Alex Guyot

45 posts on MacStories since January 2014

Alex has been writing for MacStories since 2013. These days he mostly covers Apple events and authors the annual MacStories watchOS reviews. Since graduating with a Computer Science degree from the University of Arizona in 2016, Alex has worked as a cloud engineer for the home automation company SmartThings. He is also the developer of Storybot, the MacStories Slack bot.

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watchOS 4: The MacStories Review

It is difficult to reconcile a critical appraisal of the Apple Watch with the product’s commercial success. To examine the most popular watch in the world1 and find it wanting seems wrong; yet as Apple’s bombastic smartwatch kicks off its third year, its history implores ignominy.

The integration of hardware and software is a keystone in Apple’s foundation. Every game-changing product they’ve released over the years has used this as a core advantage over the competition. Yet despite the Cupertino company’s proven track record, the last three years of Apple Watch have demonstrated a consistent struggle to get this right.

Apple has certainly iterated on unsuccessful hardware and software ideas in the past, but never quite so publicly. The Apple Watch feels like a device that was rushed a little too early to market. Apple knew that it had something good, but it didn’t yet know which areas the device would really excel in.

One of the most interesting pieces of this product’s story is that all signs point to Apple having gotten the hardware of the Apple Watch exactly right, at least in terms of its direction. The original Apple Watch was underpowered and lacking some technology that Apple simply couldn’t fit into it at the time, but the idea was there. In subsequent hardware iterations Apple has significantly increased the processing power, added vital new sensors, improved battery life, and shipped LTE. In this time the case design has remained unchanged (other than growing slightly thicker), and the input methods have persisted exactly. It may have taken until the latest Series 3 release for Apple to fulfill its initial vision for the Apple Watch hardware, but that vision has remained unshaken since the beginning.

The same cannot be said for the Apple Watch software.

Apple’s smartwatch operating system has had a rocky first few years. watchOS 1 was fundamentally broken in several ways, and probably should never have shipped. watchOS 2 was an attempt to shore up and replace the poor foundations under the hood, but it left the substandard user interface to fester in production for over a year. With last year’s release of watchOS 3, Apple took its best shot at rethinking cardinal pieces of that interface.

watchOS 3 was a huge improvement over the blunders that came before it. As I wrote in my watchOS 3 review last year, Apple did great work with the update to cut away the excess and hone the OS to something simpler and more straightforward. It was a significant course correction which set a far better trajectory, but it didn’t get us all the way there.

In a lot of ways it feels like watchOS 3 was the true watchOS 1. Where Apple left off with the smartwatch operating system last year was really the point where it should have started. Nothing was complete, but almost every piece felt primed for improvement rather than necessitating reinvention. In the wake of that update, Apple has been at a crossroads. With the foundations of watchOS finally feeling solid, Apple could either continue to drive the platform forward, or leave it on a slow-moving autopilot.

Yesterday marked the release of watchOS 4 — our first opportunity to see the hope kindled by watchOS 3 borne out — and I’m pleased to report that Apple has succeeded in maintaining the platform’s momentum. Every area that this year’s update focuses on has seen fantastic improvements, and I’ve found myself interacting with my Apple Watch more than ever before. My only disappointment is that the scope of watchOS 4 isn’t quite as far-reaching as last year’s update.

The big themes of watchOS 4 are fitness and music, and Apple has done some excellent work in these departments. New activity goals, completely overhauled Workout and Music apps, auto-launch of audio apps, a Now Playing Complication, and more are all excellent upgrades. As always there is still room for improvement, but many of these features are making the leap for the first time from options on my Apple Watch which I mostly ignore to real features which I find consistently useful in my daily life.

There’s a lot to dig into here with the choices made and the new features added. Let’s dive in and find out what Apple has in store for the next year of Apple Watch.

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  1. That’s watch, not smartwatch. ↩︎

iPhone 8 and iPhone X: The MacStories Overview

This morning Tim Cook took the stage for the first time at the brand new Steve Jobs Theater within Apple Park. Following a touching tribute to Steve Jobs himself and a slew of other announcements, Cook introduced the products that everyone was waiting for: this year's new iPhones.

