by Lance Somoza

When Apple Watch was announced in 2014, many were complaining the company was late yet again to another emerging market. Fast-forward only three years and Apple Watch is purportedly the top-selling watch in the world by revenue (according to Apple). Yes, the top-selling watch, surpassing even Rolex. Just yesterday, Horace Dediu published fascinating analysis of Apple Watch sales which seems to corroborate Apple’s claim.

As you will glean from my review, Apple Watch Series 3 is the epitome of the original. It accomplishes everything the first one set out to do and takes it one step further with the addition of a cellular radio. Think of Series 3 as a high school graduate. It’s not truly independent from iPhone, but it has moved out of the house and is living above the iPhone’s garage. It still needs the iPhone for the foreseeable future, but just took its first big step towards being a grownup.

Expand Review

Table of Contents

From Fashion to Fitness

One marketing change I noticed is Apple’s downplay of the Watch-as-high-fashion narrative introduced with the original model. Fitness and health gets more of the attention now in terms of features, marketing, and frankly importance. Of course the Apple Watch is still the best-looking smartwatch on the market, but it’s hard to continue hyping the same design for three years. Further proof of this is supported by the disappearance of the solid gold Edition models when Series 2 debuted last year.

That aside, the fitness capabilities of Series 3 are great, if largely the same as previous versions. It now has an altimeter for tracking elevation on its own (i.e. stairs climbed), and the Workout app is highly responsive thanks to the the new S3 System In a Package (SIP for short)

Design

My original Apple Watch was the 42mm Space Black Stainless Steel model. It cost a pretty penny, yes, but that was before I had a daughter. This time, I opted for the Apple Watch Series 3 (GPS+LTE) 42mm in Space Grey aluminum much to the happiness of my wallet, I’m sure.1 I’m happy to say the Space Grey model is really nice and I don’t miss the Space Black as much as I thought I would.

The design itself is identical to the original model that started shipping in 2015. That’s not to say it’s a bad design — I quite like it. However, Apple Watch needs to be a fashionable product, and I would have to think Series 4 will see design changes in some larger capacity (not just a new crown color).

The Red Dot Crown

Before I delve into its purpose, I’ll just say that I personally like the red dot crown. Red and grey are my favorite colors, so I have no objections. 2 I see why others may not like it, though. Red can be very polarizing. If the crown were any color besides red, black, white, or grey, I might take personal issue with it.

I said on Fatherboard Episode 003 that Apple differentiating a product by making an arbitrary design change didn’t sound like them. Cases in point: iPhone X has a different design because it follows function with its edge-to-edge screen and notched sensor housing. The same can be said for the the glass back (on iPhones 8 as well). This design change was facilitated by the new wireless charging function. Until now, there was little functional reason to change the design that originated with iPhone 6.

Then, I remembered Apple Watch is still technically a fashion product. Looking at it from this perspective, the addition of the red dot makes complete sense whether you like the color or not. Not that I’m a fashion expert, but three years seems like an awfully long time to use the same design for such a product. Apple needed to distinguish the cellular model from the bunch since there is no outward-facing function to influence the design (like the iPhone examples mentioned above). The crown was the simplest and most subtle place to put this mark, in my opinion. Any other place would have been too distracting.

As for future models, I can see the red dot crown situation going one of two ways. Apple may remove it completely when all models come with cellular or a new series has its own major design changes. Conversely, if this design is going to be around for a while longer, they may continue to use it to differentiate internal upgrades.

That’s quite a few words for a little red dot.

Finishes

Much to everyone’s surprise, and chagrin of my wife, there is no more aluminum rose gold finish (for either Apple Watch, iPhones 8 or iPhone X as a matter of fact). I was shocked, since I thought rose gold was more popular than plain gold just by observations in public. That said, the gold finish Apple is using now is more vibrant and less tacky-looking than the prior one. Perhaps Apple wanted to reduce the number of SKUs and the new gold seemed like a good middle ground.

The other new finish Series 3 comes in is the Ceramic Gray Edition model. If money were no object, I would opt for this model in a heartbeat. I’ve only seen pictures online, but it looks like a lighter, shiny version of the aluminum Space Gray.

I’m a little surprised Apple didn’t introduce any new casing materials this time around (tungsten or titanium, perhaps?).

Performance

Aside from the obvious addition of cellular, this is the most exciting part of the new Apple Watch, and I think Apple should be more vocal about it.

Compared to the Original Apple Watch

Compared to my original Watch, or ‘Series 0’ as it has been dubbed by the community, this thing is an absolute beast. It has an upgraded dual-core processor in its new S3 SIP which enables the Watch to fly. Everything is faster; launching apps, dictating, Siri, sending messages, navigating the UI, you name it. For a ‘Series 0’ Watch owner, this is the main thing I wanted in the Apple Watch. My ‘Series 0’ had become so slow, I had been using it less and less over the past year. I haven’t stopped using my Series 3 since I got it.

The Watch’s biggest goal is to accomplish iPhone tasks in less time and with more efficiency, while providing a compelling reason to do so. This Apple Watch nails all of this, largely thanks to this big jump in performance.

Compared to Series 1/Series 2

I have my wife’s Series 1 Watch to make this comparison, as Series 1 and 2 share the same S2 SIP with dual-core processor. My Watch is noticeably faster than hers, but I wouldn’t say it’s enough to justify the upgrade from Series 1/2 to Series 3 alone. If you’re on the fence about this decision, take everything else into account before performance.

Battery Life

Battery life has been both phenomenal and Apple Watch’s biggest opportunity for improvement at the same time. Series 3 receives a tiny bump in capacity from Series 2. This pales in comparison from the bump Series 2 received (+30% over ‘Series 0’), but that’s not a bad thing for now.

At the end of the day while mostly tethered to my phone, I’ve been averaging about 60% — 70% remaining battery life. That’s with medium usage, including a 30-minute drumming workout, various texts, driving directions, and notifications. This Watch could last me two days without a charge, which is similar to what I’ve heard about Series 2.

While making phone calls with only the Watch’s built-in cellular radio, battery does drain noticeably faster. Apple only promises one hour of talk time in this scenario, and that seems about right to me. Since our reliance on actual phone calls is on an ever-downward trend, this is probably not a big issue for most. However, with processing performance hitting acceptable levels, battery life now becomes Apple Watch’s largest opportunity for improvement. It’s an opportunity I’m honestly not sure how Apple will address. They have continued to refine chipsets and their software to become more power efficient, but there is a point where you just need more physical space for a battery. I don’t see the Apple Watch’s casing slimming down anytime soon for this reason. More on cellular performance below.

As the Watch is becoming more utilitarian, Apple could theoretically make a Watch band with batteries in it for those that really need the extra juice. It would be akin to a battery case for your iPhone. If you need to use it every day, you lose a little flexibility with your band selection, but I’m sure they would look fashionable in their own right.

Cellular

On to the tent-pole feature of Apple Watch Series 3. I have seen so many people online question why Apple would add a cellular radio to the Watch, but I always thought it was clear to see this was the next logical progression for this device.

Setup

During the pairing process, you will be asked if you want to add the device to your cellular plan. Simply tap “Set Up Cellular” and you will be redirected to complete enrollment via your carrier’s website. This was a breeze for me, though I hear some experienced issues, which would be typical for a new device on launch day. Once done, my Watch activated itself after about a minute.

You can use the Watch without cellular, of course. Simply tap “Skip This Step” instead.

Cellular setup page.
Cellular setup page.

Price

Most US carriers are charging a $10/month fee to use your Watch on your existing data plan. Verizon, my carrier, is offering the first three months for free so that’s cool. The price is pretty high for a device that will only use cellular as a last resort — not to mention if you have multiple Watches on the same account. I had predicted $5/month, but carriers are notoriously greedy so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

How it Works

Apple Watch’s data connection has always followed a priority that goes like this: iPhone (Bluetooth) > Known Wi-Fi Network.

Adding in the Watch’s own internal cellular radio complicates things a little bit. Here is the new priority: iPhone (Bluetooth) > Known Wi-Fi Network > Internal cellular radio.

