¶ The Aluminum Anniversary

July 11, 2008. 4:45 AM. My alarm goes off. In four days at almost this exact minute my son would draw in his first breath. But in this moment, now, I am groggy and slightly hesitant to leave home knowing he could arrive at any time. In retrospect, it was more than a little foolish to be doing what I was doing.

I quickly dressed, gave my wife a kiss on the forehead while she slept, grabbed my Motorola RAZR, and then got in the car and drove an hour to Omaha.

Why?

You know why. That’s where the Apple Store is.

I arrived at [Apple Store Village Pointe] around 6:00 AM. There was a line. I expected a line. Thankfully it wasn’t too long. I was 22nd in line.

After a little while some Apple employees began walking up and down the line, chatting up folks, offering donuts, coffee, and bottled water. I recognized one of them. A few days prior, Apple had posted some tutorial videos about the iPhone 3G, the App Store, and MobileMe ([remember that?]). The guy I recognized was the guy from the MobileMe videos. When he got to me, I pointed this out, and he confirmed it and told me his name was John. He still works in the Omaha store, and whenever I’m there we catch up. I still call him MobileMe John.

After standing in line for a few hours, the store finally opened. It didn’t take long before I was paired up with an employee. I bought a 16GB iPhone 3G, in black, naturally. Of course, AT&T’s activation servers had already turned into molten slag, so setup didn’t get very far. The employee offered that I could stay and finish setup there whenever the servers connected again, or if I was comfortable with it I could finish the process of activating and porting my number at home via iTunes.

I thanked him, he gave me a high five, and I left the store, got more coffee, and drove home. Once I got back to my apartment I plugged my new iPhone into my MacBook, and started the setup process on iTunes. Activation was still unsuccessful, but trying. I decided to sleep while it did its thing. A couple hours later I was awoken by the shimmering sound of an iPhone connecting. Bleary-eyed, I looked at the screen. Activation successful.

I set up my iPhone from my iPod touch’s backup, and it worked flawlessly. I started installing apps: Twitterrific, Facebook, AIM, and a lightsaber app.

Fast-forward to the early hours of July 15. My wife tells me it is time to go to the hospital. I begin using the Clock app’s stopwatch to time contractions, using the lap function. When our doctor arrived at the hospital, he remembered my iPhone from our last visit with him the day before, and he cracked a joke asking if I would use the lightsaber app to cut the cord in a little while. No one thought it was funny.

A few hours after Jonathan was born, I took a photo of him with my iPhone, shared it to Mail, filled out a little message with the time, his length, weight — all that stuff people ask about when a baby is born — and then sent it to a bunch of people.

And ever since then some iteration of the iPhone has always been in my pocket. As strange as it sounds, the iPhone has been a part of my family. As the hardware became better, it has become my primary camera. I’ve taken more photos with the iPhone over the past ten years than I had taken at any other time in my life. I’ve made friends through this screen, both near and far. I’ve chronicled joyful and painful times of my life into it. My son and I have pointed it at the sky and seen constellations light up.

This object of glass is the technology I dreamed of as a kid watching Star Trek. It is my tricorder, my communicator, and my captain’s log. In many ways, it’s more than that — because it can become anything I need it to be.

¶ iPhone Batteries and Performance

A little over a week ago Apple addressed the perception some users had about their iPhones running slower. Apple’s statement then:

Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.

Put simply, Apple stated (admitted?) that they began limiting the power draw on the battery during peak performance in January 2017 on iPhones with aged batteries that couldn’t handle the load.

I believe Apple in that the goal of this software feature was to prevent unexpected shutdowns, thus extending the useful life of an older iPhone, even if that meant it wasn’t as performant as it was when brand new.

The rest of the Internet seemed to disagree, and took this as proof of the age-old conspiracy theory that Apple intentionally plans the obsolescence of iPhones to drive sales of newer models.

That idea is folly, and ridiculous. Full stop.

This evidence is in the history. Apple offers software and hardware support for older models of phones far longer than anyone else in the industry. They also sell older models brand new at more affordable prices to make sure there is an iPhone model for almost anyone.

It simply does not make any sense that Apple would plan to slow down a brand new older model to push someone to buy a newer, more expensive model. That works directly against Apple’s best interests for itself and its customers.

That said, the perception that Apple intentionally hobbles devices out of greed is one that is rampant, and has been for years. I have family who outright believe it. And Apple’s lack of communication and clarity at the outset of rolling out this feature only helped to sow more distrust.

