ProMotion technology for either new iPhone. That surprised me.
  • The Mac didn’t get mentioned once today. Nada.

The September 12 Apple Event

We’re just hours away from Apple’s big iPhone (and other things) announcement. This event has had a lot of leaks leading up to it but I suspect Apple will still have a few surprises in store of us. Moreover, one of the most important things Apple does at these events is tell their story for their products and services. With a new category of iPhone and some of their other announcements, the way Apple frames the product gives you a ton of information as to how they see things fitting together and which direction they are heading.

As for me, I did not get a golden ticket so I will not be in the Cupertino bunker watching the event live but instead sitting on my couch with a cold drink and my iPad. You can watch the event live on the Apple website and follow me on Twitter. I’ll be tweeting throughout the event.

Also, make sure to spend some quality time with your iPhone in the next few hours because by the time the event is over, you are going to hate it.

Mac Power Users 395: Feedback Show

In this feedback episode, we cover listener questions, must-have iOS utilities, tagging, automation, and more feedback. Finally, we discuss the Apple iPhone event scheduled for September 12.

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Agenda Minder for Better Meetings (Sponsor)

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This week MacSparky is sponsored by Agenda Minder, the application that makes it easy to capture information so that you can run killer meetings. Agenda Minder is a personal productivity tool that is designed to help people prepare for meetings and develop productive agendas. 

Agenda Minder is now up to version 1.51, including search features, filters, and tags. They’ve added a calendar import feature to make it easier than ever to get your meetings into Agenda Minder.

You can now get Agenda Minder in the Mac App Store or directly from the developer. You can even give the free trial a spin. For a short time, you’ll get a 20% discount with the code MacSparky. Thanks, Agenda Minder, for sponsoring MacSparky.

Leaky Apple

On top of the HomePod firmware release a few months ago, which appeared to be accidental, someone in Cupertino leaked the gold masters of iOS 11 a few days ago, which appears to be intentional. The gold master is usually the final version of a new operating system for developers to use in preparing their apps before the update releases. It always gets released after Apple's keynote and includes additional bits that were previously kept secret.

Looking at the gold master reveals a lot of information that Apple would have preferred to surprise us with at the keynote. I won't spoil anything here but if you'd like to learn more, I'll just point you at MacRumors, which, as always, is pulling every morsel it can out of this leak.

The interesting, and perhaps sad, part of this is that in years past, leaks about Apple products always came from the supply chain in China. Once production ramped up to make millions of phones before launch, it was only natural that a few random parts and photos would make it to the Internet. Cupertino, however, always seemed like it was locked up and rarely did we get software leaks from the Apple headquarters. However, this year that changed. Nearly all the significant leaks came from the mother ship. This must be driving a lot of people at Apple nuts.

Quality Developers

I have always felt that perhaps the biggest advantage to using Apple hardware is the rich market of quality independently developed software. There are so many apps on the Mac that simply don't exist for Windows. These independent developers are dedicated to making quality software and without them, I'd be much less likely to use Apple's hardware. Today is the 25th anniversary of the Omni Group but Omni's not alone. Michael Tsai points out that a lot of our favorite apps have been around awhile. My favorite post on this subject was Jason Snell's, Built to last.

 

Siri Today and in the Future

Yesterday Wired magazine published an article about the most recent improvements to Siri. Several prominent Apple executives participated including Alex Acero, the Siri lead, and Greg Joswiak.

The focus of the article was the improvement to Siri’s voice with IOS 11. Having used the beta now for several months, I can tell you that Siri is most certainly more expressive than in prior versions. The technology behind it, as explained in the article, is quite fascinating. Rather than using recorded words, they are using phonemes, which are the individual sound components of words assembled by Siri on-the-fly to be as expressive as possible.

One issue I would take with the article is that it almost feels as if they are implying Apple is only working on making Siri more expressive and not generally smarter. I'm pretty sure Apple can walk and chew gum, and from my own experience with Siri, it has continually improved since first released.

