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!
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.