All right, so I wasn’t the first person on this block (or any other block) to get an iPhone 4s. I felt no rush to upgrade, but finally decided that I might as well get one, inasmuch as my two-year contract with AT&T was up, I was enriched with a new ad deal, and they were bugging me with regular pitches to buy a new handset.
Since they are now supposedly available everywhere, more or less, I drove over to the nearby AT&T factory store, pleased to discover they had the one I wanted in stock, the 16GB version. It’s more than sufficient for my needs, since most of my stuff is in the cloud, and I’m only using a small part of the storage capacity. Please note that the closest Apple Store is another mile or so away, and a Best Buy, a Wal-Mart and a Sam’s Club are another few miles distant. It’s not as if I wouldn’t have choices if AT&T’s stocks were dry.
I won’t make much of a deal over the fact that the AT&T rep tried to mislead me about Apple’s terms and conditions for buying AppleCare coverage in an iPhone. According to AT&T, you have to buy it when purchasing the handset, or you are stuck with AT&T’s own insurance plan. Not true, as many of you know. You actually have 30 days, but you have to go to an Apple Store to have them confirm you haven’t destroyed the phone first.
Regardless, setting up the iPhone was mostly all right; that is, until I decided to install a custom ringtone, from a new iTunes collection featuring The Beatles. The one I choose, “Hello Goodbye” from the “Magical Mystery Tour” album, seemed most appropriate. As part of the download, I tapped the option to make this 30 second snippet the default ringtone. It even worked — for two days flat!
On the third day, the ringtone disappeared from my iPhone. It was nowhere to be found, and thus began a three day odyssey with Apple’s support to solve the case of the missing ringtone. Now before I contacted Apple, I restored the phone, using my most recent backup for settings, a mistake I later lived to regret.
Finally, with Apple connected to my desktop iMac by remote access, we tried everything in order to induce the file to appear. It didn’t, so I did another restore, this time setting up the iPhone as a new device. The process involved revisiting the brief setup questionnaire on the iPhone, and redoing all of my customizations. When all was said and done, the contacts were synced via iCloud per my settings. I manually added my email accounts, wondering why iTunes never puts them in the same order as they appear in Mail. You cannot reorder them either; the only option would be to remove them from the iPhone and manually add your accounts in the order in which you’d like to see them appear.
Now my iTunes issues weren’t restricted to the iPhone. I ran into a problem downloading one of the 17 songs on the iTunes remastered version of “The Best of Pink Floyd: A Foot in the Door.” Song number three, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” kept coming up corrupted. Apple support is looking into the problem, since the download hiccup was repeated on both the iPhone and an iPad 2.
With those negatives out of the way, there’s a lot of good to say about this iPhone. Voice quality on regular calls is far better than the iPhone 4, and, in fact, superior to any mobile handset I’ve ever used. The fools at Consumer Reports rate voice quality as “average,” same as the iPhone 4. They are either deaf, or just plain wrong, because voices are clearly more solid, more robust, with less digital grain. It’s not a case of imagining a difference, since it wasn’t expected. Whether using the handset directly, or connecting it “hands free” to my Honda, voice quality remains clean and crisp. Connection quality is also like a rock, although I haven’t used it long enough to wander into areas around Phoenix where dropped calls impact AT&T’s network.
The move from an Apple A4 to A5 processor is more subtle. Application and notification wipes and transitions seem more fluid. Web pages display faster, and the wireless connection in my home is stronger, almost always at three bars. With the iPhone 4, it would usually descend to two bars in the main bedroom; that seldom happens with the 4S. For your reference, I’m using a Cisco E4200 version 2 router, which also delivers great performance with an iPad and an Apple TV.
After two restores, I’m still a little uncertain about battery life. In theory, it should be about the same as the iPhone 4. In practice, the percentage display seems to descend more rapidly, but it’ll take a few days to determine whether I’m just doing more things on it for testing, or whether there’s an issue. I’m using the 5.0.1 iOS update meant to fix those ills, though I gather some of you still have issues.
