Well, it doesn’t smell like burning feathers.

A lot has been written about how the Apple Store has set up their try-on appointments. They have a nice case showing all the models with non-working samples. They have very nice stations with a watch you can touch, and an iPad showing explanations of the different programs and modes, it was possible to figure out about 90% of how the watch works in a few minutes. Your actual try-on appointment is done at a special table, where they have drawers full of actual watches (though they are not free-range, they are running a demo loop) next to one of the stations you can use to interact. A sales person pulls out the models you are interested in and puts them on you, adjusting the bands if necessary.

Though some have complained that the UI breaks in some strange ways from iOS 8, the UI wasn’t particularly alien, and for anyone who has owned a few digital watches, it’s comparatively easy to set and configure compared to some.

As a watch, it’s not as heavy or clunky looking as some digital watches I’ve owned. The difference in size and weight between the 38mm and 42mm is fairly subtle in person. The fit and finish of the watch are excellent, and the elastomer band on the Sport Watch is very comfortable. The Stainless Steel watch is a bit heavier, but again very comparable to other watches, and has a look and feel of great precision. The link bracelet is very impressive, the Apple salesman was able to size the bracelet to my wrist in seconds due to the removable links. I think it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed with the watch as a piece of jewelry.

The software looks pretty good, it runs pretty quickly, though I suspect your mileage will vary outside of wifi. Maps can take a few seconds to load, but you know, you’re waiting for them to come down from space and all. The display looks great, and there are so many watch face variations to choose from. The fitness monitoring functions are attractive and look like they will add to my already exhausting bag of personal monitoring tricks.

The only thing this very choreographed sales presentation didn’t communicate to me was how the watch works for one particular function, which is wearing it on your wrist and seeing what time it is. Nobody at the Apple store has an actual working watch yet, though that should change when they are released next week. I’m hoping I can replace my Nike FuelBand with this device, so this is no small matter for me. So, I’ll wait a bit longer and research whether there will be a Nike app for the watch as well.

Since the watch now has shipping dates into June or July, there’s no hurry to act. Also, the sales force at the Apple Store are fairly new at this, the experience was quite good, but the sales folks don’t have as much information as they could, they really couldn’t answer some of my more specific questions about the fitness features (for example, does the Watch have an M8 chip, so it can count stairs climbed? I live in a ti-level, and would like to get that information before my next iPhone upgrade…), and none of them have actually used the real watch themselves. Might as well wait until they actually ship and someone can actually show you the real watch in action.

The demo watches, though, had smooth animations, the Digital Crown response is instantaneous and smooth, and most of the apps or Glances on the watch launched instantly, with the exception of Maps. The final released Watch OS software is supposed to have improved performance, so I’m not concerned about that. I’m more concerned about whether I will get the opportunity to see how the watch works when you want to check the time.

This is my biggest concern, the timepiece use case. Right now, it takes up to 3 button presses of the Nike FuelBand to see the time, depending on the mode it was in last, and that can take a few seconds of attention. I often grab my phone from my pocket instead to check the time rather than go through that. So, if the ‘raise your wrist to check the time, and it just turns on’ function really works as advertised, I’m probably in. The other functionality of the watch is mostly an add-on for me.

Seeing and holding the models in person, I have to say that the Apple Watch Sport is much less of a compromise than the cost would suggest. It looks great, the build quality is just as good as the other models, and the lower price takes the edge off of any ‘version 1.0′ jitters you might have.

So, the likelihood that I’ll end up getting one is fairly high, but I can wait another week for the real watch to come out before ordering. Anyway you slice it, it’s more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’ purchase.

(Tried to upload this yesterday before my appointment, but Wordpress Mobile doesn’t like my ancient installation of Wordpress. It’s definitely time to upgrade…)

I managed to snag a try-on appointment for the Apple Watch tonight.

After all this hype and speculation, really the only way to know if this product makes sense is to see it in action and feel it on your own wrist. I don’t care what it does if it’s uncomfortable or heavy or something unexpected like ‘the band smells like burning feathers.’

For me as a user, it’s not as expensive or frivolous as it may be for some. I use a fitness band that makes a terrible watch and lacks heart rate monitoring.

Withings makes a watch that costs nearly as much, but fails to understand the compulsive measurement aspect of health monitoring, with its analog activity dial. It also lacks the heart rate monitor. I have a Timex heart rate monitoring watch that sits in my drawer because it requires putting a huge rubber band across your chest. (Actually the rubber band isn’t huge enough for a big guy, which is even worse.) The Apple Watch solves these problems and throws in much more functionality, so it’s not an expensive item relative to the universe of health gadgets.

The proof will be in the wearing, though. I don’t care that much about the looks — I’ve owned clunkier and nerdier watches. But if it smells like burning feathers, or checking the time isn’t at least as seamless as TouchID, it’s a non-starter. Your mileage may vary, but that’s kind of the point with wearables.

My replacement Nike FuelBand arrived a week or two ago; it’s the Nike Fuelband SE. The packaging and the device look exactly like the first model of Fuelband, so I was a bit confused at first, but once you plug the device in, it’s a big difference.

