UPDATE – Another one Bites the Dust – So Long Olio

I have a small update to this post…

I’ve always liked watches, but it appears I’m a much bigger watch geek than I thought I was. I’m still watching, still waiting for something to come out of Olio; and like most of what’s going on in wearable tech today, I continue to get disappointed.

If you click on the link, above, you’ll be taken to all that’s left of Olio’s website – an HTTP403 Forbidden error.

olio forbidden

As I write this on the eve of Apple’s Fall iPhone event, its nice to know that Apple will be releasing – or at least announcing the release – of watchOS 4 tomorrow. The Olio Model One, while nearly almost completely devoid of its original functionality (except anything that is directly provided by its connection with your mobile device, like notifications, phone and music control), remains a favorite of mine. It looks really nice and it still tells time. However, I’ve noticed that lack of a connection to my iPhone causes it to fall behind as far as telling time is concerned… which is very confusing… There appears to be a LOT of communication going on between the Olio Model One and my iPhone that I – and likely EVERYONE else wasn’t aware of.

I told the sad tale of how Olio died about a month ago. You can see that article here. Unfortunately, at this point… things are worse.

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Should I Upgrade or Not..? – Part 2

Based on the information at hand, here’s my take on Apple’s announcements from 2017-09-12…

So, if you’re looking for information on the new iPhones that Apple announced the other day, you should read this article. I cover both the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X pretty thoroughly.

To sum them up again, they’re expensive. Both phones come in 64GB and 256GB sizes. If you don’t buy the bigger one, and you have more than 64GB of content, you’re going to need to get a decent enough data plan to allow you to stream everything. The carrier is going to get your money one way or another… You’re just gonna have to get over it.

Apple also released some other products. Let’s take a quick look at those and see what’s what…

Screenshot_2

Apple Watch Series 3
Apple has introduced four different models of the Apple Watch Series 3 smartwatch in two sizes, a number of colors, in two different case types for two of the models; and at least two different variations. I’m going to try to run everything down here, as quickly as possible.

In general, all models of every Apple Watch come in either 38mm or 42mm sizes. So you get every Watch in small and large sizes. Over and above that, here’s the break down on all of the Series 3 variations that are available.

Series 3 – GPS + Cellular
The Series 3 GPS + Cellular comes in two different variations – Apple Watch and Apple Watch Nike Plus. With the Apple Watch, you get two different case offerings and two different band options with each case type. You can choose from an aluminum or stainless-steel case. If you get the Apple Watch in the aluminum case, you can choose from either a Sport Band or the Sport Loop band. If you go with the stainless-steel case, you get a choice of either the Sport Band or the Milanese Loop band.

If you choose Apple Watch Nike+, you get an aluminum case with either a Nike Sport band or a Nike Sport Loop band.

The big deal here is the cellular capabilities in the new Apple Watch Series 3. The Watch will update itself and communicate with everything on the internet, letting you leave your phone in the car or at home. You can even take and place calls on the thing.

However, if you do use it for talk, you’re going to have to be very careful. The battery in the Watch, while technically a bit bigger, can’t sustain cellular phone calls for any length of time. I’ve seen reports on Twitter and on Facebook that indicate that there’s only enough power to last about an hour or so of any dedicated cellular activity.

Cellular calls burn through the battery like its bleeding water from a sieve. I’ve seen reports where a 10 minute cellular call on the Watch via its dedicated LTE radio (as opposed to via Bluetooth while connected to your phone) will eat through 10% or more of your available battery… potentially more if your battery is below 50%.

Just because it can, doesn’t mean that the Watch is MEANT to replace your phone for all things. It really isn’t. Its “all day battery” rating expects your phone to pick up most of the heavy LTE lifting, allow the Watch and your iPhone to swap data like a Series 0, Series 1 or Series 2 Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch Series 3 – GPS + Cellular and Apple Watch Nike+ GPS + Cellular start at $399.

Series 3 – GPS
The Series 3 GPS comes in two different variations – Apple Watch and Apple Watch Nike Plus. With the Apple Watch, you get aluminum case with a Sport Band. If you choose Apple Watch Nike Plus, you get an aluminum case with a Nike Sport Band.

The Series 3 – GPS can do everything that the Series 0, Series 1 and Series 2 can do. It can also do nearly everything that the Series 3 can do, except it can’t do LTE based data on its own. This edition requires your iPhone to do all internet based calls including communicating via social media, making and placing phone calls and text messages, and receiving notifications. However, it is $70 less.

