Ben Clymer Reviews the Apple Watch Series 3 Edition 

Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer was, I believe, the only reviewer seeded with an Apple Watch Series 3 Edition, and his review is excellent:

Now, what I haven’t mentioned yet is that there is actually a sister product to Apple Watch Series 3 that is all but a must-have: AirPods. Apple’s wireless Bluetooth headphones have been with me since December of last year, and while the sound quality is hardly audiophile worthy, they are incredibly convenient. At this point, I couldn’t live without them, and I felt that way even before I received this sample Series 3 to try. They are an even bigger part of my life with the Series 3 in the picture.

Indeed, Apple Watch with AirPods is a terrific combination, both for listening to music and for making phone calls.

On the ceramic case:

Again, the quality of the ceramic matches that of any high-end polished ceramic watch I’ve seen in the market from Switzerland. In fact, Apple has indicated they are using much of the same finishing techniques that one might expect to see in, say, Le Brassus or Le Sentier, and if you look through Apple’s “Designed by Apple In California” book, and then tour Audemars Piguet for example, you’ll see the very same tools.

And as Ben Thompson noted, this is probably the best line from any of the Series 3 reviews:

Still, we now have smartwatches from two of the three big luxury watch groups, and likely more to come. And that’s before we actually talk about sales numbers of Apple versus the traditional players or the fact that all of theirs use what is the equivalent of an off-the-shelf caliber in Android OS while Apple’s is, to borrow a term they’ll understand, completely in-house. Ironic, really.

Understanding How the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Toggles in Control Center Work in iOS 11 

Apple:

In iOS 11 and later, when you toggle the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth buttons in Control Center, your device will immediately disconnect from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth accessories. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth will continue to be available, so you can use these important features:

  • AirDrop
  • AirPlay
  • Apple Pencil
  • Apple Watch
  • Continuity features, like Handoff and Instant Hotspot
  • Instant Hotspot
  • Location Services

This is an interesting feature, but I think it’s going to confuse and anger a lot of people. Until iOS 11, the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles in Control Center worked the way it looked like they worked: they were on/off switches. Now, in iOS 11, they still look like on/off switches, but they act as disconnect switches.

Off the top of my head, I would suggest making them three-way switches: on and connected, on but disconnected, and off. I don’t have an idea for how to present that visually though. Or make on/off buttons available in the expanded menu you get when you 3D touch on these controls. Update: DF reader Matthew Smith emailed to point out that these buttons already have three states: “In Control Center, when you tap the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth icon, it goes from blue to grey. If you tap the Airplane mode icon, both icons go grey, but also gain another indicator: A diagonal line through their icons. This is a good way to tell the difference between disconnected and off. So with the currently available indicators, these could easily become a 3-way switch.”

Motherboard has a story that posits that this change is a security risk, but I think that’s overblown. I think the problem is simply that these buttons no longer do (a) what they used to do, even though they look the same, and (b) what people naturally expect them to do, just by looking at them.

Everything You Might Want to Know About Cellular Service With Apple Watch Series 3 

Serenity Caldwell:

Apple’s GPS + Cellular Apple Watch is almost here, and I’ve gotten a ton of questions from our readers and various folks on Twitter in regards to how cellular data will work on the Apple Watch. Here’s a brief overview of everything you need to know in that regard.

Great FAQ. One small thing she missed: the new Explorer watch face is exclusive to cellular-capable watches, and it shows you whether you’re currently connected to LTE or not with the four green circles that serve as a signal-strength indicator. If you don’t see the circles, the watch is not using LTE; if you see them, it is. With all other watch faces, you need to peek at Control Center to see whether you’re on LTE.

Brian X. Chen’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review 

Brian X. Chen, writing for The New York Times:

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

I’d like to reiterate just how good my experience with Siri has been while testing the watch on LTE. Siri has been fast and accurate, just as it needs to be. The primary interaction model for communicating via the watch isn’t apps. I don’t want to hit the crown button, go to the app screen, find the Phone app, tap it, and somehow initiate a call by poking at the screen. I want to hold the crown button and say “Call Amy”. And that has just worked.

Also, dictating text for Message replies has been excellent. 30 minutes ago I was out getting coffee and got a text from my wife about dinner plans. In response, I dictated a response that, if transcribed perfectly, I would spell and punctuate as follows: “Fucking-A, that sounds good to me.” Siri’s actual translation: “Fucking a that sounds good to me.” I thought perhaps I could trick Siri into prudishly mis-transcribing that first word, but no, she got it.

Joanna Stern’s Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Untethered, All Day 

Aside from the LTE connectivity issues she ran into, Stern’s review is interesting because she tried something Apple Watch Series 3 isn’t really meant for: going all day long without your iPhone. She had to recharge midday, but Apple’s own specs only list the watch as having 4 hours of battery life while connected to LTE, and 1 hour of talk time.

It’s a fun video, too. I realize these larger publications have video teams, but all I can think is that if I published videos alongside my product reviews, I’d still be working on my review of the iPhone 7 from last year.

Serenity Caldwell: ‘Apple Watch Series 3’s “LTE Problems” Are Actually an Existing Wi-Fi Bug’ 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This article is simply phenomenally detailed, including how to tell if your Apple Watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Apple Admits to Apple Watch LTE Problems When Joining Unauthenticated Wi-Fi Networks 

Lauren Goode, writing for The Verge:

While writing my review of the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE capabilities, I experienced notable connectivity issues. The new Watch appeared to try to connect to unknown WiFi networks instead of connecting to cellular, when I was out and about without my phone. (The issues are laid out in much more detail in the review.)

Within the first couple days of experiencing this, Apple replaced my first review unit with a second one, but that one proved to be problematic, too.

Eventually, the company issued an official statement, acknowledging the issue. “We have discovered that when Apple Watch Series 3 joins unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity, it may at times prevent the watch from using cellular,” an Apple spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We are investigating a fix for a future software release.”

Joanna Stern (and her WSJ colleague Geoffrey Fowler) ran into LTE connectivity problems, too — hopefully caused by this same issue with the watch joining unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. I didn’t run into any problems with LTE connectivity. Every single time I tried to do something via LTE — make a call, send messages, invoke Siri — it just worked. For what it’s worth, my review unit watch was paired with my review unit iPhone 8, on AT&T’s network.

I’m not the only reviewer who seemingly had no issue with LTE. BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen made no mention of any such issues, and she placed a phone call via her watch after swimming 1,500 feet into the San Francisco Bay.

I suspect one reason I haven’t run into this is that I generally avoid using unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks. They’re a security risk, and at least in my experience they generally offer slower, less reliable connectivity than LTE. This might also explain how Apple shipped these watches with such a bug — I doubt Apple employees seeded with testing units were connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots.

I’m not trying to blame the victims here. This is a severe bug that Apple needs to fix as soon as possible. And it’s left Apple in the embarrassing position of having a slew of reviews today in which the tentpole new feature of Series 3 shit the bed.


Apple Watch Series 3

When is the right time to ship a product? In particular, a hardware product? The answer, sometimes, is not when it’s done, but rather when it’s useful.

The original Apple Watch was too slow. It was too dependent on being tethered to an iPhone. The user interface was too unfocused. But it was useful in some meaningful ways — primarily fitness tracking and as a convenient display for notifications.

With WatchOS 2 and 3, Apple focused the experience on fitness tracking and notifications. With last year’s Series 2 hardware, performance improved and the screen got much brighter, making it far more legible outdoors.

With the addition of cellular networking in Series 3, Apple Watch gains something essential: independence. It’s not just a cool feature. It’s aimed smack dab in the middle of the two things people like best about Apple Watch: notifications and fitness. When are you separated from your iPhone? When you’re exercising. What do you miss most when you’re away from your phone? Messages and phone calls.