In other words, Series 3 tries to utilize its new cellular radio as little as possible. As a matter of fact, it will only use it if your iPhone isn’t around and it can’t connect to a known Wi-Fi network. Once back in range of either of these options, it will switch back over, but not always as quickly as it should.

Checking Signal

iOS 11 ditches the dots for signal indication and watchOS inherits them (they fit in much better here). You can view your cellular signal strength one of two ways:

  1. Using the new ‘Explorer’ watch face.
  2. Swiping up from the watch face and looking in the top-left corner.

Note: signal dots will only appear if the radio is actively being used.

Left to right: Explorer watch face with signal indicator, cellular button and signal indicator, cellular toggle with details.
Left to right: Explorer watch face with signal dots, cellular button and signal dots, cellular toggle with details.

Phone Calls

I’ve made a few calls directly from my Watch’s cellular radio and they’ve been fantastic. I haven’t experienced any audio quality issues or dropped calls. This feels incredibly futuristic, especially when combined with AirPods. 3

Data

Using cellular data on the Watch is a little complicated.

For instance, some carriers prevent sending SMS texts from the Watch over cellular. It’s not exactly clear at this point whether this is a bug or policy. iMessage still works no matter what, so if most of the people you text have blue bubbles, you’re all set.

Also, not all third-party apps have been updated to take advantage of the new cellular radio. These are still dependent on the iPhone to function in some capacity. For instance, the TuneIn Radio app won’t stream content without being tethered to an iPhone.

Switching between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Cellular

Apple needs to work on this part, as evidenced by the captive portal hotspot issue caught by a few journalists last week. I haven’t experienced this issue myself, but I typically never use open Wi-Fi networks with captive portals.

That said, I did experience some delays when the Apple Watch was trying to switch between radios. Here’s a couple scenarios in which this happened.

Scenario One

My iPhone was in the bedroom and I was in the living room with my Watch (about 60 feet apart in a straight line). I tried to issue a command via Siri and it wasn’t responding. I got the dreaded “Hold on…” message from Siri. 4 In my opinion, the Watch should have switched directly to my home Wi-Fi network instead of hanging on to the iPhone via a low Bluetooth signal.

In fact, the Watch should always connect to known Wi-Fi networks even if your phone is around, but that may come at cost of battery life. I would love to see this happen eventually, as it would surely make for a more cosistent connection.

The truth is this isn’t new to Series 3, but something that has occurred since ‘Series 0’. It’s an underlying problem that’s tough to get right.

Scenario Two

I left my iPhone in the car while I ran into the drug store. The Watch took a couple minutes to activate its cellular radio, and when it did, I was unable to dictate an iMessage (no transcription appeared as I spoke). I had to use the Scribble feature to write my text, but it did send (odd).

Both of these scenarios left me shaking my head a little bit, as it’s something that should have been worked out in software. Apple has promised to fix the captive portal issue in a future update, but I they need to address radio switching as a whole to improve the experience. Also worth noting: as with all previous versions, you can’t toggle Wi-Fi on and off with Series 3.

Talking Siri

Siri now talks on Series 3 thanks to its upgraded processor. This is something I didn’t think I’d care for, but it has actually proven really nice to have voice feedback in most cases. A good example is when controlling your HomeKit devices. I can raise my wrist, tell Siri to unlock the door, and just drop my hand. A couple seconds later, I hear an audible “That’s done.” from thin air. It’s such a small thing, but it has a big impact. It makes the Watch feel more powerful and alive.

Siri is super fast now, too. I view it as the primary way to engage with the Watch, and Apple is increasingly positioning it at the forefront of their ecosystem. Siri is the voice of Apple devices, so to see how much better it works on the new Watch compared to the older models is highly encouraging. It’s almost as fast as yelling at Alexa on my Echo Dot to accomplish the same task. Because of these improvements, Alexa and I haven’t been on speaking terms much.

Apple Music Streaming

Coming this Fall, you will be able to stream Apple Music directly to your Watch over cellular. This effectively will make the Watch an always-connected iPod Nano. Just imagine going on a run with your Watch and AirPods while streaming any song on command. How amazing is that? Apple hasn’t given a hard date for this functionality, but I’m looking forward to testing it out once available.

What’s Next?

With Apple checking off the cellular box for Apple Watch, one wonders what upgrades a Series 4 (and beyond) model will see. Here’s a few things I can think of.

Battery Innovation

As I mentioned above, I think this is the Watch’s greatest opportunity for improvement. So many new features will be dependent on a better battery. Apple needs to push the envelope on battery technology like they have done with terraced cells in the MacBook. There could still be potential to make the battery bigger as miniaturization marches on, but that’s only part of the puzzle. Further optimization and new battery (or even charging) technology will drive major changes to the Apple Watch in the future.

Always-On Watch Face

I think this will happen in time, but is highly dependent on battery improvements. Raise-To-Wake works well, but there are times you can’t raise your wrist (e.g. when carrying something). Being able to glance the time simply by looking would be great. 5

New Finishes and Design Changes

Low-hanging fruit to spice up the product line is needed before the design starts to become stale.

Apple Watch as Keys

Tim Cook wants Apple Watch to replace our keys, but there hasn’t been much traction in this area. Sure, we can use it to unlock our Mac, but that’s within Apple’s own ecosystem.

I use it as such to unlock my smart deadbolt, but it would be even more amazing if it could also unlock my car. This is probably more on the software and automaker partnership side, but this would be a perfect use case for Apple Watch. I mean, who likes carrying keys?

Conclusion

There’s not much left to be said.

Series 3 proves the Watch is not a novelty, but a product coming into its own. I speculated it could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, and I stand by those remarks after using it. One day, the Watch will move out of the iPhone’s garage and into its own apartment as it becomes more of a must-have device just like the iPod.


  1. Shh… little does it know iPhone X pre-orders are next. ↩︎

  2. Plus, you know, the obvious HAL9000 connotations and all that. ↩︎

  3. Dick Tracy, eat your heart out. ↩︎

  4. Side note: Apple really should remove this particular message. Siri telling me to hold on makes me feel like my time isn’t valuable. Her existing “One sec…” or “I’ll tap you when I’m ready.” messages seem more appropriate. ↩︎

  5. It is a watch, after all… ↩︎

Matthew Panzarino for TechCrunch:

Apple is switching the default provider of its web searches from Siri, Search inside iOS (formerly called Spotlight) and Spotlight on the Mac. So, for instance, if Siri falls back to a web search on iOS when you ask it a question, you’re now going to get Google results instead of Bing.

Consistency is Apple’s main motivation given for switching the results from Microsoft’s Bing to Google in these cases. Safari on Mac and iOS already currently use Google search as the default provider, thanks to a deal worth billions to Apple (and Google) over the last decade. This change will now mirror those results when Siri, the iOS Search bar or Spotlight is used.

On privacy:

As is expected with Apple now, searches and results are all encrypted and anonymized and cannot be attributed to any individual user. Once you click on the ‘Show Google results’ link, of course, you’re off to Google and its standard tracking will apply. Clicking directly on a website result will take you straight there, not through Google.

This is surprising. I tried out a couple searches with Siri on my iPad (see below). Sure enough, it’s already serving Google results including YouTube videos.

This is an interesting move, and I can’t say I’ve ever cared much for Bing search. While Google has always been accurate for me, I don’t really agree with their privacy and tracking perspectives. I would have liked to see Apple team up with DuckDuckGo (already a Safari search option). If you care about search privacy, check them out.

Siri Google search.
Siri Google search.

Siri YouTube search.
Siri YouTube search.

Nicole Nguyen from Buzzfeed went behind the scenes with Apple’s SVP of Retail Angela Ahrendts to get a glimpse of how Apple handles pre-orders and launch day for iPhone.

This is pretty cool, and it’s great to see Angela have a more public presence. You can tell she is really engrossed in Apple’s vision by the way she talks. I got some strong ‘Tim Cook’ vibes from her.

