Remember the iPod Nano Watch?

I've still got one of the square sixth-generation iPod nano devices in my drawer at home, along with an expanding metal bracelet that turned it into a watch all the way back in 2011. To tell the truth it was never a good watch, and in some of the ways that people now accuse the Apple Watch of failing in its primary timekeeping function.

For starters, the display wasn't always on, although unlike the actual Watch you couldn't just raise your wrist or tap the screen to wake it and see the time. Worse still, once it was on even a brush of the screen would take you out of the clock functionality and back to one of the iPod's other menus. To be fair, it wasn't really meant to be a clock full-time.

The resolution and clarity of the iPod screen also left a lot to be desired, and meant squinting at it in anything approaching direct sunlight. Apple Watch isn't perfect (where by 'perfect' I mean as readable as an analogue watch in bright light), but when I wake in the night it's a whole lot better than the Casio Waveceptor I was still wearing a few weeks ago. The Casio's luminous dial needed a few hours of stored sunlight to work correctly (it was never going to get that stuck up my sleeve in the UK) and always faded before my eyes could adjust.

The nano's battery rarely lasted me a full day of listening to stored podcasts (with the earbud cable snaked up the inside of my sleeve) and checking the time, though it saved some of my iPhone's battery for other things. I'd always have to take it off and charge it when I got home from work, and I rarely wanted to keep it on when I wasn't using it for music. The Watch is so comfortable I want to wear it all day, and thankfully the battery keeps up.

I'm reminded however that the nano came with a lot more watch faces than Apple Watch currently has—sixteen in total—including colour-matched ones (the nano came in seven colours) and no fewer than four from the Disney/Henson stable (Mickey, Minnie, Kermit and Animal). Some of the regular watch faces were pretty crappy, but I'd have those Muppets on my Apple Watch in a heartbeat.

(Postscript: Just reminded of Geoffrey Goetz's piece at Gigaom, which usefully outlined all the things that Apple needed to fix if they actually made a thing for the wrist)

Obligatory One Week with Apple Watch Blog Post

First things first:

1. A week with the Watch is far too short a time to really evaluate it. These are going to be, inevitably, barely more than first impressions.

2. The WWDC keynote announcement of WatchOS 2 meant that we all know what Apple really wants the Watch to be, in its first full year of life. It seems pointless to criticise the first version for not having features that are in developers' hands right now. I'll try to limit myself to a discussion of what's already here, but keep in mind that some missing stuff is right around the corner.

Battery Life

People worried about this when Apple didn't mention it at the launch, but it's just fine. In fact it's great. As I write, at 22:35 at night, my Watch is showing 50% remaining power—and I've used it plenty since 7am this morning . As I said a few days in, we'd benefit more at this point from faster charging on the Watch than from a longer battery life. That will change of course, as future OS features use more power, and as future hardware sensors need to do more, for longer. The ginormous (2m) charging cable which comes as standard has stayed plugged in in my bedroom since I've had it, and feels plenty secure when magnetised to the Watch. It rotates to any position relative to the Watch, which makes me think there's a rotating element inside, though I haven't studied the teardowns properly. Certainly you don't need it to be in a specific orientation to charge, so you can snake the cable out any side you like. It sounds like a little thing, but it's surprisingly convenient. I'll buy a 1m extra cable sometime for convenience when travelling, and I normally have a couple of chargers with me (though I might take my double USB output iPad charger with me on longer trips abroad).

The Watch

I adore the Space Black Stainless Steel Apple Watch, and haven't regretted ponying up for this model for a second. I love the extra weight over the Apple Watch Sport, much of which comes from the link bracelet. Before the Watch arrived I was expecting to want a leather band or the Sports band to lighten it up on occasion, but I haven't really felt the need to swap the band  so far (though I'd love a Product Red band for days when I don't mind being noticed). 

It was a tiny bit fiddly to swap out the links since the release buttons are necessarily tiny and flush with the strap, but that's not something I expect to do often. My slim wrists meant dropping 6 links, which are stored in a neat soft pouch that comes in the box. I wonder if you'll be able to get spares under AppleCare, should you need them? I haven't removed the band itself yet, though when I tried it at an early in-store demo it seemed very easy to do. When I get an extra band I'll let you know.

