iPhone 6s

I’ve had the iPhone 6s now for about 24 hours. It replaces an iPhone 6 which replaced an iPhone 5S which replaced an iPhone 5 which…well, you get the idea. I’ve had every iPhone going back to the first one. Here are some random observations after my first day with it.

  • To my hand, it’s noticeably thicker and heavier than the 6. Not by much. Only .02 mm thicker, according to Apple, and just 14 grams heftier, but I could tell when trying to. My cases all seem to fit, however.
  • The damned thing is fast. The “s” is thought to stand for “speed” and it’s noticeably quicker in things like app switching, web page loading, and camera functions.
  • The TouchID is now essentially instantaneous in unlocking the phone. So quick, it’s nearly impossible to read the notifications on the screen before it brings up the home screen.
  • The home button is a little clicker than the 6’s. Crisper and sharper.
  • The Taptic Engine creates a much more authoritative vibration than whatever made the 6 vibrate. Like the difference between a ’78 Cylon and a ’04 Cylon. 
  • 3D Touch is pretty nifty, though I admit I’m still training myself to use it. There aren’t a lot of apps that support it yet, but I’m sure there’ll be more soon. Next time I’m using my iPad I’ll probably press down on the screen expecting something to happen in the same way I used to wait for my iPad Air to unlock just by leaving my finger on the home button. 
  • It may be my imagination or that the new phone has arrived during a slightly less greasy moment of my life, but it seems like the 6s screen doesn’t get as smudged as much the 6 screen did. 
  • I can see the difference the 12 megapixel camera makes. I’ve only taken a couple of shots but the detail seems sharper. Still a hell of a great camera.

Needless to say, my ninth iPhone is the best I’ve ever had. Should a normal person upgrade from the 6? I dunno. 3D Touch is cool and the camera is better, but not having 3D Touch means not missing it and the 6’s camera is already pretty damned good. Most of the speed increases are incrementally small and the kind of thing you soon adjust to either way. If you’re using any other iPhone, upgrading to the 6s is a no-brainer.

All spoilers must die

Two ideas. 

The first is easy. Why is it not a thing on Facebook (or Twitter, I guess) to tell the site not to show you content about a TV show or movie if you haven’t already seen it? I watch Game of Thrones (though sometimes I think of it as more an abusive relationship than anything else). Last night, HBO aired the typically epic penultimate episode of the season. I did not watch it because reasons. That’s OK, though, because HBO Go. I’ll get to it tonight (probably). So why, when I land on Facebook this morning and am confronted by the first of about 63,000 GoT recaps and hot takes couldn’t I have flagged it as spoilery and ask Facebook to hide all similar content for 24 hours? Next morning, Facebook could ask me if I’d like to see GoT content again and I could either say no, still haven’t seen it, or sure. In which case, Facebook could offer me the top three posts on the subject. This seems ridiculously easy. It would make my Facebooking experience so much better. 

Take this one step further. The new Captain America movie is in production and there have been a similar 63,000 blog posts about leaked production shots, etc., that all give away some elements of the story that people like me would like to avoid. So why can’t I tell Facebook to hide Cap spoilers? They know which stories I’m talking about. For starters, any one that has the word “SPOILER” in the headline. Or other keywords like “rumored” or “spotted” or “don’t read this if you don’t want to know.” Sure, I tend not to read these things, but I also don’t want to have to see them cluttering up the joint. Plus, some sites are really bad at shielding spoilers and I end up seeing them through no fault of my own (WARNING: SPOILER). 

Take this two or three steps further, and what I’m talking about is intelligent muting. For instance, I don’t want to see any crazy-ass right-wing conspiracy stories about Obama some of my less politically enlightened friends might have liked or commented on but I am OK seeing stories about those stories from other sites making fun of them. Or maybe I’m over any further mention of Caitlyn Jenner’s intro on Vanity Fair. A simple “I’ve seen enough stories about this” item is what I’m talking about. More than the option of not seeing any more items from a specific site. What I want is not to see similar items from that site and others like it. Seems like Facebook could absolutely pull this off.

The other thing is Twitter specific. I like to watch live TV with Twitter streaming along side. Specifically, baseball but also things like the Oscars or whatever. Sometimes, I’m intentionally delayed because I’m DVRing but usually I’m off by about 5 or 6 seconds because I watch baseball via MLB.tv and it takes a few moments to digitize the video and compress it and send it to satellites in space and then pull it back down FROM SPACE and then stream and uncompress it and all that and then “live” is only kinda live. It’s enough that I sometimes stop looking at Twitter because I don’t want the action I’m looking at to be spoiled.

