2, 3, 7, 10 and 12

Apple just released, practically all at once (as usual) a Whole Buttload of Stuff™.

Apple Watch, Series 2

Pretty much exactly what I expected. Reminds me of the iPhone > 3G > 3GS, condensed in a single release. Initial hardware as a Proof of Concept, a software revision geared toward use cases based on what they learned from the initial release, and then a new hardware release even further optimized. I remember iPhone OS 3. It was like all new hardware, even before the 3GS screamed out the gate and reminded us what they could do with actual new hardware.

I also remember the 3GS as the moment when many people took the iPhone seriously as a computer, and then a computer platform. The S stood for speed, and people appreciated it as such. I think Series 2 will do the same for the Watch - its going from a hobbyist platform to a place where serious computational work can get done, and the quality and quantity of the apps will go up as a result.

watchOS 3

I've had this on my watch since WWDC. I instantly knew I wanted to run it since beta 1, and it is by far the most stable beta Apple has ever shipped. It was easy to use and without major problems the entire way through.

As I said above, it really does feel like a new Watch. The OS is way more generous with memory and background network usage, but more importantly the OS has been redesigned in an effort to make that a tangible gain rather than a performance gain. A simple increase in performance would have made glances load faster and transition to the app itself faster, but instead the OS removed the middle step entirely and brought apps closer in order to further increase speed and ease of use.

Part of me really wants to think this was what they intended all along, but that's not how companies work. What really happened was Apple pivoted based on what they learned about their users, and went in a new direction at any level they thought needed it. To do this with core OS experience and idiom is courageous.

iPhones 7

Courageous, again.

The main pain point is the charging/listening on wired headphones moment. It's a plausible moment that everyone has done at least once (airport waiting areas) but I'd be shocked if it was more than an hour every few months. Definitely not a use case worth holding the entire world back for.

I bet (and this is a very well informed bet) that Apple has analytics out the ass for this product. I bet there's a chart somewhere in Cupertino with a visualization on when people use their headphones, and a little sliver at the bottom is "wired, while charging". I also bet the bar for "wireless headphones" is bigger than any of us in the tech community realize.

Also, about those AirPods. Was I the only person to see that setup demo and think "man, that would work well with a car"? It got me thinking about how no car I've ever seen comes with a headset, even with phone connectivity and Bluetooth as ubiquitous features. They really think people are going to want to have loud conversations over the speaker with other people in the car? It's a totally silencing activity, and for private and emergency calls, it's almost easier to not have the phone on at all than answer the call, realize it's not a call you want to have in front of people, and navigate the social morass of hanging up and sheepishly grinning at your passenger.

I finally received an iPhone 7 Plus in Jet Black. AirPods are still delayed, but I'll be getting those as well, simply for the ease of transitioning between devices. For now I'm using the Lightning EarPods, and they're exactly the same as the wired EarPods from before. Haven't run into the Charging-while-Listening scenario yet.

Here are some disconnected thoughts on the thing.

  • Man, Jet Black is Gorgeous. The best way to describe it is that the whole device looks the same, from the screen to the back. The entire phone looks like a single object, save for the camera hump, which is formed perfectly and only adds to the pod-like form. It's stunning to look at and so comfortable to hold. It's the most beautiful thing they've ever made by a substantial margin. Black looks like an iPhone, Jet Black looks like an alien product from the future.

  • The stereo speakers are twice as loud and sound great.

  • Portrait Mode has made some fantastic images, but the camera itself isn't a noticeable upgrade to me. The screen, on the other hand, when viewing wide color images, is noticeable and looks amazing.

  • Even while recognizing that new devices feel faster just because your brain has calibrated to a previous device, this one seems like the animations for transitions between screens are actually sped up a bit, and it make the whole experience feel zippy. I would bet they tuned it a bit because of the increase in raw power, and its a great little improvement. If you're running Reduce Motion because of a perceived speed boost, stop.

  • The new Home Button doesn't really have any down sides, to me. My worry was that it would work strangely when operating it while it rested on a table, but that works as you'd expect. The haptics work perfectly.

  • Overall, this is a wonderful device. The design is an evolution of the 6/6s design, but an evolution in the right direction, especially with moving around the antenna lines, creating that expansive canvas on the back to showcase the colorful metals.

iOS 10

I've been on it since WWDC, installing beta 1 on all my iOS devices because I have a death wish. It was the most stable beta Apple's shipped, if you dont count watchOS 3.

