Time to Find Out What Apple is Doing Next: Spring Forward – The Apple Watch Event

FullSizeRenderApple hosted their Spring Forward event today. This event included discussion of the Apple TV, HealthKit, ResearchKit, the new MacBook 12″, and the Apple Watch.

HBO NowApple began the event by discussing Apple TV. Apple’s Tim Cook invited the CEO of HBO, Richard Piepler, onstage to announce that Apple would be HBO’s exclusive partner for HBO Now, HBO’s standalone streaming product, at launch. HBO Now will be available prior to the April 12th premiere of Game of Thrones on Apple TV, and will be available for $14.99 per month (with the first month free).

AppleTVTim Cook called the Apple TV the category leader. He indicated that over 25 million had been sold to date. It was announced that the current Apple TV would now be available for the lower price of $69 (down from $99). There was no indication of any changes to these devices.

It was indicated that Apple has already sold over 700 million iPhones since released. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have a customer satisfaction rate of 99%, and Tim Cook indicated that Apple was the largest seller of smartphones in the world last quarter.

Apple PayUpdated information was provided about the success of Apple Pay. Tim Cook indicated that Apple Pay has forever changed the way we pay for things. Apple started with only 7 banks supporting Apple Pay, but indicated that there are now over 2500 card-issuing banks. In the 3 months since being introduced, Apple indicated that there are now over 700,000 locations accepting Apple Pay, including over 40,000 Coca-Cola vending machines.

Cook indicated that every major auto manufacturer has now committed to offering CarPlay. He indicated that more than 40 new models of cars will be introduced by the end of the year with CarPlay. He promised that HomeKit will change the way we control our home, but did not highlight any released product.

HealthKit(1:21 pm update:) HealthKit was also addressed during the event. Cook indicated that Medical Research was among the most important use of HealthKit. It was noted that historically one of the problems with Medical Research is that it is one-way in nature. Apple has worked to allow HealthKit and the iPhone play a more important role in medical treatment.

Research KitApple announced a new platform called ResearchKit to allow medical providers to better manage projects and obtain and share data with participants. ResearchKit works with HealthKit to incorporate other data that your devices have already collected. Research Projects highlighted by Apple included Parkinson’s, Asthma, Diabetes and Breast Cancer. The user decides what data is shared, sees the data collected, and Apple never sees the data. ResearchKit was released as an open source project, and the first five-apps under this project will be available later today.

New Macbook(1:40 pm update:) Cook moved on to discuss the Macintosh. It was indicated that although the industry has had shrinking numbers of sales, the Mac increased 20% last year. It was indicated that Macs are now seen everywhere. Cook indicated that Apple challenged themselves to reinvent the laptop and announced the new MacBook.

The new MacBook is only 2 lbs in weight, and is 24% thinner than the 11-inch MacBook Air (13.1mm). The new MacBook has a 12″ Retina display with a full-size keyboard. Everything has been re-thought. The trackpad, the keyboard, and the internals have all been redesigned. The new MacBook also is the first Mac to run fan-less. Almost the entire base of the new MacBook is filled with batteries to provide all-day battery life (which means about 9-10 hours of active use). The MacBook will run off a USB-C interface. This will be used for charging and input/output devices. The new MacBook will be available in Silver, Space Gray or Gold.

MacBook Price(1:55 pm update:) The MacBook starts at $1299 for the 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M with 8GB memory and 256 SSD. There will also be a $1599 model that has an upgraded 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor and 512GB SSD. Both models will be available on April 10th and will only be available with a 12″ display. Existing MacBook Airs are being updated to faster processors, and the 13″ MacBook Pro is getting the new trackpad, faster flash memory and updated Intel processors. The existing updated MacBooks are available later today.

Apple Watch(2:00 pm update:) The Apple Watch was called the most-advanced time-piece ever by Cook. Not only was the Apple Watch designed to be stylish, it was designed to be fun, versatile and increase your productivity. The Stainless steel model is available in traditional and space back finishes, and the Apple Watch Sport is available in an aluminum finish in silver or space gray.

Watch SummaryWith the Apple Watch, you can receive and reply to messages right from your wrist. With the built-in speaker and microphone, you can make and receive phone calls on your wrist. You can monitor your blood pressure, and check your emails. You will be able to customize your watch face to be useful to you. The Watch tracks your activity, and alerts you of your exercise, movements and whether you have been sitting too long.

