Apple Launches Apple Heart Study

Apple PR, in a press release:

Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s unique optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with powerful software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise. The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm.

The timing of this launch is kinda funny to me—as I write this, I’m wearing an EKG patch after telling my doctor about how my Apple Watch alerted me several times of spikes in my heart rate (>100) when I’m not doing anything but sitting on the couch.

See also: CNBC’s Christina Farr’s interview with Apple COO Jeff Williams on the study.

The Second-Generation iPhone SE

Joe Rossignol reports for MacRumors about a rumor claiming Apple is readying an update to the iPhone SE for “the first half of 2018.” Like Michael Rockwell’s wife, my girlfriend absolutely loves her iPhone SE, and was ecstatic when I told her of this report. She strongly dislikes the larger iPhones, so the SE is a perfect device for her: she gets most of the modern features in a decidedly smaller form factor that she can comfortably hold and carry. Her 2016 model is still going strong, and I’m glad to see Apple committing itself to updating the line. It’s a great product in its own right.

The Touch Bar Makes the Mac More Accessible to Me

Marco Arment, creator of my favorite podcast app and a co-host of one of my favorite podcasts, published a piece yesterday in which he outlines what Apple should do with the next revision of the MacBook Pro. Regarding the Touch Bar, he writes:

Sorry, it’s a flop. It was a solid try at something new, but it didn’t work out. There’s no shame in that — Apple should just recognize this, learn from it, and move on.

The Touch Bar should either be discontinued or made optional for all MacBook Pro sizes and configurations.

Arment’s recommendation that Apple “back away from the Touch Bar” reiterates a popular sentiment in the Apple community: in blunt terms, the Touch Bar sucks. I’ve read many articles and heard many podcasts where prominent members of the community deride the feature and question its future. These criticisms, while legitimate, sting me personally because I like the Touch Bar.

It stings because, in my usage, I find the Touch Bar to be an invaluable tool when I’m using macOS. Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji. In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.

However useful the Touch Bar is to me, I realize I’m only one data point. When I shared my experiences on Twitter, Shelly Brisbin responded by rightfully pointing out how accessibility “is very different for each user” while adding she has “no love” for the Touch Bar. Brisbin, like Arment and numerous others, don’t like the feature and have no use for it. Which is the whole problem, I suppose—not enough people are in the “I like it” camp for the Touch Bar. Even Apple itself seems less enthused about the feature, given how High Sierra shipped this fall without much iteration in this regard. Maybe they really are “backing away.”

Whatever happens to the Touch Bar going forward, I’ll continue to use it and like it. While I spend most of my computing time on iOS, my time on the Mac is made better and more accessible by the Touch Bar’s presence. I’m only one person, but that’s my take.

Shelly Brisbin is absolutely correct when she says accessibility differs from person to person. In sharing my experiences with the Touch Bar, though, I want to show the feature isn’t an abject failure. It does have utility and it’s technically extremely well done. I think a lot of the Touch Bar haters overlook all the capabilities the Touch Bar offers in terms of accessibility, at least for me.

I’ll be sad if the Touch Bar is abandoned or discontinued, but again, let the record show that it helps me and I’m a big fan.

‘Apple’s Next Laptop Should Run iOS’

Jason Snell, in this week’s More Color column for Macworld:

Would an iOS laptop be for everyone? Absolutely not, but there are lots of people who might want a laptop but don’t need anything more than what iOS offers. Apple will still make MacBooks, and hopefully has plenty of innovation yet to come in that area. And some people really do prefer working with laptops over tablets, all other things being equal—not just writers, but people who watch a lot of video. My daughter is a great example: She loves watching Netflix on her laptop and has refused to consider switching to an iPad.

I’d be interested in a such a product; it’s very intriguing.

What Face ID Means for Accessibility

When Apple introduced Touch ID with the iPhone 5s in 2013, I wrote a piece in which I posited how the fingerprint reader would be beneficial in an accessibility context. I wrote, in part:

What I see Touch ID doing is helping people with the aforementioned acuity/motor issues by allowing them to simply use their thumbprint (or other finger) to unlock their phone, password-free. More specifically, Touch ID would free users from the struggle of manually entering in their passcode.

My idea here is not so much of convenience (which is nice) but rather of usability. I know many folks with vision-and motor-related issues who bemoan iOS’s passcode prompt because not only does it take time, but also entering in said code isn’t necessarily an easy task. In fact, more than a few lament this so often that they forego a passcode altogether because it’s time-consuming and a pain (sometimes literally) to enter.

