I have been using the new Apple AirPods for a while now and they are one of those Apple inventions which moves things forward. They have many pros and cons, but from the start you can't fail to be impressed by their design. From the easy method of pairing them to your iPhone, by simply opening the lid, to the simplicity and lack of buttons, the AirPods are beautiful to look at and have a quality feel.
Firstly, what works well. The design of the AirPods is amazing. The small case, which reminds us of a dental floss or a tac-tic box, is a small battery-charging device which makes a huge difference to the Bluetooth experience. In the past, when I used Beats Bluetooth headphones, they would run out of battery or I would realise that I had forgetten to charge them in advance. With the Apple AirPods case, once the buds are placed back in, they are changed from the cases's internal battery. So far since getting my AirPods, I have never run out of battery. Being free of wires is also great as I always found cables hanging from my ears to be uncomfortable and awkward.
When in place in my ears, the AirPods are comfortable. They are not as heavy as they might seem, and a good balance between being light enough to wear on long walks and heavy enough to stay in place. They are smooth and comfortable and the sound quality is good (although I'm not sure I would be the best expert in assessing sound quality).
One concern is the fit. I had issues with Apple headsets in the past, as the wired versions which came with new iPhones and iPods never fitted my ears. The AirPods are different and do fit well. But I have dropped one of them on two occasions. I do feel a little nervous walking near drains and grates on the road or when walking over a bridge, as a dropped AirPod may not be retrievable!
In terms of the drawbacks, the functionality of the AirPods is limited. They play audio from my Watch or iPhone and they do this very well. However I haven't used Siri that often and it is disappointing that I must to use Siri to play/pause tracks. I would prefer a few shortcuts, such as the ability to use taps to control my music.Yes I can ask Siri to "play" or "pause", but speaking instructions out loud is not always convenient. Siri does work well- it recognises my instructions and is an impressive technology. But I still don't like having to talk and speak in public when a series of taps would be far more subtle. Maybe Apple will expand the use of taps, such as a double-tap on the left AirPod to play/pause and a double tap on the right AirPod for Siri? Changing the volume level is also messy, and it is far simpler to take the iPhone out of my pocket and use the volume buttons on the side. In terms of the taps, I almost always mis-tap when walking, and have to give it a second go until Siri kicks in.
But overall the AirPods are one of the most impressive products from Apple in years. They are a classy product, simple to use and good value for Bluetooth headphones. They feel good, sound good and with some limitations, are a pleasure to use. Being able to load music on my Apple Watch and then walk with just the Watch and AirPods is a very stripped down way to use technology and I feel a sign of the future from Apple.
One of the challenges in moving to the new MacBook Pro was finding a way to link to my older Apple LED Cinema Display. This display has a MiniDisplayPort connection, something not supported by the new Apple adapters, such as the Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.
But I have worked out two neat solutions for the Apple LED Cinema Display:
1/ Hyper: there is an accessories company called Hyper which sells a "USB Type-C Hub with Mini DisplayPort", and this works with the new MacBook and the new MacBook Pro (2016). This is a very neat solution and provides a few extras along with the MinDisplayPort connection, such as two USB 2.0 A ports and a micro SDXC slot. It costs $59 from their website. At the time of publishing they are sold out but they say they should have stock back in soon. I bought one of these in December and it has worked very well:
2 /the second option is to combine cables for a MiniDisplayPort-only solution. I bought two cables from Amazon.co.uk:
- "KiWiBiRD® USB 3.1 Type C THUNDERBOLT 3 to DisplayPort 4K Adapter" (approx GBP £10) [link]
- "StarTech 6 inch DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort Video Cable Adapter - M/F" (approx GBP £7) [link]
The combination of the two cables also works great and provides a cheaper solution. It is not as pretty as the Hyper hub, but it provides the straight connection between the display and the Mac at a low price.
In fact the cost of these two cables is less than the price of some Apple adapters (such as the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter). So if you can live with the look it is a great solution.
Many shops don't have solutions and finding the right cables can be difficult. I hope this helps out other Apple LED Cinema Display and MacBook Pro owners.