Apple's 2017 iPhone lineup has a big twist over past offerings. Rather than just releasing two models of differing size and very similar specifications, the Cupertino company has announced three new models. The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are a fairly standard yearly update, including processor, camera, design, and display improvements, as well as a few unique and interesting new perks. Unveiled alongside these, however, is the big new thing: the iPhone X.

Apple is calling the iPhone X1 the future of smartphones, and it certainly does look futuristic. There are some huge changes in this new device for both hardware and software, but before we get there let's review the updates to the also-brand-new iPhone 8 models. I know the iPhone X is getting most of the attention, but we shouldn't overlook that Apple has some excellent updates to its other models as well. If the iPhone X weren't shipping this year, Apple would still have a strong lineup of smartphones for 2017.

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Apple Updates iPad Pro Lineup with New 10.5″ and 12.9″ Models

Today at its WWDC Keynote event in San Jose, California, Apple announced two refreshed models in their iPad Pro lineup. While both new iPads sport the same set of hardware and design improvements, the most significant change is unique to the smaller iPad Pro model. The original line included a 12.9-inch and a 9.7-inch model, but today the 9.7-inch has been replaced by a larger 10.5-inch iPad. This change could mark the beginning of the end for the 9.7-inch screen size — a size which has remained constant in the iPad line since the introduction of the original iPad back in 2010.

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The New MacBook Pro: Our Complete Overview

At yesterday morning's Hello Again keynote event, Apple announced the long-awaited update to their professional laptop line. The new MacBook Pro comes in two sizes and features a thinner body and upgraded internals. It also comes equipped with Apple's brand new Touch Bar, a Retina touchscreen display which replaces the row of function keys atop the keyboard, and a Touch ID sensor.

These new machines mark the first significant spec advancements for the MacBook Pro since they moved to Haswell processors in 2014, and the first notable hardware changes since going Retina in 2012. As such, it's no surprise that the new MacBook Pro is an improvement in nearly every way over previous models. This is truly the next generation of Apple's flagship laptops.

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macOS Sierra: The MacStories Review

The first thing that may catch the eye of many looking to upgrade their Mac this year is the demise of the classic 'OS X' moniker. The end of OS X has been long rumored, and the expectation has often been for the Mac to move to whatever Apple chooses to name their OS 11. This would of course be a change on a massive scale, such as that between OS 9 and OS X was over a decade ago.

This year, with OS X finally seeing the end of its reign, will we be seeing another epochal change in Mac history?

Nope.

After a decade of mispronounced Roman numerals, Apple is ready to let go of the name, but not the number. The full title for the 2016 iteration of the Mac operating system: macOS 10.12 Sierra. OS X may be gone, but OS 10 survives.

Since the mystical OS 11 didn’t come in the aftermath of the last big cat, didn’t come on the heels of version 10.9, and now again hasn’t come to usher out OS X, it’s starting to look like it may never come at all. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that that’s true, because the bottom line is that OS 11 isn’t needed anymore.

These days, Apple is a very different company than it was when OS X made its debut. The Mac is no longer Apple’s darling. It was long ago pushed aside by the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad, and now even a watch and a TV box. Each of these is its own platform, running its own operating system. Each of these has its place in the new age Apple ecosystem.

With iOS, watchOS, and tvOS all around, the freshly renamed macOS no longer serves the role of scrappy upstart. Today, the Mac is the eldest platform, and macOS needs to focus on stability and productivity. Leave the epochal changes to the young guys.

With this year’s update, named after California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, macOS builds once more upon the strong base of its many predecessors. Trenchant in its restraint, 10.12 shirks sweeping changes in favor of iterative improvements. A perfect example of an update to a mature operating system done right.

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    watchOS 3: The MacStories Review

    This month will mark the two-year point since the Apple Watch was first unveiled to the world, and nearly a year and a half since the product first made its way into the hands of consumers. Two years is a long time in technology in general, but particularly so for Apple. In this time the Apple Watch has gone from a product developed in secret, deep within Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, to the most popular smartwatch in the world. Millions of units have been sold, and surveys have pegged customer sat as extremely high.

    Yet despite these positives, the Apple Watch has spent its first two years of existence as a flawed product. This is not due to the Watch’s hardware, which was beautifully designed, decently powered, and boasts enough battery life to easily last a day. Rather, the Achilles' heel of the Apple Watch has been its software.

    watchOS has had problems from the start. Apple shipped its first version in an incomplete state, in which third-party applications were purportedly supported, but unable to run natively on the Watch itself. Instead, the logic of each app was executed on the connected iPhone, and the Watch was used as a dumb display for the results. This method was astoundingly slow in practice, not to mention that it rendered the Watch incapable of nearly anything beyond telling the time when disconnected from its iPhone.

