Another Fall Apple Event

Apple Event invitation art for October 13, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. PDT

Only one month after Apple’s iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6 event on September 15 we’ll be treated to another streaming event next week on Tuesday, October 13. The much rumored iPhone 12 is sure to be the tentpole device. (Isn’t this supposed to be the year for the 11S?) Will it come in four sizes and include 5G as the leak reporters are reporting? We’ll find out next week, but the name of the event on the invitations that went out to the media is “Hi, speed.” so the inclusion of 5G would fit with in with that hint.

What else might we see? Only Apple knows, but there is no shortage of speculation. The iPads Pro are due for an update. So is the Home Pod. Or will there be a Home Pod mini announced? Will the much anticipated AirTags debut? And when will macOS 11 Big Sur ship? Will the first Apple silicon Mac be “one more thing”?

To find out, mark your calendars and on the day point your browser to the Apple events page to steam it to your desktop. It will probably also be on YouTube. If you have an Apple TV, you can use the Keynotes app to watch it on your television.

New Apple Watch

As mentioned in my last post, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 the day of the announcement. It was supposed to arrive between September 28 and October 1. It came a few days early on Thursday, September 24. So I got my iPhone 11 Pro upgraded to iOS 14 that evening and set up my new watch the next day. I made a silly unboxing video and finally found time to get it edited and posted to my YouTube channel (having a day job certainly puts a monkey in my wrench).

Week One Impressions

I am thoroughly enjoying the upgrade from a Series 1 to the Series 6. It’s a big jump in capabilities, size of display, responsiveness, and delight. I set it up as a brand new watch rather than use the backup from my Series 1. This is allowing me to experience the discovery of the new features of both the newest hardware and watchOS 7. This is an ongoing process. This is what has impressed me so far.

Apple Watch Series 6 gold aluminum with product red sport loop on wrist
After unboxing, I set up the watch to use the Analog Activity face as a starting point.

Speed

It’s unsurprising that a jump from a 1.5 generation device to a 6th generation device would bring a faster user experience. My Series 1 watch was upgradable through watchOS 6, but the hardware was never “snappy”. The Series 6 seems so much more responsive in all interactions—swiping through watch faces; scrolling with touch and the digital crown; launching apps from complications, the dock, and the app list (I don’t use the app “cloud” although I might give it a try since the display is bigger); and giving Siri voice commands.

Apple Watch Infograph watch face full of Complications
The larger watch size with smaller bezels allows for more information in the form of complications.

Size

Speaking of the larger display, I am enjoying it for enhanced readability and getting more information on the screen. My previous watch could not take advantage of many of the newer watch faces that packed more complications on screen because of it’s smaller size. Two millimeters and smaller bezels make a big difference.

Features

My older watch was also not able to take advantage of things like fall detection and the advanced monitoring of heart rate that were introduced with Series 3, 4, and 5 watches. I don’t feel left out anymore. I haven’t tested the fall detection yet, but I have set up the ECG and Blood Oxygen apps (I’m all normal so far) as well as started tracking my sleep by wearing the watch to bed. The always-on display is very nice when I want to glance down to check the time without having to raise my arm to wake it up. The display is also noticeably brighter and the colors seem richer.

Apple Watch hand washing detection app
The Apple Watch hand washing detection shows only 14 seconds more.

Delight

Oddly enough, it’s the hand-washing timer that continually delights me multiple times per day. It seems magical in how it detects that I’m actually washing my hands. I’ve only had a couple of “false positives” when I’ve gone to rinse something off my fingers while cooking—not fully washing my hands, but similar enough to tigger it. It has never once thought I was washing my hands when I really wasn’t, like when rubbing on hand lotion or just rubbing my hands together briskly. My wife says she wouldn’t want her watch telling her what to do, but I find the technology that can accurately figure this out fascinating and delightful. I don’t think of it as being told what to do or how to do it. I think of it as a tool to help my personal hygiene, especially during the pandemic.