For one thing, the display animations are much faster, requiring less time to check your progress or see what time it is. The most important change in the user experience, though, is the data sync. In the first version of the fuel band you had to press and hold the button (you know, that button that always broke for me on four different fuel bands) in order to sync. It would then link via Bluetooth to your phone and update the app with your progress. It did this very slickly and seamlessly in early versions in the app, but later versions were kind of wonky with this feature.

With the new model of the FuelBand, they do it the way it should have been done in the first place. Launching the *app* will just automatically sync up with the band and get the progress. Much more intuitive, and it seems to work much more reliably as well. It should also put a lot less stress on the button — I’m hoping the new model has a more reliable button mechanism to begin with, but I also will use it less as a result of this change, which is good thinking on their part. The FuelBand works best as a ‘put on and forget’ device.

Nike must be feeling the competition from other fitness trackers, or perhaps the upcoming Apple Watch — the Fuelband SE now is $99 for the stock models, and there are a couple of glitzier-looking colors that run $149.

This article about the iOS8 Message app has a lot of great insight about how one can improve a commonly-used feature , and the importance of attention to detail. The genius of this change is that they added an amazing amount of power, but what the user sees is not so different from iOS7 that they would get lost.

The only downside is that the change isn’t easy to discover for everyone. Tap and hold is pretty common now — he points out that many messaging apps like WhatsApp have it, and it’s something that Pinterest uses as well — but it’s not always clear in an interface what things support it.

These instantly sent pieces of media are also ephemeral. You have to explicitly ask to save them, or they self-destruct after 2 minutes.

tl;dr – if you tap and hold on the microphone or camera icon in your iMessage screen, you can send voice or pictures or video without launching another app. They’ve also made tapping on the camera icon show you the most recently taken photos so you can send them without searching. Easy-to-miss, but smart changes.

My Nike Fuelband died yet again (which is definitely the subject of a future story), and this time they didn’t have replacements immediately in stock, so I’ve been band-less while Nike was inspecting my returned device and issuing a voucher. The good news is that my replacement is going to be the Fuelband SE model, which has more functionality, and presumably a better switch; I cannot complain about Nike’s Customer Service in the least.

The not-so-good news is that Nike Move, an M7-enabled iOS app, makes for a very poor substitute. For one thing, while it collects NikeFuel, their secret-sauce proprietary substitute for steps, calories, etc., it does not seem to integrate with the Nikeplus.com website. As a result, I can’t sync Fuel points I earned while my device was AWOL. The Nike Move app is integrated with Game Center, rather than Nike’s own gamified site. It’s also not integrated with HealthKit, even though NikeFuel is unique among the measurements captured in Apple’s Health app, the only proprietary measurement there.

Nike has some fabulous real estate in the HealthKit ecosystem, and none of their apps seem to take advantage of it yet. The Fuelband app is still not integrated with Health, though it is superbly integrated with the NikePlus site.

The other thing about Nike Move is that it is very poor at actually using the M7 co-processor. The app seems to need to be running to capture data, and even then it has days where it just forgets to get any. Runkeeper’s Breeze app, Lose It!, and Withings HealthMate app, are all capable of going back as far as the max 7 days of M7 data and calculating the steps. They don’t resolve the M7 events to exactly the same numbers, but they don’t miss any, either.

It seems like Nike is waiting for its next move in the tentative months before the Apple Watch comes out. Perhaps their developers are knee deep in WatchKit, but the shortcomings in Nike Move are a big missed opportunity to keep their mindshare in health monitoring alive.

An analysis of apps in the Apple App store by price, ratings, etc. Some interesting insights, including that 60% of the apps in the app store have no ratings.

WWDC 2014 tickets will be offered via a lottery You have until 10am PDT April 7 to register for a chance to attend, and people will be notified that evening. Given the limited size of the conference, which has maxed out at 5000 attendees to maintain a 5 attendees-per-Apple-engineer ratio, this is my first chance to go in years.

This analysis of Apple’s Arm processor micro architecture suggests that there is a lot of untapped power that iOS apps aren’t using yet.

This new tool provides a quick way to generate code to animate iOS transitions.

With Amazon’s new Fire TV and a rumored new offering from Google soon, this may very well be the year that iOS apps move to the Apple TV. The LA Times compares the current crop of TV boxes here.

Clearly the streaming media race is heating up: Amazon is rumored to be going after Spotify with a new streaming subscription service soon.

Speaking of Spotify, their newest version on iOS is beautifully designed, and very in-line with the iOS 7 aesthetic, with a content-forward look-and-feel. I haven’t had time to completely explore it, but really like what I see so far.

Microsoft has announced Cortana, their answer to Siri and Google Now. While the reference to the character from Halo probably resonates with the Xbox crowd, it seems like an obscure choice to pick for an already underdog mobile platform. I had no idea who Cortana was myself, having never played Halo. The interesting thing about the feature is that it’s powered by Bing — this may be the time for Bing to actually shine, the Bing team has some great technology that has been largely ignored, but maybe mobile is the right venue.
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