What you’re going to get here in terms of an upgrade from Series 2 is a better processor, a slightly better battery and better water resistance. The battery life here is going to be very good, and you’ll definitely get the all-day battery that everyone is expecting.

The thing that you’re going to have to ask yourself is, is all of this worth the cost of the upgrade. The Series 2 is a decent watch. Everything looks the same, and the battery life in it is very, very good compared to the Series 0 and even the Series 1. What you’re going to need to determine is, how deep and how long will you dive or be under water? How much longer do you need the battery to last? The newer processor will make the watch a bit faster and more efficient; but given that you don’t see a lot of direct computing done directly on the Watch, you have to wonder how much of an advantage its going to be. That is a personal decision, and I’ll have my own thoughts on this, below, in the Conclusion.

The Apple Watch Series 3 – GPS and Apple Watch Nike+ – GPS start at $329.

Series 3 Hermès
The Apple Watch Hermés offers everything that the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular does. Here, however, you default to the stainless steel case and of course, the branded Hermés watch face and signature leather band. You also get an additional sport band included with your purchase (which, realistically accounts for the last $49 you’re charged).

There are a number of things here that bother me with the Hermés editions. Mostly, it’s the bands and their outrageously high (and overpriced) price tags. While I’m CERTAIN that the bands are high quality and are superior to just about anything and everything like them out there, paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for an inch and a half wide strip of leather with some holes punched in it just seems not silly; but stupid.

Those that can afford the Hermés edition will tell me that I just don’t get it and that this is part of the reason why the Hermés edition is not for me. I’d have to agree with them. I don’t really care how much money I have to burn, paying $340 USD for the Single Tour band and $490 USD Double Tour band is a horrible waste of money. Especially when you can find reasonably priced and just as comfortable knock-offs for a fraction of the price on Amazon or other online realtors.

Yes, you won’t have the designer branding or the custom watch face to go along with it; and maybe that’s the point – you’re paying for the branding… however, when the functionality is exactly the same on the Hermés edition as it is on every other Apple Watch with a stainless steel case, I have to look at what I’m getting for the extra dough, and when all I see is a watch face, a band and a brand name, I don’t see a lot of value added equity. What I see is vanity, and it just doesn’t make any sense to me.

I’d appreciate some help here, kids. If you’ve even tried on an Hermés band and settle for a knock-off, I’d love to hear from you and get your thoughts and impressions here. It might help make some sense of how folks that purchase this edition justify the cost. Fee free to drop me a line or leave a comment, below.

Apple Watch Edition
This is a far cry from what the Series 0 Apple Watch Edition USED to be. The original Apple Watch Edition went as high as $18,000 for a special 18k Gold version that wrapped the exact same Series 0 guts in an overly expensive, unbelievably priced gold watch case that only uber rich could even THINK of purchasing. Sales of this particular line of Series 0 Watch were beyond embarrassingly low; and Apple promptly moved past the uber fashion statement into something that was a bit more reasonable.

With the Series 3 Apple Watch, Apple is providing a ceramic case – in either Pebble White or Space Gray – with a White or Black Sport band. Ceramic is (supposed to be) very durable and resistant to both scratches and dents. For this combination of case and band, the Apple Watch provides you with all of the Series 3 LTE and GPS goodness you find in all of the other LTE based models; and that’s an important distinction.

The Apple Watch Edition doesn’t come in just a GPS version. Here, you get a choice of color, size (either the standard 38mm or 42mm cases) and that’s it. The Apple Watch Edition comes in the LTE version. Period. The Watch also comes with a similarly colored Sport Band. If you want another band or bracelet, you can shop Apple’s available watch band collection. As always, Apple Watch bands fit both case sizes of every edition Apple Watch, regardless of version or Series.

The Apple Watch Edition starts at $1299.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or not?” doesn’t really require a lot of thinking. If you don’t have an Apple Watch, now is a great time to buy in. At $329, the fitness and smartwatch functionality you get is a GREAT value. watchOS runs well on the Series 0; but this will likely be the last version of watchOS that will run on the original Watch. Performance does take a minor – but noticeable – hit.

If you want to be able to swim with the Watch and would like to have its GPS functionality, the Series 2 can be found for some really great deals. I found a Series 2 Nike + version for $249 recently. That’s $170 off the Series 2 full price.

If you have a Series 2 and are considering a Series 3, then you should be considering the LTE version. The Series 3 GPS version doesn’t offer any compelling reason to upgrade from the Series 2 at all, even with the slightly larger battery, faster processor and more accurate GPS receiver. The Series 3 LTE version is really compelling IF you really want to run AND stream audio while you run; or if you’re looking to update your running or workout app with live data while you run or exercise.

