Custom Watch Faces

A weekend Twitter thread regarding custom watch faces for Android Wear and the prospects of custom faces for Apple Watch led me to FaceRepo, a repository of downloadable watch faces for Android Wear. Remember the sites with “skins” for SoundJam and Audion? Like that, but for Android Wear. A few thoughts that went through my mind after perusing the offerings:

  • I don’t expect Apple to open up watch faces to arbitrary designs, even when the full Apple Watch SDK ships later this year. If they do allow third-party faces, I think it’ll be through design partners hand-selected by Apple. (The Mickey face is arguably an example of this already.) The idea of fully-customizable watch faces is right in the sweet spot between the differing philosophies of Google (anything goes) and Apple (tightly controlled). Apple Watch currently offers 10 different faces, and most of those faces offer a lot of customization regarding which complications are visible, and the tint colors. It’s a lot of fun to play with, but here’s the thing: there is no way to set up a watch face that is ugly, or that doesn’t look very Apple-Watch-y. Even the Mickey face looks like an Apple Watch Mickey face, because of the San Francisco font on the hour markers and the complications. That is by design, and I don’t see that changing.

  • Among those in favor of full customization, Andy Ihnatko tweeted: “Like, what if Apple said ‘We don’t trust you to choose well-designed iPhone wallpaper.’” We don’t have to imagine — that’s exactly what Apple did until iOS 4 in 2010. For the first three years of the iPhone, you got a black background on your home screen and you liked it. This is what makes Apple so polarizing, and often unpopular with the tinkering crowd — they will limit user configurability, often severely, in the name of design purity and brand consistency. “This is what we, the designers of this product, want it to look like” vs. “Go ahead and make it look however you, the user, want it to look”.

  • I’m a little surprised at how heavily skeuomorphic many of these Android Wear faces are — they’re heavy on 3D lighting effects, textures, drop shadows, and in some cases even fake watch crystal gloss. That aesthetic feels surprisingly dated to my eyes today. That’s not just an Apple thing, either — Android’s Material Design has moved just as far from skeuomorphic textures. The default faces for most Android Wear devices are not like this (but some are), but these third-party ones skew heavily towards this blingy Kai’s Power Tools aesthetic.

  • And then there’s this one, which made my day.

  • To be fair to Google, the third-party faces featured on their Play Store are more in tune with the Material Design aesthetic. But most of them are very colorful. These, for example, fit right in with Material Design — and would stick out like sore thumbs on Apple Watch. Apple’s watch faces all have black backgrounds, as does the rest of the Apple Watch interface. That’s because Apple Watch has an OLED display, which doesn’t need to turn on pixels to show black — it’s a design aesthetic and an energy-saving move. (Update: I didn’t mean to imply here that Android Wear watches don’t use OLED displays, too — but clearly the Android Wear UI was not designed with black backgrounds in mind.)

  • Third-party watch faces for Pebble are generally terrible, even considering the constraints of the Pebble Watch display. This might improve with the upcoming Pebble Time, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I just can’t see Apple ever allowing these sort of watch faces for Apple Watch — that’ll be left for the jailbreak crowd. A few weeks ago I thought third-party watch faces would be like third-party apps were for the iPhone — something that wasn’t there at the launch, but which came sooner rather than later. Having spent three weeks with Apple Watch, I feel differently now. Apps are the apps of Apple Watch — that’s where there will be thousands of third-party designs. Watch Faces are different. They’re more fundamental to the device.

Apple will almost certainly introduce more built-in faces eventually, including some that allow for more personalization. In September, they showed two that have since been removed: Timelapse (they showed two options: one with Big Ben and Parliament at night in London; the other showed a scenic lake and mountain) and Photo (which, in Apple’s press materials, showed a snapshot of friends at a beach).1 And they might work with hand-selected partners like Disney to create additional faces like the Mickey one. But I don’t think they’re ever going to open the gates to App Store-style “anyone can make a watch face” watch faces. I think Apple sees watch faces as part of the system, like the lock and home screens for iOS. We’re eight years into iOS and there still isn’t any support for third-party lock or home screens. I expect the same thing for watch faces. 

  1. It seems pretty obvious why Apple nixed these two faces: they’re the ones that use the most energy on an OLED display. Just about every compromise I’ve noticed in Apple Watch OS 1.0 is in the service of extending battery life at all costs. ↩︎

Beyoncé Sporting Apple Watch Edition With Gold Link Bracelet 

There’s some chirping on Twitter that she’s wearing it upside down, but I doubt it. The orientation settings let you wear it with the crown on either side.

How Apple Watch Measures Your Heart Rate 


The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist — and the green light absorption — is greater. Between beats, it’s less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute — your heart rate.

Matthew McConaughey Watches the New Star Wars Trailer 

Pretty much how I felt, too.

Regarding Chrome’s Power Efficiency on OS X 

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

While reviewing the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, I ran the usual Verge battery test on Apple’s new machine. With the screen set to 65 percent brightness, it cycles through a series of websites until the laptop’s battery gives out. The native Safari made the new Retina machine look good: 13 hours and 18 minutes. Google’s Chrome, on the other hand, forced the laptop to tap out at 9 hours and 45 minutes.


Apple and Google must both bear a portion of the blame for this ongoing calamity. The MacBook maker has a vested interest in promoting Safari as the most efficient, fluid, and pleasing web experience on its platform. Safari will always have the advantage of being optimized for the latest OS X release ahead of any other browser, which means its lead in efficiency will never be completely eradicated. But three and a half hours? That’s the sort of gap that Google should be able to close — if it makes optimization its priority.

I don’t see how this is Apple’s fault or responsibility in the least regard. Are there accusations that Safari is using private APIs unavailable to Chrome that allow for this efficiency? It seems to me like the usual result of a cross-platform app (Chrome) vs. a platform-optimized one (Safari).

Update: Many readers have emailed to suggest that Chrome’s energy consumption problems might be due to its built-in support for Flash Player. I’m sure that doesn’t help, but it’s almost certainly not the only difference between Chrome and Safari. Comparing Chrome to Safari in Activity Monitor’s “Energy” tab is a real eye-opener.

Heretofore-Unseen Sport Band Colors for Apple Watch Edition 

Bright red, dark blue, canary yellow, and a range of skin-tone sport bands, revealed at a Design Week event in Milan, Italy. There’s no way to tell from the photo whether the strap pins are gold or stainless steel — if they’re gold, that would suggest these colors are exclusive to the Edition models, but British cyclist/rugby player Will Carling tweeted a photo of the red strap paired with a stainless steel Apple Watch.

Rock On: A SongPop Adventure 

My thanks to Rock On — A SongPop Adventure for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Rock On is an iOS music trivia game that takes the proven formula of the hit game SongPop in a bold new direction. Listen to clips and guess the band in more than 80 levels spread across many rock genres. Rock On has beautiful graphics, great music, and even allows you to compare your progress and high scores against your friends.

Rock On — A SongPop Adventure is available exclusively on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. (And, on a technical note, it’s written using Swift.) It’s a free download.

Apple Watch: An Overnight Multi-Billion Dollar Business 

Intriguing piece by analyst Carl Howe on Apple Watch:

I think I’ll save that analysis for another posting, but my belief is that the Apple Watch product line will become Apple’s most profitable product line ever, with gross margins exceeding 60 percent. Why? Because the core electronics modules in the expensive models are the same ones used in the Sport models, and they just don’t cost that much. And while adding Gold cases and designer bands add cost to the bill of materials, the costs are small compared to the price premiums paid for these products. Unlike in the consumer electronics business, I see no pressure for prices to fall and if anything manufacturing costs will, resulting in a very profitable business.