Of course, there’s always Siri, and it’s fun to have it show me a listing of the best rated restaurants in my neighborhood, the nearest gas station, or attempt to respond to the foolish questions I ask. I can see where it might become addictive, though I don’t invoke the personal assistant in public. People think I’m crazy enough already, especially after hearing that ring tone go off.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- The iMac SSD Transplant Report It's quite certain that the designers of recent iMacs didn't consider what might be required if you wanted to change anything more than RAM. And on the 21.5-inch version, you can't even do that. So this forces you to load up such Macs on Apple's build-to-order page when you place your order, so you don't have to concern yourself about lost upgrade opportunities. Now I bought my late 2009 iMac towards the end of that year, a few weeks after release. I did customize some, with an Intel 2.8GHz i7 processor, and the upgraded graphics card. I kept the standard 8GB RAM, since I could always flesh it out later if I wanted; that was the one thing that could be upgraded easily. Indeed, when the time came to move to 16GB RAM, I did the deed in about five minutes from the time it took to lift the iMac from my desk, place the screen on a large towel, open the tiny cover at the bottom of the unit, and replace the RAM. Although that RAM upgrade should not have made a substantial performance change, or at least I didn't expect one, I found that some apps seem to be less apt to clog system resources. A particular example was Parallels Desktop, where I was able to launch into a Windows virtual machine somewhat more quickly, with fewer slowdowns impacting other apps. Understand that I seldom gave Windows more than 1GB of RAM, so the slowdowns shouldn't have been as drastic as they were. In any case, I appreciated the modest performance boost, but still suffered from long startup times, amounting to several minutes because I launch half a dozen apps at startup, and opening one of those large productivity apps, such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, took 20 seconds or more. Anything that involved copying large numbers of files seemed glacial, and the 1TB Western Digital Caviar "Black" drive that shipped with the iMac was regarded as reasonably swift for its time. So I enlisted the expertise of Other World Computing, who specializes in Mac upgrades, to suggest a suitable drive upgrade for review. We settled on the closest match to the stock drive, OWC's 1TB Mercury Electra 6G SSD. If you want to buy one, it retails for $478, a fairly normal price for such a device. If you can don't need that much storage, or can rely some on an external drive, you can get a 480GB SSD for $259. OWC also includes some useful features that make it suitable for use on Macs. So what OWC calls "global wear leveling algorithms" and "StaticDataRefresh" are said to eliminate the need for one of those TRIM hacks, not officially supported with OS X Yosemite, which are often necessary for third-party SSDs. The major claim to fame with SSD is a performance level several times higher than a traditional hard drive without the wear and tear. OWC advertises "sustained reads up to 535MB/s and writes up to 443MB/s," although I made no effort to verify that claim. Alas, you can't just pop the hard drive out of an iMac and put a new one in. Installation involves a laborious process that you shouldn't try without some careful instructions. You'll also need to buy a special kit that contains some special tools and a pair of suction cups. OWC sells such a kit for $59. They have also posted an instruction video that makes the process seem less intimidating. It's still not a cakewalk, but if you pay close attention, and you're comfortable with a tiny Torx screwdriver and fiddling with slim, delicate wiring harnesses, you'll probably do all right. In addition to the SSD and the drive installation kit, OWC also sent along a 3.5-inch drive adaptor — the SSD is a 2.5-inch device — although you actually can get by without it. Oh, and by the way, next-generation of ultra-thin iMacs are even more difficult to upgrade. In place of magnets to hold the glass in place, Apple has moved to a special adhesive tape. In any case, I received the kit on a Saturday, and steeled myself for the installation the following Monday. I watched the video several times, and kept it available on another Mac, the review iMac 5K that has since been returned to Apple, just in case I needed a refresher. And I did. I won't detail all the steps here. But it starts with using the two suction cups to pry the glass from the iMac's chassis. After that, you have to unscrew a bunch of tiny Torx (six-point) screws to remove the LCD display. All this has to be done real carefully, and it's best to have some clean, soft surfaces on which to place the delicate components you're removing. Disconnecting the LCD involves unplugging some real slim wiring harnesses, and you have to be extremely careful. It's not that replacement cables are necessarily expensive, but getting them from a local Apple dealer or even an Apple Store will not be easy. They are not regarded as user serviceable parts. To prepare myself for the process, I ran a full clone backup to the external FireWire 800 drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. From beginning to end, it took over an hour to install the SSD. The photo at the left shows the iMac at the point where the LCD panel was being removed. The only fly in the ointment was the dust that accumulated inside after five years in dusty Arizona, and it required a few moments to blow it out. No doubt I improved the long-term reliability of this computer in the process. After the iMac was closed up, I carefully reconnected all the peripheral cables and the power cord. Since I had to install a new OS onto an empty drive, I pressed Option during the startup process to allow me to select the Yosemite restore partition from the backup drive. The relative speed of the installation signaled what I'd expect once the iMac had its own OS. The migration process required some four hours to restore 500GB of data to the new drive, about the same as the same migration procedure took on the iMac 5K. Once restored, I was able to give the SSD the acid test, and I was amazed. Normally it takes up to three minutes for my Mac to boot and all startup apps to load. This time the process took little more than 30 seconds to complete, and I hit the desktop in 15 seconds flat. Most apps launched instantaneously, and Adobe Photoshop took maybe three seconds. QuarkXPress 10.5 loaded in about 10 seconds. As any of you who has used an SSD can testify, just about everything runs amazing fast, and the dream of almost instant response is realized. Indeed, it is now hard to detect much of a difference between my old iMac, and the iMac 5K — the latter came with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which gives you most of the performance of a true SSD — which goes to show how much of what you do on a Mac is drive related. Based on the system tools I put into action, the iMac is also running a lot cooler now, since the drive generates little or no heat, usually not much higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit after some intense action. It's hard to complain about that. The sole downside, and it's minor, is the fact that a 1TB SSD generally formats to around 960GB capacity, short of the 999GB used by the previous drive. But that's really a minor trade off to gain those amazing speed advantages. True, an SSD, and the accompanying installation kit, aren't exactly cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than buying a new Mac. If you would rather not engage in such extensive transplant surgery yourself, and I understand why, see if a local Mac dealer would do it for you; an Apple Store would refuse for obvious reasons. You can also ship your iMac to OWC's own plant, of course, but first see if you find a nearby dealer to handle the chores, because it will cost less, particularly when you include the cost of shipping. A nearby authorized Apple dealer, MacMedia of Scottsdale AZ, considers iMac drive upgrades a Tier 2 process for which it charges $95. It's definitely worth the peace of mind if you choose to take this step. Now OWC normally sends out review hardware for 30-day evaluations. But since reviewing this drive involved a complicated installation process, they aren't exactly rushing me to return it.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- The Apple Event: Talk About Being Slammed So what was the biggest news from Apple Tuesday morning? Forget the Apple Watch, the Apple Pay digital wallet, or even the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. What may be the most important announcement is that Tim Cook and U2 arranged to have the band's newest album, Songs of Innocence, released free on iTunes. That makes it available for up to 500 million users through October 13. Of course, they made it seem as if this was a spur-of-the-moment decision, but of course it had been in the works for a while. There's even a TV spot to announce the free album. But let's get to the more-or-less expected developments at the media event, which was held at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, the site of the launch of the original Mac in 1984. After a very brief introduction from Tim Cook, Apple VP Philip Schiller got down