So how come I can’t DVR Twitter? Tell my client app to offset the tweets by a specified amount of time. Of course, anything I tweet will be going out in real time (asking Twitter to tunnel through spacetime and drop my tweet back when whatever I’m commenting on took place is, I admit, a steep ask), but what I see will be better synced to what’s happening in front of me.

Turns out, I’m not the first guy to think of this:

That’s from more than three years ago. And still nobody’s done this!? How hard can it be?

Anyway, those are my ideas helping us to live in a spoiler-free world. 

Apple Watch Impressions

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I’ve had my stainless steel Apple Watch with its link bracelet going on ten days. More than long enough to form an initial impression of the thing.

  • My first and most significant gripe about the watch is how long it took to get. While I appreciate this is near the front of the line for first world problems and I do my best to keep things in perspective, from the standpoint of someone who’s been playing the necessary game to snag Apple gear as soon as possible for many years, this experience has been the most disappointing. I got up in the middle of the night and had my order confirmation about five minutes past the appointed hour, but my watch was among the last of the initial orders to be shipped by Apple. Based on what I’ve read and the experiences of friends who ordered them, the delaying factor seems to be the steel link bracelet band. Had I ordered it with a sport band, I would have had it weeks earlier. In fact, I did order the sport band, but as an additional band, not the one packaged with the watch. I’d have preferred to see Apple sell the watches separate from the bands and ship them as soon as at least one of the ordered bands was also ready. It would have made this customer happier, at least.
  • Physically, I think this watch is one of the best made, most beautiful things I’ve owned. The way the link bracelet adjusts for size requires no tools and is one of those pure “why hasn’t everyone done it like this” moments you get from Apple when they’re hitting the ball with the fat part of the bat. I love how the light plays over the links in the brush steel band and the dense feeling of the watch itself when holding it in my hand. It’s pure and perfect in its form. The screen is beautiful with totally black blacks and saturated colors. I can’t imagine how the quality of this thing could be improved.
  • Most of the reviews or impressions I’ve read of Apple Watch have been from men (only one woman that I can recall) who don’t normally wear watches. I do normally wear them and consider myself a “watch guy” (though the most expensive I’ve had up to now was maybe three-quarters the price of Apple Watch). I also prefer bigger faces and heavier, chunkier G-Shock-type styles over sleek and thin Movado-style designs. All that to say I find the 42mm Apple Watch to be little too small for my wrist. It feels small and even dainty compared to every other watch I wear (and I have about 24 of them). I’d very much like to see a bigger option in the future. 
  • The relative daintiness of the watch leads me to feel as though the screen is too small. I find it ironic that my own personal preference has been against Apple’s steady movement to ever-larger screens on their mobile devices and here I am complaining about this one being too small, but it is. About half the time, I mess up entering my unlock code because the numbers are too small to hit cleanly. Same goes for the little app icons. I have to stop and carefully aim or else I’ll hit the wrong one. I also find myself tapping on screen elements like “back” and “cancel” several times before they work. I’d love to know what a 45mm or even 48mm screen would feel like.
  • The thing I was most excited to try was the fitness functionality. I’ve had multiple devices over the years in my search for the Goldilocks fitness tracker. So far, Apple Watch appears to be the closest I’ve come to satisfying my needs, but Fitbit’s new Surge looks to have many of the same features and at one quarter the price I paid. Regardless, the best part of Apple Watch’s fitness functionality for me is the heart rate monitoring. I had a Basis band when they first came out and was very disappointed in the lack of accuracy while measuring heart rate. Apple Watch, when compared to my Precor treadmill’s heart rate measurement (which compares very well to my Polar chest monitor) seems to be consistently a few beats per minute lower when running. The first time I ran with it, it wasn’t accurate at all. It bounced around from 215 bpm to around 50 bpm, both totally outside the realm of possibility (I should be from 158 bpm to 163 bpm). But since then, it’s been pretty well dead-on when I’ve done spot checks both against the Precor and counting my pulse against a second hand. Ultimately, I trust the numbers it’s giving me. I have noticed that it seems less accurate when doing weight training or other non-cardio activities, though. 
  • I really dig the Activity app. It gives you gentle reminders on how you’re doing throughout the day and, while it does track steps, doesn’t use them as a metric. I was a big fan of the Nike FuelBand and it’s use of the Fuel system of turing all kinds of effort into a measurable metric and Activity feels similar to that. In addition, the use of concentric circles makes seeing your progress at a glance easy even with it’s shrunken down to the size of a watch face complication. The Activity app includes achievements but, in typical Apple fashion, there’s no built-in awareness that these are things someone might want to share on Twitter or Facebook. You can’t even share them from the companion iPhone app.
  • Speaking of which, Facebook it totally missing from Apple Watch. You can set up the watch to pass along the notifications you get on your phone, but there’s no Facebook app. No way to use the voice recognition to update your status, no way to peruse some kind of abbreviated feed. Nothing. Twitter is present, but the app is pretty lame. You can view “top trends” or recent tweets from your stream, but it starts with the most recent, not where you last read to. That’s not how I use Twitter.
  • Considering all the consternation about battery life prior to its release, it’s one feature that’s been nothing at all to worry about. Very often, at the end of the day, I still have in the neighborhood of 30% battery left. The only day it went into the red zone by 5:00 PM was right after I installed the Misfit fitness app. I put it on the night before, looked at it for three seconds, then forgot about it. Next day, the watch was already at 83% when I left the house. It was at 18% when I left work and was 10% by dinner. After I ditched the Misfit app, the mysterious energy drain disappeared and it’s been back to more than amply charged all day long. Even on those days when I run or workout with it. An hour of working out, by the way, during which the workout app is active the whole time and measuring heartbeat continuously eats about 10% of the battery’s reserve. 
  • I’m somewhat annoyed that the workout app I prefer on my iPhone (Strava) won’t recognize the Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor, either on the iPhone app or its watch app. That input only seems to be available to the watch’s workout app.
  • The non-Apple apps in general are too slow to be useful. You want something that will be responsive since it’s supposed to be a quick access kind of thing but most of them just take too long to load their data across the iPhone’s bluetooth connection. I look forward to truly native third-party apps that are supposedly coming later this year.
  • I find using Apple Watch as a phone (that is, placing a call on it and using its mic and speaker to communicate) to be awkward. On the one hand, the mic is excellent and sounds like any other bluetooth device to those you’re talking to. However, the speaker is ridiculous. Near impossible to use outside. Also, there’s just the dorky Dick Tracy feeling of talking into one’s watch I have a hard time getting over.
  • Apple Pay has worked flawlessly the few times I’ve tried it. The closest using Apple Watch has made me feel as though I’m living in the future.

