iOS 8 on iPad 2/iPad 3: first impressions

If you have an iPad 2 and read this article on Ars Technica, you’ll find that — although the piece is rather balanced — it may leave you wondering whether upgrading to iOS 8 is a bad idea overall. Some people in the comments appear to be more adamant: don’t upgrade, or you’ll run into issue x or y.

In our household we have an iPad 2 (32 GB, 3G + Wi-Fi), belonging to my wife, and an iPad 3 (32 GB, Wi-Fi only) that belongs to me. Currently, both devices have been upgraded to iOS 8 and, along the lines of what I said last year regarding iOS 7 and the iPhone 4, my very first impression is — it’s not bad at all. Both devices are quite usable and neither my wife nor myself are regretting the upgrade.

I haven’t run any scientific test or particular benchmark. What I’m reporting here is almost exclusively based on the general feel of using our iPads for doing the typical things we were doing before upgrading.

On the iPad 2

Navigating the interface, going in and out of apps, performing common tasks like browsing the Web, doing email, reading news with apps like the New York Times or Flipboard, using social apps like Twitter or Pinterest, and so on, feels pretty much the same as it felt with iOS 7. There doesn’t appear to be any noticeable decrease in performance and iOS 8 doesn’t feel ‘slower’ than iOS 7. Every now and then — I repeat, every now and then — the transition from exiting an app and returning to the Springboard may not be butter smooth and there may be a slight delay. But that sometimes happened under iOS 7 as well, and I guess it has more to do with how busy is the device at the moment in terms of open processes and whatnot. It doesn’t feel like an issue introduced by upgrading to iOS 8, if you get my drift.

Since it’s my wife’s device, I didn’t want to keep it too long to perform all kinds of tests, but I made sure to try one thing, since it was mentioned in the comments of the Ars Technica article: the Multitasking interface. User ‘anurodhp’ writes:

I am a developer and have been using iOs8 for a while now on my iPad 2. My verdict is different: do not upgrade.

You missed the worst thing about the update, multi tasking. double tapping on the home button takes about 3–4 seconds for the cards to stutter in. it takes so long with no response that i initially thought the double tap didn’t register and tried again causing things to pop in and out as the buffered key presses are registers. often hitting home causes a stuttered animation.

I repeatedly tried this on my wife’s iPad 2 and I never encountered these issues. Double-clicking the Home button triggered the Multitasking interface practically instantly and there wasn’t any stuttering in Multitasking-related animations.

Also, no annoying delays when using the iPad’s virtual keyboard.

As for the rest, I asked my wife whether she noticed anything peculiar after upgrading in day-to-day use — unusual delays, worse performance, worse battery life, etc. — and she told me that everything was fine.

Again, this is not a detailed overview of iOS 8 on an iPad 2 — this piece is titled First impressions, after all — but I guess that the gist of it is: if you have an iPad 2 and can’t decide whether to upgrade or not, my experience is that the device remains as usable as it was under iOS 7; that there aren’t any particular improvements or optimisations, but that there doesn’t appear to be any noticeable performance deterioration, either. I have to say I’m always amazed at how varying every mileage can be, so to speak. I don’t know why certain people find the iPad 2 ‘unusable’ under iOS 8 or what causes the sluggishness experienced by the afore-quoted Ars Technica commenter, but the iPad 2 in this household looks fine with iOS 8.

(Final note: the iPad 2 was simply upgraded over-the-air; no backup and restore-from-backup involved.)

On the iPad 3

My first impressions after upgrading my iPad 3 to iOS 8 aren’t much different from what I’ve already stated above. In a way, I was slightly more concerned about iOS 8’s performance on the iPad 3 than the iPad 2, because of the Retina display and the related GPU performance. But I haven’t found any particular sluggishness or general performance deterioration on my iPad 3, either.

Animations and transitions are fine. After two days of normal-to-heavy use, only once did I notice some stuttering when exiting an app. The virtual keyboard has the same good responsiveness it had under iOS 7. I’m quite satisfied with the traditional iOS keyboard and the way I type on it, so I haven’t felt the need to install third-party keyboards; maybe I’ll try a few of them to see how’s their responsiveness compared with the built-in keyboard.

(Funny thing about iOS 8’s predictive keyboard — it already knows me well. When I start typing “Q…” the first suggestion is “Quadra,” the second is “Quillink.”)

With regard to performance and general user experience, having iOS 8 on the iPad 3 doesn’t feel any different than when there was iOS 7 installed. So far, I haven’t encountered bugs or crashes — except with a few older apps that hadn’t been updated in a long time, so the fact they stopped working under iOS 8 didn’t exactly come as a surprise.

