On Apple Watch’s Swim Tracking

Rob Verger, writing for Popular Science:

Apple built its own algorithms to discern the stroke of swimmers of all skill levels, as well the calories they’re burning. The process involved gathering data from more than 700 swimmers and over 1,500 swim sessions. And Apple gathered even more data from people swimming in place (in an "endless" pool) while wearing a mask that descended from the ceiling.

[…]

The watch uses the gyroscope and accelerometer to track the motion of your strokes, but in open water, it can leverage another sensor: the GPS chip. If you’re swimming in the ocean or a lake, your watch uses that to determine how fast and how far you go. But GPS signals don’t travel through H2O. Luckily, people are likely to do freestyle in open water and for that stroke, your arms regularly break the surface. Apple sets the GPS chip in acquisition mode for the whole swim. It looks for the satellite signal each time your hand rises from the water. “We’re trying to catch it every single time,” says Ron Huang, Apple’s director of engineering for location and motion services.

The accelerometer measures motion, and the gyroscope determines how many degrees the watch is rotating per second. Together, those sensors help Apple figure out the stroke type.

Even as someone who dislikes the water—there was a traumatic incident as a child—I found this story fascinating. Apple continues to pull the strong on its health initiatives, of which swimming is a part. Fun read.

(via Serenity Caldwell)

On Accessibility

Brent Simmons wrote a great post on his blog about the importance of embracing accessibility features on the Mac and iOS. More developers, indie and big corporation alike, should heed his advice. Accessibility is never something you “don’t need” or a thing you bolt on later. To be fully accessible is to make accessibility part of the design process from the very beginning—which is exactly what Apple does in their products. It’s why they lead the industry in this regard.

Using ARKit at the Ballpark

Jason Snell got to try out MLB At Bat’s new AR features at a Giants game:

If you don’t know about Statcast, here’s the deal: Every major-league ballpark is equipped with imaging equipment that allows MLB to measure, at a rate of 60 frames per second, the position of every player on the field, as well as the location of the ball. It’s a technological revolution that is allowing teams and researchers alike to understand aspects of baseball that were previously thought to be unmeasurable, because they go beyond traditional stats that simply measure the outcomes of individual plays.

That data is available in real time—and it’s being tapped by the MLB At Bat app to power its augmented-reality view. Sitting at AT&T Park in San Francisco, we were able to look at an iPad pointed at the field and see floating icons with pictures of each player on the field—and the icons that moved as the players moved. Tapping on the shortstop’s icon added a colored shape indicating his fielding range, the area where he’d be expected to stop a ball and make an out. When a runner took a lead, the app could display the length of his lead.

As a huge tech and sports nerd, I highly enjoyed reading Snell’s story. From an accessibility perspective, I’m curious to see how visually accessible MLB’s implementation of ARKit is. Baseball is my favorite sport, and this is one use case for augmented reality that has strong appeal to me.

A Few Favorite watchOS 4 Features

Apple last Tuesday released watchOS 4 to the public. Unlike iOS, I typically don’t put watchOS betas on my Apple Watch during the summer beta period. Thus, watchOS 4’s final release meant I got to see the new update alongside everyone else. And, frankly, I was excited—although I ran iOS 11 on my iOS devices since early July, it was neat to see watchOS 4 with fresh eyes. There were no pre-conceived notions; it was a true surprise.

After a few days with it, I am pleased to report the new software is quite good. watchOS 4 runs well on my “Series 0” (first-generation) Apple Watch, even though I’m slightly disappointed the device’s pokey S1 system-on-a-chip means the heart rate sensor’s new features are disabled on this model.

Nonetheless, watchOS 4 is pretty great. Here are some highlights for me.

The redesigned passcode entry screen. This is a radical change from watchOS 3 and before. Whereas previously the keypad and other buttons were small and low contrast, the new version features bigger buttons that are high contrast and colorful. There’s a cool animation when you tap a number that’s reminiscent of the keyboard animation on the iPhone. The OK and Delete buttons are green and red, respectively. Together, entering my passcode to unlock my watch is more accessible than ever. It’s a small detail, to be sure, but it makes a big difference in the overall Apple Watch experience for me.

Persistent media controls for music and podcasts. Whenever I’m listening to a podcast or music, raising my wrist now brings up the Now Playing screen so I can easily play/pause audio. This is a really handy addition, as I don’t need to pull out my phone to control what is currently playing. (I can double-tap on my AirPods to control audio as well.) This feature is one of those little touches Apple has long been known for; it reduces friction and enriches the experience. It’s just nice. As an Apple Music subscriber and unabashed AirPods lover, I am very excited for Apple Music streaming to come next month.

The Siri watch face. The Siri face is my new favorite. The information density is good, but what I like most about it is the face’s legibility. The date & time and info cards are set in a thicker variant of San Francisco that, to my eyes, is high contrast and easily readable. Glancing at a headline in Apple News or even the current time is easy with this font, which is a boon on a display as small as the Apple Watch’s. I’m a big fan.

