Category: Apple (page 1 of 24)

WWDC

Two days from now and we’ll have just sat through the WWDC 2017 keynote. WWDC is predominantly a software event with focus on new iOS and macOS releases but Apple’s hardware has been stagnating so expectations for Monday are high. What do I hope/expect?

  • iOS improvements especially for iPad. My iPad is 3 1/2 years old and I want to see a jump in functionality for iPad users.
  • A new iPad! I’d like to pick up one along with a keyboard and pen. I’m not sure what to expect from new hardware although the rumours of an in-between size of the two current pro’s and more glass/less bezel sounds pretty compelling.
  • macOS – hope Apple can show the Mac a little love. I like the idea of going to macOS 11 and linking numbering to iOS but doubt it will happen. Hopefully there’s something on the software front as I expect any Mac hardware updates will be CPU only. How about killing iTunes which has been on many people’s wish list for years? Fingers crossed.
  • Photo’s. Really needs some love after a promising start especially when compared to Google Photos.
  • One more thing…Siri speaker? I’d prefer a 4k Apple TV at a reasonable price to be honest.

A fairly modest list of wants really. It will be interesting to see what’s shown that hasn’t been predicted or talked about, and also how they stack up against Google and Facebook and the industry in general which is focussing on AI and AR. Changing of the guard, my tastes changing or the appeal of something new? All I know is Apple isn’t delivering for me like they used to. Roll on Monday.

10 Years of iPhone

9th January 2007. I’d been an iPod user for many years and a Mac user for six months and really enjoyed Apple’s keynotes at the time even if it was watching on the live blogs rather than on a video stream. Apple never attended CES but always used to dominate the show with an announcement of a new product or updates to an existing line but the announcement of the iPhone was special.

It’s still great to watch it now. Steve Jobs in his prime, a product that was a game changer compared to everything else on the market and by far the best tech announcement in my lifetime so far. When re-watching the announcement a few things stand out:

  • Steve starts with such confidence and in just over three minutes has already announced the iPhone name and has the audience eating out of his hand.
  • Slide to unlock demo is the first hint at the innovation to come and what the touch interface will bring.
  • Demo of the iPod and the build up to how will you select an artist…the first demo of touch scrolling and the gasps from the audience. So good.
  • Amazing to see the first mention of the camera and photo’s was in the phone section rather than internet communicator. Total contrast to today’s demo’s and the focus on photos.
  • Pinch to zoom – another gasp.
  • How slow Safari was to load pages.
  • Let me bring Dr Eric Schmidt onto the stage. How times have changed as back in 2007 Schmidt was on the board and Google was a big part of the demo.
  • Totally forgot that a bluetooth headset was announced alongside the iPhone.
  • Near the end of the launch Steve said the iPhone is like having your life in your pocket, the ultimate digital device. How true.
  • He then finished with a quote – I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been from Wayne Gretzky. Hard to look at todays Apple and feel the same could be said in 2017.

When you look at what the iPhone launched against at the time it really was a jump forward and offered some game changing features that we now take for granted. Swiping, pinch, large touchscreen and literally no buttons. Yet I didn’t buy the first one – no 3G was a deal breaker for me and sure enough only a few months after launch Apple announced a new version that had 3G and more importantly removed reliance on web apps and brought with it the App Store. For more on the history of the iPhone, this post from the Internet History Podcast is well worth a read.

The version 1 iPhone is the best product launch I’ve seen. Now we carry computers in our pockets and for the majority of people it’s the only device they need. What will the next 10 years bring? Hard to tell but I can’t wait to find out.

Apple AirPods

7th September seems an awfully long time ago. Apple announced the iPhone 7, removed the headphone port but also heralded a wireless future…October will see the release of Apple’s AirPods which will make you totally forget about wired headphones. Except October came and went with no AirPods released. Last week they announced availability online and also in store from December 19th. I’d had no big inclination to buy them but I was keen to get rid of the wires, EarPods had suited my ears up to now and I was keen to play with a new toy – what is there to lose? I’ve used them for four days now, in and around the house and also on a couple of longish walks so felt that was enough time to share some views.

Design
The AirPods aren’t just wireless earphones. The case they come in is also a charging and storage device. When you first unbox the AirPods and open and close the case it just feels right. There’s a nice weight to the case and the lid has a nice magnetic close – it’s great for fidgeters.

When you first unbox the AirPods the case has some charge as do the AirPods but it looks like the amount of charge varies looking at posts on Twitter. The AirPods battery life is around 5 hours and a fully charged case + AirPods will provide around 24 hours of battery life. Popping the AirPods in the case for 15 minutes will provide around three hours of charge so if you do run out of juice it doesn’t take long to get back up and listening. The case is charged via a lightning port on it’s base and before you throw out or store your AirPods box remember to take out the charging cable.