Other than that, even with their current price structure, I don’t see a compelling reason to upgrade from any series Apple Watch to the Series 3. Every version of every Series Apple Watch is still very usable today; and I would expect them to last for a while, too. When non-electronic watches can last years – even decades – and cost about as much as the Apple Watch does, you’d expect Apple to build longevity into the Watch more than anything else… I’m just sayin’.

AppleTV 4K
Aside from the iPhone 8 , I think the news on the AppleTV was some of the most exciting news I took away from the September keynote.

The big news here wasn’t an increase in storage capacity, a better processor, or even improvements to Siri or even tvOS. This year’s big news was all about 4K HDR. According to Apple,

“4K gives you a crisper picture using four times more pixels than standard HD. High Dynamic Range (HDR) delivers brighter, more realistic colors and greater detail. From the hottest new movie to your favorite TV show, everything is more lifelike than ever.”

This means that everything that you watch on the AppleTV that comes in 4kHDR is going to look stunning. The colors are gonna pop off the screen, and the detail and resolution is going to be crazy accurate and high. However, there’s one additional point here that really sets this whole thing off – if you bought video content from the iTunes Store in HD, Apple is upgrading all of your titles to 4KHDR content… for free. 4kHDR titles will also be available for the same price as regular HD titles today, which, to be very honest, is HUGE.

My understanding is that you won’t be able to download 4KHDR files, but you WILL be able to stream them, and to be honest, the AppleTV is a streaming box. While you CAN store either 32GB or 64GB of content on the device, that small amount of storage won’t hold more than a couple files at most, and to be honest, you probably wouldn’t want to store 4KHDR files anyway. They’re likely going to require terabytes of storage to keep laying around.

If you don’t have an AppleTV, now is a good time to jump on board. This version is also a decent upgrade option if you have an AppleTV and are looking for a reason to get the latest version.

The big concern I have here, however, is cost. At $179, the 4K version is perhaps the most compelling of new model AppleTV’s, but its also the highest priced entry point into a streaming box that runs on the Apple ecosystem. The AppleTV still starts at $149; but only comes in a 32GB version.

However, the standard HD version still runs the current version of tvOS; so, unless you have a need for 4KHDR content, this should be a very good substitute. Unfortunately, you won’t get the benefits of the new versions enhancements; but it will do everything that the 4K version does.

To Answer the Question
So, to answer the question, “should I upgrade or no?” that’s going to depend on if you have or are planning on getting a 4K TV. If you do, then you’re likely going to want to spend the extra $30 bucks and get the 4K version.
If you don’t have a 4K TV, and aren’t planning on getting one any time soon, then you may want to hold off until you do. However, spending $30 to future proof your AppleTV isn’t a lot of money to think about or give up.

At the end of the day, it’s a little more than $50 additional dollars for the larger 4K HDR version; and that’s not a lot to ask for, but if you aren’t going to use it, then it may not be the best use of the extra money. That’s up to you…

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Substantiated Rumors for iPhone Tuesday

The following iPhone rumors were confirmed by a leaked, final version of iOS 11…

I’m not one for Apple based rumors. Especially since many of them wind up being nothing but hot air. The only ones that end up having any substance to them are ones like those I’m going to relate to you, below. They come from a credible, internal source – Apple itself. And while its possible for Apple to change their minds and change the names and such before Tuesday 9/12… at this point it’s likely too late.

A leaked version of the “Gold Master” of iOS 11 appears to confirm some key features coming to the next version iPhone. The blockbuster leak, first covered by 9to5Mac, confirms the following will be a part of the next version iPhone:

• Facial unlocking called Face ID
• Confirmation of new iPhone model names – iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X
• Wireless charging
• Virtual Home button
• Larger iPhone X screen

Here are the brief details on each;

• Face ID will unlock the device and should be available on the iPhone X for certain. It’s possible this may also be available on the iPhone 8/8 Plus.

• Animojis – 3D, animated emoji’s that use your voice and reflect your facial expressions. This is going to require Face ID to work.

• iOS 11 will have new wallpapers for iPhone 8.

• The iPhone X will have a larger display with a notch at the top which will apparently house the ear speaker and FaceTime camera.

• Apple will release a new Apple Watch that will feature cellular connectivity. An iPhone won’t be required for an internet connection. The watch and the iPhone its connected to will share the same phone number.

