Does Steve Jobs’ creative philosophy (“Make something wonderful”) apply to obscure bloggers?

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ untimely death. Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, shared this reflection on Twitter:

Here’s a longer version of the same Jobs quotation, which Apple highlighted in the prelude to its September marketing event:

“One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there…. Somehow, in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love, something is transmitted there.”

I don’t feel a strong sentimental connection to Apple’s co-founder, but I find him a fascinating figure: irascible and difficult, yet undeniably visionary, even prescient. At times, he was childishly petulant; at others, he demonstrated careful thinking. So it seemed worthwhile to reflect on how Jobs’ ideas might apply to my renewed blogging and podcasting efforts.

Now, “expressing my appreciation to the rest of humanity” isn’t the way I usually think about my daily writing and recording routines. But maybe it should be; too often, I get hung up on “appreciation” flowing the other way around: from readers and listeners to me. How many times did listeners download this episode? How many views did that post get? Could I ever earn enough followers to monetize this site? Is anyone out there even paying attention?

This sort of selfish obsession quickly leads to discouragement. I lose my motivation to write, and I’m tempted to quit, as I have so many times before. That’s why I haven’t enabled analytics on this site’s current incarnation; I’m terrified that knowing how few readers I have will derail my determination to rise early each morning and do the work.

The Jobs quotation above suggests a more productive approach: ignore my desperate desire for affirmation and appreciation. Instead, focus on the work itself: creating something good, genuine, and helpful. That mindset makes blogging more sustainable, more fun—almost automatic.

Now, the end result may not be “something wonderful”, in Jobs’ parlance, but if I’m investing “a great deal of care and love”, it will be rewarding—to myself, if not to anyone else. ■

Apple Tech

Punching down: should Apple fans mock the Pixel 2’s missing headphone jack?

Yesterday, Google announced two new flagship phones: the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. Because they offer the premiere stock Android experience, and because they boast great hardware (like a terrific camera), the devices will likely prove very popular with those outside the Apple bubble.

Some pundits inside the Apple ecosystem weren’t quite so receptive. Instead of praising Google’s improved design chops or its industry-leading AI features, they mocked Google for removing the Pixel’s analog headphone jack.

Now, maybe turnabout is fair play. Last year, Google poked fun at Apple for nixing the 3.5mm port on the iPhone 7. So why shouldn’t Apple-focused writers do the same thing, now that the Pixel has followed suit?

For me, the problem lies in Apple’s dominant market position. Apple’s handset business dwarfs Google’s in both unit sales and profit.[1] Whereas the iPhone has made Apple tremendously powerful, supremely confident, and unfathomably rich, the Pixel remains little more than a side project for Google.

So when Apple fans snarkily ridicule other companies’ devices, they do so from a lofty perch; it feels like “punching down” on Apple’s behalf. That may not be wrong, per se, but it’s not very funny, either. The world’s most dominant technology firm doesn’t need an army of apologists, patrolling the Internet for proof that Apple was right. Apple can look out for itself; it’s no longer the downtrodden underdog of the 1990s, struggling just to stay afloat.

Yes, this is a double standard. Is it fair if Google aficionados snidely deride the iPhone, while Apple’s followers hold their tongues? Maybe not. But when your team is winning, good sportsmanship demands that you dial down the trash talk. After all, nobody likes a sore winner. ■

  1. Google has likely shipped 1–2 million of the original Pixel since its October 2016 launch, whereas Apple sells over 200 million iPhones each year. Its dominance doesn’t end there; from a marketing perspective, Cupertino owns the mobile mindshare and can suck the atmosphere from the room with every announcement. Technologically, Apple’s A-series chips decimate the competition in benchmark tests. And finally, Apple’s strategic decisions steer the entire industry, charting the course in everything from hardware deprecation (e.g. the headphone jack) to accessory sales (the iPhone will make Qi chargers ubiquitous) to software features (every flagship phone now includes a ‘portrait mode’).


The everyday annoyance of quitting Facebook

I first shuttered my Facebook account a few months ago. For the most part, I haven’t felt tempted to reactivate, even though I miss reading friends’ comments on our kid’s photos.

