Apple Watch, “Round Edition”?

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Round Apple Watch concept

I took a bit of time this morning to play with the concept of a round Apple Watch. Some notes:

  • Converting watchOS to work with a round display would be a massive design effort. Everything would need to be rebuilt from the ground up, since most of the platform’s UI elements are rectangular. My proposal solves… almost none of these challenges. It’s literally the easiest screen to mock up.
  • I’ve moved the side button to the other side of the display, mainly for symmetry’s sake. This creates some problems, though, since I use the buttonless side of the Watch to brace against when I’m pressing the button or the crown. On the other hand, this change would make the “hold both buttons” gesture far easier.
  • The bezels here are the same size as on the current watch. A bezel-less round design would look sick, though—better than on the rectangular watch, since you wouldn’t have to deal with fitting square elements into the case’s rounded corners. ■

Image credits


Does ‘Planet of the Apps’ mean that Apple is bad at producing TV?

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Apple TV ad

On a recent episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber argued that Apple’s potential as a TV content producer shouldn’t be judged by its first two (underwhelming) efforts, Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke. “What was Netflix’s first show?” he asked, “No one fucking remembers, right?”

On the one hand, citing Netflix undermines Gruber’s argument. Netflix’s first original series was House of Cards, whose excellent first season premiered to universal acclaim. Weighed against that show, Planet of the Apps comes up wanting. Apple’s reality show debut hasn’t attracted enough critical attention to be scored by Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, but those reviewers who bothered to weigh in panned the show.

On the other hand, there is precedent for a streaming service achieving success after mediocre first efforts at original content. Hulu’s first few web-only shows generated hardly a ripple of interest. But The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian drama from Hulu that debuted earlier this year, just won the Emmy for best drama series—the first and only streaming series to win that honor.

Presumably, Apple’s hoping to follow in Hulu’s footsteps. First, produce a few low-budget, under-the-radar web series. Then, once you’ve debugged the content production assembly line, hire more proven talent and pump in the cash. Time will tell whether Planet of the Apps has primed the pump for Apple’s future television success.


For comparison’s sake, here are the Metacritic scores for several streaming services’ first original series:

Company First original streaming series Premiere First season Metacritic rating
Hulu If I Can Dream March 2010 N/A
Netflix House of Cards February 2013 76
Amazon Betas April 2013 69
CBS All Access The Good Fight February 2017 80
Apple Planet of the Apps June 2017 N/A


A watch watcher reviews the Apple Watch Series 3

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Apple Watch Series 3 Edition

Benjamin Clymer of Hodinkee reviews the Apple Watch Series 3.

As he writes,

One of the most amusing things about doing what I do for a living – writing about and working with mechanical watches – is the reaction that other watch guys expect me, or really any other reasonable watch person, to have about the Apple Watch. They think we should hate it. I don’t hate the Apple Watch, nor should anyone else. If anything, the build quality versus price ratio on the Apple Watch is so embarrassing for the Swiss that I genuinely think it will push mechanical watchmakers to be better.

Even this small insight, this peek into the world of Swiss manufacturing and watch aficionados, is worth the click.


Clymer’s review adds something unique to the online conversation about the Series 3 Watch. Tech blog reviews too often follow the same boring pattern; I can only read about watchOS 4’s new workout app so many times before my eyes glaze over. As a mechanical watch expert, however, Clymer deftly surfaces a new, thought-provoking set of expectations, delights, and complaints.

For example, the reviewer discusses the “incredible tolerances and smooth corners” on the packaging for the Apple Watch Edition, then compares it to boxes from the luxury watchmakers. He also weighs the Watch Edition’s ceramic case against similar materials on far more expensive mechanical watches. Clymer’s able to provide context that the average tech expert just can’t.

Even his less esoteric thoughts prove fascinating; he lists his daily carry items in the wake of acquiring the Series 3: the Watch, a wallet, house keys, and a single AirPod (!). That last detail took me by surprise, as a gadget nerd (“What about stereo music?!”). But it’s a great example of how different priorities (e.g. valuing fashion over technological utility) lead to a different way of using a digital device.