I have been through a few Apple laptops families over the years. I started with a black PowerBook G3 in the mid-90s and then moved to a titanium PowerBook G4. I didn't move to an iBook, even when they became sleeker with the white plastic design, but instead stuck with PowerBook and MacBook Pro until the MacBook Air emerged. This finally encouraged me away from the top-of-the-line models, as the slim and yet powerful MacBook Air offered me the flexibility of a thin laptop, but with enough power to drive an external display and complete all the tasks I needed. I generally boosted the processor, such as the i7 in my last model, so the size, weight and engine matched my needs.
However this October, Apple launched the new range of MacBook Pro and I was left with a choice. The MacBook Air family looks dated with no Retina display, so my choice this year was a new sleek and thin MacBook or to jump back up to the top of the line MacBook Pro. I decided on a 13" MacBook Pro for two reasons- the screen size (13" vs the MacBook's 12") and the new TouchBar technology.
After one week of use, I have no regrets. The display is crystal-clear and it is only after you have worked for a while with these displays that you realise you can't go back. Like the iPhone and iPad Pro, the text is smooth, images are clean and elegant on this screen. I also enjoy the extra space compared to my old MacBook Air's 11" screen.
But the real headline here is the TouchBar. Part of this is its existence, and part is its use. The existence of the TouchBar just makes the laptop feel new and feel more sophisticated compared to the MacBook Air and the previous MacBook Pro. It is a whole new way to interact with the laptop and that makes it look and feel like a new generation and not just a minor upgrade. Along with the black trim and thin bezel around the display, the TouchBar makes the MacBook Pro look new and fresh, and the MacBook Air by comparison looks "old" and quite outdated.
In use, it is smart and intuitive, even if it is a work-in-progress. For example in Mail, the Touch Bar offers suggestions on where you would like to file emails. If you select an email in your inbox, it knows which mailbox you normally place emails from that person, and files the message in one tap. The change, after years of dragging and dropping emails, is astonishing. I still only use about 30% of the buttons in the TouchBar and it may be that over time I customise them more, but what I do use I love and it makes a difference to my speed. This is especially true with the Touch ID sensor at the end of the TouchBar: unlocking the Mac and using my 1Password app is so much quicker.
I am also positive on the ports and possibly even hostile to all of the noise over Apple's move. The ports make complete sense. Four USB-C ports, no longer requiring me to look at the end of the cable to ensure I am about to plug it in the right way, just shows how bad the old USB standard was. USB-C is the way forward and we jut need to get on board. Yes I have bought a few adaptors, but so far I have used a USB-C to USB adapter twice for about ten minutes, used to plug in a USB stick and back up my iPhone.
About the only thing I don't like is the USB power adapter. It seems to have had less thought put into it. It is a shame it is so big and the USB-C cable which runs from the adapter to the laptop is thick and slightly clumsy. But overall, this is a minor concern.
If you are ready to move into the future of Mac laptops, dive in. If you love your current (and old) peripherals, the move will be more painful and expensive. But in the end I recommend this laptop as it is a clear break from the past and a beautifully designed Mac.
After last week's keynote, here is a quick rundown on the new Apple laptop landscape.
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The Apple press event last week brought in new products, a new version of iOS and watchOS, plus some interesting headphone news...
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We are probably only two weeks away from the next Apple press event. I believe that there will be a new model of Watch launched in time for the Christmas season, but what can we expect in the next version?
If we look to the iPhone for the typical pattern of upgrades, it is very likely that we would see a faster chip inside the new Watch. The first version of the Watch was slow, although the release of watchOS 3.0 promises a significant speed boost. But there is still plenty of room for improvement here as the Watch, more than any other Apple device, demands speed. No one wants to spend too long looking for what they need on the Watch- it is all about quick glances and fast, short interactions.
One of the unique aspects of the Watch is its sensors, positioned under the Watch which track your heart rate. There is huge potential for expanding the fitness and health aspects of the Watch. One example is blood glucose- there are companies looking at chips which communicate with the Watch to monitor blood glucose levels. These types of live trackers for health combined with notifications to warn the user of changes can transform health.