One weird thing I noticed after upgrading: the per-app Notifications preferences were a bit mixed up. That is, some apps for which I had previously disabled notifications, now had their notifications activated. And some apps I’d allowed to send me notifications, now stopped doing so.

Another thing I’ve noticed — and please take this with a considerable grain of salt — is that since upgrading to iOS 8, my iPad’s battery life looks improved. Throughout the day, I use my iPad a lot. Usage is typically heavy in the morning, light in the afternoon, and moderate in the evening. Battery-wise, this means that if I start the day with a fully charged iPad, at the end of the day the battery left is around 30–35%. Considering that after upgrading to iOS 8 I’ve been using the iPad more because I wanted to explore all the new features and do some informal tests to then write this very article, both yesterday and today the battery hasn’t gone under 40%. Nothing conclusive, but interesting nonetheless.

Brief aside on the Photos app in iOS 8

It’s not related to iOS 8’s performance on the iPad 3, but let me take a moment to mention one personal peeve about iOS 8’s Photos app: why oh why take away the Camera Roll? It was a very practical way to have a complete overview of all the photos taken on the iPad, plus all the screenshots captured and other imported photos. Another album that has disappeared (and was very useful to me) is All imported. What I have now is a very fragmented photo experience — and an arbitrarily fragmented experience at that. If I switch to the Photos tab in the app, I see images arranged chronologically, which isn’t useful at all, at least to me. Since I don’t take with the iPad as many photos I usually take with an iPhone, all I find is a long list of orphaned images to scroll through, because the arrangement looks like this:

13 March

[two thumbnails]

30 March

[one thumbnail]

12 April

[one thumbnail]

28 April

[two thumbnails]

…and so on. And I have 400+ photos and images on my iPad.

With the Camera Roll, finding a specific photo or image to examine, edit, and share, was significantly quicker. Now, everything feels more scattered and counter-intuitive.

Final note

I upgraded my iPad by downloading iOS via iTunes instead of doing it over the air. If you haven’t upgraded yet, whatever iPad model you have, I strongly suggest you do so via iTunes. The process is faster (once iTunes downloaded the package, the installation took 18–20 minutes), and you don’t have to free several gigabytes on your device as you’re forced to when performing an over-the-air upgrade. On my wife’s iPad 2, in fact, upgrading to iOS 8 over the air took almost an hour.

Again, these are first impressions, and if I notice something significant (good or bad) worth mentioning in the next days, I will update this article. If you own an iPad 2 or 3 and have specific questions, write me an email or contact me via Twitter or (I’m @morrick on both networks.)

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iCloud Drive: not yet

Today Apple releases iOS 8. As Macworld warns, you should wait before upgrading to iCloud Drive. To fully take advantage of iCloud Drive, in fact, you’ll also need OS X Yosemite. And Yosemite ships next month.

I don’t know how many people are in the same situation as I am, but here’s my current Apple device breakdown:

  • iPhone 4 — Cannot be upgraded to iOS 8. Will remain on iOS 7.
  • iPad with Retina display (third generation) — Can be upgraded to iOS 8.
  • Mid-2009 15-inch MacBook Pro — Can be upgraded to OS X Yosemite.

When OS X Yosemite ships, I’ll be able to use iCloud Drive only between the iPad and the Mac. The iPhone will be left out. This is of course an inconvenience, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll probably end up waiting to enable iCloud Drive until I have an iOS 8-capable iPhone, and if that doesn’t happen in a reasonable time frame, I guess I’ll upgrade to iCloud Drive so that at least I’ll be able to sync stuff between the iPad and the Mac.

Pay attention to the following screen after installing iOS 8 (the image is taken from the Day One app Support Page and the developers’ annotations are really helpful):


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Apple Watch: additional observations

The Apple Watch is part of an ecosystem in progress. Some think that Apple’s presentation of the Watch has been vague about the purpose of this new device. My impression is different. What Apple has come up with is a device that cannot be easily labelled, because it’s not just a digital watch, and even calling it a smartwatch may be reductive. Giving an ‘explanation’ like You’ll want this device because it does ‘this’ or it does ‘that’ would have been patronising on Apple’s part (in the “We’ll tell you why it’s perfect for you” attitude that I haven’t always liked), or merely simplistic and I daresay self-defeating. And if you think about it, if you try to sell the Apple Watch by focusing on this or that particular feature, it’s going to be a hard sell. A cool watch with customisable faces? Yeah, no thanks, I’ll keep my Swatch (or whatever watch you own). A fitness device? There are cheaper ones, thanks, and I’m also not really interested in all that ‘quantified self’ stuff, so I’ll pass. A cool gadget to listen to music while out and about? My iPod shuffle does the trick, and it’s as wearable as the Watch. And so on and so forth.