Apple Watch Analog Activity watch face at 3:30.
Using the Apple Watch Activity watch face keeps me going to complete all three rings.

Workouts

I take a 2.5-mile walk every day and track it as a walk workout in the activity app on the watch. Getting the Series 1 got me up and moving more consistently through the gamification of closing all three rings. Like most things, I’ve gone back and forth sticking with the habit, but the Series 6 has revitalized my dedication to keeps the walking habit going.

I use that workout time to listen to podcasts and now I have a watch that performs well enough to use the watch app from my favorite podcatcher, Overcast. I still carry my iPhone and play the audio from there, but use the Overcast app on the watch to control it.

So Much More

I know I’m still just scratching the surface of what’s possible with this new watch. Of course it can alert me to notifications so I don’t have to pull out my iPhone, but I was using the Series 1 that way before. I’m intrigued by the notion that I can use the Shortcuts app on my iPhone to automatically set watch faces on the Apple Watch at specific times of the day. I’ll be looking into that next.

After only a week, I am very pleased that I purchased the Apple Watch Series 6. It was definitely time for me to upgrade. I look forward to several years of enjoyment before needing to replace it.

Fruit Flies Like an Apple

Apple Time Flies logo.

Yesterday Apple presented part of it’s annual fall new product introductions in a pandemic-friendly, highly-produced, pre-recorded video event titled, Time Flies. I say “part of” because there was no mention of new iPhones, which would be expected in a mid-September announcement, if this was a different kind of 2020. More on what was not announced below.

What Apple did announce was right in line with most of the leaks and rumors reported by too many reporters, bloggers, tech pundits, “analysts”, and YouTubers. The hardware announcements included the Apple Watch Series 6, a new mid-range Apple Watch SE (the series 3 is still available at the entry level), an updated iPad (gen. 8), and a new iPad Air (gen. 4) sporting the design language of the iPad Pro line. On the software/services side there were segments about new apps on the new watch—most notably the ability to take a blood oxygen reading, a Family Setup option for Apple Watch that provides the ability for multiple family members to have an Apple Watch that’s managed by a single family member, a new subscription service called Fitness+ that integrates with the watch and provides video training for 10 different kinds of workouts viewable on any Apple device screen ($10/month or $80/year, available late 2020), and a service bundle called Apple One with three price tiers (Individual: $15/month, Family: $20/month, and Premier: $30/month). Check out the links for all the details.

If you’d like to read Apple’s stories on all the announcements, point your browser to Apple’s Newsroom for the official press releases. For the moment Apple’s Fall 2020 Keynote is at the top of the feed. It’s also well worth the little over an hour to view the video of the keynote in order to get the full experience of the new “reality distortion field”.

For some thoughtful first-impression analysis, you can do no better than reading John Gruber’s “Brief Thoughts and Observations on Today’s ‘Time Flies’ Apple Event”. If you prefer videos, tune in to Rene Ritchie’s YouTube channel.

I do have to say I do like the way Apple is making announcements by presenting these pre-recorded keynotes during the COVID-19 pandemic (both for WWDC 2020 and these fall announcements). They are certainly missing a specific energy that only a live audience can provide, but these recorded keynotes provide an opportunity for Apple to tell a very tightly controlled and concise story about their hardware, software, and services. Another aspect I really enjoy are the transitions from segment to segment where the viewer is seemingly flying through the Apple campus, inside and out—with a couple of comedic cameos by Craig Federighi in the Time Flies event video. It’s like getting a privately guided tour of parts of Apple’s headquarters that most of us will never get so see in person, albeit a very speedy one.

Apple Watch Series 6 gold aluminum with product red sport loop band.
The gold aluminum Apple Watch Series 6 with a (PRODUCT)RED sport loop band that I ordered.