    It’s not surprising then, that only two months after the Watch’s release to consumers in April 2015, Apple introduced the first iteration on its operating system, watchOS 2. As I discussed in my review of watchOS 2 last year, version 2 did not significantly change any visual designs or interfaces. Rather, it was a foundational update meant to create the base of a more mature operating system, establishing important building blocks that could be iterated upon in the future.

    The foundation created by watchOS 2 seems to be paying off, as this year’s major update to the system, watchOS 3, does indeed build up from that base. However, many of the other aspects of watchOS 2 turned out to be failures, and a year in the wild has proved the update unable to fulfill many of the promises Apple made about it.

    There were two standout watchOS 2 features which did not hold true. First, the data surfaced by watchOS 2 apps was supposed to be updated more frequently in the background so as to keep them consistently relevant. Second, the move from running app logic on the iPhone to running it on the Watch itself was supposed to make watchOS apps more responsive and fast.

    Perhaps when compared to the incomplete and unacceptable performance of watchOS 1, it could be argued that these goals succeeded, but I would disagree. After a year of using watchOS 2 with my Apple Watch strapped to my wrist nearly every single day, I can say unequivocally that apps were not fast enough to cross the threshold of “useable”, nor was data ever updated consistently enough for me to trust that it was not stale.

    In lieu of these and other letdowns in watchOS 2, and after over a year of Apple Watches being in consumers’ hands, the next update to Apple’s smartwatch operating system had a lot riding on its shoulders. Would it double down on the sins of its predecessors, adding more interfaces like the spinning circles of friends and the whimsical yet impractical honeycomb Home screen? Would Apple try even harder to achieve the impossible goal (for current hardware, at least) of all apps running as smoothly as iOS apps and updating consistently?

    Thankfully, while the rest of us spent the last year debating Apple’s intentions, Apple spent it hard at work.

    For this year’s update, Apple took a hard look at the state of its smartwatch operating system, and it found many features wanting. Showing an uplifting ability to admit when they were wrong, Apple did not shy away from tearing out anything that wasn’t working, including features that were emphasized and promoted in announcements and marketing just last year.

    watchOS 3 is still the same watchOS that you know, but its changes have cut deeply and ruthlessly at its origins. Apple is stripping away the cruft and honing watchOS down to a purer form. The strong system foundation of watchOS 2 and general design language of watchOS 1 are still present, but this year’s improvements have made both far more effective.

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      Apple Watch Series 2: Our Complete Overview

      Yesterday morning during their keynote event, Apple introduced the first ever hardware update to the Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 2 retains the same basic body design as predecessor. While it is thicker by 0.9mm, the internal components have received a significant refresh in power as well as capabilities. With the Series 2, Apple seems to be repositioning the Watch to be more directed toward health and fitness rather than an all purpose device, and the choices of hardware upgrades reflect this idea as much as the keynote highlighted it.

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      iPhone 7: Our Complete Overview

      Today during Apple's keynote event at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, the Cupertino company announced the latest iteration on their most successful product. Despite rumors of a mostly laid back upgrade year, the iPhone 7 did not disappoint. While only minor changes have been made to the enclosure, there are significant upgrades to almost every other aspect of Apple's flagship iPhone.

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      App Launching on Apple Watch

      Conrad Stoll:

      The significance of complications being the best way to launch apps is why swiping between watch faces is so valuable. It allows users to literally switch their context on the Apple Watch. One day this could presumably happen automatically, but at least it only takes one swipe to switch from your primary daily watch face to one with the type of information you want to have at a glance in another context.

      [...]

      I love using the Stopwatch and Timer apps while I'm cooking or brewing coffee, but I don't want their complications visible during the rest of the day. The ability to swipe left and bring up an entire watch face devoted to them and any other complications relevant to cooking is a game changer for me.

      Prescient realization by Stoll about the implications of the new Apple Watch swipe-to-change-face feature. While Apple emphasized the Dock during the keynote as the new best way to switch between apps, maybe that crown will really go to Complications on various watch faces.

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