• Apple will offer a new version of Airpods that will include a redesigned charging case. The new case will likely be the only thing that changes; and will include a light on the outside of the case indicating the charging status of the wireless headset.

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Another One Bites the Dust – So long Olio

I’m sorry to report that Olio Devices didn’t make it… as far as I can tell.

Back in 2015, I spent most of the year doing an extended round up of smart watches. I’m sorry to report that most of the devices that I reviewed as part of that round up, including

The Microsoft Band
The Fitbit Surge, and the
Pebble Time

have all met a rather disappointing demise. None of these devices are available for purchase today, not even two years since I published each review (or there abouts…)

Microsoft introduced Band in December of 2014; and it was one of the HOTTEST items for that Holiday season. I was fortunate enough to get one for both me AND my wife. Unfortunately, they weren’t very comfortable and the battery life sucked. Microsoft followed Band up with Band 2; but then discontinued the device in the middle of 2016. The entire team had their direction refocused on Microsoft Health; but even THAT is nowhere to be found. It seems Microsoft’s foray into wearables and in the health market doesn’t have a consumer presence to speak of, and never will.

The Pebble Time wasn’t as well received as the original Pebble or even the Pebble Steel. As such, Pebble sold itself to Fitbit; and they laid off all their people, closed their software store, and called it a day in December of 2016. They were the first on the market with any real success, but they didn’t last, unfortunately.

Since Fitbit purchased Pebble, there really hasn’t been anything out of Fitbit of note. While they have released the Alta and the Alta HR, those devices aren’t innovative at all and don’t offer any new features that the Charge 2 does.

Fitbit’s best asset is its software, the Fitbit App. It’s really some of the best fitness tracking bits that I’ve seen. Unfortunately, their hardware leaves a great deal to be desired. I was hoping that Fitbit might be able to do something innovative with the IP from Pebble, but it hasn’t emerged yet, and we’re coming up to a year since the acquisition. If “it” isn’t out by the 2017 Holiday Buying Season (whatever “it” might be…), they likely aren’t going to do anything of note with it.

So, the Band and Pebble are gone; and the Surge is a huge non-influencer (like the rest of Fitbit, in my opinion…). Unfortunately, the other big watch player I reviewed in 2015 is also now… gone.

The Olio Model One has also been discontinued. Their website is still active, and has been most of the year, but every model of every collection they have, including Steel, Black, Rose Gold, and Gold, indicate that they are sold out. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this has been the case for the better part of the year (2017).

I got in touch with Steve Jacobs, the former CEO of Olio Devices, and he confirmed that th company has indeed been sold. While the organization existed for four years, this was apparently their entire overall goal (as it is with many start ups…). Olio was hoping to be purchased by someone… whom that might be, however, is unknown.

While Mr. Jacobs and I are acquaintances, and we did have direct and open communications during 2015 and the early part of 2016, I can only assume that part of the conditions of the sale of Olio Devices included keeping the entire deal confidential. Steve simply won’t give up the goods on who purchased Olio, or what they plan to do with the site, the watches or the IP.

As it stands, right now, the site, while still active, is a ghost town. The software used to manage the smartwatch, Olio Assist (iTunes App Store Link, Google Play Store Link) while technically available if you’ve previously downloaded it, may or may not be available for new users to download.

The biggest problem with it, however, is the way the software was designed to work. As of this writing, its nearly completely deprecated.

Olio watches are designed to pair with an Android or iPhone smartphone. The device software must be running on your smartphone – not just merely installed – while using the watch. For most smartwatches, this is usually enough. However, Olio Assist has an additional dependency. In order for its digital assistant to work, Olio Assist must communicate with a central server. Olio Assist only communicates with this server when the watch is paired and actively in range of the smartphone, with the software running.

The central server knows exactly which watches are connected to which smartphones. It provides data to support ALL of its complications, including weather, time zones AND your schedule. That last one kinda surprised me. Olio Assist doesn’t synch contact or calendar data between your phone and the watch, it synchs it to the central server first, and the server provides data to the complication, back through your smartphone and the app.

With Olio Devices now no longer functioning as an active entity, all of their servers are off line. The only thing that the watch can do now is get notifications, because they are sent directly to the watch from the smartphone itself. The watch will also notify you of incoming calls and will still control music playback. However, everything else… every other feature that Olio Assist provided, Schedule and Weather complications, time zones, Rules, Earlier, Now and Later Services, and ANY part of its Digital Assistant, now no longer work due to an interruption of communications with their central servers.