It's kind of strange evaluating such a tiny device as the Apple Watch body itself from a hardware perspective. Apple's made plenty of small devices before (some, like the buttonless third-generation iPod shuffle, significantly smaller than this one) and it's no stranger to attention to detail. This feels like a different order of product though, something with so much functionality, so much integrity, and so personal, yet subject to so much attention. 

It's not hard to see why people have approached the Watch as if it were a tiny iPhone, or indeed a tiny Mac. It has all the requisite components of a standalone platform device: Screen, custom input devices, audio I/O, wireless communications, a battery—even a (hidden) data interface. The degree of integration is remarkable though, even for Apple, and in practice all the parts merge into one, as if it were an object summoned out of metal and glass by some unknown process akin to magic or alchemy. It's much more like jewellery than it is like a piece of consumer electronics. I love wearing it, and yet I can't quite explain why.

The Watch Experience

While the Watch clearly is a tiny computer, it just feels wrong to talk about hardware and software separately. What Apple's aiming for here is a seamless experience, more like an iPod than a Mac, or even than iPhone. This of course is complicated by the Watch's (for now, and already decreasing) reliance on a  paired iPhone, but it's a clearly signalled intention. At its best, the experience of wearing a Watch feels like wearing a discrete accessory (in the jewellery/fashion sense) that just happens to know about iCloud. 

There are, inevitably, rough edges. Some reviewers have complained that the relationship between the functions or modes of the Watch is hard to discern. Certainly there's some complexity in the variety of ways one can interact with the device—the Watch faces, customisations and Complications; Notifications, both static and those offering user feedback buttons; Glances, which offer a single-screen view onto an installed application; and Applications themselves, which currently exist as a kind of projection from within a connected iPhone app, but are due to get a brain transplant in WatchOS 2 where the application logic can run locally on the Watch.

Of all these ways that one can interact with it, applications are probably the least interesting—for now. You'll spend most of your time looking at the Watch face, and interacting with Notifications. One exception for me has been the Messages app, which is a pretty slick way of responding to a message. I've answered dozens of messages on the Watch since I've been wearing it. Occasionally Siri has let me down, and I've reluctantly had to pull out my iPhone (as an aside, everyone's saying how good Siri is getting, and they're not wrong).

What else? I've had a few problems getting raise-to-talk Siri to actually act on instructions, though it does fine when I press the crown. It can be a bit slow setting timers with Siri, unlike on the iPhone. I initially set my activity levels too high, and the Watch dialled it down for me (I'm expecting it to dial it back up next week, since I'm filling the rings easily now). Having Lark on my wrist  to nag me to walk around is pretty neat, and Lifesum's gorgeous notifications are definitely getting me to drink more water. Paying at Starbucks with Passbook feels like the future (roll on Apple Pay in the UK), and The Trainline's Watch app showing a graphical representation of soon-to-arrive trains is lovely. I've answered a quick call on my wrist, but rejected many more (very handy).

I'm hesitant to even try to provide any kind of definitive judgement on the Watch, after only a week. Nevertheless, I'm convinced this is going to get even more interesting, and that Apple takes this space very seriously. I'd been initially hesitant about climbing on board with the first model, but I'm glad I did. I'll have much more to say about the possibilities as the next few months unfold, and as I begin to work with designers on the potential of Watch-based applications, particularly in the area of healthcare. More on that soon.

Heavy Metal Watch

So, my Apple Watch, which I ordered about 20 minutes after they went on sale—on a dodgy connection from a cafe in China—finally arrived. Apple's initial delivery estimate just said June. That changed about two weeks ago to a window between 24-30 June but suddenly, last Friday, showed it was preparing to ship. I tracked it over the weekend and it was waiting for me when I got home on Monday evening.

The Space Black model I'd chosen seems to be the last of the (non-Edition) Watches to ship, but it was worth the wait: A fairly hefty chunk of stainless steel, coated with a Diamond Like Carbon layer (see also here for a good background), the Space Black Watch snakes around your wrist beautifully and is just heavy enough for me to know that it's there without it becoming tiring to wear. If you like a lighter watch, this one isn't for you. Go for the (still lovely) aluminium Sports model in Space Grey instead and you'll hardly notice it.

After just two full days of wearing it I'm still a way off being ready to write a full review (if indeed I get around to that at all), but I have a few quick thoughts:

1. Battery life is good. The first day (I'd charged it overnight without running it all the way down) I was on 2% when I turned in and put it to charge. Yesterday I went to bed with it still showing 30%+ remaining. Both days I'd used it lots. It occurs to me that a future Watch that I can wear overnight for sleep tracking needs a long battery life less than it needs a rapid charge cycle.