The video shows Apple’s War Room, used to coordinate pre-order go lives. I have often wondered what this situation looked like — as it turns out, sort of like a small-scale NASA mission control.

Despite Apple’s big hype push today, many Apple Stores are seeing less and less people in line for iPhone 8 this morning. I can confirm this, as I picked up my Apple Watch Series 3 at my local Apple Store today. Last year when I picked up the iPhone 7, there were easily over 100 people in line at 8am. This year, there were only about 20 waiting for iPhone 8 (even less when I left around 8:30). As I saw this, I thought to myself, “Wait … this can’t be right. You mean to tell me there are loads of people that do want the $1,000+ iPhone X? Honestly, who could have seen that coming?” It’s a mystery.

Reviews for iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and Apple TV 4K are in (and largely positive). Here are a few that caught my eye.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

Just know that the iPhones 8 are fast as hell thanks to the A11 Bionic chip. Now, here are some other interesting points.

Nilay Patel for The Verge on the iPhone 8’s stagnant design:

[…] And that’s really the problem — while competitors like Samsung and LG have pushed phone hardware design far forward, the iPhone has basically stood still for four years. The iPhone 8 might be the most polished iteration of this basic design Apple’s ever made, but compared to the Galaxy S8 and other Android flagships like the LG V30, it’s just extremely dated. Apple’s true competitor to those devices is the iPhone X, but the company tells us that the 8 is also a flagship phone, and those huge bezels and surfboard dimensions just don’t cut it at the top end of the market anymore.

I somewhat agree with Nilay. There is nothing exciting about the design of iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Sure, the glass back looks nice, but it’s practically the same overall design of the iPhone 6. That said, I think it’s out of necessity. Apple obviously wants all iPhones to look and function like the iPhone X one day, but the manufacturing scale just isn’t there yet. Until then, simply changing the design of the phone for design’s sake wouldn’t be productive.

John Gruber for Daring Fireball on the A11 Bionic chip’s name:

I asked Apple last week what exactly was “bionic” about the A11 chip system. The answer, translated from Apple marketing-speak to plain English, is that The Bionic Man and Woman were cool, and the A11 chip is very cool. I think they’ve started giving these chips names in addition to numbers (last year’s was the A10 Fusion) because the numbers alone belie the true nature of how significant the improvements in these chips are. Going from A10 to A11 is like going from 10 to 11 mathematically, which implies a 10 percent improvement. That’s not the case at all here — the A11 is way more than a 10 percent improvement over the A10. So they’ve given it a name like “Bionic” to emphasize just how powerful it is.

TL;DR: marketing. I get it. Still don’t agree with Bionic, though. By comparison, A10X Fusion is much better.

On Qi “wireless” charging:

I’m glad Apple decided to support the Qi (pronounced “chee”) standard, which several Android handsets already support. This is an area where Apple has been behind its competition. You know how like 10 years ago, hotels started buying bedside alarm clocks with built-in 30-pin iPod docks? And then they were rendered useless when the iPhone switched to Lightning? And how those Lightning docks are utterly useless to Android users? If they start switching to Qi charging pads, it’ll just work for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

This is a nice addition. I suspect Qi pervasiveness is going to skyrocket due to it simply being supported by iPhone.

Apple TV 4K

Nilay Patel for The Verge on Dolby Vision HDR and content deals:

Now, you do get a lot for that $179: the Apple TV is currently the only standalone box that supports the Dolby Vision HDR standard, which is a big deal. (The $69 Chromecast Ultra supports it, but it’s spotty and it lacks its own interface.) Apple’s worked deals with most major studios to price 4K HDR movies at a cheaper $19.99 instead of the usual $29.99 Vudu and Google Play charge, which is terrific. And every HD movie you’ve already bought on iTunes will be upgraded to 4K HDR for free as they get remastered. Several of my movies have already been upgraded, which is very nice, especially because Apple’s encoding is much better than other services. If you have a large existing iTunes library or you buy a lot of movies, you might come out way ahead by investing in an Apple TV 4K.

On its limitations:

But the new Apple TV doesn’t support Atmos. And it doesn’t support YouTube in 4K HDR. And it doesn’t have Disney or Marvel movies in 4K HDR. And it makes some 1080p content look less than great.

I’m going to explain why these limitations exist, but you’ll have to bear with me. […]

Nilay’s review is extremely detailed. If you’re a TV spec buff, you’ll want to read this one.

Devindra Hardawar for Engadget on video quality:

So how do the 4K films actually look? Simply put: stunning. Kong: Skull Island started playing within a second, and it was sharp from the get-go, with no need for buffering. It’s a film with plenty of explosions, gorgeous natural imagery and giant monsters, all of which made it the perfect 4K/Dolby Vision demo. When Kong stands in front of the bright tropical sun, I had to shield my eyes a bit – it was almost as if I was looking at actual daylight. And since there are plenty of dusk and night scenes, the film really shows off HDR’s ability to add more detail to darker scenes.

Marshall Honorof for Tom’s Guide on internet speed requirements:

You’ll need a pretty powerful Internet connection to stream 4K HDR content (you need at least 25 Mbps down, which is more than what we got on a standard home Wi-Fi network), but content loads quickly and smoothly. Streams usually took just a few seconds to buffer before reaching full 1080p HD, and perhaps an additional 5 seconds before 4K HDR kicked in. This will vary depending on the strength of your internet connection, but if you have the requisite speed, the Apple TV 4K will leverage it.

It sounds like the Apple TV 4K is great, but not without its share of caveats. For someone who doesn’t care enough about 4K yet, the Apple TV needed to get faster performance-wise. The 4th generation Apple TVs are nice, but can be sluggish at times when navigating the UI. I’ve only read anecdotally that the new Apple TV 4K is better in this regard due to the A10X Fusion chip, which makes sense in theory. Also, it’s about damn time this product has a Gigabit Ethernet jack.

Apple SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi in an email reply to a MacRumors user:

Hi Adam,

We regretfully had to temporarily drop support for this gesture due to a technical constraint. We will be bringing it back in an upcoming iOS 11.x update.

Thanks (and sorry for the inconvenience)!

I’m glad to see this coming back, but I wonder what the technical constraint was. Maybe something to do with iPhone X? Speaking of which, I wonder if it will even be enabled on iPhone X; it’s much less needed there due to the new navigation gestures. Either way, I’ll enjoy seeing it return to the iPhone 7 I use for work.

One other thing they need to bring back is quick access to Spotlight Search from Notification Center. I’m not talking about the existing one in the Today/widgets view, but the one where you could pull the Notification Center shade down just a little bit, release, and get to Spotlight Search. I used this so much to quickly get into another app.

Apple Watch Series 3 reviews are in from around the web. While largely positive, an embarrassing bug affecting the Watch’s data connection has been discovered and acknowledged by Apple. I know I’ve been saying Apple Watch Series 3 could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, but I also wrote that I hope it would come without the controversy (antennagate). Oops. At least it didn’t get lost in a bar?

Let’s start with the reviews first.

Featured Reviews

John Gruber for Daring Fireball on Siri:

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

I am SO excited about this. I try to use Siri as much as possible on my original Apple Watch, but it’s way too damn slow.

David Pierce for Wired on connection logistics:

If your phone’s nearby, your Watch connects to it through Bluetooth and uses the phone as a modem. If you’re away from your phone, it looks for Wi-Fi, and as a last resort, jumps on LTE. I never noticed a difference between LTE and Wi-Fi, and in a week of testing didn’t experience any issues switching around. Others had a much harder time, though, and Apple has fessed up to problems switching to unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity.” So proceed with caution.

This is exactly how I figured they’d do it, as discussed on Fatherboard Episode 002. The Watch only uses its built-in LTE radio when there is no other option. This makes sense to conserve battery life, but as is being discovered, Apple bungled a distinct aspect of connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Brian Chen for The New York Times on how the Apple Watch is coming into its own:

Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

Wi-Fi Bug

Lauren Goode for The Verge on her extreme connection issues:

Where do I start with the connectivity issues with this Watch? It became apparent after my first full day using the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE that something wasn’t right. My review Watch was paired with an iPhone 8 and was on an AT&T wireless plan. In one of my initial tests, I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.