I think he’s made some smart guesses as to the product mix between Sport/Watch/Edition, but if I had to adjust his numbers at all, I’d move the number of Edition models Apple will sell slightly up. In Howe’s estimate, Sport is outselling Edition by about 45-to-1. But if it’s more like 30-to-1, the Edition line would account for as much or more total revenue, and certainly more profit. I’m guessing at an average selling price of around $400 for Sport (more 42 mm than 38 mm, plus lots of extra bands). But let’s say it’s as high as $425. At that ASP, 30 unit sales equals $12,750 in revenue. Given the prices of the Edition line (42 mm with Sport band costs $12,000; the ones with leather straps are $15-17,000), I’d imagine the ASP for Edition will be at least $12,750.

Angela Ahrendts: No Apple Watches for Sale in Retail Until June 

Angela Ahrendts, in a memo to retail store staff obtained by iGen:

Many of you have been getting questions asking if we will have the watch available in stores on April 24 for walk-in purchases. As we announced last week, due to high global interest combined with our initial supply, we are only taking orders online right now. I’ll have more updates as we get closer to in-store availability, but we expect this to continue through the month of May. It has not been an easy decision, and I want to share with you the thinking behind it. […]

Given the high interest and initial supply at launch, we will be able to get customers the model they want earlier and faster by taking orders online.

I know this is a different experience for our customers, and a change for you as well. Are we going to launch every product this way from now on? No. We all love those blockbuster Apple product launch days — and there will be many more to come.

Seems like a lot of people are blaming Ahrendts for this, but it seems pretty clear they just don’t have the supply at this point.

Scott Forstall Surfaces: Co-Producing Broadway Play 

Scott Forstall, on Twitter:

I’m thrilled to be co-producing the Broadway musical Fun Home Bravo to the phenomenal team!

Siracusa Hangs It Up 

John Siracusa:

Those who listen to the ATP, the weekly podcast I host with Marco Arment and Casey Liss, know that I’ve been contemplating hanging up my OS X reviewer’s hat for some time now. Producing thousands of words (and hundreds of screenshots) about each major release of OS X was my first real claim to fame on the Internet. The prospect of stopping has made me reconsider my public identity and sense of self. Who am I if I’m not “that guy who writes those OS X reviews”? But when I finally decided, the relief I felt let me know I’d made the right choice.

His collected reviews to date constitute a remarkable body of work. They’re not articles — they’re effectively books, each one written to John’s own impeccably high standards for thoroughness, accuracy, and writing quality. Writing a good book every year, about a moving target, on a tight deadline — that is tough.

But I’m going to miss it. A new release of OS X isn’t going to feel the same without a Siracusa review to go with it.

The Talk Show: ‘Browser Pooped on the Wee-Wee Pad’ 

New episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, featuring special guest Joanna Stern. We talk about (what else?) Apple Watch and the new MacBook.

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Apple Watch Accessibility 

Nice to see Apple Watch ship with solid accessibility support right from the get-go.

See also: New guided tours for the Phone, Siri, Maps, and Music apps for Apple Watch.

Little Kids Choose Between iPhone and Galaxy S6 

Not sure whether this speaks more to Apple’s design prowess or brand standing.

EU Accuses Google Shopping of Search ‘Abuse’ 

BBC News:

The European Union has filed a complaint against Google over its alleged anti-competitive behaviour. The competition commissioner said she had issued a “statement of objections”, stating that the firm’s promotion of its own shopping links amounted to an abuse of its dominance in search. […]

Google accounts for more than a 90% of EU-based web searches.

I think Google’s going to lose this and be fined, but the fine will be a relative pittance. What I’m curious about is why Google’s web search share is so much higher in Europe than in the U.S. Better support for languages other than English?

Karl Lagerfeld’s Apple Watch Has a Gold Link Bracelet 

Called it. This is the first time we’ve ever seen such a thing, but I don’t think it’s one-of-a-kind. They’ll sell this eventually, and it’ll cost $30-40K.

p.s. Lagerfeld hasn’t even set this one up yet — the screen that’s shown here is the setup screen for pairing with your iPhone. You point your iPhone’s camera at your watch on this screen and it figures out which way it’s oriented, and boom, they’re paired.

p.p.s. Even just a few years ago I would not have expected I’d ever create a “Karl Lagerfeld” tag here on DF.

p.p.p.s. They’re not exposed publicly, but I’ve been tagging every entry on DF since I started writing it back in 2002.

Andy Hertzfeld on ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ 

Also at Medium’s Backchannel, Andy Hertzfeld has an interesting take on Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs:

There have been dozens of books already written about Steve Jobs, including Walter Isaacson’s best-selling, magisterial biography, which is based on over 40 exclusive interviews with the man himself. Becoming Steve Jobs distinguishes itself by emphasizing a narrative of growth and change, depicting “the evolution of a reckless upstart into a visionary leader.” Unfortunately, the authors attempt to bolster their case by exaggerating flaws and missteps in the first half of Steve’s career while diminishing them after his return to Apple in 1997.

I was surprised and chagrined by the negative tone pervading the description of Steve’s first tenure at Apple, which is somehow both a “management mess” and the fastest growing company ever. Mike Markkula is an early mentor “for better or worse.” When Steve, inspired by his visit to Xerox PARC, decides to attempt to bring the graphical user interface to the masses, he has to “deliver on this promise within the gnawing confines of Apple.”

I didn’t take Schlender and Tetzeli’s take on early Apple as overly negative. To my reading, their take on early Apple described what is patently obvious in hindsight: a company with remarkable, genius product teams, but an executive leadership team that did not and perhaps could not create a sustainable culture. Early Apple was a company with sporadic hits interspersed with years-long dry patches. The first good CEO Apple ever had was Steve Jobs 2.0 in 1997.

Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley — available free of charge on the web, but well-worth buying in print — is my favorite book on Apple ever written, by the way.

Steven Levy: ‘What the Apple Watch Means for the Age of Notifications’ 

Steven Levy, writing for Medium’s Backchannel:

We aren’t at that level of desperation yet with online notifications. But the Age of Notifications is about to face its biggest mess yet, as alerts move from phone screens to watch faces. Notifications are just about the entire point of a smart watch — you’re not going to be reading books, watching movies or doing spreadsheets on them.

I disagree, strongly, that “notifications are just about the entire point of a smart watch” — or at least for Apple Watch. There’s a reason why Apple didn’t mention notifications prominently at either of their Apple Watch events. Take another look at Apple’s Watch pages on their website, and see how much attention is paid to notifications.

But, notifications are without question one of many important features. And if you feel like your watch is more annoying than helpful, you’re not going to wear that watch. One of the most important pieces on Apple Watch in the last few weeks was Jeremy Keith’s, which wasn’t about the Apple Watch itself but rather about being ruthlessly parsimonious with regard to allowing apps to send you notifications in the first place.

Back to Levy:

So what’s the solution? We need a great artificial intelligence effort to comb through our information, assess the urgency and relevance, and use a deep knowledge of who we are and what we think is important to deliver the right notifications at the right time. As time goes on, we will trust such a system to effectively filter all our information and dole it out just as needed.

I think he’s on to something here: some sort of AI for filtering notification does seem useful. I can imagine helping it by being able to give (a) a thumbs-down to a notification that went through to your watch that you didn’t want to see there; and (b) a thumbs-up to a notification on your phone or PC that wasn’t filtered through to your more personal devices but which you wish had been.

