2 January 2016
2015 saw the launch of the Watch, following six months of official Apple preamble and years of rumours. In retrospect, it hasn’t shook the Earth as a project concept in the way I wanted it to. Ignoring absolute sales number, the opinion from people that own Watches is very mixed. Smart watches seem like an inevitable future, perhaps in the same way all phones are smartphones. The current Apple Watch needs to do more to justify its cost and its place on the wrist. I think a lot of people got Watches for Christmas, but how many will keep using them? I think the Activity tracking is the best tentpole of the current Watch and the platform needs one or two more flagship features of that calibre to be a compelling product. Hardware-wise, I wish the screen went truly edge-to-edge and that the device was just thinner overall. I think the whole device should be as tall as the diameter of the Digital Crown. On this front, I have no reservations that Apple will deliver. The company is tuned to make progressively smaller, thinner and lighter pieces of aluminium and glass.
A year ago, the community was demanding software stability. Much of this frustration was derived from discoveryd woes. Apple fixed this in OS X 10.10.4 by removing discoveryd entirely and going back to the old networking stack, so thumbs up I suppose. iOS 8 and Yosemite had various other miscellaneous bugs and issues too and at least for me, iOS 9 and El Capitan are on a different level. I think we are back to solid ground with ‘classic’ Apple software; emergent platforms like watchOS and tvOS are less concrete but that is more understandable given their youth. Remember: tvOS is months old.
Sticking on software, Apple finally gave the iPad some love. In coordination with iPad Pro obviously, the iOS split-screen multitasking additions bring huge productivity gains to the entire iPad line. The iPad Air 2 triple-core SoC is finally given something to do. Picture-In-Picture is sublime — it’s the obvious low-hanging fruit for OS X 10.12. It’s a good base to truly make the iPad a Mac replacement. I want more of this in whatever form; three apps side by side on Pro, expanding PIP beyond just video playback. The Springboard app icon grid also needs a rethink when blown up to thirteen inches. I wish the skinny sidebar app stayed visible when browsing to the Home Screen – making it vanish complicates the mental model of what apps are running with no real benefit.
The iPhone update for 2015 was straightforward, featuring faster internals, new case colour, new camera stuff, etcetera. 3D Touch is a weird feature. It’s effectively implemented as power-user shortcuts with the dichotomy that it is being marketed as a mainstream feature. Being able to preview emails isn’t that compelling to the public. The friction of bouncing between views in the navigation stack is not perceived as a problem. The second-to-second delays grate geeks but are imperceptible to the ‘mainstream’. Anyone who uses Command+C and Command+V for Copy and Paste on the desktop will share the pain of watching someone else slowly use the menu item in the pulldown menus, watching their life waste away. And yet, that same, slow, sluggish, snail pace is the standard computing paradigm for eighty-percent of the population. I think this explains why 3D Touch hasn’t caught on. It’s also just hard to migrate past eight years of habitual back-forward behaviour. Heck, I would call my own usage of 3D Touch as infrequent.
A big of theme of Apple’s 2015 was accessories. Even excluding the vast selection of Apple Watch bands Apple now sells, it released more accessories than ever. The Pencil is the standout success — a pretty much flawless execution of a drawing tablet stylus. The Smart Battery Case was the most unexpected and probably the most controversial in the community too. I still think it looks ugly and goes against the company brand. I want Apple to make things that are functional and visually appealing. That’s how I see the company. Compare the Battery Case with the new Lightning-rechargeable Magic accessories. The keyboard and mouse are useful and beautiful pieces of hardware, making difficult compromises to optimise those ideals. My biggest complaint with the Magic stuff is the tacky nomenclature and the pricing — too expensive across the board.
On a personal level, 2015 was a good year. I finished university in June, which meant deciding what to do with my professional life. In February, Apple flew me out to Cupertino for a job interview but unfortunately I didn’t perform on the day. Nevertheless, it was a cool experience and eternally thankful for the people at Apple who made it happen.
Since July, I have been doing application development and consultancy as a full time business. It’s still early days, but it’s been doing well. Eventually, I hope to be able to devote my entire business to my own revenue-generating projects but client work is a rewarding and enjoyable stepping stone. On this blog, I pushed some cool pieces and had my best months ever at 9to5Mac too. I was even live on BBC Radio once. As always, I’m very grateful for everyone’s support.1
1 It may be vain, but I don’t care. Knowing people watch what you do is an empowering feeling. I was so happy to pass 3000 Twitter followers in October.