Some thoughts on the new Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch (original)
My favourite gadget

Finally, it’s here – a smartwatch that has it’s own cellular connection and so doesn’t require you have your phone with for it key functionality to work –  while also not looking like an ASBO tag.

I’m impressed that Apple were able to cram this new functionality into a watch that’s almost the same size as the previous generation. The ability to go out for a run, to a gig or to the pub for the evening and leave your phone at home is a game changer.  Being able to listen to music, get directions, take calls and respond to calls without anything on your person is something I imagine to be a very freeing experience. It’s still early days, and I expect the new watch to have significantly worse battery life when the cellular connection is used. Just as the current generation suffers when you use the GPS and heart rate monitoring functionaries, the new models will see less battery life if you use them away from your iPhone a lot of the time. In two or three years time however, when battery and processor efficiency has improved even more, these watches will be capable of  replacing our phones for many of their core uses. Will people want to replace their phones though? No camera, no web browser, no games. I doubt it. Having the option though, can be only a good thing. If you can leave your phone at home more and more often, you might even consider a bigger phone, or just having a tablet-sized device instead of a phone. Or perhaps we’ll just pull down out Apple Glasses when we need a bigger screen.

So will I be upgrading to the Series 3? In short, no. I bought an Apple Watch last year, and I’m going to make it last.⌚️

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The future is not easy

Have you noticed lot of people lecturing about how the near future is going to be full of self-driving cars and robot doctors? The past shows us however, that predicting the future is not easy, and rarely do long-term predictions about technology come true. As this video and article demonstrate fantastically.

Humanoid robots exist alongside err… payphones? I’m still waiting for an electric belt that adapts to bodily and climatic conditions though…

From Insurgent to Blade Runner: why is the future on film always so grim?

Improving digital media rights

In an age when streaming services are all the rage –Netflix, Amazon Prime, Spotify et al, I still feel as though there are certain works of art that I want to own and not just rent. With music, this is a pain free process as most digital music is available to purchase is free of DRM (Digital Rights Management). DRM stops digital files being copied, with an aim to stop piracy. In reality though, if you look hard enough (you don’t have to look that hard) you can still find most popular digital media available for free on pirate sites. DRM doesn’t work. Thankfully the music industry saw the light and you can now buy DRM-free music from iTunes, Amazon and many other providers. The film, TV and book industry haven’t been so forward thinking however. There are no services that let you purchase a film legitimately without DRM. Why is this a bad thing? DRM stops unauthorised copying, which is fine by me because I don’t want to make any unauthorised copies. The problem is, DRM also promotes vendor lock-in. This means if I buy a TV show from my iPad, and then years later decide to switch to Android, those videos are stuck within the Apple ecosystem. If I buy a book on Kindle, but decide I would rather use some other make of e-reader, I’m not able to take my Kindle collection with me.  
Some services like Amazon Music and Google Play do offer cross-platform apps, so if I bought a TV series on an Android phone, I could watch it on an iPhone – but only using the Google app. If one day Google decides to stop supporting iPhone, I’m out of luck.

So what to do? Our governments seem keen to pass laws which promote and support DRM – I can understand this. An economy where goods are easy to steal and stealing is virtually undetectable – an economy based on good will if you like, is probably not an experiment they want to attempt. But what if they also passed laws that promoted consumer rights; rights not to be locked into a single platform? In this world, any digital goods purchased from one platform would be available to download again from rival platforms at no cost. If the other platform is somehow better (e.g. higher definition) then of course users would be expected to pay for the upgrade (though, I would expect the original version to still be available), but if it’s like for like, then consumers would have the right to transfer their purchases to as many platforms as they wish. This could be backed up by a common verified email address or block-chain style database, with safeguards in place to prevent abuse. It could be done, and it would make digital media much more competitive, improving the experience and price for consumers overall.  

Will it happen? Let’s say I’m not optimistic.

iPhone SE

I did it. I bought a an iPhone SE. Not just any old iPhone SE, a Rose Gold one.