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As the Autumn approaches (sorry, "Fall") Apple will be readying a number of changes to their product lineup. Here is what I expect to see and what I hope to see...
The new iPhone will arrive in September and will come with a few usual changes. Thinner design, new Ax chip inside which will be faster than the 6S, better graphics, improved camera. There has been a bit of talk about a new dual lens camera, and this certainly fits into the usual iterative updates. One question- will Apple continue to update the iPhone SE separately to the main iPhone lines? Looks likely this year as the SE is too new for a refresh in September.
The big question is the headphone socket and whether Apple will go for a lightening connection for wired EarBuds or opt for some sort of wireless option? My own view here is that this will come down to usability. Not only does the ease of connection matter, in other words how the Bluetooth or other wireless technology works, but also the battery life of any wireless EarBuds. I suspect we will see lightening EarBuds shipping as the standard and possibly new wireless versions as an optional extra. But let's hope that if Apple do go for wirelessly versions, they have got something better than the current Bluetooth technology, which is at best fiddly and normally frustrating to use.
It is possible that we will see changes to the iPad, especially as we approach Christmas. The iPad would be a good seller during the holidays and the iPad Pro (12" model) could see changes so it has the newer TrueTone display. The smaller 9" iPad Pro is less likely to change as it is less than a year old. It is also possible that Apple will leave the iPad out, given that the Pro has been changed in the last 12 months, and make any changes in the new year.
We will definitely see three updated operating systems- the new macOS Sierra to replace OS X El Capitan, the next version of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch operating system, iOS 10 and watchOS 3.0. This was set out in June at WWDC and it is likely to ship (for free) in October.
It also seems to be time for new Apple Watch models. Apple launched the first Watch almost 18 months ago. As we approach the Christmas buying season it seems logical that there will be new Watch models; I have always maintained that the Watch is the new iPod, for music and fitness. Maybe it is also time to streamline the range from three to two families of Watch?
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The new MacBook which was launched at the end of April might just be the model people have been waiting for. I have always said that it is a good general rule to wait for the second generation of a new Mac range, and the MacBook is a good example of this. The recent models come with the new Intel "Skylake" chips and by all accounts offer a significant speed boost.
One tip- for the extra €180, it is worth upgrading the processor from the m5 to the m7. The MacBook comes with Apple's slowest chips, so getting the higher speed will pay dividends over the next few years. I would also suggest people choose the higher storage, 512Gb instead of 256GB. The lower space could be a challenge for people who wish to keep some photos, music or video on their laptop.
In a world of WiFi and Bluetooth, the MacBook is a great laptop, and offers the smallest and lightest form factor of any of the Mac range. Whereas last year's model was a bit underpowered, this latest upgrade seems to have answered my biggest concern and I can see this as being my next laptop.
Today Apple held a press event which saw the release of a new iPhone, iPad and more. Here is a summary of the details:
- Tim Cook started by talking about Apple's 40th birthday on April 1st, and discussed the ongoing security case in the US
- Lisa Jackson talked about Apple and the environment, and their ambition to use 100% renewable energy. To date 93% of worldwide facilities run on renewables and 100% in the US (people may question the purpose of this presentation but this is a big aspect of the Apple brand)
- Jeff Williams presented update on HealthKit, used in the iPhone, iPod and Apple Watch. He showed how medical research can be improved by HealthKit due to the large number of participants. He also announced CareKit, which helps to monitor patients, especially those recovering from treatments/operations
- Tim Cook reported that Apple Watch is the top selling smartwatch, and introduced new woven bands, plus new sports bands. There are also new black Milanese Loop and new leather bands
- The price of the Apple Watch also dropped to $299
- On Apple TV, from today you will be able to organise apps into folders, enter text through dictation and view Live Photos
- Greg Joswiak introduced the new low end 4" iPhone- the iPhone SE. It comes with the A9 chip, 12MP camera, ApplePay, better battery life, Live Photos. It is twice as fast as the 5s.
