We take a look at the high and lows of Apple products in 2018 and speculate wildly on what might be around the corner...
I love the HomePod. More than most Apple tech, the HomePod lives in the kitchen and so is at the heart of our family. This means that my kids, wife and I all use the HomePod on a regular basis. Mostly for Apple Music, sometimes for AirPlay when I will push a podcast to the speakers (I have two!) and occasionally for Siri, when we ask it to set timers and alarms for cooking. Yes my iPhone or Apple Watch remain my most used gadgets, but the HomePod is there in the heart of the home as an everyday kicthen appliance. Not bad for a new product.
Given that I already had an iPhone X, I skipped any upgrade this year, but I am well impressed by the new iPhone XR. Great colours (especially Product RED) and a nice lower price compared to the XS, this is the sweet spot amongst the iPhone range. Also, once you upgrade to a X, XR or XS, you just can’t go back to the older screen shape.
Certainly my favourite Apple product of 2018. The iPad Pro is very fast- so much that I don’t even think about opening times and lags these days. These speeds, combined with the amazing screen which gives so much more working space, makes this my favourite work device. I have made a commitment to the iPad and try to take it to meetings and for short work trips. The Apple Folio Keyboard isn’t perfect, but it is small and thin enough to mean it does not distract from the iPad’s thinness while allowing for decent typing speeds. Overall this device is a slick piece of premium kit. On top of this, the new Apple Pencil and its charging method on the side of the iPad Pro is fantastic- the perfect pairing.
Speaking of speed, the new Apple Watch Series 4 is a transformation over my Previous Series 2. It is hard to write about speed differences, but the way the Series 4 Wstch feels is amazing- it reacts immediately to touch, something which did not happen with previous models. This immediate reaction time plus the new Watch faces makes it a completely new device compared to previous generations. I also bought the cellular version, so I await news from Apple and Vodafone/3 on support in Ireland...
At this stage I’m not quite sure what the MacBook is for? With the launch of the new MacBook Air, alongside the MacBook Pro, the MacBook sits alone with a niche role. It seems to be the lightest and thinnest model, even though the MacBook Air would point to this! But with one port and the smallest screen, it seems to be useful for those needing the smallest laptop for travel, but as an underpowered laptop it is not so clear what its audience is. Apple really need to sort out their laptop segments here and who they are aiming this laptop at.
The absence of an Apple display for those who want to connect their Mac mini or laptop to a big screen is shocking. The number of Dell and other screens I have set up this year should be a curse on Apple’s reputation. It is madness to have Apple users buy LG and other models, spoiling their setup with these ugly plastic monstrosities. Having a great screen should be an Apple priority for 2019, as it should have been in 2018.
Ho-hum. OK I know there are lots of under-the-hood improvements here but Mojave is a fairly minor upgrade and we miss the headline features of Mac OS from the past. Having a News app and Home app really doesn’t rock our world and it is a pity we are seeing more and more of these incremental updates in Mac OS, with no big splashes.
...Things to Come in 2019:
Ok this is all idle speculation, but here is what we would like to see in 2019...
- a cheaper intro Mac laptop, aimed at education and students. The current MacBook and MacBook Air lines are just a tough too high in price (or begin with lousy storage amounts) and we feel there needs to be a great €999 laptop for education
- we have mixed feeling about the Mac Pro, but as a headline for the Mac range we would love to see a great pro Mac. Would we buy it; unlikely. But it does signal the state of the Mac range for pros and so we love the idea that the video editing and photography market is properly catered for
- more countries rolling out cellular support for the Apple Watch. And having said this, more countries selling the HomePod too. Apple have been very slow to roll out both. Why? Lack of interest by carriers? Lack of sales by Apple? Whatever the reason, the country range needs to improve to makes these products truly global
- new AirPods? Seems likely they are coming this year and we are curious as to what they will improve here... Such a great little product right now and a great symbol of Apple’s design success.
