WWDC 2015 Pre-Game Preview Show

8 June 15

This is the one non-Christmas event left on Apple’s schedule, and it’s Apple’s opportunity to shine a light on products that aren’t iPhone-related. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to see much this year. Apple TV is apparently not ready to go, there’s no sign of the 12-inch iPad, the company remains fixated on non-product issues, and all the while the Watch launch is still eclipsing the sun. The Apple world is really stale at the moment, with a lack of products. So rather than trying to predict if the Apple Music service will allow three skips or four, let’s just take a look at the overall state of Apple.


iOS devices drive the train at Apple, and for the average person, is really the only thing they care about. Hardware wise, there are no imminent developments on this front.

iPhone: Despite the pleas of mainstream journalists, the iPhone will not be updated until the fall, as has been the case for several years. The only development here is the loss of AT&T’s subsidized plan, which seems to herald the end of the subsidized era of phone purchases. The effects of this change will be felt over the next two years as contracts expire and other wireless carriers discontinue their plans, and I think will materially affect the sales of iPhones to some degree. Customers might be more apt to delay a purchase if they have to pay more up front. That loss of sales will likely be very small, but when Apple’s business depends so heavily on the insane sales numbers of the iPhone, the monetary loss is something for Apple to think about.

We’ll have more to look at in the coming months, but the iPhone is due for a couple of improvements. The first one that comes to mind is inductive charging. The ease of just laying your phone down on a panel and waking up with it charged seems like just the sort of thing Apple would be into, and the technology around inductive charging has settled. Wouldn’t it be a better solution to have somewhere you lay your iPad, MacBook, Wireless Earphones, iPhone and Watch and find them recharged in the morning without latching/unlatching a connector?

iPad: The rumored 12-inch iPad, aka iPad Pro, aka iPad Plus, was a hot and heavy rumor a while back, and I believed as long ago as last year that this would be the event to release it. I believe it’s more of a prosumer item than consumer, and WWDC would be the best spot for a soft landing. If they don’t release or announce it, and it doesn’t look good right now, then it would drift into the Fall announcements and get trampled by consumer-focused products – and that might delay it to WWDC 2016.

For the existing iPad products, there has been a bit of hand-wringing about the slight decline in iPad sales. What they need is a new feature, something that will get some attention. When it comes to most consumers, the only significant difference between the iPad and white-box generic tablets is the logo on the back. The iPad has had six years to find a killer feature, and it’s high time to give it one. The rumored split-screen and multiple-user features for iOS 9 are a great start, but I also think the iApps need some true power upgrades.

iPod: You remember the iPod, right? Ask your parents. Even iPod Touch sales are dwindling in this category, and with the loss of the Classic, it remains to be seen if Apple will just lop off these products at some point, especially with the Watch now the dominant exercise device in the lineup. With wireless earphones the new thing, and the Watch grabbing the fitness niche, the Shuffle’s appeal is becoming very limited. If it weren’t so damn cheap and virtually all profit, I think Apple would have gotten rid of it already.

The iPod nano hasn’t had any wind in its’ sails for some time. I think you could put the Watch OS on a device in this class and give it new life. An “iPod Nano Watch” could also replace the iPod Touch as a kid’s first device, bring the Watch OS to the non-watch users and keep the youth market interested in your non-Beats products.

Apple Watch: I’m already drained of what little enthusiasm I had for the Watch, and I’m hoping that the conference won’t spend a lot of time on this subject… But I know they will. There will be a promised Dev Kit for using the Watch CPU, and they will also mention that the sales “exceeded all expectations” as they are obligated to. Apple and the tech press is suffering from a case of Watch fever, and I don’t think they realize that the rest of the world has regarded this product and it’s introduction as a bit of a mess. I will be interested to see if Apple just cheerleads the product or admits to any faults in how it was all handled. My hope is that they find another way to bring the Watch experience to people like me who don’t want anything to do with a watch.

Apple TV: The great hope of this WWDC event was the long, looooong rumored release of Apple’s next-gen TV product, and if the rumors are correct, that product is not going to be a part of it. I’ve written about what I’d like to see from a TV product, but more and more I’m seeing Apple TV as an internet service and not a physical product. That’s a shame if that’s the case. My interest in the Apple TV was in a new interface for TV and a new take on what TV means. As a web service, it feels more like a new name for big cable. But we’ll have to see what it ultimately is. And then wait some more.

Desktop Macs

iMac: The iMac was spec-bumped just a few weeks ago, so there’s nothing expected on this front. The iMac continues to be the heart of Apple, even if they don’t get the love and attention of the iOS devices.

Mac Pro: With the expected lack of hardware announcements at WWDC, and the crowd being a prime market for the Pro, Iit would not surprise me if Apple did some sort of an upgrade to this product for the event. A new graphics card or drive option wouldn’t be too hard to swing.

Mac Mini: The Herbie the Love Bug of the Apple line, the Mac Mini doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s also a dev favorite for testing. I think these are on a two-year upgrade cycle at a minimum, and this is not the year.

Portable Macs

Overall, the portable line is priced too high. The $899/$849 MacBook Air is the cheapest portable Mac Apple has ever made, but the median price for a quality laptop in the rest of the world is $699, and a “usable” laptop can now go as low as $199. Apple will not compete on the low end, but it’s now the middle of the consumer market that’s changed, not just the low end.

MacBook: The long-lost MacBook Singular recently returned to the flock, this time in aluminum, looking like it had lost weight and it had picked up a haptic engine along the way. The jury is still out on it, but it feels like a prototype to most users. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it sort of laptop, and will need changes, but it’s too soon.

MacBook Air: If, as many speculate, the MacBook is the intended successor to the MacBook Air, then the Air itself will likely get one or two solid upgrades before being sent to pasture. This is not a good time to do that, with the MacBook still trying to get off the ground. But if Apple wants to spec-bump a laptop fro the laptop-loving developers, this would be the one.

MacBook Pro: An old chestnut of WWDC events in the past is to do a spec upgrade of the MacBook Pro, but they just pushed out the Force Touch models a couple of months ago, so this isn’t a good time for any upgrades.


Let’s not forget that Apple makes a few things that aren’t running an OS.