But: this sounds too much like spam filtering to me. True spam is unasked-for. Notifications are all things for which you explicitly opted in, and can opt out of at any moment.

Horace Dediu: ‘The Watch’ 

Horace Dediu:

Realizing that on the iPhone the “phone” is but an app — one which I find populated with FaceTime calls rather than cellular calls and whose messaging history is filled with iMessage threads rather than SMS — I consider it safe to say what the iPhone is today not as much a phone as a very personal computer. And so the question is whether the Watch will quickly leave behind its timekeeping anchor and move into being something completely different.

I had the chance to use the Watch for a few days and can say that timekeeping is probably as insignificant to its essence as it’s possible to be. It feels like a watch in the physical sense, looking good in the process (as the iPhone physically felt like a phone, also without being hard on the eyes)

However it does not feel like a watch conceptually.

Great piece, and I think Horace is onto something important. But I subtly disagree. The more I live with Apple Watch, the more I think it is just a watch. Pre-iPhone, a “phone” was something we used for voice calls and text messaging. Post-iPhone, a “phone” now means a networked personal computer in your pocket or purse.

If you think of a “watch” as purely a device for telling the time of day, then Apple Watch is not just a watch. But if you think of a “watch” as a wrist-worn glance-able display of status information (including, perhaps prominently, perhaps not, the time of day), and as a signifier of your personal taste and style, then Apple Watch is very much a watch. The difference is that it’s a watch imagined from the ground up for the modern era of ubiquitous wireless networking and powerful minuscule computers.

Microsoft + iPhone 

Paul Thurrott:

And if you are a Microsoft guy, there are good reasons to choose iPhone over Android … and even over Windows Phone. Microsoft mobile apps generally appear on iPhone before they do so elsewhere, and certain Microsoft mobile apps are only available on iPhone, at least for now. In several cases, you will see finished Microsoft apps appear on iPhone, whereas Android receives a rougher preview release instead. In many ways, iPhone — or iOS more generally — is the place to be if you’re interested in Microsoft’s mobile solutions.

Good rundown of Microsoft’s wide and deep lineup of iOS apps.

One Company’s New Minimum Wage: $70,000 a Year 

Patricia Cohen, reporting for the NYT:

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.

His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

WWDC 2015: June 8-12, Moscone West 

I usually don’t play the “let’s read into the design of the Apple event announcement” game, but damned if the center of this doesn’t look like an Apple TV. And the slogan — “The Epicenter of Change” — would fit with an expanded HomeKit role for Apple TV.

Typographically, most of this is set in Myriad, Apple’s longstanding branding typeface, but the “WWDC 15” appears to be set in San Francisco.

Update: For attendees, it’s a lottery again (and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future — the last time they simply sold passes they sold out in one minute). Interesting, but not surprising: to apply for a student scholarship, you have to submit an app that is at least partially written using Swift.

I Say To-Mah-To 

Om Malik feels differently:

What blew me away was the exceptional attention to the details. The way you could slide on and off the bands from the watch was smooth and slick. There wasn’t a need for any special tools — a tiny bit of pressure does the job of sliding the bands on and off. The sliding has the smoothness of silk Then there is the quality of the leather. Just as Hermes’ leather has a unique feel to it, I bet you that soon we will talk about the Apple feel when it comes to mass-produced leather products. I touched some leather bands and was extremely blown away — thin, supple and yet you could feel that the leather could take the abuse of running with the watch, the sweat and the dirt. It was sublime. And there are magnets that allow one to clasp and unclasp the bands. It might not mean anything to many, but for me these details are enough to overlook the software shortcomings that have started cropping up in Apple products.

Functionality aside, I think one of the biggest innovations in Apple Watch is the band-swapping mechanism. It took me a few tries to get the hang of it, but once I did, I was convinced it was as easy to do as Apple says. There’s never been a watch with this sort of feature. People are going to find it fun to swap bands, and Apple is going to make a tidy sum selling them.

Some Say To-May-To 

Mike Rundle is not impressed by Apple Watch. He thinks it’s too small:

I was shocked at how small and slight the Apple Watch felt on my wrist. I’m a larger guy (6' and built like a linebacker who retired and got a little fat) and when I tried the 42mm Apple Watch Sport on, I thought it was the 38mm. I thought it was tiny and there was some mistake. It is the smallest watch that’s ever been on my wrist.

And he doesn’t like the leather bands:

I’ll just get right to it: Apple’s leather bands feel terrible. They feel like fake leather. You know how chicken nuggets are made out of that heavily processed pink chicken sludge? That’s what I think Apple does to make their leather bands. They start with real leather from some fancy tannery and then grind and engineer and twist and mold that original, nice leather into something that only has a passing resemblance to leather in the finished product.

I’ve heard this from a few others, particularly regarding the Leather Loop — that it feels not like a leather watch strap but like a magnetic metal watch strap with a thin layer of leather wrapping it. I haven’t spent significant time with any of the leather bands, but I did get to examine the Leather Loop on Nilay Patel’s watch, and my impression was positive.

Black Is the New Black 

One more thing about those Apple Watch estimates from Slice Intelligence: if they’re accurate, they suggest Apple screwed up the color choices for the Sport collection. According to Slice, a whopping 64 percent of Sport purchases were for the space gray model with black band, 22 percent for white, and a mere 6/4/4 for blue/green/pink respectively. If this is even close to the true mix, Apple probably should have left the blue/green/pink bands as accessories only, and added a black-strap-on-silver-sport-watch choice.

Market Research Firm Estimates Apple Watch Orders on First Day 

I would take these numbers with an enormous grain of salt, given the methodology: Slice Intelligence is an opt-in service that reads your email and gleans receipts from your inbox. I really have no idea what type of person would opt into such a service, but of their 2 million customers, 9,080 bought one or more Apple Watches on the first day, and they extrapolated from this:

Despite ho-hum reviews, even by some of the most ardent Apple fans, Slice Intelligence estimates that 957,000 people in the U.S. pre-ordered an Apple Watch on Friday, the first day the watch was available for sale. According to ereceipt [sic] data from a panel of two million online shoppers, each Apple Watch buyer ordered an average of 1.3 watches, spending $503.83 per watch. Those ordering an Apple Watch Sport spent $382.83 per watch and those ordering the Apple Watch spent $707.04.

Apple has not announced any numbers regarding pre-orders, and I don’t think they’re going to — they announced months ago that they will not be breaking out watch revenue numbers or unit sales in financial reports, for competitive reasons. So we’re left with conjecture like this report from Slice Intelligence.

I’ve seen this report linked all over the news today, and many of the headlines state something to the effect that Apple sold “one million” watches. First, it’s just wrong to take these estimates as fact — any credible headline needs to emphasize that these figures are estimates. Second, I can’t find any record of Slice Intelligence having made similar estimates of Apple product sales in that past — estimates that we could double check against what Apple eventually reported.

But third, “one million pre-orders” is not what Slice even claims. They’re saying “957,000 people in the U.S. pre-ordered an Apple Watch on Friday” and that each ordered an average of 1.3 watches. That’s 1.25 million watches — and it’s only for the U.S. Apple Watch went on sale in nine countries last week, all of them major markets. So even if you believe Slice’s estimates are accurate, they imply that customers around the world ordered millions of Apple Watches, plural, on the first day.

Google Fiber Announces Upcoming Service in Charlotte; Time Warner Cable Makes Speeds Six Times Faster 

Jon Brodkin, reporting for Ars Technica:

With Google Fiber preparing an expansion into Charlotte, North Carolina, incumbent cable operator Time Warner Cable is trying to hold onto customers by dramatically increasing Internet speeds at no extra charge.

