We take a look at the high and lows of Apple products in 2018 and speculate wildly on what might be around the corner...
I love the HomePod. More than most Apple tech, the HomePod lives in the kitchen and so is at the heart of our family. This means that my kids, wife and I all use the HomePod on a regular basis. Mostly for Apple Music, sometimes for AirPlay when I will push a podcast to the speakers (I have two!) and occasionally for Siri, when we ask it to set timers and alarms for cooking. Yes my iPhone or Apple Watch remain my most used gadgets, but the HomePod is there in the heart of the home as an everyday kicthen appliance. Not bad for a new product.
Given that I already had an iPhone X, I skipped any upgrade this year, but I am well impressed by the new iPhone XR. Great colours (especially Product RED) and a nice lower price compared to the XS, this is the sweet spot amongst the iPhone range. Also, once you upgrade to a X, XR or XS, you just can’t go back to the older screen shape.
Certainly my favourite Apple product of 2018. The iPad Pro is very fast- so much that I don’t even think about opening times and lags these days. These speeds, combined with the amazing screen which gives so much more working space, makes this my favourite work device. I have made a commitment to the iPad and try to take it to meetings and for short work trips. The Apple Folio Keyboard isn’t perfect, but it is small and thin enough to mean it does not distract from the iPad’s thinness while allowing for decent typing speeds. Overall this device is a slick piece of premium kit. On top of this, the new Apple Pencil and its charging method on the side of the iPad Pro is fantastic- the perfect pairing.
Speaking of speed, the new Apple Watch Series 4 is a transformation over my Previous Series 2. It is hard to write about speed differences, but the way the Series 4 Wstch feels is amazing- it reacts immediately to touch, something which did not happen with previous models. This immediate reaction time plus the new Watch faces makes it a completely new device compared to previous generations. I also bought the cellular version, so I await news from Apple and Vodafone/3 on support in Ireland...
At this stage I’m not quite sure what the MacBook is for? With the launch of the new MacBook Air, alongside the MacBook Pro, the MacBook sits alone with a niche role. It seems to be the lightest and thinnest model, even though the MacBook Air would point to this! But with one port and the smallest screen, it seems to be useful for those needing the smallest laptop for travel, but as an underpowered laptop it is not so clear what its audience is. Apple really need to sort out their laptop segments here and who they are aiming this laptop at.
The absence of an Apple display for those who want to connect their Mac mini or laptop to a big screen is shocking. The number of Dell and other screens I have set up this year should be a curse on Apple’s reputation. It is madness to have Apple users buy LG and other models, spoiling their setup with these ugly plastic monstrosities. Having a great screen should be an Apple priority for 2019, as it should have been in 2018.
Ho-hum. OK I know there are lots of under-the-hood improvements here but Mojave is a fairly minor upgrade and we miss the headline features of Mac OS from the past. Having a News app and Home app really doesn’t rock our world and it is a pity we are seeing more and more of these incremental updates in Mac OS, with no big splashes.
...Things to Come in 2019:
Ok this is all idle speculation, but here is what we would like to see in 2019...
- a cheaper intro Mac laptop, aimed at education and students. The current MacBook and MacBook Air lines are just a tough too high in price (or begin with lousy storage amounts) and we feel there needs to be a great €999 laptop for education
- we have mixed feeling about the Mac Pro, but as a headline for the Mac range we would love to see a great pro Mac. Would we buy it; unlikely. But it does signal the state of the Mac range for pros and so we love the idea that the video editing and photography market is properly catered for
- more countries rolling out cellular support for the Apple Watch. And having said this, more countries selling the HomePod too. Apple have been very slow to roll out both. Why? Lack of interest by carriers? Lack of sales by Apple? Whatever the reason, the country range needs to improve to makes these products truly global
- new AirPods? Seems likely they are coming this year and we are curious as to what they will improve here... Such a great little product right now and a great symbol of Apple’s design success.
Looking at Apple’s current line-up and reflecting back on the changes this year, I think there are a few product highlights out there. Here is my run-down of what’s hot in the current Apple range:
I am stil using an iPhone X as I don’t feel that the iPhone XS or XR are different enough to the X, but both new lines are great for people who are on an older bezel phone (the ones with the black strips above and below the screens. The iPhone XS and XR are effectively the iPhone Pro range and are not for everyone, given that they come in at a higher price point to the normal iPhone 8 or 7. But if you are looking for a top-of-the-range iPhone, the XS and XR are superb.
