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Apple Watch Series 7 Review: The best smartwatch you can buy, by far

The Apple Watch Series 7 might just be the perfect smartwatch. Sorry to give the game away this early, but there are no secrets or surprises here — and that’s a good thing. A smartwatch should be an extension of your smartphone, yet also needs to be able to function reliably and usefully on its own. It should provide extensive, motivational, and informative health and activity tracking without alienating those who aren’t athletes. It should look great, and be easily customized to match your mood, style, and environment. It shouldn’t require constant supervision or have complex or gimmicky features that overshadow basic everyday usefulness. New models need to also improve over the previous version, so everyone can consider upgrading if they want.

The Apple Watch Series 7 delivers all this and more. Let’s talk about it.

Design

It’s pretty much impossible to tell the difference between the Series 7 and the Series 6 just by glancing at them. The 1mm increase in case size — 45mm and 41mm for the Series 7 versus 44mm and 40mm for the Series 6 — is only clear if you get a tape measure out, and the slightly greater curve at each edge is only evident if you put the two watches next to each other and look really closely. The speaker on the left-hand side of the case is a single slit rather than the dual slit on the Series 6, but that’s about as obvious as the visual alterations get.

Apple Watch Series 7 on the wrist.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

What you do notice are the much smaller 1.7mm bezels, down from 3mm on the Series 6, and the increase in viewing area. Apple says there’s 20% more screen area visible compared to the Series 6 and the Watch SE, and 50% more than the Apple Watch Series 3. The Ion-X glass over the screen has a contoured edge, so the screen appears to curve toward the case, just like a curved screen on a smartphone.

The version in our photos is an aluminum model in Midnight, which is black in color with a hint of blue, and I chose it as it’s easier to match with more strap options, unlike the blue or green versions. If you have a strap collection from an existing Apple Watch, they will all fit with the Series 7 perfectly, just in case you are worried the 1mm size increase would make them look odd.

Apple Watch Series 7 from the side.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It would be easy to chastise Apple for not changing the design much, but it hasn’t done so because it doesn’t need to. The Series 7 looks fantastic, and the Apple Watch has become a style icon, in my opinion. The gentle curve of the case makes it very comfortable to wear, regardless of which strap you choose, and it’s really light at 38.8 grams without the strap, meaning you can wear it day and night.

While this is also true for some fitness bands, the difference is that the Apple Watch looks good, and it’s incredibly easy to change the complete look of it if you get bored. Apple’s watch faces have evolved a lot, especially in WatchOS 7 and WatchOS 8, becoming classier and more visually exciting, rather than just adding complications. Build a small collection of straps and bracelets, and the Apple Watch is ready to go with anything you’re wearing, and suited to any time of the day.

Apple Watch Series 7 on wrist from the back.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It’s this versatility that makes the Apple Watch such a joy to own. It turns it from a piece of technology to something that’s truly yours. No other smartwatch provides the ease of customization in the same way. You can even just choose the wear-and-forget Sport Loop strap, which is one of the best basic straps you can get, and be set for the duration of your ownership.

The Apple Watch Series 7 doesn’t wear any differently from the Series 5 or Series 6 Watch, and that’s fine. It’s still the most comfortable, most personalized, easiest to live with smartwatch you can buy.

Screen

If the slimmer bezel hasn’t changed the design much, has it changed the screen? Yes, it has, but don’t expect coming from the Series 6 to feel like picking up a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The increase is much more subtle, but Apple has emphasized the difference through WatchOS 8 by using new watch faces like Contour, offering larger fonts, and making better use of the additional space.

App menu on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Buttons are larger and easier to quickly locate, wider notification cards include just that little bit more information, more text fits on screen at once, and you can see more at one time. Swipe up to show the quick settings, and activating a Focus mode takes a less precise action, making it faster than before. But perhaps the best indication of how much screen the Series 7 has gained comes from the three additional font sizes available on it compared to older models.

Apple says the screen is brighter indoors, but I haven’t noticed any difference. However, this may be because I never have any issue reading what’s on it, regardless of whether I’m in sunlight or darkness, or whether it’s showing the main screen or the excellent always-on watch faces. It’s sharp and colorful, and isn’t absurdly reflective either. The Ion-X glass over the top is also tougher and more resistant to cracks than before, but to get the reportedly more durable sapphire glass displays, you have to buy the stainless steel or titanium models.

The smaller bezels make the Series 7 look more modern, too, even when put next to the Series 6, a smartwatch that can hardly be described as old. If you’re coming from a Series 3 watch, the Series 7’s smaller bezels and larger viewing area will transform the experience for you. In this case, the Series 7 is a huge upgrade. I’ve used a Series 6 for the last year, and the additional screen real estate was obvious the moment I started using the Series 7.

Health and activity tracking

The Apple Watch Series 7 takes your heart rate and electrocardiogram (ECG) readings, measures blood oxygen levels, warns of heart rate irregularities, sends out an emergency alert if you fall down, reminds you to start a workout if it notices you’re not moving or cycling, tracks your swimming activity, and automatically starts a timer when you wash your hands. I’m only scratching the surface here, as I haven’t mentioned sleep tracking, dozens of workout plans, Apple’s Fitness+ service, noise alerts, and the mindfulness app yet.

Heart rate on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The health and fitness tracking is comprehensive, detailed, accurate, and in my case, total overkill for my needs — and that’s a good thing. It means should I decide to do more, the Watch will be ready without the need to upgrade. The Series 7 tracks my walks, sleep, and workouts at home without a problem, and it’s so fast and simple to set it in motion I don’t even need to go to the workout app sometimes, as the Watch recognizes I’m doing more than usual and suggests a tracking mode. Or I use the app selection mode by pressing the lower button on the Watch to leap straight into the workout app. It takes seconds, which as a casual exerciser, is what I want.

I also appreciate the “silent” features. Heart rate, blood oxygen, and even noise are all monitored in the background, so should something change, it will let me know. I don’t have to do anything even at setup, as most of these features are active by default. Apple’s Activity Rings give me a clear indicator of my daily activity, and are suitably motivational, with reminders to move around and animated screens when I achieve a goal.

