A Windfall for Executive Greeters

From Noam Scheiber, at The New York Times:

President Obama announced Monday night a rule change that would make millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay.

The rule would raise the salary threshold below which workers automatically qualify for time-and-a-half overtime wages to $50,440 a year from $23,660…

This reminds me of a Simpsons quote where-in Homer gets a job as a greeter at the newly opened Sprawl-Mart.

Homer, would you be interested in the position of executive greeter?

That’s been my dream ever since I heard it existed right now. What do I get?

You get to work overtime without us paying you extra.

Perhaps even funnier is that I came across this little gem while searching for the above quote.
Employment benefits and competitive salary options await qualified Walmart greeters.

Be Together, Not Consistent

From Ron Amadeo, at Ars:

OEMs try to “brand” the software by changing the colors and icons, which usually makes things look worse and really only serves to make things harder for new users… [it] would be nice if all the designs and buttons on those devices looked the same.
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together…

Luckily, help is on the way. Finally, Samsung users will be able to revel in sameness by running the stock Android they crave. Goodbye hellish TouchWiz skin and hello…

Today, Samsung started posting skins from third parties, and one of the best-looking and most popular ones is a theme that brings TouchWiz more in line with stock Android.
…custom theme that sits on top of TouchWiz… Wait, what?
There are actually two different Stock Android skins fighting for acceptance in the Samsung Theme Store.
So competing themes that look sort of like the stock UI, but are limited to a single manufacturer. Well that certainly won’t make things harder for new users. Sweet! Problem solved.

Exercises vs. Experiments

From Clifford Levy, at The Next Web:

Over at The New York Times, staffers received an email letting them know the desktop site for The Times — you know, the site they all write for — would be blocked. To view www.nytimes.com, they’d have to do so via a smartphone or tablet…

In addition to underscoring the importance of mobile, a big push here is internal testing.

I would also assume that testing is a primary reason of this purported exercise (which The New York Times suspiciously refers to as “an experiment”), except that the memo doesn’t mention any such reason nor does it provide any channel for their staff to provide feedback. The only rationale mentioned is to “spur [The New York Times] to make mobile an even more central part of everything that we do.”

I too like the idea, but can’t help to think that I would be a bit insulted by the memo’s unilateral tone. It reads to me as “Hey dumb-dumb, we don’t think you understand the obvious importance of this so we are going to force it on you like vegetables to a child, and as a child forced to eat their vegetables, your unsolicited opinion will be immediately discounted.”

While that’s a bit harsh and I suspect the work environment at the Times makes the request for feedback somewhat implicit, the tone of this memo undermines what should otherwise be an engaging positive exercise.

Bothersome Prerequisites

From Dieter Bohn, at The Verge:

Looking across the updates in El Capitan, the story is clear: Apple is making life way better for people who live in its ecosystem. But if you don’t live in Apple’s garden, the benefits are less clear.

As services for cloud storage and syncing have become a core part of modern computing, I would argue that “ecosystem” and “platform” are now synonymous. The incentive of staying within one platform isn’t limited to Apple. GMail customers get a better experience using Hangouts rather than Facebook, and Office365 still works best on Windows PCs. So while I think cross platform support, or lack thereof, is a worthwile subject for debate, likening Apple’s enhancements to their own desktop operating system as being a “walled garden” is akin to criticizing Google Photos’ lack of support for those using a Yahoo account. It all seems a bit…

…but to take advantage of Apple’s updates you really need to use Apple’s apps.
…silly.

Speaking of Avoiding Change

From Recode, talking about the challenges of Android One adoption:

Central to the company’s mission with Android One is getting more devices on the latest version of its software. But the hardware manufacturers have little incentive to help this — they sell the phone and move on.

Phil Schiller Likens Ports to the Floppy Drive

My favorite moment from John Gruber’s excellent interview was when Schiller likened the single port MacBook to killing off the floppy.

…why don’t we design a product that’s around this wireless world that has really no physical connection that you need. You can get by without ever needing that. Wouldn’t that be a better world? And in doing that we realized ‘yeah but we do need to charge it so let’s go create this one port that can charge, and be a USB, and be video out. And that way if you need to connect, you can, you’re not giving that up’…and if you do that how far can you push it? How thin can it get? How light can it get? How aggressive of a design can it be?

