The latest Apple Watch Ultra introduces an all-new System-in-a-Package (SIP) called the S9, marking the first significant update in this department since the Series 6 back in 2019. One notable improvement is the on-device Siri processing, which ensures quicker responses as your requests no longer need to travel to the internet and back. The screen is now brighter, peaking at 3,000 nits, a significant 1,000 nits brighter than the original Apple Watch Ultra, marking a 300% increase compared to previous non-ultra models (excluding the first-generation).
A new double-tap gesture offers the convenience of controlling various aspects of the Watch interface with just one hand. However, in my testing experience, I found it somewhat lacking. While the double tap registers successfully 90% of the time, it often makes assumptions about the function you intend to perform. For instance, if you wish to decline a call using the double tap, it might mistakenly answer the call, and there’s no way to customize this behavior. Moreover, when reading a notification, such as an iMessage, the one-handed operation doesn’t allow for scrolling, making it challenging to double tap to reply without knowing the full message content. This feature may come across as a somewhat hastily added novelty to drive new watch sales.
New things that don’t matter: 2nd-generation Ultra Wideband chip, double the storage capacity (64GB), and that’s it.
In a side-by-side visual comparison of the Apple Watch Ultra and Ultra 2, I observed no discernible physical distinctions. Even the text engraved on the underside of both models simply reads “Apple Watch Ultra.”
In essence, this doesn’t appear to be a true second-generation product. Instead, it resembles more of a minor enhancement to the original, especially given that Apple no longer offers the original Apple Watch Ultra for purchase, exclusively offering the Ultra 2.
All new SIP that’s noticeably faster
Brighter screen for direct sunlight viewing
Siri is much faster to process and understand queries
Headlining double tap feature is extremely limited
It seems the SIP improvements were focused on neural engine and brighter screen, not battery life
No visual indication you have the new hotness
Same case and screen size
Software still not fully taking advantage of the Ultra’s screen
Watch faces lack variety. Only one new watch face for the Ultra
Apps are still mostly useless on the watch
How can the Apple Watch Ultra get to 10/10? – Better software to utilize the screen size. – Allow Night Mode on any watch face – Custom watch faces – Make better use of the all new SIP – Ability to customize the gestures
Last year in my Apple Watch Ultra review I outlined who the Ultra watch is for. Apple seems to have leaned into that by not making many changes on the second generation. It sold well so they want to keep that up and have this be the top-tier Apple Watch for all walks of life.
Should You Upgrade?
If you are already the proud owner of an Apple Watch Ultra (first-generation) there is no need to upgrade. There is nothing in this year’s model that makes it worth it. Wait for the possible third generation in 2024. If you were on the fence last year about getting an Apple Watch Ultra, this is the watch for you. Everything about the first generation remains in the Ultra 2 with some nice enhancements. This is the ultimate Apple Watch, no matter if you run marathons, SCUBA dive, or like me and just wear it to the mall.
It’s no surprise that Apple releases new iPhones in the fall every year, and this September is no different. Apple held an event on September 13th 2023 to announce four new iPhones and two new Apple Watches. All models were available to purchase starting on September 22nd. I again upgraded to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. Read about my thoughts on the 17th flagship iPhone.
I was surprised to learn that many iPhone users are unaware of the numerous Lock Screen features Apple has introduced in the last 12 months. These features encompass a range of customizations to enhance the appearance and functionality of the Lock Screen, including the introduction of widgets for the first time. Additionally, Apple now allows users to change the clock font, a feature previously unavailable. Given that most of these features are hidden and not easily found, I believe it would be helpful to share the Lock Screen setup I personally use on a daily basis.
The clock font options provided by Apple do not come with specific names or numbers, but I have chosen a unique font that adds some character to the default style. Moreover, I have opted for a non-standard wallpaper sourced from Reddit, further adding a personalized touch to my Lock Screen.
Apple offers a selection of first-party widgets for users to choose from, and third-party developers have the ability to create widgets for their apps. In crafting my Lock Screen layout, I have decided to incorporate a combination of both first-party and third-party widgets, allowing for a diverse and personalized arrangement.
Date Previously the date was below the time, but now we have the option to add it as a tiny widget above, giving room for more robust widgets in the space below. I wear a watch that display the day and month, but having it on the Lock Screen on my phone is sometimes handy.
Carrot Weather Here on my Lock Screen I’m using two different Carrot Weather widgets for all my weather watching needs. Positioned above the time is a standard “High & Low” widget, provided by the third-party app Carrot. Directly below the time, I have incorporated a customized large widget from Carrot. The ability to personalize these minute details is one of the primary reasons I am a paying subscriber to Carrot Weather. It’s fantastic that Carrot Weather allows for such customization, enhancing my Lock Screen experience.
Watch Battery Apple includes a widget that enables you to choose a device and view its current battery level. If you prefer, you can even display the battery level of the iPhone you’re currently using. Personally, I have opted to display the battery level of my Apple Watch, as it is the device I am primarily concerned about. Additionally, this widget has the convenient feature of automatically switching to another connected device, like AirPods, when applicable. This functionality ensures that I can effortlessly keep track of various device battery levels on my Lock Screen.
