A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

It’s fair to say that the Apple Watch was released as a beta product. Then again it is fair to say that pretty much every first generation product is a beta product. When you think about it, all technology exists in a state of perpetual beta. Technology, to borrow from Walt Disney’s famous quote about his theme park, will never be completed.

Still, the Apple Watch felt different. Apple is normally great at telling you why a product exists. Think of the iPad, which was introduced by Steve Jobs sitting at a couch leaning back and consuming content.1 But the watch felt confused. Was it a fitness tracker, a wrist computer, a communication device? The first watchOS had no answer to this question. Nor did the follow up watchOS 2. It tried, but largely failed, to fix the performance problems that ended up dwarfing the confused messaging.

This time though, with watchOS 3, not only has the performance problem been addressed much more successfully, if imperfectly, but we now have an answer to why the Apple Watch. For everything else it can do, it is first and foremost a fitness device.

This is great news for me because that is the main reason I have used it ever since launch day. I have never missed a single day of closing all three activity rings. I have tried numerous run tracking apps, some more successful than others, and I even started using it while sleeping thanks to watchOS 2’s ability for sleep trackers to function.2

It is true that iOS 10 will touch far more people than watchOS 3. Smartphones, and to a much lesser extent tablets, dwarf the sales of smartwatches, which remain a niche, if growing category. But iOS has had the fitness bug too for a few years now. And when paired with watchOS 3, a very advanced health and wellness platform emerges.

This will be the focus of my review. I am not going to try to be exhaustive and cover every aspect of these updates. MacStories will do a far better job than I. This is about how I use the Apple Watch, and how that works with the iPhone. I will cover some of the more notable non-fitness features of iOS and watchOS later on, but first and foremost this is a fitness centric review.

I also should point out that this review is being posted a few days before the new Apple Watch Series 2 is available. I have preordered one and it should arrive Friday. The built in GPS function may well be a game changer. For now this review will not take this into consideration as it is too soon to know how this will actually play out. I’ll certainly have an update once I am able to use it for a while. Continue reading A Fitness-Centric Review of watchOS 3 and iOS 10

Ranking Apple’s New Operating Systems

It has been a busy few weeks for Apple. They released a major update to pretty much every operating system in their arsenal. Not all updates are created equal. Here are my experiences with each, ranked from worst to best.

OS X Server 5

Apple no longer releases a standalone operating system for server, so major upgrades to Server.app are essentially the new Server OS. Server 5 is unusual in that it works on both the old and new version of OS X. Previously the server app had to be upgraded in concert with the base OS, but this version will run on both Yosemite and El Capitan. It also has caused a whole lot of headaches for server admins, myself included.

The biggest issue is with Apache server. Apache is hijacking a whole bunch of ports that other applications rely on, most notably port 8443, used by the Casper Suite. But people are also seeing their web servers messed up as well. A great write up of the troubles with Server 5 can be found here. Apple has released some quick patches to fix some of the more glaring issues, but take a look at the reviews for Server.app in the App Store. Clearly there are still a whole host of problems.

Apple’s willingness to make drastic changes tends to serve them well in the consumer space. But servers are a different beast, and these kind of dramatic updates tend to cause way more problems than they solve, and will likely push even more sysadmins away from using OS X server going forward.

watchOS 2

Of all the upgrades, this was the one I was looking forward to the most. And it was the biggest letdown. After a few days delay, watchOS 2 landed, and it landed hard. Nearly everyone I know with a watch had issues upgrading the OS. Downloads would not complete, upgrades would stall, upgrades would report success but leave the watch on OS 1. There is a long list of troubles.

Even after installing it successfully things did not improves. I had to reload a whole bunch of apps that suddenly were glitchy or non functional. Oddly this affected apps that were written specifically for watchOS 2. Even after reloading the apps, I have still seen them suddenly become glitchy for no apparent reason.

I have also noticed that developers have not exactly jumped at the chance to create watchOS 2 apps. On any other platform there would have been a slew of updates right on day one. But this time it has been more a trickle. Given the continued bugs that my watch is seeing, that is probably not a bad thing though.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan

El Capitan does not have a whole lot of new user facing features. And that is a good thing. Ask longtime OS X users what their favorite OS was and you are likely to hear a whole lot of “Snow Leopard”. Snow Leopard was the famous “No New Features” release, and it was $30 for no new features. It of course did have new features, but most of the changes were under the hood. The same is true here. El Capitan, like Snow Leopard is a release that tightens up some of the more dramatic changes we have seen in recent releases. Leopard was a messy release, just as Yosemite was. We need these smaller upgrades from time to time to keep everything running smoothly.