Looking at Apple’s current line-up and reflecting back on the changes this year, I think there are a few product highlights out there. Here is my run-down of what’s hot in the current Apple range:
I am stil using an iPhone X as I don’t feel that the iPhone XS or XR are different enough to the X, but both new lines are great for people who are on an older bezel phone (the ones with the black strips above and below the screens. The iPhone XS and XR are effectively the iPhone Pro range and are not for everyone, given that they come in at a higher price point to the normal iPhone 8 or 7. But if you are looking for a top-of-the-range iPhone, the XS and XR are superb.
Which leads to the question- which one? For me the gap between the XS and XR is so small that the XR should be your choice- or at least ask, why do you really need a XS over the XR? The XR has a good balance in terms of size of screen, is much cheaper than the XS and yet comes with the same chip inside. The difference is that the XS has a slightly better dual-camera and telephoto system, but for most people this may not be relevant...
You should take a look at the iPhone comparison page to compare the two models side by side:
But the XS starts at €1179 whereas the XR comes in at €879, so it is definitely worth considering the XR and all of its comparable features. It is not a lesser iPhone, it just has a few minor omissions.
The new iPad lineup seems to tick all boxes for me- I adore the iPad Pro and am typing this article on the new iPad Pro with Folio case. It is light, very very fast, and a gem to carry around. I’m trying to use this more frequently, over my MacBook Pro, as I like the multi-tasking and find I can do so much more on this device than on previous iPad models.
But at the same time you can buy a standard 9.7” iPad for a very low price of €369 (32GB) or €459 (128GB) which is good for a device which originally launched in 2010 at $499. When you think about the advances in speed, screen quality, graphics and more in those 8 years, today’s iPad is quite the bargain. The iPad Pro starts at a much higher €909, but has a larger screen, Pencil 2 support, Folio case support and more. I am happy with my choice at a higher price, but the starter 9.7” iPad could be many people’s only computer, for €369.
The changes to the Apple Watch in 2018 have been incremental, and I stil have a Series 2 version. The new Series 4 is likely to answer my major concern- speed. I will be getting a new Watch over Christmas as the combination of the speed changes and the slightly larger display (44mm) makes this a worthy upgrade for earlier Watch users. If you have a Series 3- wait. But for anyone with an earlier model, there is enough of a gap now to justify opening your wallet.
AirPods and Pencil:
If you are looking for a smaller price as a gift, then the AirPods and new Apple Pencil 2 are the ideal choice. The new Pencil is a great combination with the new iPad Pro - in fact it is the only Pencil you can use with this model! But it is so much better than Pencil 1 as it magnetically connects to the side of the iPad, where it stays tightly linked and charges!
The AirPods is one of those Apple gems which still impresses me long after their launch. The AirPods are small, fit neatly into the small jeans pocket and are so much better to use than the cabled headphones or even traditional Bluetooth headsets. Plus the battery length is incredible- I mostly forget to charge them at all, and only do this every few weeks.
I bought a new MacBook Air recently and this Mac would go back in as my recommended Mac laptop for many people. The balance of new case, the higher speed and the new retina-display all add up to a neat package. It sits above the MacBook in terms of screen size and speed and below the MacBook Pro for sheer power, but this is a sweet spot for most users and I can see it staying as Apple’s best selling laptop.
Overall there are some nice pieces out there for Christmas purchases- these are just a few of my own favourites!
Today Apple launched the new iPhone Xs, Xs Max and Xr phones. These replace the iPhone X and offer a wider range of sizes and options.
The iPhone Xs and Xs Max are the new top of the range phones. They come with a new faster A12 Bionic processor, a better camera offering 12MP with zoom lens, and a Portrait mode which allows the user to choose and vary the level of blur for the background of images.
The new iPhone Xs range comes in two sizes- 5.8" Xs version and the 6.5" Xs Max. The latter is the biggest screen ever produced on an iPhone.
Aside from the top of the range Xs, Apple also announced an Xr range, which comes with a cheaper price point. It has the same chip as the Xs but only a single lens camera.
