Posts tagged Apple’s
The race to build the modern smartwatch started in earnest thanks to two major events in the past two years: Pebble’s über-successful run on Kickstarter in early 2012, and a steady drumbeat of reports in 2013 about Apple’s alleged plans to build its own iWatch (or whatever the company decides to call it, should it in fact exist).
With low-energy Bluetooth, Pebble made it easy to view important notifications, check the weather, or change the music you’re listening to without ever needing to reach for your smartphone. It managed to make digital watches look less nerdy but also far more user-friendly and functional, especially as a simple but helpful extension to the diverse apps on your smartphone.
Pebble made it easy to understand the value of a smartwatch, but the New York Times lit a fire under every major tech company in February 2013 when Nick Bilton reported on Apple’s nascent smartwatch efforts, likening its possible “next big thing” to something Dick Tracy or James Bond would use: “A watch that double[s] as a computer, two-way radio, mapping device or television.”
Suddenly everyone wanted to crack the smartwatch code before Apple could get its first iteration iWatch out the door. So far, however, Pebble remains in the forefront of this nascent market in many ways, having launched its first “appstore” in January and unveiling its premium Pebble Steel smartwatch, which is currently in limited supply.
Unfortunately for Pebble, the company’s dominance in the smartwatch space is almost sure to be short-lived. Companies with deeper pockets than Pebble, including device makers like Samsung and chipmakers such as Qualcomm, are beginning to get the hang of their own early-generation products. Meanwhile, Google recently introduced its Android SDK for wearables, which will help power smartwatch entrants from LG, Motorola and others.
And then there’s Apple, which seems likely to finally unveil its own smartwatch later this year—probably in time for the all-important holiday push. (Among the bits and pieces of evidence here are the company’s hiring spree for smartwatch makers and designers last year, as well as the recent 9to5Mac scoop outlining the new Healthbook app in iOS 8, which would ideally provide important health information by tracking data from one’s pulse.)
Many believe Apple’s iWatch will marry the looks of a luxury wristwatch with the powerful sensors found in today’s fitness wristbands, and, of course, familiar elements from the iPhone and iPad shrunken down and reconfigured to work from your wrist. Apple is undoubtedly full of its own ideas. But it would also benefit from looking at the progenitor of the modern smartwatch—or rather, its steely successor—both as inspiration and as a model to surpass.
What Apple Should Borrow From Pebble Steel
- It actually looks like a watch: These days, wristwatches are born and worn for aesthetic purposes above all else; the key for smartwatches is to retain that physical attractiveness while also incorporating new technologies that exponentially increase the wristband’s power. The Pebble Steel is significantly smarter than a normal watch, but its low profile is excellent for blending into one’s environment. For its own smartwatch, Apple will similarly want to pursue a design that’s stylish but not gaudy, in the same way the iPhone is modern and beautiful without being ostentatious.
- Visibility in all light: Whether in the light or in the dark, the display on the Pebble Steel is easy to view at all times. That’s because the Pebble Steel features a backlit e-paper display, which means you can read its screen even in direct sunlight. Apple’s current iOS devices are no bueno in the sunlight, but it would make more sense to consider more effective polarization methods to make the iWatch visible anywhere.
- Notifications: This is the main reason people want smartwatches—to see who’s messaging them or what appointment is coming up without having to pull a phone from their pocket for every vibration. The Pebble Steel offers iPhone or Android smartphone owners a simple way to see incoming texts, phone calls and Facebook activities with a relatively discreet glance at their wrist. Notifications in Pebble Steel are simple “cards” with text; Apple will likely pursue a similarly simple notification system for the iWatch, but with a more colorful palette. It wouldn’t be surprising for iWatch notifications to resemble those in iOS 7, with the use of semi-transparent layers, simple iconography and playful animations.
- Battery life: If Apple can make its iWatch battery last roughly as long as Pebble Steel, most customers ought to be satisfied. I’ve been using the Pebble Steel for a while, and in my experience it runs low on battery roughly every 5-7 days. Even better, fully charging the device via my laptop takes less than an hour. Apple products, especially early-generation ones, have tended to suffer from battery-life issues, so this would be an extremely useful rabbit for Apple to pull out of its hat.