Phone anxiety is a weird, and, for me at least, irrational thing. I know that mankind survived for millennia without the ability to communicate with each other out of earshot. But once you get used to having your phone with you at all times, you get used to feeling that if anyone needs you, they can get you.

Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular networking completely alleviates this anxiety. It is not a replacement for a phone, and is not supposed to be. But it lets you leave your phone at home when you go for a run, or in your locker while you’re at the gym, or in your hotel while you go to the beach, and not worry in the least that you’re out of touch.

Audio quality for phone calls on the watch is very good. People I called via the watch said I sounded great, and I could hear them loud and clear. And all of my testing of phone calls on the watch took place mid-day on busy city streets — full of traffic and pedestrians — here in Philadelphia. People won’t know you’re calling them from your watch if you don’t tell them.

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

But it really feels like a big difference that Siri now talks back to you. The non-talking Siri on previous Apple Watches now feels half-baked to me. (And, at least here in the U.S., you get the new improved Siri voice that also ships with iOS 11.)

The only thing I don’t like about the addition of cellular networking to Apple Watch is out of Apple’s hands: the monthly price to add it to a cellular plan. AT&T and Verizon are both charging $10 a month per watch. I don’t expect it to be free, but $120 a year feels like too much for a device that I’m using instead of the iPhone I’m already paying (a lot) for. With our Verizon family plan, it also costs $10 a month to add an iPad. But an iPad is a device we use in addition to our phones, not instead of.1 I think $5 per month is the right price. (And DF readers in Canada and Australia report that that’s about what it costs from the carriers in those countries — this is perhaps a U.S. problem, not a worldwide one.)

Battery life has been fine. “All day” is about right — charging at night, using it all day, and I’ve had plenty left in the tank when I went to bed again. That said, I’ve been testing a 42mm watch. I can’t speak to the battery life of the 38mm models. This is what I expected, but it’s kind of exciting when you think about it. Apple turned Apple Watch into a goddamn cell phone, without making the device thicker2 or heavier, and it still lasts all day.

It’s worth thinking about that. Apple is a company that is driven to make its devices thinner and thinner. To the consternation of many users, when Apple creates more efficient chips, they tend to keep battery life the same while making the devices thinner, rather than keep the devices the same size and extend battery life with bigger batteries. But in the early years of a new product line, they don’t do that. iPhone stayed the same basic thickness until the iPhone 4. In those early generations, it was more important to add essential missing features, like 3G networking, a better camera, and a faster processor, than to make it thinner. Apple Watch might stay the same size for a few more years.

There’s no way to review this watch without mentioning the red dot on the digital crown. All cellular equipped Series 3 watches, including all the stainless steel models, the ceramic Edition models, and the Hermès models, have this red dot. I don’t get it. It’s not that it looks bad in and of itself, but it draws unnecessary attention. I would much prefer this watch if it were black. Also, red doesn’t go with everything, and a huge part of the fun of Apple Watch is swapping bands. Apple sells a lot of watch bands that clash with the red dot.3

The Future

My two big wishes for future generations of Apple Watch: a camera and some form of always-on display.

A camera is the one thing I miss when I leave my iPhone at home and go for a run. I have no idea how a camera could work ergonomically on a watch. Maybe it’s just not feasible. But it is mildly frustrating when I’m out on a run and see something interesting that I’d like to photograph. In the same way that always carrying a phone gets you used to always being in contact with friends, family, and colleagues, always carrying a camera gets you used to always being able to take a photo.

Raise-to-wake works about as well as I could hope, but as someone who regularly wears mechanical watches, trust me, it’s no substitution for always being able to glance at your wrist for the time. With the current Apple Watch displays, the problem is obviously battery life (and perhaps burn-in too). I don’t know what the answer is, technologically, but I feel like Apple has to be working on this, and that it’s coming in some future model.

A third, bonus wish for the future: stronger, more precise haptic feedback from the next generation Taptic Engine. The Taptic Engine in Series 3 is unchanged from Series 2. It’s not bad, but I wish it were better, especially for the stainless steel models.

WatchOS 4

This is not a full review of everything new in WatchOS 4, but there are two features I want to point out.

First, I love the new option to show the app screen as a simple vertically scrolling list of apps, sorted alphabetically. The honeycomb design — which is still the default in WatchOS 4 — has frustrated me ever since the original Watch. It’s a bad design in several ways:

  • The icons are unlabeled, and at such small sizes many of them look very similar. At a glance the Stopwatch and Timer apps are practically identical.
  • The arrangement is seemingly random. It’s like playing “Where’s Waldo” trying to find a specific app.
  • The tap targets are way too small and packed too close to each other. Even when you find the app you’re looking for, it’s all too easy to accidentally launch a neighboring one.
  • It suggests that the Apple Watch is like an iPhone, with a home screen. It’s not. The “home” screen on Apple Watch is your watch face.

The new simple scrolling list of named apps solves all of these problems. I’d go so far as to say that Apple should have made this the default. The honeycomb design is a violation of the adage that design is how it works. The honeycomb looks cool, especially when you pan around, but it works like shit, and it’s a reminder of the unfocused nature of the original Apple Watch.

(Update: To toggle between these views of apps, 3D touch on the app screen. You get a choice between what Apple calls “grid view” and “list view”.)

Second, there’s a new feature in WatchOS called “Auto-launch Audio Apps”. It’s in the Apple Watch app on your iPhone, in the General: Wake Screen section. What happens with this is that when you initiate audio playback on your iPhone, if there’s a corresponding WatchOS app on your watch, when you raise your wrist that app is what you see, instead of your watch face. This was on by default with my review unit, which I set up as a new watch, and I noticed it while listening to podcasts in Overcast. Because I wasn’t expecting it, I was irritated at first, and thought about disabling it. But now that I know it’s there, I really like it. I don’t know how much of this to attribute to WatchOS 4, and how much to attribute to the performance improvements in Series 3, but there is zero lag involved. No spinner while the app launches or anything like that. When I play podcasts from my iPhone, my watch just automatically turns into a remote control for audio playback. It’s nice. 


  1. It’s worth noting here that a Series 3 Apple Watch’s cellular networking will only work in the country in which you purchase it. That’s because the link between it and your iPhone is handled by your carrier. The watch’s cellular connectivity is an extension of your carrier account. ↩︎︎

  2. To be pedantic, as Jeff Williams pointed out on stage at the event last week, the casing for Series 3 watches is unchanged in size, but the covering on the back of the watch (ceramic on all cellular models, composite on non-cellular ones) is 0.2mm thicker. Not 2mm thicker — 0.2. As Williams described it, that’s “two sheets of paper”. Side-by-side it is indistinguishable in thickness compared to a Series 2, but I admire Apple’s exactitude. ↩︎

  3. While I’m talking about aesthetics, allow me to plop in an unrelated suggestion: try the “Bold Text” option in the Brightness & Text Size section of Settings. When you toggle this, the watch warns you that it will need to restart. That warning kept me from trying this option for a long time, because it takes Apple Watch so long to restart. I was worried that if I didn’t like the way Bold Text looked, I’d have to wait for two reboot cycles to get back to the default setting. But it’s not really a full reboot. WatchOS just needs to restart its presentation layer, much like on iOS when you switch to zoomed mode. And I really like the way Bold Text looks. Small text in complications just looks cooler, more like the way I’d expect small text to be printed on a nice mechanical watch. Seriously, give it a try. ↩︎︎


College Students Are Hostile Toward Free Speech 

Catherine Rampell, writing for The Washington Post:

Here’s the problem with suggesting that upsetting speech warrants “safe spaces,” or otherwise conflating mere words with physical assault: If speech is violence, then violence becomes a justifiable response to speech.