“The Internet transformation will begin this summer and will include speed increases on TWC residential Internet plans at no additional cost, with customers experiencing increases up to six times faster, depending on their current level of Internet service,” Time Warner Cable announced last week. “For example, customers who subscribe to Standard, formerly up to 15Mbps, will now receive up to 50Mbps, customers who subscribe to Extreme, formerly up to 30Mbps, will now receive up to 200Mbps; and customers who subscribe to Ultimate, formerly up to 50Mbps, will receive up to 300Mbps, at no extra charge.” […]

Last year in Austin, Texas, Time Warner Cable upgraded its 100Mbps Internet plan to 300Mbps after Google decided to offer service there.

Funny what even just the announcement of competition will do.

Apple Seeds First iOS 8.4 Beta to Developers With New Music App 

Interesting; I probably would have bet that 8.3 was the last update to iOS 8 before Apple went full steam ahead on iOS 9. Perhaps a (welcome) sign that they’re moving away from monolithic “here’s all the new stuff all at once” annual updates.

EFF Busts Podcasting Patent, Invalidating Key Claims at Patent Office 

The EFF:

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) invalidated key claims in the so-called “podcasting patent” today after a petition for review from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — a decision that significantly curtails the ability of a patent troll to threaten podcasters big and small.

“We’re grateful for all the support of our challenge to this patent. Today is a big victory for the podcasting community” said EFF Staff Attorney Daniel Nazer, who also holds the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents. “We’re glad the Patent Office recognized what we all knew: ‘podcasting’ had been around for many years and this company does not own it.”

This one is near and dear to my heart — I’ll celebrate by making another contribution to the EFF. (And how great is it that there exists a “Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents”?)

PencilCase by Robots and Pencils 

My thanks to Robots and Pencils for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote PencilCase, an iOS app-making tool that doesn’t require any coding. It’s like HyperCard, reimagined for the modern world. With PencilCase you can create a native app easily: just import your design, then start adding complex animations, transitions, and interactions using the built-in tools. You can:

  • Animate anything using the physics tool or timeline.
  • Create complex behaviors using the intuitive “Whens and Thens” system.
  • Incorporate 3D models as easily as adding an image.

With one-tap publishing, your app can be instantly distributed to PencilCase: Player or exported as an Xcode project and submitted directly to the App Store.

PencilCase is free to try. Start making your own app today.

Apple Watch Sold Out in Less Than 6 Hours, All Models Now Shipping in ‘June’ 

I ordered last night the minute the store went live. The Apple Store app worked great for me — tap a collection, tap the model you want, Apple Pay, thumb on Touch ID, done.

As for the sellout and shipping dates now being in June, I get the feeling supply is low and demand is high.

Apple Rescinds Policy on Hiring Felons for Construction Work 

The San Jose Mercury News has a full story on this, but here’s the full statement Apple is sending out to the press:

“We believe in opportunity for everyone, and Apple has never had a blanket ban on hiring people with felony convictions. It recently came to our attention that, as part of a background check process unique to the Apple Campus 2 construction project, a few applicants were turned away because they had been convicted of a felony within the past seven years. We recognize that this may have excluded some people who deserve a second chance. We have now removed that restriction and instructed our contractors on the project to evaluate all applicants equally, on a case by case basis, as we would for any role at Apple.”

This sounds exactly as it should be.

List of Apple Stores That Will Carry the Apple Watch Edition at Launch 

Includes my local store here in Philly.

Bani McSpedden on Apple Watch 

Bani McSpedden is the watch editor of the Australian Financial Review — he’s a watch guy. I really enjoyed his video review.

Fight 215: Stop the Patriot Act’s Mass Surveillance 

Speaking of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and the campaign not to renew it, the EFF has put together a great little website explaining what’s going on, why it’s a problem, and most importantly, what we can do about it as citizens. They have a compelling, succinct video from Kirby Ferguson too. I strongly support this campaign, and urge you to spread the word about it, and call your congressperson.

I hate making phone calls, but I’m making this one.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver: Government Surveillance 

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver devoted last week’s episode to U.S. government surveillance programs, including an interview with Edward Snowden in Moscow. It’s been widely linked, so I’ll bet you’ve already heard about it. It’s really good. Yes, it’s funny — but it’s also truly excellent journalism, and they’ve figured out a way to frame the issue that resonates with regular people. If you haven’t watched it yet, make time for it. You won’t regret it.

It’s important not only because civil liberties are important, but because the law that enables these programs — section 215 of the Patriot Act — is up for renewal this year, and it’s urgent that we press lawmakers not to.

Jason Snell Reviews the New MacBook 

Jason Snell:

Using a computer that feels like it fell through a time warp from the future is fun, but if that computer drops through the wormhole without any compatible accessories then there’s going to be some aggravation, too.

The new MacBook is one of those Apple products. It feels like it came from the future, and didn’t bring its ecosystem with it.

Like Dalrymple, Snell was thrown off by the new arrow key layout:

The Esc key has been elongated and the function keys narrowed, which didn’t really bother me. However, the redesign of the arrow keys really shook me–the up and down arrows are still half-height, but the left and right arrows are now full sized. It turns out that I used the gaps above the left and right arrow keys on prior keyboards to orient by feel, so I knew which arrow key was which. On the MacBook’s keyboard, there’s no longer a gap–and I kept having to look down to make sure I was tapping the up arrow key.

See also, his “reviewer’s notebook” over at Six Colors:

If you don’t type a whole lot, or very fast, you may not care about the substantially reduced key travel. And you can get used to it. But it’s just a tiny step up from typing on flat touchscreen glass. I managed to score almost 120 words per minute on TypeRacer on the MacBook keyboard, but I didn’t enjoy it. If you’re someone who notices when a keyboard feels different or weird, you will notice this keyboard. If you’ve never really understood why people write about keyboards, you probably won’t care — but why are you even reading this section?

Samsung Facing Supply Shortages for Curved-Screen Galaxy S6 Edge 

Min-Jeong Lee, reporting for the WSJ:

J.K. Shin, the mobile chief, said that while the company’s Galaxy S6 Edge smartphone has garnered strong demand, the screens are difficult to make.

“We’re working hard to resolve the difficulty in supply,” he said at a media event in Seoul ahead of the flagship phone’s global launch on Friday. He added that the supply issue could persist “for a while.”

My guess is this is why they released both the regular S6 and the S6 Edge — they knew they couldn’t produce sufficient quantities of this display. If it’s in short supply alongside the regular S6, it would have been impossible to release as the only design for the S6.

Joanna Stern Reviews the New MacBook 

Joanna Stern, writing for the WSJ:

It’s nearly impossible not to be seduced by this MacBook’s beauty, its dazzling screen and perfect trackpad. But don’t give in. Like the original MacBook Air, introduced in 2008, there are too many key compromises — in battery life, speed and port access — for the early-adopter price.

I expect the new MacBook to follow the same path as the Air. Over the next few years, it will improve, and become an affordable, indispensable tool for life in the future. But here, now, in the present day, there are more practical slim, everyday laptop choices.

Again, today, I think the new MacBook is an alternative to an iPad, not a replacement for the MacBook Airs. It’ll definitely replace the Airs in a few short years, but not today.

LinkedIn Buys for $1.5 Billion 

Natalie Gagliordi, reporting for ZDNet:

The social network for professionals is buying in a cash and stock deal valued at approximately $1.5 billion.

Founded in 1995, is a subscription-based online learning portal, where members can focus on a range business and technology skill sets. The website also offers a premium subscription for members in corporate, government and educational organizations.