MarathonChristy Turlington Burns, was highlighted at this event. Turlington-Burns is a fashion model, mother, and health advocate. She has been using the Apple Watch, and a short film was shown highlighting her use of the Watch during a half-marathon in Tanzania. She indicated that she frequently relied on the Watch during the marathon to monitor her activity and progress. She is preparing for the Virgin Money London Marathon with the Apple Watch, and her training blog will be hosted on Apple.com.

Watch Siri(2:15 pm update:) Additionally Cook highlighted that the Apple Watch will allow you to pay with Apple Pay, manage your photos, interact with Siri, and control your music. Any notification that is currently received on your iPhone will also be available on your Apple Watch. Kevin Lynch demonstrated Glances which will allow you to see information from apps to quickly interact with data that is important to you.Reminders will also be able to alert you of important events throughout the day.

Lynch demonstrated calls onstage, Digital Touch (to share hand-drawn photos with friends), and requesting rides with Uber. It was shown that hotel rooms can be unlocked using the Apple Watch, products can be paid for, and boarding passes can be accessed. Music can even be identified using Shazam from your wrist. Using home automation, Lynch also showed opening his garage door with his Watch.

Watch BatteryCook indicated that the Apple Watch is designed to provide all-day battery life. During a typical day you can expect up to 18 hours of battery life. iOS 8.2 and the new Apple Watch App will be available on the iPhone today. You can learn about the Watch and configure notifications from within the App. Charging the Apple Watch is done with a magnetic charger on the back of the device. As previously announced, the Apple Watch will be available in Watch Sport, Apple Watch, and Apple Watch Edition.

Watch AvailableApple Watch will be available for pre-order on April 10th. You will be able to try on and learn more about the Apple Watch at Apple Retail Stores beginning April 10th. The Apple Watch Sport will begin at $349 for the 38mm version, with the 42mm available for $399. The Apple Watch (Stainless Steel edition) will start at $549 for the 38mm, and $599 for the 42mm. Depending on Watch bands, the Apple Watch will be as expensive as $1,099. The Apple Watch Edition (the 18k Gold version) will start at $10,000. Actual watches will be available on April 24th.

Keynote over

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Preview of Apple Watch? We Should Know Monday

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9to5mac.com has last minute details about the Apple Watch based on information from sources that have handled and used the soon to be released device. We should know how accurate these claims are on Monday.

Sources offer hands-on Apple Watch details: battery life, unannounced features, and more http://9to5mac.com/2015/03/06/sources-offer-hands-on-apple-watch-details-battery-life-unannounced-features-and-more/

Apple, it is Time to Fix iOS 8 – iPhone 6 Plus Still too Buggy

IMG_20150306_125120As we are nearing another Apple product unveiling on Monday, March 9, 2015, it has me thinking a lot about how I feel about the last major product that was unveiled, the iPhone 6 Plus. I have used my iPhone 6 Plus almost exclusively since it was released in September, but in the last two weeks, I have found myself drawn back to an Android Phone. The main reasons have been the instability of my iPhone. Although extensions, widgets, and 3rd party keyboards were made available with the iPhone 6 Plus, none of them work quite the way they should.

What I like about the iPhone 6 Plus.

I will start with the positives of my iPhone 6 Plus. TouchID, the 5.5″ Screen, the battery life, and Apple Pay are wonderful. TouchID works almost every time for me, and sometimes unlocks my phone when I was just checking the time. It is fast, it is reliable, and I wish I had it on every device I use. I have not found any other unlocking feature of a smart device that I like better.

With the 5.5″ screen of the iPhone 6 Plus, Apple finally got things right. They added choice for those that want to be able to use their phone to do more. They ignored the resolution game, and didn’t go with quad HD like many Android devices have. Apple realized that almost no one can tell the difference in pixels once you get past retina display, and that by keeping a lower resolution, they could release a phone that feels faster and has an amazing battery life. Based on the 5.5″ screen, I am barely ever taking out my iPad, and when I do, it is simply because some App Developer has decided that I need to have a different experience on a phone than on a tablet. After using this screen size on my last 3 devices, I have to say that I can never see myself using a smaller screened device again.

Apple PayFinally, Apple Pay has lived up to the promise of simple contact-less payments. Whenever I find a retailer that accepts Apple Pay, it is my first choice. I love that I don’t need to take my credit card out of my wallet, and I like even more that I don’t have to trust merchants with my account information. Apple Pay works the way I would expect it to, and has never failed me. It even works when shopping online through my iPhone. I have used it to make purchases several times using the Staples app and the Target app, and it is just wonderful to not have to go upstairs to grab my wallet to complete a purchase on my phone.