I adjusted to the new lock screen behavior in no time at all, and really appreciate access to notification and the search screen in the "Unlocked but not Open" state. It makes sense, and is one of those features that makes even more sense when you use the iPhone 7 haptic home button for the first time. Lift to turn on the screen, place your finger on the home button to unlock, press to open. It's a single gesture that combines speed with access at different points.

Notifications, and the general "panel" UI for widgets and alerts, initially looked like they took up way more space, literally and cognitively. The heading went from just bold lettering to a full header bar and made each notification look like a window in itself, which on release looked like everything just got bigger.

It wasn't until developers started using it that it made sense. That notification window really becomes an open canvas, and a lighter background allows for way more freedom with text based designs. We forget that Apple talks to developers when they make stuff, and can see ahead of the tech press to a world 3 months after release. It's largely been proven, in my experience, that these new notifications are a significant step in the maturation of notifications on the platform.

My next requests: allow for the updating of notifications so they can show live data, consolidation of notifications so multiple messages from the same person dont take up all the space, and for the love of god, get them out of the center of the window on an iPad. They belong on the right, like on macOS.

The common refrain is that iOS 10 didn't contribute a new push for iPad interface design, or improve upon any of the concepts introduced in iOS 9 like split screen and the app switcher. I thought the same, until I spent some time with the new Music app.

I think the new Music app is a vast improvement to the previous, and I think I know why this needed an all out redesign. The new Music app is actually a new take on how to handle iPad apps in general, showcased with two key design changes. The first is the Now Playing screen, and the second is the Tab Bar.

The previous Now Playing screen worked the way Master-Detail has worked in iOS from the beginning: after deciding and finding what you were looking for, the final destination gets the whole canvas in all size classes. The trouble with this is obvious, once you use an iPad of any size: even 7.9 inches is way too big just to show one thing in most cases. Sure, text looks good, but most objects just look blown out without substantial consideration of margin, which create just expansive white space that wastes the screen.

Some other areas of iOS foreshadowed what was going to happen; UIAlertView and other MOdal controllers got new default behavior in iOS 9, which allowed for full screen behavior on iPhones but floating modal controllers on larger screens. This allowed the available space to shrink as needed, creating in-app multi-window behavior that just served the whole experience better. But, aside from modals, main controllers still behaved the same way

Apple Music uses a different style for Now Playing, one that doesn't come out of the box for use in any other apps. A similar effect is used in Maps. On iPhone, it appears like a destination detail, but on iPad it stays the same width in a retractable view on the right side, almost like a window shade. It works fantastically, and its informed how I'm thinking about tablet app design for the future.

Tab Bars on tablets look terrible. They're too small and the buttons in them look even smaller. On iPhones, giving the space back to the content is crucial, but on tablets it's about the size of the QuickType subsection bar when a keyboard is attached, and that's not enough to serve as App Architecture in a meaningful way.

Music fixes this, as well, with a left aligned, three times as big toolbar. It serves the same architectural purpose, but it is much more deliberate and "designed". If everyone isn't rewriting their Tab Bars now, they're fools.

Both changes are meaningful in that they re-assert Apple's role as leader in interface design. We forget that moving this platform forward is a conversation, and that every once in a while, Apple takes a deep breath and puts forward a vision for how things can work. It's our turn to talk next, so building on what they've done is a top priority for me this year, now that it's sunk in.

macOS 12

I've used Siri on the Mac exactly one time, mostly because I keep my Mac at work and I dont want to have a one-sided conversation with a robot in front of coworkers. It was worth the install for Watch unlocking alone. Everything else was a bonus, and there were many. There's no debate anymore with an OS upgrade on any of Apple's platforms - download them as soon as they're out.

The changes in iCloud Drive, mainly elevating it to a higher visibility place in the Finder and adding automatic Desktop/Documents sync, is making me consider moving much of my personal storage from Dropbox into iCloud Drive. I've been looking for a way out of Dropbox for a bit, simply because of the battery performance. Dropbox has been a hog of RAM and CPU performance for years, and it hasn't improved in a noticeable way, even after I moved my source controlled repositories out of Dropbox (FYI, if you're doing this, stop immediately). iCloud Drive is now at the point where I can at least move over for personal documents, and if it continues to move forward I can only assume I'll be able to migrate fully over the next year or two.