But Facebook isn’t just “sticky” from a relationship perspective. There are also some practical annoyances that make it difficult to resist the blue behemoth. From time to time, I’ve even given in and and temporarily reopened my account (then immediately deactivated it again). Here’s what keeps dragging me back:

  • Many web services rely on Facebook identity for authentication. When I sold my old Apple Watch a few weeks ago, I was forced to reactivate my Facebook account in order to log into Swappa. Lesson learned: whenever possible, avoid using third-party services (e.g. Facebook, Google, or Twitter) to create accounts for new apps and web services. If an app forces you to connect to Facebook, consider skipping it (and letting the developer know why).
  • Some meatspace (i.e., real-life) groups only communicate via Facebook. For example, my local ultimate frisbee “league”[1] drums up attendance each week by posting to a shared Facebook group. Without an active account, I can’t chime in—or even check whether anyone else is planning to show up. Lesson learned: I only have myself to blame here, since I was the one who originally created the Facebook group. Looking back, a shared text message thread would have accomplished the same thing, while remaining platform-agnostic.
  • Similarly, many local businesses use Facebook as their only web presence. I’ve occasionally been tripped into logging in, just to get at a restaurant’s operating hours or menu. Lesson learned: fortunately, most Facebook page info is accessible to anonymous users, though it’s not hard to imagine Facebook someday locking this data behind their authentication wall. In that case, there’s not much you can do, unless you want to (a) pester business owners by complaining about their skimpy web presence or (b) offer to help them establish a “real” website. And even if you have the time for this, many business owners are reluctant to pay for web hosting, when so many of their customers live in Facebook anyways.
  • Since I started blogging again, I’ve wondered whether I ought to be promoting my posts and podcasts on Facebook. I don’t want to do this, but it would drive more traffic. Lesson learned: no good solution here. If I want Facebook users’ eyeballs, I will have to reopen my account and cross-post there. There’s no way to update a Facebook page without maintaining an active personal profile.

Of course, if I were really serious about quitting Facebook, I could simply delete my account. At that point, it would be a chore to re-join, since I’d have to rebuild my friends list and repopulate my profile. Momentum would likely keep me from getting sucked into Facebook’s orbit again.

But for all the reasons listed above (and especially the last one), I haven’t yet had the courage to quit, cold-turkey. ■

  1. And by “league”, I mean “a dozen people who like to drop frisbees and jog meekly around an elementary school soccer field.”  ↩


Blaming violent video games

Americans awoke yesterday to revolting news: a gunman opened fire on a Las Vegas concert crowd, killing at least 59 people and wounding hundreds more. This horrifying event has rekindled the country’s long-smoldering debate on gun violence. Why are mass shootings a uniquely American problem?

Inadequate mental health care and lax gun laws are likely causes,[1]  but violent video games are also frequently blamed. Critics point out that the gaming industry’s most popular franchises are war simulators, which let players wield many of the same weapons used to perpetrate real-world attacks.

Is there a causal connection between Call of Duty and mass violence? The evidence isn’t clear. One recent study contradicted previous research by suggesting that playing violent video games has no negative long-term impacts on gamers’ empathy or aggression.[2]

The data is the data, but that conclusion feels wrong to me. I resonated with Marco Arment’s reflections yesterday on Twitter:

Back when I still played video games, I loved the Metal Gear Solid franchise, which encouraged stealth over brutality. In many situations, it was actually easier to tranquilize the enemy or sneak around him, rather than fire live rounds. Knock out the stooge, then hide his comatose body so that his comrades didn’t detect your presence.

Playing Metal Gear “nonviolently” took longer, but at least I didn’t have Henchman #14’s blood on my conscience. I was plagued by the thought that violence—even imaginary violence—could damage my soul somehow. I worried that rehearsing murder would make me less empathetic. Even though the “victims” were algorithms and polygons, attacking them might undermine my own reverence for real-life humanity.

Video games aren’t unique in their tendency to normalize violence. Many other American pasttimes do the same thing. We hand our children toy pistols, then encourage them to mime-murder each other. Before our sporting events, professional soldiers toting firearms preside over a national anthem whose lyrics celebrate war. We ravenously consume MMA, boxing, and football—“sports” that treat gladiatorial violence as marketable entertainment.

These “harmless” practices aren’t the direct causes of our mass shooting epidemic. But they’re symptoms of a sickness in the American psyche, a perverse reverence for violence. We happily steep ourselves in foul waters, then act surprised when monsters emerge from the depths. ■

  1. For the record, I strongly support tighter firearm regulation, but the evidence for the potential effectiveness of tougher laws isn’t quite as clear as one might expect. ↩
  2. In fact, some psychologists have even suggested that violent games reduce violence by giving men and boys a harmless outlet.  ↩

Artwork adapted from vector imagery by Alvara Cabrera and Freepik.