The fact is, the Apple Watch is all that, and more, and a lot of this ‘more’ is out of Apple’s hands because who knows what kinds of apps and uses developers will come up with over time. How do you convey this level of versatility? By giving hints, by giving a feeling — and the presentation actually did a nice job in giving the audience a feeling instead of an explanation. Apple offered an extended overview of the design process (the video narrated by Ive), and an extended overview of some of the things the Watch is capable of (the demo by Kevin Lynch, and the health & fitness video). All this combined, to me, felt like a big preview of the ‘shape of things to come’; it was like a giant trailer of a much anticipated movie that will come in early 2015.

The shape of things to come is, in my opinion, an extension of the concept of personal computing. An evolution of the Apple ecosystem that (literally) has come to surround the user. If you let Apple’s ecosystem into your life, you spend a lot of your waking hours surrounded by Apple devices: you work on your Mac, you have an iPhone in your pocket practically all the time, and you may also use an iPad to play, read books, watch movies, or maybe catch up with the news & feeds while having your morning coffee or tea… At the WWDC 2014 we’ve seen one important thing Apple is seriously working on: integration. OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are going to be collaborative, interconnected operating systems. Apple is aiming for a seamless experience, so that users can follow their workflows across devices. With the Apple Watch and its symbiotic relation to the iPhone, that interconnectedness is going to increase.

How intrusive the Apple Watch is going to be, as I mentioned in my previous article, depends entirely on the user[1]. Apple has planted the seed for a possible shift in mobile communication and app experience that isn’t exclusive to the smartphone, but the company isn’t forcing anybody to jump on the bandwagon. Apple seems to be fine with people reacting along the lines of “Why should I buy that thing?”. This is just the beginning of the roadmap, and the vibe I got towards the end of the presentation was, Just wait when we ship this product, and when new third-party apps are available, then we’ll see.

When the iPhone was a novelty, for the first year or so, the only apps you could use where those built by Apple. Developers were initially encouraged to build Web apps and when finally Apple opened the iPhone to third-party development with native apps, that was the moment the iPhone really started to take off. With the Apple Watch, Apple is giving WatchKit in the hands of third-party developers months before the actual launch of the product. This is, at least theoretically, a win-win situation: Apple gets to offer a device that’s potentially much more capable and versatile than it is now; developers get a new playing ground with which they can add a layer of depth to their existing iOS apps and/or create new way to use the Apple Watch by taking advantage of the sensor technology it provides; customers, finally, can end up with a device that makes more sense and is more useful to them than it seems now.

With the Watch, Apple wants to use the lesson learnt from the success of the iPhone and how crucial a factor third-party developers were in ensuring that success, to jump-start things when the Apple Watch will officially debut in 2015.

The single aspect of the Apple Watch I’m possibly most curious about at the moment is its future iterations and refresh cycle. Instinctively, I’d say it’s going to be a bit slower than, say, the iPhone’s or the iPad’s. I don’t see the Apple Watch as a device people change as often as they change iPhones. 350 dollars is going to be the entry price, I believe, and it will be the price of the Sport line. The Apple Watch and Watch Edition lines are going to be more expensive. With such pricing, I don’t know how many customers are willing to upgrade to a new-generation Apple Watch every year, while it’s obvious that Apple will update the device at regular intervals to include hardware advancements (e.g. a more efficient battery, more radios to make it less dependent on the iPhone, etc.).

However I also believe that Apple is also aiming to offer a device which, like more traditional watches, is meant to stay with the user for a longer time than the typical upgrade cycle of smartphones. I don’t think that, say, a second-generation Apple Watch will render the first-generation Watch outright obsolete — it’ll have nicer additions or perhaps a slimmer design, things that can entice new customers. But the previous-generation Apple Watch will continue to work just fine, a bit like what happened with Amazon and the Kindle family of products, if you like. Or, of course, with the Macs, where a 5-year-old Mac like my MacBook Pro can support the latest version of OS X and still be put to good use.

The Apple Watch is going to be a whole new category of product for Apple, and at this point I’m not entirely sure we can measure it using existing product lines with different refresh cycles, involving different hardware technologies and manufacturing processes, and driven by different market strategies. If Apple wants to offer a product with the same ‘built to last’ feel that high-end watches have, then perhaps it won’t roll out product refreshes as often as the iPhone and iPad. (Though Apple might introduce new collections/editions to address an even wider audience, for example.)

