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apple

Skipping the iPad Pro

I just can’t justify buying the new iPad Pro.

Don’t get me wrong; Apple’s new tablets are gorgeous. I’m impressed by the edge-to-edge display, the Braun-inspired squared edges, and the overall thinness. And the new Apple Pencil fixes all of my biggest complaints: the cylindrical (roll-prone) profile, the fiddly end cap, and the awkward charging method. Overall, the iPad Pro looks like an incredible upgrade.

But it’s also incredibly expensive. Jaw-droppingly expensive. Prohibitively expensive (at least for me). Not only Apple raise the cost of entry by $150, they also tacked $20–30 onto the price of each accessory. All told, even if I bought even the cheapest model,1 an Apple Pencil, and the new Smart Keyboard Folio, I’d be dropping just shy of $1,200.

That’s some serious cash—enough to buy a beefy Windows PC, ski passes for the whole family, a passable mountain bike, or a long weekend at the beach, steak dinners included.

If I honestly believed that I would use an iPad Pro, I might be been able to justify its exorbitant price tag. Unfortunately, the evidence is stacked against me. I’ve purchased three iPads in the past, and each one ended up gathering dust. I’ve just never found a great use case for an iPad; my Kindle is better for reading, my laptop is better for writing, and my phone is better for everything else. There was nothing in today’s keynote that makes me think this iPad would be different. (You know, like external touchscreen support?)

The iPad Pro is great for drawing, of course. And I do occasionally doodle. But why plunk down $1,200 when a $15 drawing pad works just as well?

So I’m sitting out this Apple launch, despite a gnawing gadget envy. I’m bummed that I can’t take another crack at the “iPad lifestyle,” but I’m excited to save that money for something I’ll almost certainly enjoy more. ■


  1. I’d get along fine with 64 gigs of storage, but it’s lame that only the 1TB models have 6GB of RAM. ↩︎

Categories
apple

Stranger in a strange land: a long-time Windows power user switches to the Mac

I spent decades using Windows as my primary computing platform. I may not love Microsoft’s OS, but I had learned to live with it, tolerating its quirks and forgiving its faults. By the time I had turned thirty, I was comfortable (if not quite content) in the Windows world.

More recently, though, Apple has managed to win me over. Since picking up an iPod Touch back in 2009, I’ve bought nearly a dozen different iOS devices. Then, I installed OS X in a VM, just so that I could run Omnifocus. And finally, this past July, I switched to an actual Mac as my full-time machine.

Adopting macOS wasn’t quite what I expected—hardly the aesthetic epiphany promised in those old John Hodgman ads. Here are some thoughts on switching to the Mac as a long-time Windows user:

The good!

  • After years spent Alt-Tabbing back and forth from a VM, I’m glad to have all my favorite software integrated into a single platform. There’s only one machine to shut down at day’s end, and I can freely shuffle data between apps. For example, I can now use AppleScript to push work emails to Omnifocus in just a few keystrokes.
  • I love that the Mac gets so much attention from design-minded software developers. Drafts, Fantastical, and Tweetbot are now indispensable parts of my daily workflow; none of these apps have true equivalents in the Windows world.

The bad.

  • Windows may lack polished indie apps, but there’s an equivalent problem on the Mac: underbaked enterprise-grade software. Microsoft Office is far superior on Windows: faster, more reliable, and more feature-rich. In fact, I’m forced to keep a PC close at hand, just so that I can occasionally boot into Windows to fix the formatting of an email or a PowerPoint deck.
  • It’s not just Microsoft’s apps, either. Cisco’s Webex is terrible on all platforms, but it’s far worse on the Mac. It takes me twice as long to join meetings as my Windows-running colleagues, and entire features are absent in the Mac app. For example, I can’t choose which display to share when I’m on a conference call.
  • macOS’s native PDF export options are surprisingly sub-par. Back on Windows, the PDF print dialog offers a rich suite of formatting options. But on the Mac, exporting a PDF feels like a guessing game, with no rich preview and a paltry set of levers to try.
  • I miss the ability to pin documents to apps in the taskbar (or the Dock, in macOS parlance). The built-in “Open Recent” command doesn’t cut it—and it’s only available when the app itself is open!
  • Windows is far better than the Mac when it comes to onscreen app arrangement. “Snapping” windows works so well that the Mac’s “Split View” feels like an afterthought. Yes, you can install third-party Mac utilities that imitate Window’s native behavior (I’m partial to Magnet), but that functionality should come baked in, for free.
  • Finally, this isn’t a software issue, but I don’t understand the MacBook’s charging brick. On the one hand, I like being able to disconnect the USB-C cable and wrap it up separately. On the other hand, the pluggable brick can easily fall out of some outlets, depending on the angle and slot design. That never happened with the PC power cords I’m used to.

The ugly.

