The Two Biggest Apple Watch Buzz Kills

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As I mentioned the other day, I am enjoying my Apple Watch.

But it’s not perfect.  Here are the two biggest buzz kills.

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That screenshot was taken today, June 4, 2015.  If these apps and the corresponding Glances don’t automatically and seamlessly update, they are useless.  This is not an isolated problem.  It also happens with weather apps, among others.

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The only thing worse than old data is no data.  This is the rule and not the exception with some Apple apps (see above) and most third-party apps.  They rarely update before the screen goes blank.  I rarely have the perseverance to stick with it, and usually just give up.

And all of this happens within a foot or two from my iPhone.

Notifications are wonderful on the Apple Watch.  Phone calls are remarkably functional.  Apps, and most Glances, not so much.

30 Days Out: Thoughts on the Apple Watch

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As many of you know, it happened again.  After trying to convince myself not to buy an Apple Watch, I capitulated to the inevitable and ordered one.  I’ve learned the hard way that the least inefficient way to order a new Apple product on pre-order day is via the Apple Store app.  So, I set my clock for 2:00 a.m., and used my iPad to order a 42mm space gray aluminum model, with a matching black sports band.

Here are a few thoughts, after a month:

1.  Getting used to wearing a watch again is the hardest part.  Until my Apple Watch arrived, I hadn’t worn a watch for many years.  Now I wear one from the minute I get up until the minute I go back to bed.  Because I use the watch as a fitness monitor, I don’t want to miss any steps.  I’m getting used to wearing a watch again, but it takes an Apple Watch to get me there.

2.  The fitness tracking is good and accurate.  I’ve worn a Fitbit for years, and I’ve always known that it over-reports steps and, to a lesser extent, mileage.  The Apple Watch is very accurate on both.  Happily, it even measures my treadmill steps when I cheat and hold on.  This is important.

3. The battery is not an issue.  Period.  I’m usually at 50% charged or better when I take it off.

4. It’s all about the notifications.  Getting a quick look at incoming email, texts and other events is both the most useful thing about the watch and the thing the watch does best.  The app screen is a jumble of too small icons.  Glances work reasonably well, as long as you keep the number low enough.  Apps are slow to load.  I rarely use them.  Hopefully native Apple Watch apps, promised for later this year, will speed thing up.  I love the way you can delete all notifications at once.  I hope we get this on other Apple devices.

5. At least at this stage, the Apple Watch has not crossed over into the non-geek universe the way iPhones and iPads have.  I’ve never seen another Apple Watch in the wild.  In fact, even at the Apple Store (when I went to get yet another broken iPhone screen replaced for a family member), it was an ohh and ahh moment for onlookers when I paid my replacement fee with my watch.  The people who have noticed my watch so far have treated it as a curiosity, as opposed to something they can’t wait to get.

6. The sports band is a fine watch band.  The smaller of the two that come in the box fits my wrist perfectly.  Using the last notch, the end of the band tucks slightly into the slot, making for a very comfortable experience.

7.  It’s not so big that it seems clunky and burdensome.  I’m sure future models will get thinner (seen a first generation iPhone or iPad lately?), but it sits on my wrist pretty unobtrusively.  I’m starting to forget that I’m wearing it, which as a non-watch wearer is a very good thing.

8.  Apple Pay will be the defining feature.  I love the ability to pay for things in a second or two with my watch.  I can’t wait to use it at a third location (the Apple Store and Walgreens being the two current locations I frequent that accept Apple Pay).

In sum, I’m sold.  I wonder, however, just how far the Apple Watch will penetrate into the non-geek, non-athlete crowd.

Time will tell.

The New Photos App is an Incomplete Work in Progress

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Apple released the OS X Yosemite 10.10.3 update today, which includes the new Photos app, which will replace my beloved iPhoto as well as Aperture, for photo management on the Mac.  There’s a lot of coverage on the new app, so I’m not going to do a full review- just the conclusion.  I’ve been using the developer preview (on a secondary machine) for a while, and I think it’s a good app and a suitable replacement for photo management on the Mac.

Except for one inexplicable, deal-killing omission.  There is no longer an easy way to edit photos in an external editor.

In iPhoto, it was so, so simple to open photos in an external editor- in my case, the wonderful Pixelmator– edit them, and immediately save them back to iPhoto.  Just a few keyboard clicks, and the edited photo was back in its proper place in your iPhoto album.