One of the slams against the AirPods is that you’ll lose them – I just don’t get that. You’ll use the case to carry them around and unless you are a total klutz I just don’t see them being lost. If you do lose one of the AirPods a replacement will cost £69 from Apple. The case however is easily pocketable and really makes for a great carrying and charging solution. Switching on the AirPods is also really easy – just remove them from the case. To switch them off place them in the case…which also uses magnets to snap the AirPods back into place. Something I have found with the AirPods is that they are on the slippy side. They are small and I find it a little bit awkward getting them in and out of the case and into my ears. Potentially I can see this getting worse over time as they get a bit greasy from use so maybe the replacement from Apple will be a thing, not for lost AirPods but for broken ones as I’ve dropped mine a couple of times already.

Smart Apple
Opening the case near your iPhone pops up a pairing screen. Click on the Connect button and the AirPods are paired, renamed and the pairing information is sync’d across your devices via iCloud. The AirPods are at their heart just a set of bluetooth headphones but Apple have added a series of touches that make them the easiest bluetooth headphones to use. To see the current battery levels, open the case near the phone and up will pop the current charging level of the case and the AirPods. Pop an AirPod into your ear and you hear a small chime letting you know that the AirPods are on and connected. A duller chime will tell you the battery is almost dead.

Another nice feature is removing one AirPod will cause the audio to pause. Replacing it will cause it to resume. This in many ways makes up for the lack of controls but not totally as you need to rely on Siri – more on that later. At work if someone approaches or I want to answer a call I need to pause and take out my headphones or just let them play and move back through the song or podcast. Now I just remove an AirPod, carry out a conversation, then place it back and the playback resumes. You can also just use one AirPod if you are making telephone calls. Each AirPod has a built in mic and you only need one for making and receiving calls. I’ve had no issues on a couple of calls so far with the AirPods although they weren’t outside so I’m not sure how they perform in windy conditions.

So…Siri. I don’t get on that well with Siri and if there’s a major downside to the AirPods so far is their reliance on Siri to carry out commands. To invoke Siri you double tap on the AirPod and then ask Siri to change volume, skip track etc. It’s clumsy. It’s slow compared to a physical button. It’s weird, especially in public. It’s also not always accurate which a physical button usually is. It’s the biggest miss for me compared to wired headphones that have some form of clicker.

You can visit the bluetooth settings in your iPhone to change the double tap behaviour from Siri to play/pause or just switch it off. It’s a shame there isn’t some more options here. Why can’t I configure a single or triple click? Why can’t I configure the double click to skip tracks? Why can’t I configure each AirPod to act differently to a tap?

Another thing thats weird is that if you have no internet connection…then no Siri…and no changing the volume via Siri – it just fails. Very un-Apple like and kills the experience. I’ll rely on using the phone or watch to make volume changes or skip tracks as it’s far easier and quicker.

Sound and Fit
Headphones are no use if they don’t sound good and are comfortable to wear. Lets deal with the sound first. At work or out walking I listen to a mixture of podcasts and music. The sound quality of the AirPods to my ears is better than the EarPods but clearly isn’t the best out there. For me the quality is good enough. Audio is clear and plenty loud for my needs apart from on the underground. They aren’t noise cancelling so for airplanes there are better options. Flipping between AirPods and EarPods there is slightly more bass with the AirPods but I’ve some older in ear buds that sound much better. At work though I don’t want to be totally isolated from whats going on so the AirPods are good for me…I know others think differently or work in scenarios which mean they don’t want any distractions. If thats the case then the AirPods aren’t for you.

Fit is more tricky. When I was running I had real difficulty getting in ears that would stay in my ear without having to fix them every minute. However the EarPods stuck in my ears no matter how sweaty, windy, wet it was. The AirPods are a slightly different shape to the EarPods but again they fit perfectly for me. They are comfortable, never feel like they are going to come out and I’ve worn then for hours and you forget they are even there. I did a shake test which shows they don’t come out for me. However I know others for whom the AirPods just don’t fit. They slip out easily or are really uncomfortable.

So the fit is fine but there’s one last niggle – do AirPods look weird? I don’t think there’s much difference between AirPods and EarPods but they do look…odder. Longer and they stick out slightly. The design is where we are with batteries right now and how much can be packed into such a small volume. I’m fine with it and I’d rather walk around with AirPods than a large over the ear type device.

Should You Buy?
AirPods aren’t cheap at £159 and that will put off a lot of buyers. For the price you can definitely get better sounding wireless headphones but for me the upgrade over the EarPods and the move to wireless are well worth the asking price especially as they work so well with other Apple products. If EarPods haven’t been an issue for you and their sound quality has been good enough then the AirPods are a great purchase. It’s Apple’s most delightful product in years.