Snapchat In addition to having the camera icon conveniently located in the bottom-right corner of my Lock Screen, I frequently unlock my phone with the sole intention of capturing a spontaneous photo to share on Snapchat. This particular widget provides a direct shortcut to the camera function within the Snapchat app, enabling the fastest way to take a snapshot right from the locked position. Similar functionalities can be found in other apps as well, making lock screen widgets an excellent tool for efficiently utilizing various applications.
As a semi-professional photographer I use multiple tools for my hobby. With an iPhone, I always have a great camera in my pocket. Since 2007 I’ve been taking photos with my iPhone and updating that camera as fast as Apple introduced new features. Because of the ever-changing smartphone camera market I started to track what type of photos I was taking with my primary camera. Now that we have at least four cameras on flagship smartphones I wanted to know even more which lenses I was using and which I didn’t really care for.
I started tracking these numbers in 2018 when I moved from the iPhone X to the iPhone XS. The iPhone XS had a much better camera over the X which was more of an industrial design change than a focus on photography. Each year since, I’ve counted up my photos from the past year and noted which lens was used. Now I can look back and see which phone I took the most photos with and which lens was the most popular that year.
Over the years my overall iPhone camera usage has gone way down since the iPhone X. Not sure why other than the pandemic. The majority of my photos come from the Main/Wide/1x camera but that share has gone down as the cameras have multiplied and offered different perspectives.The first zoom or telephoto lens was added to the iPhone back in 2016 when the iPhone 7 Plus was announced, and since then it’s been a unique addition allowing you to zoom into subjects without digitally cropping.
With the addition of the Ultra-wide camera on the iPhone 11 Pro, a third rear lens was available to split my photography between. It was recently updated to include macro photography on the iPhone 13 Pro, which explains the large bump in share of my photos this past year. In contrast, the lack of progress on the front-facing camera reflects in my reduced use. If you are the type of person that takes a lot of selfies though, that camera will get a lot of work.
2702 / 80%
467 / 14%
198 / 6%
2183 / 74%
646 / 22%
128 / 4%
iPhone 11 Pro Max
1458 / 64%
369 / 16%
318 / 14%
141 / 6%
iPhone 12 Pro Max
1094 / 67%
218 / 13%
220 / 14%
104 / 6%
iPhone 13 Pro Max
900 / 52%
291 / 17%
444 / 26%
88 / 6%
8337 / 70%
1991 / 17%
982 / 8%
659 / 5%
Ever year Apple has a story to tell about how the camera is better/different on the new phones. With every upgrade I say I’m going to make a better effort to take more photos but the numbers don’t lie. Over the last 12 months, I only snapped 1,723 photos which was the lowest amount of iPhone photos per year I have record of. To compare, I have saved about 300 photos from my professional camera, Sony a7III, so overall it was a down photos year. I plan to improve on that over the next 12 months.
Remote controlled curtains have been around for ages but only recently has that same technology been translated into a smart product. Much like blinds and shades, most of us have at least one set of curtains in our house and depending on where they’re located, you may want to automate them. Opening and closing of curtains can have an impact on both the climate and light in your home, but the primary function is to block nosey people from looking into your room.
The first time I learned about smart curtains was from SwitchBot who I believe was one of the first to market with a smart-assistant controlled curtain controller. Originally they were priced too high for what I wanted to spend, and like a bunch of other products, were only geared toward the Alexa/Amazon smart ecosystem. Even still as I write this today they don’t support Apple Home (fka Apple Homekit).
The smart curtain controller is simple. It rides along various types of curtain rods and rails and pushes or pulls your curtains. The drawback is that if you have two sets of curtains on a window, you need two controllers to push/pull each side. This doubles the cost as most controllers are sold in singles. The controller either connects to the track of your rail or rides along the rod like suspended roller coaster. There is also the compatibility of the type of rod or rail you have for your existing curtains. The compatibility varies from manufacturer and most can’t do a telescoping rod as the wheels can’t overcome the height differences.
When Aqara started selling their curtain controllers I was immediately interested. They’re product connected to my already existing Aqara camera hubs and that connected to Apple Home. They were discounted on Amazon during their initial launch so I thought I would give them a try, and if it wasn’t something I wanted or didn’t work right, I could return them. They arrived pretty quickly and while bulky, they were easy to install.
I have a bay window in my living room that lets in a lot of light throughout the first half of the day, but also faces the street I live on. This window has your traditional dual curtain rods with a shear set covered by an opaque set of curtains. Putting four controllers on each set of curtains wasn’t cost effective for this setup so I opted to buy two controllers for each side of the inner-most opaque curtains, while leaving the shears to manual adjustment.