I ultimately think that, to have a better understanding of the Apple Watch’s nature, we should really see it in the context of the Apple ecosystem, and not only as a standalone device. The more you isolate it, the less sense it makes because the use cases become limited. Instead, think about what it can do by talking to other Apple devices. For now, we know that it’s going to interface with the iPhone. But what about the Mac? It could be used as a proximity device to lock/unlock the Mac screen, for example. What about the ‘connected home’ environment? A lot of use cases brought up by Craig Federighi when talking about HomeKit during the WWDC 2014 keynote can be applied to the Apple Watch as well (you could use the Watch to control locks, lights, cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs, switches, etc.). Also, imagine what the Apple Watch could do together with an updated Apple TV: I’m not only thinking of using the watch as a remote, but also as a possible game controller, Wii-style. Sure, it’s all in the realm of the ‘maybe,’ for now, but these few examples don’t look that much far-fetched to me.

I’m sure I’ll have other considerations to make further down the road. For now, here are a few links to articles on the Apple Watch I’ve enjoyed most so far:


  • 1. Some people have already started to worry that the Apple Watch is going to be even more distracting than the iPhone, what with all those notifications and taptic feedback. But it’s my understanding that you can specify which apps and services should send you notifications, so you can tailor how much or how little nagging you want to receive on your wrist.


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9/9, 6/6+, 10:09, etc.

And different is the one thing about us that will always be the same.

The introductory video was nice, and while I think it isn’t as poignant as the one used to introduce WWDC 2013 (Designed by Apple), I like that final quote. I think it captures Apple’s nature succinctly. I’m sure there are people who’ll read it as a manifesto of being different just for the sake of being different, but the message is more like a simple statement of a company whose culture has always been, We think with our heads, we don’t necessarily follow the pack. And Apple has demonstrated this more than once, so I’ll leave it at that.

The live-streaming

Well, you all saw what happened. It was infuriating. One thinks Apple would know better when it comes to setting up the live-streaming of such an important event; one, because it’s Apple, and two, because it’s not the first live-streaming Apple has provided, and previously things went much more smoothly. At least it started working before the Apple Watch introduction, which was phenomenal.

The iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus

Try as I might to avoid the various reports featuring leaked photos of single components at the beginning, then case parts, then full mockups, and so on, it has been impossible, because rumours and photos popped up practically everywhere, for months. I know it’s very hard for Apple to maintain secrecy once the iPhone designs reach the factories where they’ll be assembled, but this time the rumour industry really did a great job in spoiling the surprise and annoying the hell out of me. Thanks a lot.

So, the new iPhones weren’t that big of a reveal, but that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful devices and engineering feats. By now it’s like witnessing the unveiling of a new model of a luxury car — you know what to expect from the brand, quality-wise, and you know you won’t be disappointed. This is the ‘boring’ element I feel when a new iPhone is introduced. Better manufacturing details (the glass front that curves around the side to meet seamlessly with the anodised aluminium back, to quote Phil Schiller), better displays (and also bigger), better processors, better cameras… you know the drill. But to avoid being ‘bored’ by all this, one has to slow down, and focus on the various new features and improvements to really appreciate them.

As you know, the new iPhones are both bigger than previous generations’ models — the iPhone 6 is 4.7″, the iPhone 6 Plus is 5.5″. Apple seems to have compensated for the increased size by making both models thinner than the iPhone 5s. That, combined with the rounded edges, should make them easier to handle. That said, they’re both big phones.

IPhone sizes

From left to right: iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5/5s/5c

This is a difficult upgrade situation for me, at least theoretically, and I guess other people may feel the same. At the moment, I’m still on an iPhone 4, which is even smaller than the 4-inch iPhone 5/5s/5c. I’ve held the iPhone 5/5s/5c and they already felt big in my hand, but after a while their size became more tolerable, probably thanks to the fact that Apple maintained the same width as the iPhone 4/4S. Reaching the top of the screen when trying the phone with one hand was uncomfortable. And this was with the iPhone 5/5s/5c. Now, the iPhone 6 is taller and wider. I really look forward to trying one in person (these new iPhones with such new sizes, in my opinion, really have to be tried out a bit before purchase) — for now, judging from the photos on Apple’s Compare models page, even the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is bound to be a difficult size for my hands to handle. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is really out of the question.

I understand why Apple needed to introduce bigger phones, but it’s really a pity that people with small hands and/or people who simply don’t want a big phone in their pocket, can’t upgrade to a new iPhone with the technology of the iPhone 6 but in a smaller footprint. I mean, sure, I could get an iPhone 5s[1], but one of the technologies I was most excited about when the 5s was top of the line was TouchID. With the new Apple payment system (Apple Pay), this technology can really shine, but since Apple Pay works in combination with a physical Secure Element that’s only found in the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, TouchID on the 5s is basically relegated to the role of a cool, more secure way to unlock your iPhone and little else. So, for me, upgrading to a new iPhone now is a path littered with compromises.