Here is the new range and prices for Ireland:
The other major news at the event was the new Apple Watch Series 4, which in the US comes with an ECG Heart monitor that can detect heart defects such as low and irregular heart rates. For an Irish audience., the biggest disappointment is the absence of Ireland in the launch dates for the Cellular version. This also happened last year and means that Ireland remains excluded from the mobile-linked version of the Watch.
The Series 4 Watch comes with a larger screen which gives over 30% more screen space, allowing for better Watch faces and complications. It has an improved Digital Crown with Haptic feedback, new microphone and speaker, and comes with a new S4 chip, giving twice the speed of last years S3.
The new Watch comes in two sizes, 40mm and 44mm, up slightly from the 38mm and 42mm. The prices start at:
Lastly, Apple announced launch dates for new versions of their operating systems:
iOS 12: 17th September
macOS Mojave: 24th September
HomePod update and tvOS: 17th September
In Autumn 2017 Apple introduced Apple Watch 3. A revolutionary way to receive emails and texts on the move, with a cellular watch on your wrist. Only issue? It never reached Ireland. In fact it has never really expanded outside the original countries announced at the start. It is only available through one carrier in the UK and other countries have not been added in the numbers that we see for the iPhone. Too many gaps for what looked like an exciting product with big potential.
This for me has been one of the major disappointments of the year since WWDC 2017, and I hope that this year’s event, starting on Monday, will see the Apple Watch 4 or watchOS 4 alongside a bevy of new carriers and countries. I’m sure that Apple wanted to roll out the Watch to other regions and have been hampered by carrier resistance or lack of interest due to lower volumes. There may also have been an unwillingness to provide the service at a low fee. Is it worth the effort for Vodafone and Three etc to support the Watch, when the number of buyers seems to be low compared to bigger products like the iPhone and iPad? I can’t help but feel this would be short-sighted as the potential for the Watch and wearable devices is huge. But the main stumbling block may have been price. For an iPhone owner with an existing contract, paying another fee for the Watch, which would use the same contract and allowance as the phone, seems unfair. So Apple had sought low fees- an extra €5 per month seems right to me but you can see €10 being the norm, and it is possible the carriers sought more.
I hope that we see new software for the Watch and a big push to make the cellular version more available and widespread.
But for me personally, it is the health potential which intrigiues me most... The possibility of the Apple Watch being able to read blood glucose would be life changing. I have tweeted about this in the past, but if Apple could turn the Apple Watch into a glucose monitor, this would be life-changing. I am a type-1 diabetic who tests my glucose levels about 10 times per day. This is done with lancets, drops of blood and testing sensors, a painful, messy and cumbersome part of my life. It is also retro-active as I regularly test after I start to feel unwell and play catch up to bring my sugar levels back in line with glucose or with insulin injections.
The possibility that a wrist Watch would inform me as my sugars slide low or high, so I can react earlier, would be life-changing. I’m not sure that Apple can get this into a Watch alone- it may involve agadget on the body which transmits signals to the Watch, but I still live in hope of the simplicity of glucose monitoring on par with the heart rate monitor today.
The new Apple speaker, the HomePod, is not available in Ireland just yet, but I drove up to Northern Ireland to pick one up on the weekend of its launch. I had some ideas and limits on what to expect- I did not want an Amazon Echo. The Echo is a great product but it simply wasn’t for me; I wouldn’t use an audio assistant for information, I wanted a good music system in my kitchen, and so the HomePod was the right fit. I think many people see these two products as being in the same category, whereas I see two types of customers with different needs.
So in the end the HomePod fits my views and needs, and to that end it has fitted perfectly into my home setup. I placed it in the kitchen, on my wooden kitchen counter, and can report that I have had no issues related to marks on the surface! The setup was incredibly simple with my iPhone recognising the HomePod close.by and asking me a few questions- almost identical to the setup of the Apple AirPods. When I think back to the voice recognition training required for Dragon Dictate (and years ago with IBM ViaVoice!), the technology has come so far. Yes it still has its quirks, but the improvements are incredible.