Steve Jacobs also indicated to me that it is very possible that even those services that are currently providing value, may also stop working. If this is the case, then the watch is living on borrowed time; and the $450 to $650 price tag that many paid for this device may soon become a huge issue.

Most luxury watches costing this much work for years, if not decades. This apparently won’t be the case with the Olio Model One… and that’s hugely disappointing.

My suggestion for you is this – buy an Apple Watch. It’s the only one that I reviewed that is really still around and that is being improved on. Apple will be releasing watchOS 4 in September of 2017. If you must have an Android Wear watch, make sure you get something that is either made or branded by Google directly or from Samsung. Otherwise, you may find yourself trying to figure out how to make an expensive orphaned device work after it’s no longer being actively supported.

And that… totally sucks.

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First Full Day of Spring – New Apple Goodies

It’s the first day of Spring, and Apple has sent released new products

Rumors of a March Apple event have been circulating for many, MANY weeks. With the end of March quickly approaching, continuing rumors changed March to April, and the rumors persisted.

I never thought there would be a Spring Apple event, regardless of the month. With Apple announcing WWDC dates in February, I never really thought that there would be any kind of streamed event prior to June. In my mind, all that a pre-June event would accomplish would be to lessen the impact of the introductions Apple had on the books at WWDC.

When Apple instead issued press releases on new products, everyone got what they wanted. The public got new goodies, and Apple didn’t ruin the impact of the June keynote with an event just a few months before they announce the 10th anniversary iPhone. With that, let’s take a quick look at everything that Apple announced yesterday.

Product RED iPhone
Apple released a 128GB and 256GB Product (RED) iPhone 7 and 7 Plus for $749/$849 and $869/$969. The anodized aluminum’s red color with white front bezels joins last year’s new matte black and jet black colors with the same set precautions – the finish could scratch and flake very easily.

Gold, Silver and Rose Gold anodization doesn’t seem to have the same set of issues that “colored” iDevices do. Those finishes don’t seem to have the tendency to flake and scratch like true colored anodized surfaces do. Users will need to take care with those devices. Some kind of clear case (otherwise, why get the (RED)..??) will need to be applied in order to keep the finish scratch and flake free.

PRODUCT(RED) is the brand that has been used for more than 10 years of partnership between Apple and (RED). Products with this special branding and color give customers a way to contribute to the Global AIDS Fund and “bring the world a step closer to an AIDS-free generation.”

PRODUCT (RED) iPhones will be available to order on Apple’s website, at Apple Stores, and at select authorized resellers and wireless carriers. The new model will begin shipping to customers by the end of March in the United States and will be available in more than 40 countries and regions around the world.

5th Generation iPad (iPad Air 3)
Apple today announced it is launching a new 9.7-inch iPad equipped with an A9 chip and a brighter Retina display. The new model is set to replace the discontinued iPad Air 2.

The tablet, which Apple is simply calling “iPad,” is Apple’s new entry-level model at the 9.7-inch size, starting at $329 for 32GB and $429 for 128GB.

The new device is similar in many ways to the iPad Air 2, which had an A8X chip and started at $399; but is slightly thicker and heavier. The new device has a faster A9 chip and a brighter Retina, but non-laminated or antireflective display.

The device’s tech specs also include a2,048‑by‑1,536 resolution and 264 PPI display, 8-megapixel rear-facing iSight camera, 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime camera, two speakers, Lightning connector, 3.5mm headphone jack, Touch ID with Apple Pay, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.2. In many ways, this device can be considered the iPad Air 3, though Apple has chosen not to give it that name

iPad mini 4 128GB
Apple today announced that its iPad mini 4 is now available with up to 128GB of internal storage. The Wi-Fi only version starts at $399. The previous, 32GB Wi-Fi only model has been discontinued. A cellular model with 128GB of storage is also available for $529.

The newly priced iPad mini 4 is available now on Apple.com in Silver, Gold, and Space Gray with next-day shipping.

Don’t expect much more out of the iPad mini line, such as a Pro model. The fact that the mini got an EARLY Spring update likely precludes it from getting the Professional treatment with any additional iPad updates that might come to the Pro line in June. Look for this line to be discontinued no later than this time next year.

iPhone SE 32GB & 128GB
iPhone SE is the four inch version of the very popular iPhone 6. It was released to satisfy those folks that just couldn’t use the iPhone 6/ 6s/ 7 or iPhone 6/ 6s/ 7 Plus without painful hand stretching.