Mojo

I recently wrote about being 10 years on a Mac. It’s been a remarkably stable time with access to a lot of great software and hardware. However there’s no getting away from it – Apple have been stagnating when it comes to Mac’s.

Going back 10 years and there was a marked difference between buying a Mac and buying a PC. Apple owned the software and hardware process and there were very few product lines compared to the hundreds of PC’s available and the crapware that afflicted every PC from Dell to HP, Dan to Acer. They all did it and it stunk. No virus or malware issues either. And for me the difference in how the hardware was designed was massive.

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

PC or Mac from 2006. Which would you have rather had?

This was also the time of the Mac vs PC adverts that went on for a few years. How times have changed.

This week saw Microsoft and Apple launch new desktop and laptop products. The difference between then couldn’t be more stark and shows that Microsoft have got their mojo back…and Apple are looking a little lost.

The problem for Apple is iOS. It’s a great problem to have, but Mac and iOS are two very different platforms that share quite a bit in common. iOS is the rising platform, dominant in sales and very much the future of computing. Mac is much loved amongst the Apple community but sales in the desktop and laptop market are going down. Global PC sales have declined for eight consecutive quarters. End users aren’t upgrading their PC’s as often – my desktop and laptop are over 5 and 4 years old respectively and still going strong.

However iOS is Apple’s touch driven environment and Mac’s have been left behind in that regards. Is it the right approach? Well Microsoft don’t think so and having messed up so much in the past on mobile they’ve bet on having a unified operating system. So Windows 10 works anywhere, mouse or touch driven, so you can take advantage of your hardware depending on the situation you are in. They are also hitting their stride when it comes to hardware. A few years ago the Surface Pro was a nice device but version 4 is great and with the Surface Book and now the Surface Studio there’s a real wow around Microsoft’s hardware from a design perspective.

Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsofts Surface Studio

Microsoft are courting creatives. IBM have rolled out Macs across the enterprise. Microsofts new devices are not cheap unlike Windows products of the past. Good design costs money and the small creative market are willing to pay to get the best devices. Software is not really locked to platforms. Adobe allow you to work on Mac or PC and the experience on both is pretty much identical. The Mac App Store hasn’t done the Mac platform any favours. Equally the emerging VR market is a Windows exclusive right now. Apple hardware isn’t powerful enough to drive any of the VR platforms and they’ve yet to show their hand when it comes to AR or VR apart from Tim Cook verbally favouring AR.

Whats frustrating for me is that Apple look to be slowing down. Stagnating. The Mac market is getting smaller so is the ideal market to innovate in. In contrast last weeks announcements were pretty snooze worthy. Pricey laptops, confusing naming strategy coupled with a lovely new Touch Bar. The laptops aren’t using the latest chips and the RAM looks stingy. Add to that a greater than three years old Mac Pro, and ageing iMac and Mini. What’s going on?

Worse for us in the UK is that all Mac prices rose last week thanks to Brexit. While I can understand the rise for the new MacBook Pro’s and the iMac’s, it’s a disgrace that the ancient Mac pro rose by £500. Poor decision Apple or don’t you care? Seeing as the Mac Pro website still references Aperture, a product that Apple killed over 12 months ago, I’m thinking they don’t care.

Or has Apple got too big? The video above from Steve Jobs is prophetic and could describe todays Apple. This years iPhone is undoubtedly a great phone but it’s safe. Compare it to the Xiaomi Mi Mix which is a gorgeous new Android device and shows some true innovation with regards design and materials.

Xiaomi Mi Mix - stunning new Android phone

Xiaomi Mi Mix – stunning new Android phone

Apple for me right now feels conservative. Undoubtedly making bundles of cash but hedging bets and not as exciting as they once were. However the likes of Microsoft, Google and Samsung have some great products out there. As a tech lover I’m spoiled for choice. Earlier in the week a colleague said they were worried at Apples approach. I’m personally not worried as it’s easy to move platform so I’ll always have access to the best hardware and software…but that should give cause for concern for Apple. Over time if people start to move away, especially developers and creatives, then it could be the start of a slow decline. Hopefully Apple will prove me wrong in 2017. They need to find their mojo again.

10 Years on a Mac

Hard to believe but it’s 10 years since I moved from PC to Mac. 10 years! I’d been using an iPod for a few years when in 2006 Apple moved to Intel processors and updated their iMac design. It was all too tempting so I said farewell to viruses, tara to malware and hello to hassle free Mac computing. That was the plan and for the most part it’s been true. Here’s some thoughts on my Mac/Apple journey inspired by this post from Elaine Giles earlier in the year.

iMac up and running

Macbook ProI loved that first iMac and picked up an 80Gb iPod at the same time. The first three months was so good that at Christmas I bought a MacBook Pro. What a great laptop that was. Fast, quiet, quick to boot and the design was to die for. 2007 saw the release of the iPhone but it just wasn’t for me. No 3G, no app’s. It was a lovely first phone but not enough to make me move. So I stuck with my Sony Ericson, remember them, and waited for Apple to update their Jesus phone.

iOS
2008 saw Apple release the iPhone 3G, iOS 2.0 and the App Store. I jumped in and picked up a 16GB iPhone 3G and bought far too many app’s on day 1. Super Monkey Ball, MotionX Poker and Twitterrific were all stand out app’s even in those early days. The iPhone and success of the App Store started a shift in focus for Apple, developers and consumers.