How Apple Can Improve Upon Pebble Steel’s Model
- Fewer buttons: The Pebble Steel features four buttons—one on the left side above the charging port and three on the right side to go up, down and select. It’s relatively intuitive, but pressing any button requires at least two fingers, and that’s not always convenient. Apple could fit the iWatch with two buttons, like it does its iOS devices—one for power, the other for “home”—but if the iWatch comes with a touchscreen, most controls and gestures would only need one finger at most, which would be significantly less awkward.
- Improve the screen and interface: The Pebble Steel’s black and white display works in bright sunlight and at night, but colors and some multi-touch capabilities would be a nice touch (literally). At times, it would be nice to provide touchscreen inputs like swiping as opposed to awkwardly pinching the buttons around my wrist when I want to play different music or make notifications go away.
- Appeal to women: Don’t get me wrong, the Pebble Steel is a beautiful smartwatch. But I don’t see it becoming “fashionable” anytime soon. Most smartwatches today come with rectangular watchfaces (the Moto 360 hopes to address this), but more importantly, many smartwatches are thick and bulky. Apple should deal with that front and center.
- Fix the wristband: The Pebble Steel offers two premium wristbands, including leather and two metal styles, brushed stainless steel or black matte. Having a choice in my wristband style is nice, but I still need to visit a jeweler to get my steel wristband properly sized, and that’s a problem. Sure, Pebble is a fledgling company, but forcing customers to make multiple appointments to purchase the device and size the watch properly to one’s wrist seems like too much hassle for customers, and not something Apple would do. Removing pins to accommodate different-sized wrists also seems like an ancient, clunky solution that’s unacceptable in the world of modern technology; I couldn’t imagine Apple’s design team OK’ing an iWatch that didn’t crack this problem on how to accommodate different-sized wrists without needing to visit a jeweler.
- Use the voice: I mentioned earlier that it takes at least two fingers to press one of the four buttons on the Pebble Steel. With a touchscreen, you’d still need to use at least one finger. Sometimes, though, I’d like to be able to use no fingers. Apple’s Siri isn’t voice-activated like Google Now, but for iWatch, perhaps a simple shake of one’s wrist could activate Siri, which would then allow you to ask directions, send texts, schedule appointments, or even tweet without needing to fiddle on your wrist.
- Make it comfortable: Balancing beauty with comfort isn’t easy, but if people use smartwatches as much as they use smartphones, people will be wearing this device a lot. These are the challenges Apple needs to address: Heat, size and shape. As I mentioned earlier, Apple products tend to suffer from battery issues, but complaints of overheating on a smartwatch would be disastrous for the product. So Apple needs to have a battery that’s powerful but doesn’t get too hot on people’s wrists, but also small enough fit on people’s wrists—plus, be shapely and attractive. And yet, after all of those needs, if your watch is painful for your wrist in any way, especially after extended usage, you’re not going to wear it—and that’s not good for you, or Apple.
Given the recent rush of wearables, the big question is whether Apple will add to the smartwatch conversation or simply echo it. Learning more from Pebble Steel—as opposed to the many rival smartwatches from Samsung and Sony that seem like guesses at what an iWatch could and should be—would be a big step toward building a simple wristband product that still has plenty to offer Apple’s traditional users.
Lead image by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite
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Three out of every four iOS users are running iOS 7, but Apple’s redesigned mobile operating system still has its fair share of issues—and fixes for many of them may still be a month away.
At first, there was the lock screen bypass exploit. Then came the iMessage bug. The “screen of death.” Battery issues galore. Now there’s a new vulnerability that allows someone who grabs your phone to quickly disable Apple’s “Find My iPhone” service, which securely tracks the location of all registered iOS and Mac devices. That would effectively hide the device from iCloud’s protective service.
After that, this hypothetical bad guy could also to switch the phone to another iCloud account, gaining the ability to remotely install apps and to siphon some data off the device.
Normally, the iPhone requires a password if you want to deactivate “Find My iPhone.” Now, however, hackers have demonstrated that they can bypass that security step without having to guess, steal or even bypass your Apple ID password.