Just ask college students. A fifth of undergrads now say it’s acceptable to use physical force to silence a speaker who makes “offensive and hurtful statements.”

That’s one finding from a disturbing new survey of students conducted by John Villasenor, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and University of California at Los Angeles professor.

Even worse, a large segment of them fundamentally do not understand the First Amendment:

For example, when students were asked whether the First Amendment protects “hate speech,” 4 in 10 said no. This is, of course, incorrect. Speech promoting hatred — or at least, speech perceived as promoting hatred — may be abhorrent, but it is nonetheless constitutionally protected.

This notion equating speech with violence is more than just an irritation. It’s ammunition for the right to shut down legitimate protest. It’s self-defeating for people on the left to take this stance. Sticks and stones, folks.

Nilay Patel on the iPhones 8 

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

Qi is pretty slow, though — Apple’s goal is to match the charging speed of its own 5W pack-in charger, but I only saw about 15 percent more charge on the 8 Plus every 30 minutes with the Mophie, which is especially pokey when you consider that you can’t pick up and use your phone during that time. A future iOS update will let the iPhone 8 draw more power out of the Mophie and Belkin pads Apple sells in stores, so hopefully things speed up when that happens.

So with fast charging (Apple’s 29-watt charger and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable) you get about 2 percent charge per minute. With Qi you get about 0.5 percent charge per minute — but that might improve in a future iOS update.

Matthew Panzarino on the iPhones 8 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Nearly every iPhone upgrade for the past several years has been driven by the camera. There have been impressive updates in hardware and feature additions, but anecdotally I cannot count the number of times people have cited the camera as the primary reason that they’re interested in updating their phone.

So, how does the camera in the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus stack up?

Killer.

My favorite review so far. I think people underestimating the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus cameras are missing the boat.

Geoffrey Fowler on the iPhones 8 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

The virtues I see in the iPhone 8 are niche: I’m glad you don’t have to spend $1,000 to get an improved camera and processor and even wireless charging, if that matters to you. But Apple’s confusing iPhone family now includes three pairs of practically identical phones: the regular and Plus versions of the iPhone 8, 7 and 6s. Don’t buy the spendiest one.

I think this is terrible advice. I don’t think the iPhone X is for everyone. But if you’re not going to get the iPhone X, you should definitely get the iPhone 8 if you can afford it. The cameras are better, and the A11 Bionic chip is truly built for the future.

But you will have to look closely. There has been no resolution change — still 12 megapixels. And I didn’t find any shocking improvements like I saw in low-light performance we got in the iPhone 7.

I could go on and on about this, but just counting megapixels is arguably the worst way to gauge camera quality. Yes, iPhone 7’s sensor is 12 MP and so is iPhone 8’s, but the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger. That means every pixel is bigger. That means every pixel can absorb more light. The fact that the iPhone 8 sensor is bigger but has the same number of pixels is — at least in my opinion — far better than if it were the same size as the 7’s but had more (smaller) pixels.

Farhad Manjoo on the iPhones 8 

Farhad Manjoo, writing for The New York Times:

So here’s my conclusion, after nearly a week testing the 8 and 8 Plus: The 8s feel like a swan song — or, to put it another way, they represent Apple’s platonic ideal of that first iPhone, an ultimate refinement before eternal retirement.

Unsurprisingly, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus are very good phones. Most of Apple’s improvements over the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are minor, but if you have an older model, either of the 8s will feel like a solid upgrade. And if you are considering upgrading from an Android phone, there’s one area where the new iPhones still rank head and shoulders above their competition — the processor, the engine that runs the entire device, where Apple is so far ahead that it almost feels unfair.


The iPhones 8

I was tempted to write this review under the conceit that there was no such thing as the iPhone X. Just don’t even mention the iPhone X, and consider the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as though they were the only two new phones coming from Apple this year. That conceit would work, insofar as the iPhones 8 are excellent year-over-year upgrades compared to their iPhone 7 counterparts.

But ignoring the iPhone X would actually do an injustice to the 8 and 8 Plus, because so much of what is inside the X is also inside the 8’s. These phones are in no way shape or form1 some sort of half-hearted or minor update over the iPhone 7.

The Outside: Design and Display

These new iPhones look and feel great. I’ve been testing a silver iPhone 8 and gold iPhone 8 Plus since last Wednesday. Whether you like the way their polished back glass looks is subjective, but I like it a lot. Feel-wise, there’s no question in my mind that glass is better than aluminum. My personal iPhone 7 that I’ve been using for the last 11 months, however, is the jet black model, which in hand feels very similar to the glass of the iPhones 8. With both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 7 in my pocket I can’t tell them apart by feel, but that’s only because my 7 has the jet black finish.

I’ve never owned a Plus-sized iPhone, and last year my review unit did not have the jet black finish, so I found the 8 Plus with glass back to be a revelation. I prefer it so much to any previous Plus-sized iPhone I’ve tested that it almost feels like a different form factor, not just a different material. I’ve always found the Plus unwieldy, and part of that is that aluminum is slippery enough that, combined with the size of the device, it just felt like something I had to consciously think about to avoid dropping. However, just like the jet black aluminum finish, the polished glass back of these new phones is grippier. That grippiness is a nice feature for the 4.7-inch size, but for the Plus, I think it’s a necessity — it makes it far more pleasant to hold and use.

This is the fourth Plus-sized iPhone Apple has made, and it’s the first time that I personally would seriously consider buying one. (I probably would have thought the same thing if I had tested a Plus with the jet black finish last year, though. The difference for me is all about the grippiness.)

Here’s what I wrote about about the jet black aluminum finish last year:

I’ve spent the last five days testing one iPhone of each finish: a jet black iPhone 7 and a matte black iPhone 7 Plus. On Friday I devoted an entire piece — “Black vs. Jet Black” — to help pre-orderers decide between the two, based on my initial impressions. Long story short, my initial impression was that black looked better, and jet black felt better. I stand behind my initial description of jet black as the grippiest iPhone Apple has ever made. I also stand by my prediction that Apple wasn’t joking around about the footnote on the iPhone 7 web page:

The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.

After just five days — more than half of which I’ve spent using the matte black iPhone 7 Plus — this jet black iPhone 7 has a few “micro abrasions”, to use Apple’s own term. I can only see them when I’m looking for them, and only when I reflect light off the surface at the perfect angle, but they’re there. This is after two days of careful use, and never putting it in a pocket that contains anything else. The back surface of this phone shows more wear after (effectively) two days of use than my space gray 6S does after nearly a year.

After six days of daily use, this iPhone 8 shows no scratches or “micro-abrasions” whatsoever. With a wipe on my shirt to remove fingerprints, it could pass for mint new-in-box condition. The iPhone 8 Plus I’ve been testing has not been in my pocket every day, but it too looks flawless.

I don’t mind the micro-abrasions on my jet black iPhone. After nearly a year of daily use, almost all of it sans case, its back is covered with these fine scratches. That’s what I expected based on Apple’s warning last year. There’s no such warning from Apple this year. I think these glass backs are going to hold up nicely.

Color-wise, I can’t say much about space gray, since I don’t have one to test. But that’s the one I’d buy if I were going to buy an iPhone 8, because I always prefer black or space gray or whatever name Apple is calling the black one this year. But the silver looks nice, and the new gold is very interesting. Rather than two golds — a yellow gold and a pink rose gold — Apple has honed in on one true gold this year, a sort of slightly rosy gold. The back glass panel is a sort of taupe. It looks like a slightly different color under different lighting conditions.