Why this madness?

iPhone SE, Rose Gold
iPhone SE, Rose Gold

The last phone I bought was an iPhone 5 back in December 2012. I was pleased with the phone and only gave it up last November when I decided to start using my company issued iPhone 6 as my main phone. The reason for switching was mainly because its ageing A6 processor was beginning to start showing its age, and the lack of M-series motion co-processor meant any motion tracking applications needed to keep the entire phone awake when in use, so battery life wasn’t that great for me. The iPhone 6 also has a much better camera. I’d refrained form upgrading my personal phone for so long because the iPhone 6 and the 6S did nothing for me – they don’t look particularly good, and they’re way too expensive for anything but the 16GB model, which I would not recommend to anyone but my worst enemy.

Modern processor niceties aside, I wasn’t too happy with the size of the iPhone 6. It was awkward to use with one hand, and impossible to put in a pocket while running – I needed to strap it to my arm instead. So when Apple announced the iPhone SE a few weeks ago, I knew this was the phone for me. The classic, beautiful iPhone 5 design and more importantly a usable size, but with the far superior camera and processing smarts of the iPhone 6S. I feel like this is a product Apple made just for me.

Upon going back to the smaller size everything felt so much nicer. The phone just sits in the hand much more naturally, and I can reach any part of the screen without using two hands or performing a balancing act in order not to drop it. There is also something particularly cool about using such powerful applications as Pixelmator, iMovie and Numbers on a 4 inch screen – there is a certain elegance in making an app that can do so much with such little screen real estate.

I went for the 64GB mode, which makes this the first iPhone I’ve ever owned with more than16GB of storage space. What a difference it makes. 16GB was fine back in 2009 when I had a 3GS, but in 2012 it made no sense, and it’s worrying that Apple still sells them. I can for the first time actually install apps without needing to delete something else first. Before I had to consciously keep applications installed to a minimum, in order that I could have 2 albums downloaded (for running) and space ready to take photos (usually 500MB or so). Now I don’t have to worry, and I can even install games. If anything, the storage upgrade is more significant than the superior processor and camera.

Finally I went for Rose Gold – why? I just felt like a change. I’ve always had the black iPhone, and Rose Gold was this year’s “new colour”. People can joke that it’s a girly colour, but honestly, I’m confident enough with my own masculinity to use a pink phone and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Overall I think it’s a brilliant upgrade over the iPhone 6. More usable, nicer camera and much faster. It is missing the barometer (sad face) and the front-facing camera isn’t as good, but that’s a small compromise, there’a also no camera bump.

How I fixed an unusable BT Infinity Connection

I’d been having problems with BT Infinity for a few months. Every so often web pages would just hang, or streaming video would freeze. Oddly it would often coincide with a new certain devices connecting to the network. Frustratingly, my connecting to Wi-Fi with my work laptop (Dell Latitude, Windows 10) would cause the Internet to stop working for a good half an hour.

I phoned BT and found their helpline very unhelpful. When asked to unplug the router overnight, I asked why this was needed and was told ‘it’s technical’. Throughout the process I felt as though I was just being read a script and not being listened to.

Anyway, I had managed to get my work laptop connected and had hooked into my company’s VPN when all the devices in the house stopped working again. My phone, the Apple TV, Kindles – all except for my work laptop. How odd. When I disconnected from the VPN, it too started to not work.

This made me think to try using Google’ DNS instead of BT’s. To my surprise, the Internet started behaving like a 70Mb/sec Internet connection should for the first time in months. My next step was to log into the painfully slow BT HomeHub router to try and change its DNS settings at the network level, rather than for each and every device. It turns out BT have restricted that, because normal people can’t be trusted to change their DNS servers, it seems.

After doing some digging, I discovered that the Apple Airport Express base station I’d been using to extend the range of the wireless network could be used as a NAT bridge and in place of the BT Homehub. I found this helpful post on the BT Forums which I will recap here incase BT decide to shut down or move their forums.

In short, you plug in the Ethernet cable from the white BT Openreach box into the WAN port on the Airport. Your username can be anything @btbroadband.com (I’m sure BT don’t rely on this for actual authentication, that’s tied to your line) and your password is simply a space.