This afternoon, Apple blinked. They issued an open letter apologizing for their lack of clarity.

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

I very much believe Apple in that second paragraph. It fits in line with the history of their actions. To drive the point home further, Apple concludes with action.

We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
  • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

At Apple, our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support — and we will never forget that or take it for granted.

Apple is making the right moves here. They are carving themselves off a giant piece of humble pie. The forthcoming update to iOS with greater transparency for battery health is how this feature should have been introduced. The $29 battery replacement fee should probably be permanent instead of just for 2018. We’ll see what happens there.

I can’t sum up my thoughts about Apple’s misstep with communication better than John Gruber did earlier today:

The funny thing about Apple is that their communication problems tend to happen only when they don’t communicate at all. This whole iPhone battery controversy erupted only because Apple had never explained what was going on, which opened them up to accusations of nefarious intent. When they do communicate, they do so with clarity, plain language, and honesty. And, when called for — as in this case — humility.

¶ On Privacy and Servicing Apple Devices

Yesterday my friend Adam asked me for advice on what he should do when taking his Mac in for service at the Apple Store.

The question is simple: Should the drive be wiped for privacy reasons?

The answer is equally simple: Yes.

That said, Apple shouldn't even be making a person consider this question. The problem in this entire situation is Apple requiring the admin password in order to service a device.

And it is indeed a requirement. I've been asked for my admin password on a Mac or the device unlock code on an iPhone by Apple Store employees before. And I have tried to refuse in the past, at which point the Apple employee will promptly cease helping you.

This is wrong. Apple should not require me to write down my password on a piece of paper and then take my device into another room for hours on end. Also, they do not inform you what happens to that piece of paper containing the password when service is finished. For all I know my encrypted drive could have been cloned and the admin password is now known in order to decrypt it.

Now, I'm the type that knows this dance with servicing devices, and I make a backup and wipe the device prior to service, using a simple generic password for the device during the service period. After I receive the device back, I need to spend a great deal of time restoring the device from backup.

It's inconvenient and unnecessary.

I have a proposed solution for this and Apple could build into every device they make. Create a service partition. A service partition of the device's storage would allow Apple to boot up and test the functions of the device without having access to user data. This partition would not have admin rights to the system, but would provide only the access necessary to run tests to ensure service was successful.

I imagine this being similar to booting up a Mac into Apple Diagnostics or macOS Recovery. With a Service Partition, core functions for testing would exist, without providing access to user data. No password is needed. Privacy is maintained.

Apple should build this into macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS to protect their users and make servicing devices more efficient.

¶ AirPods | Review

The iPhone 7 famously removed the 3.5mm headphone jack that has long been on most audio devices for as long as I can remember. In its stead, Apple offered three solutions:

  1. A Lighting-to-3.5mm adapter, included in the box.
  2. An updated version of EarPods, now featuring a Lightning connector, also included in the box.
  3. Go wireless with bluetooth headphones.

To emphasize the third option Apple unveiled their new wireless AirPods. They look nearly identical to EarPods, as if someone had taken a scissors and snipped the cables off. For storage and charging the AirPods slide into a case not much larger than a container of floss, which houses a battery for on-the-go charging and a Lightning connector to recharge the case itself.

Apple promised to deliver the AirPods in October, shortly after the iPhone 7 launched, but something came up that necessitated a delay. Consequently, they launched right before Christmas. And thanks to some quick action by \Santa\ my wife, I had a very nice Christmas gift under the tree.

The Setup

AirPods are ridiculously easy to setup. With my iPhone unlocked I just flipped open the charging case with the AirPods inside it. I brought the case about an inch from my phone and a little card slid up from the bottom of the screen with a Connect button. Tapping that instantly paired them to my iPhone.

And since I use all Apple devices for my computing, iCloud synced that pairing to my iPad, Apple Watch, MacBook Air, and (presumably) the MacBook Pro I use at work.

Switching between devices is as easy as selecting the AirPods from the audio output list on the device I want to use them with. Sure, it’s not as easy as unplugging the standard headphone jack and plugging it into another device, but it’s also not difficult and the AirPods switch between devices pretty quickly.

The Fit

I’ve been using Apple’s iconic white earbuds since I bought my first iPod back in college. Those initial earbuds didn’t fit great the sound was subpar. Nonetheless I wore them because they were iconic. They were a status symbol, and college-me was a bit vain.