to the business of talking up the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. But if you tried to watch the event live, you might have felt as frustrated as I did. Clearly Apple's servers — perhaps the entire Internet — were slammed as millions of people across the world tried to watch the stream. I actually tried using my Apple TV, but the stream kept freezing there too. Finally things settled down on my iMac for awhile. However, the people handling the audio feed screwed up, as you heard the English track with an Asian language feed in the background that made it difficult to follow. This flaw might not have been the case for everyone, but I confirmed the problem with multiple devices, and it was extremely distracting for a while until the audio was fixed. I still had to constantly refresh the stream when it stopped, and that's on a broadband connection with an average download speed of over 40 megabits. In the end, it might have been better to hold your breath and watch the recorded version, after all the Web traffic died down. Now the new iPhones were fairly predictable what with all the rumors and prototype photos and videos. The 4.7-inch version is the iPhone 6, whereas the iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch display, and there goes the sole meaningful advantage of any Android smartphone. Predictably, battery life is said to be better, particularly on the phablet version, which has room for a beefier battery. The A8 chip is much faster, and some preliminary benchmarks are already online. Camera components are better, though Apple continues to stick with eight megapixels. The opposition will continue to ride Apple on that, although an iPhone still takes better pictures under more conditions than much of the competition. At long last, there's NFC hardware, but with an Apple twist. While makers of Android smartphones have had NFC for a while, Apple included the hardware as part of a new ecosystem called Apple Pay. Initial deals have already been made with U.S.-based credit card providers, banks and retailers, and the list will only grow as time goes on. Apple Pay will debut in October. With recent hacks to major retailers, such as Target and Home Depot, Apple made a huge deal of the fact that Apple Pay data is secure. Indeed, the actual credit card numbers, says Apple, won't be stored on your device or on Apple's servers. According to the press release, "Instead, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element on your iPhone or Apple Watch. Each transaction is authorized with a one-time unique number using your Device Account Number and instead of using the security code from the back of your card, Apple Pay creates a dynamic security code to securely validate each transaction." Now remember when the iCloud accounts of celebrities were hacked, it resulted from figuring out their usernames and passwords. None of that applies to Apple Pay, and if your device is stolen, Find My iPhone can be used to stop payments. You don't even have to request a new credit card. So what Apple has done is to address the limitations of NFC, and create a sophisticated Apple ecosystem to manage the payment and digital storage features. Compared to Google Wallet and Samsung, this is a huge change. Of course, it requires the new Apple mobile gear to work. Pricing for the iPhone 6 is the same as the current iPhone 5s when it debuted last year. But each $100 step gets you more storage than before; $299 for 64GB, the sweet spot, and $399 for 128GB. The iPhone 6 Plus will retail for $100 more with the same storage options. And, despite the claim that the iPhone 5c was a huge failure and would be discontinued, it remains in the lineup as the free iPhone with a contract. In any case, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will ship beginning September 19, and iOS 8 will be available for download two days earlier. The return of "one more thing…" had also been predicted. While the Apple Watch spots lots of sensors and features to crow about, I was particularly impressed with the digital crown, which very much resembles the one you see on a regular watch. It's used to scroll and select and thus reduce dependence on the touchscreen. Just as important, Apple intends to make a fashion statement with the new device, dividing the lineup into three collections in two sizes, with multiple choices of removable watchbands. The Apple Watch will debut early in 2015 with a starting price of $349. It'll no doubt be far more expensive if you opt for the 18-karat gold version. The Apple Watch will mate with any model from the iPhone 5 or iPhone 6 series, but battery life hasn't yet been rated. So this is, predictably, one area where the critics are already ragging on Apple.