You can then use Google’s DNS servers in place of BTs. One extra thing I had to do was set IPv6 to be ‘local link only’ under ‘Internet Options’.

ss1

ss2

This setup allowed me to retire my BT HomeHub for good, and the Internet connection has been flawless ever since. My Kindle can even connect, which is saying something.

Oddly, the default IP range for the Airport’s DHCP server is Class A, which means your devices won’t have the usual ‘192.168.1.X’ scheme, but this can be changed if needed. You can change this under the Network > Network options tab, though there really is no need other than it being a more common practice.

 

On the demise of the iPad

Unrelated: iPad's do not land very gracefully.
Unrelated: iPads do not land very gracefully.

 

So it seems iPad sales have fallen for yet another quarter. As someone whose iPad is their favourite computer; on the one hand this surprises me – why wouldn’t everyone and anyone want one of these fabulously useful and fun gadgets? But on the other hand I can absolutely see why many people wouldn’t have a space for this relatively expensive, yet limited device in their lives.
The problem is that a tablet does some things really well: browsing the web, watching videos, taking notes, editing photos. It also does some things very poorly: you can’t import music purchased from someone other than Apple into your music library (iTunes Match) for example and the apps are in general baby versions of their desktop counterparts. Need to rotate, annotate and save a PDF? Create a PivotChart? Have two Word documents open at the same time? You’re out of luck.

 

Most people don’t create

The iPad’s big differentiator is that unlike an iPhone, it can actually be used to create content (By content I don’t mean social network updates!). Witness the suite of applications Apple provide for free or next to nothing; GarageBand, iMovie, Pages, Keynote and excellent apps like Pixelmator, which is the only image editing application I’ve ever been able to comprehend (I even managed to ‘photoshop’ someone who was in from one photo and place them into another, while making it look convincing). The problem is, most people don’t create content very often. Outside of work and school (where people obviously do), most people’s computing needs boil down to what is the quickest and most comfortable way to consume content. The iPhone’s success in business was dominated by it’s consumer success (the so called ‘consumerisation of IT’) but the iPad hasn’t followed this because for most people, the phone is simply ‘good enough’ to check Facebook, lookup that recipe or watch Netflix.

The phone is the best compromise, for now

Most people have learnt this over the last four years of iPad usage. The iPad isn’t better than a phone at the ‘phone’ things people do (Facebook, messaging, email) and it’s not better than a laptop at the ‘create’ things people do (with all the edge cases these entail). If you’re going to put down £400 or more on a new computer, why would you buy an iPad when you know it’s not going to replace your aging laptop and you’ll still need to replace that thing when it dies too. So most people buy new laptop instead, and that would seem like a smart decision to me.

Phone sales remain strong and this is because the phone is currently the best compromise for mobile computing. A small screen with lots of sensors and are useful while you’re out and about – camera, GPS, compasses etc. The iPad is a more enjoyable and productive device to use than a phone because of it’s larger screen size, but that also means it can’t replace a phone because nobody wants to carry a large bag on them at all times. It’s not an ‘always with you’ device. The phone is therefore the best compromise between having a nice big screen, and having something that is always on your person. Will this always be the case however? Once smartwatches are able to connect directly to cellular networks and don’t need to be tethered to a phone, will they be able to take on the role of ‘always with you’, for messaging, directions, checking headlines etc? If this happens then what do we need the phone for? It’s no longer necessary to have this compromise of a smaller screen. In this case, would people decide that a watch and an tablet (or laptop, if the iPad or its competitors haven’t improved its software yet) will take on the roll of web browsing, Netflix and Facebook, fulfilling the rest of their computing needs? I could quite see myself using just a watch and a tablet, if both devices progress in the right directions over the next few years.

The future of commerce is so close

A couple of months ago Apple Pay was finally enabled for my bank account and credit card, which meant I was finally able to pay for things by either placing my phone on the card reader, or by bashing my watch against it instead.