What I don’t like about the iPhone 6 Plus.

On the negative side, I am astonished at how buggy the iPhone 6 Plus is. After several iterations of iOS 8, Apple has simply still not gotten the software to be reliable. I understand that iOS 8 represented a huge opening-up of the platform, but I still feel like I am running beta software. For the first time ever, I am finding that Android is more reliable of an operating system than iOS. Between problems with extensions, third-party keyboards, and Bluetooth functionality, I would have given up my iPhone 6 Plus long ago if it weren’t for TouchID and ApplePay. I no longer can recommend the iPhone to friends and family simply because “it works”.

1. Third-party Keyboards should be called a beta feature.

IMG_6375I understand that many issues are those of a power-user, and many of the experiences that I have are unique to the third-party software I use, but this is the same third-party software that I use on my Android devices with no problem. I have switched between using Swype and SwiftKey as my everyday keyboard on my iPhone 6 Plus since each have been released. I would say that on average, the keyboards work only about 50% of the time.

Frustratingly, I often have my keyboard disappear midway through a sentence, and iOS reverts back to the stock keyboard. I am only successful in running a spotlight search about 25% of the time, because the other 75% of the time no keyboard will show. When using text messaging, I find that after sending about two texts, I need to force close the Messages app because I cannot get my keyboard to appear.

I would love to be able to blame Swiftkey or Swype for these problems, but I have used each for about an equal time, and each time I switch between them, I delete the other one from my phone, and they both have the absolute same problems. I have also used both on Android without any problems. Where I would expect these keyboards to improve my efficiency, instead they slow me down by crashing midway through the task that I am doing. They also do not work in any password fields, cannot function properly in number fields, and do not work on the lock screen.

If Apple is going to offer the ability to use a 3rd party keyboard, they have to do it right. The crashing of these keyboards are a reflection on Apple, in addition to ruining the reputation and working relationship of the developer. If this was listed as a beta feature, as Siri was when it was released, I would be much more forgiving of the problems. But at this point, nearly 6 months since it has been on released software, the feature should work. Even more disappointing is that Apple has not made any statement about these problems.

2. Extensions and actions are not yet offering the promised functionality.

I am also frustrated with extensions. There was promise of the great things that you would be able to do without having to leave the app that you were working in. If you needed to edit a photo, you would be able to tap the share button and have an extension appear that would allow you to edit the photo and return directly to your app. You would be able to easily find a website and share it with other applications on your device, and you would never have to actually launch those applications directly.

IMG_6376Unfortunately, in reality the extensions have not worked quite as well. First after 6 months, many developers have still not made actions and extensions available. Some work, and work well, but others crash in the background, and give you no reason why. I am not a developer, but it appears to me that there are issues with memory depending on the amount of data that is being worked with (since actions crash more often when I am using them with large amounts of data). It is also not always easy to know which apps will launch actions, and which links on the share sheet will simply launch you into another app.

This one I will blame some on developers, but overall Apple still takes some of the blame as they are responsible for the user experience (I covet the ability I have on my Android devices of sharing links directly with WordPress, Facebook Pages, or my Twitter App to quickly accomplish tasks like creating a new blog post or updating marketing materials).

3. Inline responses to notifications do not work!

Apple also promised a great ability to respond to notifications inline without having to leave the app that you are in. I looked forward to this as I believed it would be a great way to quickly respond to text messages, email and Facebook alerts. Unfortunately this does not function at all. If you are in the middle of replying to a pop-up notification, and another notification comes in, you lose any text that you already entered and the prior notification disappears. There is no way this should have been released when it is broken in the way it is intended to be used.

IMG_6378Apple should have a way to buffer notifications, and even switch between them in the pop-up alert. These notifications should be handled in the same manner as folders and pages, and there should be dots on the bottom of the notification to show if multiple notifications/alerts are waiting for your attention. Jailbroken SMS apps have been doing this for years, why can’t Apple figure out how to make it work? Notifications are so broken, that I have switched all of mine to Banners instead of alerts.

4. Many apps still haven’t been updated for iPhone 6 Plus resolution.

Even though iPhone 6 Plus has been out since September, several apps still have not been updated for the screen resolution of the iPhone 6 Plus. Again this is easy to blame on the developers instead of Apple, but when even top tier developers like Facebook and Google are just rolling out full-support for iPhone 6’s screen resolution in past couple weeks, Apple deserves the blame too.