Data is presented in Apple’s Health app. It shows helpful trends that inform about whether you’re doing more or less than usual, overviews of your most recent workouts (including GPS maps), and offers the option to dig deeper. I love the All Health Data list view, which instantly tells you the most up-to-date information, and combines it with historical data, too. Tap each section to see a more detailed breakdown of the data. It’s superbly laid out, very informative, and extremely simple to digest.

Although it’s all very attractively presented with bright colors and neat graphs, the app can feel dense and complicated. But it highlights just how much ability the Watch has and how it can benefit those who are far more focused on fitness than I am. I’d quite like the Health and the Fitness app to be incorporated into one, as I often forget about the Fitness app, which contains further information on daily activities.

The Apple Watch Series 7 is as much of a fitness partner as you want it to be, and it performs just as well regardless of the amount of effort you put into exercise. It has all the ability, data, and motivation you want — or as little as you want — all without irritating messages about pushing yourself to the limit either on the Watch or in the marketing. This ties in with the design and customization, too, as it does all this while looking as sporty or not sporty as you want. It’s excellent.

Software and performance

Apple’s WatchOS 8 software, which was released in September, comes installed and is compatible with all Apple Watch models since the Series 3. It operates in the same way here as it did on the Series 6, and I summed up my experience with the software in an earlier article.

It’s fast, responsive, and feature-packed. I receive notifications from my iPhone 13 Pro without a problem, and I can respond to most of them directly from the Watch. Most messages can be replied to using the keyboard, which has a new QuickType swipe-typing feature. It’s surprisingly accurate and makes it much quicker to type on the Watch’s small screen. I also like how a pop-up will appear on the iPhone, letting you enter text on the phone rather than on the Watch, all without finding the relevant message. Not all messages have such deep interaction. For example, tweets can only be liked or retweeted, and Outlook emails can’t be replied to on your wrist, only flagged or marked as read.

It’s still the most comfortable, most personalized, easiest to live with smartwatch you can buy.

The Watch Series 7’s processor may be called the S7, but it’s only a name change, and it has the same performance as the S6 inside the Series 6. What this does mean is it offers 20% more performance than the S5 chip inside the Apple Watch SE, which Apple still sells alongside the new Series 7. You can buy the Series 7 with a cellular connection, and provided you pay extra on your monthly carrier plan, the Watch will make and receive calls and receive messages even when not connected to your phone.

Twitter notification on the Apple Watch Series 7.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Using WatchOS 8 on the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7, I have not had any problems with responsiveness or apps at all. During the setup of the Series 7, I did have trouble using the Set up as a new watch option, but it activated without issue when I chose the Restore from a backup option. It’s the first time I have encountered this, and suspect it may have been to do with setting up the Series 7 on launch day and the associated server delays.

Battery

I’ve worn the Apple Watch Series 7  for 24 hours a day for the last week, and when I wake up in the morning after tracking my sleep, the Watch has consistently still had between 20% and 30% power remaining, depending on whether I tracked a workout the day before. This means a single, full day’s use is no issue. With 30% remaining, it has continued on until the end of a workday if I didn’t track a workout. Alternatively, if you don’t activate sleep tracking and you turn it off overnight, two days or even more will be achievable.

Apple Watch Series 7 on charge.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Watch Series 7 has a new charger, complete with fast charging, and is easily recognizable compared to the older versions due to the silver case. It provides an 80% charge in 45 minutes according to Apple, but when plugged into the Apple fast charger, it exceeds this, getting to about 88% in that time. It reaches 100% in an hour. There is also has a handy feature where an eight-minute charge will return eight hours of sleep tracking.

If you use an old charger with the Series 7, then it charges at normal speed, which is understandable but unfortunate for anyone who has splurged on a stand like the Belkin 3-in-1 MagSafe charger, as you won’t get the benefit from the new charger’s speed increase.

Price and availability

The Apple Watch Series 7 starts at $399 for the 41mm model and $429 for the 45mm model. Add $100 for the GPS + Cellular version, and even more depending on the strap you select. For example, if you want the Product RED Braided Solo Loop strap in our photos, prices start at $449.

In the U.K., the 41mm Apple Watch Series 7 in aluminum starts at 369 pounds, and the 45mm model from 399 pounds. Prices increase depending on the strap you choose, and you must add 100 pounds to the price if you want the GPS + Cellular model.

The Series 7 looks fantastic, and the Apple Watch has become a style icon, in my opinion.

Outside of the standard Apple Watch models, you can buy special Nike versions, which cost the same but come with Nike-branded straps and exclusive watch faces. You can also pay more for the Apple Watch Series 7 to get a stainless steel case and sapphire crystal over the screen. Prices start at $699 or 649 pounds. The titanium Apple Watch Edition starts at $799 or 699 pounds, and the Apple Watch Hermés starts at $1,229 or 1,179 pounds. Functionality and specification is identical across the range, so all these offer only material and strap differences.

Our take

Smaller bezels and a 1mm case size difference have made a big impact on the Apple Watch Series 7, increasing its attractiveness and overall visual appeal. Faster charging and that helpful eight-minute zap for overnight use means the relatively short battery life is much less of an issue, and you can use and enjoy the Watch 24 hours a day. WatchOS 8 is reliable and easy to use, the health tracking remains second-to-none even without any hardware changes, and the massive amount of customization makes it fun to own.

It’s everything you want a smartwatch to be, as it perfectly integrates with the iPhone, yet has enough power to be used on its own if you choose, and never feels superfluous due to a lack of features or poor app support. The Apple Watch Series 7 has improved over the Series 6, even managing to feel like a worthwhile upgrade to last year’s model for those who don’t mind spending the money. It’s also worth mentioning that Apple has not changed the price either, keeping it the same for the last few generations despite hardware and software improvements.

