By John Gruber
Simris® Algae Omega-3. Straight from the source in nature. No fish, no harm.
Widgets and custom app icons via Shortcuts are the breakout hit features of iOS 14. This should be not surprising: people love to customize their stuff, and until now you couldn’t really customize much more than your wallpaper and icon arrangement on the iOS home screen. Now you can, and people are digging it. For youngsters who’ve grown up only knowing iOS, this is their first taste of this sort of thing.
“Underscore” David Smith’s new app Widgetsmith is, thus, having a bit of a moment. Widgetsmith is like a widget construction kit:
It starts with a wide collection of highly customizable widgets, which range in function from date, to weather, to astronomy. Each can be adjusted precisely to best fit your desired function and appearance.
This set of widgets can then be dynamically scheduled to appear on your home screen following rules you define. For example, a particular widget could show the weather first thing in the morning, then your calendar during your work day, then switch to your Activity ring progress as you wrap up your day. This lets you take full advantage of each slot on your home screen.
It’s rocketed to the #1 spot on the App Store’s Productivity list. My teenage son, out of the blue, asked me if I’d heard about it — not iOS 14 widgets in general, but Widgetsmith specifically.1 A well-deserved hit product. If you’re having fun playing around with widgets, you should definitely check out Widgetsmith if your neighborhood teenager hasn’t already turned you onto it.
And but so of course the ripoff scammers are already doing their thing, and the App Store is welcoming them. Search for “Widgetsmith” — the exact name of Smith’s app — and the first app in the results is not Widgetsmith but a name-alike ripoff called, I swear, “Widgetsmith - Color Widgets”. This utterly shameless ripoff, replete with a ham-fisted knockoff of the icon to boot, is listed above the actual Widgetsmith, despite the fact that the actual Widgetsmith is currently the #1 app in Productivity and has over 53,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews. The ripoff app has 25 5-star ratings, one 1-star rating, and one written review, which reads, verbatim, “Thank developer for making such great app especially for iOS 14!” The entire description of the ripoff app is written in similar broken English.
[Update 6PM: Two hours later, and the rip-off Widgetsmith is gone.]
First, how in the world did this app get approved with this name and with this icon? And how is it still there? The ripoff version is now popular enough to be ranked #7 on the Entertainment list. Where’s the App Store bunco squad? This wouldn’t even be a hard case to crack. It wouldn’t be more obvious that this app is a ripoff if its name were “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version”. Apple keeps telling us how great the App Store is, but ripoffs like this remain commonplace. Apple right now has a promotion touting the benefits of the App Store on the front page of apple.com (gee, I wonder what prompted that?), which states:
The apps you love.
From a place you can trust.
For over a decade, the App Store has proved to be a safe and trusted place to discover and download apps. But the App Store is more than just a storefront — it’s an innovative destination focused on bringing you amazing experiences. And a big part of those experiences is ensuring that the apps we offer are held to the highest standards for privacy, security, and content. Because we offer nearly two million apps — and we want you to feel good about using every single one of them.
I doubt anyone feels good about “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version”, including the hucksters who made it. And if only the App Store were run just as a storefront, this wouldn’t happen. I’m pretty sure that if you go to Apple’s online store and search for “Solo Loop”, or walk into one of their retail stores and ask for one, you’re not going to be presented with a fly-by-night piece-of-crap knockoff named “Solo Loop - Color Bands”, with Apple’s actual Solo Loops hidden behind them.
The App Store is not trustworthy if that includes trusting that the apps in its trending lists and search results are legitimate. If Apple ran a food court like they run the App Store they’d let a McDowell’s open up two stores down from McDonald’s.
Second, even accepting that this app was allowed into the store with this name and this icon, how in the world does it rank ahead of the actual Widgetsmith in search results? How can App Store search be this wrong? It’d be bad enough if “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version” were listed after the actual Widgetsmith, but listed ahead of it? (And to be clear, the placement of “Widgetsmith - Ripoff Version” atop the results is not from paid search placement — those are a problem too, but they are marked as ads. This is not an ad.)