Sadly, Lauren experienced so many issues that she couldn’t even experience the Watch’s full potential. While most reviewers didn’t experience the issue described by Lauren, Serenity Caldwell may have figured out the underlying cause.

Serenity Caldwell for iMore:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This makes perfect sense, and I would hope it’s really a bug versus Apple not taking captive portals into account at all. Either way, it’s incredibly sloppy. I would expect this kind of launch bug from Samsung or others, but not Apple.

Apple has promised a fix in ‘a future update’, but that doesn’t sound nearly urgent enough. I hope they can fix the bug accurately for release this Friday, or a ton of people may be in for a surprise. Come to think of it, a lot of Apple Stores are in malls, usually surrounded by a few captive portals…

Introduction

iOS 11 is out today, beginning at 10AM Pacific. I’ve been using it exclusively on my iPhone 7 Plus and iPad Pro 10.5-inch since the developer beta was released back in June. I have to say, this is probably the most jam-packed iOS release Apple has ever published. There are so many features, but I’m going to give you my thoughts on the ones I believe are most meaningful and important after using them day in and day out.

Expand Review

Table of Contents

Shared Updates (iPhone & iPad)

To start us off, here’s a collection of updates shared between iPhone and iPad.

Control Center

This one is sure to be a big crowd pleaser, as we can finally customize Control Center.

On iPhone, Control Center now takes up the the entire screen upon engagement. On the iPad, it sits to the far-right of the new App Switcher (more on that later). 1

It may first seem a little jarring, given the different sizes of elements and methods to control them, but the new Control Center is leaps and bounds better than its previous implementations. All the basic controls are here in similar forms. Here’s a rundown:

  • 3D Touch is everywhere. Almost every single widget has additional options accessible by 3D Touch (or a long press on devices without 3D Touch).
  • Toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth doesn’t permanently turn these radios off. Instead, it disconnects from your current network or device and only turns the radios off temporarily. Quite a few people don’t like this, but I do. I realized most of the time I turn these off, I don’t want it to be permanent anyway. Apple clearly wants us to keep these radios on nigh-24/7 to allow for frictionless interaction within its ecosystem (e.g. AirPlay, AirDrop).
  • Music: I much prefer this layout, since I can pause/play music without swiping left or right first (old Control Center). There’s also a nice little shortcut to get to your audio outputs in the upper-right corner. This makes switching to AirPods or AirPlay a breeze.
  • Vertical Brightness/ Volume sliders. SO much better than the old horizontal sliders. They follow the exact same design as the Home app’s controls for dimmable lighting, so they should be instantly familiar to some.
  • There are a few new optional widgets you can add, all customizable from the Control Center > Customize menu in the Settings app. Here are my favorites:
    • Apple TV: Now you can control the Apple TVs on your network right from Control Center. It has all the same functions as the Siri remote, and will also prompt you to type something when you enter a text field on the Apple TV. You don’t even need to install Apple TV app proper. I use this little widget so much. It’s really fantastic.
    • Screen Recording: Quite a surprise from Apple. Pretty straightforward little widget that allows you to record your screen (3D Touch for microphone input option). A red status bar lets you know recording is in progress. Once done, the video is saved to your Camera Roll.
    • Notes: Now, you can create a new note with one tap inside of Control Center — even from the lock screen! This makes taking a note on-the-go really fast and simple no matter where you are currently at in the system.

I was hoping for the capability to quickly change Wi-Fi networks from Control Center, but sadly Apple has not deemed it worthy. Maybe iOS 12 will finally bring us this.

Files App

Before iOS 11, we had the iCloud Drive app. It was nice when you needed to get something in iCloud Drive, but that’s about it. In iOS 11, iCloud Drive has essentially morphed into the Files app.

I would describe Files as a barebones Finder. It doesn’t allow you access to system resources, of course, but it borrows a lot of the same functionality. Right from the app, you can browse all your files: local, iCloud Drive, and other cloud services like Box, Dropbox, etc. By default, most 3rd-party apps will appear in Files with the old document selector interface. Developers will need to update their apps to be fully compatible with the new Files API, which allows them to take full advantage of native navigation and all the other features.

You can tag files for easy grouping, as well as favorite them for quick access. It’s simple, but very welcome — especially when working between iPhone and iPad.

Notifications

This is the most disappointing part of iOS 11, in my opinion. Apple introduced so many nice tweaks in this release, but for some reason, they really struggle with notifications.

Swiping down from the status bar still reveals the ‘Notification Center’, but it now highly resembles your Lock screen (it shares its wallpaper and big, bold time). Initially confusing, Apple has made a few refinements which mostly leave us right where we left off with iOS 10. You can still swipe left to view actionable items on each notification or swipe right to open the corresponding app.

Throughout the betas of iOS 11, Apple played with Notification Center’s UX quite a bit. Initially, it was renamed ‘Cover Sheet’, but the final version of iOS 11 removes reference to this name entirely. Confusingly, I guess we’ll still continue to call it Notification Center.

One new change that has stuck is that older notifications are segregated by a swipe. To see notifications from earlier in the day (or previous days), you have to decidedly swipe up (versus simply scrolling a list). I fail to see how this is helpful since you’re still left with the same endless stream of notifications. Apple clearly has conflicting ideas of how this should be handled, but I hope they get it together for iOS 12. I keep wondering how Apple execs can live with notifications in this sad state of affairs.

App Store Redesign

The App Store has been updated with more of a focus on storytelling and discovery. The ‘Today’ view includes featured apps, along with developer interviews describing how the app was made, the story behind it, etc. This is really great, and it fosters a real sense of careful curation.

Another big change is in the form of separated tabs for Apps and Games. The thinking here is that all games are apps, but not all apps are games. I think this is a very logical change that will make it easier to filter through these categories separately.

One other thing I noticed is in relation to app updates. Apple no longer tells you how large the file size is for app updates, even though the max download size remains 100MB on cellular. With all the optimization Apple has done to help us use as little space as possible on our devices, this seems to be an area they want us to concern ourselves with less and less.

Siri

There are a few nice little additions to Siri, like word suggestions while you’re typing based off things you’ve recently looked at. There’s also voice translation built in, so you can ask her things like “How do you say ‘hello’ in Spanish?”.

The most obvious change is Siri’s voice. It sounds so much better and more lifelike. Apple has discussed the techniques behind this transformation in a recent entry in their Machine Learning Journal.

Siri can also work with more kinds of apps such as notes, to-do lists, and visual codes (think QR). I haven’t had a chance to test this out yet, but I’m looking forward to trying out Todoist, which has already been updated to take advantage of the new Siri integration.

Still glaringly noticeable is Siri’s inability to work with third-party music streaming apps like Spotify. This is a feature still reserved for Apple Music, and may possibly remain that way for the foreseeable future, as it is a nice selling point for the service. One of the big reasons I switched to Apple Music from Spotify was because of Siri (especially when engaged via the Watch).

Apple clearly has huge plans for Siri, as it is becoming increasingly pushed to the forefront of iOS. Coupled with their strong commitment to machine learning, I’m hoping Siri will run on-device in the near future instead of sending all requests to Apple’s servers for processing. You have to think that’s one of the main goals, as it would resolve the odd lag times that can be experienced during a Siri request.

Apple Music

Apple is making yet another attempt at social networking-esque features for their music service. 2 This time, it’s a little more simplistic. You can follow your friends on Apple Music and see their shared playlists, albums, stations, etc.

That said, the service is still behind Spotify in this area. For instance, there are still no collaborative playlists, whereby you and others can curate playlists together. There’s still no band equalizer, a feature I’ve ranted about before. Apple Music has come a long way since it’s debut, though. These missing features are low-hanging fruit, and I would think Apple will address some of them in iOS 12.

AirPlay 2

AirPlay, Apple’s proprietary audio syncing and playback protocol, advances to version two. The most notable new feature: simultaneous, multi-room playback across AirPlay 2 speakers on your network.