Note that in my case I also have to take into account the price of an unlocked iPhone, since I’m too satisfied with my current provider to switch to the 2-year contract solution therefore paying less for the handset. And prices (and storage offers) are another… interesting thing:

8 GB 16 GB 32 GB 64 GB 128 GB
iPhone 6 €699 €799 €899
iPhone 6 Plus €799 €899 €999
iPhone 5s €599 €649
iPhone 5c €399


Some considerations:

  • I don’t get why not offer 32 GB as the minimum storage on the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. For just €100 more you get four times the storage.
  • The prices of the current iPhone 5s offering are ridiculous compared to the iPhone 6 offering. If one has €599 to invest on a new iPhone, with just €100 more one can go from a 16 GB iPhone 5s to a 16 GB iPhone 6. This makes the €649 32 GB iPhone 5s even a sillier offering. You really have to love the 5s or hate the 6 to be purchasing a 5s. Or you must have a really hard time handling the iPhone 6 to refuse to buy it given these prices.
  • In my opinion, prices would have made more sense if the 16GB iPhone 5s had been priced at €499, and the 32GB iPhone 5s at €599 — leaving things more gradual over the whole range of products.
  • The iPhone 5c at €399 may seem a good deal at first glance, but 8 GB, in this day and age, is a ludicrously small capacity for any device, let alone an iPhone.
  • As I tweeted the other day, here’s a bit of fun trivia: a base 11-inch MacBook Air (128 GB) is now cheaper (€929) than an unlocked 128 GB iPhone 6 Plus (€999), at least where I live.
  • Obviously these price considerations have more weight if you, like me, are considering the purchase of an unlocked iPhone. The 2-year contract option makes things smoother overall with regard to upfront financial impact.

To sum up, yes, I would have liked for Apple to offer a 4-inch iPhone 6 as well.

Interpolation on big-screen phones versus tablets

In preparing this piece, I’ve tried to avoid reading other people’s thoughts as much as possible. Yet I couldn’t help but notice a recurring observation in the debate immediately following the introduction of the new iPhones — the fact that big-screen phones can seriously impact tablet sales, because they offer a healthy screen estate that would make the purchase of a separate tablet redundant. Buying a phone with a big screen would allow people to just invest in one portable device, instead of having to carry around a (smaller) phone and a tablet. And for those with a tight budget, a big phone would make sense as a single device solution.

Yes, a big phone is certainly more comfortable for things like browsing the Web, handling email, reading ebooks and magazines, consulting maps and directions; being able to see and read more information at a time is a good thing, no doubt. Less panning and zooming, etc. Perhaps the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus will slow down the sales of the 7.9-inch iPad mini, and perhaps more people who currently own, say, an iPad mini and a 3.5– or 4-inch iPhone, will just upgrade to an iPhone 6 Plus and get rid of the small tablet.

And yet I don’t think tablets are necessarily ‘doomed’ or have lost their reason to exist. I’m drawing and painting using apps like Paper by 53 or Procreate. I’m playing games like Simogo’s DEVICE6 or Square Enix’s Hitman GO. I’m editing a spreadsheet with Apple’s Numbers. I’m writing an article or a short story with The Soulmen’s Daedalus Touch. Or annotating a PDF with GoodReader. Or improvising a tune in GarageBand or creating a beat with Propellerhead’s Figure. Or making a mix with apps like Traktor DJ. These are all activities that I really can’t picture myself doing on a big iPhone instead of an iPad (especially a 9.7-inch iPad, but also an iPad mini). Some of these activities, in my opinion, are just perfect for a tablet — not a big phone, and not a laptop either. Even moderate photo editing can be more fun on a tablet instead of a big phone or laptop. The UI is simply better on an iPad. The hardware is more balanced for certain activities such as drawing, sketching, mapping, painting (especially when done with a stylus). The user experience is overall better. Let’s consider this before rushing to the conclusion that tablets are already behind the times.

Apple Pay

The brief section about the new payment system was squeezed between two giants, the new iPhones and the Apple Watch, but it’s no less fascinating and innovative. The system is designed to work both for purchases in brick-and-mortar shops and online. For paying in shops, the system relies on the new NFC technology built in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, so the act of paying is basically getting your iPhone out, putting it near the store’s NFC reader, and using TouchID to authorise the purchase. Online payment works similarly, only you obviously don’t need to put the iPhone near any reader. You use TouchID for the purchase. But there’s another key component involved in the Apple Pay system: a so-called ‘Secure Element’. From the Apple Pay page:

Every time you hand over your credit or debit card to pay, your card number and identity are visible. With Apple Pay, instead of using your actual credit and debit card numbers when you add your card, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in iPhone. These numbers are never stored on Apple servers. And when you make a purchase, the Device Account Number alongside a transaction-specific dynamic security code is used to process your payment. So your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared with merchants or transmitted with payment.