I’m like, “Yes, actually. In fact, I know the guy who made it! He’s …” and before I could finish, my son’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he wandered away. ↩︎
Impeccable timing on my part last night:
This makes me suspect that many are using Apple’s measuring tool inaccurately, or printing it out at the wrong scale, or both, and perhaps Apple should clarify the printed instructions. The current instructions simply read:
Cut and wrap the tool around your wrist, snug but not too tight.
What those instructions don’t make clear, but perhaps should, is that I think you’re supposed to use the tool to precisely measure the circumference of your wrist, not to simulate the circumference of what you think would be a comfortable watch band. Think about how a tailor measures your chest or waist — you’re not cinching a tourniquet, but you don’t want any slack at all.
Apple today updated its Solo Loop PDF sizing tool. The sizes remain exactly the same, but the instructions have been clarified, much as I suggested, and are now accompanied by a helpful illustration. They now read:
Cut the tool. Then wrap it tightly around your wrist where you typically wear your watch. You can use tape to hold the wider part in place. Make sure the tool feels snug and doesn’t slide up or down.
No more ambiguous “snug but not too tight”. Now they’ve made clear that it should wrap tight enough not to slide around. Apple also clarified what to do if your wrist seems to fall between sizes:
Note the number the arrows point to — that’s your band size. If the arrows point to a line, choose the smaller of the two numbers closest to the line.
A few people have wondered why Apple doesn’t just map fluoroelastomer Sport Band sizes to Solo Loop sizes. I can see why Apple doesn’t do that — they can’t assume everyone already has access to an Apple Watch with a Sport Band, and even for people who do have access to one, Apple can’t assume it’s the right size watch (38/40mm vs. 42/44mm). And to further complicate matters, each Sport Band comes with two sizes for the side with the holes: “S/M” and “M/L”. So that’s four separate mappings from Sport Band holes to the new Solo Loop sizes. That’s complicated. But it’s no longer a safe assumption that everyone has access to a printer, either, so let’s figure out the mappings here.
It turns out Sport Band holes do map exactly to the new Solo Loop sizes. That makes sense, when you think about it, but it hadn’t occurred to me until today to just lay Sport Bands next to the measuring tool. The distance between the holes in every Apple Sport Band is exactly the same as the distance between the 12 sizes of Solo Loops on Apple’s measuring tool.
[Update: My measurements for the smaller 38/40mm Sport Bands had an off-by-one bug1 when I originally published the photo and table below. Sorry about that. I believe they are correct now.]
[Update 2: Don’t overthink these photos. The top of the bands aren’t supposed to line up. My methodology was simple. I tried all four Sport Band combinations on my own wrist: 40 and 44mm watches, with both the S/M and M/L bands. Then I lined up the Sport Band hole that fit my wrist best with the Solo Loop size that I know fits me best (size 7). That’s it. You line up the Sport Band hole that fits you best with the Solo Loop size that fits you best and the other hole-to-Solo-Loop-size mappings just fall into place. The fact that the tops of the bands don’t line up when you do this is irrelevant.]
Here are two photographs to illustrate the mappings. First, these black Sport Bands are for smaller Apple Watches (38/40mm):
These gray Sport Bands are for larger Apple Watches (42/44mm):
No matter which width and length, all Sport Bands have 7 holes. The following table shows how those holes correspond to Apple’s new Solo Loop sizes:
To me, the photographs above make the mappings much more obvious than the table. It practically demands an illustration, lest you get lost between counting Sport Band holes and counting Solo Loop sizes.
The range of wrist sizes for the Sport Bands corresponds exactly to the new Solo Loops — the first hole on the 38/40mm S/M Sport Band is a size 1, and the last hole on the 42/44mm M/L Sport Band is a size 12. ★
Here’s my mistake. It was really dumb, like any good off-by-one bug. I have a slew of old Sport Bands from various Apple Watches over the years, but not as many actual spare watches. And the spare watches I do have are mine, and thus are 42/44mm models. When I tried the smaller 38/40mm Sport Bands on my wrist, I snapped those bands onto my 44mm Apple Watch, rather than bother my wife or son to borrow one of their smaller 40mm watches, thinking it wouldn’t matter, because I happen to know the watch connectors will properly snap into place for all straps on all watches. It doesn’t look right, width-wise, but functionally you can securely connect a small Apple Watch band to a large Apple Watch, and vice versa.