We need more tech reviews like this! Give me a iPhone X review from a doctor doing her rounds. A HomePod review from a concert violinist. An Apple Watch review from a professional athlete in off-season training. An Amazon Echo review from an elderly retiree. As Clymer’s article proves, getting outside the tech bubble could help us view our gadgets in an entirely new light. ■


  1. One quibble: Clymer confuses the first-generation Watch (the “Series 0”) with the 2016 Series 1. It’s a mistake that an expert in smart wearables probably wouldn’t make. But why be pedantic? Clymer’s review is fascinating not because of what he doesn’t know, but because of what he does.



AirPods quibbles

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Image courtesy of Maurizio Pesce. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Yesterday, I explained how much I enjoy my AirPods, both for their convenience and for the fun little tactile habits they build.

But AirPods aren’t perfect. Here’s my list of complaints:

  • The auto-connect feature is amazing—when it works. Too often, I’ll slip in my AirPods and tap play on the iPhone, only to hear the audio buzz out of the phone speaker instead of the headphones. This makes me doubt whether I’m using the AirPods the “right” way. Can I just slip them in? Or am I expected to unlock my phone, crack open the AirPods case, wait for the battery level pop-up, and then pick up the earbuds?
  • Relatedly, AirPods’ audio source switching often doesn’t do what I expect. For example, I’ll be standing in my driveway, ready to head out on a run with just my AirPods and my Apple Watch. I’ll hit play on the Watch, but the audio won’t get pumped through the headphones. Apparently, they’re still connected to my iPhone, sitting on my dresser inside the house. To avoid this, I either have to remember to switch the iPhone into airplane mode before stepping outside, or I have to just start running to escape the iPhone’s Bluetooth range. Eventually, the AirPods get with it and pick up the Watch’s audio playback.
  • This same unwelcome dance happens when I’m in range of my PC. Yesterday, while recording a video on my iPhone using the AirPods’ built-in microphone, I suddenly heard the telltale chime that tells you the AirPods have connected to a new device. For some reason, they thought I would want them to stop feeding recorded audio to my iPhone and instead connect to my Windows laptop, ten yards away through a log wall. I had to scrap that take, run back to my office, and unpair the AirPods from Windows.
  • The AirPods’ carrying case feels great in the hand, but its smooth finish makes it prone to slipping out of my pocket. Occasionally, I’ll reach for my AirPods, only to realize they dropped into the couch cushions when I was watching TV. This bugs me, only because I’m afraid I might lose the pricy little suckers.
  • AirPods get filthy. The case’s interior collects earway and pocket lint, especially in the hinge. Regular cleanings are definitely mandatory (a quick swipe with an isopropyl-soaked Q-tip does the trick for me).
  • The convenience of wireless earbuds is somewhat tempered by the fact that I have to plug them in. Because the batteries last for days, I can sometimes forget to keep the AirPods topped off, and this creates some range anxiety, especially when traveling. And the charging experience itself isn’t great; jacking the AirPods case into Lightning feels a bit janky, and the AirPods don’t chime to tell you that you’ve correctly seated the jack into its port.[1]
  • I’ve experienced some skipping audio when pairing my AirPods to my PC. Now, Apple may not be to blame here; maybe there’s some incompatibility with the Bluetooth stack on Windows?
  • Finally, AirPods don’t fit well under noise protection earmuffs. Yeah, I know, this is totally an edge case. But I like to listen to podcasts while I mow the lawn.[2]

  1. I was excited to hear Apple announce “AirPower” last week—one mat that can wirelessly change the iPhone, the Watch, and the AirPods at the same time. This would help resolve the annoyances of charging AirPods; all I’d need to do to top the off is drop them onto my nightstand before bed.  ↩

  2. There is a hack here; slip the AirPods upside-down and place them into the opposite ear; the antenna stem is just short enough to fit inside the earcup.  ↩



Apple’s cigarettes: AirPods as happy ritual

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Apple's AirPods. Courtesy of Apple.

I’ve owned Apple’s AirPods for nine months. They’re great.

Sure, I might have a few complaints, but in general, AirPods are sheer delight; I love the feeling of freedom they provide. I love that I no longer snag cords on every doorknob. I love that I can put in a single AirPod when stereo sound doesn’t matter. I love that I don’t waste time rewrapping cables over again and again. I love that I can leave the AirPods in when I’m not listening, then forget they’re even there.