In 2012 Apple revised their earbuds when they introduced the EarPods alongside the iPhone 5. EarPods promised a better fit and better sound. For me, they delivered on both fronts. I’m willing to entertain the thought that one night Jony Ive snuck into my room while I was sleeping in order to take an injection mold of my ears. That’s how well EarPods fit me.

My wife, on the other hand, cannot use EarPods. They fall right out of her ears. And if she can manage to keep them in for any length of time, her ears begin to hurt. You’re mileage will vary.

In short, AirPods fit exactly like EarPods. If you like the fit of EarPods, you will love the fit of AirPods. If EarPods won’t stay in your ears, then AirPods likely won’t either.

The Experience

AirPods sound great. The audio quality is a little richer than regular EarPods, as they have a bit more bass to them. It’s not a dramatic improvement, but it is noticeable. And that bass isn’t too heavy; it is just enough to give a nicer sound.

One place I’ve longed to have wireless headphones is at the gym. Inevitably I always catch the EarPods’s cable and painfully yank them from my ears. AirPods solve this completely. They are truly wireless, and they stay put in my ears no matter how much my head jostles.

One part of the gym I hadn’t considered before is when I am changing back to my regular clothes. Normally I would need to pause whatever I am listening to so I could change, as the cable is in the way. With AirPods, I can change my shirt without any issues, so I can keep listening.

AirPods also do the right thing in my car. While listening to music as I left the gym, I got into my car, started it, and plugged my iPhone into my Griffin iTrip Aux. The audio switched from my AirPods to my car stereo without skipping a beat. A moment later I double tapped the right AirPod, the music paused, and Siri activated via the AirPod. I asked Siri to call my wife, and it connected the call through the AirPods. When I finished the call, the music resumed through the car’s speakers. Perfect.

Another nice touch is removing just one AirPod from my ear pauses playback, which is handy when I am ordering coffee and want to pause my music and show the barista I am listening to him or her. Popping the AirPod back in resumes playback.

The Aesthetics

AirPods are nice looking, however, they do look a bit dorky in your ears. Family members have joked that it looks a bit like I have Q-tips hanging out of my ears. It is kind of amazing how removing the cable from the earbuds drastically ups the nerd factor.

I have to wonder how the AirPods would look in a Jet Black finish. I bet that would look pretty sweet.

The Battery

Each AirPod has a tiny battery in it that is supposed to last up to 5 hours of use. The case they slide into is their recharging station, itself having a battery in it that provides up to another 24 hours of charge. The case recharges via a Lightning port on the bottom.

So far battery life seems to meet expectations, but I haven’t given everything a thorough rundown yet.

What is really nice is that the AirPods recharge quickly. 15 minutes in the case will give them 3 hours worth of juice.

The Downsides

There is one major downside to the AirPods compared to EarPods. The EarPods have an inline remote with volume and playback controls. These controls are really handy and quick to use.

With AirPods there’s only a single control gesture: double tap. This can be set to Play/Pause or to activate Siri. That’s it. And it is one or the other. There is not a way to quickly adjust volume or go forward or back a track. To do that you need to activate Siri, speak a command, then wait for Siri to do what you asked.

What I have decided to do instead is tap the side button on my Apple Watch, tap Now Playing, and use that to adjust volume or track selection. It works, but it is a bit of a pain. That said, it is faster than having Siri accomplish the same task.

I hope Apple can add more tap gestures to the AirPods via an update. I’d really like to see taps mimic the inline remote of AirPods. Single tap for Play/Pause, double tap for track forward, triple tap for track backward, and tap & hold for Siri.

Maybe single tap is not available so you don’t get a false positive on activation. If that is the case, perhaps double tapping the left AirPod could handle Play/Pause and double tapping the right AirPod could handle Siri.

Wrapping Up

AirPods are probably one of the neatest gadgets I’ve used in recent memory. There’s a ton of technology packed into these tiny earbuds and that allows them to do things the way you’d expect in almost every situation. It’s clear that Apple spent a lot of time sweating the details to make AirPods delightful to use.

If the standard EarPods fit your ears, I think the AirPods are a must own for any iPhone user. The experience is magnified if you use other Apple products like an iPad or Mac.

In the wake of the uproar over the iPhone 7 removing the 3.5mm headphone jack, the AirPods succeed in completing Apple’s story of a wireless future.

On Apple’s Nostalgia

This morning Apple announced a new photo book chronicling roughly the past 20 years of Apple's designs. It is dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs. I've seen some folks on Twitter taking umbrage with that dedication, noting that Steve Jobs was adament to not dwell on the past.