The obvious problem: trying small Apple Watch bands on a large Apple Watch body didn’t account for the fact that the larger watch body spreads the watch connectors a few extra millimeters apart. Hence the off-by-one bug. Duh. ↩︎
Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors, “New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop”:
Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person gets a snug fit. To get the right sizing, Apple offers a printable tool [PDF] and also measurement comparisons so you can estimate size, but as it turns out, that sizing isn’t always accurate and Apple’s returns for ill-fitting bands ordered with one of the new Apple Watches are a hassle.
Customers who chose a Solo Loop or a Braided Solo Loop along with an Apple Watch Series 6 or SE and have a poor fit can’t just return the band for a new size — the entire Apple Watch has to be returned since it’s considered a set.
Unfortunately, there are limited supplies of the new Apple Watch Series 6 models and the new bands, so customers forced to make a return are now having to wait from late October to late November for a new Apple Watch, depending on the model chosen.
This sucks, but you can see how it happened. I think this is the first situation where Apple has been not just hindered, but outright bitten by COVID-era restrictions. First, it’s obvious these bands are better sized in person than using a paper ruler. But second, exchanges are better facilitated in person too.
Starting a few years ago, when you buy a new Apple Watch, the watch + band bundle is treated as a single SKU, but the watch and band are in separate boxes inside an outer cardboard wrapper. The band in its own box seems like something you ought to be able to exchange independently of the watch, but it isn’t sold that way. This has worked fine to date, because none of Apple’s bands prior to the Solo Loops are sized precisely. All their other bands are adjustable, and to cover a wide range of wrist sizes, some come in two sizes. Apple’s Sport Band, for example, comes in “S/M” and “M/L” sizes, but Apple just includes both sizes when you buy one.
There’s a reason why no watch bands from any watch brand I’m aware of are sized as precisely as Apple’s new Solo Loops. It’s a huge logistical problem compared to adjustable watch bands, and the whole thing is premised on people knowing their correct size — which is a function both of their actual wrist size and their preference for how loose or tight they prefer bands to feel.
Based on what I see on Twitter and in various public forums, it seems like most people with ill-fitting Solo Loops are winding up with ones that are too loose, not too tight. Justine Ezarik measured her wrist as a 5, but Apple sent her size 3’s and 2’s as review units, and the 2’s fit her perfectly. (Again, Apple PR’s size guessers are freakishly good.) This makes me suspect that many are using Apple’s measuring tool inaccurately, or printing it out at the wrong scale, or both, and perhaps Apple should clarify the printed instructions. The current instructions simply read:
Cut and wrap the tool around your wrist, snug but not too tight.
What those instructions don’t make clear, but perhaps should, is that I think you’re supposed to use the tool to precisely measure the circumference of your wrist, not to simulate the circumference of what you think would be a comfortable watch band. Think about how a tailor measures your chest or waist — you’re not cinching a tourniquet, but you don’t want any slack at all. Here’s me measuring my wrist.
But I’ve seen reports from folks who used Apple’s tool and wound up with Solo Loops that are too tight, and I’ve also seen reports from people who prefer the rubber Solo Loop in one size but the Braided Solo Loop in a different — usually smaller — size. So again, like buying shoes, there’s no substitute for trying them on in person. Which, alas, is not an option for a lot of us at the moment. ★
One of the numerous lamentable aspects of product introductions in the coronavirus era is the lack of any sort of post-keynote hands-on access to the products. Apple’s product photography is nonpareil, but there are some things you need to see in person. Color is one. And for how things feel, well, you obviously need to have whatever it is in hand — or in this case, on wrist.
With this week’s new products, the ones I was most interested in seeing, feeling, and trying in person were: the Graphite stainless steel Series 6 Apple Watch (how dark is it? how polished?), the new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop bands (how stretchy are they? how comfortable? better than the regular Sport Bands or just different?), and the new Leather Link strap (how’s it compare to the Leather Loop?).