In summary, I have yet to have a “Oh, that’s why I bought this thing!” moment. Someone on Twitter suggested to me that the watch was a beta product. I don’t think that’s right. It’s supremely well finished, both physically and from a software perspective. But it’s limited. It feels more useful than the first gen iPhone, but the first iPhone was significantly more revolutionary and felt as much every time you used it. So it’s clearly a 1.0 product but in a world with greatly increased expectations. 

The activity features are pretty great, but only the Sport model is reasonably priced if that’s how you’ll primarily be using it. I find that it’s basically a “push” device for me in that it’s there to allow me to see notifications without taking my phone out of my pocket or flipping it over. But then, usually, there’s little I can do with the notifications without using the phone. You can use the watch to make short, canned replies to messages, but typically if I’m in a spot where I don’t want to use my phone, I’m certainly not in a place to use speech-to-text. So out comes the phone anyway. 

I think, in time, Apple Watch will be amazing. There’s all kinds of things I can imagine that a device that knows you, specifically, are using it could come in handy. It could replace website passwords, it could open your house, start your car. But right now, it’s early days and very limited. I am not sorry I got it, though. Even with all its shortcomings, I find that I want it on my wrist more than any other of my watches. I hope that Apple moves quickly to make this a more fully-formed product and doesn’t let fashion or an overdeveloped concern for a specific style to get in the way of enhancing its appeal and functionality. 

A modest proposal

It’s once again pledge time here on the northern plains. Our local public radio outfit is doing their quarterly hat-passing which, of course, as a sustaining member (meaning, they get an automatic donation from me every month without fail) I totally acknowledge as a critical imperative.

I’ve been listening to pledge drives for more than half my life now. The worst were when I lived in Brookline and someone at WBUR thought placing a phone with an actual ringing bell in close proximity to the microphone so you could hear your fellow listeners calling in…at 5:45 in the morning…was a great idea. Nicely done. From the “more annoying the better” school of thought, no doubt. I even volunteered a few times to man the phones for my local station (back before you couldn pledge any other way). A lot has changed, but a few things haven’t.

Pledge drives go on too long and totally suck.

As I recall, they used to say on my local station (though they don’t anymore for some reason), “If everyone who was going to pledge all pledged right now, the drive would be over and we’d go back to our regular programming.” But that doesn’t happen. EVER. Nine times out of ten, the drive goes right up to when it was planned too because those public radio bean counters are really good at that kind of thing. They do it for days. On an on.

