Today Katie Floyd and I joined Jason Snell and Dan Moren on the Clockwise podcast. We talked about home automation, the hypothetical new Apple TV remote, and some obscure new doohickey you are supposed to wear on your wrist.
There is a lot of digital ink being spilled today over the Reserve Strap for the Apple Watch. They came up with a clever design that plugs into the watch's diagnostic port and makes the strap a lot sleeker. Setting aside my concerns about a permanent connection to the diagnostic port as you wear your watch around all day, I have to wonder how many people actually need more power for their Apple Watch. Yesterday I wore my watch 16 hours and had 40% battery left when I took it off. As I write these words, it is 12:38 pm and I currently have 87% of my battery left.
If you need extra power, this may be the strap you are looking for but I'd advise to make sure you actually need that extra power first. I don't.
This week David Allen comes back to the Mac Power Users to talk about the new release of his updated Getting Things Done book. In the episode, we talk about the philosophy and science behind GTD. This is the first show released on Relay.fm. If you are subscribed to the prior feed, there should be no problems but I'd still ask you to resubscribe. It is not clear for how long the prior feed will continue to work. If you need help signing up, Katie Floyd made a tutorial that you can find right here.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox. I've been using SaneBox for over a year now and it still saves my bacon every day. There are so many great benefits to SaneBox.
First and foremost is filtering. SaneBox looks at all of my incoming email and filters it for me to appropriate mailboxes. That way, the first thing in the morning I see are only those emails that are most important. However, SaneBox can do so much more with its Black Hole service that makes unwanted email go away … forever. There is also an ingenious reminder system where you can blind copy an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and the service will remind you if you don't get a response to the email within one week. It also works for 2 days or 2 months.
Because SaneBox works on its servers, you have all of these benefits no matter what Mac and iOS apps you use to manage your email. There is a lot more to SaneBox. If you get a lot of email, the service can really help. You can learn more at SaneBox.com. Note the links in this post will get you $5 off your subscription.
I've been fiddling with the latest Pixelmator update. It's pretty great. Even though Apple doesn't support external editors with Photos on the Mac (at least yet), Pixelmator can now access your full Photos library from inside the Pixelmator with its Photo Browser. They also drastically improved the repair tool. There is a video on the Pixelmator blog that demonstrates removing objects (and people!) from an image with almost no effort. It's definitely worth checking out.
John Gruber had an excellent post yesterday about the Apple Watch.
This really gets to the point. I've already grown very attached to my watch but I could get by without it. In fact, I (along with the rest of the world) got by just fine without an Apple Watch for a long time. The difference it makes in my life is many small conveniences as I go throughout my day. The trouble is that the Apple Watch is like your first In-N-Out Burger. You know lived just fine without it before but after tasting it, you can't imagine going back to life without it.
For the last week and a half, I’ve been doing a lot of my work on the new MacBook. I bought this computer as an experiment with the intention to return it unless I felt it was good enough to replace my existing 15" MacBook Pro. Here’s my story.
The new MacBook is not for everybody. This is a the newest Apple ultralight, built around portability more than anything else.
Up until a few months ago, the 15" MacBook Pro was the perfect laptop for me. I drove into my office everyday and used it at my desk. The retina screen is sharp (and big) and despite being a few years old, that computer is still a screamer. There is something to be said for having a laptop that you know can handle any computing task you throw at it.
Then I went out as an indie lawyer and suddenly found myself spending a lot more time doing my big-boy work in front of my retina iMac in my home office. I no longer need a laptop 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. I do need one when I go out to do meetings and conferences. Sometimes I need a laptop just to be able to get away for a few hours. The trouble is, a 15" MacBook Pro isn’t ideal for something to throw into your bag and hit the bricks. In fact, it’s such a pain to carry that I frequently find myself avoiding bringing it altogether.
No longer do I need a powerful laptop. Instead, I need a portable laptop. I need something that can serve the role of “second” computer.