A lot of people out there have been asking me who the iPhone 8 is for, other than people who can’t or don’t want to spend $999 or more on an iPhone X. One group, I think are people who’ll want this gold color.2

Now, everything I’ve written about what’s new about the exterior of the iPhone 8 is moot if you put your phone in a case, and from what I’ve observed, I’d guess 90-95 percent of iPhones in use are in cases. Some cases have clear backs, which do show the color and design of iPhone back. I think it must be so weird to be a hardware designer at Apple, though, working to make these devices that look beautiful, knowing that 90+ percent of the people who buy them will put them in case within minutes of unboxing them and never take the case off.

In a lot of ways, I think the iPhone 4/4S design was the pinnacle of the iPhone’s perfection. No camera bumps, no notches. So much symmetry, including a symmetric feel between the front face and back, because both were made of glass. Those backs were prone to shattering when dropped, and I’ve always suspected that’s what led them to switch to an aluminum unibody case with the iPhone 5. We’ll see how durable this new “most durable glass ever in a smartphone” is (those are Apple’s own words), but in terms of look and feel, I’m glad glass is back.

A11 Bionic Chip

I asked Apple last week what exactly was “bionic” about the A11 chip system. The answer, translated from Apple marketing-speak to plain English, is that The Bionic Man and Woman were cool, and the A11 chip is very cool. I think they’ve started giving these chips names in addition to numbers (last year’s was the A10 Fusion) because the numbers alone belie the true nature of how significant the improvements in these chips are. Going from A10 to A11 is like going from 10 to 11 mathematically, which implies a 10 percent improvement. That’s not the case at all here — the A11 is way more than a 10 percent improvement over the A10. So they’ve given it a name like “Bionic” to emphasize just how powerful it is.

I wrote about the A11 Bionic chip last week in my thoughts and observations on the event, and I don’t have much more to say here, but I’ll repeat this line:

The specs aren’t what matters — the effects are what matters. But the specs are what we can measure, and the faster the chips are, the better the effects are in the user experience.

Apple isn’t using the power of the A11 simply to make the things older iPhones do faster. They’re using it to power new features, like the lighting effects in Portrait mode on the 8 Plus and the various machine learning stuff.

Cameras

Six days is not a lot of time to spend with a new phone, let alone two new phones. Photography is one area where I don’t yet have a handle on how much better these iPhones are than their predecessors. The lighting effects in Portrait mode, though, are interesting. This feature is still in “beta”, but man, I’ve already taken some shots of my wife and son that I just love. There have also been a few where the edges of their hair have confused the hell out of the iPhone’s depth sensing. But the original Portrait mode last year shipped in similar state, and got better quickly. When it works, though, it’s amazing. (And when it doesn’t work well, you can always revert to the plain no-lighting-effect Portrait mode shot, with nothing lost.)

From a high-level perspective, a camera is three things: a lens, a shutter, and a surface on which to focus the image. That surface used to be film; today it’s a digital sensor.3 For the most part, if you wanted to improve the image quality, you had to improve (or change) the lens or the film. Over the decades, there were breakthroughs based on electronics — automatic focus and exposure are the ones that spring to my mind — but the biggest technical factors in photography were based on the simple physics of light passing through a lens and being focused onto a sensor surface.

What’s interesting to me is that some of the camera improvements Apple is talking about with the iPhone 8 aren’t about that. Yes, the sensor has been improved, and is apparently even better at capturing colors in a wide color gamut. But the advances in phone photography are driven more by computing — both hardware and software — than by advances in lens optics or sensors. There’s just not much more that can happen between such small lenses and sensors. The real action is in hardware and software.

Here’s one example from the iPhone 8, in Apple’s own words:

The intelligent, Apple-designed image signal processor in the A11 Bionic chip detects elements in a scene — like people, motion, and lighting conditions — to optimize your photos before you even take them. It also delivers advanced pixel processing, wide color capture, faster autofocus, and better HDR photos.

Apple is so confident in their improvements to HDR that with the iPhone 8, by default HDR is simply engaged automatically, and iOS no longer stores separate HDR and non-HDR images. HDR just turns on when iOS thinks you need it, and it simply leaves one image in your camera roll. The Settings app has options to enable manual HDR mode and to save HDR and non-HDR versions of images, but until I run into a problem, I’m sticking with the defaults. HDR is no longer something I need to think about.

Charging

In addition to the fact that the glass backs look and feel nicer, they also allowed Apple to add inductive charging to the iPhones 8 — a feature the industry and, alas, Apple itself insists upon calling “wireless charging”. Don’t get me started. Inductive charging is not wireless. But it is nice. Apple supplied me with a review unit of Belkin’s $60 wireless charging pads. Other reviewers were given Mophie’s, which is also $60. It’s convenient and works great. Design-wise the Belkin pad is what it is — it looks Belkin-y. My biggest complaint is that the plug that goes into the wall is enormous and ugly. I’ll probably buy the Mophie one simply because I prefer black to white, and their wall plug has to be better than Belkin’s.

I’m glad Apple decided to support the Qi (pronounced “chee”) standard, which several Android handsets already support. This is an area where Apple has been behind its competition. You know how like 10 years ago, hotels started buying bedside alarm clocks with built-in 30-pin iPod docks? And then they were rendered useless when the iPhone switched to Lightning? And how those Lightning docks are utterly useless to Android users? If they start switching to Qi charging pads, it’ll just work for everyone, and that’s a good thing.

The iPhones 8 also now support “high-speed charging” when you connect them to a Lightning cable attached to a high-wattage charger. In the box, both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus both still come with the same rinky-dink 5-watt charger that all iPhones have shipped with since 2008’s iPhone 3G. iPhones have long charged faster when connected to one of the larger 10- or 12-watt chargers that ship with iPads.4 I went out and bought one of Apple’s 29-watt chargers that ship with the MacBook ($49 bucks, not cheap). I also bought a USB-C to Lightning cable ($25 for 1 meter, $35 for 2 meters — also not cheap). Anker makes a 30-watt USB-C charger that sells for under $30, but I figured I’d test fast-charging with Apple’s kit.

The bottom line: it’s faster, yes, but not that much faster. I ran the iPhone 8 battery down until it powered off. I plugged it into the 29-watt charger, and got the following results: after 15 minutes it was back to 27 percent, at 30 minutes it was at 54 percent, and at 45 minutes it was at 72 percent. But then I did the same thing with my year-old iPhone 7. After 30 minutes it was at 43 percent, and at 45 minutes it was at 65 percent. (I didn’t pay attention to where it was at after 15 minutes.) The iPhone 8 does charge faster than an iPhone 7, but not by much.

Display

There’s one major difference between these displays and those of the iPhones 7 — True Tone. This is a feature where the device uses a 4-channel ambient light sensor to detect the color temperature of your surroundings. It then adjusts the color temperature of the display to match. I love True Tone. Back in March 2016, Apple introduced the first True Tone device: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Describing the feature, Phil Schiller said something to the effect of “Once you get used to it, you can’t go back.” I took this as a sign that it would be coming in the iPhone 7 last year, too. It didn’t.

But the iPhones 8 have it now, and it’s great. True Tone, though, is the sort of feature that you don’t notice, but rather that you notice the absence of in other devices. It ruins you. When I flew home last week, I spent the first few hours of my flight using the iPhone 8. I find phones to be convenient devices on planes — and the flaky nature of in-flight Wi-Fi is a good stress test for battery life. Two or three hours into the flight, I needed to check something on my personal iPhone 7 — I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it was something from an app I didn’t have installed on the review unit. When I took my iPhone 7 out of my pocket, my first thought was “What’s wrong with the display, why is everything gross and blue?” Then I remembered: True Tone.

(Battery life, by the way, has been fine. 4 hours into my flight last week and the iPhone 8 was still at 50 percent — that was pretty much non-stop use.)