This keynote marks an historic occasion for me personally. It’s the first time I’ve ever pre-ordered a new Apple product on the same day as it’s announced. That’s right, I ordered an Apple Watch Series 6 a few hours later. I had several Apple Store gift cards burning a whole in my virtual Wallet app on my iPhone. I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a newer version for a couple of years, but this time I actually followed through. It should be delivered about September 30. It’s not a moment too soon, either. Last evening when I was going to bed after placing the order I noticed that my current Apple Watch Series 1 screen has begun popping off of the case.

Apple Watch Series 1 on a wrist. The display is coming off of the case.
My Apple Watch Series 1 with the display coming off of the case.

Near the end, Tim Cook made a somewhat passing announcement that the new operating systems would be available today (Wednesday, September 16). Specifically, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14. I will be waiting until the weekend before my new watch arrives to upgrade my iPhone 11 Pro, however. The main reason being that this last-minute announcement has caught a lot of developers off guard. They were provided less than 24 hours notice of when the public will have access to the new operating systems. Normally they would have about a week to get the final adjustments to their apps made before the operating systems went live (thanks, 2020!). I’m not in a hurry and want to make sure that the developers of the apps I use have time to get their iOS 14–compatible updates submitted and through the review process before I upgrade my iPhone.

Lastly; what wasn’t announced. There was no word on the release date of macOS 11 Big Sur. There was no mention of Macs. We recently got updates to the Intel iMacs, but we were told at WWDC that the first Macs with Apple’s ARM-based SoCs would be out before the end of the year (there have been rumors and/or leaks regarding an Apple silicon MacBook coming soon). And as mentioned up top, nothing about this year’s new iPhones. We know there will be some if for no other reason than on Apple’s Q3 financial results call the CFO specifically set expectations that this year’s iPhones would be “a few weeks later” than usual. My suspicion is that there will be another announcement event sometime in October to tell the story of the iPhones 12 (I thought this was supposed to be an 11S year), more features of iOS 14 that depend on the new hardware, the first Apple silicon Mac, and when macOS 11 Big Sur will be available. And maybe, just maybe, “one more thing”, although the talk of the tech pundits would lead me to believe there might be two or three “one more things”.

One thing for sure is there is no shortage of rumors and speculation about what Apple’s going to do in the future. When/if they actually do, we’ll find out when Apple tells us.

My Favorite Things

Part 1: Podcasts

Sometime in the first couple of months of the 2020 pandemic shelter-at-home period, my wife and I rewatched one of our favorite movie musicals of all time, The Sound of Music. Every time I see it my heart is filled with euphoria at the sweet sound of Julie Andrews’ voice as she masterfully delivers unforgettable song after song. One of those songs, sung to the Von Trapp children on her first night as governess to calm their fears during a late-winter thunderstorm, is titled, “My Favorite Things”.*

The practice of listing things to be grateful for is a recommendation for dealing with the stress and uncertainty of these times. So I thought I’d take a cue from that song and make a series of blog posts on some of my favorite things related to Apple specifically and technology in general. In this first part, I’d like to share with you three of my favorite podcasts for Apple-related news, tips, and knowledge.

Mac OS Ken Podcast Art 231x231

Mac OS  Ken

Independently produced by Ken Ray, Mac OS Ken is a commute-sized, weekday podcast recapping the previous day’s tech news as it relates to Apple. Ken’s delivery is infused with his unique wit and dry humor, making even the stock market numbers enjoyable and understandable.

Mac Geek Gab Podcast Logo 231x231

Mac Geek Gab

The Mac Observer’s Mac Geek Gab podcast is my go-to listen for tips, geeky information, and new software and gadgets. Co-hosted by Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun, it’s about 90 minutes long and episodes usually drop every Monday.