And I kept thinking, what if we had the technology to stop hearing the pledge drive as soon as they got my pledge? Or for sustainers such as myself to never hear the drive in the first place? Because it’s radio, the first mass electronic media, and what I described isn’t possible. But a lot of the time, I don’t listen to public radio on the radio. I listen on my phone. I stream it.

So here’s my idea. Add account authentication to the app (i.e., let me sign-in). Once recognized and identified as a sustaining member, let me listen to a different stream. One without pledging. Not special content because presumably whenever someone local is talking, there’s an NPR story they’re not playing instead. So play me that. Then switch back to the local stuff after the pledge break.

This is totally possible. I’m not talking science fiction here.

Personally, I’d only make this feature available for sustainers because those are the members public radio wants the most. Nice, uninterrupted cash-flow. But, they could also make it possible for those who pledge through that app. Instant upgrade. The only real issue to this in-app pledge idea is that Apple would want their regular 30% cut. In that case, make the iOS users do it on the website. Problem fixed.

This would totally change the pledge drive dynamic. Right now, a huge wall of people wait until the very end because they know there’s no reason not to. They get no benefit pledging on day one because they have to listen to the whole pledge drive anyway. In fact, their procrastination might actually be rewarded if they never get around to it and the drive ends. But with the alternate pledge-free stream option, the faster you act, the faster you can avoid the horrible pledging monotony. There’s a real, tangible and immediate benefit to pledging. They really could end a pledge drive in a day.

This does, of course, penalize those without smartphones or computers (the alternate stream could also be fed though the station’s website). But those people are fewer and farther between than they used to be and would totally benefit from the shorter drive like everyone else.

In any event, it seems to me this must be something someone at some radio station somewhere is working on. If not, why not? Why are pledge drives still run like it’s 1974?

Don’t fear thickness

Vlad Savov over at The Verge:

I’ll let you in on a carefully guarded secret: there’s no real difference between 7mm and 10mm, let alone between 6.7mm and 6.9mm. If only Samsung and Apple could have let their belts out a little, we could now be looking at devices with more cohesive, bulge-free designs and potentially more generous batteries to boot.

Yes, yes. A thousand times yes.

Whiny Mashable

Mashable posted “9 Worst Things About iOS 8” and I was stupid enough to click on it.

1. Massive to download
If you already have iOS 8 (and upgraded from iOS 7), you likely know how huge the update was to download. While the file itself only occupies about 1.2GB of storage, the download requires you to have up to 5.7GB of free storage on your phone. In response, people deleted pictures, apps and music to make room for the iOS. The good news, however, is that there’s a workaround, if you don’t have iOS 8 yet: Sync your iPhone or iPad to the computer and download iOS 8 directly from there. This won’t suck up any space on your device, and you can manually transfer the new software back to your device.

This isn’t significantly worse than when 7 dropped and is part and parcel with upgrading any computing device. A pain to be sure, but you don’t have to upgrade. The upsides to having a device you never have to plug into a computer to use are far more numerous than this inconvenience.

2. QuickType
Apple has a new built-in keyboard now with predictive text, giving you word suggestions before you type anything (based on what’s previously written). Although some people love the feature, othersdo not — often, the predictive suggestions aren’t at all on point. But for the first time, Apple is allowing iOS users to download better keyboard options from third-party developers, like Swype, SwiftKey and Fleksy, so all hope isn’t lost for a smarter keyboard experience.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

3. Key contacts
On one hand, it’s nice to know you can double-tap the home button and see a carousel of all the people you’ve recently messaged with at the top of the screen. But it highlights contacts you might not want others to know about, too. For example, if you’ve deleted a conversation you recently had with an ex (and you don’t want to broadcast this to anyone looking over your shoulder), their name will still display. To remove this feature, visit Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Show in App Switcher and switch it of Off.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting (WHICH YOU INCLUDED). Bang.

Jesus.

4. iCloud Drive
iCloud Drive is perhaps the biggest fail of iOS 8. If you’re not running OS X Yosemite on your Mac — and you’re probably not, unless you’re participating in the public beta program — iCloud Drive will cut off your apps from syncing with older (iOS 7/OS X 10.9 and earlier) devices. Whatever you do, don’t enable iCloud Drive when updating iOS 8 until all your devices are compatible. Here’s more on why to avoid iCloud Drive on iOS 8 for now.

