First look: iOS 10

If you have an iPhone, it’s just told you that there is an update to iOS 10 available: say yes. You want it. If you’re buying an iPhone about now, it’s what you’ll get on it anyway. And this is all good: iOS 10 brings new productivity features to the phone and actually makes it feel like a new iPhone.

It always does. Every year, Apple releases a new version of the phone’s core operating system and it looks more whizzy, it adds big and small new features, it takes some features away. And it’s free.

From our productivity perspective, I think there are really two improvements: one that we all get, one that only people with newer iPhones do.

That second one is the quickest to explain: if you have an iPhone 6s or 7, or the Plus versions of either, then you can now just pick up your phone for it to light up. It’s like the Apple Watch: when you turn your wrist to see the time, the Watch shows you the time. Otherwise the screen is off. On these iPhones, this is called Raise to Wake and it would be a trivial gimmick except for the other improvement.

There is now much more information and much more you can do with it on the iPhone’s lock screen. So the screen that used to just say the time and Swipe to Open, now packs in a lot of detail that means you won’t need to open. (Swipe to Open is gone now, by the way, and I miss it. Even after two months of using iOS 10 in the beta programme, I miss the familiar swooshing swipe. It’s gone because of TouchID, the feature that means the phone recognises your fingerprint. That fingerprint, that touch, is enough to unlock the phone without the old-fashioned swiping.)

From the first beta release right up to today, I had found the new information on the lock screen pretty useful. With your phone awake, you could swipe the entire screen to the right and get a series of little widgets in a column. I’ve got my OmniFocus To Do list showing the next tasks on my plate, I’ve got a short weather notification, a calculator, a top news story.

These widgets are the easiest to explain and to understand if you’ve not seen any of this in action: you read that last sentence and you got it. They each show some information that I might want. The End. But they also let me act on it: I can tap a To Do task as done, for instance.

Now that the beta period is over and iOS 10 is available for everyone – if your iPhone or iPad can’t run iOS 10 then you won’t be offered it – things are getting still better. App developers have been releasing hugely improved widgets. For instance, a writing app I particularly like called Drafts 4 has a new one where right in the screen I can read my latest notes or start a new one. OmniFocus is about to be updated with the ability to add a new task right there in the lock screen, without having to find and open the app. It’s not that opening apps is exactly a slog, but the faster you can jot down a task, the more likely you are to do that and then the more likely you are later to do the task.

Back in iOS 8 and 9, I pretty much ignored these lock screen widgets and to the extent that I’m not even sure what they looked like. Over the course of the beta I’ve found myself swiping right to launch an app called Workflow a lot or to read the news. In the 24 hours or so since iOS 10 was officially released and I’ve been seeing just how many apps I use have now been updated, I have the problem of wanting to put too much into this screen.

There’s a point when you’ve got so much and you have to scroll so far to see it all that you lose the benefit of the speed and I am approaching that. Still, right now, I can pick up my phone and tap a button to log expenses (via Workflow), tick off a To Do task and see what the next one is, write a Draft note, see what’s happened to this heatwave we’ve been promised, use a calculator and read the news.

I can do all this – and I do. You will. Once you’ve realised that this is all there, once you’ve got it into your muscle memory, you’ll use it.

This all comes from swiping right but there is something you can do by swiping left that helps, too: wake up your phone, swipe left and you’re in the camera. I find I’m so quick using TouchID when I pick up the phone that I’m gone by this lock screen stage but when I remember, swiping left into the camera is handy and fast.

There’s a lot of this swiping going on, though, and it can be confusing. You now know about swiping left and right, but there’s also swiping up. That brings up a control centre that has buttons for switching wifi on and off, turning on the phone’s torch, and another 11 possible things. This control centre comes when you swipe up from anywhere, the lock screen, the home screen or within an app and I use it more than I expected.

I’m only now starting to use something else about it: when this control centre is up on your screen, swipe left and you get music controls. Just play/pause, skip and volume, but often there’s not much else you want. I’ve found that a fast way to pause a podcast when I get somewhere I’m going.