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Having used an Apple Watch for about 10 months now it has become part of my daily life. I still wear and use it, but maybe what I do on the Watch may be very different to what I might have expected at the start:
What I like:
1/ Notifications: for me the Watch is a Notifications device. When it buzzes I know I can turn my wrist and see what's happening. I know who has emailed or texted even if I don't have time to read the full message. This way I know if I need to act on something (problem with the kids' pickups etc) or if I can deal with it later. Just knowing what and who is so helpful, especially when I am teaching for a few hours and don't have time to take a call or compose a full reply.
2/ Rapid responses: the point above leads on to the responses. I love the ability to fire back a quick reply, such as "on my way" or "will call later". This can be done with the turn of the wrist, tap to reply and then selecting from the pre-set responses. Simple, quick and relatively non-intrusive when you are working with other people (certainly compared to unlocking the phone and typing in front of them!!).
3/ Comfort: I forget I am wearing the Watch. The standard rubber sports strap is so comfortable that I forget it is on my wrist, something which did not happen in the past with conventional watches. I always disliked leather straps and gave up wearing a watch a fews years ago before the Apple Watch came out. The only time I notice the Watch on my wrist is when I start to do a job in the garden or lifting boxes- then it gets in the way and I take it off. The Apple Watch is not the thinnest watch out there and can get knocked. In fact I cracked the edge of the screen in the first month, but thankfully the Watch has held together and it has not been an issue.
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Happy Christmas to all of our clients - and best wishes for 2016!
We will be closed until January 4th but look forward to helping out in the New Year.
Don't forget to check out our award-winning Early Myths books for kids- great estocking fillers!
Apart from new devices, Apple also announced the dates for the release of their two main operating systems-
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Apple held a press event last week to introduce a number of new gadgets- here is a quick summary of what they announced:
This week's news that Google is to create a new umbrella organisation called "Alphabet" raises a question about the Google brand. Splitting the Google company out into segments may well be the right corporate choice, but does it harm the values and identity of Google?
Firstly let me mention Apple (it is compulsory on this site!). Apple's brand identity and values inform so much about what it makes, how it acts and what it says. Apple rarely call it the Apple "brand" but Jobs and now Cook frequently speaks about the Apple way and how it approaches each decision in business. Some of the recent criticism of Apple Music focussed on how the service was confusing and possibly at times very un-Apple due to the complexity of the choices and the array of services (Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes Store etc).
This also relates to other aspects of the company. John Gruber, recently discussing appointments to the Apple board, said that : "The company attributes its profound success over the last 15 years to the Apple Way — and rightly so, I say. I doubt Apple’s board would consider an outsider as CEO until and unless the company falters significantly and loses its way."
This idea of an Apple "way" is what I would call the brand. A brand identity does not stop at the product or service, but should extend into every aspect of the decision-making process. This is certainly true for a company like Apple, which is a lifestyle brand. Apple can be in multiple markets such as PCs, tablets, phones, watches, cloud computing because their entry and their success in that area is informed by the core Apple brand. Their approach to each category is informed by their central values- taking a beautifully designed product or service to the consumer and making it as easy as possibly to understand and use. Excellence in product execution, delivery and support crosses all of Apple's markets. Apple rarely enters new markets, but when it does it is because it feels it can contribute to this category but remain true to its values.
Which leads us back to Google. Most of the income at Google comes from search. For me, Google is a science plan. In terms of its brand, it is clinical and accessible, but not loveable. Its values centre on efficiency and connectivity and when this is applied to search or maps they are highly effective. People use Google services because it is efficient and fast, not because they have a major loyalty to Google or feel close to its values.
So when it comes to splitting out the parts which make up the current Google structure, it is rather like splitting atoms or engineering components. Many of the elements in the current Google mix sit alongside their counterparts like odd ends in a box. Google search currently sits next to Maps, Android, Docs, Glass, YouTube and Gmail. The organisation feels like a collection of odds and ends, packaged together but not sitting neatly like bricks in a home. There is no strong central brand which holds these parts together.