  • macOS feels slow. Honestly, Windows feels downright snappy. On the Mac, it takes longer to launch programs, switch between them, and close them at day’s end. And macOS’s penchant for animating everything often gets in my way. Windows somehow felt “closer to the metal” (even if that’s not technically true).1
  • The Mac’s window model drives me crazy. For some reason, closing an app’s window doesn’t close the app. Instead, the program hangs around, burning resources in the background. And because there’s no easy way to close apps with the mouse, I often end up with far more apps open than I need.
  • There’s something wonky about macOS’s Bluetooth stack. I can’t use more than one Bluetooth device at a time. When I connect both my Logitech mouse and my Plantronics headset, audio playback stutters and skips. This is apparently a known issue, and there are a variety of proposed workarounds, but this never happened on my PC.

Wrap-up

To be fair, most of my complaints boil down to unfamiliarity. A life-long Mac user would probably have the reverse experience switching to Windows. For me, though, macOS feels like foreign territory; I don’t know the terminology and I sometimes struggle to find my way around. ■


  1. FWIW, my most recent Windows machine and this 2017 MacBook Pro are roughly equal, spec-wise. ↩︎
Categories
apple

How much should Apple Watch cell service cost?

For me, run prep often feels more exhausting than the workout itself. That’s particularly true in wintertime, when cold weather demands a long list of layers: track pants, long-sleeve T, light jacket, gloves, fleece hat, and neck buff. Predawn runs require that I add a blaze-orange vest and a headlamp, for visibility’s sake.

Then there’s the tech gear: Apple Watch on the wrist, AirPods in the ears, Polar heart rate strap around my chest, and the iPhone, tucked into a “fanny pack” at my hip. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it can take me fifteen or twenty minutes just to get out the door, start-to-finish.

Given this overly complex arsenal, I’m glad for any change that speeds up workout prep or simplifies my running accoutrements. For example, I was thrilled to discover that the Series 4’s heart tracking is good enough to forgo the Polar strap.

Similarly, I’d rather leave behind the heavy iPhone, which bangs against my thigh in its fanny pack. But losing the iPhone’s cell connection has distinct disadvantages; I can’t change my “running soundtrack” on the go, and I’m on my own should I have a heart attack or get clipped by a car.

So why not just pony up for the cellular model? In short, it costs too much! Consider the “real” price:

  • $100 more up front for the cell-capable model (versus the GPS-only edition)
  • $15 extra per month for the AT&T service (once you figure for taxes and fees)1
  • An undetermined amount to change our base data plan. Dumping our grandfathered family package (which doesn’t support the Apple Watch) would require at least another $35 monthly.

All told, sporting a cellular Apple Watch means $50 or $60 more each month than I’m paying now. I’d love the added convenience and peace of mind, but are they worth that much?


Even if you accept the higher device price and ignore our particular data plan problem, you’ve still got that pesky monthly fee. So… what is a reasonable price for an Apple Watch cell connection? I polled my tiny Twitter audience:

Poll time. What’s a fair price for adding an Apple Watch to your cellular plan?

— Matt Hauger (@matthauger) September 18, 2018

Poll results notwithstanding, I don’t expect a free ride from AT&T for the Apple Watch. But $15 feels like too much. Ten bucks seems more reasonable—but that should include taxes and fees. ■


  1. Some carriers do better than AT&T on this. For example, U.S. Cellular (which actually has good coverage in my rural area) lets you add an Apple Watch for free on some cell plans. But their network is small, and their roaming agreements come with pretty severe data use restrictions. ↩︎
Categories
apple

Imagining external touchscreen support on the iPad Pro

Ever since rumors first surfaced of USB-C support in the forthcoming iPad Pros, I’ve wondered about what that means for the iPad’s future.

Most likely, this riddle has a simple (and somewhat disappointing) answer: the new iPad Pros will allow screen-mirroring to 4K displays over the USB connection. (The current Lightning AV adapter only supports mirroring at 1080p).

But what if “external display support on iPad” represented something more interesting? Something like… this?

iPad Pro touchscreen concept

(Excuse my crude drawing!) To summarize what I’m proposing here, I’d like to see the iPad Pro support external touchscreen displays—effectively turning a touch monitor into a giant iOS device.

The basic form factor would resemble Microsoft’s Surface Studio—especially its sweet tilting hinge, which swings the display from a traditional, perpendicular alignment down to a drafting table angle, right at your fingertips.

Unlike the Studio, my imagined setup would put the “brains” of the operation into the iPad (rather than into a weighted base). Another change from the Studio: =Apple could take advantage of the “docked” iPad to display a virtual touchpad and/or some accessory controls (like Photoshop palettes or a zoom dial).

Questions

Do you really think Apple’s ready to debut something like this?

Nope. But wouldn’t it be amazing if they did?

Why not just buy a Surface Studio?