MacVoices Logo 231 x 100

MacVoices

Chuck Joiner, the host and face of MacVoices, has been involved in the Apple ecosphere for decades and has been a mainstay of my podcast subscription list since I became aware of podcasts. I like MacVoices for the broader community perspective and understanding I receive from his guests. Chuck interviews influential “voices” from all parts of the technology world that orbit around Apple; software developers, hardware inventors, tech journalists, bloggers, other podcast hosts, special event and trade show coordinators, consultants, publishers, etc. MacVoices episodes run about 30 minutes or so and are published regularly, but not on a set schedule.

So, if you have a hankerin’ to learn more about Apple news, want to brush up on geek tips and gadgets, or broaden your understanding of the Apple ecosphere, you can’t go wrong with these three podcasts.

*By the way, “My Favorite Things” is not really a Christmas song, even though many musical artists have covered it on their Christmas albums over the past 60+ years. First, in the chronology of the musical, it was sung in late February or early March 1938. Second, the lyrics don’t mention Christmas at all. There are references to mittens, packages, sleigh bells, snowflakes, and winter—all of which could be inferred to be images related to Christmas, but could just as easily not.

Apple Silicon

Apple Silicon illustration slide from keynote.

A slide from the WWDC 2020 Keynote showing components of future Mac SoCs.

On June 25, 2020, a good friend of mine, Kathryn Knoll, posed a question on my Facebook wall. I worked for/with her in the mid-’90s at Sophia Center, a spirituality-support center now located in Portland, Oregon.

Kathryn said, “Hey Barry, would you be willing to help those of us who don’t know what an Arm CPU core is. Why should we be excited about it? You always explain it so well and I’m humble enough to say I don’t know anything about it even though all of my devices are Apple products.”

I thought it was a great quesiton. Since I figure a lot of my friends, family, clients, and readers may be asking the same thing, I decided to answer the question in a blog post.

So, Sister Kathryn, let me see if I can do this without getting too geeky. To paraphrase Wikipedia, ARM is a family of architectures for computer processors. ARM stands for Advanced RISC Machine. RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. So, there’s an acronym inside an acronym going on here. (Still pretty geeky, eh? Bear with me; just trying to establish a bit of a foundation.)

Again, from Wikipedia: “Arm Holdings is a semiconductor and software design company wholly owned by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group and its Vision Fund”. Oddly enough, even though ARM is an acronym, the logo for the company is all lowercase “arm”. They license their CPU core designs to many mobile device manufacturers around the globe, Apple, Inc. being one.

At their 31st annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC 2020; link to the keynote) this past week Apple announced the start of transitioning the Mac from Intel-based CPUs to custom-designed “Apple silicon”. They never actually used the term “ARM” in the announcement, however.

Apple has been designing their own “CPUs” for iOS devices for a decade now. The iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad devices have been running on custom-designed Apple silicon since the iPad was introduced in the spring of 2010. But this silicon is actually much more than a simple CPU. They are SoCs, which stands for “systems on a chip”. They license ARM technologies, then design and build custom architectures around them that include GPUs, image signal processors, machine learning and neural engines, to only name a few parts of the overall system (see the slide at the top of this post). Apple contracts with third-party fabricating companies to actually manufacture the SoCs, but they are unique to Apple devices.

That’s where the Mac line of personal computers are going over the next two years. After that, Apple will no longer be tied to Intel’s x86 chip roadmap, but will be able to make Macs on their own schedule. Apple silicon–based Macs will be able to do things no other PC can. Some things we can expect are better performance, lower power requirements (longer battery life on MacBooks), and less heat. The iPad Pro that came out earlier this year outperforms the new MacBook Air (also early 2020) in benchmark tests. In the future, Macs will probably outperform most off-the-shelf PCs from any manufacturer.

Should we be excited? I’m a bit. For most folks, they probably won’t notice when it happens. If you want/need a Mac, buy one. Whether it’s a current Intel-powered Mac or a future Apple silicon–powered Mac (the first one is supposed to ship before the end of this year), it will provide many years of service and performance. Apple is still making Macs with Intel CPUs and will be for at least two years. In the keynote they stated support for Intel Macs will continue for years to come. I imagine that if asked, regular users won’t know or care what kind of processor is in their Mac. Apple has set out a transition path for their hardware and software—and especially their tools for app developers—that will in most cases make the change virtually imperceptible to users.