The main headline here is the sound- it sounds great. After a few days I began to wonder just how different it was as I had become used to the new sound, I turned on my old Beats speaker to compare- and this is when you realise just how good it is. My poor Beats Pill is really no rival and very outclassed, so the test is unfair, but I did think it was a good speaker to use in the kicthen. I am no audio expert but the sound quality on the HomePod is strong and clear and any speaker I had used in the past sounded boxy and mono by comparison.
When it comes to interaction with the HomePod, Siri is a mixed bag. I can see why people would get frustrated with it, or possibly with any speech control system. Most of the time it plays what I ask for, but with so many mixes of songs, it can easily play a version of what you asked for, but not THE version you were after. For example I asked it for “Duel of the Fates by John Williams”, from the Star Wars soundtrack, as this is a strong classical piece and tests the speakers nicely! But John Williams is not the artist, he is the composer and so Siri did not seem to understand and played other tracks with “Duels” and “Fates” in the title. It got there when I asked for “Star Wars Duel of the Fates” and so there is a bit of adjusting involved where you adapt to Siri, possibly even more than Siri adapts to you. Overall my interaction makes me feel it is adequate to good, if not by any means perfect. Sometimes I reach for my iPhone and just Airplay sound to the HomePod, simply because I can’t think of the name of the track I want and find it easier to browse on my phone screen. There is also an element of not wanting to speak out loud to it- I find tapping on the phone easier. So I probably use Siri 50% of the time to start music and AirPlay the other 50%.
But I now regularly ask Siri for a playlist which I have setup in Apple Music and off it goes- perfect each time. My kids have had fun asking for songs and they too know how to ask, adapting the structure of their sentences to gain better accuracy. It is like Siri has rules for manners- you must ask the right way.
It does also have some nice touches- asking for the news headlines gives a BBC news summary for the day, which is a handy way to get up to date when arrriving home. The ability to ask Siri to set a timer is invaluable in the kitchen and items such as weather reports are nice touches, if things I use quite infrequently.
Lastly, the microphone in the HomePod does an amazing job in recognising speech despite the din! I can have the cooker extractor fan on next to the HomePod, with the kids chatting away, and Siri will still be able to recognise my “Hey Siri” request and interpret the instructions through the noise. Same for music; if a track is playing I can speak to Siri to change to a new song and it recognises my instruction as if the room was silent.
Overall the HomePod is pricey, but not too pricey for a great equality speaker. It matches my expectations and exceeds them in terms of sound and microphone recognition. The accuracy of its responses will change over time as Apple updates its systems as there is room for improvement there. But overall I am pleased with my purchase and it is a nice addition to my home
This week I have had the opportunity to try CarPlay, Apple's version of iOS for your car. It was remarkably easy to setup and use, and a major improvement to any in-car entertainment system. I was driving a 2018 Ford car (in Ireland) which comes with CarPlay compatibility.
Bear in mind that not all cars are CarPlay ready- my Ford was a 2018 model and came with a built-in touchscreen. This is not always standard in Ford cars- you may need to have a special add-on pack added to a new car to be able to use CarPlay. But all Fords with the touchscreen technology do include CarPlay as standard:
Plugging an iPhone into the USB port on the central console brings up the following two screens on the 8" touchscreen:
Having chosen to continue, and agreeing to the conditions, you will see this on your screen:
The iPhone will ask you if you wish to accept the link (this question appears automatically) and then the CarPlay Home screen appears on the car touchscreen. In the future, plugging in the phone to the USB port always takes you to this Home screen.
Immediately, the experience is both reassuring and familiar- the touchscreen behaves like an iPhone or iPad; touching an app to open. It is simple and clear to use, with big buttons and large text. The Music app has all of your iPhone music, plus works great with an Apple Music subscription:
The emphasis is on big clear text and buttons. It was easy to tap when driving, to end a route map or to skip a song. The Ford screen is big, bright and easy to read. Here is an example of the Apple Maps app:
Given its position in the car, this is far better than using your phone on the passenger seat, or using a phone holder attached to your air vent!