I look forward to a day when I can leave the house with nothing in my pockets – my watch will have a cellular radio and be capable of keeping me in contact with the people that matter, so too will it allow me to unlock my car/house, in addition to letting me pay for things. While the first two in that list might be a few years away (decades at the rate I upgrade cars), my watch can actually make payments today, how cool is that?

The reality is somewhat less cool. The problem is the payment limit. Since Apple Pay uses the existing 'Contactless' payment systems, it's also hampered by the same £20 limit. While this limit makes sense with a contactless debit card (there is zero authentication), both the Apple Watch and iPhone are secure; the iPhone asks for your fingerprint, and the watch asks for a PIN when you first put it on, as long as it says in contact with your wrist it is authorised for Apple Pay.

This authentication is also a hindrance – why would I fiddle about trying to get my phone to detect my fingerprint (while everyone in the queue is staring at me) or roll three layers of sleeve up to try and get my watch to be recognised when I can whip out my wallet and tap my debit card? The key point is that I still have to have my wallet on me in case the shop in question doesn't support contactless, or the amount comes to over £20. Don't get me wrong, Apple Pay is much better than entering a PIN, it's just not as fast as tapping your card.

So what needs to happen? I'd like to see the limit raise for Apple Pay purchases to something more reasonable, most cash machines allow you to take out £300 in a day, so why not the same for an arguably more secure system such as Apple Pay, while keeping existing contactless limits where they are of course

Apple Watch Battery Saving Tips

If you have the smaller version of the Apple Watch, then you may find the battery just about gets you through the day. Over the past 6 weeks of using it I've been experimenting with the various settings to find the best way to save battery life.

Note: Like with battery saving tips for phones, these tips will reduce functionality, so they're not meant for daily use. Apple Watch has a built in power save mode, but with that switched on the watch is less useful than a £10 Casio watch (at least you don't have to press a button to see the screen on one of those!). These tips are meant for those long days or weekends where you want to keep the watch going for as long as possible, while maintaining the fitness tracking and ability to receive notifications (these things are not possible in Power Save mode).

Turn off Wrist Raise

On the watch itself, under Settings > General you can turn off Wrist Raise. This makes the watch a lot less useful because you will have to press a button to see the screen, but if you are out and about on a weekend and don't particularly care about the time, but want to make sure your fitness progress still gets tracked, it's a great way to save significant battery life.

Use the X-Large watch face

If you can do without seeing the weather or other useful widgets on your watch face, the X-Large's use of lots of black and no widgets means it uses far less battery juice, in my experience at least.

Use Power Saving Mode for workouts

In the Apple Watch app on your phone, choose the settings for the 'Workout' app, and select power saving mode. This stops the watch from continuously reading your pulse during workouts – very useful if you're doing long runs or walks, as the heart rate monitor sucks battery life. It will mean however, that your calorie burn stats wont be as accurate.

Turn on Airplane Mode

This one is only slightly better than Power Save mode. You'll still be able to track your activity, receive stand notifications or notifications for appointments already synced to your watch – obviously you wont get any alerts that come from your phone (such as messages). If you're away camping for the weekend, maybe that's OK?

Stay near your phone

I've noticed the battery life is a lot worse when I spend a lot of time away from my desk at work, but leave my phone at my desk. This makes sense – when the phone is within Bluetooth range, the watch will use this connection for things like alerts. When you move away from your phone, it instead has to connect to Wi-Fi directly. Wi-Fi is much less power efficient than Bluetooth.

 

 

Apple Watch – First Thoughts

I know that it seems everyone wants to blog about their experience with an Apple Watch, so why would I need to too? Well, I’m not a professional journalist (as if you can’t tell) – just an everyday person with an interest in technology, so perhaps I’ll offer a different perspective.

So after 3 weeks, what does a ‘normal’ technology enthusiast think? Well… I went for the 38mm black ‘Sport’ Model as I figured fitness would be my main usage scenario.

