Monday, March 09, 2015

Apple Announcements

So Apple announced some new products today and they look interesting.

First, they lowered the price of Apple TV to $69 but announced nothing more hardware or software-wise. They did announce HBO Now; for $15/month you can get HBO without having a cable subscription. It gives access to all their content past and present and seems pretty nice. Make sure you have unlimited data for your home Internet to use it. :) Apparently Apple is the exclusive partner for HBO Now. I suspect that will last a year or two.

They announced a few little iPhone things, but the big one was ResearchKit. Now that so many people have iPhones this is a new (open source!) system to let researchers write apps to collect medical data and allow users to choose to participate. They announced five apps available today with more coming. Using the sensors on an iPhone researchers can get much more info than from a person's daily life than they have been able to before for so little cost. E.g., the Parkinson's app can do quantitative evaluations using a tapping test, a voice modulation test and gait and balance tests. Asthma researchers will swab surfaces in NYC and will be able to compare irritants with symptoms by location. Pretty amazing stuff.

Apple also announced a new laptop with an old name. Now in addition to the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro they're selling a MacBook again. This is a 12" model with a retina display and is thinner and lighter than the Air. Just 2 lbs and just 13.1mm high at the thickest point. It's got a full-sized keyboard going to the edge of the machine, with a new mechanism for the keys and for the trackpad. It can now register a "Force Touch" (which sounds like "Force Choke") and they've enabled various apps to do things like go to very fast forward or bring up definitions, previews, or maps when doing a Force Touch on certain info. Nice. I'd like to see this for the Mac TrackPad I use with my iMac.

It uses Intel's new Broadwell processor which is lower power, so it generates less heat which enables this to be the first macbook without a fan. That's nice. It also frees up space internally for more battery and they've designed new batteries to fit in the tapering of the case. They say it holds a full day's charge, 9 hours of surfing or 10 hours of video. It also comes in the iPhone colors, silver, space gray and gold.

The compromise is that it has just one port, a new USB-C port that is used for both power and connectivity, though you'll need adaptors for things (USB, DisplayPort, Power, HDMI, VGA). Apple will sell a USB-C to USB adaptor for $19 which isn't bad. Since I have a desktop iMac I think I'd be okay with this. I just use USB to connect an iPhone or iPad, a camera occasionally and a backup drive. All would be fine, though I guess doing any of these things while low on power would be an issue. I don't think this is a MagSafe connector, so tripping over a cord is an issue again.

For $1300 you get 8GB RAM (not upgradable) and 256GB flash which isn't bad. $300 more gives you 512GB flash and slightly faster processor. AppleCare for this is $250. My old laptop is getting cranky. It's only 4GB and doesn't have Bluetooth 4.0 so the Continuity stuff in the latest OS X and iOS don't work. With the iMac at my desk the iPad is good enough for most couch and travel stuff but for anything with more typing a laptop would be nice. I'll have to look at these when they come out. The Air and Pro lines got some updates so I'd have to compare this to a 13" model. A 13" Air with the same 8GB RAM and 256GB flash is also $1300 but it doesn't have a retina display and weights an additional pound though it has longer battery life and I think faster processors and graphics and of course more ports. The 13" MacBook Pro is more comparable. $1500 gets the same 8/256GB and retina display but it weights 3.5 lbs.

Of course the big announcement was Apple Watch. I'm not sure if we learned new features but they went through them pretty well. It pairs to your iPhone and apps can put notifications and some controls on the watch. There's also a microphone and speaker and touch screen that understands force with a dial crown and a side button. So you can do the Dick Tracy thing and use the mic and speaker to take a phone call; I wonder how long until FaceTime works on it (they demo'ed showing video on it but it would need a camera).

There were the expected show sports scores, stock prices, and event notification type stuff. Also social media things like twitter trends though I don't think they showed checking in to anything. There's integration with Passbook and Apple Pay which would probably be useful. We knew it supported Siri but it also supports Hey Siri which is nice and convenient though I don't know if it's more of a power drain (it only works on the phone if it's plugged in). They showed it working for hotel checkins and door unlocking with an app for W Hotels, I'm sure more will come. The Uber demo was pretty nice showing info on the watch of how far away the car is and what it looks like and the license plate. That would be nice waiting outside on a cold night. There are some health sensors and if you know someone close to you who also has an Apple Watch you can share heartbeats or little doodles.

So the promise is that you'll be able to keep your phone in your pocket and use the watch for glancing at info. I can see that being useful. With Siri (particularly with Hey Siri) I can see being able to do a number of things conveniently. A number of the features did require some push or crown turn so that by definition needs two hands. I might prefer to just use the iPhone one-handed. I usually keep my phone in a shirt pocket so it's easily accessible. E.g., they showed Airline ticket info integration with Passbook. So at an airport you can just bring up a barcode on your watch. But that needs a swipe or two, I think I'd rather use my phone in one hand and hold my baggage in another. On the other hand, buying something with ApplePay by just moving your wrist seems really nice (then again, it's easy on the phone too). They also showed browsing Instagram on the watch and I don't know why you would do that vs on the phone.

Battery life is apparently good enough. They said all-day and typical usage is about 18 hours of life. That's fine. Apple is usually pretty conservative with their battery estimates. Still I'd worry if I was traveling and out all day using maps and and other features and when I got home late to the hotel, it seems I might actually need my watch to get into my room. I wonder if getting in your room works if your phone is dead.

The big news was about pricing. The $349 is for the 38mm sport model. In most cases the 42mm version is $50 more. The regular model starts at $549 for 38mm and $599 for 42mm and goes up to $1099 depending on the bands (which you can buy separately). The fluoroelastomer (aka rubber) bands are $50 and most of the others are either $150 or $250. The Bracelet is $450. As with everything Apple makes they seem to have made only high quality straps, so they're pricy. Their cheap option is the rubber other than the black, they're brightly colored. They've even put a lot of attention to detail in their sizing guide (pdf. I wonder if they'll announce new straps next year the way the used to announce new colors for iPods.

The gold editions are $10,000 to $17,000. I'm not getting one. If it had a James Bond laser beam or super-magnet I might consider it (Geiger counter not so much).

I need to see them in person and try them on, but I'm leaning to the 42mm models for the larger screen. I'd really like to not have to use reading glasses to make things out on the screen and I'm pretty comfortable with a 42mm dial on a watch. I'm also partial to the regular version rather than the sport. The sapphire crystal appeals to me as I've been a little hard on watches. I of course like the space black model with the bracelet and that's $1100. For the price of a laptop, or way more than I paid for my iPad, I'd better really like it. I think I also like the black leather loop (not announced before) which would only be $700. This is another case where I want to wait until the 2.0 model of a new Apple product. I suspect the new ones will have more sensors and perhaps better battery life. I'm also curious about how many recharge cycles they expect (particularly if you have to charge it daily) and if there's a battery replacement program.

Then again $400 for a sport model to get the feel of it isn't horrible (well it would be more than I've ever spent on a watch but it also does more than any watch I've owned). I Kickstarted a Pebble Time Steel which should arrive in July, maybe that will hold me over until AppleWatch 2.0.


AAM said...

I was leaning towards the 599, but now you have me thinking I should go sport and replace it when the 2.0 comes out.

Richard said...

I have never owned a watch for more than two years. I think it is because I am hard on them and I tend to spend less than $200.

My personal experience would make me very leery of getting an Apple Watch, even though it apparently does everything. It's more expensive than I am comfortable with, and would I want or end up buying a new one every two years?

Someone will buy it, of course.

Howard said...

I understand. I'll just add this, I used to lose sunglasses all the time, then I got an expensive pair and never lost them.