Dan Moren writes for Six Colors about the structure for the 1-hour Apple event today, of which only about half the time was spent on new products:
“If the Apple-FBI fight isn’t yet about public opinion, it probably will be if the matter ends up going to Congress. So it’s no surprise that Tim Cook is going to use his bully pulpit to push Apple’s track record on the welfare of its customers and the world at large, rather than how many products it’s sold and how much money it’s made.”
I’d like to see this continue at future events. Leave the record sales numbers for the finance call, and instead focus on what good Apple is doing because they are big, not just how they are big. Even though I own some Apple stock, I do not personally care that much about the precise magnitude of iPhone shipments this quarter.
As for the new products, nothing to complain about. Since the $10,000 Apple Watch Edition didn’t get a $50-dollar price drop like the Apple Watch Sport did, guess I’ll skip that purchase and get an iPhone SE instead.
As I mention on the latest episode of Timetable, I haven’t attended SXSW in several years. I still think it’s right for me to skip it, but then sometimes I’ll hear about UX and iOS panels going on at SXSW, and I’ll remember some of the great parts of the conference that I do miss.
Conrad Stoll spoke on a panel at SXSW this year about his experience building Apple Watch apps. He’s had a few great blog posts recently, about both Apple Watch user interface design and also one on designing in Swift. For planning what features to include in your watch app:
“When it’s time to gather around a whiteboard and start designing your Apple Watch app, draw all of your features and start discussing some of your least obvious ones. It’s very likely that one of them represents a better use case for the watch. If you start with the secondary features you might realize that focusing there can actually improve the utility of your overall product.”
Blogs like Conrad’s are a great reason to keep using RSS. He’s not posting every day so you may forget to check the site, or miss the links on Twitter if they aren’t tweeted or retweeted when you happen to be paying attention. The best way to guarantee you won’t miss it is to subscribe in an RSS reader.
There’s a related side discussion on the Bill Simmons podcast about reading headlines instead of full articles. There’s too much information out there, and it moves too quickly, so we’ve trained ourselves to just scan headlines and comment on Twitter without going deep. That leads to increasingly ridiculous click-bait titles as publishers try to grab our attention. The only way to fight back against that trend is to slow down and read a few thoughtful essays in RSS, or work through the queue in Instapaper.
Much has been made of the Apple Watch not being fast enough. It’s too slow for full iPhone-like apps, of course, but that doesn’t bother me because I think the watch is pretty great at its core features. But I’ve noticed that it’s slow even for some of the simple stuff, and I don’t think this can be blamed on hardware alone.
Take notifications, for example. There are several distinct steps to notifications after you receive one:
- Tapping a notification.
- Waiting for it to load, which is an animated transition.
- Optionally scrolling to the bottom to read it all.
- Actually tapping Dismiss to get rid of it.
There’s a tiny lag between all of these. I frequently can’t scroll right away, as if it’s not responsive until the animation completes. The Dismiss button also doesn’t seem to be enabled immediately, requiring a 2nd tap before it “clicks”.
I bet these are solvable with a software update. Shorter animated transitions or pre-loading notification text might go a long way to improve the experience.
Dan Moren wrote an essay for Six Colors last week about why slowness is such a problem for the Apple Watch:
“The stale data and the lack of speed means that either you have to stare at your Watch for several seconds and hope the data updates; or tap on the complication to load the Watch app, which as we all know takes a good long while as well; or simply give up and pull out your phone. […] It’s not just that the Apple Watch is slow; it’s that it’s slow while promising to be faster.”
Both Dan and Jason Snell followed up on this topic in the latest Six Colors subscriber podcast. The problem, they recognized, is that the first Apple Watch tried to do too much. Apple should instead focus on a few core features and make them fast.
Which features? I still use the Apple Watch every single day, and I use it for just three things: telling the time, tracking fitness (including reminding me to stand up), and glancing at notifications.