Conclusion

The pricing has changed slightly since last year. Last year’s entry model iPhone 7 cost $649. This year’s 64 GB iPhone 8 costs $699. Apple, of course, has no explanation for this. But RAM prices have gone up so much in the last year that it’s probably the biggest reason.

Each phone comes in two sizes: 64 GB and 256 GB. The iPhone 8 costs $699 and $849; the Plus $799 and $949. I like this change from three sizes to just two. And even more than that, I like that after years of languishing with 16 GB base models, Apple has quickly moved to 64 GB as the base model capacity.

No one is going to describe the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus as having a radical new design. But they do have new glass backs that are the biggest change to their finishings since this general form factor started with the iPhone 6. The displays have gained True Tone. The cameras are significantly improved, both for still images and video. (Did I mention that both the 8 and 8 Plus can shoot true 4K video at 60 frames per second when you use the new HEVC format instead of the more compatible H.264?) The iPhone 8 Plus gets the new Portrait mode lighting effects. Both phones have the amazing A11 Bionic chip. They get inductive charging.

These are solid year-over-year updates — at least as impressive as the iPhone 7 was over the iPhone 6S. If they hadn’t debuted alongside the iPhone X we’d be arguing about whether these are the most impressive new iPhone models since the iPhone 6. There’s a lot to love about them and nothing to dislike.

But they did debut alongside the iPhone X, and because of that almost nobody is excited about them. There’s no use pretending otherwise.

But it’s worth noting that it’s just as instructive to compare the iPhones 8 to the iPhone X as it is to compare them to the iPhones 7. The iPhone X certainly has much to offer: the edge-to-edge 5.8-inch OLED display, the form factor that’s easier to hold and pocket than the Plus, the front-facing sensor array for Face ID and depth mapping with the front-facing camera, and an even better camera system on the back (with optical image stabilization for both lenses — the iPhone 8 Plus only has OIS for the wide angle lens). But the A11 chip (including the improved image processing that I described above), inductive charging, True Tone — all of these things in the iPhone X are also in both iPhone 8 models.

Pretty good for a boring update. 


  1. Well, I guess the shape and form are actually the same. I need a new idiom here that includes the word “finish”. ↩︎︎

  2. Another group are people who value familiarity over being on the bleeding edge. You, the sort of person who reads the footnotes on Daring Fireball iPhone reviews, are not that person. But an awful lot of regular people out there just want a nice new iPhone that looks and works like the one they’re replacing. ↩︎

  3. No offense to you photographers still shooting on real film. I love your work. ↩︎︎

  4. I’ll go so far as to call the rinky-dink 5-watt charger the new 16 GB storage tier — a nickel-and-dime move whose time was up a few years ago. Oh, and one more nickel-and-dime move: Apple only includes a USB-A-to-Lightning cable in the box. The Google Pixel I bought last year included two cables, USB-A and USB-C. And Apple is the company selling laptops that only include USB-C ports. If you buy a new MacBook or MacBook Pro and a new iPhone 8, you’re spending upwards of $2,500 and Apple still requires you to buy a separate $25 cable if you want to connect that new iPhone to your new MacBook or to use the MacBook’s high-wattage charger to power your phone. That’s embarrassing. ↩︎︎


The Courage of Embracing the Notch 

Marco Arment:

Apple just completely changed the fundamental shape of the most important, most successful, and most recognizable tech product that the world has ever seen.

That’s courage.

It is. But as I wrote when Phil Schiller used the word to explain why they removed the headphone jack last year, that took courage too. It takes courage to rob a bank too. The objection people had to calling the removal of the headphone jack “courage” is based on the notion that courage is always noble. You can despise the notch and/or think it’s the stupidest thing Apple has ever done, but still acknowledge that it took courage to embrace it.

My objection (again, after admittedly only spending 10-15 minutes with an iPhone X in hand) remains that Apple could embrace the notch on the lock and home screens, allowing for this new iconic silhouette, without embracing it all the time.

I suspect (or maybe it’s just hope) what might happen is something along the lines of the evolution of the new look-and-feel that debuted in iOS 7. With iOS 7, Apple took everything to an extreme. The thinnest, lightest fonts. The least amount of button-y shapes for buttons. The least amount of depth and texture in the interface. The most amount of translucency. Each year since then, iOS has turned the dial away from the extremes on all those things. iOS 11 goes so far as to make common use of very heavy, black weights of San Francisco in the UI. I think that could happen with the software’s handling of the notch.

Or maybe we’ll just get used to it quickly. I really don’t want to spend too much time ranting against something I’ve only used for a few minutes.

PixelCut’s Ultimate Guide to iPhone Resolutions 

Helpful illustrated guide to the relationship between points, rendered pixels, and display pixels on all iPhones, including the upcoming iPhone X. They also have a nice illustration specific to the X.

The EFF Withdraws From the W3C Over Support for DRM 

Cory Doctorow, in an open letter from the EFF to the W3C:

In our campaigning on this issue, we have spoken to many, many members’ representatives who privately confided their belief that the EME was a terrible idea (generally they used stronger language) and their sincere desire that their employer wasn’t on the wrong side of this issue. This is unsurprising. You have to search long and hard to find an independent technologist who believes that DRM is possible, let alone a good idea. Yet, somewhere along the way, the business values of those outside the web got important enough, and the values of technologists who built it got disposable enough, that even the wise elders who make our standards voted for something they know to be a fool’s errand.

I’m no fan of DRM. Who is? But I am a fan of practicality, and there are practical reasons why web browsers should be able to play DRM-protected content without using proprietary plugins. Netflix, for example, is never going to serve video without DRM. Or perhaps better put, movie and TV studios wouldn’t allow Netflix to do that. Nor would professional sports leagues or the Olympics.

So either you can watch Netflix in a web browser or you can’t. If your web browser doesn’t support DRM natively, then you have to use plugins. And plugins are rapidly going the way of the dodo bird, because they suck. Even Flash’s end-of-life has been announced. iOS and Android don’t even support browser plugins anymore — and together they dominate real-world usage.

I love the EFF and will continue to support them, but I’d rather see a world where Netflix and all the other DRM-protected streaming services still work in standards-based web browsers than a world where they don’t but where the W3C can claim a moral victory. If you think the open web is losing ground to native app-based platforms now, think about how bad it would be if you couldn’t watch Netflix or live sports.

I also think it’s silly to say DRM doesn’t work. It’s not perfect, and can be worked around, but it’s harder to pirate DRM-protected content than it is non-DRM-protected content. Just making it harder is “working” to at least some degree.

Update: In a series of tweets, Doctorow clarifies that it was the W3C’s refusal to seek compromises over the DMCA, not support for DRM in general, that led to the EFF’s decision to leave:

Significantly, refusal from DRM advocates to promise not to use the DMCA against security researchers, accessibility workers, archivists […] is an ominous sign that they want to reserve the right to execute exactly that power. Publishing EME after the refusal to deal on this is recklessness embodied: when someone tells you they plan to use the power you’re giving them, you should believe them.

I’ll leave the original post as-is, because I think it expresses well my thoughts on why the W3C should support DRM, but this DMCA issue is important, and now I’m uncertain how to feel about the EFF’s decision to leave. The DMCA is an odious — and I think unconstitutional — law. DRM should be protected by its encryption and longstanding copyright law. Anything that’s “fair use” under copyright law should be “fair use” with DRM content if the DRM can be circumvented.

Halo Top: Eat the Ice Cream 

This is one of the best commercials I’ve ever seen. The less you know about it going in, the better.

Mystery of the Day 

Mara Bernath, reporting for Bloomberg:

Swiss prosecutors are trying to figure out why someone apparently attempted to flush tens of thousands of euros down the toilet at a Geneva branch of UBS Group AG.