In the iPhone’s iCloud account settings, in the field where you’d normally enter your Apple ID password to sign in, enter gibberish instead and save. The phone will give you an error noting the incorrect password. Then back out, reopen the same settings page and delete whatever is written in the iCloud account’s “Description” field. Save those settings and you’ll notice Find My iPhone is now toggled off. If you visit iCloud.com or use “Find My iPhone” on another device, you’ll see that Apple can no longer find the original phone.
It’s then possible to de-link the phone from your iCloud account and instead associate it with another one.
The video below, uploaded by YouTube user Bradley Williams, shows iOS 7 users how to pull off the Find My iPhone exploit for themselves:
True, this vulnerability probably doesn’t pose a major threat to most iPhone or iPad users. It requires physical access to the device, and then only works if the user hasn’t set a passcode or enabled the iPhone 5S fingerprint-based Touch ID system. The exploit also doesn’t deactivate Apple’s Activation Lock system, which blocks a thief from erasing and re-activating a stolen phone unless they enter your Apple ID and password.
The exploit is, however, embarrassingly simple. Developers running the beta version of iOS 7.1 say it blocks this exploit and others. But until Apple releases the public version of iOS 7.1, passcodes and/or Touch ID are the best way to protect your iDevices.
Apple has reportedly been working on iOS 7.1 since September. In addition to bug fixes, users should also expect a few visual improvements to specific applications and the overall UI, more natural-sounding Siri voices in more languages, an improved calendar, additional accessibility options, and more.
Apple earlier this week released the fifth beta of iOS 7.1 to developers, but a report from 9to5Mac, citing “reliable sources,” says Apple won’t release iOS 7.1 until March. BGR was the first to report the March release date for iOS 7.1 back in December, but hedged its bets on Thursday by saying the update might arrive in the “coming weeks.”
Lead image by Reuters
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If and when Apple ever comes out with a wearable computer, the term “watch” may not necessarily apply.
According to reports, Apple is going whole hog into health and fitness for its long-rumored wearable device. This morning, a new job listing on Apple’s website called for a “User Studies Exercise Physiologist” who would design, test and run user studies of fitness tracking, including calories burned, metabolic rate, cardiovascular fitness and “measurement/tracking and other key physiological measurements.” That job listing subsequently vanished, although Mark Gurman from 9to5Mac posted a screenshot.
Such physiologists and related sensor and health experts are expected to contribute to an app in the forthcoming version of iOS 8 called “Healthbook,” Gurman reported last week. Apple already has fitness tracking capabilities built into the iPhone 5S via its M7 motion co-processor, and Healthbook will be the software manifestation of Apple’s fitness hardware.
Apple has met with the Food and Drug Administration to discuss mobile medical applications, according to a report in the New York Times. That makes sense if Apple is working on applications that may touch on healthcare issues, as federal laws concerning the gathering, storage and sharing of health information are quite strict. Moving into a field like healthcare is not something a company like Apple would do haphazardly.
It does look like Apple may be acknowledging that smartwatches are not going to recapitulate the capabilities of smartphones any time soon. Today’s smartwatches are generally falling into one of two distinctive categories: communication devices like Pebble, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear and the Qualcomm Toq and fitness devices like FitBit and the Nike FuelBand. From the reports so far, it appears that Apple is focusing on the latter category.
U.S. healthcare is a $2.8 trillion industry, counting everything from insurance to pharmaceuticals to doctor and hospital fees and so on. Technologists have long considered health and fitness ripe for “disruption” by lower-cost, information-centric approaches, but most attempts so far have run into the shoals of federal regulations and heavily entrenched, bureaucratic incumbents that have proven amazingly resistant to change.
Apple’s Wearable Challenges
The technology for the all-on-one smartwatch is not really mature enough for Apple to create a device that is both smartphone and wearable fitness tracker. So, Apple has to establish priorities.
First, it needs to uphold the software and hardware design principles that have made it the most profitable computer company in the world. That may mean a curved display that demonstrates Apple’s usual flair. It will certainly mean packing a device with enough power to collect relevant data and deliver simple but intuitive functions. At a minimum, that means Bluetooth, GPS, a variant of the M7 motion processor (likely an ARM-based Cortex processor of some type) and an accelerometer.
Battery life will be crucial; almost certainly, so will wireless charging.
