→ Not in a position to mock, really

I arrived to this article on BGR via John Gruber. I love how, talking about the Asus ZenBook UX305 the author writes: … there really is no denying that Asus’s ultrabook is one sexy machine.

You know why? The ZenBook UX305 is basically a black (or white) version of Apple’s MacBook Air.

ASUS UX 305 Wide

 

MacBook Air 2256

 

ASUS Zenbook UX305

 

Design hero

 

400123

 

MacBook Air Gallery2 2256

 

Ux305 3

 

Apple MacBook Air 13 inch 2013

 

Even the ZenBook’s feet are similar to those usually found under MacBooks:

2584515 tinhte zenbook ux 305 3 1410187884131

 

And Asus’s ZenBook UX305 page (if you manage to navigate it correctly, I had to scroll using the arrow keys, it was too fast using the Magic Mouse or my MacBook Pro’s trackpad) has indeed a very Apple-esque way of presenting the ultrabook.

PC makers can mock Apple all they want, but design-wise I still haven’t seen anything truly original or innovative coming from them first.

Category Handpicked Tags ,

Personal observations about the Apple Watch

Steve Jobs, in January 2007, famously introduced the iPhone as three devices in one: an iPod, a phone, and an Internet communication device.

Tim Cook, in September 2014 and March 2015, introducing the Apple Watch, has picked a somewhat similar approach. The Watch, too, is sort of three devices in one: “the most advanced timepiece ever created, a revolutionary way to connect with others, and a comprehensive health and fitness companion.”

Apple Watch - 3 devices

The iPhone in 2007 was a completely new device and device category for Apple, and the same thing is happening now with the Watch. Using the ‘three-devices-in-one’ approach is a way to pass a set of coordinates, so that people can have an initial grasp of what the new device is and can do. True, in the case of the iPhone, presenting it the way Steve Jobs did was more like an unveiling trick, a little sleight of hand to surprise the audience. More than eight years have passed, and the iPhone has transformed so much, it has become so much more than it was originally, but if we stop and think about how things were back then, defining the iPhone that way was a succinct way to say, “This is not just a new mobile phone, but a device that can also handle your music just like an iPod, and an Internet communication device, because you really can do Web and email, and other Internet-powered stuff like Maps, etc.”

Similarly, how to briefly define something like the Apple Watch, which is obviously more than a wristwatch in the way the iPhone was and is more than just a phone? Let’s start with those three things — an advanced timepiece, a device to connect with others in new ways, and a health/fitness tracker.

What excited me about the iPhone in 2007 was, of course, the device itself from a hardware standpoint, then its technologies (how seamlessly Multi-Touch worked, for example), then the software, and finally and most importantly its potential. I immediately thought about how much the iPhone’s functionality could be extended with third-party apps, and the resulting emotional impact I had as the 2007 Macworld keynote unfolded was I want to have this. This is definitely going to be my next phone.

And potential is really what excites me now with the Apple Watch. As crazy as it may sound, what makes me want to have an Apple Watch isn’t (just) what Apple showed about it in September 2014 and last Monday. It’s what it’s going to come up for it down the road. The possible applications and use cases. It’s a huge bet, the same bet Apple is taking, I think, but that’s what it is for me in the end. It is a most intriguing direction.

I went back and re-read Apple Watch: Additional observations, an article I wrote in September 2014 after the first introduction of the Watch, looking for a quote to use in this one, instead I’m just leaving the link here and offer that whole article as a refresher of my general observations about the Watch — I still stand by it.

Tim Cook has repeatedly said that the Apple Watch is the most personal device Apple has ever made. This piece is called Personal observations because at this point, there’s no other approach that makes sense for me with this product. And I think that a lot of the current debate in the tech sphere is pointless rationalising and overthinking the Watch. It’s an accessory, it’s personal, and ‘explaining’ to people why they should or should not buy it makes very little sense to me. People need to be informed, of course, but with as little editorialising as possible, unless you’re explicitly writing an opinion piece. I say this because I’ve already happened to read a few articles that start as simply ‘reporting information’ pieces, then end up passing judgement or letting the author’s personal feelings towards the Watch seep through.

