The new MacBook which was launched at the end of April might just be the model people have been waiting for. I have always said that it is a good general rule to wait for the second generation of a new Mac range, and the MacBook is a good example of this. The recent models come with the new Intel "Skylake" chips and by all accounts offer a significant speed boost.
One tip- for the extra €180, it is worth upgrading the processor from the m5 to the m7. The MacBook comes with Apple's slowest chips, so getting the higher speed will pay dividends over the next few years. I would also suggest people choose the higher storage, 512Gb instead of 256GB. The lower space could be a challenge for people who wish to keep some photos, music or video on their laptop.
In a world of WiFi and Bluetooth, the MacBook is a great laptop, and offers the smallest and lightest form factor of any of the Mac range. Whereas last year's model was a bit underpowered, this latest upgrade seems to have answered my biggest concern and I can see this as being my next laptop.
Today Apple held a press event which saw the release of a new iPhone, iPad and more. Here is a summary of the details:
- Tim Cook started by talking about Apple's 40th birthday on April 1st, and discussed the ongoing security case in the US
- Lisa Jackson talked about Apple and the environment, and their ambition to use 100% renewable energy. To date 93% of worldwide facilities run on renewables and 100% in the US (people may question the purpose of this presentation but this is a big aspect of the Apple brand)
- Jeff Williams presented update on HealthKit, used in the iPhone, iPod and Apple Watch. He showed how medical research can be improved by HealthKit due to the large number of participants. He also announced CareKit, which helps to monitor patients, especially those recovering from treatments/operations
- Tim Cook reported that Apple Watch is the top selling smartwatch, and introduced new woven bands, plus new sports bands. There are also new black Milanese Loop and new leather bands
- The price of the Apple Watch also dropped to $299
- On Apple TV, from today you will be able to organise apps into folders, enter text through dictation and view Live Photos
- Greg Joswiak introduced the new low end 4" iPhone- the iPhone SE. It comes with the A9 chip, 12MP camera, ApplePay, better battery life, Live Photos. It is twice as fast as the 5s.
- iPhone SE begins at $399 (16GB) or $499 (64GB) and starts to ship by the end of March
- iOS 9.3 is due out later today and includes Night Shift to help with use at night, Touch ID to protect Notes, Health update, top stories section to Apple News, improved CarPlay support, plus Education app for classrooms
- Phil Schiller introduced the new 9.7" iPad Pro. It weighs less than 1lb, comes with an A9X chip, new speakers, 12MP camera with support for 4K video and Live Phots, plus it works with a new Apple smart keyboard and Apple Pencil
- iPad Pro 9.7" prices: 32GB: $599, 128GB: $749, 256GB $899. The iPad Air 2 stays around but drops in price
- Tim Cook ended by saying he expects Apple to move to their new campus in 2017 and so this was the last event held in the Apple Town Hall venue
This event was not a blockbuster- and was never intended to be. It was an incremental update of the iPhone and iPad lines, along with formally launching the new tvOS and iOS updates. The next event will be WWDC, probably followed by an iPhone 7 launch in the Autumn.
Having used an Apple Watch for about 10 months now it has become part of my daily life. I still wear and use it, but maybe what I do on the Watch may be very different to what I might have expected at the start:
What I like:
1/ Notifications: for me the Watch is a Notifications device. When it buzzes I know I can turn my wrist and see what's happening. I know who has emailed or texted even if I don't have time to read the full message. This way I know if I need to act on something (problem with the kids' pickups etc) or if I can deal with it later. Just knowing what and who is so helpful, especially when I am teaching for a few hours and don't have time to take a call or compose a full reply.
2/ Rapid responses: the point above leads on to the responses. I love the ability to fire back a quick reply, such as "on my way" or "will call later". This can be done with the turn of the wrist, tap to reply and then selecting from the pre-set responses. Simple, quick and relatively non-intrusive when you are working with other people (certainly compared to unlocking the phone and typing in front of them!!).
3/ Comfort: I forget I am wearing the Watch. The standard rubber sports strap is so comfortable that I forget it is on my wrist, something which did not happen in the past with conventional watches. I always disliked leather straps and gave up wearing a watch a fews years ago before the Apple Watch came out. The only time I notice the Watch on my wrist is when I start to do a job in the garden or lifting boxes- then it gets in the way and I take it off. The Apple Watch is not the thinnest watch out there and can get knocked. In fact I cracked the edge of the screen in the first month, but thankfully the Watch has held together and it has not been an issue.
4/ Activity: ok I do tend to ignore a lot of the "stand" and exercise notifications from the Watch these days, but I do like to look back at how many kilometres I have completed or the number of steps I have (or haven't) taken in any given day. It does make me conscious of the need to exercise and that's not a bad thing!