The Apple Watch Series 7 does everything I want, and I’m very aware it can do a whole lot more, making it feel like a safe purchase even for those who are just beginning with a smartwatch. The fact that it’s not difficult to use also makes it great for newcomers, and the two sizes and various versions means you’ll find one that suits you. It’s really superb, and I struggle to find a reason not to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Is there a better alternative?

It’s not often I get to say this, but if you own an iPhone and want a smartwatch, there is no better alternative to the Apple Watch. There’s usually some alternative, but in this case, by buying an Apple Watch Series 7, you’re getting the best available option. This year, the Apple Watch SE is less of a good deal than it was in 2020 due to the lack of always-on screen, larger bezel, standard charging speed, and less capable health tracking.

If you own an Android phone, you cannot use the Apple Watch in any meaningful way, so take a look at our recommendations for Android smartwatches.

How long will it last?

The Apple Watch Series 7 has an IP6X dust-resistance rating, water resistance up to 50 meters, is swimproof, and has stronger, more crack-resistant glass over the screen. Straps are easily and cheaply replaced, should they get broken or dirty. Apple should support the Watch with new software updates for up to five years. Keeping the Apple Watch Series 7 for five years may be a stretch if you’re wating to keep up with tech trends, but for everyone else, it’s perfectly achievable given the Series 7’s ability, performance, and toughness.

Should you buy one?

Yes. It’s not only the best smartwatch for your iPhone, it’s the best smartwatch available today.

The iPhone 12 Pro vs iPhone 5.4 inch

 

https://www.tomsguide.com/amp/news/the-54-inch-iphone-12-will-be-a-game-changer-heres-why

As exciting as boundary-pushing, hyper-premium phones are, they’re less important to everyday users than those special devices that check all the right boxes for a price folks can actually afford. It’s the cheaper iPhones that destroy the barriers of entry to new technology, and therefore matter to the widest majority of people. 

The iPhone 12 Pro will captivate the imagination of the public, no question. But rest assured, Apple’s success or failure with this upcoming swath of phones is dependent on whether the company can hit its marks with the 5.4-inch version.

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What gaming will look like in 10 years

What gaming will look like in a year or two, let alone 10, is a matter of some debate. Battle-royale games have reshaped multiplayer experiences; augmented reality marries the fantastic and real in unprecedented ways. Google is leading a charge away from traditional consoles by launching a cloud-gaming service, Stadia, later this year. Microsoft’s next version of the Xbox will presumably integrate cloud gaming as well to allow people to play Xbox games on multiple devices. Sony’s plans in this regard are still unclear—it’s one of the many things Cerny is keeping mum on, saying only that “we are cloud-gaming pioneers, and our vision should become clear as we head toward launch”—but it’s hard to think there won’t be more news coming on that front.

For now, there’s the living room. It’s where the PlayStation has sat through four generations—and will continue to sit at least one generation more.

https://www.wired.com/story/exclusive-sony-next-gen-console/

Apple will be around for a long time. But the next Apple just isn’t Apple.

Apple, the iPhone, and the Innovator’s Dilemma

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

If you re-read the first few chapters of The Innovator’s Dilemma and you insert “Apple” every time Clayton Christensen mentions “a company,” a certain picture emerges: Apple is a company on the verge of being disrupted, and the next great idea in tech and consumer electronics will not materialize from within the walls of its Cupertino spaceship.

The Innovator’s Dilemma, of course, is about the trap that successful companies fall into time and time again. They’re well managed, they’re responsive to their customers, and they’re market leaders. And yet, despite doing everything right, they fail to see the next wave of innovation coming, they get disrupted, and they ultimately fail.

In the case of Apple, the company is trapped by its success, and that success is spelled “iPhone.”

Take, for example, Christensen’s description of the principles of good management that inevitably lead to the downfall of successful companies: “that you should always listen to and respond to the needs of your best customers, and that you should focus investments on those innovations that promise the highest returns.”

Molly Wood (@mollywood) is an Ideas contributor at WIRED and the host and senior editor of Marketplace Tech, a daily national radio broadcast covering the business of technology. She has covered the tech industry at CNET, The New York Times, and in various print, television, digital and audio formats for nearly 20 years. (Ouch.)

Then think about the iPhone, which, despite some consumer-unfriendly advances like the lost headphone jack and ever-changing charging ports, has also been adjusted and tweaked and frozen by what customers want: bigger screens, great cameras, ease of use, and a consistent interface. And the bulk of Apple’s investment since 2007, when the iPhone came out, has been about maintaining, developing, and selling this one device.

In the last quarter of 2018, the iPhone accounted for $51 billion of Apple’s $84 billion in revenue. Its success, the economic halo around it, and its seeming invincibility since its launch have propelled Apple to heights few companies have ever imagined. But the device will also be its undoing.

Here’s what happens when you have a product that successful: You get comfortable. More accurately, you get protective. You don’t want to try anything new. The new things you do try have to be justified in the context of that precious jewel—the “core product.”

So even something like Apple’s Services segment—the brightest non-iPhone spot in its earnings lately—mostly consists of services that benefit the iPhone. It’s Apple Music, iTunes, iCloud—and although Apple doesn’t break out its numbers, the best estimate is that a third or more of its Services revenue is driven by the 30 percent cut it takes from … yep, apps downloaded from the App Store.

The other bright spot in the company’s latest earnings report is its Wearables, Home, and Accessories category. Here again, Apple doesn’t break out the numbers, but the wearables part of that segment is where all the growth is, and that means Apple Watches. And you know what’s still tied nice and tight to the iPhone? Apple Watches.

Even Apple’s best-selling accessories are most likely AirPods, which had a meme-tastic holiday season and are, safe to say, used mostly in conjunction with iPhones. (I’d bet the rest of the accessories dollars are coming from dongles and hubs, since there’s nary a port to be found on any of its new MacBooks.) As for stand-alones, its smart speakers are reportedly great, but they’re not putting a dent in Amazon or Google, by latest count. Apple TV, sure. Fine. But Roku shouldn’t have been embedded in a TV before Apple was.