Wearing a watch

I’ve always loved watches. Not for the bling factor – for me something being expensive doesn’t equate to it being stylish or useful. Ever since my Granddad introduced me to a Casio watch at the age of 8 I’ve loved a good gadget watch, and so the Apple Watch was right up my street. I actually have a Casio which I wear at weekends. It’s a radio controlled analogue/digital hybrid. I don’t wear it to work during the week since I’m usually at a computer all day long, it doesn’t really add much utility. So wearing a watch isn’t a habit I’ve had to get back in to.

 

With the classic buckle strap

Needing the phone

So a major factor in anyone’s purchasing decision is going to be ‘do you own an iPhone 5 or newer’ – if you don’t you can’t make much use out of an Apple Watch. My two and a half year old iPhone 5 still does the job (and until Apple increase the base storage from 16GB, I won’t be upgrading), so I was fine.

The iPhone is needed for a number of things – most apps require the phone to either be in Bluetooth range or the watch to be on the same WiFi network as the phone. This is fine for me as my office has WiFi throughout the building, so I can easily leave my phone in a draw and walk anywhere in the office (even outside) and receive notifications – pretty cool. Some apps don’t even need your phone, they only need a WiFi connection. Messages is one of those apps – I left my phone in my car at the gym, but was able to send and receive iMessages from the watch no problem. Siri also works like this. Maps didn’t work, although it was able to determine my location (from the WiFi base station, I assume), just not show me the map.

Overall the ‘need’ to be tethered to an iPhone is overstated in my opinion, though one thing to note is that the watch will only connect to a WiFi network your phone has previously connected to. So you can’t just head to a coffeeshop with only your watch and expect to get online.

Apps

Most of the built in apps seem well thought through, though with some annoying limitations. I can reply to text messages, but not emails. Both the BBC News and Guardian apps only show me a paragraph before requesting I take my phone out. I’m sure people can make that choice for themselves, so why not show the whole article?

Battery

If you use it like a watch, the battery will easily last you all day. If you use the Workout app or play with apps a lot, you’re going to struggle to get through the day. My Casio is solar powered, so I’m used to feeling the warm rays beat down on my watch and thinking about all that goodness it’s doing charging the battery, however that’s sadly not the case with the Apple Watch. If anything the heat will kill the battery’s longevity. I do hope Apple add solar charging in future iterations.

Workout

It seems to be pretty accurate (once trained by running outside with your phone’s GPS). I tested it on a treadmill and it was a few percentage points out. I have a tendency to rest on the side of the treadmill for 10 seconds while I switch tracks, it knows I’ve stopped running unlike a treadmill. The ability to leave you phone at home when you go for a run is great, you can play music from the watch via Bluetooth headphones. Unfortunately changing a track while running is not easy (it made me pine for my iPod classic). You have to exit the ‘Workout app’ by pressing home, tap the Clock icon and then swipe up to get to glaces, then swipe across to the ‘Now Playing’ glance. You could also open the music app from the home screen, but it’s way too complex and an odd oversight from Apple.

The daily activity goals are good, however the recommendations are a bit basic. For example I had a daily active calorie burn goal of 400 – On 5 out of 7 days in a week I exceeded it, however it took my average calories over the entire week and suggested a new daily goal of 220 (I had a very lazy weekend). It seemed more logical that it would know that a lot of people will have different behavioural patterns on weekends and suggested something a bit more realistic.

Run

 

Style/Cost

I went for the cheapest option, the black Sport model (I went 38mm not for price but because I have skinny wrists). I looks pretty nice, even with the leather buckle. I probably wouldn’t wear it to a  formal occasion such as a wedding, but for business, or social it’s absolutely fine.

Calendar

Notifications

The best thing about notification is I never have to check my phone any more, since I know I will have gotten a tap on the wrist if anything of note has happened. I had to make sure all but the most critical apps were turned off however, I don’t really want to be interrupted because someone followed me on Twitter.

Text Input

The only way to input text is via voice-dictation. This is fine if your a technology journalist who works from home, or an exec who has their own office – but for the average person who works amount other people (this applies to social occasions too), it’s not polite to start dictating messages to your girlfriend in front of other people. I value my privacy, and so unless I’m alone I generally don’t enter text into the watch. What this device really needs is a way to enter text, Microsoft have the right idea, and I’m disappointed Apple haven’t even included this in watchOS version 2. (I guess it did take the iPhone OS 3 iterations to get copy and paste).