Keyboards & Input: Yes, I’m including keyboards in this rundown, because I think something is bubbling here. There’s been some speculation on a backlit wireless keyboard, although I don’t think that’s a terribly necessary or urgent upgrade. I do think that Apple might make a cosmetic change to their keyboards that is more in line with their new San Francisco-fonted laptop keyboards. I also think that the Magic Trackpad could get an upgrade to a Force Touch pad. I don’t know that either of these two things need to be done before the iMac gets another upgrade, but if OS X is going to include Force Touch interface enhancements, then you’ll need a desktop trackpad to match.

Monitors: And now monitors? Yes, indeedy. The current Thunderbolt external monitor is way too expensive for a previous-generation 3K display. There should be a 27” retina 5K model, and it should have happened months ago. As Apple did with the 30” model a few years back, they may just be waiting for sell-though of their existing inventory before a new monitor is unveiled.

Beats Audio: The Beats Audio products have yet to get any significant changes since the acquisition. I’d like to see a separate “Music” event go back into the Apple event rotation, where they could talk about Beats and Apple music products, but if Apple is keen to introduce their new music service at WWDC, then they might add a few Beats items to the list. It’s the farthest out on a limb my predictions go this year, but I can see a new/improved wireless headphone model for the Watch, although it’s a little awkward to already have four models of Beats in-ear headphones and two Apple in-ear headphones, something that’s going to have to be reconciled at some point. We’ll know Apple is taking control when they discontinue the Beats Pill Dude.


Mac OS X: Personally, I’d settle for a version of OS X that doesn’t spontaneously quit all users when I switch accounts. I run into that every 2-3 days, and occasionally lose something in the process. Simply put, this version of OS X has been inexplicably unstable since release. If there had been some groundbreaking new tech that might have caused it, it would be understandable, but there wasn’t. Yosemite was basically notifications and AirDrop, and they messed up Bonjour (2) in (3) the (4) process (5). What was most disheartening was not that bugs exist in Apple software, that’s just a part of deal, and it’s been the case for every piece of software ever written. What was disappointing was letting them linger for a year and counting without issuing fixes. That’s simply irresponsible to ignore these kind of problems or a sign of mismanaged resources to fix them.

What’s also been noticeable is that Apple has let some key parts of their OS X experience stagnate. The core Apple apps: Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Safari, iMovie and Garageband have all gone without significant updates for over two years. iTunes had a makeover, but desperately needs a total re-think. The only significant app to get attention was Photos and the process to get from iPhoto to Photos took two years to get done. Mac OS X needs a lot of love and attention right now.

In Mac System 7.1, way back before the turn of the century, they introduced something called the “Control Strip” a sliding tab that was parked at the side of the screen that let users quickly access individual control panel features from the desktop. It was done primarily because the control panel metaphor was broken and needed fixing, but instead, Apple opted to keep it in place and add a new item to the desktop in the control strip. In those days you sometimes needed to make quick changes to the control panel settings, like monitor color depth or sound levels and then change them back again, so you navigated to the control panel, navigated the various menus on the control panel, made the change, closed it to apply it and then went right back to it for your next change. It was hard to do.

Now, Apple is bringing the apparently bringing Control Strip metaphor back by introducing the iOS swipeable control panel to the Mac. What was needed here, and what is needed on iOS, is not a “quicker alternative” to get to the control panel settings, but a whole new control panel metaphor. If one needs to constantly change control panel settings, then putting that icon on the Mac desktop or the iOS dock would do the job. Hiding a control panel behind a swipe action is extremely poor interface design. It’s also worth noting that a control strip already exists on the top right of the Mac for quick changes.

On iOS devices, the control panel metaphor doesn’t work quite right and it never has. With all the attention on individual apps for privacy, location, notifications and other specific app-by-app settings, the effectiveness of scrolling through a list of all the apps on your device for every setting category is less than optimal.

iOS: The big change for the previous iOS 8 update was the new “look” of the interface, which was not universally beloved. The interface eschews icons for text, not unlike the Watch interface, and creates more problems than it solves. Icons are nice and square, and you can fit several in a small space. That’s especially helpful when your screen real estate is valuable. But taking a screen that can be very narrow and making the interface “buttons” into words is a little ridiculous. It not only makes internationalization a challenge, as you have to change all the buttons to fit the local language, but most words are far wider than they are tall, and you can only put so many side-by-side. The navigation controls in iOS can be ridiculous, especially if you find that some buttons end in “…”. And putting navigation buttons at the top of larger screens is downright idiotic. You cannot navigate pages in iOS 8 on screen larger than five inches without using two hands.

The entire user interface of iOS should be under question. The metaphors are breaking down, the design is poor and users are increasingly wary. The gesture and swipe interface has gotten so complicated that brushing your screen (or Mac trackpad) can cause a whole lot of random grief, and I know a lot of people who are kind of scared to touch their device’s screen unless they know exactly what they are doing. Additionally, the interface is so dense that touching anywhere on an iOS screen will always result in some sort of action, and now that the front of Apple devices are almost totally screens, that makes holding a device kind of like holding a sleeping wolverine. You never know what’s going to happen if you make the wrong move in the wrong way at the wrong time. No one wants a wolverine in their pocket.

Developer: Not being someone who makes their living as a programmer, it’s hard to get totally under the skin of what programmers want or don’t want. What isn’t hard to see, though, is that programmers do tend to be a sequestered community, and they seem to like it that way. So last year when the Swift programming language was introduced, the programmers in attendance hailed it as the next logical step in programming languages, taking the simplicity of a syntax like javascript and melding it with the control and power of Objective-C. In the end, though, Swift doesn’t really make an impact beyond the programming community, and that’s where it falls short of being a truly impactful advance in programming.

The real advance that’s needed in programming is bringing programming out of the shadows and into the daylight. You average Grandma might not want to make a photo filtering app, but there are a lot of people with good ideas and the desire to turn them into apps who can’t program worth bubkis. I don’t see a lot of new languages being created out there in the marketplace, but I do see a lot of attempts to make “no programming” app construction and design. That should be Apple’s market. Yes, make sure your traditional educated and top-notch devs are feeling loved and appreciated, but it’s also necessary to bring some new creative ideas into app development through simpler app making methods. That’s the programming solution I’d expect from Apple, not a next-gen javascript.

iTunes: Yikes. This thing. iTunes is the most egregious piece of bloatware made by Apple and it gets larger and more onerous as time goes on. The problem is that it’s so essential. iOS attempts to get it right by breaking up the monopoly and puts the stores in separate apps and the music and video players in separate apps. iTunes needs to break out some of the store functions into Safari, as they do appear to have a “shadow” iTunes store operating on the web when you click on internet links. I’d like to see someone take a carving knife to iTunes and trim it down to the essentials.

