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.
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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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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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.
After my first 24 hours with the Watch, here is a list of likes and concerns so far:
- I bought a sports watch with the black rubber strap and it is very light and comfortable to wear. I gave up wearing a watch about 8 years ago and have been surprised at how unintrusive the Apple Watch feels on my wrist
- it looks good- a little thicker than my dream Apple Watch (!) but very neat and sleek
- I have been pleasantly surprised on how fast I have learnt the OS. I was expecting it to be more complex, probably due to the reviews I had read. But having watched the Apple videos in advanced, I have used the Watch without having to search for answers online. This may not be everyone's experience; I think it depends on expectations
- the packaging is a work of art, and the UK/IRL charger plug is brilliantly thought out
- my favourite parts of the OS are: the customisable clock faces, messages and answering calls!
- after 24 hours the battery stands at 40%. This is better than I expected. My iPhone battery is also higher at the end of the day as I spent less time using it- a lot less!
- the heart rate sensor is very interesting but I'm not sure I trust it just yet. A few readings were out of the general pattern for say an hour, and for no apparent reason. I am either doomed or the sensor can produce the odd glitch and we need to focus in the average. But overall I think it is a great health addition
- I like the activity features and how the Watch bugs me to be healthier. The prompt to stand up and move around may not be everyone's thing, but I like it
- best third party app so far- 1Password. A useful app where you can store a few crucial bits of info
- the best non-core Apple app has to be Remote- controlling my Apple TV from my wrist is very cool
- I thought that the charger would have a stronger magnetic attraction to the back of the Watch. It's not a major problem but I did find myself reattaching it a few times to be sure it was charging
- I'm not 100% convinced by the need for the Friends button- it might be somewhat handy, but a dedicated button for this? On the issue of buttons, I seem to be using the digital crown far less than iwas intended. Both buttons for me are a last resort
- not being able to reply to an email is disappointing. There may be very good reasons why it's not available as an option, but it seems like a gap in the features. I know this will disappoint some users
- I wish I could remove or hide some of the built-in apps to make the remaining apps on the app screen slightly larger. Right now those icons hover between usable and fiddly
- Siri has been almost good. But, for example, if there is a mistake in your message, you have to cancel and start the message again. It is not as effective as Siri on the iPhone
It will take a few days for me to have a fuller view on the Watch and how I will incorporate it into by daily routine, but so far it has been very useful. Plus it has kept me away from my iPhone and has saved time by allowing prompt responses to messages and quick reading of emails.
A big question for Apple Ireland In 2015 is- where will they decide to sell the Apple Watch (aside from the official Apple Online Store)?
There appears to be three choices:
In terms of presentation, it seems likely that they will go for the first group, but limit it to those with the space and staff to deal with sales. With 38 versions of the Watch, it seems likely that the Watch Edition will be a special order product and stores will focus on the more main stream versions: the Apple Watch Sport and the Apple Watch.
However given that Apple have done deals with fashion stores in the UK, such as with Selfridges, it is likely that they will hand pick some other stores for the ranges, including the Apple Watch Edition. Selfridges offer a try-on appointment service and this could be replicated in Ireland. But my guess is that they will choose these links carefully and not all resellers will have this offered to them.
Today you can walk into many stores to buy an iPod, Apple laptop, and iPhones are sold in a variety of network carrier stores. But the Watch is a different category and the presentation of the Watch is (and should be) of paramount importance to Apple and its brand.
Here our guide to the Apple Watch:
On Monday 9th March Apple will reveal details of the Apple Watch. As I have set out on this site in the past, we know a certain portion of the information already, but there are many aspects which have been held back until now.
One part which I have noted over the past few weeks is the issue of gender- the size of the Watch and the way Apple handles the promotion of the 38 and 42mm models. In the well-established watch market, small is for women and large is for men. "Ladies" vs "Gents" is a tired old cliche which lasted through the 20th century and is still apparent in watch advertising today.