I’m not here to tell you how you should react to the Watch, and whether it’d make sense for you to get one or not. It really depends on your lifestyle and whether the Apple Watch — now that we have seen another overview of its base features, functionalities, and some new use cases — could fit in your lifestyle or not.

It is also too early to state whether it’s going to be a huge success or a flop. My feeling is that it’s going to be a ‘slow’ success, something more resembling of the iPod’s success than the iPhone’s. Remember that iPod sales really started to grow after 2004, three years after its introduction. Back in 2001, the reactions towards the iPod were mixed. There were the enthusiastic early adopters — people who purchased the original iPod as soon as it debuted because they instantly liked it, or had enough curiosity and enough money to get one. There were people (a lot of them in my circle of friends and acquaintances at the time) who sceptically asked “Why should I buy it? I don’t need it.” And then there were people without a clear opinion or — like me — who appreciated the device but recognised they didn’t have an immediate need for it, who basically opted for a ‘wait and see’ outlook. Then a sort of snowball effect happened: better iPods started coming out, then came the compatibility with Windows PCs, the iTunes Music Store, etc.; more people got an iPod, so more people could see — through friends and acquaintances who bought one — the iPod’s usefulness and/or appeal and decided to get one for themselves too. (I finally decided it was time to buy an iPod in 2003 mainly because my best friend got one before me and gave me repeated examples of its practicality and versatility.)

My feeling is that the Apple Watch will have a similar ‘slow contagion’ diffusion. There are people who are already intrigued by it and want one. There are people who are already asking “Why should I buy it? What problems does it solve?”, and moderate people with a ‘wait and see’ attitude. And I think that the Apple Watch, more than any other Apple device, needs to be seen and tried in person, and more people are going to be convinced one way or the other by seeing the Watch in operation on people they know and trust. The Apple Watch’s potential usefulness (or superfluousness) is definitely something that needs to be experienced ‘in the field’, by watching how your friends and acquaintances use theirs, how they interact (or don’t interact) with it, and so forth.

Is this going to be my next Watch/first smartwatch?

Personal observations, here we go.

I’ve expressed my doubts about wearables and smartwatches in the past, and my conclusion was that they’re not devices I’m in particular need of. Before the Apple Watch was revealed, there also wasn’t any particular wearable or smartwatch I wanted. As I wrote then, “The current offerings are unstylish, uninteresting and unimaginative devices, which appeal only to a niche target of enthusiasts and technophiles.”

The simple, disarming fact is that I like the Apple Watch. A lot. Like with the first iPhone, I like the hardware, I like the software and UI, I like the various different customisation options, and, like I said above, I’m intrigued by its potential. I wish I had $349 to spend, because I’d really love to be an Apple Watch early adopter. This is my favourite model of the Apple Watch Sport line, the one I’d purchase:

38mm Space Gray Aluminum Case with Black Sport Band

The 38 mm Space Grey aluminium case with Black Sport Band (I have small wrists).

When I was a teenager and the 1980s digital watch invasion was at its peak, I was obsessed with wristwatches. I had a few and the more they were customisable, the better. My favourite was this Citizen watch, whose various modes weren’t fixed, but programmable, meaning that it could be left in its default configuration (one alarm, one timer, one stopwatch, etc.), or you could decide to put a second alarm instead of the timer, or you could have three different timers instead. Each function had its ‘slot’ and the ‘slots’ were configurable. Back then, I had never seen such level of customisation before. So, when I first saw the various faces that can be applied and customised on the Apple Watch, that was a direct call for 14-year-old me. It was like going back in time, but with a device that’s on a whole different level, of course.