The Aqara controllers work well and have yet to fail in the two months I’ve been using them. One odd thing about the Aqara models are that I needed to group them as one accessory in the Apple Home app to get the two controllers to work together. They’re exposed as left and right modules to Apple Home allowing you to operate them individually, but I have no use case for only opening one side. I have not yet needed to charge the batteries and as of writing this they currently sit at 80% so they should last about a year before needing charged.
Controlling them from the Apple Home app or by using Siri is very easy. Usually I just shout into the air, “Hey Siri, open the curtains” and within a second or two they start moving. I currently only have one automation set on the curtains and that is to close them in the evening. In the Apple Home app I have the automation set to: 15 minutes after sunset, close the curtains. This allows the most amount of light until the sun fades and then closes for privacy. In the winter months I can see having a schedule automation to open the curtains in the morning when heat is less of an issue.
While having smart curtain is great and convenient I don’t think it’s yet cost effective to have it on every set of curtains in your house. It’s nice on one or two, but there may be no need to automate curtains that are rarely changed or within easy reach. The smart curtain controllers are a great example of retrofitting smart objects on existing dumb things to make them better. Having a robot push or pull curtains open is a glimpse into the future of how tiny machines can make everyday items better.
Many years ago I wrote a piece titled The Future is Not Here and complained about how, in that point in time, we still weren’t at the technological future we had been reading about. That same year, 2015, I wrote another piece about how smart my home was. Looking back on those two pieces of work makes me happy and sad at the same time. Sad that not much has changed in almost seven years, but happy that one thing is better; most of our homes are “smarter” than they were before.
When I wrote about my smart home several years ago I only had one smart device to brag about. Thanks to Google’s lack of innovation I’m still using the same 3rd generation Nest thermostat. While it’s the oldest device in my home’s technology package, it’s also the most reliable. Much like your home appliances, reliability is something we want out of our smart devices. What if, for some reason, the thermostat crashed and I couldn’t turn on the heat? Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me while I’ve owned the Nest thermostat.
Along with the smart home market, the Beard Blog home has exploded with new gadgets and internet connected widgets. WiFi light bulbs, smart assistants (lady in a tube), garage door controllers, game consoles, TVs, fans, doorbells, cameras, door locks, refrigerators, outlets, blinds, and light switches are just some of the things I’ve integrated into my home life over the last four years. Throughout this series, I’m going to dive into my favorite devices and how I’m using them to again, make my home smarter.
Before we go too deep, I have to mention hubs or little boxes required to bridge some devices to your internet connection. These are usually included with a starter kit or part of the main device in the product’s offering. While we still haven’t settled on a standard smart home protocol (Bluetooth, HomeKit, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, Matter), it is getting better. Some devices have been receiving software updates or hardware revisions to eliminate the hub. Even Apple HomeKit requires a hub if you want to access the device from outside your home. When I describe each device or system, I’ll be sure to mention if it requires a hub or not, which some people may not be fond of.
In addition to hubs that are made by the manufacturer, there are also third-party hubs to help bridge different protocols together. I’m going to deep dive into some of these hubs/bridges in a later post.
Light bulbs are all over our homes and making them “smart” is the easiest and most useful entry into having a smart home. You can easily swap a regular light bulb with a connected one and have the ability to control it from anywhere. We now live in a world where there is a wide variety of smart bulbs available at almost any retailer. Some are direct phone to bulb connections, while others attach to your network to enable multi-bulb control.
I got my start with smart lights from probably the most popular line since the smart bulb inception, Philips Hue. Some years ago I sprung for the Philips Hue color starter kit which included three color bulbs and a Hue hub. I quickly replaced three lamps in my living room with these bulbs and played with all the color combinations, much to my wife’s dismay. While the Hue bulbs are great, and have been updated over the years, they’re using old technology. The individual bulbs connect wirelessly back to the Hue hub over a proprietary Z-Wave connection. The Hue hub has to be hard-wired to your home network which then allows the bulbs to show up in Apple Home. The hub also allows you to control the lights when you’re outside of your home network. Newer light bulbs have emerged that are independent and use Thread to communicate with your network, providing you have a Thread router, like a HomePod mini. I have two Thread bulbs currently in my home, one of which replaced a malfunctioning Hue bulb from my original starter kit. Out of my 11 Hue bulbs that are six plus years old, I’ve only had one fail.
In addition to smart bulbs I have some other types of connected lights that I like even more than the bulbs. In my office, I have a three-pronged light attack that I mostly use on conference calls. First, there’s a Nanoleaf Essentials light strip on the wall directly in front of me. This works to illuminate my face and reduce shadows on my video calls. Behind me on the wall is an array of Nanoleaf Shapes. These panels change colors and create a neat light scape behind my head. Lastly, in the Ikea Kallax furniture piece behind me on the floor, is a Govee RGBiC light strip. This light strip can change colors independently in sections creating a cool effect inside the cubes of the Kallax. All three of these light setups, have independent controls and are able to be controlled from anywhere. The two Nanoleaf devices have the native ability to connect to Apple HomeKit, but the Govee strip does not.