However, the last revision did mess things up a little. As someone who operates a large library, losing fields and being looked out from changing some was not the solution I was looking fro, but that’s what we got. I also did not appreciate losing the store as it’s own button. Sticking it into every category of media is clumsy.

iTunes Match also needs some help. It still has some very quirky and occasionally destructive habits, like losing any data you input into the fields for tracks you import manually. I’ve had that happen to me repeatedly over the past three years and it’s the most aggravated I felt towards my computer in decades.

iApps Pages, Keynote and Numbers have been relegated to red-headed-stepchild status, and as a long-time user, I’m more distressed at this development than anything else in Apple’s software portfolio. All of these apps underwent a radical change back in 2012, removing serious amounts of functionality and rearranging everything into a new interface that was designed (presumably) to be feature-compatible with the internet versions of the iApps. That move felt like a betrayal of sorts. I do know that internally Apple uses Office almost exclusively, but it would be nice if they ate their own dog food once and a while.

These apps are begging for an update, and a good one.


The fifth leg of the four-legged stool.

iCloud: As I’ve discussed before, it would be nice if Apple could get on top of this effort and just deliver what it promises. We all know how crucial the internet cloud element of computing is and will be – and that Apple’s building servers all over the place. It’s hard for me to know if Apple’s built a cloud infrastructure that’s about to crash down like like a tidal wave and flood us with cloud goodness or if they are still working out the kinks and figuring out what to do with it all.

Apple Pay: Of everything that I’m carping about, Apple Pay is the subject where I can towel off my fevered forehead. They are kicking ass on this so far. But the competition is going to be on their tails, so It’d be nice to see an occasional upgrade here and there, such as coupons and loyalty systems added.

Music: The Apple Music service is a lock for this WWDC, but it’s also one of those things I don’t have any personal use for. I’m a buy-and-own sort of music listener, and I have thousands of tracks simply because I hate radio. My worry is that Apple Music will take such a prominent role that the buying services of the iTunes store will be depreciated and I’ll be downloading a copy of Lime Wire. I also worry that the ability to play my own tracks in iTunes will similarly be downgraded. That’s a worst-case-scenario, but I can’t help but worry about it. Apple does things like that from time to time, where they get so high one something new that they last aside the old way of doing things.

But of more relevance, Apple Music needs to beat the rest of the streaming music industry without screwing over the artists. In all the excitement over Apple even having a streaming service, the interest of the artists seems to have been forgotten. I love music, but I don’t want to participate in a service that kills the artists financially.

iTunes Store: As an extension of what I mentioned above, the iTunes store is a little broken right now. Not just by sticking the store inside the media categories of your iTunes library, but even worse are the discovery functions iTunes offers. I’ve also mentioned in previous pieces that iTunes really needs to triangulate genius and suggested-purchase results. Right now it’s a simple “you liked this, and another person who liked it liked this, too.” It should be a case of “of the three hundred people who also like this track, fifteen also liked another track you listen to often, and six of them like this track you don’t have.” Genius needs some help, as well. I used to get great results. Now I get generic matches. If I turn on Genius for any rock track recorded between 1978 and 1992, I get overwhelmed by Cyndi Lauper and Thomas Dolby tracks. I’d like tracks that match in tone, genre and tempo, not a playlist from the worst 80’s oldies radio station ever created.

Also, why, when I type something into the search field in the store, do I get every type of media shot back at me? I don’t type something into the iTunes search field like “Harrison Ford” and want to see all the books he’s in. I’m looking for movies first, right? Why can’t iTunes figure that out? When I’m trying to figure out the name of a music track I half-remember, I’ll get hit with seventeen completely unrelated podcasts, a Chinese poker app, a fart ringtone and the complete works of Sartre. That search needs to be improved considerably.

CarPlay: I don’t think Apple’s put less effort into a piece of software since they put iTunes on the Motorola Razr. CarPlay is slow and unreliable, and the support from carmakers is lacking. Plus, you often have to fight past the kludgy car interfaces to even use it. While driving! This is a case of needing to go back to the drawing board.

Or maybe they already did and just decided to design the whole damn car…

Siri: The rumor mill has it that Siri is going to become smarter regarding appointments and contacts, and prompting you when events are about to occur. That’s nice, but I’ve never been entranced by the idea of having a “digital assistant.” I’m far more interested in Siri as a voice interface to the device. Sometimes I think people make their lives feel more important by having a computer track it. “You have an appointment to go check the mail for the third time at 3:15, Dave.” “Reschedule that for four and move my staring aimlessly into the ether to 3:00, Siri.”

What I’d really like to see is the “Hey Siri” command turned on all the time. That’d be a little bit of a game changer, in my opinion.

Home Kit: So far, this is a tragic case of an interface standard cast out into the wild only to have it furiously ignored by the market. If Apple really wants to press this, they’re going to have to make some hardware to show how it’s supposed to work. Rumor has it that it was supposed to be a part of the new Apple TV hardware which isn’t going to be at WWDC. So… What’s to become of Home Kit? I’m curious to see how many sessions are devoted to the topic.


Educational: Without any data to support my assumptions, my opinion is that it feels like the education market is no longer looking to Apple for solutions, and that needs to be reversed. Apple can make a great argument on quality, but when their product is $200+ more expensive than an Android/Chromebook/Windows laptop or tablet, most bureaucrats are going to run with the low bidder. Apple doesn’t need to make wholesale changes to what they are doing, but they appear to be losing steam and interest in education.

Right now, Apple is kind of stuck in the middle with a Mac laptop that’s more expensive than almost all educational laptops, and an iPad that doesn’t function very well as an educational tool. It’s hard to write a paper on that keyboard or research information on the one-thing-at-a-time interface. Drawing, designing or simply manipulating information is slow, cumbersome or downright impractical.

