Running without iPhones, Thin Pipes and Keyboard Hell

dont-leave-me-this-way

“When I take my iPhone with me on a run, my Apple Watch’s pace and distance estimates are highly accurate. Without my iPhone, it became so inaccurate it was useless.”

Source: Running without iPhone makes Apple Watch inaccurate | Cult of Mac

This is a giant problem.  Apple makes great devices, but more and more, Apple seems to be counting on our love of Apple to blind us to the things that these great devices inexplicably cannot do.

Bling is great, but you need to be at least as good at the basic stuff as the other devices you are trying to replace.  Sure, fitness is just one component of the Apple Watch, but if you agree with me that apps are not fun to use on the watch, then fitness and notifications are the primary things differentiating the Apple Watch from the watch John Cameron Swayze was hawking to the ladies the year I was born (I wonder how my Apple watch would like that dishwasher?).

When people ask how I like my Apple Watch, my answer is I like it, but don’t love it.  I (still) have to carry my iPhone with me when I work out, and I almost never open an app on it.  At least in my neighborhood, the Apple Watch is making slow progress in its efforts to claim the wrists of regular folks.  I’ve seen less than 5 in the wild.  I offered to buy my wife one.  She said no, because there are a ton of other options that do a better job of accurately tracking her runs.

Similarly, the new Apple TV has a lot of bling.  But under the hood, it lacks basic functionality (including, but not limited to, all those content deals Apple couldn’t get, and Amazon Prime Video), and requires far too much credentials keyboarding on the pretty but frustrating new remote.  Some of this (Amazon and other content) may not be Apple’s fault, but some of it is.  For example, on a slower internet connection,  my year old Amazon Fire TV still loads much faster than my brand-new Apple TV. That beautiful screen saver is awesome, but it’s not  why I bought the device.

If Apple wants us to continue to pay the Apple premium for new devices, those devices need to be mind-blowing, like the original iPhone and iPad, and not meh-inducing, like the Apple Watch and much of the new Apple TV.

All My Clouds are Raining on My Parade

1502558950244296621

“You’ll notice that, unlike the 1TB cap for Office 365 subscribers, not all of these conditions are aimed at abusers. No one could reasonably conclude that using the 15GB of storage offered to free customers would count as abusive. Heck, most phones have more storage than that. For whatever reason, Microsoft is trying to conserve as much space as possible on their servers.”

Source: Microsoft Downgrading OneDrive Storage Plans For All Users

I’ve been pretty impressed with Microsoft’s Mac and iOS offerings lately.  In fact, I’ve started using OneNote a lot (more on this later).  I was just about the extend my Office 365 trial (even though I won’t install the apps on my Mac because I DON’T WANT OUTLOOK ON MY MAC, and they don’t let you selectively install just the apps you want).

And then this.  It’s not the end of the world.  But the explanation clearly wasn’t thought out well.  You were doing great Microsoft.  Why do this now?  If it’s really about excess use, then “hidden cap” the unlimited storage at an amount that almost no one will reach.  Using the outliers as a reason to hose everyone is either a bad idea or horrible PR.  Or both.

Sigh.  Now I’ve got to rethink my cloud.

I use iCloud a lot.  I use Dropbox and Google Drive a lot.  I use Amazon Cloud Drive for some things.  And I was about to start using OneDrive for some other stuff.  OneDrive is the easy out, except I really like OneNote.

I’ve got to come up with a new plan that doesn’t require a sky full of different clouds.  Way not to help, Microsoft.

One Giant Step for Apple, One Small Step for Cord Cutters

newappletv

I’ve been looking forward to the new Apple TV for a long time.  Partly because I love new Apple devices and partly because I am an acceptable device away from dumping DirecTV, and cutting the cord forever.  To date, the problem has been that there is not one comprehensive set-top box to rule them all.  There are numerous alternatives, with various strengths and common weaknesses.  I am a long time AppleTV user, all the way back to the first generation.  They have always been pretty good devices, much better at integrating with and serving up content within the Apple ecosystem than wrangling content from the multitude of other content providers.

And there’s always been that question about what, exactly, Apple wanted the AppleTV to be.