But the pleasure of AirPods isn’t just about their convenience. More than that, they’re fun—fun in a way that wired headphones never were. There’s something visceral and addictive about handling them—a ritual that makes me want to use them.

They remind me of cigarettes in that way. Now, I’ve never smoked, but from what I can tell, half of smoking’s pleasure is this series of mini-experiences that make up the habit. You feel the reassuring shape of the pack in your pocket. Slip it out and flip it over in your hand. Tap it on your palm a few times. Slide out the individual smoke, feeling that slight friction as it escapes the pack. Roll it back and forth between your fingers. Raise it to your mouth and hold it lightly between your lips. Cup your hands to shield away the wind. Strike the lighter and feeling the flame’s radiated heat. Hear the tobacco crackle as the cigarette ignites.

And the ritual goes on: the first few puffs, flicking the ashes, holding the smoke in your mouth, stubbing out the butt. It’s this sequence of “nanogestures” that (I’m guessing) become automatic and reassuring. It’s addictive not just because of the nicotine, but because it’s tactile and repeatable.

AirPods boast their own set of habitual nanogestures. For me, the case lives in a dedicated pocket in my favorite pants. I feel for their shape beneath the fabric. Retrieve the case and turn it over in my palm like a glossy worry stone. Thumb the lid and feel the magnet give way. Nudge the AirPod to jar it free from its alcove. Pinch and lift, feeling that slight friction as the stem slides free. Spin the AirPod between my fingertips and align it to my ear. Settle it into its place by feel alone. Hear that happy little hum when the Bluetooth connects. Get that satisfying SNAP as the case is thumbed closed. Then repeat the whole process in reverse when I’m done listening.

Tactile, repeatable, pleasurable. The AirPods ritual became familiar almost as soon as I started using them. But—unlike wired headphones, which were always a chore—the AirPods routine has never grown tiresome, even after nine months of use and thousands of repetitions. ■



Predicting the 2018 iPhone line-up

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At its product marketing event last week, Apple announced its new iPhone line-up, which breaks with precedent in two ways:

  • The iPhone X name (read “iPhone Ten”) takes a cue from the Windows world, in that Apple has skipped over the number “9.”
  • The iPhone price points have never been so diverse; the 2017 phones start at $349 (for the SE, Apple’s cheapest-ever new iPhone) and scale all the way up to $1149 (the 256GB X model, easily the priciest iPhone in history).

These changes make it tricky to predict what products (and prices) Apple might announce for next year’s iPhones. How will Apple handle the numbering gap next year? Would they ship a brand-new, downmarket “iPhone 9” a full year after the X? What about the pricing model? Will $999 be the new entry-level price for flagship iPhones, or was the X an aberration—the one-time result of expensive internal components (e.g. the face scanning tech or the OLED screen)?

Why bother guessing Apple’s plans?

On the one hand, it feels pointless to predict next year’s iPhone line-up. Apple’s plans are subject to change, and this year’s phones haven’t even launched. A lot could change; the iPhone X might suppress demand for the 8 models. Or the mass market may refuse to pay $999 for a new phone, no matter how shiny the tech. Or the X’s hardware changes may prove a bad bet—say, if Face ID doesn’t work as advertised, or if users prefer the Home button to the new software-based gestures. Any of these outcomes could change Apple’s plans.

Still, I want to take a stab at guessing 2018’s line-up, partly as a thought exercise and partly because I’m interested in the resale market. If I buy an iPhone X, just how much will my purchase depreciate by next fall?

My predictions

Here’s what I’m thinking:

2018 iPhone pricing
Product name Starting price Notes
iPhone 11 $999 Flagship model, successor to iPhone X
iPhone X $849 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 Plus $699 2017 hold-over
iPhone 8 $599 2017 hold-over
iPhone 7 Plus $549 2016 hold-over
iPhone 7 $449 2016 hold-over

Some notes:

  • My basic premise is that Apple was telling the truth. The company’s execs crowed that the X is the “future of the iPhone.” That holds for both price and form factor. From here on out, new iPhones will look more like the X than like the 8.
  • The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus therefore are intended to serve as a “stop gap;” they help Apple avoid erecting a a price umbrella under which competitors could camp and sell $600–800 premium phones. But this is a short-term strategy; if I’m right, there will be no new downmarket phones next year—no “iPhone 9” or “iPhone 9 Plus.” Instead, as the years go by, the iPhone X will slide down the price ladder, just like the other current models. Eventually, the old “chin and forehead” phones (the iPhones 7 and 8) will fall off the ladder, and the X-style models will stand alone.
  • This approach makes naming the next flagship phone fairly straightforward. What is the sequel to “iPhone X” (“Ten”)? iPhone 11. Other have speculated that Apple might ditch the numbering scheme altogether, citing the examples of the iPad or the Mac. But Apple hasn’t established the same annual rhythm for those products. With the iPhone, legacy models stick around a long time, dropping $100 in price year after year. The phones’ unique identifiers help customers differentiate similar-looking versions from one another. Faced with a choice between the “iPhone X (2017)” and “iPhone X (2018),” customers might either a) be confused or b) opt for the cheaper model, saying to themselves, “Who cares, as long as I get the X.” Better to assign each new device a new name and thus reinforce its unique value over legacy options.
  • What about a potential “iPhone X Plus”: an edge-to-edge OLED screen in a larger chassis? Apple is probably testing such a device, but I’m not sure we’ll see it next year. The iPhone X may represent the “sweet spot” between the non-Plus and Plus sizes—a “one size fits all” phone that doesn’t need a big brother. The fate of an iPhone X Plus likely depends upon sales metrics: will “Plus lovers” migrate to the X this year? Or will they remain loyal to the bigger form factor of the 8 Plus?
  • I expect the SE will be retired. That’s a shame, because many users (including me) love the SE’s pocketable form factor. However, there’s a chance Apple will keep the SE (and its current specs) around as an ultra-low iPhone entry point. A $249 iPhone would be intriguing, but they’ve never ventured that low before. ■


Imagining a “bezel-less” Apple Watch

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Apple Watch wee bezels

Yesterday, I imagined a thinner Apple Watch, engineering constraints be damned.

Today, another exercise in ignoring technical limitations! The market is trending towards “all-screen” smartphones; what would happen if Apple slimmed down the Watch’s bezels, too?

Some notes on the image above:

  • In shifting pixels closer to the Watch’s edge, the design above suffers for lack of white space (or, rather, “black space”). watchOS was engineered with wide black bezels in mind; because the UI’s default background is also black, the bezels read as “on-screen” margins and give the content some breathing room. Even if the hardware were bezel-less, the OS might still recreate these margins in software. But that wouldn’t have been a very rewarding Photoshop hack job.
  • In a few spots, I’ve taken advantage of the larger screen by adding content. For example, the modular face sports a few more complication slots, and the workout app adds an onscreen altitude metric. For the home screen, I’ve blown up the UI instead of adding more apps; I’ve always thought those icons could stand to be a bit bigger.
  • In order to maintain a rectangular screen shape, I’ve shrunk down the curve radius on each of the four corners. Admittedly, the end result feels a little too “blocky.” ■

Ideal Apple Watch thickness

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The ideal Apple Watch thickness?

Yesterday, I posted a graphic comparing the thickness of the newly-announced Apple Watch Series 3 to its predecessors. With each generation (from the first gen Watch to Series 2 and from Series 2 to 3), the Watch has grown thicker. It’s not hard to see why; the power demands of GPS (for the Series 2) and a cellular radio (for the Series 3) required larger battery sizes.[1]

But what if physics didn’t apply? If internal component size weren’t a constraint, how thin would you want the Apple Watch to be? In prepping the comparison above, I made a few assumptions:

  • Again, this is fantasy land. I ignored the problematic stagnance of lithium-ion battery tech. My ‘ideal’ Watch wouldn’t last you through the day. It might not even make it to lunchtime.
  • The various external Watch components (band grooves, side button, and Digital Crown) retain their current dimensions. I’ve adjusted the band groove angles to reflect a shallower attachment angle, which might break legacy band compatibility.
  • You could shave off another millimeter or so without shrinking the Digital Crown. But I worried about potential friction between the Crown and the user’s skin, hence the extra depth on bottom.

