Categories
apple

Does the Series 5 have worse battery life than every previous Apple Watch?

Siegler’s right. I wouldn’t give up the Series 5’s always-on display, but it comes at a high price: significantly worse battery life than its predecessors. I didn’t buy the original (“Series 0”) Apple Watch, but I’ve owned the Series 1, 3, 4 and 5. The S5 is easily the poorest battery performer of that bunch.

Case in point: it’s currently 8 PM, and my Series 5 Watch has fallen “into the red”—18% charge left. Now, to be fair, I haven’t charged the Watch since last night (I wear it as a sleep tracker). And, thanks to the time change here in the U.S., this day has been an hour longer than normal. But I’m still disappointed to be skating so close to “power reserve mode” each evening.

For now, the Series 5’s battery life is… adequate. But I’m not sure that will be true two or three years from now, after a thousand charge cycles. Those are big charge cycles, too; fully depleting the battery day after day will take a toll on battery health.

How much better does Apple Watch battery life need to be? With the Series 3, I could expect 50–60% battery life at the end of an average day. That seems just about right—that extra juice helped the device last through more demanding days. It also left some headroom for the inevitable battery degradation endemic to lithium-ion technology.

Let’s hope that Apple can clear that bar again someday, with some future Watch hardware iteration.

Categories
apple

AirPods Pro observations (that I haven’t seen elsewhere)

I resisted the temptation to buy the AirPods Pro… for an hour or two.

Oh, I still resent the fact that my three-year-old, first-gen AirPods last barely an hour before the batteries die. And I hate adding yet another device to my list of frequently upgraded technology. Most of all, I feel guilty about dropping $250 on the very definition of a luxury item.

Despite all that, I hated the thought of reverting to wired earbuds, with their doorknob snags, cord rewraps, and constant tangles.

So, yes, I’ve re-upped my AirPods subscription and upgraded to the AirPods Pro. In lieu of an actual review, here are a few thoughts that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere:

  • The AirPods Pro are harder to remove from their case. You can still dislodge them with a carefully placed finger, but the rubber tips make nudging them just a bit more awkward.
  • Speaking of those tips, they really draw attention to earwax. With the old AirPods, your excretions filled up the speaker grilles, whose dark color hid some of the grossness. Unfortunately, the AirPods Pro’s lily-white silicone makes earwax easy to spot.
  • The noise cancellation is decent but not miraculous. I’ve never owned “real” over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones, so I don’t have a good comparison point. But don’t expect AirPods Pro to silence the obnoxious speakerphone near your bus seat or the pop soundtrack at Starbucks. AirPods Pro can take the edge off those noises, but it can’t eliminate them altogether.
  • The new gestures aren’t a slam-dunk. Like many others, I didn’t love the old AirPods’ “slam your ear” gestures. However, I was able to execute those gestures in a wide variety of situations—with an open palm, with wet hands, or even wearing full mittens. The new AirPods aren’t so forgiving; gripping the stem with two fingers requires some finesse. I expect this to become even more annoying on winter days, when I’m likely to have gloves on.
  • I’m glad one of the new AirPods gestures allows you to toggle noise cancellation on or off, but I wish it were easier to do this on the Apple Watch. The instructions: swipe up to access Control Center, hit the “Choose audio output” button, choose your AirPods Pro, and then select your noise cancellation option. As with many things on the Watch, that feels like two steps too many.
  • EDIT: With the old AirPods, you could flip each earbud upside-down and place it in the opposite ear. This was useful for placing AirPods under noise-blocking earmuffs—as I did when mowing the lawn. There’s good news and bad news on this front with the AirPods Pro. On the one hand, the “flip the AirPod” trick doesn’t work; the units don’t sense that they’re in my ears, likely because of a shifted proximity sensor. However, as I was happy to discover while leaf-blowing this afternoon, the AirPods Pro fit under my earmuffs in their normal, right-side-up orientation, thanks to their shorter stems.

All in all, I like my AirPods Pro. The improved sound quality and noise cancellation features are welcome additions. But we’re still well short of “peak AirPods.” No doubt Apple will continue to iterate on the product. I just hope the next major revision comes before my AirPods Pro lose their battery capacity (as they inevitably will).

Categories
meta

Impromptu creative month?