And none of these efforts count as a serious attempt at diversification.

You may be tempted to argue that Apple is, in fact, working on other projects. The Apple acquisition rumors never cease; nor do the confident statements that the company definitely, absolutely, certainly has a magical innovation in the works that will spring full grown like Athena from the forehead of Zeus any day now. I’m here to say, I don’t think there’s a nascent warrior goddess hiding in there.

Witness Apple’s tottering half-steps into new markets that are unrelated to the iPhone: It was early with a voice assistant but has stalled behind Amazon and even Google Assistant. It wasn’t until last year that the company hired a bona fide machine-learning expert in John Giannandrea, former head of search and AI at Google—and he didn’t get put on the executive team until December 2018. That’s late.

There’s its half-hearted dabble in self-driving technology that was going to be a car, then became software, then became 200 people laid off. Its quailing decade-long attempt to build a streaming service would be sort of comical if there weren’t clearly so much money being thrown around, and so tentatively at that. Rumors of its launch go back as far as 2015, although now it’s supposed to launch in April—this time they mean it.

But even if the streaming service actually arrives, can it really compete against YouTube, PlayStation, Sling, DirecTV, Hulu, and just plain old Netflix? Apple’s original programming is also apparently “not coming as soon as you think.” Analysts are, at this point, outright begging Apple to buy a studio or other original content provider, just to have something to show against Netflix and Amazon originals.

Of course, lots of companies innovate through acquisition, and everyone loves to speculate about what companies Apple might buy. Rumors have ranged from GoPro to BlackBerry to Tesla to the chipmaker ARM. Maybe Netflix. Maybe Tesla. Maybe Disney. Maybe Wired. (Apple News is a hugely successful product … mostly on iPhones, of course.) But at every turn, Apple has declined to move, other than its $3 billion Beats buy in 2014 (which it appears to be abandoning, or cannibalizing, these days).

Now, let me be clear, once again. None of this is to suggest that Apple is doing anything wrong. Indeed, according to Christensen, one of the hallmarks of the innovator’s dilemma is the company’s success, smooth operations, great products, and happy customers. That’s one of the things that makes it a dilemma: A company doesn’t realize anything’s wrong, because, well, nothing is. Smartphone sales may be slowing, but Apple is still a beloved brand, its products are excellent, its history and cachet are unmatched. But that doesn’t mean it has a plan to survive the ongoing decline in global smartphones sales.

The Innovator’s Dilemma does say an entrenched company can sometimes pull out of the quicksand by setting up a small, autonomous spinoff that has the power to move fast, pursue markets that are too small to move the needle for a company making $84 billion a quarter, and innovate before someone else gets there first.

Well, Apple has no autonomous innovation divisions that I know of, and the guys in charge are the same guys who have been in charge for decades: Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, Jony Ive—all have been associated with Apple since the late ’80s or ’90s. (I mean, has there ever really been a time without Jony Ive?)

You see what I’m saying here: brilliant team with a long record of execution and unparalleled success. Possibly not a lot of fresh ideas.

And then there’s the final option for innovation, one that Apple has availed itself of many times in the past. As Steve Jobs often said, quoting Picasso: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The iPod was born of existing MP3 players; the iPhone improved on clunky, ugly smartphones already on the market. The MacOS and the computer mouse were developed to maturity (yes, with permission) after being invented at Xerox PARC.

So maybe Apple will find the hottest thing in tech that’s still slightly unknown and come out with a better version. But is there such a thing as a way-sexier cloud computing business?

I guess it’s possible that the rumored virtual- and augmented-reality headset that Apple is supposed to release in 2020 will take the world by storm and popularize VR in a way that no one imagined, and like AirPods, will take a look that’s painfully dorky on the surface and turn it into a not-quite-ironic must-have statement of affluence and cool. It’s happened before. But this time, I think the company will get beaten to that punch—or whatever punch is next. Apple will be around for a long time. But the next Apple just isn’t Apple.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/ideas-molly-wood-apple/

As of 4/2018 smartphone users upgraded their phone every 35 months (on average)

The Silver Lining in Apple’s Very Bad iPhone News

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Apple on Wednesday warned investors that its revenue for the last three months of 2018 would not live up to previous estimates, or even come particularly close. The main culprit appears to be China, where the trade war and a broader economic slowdown contributed to plummeting iPhone sales. But CEO Tim Cook’s letter to investors pointed to a secondary thread as well, one that Apple customers, environmentalists, and even the company itself should view not as a liability but an asset: People are holding onto their iPhones longer.

That’s not just in China. Cook noted that iPhone upgrades were “not as strong as we thought they would be” in developed markets as well, citing “macroeconomic conditions,” a shift in how carriers price smartphones, a strong US dollar, and temporarily discounted battery replacements. He neglected to mention the simple fact that an iPhone can perform capably for years—and consumers are finally getting wise.

As recently as 2015, smartphone users on average upgraded their phone roughly every 24 months, says Cliff Maldonado, founder of BayStreet Research, which tracks the mobile industry. As of the fourth quarter of last year, that had jumped to at least 35 months. “You’re looking at people holding onto their devices an extra year,” Maldonado says. “It’s been considerable.”

A few factors contribute to the trend, chief among them the shift from buying phones on a two-year contract—heavily subsidized by the carriers—to installment plans in which the customer pays full freight. T-Mobile introduced the practice in the US in 2014, and by 2015 it had become the norm. The full effects, though, have only kicked in more recently. People still generally pay for their smartphone over two years; once they’re paid off, though, their monthly bill suddenly drops by, say, $25.

The shift has also caused a sharp drop-off in carrier incentives. They turn out not to be worth it. “They’re actually encouraging that dynamic of holding your smartphone longer. It’s in their best interest,” Maldonado says. “It actually costs them to get you into a new phone, to do those promotions, to run the transaction and put it on their books and finance it.”

Bottom line: If your service is reliable and your iPhone still works fine, why go through the hassle?