Where I cannot have smart bulbs or light strips, I have connected light switches. This allows me to control lights connected through traditional electrical lines and not need any special bulbs or fixtures. We recently remodeled our finished basement and instead of going with smart fixtures we opted for a TP-Link dimmable smart switch. This dimmable smart switch controls the track lighting on the ceiling and can dim them to several brightness levels. This is ideal for a well lit room, where we may never use the full power of the LED lights.
On our back patio, we have a smart switch just inside the sliding door. This is a unique situation as the switch has two rockers on it to control two different lights. Then, to make it more complicated, I’ve added an outdoor smart outlet with two outlets on the one light switch. The internal switch controls the spotlight for the backyard, while the other switch turns on the outdoor outlet. That outdoor outlet controls a patio fan and overhead lighting. While it sounds complicated, it’s actually pretty simple when controlling them using physical controls, automations, or smart assistants. One gang, two switches, three devices.
My main purpose for all this smart lighting is not to be cool and have connected light bulbs, but more for ease of use and automations. The main area of my house, some may call it the living room, has no overhead lighting, so we rely on four lamps to provide light. Having to turn these on manually would be a pain and wiring them up to a switch would be costly. With smart bulbs, I have them set to turn on 30 minutes prior to sunset which ensures the room is well lit as the natural light declines.
While I’ve upgrades every light in my house to LED, not everything is a smart light, bulb, or switch. The bathrooms, dining room, kitchen, hallways, and spare bedrooms are where a manual switch is just easier to control the dumb lights. My bedroom has a ceiling fan with four light sockets integrated. I have four Philips Hue white ambiance bulbs in this ceiling fan so I don’t have to pull the chain or get up to turn on/off the lights at the switch.
Recently, I implemented an automation in the living room to better enhance the light experience. My biggest complaint was on the days where natural light was hard to come by, the living room would be dark. I could easily turn on the lights with my phone or home assistant, but I wanted to explore an automation that can turn on the lights based on the light available. My first thought was using an automation that can detect when it’s raining, and turn on the lights. That was easily defeated as here in Pittsburgh we have a lot of overcast days with no precipitation.
The automation I integrated that I’m still using today consists of the following, try to follow along: I’m using a Philips Hue motion sensor that also has a built-in light meter. When this light meter falls below 2 lux, it triggers an automation within the Apple HomeKit system. Because of the complexity of this, I have to use a Shortcut to run the commands. Also, I only want to turn on the lights during certain times of the day, so it doesn’t turn on in the middle of the night. HomeKit doesn’t allow a lot of triggers, so I’m using the motion sensor as a trigger to kick everything off.
Each time motion is detected in the living room, only during the day >
Run Shortcut 'Living Room Lights On' >
Is light level <= 2 lux?
Yes -> turn on living room lights
No -> do nothing
What’s nice is this is a set-it and forget-it approach. Now when it’s gloomy outside, my lights come on.
Some other automations around lighting in my house
When the doorbell detects motion, turn on porch light, only at night.
When back patio door is opened, turn on patio lights.
Manually triggered ‘Good Night’ scene turns all lights off.
When a garage door opens, the garage lights turn on for 10 minutes.
Be sure to follow along for the next Smarter Home2022 entry where I go over smart speakers.
On the latest episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Reconcilable Differences, John Siracusa explained his latest project where he was scanning old photographs. He recently acquired a new multi-function printer and while testing the quality of the scanner stumbled upon an in-depth project. That got me thinking, ”this sounds like something I might want to do.” John goes on to detail his process and all the drawbacks up to the point of questioning why he is even undertaking this large task.
What’s My Purpose
As a once professional and hobbyist photographer I’ve been taking digital photos since 2002 and have amassed an iCloud Photo Library in excess of 50,000 images. That being said, I do posses some non-digital photographs that I’d like to preserve longer than I feel that I can take care of printed images. For a graduation present, my mother made me a scrapbook of my life thus far through photographs. This is a priceless keepsake that unfortunetly uses original photographs. Again for my 30th birthday she flexed her creative muscles again by making a photo board of more pictures from my first 30 years. She used about 30 original photos on this board and I’ve kept the board around since, because I wanted to keep the photographs it contained. This board was the perfect starting point to test drive a scanning project similar to John’s.
The Apple Watch is a weird product because unlike the iPhone, it doesn’t have much utility outside of showing me information. Sure it logs health and activity data, but when you get a new watch you strap it on your wrist, it’s just there. No flashy features or cameras to test out, just an appliance waiting for you wonder what time it is.
I’ve been wearing a watch just about every day on my left wrist for the last 12 years. I started out with ordinary mid-level watches and then got into collecting different types of movements, shapes, and sizes. The day that I got my first Apple Watch, all of that stopped. I no longer felt the need to change my watch based on my outfit or mood, I could now do that with a band. I still was wearing a watch every day, but this time for a different reason. If I missed a day of closing my activity rings, I felt like I forgot to do something that day.