During the March 9 event, Kevin Lynch once again demonstrated a few use cases, this time involving additional third-party apps. I see myself using the Apple Watch a lot for quickly checking selected notifications without having to take the iPhone out of my pocket. In this regard, much of the debate has centered around the possible redundancy of the Watch as notification satellite. Or people have pointed out that checking notifications on the Watch is a subtler gesture, and it potentially saves you time — you only see the notification and act on it (or not), you don’t take out the iPhone every time and you’re not tempted to lose yourself in it after checking the notification. A scenario I’ve rarely seen mentioned is when you receive a notification, and taking out the iPhone to check it and act on it would be possible but uncomfortable or not much practical: when you have one or both hands occupied for example (a bag of groceries in one hand, the umbrella in the other), or when you’re commuting and you’re standing on a crowded train or bus (you could take your iPhone 6 Plus out, but with such little room for movement you could drop the phone). Checking the Watch in these and other similar instances would certainly be more effective.

I would also use the Apple Watch to glance at weather information, Twitter, to set reminders, to check songs I hear in shops, restaurants, cafés; to quickly answer texts, to pay via Apple Pay (this is great for those, like me, who don’t have an iPhone 6/6 Plus or don’t want one because it’s too big for their tastes), and I certainly would use its Digital Touch feature more than occasionally. My wife works at a university library; sometimes I need to talk with her and when I send her a message, she may not notice it (maybe she activated Do Not Disturb on her iPhone or has it in silent mode in her purse, or she’s working at her computer while listening to music from her earphones and she doesn’t hear the notification on her iPhone). If we both had an Apple Watch, it’d be great to send her a little nudge to attract her attention, and vice-versa.

Another feature I’d find useful is getting directions on the Watch in that unobtrusive way Lynch detailed back at the September 2014 event. Sometimes I visit parts of the city I’m not terribly familiar with, and in more than one occasion I’ve successfully used Google Maps on my iPhone to move around and find exactly where I needed to head. But walking down a street constantly checking my iPhone for the right turn or crossroads is awkward, and not much different from going about with a paper map opened before me. With the Apple Watch, I could move more naturally, without losing my bearings.

I’m not particularly interested in fitness trackers and I’m not into ‘quantifying myself’ at all. The ‘health and fitness companion’ aspect of the Watch is definitely one of the least interesting features for me. However, lately I’ve been increasingly concerned about the amount of time I spend sitting versus standing. I lead a mostly sedentary life, and spend a lot of time sitting at my desks. That is partly balanced by daily walks and the time I spend standing while cooking. Still I’d like to know more precisely how much I sit, how much I stand, how much I move. After seeing how the Apple Watch works in the tracking department, I think I would indeed take advantage of the functionality for this particular purpose.

These are just the first reasons coming to mind, the first real-life scenarios I think the Apple Watch would serve me well, and I have the feeling I’m just scratching the surface. What makes it a potentially compelling device is the progressive accumulation of use cases. If I review my examples above and isolate them one by one, I’d probably conclude that the Apple Watch is just an expensive iPhone accessory and I would quickly dismiss it without a second thought. I could never buy it only for Glances or Digital Touch or its fitness tracking capabilities. It’s when you start thinking, “Well, it could be useful for this… and this… and this… and that other thing… oh and what if they release an app that does this other thing the iPhone isn’t that great at doing?”, that the Watch slowly starts making sense.

So yes, the Apple Watch will be my first smartwatch, whenever I’ll be able to afford one. As for what you should do, I don’t know. As a first step, I’d simply suggest you keep an open mind, you don’t lose yourself in the current tech debate, and don’t listen to those who use their particular habits and their lifestyle as a standard to determine the Watch’s success or failure, or to judge the merits and shortcomings of the device.

Category Tech Life Tags , , ,

Alex Roddie reviews the first volume of my short stories, Minigrooves

Minigrooves ad

 

After reviewing Low Fidelity, the serialised science fiction novel I publish on Vantage Point magazine, Alex Roddie expressed further interest in my writing by reading and reviewing Volume 1 of Minigrooves, my short stories. The result was Book review and interview: Minigrooves by Riccardo Mori.