Second will be a platform for developers to build on, the same way they do on iOS in the smartphone and tablet world. Apple will likely have several launch partner apps for its fitness band, with Nike a likely suspect (Apple CEO Tim Cook sits on Nike’s board) as well as apps like RunKeeper (one of the first fitness trackers in the App Store). If Apple makes its fitness tracker a platform to build on top of—like it did with the iPhone—it could go a long way into creating interest for the product.
The third challenge may be the most difficult: getting the American health system to adopt an Apple-made fitness device as a go-to source for health monitoring. Imagine a doctor prescribing a health tracker to a patient to monitor cardiovascular health with all of that information directly shipped back to the doctor’s computer. This is the sort of idea that would lead Apple straight into discussions with the FDA.
Apple hasn’t rushed into the wearable market the way companies like Samsung and Sony have. Apple is taking a classic, pragmatic approach that could ultimately yield not just a consumer-grade fitness tracker, but a life companion device designed to keep you healthy.
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Prior to the 30th anniversary of the original Macintosh on January 24, I wrote about the possibility that Apple might soon merge iOS and OS X, creating a single hybrid operating system for both Macs and mobile devices.
Apple had no direct response to my request for comment, but three company executives—marketing VP Phil Schiller, software engineering VP Craig Federighi, and software technology VP Bud Tribble—indirectly answered some of my questions when they invited Macworld to Apple headquarters to set the record straight, insisting that OS X and iOS will always be separate entities:
“To say [OS X and iOS] should be the same, independent of their purpose? Let’s just converge, for the sake of convergence? [It’s] absolutely a non-goal,” Federighi said. “You don’t want to say the Mac became less good at being a Mac because someone tried to turn it into iOS. At the same time, you don’t want to feel like iOS was designed by [one] company and Mac was designed by [a different] company, and they’re different for reasons of lack of common vision.”
What Apple’s Executives Didn’t Say
That all sounds like a pretty definitive nail in the integration coffin, at least until you think about it a bit.
Over the past decade, the rising popularity of the iPhone and iPad—both powered by a touch-optimized “mobile” version of OS X—led many to believe that Apple would eventually fold its Mac line into the ever-growing iDevice division. But Apple prefers the “cross-pollination of ideas” that exists between OS X and iOS, even though Federighi has led all development efforts for both platforms since the iOS and OS X teams effectively fused in late 2012.
“It’s obvious and easy enough to slap a touchscreen on a piece of hardware, but is that a good experience?” Federighi told Macworld. “We believe, no.”
As I noted previously, many developers and other experts think Apple will eventually release something like an “iPad Pro”—a tablet with a detachable keyboard that could switch easily between iOS and OS X and thus run both iPad apps and Mac programs. (Unsurprisingly, the iPad Pro is already a fixture in the Apple-product rumor mill.)
In the Macworld interview, Apple’s executives unanimously rejected the notion of putting iOS in a Mac. But nobody downplayed or even mentioned the idea of porting a full version OS X to a mobile device—such as, for instance, that aforementioned “professional-leaning” tablet with a detachable keyboard.
“It’s not an either/or,” Schiller said. “It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Schiller’s right: Tablets have certain advantages over laptops and vice-versa, but that only helps to make the case for the iPad Pro, not against it. To be clear: Schiller is saying Apple would never strip down the Mac to make it more like iOS. But Schiller is leaving the door open to smartphones or tablets that become more than what they already are.
A Natural Evolution For iPad
Remember when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone? He called it “the best iPod we’ve ever made.” And yet, since the arrival of the iPhone, the iPod is no longer Apple’s cash cow; in the company’s most recent quarter, the iPod only accounted for 1.6% of the company’s revenue. Meanwhile, the iPhone is hotter than ever, earning more than 56% of the record $57.6 billion in revenue Apple pulled in last quarter.
Products evolve. The iPod as we know it has become the iPhone, even though though both product lines still exist. So, unless Apple feels particularly sheepish about creating a Microsoft Surface lookalike, there’s no reason Apple couldn’t push the iPad to become “more than just a tablet.” Sure, the iPad started on iOS, but a “professional” version of the iPad running OS X would almost certainly have broad appeal.