I have always had an obsession with ultralight laptops. When Apple first release the 11 inch MacBook Air, it took all of my will power not to get one. I just love the idea of being able to go anywhere with a Mac. A few years ago I was telling a friend of mine about my unquenched lust for the 11 inch MacBook Air. It just so happened that she had an 11 inch MacBook Air she wasn’t using and let me borrow it for awhile. I was thinking I’d give it a spin and make her an offer but by then I already had a retina MacBook Pro and it ruined me for non-retina screens. I could not stand to look at that screen.
So I watched the rumors about the rumored 12" retina MacBook with some interest and when Apple announced the new MacBook, I took note. Once the new MacBooks landed in the Apple Stores, I found excuses to stop by several times and play with the new machines. I was interested in the new machine as a replacement for my big laptop. I ordered one with the idea that I’d try it for a week or so and then decide whether I keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or return it and stick with my existing laptop. I bought the second tier model with the 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of Ram and 512GB SSD in space gray. It’s been a lot of fun kicking the tires.
When it comes to retina screens, I am that guy. I love clear, sharp text on my screen and once I got used to a retina screen, I knew I’d never buy another computer without one. The new MacBook screen lives up to the hype. It’s gorgeous and bright.
There are a few settings to increase (or decrease) the amount of screen real estate. I tried them all and they all look fine. When you have pixels this small, you can fudge in ways that were not possible with bigger pixels and the human eye will be none the wiser. In the end, I found I preferred the default size and haven’t thought about it since.
Apple is so good at manufacturing computers. This new MacBook is no different. It is so small yet feels so solid. The lid opens with just the right amount of resistance. Moreover, the plastic hinge that we see on the currently shipping MacBook Air lineup has been banished for an aluminum one. I really like feel of this computer.
As part of my big life changes, I’ve discovered that I use a laptop on my lap these days a lot more frequently than I ever did before. When I had a 9 to 5 job, the laptop was always on my desk. Now it is just as likely to be on my lap in the park. With this transition I discovered that my 15 inch retina MacBook Pro gets pretty hot. Uncomfortably so. The new MacBook doesn’t work as hard and it doesn’t get as hot. I’d also speculate heat isn’t as much of a problem because the logic board is so small. While the new MacBook does get warm on the bottom, the heat is nowhere near what I experienced with the MacBook Pro. The fact that the machine doesn’t get as hot is just one more reason why am more likely to take it with me on the road.
Compared to my older MacBook Pro, this new computer is underpowered. The older computer has more processing power, an actual discrete graphics card, and more RAM. If you compared specs between the two computers, the spreadsheet would not be kind to the new MacBook.
All that said, at no point during the experiment did I find myself waiting on the new MacBook. I used it for all of the things I do on a laptop and it performed like a champ. This is not the computer I’d use to edit video screencasts or build iBooks Author books but looking back over the last few years, I’ve never really done those things on my MacBook Pro either. For the type of work I tend to do on a laptop, the new MacBook is just fine.
The new MacBook is like the Red October. It runs silent. I love that I never hear the sound of fans spinning up. An added benefit is that because there are no fans, there are also no ventilation ports. I can rest this computer on any surface and not worry about blocking ventilation.
The new MacBook has just one USB type C port. I think this is the most talked about limitation of this computer. Because this is a new USB standard, there aren’t many cables available for it. Moreover, because the computer also charges through the single port, you cannot simultaneously charge it and run an external device at the same time without an adapter or hub. At no point has this caused me any frustration. This laptop is a second computer for me and I don’t need a lot of ports. If this were my only computer, it would be a problem. I did purchase the USB adapter and tested it with my portable hard drives. It worked fine. The only time I’ve really needed it so far was when my Wi-Fi printer decided to stop cooperating.
Because this new port is a USB standard, it’s inevitable that there will be a parade of adapters and cables in the not so distant future. I’ve got a speaking gig in a couple months and I’m waiting until it’s closer before deciding which projector adapter I will buy. I’m hoping some third-party will come in with a solution cheaper than Apple’s.
One final comment on the single port is that it takes a significant amount of force to remove the cable from the port. We’ve all lamented the end of MagSafe. I can confirm it truly is dead with the new MacBook because if someone trips over your charging cable while plugged into this new computer, your MacBook will magically and literally be transformed into a MacBook Air.