…I mean this is all the same mentality as I remember when we took out the floppy… oh and I am sure many you all do too. It’s the exact same thinking. I sat in the rooms with friends of mine who worked at other companies in Texas and other places and they literally said ‘Oh my god. I am so jealous! We can’t do that. We can’t do that. We can’t take the risk, because if the world is going to be risk averse and doesn’t want us to take away anything, then y’know if Dell doesn’t have a floppy, but Toshiba does, they’ll just buy the Toshiba. They’re all the same, except if your missing one thing then no one will buy your stuff.’ … That’s the embodiment of this new MacBook, which is take a bold risk. Maybe some people will think it’s not perfect for them yet, but for a surprising number of people it’s already their future laptop.

I think Phil is spot on and his anecdote, as dated as it is, perfectly illustrates how a commoditized hardware market evolves to avoid risk by simply increasing specs while avoiding change. For a current example, just look at the continued ubiquity of the 28 year old VGA port on modern PC laptops.

Streaming Music Service Lock-in

The ongoing lack an Apple streaming music service would undoubtedly (and rightfully) draw criticisms about iTunes’ growing irrelevance in today’s increasingly stream-heavy music landscape. Now that Apple is supposedly on the cusp of announcing a streaming music service, we instead get this gem of a headline from The Verge.

Apple Music and the terrible return of DRM

Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

From Nilay Patel:

But next week Apple is probably going to launch another streaming service, and if history is any guide, it’s only going to work with Apple products. That means I’ll have yet a fourth music service in my life (Spotify, Google Play Music, Prime, and Apple Music) and a fourth set of content exclusives and pricing windows to think about instead of just listening to music.

I agree that streaming music services and their related DRM threaten interoperability and choice, but that has always been the trade-off, regulated access to a greater catalog at little-to-no cost. Consumers can still choose to pay more and own DRM-free music via any number of options including iTunes. Nilay’s article does do a good job bringing awareness to these trade-offs, but its headline feels like another piece of Apple FUD to generate clicks for The Verge.

AltConf Barred From Streaming WWDC

From MacRumors.com:

It is not clear why Apple has decided to crack down on AltConf’s plan to stream WWDC content as AltConf has been able to do so in the past. This is the first year that AltConf has offered a $300 paid ticket option, but AltConf’s organizers do not believe that is a factor as paid tickets do not guarantee seating for the WWDC viewing theater.

Apple is being tone deaf here, but I can’t help but think that involving copyrighted media while generating revenue, even with the best of intentions, significantly increases the risk of legal action. I also suspect that ignoring AltConf, particularly given its proximity and size to WWDC, could be bad for Apple if their content is somehow unreasonably re-used at some point.

What I don’t understand is why can’t Apple acknowledge the obvious supply/demand situation leading to AltConf and simply grant them some level of permission.

Update: Would you look at that! Apple has apparently given AltConf permission to stream the WWDC Keynote and Platforms State of the Union address, but not the developer sessions. This resolution seems appropriate to me. AltConf gets to provide enthusiasts another venue to gather for the publicly available keynote, but not stream the developer sessions under NDA. I still think Apple should have done a better job handling this, particularly in terms of timing. That said, the lack of gratitude towards Apple in AltConf’s press release, which only thanks “the community”, comes off to me as a bit entitled. I am sure Apple probably wasn’t very friendly or accommodating during this whole snafu and that the community was the main factor for the change of heart, but Apple also had no obligation to provide any streaming access. After everything they’ve undoubtedly been through, I understand if AltConf doesn’t want to thank Apple, but not doing so at this juncture does more damage to their cause than good.

The Apple Watch

Like many other Apple enthusiasts, my owning a first generation Apple Watch was inevitable. I fell in love with the Mac in the 90s, owned a first generation iPod, and waited in line to get my original iPhone. Each of these products at the time that I first used them not only had the benefit of being great, but also happened to compete with truly lesser products. Windows 3.x still felt like the Dollar Store version of Mac OS. Early MP3 players had terrible interfaces, compromised on either storage or size, and suffered from original USB’s slow-as-molasses I/O. Smartphones prior to 2007 were app-less, browser-less and joyless machines used primarily for work email. I would argue that for the better part of the last decade, Apple could confidently release enjoyable and well designed products without any real fear of quality based competition thanks to a race-to-bottom mentality from the late 90s. With the viable alternatives being crap, I would further argue that Apple’s luxury brand status was at least partially won by default.

Times have (somewhat) changed.

Largely influenced by Apple’s success, technology companies have increasingly started factoring quality into their offerings. Much to our benefit, the technology landscape now has an array of decently put together from a variety of manufacturers (with some of them more original than others). I think that Apple is still on top in terms of design and quality, but that a large part of maintaining that lead relies on their ability to refine their products into an increasingly premium experience. The current digital watch market epitomizes this dynamic. While there have been plenty of underwhelming watches released in the past year or so, there have also been some solid offerings. I think an Apple Watch released with the manufacturing prowess of an iPod would have fallen flat in today’s market, particularly with the level scrutiny that naturally comes with being the largest company in the industry.

