Digesting the new Apple Announcements

Was on my way back from Burning Man when the latest Apple announcements came out. The iPad Pro plus Apple Pencil combination looks like it will give Wacom some heartburn. The larger form factor of the iPad Pro combined with the 3D touch should enable some new forms of interaction; it will be interesting to see what developers do with this, but it’s going to take a while before the ecosystem gets comfortable.

Same goes with WatchOS 2.0 and the new tvOS. That’s a lot of stuff for devs to embrace, especially when they are scrambling to prepare for the iOS 9 release. I know I have a lot of woodshedding to do, including an update to iBuddha for iOS 8 compatibility, and perhaps an iBuddha for Apple Watch.

I don’t think the expansion of the ecosystem is a bad thing at all, and it’s likely to weed out a lot of casual hobbyist developers. The companies most able to take advantage of this explosion of alternatives will be bigger companies, but that also creates an opportunity for someone to provide smaller developers with tools for building apps that can run appropriately across all the platforms. Games are going to go crazy on the new Apple TV, especially if you can handoff from your iPhone or iPod. These announcements are the fruit of the Handoff work that was done in Yosemite; Apple is playing a long game, and it’s not obvious how any one move is supposed to stack up.

More when I’ve had a chance to digest the announcements further and look at docs on the new OS offerings.

How one Apple blogger lost 40 pounds with the Apple Watch

Jim Dalrymple from The Loop, an excellent Apple blog site, recently made a couple of posts about his experience with the Apple Watch as a fitness device. Unlike most of us, Dalrymple had early access to the device, and has been using it for 10 months.

His first posting explaining how the watch helped him lose 40 pounds spawned a second post with more details.

Health monitoring, diet, and fitness are very personal, so his experiences may or may not apply to you, but it’s clear that the health features of the Watch are very promising.

I’ve had mine now for about 10 days, and I am finding it much more useful than the Nike Fuelband and software. For one thing, it doesn’t look like some sort of house arrest bracelet. Plus the heart rate monitoring makes a huge difference in my awareness about how much ‘exercise’ I’m getting from my walks. The ‘stand up once an hour’ reminder is also very helpful. The gamification of this device is deeper in a lot of ways than that on the FuelBand, though the FuelBand achievements are more fun.

Apple Watch: after the try-on

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.

Mobile Links for week ending April 5, 2014

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.
.

Is a less expensive iPhone in the works? Why Apple might do this.

We’ve heard this rumor before, usually in the WSJ:   Apple is planning to introduce a lower-cost iPhone so they can expand their market share, particularly in the Third World.  This one also has the questionable stamp of approval of Digitimes, who usually get these things wrong.

It hasn’t made much sense in the past.  iPhones have been selling briskly, about as fast as Apple can make them, and the high margin has kept Apple at the top of the heap in profits from mobile.   Why would Apple need to sweeten the deal, so to speak, by shaving hundreds of dollars off of their margin? Apple has traditionally not been concerned with market share over profit margin.  Furthermore, it’s not clear what compromises in the design could lower the cost without compromising user experience, other than the outer shell, a small portion of the manufacturing cost.

There are some recent shifts that may make this a good move now, however:

Apple wants to accelerate uptake of its new Lightning connector. Apple is obviously serious about transitioning its devices to Lightning as quickly as possible; it’s introduction of a 4th-generation Retina iPad with a spec bump and Lightning risked alienating a lot of the folks who had bought the iPad 3, but they did it anyway.  All of their iPod products have also been updated to eliminate the old connector.  This movement to Lightning is being slowed down by the continued offering the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s as lower-cost models, committing Apple and its OEMs to another 2 years of supporting and offering accessories for the old, tired iPod connector.

T-Mobile is eliminating device subsidies, and planning to offer the iPhone for the first time. A lower-priced iPhone makes sense here, as T-Mobile customers are not likely to be as enthusiastic about paying $649 for the iPhone 5 out of their own pockets.   Furthermore, a new iPhone model with a less expensive $199/$299 price point, different materials, etc.  would serve the need without necessarily cannibalizing sales of the fancier subsidized model at other carriers.    Other US Carriers are waiting to see the results of T-Mobile’s experiment , so whatever move Apple makes here will need to anticipate a future where people are paying out-of-pocket for their own phones.?  IMHO, Apple could get away with a slightly higher price point for the non-subsidized phone, but they are going to have to reduce the premium paid for their product in this market — an iPhone selling at twice the price of an unlocked Galaxy Nexus 4 would be a non-starter for many people.

The iPhone 4 is kind of off the table for T-Mobile, because it doesn’t support LTE,  though T-Mobile does say that they already have 1.9 million iPhones on their network.

Apple could get a lot of mileage out of retrofitting the iPhone 4S with Lightning and using a polycarbonate back, preferably in colors. It would be a hoot to see Bondi Blue and some of the other iMac colors make a return.    At the right price point, this could be a serious switcher device to lure back people burned by the lackluster Android phones on T-Mobile.   However, it’s not clear where Apple can cut the corners on its newer devices to even hit a price point like $199, given estimates for the build cost of the iPhone 5 at around $200.

Some of the other speculation, like larger screens, makes very little sense given the needs of the developer ecosystem.   It’s going to be at least another year or two before developers switch their apps to the new iOS6-only method of automatically managing app screen layout, because the technology does not gracefully extend to iOS 5.  Given that many apps (including my own) have not been updated for the new iPhone 5 screen size even now, this isn’t realistic.