I’ve never had much interest in National Novel Writing Month. Since my attempt to pen my own Tolkienesque fantasy saga as a twelve-year-old, I haven’t been tempted to try my hand at fiction.

But today, Shawn Blanc made me rethink my NaNoWriMo disinterest:

Starting today — Friday, November 1 — I’ll be writing and publishing something every day for the whole month of November. Though, instead of writing a novel in a month, I will be simply be focused on publishing something — anything — every single day. From photos, links to interesting things, articles, reviews, etc.

I’ve been looking for a reentry to creative work on the web.

I love this, and I’ve been looking for a reentry to creative work on the web. So, on a whim, I’m planning to follow Shaun’s example—posting something each day throughout November.

So far, so good; this post is Day 1!

Categories
Culture Uncategorized

Thoughts on ‘Hamilton’ and theatergoing in the age of the smartphone

Last week, my wife and I had the opportunity to see Hamilton live in Pittsburgh.

We had decent enough seats—ten or so rows back in the left-hand orchestra section. While the view was partially obscured (we couldn’t see the elevated balcony at stage right), we were close enough to see the actors’ facial expressions clearly.

We had an amazing time. There’s a reason that Hamilton is a worldwide phenomenon; it’s a remarkable work of art. The show is cleverly self-referential—reprising leitmotifs and coyly paying off its dramatic promises. It’s playfully historical—grounding itself in real events but freely reinterpreting them, too. And it’s strikingly original—showcasing a genre foreign to Broadway, while also paying homage to musical theater’s long history.

However, my biggest takeaway from the show had nothing to do with the onstage performance. I was more fascinated by what happened in the theater during intermission. While Emily ran to the restroom, I sat and watched the crowd.

Here’s the thing: everyone was on their phone. I mean, literally 90% of the audience spent the intermission either staring at their smartphone or cradling it in-hand. There were very few exceptions: the very old (some of whom may prefer not to own a phone) and the very young (i.e., kids who probably can’t wait for their first hand-me-down device).

We’ve gone through an incredible societal transformation in just a decade. Twelve years ago, a Broadway intermission would have felt very different. Sure, a few people might have made a phone call on their flip phone, but nobody could’ve pulled an addictive “everything” device out of their pocket.

What did the 2006 audience do during those twenty-minute breaks? Doubtless, many would’ve buried their noses in the program—perusing the cast bios or the second act’s song list. But many attendees would’ve chatted up a neighbor and reflected together on the show. The hall’s decibel level might’ve been significantly louder—many more voices adding to the cacophony (rather than silenced in rapt attention to their phones). ◾

Categories
Distraction

Putting screen time to better use

More than three-quarters of all Americans own a smartphone. In 2018 those 253 million Americans spent $1,380 and 1,460 hours on their smartphone and other mobile devices. That’s 91 waking days; cumulatively, that adds up to 370 billion waking American hours and $349 billion.

In 2019, here’s what we could do instead.

Paul Greenberg conducts a thought experiment: what would happen if Americans reallocated the time and money spent on smartphones into more productive activities?

This article is a little silly. It shocks us by quantifying our excessive device time, but it ignores inconvenient questions. For example…

  1. What’s included in “other mobile devices”? Tablet computers fall into that category, presumably. What about e-readers? Laptops? My point: some “mobile devices” can be used for more productive and beneficial activities than others (e.g. reading, work).
  2. Why assume that all smartphone use is bad? Even if we were talking about smartphones on their own, it’s unfair to pretend that phones can’t also be used to read or pursue social justice.
  3. Why single out the smartphone? It’s not as if laziness or self-absorption didn’t exist before the iPhone’s release in 2007. Time wasted on our phones in 2018 would’ve been wasted on TV in 1988 or on radio in 1948.

Still, Greenberg has a point. We claim that we’re “too busy” to launch a new project, read more, or exercise. But what about the time spent thumbing through Facebook, playing Clash of Clans, or binging on Netflix? If we could reclaim just one hour each day from mindless smartphone use—then apply it towards nobler ends—where might we be a year from now? ■

Categories
Distraction

An antidote for smartphone “zombie syndrome”?

The mind is no computer, but our consciousness still merges with our phones and tablets as seamlessly as a painter’s hand fuses with her brush or musicians vocalize through their instruments. This fusion can happen, Buddhist teaching holds, because consciousness is formless and adopts the qualities of everything it “touches.” Once we’ve immersed ourselves in our screens, they become our whole reality—and that’s why texting drivers look up with surprise when they rear-end the car in front of them.