Executives for both companies called the merger a “kind of fit that benefits everyone.”

Interesting acquisition. They had some integration with each other already — LinkedIn users could get their profiles updated with courses they completed through But another angle is that has a lot of site-license deals with universities — this could help funnel students into LinkedIn as they enter the job market. (Maybe that was happening anyway? It’s been a long time since I last looked for a job.)

Jim Dalrymple Reviews the New 12-Inch MacBook 

Jim Dalrymple, on a subject near and dear to my heart, the feel of the new keyboard:

When you first start using the keyboard, you may get the feeling that you didn’t actually hit the key, but you really did. This is what will take some getting used to — I am typing very quickly with the MacBook now, but it took a day or two in order for my mind to trust my fingers were hitting all the keys.

The arrow keys took the most time to get used to. Surprising, I know. However, I use the up and down arrow keys a lot to navigate email messages and RSS feeds and those keys are quite close together — in fact, they are the only two keys on the keyboard that are so close together. It’s like the person that designed the keyboard doesn’t use those two keys and put them together like that because it looked better. At any rate, those keys are just taking a bit longer for me to use without error. I hope for a change in the future.

The difference between the new arrow key layout and the old one is that the left and right keys are now full height, but the up/down ones are still half-height.

Overall, it sounds like the machine you think it is: an iPad-esque device for people who would rather use OS X with a laptop form factor than iOS on a tablet as their portable. People who want this thing to have more ports and better performance aren’t looking at it for what it is — they’re looking at it for what they want it to be.

The Apple Watch

Apple Watch is, in many ways, the Bizarro iPhone — in some ways parallel and similar, but in others, the inverse, the opposite.

Both were introduced as three things in one. Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone back in 2007: “The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device.” Tim Cook, introducing the Apple Watch: “In addition to being a beautiful object, Apple Watch is the most advanced timepiece ever created, it’s a revolutionary new way to connect with others, and it’s a comprehensive health and fitness companion.”

An iPod, a phone, and an “Internet communicator”.

A watch, a “new way to connect with each other”, and a health and fitness companion.

The iPhone did more than just those things. Apple Watch does more than just these things. But with both devices, Apple framed our introduction to these fundamentally new products with similar “it does three main things” formulations. The reason seems clear: to simplify complex products, and to root something new and unknown in old and familiar contexts.

But there are fundamental differences — between the iPhone and Apple Watch as products, and between the way Apple has approached them, in terms of both design and marketing. Amidst all the interviews and media access Apple has granted in the run-up to the watch hitting the market, the most informative statement, to my mind, was this, from Jony Ive to The Financial Times’s Nick Foulkes:

However, it was not without some trepidation that he embarked on the watch. “It was different with the phone — all of us working on the first iPhone were driven by an absolute disdain for the cellphones we were using at the time. That’s not the case here. We’re a group of people who love our watches. So we’re working on something, yet have a high regard for what currently exists.”

He believes it was the intimacy of the watch that made it desirable, almost necessary, for Apple to tackle.

Everything that makes Apple Watch interesting, everything that makes it unprecedented, is right there in that bit from Foulkes’s profile.

Loosely, the path of all consumer electronic categories is to evolve as ever more computer-y gadgets, until a tipping point occurs and they turn into ever more gadget-y genuine computers. The sample size (in terms of product categories) is small, but Apple seemingly tries to enter markets at, or just after, that tipping point — when Moore’s Law and Apple’s ever-increasing engineering and manufacturing prowess allow them to produce a gadget-y computer that the computer-y gadgets from the established market leaders cannot compete with.1 That was the iPod. That was the iPhone.

That, they hope, is Apple Watch.

It wasn’t just pre-iPod “MP3 players” that sucked, it was all portable music players that sucked. CDs only held a dozen songs. I spent my teenage years with Sony Walkmen — devices I truly adored — that played cassette tapes. The appeal of hard-drive-based MP3 players was obvious to everyone, and the superiority of the iPod (especially in combination with iTunes) was obvious to almost everyone outside the speeds-and-feeds Slashdot mindset.

Pre-iPhone mobile phones were either dumb phones that didn’t do much other than make phone calls and text by painstakingly pecking out messages on numeric keypads, or “smartphones” that at best did one thing well — text messaging — and in most cases did nothing well.

But as Ive points out, this time, the established market — watches — is not despised. They not only don’t suck, they are beloved. And the best and most-beloved watches aren’t even electronic. They’re purely mechanical — all gadget, no computer.

It was obvious that portable media players were being computerized. It was obvious that mobile phones were being computerized. Who better to enter the market, in both cases, than the world’s best personal computer maker? It is not obvious — based on the watch market today — that wrist watches should or will be computerized.

The Watch

There are two types of people in the world: those who wear a watch, and those who don’t. Watch wearers, in my experience, recognize that non-wearers are manifold. Those who don’t wear a watch, on the other hand, often seem under the impression that few people wear watches anymore. They’re wrong — fewer people wear watches than in the past, but many do.2

Apple is targeting people from both groups. They want watch wearers to switch, and they want non-watch wearers to start wearing one. Those are two wholly separate marketing and product design challenges.

The emphasis on Apple Watch as, in Apple’s words, “the most advanced timepiece ever created” is an attempt to bridge that gap. To casual watch wearers, it says, “You’ll still be able to do with Apple Watch what you do with your current watch: tell the time (and if you want, the date) at a glance and trust that it’s accurate.” To non-watch wearers, it says “Apple Watch is a great watch.

The funny thing about this marketing angle is that it rings utterly hollow to serious watch people. $30 quartz watches generally keep very accurate time — much more accurately than mechanical watches that cost tens of thousands of dollars. The gold standard for quality watch movements is COSC certification — a series of tests administered by the Swiss Official Chronometer Testing Institute. To be COSC-certified, a mechanical watch need be accurate only to -4/+6 seconds per day. Apple is advertising Apple Watch as being accurate to 5 hundredths of a second. Accuracy isn’t even close to the primary appeal for mechanical watch aficionados.

Apple time-keeping accuracy braggadocio feels puffed up from the perspective of computers, too. Computers tend to have very accurate clocks (at least compared to mechanical watches), and with network time servers, they can be programmed to regularly correct themselves to within a few milliseconds of Coordinated Universal Time. In the eight days I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch, its timekeeping has never been anything but perfectly accurate — but so too has been the timekeeping on my iPhone, my iPad, and my Macs. All of these devices show the exact same time, all the time.

What matters as a timepiece is what it’s like using Apple Watch to check the time. My big concern, from the get-go, is the fact that Apple Watch’s screen remains off until you tap the screen (or one of the buttons) or it detects, via its accelerometer and gyroscope (and perhaps other sensors?) that you’ve moved your wrist into a “tell the time” position. I’m generally wary of “magic” features, and a watch that detects when you’re looking at it is “magic”.

This feature, which Apple calls “Activate on Wrist Raise” works pretty damn well. It’s not perfect, alas, but it’s far more accurate than I feared it would be. The way it seems to work is that if the watch thinks you’re looking at the face, it turns the screen on for about 6 seconds, then turns it off again — even if you’re still holding your wrist in the looking-at-it position. If you turn the display on by tapping the screen or pressing the side button or digital crown, it stays on for about 17 seconds before turning off. I presume the difference is because it’s far more likely that you’ll trigger a false positive for a wrist raise than that you’ll accidentally tap the screen or press one of the buttons. So, the display only stays on for 6 seconds for a wrist raise to avoid wasting battery life for false positives.