To me, this is an opportunity waiting for a solution. Combine an iPad with multi-tasking, better iApps and a physical keyboard and you have something. Take a MacBook Air, take out some of the fancier stuff like the keyboard backlight and 128GB flash and maybe it’ll be more affordable and still great.

Business: It kind of feels like Apple it out-sourcing the business marketing to IBM with their partnership. Maybe that’s a good thing, but there’s so little information on how things are going that’s near impossible to tell if this has been the right move. I like to keep tabs on all elements of Apple (Some people build a life of adventure, challenge and achievements. I have Apple news alerts.) but the business market exists in some news netherworld I don’t have access to.

Creative: Apple kind of goes at the creative with a tough love attitude. It’ll ignore the creatives for years and then a new version of Logic Pro or Final Cut hits the market with no warning. And if you don’t like the version? Well, you’re holding it wrong. They’ll also do things like kill off Aperture and walk away from it without a tear.

Along with a “construction kit” programming app that I mentioned earlier, I’d also like to see a game building studio. Games are getting bigger and bigger, and just like Hollywood movies, they’re now multi-million dollar efforts. You also have “Major Studios” and “Indie Studios” in the game and movie industries. Likewise, there’s a market for “prosumer” game creation, and Apple would benefit monetarily selling a game studio app, selling the hardware to run it on and then taking the profit from selling the finished game in the App Store.

As for hardware, I have a lengthy article on the site about a “Creative iPad” and I think that would alone be the biggest thing Apple could do for the creative community. An iPad with a stylus and waco-like capabilities would do some pretty amazing things for artists.

Consumer: There is always an air of elitism with Apple products, and making Gold Watches did some real damage to the public perception of Apple. Whoever green-lighted the “Edition” as a major product should be kicked in the shins. You could still make that product, but marketing it as heavily as it was made Apple the fodder of a lot of jokes that stung. Gold cases aren’t exactly helping things, either. China may like them, but otherwise they look kind of ridiculous to most Americans.

The thing that would get Apple back in touch with the consumer market is a great TV product that everyone wants. Unfortunately, that product has been delayed for years and sounds like a bit of a let-down from what we know about it. The Apple TV, after the mixed results of the Apple Watch intro, is now an even more important product than it ever was, and there’s a lot riding on it. If it’s just a different “spin” on cable TV, it’s a loser. If it’s insanely great, I can stop worrying and learn to love the Watch.


The Next Level

1 March 15

Having some time to think about it, it’s time to come to grips with a new reality. With the passing of Steve Jobs, so did that generation of Apple. Now, we are into the next generation of Apple, and it’s a different experience then the one we had just three years ago. Not just a different flavor of how Apple operates, but an entirely different modus operandi.

It was inevitable, as the company’s unprecedented success has changed it’s own operating environment dramatically. The difference of between being an upstart and the biggest company in the world requires some degree of internal reorganization. By hook or by crook, everyone wants a piece of Apple now. Even with Steve at the helm, Apple would have been forced to go through a bit of a culture change as they need to protect their backside more than they ever have before.

The game Apple had been playing was over, and they had won. Somehow, that band of hippies and nerds beat every rational expectation. They not only created great products, but more importantly, people began to want these great products.

That last element can be easily overlooked. Yes, Apple did a hell of a lot that was right in every aspect of it’s business fundamentals, and it can be easily taken for granted. As they built a stronger financial foundation for the company, they resurrected the desktop computer business with the iMac, they created the best OS in the business with OS X, they created the best music player ever made in the iPod, followed that up with the ‘insanely great’ iPhone, and then topped it all off with the iPad to change the entire notion of what using a computer was all about. However, one could argue they were already making a great computer even in their worst days in the mid-nineties. The trick of the new Apple was that people started buying.

Somewhere after the iMac was introduced at a reasonable price, the resistance to the Apple price tag started to melt away. The products became so compelling that money was no longer the obstacle it usually is for consumers. People were compelled to at least think about Apple products, where it had been so easy to dismiss them before. In America, cheap usually wins in all categories, but Apple was able to chip away at that notion and make great products that made price less important.

Year after year, the “Apple Brand” became more and more prestigious. It built on its’ reputation by delivering unfailingly great products that attracted people’s attention. Soon, the illuminated Apple logo was a status symbol amongst students, commuters and coffee shop patrons as they proudly displayed their MacBooks. Then the iPhone made at the sort of technological leap that civilization hadn’t seen in decades, and it became a must-have item. Now, after the mega-hit portable devices like the iPod and the iPhone, where you showed it off like a piece of jewelry, the logo has come to be a status brand like no other.

Meanwhile, on Present-Day Earth

So at the Flint Center Apple Watch unveiling, Apple started to spend some of that banked goodwill and dilute their brand a little. Most of all, they changed what Apple is. The Apple Watch is a product that is positioned not on technology, customer demand or innovation, but on the prestige of the Apple brand and the reputation of Apple’s quality. We know less about it than any previously announced Apple product in the company’s history. For the first time since Apple marketed Apple-adorned clothes, the main selling point of the Apple Watch is Apple itself, and the trust the public has in the company.

That’s not to say the Apple Watch is not an achievement in several areas. It is a step forward in both the “Fitness Band” category and in the “Smart Watch” category, ahead of everyone else. What it does not do is make a compelling use-case scenario that will make it a product for the masses.

Even at this late date, there is little information to go as to what the watch will do. We do know that it is focused around fitness and health features, as well as messaging. We know it’s being designed to compete with high-end watches. We know it has health sensors, movement sensors, new methods of input, wireless capabilities, and on-board storage for music and podcasts. It will keep accurate time. We know that Apple is making a big push for the device by re-thinking their stores and marketing. We know the entry-level will start at $349.

It is only speculative that the watch can do “so much more” than what has been listed. So if we eliminate the speculation, what we have is a lukewarm, tepid product. If you do not have any interest in spending more than you spent on the required tethered iPhone for a wrist-mounted accessory, or you’re just not into a device that is limited to the niche markets of health and messaging, or if you just aren’t really into watches, it’s not the product for you. That’s a lot of people.