I’m averaging about 7 hours per charge. I’ve done better and I’ve done worse depending on how hard I’m pushing it but if you need the new MacBook to keep working beyond that, you are going to need to pack your charger.
Interestingly, because it charges through USB, I decided to try a little experiment with my iPhone external charger. In order to do so, I had to order a standard USB male connector to USB type C cable off Amazon. It costs $7. The question in my mind was when I hooked up the iPhone charger, would the laptop recharge the iPhone charger or the iPhone charger recharge the laptop. For this experiment I was using an Anker Astro 3 12800mAh charger. When I plugged it in, the MacBook made the little charging sound and the menubar battery icon showed the familiar lightening bolt icon to indicate my new laptop was receiving a charge.
The laptop certainly doesn’t charge as fast through the Anker battery as it does when I plug it into the wall but it does charge. I found that using the Anker battery, I could add about 5 hours of battery life. In another experiment I ran the laptop battery down to 10% and then plugged in the fully-charged Anker and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, the Anker battery was bone dry and the laptop had an 85% charge. The ability to carry and use this relatively small battery on days when I may need extra juice is actually pretty handy.
Having used the new trackpad a lot, I’m convinced it is better than the old trackpad. I can tap it anywhere, including near the top, which was difficult with older trackpads because of the increased leverage needed the closer you got to the hinge.
Developers are still figuring out what to do with the force sensitive trackpad and I expect some very interesting user interface improvements based on this technology soon.
Perhaps my best compliment for the new trackpad is how I just don’t think about it at all. It just works. If only I could say that about the keyboard.
This was my biggest concern about this new MacBook and justifiably so. The keyboard is different. The keys are bigger, which I liked. There is less key travel, which I didn’t like. Apple has spent a lot of time talking up the new switches and while they most likely are superior to the old switches, that doesn’t overcome the lack of travel in these keys. I don’t know if there’s ever been a computer with a physical keyboard that had so little travel in the keys. Typing on it is strange, and not in a good way.
If you are used to mashing keys, this keyboard will be difficult for you. It requires more of a light touch. If you try to press through the keys, you’re just going to add strain to your fingers because the keys aren’t going to go any further. On the flip side, if your touch gets too light, you won't sufficiently depress keys and miss letters. You've got to find the sweet spot.
After having use this keyboard nearly exclusively through this test, it’s my opinion that the new keyboard is inferior to the standard chicklet-style keyboard on other currently shipping Macs. I've found that sweet spot and am able to type on it just fine but it still feels foreign to me. While I am still not entirely used to the keyboard, I don't find myself thinking about it as much now either. I’m not going to say it is growing on me but it is not bothering me that much either. If I had to choose between a keyboard with more travel but a non-retina screen or the new MacBook, in my mind it’s not a contest. I’d take the new MacBook. Keyboards can be a very personal thing, especially for touch typists, but in my case the new keyboard is not a deal breaker for this computer.
As I got serious about making a decision about whether or not to keep the new MacBook, I also considered returning it to buy a different laptop.
Why Not a Tricked Out 11 or 13 inch MacBook Air?
I will never buy another computer without a retina screen. Just last night I was doing some maintenance on my daughter’s MacBook Air. That screen bothers me way more the the new MacBook’s keyboard does.
Why Not a 13 inch MacBook Pro?
In a lot of ways, I think the 13 inch MacBook Pro is the best laptop that Apple currently makes. It has plenty under the hood along with a retina screen and is more mobile than the 15 inch MacBook Pro. My wife has a 13 inch MacBook Pro and I’ve spent plenty of time using it. However, that machine still comes with many of the same issues I experience with its bigger sibling, including weight and heat.
The new MacBook isn’t for everybody. Indeed, I’d argue it’s not for most people. There are a lot of compromises involved but in exchange you get a Mac that can go just about anywhere with you. The compromises required for that portability, in my case, are worth it. Since getting the new MacBook, I’ve found that I can work just about anywhere and I like that. Earlier this week I had lunch with my wife at Disneyland and then spent several hours doing legal work on the laptop while watching the Mark Twain steamship paddle down the Rivers of America. How many people can have that view from their office? On balance, the new MacBook is a good fit for me. I’m keeping it.