If you haven’t watched the keynote yet, it is well worth it to get an overview of where the Apple ecosphere is headed.

Tim Cook is Full of Secrets

On the eve of Apple’s 2020 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) Tim Cook was enterviewed by CBS’s “60 Minutes” correspondent John Dickerson about the role of the CEO in this turbulent time (YouTube link).

“There was a time back many years ago where CEOs were just supposed to focus on profits only, and not so much the constituencies. That’s never been my view—I’ve never subscribed to that.” ~Tim Cook

It would be nice to see the unedited interview. This just over eight-minute edit trys to cover quite a bit including the nature of this year’s virtual WWDC, the iPhone’s role in documenting police brutality and protests calling for social justice, Cook’s relationship with Donald Trump, corporate taxes, and giving back to the community during the pandemic. It’s worth watching, though.

Tomorrow (June 22, 2020) you can watch the 31st annual WWDC Keynote live streamed on Apple’s website, in the Apple Developer app, in the Events app on Apple TV, probably on YouTube, and maybe on Facebook. I will be watching while working from home.

Easter Wallpaper for iPhone

Ever since my first iPhone, a 3GS, I have loved creating and setting custom wallpapers for both lock and home screens, especially for holidays. In the beginning I would usually just photograph something I liked or thought would work with the iPhone camera and set that photo as my wallpaper. For instance, a bouquet of flowers from my nephew’s wedding, or a needlepoint table runner with a turkey for Thanksgiving. There were others, of course—Santa Claus and snow man decorations for use as Christmas/winter wallpapers—but I eventually began converting desktop wallpapers into iOS wallpapers (you see, my wallpaper habit actually began with my first color Macintosh, a PowerBook 190c, so I have loads of holiday desktops to choose from). Eventually I began creating my own from scratch for the latest model iPhones I’ve owned (the X and XS).

Three iPhone XS devices, each with Easter-themed wallpaper.

It has occurred to me that maybe some of you might like some custom wallpapers for your iPhones and may not have the chops to create your own or know where to go to find what you want. Even if you do know where to go, perhaps you are not finding exactly what you are looking for. So I’ve decided to share my custom created iPhone wallpapers here from time to time. Maybe they won’t be what you are looking for, either, but maybe you’ll like them enough to use them … or not.

I’m starting with some I made for Easter. There is a lock screen wallpaper with a single Easter egg centered on a black field (I went through a phase of creating a number of lock screen wallpapers that were all black with a single image in the center), another for the lock screen with that same egg centered on grass, thirdly a copy of that same grassy egg but with some shading around the edges, and a fourth—a blurry photo of jelly beans—that I use for my home screen. A blurry background behind the icons makes them pop. They are sized specifically for the iPhone X and XS, and will work for any previous generation iPhone with a smaller screen. I suspect they will work just fine for the XS Max as well, but I don’t have one of those bigger iPhones to see them on.

Easter Egg X Parallax iPX     Easter Egg on Grass iPX Parallax     Easter Egg on Shaded Grass iPX Parallax     Blurry Jelly Beans Parallax iPX

You can download the full resolution image by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail of your choice. If you want all four, click/tap here to get a .zip archive of them all.

Let me know in the comments if you download any and how you like them.

Happy World Backup Day!

Please join me in reciting the World Backup Day pledge.

“I solemnly swear to backup my important documents and precious memories on March 31. I will also tell my friends and family about World Backup Day — friends don’t let friends go without a backup.”

If, like me, you have a backup strategy implemented, then take this opportunity to make sure it’s working correctly — restore some files from your backup.

If you don’t have a backup plan in place, I can recommend a great ebook; Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, by Joe Kissell. If you’re not a Mac user, sorry, I don’t have a book recommendation for you.