2. Taptics/haptics are great, but I need the "prominent" setting on to really notice notifications consistently. In some cases I still miss them.

3. The "raise wrist" thing works beautifully for me. It's almost magic, and the screen comes on perfectly quickly enough for me to check the time quickly. Yeah, it'd sometimes be nice to glance without moving my arm, but that's usually when I'm typing and there's a clock on screen.

4. It's a much simpler device than some reviewers have said. I think they're over-thinking it.

Anyway, I'm very much liking wearing this so far. More updates as I settle into it.

There Will Never be a Final Film Format

Long, fascinating, and well-written piece by John Lingan on The Verge about the Nitrate Picture Show, but also about the unpredictable transitions between technologies, the uncertainties of future accessibility, and the inevitability of loss. A must-read.

Film has been more scrambled by the digital age than any other medium. Once-standard 35mm celluloid is now a luxury item used mainly by high-profile directors who insist on it. Digital projection and storage is now standard, but just like its film forebears, it poses its own preservation challenges: file formats change so quickly and hardware is so unreliable that, in the words of Matthew Dessem, writing for The Dissolve, "Unless the unique challenges of digital preservation are met, we run the risk of a future in which a film from 1894 printed on card stock has a better chance of surviving than a digital film from 2014."

Cultural artifacts, like natural ones, go extinct as a matter of course. The question is simply how to carry history into each new era. There will never be a final film format; the movies will keep getting upgraded and compressed into tinier units of digital memory. But as they do, the world’s slowly improving stock of nitrate film will beckon — romantic, profound, extraordinarily novel. Before the festival, Jared Case said he hoped the Nitrate Picture Show would attract a broad group of bloggers, scholars, and film-Tweeters who would spread the word of nitrate’s viability as a living medium. "For a certain segment of the population," he told me, "it’s a real experience."

Source: http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/17/8792169/...

Apple Store Upper East Side

Beautiful new Apple Store conversion in New York City. 

 >The former site of the U.S. Mortgage and Trust Company at 74th and Madison Avenue is a relic from the neighborhood's gilded past. The beaux-arts building first opened its doors to the bank's well-to-do clientele in 1922. Today it is essentially the same building it was a century ago, but with a brighter facade, new floors of Botticino marble, and an Apple logo above the bronze doors.

There are rumours that Apple will be taking over this building here in Birmingham UK later this year. Also originally a banking hall (for the Midland Bank) , it's a stunning building that's currently occupied by Waterstones booksellers. Knowing that Waterstones can't sustain two large stores within walking distance of each other in the city, there's been some concern that it might end up home to a company who'd pay little attention to the architecture. I think it'd be in safe hands with Apple.

Source: http://gothamist.com/2015/06/12/apple_stor...

iTunes got a great Haircut.

Great analogy. 

Apple Music is the guy you've been dating awhile getting a new haircut that's pretty good. He's growing a bit of a belly and constantly wearing a hoodie but he'll be good to you and sometimes there will be flashes of brilliance that remind you why you loved him in the first place. Except sometimes he drives you crazy by putting your favorite stuff in a random drawer.

Source: http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/8/8743035/a...

Waiting for the Space Black Apple Watch

When Apple first previewed the Watch back in September last year, all that was said about price was "starts at $350", obviously for the smallest of the aluminium Sports models. Speculation on the standard stainless steel Watch, and of course the gold Edition models, was all over the map— I saw guesses ranging from "up to $1000" to "$20,000+". 

My personal preference has always been for the steel Watch (and mostly for the black version). I've worn a mostly-steel link bracelet Casio Waveceptor for most of the past decade, and I like the way it feels on my wrist. It feels weird having anything lighter on: I experimented (to the amusement of some of my colleagues) with wearing a 4th-generation iPod Nano on an expanding metal bracelet for a while, and despite loving having the controls for my commute listening right on my wrist I couldn't get used to how it didn't really feel like my regular watch. After about 8 months I went back to my Casio.

(An aside: while I like the Casio a lot, and love its combined analogue/digital display and its solar-charging face, I don't like that parts of it—the buttons and the undersides of where the strap meets the body—are made from chromed plastic. The chrome has long since worn away of course. I also grumble about how hard it is to set: regular time setting is automatic, but changing time zones is a puzzle worthy of Myst island. I've toyed with buying a more recent Casio, but they're all a bit bulky, and the Bluetooth App control seems like an afterthought.)