“There’s not as many subsidies as there used to be from a carrier point of view,” Cook told CNBC Wednesday. “And where that didn’t all happen yesterday, if you’ve been out of the market for two or three years and you come back, it looks like that to you.”

Meanwhile, older iPhones work better, for longer, thanks to Apple itself. When Apple vice president Craig Federighi introduced iOS 12 in June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, he emphasized how much it improved the performance of older devices. Among the numbers he cited: The 2014 iPhone 6 Plus opens apps 40 percent faster with iOS 12 than it had with iOS 11, and its keyboard appears up to 50 percent faster than before. And while Apple’s battery scandal of a year ago was a black mark for the company, it at least reminded Apple owners that they didn’t necessarily need a new iPhone. Eligible iPhone owners found that a $29 battery replacement—it normally costs $79—made their iPhone 6 feel something close to new.

“There definitely has been a major shift in customer perception, after all the controversy,” says Kyle Wiens, founder of online repair community iFixit. “What it really did more than anything else was remind you that the battery on your phone really can be replaced. Apple successfully brainwashing the public into thinking the battery was something they never needed to think about led people to prematurely buy these devices.”

Combine all of that with the fact that new model iPhones—and Android phones for that matter—have lacked a killer feature, much less one that would inspire someone to spend $1,000 or more if they didn’t absolutely have to. “Phones used to be toys, and shiny objects,” Maldonado says. “Now they’re utilities. You’ve got to have it, and the joy of getting a new one is pretty minor. Facebook and email looks the same; the camera’s still great.”

In the near term, these dynamics aren’t ideal for Apple; its stock dropped more than 7 percent in after-hours trading following Wednesday’s news. But it’s terrific news for consumers, who have apparently realized that a smartphone does not have a two-year expiration date. That saves money in the long run. And pulling the throttle back on iPhone sales may turn out to be equally welcome news for the planet.

According to Apple’s most recent sustainability report, the manufacture of each Apple device generates on average 90 pounds of carbon emissions. Wiens suggests that the creation of each iPhone requires hundreds of pounds of raw materials.

Manufacturing electronics is environmentally intense, Wiens says. “We can’t live in a world where we’re making 3 billion new smartphones a year. We don’t have the resources for it. We have to reduce how many overall devices we’re making. There are lots of ways to do it, but it gets down to demand, and how many we’re buying. That’s not what Apple wants, but it’s what the environment needs.”

Which raises a question: Why does Apple bother extending the lives of older iPhones? The altruistic answer comes from Lisa Jackson, who oversees the company’s environmental efforts.

“We also make sure to design and build durable products that last as long as possible,” Jackson said at Apple’s September hardware event. “Because they last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”

Given a long enough horizon, Apple may see a financial benefit from less frequent upgrades as well. An iPhone that lasts longer keeps customers in the iOS ecosystem longer. That becomes even more important as the company places greater emphasis not on hardware but on services like Apple Music. It also offers an important point of differentiation from Android, whose fragmented ecosystem means even flagship devices rarely continue to be fully supported beyond two years.

“In reality, the big picture is still very good for Apple,” Maldonado says. Compared with Android, “Apple’s in a better spot, because the phones last longer.”

That’s cold comfort today and doesn’t help a whit with China. But news that people are holding onto their iPhones longer should be taken for what it really is: A sign of progress and a win for everyone. Even Apple.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/silver-lining-apples-very-bad-iphone-news/

Google Hits a Samsung Roadblock With New AI Assistant – Viv & Adam Cheyer

Google just debuted a digital assistant, which it hopes to place inside smartphones, watches, cars and every other imaginable internet-connected device. It’s already hit a snag.

The Alphabet division launched new smartphones last week with the artificially intelligent assistant deeply embedded. It also rolled out a speaker with the feature at its core and announced plans to let other companies tie their apps and services to the assistant.

A day later, Samsung, which just announced it was ending production of its problematic Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, said it was acquiring Viv Labs, a startup building its own AI voice-based assistant.

At first, the deal looked like a counter-punch to Samsung rival Apple — Viv is run by the creators of Apple’s Siri assistant. But buying Viv may be more of a problem for Google, because Samsung is the biggest maker of phones running Google’s Android mobile operating system.

Google strategy is now centered on the assistant, rather than its search engine, because it’s a more natural way for people to interact with smartphones and other connected devices. Getting all Android phone makers to put the Google assistant on their devices would get the technology into millions of hands quickly. But Samsung’s Viv deal suggests assistants are too important for phone makers to let other companies supply this feature.

Last week, despite the Note 7 crisis, Samsung executive Injong Rhee said the company plans to put Viv’s technology in its smartphones next year and then embed it into other electronics and home appliances. A Samsung representative and a Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

That’s a necessity for Samsung, according to some analysts and industry insiders.

„As AI is becoming more sophisticated and valuable to the consumer, there’s no question it will be important for hardware companies,“ said Kirt McMaster, executive chairman of Cyanogen, a startup that makes Android software. Mr. McMaster, a frequent Google critic, said other Android handset makers will likely follow Samsung’s move.

„If you don’t have an AI asset, you’re not going to have a brain,“ he added.

Google may already have known that some Android phone makers — known as original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs — were reluctant to embrace its assistant.

„Other OEMs may want to differentiate“ Google’s Android chief Hiroshi Lockheimer told Bloomberg before it released its own smartphones. „They may want to do their own thing — their own assistant, for example.“

Samsung and Google have sparred in the past over distribution. Google requires Android handset makers to pre-install 11 apps, yet Samsung often puts its own services on its phones. And the South Korean company has released devices that run on its own operating system, called Tizen, not Android.

Viv was frequently on the short-list of startups that could help larger tech companies build assistant technology. Founded four-years ago by Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham, the startup was working on voice technology to handle more complex queries than existing offerings.

While it drummed up considerable attention and investment, Viv has not yet released its product to the public. And some analysts are skeptical of Samsung’s ability to convert the technology into a credible service, given its mixed record with software applications.