An example of this is calendar appointments. Up until about a year ago, scheduling calendar appointments was a syntax-heavy task with Siri. That's not true anymore. Now there are several ways that you can naturally ask Siri to schedule an appointment, and she usually gets it right. The "usually" in that sentence is the problem. "Usually" needs to become "Always" or "Almost Always". For Siri, the make-or-break moment is the first time a user tries to do something new. If you try to set a calendar appointment and Siri crashes and burns, you probably won't try it again. To get more users to buy in, Apple needs to continue to improve that first experience, so users are encouraged to dig deeper.

The Wired article also addresses the different philosophies of Apple versus Amazon with the development of intelligent assistants. Amazon, with the Echo, is opening things for third-party developers making the device work with more services but also requiring users to learn the specific syntax needed to use those newly acquired skills. Apple, on the other hand, wants things to become more natural language-based where users don't have to use a specific syntax to get work done.

For non-nerd users, natural language seems the only approach. I can't imagine convincing my wife to memorize the appropriate speaking syntax for every service she wants to use through Siri or Alexa.

I think in the short term, the Amazon approach is easier and gets the ball forward faster. In the long-term, I think the Apple approach could be right if properly executed. If Siri does incorporate machine learning and artificial intelligence the way Apple wants it to, it could ultimately end up leapfrogging the syntax driven approach of its competitors. 

Disaster Preparedness for Your Technology

In light of Irma’s imminent arrival in Florida today, I thought it’d be worth linking a few articles addressing technology-related disaster preparation. First, Ars Technica has an article about the utility of having a UPS attached to your networking gear. I just did that a few months ago and it’s already paid off when I was doing some electrical work on the house that required turning off the power and I was still able to WiFi instructional YouTube video. I can see it being even more useful in a hurricane. Katie Floyd made a good point on this week’s upcoming Mac Power Users that if you are expecting a lot of lightning, you can unplug the UPS from the wall and use it as a massive iPhone/iPad charger.

Speaking of Katie Floyd, she’s a lifetime Florida resident and disaster preparedness runs cold through her veins. She put up a smart post with several of the technology related steps she takes whenever Florida goes on storm watch.

If things are really going off the rails for you, think about your data first. A few years ago we had some wild fires literally across the street from my home. It all happened very fast and we had almost no time to prepare before being evacuated. With 20 minutes to get out, we grabbed all the pictures off the walls and all the hard drives with all the family data. Give some thought to how you'd deal with that sort of fire drill. If you wouldn't be able to get your most valuable data quickly, time to buy some additional hard drives or come up with some other plan. 

Finally, if you're reading this from Florida, please take care and be safe.

iPhone (Pro?) Size Comparisons and Naming

Redmond Pie took a mock-up iPhone (Pro/Edition/8) and compared it to existing and past iPhones. Most interesting to me is the picture below pitting it against a 7 Plus.

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For existing plus-sized customers, the phone would get smaller and have fewer pixels. However, with the edge-to-edge display, it appears you’ll get more vertical space, which is what I want most anyway. This product hasn’t even been announced yet and I’m already lusting for one.

While on the topic of the fancy new iPhone, I’d like to weigh in on its name. I’m against giving it a new number. For example, giving the upgrades to last year's phones the names “iPhone 7” and “iPhone 7 Plus” while naming the fancy new iPhone “iPhone 8”. I think that does a disservice to the existing iPhone upgraded models, which will account for most of the sales. I would rather they all have the same number but different descriptors. For instance, “iPhone 8”, “iPhone 8 Plus”, and “iPhone 8 Pro”. As for descriptors, it seems like the two big options are either “Pro” or “Edition”. If I had my way, it would be “Pro”. “Edition” feels a little too elitist to me and reminds me of $20,000 watches. 

There are going to be so many rumors over the next few days before the Apple event. My recommendation is to not get too hung up on any of them and when Tuesday arrives, enjoy the show.

 

More on Microsoft Office for Mac

My post a few days ago about the future of Microsoft Office drew a lot of email. Here are a few random bits I picked up along the way:

  • A lot of people really hate subscription software.
  • Office 2011 has some Add-in support that Office365 still doesn’t support, like Mathtype
  • I heard from an anonymous tipster that claims to be at Microsoft. The tipster said that: 1) Microsoft is “not going anywhere” on the Mac and we can expect Office365 into the future; 2) The subscription model solved their software piracy problem, nearly overnight, and is not going away. I always am hesitant to share anonymous information on this site but this one felt credible and makes sense.