In Settings: General: Activate on Wrist Raise, you can turn this feature off. (It’s on by default, and I think the overwhelming majority of users will keep it on.) When it’s on, you can also specify where you go when the screen activates: Clock Face (the default) or Last Used App. Let’s say you’re using the Messages app. When you’re done, you just lower your wrist, and the display will soon go to sleep. By default, the next time the display wakes up you’ll be back at the clock face. (Unless you wake it back up within a few seconds of it going to sleep — in that case it does the right thing and keeps you where you were, regardless of your settings.) If you change this to “Last Used App”, you’ll instead be right back where you were when the display went to sleep. “Last Used App” makes Apple Watch work more like an iOS device. But it’s not an iOS device, and I think Apple’s default here is correct.

I wish, though, for one more setting: I’d like an option for the display to stay on for a longer duration with Wrist Raise turned on. Battery life on Apple Watch has been fine (see below for details) — more than good enough that, for me at least, it would still get through the day with room to spare even if the display remained on for the same 17-second-or-so duration with Wrist Raise detection as it does for a button push or screen tap.

I’ve worn a watch every day since I was in 7th grade, almost 30 years ago. I’m used to being able to see the time with just a glance whenever there is sufficient light. Apple Watch is somewhat frustrating in this regard. Even when Wrist Raise detection works perfectly, it takes a moment for the watch face to appear. There’s an inherent tiny amount of lag that isn’t there with a regular watch.

Some other specific examples. I was in New York last week, and stopped to have coffee with a friend in the afternoon. He had a meeting to get to, and I wanted to catch a 4:00 train home to Philadelphia. I was sitting on a low bench, leaning forward, elbows on my knees. It got to 3:00 or so, and I started glancing at my watch every few minutes. But it was always off, because my wrist was already positioned with the watch face up. The only way I could check the time was to artificially flick my wrist or to use my right hand to tap the screen — in either case, a far heavier gesture than the mere glance I’d have needed with my regular watch.

Similarly, it turns out I regularly check the time on my watch while working at my desk, typing. I didn’t even know I had this habit until this week, when it stopped working for me because I was wearing an Apple Watch. Again, because in this position the watch face is already up, the display remains off. My wrist doesn’t move when I want to check the time with my fingers on the keyboard — only my head and eyes do. And yes, my Mac shows the time in the menu bar. I can’t help that I have this habit, and Apple Watch works against it.

Here’s one more scenario. I grind my coffee right before I brew it. I put a few scoops of coffee in my grinder, cap it, and press down with my right hand to engage the grinder. I then look at my left wrist to check that 20 or so seconds have expired. But with Apple Watch, the display keeps turning off every 6 seconds. There are ways around this — I could switch to the stopwatch, start it, and then start grinding my coffee. But my habit is not to even think about my watch or the time until after I’ve already started grinding the beans, at which point my right hand is already occupied pressing down on the lid to the grinder.

One more ding against Apple Watch as a watch: every other watch I’ve ever owned, with the exception of my beloved boyhood Superman mechanical watch, has been sufficiently water resistant to wear while swimming. Apple describes Apple Watch’s water resistance thus:

Apple Watch is splash and water resistant but not waterproof. You can, for example, wear and use Apple Watch during exercise, in the rain, and while washing your hands, but submerging Apple Watch is not recommended. Apple Watch has a water resistance rating of IPX7 under IEC standard 60529.

I understand why this is difficult: Apple Watch has a speaker and a microphone, a side button, and — perhaps trickiest of all water resistance-wise — the digital crown. But I’m used to wearing a watch I can wear while swimming without any worries.

There is also one scenario where Apple Watch is far superior to my regular watches when checking the time: in the dark. Also, though it sounds trivial, I enjoy the perfect 60 FPS smoothness of Apple Watch’s second hand — a smoothness no mechanical watch could ever match.

For non-watch wearers, Apple Watch’s functionality as a timepiece should be just fine. Flicking your wrist or tapping the screen is far more convenient than taking your iPhone out of your pocket or bag to check the time. But for regular watch wearers, it’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s always going to be a bit of an inconvenience compared to an always-glance-able watch. It’s a fundamental conflict: a regular watch never turns off, but a display like Apple Watch’s cannot always stay on.

Time telling is where Apple Watch fares worst compared to traditional watches. That was inevitable. The primary purpose of traditional watches is telling time. Apple Watch is a general purpose computing device, for which telling time is an important, but not primary, use.

In short, I think Apple Watch might be a tougher sell to current watch wearers than non-watch wearers. Non-watch wearers have an open wrist, and if they cared about the glance-able convenience of an always-visible watch dial, they would be wearing a traditional watch already. Watch wearers, on the other hand, already have something on their wrist that Apple Watch needs to replace,3 and the reason they already have a watch on their wrist is that they care about telling time at a glance — something Apple Watch is (and only ever will be, I suspect) merely OK at, not great at.

The Object

The review unit loaned to me by Apple is the 42 mm stainless steel watch with link bracelet. They asked, and that was the size and bracelet style I requested. They also loaned me a Sport Band (white — they didn’t ask for a color preference).

It has the finest fit and finish of any Apple product I’ve ever used. It is a wonderfully well-constructed and designed object. Everything about it feels good, and material-wise, it looks great. The side button has a very nice clickiness, and the digital crown feels great as you spin it. (The digital crown does feel somewhat different than I recall from my hands-on time back in September, but that could be faulty memory on my part. My recollection from September was that it had more of an oily feel, more lubricity.)

The link bracelet is quite comfortable, and the user-removable links work as well as advertised for sizing it to fit. The clasp is elegant and clever. The link bracelet is very good — but I expected it to be very good.

The Sport Band is a downright revelation — I’d go so far as to call it the most comfortable watch band I’ve ever worn. I’ve rolled my eyes at Apple’s use of fluoroelastomer in lieu of rubber to describe the material of these bands, but it truly does have a premium, richly supple feel to it. The way the end of the band tucks under the other side of the strap — a design Marc Newson first used at Ikepod — is brilliant. Up until now, it struck me as odd that the $10,000 Edition models came with the same bands4 as the entry-model $349/399 Sport watches. Having worn it, it now strikes me the other way around — that the $349/399 Sport watches are equipped with straps that can genuinely be described as luxurious, fluoroelastomer or not.

At first, I found swapping watch bands to be a bit fiddly. I can see why Apple wasn’t allowing anyone to do so in the hands-on areas at the press events. But once you do it a few times, you get the hang of it. They really are rather easy to remove, yet they feel very secure once clicked into place. My advice: pay attention to the angle of the slot as you slide them into place.

In most lighting conditions, the entire face of the watch, regardless if the display is on or off, appears uniformly black. In bright sunlight and certain severe indoor lighting, you can see the display apart from the surrounding bezel. But in most cases, Apple Watch doesn’t look like a gadget with a display — it looks like a watch with a black face. This however, is another difference from traditional watches. A high-end mechanical watch looks better in direct sunlight — the more light, the better you can see its details. With Apple Watch, bright light exposes the truth behind its seemingly seamless black face.

Functionality aside — a big thing to put aside, but bear with me — I would not choose a rectangular-faced watch. But you can’t put functionality aside — the whole point of Apple Watch is that it does many things that have never been possible with a traditional watch, and most of those features are better suited to a rectangular display. A rectangular display can fit a circular watch face; a circular display is inherently ill-suited for anything other than radial dials like watch hands or the gauges on a dashboard.