One last swipe. From anywhere, you can swipe your finger down from the top of the phone and you get Notification Centre. This used to be a pointless mess of information telling you things like there was a Facebook message sent to you sixteen million years ago. Now it’s better at showing you useful and recent notifications: if you saw something flash on your screen but you weren’t quick enough to read it, you’ll find it waiting in here.

Swipe to the left on any of these notifications and you get the option to see more, to get more detail, really just to open the app the notification came from.

Then this is either great or confusing, I don’t know: when you have your list of notifications, you can swipe to the right and the whole screen moves over to show you your lock screen widgets.

It took me a while to get used to where things are and even today I’m relearning as newly updated apps are making all of this more useful. In every possible way, iOS 10 is an improvement and it speeds up our work.

Well, nearly every possible way. There is one thing that’s gone and I miss it greatly. Sometime during iOS 9’s year in the spotlight, Apple added a feature to Mail where you could tap to select every message at once and then tap to delete them all in one go. That’s gone. You’re back to having to either delete one by one or mark each one separately, then hitting delete. I have a catch-all mailbox that I check each day for the occasional real message and then want to delete everything else. I remember the pleasure when I found this new option and I am still feeling the pain of it being gone.

One more thing. If you look into this topic of iOS 10 and updates today, it won’t take long before an Android user will tut and say that their phone of choice has had all these features before. Say this to them: “Show me on yours”.

It’s peculiar how important our phones have become but they are perhaps the one device that makes us more productive than we ever were. And now iOS 10 helps us more.

Okay, wait one more day to buy from Apple

Side view of Apple iPhone 7

Strictly speaking, you could wait as long as you like: it’s less that there was anything so compelling that you must wait for it, more that what was announced is much better than what you’d get in the shop yesterday.

You can’t get any of the new products today, nor really tomorrow either. But from Friday 9 September you can pre-order the iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Usually I twitch if I don’t immediately tell you a price but with phones it’s complicated: many or most people buy them subsidised on a contract and not always predictably so. But as a quick guide, whatever you would’ve paid for an iPhone 6s or iPhone 6s Plus on Monday, that’s what you’ll pay for the 7 range from Friday.

From a productivity perspective, the significant improvements are in the battery life, performance and also capacity. In reverse order, the old small 16Gb model is no more and this can only be good. Then performance is fast. Faster than last time. Do you like the level of detail you’re getting here? And lastly the battery life is claimed to be two hours longer, on average, for the iPhone 7 and one hour longer on the iPhone 7 Plus.

There is also a radically improved camera which doesn’t happen to make much difference to what I work on but your mileage may be very improved.

Have a look at the official Apple site for all the details I’ve skimped on, all the other details I’ve skipped, and also the changes to the Apple Watch. I am placing a call to Ms Bank Manager and Mr Claus in order to get myself a jet black iPhone 7 Plus and a ceramic Apple Watch Series 2 but the big advantage in the new Watch is coming to the old one too. The Apple Watch on my wrist is already improved because I’ve been testing watchOS 3 which will be released in public shortly and genuinely makes the watch feel like new.

The new Series 2 Watch appears to be faster and to have a brighter screen: I’m not fussed about the screen, the old one is fine. But you know how it is with Apple gear: if it doesn’t look great in the demos, it does when you hold it in your hand.

Don’t buy anything from Apple today

Apple is making an announcement later today – 18:00 BST, 10:00 PDT – and apparently you can find out pretty much everything already by reading rumour websites. I’ve got an easier solution: just don’t buy any Apple products until after the announcement.

You can wait until tomorrow, you know you can. In the meantime, I will be watching the announcement because Apple puts on a bit of a show. It’s exactly the same show every time but it’s usually well done and I usually end up at least wanting to spend some money afterwards, if I don’t actually end up spending some money afterwards.