Which leads to the question- which one? For me the gap between the XS and XR is so small that the XR should be your choice- or at least ask, why do you really need a XS over the XR? The XR has a good balance in terms of size of screen, is much cheaper than the XS and yet comes with the same chip inside. The difference is that the XS has a slightly better dual-camera and telephoto system, but for most people this may not be relevant...
You should take a look at the iPhone comparison page to compare the two models side by side:
But the XS starts at €1179 whereas the XR comes in at €879, so it is definitely worth considering the XR and all of its comparable features. It is not a lesser iPhone, it just has a few minor omissions.
The new iPad lineup seems to tick all boxes for me- I adore the iPad Pro and am typing this article on the new iPad Pro with Folio case. It is light, very very fast, and a gem to carry around. I’m trying to use this more frequently, over my MacBook Pro, as I like the multi-tasking and find I can do so much more on this device than on previous iPad models.
But at the same time you can buy a standard 9.7” iPad for a very low price of €369 (32GB) or €459 (128GB) which is good for a device which originally launched in 2010 at $499. When you think about the advances in speed, screen quality, graphics and more in those 8 years, today’s iPad is quite the bargain. The iPad Pro starts at a much higher €909, but has a larger screen, Pencil 2 support, Folio case support and more. I am happy with my choice at a higher price, but the starter 9.7” iPad could be many people’s only computer, for €369.
The changes to the Apple Watch in 2018 have been incremental, and I stil have a Series 2 version. The new Series 4 is likely to answer my major concern- speed. I will be getting a new Watch over Christmas as the combination of the speed changes and the slightly larger display (44mm) makes this a worthy upgrade for earlier Watch users. If you have a Series 3- wait. But for anyone with an earlier model, there is enough of a gap now to justify opening your wallet.
AirPods and Pencil:
If you are looking for a smaller price as a gift, then the AirPods and new Apple Pencil 2 are the ideal choice. The new Pencil is a great combination with the new iPad Pro - in fact it is the only Pencil you can use with this model! But it is so much better than Pencil 1 as it magnetically connects to the side of the iPad, where it stays tightly linked and charges!
The AirPods is one of those Apple gems which still impresses me long after their launch. The AirPods are small, fit neatly into the small jeans pocket and are so much better to use than the cabled headphones or even traditional Bluetooth headsets. Plus the battery length is incredible- I mostly forget to charge them at all, and only do this every few weeks.
I bought a new MacBook Air recently and this Mac would go back in as my recommended Mac laptop for many people. The balance of new case, the higher speed and the new retina-display all add up to a neat package. It sits above the MacBook in terms of screen size and speed and below the MacBook Pro for sheer power, but this is a sweet spot for most users and I can see it staying as Apple’s best selling laptop.
Overall there are some nice pieces out there for Christmas purchases- these are just a few of my own favourites!
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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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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Apple held a press event last week to introduce a number of new gadgets- here is a quick summary of what they announced:
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 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.
Jason Snell is right in his analysis of a possible stylus for the iPad. It may appeal to some customers, but is likely to be an extra option and not something that the majority of iPad users would go for:
I admit that I have a difficult time ginning up enthusiasm for this particular tech unicorn. While I’m sure that artists and other pen-oriented niches would love an iPad that was better at accepting pen input, I’m not sure how large those niches really are.
Macworld UK ran an article this week discussing the possibility of a stylus with a new 12" iPad "Pro".
The article is entirely based on rumours. There is no evidence for this iPad or the stylus right now. They mention patents filed by Apple, something that is notoriously misleading as Apple file lots of these patent applications, the vast majority of which do not turn out as direct products.
But it should be noted that if Apple ever did produce a stylus, it would be no great shock, despite the article's tag line which suggests this is a change of direction to the Jobs era. Apple regularly change their mind, or more accurately, redefine an area that it had fought against. One classic example is large screen phones. Remember the iPhone 5 adverts poking fun at large screens and pointing out how our thumb reaches from "here to here"? The iPhone 5's screen size was a "dazzling display of common sense" according to the commercial, only for Apple to launch the iPhone 6 Plus two years later [Link to advert via iSpot]