It took Apple a long time to decide whether the Apple TV is a hobby, a product, or something in between.  I’m still not sure we know.  My hunch is that Apple would like to make the Apple TV the one-stop device to rule all cord cutters, but the inability to work out deals with content providers who know the bundling gig is almost up has led Apple to settle for half-measures.  Accordingly, we end up with hardware sufficient for the task, likely unreleased software that would vastly improve the current experience, and insufficient content licenses to allow Apple to bring it all together.  In other words, when Eddy Cue says the Apple TV will be an add-on device for most users, he’s right.  Not because that was the design and intent, but because that’s the best they can do, for now.

So where does that leave us?

My third-generation Apple TV is a fine product, for limited purposes.  It’s great for Netflix, renting and buying movies from Apple, and watching Wake Forest get its ass kicked on ESPN3 (again, as long as I’m willing to dutifully subscribe to DirecTV and enter my credentials every so often).  It’s not sufficient for managing and watching network and cable television shows, because of the haphazard mishmash of separate apps that create a disjointed experience that would make even the most ardent Android user blush.  In fact, I’ve paid for iTunes subscriptions to TV shows I could theoretically access for free via a third-party app, simply because the third-party app process is so painful.  Sure, with enough effort and password entries, you can probably find fairly recent episodes of at least some of your favorite network television shows.  What you cannot do is create a unified playlist where your “subscribed” shows automatically appear for easy access and enjoyment.  Another big problem with prior Apple TVs (those of you in big cities with fat broadband pipes probably never experienced this) is underpowered components.  When I’m in town, with my 100 plus Mbps connection, everything plays almost instantly.  When I’m at the farm, where I’m lucky to get 5 Mbps speeds, it can take hours for a rented movie to start.  I always assumed this was solely due to internet download speeds, until I bought an Amazon Fire TV, and immediately noticed a significant reduction in waiting times.  Neither Apple nor Amazon has managed to produce a unified, elegant user experience on their set-top devices, but Amazon fire TVs are a lot faster than the prior generation Apple TVs.

I’m in town this weekend, so I haven’t had a chance to test my new Apple TV on a slow internet connection.  I’m assuming it will match or exceed the capabilities of my year old Amazon Fire TV.  If not, my shiny new Apple TV will be returned immediately.

I hoped the new Apple TV would solve most of these nagging problems, or at least give us hope that Apple is making progress in the cord cutting war.  The fact is, however, that the new Apple TV, both in appearance and experience, is a whole lot more like the last generation Apple TV than it is a new, improved and unified experience.  For example, while the initial setup of the new Apple TV seems easy and high techy, because you use a Bluetooth connection with your iPhone to do something,  you still have to initially enter your iTunes name and password over and over again, even for different Apple-provided features. It’s maddening, and surely unnecessary.

There is also no universal playlist or the equivalent.  Sure, we can search a few services (with hopefully more to come) with Siri (I’m a Siri liker, but not a Siri lover), but we don’t want to have to ask Siri to find us shows to watch every time we sit down.  We want to subscribe to shows at the lowest available cost and have them show up in a unified playlist.  How hard can that be?  DirecTV and TiVo have been doing it since the last century.

All the new colors are fine.  I’m glad there’s now an App Store.  Maybe one day there’ll be some decent apps.  Others may like the new ability to play games (though I wonder just how robust the Apple TV gaming platform will be; I have concerns).  But all of this seems like a paint job, when we need a complete remodel.

Now, back to passwords.  Not only is reentering your iTunes credentials over and over during setup a drag (it’s hard to explain how painful it is entering text with the new remote; you have to experience it to truly hate it), there is apparently no universal authentication for your cable or satellite subscriptions.  Which means when you download the various content provider apps, which so far are mostly identical to the old ones, you have to authenticate, every time.

In sum, when the QVC app is the best example of the improvements in your groundbreaking new device, there’s a lot of work to be done.  Much like the Apple Watch, the beauty of the new Apple TV is in what it may become more than what it is now.  Seems like a trend.

So Eddy Cue’s right that the Apple TV is still an add-on for most people.  But that’s almost certainly not what Apple was shooting for, and it’s not what prospective cord cutters were hoping for.

Apple Watch: A Nice Accessory

2watches

“After six months of trying to log my runs with my Apple Watch, I finally gave up and bought a dedicated GPS running watch.”