The biggest change in El Capitan is one most users will never notice. System Integrity Protection (SIP, aka rootless) is on by default and difficult to turn off (difficult in a sense that it can only be done from the recovery partition). Apple has made a big deal about security in recent years, and locking down the core parts of the OS from any interference is a great way to continue this trend. I know a lot of power users may lament having more of the system locked down, but given the vast majority of users run as administrators (and it is doubtful that will ever change) these kind of steps are pretty much required.

I have upgraded every computer I own to El Capitan and have yet to see any major bugs. Apple deserves a thumbs up on this one.

iOS 9

I love you iOS 9. It is cleaner, faster, and more reliable than iOS 8. As a person who handles Mobile Device Management (MDM) at work, iOS 9 is a thousand times more reliable than previous versions. If you manage iOS devices at work, iOS 9 will be your friend, especially once your MDM system is updated to take advantage of the new features.

iOS 9 also finally gives the iPad some love after years of playing second fiddle to the iPhone. For the first time in the history of iOS, the iPad gets the biggest new features. I did not realize how useful slide over multitasking (sliding one app on top of another without leaving the first) would be. It brings the tablet much closer to a true productivity device.

Conclusion

I hear a lot of people complain at the smaller operating system upgrades that they don’t see anything different. I understand this from regular users, but when my tech savvy friends say it I am always confused. Drastic visual overhauls should not come yearly. That would be far too disruptive for everyone. Smaller incremental changes are much more valuable in my opinion. They move us ever forward without breaking everything in their path.

Server and watchOS show that bigger changes come with a lot more baggage. El Capitan and iOS 9, by contrast, don’t change the game. They make it much more enjoyable to play.

The Godfather III of Apple Events

Apple had three events this year, WWDC, the iPhone/Apple Pay/Apple Watch announcement, and the iPad/iMac Retina announcement. WWDC was welcomed by enthusiastic reviews, easily surpassing expectations. The iPhone event, issues with the live stream aside, was hailed as the true beginning of the Tim Cook era. And then there was last week’s event. Much like The Godfather Part III, it wasn’t a bad event per se, but did not at all compare to the previous two. It was an odd way to end what really was otherwise a banner year. The event had several flaws.

Numberless

In the last two events Tim Cook more or less skipped the usual, “here are the numbers” intro. This time he reverted to form with a notable exception, there were no numbers. It was almost Amazon-like in its obtuseness. Yes, the numbers came out a few days later in the quarterly earnings statement, but then why take time at the event?

Everybody’s a Comedian

The skits, oh the skits. The community is divided here. I have seen some people claimed they liked the humor and self deprecation. And normally I do too, but they called so much attention to it here that it felt like more that they were begging me to laugh than anything else. And if you are going to take up all this time demoing an operating system, at least show something new. We got a mini review of WWDC, which I don’t think most of the people tuned in to this live stream needed. By this point we pretty much knew there was no “One more thing” at this event.

iPads, All Five of Them

The announcement we all knew was coming was for the iPad line. We got a new iPad Air, which really does look like a nice upgrade. I mourn the loss of the side switch which I use all the time, and really question not moving the sleep/wake button to the side to match the new iPhones.[1] The iPad mini 3 though, that was a true disappointment. No upgrade at all beyond TouchID and a gold option. That’s it. And the iPad mini 2 and 1 are both remaining on the market, along with the iPad Air 1. That’s five distinct models in two sizes each with two or three colors, most with two or three capacities. Oh and cellular options too. This is way too much for the average user to have to consider when purchasing a tablet. I pity the poor salespeople who have to run down all these options.

iMac Retina

This announcement was awesome and I have no complaint about it. The price is incredible and lower than I would have expected. Only complaint is that there is no standalone display for the rest of us.

Mac mini

My parents have an old mini and need a new one. So I of course told them to wait for this event, given how notoriously long in the tooth the Mac mini had become. Well we got an update, and the price dropped back to $499. But then you look at the specs, and that $499 unit should be avoided at all costs. It is dramatically underpowered compared to the $699 unit, and unlike previous minis, nothing is user upgradable in this machine. And spinning hard drives still, really? If the Mac Pro can go SSD all the way, can’t the mini?