Even though this issue normally just results in my keyboard looking like it is blown-up to the point a toddler could use it, it also has caused problems with usability of existing apps for me. I have had several problems where the predictive keyboard suggestions have blocked me from seeing an input field in an app. This inexcusable, and Apple should make sure that new features don’t break functionality of existing apps.

5. Bluetooth functionality is unreliable.

I routinely use a Fitbit One and a Pebble Smartwatch with my iPhone. I also sometimes stream podcast from my phone to my car using Bluetooth, and use Airplay and Bluetooth speakers around my home. I also use AirDrop to share photos, contacts and webpages with friends and family. Ever since iOS 8 was released, none of these features are reliable.

Again, it is hard for me to determine if these issues are with the other devices that I am using, with the iPhone 6 Plus, or with iOS 8, but I know that I do not experience these same problems with my Android devices or iOS 7. My Pebble seems to lose connectivity with my phone on an hourly basis, and sometimes my Fitbit has such a hard time connecting, I have to completely reboot my iPhone. Routinely my AirPlay speakers do not show up when I try to stream music, and AirDrop is just as unreliable as third-party keyboards.

IMG_6379I don’t understand what Apple is doing to cause features that worked fine in the past, to be worthless in the present, but I don’t hear them addressing the issues publicly, and although I install every update available (from both Apple and 3rd parties), the problems fail to go away. AirPlay and AirDrop are Apple features, so there is no excuse to advertise these, but not have them work properly. These are problems that I don’t have with Android devices (even when I am using work-arounds to stream to AirPlay speakers).

6. ApplePay is rolling out too slow!

Apple has indicated that 750 banks have signed up to support Apple Pay with even more requesting to partner with Apple. However, new banks are only added on a monthly basis with about 20 new banks supporting Apple Pay per month, and just over a 100 already supporting it. Why is Apple not rolling out Apple Pay quicker? If you have 750 banks that want it offered, please explain to the consumer why their bank is not yet included. I am sure there is an excuse for the slow roll-out, but for the most valuable company in the world, there is no reason that every bank that wants to offer Apple Pay functionality cannot do it immediately.

There is also problems with not all retailers accepting Apple Pay. I understand that some retailers do not have NFC terminals yet, but I am more concerned about those that have the functionality, but have disabled it so that Apple Pay cannot be used. I cannot tell you have many times I see the NFC symbol on a terminal to only find that I can’t use my iPhone for payment. This includes several Apple Partners like Target and Best Buy. Why doesn’t Apple use its retailing power to tell both of these retailers that if they continue to disable Apple Pay, they will not have the privilege of selling Apple Products? I have been embarrassed by my inability to use Apple Pay enough times now, that I do not even try unless it I know for a fact that a retailer offers it.

Why this scares me.

I am concerned about the problems that I have highlighted because I am afraid that Apple has lost its way. It used to be slow to offer new technologies until they worked. There are stories all over the internet of Steve Jobs scrapping features just days before a release of a product because they didn’t work properly. There have been plenty of hidden features in iOS Betas that were never activated for the public, or that were delayed until better hardware was introduced. I am concerned now that Apple management cares more about deadlines, than they do about quality.

Apple WatchWith the impeding release of Apple Watch, it makes me wonder what types of problems this device will have from the first day of release. The fact that initial reports are that the Apple Watch will only get one day of battery life per charge, causes questioning of how useful it will be as a fitness device. Maybe rather than trying to make this device the next iPhone or iPad, it should have been initially released with as limited features as the first iPhone and iPod, with more features being added in future iterations when hardware and battery technology catches up.

The Blog world has been reporting leaks that indicate iOS 9 will mainly be a bug fix release, but meanwhile iOS 8.2 is rumored to be released next week, and iOS 8.3 is rumored to be released in April with the Apple Watch (with iOS 8.4 already in testing too). My question is how Apple can wait until iOS 9 to fix problems with current functionality? To me this sends a message to consumers that the usability of our current devices does not matter, as Apple is more focused on adding to the already buggy software to release new products rather than fixing old ones. If you cannot do both things well, focus on current products first.