While still a consumer product, the 42mm Steel Apple Watch with Milanese Loop is the nicest Apple product I have owned.

My Order

I ordered the Steel version for three reasons— first and foremost I have a sensitivity to aluminum and while I have heard that this may not be a problem with the Sport collection, I did not want to take any risk. Second, I knew immediately that I wanted the Milanese loop which goes best with the Steel model. Lastly, I am not a millionaire which eliminates that other collection.

Having smaller wrists, I was torn between the 38mm and 42mm, and was originally leaning toward the smaller face until seeing various warnings that the watches were much smaller in person compared to the gigantic product shots on Apple.com. After some research, it looked like the 38mm would look a bit small while the 42mm would be a little large. Calling it a wash, I decided to pre-order the larger version for the bigger screen and larger battery. Luckily a try-on appointment confirmed my research and the size still feels appropriate after wearing the watch for the past few weeks.

The Watch & Bands

Instead of feeling mercilessly bent or carved into submission, the steel casing around the Apple Watch feels entirely natural, as if it was born with this shape. This combined with a near seamless curved sapphire display and back give the sense of wearing something closer to jewelry than a tiny computer.

I was initially worried that the Milanese Loop might look too gaudy. Luckily, that really hasn’t been a problem. The steel mesh is somewhat neutral which doesn’t stick out next to the matching steel case. The few comments I have received have all been complimentary with one person remarking that they would wear one as a bracelet if they could. Functionally-wise, I find it fairly easy to put on and take off despite moments of the strong magnet clasp prematurely sticking to various other parts of the band. While the band does loosen over the course of a day, I rarely feel the need to readjust it. A bigger issue is a false sense of haptic feedback that sometimes occurs as the band loosens.

The black sport band I purchased to work out also looks good enough to provide a more casual alternative to the Milanese Loop. My aforementioned smaller wrists dictated that I use the S/M band, an option that oddly wasn’t available during my try-on. The band fits comfortably and works great though it does require a bit more dexterity to put on than the loop.

The Digital Crown & Side Button

The digital crown doubles as both the home button and a traditional watch wheel. A perfect combination of resistance and smoothness gives the digital crown a sense that I am somehow effortlessly rotating something far heavier, a feeling far better than any Apple input mechanism I have used. Apple touts the digital crown as a revolutionary input mechanism on par with the mouse, iPod click wheel, and multitouch. From a purely functional standpoint, I find this claim a little overblown simply because all of the other innovations served as the primary (if not exclusive) way to navigate their respective interfaces. The crown on the other hand shares input with watch’s own multitouch screen. Many functions such as bringing up notifications and navigating Glances are entirely driven via swipes. That said, the crown’s usefulness shines in any scenario where a bidirectional input is possible. Scrolling, scrubbing and particularly zooming would be terrible with just multitouch on a watch screen so tiny that it can be mostly obscured by a single finger. The Digital Crown not only solves this problem, but also provides a luxurious experience in doing so.

Oh, and the crown also happens to be a fantastic home button.

The side button is also solid as expected. Its existence and position has been pondered since the Watch’s announcement last fall. I think the second button is fundamentally more necessary than Apple has let on given the number functions they had to support (home, power, Apple Pay, screenshot, Siri, and Friends). As to why it shares the same side as the crown? My theory is simply that there is no better alternative. The top and bottom sides are easily ruled out because there is already too little room with the bands, especially considering the expected thinner models to come. The opposite side seems plausible, but pressing the digital crown is much easier when squeezing both sides of the face, which makes me wonder if this was tested and ruled out after one too many accidental screenshots. (Similar to an iPhone, screenshots are taken by simultaneously pressing the secondary/power button and digital crown/home button.)

A Digital Watch

I have mostly stopped using the Apple Watch as an analog timepiece. While I initially started out using the Simple watch face, I quickly discovered the inherent usefulness of Modular. Modular is more-or-less a digital watch face that in addition to smaller complications, it also has a large center complication which I have showing me basic info about my next meeting. This might seem insignificant, but on a typical day, my job involves anywhere from two to six meetings. Being able to quickly see how long I have to write an email or grab lunch is a huge convenience. The other complications I have settled on are weather, date, timer and activity. Part of me wonders if third party complications will ultimately become more valuable to users than both Glances and apps.