Four years later, the advent of Face ID in the iPhone X represents the next step in biometric security. But it’s something else too—for as great as Touch ID has been in terms of security, convenience, and accessibility, Face ID is even better. In my brief time with iPhone X so far, I have found Apple’s facial recognition technology to best Touch ID in virtually every meaningful way. Not to mention it’s pretty damn cool knowing I have the ability to unlock my phone and buy things with my face.

Living on the bleeding-edge is fun.

Facing My Face ID Conundrum

In my first impressions story, I noted how Face ID on iPhone X has been “the most revelatory aspect” of the device thus far. What’s revelatory about it is how it taught me something about myself: namely, that I’m an edge case. For the first time using an Apple product, I have felt like I’ve been forced to adapt to the technology rather than have the tech adapt to me.

Here’s the thing. I have a condition called strabismus, which means one or both of the eyes are not set straight. For me, mine is the left eye—ironically, my strong eye—and it seems to wreak havoc with the TrueDepth camera system. In my initial attempts to set up Face ID, I could not get Face ID to unlock my phone. The setup process went smoothly—Face ID successfully mapped my face, but again, it was unable to recognize me when unlocking the phone or logging into an app like 1Password. It was highly frustrating.

As Face ID is the marquee feature of iPhone X, this was bad.

After some troubleshooting, however, there was a solution. Following some tests, I determined I’m one of those users for which requiring “eye contact” with iPhone X just will not work. Hence, the solution was to go into Face ID’s settings and turn off the Require Attention feature (Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Require Attention for Face ID). With Require Attention disabled, Face ID works like a charm. Doing things such as unlocking my phone, logging into 1Password, and paying with Apple Pay all are effortless.

The only caveat to this is I’m still not used to holding my phone far enough away such that Face ID can read my face. Because of my low vision, I instinctively hold my phone close to my face because I need it close to see. Face ID obviously can’t see me at this angle, so I tend to get the haptic, can’t-log-you-in “head shake” a lot. I’ve only had the iPhone X for almost two weeks now, so it’ll take me a bit more time to develop a new muscle memory. I can deal with this, though, because I know the technology isn’t faulty nor did Apple give me a lemon of a review unit, as I initially feared. Everything works as intended, as designed—I just need to learn new habits.

Especially with iPhone X, there’s ten years of iPhone convention to unlearn.

Why Face ID Beats Touch ID

So what makes Face ID even more accessible than Touch ID?

For one thing, setup is far faster and less taxing. Enrolling in Touch ID is by no means difficult, but it is relatively slow and “precise.” iOS prompts you to move your finger this way and that way, and will bug you when you don’t follow directions. If you’re someone with limited fine-motor skills, getting Touch ID set up can be a literal pain along with being a figurative one.

By contrast, setting up Face ID at least feels more streamlined and less tedious. While moving your head around “like you’re drawing a circle with your face,” as Apple described it to me, can be difficult for individuals with certain gross motor limitations, there is an accessibility option to eliminate that step. (Instead of moving your head around to get the depth map, the system will take a single shot at a fixed angle.) If rolling your head around is impossible or bothersome, Apple has you covered right from within the setup UI. Again, Touch ID is no slouch, but I have found, anecdotally, that setting up Face ID is much simpler and quicker than ever. Surely this is due to Apple having years to study user data and fine-tune BiometricKit.

Beyond setup, another area where Face ID excels is its presence removes a point of friction (the Touch ID sensor) for many disabled users. However accessible Touch ID may be, the fact remains reaching and/or pushing that button is problematic for many. Instead of tactilely authenticating for everything, now all someone has to do is literally look at their phone. It’s no doubt convenient as well, but importantly for accessibility, Face ID is freedom. It’s freedom knowing there’s a better way forward technologically, and freedom knowing there’s less one less possible barrier.

The way Apple has built Face ID, hardware- and software-wise, into iOS quite literally makes using iPhone a “hands-free” experience in many regards. And that’s without discrete accessibility features like Switch Control or AssistiveTouch. That makes a significant difference to users, myself included, whose physical limitations make even the most mundane tasks (e.g., unlocking one’s device) tricky. As with so many accessibility-related topics, the little things that are taken for granted are always the things that make the biggest difference in shaping a positive experience.

On Face ID and Apple Pay

I’ve gone on the record (here and here) to laud Apple Pay as an accessible way to pay for stuff. I’ve used it every chance I get since its debut in 2014, and still can’t get over how well done it is. It’s a truly magical service.