The process for doing this in the new Photos app, well, doesn’t exist.  You have to manually export the photo, open it in the external editor, edit it, save it and re-import it into the Photos app.  This is simply unworkable.

In prior instances, Apple has added missing features to new or redesigned apps via updates.  They will need to add back the ability to easily edit in an external editor before the Photos app will be a candidate to manage my photo workflow.

Why I’m Not Sold on the Apple Watch as a Fitness Device

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Try as I might- and my love of all things Apple mandates that I try- I just can’t get excited about the Apple Watch.  Granted, I haven’t worn a watch in decades, but I have worn a Fitbit for over two years and track my exercise and sleep patterns daily.  So while I’m not a watch guy, I’m a prime candidate for a better and more powerful fitness tracker, with communication and timekeeping features to come along for the run.  The thing is, based on everything I’ve read, the Apple Watch (at least in the absence of an associated iPhone) doesn’t do much from a fitness tracking perspective that my Fitbit One doesn’t already do.  Sure, it tracks steps and stairs, but it has no independent GPS functionality and, because it is not waterproof, it doesn’t significantly increase the universe of activities I can track.  Let’s take a look at some things the Apple Watch can do all by itself, without relying on a nearby iPhone.

1.  It can tell the time.  Well, that’s great, but I don’t want a traditional watch and if I need to know what time it is, my  Fitbit One can tell me.  As an aside, I can’t remember the last time I was working out, didn’t know what time it was (or close enough), and just had to find out the exact time.  There are clocks, other people, and the sun, everywhere.

2.  It can play some of your music and show you some of your photos.  OK, I’ll admit the music capability is intriguing, especially if it includes podcasts, which comprise 95% of my workout listening.  The thing is, none of this streams.  You have to create some sort of playlist and store it in the 2 GB of space available on your Apple Watch.  Maybe, in theory, that would be awesome.  In actuality (based on my history with iTunes playlists), I might do it once or twice, and then never again.  As far as photos, if I were to list the things I want to look at while working out, my iPhoto library would be at or near the bottom.  And if I were to list the manner in which I want to view photos, on a watch-like size and form factor wouldn’t even make the bottom of the list.  It simply wouldn’t occur to me.

3.  It can track your heartbeat, steps, stairs, and stand-sit ratio.  Granted, my Fitbit One does not (at least as far as I know) have the ability to track my heartbeat or stand-sit ratio, but it tracks steps and stairs just fine.  If the Apple Watch had the ability to record and display my route (e.g.,  independent GPS functionality), that would be an improvement over my current process (my Fitbit can’t do that either, so if I want to I have to use my iPhone).  I suppose it would be nice to monitor my heartbeat, but that single additional feature isn’t going to get me in line to buy one.  I can see data that roughly correlates to my stand-sit ratio via my Fitbit dashboard.  In other words, these are relatively small and incremental gains that don’t seem like enough to warrant a third workout device (along with my Fitbit and iPhone).  Again, if the Apple Watch either allowed me to leave my iPhone at home or completely replicated and improved on the data tracked by my Fitbit, it might be a candidate to replace one or the other during my workouts.  But it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.  Sure, if enough third parties play ball, the Apple Watch will one day allow a lot of health and medical tracking, but that’s not something that affects my actual workouts, and by the time all the players are in place, there will likely be newer Apple Watches and all sorts of other options.  In sum, I can see how the Apple Watch would appeal to people who are really into traditional wristwatches (except, you know, for the obsolescence problem), but I just don’t see how it is going to revolutionize fitness tracking.

4. It can use Apple Pay and Passbook.  This is neat, I guess, but I’m a huge Apple geek and I have used Apple Pay exactly four times: twice in an Apple Store and twice in a Walgreen’s (and Walgreen’s makes you sign something, even when using Apple Pay, which is a huge buzz kill on the entire process).  Nevertheless, I think Apple Pay is the future of mobile payments.  So, if I were willing to bet my right arm on the future, Apple Pay might be the Apple Watch’s quickest route to my wrist.

Rene Ritchie, at the always reliable iMore, has an article today about the Apple Watch as your new fitness trainer.  He makes as compelling a case as can be made that the Apple Watch will evolutionize, if not revolutionize, personal training.  Maybe, but I’m not seeing any giant leaps forward, though I will admit that the potential for the Apple Watch to learn how to track your workouts more accurately over time is intriguing.  Mostly, I see some incremental gains, some sideways leaps, and the allure of Apple.  If  I could swim with an Apple Watch, that would be one thing.  If it could seamlessly manage my music and podcasts, that would at least replicate what my iPhone does now, on a smaller device.  The fact that you can only shower with it seems like a missing feature, as opposed to a benefit.

