Category Archives: Apple

Wearables

11200223-2While I would not call myself a Horologist, or someone who collects watches, some of my
favorite souvenirs from a trip to Walt Disney World were collectable watches. Two of my favorites are a watch celebrating the 25th anniversary of the resort (see right), and a watch
inspired by my favorite ride “Splash Mountain”.* Over time, I increasingly I found myself reaching for my phone to tell me the time, and as a result stopped wearing a watch.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now become a “smart-Horologist”**. With the advent of “wearables”, I’ve fallen in love with watches again—both in terms of using them as well as collecting them, much to my wife’s chagrin. In today’s post for the Utility Belt, I’ll share my favorites with you.

My First Smartwatch – The Pebble 

51drvw0jzjl-_sl1000_Like many “Smart Horologists”, my first foray into wearables came in the form of the Pebble smartwatch. I didn’t participate in the record setting Kickstarter campaign that put Pebble on the map, I instead purchased one out of curiosity. Much as I purchased my Walt Disney World watches because of looks, I thought the Pebble “looked” like a neat combination between a traditional watch with geek couture.

After pairing the watch with my iPhone, which was a bear of a process, I quickly realized the value wearables can deliver. Aside from telling me the time and date, the Pebble allowed me to stop my phone from “dinging” all of the time***. A gentle buzz on my wrist, followed by a quick glance, and I could either ignore a meaningless notification without disrupting those around me or excuse myself to address something critical.

The Fitness Craze – The Fitbit Flex

Along the way, I traded in my Pebble for the Fitbit Flex, a “smart pedometer” that you wear on your wrist to track how many steps you take in a day and how well you sleep at night. While this device did create a competition within our house on who could out walk the most, I missed the ability for a device on my wrist to, well…tell time. I also hated returning to my phone ringing and dinging all the time, as the Fitbit Flex had no display to show notifications.

As it turned out, I wanted a device that blended the functionality from both the Fitbit Flex and the Pebble. Thankfully the next generation of wearables eliminated the need to choose fitness over function. I’ll spare you my journey through the Samsung Gear Neo, the Moto360, the Pebble Time Steel, and the Samsung Gear S2, and skip to my current favorite.

The AppleWatch

When Apple unveiled AppleWatch****, to say I was underwhelmed would be an understatement. I didn’t find the functionality Apple stressed to be compelling, because through use I wanted a smart watch for three purposes:

  1. Tell me the date & time
  2. Show me notifications
  3. Track my fitness progress, or lack thereof.

I believe that in an effort to justify another device, Apple tried to make it’s wearable do too much. Their vision of using apps on my wrist sounds as dumb today as it did two years ago. The honeycomb User Interface (UI) isn’t really all that friendly to use, and the digital crown sounds good in theory but in practice is not. Since I prefer a round watch instead of a square one, the AppleWatch design didn’t impress me. Once you add in outlier pricing, with the least expensive AppleWatch Sport starting at $350, and the AppleWatch had plenty going against it.

With all of the negativity above, I still planned on purchasing one but before I could, Lady Luck found me. I won a contest at Avaya for participating in Social Media, and as a result was awarded an AppleWatch. After setting it up, the watch definitely lived up to my concerns from above. While I used it, I struggled to make it fit into my use. There were some nice additions, such as the ability to respond to text messages using my voice, but the complex UI outweighed those advances.

With all of those negatives, I’m sure you must be asking yourself— why do I still use the AppleWatch above all others? The answer to that question lies in two parts.

The first reason I chose AppleWatch over all others lies in software improvements Apple made to WatchOS. Starting with WatchOS2, Apple reinvented and simplified the WatchUI. While the honeycomb is still there, I now use it infrequently. WatchOS2 minimized it’s dependency on the digital crown, moved the app tray to have a dedicated button, and ported “Command Center” with a swipe up motion. This radically simplified UI makes AppleWatch much more functional. While I still don’t really use any apps on the watch, the core functionality of a wearable is now spotlighted instead of buried in a messy way.

Second, while I don’t care for the square design of AppleWatch, there is one piece of hardware innovation that I love—interchangeable watchbands. Using no tools, I can change my AppleWatch from a sporty look to a professional look in a matter of seconds. I’ve purchased watchbands from Apple directly and from third parties on Amazon, with sometimes mixed results. My personal favorite bands are the Apple Sport bands*****, a Milanese steel band, and a Stainless Steel Link band.

Do you have a smart watch? Share your experience in the comments below!


* I’m kicking myself, because I can’t find this watch now. I looked around on the internet for a photo of it for this article, and couldn’t find one. I also wanted to get the Haunted Mansion edition, but alas they ended the sale before I went back to Disneyworld.

** I’ve never read the term used elsewhere, so I’m staking claim to it! My wife says the thesaurus would just suggest nerd, but whatever. She knew what she was getting into when she married me.

*** I also will say a smartwatch stopped the buzzing on my rear end, but that seemed too personal.

**** Can I just say, this new naming convention from Apple is horrible. Number one, prefixing their brand name to every product is a touch egotistical. Second, the version names of AppleWatch are S-T-O-O-P-I-D. I mean seriously, AppleWatch Sport? OK. AppleWatch? Fine. AppleWatch Edition? What the heck does that even mean? How does that name represent Apple’s “luxury” line of watches?