Operating it looks clumsy and awkward, involving tapping the screen, scrolling the screen, “force-tapping,” turning the crown, tapping the crown, or pushing a button. In the Flint Center demo, a user navigates the icon-only home screen by scrolling with a finger on the screen, moving their fingers to the crown to zoom in and out, and then putting a finger back on the screen to tap on the desired app. That’s quite a bit of maneuvering for launching an app, in contrast to the simplicity of the one-finger scroll-and-tap of iOS and even the iPod’s one-thumb clickwheel scroll and tap method. The watch also requires the use of two hands, one to hold and the other to operate, which is more than the iPhone requires. That will be clumsy in several situations.

Trying to provide a rich application interface on such a small screen is not going to work in most cases. Entering text isn’t even possible, nor should it be, but voice input is supposed to be part of it’s features. Talking to your watch is not going to be very easy, though. Socially, it will look weird, and practically, you have to be in a reasonably quiet area to talk in. Otherwise, you might have to be even in the more socially dicey situation of yelling at your watch. How one might edit a mis-interpreted voice input remains to be seen.

The messaging functions, make it behave more like a remote control for the iPhone. All it really does is eliminate the “need” to reach into a pocket or purse and glance at the screen. Making a use case for the convenience of not having to check your iPhone, an easy task, is going to be a challenge. From the perspective of this user, I like having the messages stay on my phone where I can look at them when I feel the need to. Having them pop up on my wrist does not make my life any easier, in fact I think it makes life less easy to have an instrument for interference on my wrist.

A watch – any watch – is a device designed to nag you. Although there have been dozens of generations that have lived comfortably with watches, a device that’s been practically omnipresent over the past three hundred years, a watch is a nuisance.

Without a watch, you can sleep in all morning. You can enjoy a long out-of-the-way trip. You can sit and ponder. With a watch, it reminds you that you have to be somewhere, do something and finish tasks. It is a tether between the natural and the technological, between you and civilization.

When viewing the “fitness” video for the Apple Watch, it’s worth noting that it extolled the virtues of being reminded when you need to stand, if the watch decides you’ve been sitting too long. The Apple Watch is taking nagging to a new extreme.

I am quite comfortable keeping technology beyond arm’s length, in the literal sense. I don’t have notifications popping up on my wrist every few seconds or minutes, tempting me to look at them as they arrive. I like it that I need to bring out my phone and voluntarily check on any accumulated messages when I have the opportunity to do so.

When I’m with people, I’m not constantly glancing at my phone to check things. It’s courtesy. If I had a watch, would I be able to stop myself from flicking my wrist and glancing at the watch whenever it buzzed me? How pissed off would people be with me if I did that? Do you get annoyed when someone checks the time as they’re having a conversation with you? You bet your sweet bippy you do. With a watch that’s buzzing you with tweets, texts and emails, does that make it worse? Yes, it really, really would.

With the Apple Watch, we essentially have the world’s most distracting and nagging device ever invented bound to our person. Such devices may be purchased with the best of intentions, but there is a human tendency to discard and ignore devices which nag after a period of time, especially ones that deal with fitness. Ignored treadmills, long-unused gym memberships and forgotten New Years resolutions lay testament to this aspect of modern life.

The Apple Watch will make for a poor traveling device with the need to carry along a separate charger for a daily recharge regimen. Carrying a charger for the phone, the computer and the watch is asking the user to embrace a complicated setup.

Operating the Apple Watch will involve wearing it on the non-dominant wrist so your dominant hand can operate it. Luxury watches with a winding mechanism are usually built that way, but users of battery operated watches had a choice before now. The level of interaction with the Apple Watch will compel the user to put it on the weaker hand. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but one most people haven’t given a lot of thought to. It will also be interesting to see if the sensors will work for those who wear a watch with the face on the palm-side of the wrist.

So Why Do This?

Apple isn’t blind to these shortcomings. Tim Cook even talked about the limits of a watch product extensively at one point, openly questioning the need for a wrist-mounted device. So one has to figure that their priority with the Apple Watch isn’t to push a new product out that will take over the world, their objective is to push the value of the Apple brand upscale and enter into markets they believe will expand Apple’s appeal. The product is tailor-made for the affluent consumer, and specifically the upscale East Asian consumer. Gold-colored products are mammoth sellers for Apple in East Asia, where proclaiming status through expensive material goods is socially important, and selling a genuine gold product in the top-of-the-line Apple Watch “Edition” will net the company a nice profit.

However, with conservative analysis of how the Apple Watch will fare as a mainstream product, the prospects for a larger success are not bright. The Apple Watch is technologically chained to the iPhone, so loyal fans and users of competing tech brands will not be using the watch. That limits the potential base of users to the existing customer base. Of the customer base, those that will be inclined to add an Apple Watch will likely be much less than half. In one small-sample poll, Apple watch interest from existing Apple customers was at 11%. That kind of poll is clearly not an accurate way of gauging true customer interest, but it does reflect that interest is mild at best.

The buyer for the Apple Watch does not follow the usual consumer profile Apple usually goes after. In the last fifteen years, Apple has targeted their products after younger users. Bright colors and stylish design were the hallmarks of Apple products. The Apple Watch goes very much the other way with a product that appeals to older buyers. This is not the product the kids will be taking to school to show off to their friends. The impression I get is that the Apple Watch is fundamentally an homage to your Dad’s watch.

Whittling down the potential user base is not Apple’s usual way of thinking, but the Apple Watch is not Apple’s usual product.

It’s also interesting to see Apple gradually but assuredly adapt to being a Chinese-focused company. At least in terms of this product, they are now thinking of the needs and wants of the Chinese consumer first, and the Apple Watch is aiming straight at that customer. It’s not a Christmas target that Apple had with Apple Watch, but the Chinese New Year, the biggest Chinese buying season. Although current information hints that the product may not launch until April and as late as June, missing it’s original release target.

Does Apple regard the Chinese market as being a better consumer market for their products? It’s an interesting question, and I’m sure Apple executives would protest that statement, but their actions do show more interest in mining lucrative China over pursuing lower-margin products in other markets.

So that’s what the new Apple is. A company that has begun to move on from its traditional markets and its traditional sense of what makes a great product. That’s just what we have to deal with now.

The Watch Itself

I have not had the opportunity to operate a functional Apple Watch as of yet, but as of this writing, neither has more than a few hundred people, and most of them are badged Apple employees. What I have to go on is what I’ve seen and read through Apple’s Flint Center event and web site.