Some people have stopped wearing their watch every day. Again, that’s fine. Curtis Herbert was falling into that category, until he went snowboarding with friends and realized how useful the Apple Watch is when you can’t get to your phone or tap buttons. In an article about the snowboarding trip, Curtis says the Apple Watch’s problems are solvable in future versions:
“Siri on the Watch will get faster. The battery situation will improve. The Watch as a whole will get faster. We’re spoiled by iPhone speeds and sometimes forget just how long it took us to get there, and the crap we dealt with until then.”
I’m not worried about the future of the watch either. Our early expectations were much too high — in contrast with the first iPhone, which exceeded all hopes because it was seemingly from the future already — and it will take a couple more years to catch up to where we’d all like the watch to be. In the meantime, the watch is useful today, even slow-ish.
Stephen Hackett posted an Apple Watch follow-up recently. He has mostly stopped wearing it:
“The Apple Watch can do a lot of neat things, and I miss its fitness tracking, but so much of it just doesn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. It’s not super useful for work, apps are still miserably slow and at times, its an additional distraction.”
The Apple Watch is a very personal device. It’s okay that it’s not for everyone. There’s no network effect; the watch isn’t better or worse if other people don’t use it. And it’s even okay if most of the apps are too slow to bother with. Fitness tracking, notifications, the time — for me, those 3 simple features are enough.
Casey Liss also writes that notifications have been one of the most important features, letting him keep his iPhone ringer off:
“The Apple Watch has allowed my iPhone to transition from being a personal device to being a private one. That’s a really profound change. More so than I expected.”
Once every couple of months, I leave the house in a hurry and forget to put my Apple Watch on. I survive without it, of course, but I do miss it. After not wearing a watch for most of my life, it’s weird now if I don’t have the Apple Watch with me. I expect to use it for years to come.
In a widely-linked post to Medium, Daniel Pasco writes about the problem of not having WebKit available on tvOS:
“Webviews are the duct tape of the mobile world. I’d estimate that 50% to 80% of the major apps out there use webviews somewhere within their apps. Apple’s Mail app uses webviews for your email messages, because webviews can style and render the content very efficiently. NetNewsWire uses them prolifically, particularly in a few features we haven’t enabled in the shipping version yet.”
I’ve argued on Core Intuition that even with the Apple Watch — as silly as it might seem to want to browse the web on your wrist — there should still be some basic access to the web. If not a full browser, at least a webview so that developers can style short content.
Daniel Jalkut suggests a related compromise for the Apple TV:
“I propose that Apple could strike a compromise that would serve those ambitions while also supporting the tasteful handling of web content in apps. How? By forbidding network access to web content. Apps themselves could still access the network, but not from within their web views.”
This is much better, but I think we should aim higher, since giving up on the web seems to admit early defeat to what Daniel acknowledges is probably WebKit’s politically-motivated omission. The web might not be the most usable medium on all devices, but it is arguably the most important one. Just because we all love native apps doesn’t mean we should trade in the significant value that the web provides, especially for independent writing and a permanence that can outlive silos and platforms.
Apple has 4 major platforms now: iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and the Mac. It’s a dangerous precedent for 2 out of those 4 to not have access to the open web. Web services are only part of the story; HTML and the hyperlink are also both fundamental components of web access. A platform is too shut off from the rest of the world without them.
Everyone’s thinking the same thing: Samsung’s new smartwatch looks significantly better than the Apple Watch. Even the rounded scrolling control looks as usable or more usable than Apple’s digital crown. If Apple tried multiple designs internally, including a round watch — and I’m sure they did — why did they opt for a nerdy square shape that looks more like a computer than a watch? Especially in a product with such a focus on fashion that they felt the need to charge $10,000 for the high-end models.
Surprisingly, this might be Apple showing they can still choose a functional user experience over purely beautiful form and design. Square looks worse but it’s just more practical for reading text. The digital crown is a better fit for scrolling vertically.
It’s rare in the modern era of Apple (post-2000 or so) for the company to sacrifice beauty for usability. The iPhone is always thin at the expense of battery life. Mac scroll bars are hidden in the name of cleanliness. The new MacBook has a single new cable type which no one owns peripherals for. But with the Apple Watch, I think they built something with a foundation that could last for years, despite its initial awkwardness, and square was the right call.