I enjoyed Stephen Hackett's thoughts on Apple being nostalgic:

The point is that while nostalgia was not part of Jobs’ DNA, it has resurfaced in Apple’s. The company is changing, and part of that includes things like this new book.

Some find it troubling or uncomfortable, but I don’t think it is. A photo book of Macs and iPhones isn’t what is keeping Apple from releasing a Mac Pro. A promo video including the iBook G3 didn’t force the company to remove MagSafe from its new notebooks.

Apple can continue to push ahead, even as it allows itself the occasional glance in the rearview mirror. The company has an amazing history, and it’s okay to be proud of it.

It is absolutely okay for Apple to be proud of its history. I'll go a step further and say that in the post-Jobs Apple, it is necessary for Apple to remember the roots established by Steve Jobs.

This wasnt necessary when Steve was with us. He was present to continue driving the vision — his vision — of Apple. Steve is gone. If Apple doesn't take moments to look back and remember that vision, then Apple may lose its way.

As long as the of today and the Apple of tomorrow continues to glance back at its roots, I think it will stay true to course.

40 Years of Apple

Today is Apple's 40th anniversary. That's right, the company got its start on April 1, 1976. It's no joke. Apple has had an amazing history.

Apple has been a part of my life for 25 years. I have so many fond memories of playing Swashbuckler and Spy's Demise on my Grandpa's Apple II, while sitting on his lap. And that Mac Classic my folks brought home in 1990. And how the first photo of my son that I shared with family and friends was taken and sent with the iPhone 3G I bought just days before.

I really enjoyed this video featuring journalist Walt Mossberg, as he recalls some great stories he's had over the years about Apple and its products.

Here's to the crazy ones.

Apple's Classic Hotrod

I have yet to use the new iPhone SE, which was released today, but everything about it sounds like a winner in my book for many folks. I always loved the design of the iPhone 5 and 5s, and the SE uses that with most of the guts of the latest and greatest iPhone 6s. So far I've recommended it to a few friends who are either considering their first smartphone or finally upgrading from an iPhone 5.

I read a couple reviews and so far my favorite has been Jim Dalrymple's.

Look at the iPhone SE like this.

Pick your favorite classic car. An old Corvette or Mustang—whatever your favorite car is. That design will always be classic, no matter what has happened in the automobile industry in the last 40 years, those 1960s designs will always be classic.

Now, take that classic car design and replace the engine, drive train, and everything else you can think of. What do you have? A hotrod. An incredible classic design with the most advanced technology that you could put in it.

That is the iPhone SE. A classic design with a lot of the newest and greatest technology.

The iPhone SE is Apple’s classic hotrod.

I've always been a latest & greatest kind of person myself, but I certainly can appreciate a timeless classic.

¶ The Hunchback of Cupertino

This morning Apple released the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case. While it says 6s in the name it works fine with iPhone 6 as well. Sorry Plus-sized iPhones, your extra-hugeness has enough battery inside it to not need one of these cases.

I get it. There’s plenty of folks out there who burn through their iPhone’s battery by mid-day and need an extra charge or two to make it to bedtime. Thankfully, I’m not one of those people. It’s a rare day when I dock my iPhone at night with less than 30% on the battery meter.

But we need to talk about this case for a moment. It is well-intentioned to solve a real problem that many people experience. Well-intentioned, but hideous. Just look at that hunch on its back.

That just doesn’t look good to me. It’s like George Costanza’s wallet has been shoved into one of Apple’s lovely Silicon cases. Ged Maheux makes a great observation that this case could have used the new terraced battery tech in the MacBook to smooth out that bump a bit. Missed opportunity.

If the iPhone 6 and 6s have such small batteries that they warrant a first-party battery case, maybe it is time to say the iPhone is thin enough for a while. Not to mention the additional annoyance of having the camera stick out a bit from the back.

Instead of chasing thinness, I think it is time to shift gears and focus on extending battery life and making the camera flush with the back again.

In the meantime, if you need a battery case and like to keep things in the Apple family, $99 will cure what ails you.

¶ The Diversity of Apple Keyboards

As I walked through the glass doors, I couldn’t remember when I had last been in an Apple Store. The nearest one is a 40 minute drive from my home. While it isn’t exactly far away, it’s far enough that it isn’t high on my priority list to visit unless I need to.

While my iPhone was being serviced for a weird charging issue, I took the time to check out some of the new products from the past year that I hadn’t seen in person yet. Oddly enough, the fact that quite a few of these products had very different keyboards.