Apple Culture

Putting the iPhone’s expense in context

Ten years ago, I had just started grad school, and the newly-released iPhone seemed like an unimaginable extravagance. Hundreds of dollars upfront, then a recurring bill… forever? It seemed like a device targeted at the rich and foolish.

But by the time I finished grad school, three years later, I had bought the iPhone 4. Since then, I’ve upgraded every two years: iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 7. And from here on out, I may buy a new iPhone every year, starting with the recently-announced iPhone X.

How did this happen? How did I move from “the iPhone is a ridiculous expense” to “I want a new one very year”?

First, there’s the coincidence factor: the iPhone rose to prominence just as our careers were getting started. My wife and I scraped by during our grad school days, working stints in low-paying administrative jobs to support each other’s studies. Back then, tacking $100+ onto the monthly budget seemed impossible; paying the rent and affording groceries were difficult enough. Now, a decade later, both of us work steady jobs, and we have more discretionary income to apply to gadget purchases.

But even if our financial situation hadn’t changed, the iPhone would have been difficult to resist. The device has grown more capable and usable with each passing year, replacing a variety of standalone devices that we would have otherwise purchased. Consider:

Device Price per year Notes
Camera $200 ($1,000+ every 5 years) Our iPhones have relegated our old point-and-shoot to the junk drawer. And we almost certainly would have bought a DSLR by now, in order to document our daughter’s early years. The iPhone X’s chief appeal is its dual-lens camera system; it’s tricky to capture a toddler’s madcap antics without a zoom.
iPod / MP3 player (x2) $166 ($500 every 3 years) We each owned various digital music players before our first iPhones. My beloved iRiver iHP-120 gave way to the iPod touch, the bridge device that first convinced me how useful a pocket computer could be.
Dedicated GPS $67 ($200 every 3 years) I’m astonished that there’s still a market for these standalone navigators. I’m more astonished that the Wirecutter thinks they’re better than just using your smartphone.
Document scanner $50 ($250 every 5 years) For light document scanning needs, Scanbot does the trick. It’s not as fast as a dedicated device like the ScanSnap, but it easily bests a a flatbed scanner. This is definitely a case where “good enough” wins out.
Portable voice recorder $20 ($80 every 4 years) I would want this to record the Careful Tech podcast when I’m traveling.
Mini flashlight (x2) $10 ($40 every 4 years) In high school, everyone carried the Maglite Mini. Now, for everyday purposes, the iPhone’s built-in flash does the job.

That’s over $500 in annual gadget expenses that our iPhones render unnecessary. And that ignores the new uses that standalone gadgets can’t match—in particular, the iPhone’s portable computing ability, whose value is hard to overstate but difficult to quantify.

In other words, the iPhone X’s $1,000 price tag is deceptive. Yes, that’s a lot of money. But to some extent, it’s money that would otherwise be spent buying less flexible devices.[1]

  1. Most of the functions listed above could be handled by an older smartphone—one that costs a fraction of the new hotness. There is a tax for living on the bleeding edge. But some of that extra expense can be recovered by reselling your old phone to pay for the new.  ↩

Culture Tech

“Alexa, please!”: a “polite mode” for voice assistants

Manners do not come naturally to two-year-olds. We’re constantly reminding our toddler that “please” and “thank you” are magic words. “How should you ask for more milk?”, we sigh. “More milk, please!”, she yells, catching on.

As parents, we’re always looking for ways to instill and reinforce politeness in our daughter. We even try to speak courteously when speaking to our various voice assistants: “Alexa, please set a timer for five minutes.” “Hey, Siri! Could you please show the weather forecast?”

This might seem silly. After all, “Alexa” and “Siri” aren’t people; they’re front-ends for voice search algorithms. They don’t care whether we ask nicely or bark like power-mad drill sergeants.

But our daughter is paying close attention when we speak to Alexa; in fact, she’s desperate to mimic the magic incantation that conjures music out of nowhere. Often, she tries to invoke the spell herself: “Alexa, please play ‘Jingle Bells’ by Mickey Mouse!” She nearly always tosses that “please” in there; she’s practicing politeness, which feels like a 21st century parenting win.[1]

Even without an eavesdropping toddler, crafting polite voice requests might be worthwhile. The practice reinforces our own courtesy at least as much as it retrains our daughter. Because of this, I’d like to see the various voice assistants add an opt-in “polite mode”—in which the service would reject insufficiently courteous requests. Leave out the “please,” and Alexa would chirp, “I’m sorry, Matt; you didn’t say the magic word!”