AirPlay 2 is clearly a necessity of Apple’s first connected speaker, HomePod, due out in December. With its sights clearly set on Sonos, I’m looking forward to seeing HomePod and AirPlay 2 in action.

Another feature of AirPlay 2 ties in to HomeKit. Now, you can add AirPlay 2-compatible speakers to your HomeKit environment. This will open the door to native automation involving audio. 3

Home App/HomeKit

As for the Home app itself, you can now set multi-location-based triggers for anyone in your Family Sharing account who has access to your home. This is huge, and will allow for much easier creation of these types of automations. Here’s a real-life example:

Turning on certain lights only when the first family member arrives home.

To achieve this currently, I’m using this setup: Life360 app on my phone and my wife’s, IFTTT, and the Lurton Caséta app. Life360 continuously tracks our location, IFTTT reads this location data and triggers a scene in the Lurton Caséta app to turn on certain lights only if one of us isn’t home already. Get it? This makes sure the lights don’t change if my wife is already home or vice versa. This is a fairly easy thing to setup, but knowing how to do it is the problem. It’s terribly complicated for the average person to figure out, so I’m really excited we’ll be able to do it natively in the Home app with iOS 11. You can also ensure automations only happen on specific dates and/or times, if you wish. There is one caveat, though: you need at least a 4th-generation Apple TV or iPad to act as a home hub.

In addition, Apple is making it easier for hardware manufacturers to make their products HomeKit-certified with software encryption. Up until iOS 11, manufacturers had to meet Apple’s stringent encryption standards by means of hardware. This is a large reason why the vast majority of smart home products don’t support HomeKit — it was an additional expense, additional engineering, all of the above. Now, manufacturers will be able to easier implement the same high-level of security demanded by Apple within software. We could even see software updates for existing devices that introduce HomeKit compatibility. I’m hopeful for a HomeKit boom in the coming year because of this.

ARKit and Core ML

Apple has included powerful augmented reality and machine learning APIs for developers to use in iOS 11.

Since Beta 1, developers have begun to build impressive apps with ARKit. Not to mention iPhone 8 and iPhone X will offer even more power in this arena, given their upgraded cameras are specifically tuned for AR in the factory.

Machine learning is less of a show-off, but expect developers to take advantage of both of these APIs with haste. AR and ML are huge focus areas for Apple. They are not just the next random trends in the industry, but technologies that will change the way we use computers of all shapes and sizes.

Small, but mighty features

Here’s a list of additional little features that kick ass.

New Screenshot workflow with Markup

After taking a screenshot, a small rendition of it appears in the bottom-left portion of your screen. From here, you can:

  • Tap it to enter into the Markup view, where you can quickly annotate and send it, with an option to save or delete the screenshot.
  • Swipe it away to save it to your camera roll. This happens automatically if you do nothing with it after about a minute.
  • Tap & hold it to bring up the share sheet.

This is really awesome and elegant. It also helps to de-clutter your Camera Roll, since you can easily delete one-off screenshots.

Wi-Fi Credential Sharing

When connecting a friend’s iPhone or iPad to your network, you can now wirelessly and securely send the password to their device with a press of a button (provided they are in your phone’s contacts). Simply be in range of their device with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi one. Once they select the password field for your network, you will be prompted to send it over to their device, and your friend is instantly joined to your network. So easy, fun, and more secure than typing/sharing your password.

Notes Improvements

You can now show ruled lines in Notes (via Settings > Notes). This is helpful on iPad if you use Apple Pencil or other stylus to take handwritten notes. Furthermore, writing with a stylus no longer requires a standalone image aside from your text. Simply write as you normally would on paper, and your markings appear amongst your text. There’s also a built-in document scanner (powered by ARKit) that works incredibly well. You can scan documents at odd angles and iOS captures them almost perfectly.

Space-Saving

Apple has introduced a few new methods to help us to save space on our devices. For example, we can offload apps from the Settings > General > iPhone Storage screen, review messages with large attachments, or auto delete old conversations. Offloading an app will delete the app’s system files, but keep its documents and data around, should you reinstall it in the future.

Photos Face Sync

Labeling people’s faces in the Photos app now syncs across your devices with iCloud (privately and securely, of course). This will make for a much better experience since you no longer have to set this up per device.

Password Autofill

This is so damn handy. If you use iCloud Keychain to store your passwords for websites, it can now automatically suggest stored credentials within apps. Imagine loading the Amazon app for the first time and the iOS keyboard recommending your Amazon credentials from iCloud Keychain. This makes signing in lightning fast. Some might say Apple is sherlocking 1Password, LastPass, and the like, but those services offer additional features if you’re into that kind of thing. For me, the iOS 11 implementation takes the cake because it’s built in and I don’t even have to do anything.

Apple Maps: Lane Guidance and One-Finger Zoom

YES. Lane guidance is the only reason I still have longed to use Google Maps, but not anymore. This is super helpful, especially when combined with CarPlay. One-finger zoom is also nice — just double-tap and drag up or down. Apple Maps sure has come a long way. I have used it as my sole maps app since the original Apple Watch launched.

Camera app: Native QR Code Scanning

About damn time. QR codes are great for non-sensitive information, and the Camera app can now detect codes containing website links, contacts, Wi-Fi network connection info, 4 and more.

Automatic Setup

When setting up a new device, you can automatically transfer your base settings from an existing device by bringing it within close proximity`. I tested this a couple times, and it’s fantastic. It greatly cuts down on the lengthy initial iOS setup process.

Features Coming Soon

Apple announced a couple features slated for iOS 11 that have since received delays, and are therefore ‘coming soon’ in a minor update. I’m looking forward to reviewing these once released.

Apple Pay Cash and Card

Person-to-person payments like Venmo or Square Cash. Payments are stored in your Wallet’s Apple Pay Card. From there, you can use the card like a debit card in stores or on websites that support Apple Pay. Alternatively, you can withdraw the amount to your banking account. Fees and miscellaneous details are yet to be determined.

iMessage in the Cloud

Instead of all your Apple devices independently downloading iMessages, your messages will be stored in the cloud by default (if you opt-in). Apple promises better notification syncing between devices because of this and less messages-out-of-order oddities.

iPad-Specific Updates

The iPad is on a huge upswing. For the first time in a long time, Apple reported sales are up (15% Year/Year) for Q3 2017, partially thanks to the new, cheaper ‘iPad’. Factoring in iOS 11 changes and two incredibly-powered iPads Pro, this has been a great year for the tablet leader.

The features iPad receives in iOS 11 is just short of what many would look for in a standalone iPad OS. I’ve been a huge proponent of the device since it was introduced and have purchased at least six different versions over the years. I can confidently say iOS 11 course-corrects from the iPad-as-gigantic-iPhone narrative. It doesn’t solve every problem, but it’s a big leap forward and reassures Apple has not forgotten about meaningful innovation for the device’s software.

Drag And Drop (All the things)

This is a big one. Drag and drop is built into iOS at its core. That is to say, you can drag and drop all the things. For instance: apps for split-view, URLs, blocks of text, images, handwritten notes, and more once developers update their apps to take advantage of the new API. Simply tap and hold (briefly), then drag and drop.

I’m selling it short. The truth is it’s amazing and incredibly well thought out. You can even start to drag something, switch apps by any means possible, then drop in an app of your choosing. More on this below.

Dock and App Switcher

The revamped Dock is a core feature of multitasking and productivity on iPad. Here’s a list of its new features and methods for interacting with the Dock.