Enhanced Activity reminders. I enjoy being notified throughout the day about my stats in the Activity app. It’s great how the app will ping you every so often to encourage you to meet one (or more) of your daily goals. These reminders also pop up on the Siri face occasionally as well, which is also helpful. My favorite part of these new reminders is how they now tell you what you did the day before, so you can see how you did. More than ever, the Activity app in watchOS 4 feels as though you have your own personal trainer with you on your wrist every day.

PodPocket

PodPocket is my new favorite accessory; I first heard about it from Matt Gemmell on Twitter. It's a little case for your AirPods with a hook that you can use to clip on your key ring, belt loop, or whatever. The top and bottom of the AirPods case is exposed so you can open and close and charge, respectively. It's a really nice way to carry your AirPods while keeping the case pretty clean and scratch-free.

Ben Clymer Reviews the New Apple Watch Edition

The executive editor at Hodinkee wrote one of the best reviews of Apple Watch Series 3:

So again, the Swiss were dismissive of the Apple Watch because it's not even a watch, right? How could someone who appreciates a fine timepiece ever want a disposable digital device on their wrist?

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.

Apple gave him the new gray ceramic model—it’s an absolute beauty. I want it.

Speaking of Series 3 reviews, be sure to also read BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen’s take. She made a call to her boyfriend from San Francisco Bay. Fun read.

Craig Federighi Talks Face ID on The Talk Show

Apple's SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi joined John Gruber on The Talk Show to discuss Face ID, the banner feature of the forthcoming iPhone X.

A great complement to Federighi's appearance on The Talk Show is his interview with TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino on the same topic. Panzarino's piece is particularly good—thorough, insightful, and I appreciate the mention of Face ID and accessibility.

Starbucks Updating Wireless Chargers to Support New iPhones

Chaim Gartenberg, reporting for The Verge:

To solve that problem, Powermat will be rolling out an update to its charging pads in Starbucks (and other stores) that will allow them to charge Apple’s newest iPhones. And while it’s nice (if not super surprising) that Starbucks would want to update its charging pads to support Apple’s newest phones, it’s how the company is doing it that’s interesting.

Gartenberg goes on to explain that Powermat’s chargers are connected to a cloud network, which enables them to push a firmware update that’ll support iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

‘A Visit to Apple Park’

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The fact is, the Steve Jobs Theater and the entire Apple Park campus are Apple products. Of course they look like Apple Stores. Of course they have custom-designed stone staircases and beautiful wood furniture. When you’re a company that has built its entire identity around design and style, from hardware to software to the contents of retail stores, it’s awfully hard to just build a glass office tower and call it a day. If you’ve ever imagined what an Apple Store would look like if it sprawled over 175 acres, well, it’s called Apple Park.

Apple approached the design and construction of its new headquarters the same way it does any other product, and it shows. Apple Park even had its own supply chain.

Thoughts on Yesterday's iPhone X Apple Event

I was in attendance at Apple's press event on Tuesday, the one that christened the new Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park.

The event was memorable not only for new products like the iPhone X, but also for the fact this was the first time anyone stepped foot onto Apple's unbelievably beautiful new campus. Apple Park truly is an architectural marvel; the fit and finish is absolutely in line with Apple's other products.

On a personal level, it occurred to me yesterday that I was in the audience for the last media event at Infinite Loop's Town Hall: last October's Touch Bar MacBook Pro introduction. Thus, I think it's neat how that October event and yesterday's first-ever event at the Steve Jobs theater kind of bookend. I don't mention this to be braggadocious—rather, I'm simply noting how these two events have some historical context.

What follows are assorted thoughts on the announcements made yesterday.

Apple Watch Series 3. I'm excited for this new generation, as I've used a Series 0 since launch in 2015 and have been itching a bit for an upgrade. To me, Series 3 is essentially a reborn iPod. With cellular, Apple Music, and AirPods, you have a way to listen to music (and hopefully podcasts) without needing to lug around your iPhone all the time. And of course you're reachable via phone call or text message. I’ve been a fan of Apple Watch from the beginning, and this new version is a huge step forward. A compelling, forward-thinking update.

As an aside, my Series 0 (stainless steel; I prefer it to the aluminum) still works like a charm two-and-a-half years later. watchOS 3 runs well, and the device still is pretty great for notifications, fitness, and Apple Pay. I'll update it to watchOS 4 next week and use it for a bit until I'm ready to upgrade. It pleases me that I've gotten so much life out of the original model, and I'm keen to see how the new OS does.

iPhone X. This was the showstopper. After Phil Schiller finished talking about iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, Tim Cook returned to the stage to announce Apple had "one more thing" to show us, and it was the much-ballyhooed iPhone X. From Face ID to the new gestures to the OLED display and more, the futuristic iPhone X has all sorts of accessibility angles to consider. Apple told me yesterday, for example, Face ID is fully integrated with VoiceOver and that there's an option to stop Face ID setup from using multiple shots for scanning. (This is useful if you're someone who can't move their neck.) If enabled, Face ID will use a single shot of your face to perform the depth mapping. The proof is in the testing, but for now, Apple deserves the utmost credit for making provisions such that the hallmark feature of its smartphone of the future is an accessible one. The future for everyone.