So, as I briefly mentioned before, even if the iPhone 5s has the TouchID technology, it cannot be used with Apple Pay, not even for online purchases, because it lacks this crucial hardware component. If you really are excited by this innovative payment system, you will have to get an iPhone 6.

One aspect I particularly appreciate of Apple Pay is privacy. As Eddy Cue said on stage, We’re not in the business of collecting your data. As explained on the Apple Pay page, Apple doesn’t save your transaction information. With Apple Pay, your payments are private. Apple doesn’t store the details of your transactions so they can’t be tied back to you. Also worth noting is this bit: Since you never have to show your credit or debit card, you never reveal your name, card number, or security code to the cashier when you pay in a store.

This payment system, once it spreads, is going to be huge. It has all the characteristics to be something that ‘just works’ and to revolutionise the way we make purchases everywhere. Notice how Apple waited to add NFC in its phones until it made sense. Now the company has built around it a very compelling reason for having NFC in a phone, it’s not simply a ‘nice-to-have’ feature without actual uses.

The Apple Watch

The introduction and the Reveal video were astounding and jaw-dropping — almost literally. On stage, Tim Cook was as excited as Steve Jobs was when introducing the iPhone back in 2007. The Apple Watch is a strangely attracting device. It doesn’t scream ‘stylishness’ at first glance, but it definitely has what I call the typical ‘Apple gravitational pull.’ I think that Apple has crafted a very functional device and given it a unique elegance.

There’s a lot to observe and talk about regarding the Apple Watch, and I’m sure that over time and when the watch is available and I can try it in person I’ll have more impressions to share. Here are some initial, scattered observations:

  • The Digital Crown is textbook Apple ingenuity, the kind of design detail that looks so obvious in retrospect, yet no one thought of it before[2]. It’s the concept of the iPod clickwheel applied to a smartwatch. It looks fluid, responsive and intuitive. And like with the iPod, a lot of what you can do with the Digital Crown you already know. For certain settings, it really works like its traditional watch counterpart.
  • Sapphire is the second hardest transparent material after diamond. It’s a great thing, because with a device such as a smartwatch, and especially the Apple Watch considering the ways you interact with it, having a scratch-resistant glass is paramount. In everyday use, it’s easy to accidentally scratch the glass of your wristwatch. I’d say it’s easier than accidentally scratching the glass of a smartphone. No matter how careful you are, sometimes it’s enough to miscalculate a little when going through a doorway and you can scrape the watch against the doorjamb or the wall.
  • I think this quote from Tim Cook may be a way to answer the question many people have raised so far, i.e. “What’s the purpose of the Apple Watch?” — We believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category. Up to now, what have people come to expect from the smartwatch category? Either a somewhat geeky-looking device with a clunky UI, or a device that’s minimal and stylish but with limited functionality. In other words, either a ‘Mr Gadget’ kind of thing, or a fashionable object that puts design over functionality all the way. I believe Apple did a great job in finding a balance between sheer æsthetics and functionality. All tied together by a user interface and a user interaction paradigm that appear to be truly thoughtful and designed specifically for a device you wear on your wrist.
  • I love the way the Apple Watch interacts with the person: it senses that you’re raising your wrist and then activates the display. I was curious to see how Apple would implement notifications on such a device (I made a consideration on notifications and smartwatches a few days ago: in short, notifications need to be subtle), and the solution Apple found doesn’t disappoint. Quoting VP Kevin Lynch, You may have information coming to you. And when you’re notified of things on Apple Watch we’re using the Taptic Engine to give feedback on your wrist. It’s just like somebody tapping you on the wrist very gently. And even if you’re sitting next to someone, they won’t be able to tell that you’re getting notified. […] You can choose what information will come and notify you on your watch. And if you do choose to look at something that’s coming in, you just raise your wrist and the notification will come in. This is subtle and ingenious.
  • Another key point is this sentence from the Apple Watch video narrated by Jonathan Ive: Apps are designed for lightweight interaction. The UI isn’t designed to make the watch replace the smartphone, but it focuses on all the ‘quick tasks’ you normally carry out by pulling out your smartphone for just a few seconds. And the Watch UI is designed to let you do such quick tasks slightly faster and in a more convenient way. The fact that you don’t have to actively ‘unlock’ the Watch every time is in itself a time-saver. To sum up: for simple, quick tasks, you turn to the watch. For complex, longer tasks, you turn to the iPhone.
  • Just look at how Glances are implemented: gestures are simple, effective, easy to remember. You just swipe up from the bottom of the watch face. What you see can be from Apple’s built-in apps or third-party apps, and you can arrange such information the way you like.
  • The UI, again, is optimised for quick interactions: when you receive a message, the message is analysed and you’re given the possibility to quickly choose a reply or dictate one. Or use an animated emoji if you’re so inclined. Actually faster than pulling out the phone.
  • Siri is mute, so interacting with Siri is more discreet than having the Watch respond with a loud, synthetic voice.
  • Digital Touch: an ingenious, fun way to connect/communicate, especially with your significant other and in a private, intimate way. (Jonathan Ive: These are subtle ways to communicate that technology often inhibits rather than enables.) The way you can remotely ‘nudge’ someone who’s also wearing an Apple Watch. Or to quickly communicate using little sketches or by sending your true heartbeat. That’s the kind of touch (pardon the pun) and subtle innovation only Apple seem able to come up with or implement in a meaningful way.
  • As I was following the Apple Watch presentation, I was trying to imagine possible use cases, and while I correctly anticipated its use as a wearable media remote (with the Music app you can control music stored on devices around you: the iPhone, iTunes on the Mac, or the music that’s stored on the Apple Watch itself; Tim Cook mentioning that he uses the Watch to control his AppleTV), I was positively blown away by the Maps demo. At first I thought it was a quirky idea to use Maps on the Watch rather than on the iPhone, but here’s the little stroke of genius: when you calculate the directions to a certain place and start the point-by-point interface, as Kevin Lynch explained, Apple Watch will give you Taptic Feedback on each turn, so you’ll know whether it’s time to turn left or to turn right, and those feelings are different for each direction. You know which way to go without even looking. This is very subtle, very thoughtful, and in certain situations even safer than having to check the phone screen all the time. Lynch mentions other cool use cases, and those connected to travel are what I find most interesting: one-tap airport check-in, hotel check-in (Lynch: Starwood Hotel is creating this great app for Apple Watch that lets you check in to the hotel and you can unlock your hotel room door by waving your watch in front of the door).
  • The Watch display not only senses touch, but also force. I’m really looking forward to a new iPad that can use this same technology so that creative apps can take advantage of pressure recognition when you use the stylus (or your finger of course).
  • I’m already engrossed by this new device. I admit, I’ve always been sceptical about the usefulness of a smartwatch. But then again, I hadn’t seen an interesting device as the Apple Watch. I like what it’s supposed to do out of the box, but what’s really interesting and attractive are all the many uses we haven’t seen yet. The element that has ultimately convinced me to save money to get the Apple Watch is perhaps WatchKit. WatchKit means having apps that extend their functionalities to the Apple Watch, and the result can be an even richer experience. The dependence Apple Watch has on the iPhone may be seen as a weakness, but I think that Apple has figured out a way to make such dependence a strong link and a feature in itself. You can develop on it and for it.
  • The Apple Watch may be seen as a mere accessory to the iPhone, but it’s actually a sort of window on the iPhone — I think we’re seeing what’s bound to become the most useful extension to the smartphone; on the surface, it looks silly to have to carry two devices with you, one dependent on the other in a symbiotic way, but the Apple Watch and the iPhone are going to become almost literally the brawn and brain of our personal digital hub.
  • I’m not an expert on other wearable fitness devices because I’m not really interested in these features, but the fitness-related applications of Apple Watch looks well thought-out and the Activity app has actually piqued my curiosity (perhaps it’s the UI).
  • Battery life is still a mystery. Many people have expressed their concern, and I’ve read mentions that it lasts one day. During the presentation, no one said anything definitive about the battery. The only passing mention is when Cook talks about the (very cool) charging system and says …when you charge it at night or something along those lines. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. ‘At night,’ in context, may just mean ‘when you’re not wearing the watch’ and not ‘every single night.’ The Apple Watch will be available in ‘early 2015′ — that can mean as early as January or as late as spring. That, in turn, means that Apple has still at least four months to work on that and other details. If you look at every battery-powered Apple device (Mac, iPhone, iPod, iPad), you know that Apple takes the subject of battery life very seriously. So I’m not terribly worried about this matter. I don’t expect the Apple Watch to last a week on a single charge, of course, but even in the worst case scenario that the Watch only lasts one day on a single charge, what’s the issue? Before going to bed, you connect the charger and the Watch charges while you’re not using it.

So, what’s the point of the Apple Watch? Is it an indispensable device, accessory, extension? I would say no, but it looks something nice and fun to have, and a useful addition if you’re minimally interested in tracking your activity or if you prefer to interact with your smartphone in subtler ways. It’s designed in such a way that it can be as unobtrusive as a ‘dumb’ watch if you want. It’s there, you can barely look at it throughout the day, but a quick turn of the wrist and you can check the time; a swipe up and you can check your calendar, appointments, etc.; a quick message or ‘pulse’ to a friend is just a click of a button away. You can customise basically everything, from the outer look of the watch by choosing materials and straps, to the software and the information it presents. You can choose what can send you notifications. You can carry out all sorts of quick tasks without pulling out your iPhone every damn time. And doing much of those quick tasks the way you do them on the Apple Watch actually makes sense, you don’t have the feeling it’s all a gimmicky experience.