  • Fits up to 15 apps, depending on your screen size (e.g. iPad Pro 10.5-inch holds 13 apps, iPad Pro 12.9-inch holds 15.)
  • Since you can create folders inside of it, you can have a ton of apps quickly at your disposal no matter where you are. Not new, but this is super helpful when it comes to multitasking. You’ll see why in the next section.
  • Recent apps. On the right side of the dock, iOS will dynamically show apps you haven’t manually put in your dock, but have recently used. This enables quick access and easy multitasking for these apps. Hand Off and Siri-recommended apps have also been relocated here to the far-right app slot. For instance, if you want to Hand Off a website in Safari from your iPhone to iPad, you’ll see the Safari icon here with an iPhone glyph indicating the Hand Off opportunity.
  • Pervasiveness. The dock can now be accessed throughout the system without returning to the Home screen. Simply perform a short flick up from the bottom edge to reveal the dock. From here, you can quickly switch apps or multitask with them. This really makes the dock highly versatile and more important than ever.

The App Switcher has also received a redesign. Here are the highlights:

  • Consists of the app carousel, Control Center, and the Dock.
  • App previews inside the carousel are now tiled instead of full screen, fitting six on screen at one time for quicker app switching. This is so much better than previously implementations.
  • Control Center is located to the far-right of the carousel.
  • Accessible from double-tapping the Home button or swiping half way up from the bottom edge (past the Dock).

I really love the new Dock and App Switcher. Combined, they make for a powerful new multitasking experience.

Multitasking

Apple has revamped multitasking on iPad. Split View is still around, where you can have two apps side by side and adjust them in 1/3, 1/2, or full screen increments. Popover is still here, too, where you can float an app above your current one and swipe it away to the right of the screen for quick access.

The new aspects of multitasking include greater flexibility in managing apps. For instance, gone is the endless vertical app carousel use to scroll through and find an app to use in Split View or Popover. Instead, you simply drag and drop a second app into place by its icon. Dragging it to the left or right edge of the screen mounts it in Split View. Dragging it anywhere else makes it a Popover. Other means of accomplishing this include:

  • From the Dock: swipe up to reveal the dock, tap & hold, drag an app icon, drop in your current app or switch to another one first in Split View or Popover.
  • From the Home screen: tap, hold, and drag an app icon, rinse and repeat.
    • You can even enter the App Switcher, hover on top of an open app, enter it, and drop inside.
  • From within apps: press CMD+Space on an hardware keyboard to enter Spotlight Search, search for an app, tap and hold, rinse and repeat. This is a really powerful one. I’m curious as to why Apple didn’t enable this same functionality when you use Spotlight Search from the Notification Center’s widgets search box. In other words, you can’t do this with the built-in iOS software keyboard.

It’s also worth specifically noting the leftmost app is no longer the “main app” when in Split View. That is to say, you can drag and drop over the left or right app to replace it with another. In addition, you can make the left or right app full screen by dragging the slider all the way to the edge.

iPads with 4GB of RAM or more can run two apps in Split View and a third app in Popover at the same time (in addition to an optional PIP video). To achieve this, simply hold, drag, and drop the third app’s icon over the vertical multitasking bar dividing your Split View apps. Note: iPads with less than 4GB of RAM won’t be able to take advantage of all these features. iMore has a good breakdown.

The new multitasking UX on iPad is a huge start on what we iPad proponents have been wanting from this powerhouse tablet. That said, there are a few other things Apple can do to move the needle on this feature in iOS 12, such as:

  • Multiple instances of one app. This would be helpful for certain apps, but I realize it’s mostly a fringe use case. One day, though.
  • Ability to save Split View pairings. For instance: being able to launch Notes and Safari in Split View from one tap of an app icon shortcut.
  • Better management of Popover apps. Popover apps remain persistent between app switches. For example: if you launch Safari in Popover, then go to another app and launch Safari from the dock, it will reappear in Popover mode within the app you switched to. There are some cases where you forget this and really mean to switch directly to Safari (full screen). It can be a little annoying to either mount Safari as a Split View app first, then drag the handle to make it full screen, or launch Safari from the Home screen. It’s not the end of the world, but I have to think there’s a better way to manage this.

Conclusion

iOS 11 has my full support. Apple really brought out the big guns this time — and this isn’t even everything. Like I said at the top, this review doesn’t touch on every feature, but hones in on the most meaningful ones after using iOS 11 for months.

Most people think of iOS as feature-complete, and it definitely is in certain aspects. The truth is, Apple is still finding ways to better the mobile experience. They have added so many great features across the board with iOS 11, it may even be a little overwhelming to remember everything you can do.

iPad was such a huge focus of this update, and I hope they iterate on its new features come iOS 12. It really is exciting to think about the opportunities. The new multitasking and dock experience puts us closer to a 1:1 parity with laptops than we’ve ever been. We’re definitely not all the way there yet, but iPad just took its first big step towards realizing Tim Cook’s vision. Putting my money where my mouth is (or hands are), everything I write for Gaddgict is from the Editorial app on my 10.5-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard. Something about doing the same on a Mac feels less compelling than an iPad. I think we’re going to see more of this as iPad progresses. 5

If Apple keeps this up, iPad really might be the future of computing for most people.

Note: there are also special iOS 11 features for iPhone X, of which I’ll talk about when I’ve had it in my hands. 6


  1. I’ve always wondered why Apple didn’t make Control Center a full screen UI to begin with. It’s not like the 3/4 UI we had was helpful at all. So we could see 1/4 of our current screen behind the menu — big deal. ↩︎

  2. Remember Ping? ↩︎

  3. I’m looking forward to hearing Rush’s ‘Working Man’ when I arrive home from work, for instance. ↩︎

  4. This one is really cool. ↩︎

  5. I love my MacBook Pro and wouldn’t trade it for an iPad just yet. ↩︎

  6. Hopefully not too long after November 3rd. ↩︎

In a long interview with Brian Merchant (author of ‘The One Device’), Alan Kay discussed his detailed views on computing. Specifically, Kay outlines how our amazing computers are usually deduced to consumption devices due to lack of education.

This is a fantastic insight into Alan Kay’s thought process and computing vision. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, he makes a lot of striking points.

Some backing on Kay:

Kay is one of the forefathers of personal computing; he’s what you can safely call a living legend. He directed a research team at the legendary Xerox PARC, where he led the development of the influential programming language SmallTalk, which foreshadowed the first graphical user interfaces, and the Xerox Alto, a forerunner of the personal computer that predated 1984’s Apple Macintosh by 11 years (only 2,000 of the $70,000 devices were produced). Kay was one of the earliest advocates, back in the days of hulking gray mainframes, for using the computer as a dynamic instrument of learning and creativity. It took imagination like his to drive the computer into the public’s hands.

Kay describing the Dynabook (one of the article’s main focuses) in his own words:

“Imagine having your own self-contained knowledge manipulator,” they implored—note the language, and the emphasis on knowledge. “Suppose it had enough power to outrace your senses of sight and hearing, enough capacity to store for later retrieval thousands of page-equivalents of reference materials, poems, letters, recipes, records, drawings, animations, musical scores, waveforms, dynamic simulations, and anything else you would like to remember and change.”

Sounds like the iPad, right? As Brian points out here, though, the key word is knowledge as a central point. Instead of being an open book to venture off, Kay essentially thinks tablets should be primarily utilitarian and productivity-driven.

Kay on the original iPhone:

When I first got to Apple, which was in ’84, the Mac was already out and Newsweek contacted me and asked me what I thought of the Mac. I said, “Well, the Mac is the first personal computer good enough to be criticized.”

So, after Steve [announced] the iPhone [in 2007], he brought it up to me and handed it to me. He said, “Alan, is this good enough to be criticized?” And I said, “Steve, make it this size [as big as a tablet] and you’ll rule the world.” Now, that has been misunderstood, because I didn’t know what they were doing. But as a scientist-engineer, I would’ve bet a thousand dollars–and I would’ve won–that there was already an iPad.

Quite an accurate prediction by Kay. We know without a doubt that Apple was already working on the technology in tablet form before the iPhone.

Kay on computing comprehension:

If people could understand what computing was about, the iPhone would not be a bad thing. But because people don’t understand what computing is about, they think they have it in the iPhone, and that illusion is as bad as the illusion that Guitar Hero is the same as a real guitar. That’s the simple long and the short of it.