„It will be very hard to compete with Google’s strength in data and their AI acquisitions,“ said Jitendra Waral, senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. „Samsung would need to prove that its AI solutions are superior to that of Google’s. They are handicapped in this race.“

Samsung is also focused on handling the fallout from its exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones, potentially taking management time away from its Viv integration.

But it’s a race Samsung has to join. In recent years, Samsung acquired mobile-payments and connected-device startups to keep up with Apple, Google and Amazon. Digital voice-based assistants may be more important, if they become the main way people interact with devices.

Silicon Valley titans are rushing into the space because of this potential. Amazon is trying to sign up developers for its Alexa voice technology. Apple has recently touted more Siri capabilities and opened the technology to other developers. And now Google, considered the leader in artificial intelligence, is making its own push.

„I don’t ever remember a time when every single major consumer tech company — and even enterprise companies — have been singularly focused on an identical strategy,“ said Tim Tuttle, chief executive officer of MindMeld Inc., a startup working on voice interaction software. „They’re all following the exact same playbook.“

 

http://adage.com/article/digital/google-hits-a-roadblock-ai-assistant/306244/

Choosing the iPhone 7 is tougher than in the past

It’s a great phone, but where’s my headphone jack?

At a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell Apple’s new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus models, which go on sale Friday, from their 2015 and 2014 counterparts. They look almost identical, and are the same sizes. But once you get your hands on them, the differences are clear: better cameras, longer battery life, water resistance, doubled memory at essentially the same prices, and more.

Oh, and upon closer inspection, you’ll notice something else: the disappearance of the age-old, standard, perfectly fine audio jack that fits every earbud and headphone you own. Yeah, I know. I’m not crazy about that change either.

I’ve been using both the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus for nearly a week, equipped with the much-improved iOS 10 operating system (which will be available for older models as well starting today). And I’m impressed. But I’m also annoyed. And impatient. All at the same time. Let me explain.

The impressive

The most important thing about the 2016 iteration of the iPhone is that, overall, it takes a truly excellent smartphone and makes it significantly better in a host of ways, even without overhauling the exterior design, and despite the removal of the standard audio jack.

From Apple’s usual long list, I’ve picked five big improvements that impressed me most.

First, Apple is doubling the memory at every price point on both models, starting with 32GB at the low end ($649 for the smaller iPhone 7) and going all the way to 256GB ($969 on the costlier iPhone 7 Plus). The increase in base memory is long overdue, but it’s great to see higher memory at essentially the same prices on costlier models (the larger Plus costs $20 more this year than last).

Then, there’s battery life. Apple claims it’s adding two hours of battery life between charges to the smaller model, and one hour to the bigger one. This is mainly because of a bigger battery plus a clever new processor, which uses low-power cores for routine phone functions and only kicks in high-power cores when needed.

Battery life on phones is notoriously hard to test, because it depends so heavily on what you’re doing, and on how hard the phone has to work to find a strong cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Still, in my short test period, on both coasts, the new iPhones had great battery life.

The bigger Plus easily turned in 13–15 hour days, often with power left in the tank, doing a wide variety of tasks. For instance, my test iPhone 7 Plus was at just a few minutes shy of 14 hours with 14 percent left, when I got to my DC-area home after flying from San Francisco and using the phone heavily on cellular networks, and hotel, airport, and airplane Wi-Fi. That’s a scenario I usually find to be a battery-killer, unless I charge. The smaller model was typically in the 12–14 hour range, even after hours of streaming video and music.

Then there’s water resistance — the ability to withstand being submerged in a toilet, sink, or puddle for long enough to fish it out and still find it fully functioning. (Samsung phones have been water resistant for a while.) I left an iPhone 7 submerged in a large mixing bowl of water for about 20 minutes (it can go deeper and longer, Apple says — 1 meter for 30 minutes). It was fine when I fished it out and dried it off. No rice needed. The only effects were somewhat gravelly sound quality for about 5 minutes, and an admonition not to charge it for five hours thereafter.

 James Bareham

Next, cameras. In my opinion, as a determined amateur who has never bought expensive cameras, the iPhone already had the best camera I owned. But Apple has redesigned it, with a larger, f/1.8 aperture that pulls in more light, a better flash, and the ability to capture a wider range of colors. Yet that’s just the start. On the smaller iPhone, the camera now has optical image stabilization, which limits shaky shots — a feature available only on the larger model last year.

And that costlier iPhone Plus now has two cameras, one a wide-angle version and one a telephoto version. Through software, they act as one single camera with easy, elegant controls. With just the tap of a button labeled „2X,“ I was able to get vivid, detailed shots at true 2x optical zoom, not the grainy digital zoom smartphone users have been wise to avoid forever. For me, and I suspect many other average folks, real zooming is a huge deal, bigger than some of the more esoteric effects photo hobbyists might value. In fact, this beautiful zooming dual camera is the first feature I’ve seen that might lure me to a large-screen phone.

And then there’s the operating system. This isn’t a review of iOS 10, which is a separate product from the iPhone 7. But, since it comes with it out of the box, the two are wedded. And I found almost every aspect of it to be faster and better. Lock screen notifications and widgets, and the Control Center are more logically organized and easier to use. Messaging, Maps, Music, News, and other features are improved. And then there are small things: for instance, to my surprise, the phone even automatically saved a map and directions of where I’d parked my car.

The phone is also faster, its screen is brighter, and it has stereo speakers. But I wasn’t wowed by these things in my testing. You might be.

Apple has also replaced the home button with a non-mechanical, non-moving button that uses a vibration „engine“ to simulate the feel of pressing a button. Three people I know said it felt like the whole bottom of the phone, not just the button, was being pushed. But it didn’t bother me, and it’s one less mechanical component to break.

The annoying

What did bother me was the aforementioned removal of the headphone jack. Yes, Apple has a long history of removing (and also pioneering) standard components, going back to the removal of the floppy disk from the first iMac in 1998.