***** Third party watchbands provide a solid value with a huge discount compared to their Apple counterparts. I purchased my Milanese Loop band from Amazon for $15, compared to $150 at Apple. The quality is extremely comparable and the difference is undetectable. That said, heed my advice, and don’t cheap out on the AppleWatch sport bands. My wife and daughter each purchased one from Amazon for their AppleWatches, and the materials used are radically different than their Apple counterparts. The third party sport bands collect lint and hair so quickly, they resemble a pair of my black dress slacks after the cat and dog both sat in my lap at the same time. Trust me, it’s worth the extra money to get those from Apple.

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The Burdens of Legacy

Historically, Apple products have led the way in retiring widely adopted, yet increasingly obsolescent, technology. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, the computer did not come equipped with a 3.5” floppy disk drive. At the time, Apple argued (correctly) that the utility of the floppy disk had effectively been replaced by CD-ROM due to expanding file sizes. The move was met with skepticism, as written by Walt Mossberg for the Wall Street Journal (click here for the full article).

THAT ONE GLARING design mistake in the iMac is that Apple decided to build it without a floppy-disk drive — indeed without any removable storage medium at all. That makes it very hard to transfer files between the iMac and any other computer.

Apple argues that the floppy disk is a dying product, too small at 1.44 megabytes to hold many of today’s bulky data files. The company says it expects most iMac buyers to add higher-capacity drives, such as Iomega’s 100MB Zip drive, or to transfer files via e-mail. But I strongly disagree. Many families today still rely on plain old floppies to back up or share small word-processing and graphics files with co-workers or schoolmates.

As we now know Apple was correct, and consumers let go of a legacy technology which they were using less and less. That gentle nudge to let go of legacy technologies has become part of Apple’s ethos, evidenced through the elimination of the CD-ROM drive, the wired ethernet port, and even their own 30 pin connector.

Courage

In the lead up to the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus launch, one of the most controversial design rumors was the removal of the 3.5MM headphone port.

While Apple has traditionally led the way in ushering users from legacy technology, this felt different. While I love the wireless Bluetooth headphones I use from Plantronics, I still regularly used 3.5MM headphones when the headset battery runs low, when I exercise*, Ito listen to music in my wife’s car, and for a whole host of other reasons. When reading the comments section on most blog posts, it seems I was hardly alone in his

During the product unveiling, Phil Schiller described Apple’s decision to eliminate the headphone port from the iPhone 7.

“Now, some people have asked why we would remove the analog headphone jack from the iPhone, the reason to move on really comes down to one word: courage. The courage to move on and do something new that betters all of us.”

After making this questionable statement, Apple then announced wireless headphones for sale. For those who still prefer wired headphones, a pair of Apple branded “EarPods” with a lightning plug are included with every iPhone. To aid users in this transition, Apple also generously includes a Lightning to 3.5MM headphone adapter with every iPhone. While a welcome addition to mitigate this impact, this does however mean users cannot plug in headphones while charging their iPhones.

Confused Courage

Approximately one month after releasing the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled updates to the MacBook Pro. In addition to adding a new butterfly keyboard, giant touchpad and the all new Touchbar, Apple’s courageously removed all USB, MagSafe, HDMI, and SD card ports from the new MacBook. In their place are either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports. While there are tremendous benefits to these new ports, Apple’s decision means users must carry a bag full of dongles to connect to use external displays, USB-A devices such as a presentation remote, or even to charge devices such as your iPhone.

Wait, what?

A Gentle Nudge or a Hard Shove?

In the past, Apple targeted legacy technology because it had reached the end usefulness. In the late 90s, the 3.5” floppy disk was becoming less and less useful. File sizes continued to grow, and CD-ROMs enabled users to more efficiently store and move these larger files. Apple’s decision to nudge users to give up this legacy technology reflected that reality, and paired it with benefits such as additional functionality in its place.

Apple’s latest decision to remove ports from their mobile and computer products resembles less of a nudge and more of a shove. While the iPhone and iPad continues to leverage Apple’s proprietary, and ubiquitous Lightning port for charging and data transfer, the MacBook uses an entirely different standard.

This means I cannot plug my iPhone into my MacBook to charge on the go. I can plug my Lightning “EarPods” into my iPhone, but they are not compatible with my new MacBook Pro**. The average usage of the USB-A port was not waning, and devices such as a presentation remote control do not gain benefits from this new standard.

The entire courageous migration feels forced and premature. The benefits gained with the forced conversion Thunderbolt 3 on my MacBook Pro is debatable. Audio delivered via the analog 3.5MM headphone port or the digital Lightning port on my iPhone is nearly identical***. The lack of cohesion between Apple’s mobile and computer products is haphazard and shows a lack of true strategy for the future of peripherals.

The industry will most likely follow Apple, but that doesn’t make this right. As a longtime Apple user, I respected the company for refusing to be burdened by the legacy of technology—however these changes took popular and well used standards and seemingly replaced them for little to no benefit to anyone other than Apple’s bottom line.

Have a new MacBook, and a bag full of dongles to go with it? Share your experience in the comment section below.


*Watch for my MacBook Pro review to be posted on the Utility Belt shortly.

** I can, however, use my good ‘ol 3.5MM headphones with my MacBook Pro since the port is still included with the laptop. #Courage

***At best, the audio is no different between the ports, however the Boy Genius Report blog has reported that in some testing, the lightning port under-performed it’s analog counterpart. (Click Here for the story)