Times being what they are, ie September, though, you can be sure that iOS 10 will be included in the show and that’s free. It’s been in beta for some months and I’ve grown terribly keen on almost all of it.

You can watch the Apple announcement direct from the company itself right here. One thing about it does give me pause: the last time Apple made one of its announcements I was writing for a website called MacNN and had a really good time covering it. It was like being back in a newsroom. Now MacNN is closed and so I’ll be watching today’s Apple news like a viewer again. That won’t change the news and it can’t matter to anyone but me, but it matters to me.

The polarising new MacBook keyboard

This is a very specific kind of Blank Screen post: it’s ostensibly about one product that, statistically speaking, you are unlikely to have and, also statistically speaking, you are unlikely to ever get. I’m really selling this to you, aren’t I? Okay, try this: it’s to do with keyboards, which we all spend a lot of time with and which you, admit it, have strong opinions about.

Okay, it’s just me. But I’ve been pulling 16-hour days at the keyboard lately, the feel of these things is hugely important and the potential risk to my wrists is gigantically important to me. Then Apple’s gone and brought out a new keyboard, a new type of keyboard and, seriously, when Apple does something, the rest of the industry mocks it while working furiously to copy it.

(Are you on a notebook computer now? See the way the keyboard is toward the back and you’ve got palmrests at the front around a trackpad? That was Apple’s idea and there is now notebook you can buy that does not do exactly this.)

So a new design of keyboard is likely to appear in other machines, from Apple and others, now that it’s out there. And Apple made such a fuss of it at the launch that I was suspicious: the company doth protest too much and all that. Then people started getting the new MacBook that has this keyboard and they hated it.

Well, some hated, most people thought they would put up with it. The travel is shallow, the distance you have to press the keys before they register is tiny. The keys are also wider but it’s chiefly the travel and how that feels that is making people unhappy.

Except me.

I went in to an Apple Store specifically to try out the keyboard and I actually liked it.

But that was a few minutes. Now here’s a fella who’s spent eight weeks typing on it:

Apple’s new MacBook uses a new keyboard mechanism. The keys are larger and the throw [aka travel] is less, and so when people try it out for just a minute ot two in the Apple store, it may feel strange, different and even undesirable.

I’ve spent eight weeks with my new MacBook now, and one of things I like about it the most is the keyboard. Just like the single USB-C port, past experience doesn’t prepare or guide one for using this keyboard because it’s so different from what Apple has delivered in the past.

Eight Weeks With the MacBook Keyboard: Total Love – The Mac Observer

Read the full piece for a more informed view than I can give you. But then take away that if this keyboard does come to all computers, it’s fine.

Apple Music is good

As I write this to you, it’s about 5am and I realise I’m not in the mood to listen to any music. More often, though, if I’m here working away on my own and most especially when I have to really concentrate on the job, I will be playing music – and now I think that means I will be playing Apple Music.

Certainly for the next three months while it’s free, anyway.

Apple Music is like Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and many other services: you can listen to just about any music you like, just about whenever you like. Streaming music should be a familiar concept to me because that’s surely what radio has always been yet somehow I find it hard to get used to the idea. I’m so used to buying music, whether that is on vinyl, CD or download, there is the choosing and the buying and the playing.

Now there’s really just the playing as you don’t buy an album per se and I think you don’t choose in quite the same way. You explore, you sample, you don’t think about whether to invest some cash in this artist or that album.

I’ve liked the idea enough that I got a free Spotify account to try it all out and for over a year I’ve been playing it a lot in the car. Only, Spotify defaults to trying to recommend music to you and I always disliked or even loathed its choices. They made me feel very old and I don’t need any help feeling very old.

Spotify stops recommending stuff if you create a big enough playlist of favourite choices. I created such a playlist: 50 or so tracks that I like a lot. Only, I’ve ended up playing just those 50 over and over. I’m not unhappy: sometimes it’s perfect, sometimes it’s not.

It’s not as if I play the same 50 in the same order: unless you pay for a Spotify account, you can only play things on shuffle. It did just feel that some days Spotify got my mood exactly right and other days it didn’t.

