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.

The iPad Makes Watching TV a Joy

As I've continued using the 10.5" iPad Pro, one aspect of the device that continues to impress me is its display. It is, without question, the best screen I've ever seen on any computer—from Apple or otherwise. Retina resolution is one thing, but what really makes the experience is other technologies such as True Tone, ProMotion, and the P3 color gamut. Apple bills the iPad's screen as "the most advanced display on the planet," and it's true. In practice, the screen truly is extraordinary; the company's marketing copy doesn't feel the least bit hyperbolic or blustery. Simply put, Apple's display engineering team has done incredible work here.

I've written in the past about how, as a visually impaired person, Retina displays enhance the viewing experience for me. One area where it's striking is when I'm watching videos on Netflix or YouTube. Picture quality is outstanding. In fact, the display on the 10.5" iPad is so good that switching back to my first-generation 12.9" model is rough. The difference between the two in terms of display quality is striking, largely because my older iPad lacks the newer display tech. (The updated 12.9" model has True Tone, ProMotion, etc.) I find this noteworthy for the simple reason that I lauded high praise on the 12.9" model's screen for its size and quality.

A testament to how fast (and how far) technology advances.

I mention this because the more time I spend with the 10.5" iPad Pro, the more I realize how great it is as a "television." I don't have a high-definition TV at home, so anything I watch—be it Netflix, YouTube, HBO Now, or Amazon Prime Video—is accessed through my iPad. I plan to upgrade to a modern TV someday (we have a '90s-era SDTV currently) along with an Apple TV, but for now, the iPad is my de-facto "HDTV."

Beyond the display, another reason I enjoy the iPad to watch video has to do with my vision. Because of the tablet's form factor, it is easy for me to get as close to what I'm watching as I need. I can hold the iPad as far as or close as I need to see comfortably. Contrast this with even a large, high-res television, and I'd still likely have to sit only a foot or two away to see everything. And I haven't even mentioned the lean-back-on-the-couch-and-do factor that makes the iPad, particularly the 10.5" model, such a compelling device.

I'd been using the 12.9" iPad as a TV too, but the substantially better display on the new 10.5" model quite literally put the task of watching video in sharper perspective. It speaks to the axiom that the iPad can be anything the user wants it to be: word processor, game console, code editor, or, in my case, television. It turns out, a thin and light slab of glass happens to be a great substitute for a real TV if, like me, you don't have one.

‘On iOS 11 Design’

Smart, as usual, insights from iMore’s Rene Ritchie. The lede is great:

By embracing rather than running from the affordances of the past, iOS 11 makes iPhone and iPad not just more legible but more comfortable.

As I tweeted yesterday, I’ve thought about writing a story on iOS 11’s design, but Rene beat me to it. He says pretty much everything I would’ve in my own article.

In using the iOS 11 public beta, a thought that’s persisted in my mind is just how close the OS is, design-wise, to iOS 6. That is to say, where iOS 7 threw the baby out with the bath water in many respects—buttons are a prime example—Apple’s design team seems to have revisited some of the affordances of the “classic” iOS look. To me, iOS 11 takes the best of the old way (e.g., buttons) and updates them with modern sensibilities so as to fit the current style. It does look good, but more importantly, iOS 11 is much improved functionally in terms of visual accessibility. I’ve long maintained that, despite the heavy handedness with faux textures and the like, the Forstall-era iOS design did many things well for accessibility. I think this has gone largely under-appreciated, but again, it sure seems like Apple is moving the needle closer to where the old design excelled.

’How Apple is Putting Voices in Users’ Heads—Literally’

Great deep dive by Steven Levy for Backchannel on Apple’s Made for iPhone hearing aid initiative. Specifically, Levy’s story gets into the nitty-gritty of Apple’s collaboration with Cochlear to build iPhone-compatible cochlear implants for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

There is a larger lesson here. At a macro level, the work Apple has done with hearing aids is important because it shows the company can and does deliver innovative products. Most in the mainstream press overlook these kinds of smaller yet not insignificant measures. So many fans and industry watchers are so laser-focused on the big and shiny (and profitable) products, like the iPhone, that they overlook stuff like the Made for iPhone hearing aid program. It is innovative work that’s clearly important to Apple, as well as the customers who rely on the technology to get the most from their iPhone. Put simply, to say Apple doesn’t innovate is myopic bullshit, and Levy’s story is proof.

Chicago Cubs Give Steve Bartman 2016 World Series Ring

Julie Unruh, reporting for WGN News:

Steve Bartman has received an official Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Championship ring as a special gift from the Ricketts family and the Cubs organization.

Arguably the team's most infamous fan, Bartman is remembered for tipping a foul ball that left fielder Moises Alou unsuccessfully tried to catch in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series.

[…]

Bartman received the ring before noon Monday in Ricketts' office. Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and President of Operations Crane Kenney were also present. Ricketts then showed Bartman around Wrigley a bit, so he could see what was new since he'd last been to the park.

Here’s the play that made Bartman infamous. Kudos to the Cubs for the cool gesture.