Much has changed since the first Apple Watch both with my lifestyle (thanks COVID) and the Apple Watch itself. What started out as a fashion accessory that can run apps, slowly evolved into a health monitor that tells you the time. I’m overly pleased with where the watch has gone and shamelessly order the new model every year on day one.
The Series 7 is different. Something is going on at Apple in the watch department. I can’t quite figure out what it is, but maybe in time it will be revealed. All of the leakers and rumor sites were dead certain that this year’s watch would be a complete redesign and it look totally different. What we actually got was the same watch, with a slightly different screen. It’s almost like this was the backup plan when ‘plan A’ didn’t pan out. That being said, Apple is able to manufactur and deliver a huge amount of technology during this unprecedented component shortage. I wouldn’t have faulted them for just skipping this year’s watch and make it up to us next year. Tim Cook loves selling widgets so here we are.
Not much is new on my Series 7 versus my outgoing Series 6, but if you’re curious, head over to Apple’s website to check it out.
I loved having a stainless steel watch for the better sapphire crystal, but I couldn’t pass up my favorite color being an available aluminum option. The green anodized aluminum looks almost black in most lighting, but in direct sunlight you can see the gorgeous green glow!
One of my favorite categories to talk about and engage with others on is technology. Not only is it my day job but I would consider technology to also be a hobby and lifestyle of mine. Surprisingly 2020 gave us a lot of new technology; I guess that’s one thing that the pandemic couldn’t hold back. Some things were delayed, other things are supply constraint, but after it’s all said and done, nothing really got cancelled because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait so my top three picks this year were all released within a week of each other.
In order of release date, here are my three picks for best piece of technology sold in 2020:
The next generation of gaming is here! Finally we have solid state storage standard and get the amazing features like 120 frames per second and ray tracing. These are still really hard to find along with its counterpart the Sony PS5 due to high demand and low supply. Earlier this year I wrote about how you may want to put a new TV on your list as well to take full advantage of this new hardware.
The iPhone design is all new this year and Apple finally brought back the flat edge design that the iPad Pro has had for a few years now. In addition to the great new design, all new iPhones get 5G, OLED displays, and new colors. The best of them all, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, includes major changes to the three camera system producing some of the best photos you can get out of a smartphone. Two really great things about the new iPhones Pro are storage and video. Apple starts the Pro Max out at 128GB which is the sweet spot of storage for me. Lastly, the new iPhones Pro take HDR (Dolby Vision) video which may not seem like much, but when you watch it on your phone or an HDR TV, you really see the difference. I don’t want to take any other kind of videos again.
Earlier this summer Apple mentioned they would be ditching Intel for their processors and moving to their own, dubbed Apple Silicon. Now we have the first set of Macs which include the new Apple Silicon processors, the M1. It’s crazy to think that for only $999 you can get a tiny little laptop that has all day battery life and is faster than 90% of the computers out on the market, right now. We’ll probably never see leaps and bounds like this in computers again, so we have to relish it while it’s here. Anyone who asks me what computer they should buy, before they can finish I blurt out “MacBook Air with M1”. It’s great for everything from web browsing to professional video editing. It’s truly a great computer at a great price.
Another year, another Apple Watch. Even amid the craziness of 2020 Apple found time to release an update to one of their still emerging products. I’ve been a fan of the Apple Watch since day one and it keeps getting better and better with each revision. I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6 on launch day making this my fifth watch since the original in 2015.
Just like last year, there aren’t a lot of major changes, especially when views as a year over year change. The Series 6 still looks the same and comes in the same sizes as the Series 4 and 5. The biggest three changes this year are the addition of the blood oxygen sensor, new case colors, and better always-on display.
The Series 5 finally gave me a feature that I’ve been longing for ever since the first Apple Watch, the always-on display. This allows you to view information on your watch without having to raise or flip your wrist. The Series 6 expands on that with a brighter display that allows you to see it better in sunlight (in always-on mode).
Something that is pretty relevant right now with COVID-19 being a respiratory disease, is the ability to measure your blood oxygen level. You may have seen this in your doctor’s office when they put a sensor on your finger to get your pulse and a percentage usually in the high 90s. Apple warns that this is not a health device so it should only be viewed as informational. I suspect this is just a liability protection until they can get FDA clearance like the ECG.
I used the Apple Watch blood oxygen reading and a traditional sensor and they both resulted in 99%. To me, this justifies the level of accuracy I would expect out of this device. Just like the ECG in the Series 5 (which is still present and the same in Series 6) I’ll probably only use this occasionally when I remember it exists. The watch will also take background measurements when you are idle, which could be interesting to track.
For the first time ever, we finally have actual colors in the Apple Watch. Instead of the usual silver, space gray, and gold finishes, we get an anodized blue and red finish for the Series 6. These look great in person with and have a similar matte finish as the iPhone 11. The stainless model also got a refined finish changing the black to graphite.
The model I went with is the Apple Watch Series 6 44mm Graphite Stainless Steel. Usually I opt for the Aluminum “Sport” versions, but after a few years of my watch face getting severely scratched I find the stainless model (which features a sapphire crystal lens) to be better against scratches.