I have often complained that Apple was acting too soon, but I always agreed that the move made sense at some point, because the displaced component (the floppy, the optical drive, the Ethernet jack) were being used less and less and there was something better (optical drives, the cloud, Wi-Fi) to replace them.

In this case, I see zero evidence that the 3.5mm audio jack is being used less or has hit a wall. It’s happily transmitting music, podcasts, and phone calls to many millions of people from many millions of devices as you read this sentence. Apple says it needed replacing to make more room for bigger batteries and other components.

I also don’t see that Apple has come up with a better replacement. The company is clearly trying to move the whole industry toward wireless audio, which has never been great due to patchy Bluetooth connectivity, poor fidelity — especially for music — and limited battery life.

 James Bareham

As a transition, the iPhone 7 includes Apple’s familiar white earbuds — and a free adapter — only with a Lightning connector at the end instead of the standard audio plug. It sounds the same. But now you can no longer charge your phone while making long phone calls or listening to music without a bulky adapter or dock. I label that worse, not better.

Apple says very few people do charge and listen at the same time. I respectfully disagree.

Next month, Apple will ship its take on wireless Bluetooth earbuds — called AirPods — which it hopes will solve some of the old wireless headphone woes and push the transition. Using a custom chip called the W1, the sophisticated AirPods supposedly make Bluetooth connections steadier and Bluetooth audio better. In my tests of preproduction AirPods, they delivered on these promises. And I could charge the phone while listening.

But the $159 AirPods only give you five hours of music listening time and two hours of talk time between charges, though they come in a handy little white case that provides 24 hours of additional juice. Apple notes that it’s proud of those numbers and that a 15-minute charge in the case gets you another 60 percent of rated battery life. It adds that if you use only one AirPod for phone calls, and keep swapping it out for a fresh one, you could talk on and on. Still, to me, they impose a limitation that standard, wired earbuds don’t have.

(Note: during my testing one of the AirPods had trouble holding a charge, so Apple swapped it out. It didn’t affect my tests of connecting and listening, and, since the product isn’t due out until late October, I can’t assume production units would have that problem.)

Not only that, but you have to charge the case periodically. Oh, and they kind of look like white plastic earrings. So, you should hope that’s your style, if you’re planning to buy them.

I’m sure the wireless earbud and headphone revolution is upon us now, and that, in a few years, the battery life will double or triple. For now, though, this Apple change of a standard component adds a hassle to your phone use, whether you are wired or wireless.

It’s an annoyance and a negative.

The impatient

I am impatient for Apple to do a top-to-bottom redesign of the iPhone, and the iPhone 7 isn’t it. Apple concedes this and strongly suggests a dramatic redesign won’t appear until next year, the iPhone’s 10th anniversary.

Let me stress: I am not for a redesign just for the hell of it. There are good reasons to change the look and feel of the iPhone, some of them evident in Samsung models. For instance, Samsung and others manage to fit a large screen like the one on the iPhone Plus into a smaller body and still squeeze in a big battery. But the iPhones still have big footprints for their screen sizes and big top and bottom bezels.

Another example: the iPhones still lack wireless or inductive charging. Adding that might require a redesign.

 James Bareham

Bottom line

The iPhone remains an outstanding smartphone, and this latest model makes it even better in many ways. And, unlike rival Samsung, Apple isn’t beset with the very serious problem of exploding batteries. But the whole audio jack thing makes choosing the iPhone 7 more difficult than it might have been.

You won’t go wrong buying the iPhone 7 if you can tolerate the earbud issue, especially if you’re on an installment plan like Apple’s that just gets you a new iPhone every year. You could get the iPhone 7 and then the big redesign next year, as long as you keep paying the monthly fee.

But, despite the undisputed improvements, this new iPhone just isn’t as compelling an upgrade as many of its predecessors. Some might want to wait a year for the next really big thing — and maybe a better audio solution to boot.

http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/13/12895574/walt-mossberg-iphone-7-plus-review

What Happens When Apple Designs A Product That Doesn’t Solve A Problem

Apple has repositioned the Apple Watch as „the ultimate device for a healthy life“—and left Gucci and productivity nerds in the dust.

[All Images: via Apple]

When the Apple Watch debuted in 2015, Apple told us it would be fashionable. It would usher in a new platform for high-tech fads covered in Vogue. It was going to save us time—one second at a time. It was going to do all sorts of things we couldn’t even imagine yet, like sharing your heartbeat, or scribbling a shape to a loved one.

But at this week’s Apple event, as the company introduced the Apple Watch 2, those promises seemed long forgotten. Instead, in a hero video, a mountain biker flew through the air, stuck the landing, and seemed to answer a call coming through from his mom; another flew up a steep climb before texting he was on his way. A presentation from Nike followed, encouraging users to run on Sundays, because supposedly, people who exercise on Sundays are more active overall. Then Tim Cook subtly dropped what sounded like a new tagline: „It’s the ultimate device for a healthy life.“

It was a remarkable pivot, and it hints at the watch’s fundamental shortcoming: It’s a product without an apparent use case. Whereas the iPhone put miniature computers into our hands, and the MacBook fulfilled the promise of truly portable personal computing, the watch is a solution in search of a problem. Apple does not disclose sales figures, but a recent report from the research firm IDC claims Apple Watch sales dipped almost 57% in the first quarter of 2016—this despite that sales at competitors such as Fitbit are up.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise, then, that Apple has backed into the de facto selling point of wearables, a new, old narrative: The watch will make you swole.

The Fashion Pitch

It made sense why Apple chased fashion. The field was crowded with fitness bands, and Apple no doubt wanted the watch to be something more desirable. Apple recruited Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts, and paid her $70 million to build Apple into a bona fide retail powerhouse—along with an all-star fashion team including Paul Deneve, Mark Newson, Catherine Monier, and Marcela Aguilar. Apple’s fashion push was about more than the watch, of course—it was about turning Apple into a lifestyle brand. But the watch was a linchpin.

