This morning at Apple’s special event in the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park, Vice President of Apple Pay Jennifer Bailey took the stage to announce Apple Card. These “Apple” name prefixes are growing tedious, but Apple Card is looking to reduce the tedium which permeates the credit card industry. Apple is championing its credit card as a new industry leader in a variety of areas, including privacy, security, transparency, lack of fees, and fair interest rates. Apple Card gives rewards in cash rather than points, and these “Daily Cash” rewards are distributed to your Apple Cash account every day. If Apple Card can deliver on its promises, it shows real potential to be a disruptor in the often exploitative credit card industry.
This morning Tim Cook took the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House to announce a brand new revision of the MacBook Air. This is the first significant redesign in years for Apple’s most popular line of Macs, and features huge improvements across the board.
The new machine marks the debut of a Retina display on the MacBook Air, which Cook said has been the most requested feature by far. Among other changes, the size and weight of the enclosure have also been decreased, two Thunderbolt 3 ports line one edge, screen bezels have been reduced, and new color options are available.
watchOS had a bumpy first few years. Some poor decisions and perhaps a premature initial launch forced significant design changes to be in order right away. It wasn’t until last year’s watchOS 4 release that it finally felt like the waters had calmed. Apple seemed to have solidified the brunt of its focus around fitness and audio, while also debuting a healthy backdrop of first-party apps, new watch faces, and machine learning features. The Siri watch face was the big addition for both of those last two categories, and while its initial introduction was underwhelming, the ideas behind it were intriguing. The redesigned Workout and Music apps along with background audio during workouts were excellent additions to the Apple Watch’s core foundation. All things considered, Apple pushed a great update last year, and it only got better as the year progressed.
While it didn’t ship in time for watchOS 4’s launch in September, streaming from Apple Music was released late the next month in watchOS 4.1. The ability to stream music in the background during workouts freed runners and other athletes from being tied to their phones while they exercised. Paired with the redesigned Workout app – which put live statistics front and center while keeping Now Playing and workout controls just a swipe away – watchOS 4 established a truly better fitness experience for Apple’s smartwatch.
The audio story that Apple told last year felt much less complete. Despite receiving a significant amount of attention in Apple’s marketing efforts, the Apple Watch’s music improvements seemed almost strictly geared toward workouts. Background audio was limited to workout apps and withheld from the platform as a whole, the first-party Now Playing screen continued to monopolize possession of volume controls, and the Music app only gave manual access to preselected songs instead of the full music library on your iPhone1. Audio on the Apple Watch had received some strong improvements, but the scope of those positive consequences felt unnecessarily limited.
Thankfully, Apple seems to agree. This year’s watchOS 5 update, released today for all Apple Watches Series 1 and later, fills in the gaps of the watchOS audio feature set. Third-party audio apps can now run in the background, and full audio controls including volume adjustment via the Digital Crown have been made available to them. watchOS 5 also introduces the first-party Podcasts app, which supports automatic syncing of new episodes that you’re subscribed to and streaming of any show in the iTunes podcast directory.
Beyond audio, watchOS 5 also builds on the solid fitness foundation with activity competitions, expanded Workout types, automatic workout detection, and advanced running statistics. Siri has continued to receive attention as well, introducing third-party integrations to the Siri watch face and a raise-to-speak feature which truncates the inveterate “Hey Siri” prefix for the first time on any platform. A new Walkie-Talkie app marks the first return to novelty Apple Watch communication methods since Digital Touch, but this time I think Apple might have tapped into a legitimate, albeit niche use case. Top things off with improved notifications, the introduction of web content, and NFC-powered student ID cards and we have a substantial watchOS update on our hands.
This morning at Apple’s annual September event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Apple Park, Jeff Williams took the stage to announce the Apple Watch Series 4. The new Watch lineup boasts larger and thinner chassis, more than 30% larger displays with rounded corners, a breakthrough ECG sensor, and more.
This is the first major change to the shape of the Watch’s enclosure since the debut of the original Apple Watch, but thankfully Apple has maintained compatibility with existing watch bands. The new models will be sold in 40mm and 44mm varieties, each size 2mm larger than the 38mm and 42mm of previous generations. Stainless steel and aluminum varieties are offered as usual, but it looks like we’ve seen the end of the “Edition” Apple Watch line.
On the software side, the larger Apple Watch models are launching with a swath of new watch faces. Many of these faces take advantage of the new increased screen size by allowing a greater number of complications than we’ve seen on any face before. According to Apple the entire operating system has been revamped to take advantage of the new screen with its curved edges. These changes will ship in watchOS 5 on the new Series 4 Watch. There’s no word yet on whether all or any of the new faces will make appearances on older models of Apple Watch – they have not been included in any watchOS 5 beta builds thus far.
“There’s an app for that” may have been coined as a marketing term in 2009, but in 2018 the phrase is indisputable. With over 2 million apps on the App Store, there is seldom a niche unexplored, and few obvious utilities not rapaciously overindulged. The App Store is a worldwide phenomenon, an enormous entity providing instant access to a treasure trove of software for hundreds of millions of people. Things have come a long way in a decade.
Ten years ago today, the App Store launched with 552 apps, available only on the original iPhone, iPod Touch, and the iPhone 3G (which shipped the day after). The developers of those apps overcame a fascinating set of challenges to secure front row seats in one of the greatest software advents in history. Many of these apps were built into sustainable businesses, and continue in active development today. Even those that didn’t make it are still testaments to their time, effortlessly invoking nostalgia in users who participated in that era.
The early days of the App Store were a journey into the unknown for Apple, third-party developers, and users alike. The economics of the store were entirely unrealized – nobody knew which app ideas would work or how much they could charge for an app. Apple’s processes for approving apps were primitive, their developer documentation was fallow, and they still thought it a good idea to make developers sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to access the SDK (software development kit). For iPhone users, every new app could completely revolutionize their mobile experience, or it could be another icon they never tapped on again.
Despite this uncertainty, developers pushed forward with their ideas, Apple hustled as many apps through approval as it could, and on July 10, 2008, users exploded enthusiastically onto the scene. Within the first year of the App Store, iPhone and iPod Touch owners had already downloaded over 1.5 billion apps. From the beginning it was clear that the App Store would be an unmitigated success.
This morning at the WWDC keynote presentation in San Jose, Apple’s Vice President of Technology Kevin Lynch took the stage to announce the latest version of the company’s smartwatch operating system. watchOS 5 will ship this fall and include improvements to the Apple Watch fitness features, new methods of communication, Siri and notification enhancements, the introduction of web content, and more.
Over the coming months we’ll be diving deep into these new features and testing them thoroughly, but for now read on for an in-depth overview and some initial thoughts on everything new in watchOS 5.
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 dubious; yet as Apple’s 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.
- That’s watch, not smartwatch. ↩︎
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.