Apple sent me the following products for review, which arrived early Wednesday morning — without having asked me if I had any specific requests:
The advantage, perhaps, of having boring but very consistent taste is that I’m very easy to predict. While what Apple sent wasn’t an exact match for my personal “what I’m most interested in” list, it was remarkably close, and sending the Milanese Loop instead of the Leather Loop is better for the single biggest question on my mind — evaluating the Graphite stainless steel finish.
But that’s not all. Part of the thing with the Solo Loops is that they’re rather precisely sized — they stretch to take on and off, but they’re meant to fit your wrist in their unstretched state. Going by Apple’s print-and-cut-out DIY sizing PDF, the difference between each size is less than 6.6 mm. According to Apple’s paper tool, I should take a size 7, but I’m closer to an 8 than a 6.
They sent me each of the Solo Loops in two sizes: 7 and 8.
And, indeed, the size 7 fits me perfectly. The size 8 straps fit OK, but they’re loose — not little-kid-wearing-their-dad’s-watch loose, more like someone-who-prefers-a-slightly-wiggly-fit loose.
Whoever on the Apple’s Watch team decided which sizes to send me absolutely nailed it. It’s uncanny. I checked with a few of my fellow hacks and Apple sent them the exact right sizes too. Nobody was asked to measure their wrists, nobody was asked which hole they use in the regular Sport Bands. I can’t get over this. I feel like I just lost $5 to a carnival barker who correctly guessed my age to the exact year, and I want to get back in line to bet another $5 to see if he can guess my weight.
In addition to the wrist-size guessers, I would like to nominate the color-naming team at Apple for a nice bonus this year. They do good work.1
Graphite is an excellent name for this stainless steel finish. It is darker, but it is not nearly black. Describing where Graphite lies on the spectrum compared to the other dark metallic finishes in Apple’s product line really does require words, not photographs. I mean, compare Apple’s product photography for the Space Black Series 6 in stainless steel (only available in Hermès models this year) with Graphite Series 6 in stainless steel. Apple’s photos make them look indistinguishable. For posterity, I’ve saved copies of Apple’s product shots of the Series 6 in Graphite, Space Black Hermès, and Space Black Titanium (which I very much like, but which really ought to be called Space Gray, because it’s definitely not black).
In real life, the difference is very clear. Apple’s photography captures Graphite very accurately, but makes Space Black look much lighter than it actually is, to accentuate its polished surface in comparison to Space Gray aluminum and Space Black titanium. (I don’t have access to a new Series 6 in Space Black, but I do own Space Black Series 3 and Series 0 watches, and Apple’s Space Black is the same across Apple Watches old and new.) Apple’s Space Black DLC finish for stainless steel is truly jet black — it’s the polished glossy black of Darth Vader’s helmet. Graphite is more like a darker shade of silver — it is definitely darker than regular “silver” stainless steel, but just as definitely not black.
Another good comparison is to last year’s Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro, which is also stainless steel, dark gray, and highly polished. My Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro is definitely darker than the new Graphite Apple Watch. To my eyes, Apple’s Space Gray steel (as seen on iPhones) plays as black or near-black, unless you put it against something truly black. Graphite never looks black.
Apple’s dark gray stainless steel finishes, on a spectrum:
Outdoors in daylight, my Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro looks closer to Graphite than to Space Black; indoors at night, it looks closer to Space Black than to Graphite.
I think this is a good change for Apple’s “dark” stainless steel watches. Space Black made more sense with the original Series 0–3 form factor, where the displays were sharp-cornered rectangles and had larger bezels. The Space Black finish effectively blurred the seam between the display sapphire and the steel case, and helped disguise the fact that the displays had awkwardly large bezels. The watch as a whole looked like a shiny black monolithic capsule. With the Series 4 redesign that carries through to this year’s Series 6, that sort of disguise isn’t necessary, because the displays are larger and have round corners. Also, Graphite looks more obviously like polished steel than Space Black — they might well be equally polished and glossy, but because Graphite is lighter-colored it has a mirror-like effect that Space Black doesn’t. It’s more glanceably premium-looking. It’s shiny.