Face ID on iPhone X takes Apple Pay to the next level. In the handful of times I’ve used Apple Pay on iPhone X (to pay for Lyft rides), Face ID has provided an even more seamless experience. Like with unlocking, the advantage of Apple Pay being tied to Face ID is you confirm the purchase with your face. (You double-press the side button to initiate, but that’s it.) The hands-free nature of it means I needn’t worry about getting my thumb in the right position or spend time waiting for authorization.

Despite how good it is, the thing about Apple Pay on the phone is, since I’m an Apple Watch wearer, I don’t use the service often on my iPhone. It’s even better from my wrist, but I’m glad Apple made the gestures more consistent across devices. Nonetheless, for the times when I do use Apple Pay on my iPhone, Face ID makes it quicker, easier, and more accessible.

A Brief Note on the Touch ID API

It’s worth mentioning how much of an impact I believe the public Touch ID/Face ID API has had on accessibility. To me, it’s a sleeper hit.

The reason for this is because, by giving developers the power to integrate biometrics into their apps, Apple is effectively ensuring third-party apps be more accessible. I continue to agree with Marco Arment that the company should make accessibility a tentpole of the app-vetting process, but as it stands currently, just the fact alone that App Store apps have access to these biometric features puts them on solid ground, accessibility-wise. That I have been able to use my thumb (and now my face) to get into my 1Password means that app already is pretty accessible, even without critiquing any design details. It sure beats typing a passcode every time.

Of course there’s more developers need to do to ensure their app(s) are accessible by all, but the API sure puts them and users ahead. It’s not trivial, and Apple is to be commended for perhaps having the foresight to realize the benefits here. It was a huge addition to the toolkit.

The Future of the (Accessible) Smartphone

Everyone who has an iPhone X right now is still in the honeymoon phase, so time will tell how feelings about the evolve as the device ages. In my usage so far, it’s clear to me Apple built iPhone X in such a way that the so-called “future” of the smartphone is an accessible one.

iPhone X takes many leaps forward, but Face ID is the biggest. It’s markedly better than its predecessor, which is high praise for a feature as beloved as Touch ID. There was some adjustment necessary on my part, but I can’t speak effusively enough about Face ID. It’s delightful, reliable, and accessible.

Apple Pushes Back HomePod Release to ‘Early 2018’

Nicole Nguyen, reporting for BuzzFeed:

In June, Apple announced that it was challenging Amazon's sleeper hit Amazon Echo with its own voice assistant-enabled speaker, called HomePod, and said the product would be released in December 2017. Today, the company released a statement that the speaker will be delayed until 2018: "We can't wait for people to experience HomePod, Apple's breakthrough wireless speaker for the home, but we need a little more time before it's ready for our customers. We'll start shipping in the US, UK, and Australia in early 2018."

The company also said “we need a little more time” when AirPods were delayed last year.

‘Remember When the Warriors Stunk?’

Scott Cacciola, writing for the New York Times:

Given the events of more recent seasons, few people on the planet have greater perspective on the team’s emergence as an all-universe juggernaut than Roye and two colleagues who have been staples of the Warriors’ radio and television broadcasts for decades: Jim Barnett, who has worked as the Warriors’ TV analyst since 1985, and Bob Fitzgerald, who has done play-by-play of the team’s games since 1993. They appreciate the highs.

“Because we know what the bottom looked like,” Fitzgerald said.

The bottom looked like 12 straight losing seasons, from 1994 to 2006, a period Fitzgerald assessed as “general hopelessness.” The bottom looked like nightly opportunities to set records for offensive futility. The bottom looked like the coach getting choked at practice by one of his players. The bottom looked like a sad stream of 20-point deficits and endless amounts of airtime to fill.

I’ve lived in the Bay Area my entire life, and Barnett has been the only Warriors color analyst I’ve ever known. Aside from the Run TMC years in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Warriors were bad for a long time. Now, they’ve won two titles and the NBA juggernaut.

My First Week with iPhone X

It’s been a week now that I’ve had an iPhone X, a review unit provided to me by Apple. As someone who’s been using iPhones from the beginning in 2007, I’ve found the new device to be both futuristic yet familiar. Most importantly, however, is the utter delight I feel when I pick up the iPhone X. There is a “magic” and “fun factor” to the phone that I haven’t felt since getting AirPods last year—in many ways, big and small, iPhone X epitomizes Apple.

Here are some assorted thoughts on iPhone X after a week.