And don’t forget to backup your iPhones and iPads (and iPod touches, if you have them), too. Turn on iCloud Backup or connect your iOS device to your Mac (or Windows PC) and back it up with iTunes.

As some wise guy once said, “Don’t be an April fool. Be prepared. Backup your files on March 31.” All I can add to that piece of wisdom is to continue backing up your files every day of the year. 😃

Black Friday at Apple

Both my wife and I need new Macs. We each currently drive a 21.5-inch iMac; hers is a mid-2010 and mine is a mid-2011 (neither support macOS Mojave 10.14). We were planning on purchasing new iMac desktops sometime in the next few months, but holiday plans put a monkey with a wrench in the way. We will be traveling for the holidays and since both of us have work to do that can’t be completed on iOS, we decided to purchase a MacBook as a satellite travel Mac for us both instead.

I had been looking at the new MacBook Air announced in October as a possibility for a week or so since we made the decision when Apple announced their shopping event for November 23 through 26 where qualified Mac purchases would include a $200 Apple gift card. Even though it’s not technically a Black Friday discount, the gift card value exceeded the local government discount I could get. So we decided to buy on Black Friday.

I opened the Apple Store app on my iPhone early Friday morning and placed the order through the special shopping event links within the app, tapping through Shop, Apple Shopping Event, scrolling down to Macs, tapping on MacBook Air and finding the new models there immediately below the header stating “get a $200 Apple Store Gift Card when you buy select Mac models today.” It appeared as if the new MacBook Air was one of those, since it was listed right below that. So I went through the configuration process, found out it was available in store for pickup that day, and placed the order.

We were visiting relatives for Thanksgiving and planned a bit of a longer trip home in order to pick up our new Mac. After a lunch of Thanksgiving dinner leftovers, we headed out and arrived at Apple La Encantada in Tucson, Arizona mid afternoon. The store was packed, as expected, but after checking in with the associate at the door, it only took a minute or so for someone to arrive to help us pick up our purchase. As Carlos, the associate helping us, was finalizing the process, I asked about the gift card.

Customers and associates in a busy Apple retail store.

Carlos helping us check out with our new MacBook Air. My wife Lucinda is in the lower left corner.

He checked his list and as it turns out the only MacBook Air that qualified was the 2017 model that was still on sale for $999. I showed Carlos on my iPhone the way the special event section of the Apple Store app made it appear as if the new MacBook Air was part of the offer (if I had scrolled down to the old Air in the list I would have found the label “Special Offer – See in bag”).

He got his manager and I showed her. She agreed that it did seem to visually imply what I had assumed, based on the way the new MacBook Airs were listed first, and offered to pass that feedback up the chain. But, of course, they couldn’t just decide to ignore the corporate policy and give us the gift card anyway just because I didn’t scroll far enough.

We didn’t want the older MacBook Air, and the lack of the promotional gift card wasn’t going be a deal-breaker. But Carlos and his manager did suggest we could complete the purchase pickup and then immediately return it. They’d refund my credit card and then we could repurchase the same Mac using one of the discount programs we did qualify for (local government employee for me and educational for my wife, who teaches at our local community college). So that’s what we did. But the best customer service of any retail store chain I’ve ever experienced was not finished yet.

After the initial online purchase was completed and “picked up,” and then subsequently returned, as we started the repurchase of the MacBook Air, Carlos looked through all the special discount buying options Apple offers and applied the one with the biggest percentage off—more than what either of us actually qualified for—amounting to almost $150 off the retail price.

Wife and husband happy customers at Apple Retail Store

My wife Lucinda and I are happy owners of a new MacBook Air.

So a big shout out to Carlos and his manager at Apple La Encantada for going the extra mile in the midst of a busy shopping day to make our Black Friday one we’ll remember every time we use our new, discounted, MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018).

Mac geek with new purchase outside Apple retail store

Bazza the Mac geek outside Apple La Encantada.