- Can You Live Without an Apple Watch? Apple seeded an Apple Watch with a number of specially selected tech journalists, and the first reviews are in. Even though I haven't yet considered whether to try one out at an Apple Store, I am intrigued by the possibilities. But it's definitely not a slam dunk. There are certainly lots of good parts. It's mostly fast, fluid and stable, though apps are sometimes slow to load, and it does the things Apple claims it does. Battery life, claimed to be 18 hours under normal use, appears to be on track. One review I read spoke of having the Apple Watch last longer than an iPhone during the test period. The only downside appears to be the charging pad, since it's just too easy to separate the two, and the fact that it takes up to two and a half hours to fully recharge. But the larger criticism is that the new scheme forces you to have yet another charging cable on hand when you travel. While it's clearly not as bad as one blogger — who had never tried an Apple Watch — claimed, there are some new skills to learn. So you'll need to get accustomed to Apple's new Force Touch feature, now also available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and the thin/light MacBook. It's mostly a matter of getting comfortable with pressing harder on the touchscreen for added functions. The only downside is that, once you are used to this routine, you'll accidentally press harder on touchscreens and touchpads on gear that doesn't have this feature yet. You'll also need to learn to use the digital crown for zooming and activating Siri, plus the second button for your contacts. None of this appears to be difficult. But when different gadgets offer different functions and different ways to access those functions, you can expect it'll take a few days to get accustomed to everything. Some might suggest Apple should have attempted to make the Apple Watch work more like an iPhone, but pinch and zoom on that tiny screen makes less sense. There have to be accommodations for its size, and Apple appears to have done things in a sensible way. To allow you to make and receive phone calls on an Apple Watch, which uses your iPhone to do the heavy lifting, there's a built in mic and speaker. But it appears the speaker system may not deliver loud enough sound for noisy surroundings. A Bluetooth headset would be the best solution for frequent calls. Well, unless you don't like having those things in your ear. I get all the new fitness functionality, and the clever combination of features that let you access the information you want with a casual glance rather than an extended session. That helps keep battery life as high as possible, and it also makes Apple Watch more convenient for busy people who hope to free themselves from at least some long sessions with mobile gear. So is Apple Watch a potential replacement for the iPhone, the true iPhone killer? Not until it's powerful enough to exist by itself without tethering, and that might take a few years to happen. The taptic features, such as getting subtle reminders when seated to get up and exercise your legs, is a real plus. I can grok this since I've been undergoing treatments lately for a chronic back problem and exercise does help. The reviews suggest Apple's own apps are the most compelling out of the starting gate, and it will be a while for the killer apps to emerge for the platform. To be sure, you don't expect the Apple Watch to do all its tricks with a version 1.0 operating system and version 1.0 apps. That will come in time. As smartwatches go, it appears Apple has made its case for being leader of the pack, and certainly the leader when it comes to the highest prices. I also expect demand at the start to be high, and there are indications supplies will be quite short. Apple will only allow you to buy just one during your shopping session, with no indication whether there will be fast delivery or you'll have to wait. Apple also requires that you reserve the Apple Watch you want or place your order online. There won't be lines snaking around an Apple Store with customers hoping for instant gratification when it goes on sale on April 24th. In addition, Apple won't be including Apple Watch sales figures in its financials as a separate line item, though I suppose something will be said if demand is extremely high. Sales and profits for the March quarter will be revealed on Monday, April 27th. Coincidentally, that will be right after the Apple Watch's first weekend on sale, so I'm sure the tech media and financial analysts will be paying really close attention to see what might be revealed. Even if Apple says nothing, I expect the question will be asked by one of the analysts present at the quarterly the conference call. How Apple responds will say a lot. But after the initial demand is satisfied, will customers find the Apple Watch to be an indispensable wearable? Or will they opt to save their money and rely on their iPhone? Will some people buy iPhones just to be able to use an Apple Watch? The impression I get from the reviews is that, once you're past the learning curve, you may indeed wonder how you lived without one. Maybe, but it's not near as indispensable as a smartphone. That's also the question I will ponder as I decide what I can afford, and whether an Apple Watch will meet my needs. It's not a question that I can easily answer.
This article was posted on Thursday, March 1st, 2012 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: A5 processor, Apple Store, Apple Support, Apple Tv, AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco, Consumer Reports, Hello Goodbye, Honda, insurance plan, iOS, iOS 5.0.1, iPad 2, Iphone, Itunes, Magical Mystery Tour, personal assistant, Phoenix, Pink Floyd, The Best of Pink Floyd: A Foot in the Door, The Happiest Days of Our Lives, wireless connection.