An iPad Pro could work from a technical side, since Apple’s mobile devices are already getting to the point where they can handle desktop-level software. In fact, Apple loves to advertise that its iPhone 5S is the world’s first 64-bit smartphone with desktop architecture thanks to its A7 chip, which also powers the iPad Air.
A larger iPad with more interior real estate for processors might be able to handle OS X with a “layer” of iOS that only activates when the tablet’s keyboard is detached. Add a few ports for peripherals (maybe—finally—USB!) and Touch ID for security purposes, and you’ve got the first Macintosh Tablet: A powerful laptop when the keyboard’s attached, and a full-featured iPad when the keyboard’s detached.
The Enterprise Incident
Why would Apple create this product? Simple: To solidify the company’s standing as the preferred tablet for the enterprise—98% of Fortune 500 companies currently deploy iPads—while also appealing to small businesses and local merchants that use affordable mobile solutions like Square for processing customer payments.
Before iOS devices came along, Apple organized its Mac products in a quadrant system, as portables and desktops further divided into professional and consumer categories. Now that the iPhone and iPad are beginning to mature, it would make sense for Apple to begin categorizing iOS products this way, too.
We’re starting to see it with the iPhone, where Apple already has two tiers: The 5S for those who need fast, cutting-edge technology (like professionals), and the 5C as a cheaper option for consumers thanks to older (yet still reliable) technologies.
There’s no reason Apple couldn’t—or shouldn’t—apply the same strategy to the iPad. With very little effort, it could sell a more versatile tablet packed with technologies and features—the ideal iPad Pro—alongside the “classic” iPad with the familiar touchscreen-only experience.
Apple doesn’t need to sell an all-in-one iPad solution, of course. But it would make lots of sense. After all, the iPhone was an all-in-one solution (phone, Internet and music), and look how that worked out.
Lead illustration by Madeleine Weiss for ReadWrite
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The App Store had its best year ever in 2013: Apple on Tuesday said customers spent $10 billion on apps over the last year, which was highlighted by a record-breaking December with over $1 billion in sales. In May, Apple celebrated 50 billion app downloads by rewarding the person who downloaded the 50 billionth app with a $10,000 gift card.
Though Android dwarfs iOS in devices and downloads, Apple rakes in an estimated $5.1 million in revenue from the App Store each day, while Google banks just $1.1 million per day. And Citigroup analyst Mark May believes Google Play pulled in only $1.3 billion in revenue last year—just 13% of Apple’s haul—even though Android accounts for roughly 75% of all app downloads (the App Store’s share was just 18%).
So to clarify: Google has a larger installed base than Apple, it has more products and properties than Apple, and it’s on more smartphones than Apple. So why is Apple’s App Store so much more lucrative than Google Play?
Here’s what the App Store has going for it: More apps, less malware, and more money for developers and advertisers than Android. Developers also seem to prefer iOS because it is significantly less fragmented—78% of iOS users are running the latest version, compared to the little more than half of Android users on all versions of Android Jelly Bean (all versions)—and they can charge more for apps on the App Store. (Apple’s $999 price cap is much more flexible than Google’s $200 limit.)
But Google’s little green robot is catching up. The Play Store is growing faster than the iOS App Store with more published and updated applications each day, and Android’s newer applications are generating a greater percentage of overall revenue than are the latest apps for iPhone and iPad.
Android is also getting cleaned up. Google recently defended its security protocols within Google Play, calling the threats of malware greatly exaggerated, and the company’s plan to de-frag the entire platform could be extremely beneficial for Android, but especially Google Play, if successful. If Android can become more unified, developers can take advantage of shorter update cycles and new APIs without waiting for the installed base to catch up.
With more than a million Android apps, Google Play has already begun stealing away app revenue from Apple’s App Store over the last six months. Given a larger installed base and a greater variety of Android devices, Google and its Play Store have plenty of room to grow.
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Apple is bringing the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C to the largest cellular operator in China early next year.
Apple and China Mobile announced a partnership this weekend that brings Apple’s two newest smartphones to China’s largest network. The iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C will be available for pre-order starting on December 25th. Apple’s two flagship smartphones will hit China Mobile and Apple retail stores in the country on January 17, 2014.
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