You also get ads on Spotify every three songs or so. I got very used to those and, I don’t know, maybe I got close to paying for an account. That would remove the ads, that would allow me to play the song I wanted when I wanted, it would let me play an album in sequence.

I’ll never know how close I came, not now. For if I do end up paying for a streaming music service, it will not be Spotify. Not any more. It will be Apple Music.

I’m just trying to define why. Writing for MacNN.com about it, I concluded that I and we like it a lot:

We’d say love, but come on, the paint’s still wet, let’s take this affair a little slow for a time: we’ve got three months of dating before we have to make a commitment.

Hands On: Apple Music (iOS, OS X, Windows) – William Gallagher, MacNN (30 June 2015)

Read the full piece for more specifics about how it works and what’s good but after a night’s reflection, I think it comes down to two things that will help me while I work.

I think.

There’s the way I could just leave it running playing fairly random tracks but generally ones I like or am going to like: you give it some nudges about what you’re into as you set it up and it seems to do rather well with that information. That’s good.

But there is no question: the ability to just say aloud “Hey, Siri, play ‘Life is a Celebration’ by the Kids from Fame” and have it do that, that is startlingly great. Siri doesn’t work on Macs, which is going to be an issue as that’s where I spend most of my day, but using it via my iPhone and iPad for one day, I’ve become addicted to this feature.

They used to do this on Star Trek: “Computer, play some Bix Beiderbecke”. And it’s here.

My iMac returns home later today from having a repair done: when it’s here and I’ve updated iTunes, I’m going to see if I can use Siri to control it via my Apple Watch. My entire working day may change if it works.

NOTE: To play Apple Music, you need iTunes on your Mac or Windows PC, or an iPhone or iPad. Android stuff coming later.

Weekend read: How ResearchKit was made and will transform our health

Imagine ten trials, several thousand patients,” said Friend, the founder of Seattle-based Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit that champions open science and data sharing. “Here you have genetic information, and you have what drugs they took, how they did. Put that up in the cloud, and you have a place where people can go and query it, [where] they can make discoveries.” In this scenario, Friend said, patients would be able to control who could access their information, and for which purposes. But their health data would be effectively open-sourced.

The crowd was receptive. Several people looking to share their data with scientists stood up to ask what options they had. There were a few open-source health data projects in the works, Friend replied, but nothing fully-formed. “We’re pretty close,” he reassured them.

He was closer than he thought. Sitting in the audience that day was Mike O’Reilly, a newly minted vice president for medical technologies at Apple.

The inside story of how Apple’s new medical research platform was born – Daniela Hernandez, Fusion (17 March 2015)

Give Apple credit for having some class. In the middle of their big launch of the Apple Watch and new MacBook, they devoted equally as much time to a thing they won’t profit from and are even giving away so that other manufacturers can use it. It’s a medical tool called ResearchKit: specifically, it’s a tool to let medical professionals build applications that will use your iPhone. You know that thing you have with you constantly and which can now monitor how much exercise you take? That thing where you can fill out a medical questionnaire so quickly that you will actually do that instead of putting it off? That.

ResearchKit is going to be a boon for the type of medical research that needs trials and lots of data. Read the full piece for how it happened and what it’s going to do for us.

Weekend read: Swiss watchmakers have no chance against Apple

If the Apple Watch is a hit, it won’t be because Apple is winning over would-be Tag Heuer or Rolex customers. It’ll be because Apple will have convinced tens of millions of people to wear tiny computers on their wrists. Those people will then have no need for “watches.” Apple has some work to do here—most people are still far from convinced that they need one of these things, and the design could be thinner and prettier. But it’s starting strong.

Meanwhile, there’s no reason to believe that the people who buy Tag Heuer watches for their craftsmanship have any interest in tracking their fitness or getting text message notifications on their horological heirlooms. And if you’re buying a classic mechanical watch, it’s supposed to last forever, to be passed down to your offspring—not to go obsolete after a couple of years.