Yes, getting nagged by a robot would be annoying at first. And no, voice assistants don’t care about human conversational niceties. But if our devices can help us establish exercise and meditation practices, why shouldn’t they encourage polite social habits, as well? ■

  1. Fortunately for us, our daughter can’t quite speak clearly enough for the Echo to understand her. There’s only so many times I can stand hearing Goofy belt the little-known third verse of Jingle Bells (“I went out on the snow, and on my back I fell, HYUK!”)  ↩


Why the Apple Watch could replace the iPhone

As Horace Dediu recently observed, in its early days, the iPhone was effectively an accessory to the Mac / PC. But as backup and app management shifted onto the phone itself, desktop tethering grew unnecessary.

In the same way, recent Watch upgrades (specifically, the Series 3’s faster processor and cellular connectivity) could be Apple’s first steps towards detaching the Watch from its tether, the iPhone. And as it grows more capable, the Watch has started to usurp the phone’s role in our lives. Dediu writes,

The Watch is effectively stealing usage from the iPhone. At first it took alerts, timekeeping, and basic messaging away. Now it’s taking basic phone calls and music and maybe maps.

Phoneless computing

The Watch will inevitably continue along this trajectory. It’s not difficult to imagine the iPhone being “eaten alive,” its role absorbed by devices at either end of the size spectrum: the iPad on the large side, the Watch on the small.

To some extent, the Watch and iPad are already capable of shouldering the phone aside. The Watch handles many mobile tasks that previously required my phone: on-the-go notifications, fitness tracking, navigation, and light reading. And increasingly, the iPad can handle the “heavy lifting” tasks: long-form text entry, video and audio editing, and email triage.[1]

Why would anyone want this?

Shifting power computing tasks from the iPhone to the iPad would be fairly painless; the tablet’s larger screen actually makes many jobs easier.

But moving the other direction—shifting casual and mobile computing to the Watch—is trickier. That change comes with some downsides: the Watch’s processor is slower, its battery less capable, and its screen relatively tiny. Why sign up for all those downgrades?

Well, first, there’s the convenience factor. Tracking, carrying, and charging one device is easier than caring for two. And as the use cases for the Watch and the iPhone increasingly overlap, it will feel more and more redundant to keep both of them with you at all times.

Relatedly, the Watch has a major advantage over the phone as a portable device: it’s far less accident-prone. Phones can (and often do) slip out of hands and flop out of pockets, but a device that’s strapped to your body isn’t going anywhere. Also, because the Watch is so small, Apple can build it out of more durable materials (e.g. the scratch-resistant sapphire screen of the stainless steel models).

There’s a final reason that I’d like to see the Watch usurp the iPhone—one that’s more philosophical than pragmatic. Eliminating the pocket computer would help restore our attention to the people and places around us. As miraculous as smartphones have proved, too often we use them to distract us from being present here and now. The moment we even sniff a bit of boredom, we slip out our phones and snort greedily at Facebook or Instagram.[2]

The Watch’s form factor eliminates the temptation to pursue such soul-sapping dead ends. Its screen is too small to browse social media feeds. Its battery life is too limited and the processor too underpowered to watch video or play games. And because I have to lift my arm to view its screen, the Watch discourages extended use; fatigue sets in after just a few seconds.

As a hardware device, then, the Watch is designed to request my attention momentarily, then immediately release it, returning me to return to my surroundings.

Sometimes constraints are a good thing. Although the Apple Watch is less flexible and capable than the iPhone in some ways, its hardware constraints provide “bumper rails” that could help me avoid unhealthy and unproductive computing habits. ■

  1. We’re not quite there yet, though. The Watch needs a few basic additions to become a viable primary device. First, from a software perspective (and as mentioned above, Apple must eliminate the requirement that the Watch be tethered to the iPhone. Second, the Watch needs a camera. Yes, cue the Dick Tracy jokes. And yes, we’ll all look ridiculous holding up our wrists to align our Instagram shots. But I can’t leave behind my phone until Apple fits a great image sensor into its wearable. I’ve grown accustomed to having the best camera I’ve ever owned with me at all times.  ↩
  2. Substitute your mobile drug of choice: Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, Bejeweled, or Words with Friends.  ↩

Pac-Man vector artwork courtesy of Christian Quiroz. Licensed under CC BY 4.0.