Example from watchshop.com front page
Almost the first choice made when you enter a jewellers is to walk over to the men's or ladies' section of the store- with a gender choice coming before all other decisions. The established watch market falls into two gender-based categories: watches for men which focus on strength, rigour, power, sophistication. This stands in opposition to the "ladies" watches which aim for femininity, style, glamour, elegance, lightness.
Apple don't belong here. Apple don't do gender.
In all of the years I have followed Apple and their products, they have never focussed on gender or marketed along sexist lines. The iPhone has never aimed to divide the products lines along male vs female: the choice of colour matches a lifestyle choice, not part of a gender equation.
The closest we can find might be the iPods. When Apple launched the range of colours for the iPod nano, it could be argued that the colours were aimed at different categories. But again Apple did not lead us down a path- there was never a stated aim of marketing a pink iPod at women only, and say blue for men. The range of colours were left open to the consumer, a personal choice based on lifestyle, the iPod's purpose and without the constraints of gender-based limitations.
But now we are in wearables, Apple's first product to specifically enter a style market. I fundamentally hope, and believe, that Apple does not intend to enter this market and adopt the old cliches set out by an ageing marketplace. We deserve better and if any company is going to lead to break up these types of segments, it is Apple. The Watch information pages on apple.com do not make any mention of male vs female or "ladies" and "gents" editions.
I believe that tomorrow Apple will launch two categories of Watch- a choice of large and slim. Why can't slim be athletic, light, lean, a perfect choice for any consumer irrespective of their gender (those who prefer the slimmer shape, not those who fit into a "slim watch segment"). Apple have always been to the forefront of the marriage equality debate, and I believe that old gender issues are not something that they will want to reinforce. Now is the time to break with old conventions and Apple seem set to break the old categories seen on almost all watch manufacturer websites.
I look forward to seeing Apple's adverts and how they will define who will wear each of the devices. Apple are likely to reject the old assumptions of what a watch does and the functions contained in a wrist-based device, they will also change the language used to define this category. A freshness in design would be well matched by a fresh approach to language and how the Watch will be marketed.
Next Monday Apple will unveil more details about the Apple Watch. The event in Autumn 2014 revealed the Watch's existence, with a ship date of early 2015, but was short on some of the details. We know there will be a number of editions of the Watch and the price will start at $349, but we do not know the full price range and many of the features of the Watch are a mystery.
Here is what I will be looking out for:
1/ battery life: this will be a key element as I would expect the Watch to last a full day. Anything less will be irritating as you will need to remove it in the middle. The idea of topping up your watch in your car or at work might put people off. We really hope Apple can stretch the battery in the Watch to a reasonable span, such as 12 hrs or more.
2/ health: it would be wonderful to think that the Watch would track heart rate and blood sugars- I know this is almost impossible. But as a diabetic I would like to think that the Watch could communicate with other gadgets for health and make health info a more regular part of life, not something you need to find out at your doctor's surgery. Blood pressure will be possible with the sensors, so I will be watching with interest. I will be disappointed if it simply also tracks steps and distance, the same as any other Nike-type monitor.
3/ connection to iPhone and Mac: how are we going to load apps and sync info to the Watch (music etc). I still am not a fan of the way this is organised in iTunes- installing and arranging apps in the iTunes window is fiddly at best. I hope Apple have a great way to organise your content for the Watch.
4/ tactile communication: the ability to send a "buzz" your Apple Watch friends is great. I love the idea of this way to communicate- more than text or email. It is a physical way to communicate and this will be catchy. It also works for routines- the Watch will vibrate if you have not stood up in a while- good for those of us looking after bad backs! Apple seem to have thought through the personal side of the Watch, and the ability to vibrate on your wrist is far more immediate and intimate than a buzzing iPhone. This will be an interesting one to keep an eye on as it could develop into a whole new, personal, way to communicate.
5/ security: the Watch strikes me as the new thing too steal, and so I will be interested to see if Apple have thought this through. The iPhone is now a nightmare for a thief as the user can use Find My iPhone and can lock/wipe the device. We hope that the Watch, so publicly visible on a wrist, has these types of features and more.