This is the problem with television. Television is 24 hours a day and it seems like an entire world. It is a kind of a world, but it’s such a subset. And it’s so in-your-face that it essentially puts you into a dumb world. It’s got stuff going on all the time and almost none of it is of a

This right here is an incredibly tall order. Kay essentially says the iPad is viewed to the masses as a television, which I would mostly agree with. However, as he will go on to describe in detail later, the problem is education.

Kay on the original iPad and lack of dedicated stylus holder:

First thing I did was to test how good the actual touch sensor was. I had to go out and get a capacitive pen, because one didn’t come with the iPad. You’re supposed to use your finger on it. There were five things that you could draw with on it and only one of them was good. And with that [Autodesk] pen, I was able to draw, take a ruler and draw lines with this thing, and see how linear it came out on the display, and the thing was a lot better than it needed to be. You’re kind of drawing with a crayon, but they actually did a hell of a good job on it.

No place to put the pen though.

So, I talked to Steve on the phone [about adding a standard pen and penholder]. I said, “Look Steve. You know, you’ve made something that is perfect for 2-year-olds and perfect for 92-year-olds. But everybody in-between learns to use tools.”

And he says, “Well, people lose their pens.”
And I said, “Well, have a place to put it.”

Kay really wants a defined place to store his stylus. Here’s my philosophy: unless you’re using a folio of some sort, traditional paper notebooks don’t come with a defined pen holder, so why should the iPad? That said, most pens have caps, so you could just clip it to the notebook — something the iPad and Apple Pencil can’t do, of course — point notebook. Technically, the Apple Pencil can be held by the iPad’s internal magnets for the Smart Cover, but it’s a side effect not to be trusted versus an actual feature.

For the latest iPad Pro models, Apple has made an optional leather sleeve with a Pencil holder at the top. It looks great, but also costs $129 (10.5-inch) or $149 (12.9-inch). Plus, most people seem to prefer actual cases over sleeves. There are 3rd-party options, but they typically add bulk, and Kay wants something built in.

As for me, I really don’t see it as a big deal. I carry my Apple Pencil in the quick-access slot of my bag 1, so it’s usually just a few seconds away when I need it. I don’t see Apple solving Kay’s problem anytime soon, as they clearly view the Pencil as an ancillary device only to be used (and purchased) by those who truly need it. Otherwise, it would come with the iPad.

I think a better case could be made for including the Smart Keyboard with the iPad if it weren’t for the cost increase. People use keyboards way more the styluses. 2

Alright, back to Kay, now on human universals…

Expand

Years ago, this anthropologist Donald Brown wrote a book called Human Universals. This was just gathering up what generations of anthropologists had gleaned from studying thousands of traditional societies.

They first looked at traditional societies for differences, and found they’re all very different in detail but they’re all very similar in category. They couldn’t find a society that didn’t have a language, that didn’t have stories, didn’t have kinship, didn’t have revenge. They couldn’t find a society that did have equal rights. So, the things that were common to every society without fail, they started calling human universals. Most of them are probably genetic.

Suppose you want to make a lot of money. Well, just take the top 20 human universals and build a technological amplifier for them—like communication.

He goes on to reference the creation of the telephone as an example. The brilliance of this really resonates with me. Throughout history, we have continually improved communication, which I view as the most important human essential.

Kay on education in the 21st century — essentially what we need to do to increase people’s understanding of computing:

Brian: Do you think most people care about this stuff?

Kay: They never have. You know, if you look at [educator Maria] Montessori’s first two books, both were really important. […] One of the things she said was, look, the problem is, the culture around most children, whether at home or in school, is like the 10th century, and we’re living in the 20th century. If you really want them to learn, if you want them all to learn, it can’t be like choosing a musical instrument because you’re interested in it. Everybody learns their culture, because it’s in the form of a culture, and that trumps any particular interest we have. This is what [Marshall] McLuhan was talking about too. That’s a big deal. It’s a difference between taking a class in something and living in something. So if you want to fix this, you gotta fix the schools, and get the kids to grow up in the 21st century, rather than being in a technological version of the 11th century.

This really hits the nail on the head. A good example I can think of for grade school is handwriting. Who the hell needs handwriting anymore? Not to mention, through high school, everything is still largely taught from paper books or in the textbook format. Why don’t we have computers in every grade starting with kindergarten and new, immersive ways to teach?

I remember we had a computer lab in grade school. Though some of the teachings consisted of word processing, most of it was garbage educational games. I was fortunate enough to go to a technical high school and study Computer Science, but the other classes were still as old-school as ever.

Kay on the lack of teaching our devices do, an example being iPhone’s “Shake to Undo” feature:

So, in theory, you’re supposed to shake the iPhone and that means undo. Did you ever, did anybody ever tell you that? It’s not on the website. It turns out almost no app responds to a shake. And there’s no other provision. In fact, you can’t even find out how to use the iPhone on the iPhone. You ever notice that?

I agree with Kay here. Shake to Undo has always been an odd interaction method, with no indication the feature even exists (kind of similar to 3D Touch in certain respects). Apple really should re-think how to better implement Undo/Redo globally, because it really sucks. Maybe a two-finger counter-clockwise gesture for Undo and clockwise for Redo? I always feel like an idiot when I need to shake my phone to undo something.

Apple has always strived for intuition with their UI, but things like Shake to Undo and some of 3D Touch really stray from that path.

Kay thinks computers should better teach us how to use them:

Kay: It’s been an idea in the ARPA/PARC community—which hasn’t been funded since 1980 or so, but a lot of us are still alive—one of the ideas was that in personal computing, what you really need is some form of mentor that’s an integral part of the user interface.

Brian: Something like a digital assistant?

Kay: It’s something just like the GUI, which I had a lot to do with designing. I did that, more or less, as a somewhat disappointed reaction to realizing [AI] is just a hard problem. We had some of the best AI people in the whole world at PARC, but the computers were really small for what AI needs.

We’re getting closer to solving the AI hurdles thanks to things like machine learning, and Apple has been making a huge push for Siri to be at the forefront of all its products. Perhaps one day Siri itself will say something like “Welcome to iOS 11, let me give you a guided tour”, while proceeding to take you through the top new features natively on your phone, as opposed to just playing a video. Siri then ends with “Those are the biggest changes in iOS 11, but just ask if you want to learn more, or about something more specific”.

Optimism is key here. We’ll probably get to Kay’s vision one day, when people no longer view technology as something to be afraid of.


  1. Peak Design Messenger bag, if you were wondering. ↩︎

  2. Side note: I’m incredibly surprised by how much I love the Smart Keyboard. Everything I write for Gaddgict is written on it. ↩︎

Matthew Panzarino from TechCrunch interviewed Craig in regards to the many questions surrounding Face ID since its introduction on Tuesday. There’s a lot of great content in the article, but here’s a few excerpts:

On privacy and security:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

On accessing face data/providing it to law enforcement:

The simple answer, which is identical to the answer for Touch ID, by the way, is that Apple does not even have a way to give it to law enforcement. Apple never takes possession of the data, anonymized or otherwise. When you train the data it gets immediately stored in the Secure Enclave as a mathematical model that cannot be reverse-engineered back into a “model of a face.” Any re-training also happens there. It’s on your device, in your SE, period.

I’ll say it again: Apple is the privacy and security tech company because we are not the product.

How to temporarily disable Face ID:

On older phones the sequence was to click 5 times [on the power button], but on newer phones like iPhone 8 and iPhone X, if you grip the side buttons on either side and hold them a little while — we’ll take you to the power down [screen]. But that also has the effect of disabling Face ID,” says Federighi.

Matt on the reliance of Face ID:

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has been in a position to be using it for weeks or months says it’s incredibly reliable no matter the light level. The combination of using the RGB camera and the IR emitter plus the dot projector covers a wide array of scenarios that allow it to be very reliable and very fast.

If you lift your phone and swipe up immediately, there’s a good chance that the Face ID system will have performed its authentication fast enough to have unlocked your device by the time you finish your swipe. That’s how fast it is.