What I ultimately find exciting is the level of freedom you’re given to design your very interaction with the device. And of course the many possibilities that opening the Watch environment to third-party developers entails. I predict that next year we’ll see the start of another little revolution with the Apple Watch, a phenomenon that will bear similarities with the iPod boom more than a decade ago.


  • 1. The iPhone 5c is definitely old compared to the 6 and 6 Plus, its A6 processor is now two generations old, and the 5c has no motion coprocessor.
  • 2. Reader Martin Steiger writes me (and I thank him for the clarification):
    The digital crown was actually developed in 2003 by Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein for visionary watch developer Pierre Nobs’ V-Tec Alpha watch.

    Other elements of the Apple Watch are not new either, the design goes back to the Ikepod brand and watch – co-founded and designed by Marc Newson who’s now with Apple, the brand itself went bankrupt in 2003 – and Tissot had a smart watch called T-Touch with a touch-sensitive clock face around 15 years ago.

    (Combining already invented single elements to a user-friendly product is of course Apple’s core strength as we all know…)


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Twitter hasn’t really changed for me

Frank Chimero, on how Twitter has changed over time:

Here’s the frustration: if you’ve been on Twitter a while, it’s changed out from under you. Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch — our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.

Of course, the things you say on your porch are much different than what you’d say on the street. But if the porch turned into the street without you noticing, there’d be a few painful months before you realized you needed to change how you spoke. I remember the first few times I was talking to friends (forgetting the conversation could be viewed by those who followed both of us), only to have strangers piggy-back on our grousing. It felt like a violation. But that’s on me for participating in a kinda-private, kinda-public conversation.

For the better part of a year, I’ve been trying to make Twitter feel like talking on the porch again, but it just can’t happen. Twitter isn’t talking for anyone with more than 500 followers — it’s publishing or advertising. We’re all on the street, and it’s noisy.

My experience is rather different. Perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones, but I must say that, as far as relationships and social interactions go, very little has changed for me since I joined Twitter in early 2008. The way I speak and communicate over Twitter hasn’t changed. For me — to use Chimero’s image — it’s always been a ‘talking on the porch’ kind of thing.

I won’t deny that Twitter has got noisier these past five years, and that ‘conversations’ now have a greater tendency to quickly become ‘quip matches,’ but it’s always nice for me to see that there’s a group of people with whom I can start a conversation any time and such conversation would actually feel like a quiet chat among friends despite all the current Twitter-noise. Perhaps it’s because this group of people and I all have a similar attitude towards Twitter: we’re not interested in anything Twitter throws at us to ‘keep us engaged’ — we’re still treating Twitter as the means of communication it was back then.

Another, more practical thing I’ve always done from the start to keep the noise at bay on Twitter has been to carefully select the people I follow (and not obsess over how many followers I have) (and always choose third-party clients). I’ve added roughly 40 people per year, from 40 people I followed in 2008 to 200 now. Very few of the Twitter accounts I follow are of brands, or apps, etc. I’ve always been on Twitter for the people. If I want news or RSS-like features, I use a RSS reader. And I’ve always spoken over Twitter with the same tone, the tone of someone who welcomes conversations and constructive exchanges. I’ve never used Twitter as a means of simply broadcasting my opinions with a megaphone. What I have got in return has been, so far, a rather rewarding experience: I’ve met truly interesting people and kindred spirits. People I know I can count on for meaningful exchanges no matter how Twitter tries to ‘reinvent’ itself.

Again, maybe I’ve just been lucky. I don’t have thousands of followers always ready to challenge every tweet I post, nor have I really experienced unwanted interferences from strangers while having a conversation with friends — things that would certainly turn Twitter into a sour experience and end up pushing me away from it.

Mind you, I’m an App.Net advocate, and I still think App.Net is a better environment for the kind of ‘porch talk’ Chimero mentions, despite the now common opinion that “App.Net is doooomed.” I joined App.Net in November 2012 mainly because I didn’t like the direction Twitter was taking with regard to third-party clients and such. I do think that, generally speaking, Twitter has got much worse lately than it was when I joined five years ago. Yet, when it comes to personal interactions and the way I use Twitter, I can’t say the experience has really changed over time. Neither the more commercial and Facebookey direction Twitter has been taking lately, nor the great increase in popularity (together with the added weight now tweets seem to have with regard to public discourse), have made me change the way I speak on Twitter.

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