In the meantime, Android is finally catching up on finger-print authentication functionality, with the Samsung Galaxy S6 finger-print reader receiving rave reviews, and promises from Qualcomm of their new Ultrasound Finger-Print reader to be available on devices before the end of the year (which doesn’t even require a button to work). If Apple doesn’t fix the flaws with their current software, users like me that switched back to the iPhone when the larger screen was introduced, may head back to devices that work better when they catch up with Apple exclusive technologies like TouchID and Apple Pay.

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Microsoft Joins the Fitness Race with Microsoft Band

Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Health and Microsoft Band on Wednesday October 29, 2014. The Microsoft Band is a cross-platform smart fitness tracker that can also double as a watch. Appearance wise, the Microsoft Band is very similar to the Samsung Gear Fit, but unlike the Samsung device, the Band works with iPhone, Android and Microsoft Phone devices. The Band can display a clock, track steps, monitor sleep, continuously monitor heart rate and show notifications. Guided workouts are available from fitness partners, and all fitness data is compiled in Microsoft’s Health app. In addition to the heart rate sensor mentioned above, the Microsoft Band also includes 9 other sensors (including GPS) and can even monitor your sleep.

Microsoft Band Internals

The Microsoft Band is on sale at Microsoft Stores and online for $199.99 and comes in three different band sizes (all priced the same). The display can be personalized with different colors and backgrounds, but the Band itself is only available in black. Notifications, text messages and incoming call alerts can all be viewed on the Band, but you are not able to respond directly from the Band on iPhones. Microsoft has announced partnerships with MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, mapmyfitness, and Starbucks to add additional functionality to the Band. The display is full-color touchscreen, and is expected to last 48 hours on a 90 minute charge.

This is an interesting product from Microsoft that offers some of the functionality of the upcoming Apple Watch at a much lower price, but a much less attractive appearance. The Band can perform most of the same tasks as a Pebble, but comes in a package that makes it look more comparable to a fitness bracelet. One of the odd things is that the display is horizontal across the widest part of your wrist (unlike a watch). This means that to read the display you must hold your arm straight out in front of you, instead of bent at the elbow like you normally do with a watch. To me this seems like a weird way to interact with notifications and comfortably view information.

I visited the Microsoft Store to view the watch, and it seems very big on the wrist. Unlike my Pebble, I was unable to pull my sleeve over the Microsoft Band. In order for the heart rate monitor to function, you must wear the Band with the face on the palm side of your wrist. This leaves a very ugly clasp on the top of your wrist. I also would be concerned that while using a computer, the Band would also be scratching against my desk.

Although I am happy that Microsoft is making products and applications that are cross-platform with Android and iOS, I am not sure if this specific product will appeal to a mass market. It is priced above the costs of most fitness bands (albeit with more features), but not attractive enough to be worn as a watch. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft expands its product range to include a more fashion-focused alternative in the future.

Apple Watch Announced, Available Early 2015

Apple Watch Series

Today Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the first new product segment for Apple since he came CEO. The new Apple wearable is simply called the Apple Watch. Cook teased the Watch as being highly customizable and including an “intimate way to connect and communicate.” It is a comprehensive fitness and health device, that includes multiple sensors for tracking your health and allows installation of apps to further customize your experience. The Apple Watch will not be available until early 2015, but will include 2 different sizes and 3 different collections. The starting price for the standard Apple Watch will be $349.

Cook noted in his presentation that Apple was faced with the challenge of creating a user interface that fit the form factor of a watch. He stated that for every new breakthrough device created, Apple has needed to create a new intuitive interface. Rather than trying to shrink the iPhone interface down to the size of a watch face, Apple created a digital crown for the Apple Watch to help provide a simple and elegant navigation method for accessing information. Not only does this make it easy to interact with data on screen, it allows you to do so without needing to block the screen with your fingers. It is designed to be used for all your activities all day.

Apple Watch

The actual watch is a rectangle with several different finishes and multiple bands with different finishes and colors available. The bands are easily removed and interchangeable. It has a touchscreen in addition to the digital crown. Your daily activities are recorded through the Apple Watch and fitness goals are provided for you. Apps will be available, and you can dictate messages without taking your phone out of your pocket or purse. Many different watch faces come standard, but you are able to personalize how they appear and the information available.  Charging is done through an Apple proprietary MagSafe wireless inductive charger.

The Apple Watch will initially consist of 3 watch lines to meet the specific needs of different types of people. The functionality will remain the same, but the finishes will vary. The watch lines include Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport Edition, and Apple Watch Edition. The Apple Watch will work with an iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, or iPhone 6

More to come……

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