Notifications, Taptic Engine, & Siri

Notifications are a major reason I bought an Apple Watch. Because I work in an open office, my iPhone is on mute and its vibrate mode often isn’t quite noticeable. Before the Apple Watch, I would regularly miss my iPhone’s notifications. This was particularly frustrating because I have long curated my notifications to just the few things and people I really care about. The Apple Watch has effectively solved this problem as expected. In addition to typical vibration, the watch also has what Apple has been calling the Taptic Engine, which produces sensation closer to being gently tapped on the wrist. The gentle taps generated are far more pleasing than existing vibrate modes and are easily noticeable despite their subtlety. This leads me to a second unexpected benefit. Unlike my iPhone or Mac, where notifications regularly pile up, clearing or dismissing them comes naturally with the Apple Watch. The only notification I typically handle on the watch is Messages. Messages offers various contextual predefined phrases which are marginally useful for quick responses. Then there is Siri. On the iPhone, I typically use Siri primirily for dictation while walking on busy New York streets. With that, I find that Siri on the watch is just useful enough to outweigh the awkwardness of talking into a watch.

Music, Workout, and Activity

Recently I realized that, as of this year, I have been a regular runner for most of my life. The Apple Watch is roughly the fifth category of music player that I have run with starting with a Walkman in the 90s. Loading up the watch was fairly straightforward as I was already using a running specific playlist. My biggest issues have been with Bluetooth headphones. I am not sure, but Bluetooth seems to be shaky whenever the watch is in range of my phone. I first experienced the issue while bringing my iPhone on the recommended calibration run, but have since noticed it even when I am briefly in range while leaving my apartment. Adding to my suspicion and helping mitigate the problem is how Bluetooth seems to work fine once I am out of the range of my iPhone.

Workout’s heart rate monitoring and general activity tracking seems sufficient enough for me, but it’s distance accuracy could be better for running. Out of four runs, about half were measured an with accurate 3.6 miles while the others rounded me up to 4 miles, giving me a bonus of about 10%. GPS will be a welcome addition in future models.

Activity, specifically its complication has been an excellent motivator for getting me to stand and move more throughout my day.

App Screen and Glances

I really enjoy the fluid icons on the app screen. The sparse number of apps installed combined with my relatively small fingers make the app screen ideal as my primary method for accessing apps. Apple’s Glances promise a convenient view into various apps such as Weather or Stocks by swiping up from the watch face. In my case, Glances have been largely neglected as I find they’re mostly limited in functionality and laggy. This combined with the fact that only a single Glance is visible at a time further push me to using the more responsive app screen where multiple apps are accessible at any moment. That said, I expect Glances will improve with upcoming updates and the native SDK. I also agree with John Gruber’s point that Glances provide the most intuitive flow when in the more predominant watch mode. Simply swipe up to see Glances, click on a Glance for more engagement/functionality, then hit the home button to go back to the watch face. Considering this, it’s obvious that Glances are akin to frequently used items in the Mac OS X dock where as app mode is everything else similar to the Applications folder.

Miscellany

  • Having had the opportunity to use Apple Pay for the first time (still on an iPhone 5s) and from my wrist is an entirely magical experience. The same was true for using a Passbook to enter a movie theater. Now I want everything to be NFC and I want it all to be accessible from my watch.
  • The watch’s maps with haptic feedback is leaps and bounds more convenient than constantly checking a phone.
  • I don’t think I have seen the battery go below 20% yet.

Conclusion and Legacy

From the announcement through launch, I have been impressed with Apple’s ambition with the watch. The iPad was Apple’s previous major product release, the last one announce by Steve Jobs, was derided as a big iPhone. While that criticism is overly dismissive, I think it’s accurate to describe the iPad as a sibling in the iOS generation. The Apple Watch is of its own generation. Maybe this is my Mac bunker mentality from the 90s, but I can’t help but notice a bated expectation for Apple to falter, particular given the aforementioned increased competition and since Steve’s passing. I get the sense that if somehow the products were reversed, if the Apple Watch was Steve’s last product and this were a review of the newly released iPad, the doomsayers would be in full swing citing a death of innovation at the once beloved fruit company. Instead we live in a reality where the first product line released by post-Steve Apple is the most premium product in the company’s over 30 year history.

It’s new. It’s ambitious. And despite some flaws, it’s very solid and I can’t wait for the next version of Apple Watch.