Source: Why I’m cheating on my Apple Watch | Cult of Mac

For people like me, who just want to gamify their workouts, and roughly track steps and miles, the Apple Watch is just fine.  For serious runners, like my wife (who has been holding a “gift card” for an Apple Watch for months), it just doesn’t cut it.

I like my Apple Watch, but only for workout-tracking lite, as described above, and for quick notifications.  I never- and I mean never- use any apps.  They just aren’t fun.  Sure, updated apps are doing the best they can, but even native apps are limited by the lack of a GPS on the watch.

I keep waiting for it to get better, but I’m starting to think it will be a couple of hardware updates and several years before the Apple Watch becomes an indispensable tool instead of an optional accessory.

Runkeeper’s Apple Watch App Tracks Runs Without Your iPhone

“The team behind popular fitness app Runkeeper on Thursday launched a hotly anticipated native Apple Watch companion app that lets users track runs without lugging around a paired iPhone.”

Source: Runkeeper’s new native Apple Watch app tracks runs without iPhone.

This and Fitbit (maybe) being hackable may lead to the end of my dual fitness tracker days.  I’ve got years of data invested in my Fitbit, but it’s only a matter of time.  Fitbit can integrate with my Apple watch and maybe keep its spot in my pocket.  Or it can compete with my Apple watch, in a drawer somewhere.

New Apple Gear Coming Soon

Those who have been conscious today know that Apple announced a bunch of new and updated products this morning.  Updated iPhones, a bigger iPad, an updated iPad Mini, some new Apple watch bands, and a new Apple TV.  You can get all the details elsewhere, so here are my thoughts on the new stuff.

New iPhones

I like the better camera, and I think 3D Touch (think of it as a right-click for an iOS device) will be useful at some point.  I’m not sure Live Photos is more than a gimmick, but it might be.  Faster chips and graphics would be nice, but I don’t use my iPhone for much that taxes it.

I know I always say this and then change my mind, but I don’t feel a compelling need to upgrade from my 6+ to the new model.

iPad Pro

I am all about bigger screens.  I have a 27″ iMac and a 15″ MacBook Pro.  I think a larger iPad makes a lot of sense, but the whole time I kept thinking I was watching Apple invent the Microsoft Surface, a tablet I once stupidly bought on impulse and sold a few weeks later.  Adding to the confusion was the fact that the best part of the demo, and one of the coolest things overall, was the Microsoft Office apps.  The new iPad has an optional stylus (something I never thought I’d see) and a magnetic keyboard/cover combination.  Crazy.

I use my iPad every day, but much more for consumption than creation.  If I did a lot of work on an iPad, I would almost certainly buy an iPad Pro.

iPad Mini

The updated specs for the littlest iPad seemed like a tossed-in afterthought.  I have an older iPad Mini that I rarely use, so I don’t need another one.

Apple Watch Accessories

I don’t know anything about Hermes, and I buy my clothes at sports and farm supply stores.  So I literally couldn’t care less about designer watch bands and exclusive watch faces.  Apple seems to be marketing the high-end Apple Watches as a way for insecure rich people to show the rest of us how awesome they think they are.  In sum, zzzzzzzz.

I am interested in the updated watchOS, however, because without native apps, my Apple Watch continues to be more about potential features than actual working features.  I am sold on the Apple Watch, but it is very much a work in progress.

New Apple TV

newappletv

Now, the best part.  I had high hopes for the new Apple TV, and Apple mostly satisfied me.  I’m not a big gamer, so the gaming angle is lost on me.  I like the idea of other apps on the Apple TV.  I was happy to see a new unified search, but it badly needs to search more than just iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, HBO and Showtime.  Hopefully it will as other content providers create apps, but I’m a little concerned there aren’t more sources out of the box (do those sources have new Apple TV apps already?).  For the Apple TV to work as my only streaming device, it needs Amazon Prime, and the major broadcast and cable networks.  I’m still hoping Apple can pull the rabbit out of the hat with a cord-cutting content package before I’m too old to care.

I’ll definitely buy one- and probably two- Apple TVs on launch day.

Macs

They talked about Macs (my very favorite Apple product) for exactly zero seconds today.  Bummer.

Stay tuned for more as I dive into these new products and updates.