Subsequent iPhones increased in power and performance and I lapped them up. The 3GS, the 4 and 5 all followed and unlike other phones they kept their value in the second hand market remarkably well.

In 2010 Steve Jobs revealed the iPad. I still remember myself and Shak both dismissing it as a big iPhone…and then a few weeks later queuing for one at the Apple store in Glasgow. For me it was definitely a consumption device. Magazines, books and comics all worked really well on the iPad especially the retina model which came out in 2012. At the end of 2013 I moved to an iPad Air which I still use today.

I tried a couple of keyboards during the various iPad’s I’ve owned and went through a few different styluses but none really stuck. I did do a few work related tasks on them but the iPad remained mostly a media consumption device. When the iPad Pro’s came out I was close to picking one up but stuck with the Air mostly due to the cost and initially being unsure of the 12″ iPad Pro.

2014 saw me move to the iPhone 6 and this year I picked up an iPhone 7. It’s a fantastic phone but it feels the end of the line with a redesign likely next year. Competitors are using better components and catching up on the camera front…and many feel their phone camera’s are now better than the iPhone’s but at least the iPhone doesn’t explode.

Back to the Mac
So iPhone and iOS has become the focus for Apple but I still love the Mac. May 2011 and I upgraded to a new iMac. This was a great machine – 27″ screen, SSD and really fast processor. In fact it was so good (after a 16GB RAM upgrade) that over 5 years later I’m still using it. It still copes with most things I throw at it although there are two main shortfalls. It really struggles to process 4k video which both the camera and drone support and secondly it’s not a retina device.

This is also true for the MacBook Air I picked up in 2012. Non retina and not in any way a powerhouse but it does the job for me in a few key area’s that the iPad Air doesn’t. So apart from the iPhone my other Apple products are all getting long in the tooth. I almost forgot – 2015 and the Apple Watch. It’s been OK and Watch OS 3 makes a big difference but I’ve not moved on to the latest version until I see some app’s that will make a difference. I don’t need a faster CPU to get a notification more quickly.

The sorry state of Mac hardware

The sorry state of Mac hardware

The main reason I haven’t updated the Mac’s is mostly thanks to the slow progress that Apple have made with Mac hardware. Certainly the move to retina is great but if I look at the current Mac platforms, they are all old. Buy a Retina MacBook Pro today, which is probably their flagship Mac platform, and the hardware is over 500 days old. That’s shocking. How many people are buying a Retina MacBook Pro today not knowing that the inner hardware is that old. Same for the MacBook Air although I’m assuming sales of the Air are now very small – the bezel looks dated and it’s a non-retina screen.

The Mac platform is clearly secondary for Apple. The Mac App store is a mess in comparison to the iOS version. The latest Mac release, Sierra, has very little for Mac users. Compare Messages in iOS which saw a massive upgrade in iOS 10 to the Messages in Sierra. Crickets. And where is the hardware from Apple that would support any sort of VR headset? If you are in any way interested in the Oculus or Vive platforms then a Windows PC is the only option.

What’s Next
Over the next 18 months I’ll be replacing my iPad, MacBook Air and iMac…and probably my iPhone too! With iOS and iPhone I have no complaints and I love the platform. My current thinking is that I’ll replace the iPad and MacBook Air with an iPad Pro. No idea on size, but the keyboard and Pencil support of both Pro models will leave me needing only one device to replace the current iPad and Air.

As for the iMac, that’s a more tricky decision. My gut feel is I’ll update to the latest Retina iMac and sufficiently future proof it with fast CPU, SSD and lots of RAM. However I don’t think I can ignore Windows for much longer so I can see me also picking up a 4K second monitor (to replace the current non retina 27″ ASUS) for the iMac and plug in a Windows gaming PC that will allow me to play with one of the VR platforms. That purchase will wait for one of them to be seen as leading as at the moment it’s early days in the VR space.

I depend on my Mac, more than the iOS devices, and it’s where I get most of my work done. Unless iOS devices and iOS itself see’s some significant changes I won’t be able to shift to being iOS only so I do hope that Apple release updates to Mac’s soon – the platform needs some love! Despite my negativity I won’t be leaving the Mac though. Even some stale hardware and unloved Mac updates are better than Windows 10 and it’s woes. Here’s to the next 10 years with Apple.

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