Apple Watch 2- Here's Hoping...

We are probably only two weeks away from the next Apple press event.   I believe that there will be a new model of Watch launched in time for the Christmas season, but what can we expect in the next version?

If we look to the iPhone for the typical pattern of upgrades, it is very likely that we would see a faster chip inside the new Watch. The first version of the Watch was slow, although the release of watchOS 3.0 promises a significant speed boost. But there is still plenty of room for improvement here as the Watch, more than any other Apple device, demands speed. No one wants to spend too long looking for what they need on the Watch- it is all about quick glances and fast, short interactions. 

One of the unique aspects of the Watch is its sensors, positioned under the Watch which track your heart rate. There is huge potential for expanding the fitness and health aspects of the Watch. One example is blood glucose- there are companies looking at chips which communicate with the Watch to monitor blood glucose levels. These types of live trackers for health combined with notifications to warn the user of changes can transform health. 

Although I don't believe that Apple will change the strap connector on the Watch, given that users have sometimes bought a number of straps, I do hope that they manage to make any new Watch thinner. The current version is not heavy or cumbersome, but a thinner Watch would be welcome as it is easy to catch it on the edge of the table or putting a hand into a bag. Ideally the Watch would be about 50% of the current depth and it would be good to see Apple working towards this over the next few years. 

If as speculated, Apple introduce wireless EarPods with the new iPhone, it would be interesting to see how these work with the new Watch. I currently use an expensive set of Beats Bluetooth headphones, but I am sure that Apple could do better. The configuration and switching of settings with Bluetooth is annoying and there has to be a better way. 

Given the fashion element of the Watch, I also expect to see new bands and straps. This would fit in with the Christmas buying season. Expect to see new deals with fashion brands too. 

Overall I am ready to move on. Like looking back at the original iPhone, the first version of the Watch was ground-breaking but there is room for improvement. I hope that at the start of September we will see the next model, which will set out the Apple Watch segment for the next 18-24 months.

Here Comes the Autumn... What's Next for Apple?

As the Autumn approaches (sorry, "Fall") Apple will be readying a number of changes to their product lineup.  Here is what I expect to see and what I hope to see...

Expectations:

The new iPhone will arrive in September and will come with a few usual changes. Thinner design, new Ax chip inside which will be faster than the 6S, better graphics, improved camera. There has been a bit of talk about a new dual lens camera, and this certainly fits into the usual iterative updates. One question- will Apple continue to update the iPhone SE separately to the main iPhone lines? Looks likely this year as the SE is too new for a refresh in September.

The big question is the headphone socket and whether Apple will go for a lightening connection for wired EarBuds or opt for some sort of wireless option? My own view here is that this will come down to usability. Not only does the ease of connection matter, in other words how the Bluetooth or other wireless technology works, but also the battery life of any wireless EarBuds. I suspect we will see lightening EarBuds shipping as the standard and possibly new wireless versions as an optional extra. But let's hope that if Apple do go for wirelessly versions, they have got something better than the current Bluetooth technology, which is at best fiddly and normally frustrating to use.

It is possible that we will see changes to the iPad, especially as we approach Christmas. The iPad would be a good seller during the holidays and the iPad Pro (12" model) could see changes so it has the newer TrueTone display. The smaller 9" iPad Pro is less likely to change as it is less than a year old. It is also possible that Apple will leave the iPad out, given that the Pro has been changed in the last 12 months, and make any changes in the new year.

We will definitely see three updated operating systems- the new macOS Sierra to replace OS X El Capitan, the next version of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch operating system, iOS 10 and watchOS 3.0.  This was set out in June at WWDC and it is likely to ship (for free) in October. 

It also seems to be time for new Apple Watch models. Apple launched the first Watch almost 18 months ago. As we approach the Christmas buying season it seems logical that there will be new Watch models; I have always maintained that the Watch is the new iPod, for music and fitness. Maybe it is also time to streamline the range from three to two families of Watch?