The first 500-euro ($597) bills were discovered several months ago in a bathroom close to a bank vault containing hundreds of safe deposit boxes, according to a report in Tribune de Geneve confirmed by the city prosecutor’s office. A few days later, more banknotes turned up in toilets at three nearby restaurants, requiring thousands of francs in plumbing repairs to unclog the pipes.

In all, police have extracted tens of thousands of euros in soiled bills, many of which appear to have been cut with scissors.

While destroying banknotes isn’t a crime in Switzerland, “there must be something behind this story,” said Henri Della Casa, a spokesman for the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office. “That’s why we started an investigation.”

I can’t figure out an angle on this one.

Update: All I’ve come up with is this: the perpetrator is an employee pissed off at their employer, the bank, and they thought they could get away with destroying this cash but not with stealing it.

Report Says Red Sox Used Fitbit, Not Apple Watch, in Sign-Stealing Scheme 

The Score:

The device used by the Boston Red Sox in their infamous sign-stealing controversy has been revealed as a Fitbit product, according to a major-league source of Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Though Fitbits are used as a tracker to measure an individual’s steps and levels of fitness activity, many products — specifically Fitbit Surge - can be synced with mobile devices and receive text messages.

This takes some of the fun out of this story. Now the Red Sox are just cheaters with bad taste in gadgets.

APFS Will Be for Flash Drives Only in First High Sierra Release 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

iMacs with Fusion Drives were converted to APFS during the beta testing process in the first macOS High Sierra beta, but support was removed in subsequent betas and not reimplemented.

With the release of the Golden Master version of the software, Apple has confirmed APFS will not be available for Fusion Drives and has provided instructions for converting from APFS back to the standard HFS+ format.

I have all-flash drives in both my MacBook Pro and iMac, but I’m not in any hurry to switch to APFS. And since drives that can be updated are automatically updated to APFS when you update to High Sierra, I’m in no rush to update to High Sierra. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to APFS. This just feels something for which I’ll wait for 10.13.1.

Squarespace Personalized Templates 

My thanks to Squarespace for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Squarespace lets you create a truly personalized website: their platform enables developers and designers to “make it yours” with their easy to use, but personalized templates. Start with an award-winning template, or build your site from scratch.

Best of all, you can try Squarespace for free. When you’re ready to subscribe, get 10 percent off at squarespace.com with offer code DARING17.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Craig Federighi About Face ID 

Great complement to my interview with Federighi on the same topic yesterday, including some privacy-related points I didn’t think to ask about:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

There is an adaptive feature of Face ID that allows it to continue to recognize your changing face as you change hair styles, grow a beard or have plastic surgery. This adaptation is done completely on device by applying re-training and deep learning in the redesigned Secure Enclave. None of that training or re-training is done in Apple’s cloud. And Apple has stated that it will not give access to that data to anyone, for any price.

Terrific interview.

Advertising Trade Groups Object to Safari’s New Intelligent Tracking Protection 

Marty Swant, writing for Adweek (headline: “Every Major Advertising Group Is Blasting Apple for Blocking Cookies in the Safari Browser”):

The biggest advertising organizations say Apple will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet with plans to integrate cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari.

Six trade groups — the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others — say they’re “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

This is like a group of peeping Toms objecting to the invention of window shades. What ad trackers do is abhorrent, and what Safari’s new Intelligent Tracking Protection does is indisputably in the interests of users.

Steven Sinofsky (formerly president of the Windows division at Microsoft):

Stand strong Apple [rhetorical]. Had these groups come after us trying to offer browsing safety. MS backed down.

Pretty sure Apple is standing strong on this. Here’s a response I received from an Apple spokesperson:

“Apple believes that people have a right to privacy — Safari was the first browser to block third party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy.

Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

The Original iPhone Superimposed on the iPhone X, Pixel-for-Pixel 

David Barnard:

The entire home screen of the original iPhone (320 × 480 pixels) is about the size of 2 icons on the iPhone X home screen (1125 × 2436 pixels).

Linking to Barnard’s tweet, Joshua J. Arnold nails it:

This is what a decade’s worth of sustaining innovation looks like.

The Talk Show: ‘200: Episode CC’, With Special Guest Craig Federighi 

Very special guest Craig Federighi returns to the show to talk about Face ID, the perils of live demos, Apple’s approach to designing the iPhone X, privacy, security, and more. A great way to close out Apple’s big week and mark the 200th episode of the show.

Sponsored exclusively by:

Still No Charity Money From Leftover Trump Inaugural Funds 

Jeff Horwitz and Julie Bykowicz, reporting for the AP:

President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised an unprecedented $107 million for a ceremony that officials promised would be “workmanlike,” and the committee pledged to give leftover funds to charity. Nearly eight months later, the group has helped pay for redecorating at the White House and the vice president’s residence in Washington.

But nothing has yet gone to charity.

Shocker.

Nikon Selects 32 Pro Photographers for Promotion: None Are Women 

Jason Vinson, writing for Fstoppers:

The only problem with such an amazing monster of a camera is that Nikon thinks it’s too much for women to handle.

I know what you are thinking. No way Nikon would ever make such a claim. It seems absurd that only men could handle the D850. I myself can think of a large number of women photographers that would be more than capable of producing spectacular images with any camera, let alone this camera. But when Nikon created a team of 32 professional photographers to be the faces of the Nikon D850, they didn’t choose a single woman photographer.

This is just astonishingly bad. It would be worth complaining about if there were only a handful of women in the group, but zero? How did that ever get approved?

Attention to Detail in the Steve Jobs Theater 

Nice catch by Brad Ellis: not only were the tables in the hands-on area concentric with the walls of the room, but the pads on the tables were too.

You Can Double-Tap to Obscure the Notch While Playing Video on iPhone X 

I’m not on board with Apple’s “embrace the notch” user interface, but I do find it commendable that they showed the notch everywhere during the keynote Tuesday. Compare and contrast with accusations that Apple was hiding the camera bumps on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in promotional photos back in 2014.

Apple truly did the opposite with the notch: they emphasized it, showing it even while playing full-screen video. There is very good news here: you can just double-tap video to toggle between filling the screen (which shows the notch on the left side, obscuring the left edge of the video) and preserving the video’s true aspect ratio (which hides the notch with black bars). And I think, but can’t confirm, that it will default to hiding the notch while playing video.

Update: Ben Bajarin did get an answer from Apple on this at the event, and I was correct: the default is for video not to zoom to fill every pixel, so you won’t see the notch in video playback unless you double-tap.

‘Craig Federighi’ Answers Face ID Questions on Conan O’Brien 

(a) I thought this was pretty funny; and (b) I’m kind of blown away that Federighi is famous enough to spoof.


Thoughts and Observations on the Products Announced at This Week’s iPhone X Introductory Event

Face ID as the Replacement for Touch ID

Apple made this decision well over a year ago. Perhaps the fundamental goal of iPhone X was to get as close as they could to an edge-to-edge display. No chin whatsoever. There were, of course, early attempts to embed a Touch ID sensor under the display as a Plan B. But Apple became convinced that Face ID was the way to go over a year ago. I heard this yesterday from multiple people at Apple, including engineers who’ve been working on the iPhone X project for a very long time. They stopped pursuing Touch ID under the display not because they couldn’t do it, but because they decided they didn’t need it. I do believe it’s true that they never got Touch ID working, but that’s because they abandoned it in favor of Face ID early.

I don’t know why recent supply chain rumors suggest Apple was scrambling to get Touch ID working on iPhone X as late as this summer, and no one at Apple seems to know either. Disinformation campaign from competitors?