5/ Calls: being able to see a call on your wrist when your iPhone is zipped up in the coat pocket somewhere else in the house is cool- and the ability to take that quick call or reply with a text is amazing.
6/ Maps: once you set your route on your iPhone and start your journey, the Watch vibrates on your wrist to tell you to go left or right. This is amazing when driving and keeps my eyes on the road instead of glancing at the iPhone screen. I don't like the audio from Apple Maps and it does not work great in my car as I listen to the radio channel (I need to listen to the AUX channel to hear the Siri and Maps notices). But the wrist vibrations lead me along perfectly!
7/ Photos: I have my family photos on the Watch face and each time I look it shows me a new photo. Plus with Live Photos taken on my iPhone 6s, if i lightly tap a photo it moves. It is simply a nice touch.
8/ Battery Life: each night I charge the Watch on my bedside table. Battery life is never an issue- I have forgotten about the Watch battery as it never runs out nor does it even come close to running out.
Not so hot...
1/ Apps: ho-hum. I really don't use them. Yeah I can see my bank balance or tweet or read a news story. But I would instinctively rather do this on the iPhone or iPad. About the only app I use regularly is Apple's Remote app for my Apple TVs. The ability to control the TV from my wrist is great. But the rest of the apps... Not so sure.
2/ Apple Pay: I would use this. But I can't. I do hope that this comes to Ireland soon as I can see myself using this all of the time instead of fumbling for credit cards from my wallet.
3/ Friends Button: I never use this. It is supposed to be a way to call up a group of frequently used contacts by pressing the button on the side and then selecting the person from your "circle". I never use it. Instead I go straight to the Messages app or into the Phone app. So for me this is a bit of a waste of a button on the side.
4/ Speed: at times this is awful, and possibly one of the reasons I don't use the apps. They can be excruciatingly slow to load and I tend to press the home button to quit out long before it eventually gets there! This is the poorest part of the Watch design. Also, when I receive an email with a photo in it, it is painful to scroll through as the Watch has problems handling the image. Definitely room for improvement here Apple when your get to Watch 2.0 (software and hardware!).
Overall though I love my Watch and will be using it for the foreseeable future. It has become part of my routine and I would miss it a lot if I had to give it up.
Happy Christmas to all of our clients - and best wishes for 2016!
We will be closed until January 4th but look forward to helping out in the New Year.
Don't forget to check out our award-winning Early Myths books for kids- great estocking fillers!
Apart from new devices, Apple also announced the dates for the release of their two main operating systems-
Apple held a press event last week to introduce a number of new gadgets- here is a quick summary of what they announced:
This week's news that Google is to create a new umbrella organisation called "Alphabet" raises a question about the Google brand. Splitting the Google company out into segments may well be the right corporate choice, but does it harm the values and identity of Google?
Firstly let me mention Apple (it is compulsory on this site!). Apple's brand identity and values inform so much about what it makes, how it acts and what it says. Apple rarely call it the Apple "brand" but Jobs and now Cook frequently speaks about the Apple way and how it approaches each decision in business. Some of the recent criticism of Apple Music focussed on how the service was confusing and possibly at times very un-Apple due to the complexity of the choices and the array of services (Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes Store etc).
This also relates to other aspects of the company. John Gruber, recently discussing appointments to the Apple board, said that : "The company attributes its profound success over the last 15 years to the Apple Way — and rightly so, I say. I doubt Apple’s board would consider an outsider as CEO until and unless the company falters significantly and loses its way."
This idea of an Apple "way" is what I would call the brand. A brand identity does not stop at the product or service, but should extend into every aspect of the decision-making process. This is certainly true for a company like Apple, which is a lifestyle brand. Apple can be in multiple markets such as PCs, tablets, phones, watches, cloud computing because their entry and their success in that area is informed by the core Apple brand. Their approach to each category is informed by their central values- taking a beautifully designed product or service to the consumer and making it as easy as possibly to understand and use. Excellence in product execution, delivery and support crosses all of Apple's markets. Apple rarely enters new markets, but when it does it is because it feels it can contribute to this category but remain true to its values.
Which leads us back to Google. Most of the income at Google comes from search. For me, Google is a science plan. In terms of its brand, it is clinical and accessible, but not loveable. Its values centre on efficiency and connectivity and when this is applied to search or maps they are highly effective. People use Google services because it is efficient and fast, not because they have a major loyalty to Google or feel close to its values.
So when it comes to splitting out the parts which make up the current Google structure, it is rather like splitting atoms or engineering components. Many of the elements in the current Google mix sit alongside their counterparts like odd ends in a box. Google search currently sits next to Maps, Android, Docs, Glass, YouTube and Gmail. The organisation feels like a collection of odds and ends, packaged together but not sitting neatly like bricks in a home. There is no strong central brand which holds these parts together.