When the watch debuted publicly at Paris Fashion Week, and Karl Lagerfeld was photographed trying one on, it seemed destined for immortality. The company recruited big-name designers, like Hermes, to create bands as easily as they do developers to make apps. And what were assuredly highly coordinated sponsorship campaigns, stars like Beyoncé wore them on Instagram. They even made a version in gold—for five figures—and forced appointments to try it on with white glove service. That watch has since been discontinued.

The problem with positioning the watch around fashion? At best, the Apple Watch can’t be fashionable for very long because fashion is fleeting. At worst, the Apple Watch just wasn’t that fashionable to begin with. Apple may have sold a billion iPhones, but iPhones don’t live all day, every day, on your wrist.

The Productivity Pitch

So fashion was a reach. The Apple Watch just needed a killer app, something that made it indispensable to a modern connected worker. The Apple Watch’s value at launch became „glances,“ which was supposed to help make you a more productive person. That meant checking your wrist for the time, or a text message, as if this was a breakthrough the world had never imagined before.

Of course, it doesn’t take much longer to pull a phone from your pocket than to check your wrist, and it’s certainly no less rude to your lunch mate. That promise of seconds saved, on a $350 device, just didn’t mean too much to a nation where most U.S. citizens have less than $1,000 in their bank account.

The Fitness Pitch

And so we’re back to this week, at Apple’s iPhone 7 event, where they showed off the Apple Watch 2, a device that’s almost entirely unchanged, except for a new way of marketing it. Did you see the watch controlling smart lights? Or appearing on a catwalk? Or giving someone directions to a meeting?

No. But there were burpees and golf swings! Aside from introducing a new, white ceramic version—a nod to current design trends—and quickly mentioning some new bands from Hermes, Apple ignored all this fashion and productivity stuff. But Apple was sure to show a splashy home-brew dunking machine, a metal arm that stress-drenched Apple Watches in a tank like they were strapped to an angry Michael Phelps swimming the 200-meter fly. Apple was sure to give Nike several minutes to introduce its custom Nike Plus branded version. „You can wear it when swimming, surfing, or just doing that occasional cannonball,“ Apple COO Jeff Williams said. The Cannonball: The Apple Watch’s first killer app.

And in case you think I’m editing the presentation for argument’s sake, realize, no moment was free from fitness. Heck, even when the software developer Niantic introduced Pokémon Go Apple Watch support, the script rounded about to tease the 4.6 billion kilometers players had taken since the game launched. Even this moment of unbridled, monster-catching recreation had to become quantified fitness on Apple’s stage.

Who Cares If The Apple Watch Is A Fitness Thingie?

So by now you’re probably thinking, „Okay, fine, Apple backtracked a bit, but now it knows what the Apple Watch is for. It reverse-engineered its purpose. Isn’t that enough?“

There’s one problem with Apple backing into this position selling a wearable fitness tracker: People abandon their fitness trackers. Multiple studies have found that after a few months, many people stop caring about all their pedometer graphs and sleep cycles. (Anyone who has worn a Fitbit knows why. Sooner or later, all of this life quantification isn’t really all that meaningful unless you’re literally in training.) Even Nike knew to abandon ship after more or less creating the category with the FuelBand. It’s a lot easier, and lower risk, to leave the hardware to Apple and just brand it.

And let’s be honest about the Apple Watch as a fitness device: It’s fine. Call it great if you want. But it’s not the 10-generational-leap better than all of its competitors, like the iPhone was when it changed the entire smartphone market. It’s just the shiniest of fitness bands in a largely commoditized fitness band market.

But perhaps the company has its eye on the long game. Aside from being yet another fitness tracker, the Apple Watch is also also a network-connected health-focused gadget that interfaces with the most popular smartphone in the world, on the wrists of millions of test subjects in the sort of worldwide, cross-ethnographic field study that that health industry could never match. And while the U.S. smartphone market makes a healthy $400 billion in revenue, the U.S. health care market pulls in $1.668 trillion.

If the Apple Watch is ready and waiting—with 5 or 10 years of proven reliability—whenever our doctors and insurers inevitably tag us like cattle to track our daily activity? Then it’s the one purpose for the Apple Watch that’s worth backing into.

https://www.fastcodesign.com/3063525/what-happens-when-apple-designs-a-product-that-doesnt-solve-a-problem

Closing Apps to Save Your Battery Only Makes Things Worse

battery_life

http://www.wired.com/2016/03/closing-apps-save-battery-makes-things-worse

The Zombification Of America’s Millennials

 

It’s not your imagination: Millennials really are glued to their smartphones.

Nearly four in 10 millennials (39%) say they interact more with their smartphones than they do with their significant others, parents, friends, children or co-workers, according to a survey of more than 1,000 people released Wednesday by Bank of America. That’s compared with fewer than one in three people of all ages who say they engage with their smartphones more.

This means that, on an average day, millennials — defined here as being ages 18 to 34 — “interact with their smartphone more than anything or anyone else,” the survey concluded.

This may not surprise anyone who has looked at millennial smartphone usage. More millennials (77%) own smartphones — and spend more time on them (over two hours a day) — than any other age group, according to a 2014 report that examined the behavior of more than 23,000 adults, and was released by Experian.“In fact, millennials spend so much time on their smartphones that they account for 41% of the total time that Americans spend using smartphones, despite making up just 29% of the population,” the report concluded.

Furthermore, nearly half of millennials — significantly more than any older age group — say they “couldn’t live without” their smartphone, according to data released in 2015 by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.

Millennials are also far more likely to use their smartphone as a social escape: More than seven in 10 millennials say they have used their smartphone to avoid a social interaction, compared with fewer than half (44%) of others, according to the Bank of America data.

To be fair, millennials have many compelling reasons for using their smartphones: Experian data show that roughly one in five millennials (again, more than other age groups) use their phones to read the news during a typical week, and millennials are more likely than other cohort to use their phones to stay in touch with friends. What’s more, Pew data shows that millennials are more likely than other groups to use their phones to look at educational content, find and apply for jobs and learn more about a health condition.

 

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-06-21/zombification-americas-millennials