Previously, the iPhone SE was available in 16GB and 64GB storage capacities for $399 and $449 respectively. The 64GB model was initially $499, but it received a price cut following the iPhone 7 launch. The new 32GB and 128GB models replace the 16GB and 64GB models and will remain available in Gold, Rose Gold, Silver, and Space Gray.

Storage was the only tech spec update this iDevice received. The new iPhone SE models will be available online and in stores starting on Friday, March 24.

Apple Watch Bands-o-Plenty
As widely anticipated, Apple today also debuted its new Spring 2017 lineup of Apple Watch bands. The new line introduces all-new options like Striped Woven Nylon bands, a set of sold-separately Nike Sport bands, and new colors for Hermès leather bands. Every band is available to order now on Apple.com.

Striped Woven Nylon bands now come in Berry, Tahoe Blue, Orange, Red, and Pollen. There’s also an all-new, solid Midnight Blue Woven Nylon band. The new Apple Sport bands are available in Pebble, Azure and Camellia. The Classic Buckle has gotten a small buckle redesign and now comes in Sapphire, Berry, and Taupe colors.

Users can also finally buy the Nike Sport Band separately in Anthracite and Black, Pure Platinum and White, and Volt and Black. The company is introducing new collections of Nike Bands as well, including a 38mm and 42mm Space Grey Aluminum Case with Anthracite and Black Sport Band and 38mm and 42mm Silver Aluminum Case with Pure Platinum and White Sport Band.

Apple Watch Hermès line is gaining new colors as well. Users can now choose from a 38mm Double Tour in Bleu Zephyr Epsom leather, a 38mm Double Buckle Cuff in Fauve Barenia leather, a 42mm Single Tour in Lime Epsom leather, and a 42mm Single Tour in Colvert Swift leather. One new addition to the Hermès collections and it includes the Apple Watch Series 2 with the 38mm Double Buckle Cuff in Fauve Barenia calfskin leather.

Bands are an easy and very affordable way (excluding the Hermes collection) to spice up your Apple Watch and bring it some exciting, new life. All of the new Apple Sport, Nylon and Nike Sport bands are available now for $50 bucks. All of the new Apple leather bands start at $149.99. The Hermes Bands start at $489 for the Double Tour, $339 for the Single Tour, and $680 for the Leather Cuff.

iTunes 12.6
One of the very few software announcements Apple made include the release of iTunes 12.6 for Mac. iTunes 12.6 introduces a “Rent once, watch anywhere” feature that lets iTunes users watch iTunes movie rentals across all devices with iOS 10.3 or tvOS 10.2.

Prior to the 12.6 update, an iTunes movie was only available on a single device at a time. When a movie rented on a Mac was transferred to an iPhone, iPad, or iPod using USB, the movie became unavailable from an iTunes library until returned to the Mac. This limitation has been removed with this update, and rented movies can now be watched and transferred on any device running iOS 10.3 or tvOS 10.2.

This feature begs the release of both iOS 10.3 and tvOS 10.2, so it’s likely that these new operating system versions will be released in the coming days and weeks. Look for them on a compatible iDevice near you very, very soon.

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Apple Releases watchOS 3.1.1

The latest release has a number of different fixes…

On 2016-12-12 the day proved to be very busy for Apple’s software release department. They released a number of different updates for their mobile platforms including wearables. watchOS 3.1.1 was released to the public with a number of different fixes.

The update included improvements and bug fixes for the following, more notable items:

  • Fixes an issue that could prevent contact names from appearing in the Messages app and notifications
  • Fixes an issue that could impact ability to respond to notifications
  • Resolves an issue where the Stocks complication may not update on the watch face
  • Fixes an issue that may prevent the Activity rings from displaying on the Activity watch faces
  • Fixes an issue that prevented the dials on an analog watch face from appearing after changing the temperature unit in the Weather app
  • Resolves an issue that could cause the Maps app to stay launched after navigation has ended
  • Resolves an issue where the incorrect date could be displayed in the Calendar app month view

Apple’s watchOS is the platform for their industry leading wearable, the Apple Watch. Version 3.x has significant improvements over versions 1 and 2; and is significantly faster, even on Apple’s original Apple Watch, affectionately dubbed, “Series 0” by many tech industry pundits, including myself.

Apple also released iOS 10.2 and tvOS 10.1 to the public today. Common to both of these platforms is Apple’s new TV app that allows users to search and watch TV shows. The app includes Siri integration so you can control the app with voice commands.

However, don’t look to use the TV app with streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The app currently isn’t on speaking terms with those popular services yet. Whether or not that will actually happen remains to be seen, but you never know…

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No Band for You!