Zen Priest Kurt Spellmeyer, explaining why he never replaced his lost phone

For Spellmeyer, smartphones extend our minds—and this poses both an opportunity and a threat. Yes, our devices augment our mental capabilities, enhancing memory and accelerating calculations. But our phones also super-charge our penchant for self-distraction. As he explains,

The nonstop novelty prevents us from uncovering the sources of our suffering. We shuttle from one screen to the next, trying to allay our nagging sense that something’s missing or not right.


If you’re anything like me, you’ve frittered away entire afternoons, mindlessly refreshing Twitter or dipping glumly into app after app. Even though you never quite feel satisfied, you keep thumbing around, semi-consciously. Spellmeyer claims that meditation can quell our appetite for distraction and prevent “screen zombie” syndrome. 

For me, meditation hasn’t totally sapped screens of their allure. I still frequently drift between apps on autopilot. But I have noticed one difference: I’m more aware of losing myself, in the moment. Questions arise, like “Is this making me happier?” and “Will I regret this, later today?”

Sometimes, that’s just enough to interrupt the cycle, and I manage to set the phone down. ■

Categories
Future

AI: from chess computer to… god?

Suppose that deeper patterns exist to be discovered — in the ways genes are regulated or cancer progresses; in the orchestration of the immune system; in the dance of subatomic particles. And suppose that these patterns can be predicted, but only by an intelligence far superior to ours. If AlphaInfinity could identify and understand them, it would seem to us like an oracle.

We would sit at its feet and listen intently. We would not understand why the oracle was always right, but we could check its calculations and predictions against experiments and observations, and confirm its revelations. Science, that signal human endeavor, would reduce our role to that of spectators, gaping in wonder and confusion.

Maybe eventually our lack of insight would no longer bother us. After all, AlphaInfinity could cure all our diseases, solve all our scientific problems and make all our other intellectual trains run on time. We did pretty well without much insight for the first 300,000 years or so of our existence as Homo sapiens. And we’ll have no shortage of memory: we will recall with pride the golden era of human insight, this glorious interlude, a few thousand years long, between our uncomprehending past and our incomprehensible future.

Steven Strogatz, writing in the New York Times

At first, AI as “oracle” seems silly. That term has religious overtones, and we typically apply it to mystics and gurus—not to computers.

But if humans really are hard-wired to worship, wouldn’t we instinctively revere an unexplainably accurate future-prediction machine? It’s not a huge leap from “wonder and confusion” to awe and devotion. ◾

Categories
apple

Caught between computers

Caught between computersIn terms of computing platforms, I‘ve been set adrift.

On the one hand, I don’t really want to return to Windows. Don’t get me wrong; unlike many Apple converts, I like Microsoft’s OS, and I frequently miss features and workflows from that platform.

But I left Windows for a reason; my favorite apps—OmniFocus, Procreate, Drafts—are exclusive to Apple’s platforms. There are no real equivalents on Windows, and I’m tired of “making do” with half-baked imitations.

On the other hand, it’s not a great time to have shifted to macOS. Yes, it’s true that Apple has suddenly remembered to make new hardware (see the new Air and Mini or the promised Mac Pro). But the software platform has stagnated, the App Store is eerily quiet, and Mac unit sales have declined in eight of the last twelve quarters, year-over-year. Settling in “Mac land” now feels like buying beachfront real estate in an era of rising sea levels—OK for now, but unsustainable in the long-term.

So what about iOS? Might I make “landfall” there? The short answer is, “Not yet.” Yes, the new iPad Pros are amazing kit, and the software has slowly matured. But too many of my workflows depend on a ‘real’ web browser (e.g. administering SharePoint) or ‘real’ Outlook (building pixel-perfect email templates).

Besides, even if I didn’t work in the enterprise, iOS would be a frustrating place to settle. I want legit external screen support, more robust keyboard shortcuts, and easier font installation. Hopefully, these power user features are on their way. But until they arrive, I can’t make permanent camp on iPad Island. ■

Categories
apple

Smarter AirPods gestures

It’s one of my favorite AirPods features: slip in a single AirPod, and iOS will send a mono-mixed signal to the active unit, while ignoring the other.

I use this all the time. For example, if my AirPods are running low on power, I’ll continue to listen in one ear while charging the other unit in its case.

