technology

Posts: 23

Understanding some of the compromises Apple made with their watch

I've been looking for a fitness tracker for a while now. Ever since we got our dog back in August 2015 I've been seeing improvements to my fitness, because—DUH!—the little beast has to be taken for walks every day.
I wanted to build on these small improvements and decided to begin running more, again, go to the gym more, and try out high-intensity bodyweight training.

In pursuing these activities, I quickly realised that the iPhone as my tool of choice for tracking steps, storeys climbed, heart rate, and calories burned would not be sufficient. One might think that the Apple Watch would've been a natural fit for me—seeing as I'm pretty comfortable in Apple's ecosystem—but I saw too many things wrong with it to be a good fitness tracker and watch replacement:

  • Lack of actual waterproofing
  • Short battery life of only about a day
  • No continuous heart rate tracking

The fitness tracker I would buy had to be better than the Apple Watch in all those areas and make it easy for me to use the data outside of the manufacturer's ecosystem (which immediately ruled out products from FitBit who think it's ok to lock a user into a platform with the user's own data).

I ended up with the Garmin vivosmart HR, a favourite of Ars Technica UK and The Wirecutter and from the looks of it the current best-of-breed fitness tracker on the market. It ticked all the boxes for me, with a waterproof body specified for swimming, 5-day battery life, and continous heart rate tracking. Garmin's platform, albeit not too pretty, also allows for downloading of all running data and it integrates with Apple Health on my iPhone.

It should've been the perfect device for me but intensively using it for a week taught me a few things about myself and my actual needs in a fitness tracking device which, in turn, brought the Apple Watch back into the equation.

Waterproofing
I don't go swimming with it (I hate swimming), so as long as it can withstand my sweat and rain (I love running in the rain), that's enough for me.

Continous heart rate tracking
This sounds like a useful feature and I'm sure it has its merits but continuous doesn't actually mean continous for the Garmin (or any other product as I found out later) as it only takes snapshots of your heart rate in regular intervals and activates continous tracking only when it detects significant changes for a certain period of time. That's still quite useful, especially when you're into sleep tracking but I'm not, which brings me to…

Battery life
I tried wearing the vivosmart HR during the night but found it too uncomfortable. There's a hump on the underside of the device that houses the optical heart rate sensor and—at least for me—it became a slight nuissance when sleeping. So, just like with my wrist watches, I took it off at night. And if I take it off at night, I might as well put it on a charger.

Then there's the fact that wearing a fitness tracker and a wrist watch at the same time felt stupid. With the exception of a short period in my life, I've always worn a mechanical or automatic wrist watch and it became apparent that the three issues that ascribed to the Apple Watch were actually non-issues.

Fast forward a few weeks and my beloved Traser P6508 Code Blue met its untimely and watery demise during a business trip. It was my favourite watch by a long shot because it was the perfect, lightweight no-frills watch that was easy to read in any light condition.
I'll definitely get another Traser watch at some point and I own another really good wrist watch but for now I'll stick with the Apple Watch and see if it's as good a fit as I expect it to be.

This experience and my first few days with the Apple Watch have made me appreciate the compromises Apple has made with the watch in terms of waterproofing, battery life, feature set, and build quality. They've built a smart watch that will satify 90% of all potential user once economies of scale and experience curve effects bring the price down a bit for the lower end models.

John Martellaro loves the 2015 MacBook's keyboard

John Martellaro on The Mac Observer:

When the TMO team was in Breckenridge, CO last week for a writer's camp, I wrote the entire Particle Debris column, published on June 26, on the MacBook. That article was over 1,200 words, and I found the keyboard to be natural and precise. I now prefer it over any keyboard I have ever used.

I'm in the market for a new machine and when Apple announced the new MacBook in March, the new keyboard drew my interest. While I don't like typing on a touchscreen very much, I have no problems with flat but good keyboards. When I finally had the opportunity to try the keyboard, a few days after the MacBook was available in stores, it took me about 20 minutes of typing to realise that I wanted this keyboard in my Mac, yesterday.

Unfortunately for me, Apple seems to be using the new MacBook as a testbed not only for the concept of an ultra light laptop with just one port but also for this particular type of keyboard. Therefore, while a bit disappointing, it's not surprising that Apple didn't add the new keyboard to the MacBook Pro with Retina Display at the same time.

I hope that Apple will soon equip the rest of its line-up with this new type of keyboard.

Steve Jobs introduces the 'Think Different' campaign to Apple employees

A few months ago I commented on Charlie Rose's interview of Tim Cook and specifically what was said about Apple as a company.

Every now and then you will hear Tim Cook or some other c-level employee say that Steve Jobs and what he stood for is part of Apple's DNA. Watching the video above while keeping in mind the company that Apple has become, it's not hard to imagine that this is true.

Found on: the Mac Observer

Back to the stone age. Or so it felt…

… having to work with an old HDD-equipped MacBook Pro (MB133LL/A) again, while my current workhorse, a late-2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (ME865LL/A), was getting its display unit replaced.

I've had really bad luck with my Macs over the years, which is why I resorted to always having a backup machine at hand, should the main device need fail on me. I also back up my machine using Time Machine for my documents and SuperDuper! for bootable images on two separate external HDDs.