Well, for one, the Studio starts at $3,500. That’s awfully steep.

Even if it were cheaper, I’m still not convinced that porting touch support to a legacy OS was such a great idea. Check out this preview of the brand-new Surface Studio 2; I can’t help but notice the jittery scrolling and laggy stylus support. And, while Windows grows more touch-friendly with each release, you don’t have to dig very far to find decades-old cruft that’s ill-suited for finger manipulation.

Would this external iPad display require touchscreen control—or would iOS also gain support for external pointing devices—mice and trackpads?

Who knows? A few months ago, I might have guessed that Apple would never add a legit mouse cursor to iOS. But the UIKit-based “Marzipan” apps in macOS Mojave prove that Apple’s not above allowing iOS(ish) apps to be controlled with a mouse. Plus, as many others have observed, iOS already supports a “cursor mode” in text fields; this could simply be expanded to allow clicking and dragging across the entire UI.

Finally, there’s that enigmatic reference to a “Puck” input method unearthed by (who else?) Guilherme Rambo a few weeks back. Could “Puck” be a tongue-in-cheek reference to iPad mouse support?

Even if iOS does add mouse support, I expect that it would be a secondary input method—an addition to touch (rather than an alternative). That’s why I would bet on external touchscreen support happening before (or alongside) mouse support. For a different take on the “external touchscreen or mouse” question, though, listen to the last few minutes of Matt Birchler’s most recent podcast episode.

Why not just build a bigger iPad?

I struggled with this. Apple’s already proven its preference for self-contained systems, from the original Mac to the iMac to the iPad itself. They like to own the whole widget, so why not build a really big iPad widget, with the “guts” of the computer embedded behind the screen (or in the base, a la the Surface Studio)? No wires, no dongles—no muss, no fuss.

That’s possible, of course. But my gut tells me that the iPad should remain a portable device. There’s real value in being able to disconnect your accessories and carry your computer with you. After all, isn’t that a major reason the laptop has hung around so long? It’s convenient to have one device that fits in your backpack and can drive big screens. Why wouldn’t that be true for the iPad, too?

It’s also probably easier to convince customers to buy an iPad accessory (that would work with future iPad purchases) than to sell a “desktop iPad” (that would be outdated within two or three years).

What about an iPad “extended desktop”?

Power users of macOS (and Windows) rely on the platform’s support for multiple monitors, side by side. But on a touch-first OS, such a setup presents a problem: how do you deal with the physical separation of the two screens? How, for example, would you drag and drop a file from one display to the other with your finger? You’d hit one screen’s bezel and be left with no way to “bridge the gap.”

In my sketch above, the iPad itself becomes an accessory to the external display. iOS might use the smaller device to display app-specific controls or a virtual touchpad. This side-steps the “gap” problem while still making some use of the “docked” iPad.

What about ergonomics? Wouldn’t this “drafting table” design wreak havoc on users’ backs?

I’m not sure! But artists and architects have used these sorts of desks for many decades. It’s a proven design, and it answers the “gorilla arms” objection Apple has raised about PC touchscreens in the past.

How much would this thing cost?

A lot—more than the iPad itself, I would guess. The Apple Cinema Display was listed at $899 in 2010. Given that my hypothetical device would include capacitive touch, Pencil support, and maybe a Face ID sensor, I would think it might cost at least that much.

Final thoughts

Again, this is wish-casting to the nth degree. We haven’t heard any rumblings from the supply chain that would point to such a device, and I wouldn’t bet on seeing its debut at Apple’s October 30 event.

But something like this seems inevitable in the not-too-distant future. Until the iPad can drive big, honking, external displays, iOS will struggle to supplant its older sibling as Apple’s primary pro computing platform. ■

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apple

My one complaint about the Apple Watch Series 4 hardware

There are plenty of things I love about the Apple Watch Series 4’s hardware: its thinner profile, its faster processor, and (especially) its larger screen.

What don’t I like? I really only have one gripe: battery life.

Based on my few weeks of use, the Series 4 has noticeably worse battery life than its predecessor. I rarely cracked the 50% barrier after a full day wearing the Series 3. With the 4, however, I’m often down to 40 or even 30 percent by day’s end.

That anecdotal evidence jives with more measurable figures; according to Apple itself, the larger Series 4 has 16.5% less battery capacity than the comparable Series 3 model. Presumably, Apple shaved away battery volume in order to produce a thinner aluminum enclosure. Honestly, I’m OK with that compromise. After all, the Watch still easily makes it through a busy day.

However, the decreased battery life does degrade my Watch experience in at least one way. In the past, I could set the Watch on its charger when I climbed into bed, and by the time I would get sleepy, it had fully charged. That meant I could slip it onto my wrist before drifting off, use it to track my sleep quality, and still wake to more than 90% charge.