Since it's been so long since I've shopped for a watch (the Casio was a gift, and thinking about it I'm not sure I've *ever* bought a watch for myself) I had no preconceived idea of what the Apple Watch would/should cost. Looking around jewellery stores at a few decent mid-range steel watches it seemed to me that the steel Apple Watch might end up anywhere between £500 and £1500. When Apple revealed the price range of £480-£950 (from the 38mm stainless steel with sports band at the bottom, to the 42mm space black at the top) that seemed just about right for the "jewellery" watch market (though obviously not for the existing smartwatch market, if you can even call it that).

I considered—but eventually decided to ignore—the technology issue. Any watch built around a computer running an updatable OS will need to iterate faster than one with fixed and limited functionality. I think this is a necessary transition that brings both benefits and drawbacks, and the increased functional value should, in the medium term at least, outweigh the faster depreciation. I don't intend to upgrade it annually, though I'm confident it'll hold at least some value that would offset a replacement. My year-old iPhones hold their value pretty well.

This isn't how I normally think about new categories of product. With the first iPad (and iPad mini) I went in at the bottom end, until I was convinced of the value and upgraded to higher capacity (and SIM-equipped) models. That I've opted to dive into Apple Watch at the "jewellery" end of things is significant I think. It's clear that this product is pushing different buttons for me. Just, I suspect, as it was designed to. 

 

All Technology is New Technology

Insightful piece by Mitch Goldstein on the tense relationship between designers and new technology.

Even the analog technologies designers like to use in current work were originally introduced to dramatically reduce the unpredictability and ambiguity in the technologies they replaced. Before lead type, letters were drawn by hand, with each letterform being different. Analog photographic film reduced the wild variations in hand-painted portraiture.

Source: https://medium.com/@mgoldst/we-re-off-to-s...

Unobtainium

Seems the Apple Watch that I ordered is harder to make than any of the others. 

The response to Apple Watch has surpassed our expectations in every way, and we are thrilled to bring it to more customers around the world,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of Operations. “We’re also making great progress with the backlog of Apple Watch orders, and we thank our customers for their patience. All orders placed through May, with the sole exception of Apple Watch 42 mm Space Black Stainless Steel with Space Black Link Bracelet, will ship to customers within two weeks. At that time, we’ll also begin selling some models in our Apple Retail Stores.”

In a seperate email to those of us who ordered one, Apple offers this assurance: 

As you may have heard, some models of Apple Watch will soon be available for purchase in Apple Retail Stores. We’d like you to know that the model you ordered will not be available for purchase in Apple Retail Stores until all current online orders have shipped.

My guess is that the DLC coatin is proving especially hard to get right, at least to Apple's exacting standards. 

Taking Flatpack to Hong Kong

Sam Groves over on the Flatpack blog writes about our recent adventure in Hong Kong, and does a much better job of it than I could. 

When we’ve toured shorts programmes before, the screening’s been part of something bigger, usually a festival, so for us to travel to a different continent and put on a one-off pop-up screening in one of the back streets in Hong Kong – well, you could be forgiven to say we weren’t exactly guaranteed a huge audience. But we opened the doors, and some people walked in, and then some more people, and then some more people – and by the time we started, the room was full – a mix of ex-pats, foreign nationals, and HK locals. There was a real buzz in the place (I even got a cheer upon mentioning Birmingham in my intro – it may be a while before that happens again), and the films seemed to go down a storm (David O’Reilly’s The Horse Raised by Spheres being a real favourite). Via a bit of mingling during the breaks, I got a sense that this kind of alternative venue/social short film night isn’t a common occurrence in HK, and that using non-cinema spaces for film is scarcely explored throughout the city. Light bulbs began to appear above my head as thoughts of an annual Flatpack in HK crept into my mind – I started thinking about all the amazing spaces, buildings, and parks I’d seen over the previous couple of days – food for thought, for sure.

The gig definitely falls into my top three ever. Great space, enthusiastic (and very vocal) audience, and a cracking selection of films.

For me the Flatpack event was the perfect climax to five-weeks working in Asia, and something we'd been talking about vaguely since I first visited Hong Kong in 2006. Kudos to Sam and Steve Chamberlain for pushing to make it happen, and to Ian and Pip for bringing the amazing Flatpack festival into the world in the first place. Here's to the tenth festival next year, and to our next international expedition. 