 

The Watch

One of the coolest things about the watch is the customisable watch faces. You can add widgets that show the weather, sunset time, battery life, next appointment and more. In this sense, the watch really has utility that makes it worth wearing. I can look down on my wrist and see my next appointment or the current weather conditions.

Watch Face

This is the one I use when I’m not at work – it shows me sunset time (how much time I have left to go out for a walk or run before it gets dark), the battery level,  the day of the week and my activity for the day.

Watch Face

When I’m at work I like to use this face, which gives me the timezone of our other office, in addition to putting the date front and centre.

Overall, I’m impressed and don’t regret the purchase. Plus, future versions of the device can only get better .👍🏻

Google Photos

Google announced a new service recently called 'Google Photos', and I was instantly intrigued. I don't use many Google services apart from search, but keeping memories safe is top of my priorities when it comes to online services.

I currently use OneDrive (and before that, Dropbox) to backup photos and was thinking of using Apple's iCloud Photo Library in addition to this. I like the idea of having every photo I've ever taken (in recent memory at least) available from the photo picker in iOS, and on my Mac. However from what I've heard in reviews, doing this slows down iOS devices (I have an iPhone 5, which not being the latest device from Apple means it's inevitably slowed down anyway) and I also want more control over what gets stored on my device. Apple may make nice looking products, but when it comes to storage they are stingy as hell, and my phone is forever warning me that I'm running low on space. I tried iCloud Photos for a few months and found it didn't save space on my phone as promised, I still ended up with the majority of space on my phone used by the photos I'd taken. It's also not cheap – you get 5GB 'free' from Apple – no matter how many devices you own. So me, with an iPhone, 2 iPads (home and work), as well as a Mac get the same as someone with just an iPod Touch. Out of this 5GB comes any backups you make (which is the majority in my experience), any emails you receive to your iCloud email account, and of course any photos you upload to iCloud Photos. Buying more space is expensive considering you've already paid a premium for the hardware in the first place.

So a combination of being expensive and not that good made me decide to stick with OneDrive (despite the fact it can be buggy, it's at least cross platform and a good price, you get 1TB of space and Microsoft Office for less than £10 a month). Then Google announced Google Photos….

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 08.24.25

With any Google product there are two things you need to consider: How long will it last before they shut it down, and what are they doing with my data?

I hope this product lasts, and doesn't go the way of Google Buzz, Reader, Notebook, iGoogle or Latitude (and Google+ ?). With Google, you never know. That's a big risk when you're trusting it with your lifelong memories. Luckily it's free (if you are happy for all images to be down-sampled to a maximum of 16 megapixels – my camera is nowhere near that resolution, so I am) so I would urge anyone using it to also use a service like Dropbox or OneDrive who have a better reputation when it comes to shuttering services.

What are they doing with the data? I've no doubt the GPS coordinates tagged inside every photo will be extremely useful to Google for targeting me with adverts. It's basically my location history. I'm fine with this really.

The app itself is very well written. If you have 3000+ photos to upload like me, then you'll want to download the helper application that will sit in the background and upload instead of using the browser interface. The web interface scrolls very smoothly and makes it easy to go back a decade without trying to load everything in-between. Unlike the OneDrive web interface, it correclty uses the EXIF data in images to pull out the date, rather than the file's timestamp. In OneDrive it looks like I took all my photos in March 2015, because that's when I copied them accross from Dropbox. Google Photos isn't so stupid, thankfully. Like Apple's iCloud Photos, you can make edits from within the Google Photos interface. Apple's approach cleverly stores what you changed in a photo, as opposed to the end result. This means you can adjust the brightness on one your phone, but undo it and add a filter on your laptop without any loss in quality (it doesn't create a losssy JPEG each time). I'm not sure if Google is doing something simular, but it wouldn't supprise me.

So all in all, I am impressed – I'm just worried it will be switched off in 4 years when Google get bored of it.