In addition to a new Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced a lower-priced SE version. This is the same as the Series 6, but without the blood oxygen sensor, ECG, and always-on display. This creates a good, better, best structure to the Apple Watch tiers allowing a wider variety of buyers.
New watches usually come with new bands and this time around Apple debuted a new style called the Solo Loop. Similar to the original Sport Bands, this is a single piece of silicone that you can stretch around your hand to attach to your wrist. These bands come in 12 different sizes (1 – 12) to fit a wide variety of wrists. Downside to this is it’s not like shoes where most people know their size. You have to measure your wrist and hope it’s correct. Apple provides a printable measuring tool to measure your wrist. The tool told me I was a size 12, but I concluded a 11 would be a better fit. After getting the band, I could have gone down to a 10, but that might be too tight. If you but a Solo Loop band with an Apple Watch, and it doesn’t fit, you have to return the entire watch and band to get another one. This is a difficult online-only purchase as in-store try ons would be great for this item.
Update: I have since reached out to Apple about their Solo Loop sizing debacle. They have revised their return policy to allow returning of the band purchased with the watch. Apple also update their sizing guide to make it more clear that it needs to be a tight measurement. They are sending me a size 10 and a box to send them the too large size 11 back. To make things right, they’re also gifting me a Sport Band for my troubles.
Of course you don’t have to use a watch band made by Apple. One of my favorite bands are made by the good folks over at Longvadon. They make luxury watch bands that pair great with an Apple Watch. Made to look like they came right off a high-end luxury traditional watch. The cost of these bands slots nicely between the cheap knockoffs and the really expensive Apple bands. My favorite thing about these Longvadon bands is they combine the traditional metal clasp with a buckle fastener, meaning you can just unclasp the watch and slide it off your hand instead of fiddling with the buckle. Pictured above is the ‘Men’s Whiskey Brown w/ Silver Details’ from their Caiman Series. It has a beautiful embossed crocodile pattern on top of high quality top grain bovine leather. The inside of the strap is very comfortable and soft. Shortly after I got my Apple Watch Series 6 I had a wedding to attend and the Longvadon watch band was the perfect way to class up my watch for the formal occasion. You can get your own Longvadon watch band on their website use my exclusive code ‘BEN20’ to save 20% off all products in their store!
There’s always a great reason to get a new Apple Watch, and this year’s lineup is no exception. With all the fitness and health benefits of an Apple Watch I recommend any iPhone user (and now their kids) look into being an Apple Watch wearer.
The latest product from tech giant Apple is their own take on the very popular “lady in a cylinder”. The HomePod aims to fill the gap where the competition lacks in areas such as sound quality, ease of use, and aesthetics. I’ve spent the last month with the HomePod, testing everything I could.
It Packs a Punch
The Apple HomePod is a small cylindrical device that is about the size of a two liter soda bottle, with the top cut off. It’s covered in a thick mesh that feels soft but also sturdy at the same time. Inside, the HomePod packs a large upward facing subwoofer and seven tweeters around the bottom circumference. In between those there is a six microphone array for hearing your voice as well as to fine tune the sound based on the surroundings. The speakers and microphones are controlled by a stripped-down version of the fourth generation Apple TV. The processing power allows you to shout anything at it and it responds very quickly.
I don’t consider myself an audiophile, but I enjoy high quality music when I can get it. When I listen to music over bluetooth in my car I can hear the lower quality compared to playing over USB. That’s about the extent of my sound quality identifying experience. The HomePod does a great job of producing great sound in a small package. It sits next to my forty-eight inch, nine speaker sound bar, and the HomePod has noticeably better sound. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.”[/perfectpullquote]The sound output fills my living room with high fidelity music so well that you would think I have a 7.1 surround sound system setup.
The HomePod only knows one music service and that’s Apple’s own Apple Music. That means the HomePod cannot play music from Spotify, Tidal, Google, or any other music service out there. You can play songs from Apple’s giant library, your own iTunes library, or songs you’ve previously purchased from iTunes, so there is a lot of variety. If that is not enough for you, you can still stream whatever you like from an iOS device to the speaker, just like you AirPlay to an Apple TV. The benefit of using Apple Music on the HomePod is you don’t need your iPhone or iPad to play it. In fact, if you turned off all your devices, it will still be able to play music from Apple’s streaming service. If you’re thinking of getting a HomePod, switching to or signing up for Apple Music is definitely worth it.
Beyond playing great music, the HomePod packs the same helpful assistant as iPhones and iPads. Her name is Siri and she is very willing to help you any way she can. The HomePod doesn’t have a screen or a way for you to interact with anything, so Siri is limited. Speaking “Hey Siri…” into the air turns her attention towards you as she hangs on your next words. I’ve had moderate success with asking Siri random questions. I’ve been using Siri for a long time so I know how to ask her things and what she can and can’t do. Here are some things I asked my HomePod that resulted in the correct answer on the first try: What is 60g in oz?; What is the scientific name for a sloth?; How many tablespoons are in 20oz?; Who is Michael B. Jordan?; Who sings purple rain?
