Since getting a 12.9-inch iPad Pro last year, I've had a fairly troubled relationship with external iPad keyboards. I didn't like the original Logitech CREATE keyboard case, so, surprised by the lack of notable Smart Connector-based accessories, I ended up using an Apple Magic Keyboard for the majority of 2016.
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As I wrote in an issue of MacStories Weekly (exclusive to Club MacStories members), I recently moved my Club-related notes from the Apple Notes app to Trello. Because Club MacStories is a collaborative effort, it made sense to use Trello's project management features to let the entire MacStories team see my notes. However, moving those notes to Trello considerably decreased my usage of Apple Notes, which left me wondering if it was time to consider an alternative app for my personal note-taking needs.
I praised Apple Notes numerous times since its relaunch on iOS 9. I believe Notes and Safari are Apple's two best iOS apps, and I recommend Notes to anyone planning a switch from Evernote or OneNote. Notes is surprisingly advanced and fast; its iCloud sync is reliable; it even received support for collaboration in iOS 10. I've used Notes as my only note-taking app for over a year now.
After moving my most frequently accessed notes to Trello1, I looked at what was left in Notes, and I realized that I wanted to see if a different app could fill the gaps Apple didn't address. For everything Notes gets right, there are several limitations that have required me to change how I work: Notes has no native Markdown support, no automation features, and its organization system based on folders could use a revamp. I accepted Notes' shortcomings because I had no other choice; could a new app lure me away from it through the promise of features Apple would never ship?
My transition from Notes to Trello couldn't have come at a better time. I've been keeping an eye on Bear, a new note-taking app developed by Italian studio Shiny Frog, for the entire summer. Bear piqued my interest right away: like Notes, it was based on CloudKit sync, but Bear also strived to augment the experience for "online writers" thanks to Markdown, automation features, themes, tags, cross-reference links, and more.
As Bear betas went out to testers, I told myself I wouldn't need it because I was perfectly fine in Notes. But when I noticed that I was using Notes less frequently anyway, I took the plunge, moved my remaining personal notes to Bear, and put the app on my Home screen. This happened two weeks ago.
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.
After nearly two years spent using a 5.5-inch iPhone, I'm accustomed to not having a compact phone anymore. The iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus have reshaped my iPhone experience for a simple reason: they give me more of the most important device in my life.
Thus, I was a little skeptical – even surprised – when Apple gave me a gold 256 GB iPhone 7 review unit (with a leather case) two weeks ago. I didn't think I would be able to enjoy a smaller iPhone, but, despite my initial resistance, I set up a fresh install of iOS 10 and used the iPhone 7 exclusively for two weeks.
I'm glad I did. While I'm still pining for a 7 Plus1, using the iPhone 7 showed me that there's more to this year's iPhones than the lack of a headphone jack.
In many ways, the iPhone 7 feels like a portable computer from the future – only in a tangible, practical way that is here with us today.
Apple introduced the Taptic Engine with the iPhone 6s, where it replaced the old vibration motor and was also used to provide haptic feedback for when you activated 3D Touch. This year with the iPhone 7, Apple has improved the Taptic Engine and it plays a critical role in simulating the press of the Home button, which is no longer a physical button. But the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7 goes even further with the introduction of System Haptics, where a number of UI elements in iOS will now also provide tactile haptic feedback when you activate them.
I have had my iPhone 7 for nearly a week now, and these new System Haptics have been a great delight to discover, and use. These System Haptics are mostly subtle and feel very natural, so you may not have even noticed them. Below I've compiled a list of all the places in iOS that I've noticed them appear.
Right at the end of the WWDC 2016 keynote, Apple announced Swift Playgrounds. This is a new app from Apple that is designed to allow children to learn to program on an iPad. This is a first from Apple and a major advance for iOS as a platform.
I was fortunate to be awarded an educator scholarship to WWDC 2016 and was privileged to be in the audience at the announcement. While attending the conference, I was able to speak with many of the engineers and educators working on Swift Playgrounds and gain an insight into what the software is capable of and the reasons why it was built.
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?
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.
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.
Sometimes, change is unexpected. More often than not, change sneaks in until it feels grand and inevitable. Gradually, and then suddenly. iOS users have lived through numerous tides of such changes over the past three years.
iOS 7, introduced in 2013 as a profound redesign, was a statement from a company ready to let go of its best-selling OS' legacy. It was time to move on. With iOS 8 a year later, Apple proved that it could open up to developers and trust them to extend core parts of iOS. In the process, a new programming language was born. And with last year's iOS 9, Apple put the capstone on iOS 7's design ethos with a typeface crafted in-house, and gave the iPad the attention it deserved.
You wouldn't have expected it from a device that barely accounted for 10% of the company's revenues, but iOS 9 was, first and foremost, an iPad update. After years of neglect, Apple stood by its belief in the iPad as the future of computing and revitalized it with a good dose of multitasking. Gone was the long-held dogma of the iPad as a one-app-at-a-time deal; Slide Over and Split View – products of the patient work that went into size classes – brought a higher level of efficiency. Video, too, ended its tenure as a full-screen-only feature. Even external keyboards, once first-party accessories and then seemingly forgotten in the attic of the iPad's broken promises, made a comeback.
iOS 9 melded foundational, anticipated improvements with breakthrough feature additions. The obvious advent of Apple's own typeface in contrast to radical iPad updates; the next logical step for web views and the surprising embrace of content-blocking Safari extensions. The message was clear: iOS is in constant evolution. It's a machine sustained by change – however that may happen.
It would have been reasonable to expect the tenth iteration of iOS to bring a dramatic refresh to the interface or a full Home screen makeover. It happened with another version 10 before – twice. And considering last year's iPad reboot, it would have been fair to imagine a continuation of that work in iOS 10, taking the iPad further than Split View.
There's very little of either in iOS 10, which is an iPhone release focused on people – consumers and their iPhone lifestyles; developers and a deeper trust bestowed on their apps. Like its predecessors, iOS 10 treads the line of surprising new features – some of which may appear unforeseen and reactionary – and improvements to existing functionalities.
Even without a clean slate, and with a release cycle that may begin to split across platforms, iOS 10 packs deep changes and hundreds of subtle refinements. The final product is a major leap forward from iOS 9 – at least for iPhone users.
At the same time, iOS 10 is more than a collection of new features. It's the epitome of Apple's approach to web services and AI, messaging as a platform, virtual assistants, and the connected home. And as a cornucopia of big themes rather than trivial app updates, iOS 10 shows another side of Apple's strategy:
Sometimes, change is necessary.