It may well be argued by Google that they have brand values- I don't doubt for a second that they have spent time and money on this. But the brand identity is a lose collection of ideas- being unconventional, innovative and experimental all spring to mind. But does the customer care about this? Hardly. Cutting the existing Google into pieces and calling it Alphabet matters from a corporate point of view, but the consumer will continue to search and navigate with its products, almost unaware of any change.
In the end this is due to how the Google brand sits in the heart of the consumer- a change induces a shrug of the shoulders at best, mostly people won't even notice. Emotionally the brand is something of a blank canvas, an open toolbox for new concepts and products as time passes. Breaking these pieces apart would matter to Google if its brand had been developed in the way that Apple had; but this is not the case.
So while Google can be split into its constituent parts and renamed as Alphabet due to the openness of its brand identity, the danger lies in that those parts can also be replaced by consumers and perish without the customer feeling any sense of loss. In the fast moving world of technology, Google relies on superior function to keep users interested. It certainly can't depend on loyalty or passion for its brand values.
As a children's book author, I have been considering Apple's future options for iBooks and whether they would venture into the world of Windows or Android. After all, iTunes runs on Windows PC and Apple Music will be available on Android this Autumn, so why not iBooks on other non-Apple platforms?
But when I look closer at Apple's use of iBooks, I don't see this happening. Books is an interesting side-show for Apple and it fits nicely into content-consumption on the iPad and iPhone but it's not a core business. The iBooks Store arrived with the iPad, as Apple touted the virtues of books on the iPad for consumers and in education. But it is not central to Apple's business and so does not receive the attention that say the iTunes and Apple Music stores receive.
Anyone who has interacted with the iBooks team will also know that the number of people behind iBooks is relatively small. The changes in the iBooks Store over the years have been gradual but not revolutionary.
Instead, Apple see the iBooks app as an important piece inside iOS and OS X. The benefits of the iBooks app come as part of the operating system and the user experience on an iPad, iPhone or (recently) Mac, and launching a parallel experience for Windows and Android is not something Apple will do. iBooks is key to iOS/OS X, which in turn is part of the user experience on an Apple device. The message is- if you want to experience the iBooks app, buy an iPad, iPhone or Mac!
Adding iBooks to the Mac was a nice extra but it is a different experience to using it on an iPad and iPhone. iBooks is most at home on iOS and especially on the iPad, then possibly on an iPhone 6 Plus, with other platforms such as the Mac coming at the end. Putting it onto Windows or Android is a further step away from Apple's central aim here.
In the end, while I would like to see iBooks extended out beyond iOS and OS X, I can't see it happening. With my author hat on, it would be great to reach new audiences. But as a long-time Apple observer, it goes against Apple's aims for iBooks, which is to draw more people to buy the iPad and other hardware devices.
[Note- at time of publication, the iBooks Author page still has not been updated to show that iBooks Author books can be read on an iPhone: https://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/]
Looking back at the WWDC keynote, it is worth reflecting on what was good and what was not so great:
iOS 9: this looks like a solid upgrade. It will be free, will arrive in the late Autumn, and should help to make the iPad a more work-orientated device. The changes to the keyboard, such as new shortcuts when working with text, are very welcome. So too is the idea of the virtual trackpad. The iPad can be fiddly when working with text- my Mac is always my preferred machine for letters and documents. But these changes should help. I am typing this post on an iPad because I love its mobile capabilities which even the MacBook Air can't match. But typing does take longer on an iPad, and so anything to help is welcome.
The multitasking features such as the split screen looks great, but it was a pity that it will only be fully available on a new iPad Air 2. My iPad Air 1 feels a bit left out, and this may well be the inventive to drive new iPad sales (reasonably Apple's intention, given how slowly people upgrade iPads).
OS X 10.11: also looks like a slick update, with a real focus on stability and bug fixes. I love when Apple do this as it helps all users and solves a few headaches for me when teaching about the Mac.
Music: well, that was all a bit of a mess. It has been a long time since I groaned at the style of an Apple keynote, but this was pretty bad. It seemed chaotic, long, and without a real focus. I am also not sure that the Music app and streaming service will appeal to me. I can see how people like Spotify and Apple wish to get in on this game, but I will have to see what it is like when launched. It does not seem to be something I will be paying a monthly fee for. The three month free trial is a good hook though as I will certainly take a look.