Face ID. Face ID has proven to be the most revelatory aspect of iPhone X so far. It turns out, I’m an edge case. When I was initially setting up the phone, I grew frustrated by Face ID not recognizing me or unlocking my phone. I was convinced Apple had given me a lemon, but that wasn’t the case. I theorized perhaps my problem was due to the strabismus in my left eye, and it appears my hunch was correct. The condition, which means one or more of the eyes isn’t set straight, seems to give the TrueDepth camera system fits. This explains why unlocking iPhone X is so difficult—it isn’t that the technology is faulty; it’s that the camera has trouble telling whether or not I’m looking at the phone.

After some troubleshooting, I’ve determined Face ID works best for me with Require Attention turned off. The success rate when unlocking feels exponentially higher than with Require Attention turned on. So, off it goes.

Size & Weight. I love how iPhone X feels like an iPhone 8 (or 7 or 6) in my hand yet I still get the big display of the Plus model. It’s the best of both worlds. The other thing that’s nice, size-wise, is how much better iPhone X feels in my pocket or against my ear during phone calls. For as much as I loved the Plus for its big screen, I can’t deny the sheer size of the object wasn’t annoying to carry around at times. I adapted, but it was a trade-off nonetheless. Hence why I’m so smitten with iPhone X’s size: I don’t have to compromise with it.

The Screen. The iPhone X’s OLED screen is the best I’ve ever seen, on any device. Colors are vibrant and text is razor-sharp. And True Tone is great too. It’s the most accessible screen I’ve ever seen. I think Apple did the right thing in embracing “the notch,” and developers are better off embracing it as well. It doesn’t bother me one bit; in fact, I actually like how it looks.

Home Gestures. It hasn’t taken me long to acclimate to the lack of a Home button on iPhone X. I have no problems unlocking, exiting an app, or launching the multitasking view. Going back to my girlfriend’s iPhone SE or her mom’s 7 now feels decidedly archaic. Even using my 10.5” iPad Pro feels weird because it has a button.

Wireless Charging. My review kit from Apple included the Belkin charging mat, and I love using the thing. I’ve seen other reviewers complain of the iPhone X buzzing off the pad and not charge, but I’ve not encountered that myself. I also have no trouble finding the right spot to place the phone to charge it. Maybe I’m lucky? In any case, I think some in the Apple community are underestimating the benefits of wireless charging. I’ve heard and read a lot of people say it isn’t easier than using Lightning, but that sentiment overlooks the accessibility gains. In the same way AirPods saved me from the tedium of plugging in EarPods, the Belkin charging mat saves me from plugging in the Lightning cable. Especially on my jet black 7 Plus, the finish was so dark that I had trouble finding the port because I couldn’t see it. Add that with the fine-motor gymnastics I sometimes needed to perform to plug in the cable, and it’s obvious why I’m so bullish on wireless charging. It’s not only convenient—it makes charging my phone more accessible too.

Silver Versus Space Gray. I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of the space gray iPhone X. It isn’t that it looks bad, but the color seems “washed out” to me. I much prefer the silver model, as the back is almost a pearly kind of white. The stainless steel ring is stunning as well. The iPhone X screams high-end—it’s easily the nicest iPhone since the 5/5S. The craftsmanship is exquisite. It looks and feels like the future of the smartphone.

On Apple Park

Wallpaper's recent feature story on Apple Park, heavy with insight from Jony Ive, is a good read and beautifully photographed. One part that made me chuckle is the bit about the 4,000-seat cafe that has a kitchen that's "one the biggest kitchens in the US." It has me damn curious over how much time Ive spent designing that space.

Kitchen aside, I can totally see how Apple and Foster+Partners view the Steve Jobs Theater as the crown jewel of the campus. I attended the inaugural media event in September, and was in awe the entire time over how beautiful it is. It truly is a marvel of architectural engineering—surely, as Wallpaper alludes to in its piece, the ultimate Apple product.

iOS Gains Ability to Show iTunes, App Store Purchase History

Chance Miller, reporting for 9to5 Mac:

Apple today is making it easier for users to view purchase history directly from their iOS devices. The company revealed in an updated support document today that you can now view your App Store and iTunes purchase history in the Settings app on iOS.

Previously, as the support document notes, this functionality was only available through iTunes on Mac and PC. While you could view purchase history via the App Store and iTunes Store on iOS, it was purely for re-downloading purposes and didn’t show detailed pricing information.

Good news—and worthy of a bonafide finally.