Jean MacDonald was at WWDC a few years back and looked around to see almost no women in the room. So she left her company, started a non-profit called App Camp For Girls and, over the past few years, started making her very own serious dent in the universe. Now they've released an app, The App Camp for Girls Quiz Compendium (App Store), that includes some of the quiz apps the girls have built in recent camp sessions. It's just a buck and supports an excellent cause. When it comes to App Camp for Girls, I'm invested. I've donated and it even looks like my wife is going to be helping them set up a Southern California App Camp For Girls next year. I'm absolutely convinced that WWDC in 2025 will have a lot more women in the room and Jean MacDonald will play a role in that. Why don't you help her out and buy the app?
I'm having trouble with the app launcher screen on the Apple Watch. (I'm intentionally not calling it the home screen.) The touch targets are small. You can zoom in with the digital crown, but doing so makes it easy to get lost in exactly where you are in your big clump of apps. I also don't like the way they sort themselves, which seems random.
I started playing around with the iPhone's App Layout screen and tried several solutions before landing on this one. The apps lend themselves to this X style organization. I'm going to clump application types together in different branches of the X. For example, I have all time and fitness related apps in the lower left branch.
So far I like this this organizational method. It makes it easier to find what I'm looking for and since the apps aren't so densely packed, it is easier to launch an app without tapping the wrong one. I'm not sure this is final solution but, for now, X marks the spot.
This week we are joined by Dr. Ross Lockwood about the workflows he used while spending four months as part of a NASA-funded simulation studying what it would be like for humans to live on Mars. There's some great stuff in there.
We also announce in this episode that the show is moving to the Relay.fm podcast network. We've had a long run at 5by5 and I am very thankful to Dan Benjamin and 5by5 for all of those years. I'm also quite excited about our big move and the future of Mac Power Users. We have lots of great stuff in the pipe.
For now, you should go over to our new home at Relay and resubscribe to the feed. If you just want to block and copy, here you go.
This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically across all of your Apple devices. This brings a new paradigm to process and project planning and is absolutely worth checking out.
One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. I like to think of this as "nested" flowcharts and I think it's really smart. inShort is a great tool to sort out a process in your own mind and then explain it to others when you're done.
inShort is actually kind of hard to describe until you lay hands on it. The developer has most recently published a very quick guide to inShort that helps explain it better. The apps continue to get regular updates taking advantage of the newest iOS and Mac OS technologies. The new versions look great on iOS 8 and Yosemite. Want to learn more? Read the developer's PDF.
My wife’s Apple Watch showed up on Friday. My own space gray 42mm aluminum watch (ordered just a few minutes after the Apple Watch went on sale) didn’t make the launch day shipment but is now in a truck somewhere between China and my front door and, according to Deliveries, expected to arrive soon.
Feeling sorry for the geek, my wife let me borrow her 38mm aluminum Apple Watch (for science!) and I’ve spent a significant part of the last two days looking at my wrist, tapping out notifications to my fellow nerd friends, and standing up and sitting down because my Apple Watch told me to. I’ve got a few observations:
- All of the points I made after my first 30 minutes remain true. Apple nailed so many details, especially with the the physical construction. Even the “low end” aluminum watch looks and feels great. I still find myself turning the digital crown, smitten at the way it has just enough resistance.
- Likewise, my initial impressions of that feature where you can draw on the screen hasn’t changed. I had a series of scribbles with Katie Floyd and my daughter and none of them were intelligible beyond a basic shape or words with three letters or worse. I’ll be surprised if that feature becomes a “thing”.
- My teenager also agrees with me that the animated 3D animations of a yellow face and hands are “not cool”. If there is any feature of this first Apple Watch OS that we’ll look back on and laugh at, I think it is those 3D faces.