The Apple Watch is being marketed as a “tiny computer” on the wrist, capable of monitoring health input from sensors on the back of watch, as well as a messaging device that can handle incoming and outgoing text and voice. However, most of the features we’ve been told about seem to off-load most of the processing on the tethered iPhone, and the SDK for 3rd party apps works almost exclusively in this way.

It has a square face and dark front, reminiscent of Pulsar brand LED watches from the early 70’s. The body is a rounded rectangle, in classic Apple form, but bulges out considerably at the back where four sensors monitor your body.

It will likely be manufactured in China, as Apple has not admitted to any other manufacturing sites, and is not known to be involved in any other watch-capable manufacturing facilities. How the public will react to non-Swiss timepieces is a bit of a wildcard.

The Apple Watch will come in at least 33 different variations, with 12 varieties of watch bodies:

(Apple uses “38mm” to denote the ladies’ size and “42mm” to denote the mens’ size.)

“Sport” Versions
(The crowns do not have an accent color)

  • Mens’/Ladies’ Silver Aluminum w/White Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Silver Aluminum w/Blue Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Silver Aluminum w/Green Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Silver Aluminum w/Pink Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Space Grey Aluminum w/Black Sport Band & Space Grey Accents

“Watch” Versions
(All crowns have a black accent)

  • Mens’/Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/White Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Black Sport Band & Silver Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Black Classic Buckle & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Milanese Loop & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Soft Pink Modern Buckle & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Brown Modern Buckle & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Midnight Blue Modern Buckle & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Mens’ Stainless Steel w/Stone Leather Loop (Pebbled leather? iOS skeuomorphism comes to life!) & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Mens’ Stainless Steel w/Bright Blue Leather Loop & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Mens’ Stainless Steel w/Light Brown Leather Loop & Stainless Steel Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Stainless Steel w/Steel Link Bracelet
  • Mens’/Ladies’ Space Black Stainless Steel w/Black Steel Link Bracelet

“Edition” Versions

  • Ladies’ 18K Yellow Gold & Bright Red Crown Accent w/Bright Red Modern Buckle & Yellow Gold Accents
  • Mens’/Ladies’ 18K Rose Gold & White Crown Accent w/White Sport Band & Rose Gold Accents
  • Ladies’ 18K Rose Gold & Black Crown Accent w/Rose Grey Modern Buckle & Rose Gold Accents
  • Mens’ 18K Yellow Gold & Black Crown Accent w/Black Sport Band & Yellow Gold Accents
  • Mens’ 18K Yellow Gold & Midnight Blue Crown Accent w/Midnight Blue Classic Buckle & Yellow Gold Accents

I expect all editions will be sold as watch-and-band packages, and then the individual bands will be sold separately. I also have yet to see any evidence you can fit the higher-end Edition bands on the lower-end watches. Many of the bands have a metal base that matches the case. So could you take a gold band and stick it on an aluminum body? That doesn’t sound like something Apple would want. It’s quite possible that the bands for the higher-end watches may be removable, but not exchangeable. The band you get with the watch stays with it. The interchangeable bands may only be a feature of the “Watch” and “Sport” models.

As for cost, the numbers floating around vary pretty wildly on the high-end. But we know they start at $349, and I assume this is the “Sport” version. The “Watch” versions I think will be between $1200 and $2000. Various bands will make the whole package cost more. The “Edition” version will be between $7,000 and $12,000. That’s a huge bit of leeway, but the value of jewelry can be highly subjective. I base the numbers on what the highest-end sport watches are sold for in US stores, the US prices for high-end stainless steel watches and the Chinese market prices for name brand luxury 18K gold watches.

Also, since no one has mentioned it, Apple will also introduce a bluetooth headphone set of some sort. Maybe it will be co-branded with Beats, maybe they leave it up to Beats entirely. I still think Johnny Ive would want a crack at making bluetooth headphones of his own design to go with the Apple Watch and the subsequent iPhones & iPods in the future that will likely be missing the headphone jack.

A Prediction of Failure?

The Apple Watch has a lot of things that people are going to like. It’s gorgeous, it’s ultra-useful to some customers and it is no doubt going to be very well made. So here’s a forecast for the lifespan of this product. Initially, it will sell well. Very well. Apple has the kind of marketing power and customer loyalty that ensures the introduction of any new Apple product will be a success.

Over the long term though, the product will need a boost. As it is today, the Watch is a device with hard limits for the size of the consumer base and a real ceiling in terms of usefulness. Like many attempts to use fitness equipment, it will start with high hopes, but without something to sustain the initial surge of interest, the product will be left behind. Like the treadmill in the corner of a bedroom that just serves as a clothes rack, the Apple Watch may meet it’s end at the back of a dresser drawer, forgotten and neglected, the user happy to let go of the ever-present kibitzing.

However, it’s also easy to see that Apple may have more in store for this type of device. What can Apple do to put this type of screen and interface in the hands of kids, college students and non-watch fans? They know that this is a larger market that what the Apple Watch is going to give them. Do they have a second act for this micro-screen device? I assume they do, and that’s the device I – and most people – will be more interested in.

I will admit that in some corner of my mind, I actually want this product to fail. At my most skeptical, I see it as a bit of hubris on the part of the upper management of the company, a designer’s fancy for Johnny Ive and a dream product for fitness-nut Tim Cook. I think they’ve overlooked the larger market to make a vanity product. I’m fearful that they might shred parts of Apple, like the retail stores, and delay teams of engineers from making much-needed fixes to existing software issues, to make this product a success. So I want Apple to learn a lesson from the Apple Watch, because you learn more from mistakes than you learn from success, and I want them to learn faster. It is the first major Apple product in their 38 year history I do not want, and that alarms and distresses me.


2014 Event Part II

16 October 14

I’m still reeling from the Watch announcement, which was a lot of good stuff spiked with some acutely bad stuff. I don’t want to pick the wrong words about what was a very important announcement, so I’m still trying to work out what my thought are on it. Spoiler: I’m not on the bandwagon for the watch.

As for today’s stuff, we’ve already got the leak that tells us it’s iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, plus Yosemite is gonna get a download date and iOS will get a point bump with Apple Pay. So that kind of takes the steam out of the usual prognostications.