That shininess carries through to the Graphite Milanese Loop, which definitely looks darker than the regular Silver stainless steel Milanese Loop, but just as definitely is not black. Again, Apple’s product photography for Graphite is very true to life to my eyes.
My Space Black Link Bracelet — from my original Apple Watch back in 2015, still in pristine condition thanks to the near-imperviousness of the DLC finish — looks fine with the Graphite Series 6 watch. It’s definitely not an exact color match, but on the wrist, it plays. The mirror-like finish of Graphite stainless steel helps it pick up the color of whatever band you pair it with. (Apple still sells the Link Bracelets, in Silver and Space Black stainless steel, and the Space Black one still costs $100 extra — $450 vs. $350.)
Why do the dark Hermès models still use Space Black instead of Graphite? I think that’s to precisely color-match the existing Space Black hardware of Hermès watch bands. But who knows? It really does seem a bit curious that Apple’s dark stainless steel Series 6 models are only available in Graphite, and Hermès’s dark ones are only available in Space Black. [Update: Here’s the Series 6 in Space Black at Hermès’s website. These are slightly different photos, and maybe make the Space Black look more black than the photos on Apple’s site? The hardware elements of the strap certainly do.]
I know not every Apple Watch owner has a Sport Band, but I assume a general familiarity with it as the canonical, iconic Apple Watch band. Visually, the new Solo Loop looks like the Sport Band on the wrist. But it feels quite different.
For one thing, the Solo Loops are half the weight of the Sport Bands. My regular Sport Bands (42/44mm width, S/M length) all weigh about 25 grams according to my kitchen scale.2 The new rubber Solo Loop weighs only 13 grams and the Braided Solo Loop just 11 grams. (Apple’s velcro Sport Loop bands remain the lightweight kings, at just 9 grams. Personally I’m just not a velcro guy, but I see tons of people wearing these straps.)
In addition to the weight difference, they also feel quite different because they’re more supple. If you hold a Sport Band by the connector and stick it out horizontally, it only droops a little, like a diving board in need of repair. If you hold one of the new Solo Loops by the connector, it droops straight down. It seems axiomatic that stretchiness and suppleness go hand-in-hand, but on the wrist you can really feel it, especially comparing the rubber Solo Loop to a regular fluoroelastomer Sport Band. It’s like baby’s-butt-cheek soft and supple.
In terms of getting them on and off the wrist, I’d say they’re both clearly in “just right” range on the Goldilocks scale. If they were stretchier, they might be a bit easier to get on and off, but I think they’d then be too loosey-goosey on the wrist. Once on your wrist, the Solo Loop bands are very secure. And though Apple has a footnote on its Solo Loop web page stating “Band may increase in length over time”, I suspect they’re a little less stretchy than they could be to make them more durable.
Here’s how Apple describes the Braided Solo Loop fabric:
Made from 100 percent recycled materials, the 16,000 polyester yarn filaments in each band are interwoven with thin silicone threads using advanced braiding machinery then laser cut to an exact length. The 300D construction offers a soft, textured feel and is both sweat-resistant and water-resistant.
(“300D” is the type of polyester — thinner and lighter than 600D.) I can’t do better than Apple’s own description: it does feel soft and textured, and it does seem water-resistant for a fabric band. I soaked mine under a faucet, and it’s not magic — it does get wet. But if you’ve ever worn a NATO-style watch strap, or one of Apple’s old Nylon Woven Bands, or one of my personal favorites for mechanical watches, an Erika’s Original MN strap, you know that these sort of nylon/polyester straps dry fairly quickly even after swimming.
I really like both of these straps, and will probably wind up wearing one or the other with my Apple Watch for the foreseeable future. I hope both prove popular enough to become perennial mainstays in Apple’s band lineup. ★
Have you seen how many named colors there are when you customize watch faces in WatchOS nowadays? It’s arguably too many choices from a user interface perspective, but the names for these colors are just chef’s kiss spot-on. ↩︎