- The 38mm watch didn’t look bad on me. A grown man can certainly use one. That being said, I’m looking forward to the increased size (and readability) of the 42mm watch.
- Siri, on the watch and in the wild, works great. I was sending texts in the middle of a crowd at Disneyland Friday night and it just worked. I do have some UI quibbles with it. Specifically, by default I’ve got to tap the watch to send after dictation. I’d prefer to do this verbally.
- Speaking of Siri, I’ve only accidentally triggered dictation once in two days with some group of words that sounded like “Hey Siri”. I know that equates to several times a week, which is a pain, but I expected it to be worse.
- Hearing early reviews, I was prepared for the notifications to drive me nuts. I was careful setting them up, which took all of five minutes, and now my watch just notifies me when I really have something worth notification. The net effect is my phone stays in my pocket a lot more than it used to. I guess that was the point.
- So far, I’ve bought an iPhone accessory and groceries with the watch. The guy at the Apple Store jumped up and down. (I was his first.) The nice lady at Sprouts just commented that things just keep getting “easier and easier”.
- I aggressively use calendars to keep my act together. I schedule meetings, calls, and even time to work on important projects. Having my next appointment show up on my wrist is super-useful.
- After hearing initial reports, I was ready for the apps to be a hot mess. They definitely are not as snappy as a native application would be but apps, like OmniFocus, that do not need to go to the Internet for information are useful on my wrist. We are in early days with wrist based user interface and I expect things to evolve a lot in the next 6 months. Exciting times.
- Both days I used the watch all day and ended with plenty of battery in the tank. The first day, I got down to 15%. The second day, 30%. My daughter used her watch all day today and had 40% when she took it off.
Those decreasing battery numbers are illustrative of something else. The watch will quickly just fit into your life. It was a lot of fun playing with watch faces and apps the first day but by the second day, the Apple Watch was just part of my routine. I communicated with it. I told time with it. I kept track of my activity with it. When I wasn’t doing one of those things, I wasn’t thinking about it. The iPad and iPhone both turned my life upside down for weeks after I first got them. The watch did not have the same effect. Once I sorted it out, I just started using it. I think that is a good thing.
Do you need an Apple Watch? I’d say that very few people must have an Apple Watch. It’s early in the game and we are all still figuring out where it fits and how to use it. If you’re not inclined, you’ll be just fine sitting this out.
That being said, I’ve now reset my wife’s Apple Watch and paired it with her phone. I was watch-less most of this afternoon. I also gave my Pebble to my younger daughter and found myself frequently looking at my naked wrist this afternoon and expecting it to tell me something.
If you do get an Apple Watch, very quickly you'll realize that it does make life with iOS easier and more streamlined. Checking a text message by glancing at your wrist rather than digging in your pocket or purse for a phone is nice and a time saver. I think there are several people that make good Apple Watch candidates.
If you think about the number of times a day you check your phone for one reason or another and for you that number is anything significant, you probably should consider an Apple Watch. They are not intrusive and make your life easier.
If you are used to wearing a watch and want to see how much more you can get out of it, an Apple Watch may also be a good fit for you. In my case, just putting my next appointment on my wrist makes the watch worth the investment.
Finally, I'd say if you have any interest in fitness tracking, an Apple Watch can make sense. Granted, you can buy a dedicated fitness tracker for less but if you are an iOS user, the Apple Watch delivers so much more.
It's not every day Apple releases an entirely new product category. While I don't think the Apple Watch is going to turn the world upside down the same way the iPhone did, it is a really nice upgrade and addition to my iPhone.
I've received several emails complaining about the gallery of Star Wars: The Force Awakens props and concept art I posted last week. I don't understand why people are complaining since I explained in the post there'd be spoilers. Nevertheless, I do feel a little bad so this week I'm posting this spoiler free trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakes created by fellow Mac geek, Taz Goldstien. Enjoy.
Dan Moren over at Six Colors points out that Apple has now published the Apple Watch online user guide. I'm very interested in force touch as a new way to interact with touch screens. The magic term of art in the Apple Watch is "firmly touch". I ran it and found 37 separate instances of the phrase in the user guide. I'm going to go through them later just to see how they are using it. Yes. I'm that kind of nerd.