Alas, that’s not possible anymore. It’s rare that the Series 4 has reached 75% charge by the time I get drowsy. I either have to (a) forgo sleep tracking altogether or (b) don the Watch for sleep and start the new day with handicapped battery life. ■

Categories
ipad

My rules for tipping on those iPad “cash registers”

Working from home has many perks, but it can be lonely. Realizing this, a few months ago, I resolved to spend my Friday afternoons working from our local coffee shop. Changing venues boosts my productivity, reconnects me to my community, and gives me an opportunity to think strategically about the upcoming week.

The baristas there know me by sight at this point, and they’ve memorized my order, too: a 16-ounce mocha latte with ¾ shot of chocolate syrup and 2 shots of espresso. I’ll typically add a maple-walnut scone (perfect for dunking).

After the clerk keys in my order, she flips around the iPad that serves as the shop’s cash register. I’m then faced with one of modern retail’s most awkward exchanges: the tip touchscreen.

Jennifer Levitz reflected on the dilemma in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

Tip jars have long sat on counters, but consumers have all sorts of viable excuses for avoiding them or tossing in just a few coins, such as not having the right change, according to Michael Lynn, a professor and tipping expert at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Not so, he says, with the electronic tip prompts that explicitly require consumers to opt out of gratuities. “You can’t even pretend like you forgot,” he says. “It clearly ups the social pressure to tip.”

Here are my rules for navigating this situation from now on: if the barista concocts a custom drink—frothing a latte or blending a smoothie—I tip a dollar per cup (or maybe a bit more, if the total is already close to an even dollar amount). For food that requires prep work—say, toasting a pastry—I’ll tip a modest amount. 10–15% seems fair.

However, if the clerk simply rings up my order, or if they’re just grabbing a pre-made item from behind the counter, I’m probably not going to tip.

What do you think? Are these rules reasonable—or do they make me a cheapskate? ■

Categories
travel

Is checking luggage a life hack?

I don’t currently own a suitcase small enough to serve as a carry-on for most domestic flights. For my work travel, then, I typically check my bag—and cough up the thirty-dollar charge (thank goodness for reimbursable expenses).

For most people, though, that checked-bag fee has changed air travel. To avoid paying extra, many passengers opt for carry-ons instead. On every flight I board, the overhead bins are jam-packed.

The bag fee’s side effects extend beyond the cabin. Because there are fewer checked bags, tarmac employees have less unloading work to do after a flight arrives. They can quickly clear the plane’s luggage compartment and promptly deliver the bags (via carts and conveyers) to the baggage claim. In fact, by the time I’ve disembarked from the plane, stopped by the restroom, and found my assigned baggage claim area, my bag is often already there!

This is a stark contrast to years past, when retrieving a checked bag guaranteed a twenty-minute, shoulder-to-shoulder wait, glumly watching as other people’s bags toppled down the chute.

Now, though, there’s no real penalty to checking a bag (beyond the added cost). There’s no extra travel time, since I have to pass through the baggage claim to leave the airport, anyways. And my journey is more convenient; I don’t have to clear a suitcase through security, or keep tabs on it during airport bathroom breaks, or maneuver it through the Starbucks queue, or steer it down the narrow plane aisle.

Eventually, I’d imagine that airports will reconfigure themselves to accommodate the new luggage economy. Does it really make sense to build and maintain twelve baggage claim stations that barely get used? Do you really need the conveyor belts at the check-in counter, or could you have passengers haul all their luggage (whether carried-on or checked) straight to the gate?

Until that happens, though, I’m reaping the benefits of an air travel infrastructure built around checked luggage. ■

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apple

AirPods are everywhere (except for here)

I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately. While on the road, I’ve noticed some differences between my current hometown (in the rural, remote West Virginia mountains) and the wider world. For example, I’m always encouraged to see more racial and ethnic diversity, compared to the near-monoculture closer to home.

I noticed less profound differences, as well, particularly in the adoption of technology. Take the AirPods, for example. At home, wearing Apple’s wireless earbuds feels awkward, since I rarely see others wearing them. But when traveling, I see AirPods everywhere: in the airport; on city streets; coffeeshops; etc., etc. AirPods have clearly broken through in a huge way—but you wouldn’t know that, walking around my neighborhood.

Why the discrepancy in AirPods adoption? On the one hand, differences in discretionary income probably factor here.All other things being equal, rural West Virginians are less likely to have the financial flexibility to spend $150+ on headphones—especially since perfectly serviceable alternatives come free in the box.

But AirPods’ rarity here may have something to do with lifestyle, as well. Travelers and city-dwellers are more likely to need the AirPods’ flexibility and portability. Commuters spend big chunks of their days sitting on the bus, waiting in airports, and pacing city blocks. Those are ideal use cases for AirPods, but they rarely apply in rural locales. ■