I really enjoyed Alex’s review. Maybe it’s because he’s a writer himself, and this makes him also a particularly perceptive reader, I don’t know, but this bit did strike a chord with me:

There’s a sense that the precise language was very carefully selected, and I loved how the word choice and the story often depended on each other to create a specific effect. It sits on the edge of poetry.

Why? Because if you consider that English is not my first language, receiving such praise from someone who not only is a native speaker, but also a writer and editor, is extremely encouraging. It means that all those years spent building and refining my writing and my language skills haven’t been wasted in the end.

It’s also encouraging given the considerable lack of feedback I’ve received for my more creative endeavours, Minigrooves in particular. If you’ve purchased the book, and have read at least a few stories, please don’t hesitate to let me know. If you think other people would like Minigrooves, please spread the word. With all the communication tools and social networks at our disposal, it’s not that much of an effort, really, and it could make a difference in ways you can’t imagine. If you’re willing to write a review of my stories, get in touch, I may provide you with a PDF of the book. I’m trying to make a living with my writing, and it’s impossibly hard. Any support you can give is hugely appreciated. Thank you!


Relevant links

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The new Retina MacBook

MacBook

On Monday 9, Apple introduced the new Retina MacBook. The unveiling blew me away. All the videos featured during the keynote were characterised by excellent animations and visualisations, and I loved how the MacBook Design video covered every little detail inside the new MacBook, and out. The phrase ‘a feat of engineering’ may be a bit overused today, but it’s quite apt to describe this new MacBook.

By now you all know about the design and the technology: the incredible thinness (only 13.1 mm at its thickest point) and lightness (920 grams)[1], the new, Apple-designed butterfly mechanism of the keys, the new trackpad with Force Touch, the single USB-C type port that replaces every traditional port you’ve seen in MacBooks so far, the absurdly thin and bright Retina display, the unprecedented level of miniaturisation in a motherboard, the custom battery design, and so forth. If you don’t know about these things, scroll through the fantastic Design page on Apple’s website for a refresher.

There’s little to comment on these aspects: the MacBook is a beautiful machine, it perfectly showcases what Apple is capable of, it introduces intriguing technologies which undoubtedly will improve the user experience. Its presentation left me lusting for one, and since now Apple offers a choice of colour, I’d really love to get my hands on a Space Grey MacBook. Still…

Is this going to be my next Mac?

Many of the articles about the MacBook I’ve read so far, when it comes to giving readers advice, make a similar point as Kirk McElhearn’s in his The New MacBook May Not Be for Everyone, But it Might Be Right for You. Kirk concludes:

So, is the MacBook for you? If you see yourself in the above description, either wanting a second Mac, or only using your Mac for limited tasks, then, yes. It’s small, light, has a retina display, and very long battery life. However, if your laptop is on your desk, with several devices connected to it – especially an external display – then, no, it’s not for you.

It’s clear, solid advice. If someone asked me, I’d say the same. And yet, when I ask myself Is this going to be my next Mac?, I’m torn. Rationally, I should not be. I fit the ‘power user’ profile. I keep my current MacBook Pro in desktop configuration 90% of the time; it’s attached to a 23-inch external display, and its ports are often all occupied: one USB port for the keyboard, the other for the current external Time Machine hard drive, the FireWire 800 for another drive… you get the picture. I don’t use particularly resource-demanding software, but every now and then I’m in GarageBand or iMovie or Aperture, and I’m currently working on a small project in Final Cut Express which is mostly an excuse to learn to use this kind of software. I’m generally using regular-people-grade applications, with the necessary excursions into more sophisticated programs.

So, on the one hand, if I look at the software I use and how I use it, the new MacBook could probably be enough, and my eyes could finally use a nice Retina display. Given that my current MacBook Pro is a mid-2009 model with 8 GB of RAM and still has a hard drive, the 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.4 GHz), together with the 8 GB of (faster) RAM and 256 GB of flash memory is probably going to perform better even if it’s not the fastest chip currently available in an Apple laptop.