Quality Protection From Pocket Junk

Last spring, I took my iPhone 5s into the local Genius Bar due to a wonky power button. The shiny replacement I was given illustrated the abuse my old phone had taken in less than a year of usage, particularly on the aluminum sides, which had become speckled from wear. Generally, I am fairly easy on devices and have a track record going back to the original iPod to prove it. Any abuse has not typically come at my hands, but rather from my pocket. Keys, change, and whatever junk roaming in my pocket has a long history of scratching my precious devices dating back to my original iPod. The iPod, for those that don’t remember, had a mirror-like back that was also insanely easy to scratch. Mine was so bad, it once inspired a minor scolding by an Apple Store rep. So aside from the aforementioned power button, which Apple agreed wasn’t my doing, the only time an iDevice was functionally damaged on my watch was when I obliterated the headphone jack on an iPhone 3gs. To this day I am convinced that the injury was a direct result of the tapered 3gs’s uncanny ability to scoop in pocket grit and lint. 

The most common solution is to get a protective case. I didn’t want this kind of full-time solution because I prefer the more premium feel of Apple’s products while handling them. I didn’t need or want the device to be shielded from me, just from my pocket. After the power button incident, I started looking for what I had termed an “iPhone wallet” as something I could easily slide my iPhone in and out of while also protecting it from any lurking pocket unpleasantries. 

I didn’t expect to have any difficulty finding the object of my solution. Equipped with a vague memory of seeing iPhone wallets before, I first checked the Apple Store to no avail. Then I wandered the various boutiques known for carrying iPhone cases. Again, nothing. Even Amazon seemed to yield only full-time cases with the closest option being a type of bi-fold wallet similar to a leather bound address book. Had my memory failed me? Was I dreaming? Maybe my type of wallet no longer existed after being thoroughly trounced by demand for full time solutions. I had given up and resigned to the reality of another iPhone being mercilessly tortured by my unforgiving pocket junk. 

Then I happened across an ad via The Deck picturing exactly what I had been seeking. For the first time in forever, I clicked on an ad. This took me to Joli Originals, who describes themselves as:

…a independent design studio from Amsterdam. We make Wallets, sleeves for iPad, iPhone, MacBook Air & MacBook Pro. All handmade by ourselves with premium Italian leather and the finest Dutch 100% wool felt.

An iPhone sleeve is what I should had been looking for this whole time. I did another Amazon search and sure enough, there was a cavalcade of sleeves to choose from. 

Now I was left with a choice. The Joli Originals sleeve would run me about 70 bucks American to import while the other options from miscellaneous Amazon vendors were less than half that price. I ended up going with the more expensive option for two reasons: First, I have been burned by a cheap running band that seemed to attract more grit than even my pockets. Second and more importantly, I am a firm believer in investing reasonably more for things I can anticipate using regularly. I planned on using the sleeve daily for at least the next 16 months (I tend to upgrade my phone every other year) and Joli’s really seemed to involve much nicer materials than Apple’s own $50 case let alone the other sleeves on Amazon. I have been using my Joli Originals ever since. 

After over 9 months daily use, here’s my thoughts. Anyone like me who prefers using their iPhone without any case but still wants protection from the scratching evils within pockets, bags, and purses should definitely consider a Joli Originals Sleeve. 

The main reason to choose Joli Originals is their much touted materials. The now aged and worn Italian leather feels as premium as the iPhone sheathed within. I was initially concerned that my Joli Originals Sleeve was too tight, but the leather soon stretched and conform to best fit my needs. This combined with the 100% Dutch wool felt liner offers just the right amount resistance. Never do I struggle removing my iPhone nor has it ever accidentally slid out. The wool is also thick enough to offer significant padding in case of drops. Joli Originals does leave one edge unprotected for easy access, but I don’t consider this a negative. As a product targeted to those who prefer handling their devices bare, any protection is more than would have been otherwise. Finally, my experience so far reflects Joli claim that the whole thing is sewn together with “super strong” thread with nary a loose end in sight.

In addition to the materials, the service provided was also that of a premium experience. Shortly after ordering, I noticed an extra charge on my credit card. I reached out to Joli Originals with my concern and saw a personal email response from Harold within just a few hours. Regular and friendly correspondence ensued until the issue was resolved. (For the record, the issue turned out to be related to how Stripe processed my international order.)

Finally and perhaps most importantly, my Joli Originals Sleeve has excelled at its one job. My replacement has been successfully protected from merciless pocket junk and it shows. While there are still some minor scuffs, this iPhone looks pristine when compared to its predecessor.

Those wanting or needing to save money should have no problem finding a lower cost alternative. A more recent Amazon search for sleeves yielded better results than my original research 9 months ago, but still none of them look quite as quality as Joli Originals Sleeve. To that end, sleeves in general are a great way to protect devices from the grit and junk found in everyday pockets and bags, but those who can afford it, would do well to give Joli Originals a try.