It may well be argued by Google that they have brand values- I don't doubt for a second that they have spent time and money on this. But the brand identity is a lose collection of ideas- being unconventional, innovative and experimental all spring to mind. But does the customer care about this? Hardly. Cutting the existing Google into pieces and calling it Alphabet matters from a corporate point of view, but the consumer will continue to search and navigate with its products, almost unaware of any change.
In the end this is due to how the Google brand sits in the heart of the consumer- a change induces a shrug of the shoulders at best, mostly people won't even notice. Emotionally the brand is something of a blank canvas, an open toolbox for new concepts and products as time passes. Breaking these pieces apart would matter to Google if its brand had been developed in the way that Apple had; but this is not the case.
So while Google can be split into its constituent parts and renamed as Alphabet due to the openness of its brand identity, the danger lies in that those parts can also be replaced by consumers and perish without the customer feeling any sense of loss. In the fast moving world of technology, Google relies on superior function to keep users interested. It certainly can't depend on loyalty or passion for its brand values.
As a children's book author, I have been considering Apple's future options for iBooks and whether they would venture into the world of Windows or Android. After all, iTunes runs on Windows PC and Apple Music will be available on Android this Autumn, so why not iBooks on other non-Apple platforms?
But when I look closer at Apple's use of iBooks, I don't see this happening. Books is an interesting side-show for Apple and it fits nicely into content-consumption on the iPad and iPhone but it's not a core business. The iBooks Store arrived with the iPad, as Apple touted the virtues of books on the iPad for consumers and in education. But it is not central to Apple's business and so does not receive the attention that say the iTunes and Apple Music stores receive.
Anyone who has interacted with the iBooks team will also know that the number of people behind iBooks is relatively small. The changes in the iBooks Store over the years have been gradual but not revolutionary.
Instead, Apple see the iBooks app as an important piece inside iOS and OS X. The benefits of the iBooks app come as part of the operating system and the user experience on an iPad, iPhone or (recently) Mac, and launching a parallel experience for Windows and Android is not something Apple will do. iBooks is key to iOS/OS X, which in turn is part of the user experience on an Apple device. The message is- if you want to experience the iBooks app, buy an iPad, iPhone or Mac!
Adding iBooks to the Mac was a nice extra but it is a different experience to using it on an iPad and iPhone. iBooks is most at home on iOS and especially on the iPad, then possibly on an iPhone 6 Plus, with other platforms such as the Mac coming at the end. Putting it onto Windows or Android is a further step away from Apple's central aim here.
In the end, while I would like to see iBooks extended out beyond iOS and OS X, I can't see it happening. With my author hat on, it would be great to reach new audiences. But as a long-time Apple observer, it goes against Apple's aims for iBooks, which is to draw more people to buy the iPad and other hardware devices.
[Note- at time of publication, the iBooks Author page still has not been updated to show that iBooks Author books can be read on an iPhone: https://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/]
Looking back at the WWDC keynote, it is worth reflecting on what was good and what was not so great:
iOS 9: this looks like a solid upgrade. It will be free, will arrive in the late Autumn, and should help to make the iPad a more work-orientated device. The changes to the keyboard, such as new shortcuts when working with text, are very welcome. So too is the idea of the virtual trackpad. The iPad can be fiddly when working with text- my Mac is always my preferred machine for letters and documents. But these changes should help. I am typing this post on an iPad because I love its mobile capabilities which even the MacBook Air can't match. But typing does take longer on an iPad, and so anything to help is welcome.
The multitasking features such as the split screen looks great, but it was a pity that it will only be fully available on a new iPad Air 2. My iPad Air 1 feels a bit left out, and this may well be the inventive to drive new iPad sales (reasonably Apple's intention, given how slowly people upgrade iPads).
OS X 10.11: also looks like a slick update, with a real focus on stability and bug fixes. I love when Apple do this as it helps all users and solves a few headaches for me when teaching about the Mac.
Music: well, that was all a bit of a mess. It has been a long time since I groaned at the style of an Apple keynote, but this was pretty bad. It seemed chaotic, long, and without a real focus. I am also not sure that the Music app and streaming service will appeal to me. I can see how people like Spotify and Apple wish to get in on this game, but I will have to see what it is like when launched. It does not seem to be something I will be paying a monthly fee for. The three month free trial is a good hook though as I will certainly take a look.
Overall the keynote was way too long, and seemed to get out of control. Tim Cook started to run on and off stage towards the end and this gave the whole thing a panicked and rushed feel. It is a pity as I really liked the early part and the main iOS and OS X announcements. When it got to the Music section I nearly turned off. But overall the announcements set out an exciting set of changes for 2015-6.