For all the variety in watch bands and clock faces that Apple is offering — not to mention what is surely a coming tidal wave of third-party straps and bands — the most striking thing about Apple Watch is its singular gender-neutral shape. In addition to size differences, most traditional watches embrace decidedly male or female design cues; Apple Watch distinguishes itself by embracing neither. It thus cuts a distinctive and unabashedly modern figure on the wrist.

The quality of Apple Watch simply as an object is meaningful. When you wear something, it matters how it feels, and it matters how you think it looks. And much like with time-telling as a feature, Apple Watch may well appeal more to those who aren’t currently watch wearers than to those who are.

Battery Life

After more than a week of daily use, Apple Watch has more than alleviated any concerns I had about getting through a day on a single charge. I noted the remaining charge when I went to bed each night. It was usually still in the 30s or 40s. Once it was still over 50 percent charged. Once, it was down to 27. And one day — last Thursday — it was all the way down to 5 percent. But that day was an exception — I used the watch for an extraordinary amount of testing, nothing at all resembling typical usage. I’m surprised the watch had any remaining charge at all that day. I never once charged the watch other than while I slept.

That said, compared to a traditional watch, daily charging is terrible. Most quartz watches run for several years on a $10 battery. Mechanical automatic watches are self-winding — their mainsprings stay wound from the natural motion of your arm while you wear them. I have a Citizen Eco-Drive watch powered by solar energy that I bought six years ago and without ever having done a thing to power it other than expose it to light, it still keeps nearly perfect time.

Here’s how Apple describes the watch’s magnetic inductive charger:

You’ll want to use Apple Watch all day long. So we gave it a battery that lasts up to 18 hours and made charging it at the end of the day utterly effortless. In fact, our goal was to make Apple Watch easy to charge in the dark. Without looking. While being only partially awake. We arrived at a solution that combines our MagSafe technology with inductive charging. It’s a completely sealed system free of exposed contacts. And it’s very forgiving, requiring no precise alignment. You simply hold the connector near the back of the watch, where magnets cause it to snap into place automatically.

I find every word of that description (including the 18 hours of battery life) to be accurate and free of hyperbole. I’d love to see a charging system like this for the iPhone.

Health and Fitness

With time-telling and with the watch as a personal object, a statement of style, Apple is playing defense. Apple Watch is competing with traditional watches that are unbeatable in those regards. Apple has acquitted themselves well in both regards — adequately in terms of telling time, and very well in terms of the watch as an object of style and design.

In every other regard, Apple Watch is doing things traditional watches do poorly or can’t do at all. Health and fitness monitoring is one such area. These features are not something I am suited to review in depth. I don’t own any fitness tracking devices, and I don’t have much of an interest in them. To me, Apple Watch’s health and fitness tracking features might be like what the iPhone’s camera is to someone with no interest in photography. I’m glad it’s there, and I’ll surely wind up using it in some ways, but it’s not a reason why I would buy it in the first place.

Clearly, much thought was put into the fitness reminders and achievements. I haven’t changed any of the defaults, and it feels like Apple has struck a careful balance between successfully motivating me to move (and stand) more throughout the day, without crossing over the line to badgering.

I sit while I write, and it usually takes me a long time to work up some momentum. Apple Watch’s “It’s time to stand” reminders — as helpful though they may be for my well-being — wreak havoc on my productivity if I pay attention to them while I’m in the flow. I’ve started ignoring them while writing, but if I’m doing anything else while at my desk, I stand up when the watch tells me to. Handoff is helpful in this regard — if I’m reading something in Safari, I’ll just use Handoff to send it to my iPhone or iPad and continue reading while I wander around the house for a few minutes.

In addition to the allure of carrying (well, wearing) fewer standalone devices — step counter, heart rate monitor, etc. — Apple Watch’s fitness tracking features have the benefit of the iPhone serving as an intelligent central hub for the data. For example, if you walk around wearing only your Apple Watch, then walk around with both the watch and your iPhone in your pocket, then take off the watch and walk some more carrying only the phone — the stats aggregated in the Health app on your iPhone seems to keep all this straight and do the right thing. Steps neither get missed nor counted twice. This could prove useful for someone who wants to wear an Apple Watch only while working out, but who carries an iPhone the rest of the day. You should get accurate overall statistics for the day.

Taptic Engine, Force Touch, and the Digital Crown

At Apple Watch’s introduction and several times since, Apple has emphasized that each breakthrough product in the company’s history, starting with the Macintosh, has required new input technology to support the interaction design. The mouse for the Mac. The click wheel for the iPod. Multitouch for the iPhone. (Unmentioned: the stylus for the Newton.) Apple invented none of these things (with the possible exception of the click wheel), but Apple was the first to bring each of them to the mass market.

For Apple Watch, Apple is billing the Digital Crown as the breakthrough input device. And, to be sure, there’s no other watch, smart or otherwise, with a crown like this. Eight years of daily iPhone use had me swiping the Apple Watch touchscreen to scroll at first, but I quickly learned to adopt the digital crown instead. It truly is a good and clever idea, and, presuming it is patent-protected strongly enough, the lack of a digital crown is going to put competitors at a disadvantage. You can scroll the screen by swiping it, but scrolling the crown is better.

But fundamentally, what’s novel about the digital crown is the context of the wrist. As a concept, it’s pretty much the same idea as a scroll wheel on a mouse — you rotate it up and down to scroll/zoom, and you press it to click.

To me, the breakthrough in Apple Watch is the Taptic Engine and force touch. Technically, they’re two separate things. The Taptic Engine allows Apple Watch to tap you; force touch allows Apple Watch to recognize a stronger press from your finger. But they seem to go together. The new MacBook trackpad has both haptic feedback and recognition of force touches, and Apple Watch has both, too. I don’t think Apple will ever release a device that has one but not the other.

This is the introduction of a new dimension in input and output, and for me, it’s central to the appeal of Apple Watch. By default, Apple Watch has sounds turned on for incoming notifications. I can see why this is the default, but in practice, I keep sounds turned off all the time,5 not just in contexts where I typically silence my phone. Taps are all I need for notifications. They’re strong enough that you notice them, but subtle enough that they don’t feel like an interruption. When my phone vibrates, it feels like it’s telling me, Hey, I need you now. When the Apple Watch taps me, it feels like it’s telling me, Hey, when you get the chance, I’ve got something for you.

Taps go hand-in-hand with force touch. When you initiate a force touch, the watch gives you haptic feedback — thus there’s no confusion whether you tapped hard enough to qualify as a force touch. (Force touches also carry visual feedback — on any force touch in any context, the display animates back in a “bounce”, even in contexts where force touch has no meaning. Also, I believe that on Apple Watch, force touch has no location — the only target for force touch is the entire display. There’s never any scenario where you force touch this button or that button. Makes sense on a display this small.) The Taptic Engine also ties in with the digital crown. Scroll to the end of a list and Apple Watch has a rubber band “bounce” animation, much like iOS. But on Apple Watch, the rubber band animation coincides with haptic feedback that somehow conveys the uncanny sensation that the digital crown suddenly has more tension. It feels like you’re stretching a rubber band. Now that I’m getting used to this on Apple Watch, it makes the haptic-less rubber band end-of-scrollview bounce on iPhone and iPad feel thin.

And without taps, Apple Watch is rather dull. The first unit I received from Apple seemingly had a hardware defect. Taps worked at first, but I found them surprisingly weak — so weak they were easy to miss, even with the watch strapped relatively snugly to my wrist. By the end of the first day, taps weren’t working at all. Apple sent me a replacement unit the next day, and it was like an altogether different experience. Without the Taptic Engine, Apple Watch is not a compelling device.