This week I'm pleased to welcome back Middle Davids Artisan Candles. Dan and his team at Middle Davids understand the use of rituals to help with productivity. We all like our good coffee (or tea!) and ergonomic chairs, but what about scent?
I burn candles while I write and I always feel that the ritual of lighting the candle is a way to tell myself "it is on" and get to work. After I've worked a few hours, I blow out the candle and take a break. You'll be surprised how well this works. This month I'm burning through a Cherry Blossom candle from Middle David's and one of my goals is to finish a big project before the candle burns out. It's a great little analog motivational tool.
Dan, the proprietor, is a candle geek and obsesses on candles like I do productivity apps. The candles are 100% botanical soy wax, not paraffin (which is a petrochemical) and the wicks are cotton woven (no metals).
Middle Davids has a subscription plan that gets you two candles a month with 40 hours of burn time.. You also get a box of wooden matches, and a sample of the next month's scent. Give it a try. You'll surprise yourself. Use the code "macsparky5" for $5 off. Also, check out their video, below.
If you are like me and checking to see if your watch has shipped yet, you may want to spend some time watching the guided tour videos at the Apple Watch website, which are now complete.
This is the first "new category" Apple product I've ever bought from Apple where I feel, based on these videos and my experience in store with the sample watches, completely ready to pull it out of the box, strap it on, and get back to work. At least in theory …
As WWDC approaches, there is a lot of speculation about Apple releasing some sort of new Apple TV product. Most interesting, we’ve heard rumors that they are negotiating with some of the major networks so they can offer a television package where you pay some flat monthly fee and you have channels streaming through your Apple TV.
There’s a lot to like about such an idea. With most cable providers, the user interface design is an afterthought and looks like it. Navigating my cable system is a mess and I’d love to see what Apple could do. Nevertheless, I don’t think this is going to solve the“TV Problem”.
Recently I spent some time at the local corporate office of my local cable provider. It's is a big company and I’m sure they have lots of offices like this all over the country but the one I was at was gorgeous, huge, and full of employees. It is quite an enterprise. Setting up a cable network is not cheap or easy. It up takes a lot of money and manpower. In exchange for this investment, the government, more or less, gives cable providers local monopolies so they can recoup their investment. That strategy seems to be working because these companies appear to be massively profitable. This article claims that Time Warner Cable has a 97 percent profit margin on Internet service. According to the New York Times, last year Comcast reported $2 Billion in profits.Moreover, the cable companies seem intent on holding onto this advantage. Last year Comcast spent nearly $17 Million lobbying. Time Warner spent $7.8 Million. That data pipe going into your house is big business and existing cable providers are going to do everything they can to remain the only person that can give it to you.
And that is the real “TV problem”. It has nothing to do with television production or licensing at all. It’s all about that Internet pipe coming in your house. Even if Apple is able to make a deal with the content creators, you’re still going to need to pay for Internet access. The cable companies understand this is the current vector and that’s why they are suddenly pushing back against net neutrality.
I don’t see a scenario where Internet access suddenly gets much cheaper and government regulation clamps down on cable company profits. There’s too much money at stake and there’s too much lobbying going on for that to ever realistically happen. In my opinion, the only way we’re going to truly revolutionize Internet access and, in turn, television access, is when we cut the cable entirely. I think it’s going to require a technological breakthrough.
When we can access the Internet directly from the satellite or some other wireless medium and it doesn’t involve guys driving around with trucks and ladders, then there’s a potential for competition and a much more satisfactory position for consumers. I have no idea when this will happen but I suspect it will … eventually. Until then, I don’t know if there’s any solution to the “TV Problem”.
While attending the Star Wars Celebration yesterday, I got the opportunity to tour an exhibit of costumes, Models, and Props from the upcoming Star Wars, The Force Awakens movie. This pushed all my nerdy Star Wars buttons and it will probably press yours too. SPOILER ALERT: Be advised these pictures most certainly contain spoilers. There are a lot of images in this gallery. Enjoy.