A long sentence vs. a short paragraph: on Twitter’s character limit change

Last night, Twitter began public testing of a long-rumored, controversial increase to its character limit, doubling the quota from 140 characters to 280. It’s the most significant change to the service since its debut over a decade ago—the difference between a quip and a quote, between a thought and an idea, between an objection and an argument.

To illustrate this, I’ve pasted a few familiar quotations below; each of these fits under the new 280-character limit; the struck-through text would have been cut off under the old 140-character rule.

Winston Churchill, address to the House of Commons, June 1940

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg address, November 1863

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can long endure.

Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death.

It’ll be fascinating to see how user behavior changes once the longer quota goes live. Until yesterday, every tweet was understandable at a glance. Now, browsing your timeline will require require actual reading (heaven forfend). Will Twitter still feel like Twitter? ■


Running on empty: the Apple Watch’s half-baked HIIT feature

When Apple unveiled watchOS 4 at its developer event in June, I was excited to see major upgrades to the Watch’s workouts app. In particular, the inclusion of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) appealed to me as a runner. HIIT alternates short, intense bursts of anaerobic exercise (“I’m going to die”) with periods of recovery (“Gasp. Gasp. Gasp.”). No, it’s not fun, but it is effective; research shows that HIIT can boost cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, and even brain power.

What should a HIIT app do?

A great HIIT app should include a great HIIT timer. You tell the app your interval length goals. How long should the intense intervals be? The rest periods? The warm-up and cool-down?

Then, once you actually start your run, the HIIT app should alert you every time the intensity level changes. “Beep, beep! Thirty seconds of all-out sprint! Go, go, go!” Then, just when you feel like your heart’s going to explode, finally, blessedly, you get another alert: “Beep, beep! Jog for a minute and rest.” And then the whole cycle starts again; you scale your effort up and down, while the app does stopwatch duty. Maybe it even tracks your effort level via heart rate and taunts you if you’re slacking. The app is the coach, barking orders to you, the athlete.

Apple’s HIIT feature

Apple has access to APIs that third-party developers don’t, so I was eager to see how they would implement these HIIT features. As the long summer of Apple Watch developer betas crawled by, I waited impatiently for the opportunity to test the new workout app for myself. Finally, yesterday, I got my first chance, here on vacation at the beach.

I had imagined myself streaking down the sand, like that famous opening scene from Chariots of Fire. Splashing through the foam. Feet pounding the sand. Eyes closed, face lifted skyward, arms outstretched. My Apple Watch would coach me to a lofty runner’s high; it would command me, and I would fly.

Only… as I quickly discovered, that’s not really how the Watch’s HIIT feature works. Inexplicably, the HIIT workout doesn’t actually do any of that. In fact, it doesn’t really seem to do anything. The workout app includes no interval timing functionality whatsoever. You’re apparently expected to track your progress in your head somehow by watching the clock. That’s problematic. You’re left asking, “Did I start this interval at the 5:15 or the 5:30 mark?” Or “How many intervals is that? Have I finished three or four?”

HIIT requires ruthless timekeeping. You need someone (whether a person or a digital companion) to order you around. Run now. Rest now. Don’t think about it. Just do it. Don’t count the ticking seconds. Focus entirely on your effort level. Apple’s “You’re on your own” approach just doesn’t cut it.


Until Apple adds an interval timer to the workout app, its HIIT feature is pretty useless. Its calorie-counting algorithm may be more accurate than previous workout types, but it does little to help you reap the benefits of high-intensity training. For now, HIIT nerds are better off using a third-party HIIT tracker like Seconds. You’ll lose the official workout app’s perks (like its convenient ‘Now Playing’ pane), but at least you’ll know when to bust your butt and when to take a break. ■


Apple Watch Series 3 review: podcast problems undermine the marquee features

Selling my old Watch

Over a week ago, I reluctantly listed my old Apple Watch for sale online. My Series 3 wouldn’t arrive till Friday, and I dreaded going watchless for the better part of a week, but I also hoped to eke out the best return I could, so I posted my space gray Series 1 to Swappa.