My wild card items are, as ever, the Apple TV and the Mac mini both of which have been untouched for “far too long.” I still don’t think an Apple TV will ship (yes, with a screen) until next year, but they’ve been in the habit of pre-announcing lately.

I am also suspicious of the streaming HBO and CBS announcements coming back-to-back in the 48 hours before this event. HBO especially. They were steadfastly against streaming with no exceptions, for all time… until Tuesday. CBS was the first to both leak and then shoot down Apple’s TV plan. Now they’re both on board with streaming just hours before an Apple event? Odd.

Mac mini just needs a processor bump. It’s a hidden gem in the Mac lineup and it needs some love.

And as a last thought, Apple just won’t stop posting rainbow-color versions of the Apple logo. How long until they just finally do it?


Protect This House

9 September 14

I’m worried that if Apple were to actually introduce a product at their upcoming Sept. 9 event that the world might just spin off its’ axis. If we’re lucky, they’ll just do what they’ve been doing for the past year and merely announce the future introduction of new products. Maybe they’ll mention if there’s more to come!

Yes, I’m being a pouty little snot, but it has been nearly a complete year without significant new products, and the release schedule has been very slight over the past three years. Apple has seemingly forgotten that “real artists ship.”

The first clue as to what we’re going to see is that the venue for this announcement is physically huge, and has been used by Apple for significant announcements in the past. It’s a facility that can hold 2300 people, enough seats for a fading rock band.

Arena Rock!

Given that it’s a big facility, Apple naturally decided to build an addition to the venue, at least a couple of stories tall. Popular speculation is that it was built for a “hands on” area.

Let’s think about that a little more carefully. What’s wrong with a tent? That would hold everyone just fine. Why two stories? And for a brief product demo?

Because they’re bleeding cash

Without knowing anything about the particulars, it does appear that they need something very large to accommodate whatever it is that they want to show off. You don’t need two stories to show off a phone. You don’t need two stories to demonstrate a watch.

The iBlimp is Go

You do need something two stories tall to house a gymnasium. The very size of this building could indicate they want to demo athletic applications. It points to a major new element of what this event may hold: lifestyle devices.

The temptation is to say “wearables” when describing what Apple is making, and even more tempting to say “iWatch.” Both terms may miss the mark of where Apple is likely going.

But I already registered!

Nike bailed out of the athletic “wearables” market a year ago, essentially, and walked away from it. That doesn’t sound like a good move for a company that introduced the Nike+ fitness bands, the Nike+ shoe sensor and the Nike+ SportWatch. True, they still sell these products, but have largely stopped development of them.

Or did they? The secret history of the Nike+ sensor is that it was always an Apple product from day one. Designed, tested and built by Apple. So Apple has been in the wearable business since 2006 already.

Still, if I had a company like Apple designing products for me, why would I ever terminate that kind of opportunity? That’s nuts.

That is, unless Nike could see what was coming, and that they were going to have to cut bait before they got overwhelmed by what Apple was going to do in a tidal wave of innovation they could’t hope to match.

We’re Gonna Nee a Bigger Boat

Apple has also apparently invited “fashion journalists” to the event, and almost simultaneously announced the hiring of a watch designer, rightly creating speculation about watches. What most seem to have missed was Tim Cook’s comments that say that the wrist was “interesting” for a wearable solution, but there was also this quote: “There are other wearable ideas.”

I covered this ground in a previous entry, Who Watches the iWatchers but the upshot is that “watches” were not the only thing in development. I postulated on headphone-based wearables and health-related wearables.

So what other wearable ideas are there? Besides the wrist and headphones, you could also add sensor-embedded necklaces, anklets, undershirts, headbands, rings and belts. Basically the classic “accessory” and “jewelry” markets.

A lot of folks have been noting that kids are more focused on electronics like the iPhone as the “fashion accessory” they are most interested in, eschewing clothing as the traditional focus for fashion trends. Apps and tech gear are the new trendsetters. Branching out into wearable tech is a savvy, prudent move to take advantage of this shift.

If there is any doubt about the power of electronics in the fashion world, you just have to think back to when headphones were black. Once the iPod hit, headphones have become a fashion accessory in and of themselves. Ten years later, they became so huge that Apple needed to buy Beats to claim a bigger piece of that pie.

This wave of new items is what forced Nike to step aside. They understand that Apple is about to set a new standard and enter into a new age of what “wearables” means, what fashion is going to become, and how sensors can make a huge difference in the way we live our lives.

Spidey Sense Tingling

Sensors can not only be turned inward for health monitoring, but they can be turned outward. You can see in the dark with the right cameras. You can see temperature, you can go beyond the visible light spectrum. With electronic assistance, you can hear sounds miles away, you can hear frequencies beyond the normal range. An app can run to monitor such things and let you know when something needs your attention.

You can use “inward” sensors and “outward” sensors in tandem and figure out when your skin might be getting too much UV and alerting you to danger. They can check the temperature and compare it to your body temp and let you know when you need to put on a sweater. It can tell you when you have high blood pressure and see what your physical activity level is and warn you if things don’t look quite right. The same can go for drug dosing and alcohol consumption.

I think the likeliest way to introduce such products is in an athletic context and I think that’s the start of what Apple’s up to with it’s wearables initiative.

So you really don’t know, what they’re doing, do you?

We’ll get the 4.7” iPhone, the iPhone Plus at 5.5” and maybe Touch ID-enabled iPad and iPad mini updates. I’ve previously predicted that the big iPhone 5.5” would be sold at a lower price, but I’m not nearly as confident about that as I was when I made the prediction.

I think that the 5.5” iPhone will be the new “top end” phone. Apple’s tiered memory/price system doesn’t work very well these days, as the difference between 16GB and 32GB is not plausible at $100. By my tracking, the difference between 16 and 32GB flash sticks is $9. I expect that the new metal-cased iPhones will go with 32GB at a minimum and may only have two sizes. Either that or Apple will wind some other way of differentiating the models. A camera upgrade would be the most direct thing to do.

There’s been no leaks of a case for an “iPhone 6c” so I’m not confident about predicting such a thing. I wasn’t sold on the need for an iPhone 5c when it debuted, and I’m not sold that it will be iterated.