AirPod rainbow Or consider the road trip scenario: we’re rolling down the highway, mile after mile. As the driver, I’m getting bored, but I can’t fire up the car’s built-in stereo without disturbing my snoozing passengers. Wired headphones are too fiddly to safely set up while driving. But I can easily pop in a single AirPod—without taking my eyes off the road. And because iOS mixes down to mono, I can leave one ear free for key safety signals: a blaring horn or the tell-tale thump-thump-thump of a tire that’s about to blow out.

However, there is one drawback to wearing a single AirPod: playback controls. I’ve set the double-tap gesture on each AirPod to separate functions: bump the left AirPod, and the audio pauses; bump the right, and I jump to the next track (or skip past the boring bits of podcasts).

But when wearing just one earbud, I’m stuck with just one gesture. Either I can’t play/pause (when using the right AirPod), or I can’t skip ahead (when wearing the left).

AirPod options I’d like to see Apple add another setting to the AirPods’ “Double-tap on AirPod” options: “Single.” When I’m wearing just one AirPod, whether it’s the left or the right, let me choose the double-tap action. (I would likely set the option to “Next Track,” since I can pause the audio in a pinch by pulling the AirPod out.) ◾

Categories
apple Uncategorized

Buying an iPad Pro

Happy consumer

We visited family near Philly this weekend; in between activities, I slipped out to visit the Apple retail store at the nearby King of Prussia mall.

As an aside, if you ever have the chance to visit this edifice of consumerism… don’t do it. This is the Mall Experience™ taken all the way up to 11, from the impossible hunt for parking to the shoulder-to-shoulder congestion in the Apple Store itself.

Given the size of that crowd, I was surprised to find a bleached-white table of iPad Pros available—my own personal demo station. I experimented for a solid fifteen minutes, hefting the two sizes, flipping and fingering the Smart Keyboard folio, and sketching with the Apple Pencil.

As you may have guessed, it wasn’t just curiosity driving my visit. I had skipped a planned phone upgrade earlier this fall, and that left some cash in our gadget savings fund. I’d been considering a reentry into the iPad ecosystem, so I almost wanted to fall in love with the 11-inch. I half-expected to leave the mall clutching a wee iPad Pro, the Pencil, and the Smart Keyboard Folio.

That didn’t happen. As I played with the devices, I realized that the 11-inch iPad Pro makes compromises in all the wrong places. If you want a tablet for content consumption and occasional sketching, the 9.7-inch iPad gets you 90% of the way there—at just one-third the price. Sure, you’d be stuck with chunkier bezels, but are slightly thinner black bars worth $500?

On the other end of the spectrum, if you want “more iPad” than the 11-inch iPad Pro offers, the 12.9-inch model retains its advantages over its smaller counterpart—sketching and multitasking are better on the big screen. And thanks to the shrunken bezels, the new 12.9er is suitable for couch computing in a way its predecessor never was. It’s lighter, its footprint is smaller, and it’s surprisingly easy to handle. It’s a compromise you might be willing to make.

The other advantage to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro? Its Smart Keyboard is superior. The arrow keys on the 11-inch’s keyboard felt like tiny, cloth-wrapped chiclets—toy keys on a toy keyboard. Based on some brief experimentation, I also preferred the 12.9-inch keyboard’s viewing angles (though I would want to try both models while sitting before deciding on this).

As I compared, I realized that I didn’t want—and couldn’t justify—buying the 11-inch over its 9.7-inch entry-level sister. I knew that I could probably pick up that model for something like $250 on Black Friday, so I left the mall without making a purchase.

After getting home, however, doubt set in. No, I still didn’t want the 11-inch. But what about that svelte 12.9-inch model? It had felt surprisingly manageable. And If I wanted to buy it, now was the time; Apple’s online store is back-ordered, and we live too far from the nearest retail store to make a sojourn later.

Long story made short, we stopped by the mall again on our way out of town, and I bought the 64GB, WiFi-only, 12.9-inch iPad Pro in Space Gray, along with the second-gen Apple Pencil.

I’m still questioning the decision. $1,200 is a lot of money to spend on a device that could get squeezed out by my phone and my laptop. Fortunately for me, Apple’s generous return policy means I get a 14-day “trial” period to decide whether this iPad will earn a place in my computing workflow. ◾