Having said all this, I am realistic enough to know- and years of Apple experience has taught me- that feelings can change.  It may be that when I see an Apple Watch in person, and put it around my wrist, I’ll conclude I can’t live without one.  A year or two ago I would’ve told you that I will always be primarily a desktop computer user (long live the iMac).  My retina MacBook Pro has since taught me otherwise.

But here’s what I do know.  With the large majority of previous Apple devices, I have counted the days between the event announcing and showcasing the device and the day I could pre-order one.  Alarms clocks were set.  That’s not the case with the Apple Watch.  I’m going to need some convincing.

Apple and the Backwards Looking Advance

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The second biggest problem with the Apple Watch is that it’s a watch.  I get that there are a lot of people who (still) love wearing a watch.  I also get that there are people who (still) wear ties and high heels.  There are also people who still write letters.  Fifty years ago, almost everyone wore a watch and ties and high heels were the rule, not the exception.  Fast forward to 2015, and the trend line for ties, high heels and watches is not on the upswing.  Betting large on watches is a backwards looking advance by the greatest technology company in the world.

I haven’t worn a watch in close to a decade, and sadly not even Tim Cook can make me want one.  I saw some interesting stuff yesterday.  How much indispensable stuff is another question.

What I do wear is a fitness device.  I’ve worn my Fitbit (the pocket version) for over two years.  It is as integral to my day as my phone or my reading glasses.  I feel anxious on those rare but unavoidable days when I lose mine and have to wait a day for Amazon to deliver me another one.  Until now, the best hope for an Apple Watch to find its way onto my suntanned wrist was as an improved fitness device.  But, no.  The fact that you have to carry your iPhone with you to get the full benefit of the Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features is the biggest problem, and a deal-stopper for me.

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And while I am bemoaning the recent Apple announcements, as opposed to my more typical reaction of counting the days to preorder some new wonderment, I’m underwhelmed by the new Macbook.  I’m not moved by the tech specs or the single port (and associated, expensive adapters to come), and I worry that it may spell the beginning of the end of the beautiful MacBook Airs.  Yes, these new laptops are light and small and lovely, but they seem like the child of an iPad and a netbook. I want something more powerful.  Like my beloved 15 inch retina MacBook Pro- the most beautiful and productive computer I’ve ever owned.

I hoped to be blown away yesterday, but I wasn’t.  I’m still all-in on the Apple train, but I worry just a little about where we are headed.

The Problem with the Apple Watch

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Or, more precisely, the problem with the Apple Watch priced at five figures.  If someone buys a fancy iMac or MacBook for $2,000 and a year or two later it starts looking less than awesome when compared to newer models, that’s frustrating.  Paying $20,000 for a fancy Apple Watch and having it look less than awesome a year or two later when compared to newer models would be devastating.

Three iOS Photo Apps You Need Now

One of the best things about the new iPhone 6 (both models) are the improved cameras.  Like many iPhone users, I have largely abandoned my traditional video camera and my DSLR in favor of my iPhone.  iPhone photography has been great for a while, and it just got better.

In addition to better hardware specs, the iPhone 6 cameras benefit from the new extensions feature of iOS 8, which allows you to use third party photo apps from the native Photos app (e.g., your camera roll).  Not only is this quicker and more efficient, it solves the problem of having duplicate photos on your iPhone- the original one in your camera roll and the edited one, as modified by the third-party app.

I’m sure it will evolve as I discover more iOS 8 optimized apps, but my current photo tool box consists of the native iOS Photos app, plus three great third-party apps.

Camera+.  This has been the best iOS photo app for as long as I can remember, but now you can use its editing features directly from the Photos app (again, what you probably think of as your camera roll).  Simply tap on the photo, tap Edit in the upper right hand corner, tape the circle with three dots in it at the bottom.

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And you can edit that photo with your third-party photo apps.

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So I often experiment with my Camera+ filters before saving or sharing a photo.

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Paper Camera

I only recently  discovered this app, but I love it.  The effects are really well-done, and you can flex your creative muscle without a ton of work.

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DateStamper

I do not miss the early digital photo era phenomena of super-imposed dates in the corner of your photo, but there are definitely times when you need to note and prove when a photo was taken.  DateStamper does this, again right from the Photos app.

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There’s a lot to love about the new iPhones and the new iOS, and the ability to take, edit and manage your photos is near the top of the list.