Why Swiss smartwatches have no chance against the Apple Watch – Dan Frommer, Quartz (19 March 2015)

Right now I am wearing a wristwatch that has no hands and no digits: its face just has the word “now” written on it. By far the most accurate watch I’ve ever had, though lately I do think it’s been losing a few seconds. Still, much as I like and rely on it, it’s going. I will be buying an Apple watch because I already see how I’ll use it. At £300 it will be the most expensive watch I’ve ever bought yet I am persuaded, I see the value. I’ve never seen the value in expensive analogue watches – or rather, I’ve never seen the value to me. I definitely appreciate the artistry and engineering brilliance, but this is the first time I’ve recognised a specific worth to me of an expensive watch.

So I think Frommer may be right: Swiss watchmakers could even be wound up.

Read the full piece.

“Lose sight of the shore”

I don’t even care what this was about, I am just very taken with a phrase that Apple’s Tim Cook just used in an interview about the company.

Still, so you get the full context, here’s the thing. Apple is unusual in that it will ditch popular things because it thinks they’re on the way out. That sounds impossibly arrogant and the company’s rivals which hang on to everything sound like they’re doing us a favour. But time and again, Apple turns out to be right and every manufacturer ditches the floppy drive, the CD, the DVD and more.

Actually, Apple’s even ditched bigger things: once it ceased production on the world’s most popular MP3 player – I can’t remember which iPod it was but one of them – in order to bring out a complete replacement. Which then did better.

Enough. Here’s the quote in context:

“Part of the reason Microsoft ran into an issue was that they didn’t want to walk away from legacy stuff,” Cook says. “Apple has always had the discipline to make the bold decision to walk away … We changed our connector, even though many people loved the 30-pin connector. Some of these things were not popular for quite a while. But you have to be willing to lose sight of the shore and go. We still do that.”

Tim Cook on Apple’s Future: Everything Can Change Except Values – Rick Tetzeli and Brent Schlender, Fast Company (18 March 2015)

Actually, have a read of the whole thing as it’s a rather absorbing piece. But, it’s that line, isn’t it? Lose sight of the shore and go.

Reminds me of Dar Williams’s lyric from We Learned the Sea that “the stars of the sea are the same for the land”.

Walk out of meetings you don’t need to be in

There’s a true story of Apple’s Steve Jobs telling someone they weren’t needed in this meeting, go away. But there is also the endlessly true endless story of our endlessly ending up in meetings we have no interest in. Worse than no interest, we have no stake in, nobody cares what we think, we don’t care what we think, we are there in body alone.

So go away.

Five or ten minutes into many meetings at Etsy, Eric Fixler, a senior software engineer at the time, would pick up his stuff and just walk out the door, mumbling something about not being useful here. If he had nothing to contribute, he went and found a better use of his, and our, time… teaching me a valuable lesson along the way.

There is no reason to sit in a meeting to which you add no value. Everyone invited should be there for a reason, and if you are there for a reason, you should be actively contributing, regardless of role or seniority. We hired you for your experience and insight, not to be a wallflower. If you can’t actively contribute to this particular discussion, there should be nothing wrong with leaving. We certainly don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time. Everyone at a startup has a million things to do.

Thus was born The Fixler, a simple and powerful rule: If you are sitting around a conference table and your presence isn’t necessary nor adds value to the others in the room, you may get up, say ‘Fixler’, and walk out without explanation or penalty.

Pull a Fixler – Jesse Hertzberg, Title Needed (6 February 2015)

Read the full piece. Also, hat tip to 99U for finding and analysing this.

Damn them: I didn’t want a new MacBook

See what they did to me? I was watching the Apple Keynote specifically to get pricing details for the new Apple Watch and as well as that, I’ve started lusting after the new MacBook.

I will resist.

I will resist.

It costs from £1,049 but, hey, you know, free delivery counts for something.

But look. More details on Apple’s site