This is a bit of an aside, but I’d also like to point out here that Face ID emits no visible light. I’ve seen some misconceptions on social media that it’s going to be shining a light at your face. Nope. It uses only infrared and existing light, which means it will work in darkness without any more light than is coming off of the phone’s screen.

This was surprising to me, that people really thought it was going to shine a visible light.

I feel confident Face ID will work well. Apple wouldn’t ship it if it didn’t. It’s also clear this will eventually replace Touch ID for every applicable Apple product — and this is only generation one of the feature. Can you imagine how much better it’s going to get over the coming years? I could even see a path for it to be in a future Apple TV (for authenticating purchases and whatnot). This is only the beginning of how our computers will start to know us and our intent. Exciting times.

Summary

We’re back with an in-depth discussion about everything Apple announced at their September 2017 keynote. Oh yeah, and we now have an intro theme!

Topics

  • Apple Park and Steve Jobs Theater
  • Angela Ahrendts’s keynote debut and Apple Stores as Town Squares.
  • Apple Watch Series 3
  • Apple TV 4K HDR
  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X
  • New accessories.
  • Surprises and offline discoveries.

For a more detailed expansion on these show notes, refer to Lance’s Key Notes for the event.

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How to Listen

Welcome to Key Notes, where I highlight all the stuff that catches my attention after an Apple keynote.

Apple announced a good helping of stuff today, most of which was confirmed over the weekend by the unexpected leak of the iOS 11 Golden Master for iPhone X. Apple didn’t let that stop the magic, though, juxtaposing a mood that ranged from somber to excitement.

Key Notes for September 12, 2017

Steve Jobs Dedication

  • Tasteful, somber, and heartwarming all at the same time. This was the best introduction to a keynote Apple has ever had. Tim Cook nailed the speech.

Retail

  • Angela Ahrendts took the stage to talk about Apple Stores being referred to as town squares. It’s a narrative they’ve pushed before, but it’s coming across a little forced. Apple Stores are usually always at capacity. People will stumble across all the Apple Today stuff by happenstance.

Apple Watch Series 3

  • Cellular is an obvious progression. Obviously Apple would ensure battery life wouldn’t be an issue.
  • Streaming music directly from the Watch is going to be badass. Makes the Watch essentially an LTE iPod.
  • Phone calls are in and your number is shared with your phone. Glad Ming-Chi Kuo got this one wrong.
  • I love the red dot on the crown, and red/grey are my favorite color (bet you couldn’t tell). However, it makes me wonder if all future LTE models will have have a red-dot crown? I think eventually it’s possible all Apple Watch models will just come with LTE. Definitely a curious design choice, nonetheless. It’s almost as if Apple decided they needed a way to differentiate the product since the casing is the same.
  • Apple says it has an ‘upgraded’ dual-core processor, which is short of saying it’s a whole new SOC. Sounds like a small speed bump, which could be OK.
  • I want the Ceramic Grey Edition model so bad.
  • I wonder how fast apps that use LTE will respond.

Apple TV 4K HDR

  • Logical upgrades. UI will definitely benefit in terms of responsiveness from the A10X chip.
  • Finally, the Apple TV will have a Gigabit Ethernet connection, although the fourth generation still ships with an inexcusable 10/100 jack.
  • Can’t believe they didn’t redesign the Siri remote’s button layout.

All three new iPhones

  • We’re back to the glass sandwich design, just like the iPhone 4. This is a natural evolution of the iPhone 6 design to accommodate “wireless” charging (read: Qi charging). Hopefully the stronger glass holds up better to falls unlike the iPhone 4. The stronger glass is most likely the reason Qi charging took them so long.
  • True Tone display makes it to the iPhone. Very nice. After using it on my iPad Pro 10.5-inch for a few months, I can say I much prefer it to my iPhone 7’s screen.
  • Black, Jet Black, and Rose Gold finishes are no more. Kind of perplexing, especially for the iPhone 8. Rose Gold has been a huge hit.
  • Portrait Mode selfies and Portrait Lighting are great. No longer need another person to take a great Portrait Mode picture of yourself.
  • 4K 60fps video recording is insane for a phone.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

  • It seems pretty clear this form factor will remain until such a time when iPhone X’s design is more affordable/possible to produce in mass quantities.
  • 25% louder stereo speakers is a nice little addition.
  • Poor iPhone 8 was immediately overshadowed by…

iPhone X

  • Why, oh, why are they pronouncing it “ten”??? I was wrong about this one. So many people will still call it iPhone “ex”, anyway. What happens in two years when we have ‘iPhone 10’?
  • Dat screen. Can’t wait to see this thing in person. They did, indeed embrace the notch. The clip of Spider-Man they played looked odd with the video playing above/below the notch. No Pro Motion (120Hz) refresh rate, though. Wondering if it will cheapen the experience any.
  • Face ID is futuristic and way more than just a backup plan for Touch ID. I also accurately predicted much of how it will work. It’s hilarious how many folks apparently thought Apple would just do basic image comparison to identify your face.
  • The iPhone line now has glaring UX differences for everyday actions (unlocking, going home, switching apps, etc.). I think Apple framed it well in the sense that this is what all iPhones will be like in the years to come. Maybe implementing these changes on the entire line in one fell swoop would be too drastic.
  • On a similar note, Apple didn’t completely do away with a home indicator, but I really like the move to gestural navigation. Getting into the App Switcher looks like a replacement for the 3D Touch left-edge gesture that was removed in iOS 11. Only sad thing is the iPhone 8 and below won’t have it, but Apple must have felt it crucial to not further complicate the UX across the entire line.
  • I’m surprised there weren’t any features on the lock screen that only turn on part of the display to take advantage of OLED.
  • Animoji look like hilarious fun. I’m stunned how well the mouth tracking worked in Craig’s demo.
  • The A11 Bionic chip is fucking insane (both the specs and branding). That is to say, branding it as ‘Bionic’ is just strange.
  • Apple is now making its own GPUs. Game changer.
  • Not much focus on real AR, which I thought was a glaring omission.
  • AppleCare+ will be a whopping $200 by itself.

Other

  • AirPower mat to charge iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods is something I need in my life. Too bad it’s not coming until next year.
  • I wonder how much the new AirPods inductive charging case is going to cost.
  • No mention of HomePod was a surprise. Possible October event to announce availability along with iMac Pro?

Podcast

  • Stay tuned for a new episode of Gaddgict’s podcast, Fatherboard coming later tonight! My Dad and I are going to discuss all this and more.

Tim sat down for an interview with Adam Lashinsky from Fortune to discuss how Apple changes the world. There are so many amazing things in this interview, but Tim’s Health Care comments are what caught my attention most.

Tim on health:

We’re extremely interested in this area. And, yes, it is a business opportunity. If you look at it, medical health activity is the largest or second-largest component of the economy, depending on which country in the world you’re dealing with. And it hasn’t been constructed in a way where the focus at the device level is making great products from a pure point of view. The focus has been on making products that can get reimbursed through the insurance companies, through Medicare, or through Medicaid. And so in some ways we bring a totally fresh view into this and say, ‘Forget all of that. What will help people?’

This rings so true, working in Healthcare IT. So many end-user healthcare devices are pieces of crap, reminiscent of “feature phones” pre-iPhone. Apple would walk right in, dominate this market, and save lives in the process. Just thinking of the possibilities with their ecosystem in this space is extremely exciting.

Tim on where this takes Apple:

We put out ResearchKit [a software developers tool] and made it a source so that people could run enormous-sized studies. And there have been studies in Parkinson’s and so forth that literally are the largest studies ever in the history of the world. And we’re just scratching the surface right now. There’s no business model there. Honestly, we don’t make any money on that. But it was something that we thought would be good for society and so we did it. Will it eventually lead us somewhere? We’ll find out. I can’t answer that today.

I think it’s only a matter of time before Apple enters the Health Care business in some capacity — even with an FDA-certified Apple Watch to test the waters (e.g. a Medical Series Watch).

For more on how I think Apple can help, read Part I of ‘An Apple A Day’ — my series on Apple’s growing Healthcare ambitions.