Digital Touch

Which brings us to the last of Apple’s triumvirate of tentpole uses for Apple Watch: the “new way to connect with each other”.

Apple Watch also has old ways to communicate, like initiating phone calls and sending text messages. But the new ways are all about touch. Touch input from the sender, touch output to the recipient. And they only work between Apple Watches.

There are three forms, in increasing intimacy: doodles, taps, and your heartbeat. Touch communication. What the telephone was for voice, what video was for seeing, Apple Watch is for touch. No, you’re not really touching someone, but when you call someone, you’re not really hearing them, either. When you FaceTime them, you’re not really seeing them, you’re looking at a picture of them on a screen. But a phone call feels like you’re talking to someone. A FaceTime call feels like you’re looking at someone. And with digital touch on Apple Watch, it feels, in a very real sense, like you’re touching and being touched by another person.

Touch is an intimate sense. I see and hear dozens, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in a day. Most days, I touch only a few. Some days, I only touch two: my wife and my son.

Apple, as a company, is famously averse to extraneous hardware buttons. Sometimes they’re averse to useful hardware buttons (e.g. the mute switch/rotation lock that was removed from the latest iPads). Which makes the “side button” on Apple Watch all the more conspicuous. It serves other purposes — you double tap it to initiate an Apple Pay transaction, and you press it in conjunction with the digital crown to take a screenshot — but I don’t think this button would exist if not for the communication mode it invokes when you simply tap it. Apple thinks communication initiated from Apple Watch is important enough to justify that button. And I think that means digital touch.

I’m old enough, and cynical enough, that I rolled my eyes (at least figuratively) back in September when Apple first demonstrated sending taps and heartbeats to other Apple Watch users. But then I looked past my cynicism, and my eyes were opened.


You’re 16. You’re in school. You’re sitting in class. You have a crush on another student — you’ve fallen hard. You can’t stop thinking about them. You suspect the feelings are mutual — but you don’t know. You’re afraid to just come right out and ask, verbally — afraid of the crushing weight of rejection. But you both wear an Apple Watch. So you take a flyer and send a few taps. And you wait. Nothing in response. Dammit. Why are you so stupid? Whoa — a few taps are sent in return, along with a hand-drawn smiley face. You send more taps. You receive more taps back. This is it. You send your heartbeat. It is racing, thumping. Your crush sends their heartbeat back.

You’re flirting. Not through words. Not through speech. Physically flirting, by touch. And you’re not even in the same classroom. Maybe you don’t even go to the same school.

I’m not saying digital touch is only for teenagers. I’m not saying it’s only for flirting. But the scenario above exemplifies the ways that digital touch opens the door to forms of remote communication that most of us haven’t ever considered. Non-verbal, non-visual, physical communication across any distance. This could be something big.

If you’re the only person you know with an Apple Watch, your timekeeping will still be precise, your activity tracking will still be accurate — but digital touch as a form of communication will be pointless. Digital touch only works, only becomes a thing, if Apple Watch becomes a thing. Digital touch is not designed for an isolated product. It is designed as a tentpole feature for a hit product with widespread appeal and adoption. The single most innovative feature of Apple Watch — the most intimate feature of the company’s most personal device — will only matter if some of the people you care most about wear one too. 

  1. My case for why RIM was screwed from back in 2008, while the Blackberry was still flying high in terms of growth and market share, boiled down to just this point. ↩︎

  2. My theory: watch wearers, even casual ones, tend to notice the watches other people wear. Non-watch wearers don’t, and don’t even notice whether other people are even wearing a watch at all. ↩︎

  3. Sure, in theory one could wear a traditional watch on one wrist and an Apple Watch on the other, but that strikes me as severely uncouth. ↩︎

  4. Well, nearly the same bands — the Edition Sports bands have solid gold pins.  ↩︎

  5. Conspicuously absent in this nearly 6,000-word review is any mention of Apple Watch’s user interface or interaction model. That’s not because I don’t have significant comments, but because I have so many. It’ll be another full review unto itself. But I might as well explain how to toggle the mute switch. From the watch face, swipe up to show Glances. Glances, effectively, are like widgets. The leftmost (first) Glance is locked in place: it’s like Control Center on iOS, with four controls: toggles for Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, and Mute, and a “find my iPhone” button that makes your paired iPhone play a sound. ↩︎

Reach for the Sky, Pando

Mark Ames took the aforelinked SF Chronicle report on Apple’s policy of not hiring convicted felons (or those facing pending felony charges) to work on the construction of its new campus and Pando’d the hell out of it, starting with the headline: “As Tim Cook Criticizes Indiana, Apple Imposes Labor Discrimination in Its Own Backyard”. I’m not saying Apple’s no-felons policy is sound — I don’t know — but I feel safe saying that not hiring felons for construction jobs is not even in the same ballpark as a statewide law allowing for discrimination against people based on their sexuality.


Roughly 30 percent of Americans have a criminal record — arrest or conviction — that would show up in background checks, according to the US Department of Justice. The National Employment Law Center says that one in four California adults has either an arrest or conviction record.

Ames either doesn’t know what a felony is, or he does know and is deliberately misleading Pando readers by citing an unrelated statistic. (Wikipedia: “In the United States, where the felony/misdemeanor distinction is still widely applied, the federal government defines a felony as a crime punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year.”) Most crimes are not felonies. It’s pure bullshit to imply that 30 percent of Americans are banned from construction jobs at Apple’s new campus.

Here are some statistics from a 2010 study by John Schmitt and Kris Warner for the the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Ex-Offenders and the Labor Market” (PDF):

In 2008, about one in 33 working-age adults was an ex-prisoner and about one in 15 working-age adults was an ex-felon. About one in 17 adult men of working-age was an ex-prisoner and about one in 8 was an ex-felon.

1-in-8 working age men is an eye-opening number to be sure, and construction workers are overwhelmingly male, but that’s not even close to Ames’s “30 percent” figure.

Back to Ames at Pando:

Apple’s legally dubious hiring policy imposed on the two lead construction companies hired to build Apple’s new offices — Sweden’s Skanska, and Redwood City-based DPR Construction — comes as the company is playing progressive corporate leader in the pushback against Indiana’s anti-gay “religious liberty” laws. Apple is also trying to rewrite its dark past under Steve Jobs by releasing a new, Apple-authorized history of the company, Becoming Steve Jobs.

Apple did not “authorize” Becoming Steve Jobs. Apple did not “release” it. Four Apple executives cooperated with the book’s authors by granting interviews, as did several former employees and Jobs’s widow. Interviews. Apple had no control over the content of the book.

I’ve included Ames’s hyperlink on “dark past”, which points to a year-old Pando story — by Ames — on Steve Jobs’s incriminating emails in the no-poaching antitrust case against Apple and a slew of other tech companies.

Consider that authors Schlender and Tetzeli cover the lawsuit in the book and even mention the same callous “:)” email from Jobs. From Chapter 16, “Blind Spots, Grudges, and Sharp Elbows”, p. 381:

Emails subpoenaed during the investigation show that Steve was clearly involved. They also show him taking mordant pleasure at the fact that a Google recruiter was fired for poaching an Apple employee, after Steve had complained to Eric Schmidt, who was then CEO of the giant search engine company. When Jobs heard the news, his email reply was a smiley-face icon. Steve was hardly the only CEO to be caught with incriminating emails, but he was the only one shown making light of the personal impact of the collusion. Other chief executives seemed motivated primarily by a desire to not piss off Steve, who had become the most powerful employer in the technology business.

That’s some “rewrite”. A real whitewashing. 

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