The Phone app is also clear and easy to use:
I found that using CarPlay was easy- there was almost no learning involved as the icons match the iOS experience. My seven-year-old immediately took to it when she sat into the car- she tapped and scrolled with ease, rarely stopping to consider how to use the system.
By comparison, the built-in Ford Sync menus are very ugly:
This is what you see when you exit out of CarPlay- a typical car manufacturer's UI. For me the contrast was remarkable. I have been using the older Ford Sync menus in my 2013 Ford for the last few years and the contrast is a leap from analogue to digital. This system just works; it is friendly, familiar and easy to navigate.
However the relationship with the car is transformed, and I can see why car manufacturers would be uneasy. The driver's connection with the car moves in Apple's direction- this feels like an Apple experience, not a Ford experience. It is still a Ford Car, but your relationship with the Ford brand is pushed aside. When you get into the car you plug your iPhone in and you touch the Apple iOS-driven screen. Apple is riding on top of Ford technology- this is a remarkable leap for the driver and one that I love. But Ford have surrendered their ground to a third-party invader and that is both welcome and curious.
There are a number of items which I hope Apple will address this year- some outstanding issues and some new expectations.
The first is a personal want- the cellular version of the Apple Watch in Ireland. Apple launched the cellular Watch in the Autumn, but it needs deals with the mobile phone carriers to spread this into other countries. On launch, there was a limited set of carriers involved in a handful of countries, but I hope to see this spread to new regions this Spring. It would also be good to see all carriers involved so customers have choices.
The second issue for 2018 is the Mac Pro and what Apple does in the professional space. In a sense I have divided views on this. I like the idea of Apple reclaiming their professional desktop space but will I ever buy one- probably not. So it feels like a heavy dose of hypocrisy to want Apple to build pro Macs, without seeing any reason to use one. But the idea of a Mac Pro and how it would help to boost and inform work on future iMacs is enough to allow me to hope for this.
HomePod is my third hope for 2018. Right now it feels underwhelming, a Siri based speaker. The audio working to adapt with the space in a room is clever, but to date this does not feel like a must-have product. It reminds me of the iPod HiFi speaker, but I hope it will offer more than Apple attempting to copy Amazon and Alexa. I also hope the shipping date delay is a good sign of improvements, because right now no one has asked me about this product and the sense of buzz is not there. An interesting space to watch and see where Apple are going here.
No doubt we will have the usual yearly updates to iOS and macOS too- lots to look forward to in 2018.
Apple held an event this evening to launch a number of new products. Here is a quick update on what was announced:
Over the last few weeks I can't help but think that Apple have seriously dropped the ball on Mac desktop updates. The obvious example is the Mac Pro. Apple have admitted that they made mistakes with the Pro and have now needed to go back to the drawing-board, to redesign a Pro desktop model. Other than this month's minor tweaks, the cylindrical towers were last upgraded back in 2013, which is a crazy gap for any technology product, let alone the powerful Mac which is supposed to demonstrate Apple's cutting edge abilities in desktops.
But even with the iMac, updates have been slow in arriving. Apple updated the aluminium iMac every year from 2007 to 2015; then nothing in 2016. So the updates this year, mentioned as "coming" in 2017 in the Apple press briefing, means they are long overdue. Any revisions should really have arrived towards the end of 2016 at the latest and the fact that they are likely to arrive in late 2017 means that there are many iMac users out there hanging on, and will simply have to sit and wait through patiently.
Apple have hinted that the iMac upgrade will be more than a simple speed bump and it is possible that something big is coming in the design as well as the speed. Maybe the long wait will be worth it, but surely they could have revised the chips and graphics in mid-2016 as an interim step?
The other Mac left to the sides is the Mac mini- to the point that I had questioned if it would ever be upgraded? It was updated annually between 2009-2012, then once in 2014. A three year gap is worrying for a Mac. Apple mentioned the mini at the recent meeting, and said it was still an important part of their range, but otherwise I would have assumed that it was on the way out. The hint of a possible update is welcome and I really do hope that it receives some attention before the end of 2017.