Too bad that the SSD that usually does its job in the old MacBook Pro—a Crucial M4 with 256 GB—decided to have a nice little firmware failure right at the same time, forcing me to put the original 250 GB HDD back into the old Mac.

Over the next two days I was forcefully reminded how incredibly great SSDs are. Not only did the process of restoring a 192 GB backup to the old Mac take an entire night but every task that would take my current Mac a couple of seconds to perform, caused my old MacBook Pro to crawl down to a slow.

I really don't want to have to work with a HDD-only PC ever again.

What I hope the iPhone will become

Apple released a new video advertising the capabilities of the iPhone. In line with Apple's style of promoting their products, they show how the device becomes what the user needs it to be, essentially becoming invisible. Here's the video:

When I watched it for the first time, I kept thinking how some of the apps the the accessories are the first steps towards turning the iPhone (which is already a PADD) into this:

tricorderunbox4
tricorderunbox4 by Bobbie Johnson, on Flickr

Sure, there have been examples of hardware that adds one or two diagnostic tools to smartphones (see here and here), not to mention the capabilities the right software adds, but I really can't wait to have the scanning features a concept like this offers in the palm of my hand.

Ars Technica's profile of Grado Labs

Ars Technica's Casey Johnston (one of my favourite authors on Ars Technica BTW), wrote a profile of Grado Labs, a company that everyone looking for the right pair of headphones has stumbled across at some point.

The article is nicely written and the accompanying video is well worth a watch. It shows a company focussed on quality and craftsmanship and above all, great sounding headphones. Here's the link.

Grado headphones aren't for everybody. Over the years I tried a few Grado phones and even though the sound signature wasn't my thing, the overall sound quality was pretty darn amazing.

Reading the linked article I realised once again how happy I am that I found a pair of earphones with a sound signature that makes me grin stupidly every time I put them into my ears.

A few thoughts about Windows 8 and the Surface Pro 3

I use Apple devices most of the time, but in recent months I had to use Windows 8.1 as well, both for my thesis and my job. The way I'm using Windows 8.1 is in a virtual machine on my 2013 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I also have a second MacBook Pro (an old one from 2008) that runs Windows 7 in Boot Camp).

Windows 8 can be a great OS and an incredibly frustrating one to work with. The positives are that it feels very lightweight and lean compared to Windows 7 and Vista; it has a fairly small footprint in terms of storage requirements and resource consumption; it's fairly secure; I actually like the Start Screen, but then I also like Launchpad in OS X; the flat design is visually pleasing and well-implemented.

The one thing that I can complain about, regularly drives me bonkers. It's a schizophrenic OS that doesn't really know what it wants to be:

  • I don't need touch screen-optimised gestures on a PC that doesn't have touch screen, they're hard to discover, hard to remember, and even harder to use with a mouse or a trackpad.
  • I hate that there are settings that can only be made in one part of the UI, while others things still have to be set in the Control Panel. I have a high tolerance for this kind of stupidity, but there are enough people I know that get so frustrated by this, they're afraid of changing any setting.
  • Oh and feature discoverability in general is pretty bad.

I've said this before and I'll say it again: Microsoft should've taken a page out of Apple's book and gone with Windows RT for tablets and Windows 8 for laptops and desktop PCs. Proper optimisation and strict UI requirements for Windows RT applications would've made this entire mess avoidable and would've benefitted not only the users but also Microsoft in the long run.
But unfortunately the c-level at Microsoft was too timid to let go of the past and backwards compatibility, too afraid of what their partners and businesses would say.

In Germany there's a word for what Microsoft was trying to accomplish with Windows 8: They tried to create an 'eierlegende Wollmilchsau'.
Loosely translated it means 'jack of all trades', strictly translated something like 'egg-laying wool-milk-pig', and we all know that those don't exist — or shouldn't exist, depending on your stance on genetic experimentation ;)


The Surface Pro 3

I'm actually excited about this device and I look forward to trying one. It won't get me to switch from my MacBook Pro with Retina Display and iPhone, but from everything I've seen and read so far, Microsoft managed to produce a device with exceptional build quality, listened to what users looked for in a Tablet PC, and improved on the already good Surface Pro 2.

I had the chance to try the Surface Pro 2 a couple of times and found it to be the single most enjoyable Windows 8 tablet to date (my points of comparison are tablets by ASUS, ACER, and HP) and it set the bar very high for third-party manufacturers.

I'd have no qualms recommending the Surface Pro 2 or the new Surface Pro 3 to someone who wants a Windows tablet. They're certainly better than anything by ASUS, ACER, HP, DELL, and the rest right now. The only exception to this is Lenovo; while they, too, produce a lot of crap, the Thinkpad T43x series of laptops and the Thinkpad X23x series of convertibles are genuinely good devices.

The Heartbleed Bug

This security hole has the potential to be the most dangerous bug of the last few years. Everybody should change the passwords for internet services they use — once the service providers have fixed the vulnerability in their systems.

Why is the bug so dangerous? Because it subverts the basic encryption technology used by two thirds of the websites and services on the internet.

This article by Jeff Goldberg at AgileBits explains the HOWs and WHYs and what to do to protect yourself and your data.

For a more succinct explanation of how the bug works, refer to this comic by Randall Munroe of XKCD fame.

'Heartbleed Explanation' on XKCD

Disclaimer: I work for AgileBits.