NFC and Wallet/Passbook functionality? I think so. We’ve been going there for a while, and if it’s not announced on the 9th, it’ll come.

So the iPhone stuff I’m reasonably sure of. The unknown is what’s in that white building and what looms next to the flint center. What’s inside? THE FUTURE

Or Kobe Bryant.


My WWDC 2014 Dream Book

2 June 14

As is now traditional with Apple, they announce products twice a year; at WWDC and going into Christmas. Unlike every other WWDC in the past several years, this particular conference has no real expectations beyond Mac & iOS upgrades.

That’s not to say upgraded hardware couldn’t be announced. Apple unfortunately has released so little hardware over the past two years that any product line they make could be upgraded with little surprise. They also have the two long-time specters of Apple TV and wearables out there. So, essentially any hardware could be updated or introduced for this event.

However, no significant hardware will be announced at WWDC 2014. Despite the fact that Apple desperately needs something new to talk about, There is no indication that any hardware is forthcoming. Maybe we’ll get some spec bumps if we’re lucky.

Apple’s most visible products over the past two years has been their TV campaigns, executive hires, acquisitions and stock hijinks. I so want a product I can concentrate and dump all this other junk. Ship something for God’s sake!

Well, aren’t you the little pessimist.

Even though we’ve seen some case specs for a new iPhone, it’s too early in the usual ramp-up for there to be a new handset released at WWDC and Apple isn’t in the habit of pre-announcing their fall iPhone models. Maybe, just maybe, that flat case we’ve been seeing is the control for an Apple TV. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Also distressing is the consistently rumored feature set of iOS 8, which appears to be lacking on new stuff, quite possibly delaying some features to an 8.1 or 9 release. Given the lack of features in iOS 7, it’s hard to feel enthusiastic about another non-essential upgrade. The hope is that iOS 8 will address many of the UI issues that still remain.

On wearables, we may see a blueprint of how they’ll fit into iOS 8, but any actual hardware is at least four months away at the very minimum. They may detail a protocol for how these sort of products can work with their devices, and then say that they will have new products in the fall that will do “health stuff” but not get particular. A similar set of protocols for controlling other electronics is also a possibility.

Apple certainly wants consumers using the iPhone and iPad as an interface for all sorts of consumer electronics purposes: home security, appliance control, identification features, POS payment, car audio, car security, scientific equipment, medical equipment, and of course, wearable health devices. Providing some sort of standardized control & input interface is likely on someone’s drawing board at Apple, and there’s no better time than the present to get it rolling.

For lazy journalists, you can call this “iBeacon on steroids.”

Think of the phone/tablet as a massive interface. It’s virtually 95% interface by volume already, and hooking it into other devices that can’t get a touchscreen or can’t justify something that large or complicated, is an area ripe for growth, and a further selling point for Apple’s devices. If you bought a car or a house with an iPhone-ready security system, that would make an Apple device a near automatic purchase.

For me, the interesting part will be if Apple has any accompanying hardware. Just pushing out a new spec for a communication protocol is a recipe for malaise. To kick start such an effort, actually making a product or two that use a new control interface protocol would be the best tactic.

And now your regularly scheduled updates

As for the (Mac) OS X update, I expect this to be the grisliest one in years. The “unification” of OS X and iOS may not be a real thing, but there is little doubt that Apple is focusing on the things they believe make iOS popular. They also seem to be concentrating on the laptop more and more, and seem to want the MacBook air to behave as much like an iPad as possible.

Here’s kind of a worst-case scenario. Full-screen apps will become the default behavior. The Finder, Dock & Desktop will essentially disappear unless specifically activated. Folders will be created by dropping files on top of one another. Icons will be limited to a strict grid system. The user file system will be simplified even further, so “All My Files” becomes the default behavior. Notifications and the control panel will live on panels that swish in from the sides or top. There might even be “active desktop” screen, in the spirit of Windows 8.

With a lot of changes, it’s going to be a headache. Apple’s usual Modus Operandi in these situations is to overshoot the target a bit, and take everything a little bit too far. Then, they backtrack a little on the next update. Maybe they’ll be kind and offer a public beta before they drop the hammer, but with such intense focus on the mobile side, that may be more trouble than it’s worth.

I am honestly dreading this update. I’m looking to it with all the enthusiasm I have for catching a summer cold. I can only see a thousand ways to ruin the OS X interface with good intentions, and very few ways to truly improve it.

An i for an i

Apple can make it up by issuing an upgrade to the iWork suite. The last upgrade was effectively a serious downgrade for reasons which remain shrouded in mystery. The iWork 2013 suite offered fewer features and was harder to use at the same time. I’m still waiting for any explanation as to why they did this, and it flies against everything Apple is usually so good at. This year, adding some functionality back in, while making the interface a little more usable, would go a long way towards making users (me) happy with these programs once again.

iLife for Mac is almost a lock for updates, as the new look OS X will likely require at least a visual update to the suite. I assume they’ll add a few new tricks while they’re flatifying the UI.

The think n’ do page

The hardware Apple should introduce right now would be a $799 portable and a $499 desktop and/or $999 iMac. The market has settled on new prices for computers, and Apple’s offerings are a little out of step. Apple will always be at the high end of any pricing spectrum that includes HP, Acer and ASUS, but the market’s expectations have changed a lot over the past three years, and things now have leveled off.

The $899 MacBook Air is too far away from the average budget laptop, especially in education. Apple doesn’t need to make junk, but they do need to be realistic in terms of what the market is willing to spend. The current price target for a top-rated budget laptop is about 600 dollars.

The field is also starting to gap the Mac desktops, and Apple has a couple of choices. They can come up with a cheaper monitor option and match that with a cheaper Mac mini, making an attractive bundled desktop, or find a way to knock down the $1299 iMac to a $999 price.

Apple is also in the position of having to stoke Mac sales a little bit, with the desktop market seriously contracting, and keeping people interested in Macs involves not only having a great OS and hardware, but also an attractive price. Developers, too, might wander from the Mac unless they see a concerted effort to get Macs into more people’s hands with aggressive pricing.

This would be a good time for a killer new consumer Mac.

Pray… For… Mojo…

Well, the lights are going up in a few hours on what appears to be a dull, lackluster WWDC for actual product. Lets make me regret this doom and gloom and do something cool, huh?

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