AirPower. You may not think of Apple's new charging mat, due sometime next year, in terms of accessibility, but you should. Before the iPhone 7 launched last year, I argued the removal of the headphone jack was a good thing because it alleviated any frustration with inserting and removing a plug. A year later, I've been a delighted AirPods user for many months now and don't miss the tedium of plugging in my old EarPods. The future of wireless sure is convenient, but it's also accessible—at least in my experience. AirPower should be great largely for the same reasons: no more cables to fuss with. All you do is place the device (iPhone, Apple Watch, or AirPods) down and they charge. When they're done, pick it up.

The Hands-On Area. After this year's WWDC keynote, I wrote about how I'd like to see the hands-on area at the San Jose Convention Center get better lighting. The room was extremely dark and extremely crowded... not the best environmental factors for a visually impaired person. At Apple Park, the room still is packed with reporters, of course, but the great thing is there's plenty of light. It's like an Apple Store in this sense, and I really appreciated it. I love being there in the scrum with my colleagues, although I admit to feeling somewhat anxious immersed in a sea of people and their damn camera equipment. On the bright side—pun intended—the well-lit room makes it easier for me to plot an escape route.

On Yesterday’s iOS 11 GM Leak

John Gruber has the best take on this:

Someone within Apple leaked the list of URLs to 9to5Mac and MacRumors. I’m nearly certain this wasn’t a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee. Whoever did this is the least popular person in Cupertino. More surprises were spoiled by this leak than any leak in Apple history.

Like Federico Viticci said on Twitter, I don’t begrudge 9to5 Mac for publishing the information; it’s all reportable material. That said, I do feel bad for all the surprises being spoiled and, importantly, for the Apple employees who’ve worked so hard on all this stuff. But even with this deluge of information, we still have no idea how Apple’s going to telegraph the new iPhone and its features. There’s still much we don’t know, messaging-wise, so Tuesday’s event will undoubtedly be a good show in spite of these massive leaks.

‘How Apple Finally Made Siri Sound More Human’

Good piece by David Pierce at Wired on Apple’s efforts to make Siri sound more human.

I’ve been on the iOS 11 public beta for some time now, and I’ve been very impressed by Siri’s new voice. It really is more human-like. One thing worth noting is, along with Siri’s improved vocals, that Siri in iOS 11 is more accessible than ever before. The Text to Siri feature, whereby users can interact with the assistant in a Messages-like interface, broadens Siri audience so that more people have access to it. The deaf and hard-of-hearing is the obvious example—whereas previously they may have felt excluded due to Siri’s voice-first nature, the ability to now “text” Siri affords them the same experience and benefits that everyone else enjoys.

September Is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

My friend Stephen Hackett, writing at 512 Pixels:

Every September, I forgo running sponsorship on 512 Pixels and donate the month’s membership and YouTube revenue to highlight and raise money for a cause that is very close to my heart: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Stephen is hoping to raise $9,000 this month, $1,000 for each year for his son, Josiah, who turns 9 this year. If you can, help Stephen and his family.

'Safari Should Display Favicons in Its Tabs'

John Gruber:

I don’t know what the argument is against showing favicons in Safari’s tabs, but I can only presume that it’s because some contingent within Apple thinks it would spoil the monochromatic aesthetic of Safari’s toolbar area. I really can’t imagine what else it could be. I’m personally sympathetic to placing a high value on aesthetics even when it might come at a small cost to usability. But in this case, I think Safari’s tab design — even if you do think it’s aesthetically more appealing — comes at a large cost in usability and clarity. The balance between what looks best and what works best is way out of whack with Safari’s tabs.

As I tweeted, John's plea is a prime example of "accessibility for everyone." The idea is the colorized glyphs along with the text make switching tabs easier because the icon is an additional visual cue that helps processing.

On iOS Text Editors

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors, on why Editorial is his current writing app of choice:

When I mention that I write a lot on the iPad these days, I’m often asked what iOS apps I’m using to write. The truth is, the story keeps shifting—I’ve never really settled on a single app, because none of them give me everything that I want.

These days I’m using Editorial most of the time. It’s got full Markdown support and syncs with Dropbox, but those features have basically become table stakes for iOS text editors. What has put Editorial over the top for me, at least for the moment, is its powerful set of user-creatable and shareable workflows. These powerful features can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts, which is huge for me since I write articles on my iPad Pro while attached to an external keyboard.

Like Jason, I've tried numerous iOS text editors, Editorial included, in a quest to find the right one for me. Ulysses is my current go-to app. It's really well done and I'm comfortable using it, although, like Jason, I don't particularly care for how the app presents links. To be honest, my main motivation for sticking with Ulysses is I'm able to use SF Mono as my text font. It's beautiful and easy to read; perhaps if I could change typefaces in other writing apps, I'd be more compelled to switch. One of the benefits of writing in Markdown is, because everything is in plain text, I can nomadically move from app to app at will and have all my documents come with me.