Been too long for what?

Apple’s invite for this event said “It’s been way too long”. What was this in reference too? Not Yosemite, it came out right as we all expected. Not the iPad, same there, unless you consider that the iPad mini 1 means that it’s been way too long to still be selling an A5 based product. Not the Retina iMac, we wanted one, but it doesn’t feel late to be announcing it now. That leaves the Mac mini. And yeah it has been way too long, I agree, but the mini was hardly the focus of the event.

Where was the AppleTV? There it really, REALLY has been too long. Hardware and software both are crying out for an update. But nothing, nada. The only mention we got of the Apple TV at all was that it can now be AirPlayed to without a network. Yay, but next time I will be more specific with my wish of “say something about the AppleTV”.

Again, I did not hate the event. It was fine. Certainly not as bad as the iPod Hi-Fi event back in the day. But it was an underwhelming to what was otherwise a pretty spectacular year of Apple announcements. If anything, it think they would have been helped by an invitation title that was more subdued, and a shorter, tighter presentation. But if recent history holds, we have some time now to build up before the next one.


  1. I still press in the wrong place every time I pickup my iPad.  ↩

My iOS 8 Wishlist

A small part of me wants to make this very short. I secretly hope for a Snow Leopard-style “no new features” update that instead focuseds on refinement, speed, and overall functionality. After all, there are still users adjusting to the bombshell that was iOS 7. And with 7 there is plenty of room for improvement.

But at the same time there are still a number of outstanding features that I really want to see the platform gain. Snow Leopard worked on the Mac, but I question how well it world on Apple’s flagship platform.1

So with WWDC less than a month away I am here once again with my wish list for the year. I stress that this is not a predictions post. This is what I want to see from iOS 8, not what I think will actually happen.2 This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the most obvious things I would like to see changed.

Big Stuff

This year I have five major features I am looking for that are all related to the same idea. No question that my wish list is for the power user. This is meant to solve a problem that has existed for nearly as long as iOS itself, that all apps are an island unto themselves. This has been by design and has helped make iOS simpler and friendlier to regular users. The problem with this is that many iDevices, the iPad in particular has hit a limit in usefulness, requiring inelegant solutions to get apps working with each other. So here are the things I would like to remove these barriers from my workflow.

Inter-App File Access

I am writing this document in Byword on my iPad. I love Byword because it is a simple, clean text editor that offers terrific support for Markdown. It makes drafting posts without having to worry about formatting madness a breeze. And since it’s plain text it can open it in virtually any app. Easy right?

So not really. The way iOS works my files are trapped within Byword’s sandbox.3 If I want to share files to other apps, I have to actually send a copy using the share button (see the next item on the wish list). Problem is this makes a copy in the new app. The original document is still in the first one, but no longer gets updates. It’s maddening trying to wrangle this when trying to work among multiple apps. iCloud suffers the same issue. I understand the need for simplicity, but simplicity sometimes brings the baggage of needless complexity.

I’m not saying I want a Finder on iOS. In fact this is probably the wrong away to go. But allowing for some level of access to a shared area of the file system will resolve a lot of problems for anyone trying to use their devices for serious work.

System-Wide Sharing

The current method of moving data between apps is in the share sheets. There are two big issues with the current implementation. First is that for many people it is counter intuitive to share from one app to another. My point above would solve this one. The bigger issue is that there is no single system-wide sharing menu. It is a total crapshoot. Every developer ends up building their own solution. But there is always that obscure app that you don’t use or even know about. It isn’t possible or even feasible to expect every developer to include every possible app.

Honestly this is a problem Android has solved and Apple needs to get on board with. There the share button brings up a standard sheet containing every installed app that can handle what you are attempting to share. Want to save an article to Instapaper on Android? No bookmarklet required, just share it through the regular button. Not so on mobile Safari. It is a needless complication.

I want to be able to send anything to Evernote, or make any text a task in OmniFocus. I can accomplish this right now through URL schemes and third party apps, but I seriously doubt the vast majority of users go to these lengths. They just assume it cannot be done.

Default Apps

The was one of the major points on my list last year that we didn’t get. For all the same reasons I still want it. More so now. Once upon a time it was forbidden to launch an app that competed with a stock Apple provided one. But that rule is long dead and there are some amazing third party solutions that are hampered by their inability to work system wide.4 Not saying this needs to be the Wild West. Apple can have tighter requirements to use a default app API.