On the other hand, the limited connectivity of the MacBook is a serious hindrance. If I could use the new MacBook in a desktop configuration and in combination with all of my current drives and peripherals, I wouldn’t hesitate to consider the purchase — it’d really be great to have such a versatile machine: extremely portable and easily expandable once in desktop configuration.

The tale I’m telling myself now is that I could use the MacBook as a second machine. I’d basically relegate the older MacBook Pro to the desk, with all its current external drives and connections, and turn to the Retina MacBook as a machine for day-to-day activities (especially when I need to leave my home office) and, above all, as the perfect writing environment. But then when I’m home I’d have to find a new workspace for the MacBook because it would make little sense to just go back to the older MacBook Pro sitting at my desk and leave the newer MacBook in my backpack… Did I mention I was torn?

Well, take all these musings at a hypothetical level, because at the moment I can’t afford any new Mac, not even the entry-level Mini. But if I had that money, I would be seriously undecided — my rational side would advise against buying it, choosing instead the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display; my emotional side would want the 12-inch MacBook, because… have you seen it!?

But let’s talk about price now.

The price is not right

Not in Europe, at least. Probably due to the current exchange rates and the always unwelcome VAT, in Europe the prices of the new MacBook become insanely inflated, in my opinion.

United States Europe
(ES, FR, DE)
Europe
(IT, IE, PT)
MacBook (1.1 GHz, 256 GB storage) $1,299 €1,449 €1,499
MacBook (1.2 GHz, 512 GB storage) $1,599 €1,799 €1,829

 

(ES is Spain, FR is France, DE is Germany, IT is Italy, IE is Ireland and PT is Portugal)

There has always been a difference in price between the United States and Europe when it comes to Apple products (and many other products, of course), and the most common occurrence is finding the same price figure in different currencies (e.g. $799, €799). This common occurrence is what I’ve come to accept as ‘reasonable’ despite the inherent difference (in the above example, €799 are $842.70 at the current exchange rate). In recent times, however, the difference between prices in dollars and prices in euros for Apple products has been increasing. For instance, the entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air costs $899, and the best 13-inch MacBook Air costs $1,199; but where I live it’s €999 and €1,349 respectively (in Italy, Portugal and Ireland they cost even more — €1,029 and €1,379 respectively).

This tendency, in my opinion, is even worse in the case of the new MacBook. The specific price tier of the MacBook, if considered in US dollars, places it in what I would call a ‘premium consumer’ range. But once translated into euros, it jumps to a higher tier. The €1,829 of the 1.2 GHz model, in particular, feels more like the price of a ‘pro’ Mac. For example, the base model of the mid-2012 15-inch MacBook Pro (non-Retina) cost €1,879 at the time of introduction. Or, if we want to compare it with a current Retina MacBook Pro, the 1.2 GHz MacBook costs more than the middle 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (€1,699). In short, it feels overpriced for what it does — at least, it feels overpriced to me.

You could argue that the new MacBook, due to its design and technological breakthroughs, warrants the premium price tag, just as it happened in 2008 with the first MacBook Air. And I’m inclined to agree. The big difference, though, is that the first-generation MacBook Air was priced $1,799 when it was introduced. The premium feel was all there, up front. And its value correctly translated into €1,699. With the MacBook we have a machine which Apple values at $1,299 and $1,599, and on the European market is instead priced at €1,449/€1,499 and €1,799/€1,829 — that’s not the same perceived value as it was in the case of the first MacBook Air. Not only is it effectively more expensive, but it also feels more expensive than it should.

It’s ultimately this ‘inflated’ price what has cooled my enthusiasm the most as I was taking this new MacBook into consideration as my possible next Mac.

Coda: What about the Air family?