Contrary to your iPhone, Siri on the HomePod doesn’t know who you are. Whomever sets up the HomePod initially can choose to allow some details to be passed through the Apple account, but it’s still very limited. The nice thing about this is anyone that can yell “Hey Siri!” can control the HomePod. This can also cause some disagreements between people who want to hear two different songs.[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head, I can shout out loud and have it played[/perfectpullquote]
One place where the HomePod excels over the competition is how well it can hear you. Even at whisper with music playing the HomePod picks up the “Hey Siri” command. I was in my kitchen cooking with the exhaust fan on, the HomePod was about twenty feet away with a wall between us. The HomePod was playing something from Apple Music when I said “Hey Siri skip” at a volume that a person next to me would struggle to hear. The music stopped and I thought “there’s no way she heard that.” The next song began to play and I was taken aback by how well it could hear my over all the noise.
The Kit of Home
Another way Siri on the HomePod is helpful is by controlling HomeKit devices. These are smart home devices that are compatible with Apple’s home ecosystem. I have structured the smart devices in my home around this ecosystem allowing me to take full advantage of Siri for automation and control. By shouting at the HomePod I can close my garage doors, turn up the heat, turn on/off lights, and trigger scenes I have setup. The HomePod also acts as a HomeKit bridge that allows you to (if you don’t already have an Apple TV) access your HomeKit devices from outside your home network.
Who should buy one?
If you’re deeply invested in Apple’s ecosystem (which is easy to do) with a subscription to Apple Music, HomeKit compatible devices (Philips Hue bulbs fit this bill), like listening to music in your home, and use an iOS device; the HomePod is definitely for you.
It’s going to be hard to find a lot of people that meet those criteria, which is Apple’s fault, but at the same time it helps get more people into their ecosystem.
One of my favorite HomePod activities is when I wake up with a random song in my head (which happens almost every morning) I can shout out loud and have it played, and it sounds great!
Measuring the Competition
Apple is late to the “lady in a can” game, which seems to be their modus operandi as of late. There is plenty of competition in this space and surprisingly the first mover here was Amazon with their Echo line. Amazon has released nine products with their Alexa assistant before the HomePod shipped. Google now has three different types of devices that use the Google Assistant for your home. Amazon, Google and Apple’s devices all have the same functions; play music, control smart devices, and try to answer your dimwitted questions.
Which one is the best? That’s a hard question to answer for everyone, and each person you ask might have a different answer. The best one for you is which system you’re invested in. Do you have Apple products throughout your home or are you more in the Google ecosystem? Amazon has the advantage of being the cheaper solution and throwing their products at consumers every way possible. It’s more likely you know someone with an Amazon product in their house than the other two.
Apple’s HomePod is another great first generation product. A lot of people are comparing it to the the original Apple Watch, which is fair. Both of those devices are late entries to a new market for Apple and so far, both have been received very well. My time with the HomePod has been great and I don’t regret the purchase at all. I’m looking forward to the near future where Apple makes smaller/cheaper versions of the HomePod that I can stick in various places in my house.
In summary, John Gruber put it best when he wrote, “What AirPods are for your own ears, HomePod is for your home.”.
Besides writing a check, how else can you send money to someone?
It’s 2017 and most people I know still write checks to give money to someone else. You would think by now technology has solved this problem of carrying a checkbook, writing out specific information, and bringing that to the bank. This ancient technique has finally been updates, for the most part.
There are numerous ways to send money to another individual or business, whether is to pay a bill or a gift, a lot of services exist for this sole purpose. Venmo, PayPal, Square, and PopMoney are three popular services, but it seems most banks offer their own version. These money sharing services often charge a fee when using a credit card, but most of the time there is no charge to use debit from your checking account. The issue with using an app to send money is that the funds live in the app and the recipient has to withdraw or transfer the money to use it. In rare instances, someone may keep the funds in the app and use it elsewhere, this is common when using PayPal. Think of someone you know that you’ve written a check to in the past. Odds are that they wouldn’t know what to do if you send them money via Venmo.
Enter Apple’s solution to this problem: Apple Pay. Ever since Apple debuted Apple Pay in 2014, I’ve been wondering how I can use this to pay another individual. While not as simple as holding your iPhone up to an NFC reader, Apple proves they have taken the time to think this through. Basically, you can send someone money through your iPhone to another person who has also has an Phone through the iMessages app. The way they do this is by giving you an Apple Pay gift card that you can load money on to send to other people. The great thing about this gift card is you can use the loaded/transferred funds anywhere that accepts Apple Pay, right from your iPhone. You can also transfer this money to your bank account, which should be free to do. If you send money to another person through Apple Pay by using a credit card, you’ll be charged a fee of about 3% of your transfer amount. This is to pay the credit card fees, so Apple isn’t making any money of this transaction. This transfer fee is standard throughout all the popular money sending services, but differs in actual percentage.