Suddenly (and unfairly), the Series 3 looks a bit chunky, doesn’t it? ■


  1. The 42mm Series 2 Watch has a 34% larger battery than the 1st generation (2015) version.  ↩


The Apple Watch keeps getting thicker

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42MM Apple Watch depths compared

Quickly whipped up this comparison graphic. With the Series 3, Apple Watch thickness continues to trend the wrong direction.

High-res image available here. Watch vectors adapted from this source; they’re not likely to be particularly precise. Depths cited apply only to the aluminum and stainless steel Watch models. ■


More thoughts on the affordability of upgrading your iPhone every year

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A few days ago, I explained how upgrading your iPhone annually can be surprisingly affordable, once you figure in the device’s depreciation and resale values.

Here are some follow-up questions:

What about upgrade cycles longer than two years? How do they compare to upgrading annually?

In the earlier post, I concluded that upgrading annually (versus upgrading every two years) costs about $80 total ($40 per year of use). We can do this same math for a three-year upgrade cycle by starting a year earlier (with the iPhone 6):

One-year upgrade cycle Model Date
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6 9/2014 ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6 9/2015 $411
2nd iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6s 9/2015 ($649)
2nd iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6s 9/2016 $411
3rd iPhone retail purchase iPhone 7 9/2016 ($649)
3rd iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 7 9/2017 $411
TOTAL ($714)
Three-year upgrade cycle Model Date
1st iPhone retail purchase iPhone 6 9/2014 ($649)
1st iPhone sale via Swappa iPhone 6 9/2017 $186
TOTAL ($463)

Compared to an annual upgrade, the three-year upgrade cycle saves you $251 over the three years. That’s more savings per year ($84) compared to a two-year cycle ($40); a new phone loses more value in the first year of ownership than in the second.

A few thoughts:

  • Three years is a long time in the gadget world. Your mileage may vary, but I would rather not use a three-year-old handset. Don’t judge me.
  • One thing I didn’t address in the previous post? Warranties. I don’t buy Apple’s “AppleCare+” protection plan, which means I only receive the default, year-long warranty. That works out great if you upgrade annually; your phone is never more than a year old,[1] so it’s always covered. Obviously, your risk increases if you hold onto your phone past that warranty window. You’re more likely to experience hardware failure in years two and three; if something breaks, you’ll be stuck paying for out-of-warranty repairs.
  • What about a four-year phone upgrade cycle? I have a friend who’s planning to upgrade his 5s this fall. Swappa says that a baseline AT&T 5s is worth about $92. By my math, he saved about $99 per year ($395 total) versus upgrading annually. Then again, retaining a phone for four years has some serious drawbacks. After 1,400+ charge cycles, a lithium-ion battery will be in rough shape.[2]

What about the new iPhones, with their higher prices? How will the upgrade math work out?

Both the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus saw price bumps over the equivalent 2016 models, and the iPhone X’s $999 starting price is a complete wild card. How will the resale values for these devices track after a year on the market?

The short answer is “We don’t know.” However, we can look at legacy Plus models to see if our math applies to the higher-priced phones. Based on a quick glance at Swappa, both the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus retained about 73% of their retail value after eleven months on the market, and the 6 and 6 Plus retained somewhere around 45% of their retail price after twenty-three months. It seems reasonable to assume that the 8 and 8 Plus resale values will trend similarly.

Keep in mind, though, even if the higher-priced models lose a similar proportion of their value, you’ll lose more in actual dollars over time, compared to the cheaper devices. A new iPhone 7 purchased in September 2016 depreciated $177 (i.e., 27%) in its first eleven months of ownership, while a 7 Plus lost $207 in value (again, 27%) during that same time span.

What about the iPhone X? Will it be worth just $730 (73% of its retail price) a year after its release? It’s hard to say. We don’t know how well the devices will sell, and, critically, we don’t know Apple’s plans for iPhone pricing in 2018. If consumers balk at paying $1000+ for a new phone, might Apple release an “iPhone XI” at, say, $899? If so, the original X’s resale value would immediately take a hit. ■


  1. Unless Apple breaks its pattern of releasing the new phone at the same time every year, which it did this year with the iPhone X. That flagship phone won’t ship until November.  ↩
  2. It is possible to replace an iPhone battery, which would help make an older phone more usable.  ↩