Siri API

This request is as old as Siri itself. I don’t use Siri much, but not because I don’t want to. It’s because Siri is of no use to me. It has no ability to control anything other than a few default apps. I wish I could ask Siri to play a podcast for me, but I don’t use Apple’s app so I can’t. Reminders work to OmniFocus only because they built a capture utility in. But imagine if I could include project and context by voice. This currently is not possible.

Customizable Notification Center

Many people want Apple to borrow from Android and bring in widgets. I do not want widgets. Widgets are ugly and often clunky. And very often a poor use of screen real estate.

What I want is notification center to be more useful. It currently works only with default apps (see above) and has nearly no customization options. The Today screen has some good ideas, but I want to see info from my important apps such as Evernote, OmniFocus, and my fitness apps.

The All screen works more or less but an option to clear all would be nice.

Get rid of the Missed screen that nobody ever uses and replace it with something more like widgets. I would love to be able to quickly access apps like Hue, Sonos and other control apps. Rather than crapping up the home screen, let apps that need quick, limited function access live here.

Smaller Stuff

Not earth shattering, but just as important is tightening up the OS, especially after last year’s more dramatic changes.

Keyboard Caps

In iOS, letters are always capital, except when they are not. Steve Jobs pointed out how the touchscreen enabled the very first iPhone to change its keyboard with context. And yet, seven OS revisions later we still only see capital letters on our keyboard. Worse yet is that iOS 7, and specifically 7.1, made the shift key very difficult to notice at a glance. The iOS keyboard should reflect the case of the letter that will actually be typed.

No More Popular Near Me

The Near Me tab in the App Store is the most useless waste of space in the OS. Seriously. It helps if you need to know the ugliest transit app for the city you are near. That’s about it. Get rid of it. Put anything else there. An icon that leads nowhere would be more useful.

Goodbye Newsstand

The most common question I get about Newsstand is “What is it?”, followed by “Can I move apps out of it?”, followed by “Can I delete it?” Let’s be real, it failed. It’s one advantage, background updating, is now available to all apps. I regularly speak with people who say they cannot download the New York Times, not realizing it is in the opaque ghetto of Newsstand. Folders are fine, let us use those.

Unlikely

So here are the thugs that would really surprise me to see Apple do. Not out of the question I guess, but highly unlikely.

Install from Anywhere

This is one of those things that nerds have been clamoring for since day one of the iPhone’s existence. And I highly doubt it is any closer to happening now than it was then. And for the most part it is no longer required. Apple has gotten pretty good at approving apps in a timely manner, and there are not many things I want to do that I find the rules explicitly prevent. But I still wish I could have that option. Even bigger though is for developers. Big public betas can be extremely helpful for anyone writing software as it allows them a large sample size and helps weed out issues even in edge cases. On iOS though, developers are extremely limited in their ability to test. I would be completely fine with this being a no warranty situation, at least for the app in question anyway. Bury it in layers of scary settings menus. This will keep the majority of users from accidentally enabling it.

On Healthbook

I did not include the rumored Healthbook in here as it is not so much a wish list item as a rumor. But it is a rumor that gets lots of attention and may well be true so I feel the need to address it here. I am of two minds when it comes to Healthbook.

On the plus side it would be great to have a simple, central location for health data. I use a lot of health and fitness apps and accessories. Right now it is a bit maddening to wrangle all that data. Apple has a chance to really do something amazing here. Nearly every player in this space would be forced to support a standard through sheer install base alone.

On the negative though, Apple has not done very well with first party apps recently. Podcasts was received terribly, as was Maps and the previously mentioned Newsstand. When is the last time you used Passbook other than at Starbucks?5

I can’t help but fear that Healthbook would ruin a currently thriving ecosystem of apps and services. Unless Apple goes all in with wearables, we may end up with a dead end app that nevertheless kills a whole lot of better products. Maybe the iWatch6 will prevent this.

Conclusion

I guess we will know in a few weeks. I don’t think Apple needs to do all or any of these things. But if they do, a whole new world of usefulness awaits.