I checked out the MacBook, Magic Keyboard (and Magic Trackpad 2), iPad Pro (and Pencil), and the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro.

MacBook

The MacBook interests me a lot. I love how thin and light my MacBook Air is, so naturally I’ve been dreaming about the thinner and lighter MacBook since it was released. Until now I’d only seen the MacBook on Apple’s website, never in person. It’s clear from folks I follow and respect that the MacBook’s keyboard is polarizing in the “love it or hate it” kind of way.

It’s definitely not what I expected. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key travel, or lack thereof, was much more pronounced than I thought. Those keys barely move at all. But they do give a satisfying click when pressed. That makes my ears happy, even though my fingers don’t really register that much is happening underneath them.

What I truly enjoyed was how large the key caps are. I wish all of Apple’s keyboards had large keycaps like that.

I understand why some people hate this keyboard now. It is wildly different than pretty much any keyboard out there I’ve typed on. While I was surprised at how different it is, I think it is something I’d grow to love with more use.

Magic Keyboard

I’ve been going back and forth on buying a Magic Keyboard since it was released, but I’m having a hard time justifying the cost, especially when my Apple Wireless Keyboard continues to serve me well. After trying out the Magic Keyboard in person, well, I’d really like to own this keyboard soon.

The Magic Keyboard is the happy medium between the Apple Wireless Keyboard (and the keyboard built into the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro) and the MacBook’s new keyboard. The Magic Keyboard feels familiar. It has a lot of the heritage of the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but the keys are slightly larger and a heck of a lot sturdier. They don’t wiggle like the keys on my Apple Wireless Keyboard do.

I also love the lower profile of the keyboard itself. And good riddance to AA batteries. I wish the key caps were as large as the MacBook’s. I also wish it had backlighting, but I can see why it doesn’t. I can’t wait to own the Magic Keyboard. But wait I will, because $99 is a bit steep to justify a keyboard right now.

Magic Trackpad 2

A brief aside about the Magic Trackpad 2. I love my current Magic Trackpad. I love everything about the Magic Trackpad 2 even more. It’s larger footprint is great. It has a lower profile to match the Magic Keyboard. Again, goodbye AAs.

I would absolutely need to get one of these alongside a Magic Keyboard. But at $129 it is also out of the realm of possibility right now. A combined $230 for a keyboard and trackpad makes my bank account weep.

iPad Pro

This is the device everyone is talking about. I opened Notes and brought up the on-screen keyboard, which is now pretty darn equivalent to the size and layout of a laptop keyboard. It’s easily the best on-screen keyboard I’ve used, though it did take some adjustment as I’m used to the ultra compact keyboard of my iPad mini.

I could tap out words briskly and it was fun to use. Bonus points for the new iOS 9 two-finger trackpad feature being even better on that large screen.

My favorite part of the iPad Pro’s keyboard is the Tab key. Goodness, my kingdom for a tab key on other iOS devices.

Pencil

Another quick aside, the Pencil is amazing. I doodled a few things in a couple apps and it is just great. I hope this will work with future iPhones and iPad Air/mini models.

Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

I hated the Smart Keyboard from the second I rested my fingertips on it. The keys are tiny (about the same size as my fingertip), the texture of the fabric is repulsive, and while it uses the same stainless steel mechanism as the MacBook’s keyboard, it feels squashy instead of clicky. Surprisingly I typed quite accurately on it, but I constantly felt like I was about to strike the wrong key. I just had no confidence I was actually going to press the intended key, and that made for a stressful experience.

I don’t think I can adequately describe how much I disliked the Smart Keyboard. Gross.

Final Thoughts

Between the keyboard on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro we’ve known for years, the divisive new MacBook keyboard, the Magic Keyboard being a hybrid of the preceding two, the various screen sizes of iOS devices accommodating different layouts, and the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, I don’t think Apple has ever had a more diverse spread of keyboard styles among its devices.

I have to imagine future Mac laptops will move toward the MacBook style keyboard as Apple obsessively shaves millimeters off their thickness. Perhaps the MacBook Pro line will adopt the Magic Keyboard style, as the Pro has always retain a bit of thickness and heft to it compared to its non-Pro siblings. I think this would make a lot of folks happier.

Then again, Apple has always been one to push the envelope. Perhaps the low travel of the MacBook keyboard is preparing us for a no-travel Taptic keyboard, where we tap away on a sheet of glass that is also our trackpad.