The question I have is how did we get to this point with the desktop Macs? The mess that is the Mac Pro lineup is not simply a matter of Apple revising its ideas on the Pro; for me they completely stalled on this line and are now reacting to the situation very late. If they had only decided it was not serving their customers correctly, that would be one thing, but they took so long to reach this view that it shows they had lost their focus on the desktop Pro. The same seems to be true for the iMac and this is the most disappointing part for me. Over the years the iMac has been such an important product for Apple that it deserved far more attention during 2015-2017. Any update coming in late 2017 will be welcome but I hope that this signals Apple will give the desktop Macs regular attention and not result treat them in a stop-start manner in the future.
I have been using the new Apple AirPods for a while now and they are one of those Apple inventions which moves things forward. They have many pros and cons, but from the start you can't fail to be impressed by their design. From the easy method of pairing them to your iPhone, by simply opening the lid, to the simplicity and lack of buttons, the AirPods are beautiful to look at and have a quality feel.
Firstly, what works well. The design of the AirPods is amazing. The small case, which reminds us of a dental floss or a tac-tic box, is a small battery-charging device which makes a huge difference to the Bluetooth experience. In the past, when I used Beats Bluetooth headphones, they would run out of battery or I would realise that I had forgetten to charge them in advance. With the Apple AirPods case, once the buds are placed back in, they are changed from the cases's internal battery. So far since getting my AirPods, I have never run out of battery. Being free of wires is also great as I always found cables hanging from my ears to be uncomfortable and awkward.
When in place in my ears, the AirPods are comfortable. They are not as heavy as they might seem, and a good balance between being light enough to wear on long walks and heavy enough to stay in place. They are smooth and comfortable and the sound quality is good (although I'm not sure I would be the best expert in assessing sound quality).
One concern is the fit. I had issues with Apple headsets in the past, as the wired versions which came with new iPhones and iPods never fitted my ears. The AirPods are different and do fit well. But I have dropped one of them on two occasions. I do feel a little nervous walking near drains and grates on the road or when walking over a bridge, as a dropped AirPod may not be retrievable!
In terms of the drawbacks, the functionality of the AirPods is limited. They play audio from my Watch or iPhone and they do this very well. However I haven't used Siri that often and it is disappointing that I must to use Siri to play/pause tracks. I would prefer a few shortcuts, such as the ability to use taps to control my music.Yes I can ask Siri to "play" or "pause", but speaking instructions out loud is not always convenient. Siri does work well- it recognises my instructions and is an impressive technology. But I still don't like having to talk and speak in public when a series of taps would be far more subtle. Maybe Apple will expand the use of taps, such as a double-tap on the left AirPod to play/pause and a double tap on the right AirPod for Siri? Changing the volume level is also messy, and it is far simpler to take the iPhone out of my pocket and use the volume buttons on the side. In terms of the taps, I almost always mis-tap when walking, and have to give it a second go until Siri kicks in.
But overall the AirPods are one of the most impressive products from Apple in years. They are a classy product, simple to use and good value for Bluetooth headphones. They feel good, sound good and with some limitations, are a pleasure to use. Being able to load music on my Apple Watch and then walk with just the Watch and AirPods is a very stripped down way to use technology and I feel a sign of the future from Apple.
One of the challenges in moving to the new MacBook Pro was finding a way to link to my older Apple LED Cinema Display. This display has a MiniDisplayPort connection, something not supported by the new Apple adapters, such as the Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter.
But I have worked out two neat solutions for the Apple LED Cinema Display:
1/ Hyper: there is an accessories company called Hyper which sells a "USB Type-C Hub with Mini DisplayPort", and this works with the new MacBook and the new MacBook Pro (2016). This is a very neat solution and provides a few extras along with the MinDisplayPort connection, such as two USB 2.0 A ports and a micro SDXC slot. It costs $59 from their website. At the time of publishing they are sold out but they say they should have stock back in soon. I bought one of these in December and it has worked very well:
2 /the second option is to combine cables for a MiniDisplayPort-only solution. I bought two cables from Amazon.co.uk:
- "KiWiBiRD® USB 3.1 Type C THUNDERBOLT 3 to DisplayPort 4K Adapter" (approx GBP £10) [link]
- "StarTech 6 inch DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort Video Cable Adapter - M/F" (approx GBP £7) [link]
The combination of the two cables also works great and provides a cheaper solution. It is not as pretty as the Hyper hub, but it provides the straight connection between the display and the Mac at a low price.