Twitter Ups Character Length to 280

Twitter’s Aliza Rosen, writing for the company blog:

In September, we launched a test that expanded the 140 character limit so every person around the world could express themselves easily in a Tweet. Our goal was to make this possible while ensuring we keep the speed and brevity that makes Twitter, Twitter. Looking at all the data, we’re excited to share we’ve achieved this goal and are rolling the change out to all languages where cramming was an issue.*

During the first few days of the test many people Tweeted the full 280 limit because it was new and novel, but soon after behavior normalized (more on this below). We saw when people needed to use more than 140 characters, they Tweeted more easily and more often. But importantly, people Tweeted below 140 most of the time and the brevity of Twitter remained.

I can see where more characters would be useful, but the timeline’s brevity is paramount. The (old?) 140-character limit is a core tenent of the service’s strengths.

The iPhone X Goes to Disneyland

in a clever conceit for a review, TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino took his iPhone X review unit on a family trip to Disneyland. His reviews, along with those by BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen, are always the ones I read first. So good.

In particular, this bit from Panzarino’s story made my heart sing:

It’s worth noting now that toggling attention detection off for Face ID is also going to be good for accessibility reasons. Vision-impaired folks, especially, will benefit.

In fact, I believe strongly that Face ID is going to be an incredible boon to accessibility. Touch ID is difficult to operate for many with motor skills or mobility issues, forcing them to rely on a simple passcode or none at all. Face ID’s ability to passively know who you are and allow you to begin taking action right from the home screen with VoiceOver is going to be killer. Apple has had a massive lead in building accessibility into its products for some time now, and this is only going to widen the gap.

I can’t wait to put iPhone X through its paces.

Thoughts on the Sport Loop Band

This month, my girlfriend gifted me an Apple Watch Series 3 (with LTE) as a late birthday gift.

She got me a 42mm Nike+ model in space gray with a black Sport Loop. I’ve been wearing it a few weeks now after using a stainless steel original Apple Watch since May 2015, and I like it very much. The aluminum is super lightweight and the space gray color looks sharp. And despite much consternation from people on Twitter, the red dot on the Digital Crown doesn’t bother me one bit. In practice, I don’t notice it unless I look down at my watch or when I take it off at night to charge. In fact, it makes for a nice accent against the watch’s dark case.

I’ll write a full review of my new Apple Watch in the coming weeks, but for now, the one aspect of it that has stood out to me the most is the aforementioned Sport Loop band. It is a great band—it looks good, feels good, and most importantly for me, it’s highly accessible. Your mileage may vary, but for me, the Sport Loop has quickly become my favorite band; I love it.

Of course comfort and style matter—Apple Watch is as much about fashion as it is function—but what sets the Sport Loop apart in my opinion is its accessibility. The accessibility of Apple Watch bands is I think an underrated aspect of the experience. If a band is hard to get on and off, it sullies the overall view of the device because the bands are tough to manipulate. If you can’t get the watch on, you can’t use it. Hence, for someone like me who has fine-motor delays, how a band works functionally is just as important, if not more so, than how it looks aesthetically. “Can I get this on?” is a crucial question.

From an accessibility perspective, what makes the Sport Loop shine is the “hook-and-loop” fastening mechanism. Getting the Apple Watch on and off is effortless, at least for me. There are no pins to deal with, like on the Sport or nylon bands—all you do is pull the band so it’s as tight as you want and simply press it against the other side to close. Although I’ve grown adept at getting my Sport and nylon bands on my wrist successfully, there’s a fluidity to using the Sport Loop that my other bands can’t match. And it’s all due to the Velcro, which is a highly accessible material. Its appeal is further boosted by the fact this Velcro is the nicest I’ve ever seen. Velcro is decidedly more utilitarian than elegant, but Apple made it both.

I’ve long maintained Apple’s most accessible bands are the Loop varieties that use magnets for fastening. The Sport Loop with its Velcro joins this group. While needs and tolerances vary, in general I would say if you’re someone who has fine-motor delays, any of the Loop bands are a terrific choice. The Sport Loop in particular is easy to put on, lightweight, and stylish for anyone who leads an active lifestyle. I’m even thinking about wearing my black Sport Loop to a family wedding in SoCal this weekend.

Apple: iPhone X Pre-Orders 'Off the Charts'

Aishwarya Venugopal and Arjun Panchadar, reporting for Reuters:

Apple Inc quashed concerns of muted demand for its iPhone X on Friday, saying pre-orders for the 10th anniversary phone were “off the charts."

[...]

“We can see from the initial response, customer demand is off the charts,” an Apple spokeswoman told Reuters.

“We’re working hard to get this revolutionary new product into the hands of every customer who wants one, as quickly as possible.”

As of this writing, Apple is quoting 5-6 weeks for shipping.