You come back, one year!

microsoft-band

The wearables market isn’t an easy one; and its one that for many, still remains untamed. I spent a great deal of time last year covering the wearables market.

The first device I reviewed in this year long series was the Microsoft Band. In the end, at least before the Apple Watch was released, I considered it to be the go to device that I would have recommended to everyone, largely because (it had)

  • An inexpensive point of entry
  • A cross platform set of apps
  • An easy to use UI and smartphone app

When, a year later, Microsoft released Band 2, I felt vindicated – at least for my initial recommendation – because a second release of Band meant that Microsoft intended to stay in the market, at least for a while.

Yeah… about that…

Microsoft announced earlier this week that it is pulling Band 2 from all of its Stores and won’t be releasing a Band 3 this year.

Later, Microsoft also removed Band’s SDK from their site, which makes sense, since they’re no longer selling the device. They also appear to have disbanded the software team that was tasked with bringing Band in to Windows 10 as a native device and the hardware team responsible for design and engineering of Band hardware.

The one thing that Microsoft is NOT doing, however is dropping Microsoft Health. Microsoft still intends to provide that software and service to users of other fitness bands.

However, Apple Watch users, or those MS Health users looking to switch to Apple Watch, shouldn’t get their hopes up. It’s very unlikely that Apple will provide an API that would permit 3rd party support of Apple Watch with Microsoft Health or any other health monitoring application.

So you can put Microsoft Band into the heap of dead and dying tech revealed recently, including, of course, Blackberry manufactured hardware.

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FEATURE REVIEW – iPhone 7 Plus

After the initial out of the box experience, here are my thoughts on the iPhone 7 Plus

Introduction
I’m going to try to make this quick, as I’m currently working on a number of longer articles for Soft32 that I really want to get done in September as opposed to October; but to be honest, this one really can’t wait. If I don’t get it posted, its value and relevance will really fall; and I just can’t have that…

I’ve been an iPhone user on and off since 2008. I originally bought an iPhone 3G (or what could now be called the iPhone 2). It was the second iPhone that Apple released; and back in the day it you had a choice of two (2) colors – white or black. I was at a local AT&T store and while I wanted black, I had to take white, as all of the black phones were sold out. It’s also the last time that I actually stood in a line to buy a phone.

Things have changed a great deal in the last eight years.

I’m running with an iPhone 7 Plus this time around. I’ve had it for about a week; and I’ve developed a few opinions about it. Let’s take a quick sec and run over them… Shall we..??

Size, Finish and Form Factor
Damn, this phone is big.

I remember back in the day – and we’re talking 2004 to 2006 time frame – having a device with a screen larger than four (4) inches (measured diagonally) was a dream to view content with; but was considered a major issue because it completely interfered with one hand operation. The iPhone 7 is 4.7″ diagonally and the 7 Plus is 5.5 inches diagonally.

I found the following picture of all of the iPhones that Apple has ever released. It clearly shows the change in size over the past nine (9) years.

iphone-history

The iPhone 7 can still be used one handed, but requires a larger hand to really make this work without risking some serious and possibly painful, stretching. The iPhone 7 Plus simply can’t be used with one hand. At 5.5″ diagonally, the form factor (often) requires two hands to hold the device, let alone, use it.

I’ve got a serious case of arthritis in my hands, and to be honest, I don’t even think about trying to use the 7 Plus with one hand. For me – and I would think most of the Plus user base – it just isn’t possible.

If there was one thing that hit me when I got into my 7 Plus, it was the size of the device. My wife has the iPhone 6s Plus, and has been using that for a year; and of course I’ve occasionally used it; but it’s a different story when your daily driver is as large as the Plus size devices.

I know I will get used to it, but this is going to take me some time. I need to stop stretching my hands across the device to the upper left corner, trying to reach things. It’s just not going to happen…

With the device’s increased size, I’ve noticed that its rounded edges are a problem. The device is so smooth that it really feels like it wants to fall out of my hands when I’m holding it. If there was one thing that I would change about this device, it would be squaring off the rounded edges, making it a bit similar to the design of the iPhone SE and the iPhone 4/4s/5/5s. It would just make it a lot easier to grip and hold on to.

At the end of the day, the screen size is a huge reason to upgrade, but it makes the device a lot bigger (duh…) and it requires a bit of getting used to, especially for someone with arthritis issues, like me.

I purchased the matte black iPhone 7 Plus. My wife got the jet black iPhone 7 Plus. Both colors are VERY black. This is not charcoal, or a dark space gray. This is black.