An unfortunate byproduct of device launch dates not syncing with software release dates. Annoying for the moment, but will be so damned cool when Yosemite drops.

5. Unavailable HealthKit
One of the most-buzzed new features is the Health app, the company’s first major step into the health and fitness space. While Apple has been calling on developers to connect their apps and data to its hub, you can’t download HealthKit-enabled apps from the Apple App Store just yet — the launch has been delayed for a few weeks. This means the Health app is currently empty on the home screen, without any explanation on what it is and how to use it. It’s a missed opportunity from Apple not to roll it out to users out of the gate.

You’re bitching about something that didn’t exist before iOS 8 not being ready on the very day iOS 8 was released? Sure, a minor disappointment, but since I hadn’t integrated HealthKit into my first world lifestyle, it’s hardly skin off my nose.

Jesus.

6. Camera Roll Change
Apple mysteriously removed its default Camera Roll album, which has caused a bit of panic (many first assume their photos have been deleted). Although it’s more difficult to locate and organize your iOS pictures, they should be all there. Now, you’ll see albums for Recently Added, Panoramas, Videos, Bursts, and Recently Deleted— along with albums created by third-party apps such as Instagram. Pictures taken more than a month ago are stored in the Collections folder, within the Photos app.

So turn the new layout the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

7. Deleted Photos
When you delete photos on iOS 8, they’re not actually erased yet. The new Recently Deleted folder holds them for up to 30 days before trashing them for good. This could be a good thing for those who accidentally delete photos they want to recover, but in most cases, it’s just an extra step to get a photo off of your phone.

I guarantee you the vast majority of people would look at this as a good thing. Stop whining about shit that’s not broken just because it’s different.

Jesus.

8. App Weirdness
Some apps have had a bumpy ride post-update. Twitter, for example, moved the Drafts folder, and some users reported that their tweet drafts disappeared.

Third-party’s app bugs are Apple’s fault? And you can only come up with one example?

Jesus.

9. Glitchy Family Sharing
Apple’s new Family Sharing program has its upsides: you can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App Store without sharing accounts. But there are limitations. Whenever you download something new, it notifies everyone in the group — and the same goes when others go on a downloading frenzy. It’s convenient but not private.

SO DON’T USE IT.

Jesus!

Get bent

I’m not sure if bendgate is going to be a real thing or not. The media loves to swoop down on these issues when they pop up because if there’s something other than winning the American public loves, it’s seeing someone else screw up. Of course, other metal phones bend, too. Just as other phones had reception issues if you blocked their antennas with your hand. But those phones don’t have Apple logos on them.

I had an iPhone 5S that bent. It was in my pocket while I was hiking and I took a tumble and landed on it. Even though it was in a LifeProof case, it ended up getting bent. The Apple Store guy said it wasn’t an issue covered under warranty or Apple Care since it was still functional. Luckily, the headphone jack eventually got jacked and I was able to exchange it. I imagine the standard line from Apple will be the same for pocket-bent Sixes.

I don’t have my iPhone 6 yet so I’ll withhold final judgement, but I had already formed the suspicion that Apple’s drive to make the thinnest phone possible had gone too far. I based my thinking on the dubious design decision that gave us the camera bump. I’d rather they made the phone that much thicker in exchange for better battery. Nobody — not one person — outside Apple headquarters has said the 5S was too thick but plenty (like, everyone else) have said a longer battery life would be swell. Jony Ive might rather make a phone thin enough to shave with, but I’d bet most users would trade in a  millimeter or two for a 5-10% increase in battery life (a number I just totally made up — no idea how much extra battery they could have put in there if the phone was thicker). Now, we’re presented with the prospect that the phone is excessively bendy due to its extreme thinness. And this is another smack against the larger size. Of course when you make something too big to fit comfortably in a pocket, there’s going to be issues. Either it’ll dig into you or it’ll give in to the pressure.

I’m a huge fan of Apple design and always have been, but sometimes it seems like they make decisions in favor of aesthetics over how real people will use their devices. Off the top of my head, I think of the beautiful yet rediculously scratch-prone iPod backing and the too easily nicked chamfered edge of the iPhone 5 and 5S.

Design is about trade-offs. That’s one of its core tenets. In this case, I wonder if Apple is too willing to trade durability and practicality for an arbitrary aesthetic. The camera bump is arguably a subjective design choice (though I’d argue back that instability when laying on its back on a flat surface impacts its functionality, if just a little). Durability is not subjective.

It is not unreasonable for a person to think that among the elements tested during the design of their nice new phone was whether or not it would stand up to being used in exactly the way every single person in the world with pockets uses them.