A lot of retailers are moving to this “gift card” scenario where you load money on to a card and use that to pay, usually through a smartphone app. Starbucks is the biggest one I’ve used and they entice you to use it with rewards resulting in free items. The kicker with Starbucks is you can reload your card using Apple Pay, which makes this new system work.
Apple Pay person-to-person will be launching later this fall. This new money transfer system will take a very long time to catch on, if ever. The older generations, who actually use smartphones, will probably never get on this program. Don’t expect that $10 birthday check from your grandparents to go away any time soon.
For the past seven years, Apple has released a new flagship iPhone in the fall, usually at the tail-end of September. This year will be no different as we prepare for what might be the biggest iPhone change since the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. With so many rumors swirling around the ether, it’s hard to sort through trash to find treasure. Let’s only talk about the facts that can be verified or have a higher degree of likeliness.
iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus
Just like the last 3 years, we’re going to see another pair of similarly featured phones in two sizes. The smaller of the two will retain the 4.7” diagonal screen size with a single rear camera. The Plus variant will continue to have a 5.5” diagonal screen with dual rear cameras. This is not any big change over last year’s duo. The only two big changes I can see happening on this front are the addition of wireless charging and increased water/dust resistance.
If you’re not familiar with mobile device wireless charging that’s been around for quite some time in Android phones, it’s close proximity power transfer. Your device sits on a conductive pad that transfers power to your device through the back of the case. It’s not truly wireless because this conductive pad needs to be plugged in with a wire, and your device still needs to contact the pad to receive power.
Other features in these models that could make an appearance are new color finishes, better image signal processing, and higher storage tiers.
The rumor of an Apple iPhone Pro surfaced last summer when there was traces of a better, more expensive iPhone 7 Plus. This has since transformed into an all new form factor that will debut this year. The new form factor will sport a 5.8” diagonal screen, but the case of the iPhone will be much smaller aligning the physical size of the device directly between the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The new screen will be powered by OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) which will give us deeper blacks and use less energy. The reduced footprint of the phone presents some challenges for making an edge-to-edge screen. The front facing camera and sensors will not be set in the screen, so there will be a small notch on the upper part of the screen. This notch will house the all-new front facing cameras, infrared sensors, and speaker.
This new form factor will also be the first iPhone ever without a home button. It is said the the home button function will be built into the screen, which will allow Apple to use the area where the home button previously sat. After the debut of 3D Touch and last year’s virtual home button, this seems like the culmination of research and evolution finally coming to fruition. Not much else is known at this point on the new yet-to-be named iPhone Pro. Speculation prices this iPhone above the current offering somewhere between $999 and $1499. Pricing that depends on what storage is offered and who they market this device to.
Naming an iPhone is always kept under wraps until presentation day, so we never know for sure what these things are going to be called. Ever since the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone releases have followed a X/Xs naming scheme. Canonically, the non-s years brought redesigns whereas the s years brought speed and internal improvements. This pattern was pretty much broken the last two years when we got almost all new iPhones with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and not-quite-redesigned iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. My gut feeling tells me that Apple won’t break their trend of naming devices in order, regardless of what the new features are. I anticipate us seeing the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus. The outlier is the Pro model… They should just call it iPhone Pro or attach it to this generation by going with iPhone 7s Pro. I’ve seen some grumblings of Apple following the iPad trend and using generic names like iPhone, iPhone Plus, and iPhone Pro.
What Apple debuts is sure to be a hit and will sell millions of units. It’s going to be great to be able to have a premium model in addition to two already great form factors.
On April 25, 2015, I received my first generation Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch. You can read my original review here, where I talk about moving away from traditional watches and a Fitbit. Now, a year later I still have my same Apple Watch, and a whole new love for it.
Over the last 12 months, I have worn my Apple Watch 99% of the time I was awake. There may have been a day or two I forgot to put it on or did not charge it. After so long, it now becomes habit to want to check my wrist for messages, activity, and weather. At it’s core, which is receiving iPhone notifications, telling the time and showing me on-demand information on the watch face, the Apple Watch is a necessary device for my lifestyle.
Between my wife and I, we accumulated a good collection of sport bands in various colors to keep the look fresh. One of the joys of the Apple Watch is changing the band every morning to better match my clothing choice for the day.
I’ll admit that I don’t use the Apple Watch to it’s full technological extent. Third-party apps, different faces, and glances have all become secondary features. The watch is now more of an appliance in my life and a fashion accessory. That’s more than I can say for my iPhone which is somewhat an appliance, but more an entertainment device.
After a year, what I use my Apple Watch for is very simple:
“Smart Home” electronics are the current flavor of the month. Manufacturers are trying to get everything in your house to be connected to the internet. This may sound like a benefit for the consumer, but do companies of ulterior motives? Are they using the cool factor to collect usage, demographic, and personal information? I don’t really care, things products are just damn cool!