Source: http://flatpackfestival.org.uk/2015/05/fla...

Apple Maps, China Style

Interesting discovery by Daniel Eran Dilger:

Bizarrely enough, Apple's Maps in China are better than Apple Maps in Europe or the United States. Those improvements are likely to trickle back to the rest of us in enhancements due for iOS 9 and the next OS X (as well as in the navigation maps on Apple Watch).

I too struggle to navigate Hong Kong with Apple Maps. Looks like it's about to get a whole lot better.

Source: http://appleinsider.com/articles/15/05/23/...

Catching Up

A lot's happened since the last update, so we've a bunch of things to catch up on. I spent much of March and April in various parts of Asia, and general busyness levels have made writing hard. I'm going to be writing some quick updates and reflections on a few things over the long weekend, and then we'll see where things go from there. 

I've also taken the opportunity to start rethinking what purpose Futurilla serves, and I want to try a few different things out over the summer. Some of these experiments will inevitably fail, but that's ok. Let's see what sticks. I'll write about some of the ideas in the forthcoming posts.

 

Amp iPhone Speaker Case

This looks great, and it's just what I've been thinking I want from iPhone accessories: A single specialised function that does something very well and provides the extra power needed. I want a camera grip that includes a battery too. 

While you're at it, make sure you check out the promo video. Great stuff.

Source: https://www.ampaudio.com

Apps are not the Future

This, I think, is spot on.  

From the Watch Face, you are able to see your Glances and notifications. In order to see apps, you have to engage the Digital Crown. This makes it seem pretty obvious that Apple has purposely designed apps not to be front and center like they are on iPhone. Instead, Apple Watch apps are mere repositories where stored information can be pushed to the user in the form of Glances and via Notification Center.

Looking at the Apple Watch walk-throughs myself, it's not hard to see that what initially looked like the Apple Watch's version of Springboard is actually more akin to a kind of Settings screen where you can see the whole "universe" of installed functionality. Apple Watch doesn't want you wasting your time in there Browsing through apps to use them—it wants to alert you to something that needs your attention now or soon, and let you get in and out fast. This is going to take some getting used to for most of us.

Source: http://thetechblock.com/the-future-of-appl...

The Economic Impact of the iPhone 6

Astonishing. 

The launch of the popular iPhone 6 by Apple in September 2014 was the biggest, and perhaps the only, positive driver for Hong Kong's retail sector during late 2014. Thanks largely to Apple, retail sales grew better than expected at 3.5%y/y in value terms during September and November 2014, despite the temporary disruption from the 'Occupy Central' demonstration. The sales of iPhone, which are captured in other consumer durable sales, grew on average 60%y/y since September, propelled predominately by the launch of new product.

(Thanks to myapplemenu for the heads-up).

Source: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-01-30/6...

Ringly is a Single Purpose Wearable Device

If they shipped this in a less gender-specific version I'd buy one in a heartbeat. 

Wearable devices are part of a new model of computer networking — what people are calling the personal cloud. The personal cloud will include both general-purpose and single-purpose devices. Apple is pursuing the general-purpose vision with the upcoming Apple Watch. Ringly is pursuing the single-purpose vision. There will be successful companies in both categories.

Source: https://medium.com/@cdixon/a16z-leads-inve...

Succeeding In a Slow Economy

Great advice for creative freelancers, and anyone who sells design:

Work less in a struggling economy? Going on long holidays? You gotta be crazy my friend. Now is the time to push your name out into the market and pull in as much business and as much revenue as you can.

Secondly, it’s important that your product is very valuable. You must do great work. A truly exceptional, useful product is a must. You need to be on a path to mastery in your craft or have already achieved it.

You can not take short cuts to mastery.

Source: https://medium.com/@moonape/how-to-dominat...

Pencil Now in Apple Stores

Fiftythree's lovely bluetooth stylus is now in Apple stores. Here in the UK I noticed they had extensive stocks of all three models last week:

We’re proud to kick off the new year with a special announcement: Pencil is now available at Apple! For the first time ever, see Pencil up close and get it at your local Apple store.

I bought the Pencil (walnut model) when it first shipped on Amazon, and though I paid a fair bit more than it currently costs I haven't regretted it for a moment. Fantastic product.

Source: http://news.fiftythree.com/post/1087309659...