Overall the keynote was way too long, and seemed to get out of control. Tim Cook started to run on and off stage towards the end and this gave the whole thing a panicked and rushed feel. It is a pity as I really liked the early part and the main iOS and OS X announcements. When it got to the Music section I nearly turned off. But overall the announcements set out an exciting set of changes for 2015-6.
Apple's developer conference, WWDC, is coming up next week with the keynote address on June 8th. Everyone should note that this event is geared towards developers and so some of the announcements are not focussed on consumers. Instead this event normally sets out the Apple agenda for the coming year, especially in terms of software.
One of the main parts of this will be the announcements on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11. Apple have committed themselves to a yearly upgrade schedule, and assuming this does not change, we will be introduced to a preview of the next versions. Expect to see information on items like CarPlay and HomeKit too, both aimed at the developer community. Showing off the new operating systems is key to working with the developer community.
However we are also likely to see the launch of two other item- the first is the revised iTunes and Beats Music service. Ever since Apple purchased Beats in 2014 it has been expected that we would see a revised service from Apple, including a music streaming service. It may be that we see this announced at WWDC but this could also come later in the year, which was traditionally the event when iPods, iPads or iPhones are launched. I expect to see an announcement at WWDC if Apple can get agreements in place with the record labels.
Apple TV will also be updated- the announcement earlier this year that the price of the current Apple TVs had dropped to a new low seemed to be a very strong hint of new hardware to come. A new Apple TV would also sit nicely next to a Beats music announcement, with a deal with other TV network operators likely. Apple announced a deal with HBO in March.
Don't expect much change in terms of Macs; the laptops have been updated recently. I expect the iMacs to be revised later this year and so one possibility is news on revised Mac Pros, something which might be appreciated by some developers.
Another intriguing piece of info would be the Watch OS- will Apple show off changes to Watch OS and announce new features? I expect to see Apple announce changes to attract high quality Watch apps and because this is the year of the Watch and Apple will be promoting these new features in the Christmas buying season.
Overall is is likely to be a tech-heavy keynote, setting out the software and a few hardware bits for the rest of 2015.
I have been playing around with the faces on the Apple Watch and so far I have settled on four favourites:
Simple : Chronology : Colour : Utility (below)
Having tried out a few of these and having tweaked them using the customisable options, it does seem that there is so much more that Apple can do here. Most of the faces above are quite similar and there does seem to be limitations on the design due to the battery life. For example, there is no way to choose a different colour background. So if you attempt to recreate a watch face from another manufacturer (such as the example below from Seiko) you will be out of luck:
Presumably a blue background would mean more battery power as the whole face would need to be lit in colour and this would reduce the number of hours that the Apple Watch would last. But as the Watch develops and the batteries improve this will surely be an area which Apple can develop.
Also when it comes to the face, it will be interesting to see if third parties will be allowed to have information displayed, such as a news headline at the bottom of the screen or a to-do item from your favourite reminder app. There are even parts of the Apple information which cannot appear here- one example is heart rate. For now you can only add time, world clocks, date, activity, battery level, moon phases, stopwatch, alarm, weather and stocks.
For now customising the Watch face seems limited and this is due to battery concerns. But it does mean that there will be a huge range of options which Apple can add in future updates or in the next generations of the Watch.
There are lots of third-party apps for the Apple Watch but many of them are simply an extension of the iPhone and have not thought out the Apple Watch design and screen.
Of the apps that I've tried so far, the best are the BBC News and Due. Due is a reminders app which is neatly displayed on screen and fills a gap given that the iOS Reminders app is not available on the Watch. It does what it should without giving too much clutter and provides simple notifications when a reminder is due. It is clean and unobtrusive and a useful example of a Watch app. BBC News also provides a few pieces of information with the current headlines and a short summary.
On the other side there are lots of quite useless apps, merely extensions of the iPhone version. Most of the Twitter apps don't make sense on the Watch- they seem to be there as a way to claim they have a Watch app, but with little functionality.