During the introduction of the new Retina MacBook, some people over Twitter shared their unanimous feeling that the MacBook Air is going to fade away eventually. The 12-inch MacBook is lighter than the lightest Air, and has a Retina display, and a comparable battery performance. It’s easy to imagine that the next step is to have Retina displays everywhere across the laptop families, and to return to a more simplified structure having MacBooks as the consumer line, and the MacBook Pros as the professional line. I still think Apple would need an affordable entry-level machine, though, maybe the only model without a Retina display. Here are a few possible scenarios:

  1. MacBook Air family goes away. MacBook family expands including a cheaper non-Retina 11-inch model (but at a better resolution than the current 11-inch MacBook Air) priced, say, at $999.
  2. MacBook Air family remains, but simplified: only one 11-inch and one 13-inch model configuration; the MacBook could remain as it is now (just one 12-inch model).
  3. MacBook Air family goes away. The MacBook remains as it is now, just a 12-inch model, but with more configurations to choose from and revised prices to extend to the lower end of the range. Imagine something like this:
    • 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor — 128 GB flash storage — $1,099 (or 4 GB RAM and $999)
    • 1.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor — 256 GB flash storage — $1,299
    • 1.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor — 512 GB flash storage — $1,599

I’m really guessing here, obviously. We’re entering a transitional phase now, and never before has the Apple laptop offering been so crowded. I believe a pruning is coming, though, and I find difficult to predict Apple’s next move here. Let’s say that going towards a ‘Retina everywhere’ approach for the MacBook families is a reasonable step; on the other hand there needs to be an entry-level crowd pleaser (and good seller), and the MacBook Air family is doing a great service to Apple in this regard, so… we’ll see.

 


  • 1. Just to give you an idea, my iPad 3 in its protective case, plus the Apple Wireless keyboard in the Incase Origami Workstation together weigh 1,325 grams.

 

Category Tech Life Tags , , ,

Time saved? I don’t think so

More than a few of the sources I follow has recently linked to this interesting article on TechCrunch by Matthew Panzarino: The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved, quoting this bit in particular:

After these discussions, it seems certain that the Apple Watch will shortly be the primary way you access your iPhone during the day.

People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck.

One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

The gist of the article seems to be that, thanks to the way interaction with the Apple Watch is designed, people will use their iPhones less, will pull them out of their pockets less frequently, thus regaining some of the attention that typically the iPhone takes away:

But the Apple Watch can return some of that attention and, more importantly, time back to you.

As I was glancing at my Twitter timeline earlier, someone retweeted this tweet by the excellent Luke Wroblewski. I’ll reproduce the image here:

Why the wrist matters - Wroblewski

This doesn’t refer to the Apple Watch in particular, but it’s a great image that explains very well the difference between the interaction with a smartphone and the interaction with a smartwatch.

Only I don’t believe things are going to work out that way. Not with the Apple Watch. Forget about regaining attention. Maybe at first it’s really going to be as Panzarino says in his article. But just you wait when a lot of cool, engaging third-party apps become available for the Apple Watch. Here’s what I think people may end up doing:

  • Spend more time lost in their watch than anticipated, because that has become the new source of distraction.
  • Spend time interacting with their watch and their iPhone; maybe in a way that they indeed use the iPhone less, but the total amount of time spent on both devices will actually be greater than when they only had the iPhone.

I believe either of these scenarios to be more likely to happen than the ‘more connected to the people around you’ scenario, simply because a lot of people (and nerds in particular) tend to become hopeless addicts when it comes to these devices. Take this excerpt from the very piece by Panzarino:

The display is also very sharp and easily readable from your wrist. When your attention is on the Watch, you’re going to want to do more there than you think, rather than having to move over to your phone. This means that you may find yourself reading short articles and other content on your wrist. This could affect the way that publishers want to build their apps. They shouldn’t just be redirection machines that punt people to their phones; there is an opportunity to give people what they need now and let them get back to what they’re doing.

You’re going to want to do more there than you think,” exactly, and many third-party apps that will eventually appear for the Apple Watch will cater to that need. I believe the Apple Watch may indeed be able to divert a part of people’s attention from their iPhone, but I don’t believe people will get less lost in their Watch than they usually do in their iPhone. And here I really, really hope to be proven wrong.

Category Tech Life Tags ,