In fact the cost of these two cables is less than the price of some Apple adapters (such as the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter). So if you can live with the look it is a great solution.
Many shops don't have solutions and finding the right cables can be difficult. I hope this helps out other Apple LED Cinema Display and MacBook Pro owners.
I have been through a few Apple laptops families over the years. I started with a black PowerBook G3 in the mid-90s and then moved to a titanium PowerBook G4. I didn't move to an iBook, even when they became sleeker with the white plastic design, but instead stuck with PowerBook and MacBook Pro until the MacBook Air emerged. This finally encouraged me away from the top-of-the-line models, as the slim and yet powerful MacBook Air offered me the flexibility of a thin laptop, but with enough power to drive an external display and complete all the tasks I needed. I generally boosted the processor, such as the i7 in my last model, so the size, weight and engine matched my needs.
However this October, Apple launched the new range of MacBook Pro and I was left with a choice. The MacBook Air family looks dated with no Retina display, so my choice this year was a new sleek and thin MacBook or to jump back up to the top of the line MacBook Pro. I decided on a 13" MacBook Pro for two reasons- the screen size (13" vs the MacBook's 12") and the new TouchBar technology.
After one week of use, I have no regrets. The display is crystal-clear and it is only after you have worked for a while with these displays that you realise you can't go back. Like the iPhone and iPad Pro, the text is smooth, images are clean and elegant on this screen. I also enjoy the extra space compared to my old MacBook Air's 11" screen.
But the real headline here is the TouchBar. Part of this is its existence, and part is its use. The existence of the TouchBar just makes the laptop feel new and feel more sophisticated compared to the MacBook Air and the previous MacBook Pro. It is a whole new way to interact with the laptop and that makes it look and feel like a new generation and not just a minor upgrade. Along with the black trim and thin bezel around the display, the TouchBar makes the MacBook Pro look new and fresh, and the MacBook Air by comparison looks "old" and quite outdated.
In use, it is smart and intuitive, even if it is a work-in-progress. For example in Mail, the Touch Bar offers suggestions on where you would like to file emails. If you select an email in your inbox, it knows which mailbox you normally place emails from that person, and files the message in one tap. The change, after years of dragging and dropping emails, is astonishing. I still only use about 30% of the buttons in the TouchBar and it may be that over time I customise them more, but what I do use I love and it makes a difference to my speed. This is especially true with the Touch ID sensor at the end of the TouchBar: unlocking the Mac and using my 1Password app is so much quicker.
I am also positive on the ports and possibly even hostile to all of the noise over Apple's move. The ports make complete sense. Four USB-C ports, no longer requiring me to look at the end of the cable to ensure I am about to plug it in the right way, just shows how bad the old USB standard was. USB-C is the way forward and we jut need to get on board. Yes I have bought a few adaptors, but so far I have used a USB-C to USB adapter twice for about ten minutes, used to plug in a USB stick and back up my iPhone.
About the only thing I don't like is the USB power adapter. It seems to have had less thought put into it. It is a shame it is so big and the USB-C cable which runs from the adapter to the laptop is thick and slightly clumsy. But overall, this is a minor concern.
If you are ready to move into the future of Mac laptops, dive in. If you love your current (and old) peripherals, the move will be more painful and expensive. But in the end I recommend this laptop as it is a clear break from the past and a beautifully designed Mac.
After last week's keynote, here is a quick rundown on the new Apple laptop landscape.
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The Apple press event last week brought in new products, a new version of iOS and watchOS, plus some interesting headphone news...
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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.
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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...
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?
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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.
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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.
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