Hopes:

But this all then leads to the much neglected Macintosh lineup. There are three families in need of urgent attention, and some may get more love than others! The MacBook Pros are probably the most likely focus, with Apple's target on laptops rather than desktops these days. In terms of hardware design, I would expect to see a revised form factor and Apple have probably been holding off for the release of new chips from Intel. So I would expect some significant speed boosts for the new models.  

Less likely to have their day in the sun, although this would be welcome, are two desktop models, the Mac minis and the Mac Pros. The Mini has not seen a refresh since 2013, which is quite shocking. In fact I am holding off and hoping that there will be a new model for my home, so I will be keeping my fingers crossed that Apple has not decided to let the Mini fade away. And lastly the poor old Mac Pro. I confess I don't have a single client using a Pro and have never recommended one to anyone, given their price. But I do hope that Apple keeps the Pro around as a sign of how they can produce high end models and cutting edge technology for the likes of graphics and video editors. Departing this space would be quite sad and signal a significant retreat from the desktop PC market.

It is possible that Apple will launch new displays, given that they do not sell any displays right now, having retired the Thunderbolt Display a few weeks ago. I am hoping that we will see a new 4K display alongside new Pros and Minis, giving the desktop models a welcome boost.

Lastly, the MacBook Air is also in need of some TLC. In the last 18 months, Apple has focused on the new MacBook, with its introduction in 2015 and revision earlier this year. But beside the Air, it does show just how outdated the Air's design has become. The larger silver edge on the display points to an older age of laptop and it would be great to see a refresh to bring it in line with the MacBook and possibly newly launched MacBook Pros. However the Air is also Apple's biggest selling laptop (and biggest seller in the entire Mac family). It is the one Mac which sneaks in under the $1000 price point and so is the choice for students and the price-conscious consumer. So any change would need to keep this in mind- this is a volume, every-person Mac and not designed to be cutting edge.

In terms of timing, there is likely to be an event in the first week of September and if Apple has enough to announce, it may choose to make the September event an iPhone and iOS gig, and then hold a second event in October, possibly for any iPad or Mac announcements. I expect we will hear about a firm date for the September event next week.

Updated info on Apple Watch: 15/8/16

New MacBooks Released

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.

Apple in Peril? Do the Q2 Results Signal America's Largest Company is in Financial Turmoil?

No

Apple's March Press Event: The Highlights

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.

Reflections on the Apple Watch

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!

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!

Update on Apple Press Event- iOS 9 & OS X El Capitan

Apart from new devices, Apple also announced the dates for the release of their two main operating systems-

- iOS 9 for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch- to be released this Wednesday (September 16th)
- OS X El Capitan for Macs- to be released on September 30th
(for Apple Watch users, they also announced Watch OS 2.0, to be released on Wednesday)
Here is a quick rundown of the highlights:

iOS 9:

iOS 9 is the new operating system for your iPhone and iPad. Here are some of the new features announced.

New Notes App: Notes gets a major overhaul, allowing for checklists, images, web-links and other pieces. You can even add sketches with your finger:


Split screen: iOS 9 allows you to split your screen in two, with one app on the left and another on the right. This is great for copying and pasting between documents, or checking on emails when reading an article. It makes the iPad into even more of a multitasking device:


Battery life: Apple claim that they have improved the efficiency of iOS and they estimate that you will get one more hour of battery life after the upgrade.

Maps: in major cities, users will now be able to access transport information in Apple Maps, such as subway/underground stations and bus stops.

Picture in Picture: when watching a movie or holding a FaceTime call, you can press the Home button to scale this down into a smaller box, so you can check information in another app.


Shortcut bar: the row above the keyboard is now used for shortcut buttons, such as copy, paste, bold, italic etc. These handy buttons should help when typing longer documents:


New font: iOS 9 uses a new font for its menus and labels- this might be why it will look a bit different!

Security: users can set 6-digit passcodes in iOS 9 (instead of the older 4 digit codes).