6/ Apple Pay: we expect Tim Cook to give an update on the new payment system, Apple Pay. Hopefully he will announce that it is coming to Europe and we can't wait for it to arrive here. It will be a fantastic way to pay without having too pull out our cards at checkouts
7/ price: this thing won't be cheap! The starting price point of €349 is for the most basic version, but we expect the range to be big, and into the thousands. The more limited edition Watch, with gold, is likely to have an eye watering price to match. It is also likely that most people will be spending around $400-500 after they have selected a better strap or gone for a slightly better face.
8/ sizes: the Watch comes in a 38mm or 42mm size and I hope that Apple do not market this as a "ladies and gents" versions. I really hope the point of the sizes will be personal use and not gender based. If you look at a traditional jewellery store, the smaller watches are for women and the larger faces for men. This irritates me and hope that Apple stick to breaking this type of gender-based stereotype. It would be nice to see the faces as a personal choice, the same with the straps.
9/ don't expect this in your local shop: the Watch is likely to be an Apple-only purchase, so for Ireland it will be bought on the Apple online store. I do not believe that they will supply the Watch to third-party retailers, at least not at the beginning. Given the number of faces and straps available, this is a custom-build, so online shopping makes more sense. But there again not being able to hold or touch a Watch in Ireland before purchasing could be a problem. Strong demand at the start will mean that Apple won't care about this, but expect to see Apple Watches in stores in a few years time as the product matures.
10/ this is the new iPod: the iPod range has not been updated in a few years and this is likely to continue. The Watch, along with Bluetooth headsets, is likely to be the new iPod.
11/ what does the Digital Crown do?? The dial on the side of the Watch has not been discussed in detail. Look out for more news on this on Monday. Tim Cook did not refer to its purpose in the Autumn release.
12 surprise: Apple almost certainly held back on revealing significant functions of the Watch, so that this is revealed closer to the launch date. This means that competitors do not have time to try to copy its features. Expect a few show-stopper features to be revealed next week.
We look forward to learning more on Monday.
So many aspects of the Apple Watch are yet to be revealed. We expect to see Apple launch the watch at a special event in April where we will finally find out more about the capabilities of the new devices. Items such as what the digital crown does, the health features, and many of the built in apps are yet to be discussed in depth by Apple.
There is also the battery life- likely to be a breakthrough for this new market, but also likely to be widely criticised in the press. The Watch wilt meet expectations in this area, as the expectations are too high.
My own personal interest will be in the health apps, and whether this will benefit a Type 1 diabetic such as myself. It is possible that the Watch will sync with blood-testing devices to help diabetics control blood-sugar levels, something truly revolutionary for diabetics. The health apps will also track steps, distances etc and begin to help in your lifestyle. A Watch vibrating if you have not moved from your desk in an hour will certainly add a helpful prompt in our daily lives, and possibly for the better. Many of us need a reminder!
Apple will announce its results for Q1 2015 tomorrow and there will be a number of items we will be looking out for:
1/ iPhone numbers: we expect these to be big and likely to set a record. Q1 covers the Christmas period and so sales of iPhone always hit a high watermark in this part of the year. But the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been a runaway success so we expect to see all-time records for the iPhone.
2/ Apple Watch: we are unlikely to get a launch date tomorrow- this will probably come later in March. But we will be watching out for hints from Cook as to which part of the next quarter they are looking to.
3/ iPad: iPad sales have flattened and so it will be interesting to see what happened in the Christmas market. Did the iPad Air 2 help to boost numbers or are people waiting for the next big thing in the segment before upgrading? The iPad Air 2 was not a huge change from the first iPad Air and nor was the new iPad mini that different to the previous model. We expect relatively flat numbers and for the media to over exaggerate the "deflation of the iPad bubble."
4/ iPod numbers- watch these dwindle. It has been nearly two and a half years since Apple revised this segment and do you know anyone who bought one as a present this Christmas?? The iPod feels like Apple history.
5/ Mac figures on the rise: these have been rising at a strong and steady pace in recent years and we expect this to continue. The new MacBooks Pros and Airs along with the new retina Display iMacs mean that this should be a strong segment in Q1.