Selling it proved harder than I expected. Days passed, and no serious buyer even nibbled. I dropped my price: $180. $170. $160. Still, no takers. Finally, at $150, a Swappa user bit; I netted about $128 after subtracting the listing fee and my shipping costs. That’s about $100 less than I spent when I bought the device last December. I’m not thrilled with its steep depreciation, but $0.37 per day seems pretty reasonable to lease a device with the Watch’s feature set.

The Series 3 arrives

I didn’t buy the LTE model (see my earlier post. Even if I had wanted that feature, I didn’t have enough cash set aside to afford its $80 price premium. (I save for these purchases very intentionally!)[1]

My 42mm, space gray, non-cellular model arrived via UPS on Friday. As a quick aside, I’m amazed at the logistics required to deliver a state-of-the-art gadget to my rural doorstep on the first day of its worldwide availability. We live in a little log cabin in the remote mountains of West Virginia, an hour from the nearest big box retailer and nearly three hours from the closest Apple retail store. Yet when I finished work on Friday and stepped out onto my porch, there it was: a long cardboard box, fresh off the plane from China.

First impressions

Over the course of my nine months with the Series 1, I grew bored with my black sport band. It looked okay, but it didn’t have a lot of character. This time around, I opted for gray. I know, I know; that’s not very flashy, either, but it was the only other option.

In short, I like the new band; its shade includes a hint of brown, and it’s a bit brighter than the Watch’s aluminum case, but the two pair well. Hopefully, this sport band wears better than the last, which had started to flake by the time I sold it last week.

Based on my earlier comparison, I had worried that the Series 3 would feel significantly thicker than my old Series 1. But I’m happy to report that I haven’t noticed a major difference—it feels identical on my wrist, and I don’t notice its added bulk when I glance down. Now, that doesn’t mean that this Watch’s thickness is “ideal”; it’s a little chunky, and I hope Apple can break the 10mm barrier in the not-too-distant future.

New (to me) features

Compared to the Series 1, watchOS 4 feels snappier on the newer device. Apple claims 70% better performance; for me, the gains are just enough to make third-party apps feel consistently responsive. Dumping the honeycomb (a new option in watchOS 4) helps tremendously. Whereas finding and launching an app could take thirty seconds or more before, now it takes just a few seconds.

I’ve been enjoying the Series 3’s improved water resistance (versus the Series 1, which was splash-proof but couldn’t be immersed). I don’t really want to wear my smartwatch in the shower, but I love being able to rinse off the Watch every time I wash my hands. A clean device is a happy device, right?

Another improvement: the Series 3 screen apparently gets far brighter than that of the Series 1. But I never found the Series 1 to be too dim, and I keep my brightness level too low for this to matter much to me.

Then there are the location-based features; the Series 3, like the Series 2, includes standalone GPS. In addition, it boasts a barometric altimeter for tracking elevation. As a runner, these features appeal to me. But there’s a problem.

Podcasts: the Apple Watch’s Achilles heel

Stated succinctly: the inability to play podcasts from the Watch severely limits its utility. For whatever reason, Apple has declined to build an official Apple Watch podcasts app, and the dearth of audio-related, developer-facing APIs in WatchKit means that third party apps can’t fill the gap. Even the workaround that some podcast apps leveraged in watchOS 3 has been deprecated.

When I run, I listen to podcasts. I don’t have a commute, so that half-hour of exercise is often my only chance to catch up on my favorite shows. A great episode of ATP or Upgrade transforms my workout from a boring slog to a tolerable jaunt. Yes, if I listened to music on my runs instead of podcasts, the Watch could work as a playback device. But that’s not my thing. Podcasts are my thing.

So I’m forced to bring the iPhone, slung into its fanny pack, along for the ride. I feel the its dense heft with every stride, and the running belt somewhat restricts my breathing. Together, these irritating sensations serve as a constant reminder that I’ve got a $700 computer jostling around at my waist.

This podcast drawback effectively means that I’ll never go anywhere with my Watch without bringing my iPhone, too. The Watch’s GPS and altimeter are superfluous, since I’ll always have a phone that includes the same features. And buying the LTE version wouldn’t have made sense (why pay for another cellular connection, when my phone is always in my pocket?).

If Apple ever fixes the podcast problem, everything would change. I could leave the phone at home, and the Watch would suddenly be the perfect running companion. It’s maddening that that Apple is so close here and yet has gone another year without closing the gap. ■

  1. Saving for a potential Apple Watch Series 4 starts now.  ↩