There is clearly skepticism out there about Face ID. Some people think Face ID is going to suck, and a lot of people are flat-out assuming that they’re going to miss Touch ID. We saw the same thing with Touch ID when it was announced, and the skeptics were very wrong. I haven’t used it personally, but I am pretty sure already that the skeptics are going to be wrong about Face ID too. This piece at Ars Technica by Ron Amadeo is going to age poorly, I suspect.

The only time I’ve spent playing with an iPhone X was about 10-15 minutes in the hands-on area after the event, and I did not get a chance to try Face ID. But I spent time — both officially, as a member of the media, and unofficially, as a friend — with several Apple employees who are already carrying an iPhone X as their daily-use phone, and from what I observed and from what they told me — and again, several of these employees are engineers, not PR or product marketing folks — it just works. You don’t have to think about it. According to them, you get used to not thinking about it very quickly, and when you go back to a Touch ID device, it feels broken that you have to touch the button to unlock the device.

One of the places where I saw it working — instantly and effortlessly — was a really dark room. It just works.

iPhone X

The name: I was wrong about what Apple would call it, but I still say every single point I made arguing that they would and should pronounce it “ex” was correct.

The notch: It offends me. It’s ungainly and unnatural. Clearly, the ideal of an “all-screen” design — to use Apple’s own words — has no notch at all. This is not that. But what I dislike more than the notch isn’t the notch itself but that Apple is fully embracing the notch in software. I really wish their software design rendered the “ears” with black backgrounds while using apps. I’d be fine with embracing the notch on the home screen and lock screen.

It’s the front-facing equivalent of the camera bump. It offends me because it’s not just imperfect but glaringly, deliberately imperfect. But — again, exactly as with the bump — I understand why it’s there. I don’t like it but it wouldn’t keep me from buying the phone.

When using an iPhone X (again, based on a severely limited amount of time) the notch seems less noticeable than when looking at promotional photos of it. But that’s in portrait orientation. In landscape, the notch looks like a joke. I think Jony Ive either lost a bet or lost his mind. It looks silly, and to pretend otherwise is nonsense. I’m OK with this because I never use my phone in landscape other than when using the camera, watching videos, looking at photos, or playing games — and iOS 11 hides the notch with black bars by default in those use cases. But this looks just awful — and that screenshot was taken from Apple’s own video advising developers on how to handle the notch in their UIs.1

But just like the camera bumps we’ve been living with since the iPhone 6, it’ll be fine. Notch be damned, I know already that I would rather own an iPhone X than an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus.

The design: The iPhones 8 look and feel every bit as nice, if not better, than the iPhones 7. But the iPhone X, in my brief hands-on time with it, feels like a step up. I think stainless steel just feels nicer in hand than aluminum. It doesn’t feel too heavy, but it is noticeably heavier than an iPhone 7 or 8. It’s hot.

iPhone 8

Of course it’s not what everyone is talking about, but iPhones 8 are a sweet fucking upgrade over the iPhones 7. True Tone displays make a huge, instantly noticeable difference. The regular iPhone 8 has significantly improved image stabilization. Both models have significantly improved camera sensors. HDR photography has been improved so much that on iPhone 8 it no longer saves two versions of the photo (with and without HDR) — you just get the HDR version because it’s always better. Sure, they look just like the iPhones 7 from the front (and are even case compatible with their corresponding iPhone 7 models), but the glass backs look new and very cool.

I don’t know how the iPhone X/iPhone 8 split is going to play out sales-wise, but it is very clear that Apple did not (no pun intended) phone the iPhones 8 in. I think a surprising amount of the new technology in the iPhone X is also in the iPhone 8.

Apple Watch Series 3

This is a very easily understood update: it’s about optional cellular networking and increased performance. Apple’s watch strap game is on point — I saw several new straps that I liked a lot, and (shocker) I’m pretty picky about watch straps. The most popular new color is that sort of deep purple — I noticed a lot of Apple employees sporting it.

Best Joke of the Keynote

Craig Federighi, demonstrating the new animoji feature by turning his face into an animated pile of poo: “If you were wondering what humanity would do when given access to the most advanced facial animation, now you know.”

A11 “Bionic” Chip

This chip apparently benchmarks faster than some MacBook Pros, both in single and multi-core. Not recent MacBook Pros — today’s MacBook Pros.

Apple’s A-series chips achieved desktop-like performance in single-core a few years ago. But this level of multi-core performance is new to the A11. The difference is the new Apple-designed “second-generation performance controller”. The A10 chips have two high-power cores and two low-power cores. When the A10 needs high CPU performance, it uses the two high-power cores; when it doesn’t, it switches to the two low-power cores. So with A10 chips, you’re always getting dual-core performance.

Thanks to the new performance controller, on the A11 all six cores are available at the same time. When you need the highest performance, it uses all six cores. The A11’s two high-power cores are 25 percent faster than the A10’s. That would be an impressive year-over-year boost in and of itself. But the low-power cores are each 70 percent faster than the A10’s — and there are twice as many of them, and they’re always available.

Apple barely spent any keynote time on the new performance controller because “speeds and feeds” aren’t what the iPhone is all about. But from a chip design and performance perspective, this is astounding. Apple is pulling ahead of other chipmakers — both Intel and Qualcomm — like Secretariat pulling away from the pack in the Belmont Stakes.

You can’t bring this up in public without a certain segment of Android fans losing their goddamn minds over it. “I thought specs don’t matter?” they say, and point to articles I (or whoever else brings this up) wrote in the past arguing that specs aren’t the only thing that matters. Here’s the thing. I would still want to use an iPhone if Apple were using off-the-shelf Snapdragon processors and Samsung were the company producing these proprietary A-series systems-on-a-chip. It’s the same reason I remained a Mac user even during the years when Mac CPUs were hopelessly behind Intel’s in performance. For me, it’s the overall experience that matters, and that’s largely defined by the software platform.

But Samsung isn’t the company with the proprietary chips that blow away the industry commodity chips, Apple is. So iPhone users get the best in both regards: they get the iOS experience and Apple-designed hardware, and they get the vastly superior CPU and GPU. And Android users who want industry-leading performance are shit out of luck. This is unprecedented in computing history. Windows users who want the best CPUs have always had that option. Android users don’t, because the best chips, by far, are Apple’s, and they’re proprietary.

The specs aren’t what matters — the effects are what matters. But the specs are what we can measure, and the faster the chips are, the better the effects are in the user experience.

AirPower and Qi

First, inductive charging is not “wireless”. Here’s what I wrote back in June:

Wi-Fi is wireless. No one would accept wireless as a description for an internet connection that required the device to be in physical contact with a charger, even if it were magnetic rather than a port you plug a cable into.

So Apple Watch, for example, does not use wireless charging. Apple describes it perfectly as “magnetic charging”. It sounds like this is what might be in store for the next iPhone. That’d be cool — but it wouldn’t be as cool as being able to charge over the air.

If we call inductive charging “wireless” now, what are we going to call it when it really is wireless in a few years?

That off my chest, I am looking forward to having this feature. This is one area where the iPhone was indisputably behind the competition.

One aspect of Apple’s announcement that I don’t think was clear is the relationship between the upcoming AirPower (slated for early next year) and Qi. The best way to think of it is that AirPower is to Qi what AirPods are to Bluetooth.

Qi is an industry standard defined and managed by a consortium, just like Bluetooth. The only products Apple announced this week that support Qi for charging are the new iPhones.

AirPower is going to be a superset of Qi with a layer of non-standard Apple technology on top of it to make it better, just like how AirPods are a superset of Bluetooth with non-standard Apple technology on top. So iPhone 8 and iPhone X can charge on any Qi charging pad, like the Belkin and Mophie ones that Apple promoted on stage. Likewise, AirPods can be used as a regular Bluetooth headset connected to any Bluetooth device.