Compatibility: any device running iOS 8 can install iOS 9; Apple have not left out any of the older models with the update.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan:

For the Mac, OS X’s latest editon is El Capitan, named after a peak in Yosemite National Park. OS X El Capitan is a refinement on last year’s OS X Yosemite, but also brings some welcome features:
1/ as we saw with iOS 9 above, you can split your screen between two of your apps, so it is simple to move information between documents from two apps:

2/ Spotlight search has improved, and you can look for items using plain-English phrases. For example, if you type “documents I worked on last week”, your Mac works out what you need and presents the results:


3/ events and contacts- now your Apple Mail app will pick up info in your emails. It displays a strip at the top of the email message, where you can click “add" to place them in your Calendar or Contacts apps:


4/ speed! Apple have aimed to refine OS X in El Capitan, so opening apps should feel quicker and windows should open up faster.

5/ many of the changes arriving in iOS 9 are also coming to the Mac:
- new Notes app
- public transport info in Maps

6/ tiny but handy change- if you return to your Mac and it sometimes takes you a second or two to find your pointer on the screen- fear not! Under El Capitan, if you shake the pointer it zooms up on the screen for a second to attract your attention!

El Capitan (10.11) will arrive at the end of September and will run on any Mac which can already run Yosemite (10.10).

Update on Apple Press Event- New Devices:

Apple held a press event last week to introduce a number of new gadgets- here is a quick summary of what they announced:


iPhone 6s and 6s Plus:
The new iPhones come in the same shape and form as the previous iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. These models are aimed at people who are still using an iPhone 5s or earlier. Most users sign up for a two year contract and this is why iPhone 5s (or earlier) users are the target as they are now coming off those contracts. iPhone 6 users will only find marginal differences to lure them away from their current phone.
The main changes in the iPhone 6s models are as follows –
- comes with a brand-new A9 processor meaning that it is a lot faster (up to 70%) than last year's iPhones
- new 3D Touch technology which means if you press slightly harder on the screen it will bring up a pop-up menu with some different options to choose from. This is a great way to access features inside an application without having to tap through a number of screens.
- there are a number of improvements to the camera including an upgrade to a 12-megapixel sensor
- new colour- rose gold!
- faster WiFi.

Note:
- The storage options remain the same – 16, 64 and 128 GB. very few people should consider a 16 GB model as this is too small for most users.
- the new iPhones are available to order in the US and UK, but not in Ireland for another few weeks.
- in the US, Apple have launched an upgrade program in their Retail Stores. This means you can pay a monthly fee and always be on the newest iPhone- it costs around $40 per month and users get to upgrade each year to the latest equivalent model. It also comes with AppleCare+ and so gives a complete solution in a monthly fee:

iPad Pro:
The iPad Pro will be available later this year, starting in the US in November. This is a new model of iPad which is placed at the top end of the range, and will be useful for certain people who need larger screen space. The new screen is almost 13” and gives almost the same space as two iPad Airs. This is unlikely to become the mainstream model of iPad, but instead a device which will be used by professionals who need multiple applications and lots of space.

The iPad Pro can also be used with a new stylus (Apple Pencil) which will be helpful to designers and artists. The other accessory introduced is a keyboard which is built into a screen cover. This will make the iPad Pro a strong alternative to a laptop.

Apple seem to be aiming this iPad at the enterprise market. The iPad Air and iPad mini models are still available and remain unchanged.

Apple TV:
The new Apple TV opens up a whole range of new features, most notably apps and games. There will be an App Store available on the Apple TV where developers can sell a range of new apps. The look and design of the Apple TV interface has also been updated.
This positions the Apple TV as a living room multimedia device and not just for TV/Films and Music. The new remote control also acts as a game console controller.

Siri (voice-recognition) is built-in so you can ask your Apple TV questions, such as for movie suggestions, information about who stars in the film you’re watching or command it to open an app for you.
The new Apple TV will go on sale later this year.

Two other snippets:
- iOS 9 will be released this Wednesday, and will be available as a free download on your iPad and iPhone:
- the next version of OS X, "El Capitan", will be released on September 30th:

What Does Alphabet Mean for the Google Brand?

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.

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