  1. Lots of room for debate on this one. Yes, the Mac has longer history, and ultimately have birth to iOS. But most people who know an Apple OS at all know iOS. iPhone is a majority of the business. 
  2. Some are clearly more likely than others. 
  3. Unless I store the files in Dropbox. But this requires that the other apps I want to use integrate with Dropbox, which most do these days but it is not a guarantee. And it’s not a great solution that you need to run to a competitor to achieve what could be handled by the operating system. 
  4. URL schemes don’t solve this problem. They make certain actions possible, yes. But they are clearly a kludge, hard for average users to understand, and require tinkering with way too many settings. 
  5. And the Starbucks app can do this without needing the extra help. 
  6. Not a thing yet. We don’t know. 

Goodbye iPad 2

After more than three years on the market, Apple has finally retired the iPad 2. That is a staggeringly long run in today’s tech world, and really speaks highly of the quality of the device that it managed to stay relevant in the market for so long. It has been replaced by the iPad (4th generation) at the same $399 price point, essentially resurrecting that device.

Stray observations:

  • The original iPad mini is now the last non-retina iOS device in the lineup.
  • The iPhone 4s and iPod classic are the only remaining devices using the 30 pin dock connector. The Lightening transition is nearly complete.
  • There are no devices in the current lineup that use a number in their name without a letter modifier (i.e. 4s, 5c, 5s)
  • I think the Compare iPad Models page may be a tad confusing now as both the iPad (4th generation) and the iPad mini (2nd generation) explicitly state that they are “with Retina display”, while the iPad Air does not, despite having one. Doubly confusing since the original iPad mini does not have Retina, so it looks identical to the iPad Air which does. This may not have been the best naming convention in hindsight, but then again, hindsight is always Retina!
But wait, the Air is Retina too.
But wait, the Air is Retina too.

If You Are Gifting an iPad Tomorrow

PSA for the tech savvy gifter. If you know that someone in your household is getting a new iOS device tomorrow now would be a great time to secretly swipe theirs and run a backup. Easy if they are signed in to iCloud. If not you will need to sneakily plug in to a computer with iTunes. I recommend an encrypted iTunes backup as it will restore passwords as well, avoiding spending Christmas resetting dozens of logins that no one remembers. This can save you some tech support hours tomorrow morning.

My iOS 7 Review

This review also appeared on the Tekserve Blog.

Do you remember the first iPhone, back when it ran the “iPhone OS” because nothing else existed to run it? It had 16 icons, one home screen, no search, no app store, no copy/paste, no music over bluetooth. For the past six years, Apple has slowly gone down the list and added feature after feature, taking what we now know as iOS from being a very nice phone operating system, to a real, usable, day to day OS. But sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many accused iOS of becoming stale, of looking like last decade’s OS. Following some dramatic changes within the company, Apple finally showed the world iOS 7 this past June. After a few months of playing with the betas (I am a legit, registered developer), I am ready to say that iOS 7 is easily my favorite computer operating system ever. Not just mobile OS, favorite OS ever. Is it perfect? No. Will it improve even more in the future? Of course! But right now, this is just the update we needed. Continue reading My iOS 7 Review

What’s Inside Your Travel Backpack

This article originally appeared on the Tekserve Blog.

I bring a lot of tech with me when I travel. No matter if it’s just for a weekend or a whole month, I can’t leave my stuff at home. Getting it all to my destination easily and in one piece is very important, particularly when traveling by air. So here’s a quick look at my travel bag (or in my case, bags). Continue reading What’s Inside Your Travel Backpack

A Fanboy Crosses Over – Thoughts on the Nexus 7

For anyone who knows me, it was no surprise when I purchased the iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 4, the iPad, and the New iPad on their first day of availability. Once can call me an iOS fanboy, having been there from day one, and having run every single version of the operating system that has ever existed. Despite my love of gadgets, and mobile gadgets in particular, not counting my Logitech Google TV (a curious device if ever there was one), have never owned an Android device. So it may have been surprising to many of my friends when on its first day, I pre-ordered the Nexus 7 tablet. While it may have seemed completely out of the blue, I actually had been considering picking up a Google powered device for some time. But several things held me back. It could not be a phone, since I don’t wish to sign up for yet another contract plan. The few non phone handhelds were mostly cheap afterthoughts. And the tablet lineup was unimpressive to say the least. Furthermore, nearly every device out there ran into the infamous fragmentation problem. They were either skinned beyond recognition (Kindle Fire), or running several releases back of the OS. The Nexus 7 was the first device that had none of these problems, and at $199, a winner finally emerged. After a week of a self imposed iPad ban, I can finally speak about Android from a users prospective. Continue reading A Fanboy Crosses Over – Thoughts on the Nexus 7