But AirPower can do things Qi cannot — it can charge Apple Watch and the upcoming new AirPod case. Apple Watch and the AirPod case are not Qi devices — you cannot charge them on a Qi charging pad. That’s similar to the way AirPods (and the Beats headphones also equipped with Apple’s W1 chip) can do things regular Bluetooth headsets cannot — in particular, the seamless pairing process, and the lower audio playback latency enabled by the W1.

The main difference between the non-standard aspects of AirPower compared to AirPods is that Apple is pledging to offer their improvements to the Qi consortium. If the consortium accepts them, third-party companies will be able to make AirPower-like charging pads that do work with Apple Watch, the new AirPod case, and more.2 Apple has never hinted that they might offer their W1 chip technology to the Bluetooth consortium.

The difference makes strategic sense. It’s a competitive advantage for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that they can offer a superior wireless headphone experience because W1 is proprietary. It’s not just about keeping other headphone makers from offering it, but also about keeping Android devices from taking advantage of it. Apple benefits from the fact that standard Bluetooth is inferior. But Apple wants to see inductive charging pads go mainstream, with public installations in restaurants, airports, etc. Apple would rather see those ubiquitous charging pads support all Apple devices, not just iPhones.

AirPower doesn’t seem to be better than standard Qi in the way that Apple’s W1 chip is better than standard Bluetooth. Instead, AirPower seems to just enable inductive charging for more devices. 


  1. The last perfect iPhone was the iPhone SE. I’m not saying the iPhone SE is the best iPhone. I’m just saying it’s the last one that is perfect in design. No camera bump, no notch, perfect back, perfect front, perfect sides, every button feels nice and is well located. ↩︎

  2. I’m not doing so well on predictions lately, but I feel like it’s a safe bet that the next generation Apple Pencil will be able to charge via AirPower. Maybe the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad too, since your desktop is a perfect place to put an AirPower. This could even explain the ungainly location of the Magic Mouse’s Lightning port↩︎︎


The Eeyore Principle: Face ID Will Never Work 

The Macalope, responding to Ron Amadeo’s “I’m worried that FaceID is going to suck—and here’s why” piece for Ars Technica:

How do we know, know, know this?

This is not the first phone we’ve tried with a facial recognition feature, and they all have the same problem.

Even the iPhone X? […]

But, for now, we know Face ID will be crappy because all the other facial recognition technologies were crappy and it ain’t like Apple ever took something that was crappy for a long time an made it better like, oh, computing or digital music or tablet computing or smartphones or fingerprint recognition or a bunch of other things. It’s not like that’s literally what they do.

Exactly the same thing happened with Touch ID. There were a few Android phones with fingerprint scanners that were out before the iPhone 5S, and they sucked. So some folks made two bad assumptions: (1) that all fingerprint scanners would always suck; and (2) that Apple would be willing to put a shitty fingerprint scanner in iPhones.

Facebook Enabled Advertisers to Target ‘Jew Haters’ 

ProPublica:

Last week, acting on a tip, we logged into Facebook’s automated ad system to see if “Jew hater” was really an ad category. We found it, but discovered that the category — with only 2,274 people in it — was too small for Facebook to allow us to buy an ad pegged only to Jew haters.

Facebook’s automated system suggested “Second Amendment” as an additional category that would boost our audience size to 119,000 people, presumably because its system had correlated gun enthusiasts with anti-Semites.

One: Facebook is a morally corrupt company. They’re just bad people.

Two: as David Simon noted, “I kind of love that ‘Jew hater’ aligns cleanly with the Second Amendment demographic. The algorithms don’t lie, do they.”

Facebook Is Heading Toward a Bruising Run-in With the Russian Election Interference Probe 

Josh Marshall:

Facebook is so accustomed to treating its ‘internal policies’ as though they were something like laws that they appear to have a sort of blind spot that prevents them from seeing how ridiculous their resistance sounds. To use the cliche, it feels like a real shark jumping moment. As someone recently observed, Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ are crafted to create the appearance of civic concerns for privacy, free speech, and other similar concerns. But they’re actually just a business model. Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ amount to a kind of Stepford Wives version of civic liberalism and speech and privacy rights, the outward form of the things preserved while the innards have been gutted and replaced by something entirely different, an aggressive and totalizing business model which in many ways turns these norms and values on their heads. More to the point, most people have the experience of Facebook’s ‘internal policies’ being meaningless in terms of protecting their speech or privacy or whatever as soon as they bump up against Facebook’s business model.

Steve Jobs Theater, Mid-Construction 

Great catch by Dr. Drang:

Google Earth is a little behind, but it captures the Steve Jobs Theatre at an interesting stage of construction.

The Lessons and Questions of the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 

Must-read piece by Ben Thompson:

To return to Lennon’s words, Jobs, particularly in his second stint at Apple, had learned how to be himself: less designer than editor-in-chief, Jobs not only drove those he worked with to create “with great deal of care”, he also set Apple on a path towards being its best self. That, famously, means the integration of hardware and software, but at least in the case of the iPhone, the pertinent integration goes down to the silicon.

To that end, the products Apple unveiled at the new Steve Jobs Theater could not have been more appropriate: a cellular watch significantly smaller than competitors with comparable battery life, a new iPhone 8 improved in virtually every dimension, and, of course, the iPhone X, with nearly every new feature dependent on that integration.

You Can’t Protect Yourself From the Equifax Breach 

Rich Mogull, writing for TidBITS:

As much as I hate to end on a sour note, the reality is that, until the system changes, until our financial lives are governed by something stronger than some short strings of plain text that never change, we have to keep our guard up and hope for the best. And hope is never part of security best practices.

Apple Watch Series 3 Cellular vs GPS-Only: What’s the Difference? 

Serenity Caldwell, writing for iMore:

The GPS + Cellular Series 3 has double the storage capacity: 16GB to the GPS-only’s 8GB. While we don’t have an official answer from Apple as to why, I’m guessing it has to do with the watch’s impending Apple Music streaming feature: Apple Music needs a certain amount of cached storage to stream, and if the company additionally plans to allow users to locally download playlists from the streaming catalog, the extra space is necessary.

One question I’ve been asked a lot is whether you have to activate the cellular option on a cellular-capable watch. The answer is no. It’s just like with iPads — you can buy a cellular model and choose not to activate it until you want to.

‘Can Anyone Catch the Cell Phone King?’ 

This Forbes cover from 10 years ago is a nice exception to Betteridge’s Law.

What Happened With Craig Federighi’s Face ID Demo 

David Pogue:

Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong — but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

It was probably the white glove folks who clean every demo unit to perfection after the final rehearsal. A set up mistake that resulted in a demo failure. Update: I’ve just confirmed this with an Apple engineer familiar with the situation. It’s not just spin from Apple PR.

What It Was Like to Attend Apple’s iPhone X Event 

Terrific photo essay from Dan Frommer at Recode. Really does capture the feel of the event.

Jackasses of the Week: Bodega 

I don’t write much about “Silicon Valley” as a culture, because I don’t live there and, frankly, I don’t care. But the fact that this startup is being taken seriously is absurd. It’s a company named Bodega, and Fast Company’s headline says it all: “Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas And Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete”.

First, all they’ve done is make a fancy vending machine. That’s great. Vending machines are a real thing, and maybe there’s a market for better ones. But better vending machines are still just vending machines.

Second, what kind of sociopaths are these people that they want to put mom-and-pop corner stores and bodegas out of business? Local family-owned stores are what make for great neighborhoods. They’re good people running good businesses that people love. Good startup ideas are things that replace products or services that people hate. Taxis suck, for example. That’s why ride sharing services are so popular and successful. Bodegas and corner stores are great.

Third, as Helen Rosner argues in this thread, they’ve got a crummy business model.

Fuck these guys.