My wife’s jet black 7 Plus arrived on 2015-09-27. The best way to describe it is as having a black, glossy, glass finish all the way around. The back looks as though it is covered with the same glass as the front is. It looks beautiful.

The Full 360
Here are some comparison photos of the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6s Plus and the Matte Black, iPhone 7 Plus.

dsc_1317 dsc_1318
From left to right, the front of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the backs of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1319 dsc_1320
From left to right, the bottom of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the left side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus
dsc_1321 dsc_1324
From left to right, the tops of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus From left to right, the right side of the iPhone 6, iPhone 7 & iPhone 6s Plus

Home Button
This is a huge change in iPhone 7; and aside from the loss of the headphone jack (see below…), is perhaps the biggest, most controversial change in iPhone 7. 7 Plus.

The Home Button is no longer a physical button. The TouchID sensor is hidden under a haptic enabled, Force Touch/ 3D Touch, round, recessed section of the screen. User adjustable, haptic feedback simulates a click or press when you press on it with your fingertip.

The “button” works via capacitive touch. There is no physical, depressive hardware or button mechanism that depresses when you push the button. Like the trackpad on a MacBook or MacBook Pro equipped with a compatible trackpad, the new home button simulates a press when you “push” it.

I’ve noticed that while this is similar to the experience and feeling on the MacBook or MacBook Pro that’s equipped with a Force Touch trackpad, its simply does NOT work the same way. The trackpad “click” feels like you’ve actually clicked a trackpad. The feeling you get from the Home Button on the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus does NOT feel like you’ve pushed the Home Button on an iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus or earlier, and it never will.

While you WILL get used to this change over time, it’s the miniaturization of the haptic engine and the other components in the “button” that make this implementation of this technology different. It works on the trackpads because everything is a bit bigger, there’s more surface area to work with and the vibration from the haptic engine can be applied to a larger area and has a better chance to dissipate a bit to help simulate a depressed click, all without any physical, moving parts.

Because it has no moving parts, AND requires a capacitive connection, you can’t get a press out of the button with a finger nail. You have to have a physical, flesh to button connection. This coupled with the new click feel, is going to require some getting used to.

As a quick aside, iOS 10 also implements a, “press home to unlock,” process. This was done in large part due to complaints that Apple received from users of the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus who indicated that the performance of the touch sensor on those phones was too good, unlocking the device before they had a chance to read all of the notifications on the lock screen. You can “disable” this somewhat by changing the Home Button behavior in Accessibility Settings.

You’re going to be pressing the Home Button a lot more, so you can either get used to it all, or change the settings to better match the way you work. Your call…

Headphone Jack
First things first… Apple did NOT simply cover up the headphone jack on the iPhone 7/ 7Plus with the new, left side speaker grill. They removed the jack and all the associated hardware from the device completely. Please note that drilling a hole in your iPhone 7/ 7 Plus looking to “activate” the “hidden” jack under the speaker grill is only going to destroy your new iPhone. There is no hidden jack.

Plainly put – drilling a hole in your phone is just a mark of stupidity. Don’t do it. Period. The headphone jack has been removed from the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus, not hidden.

That nasty bit out of the way, the big question is, “how has this affected me?”

The answer is, “not much at all.”

I love music. It’s a key part of my life and a large part of who I am. I’ve got songs – originals and covers – running through my head all day, every day. Literally.

The main place I listen to any audio content is my car; and I’ve been listening to it via lightning connector/ USB cable connected to my car radio for about five (5) years. The only time I’ve ever really used any of the ear buds I’ve received with any of my iPhones – or any smartphone, for that matter – is when I’ve needed to make a phone call while having both hands free (and I wasn’t in my car). I very rarely listen to music at the office, as someone is likely to say something to me, and I’m not going to hear them if I’m plugged in. At home, I play audio through desktop speakers set at the appropriate volume level.

Now, that isn’t to say that I will NEVER use a set of headphones at office. However, when I do, I’ve got that covered. iPhone 7 and 7 Plus both come with a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter (a $9 accessory). If I want to listen to music at work, I’ll put that adapter on the wired end of the Beats Wireless On-Ear Headphones I bought on Amazon.com.

Yes, they can also work wirelessly; but I never use the wireless connection any longer. I’ve had too many problems. The wired connection is much more reliable. So, again, I’ll just put the adapter on the AUX cord that came with the headset and leave it there.

While lots of folks hate change; this one isn’t bothering me much. At the end of the day, we’re going to do the same thing that we did when headphone jacks moved from 1/4 inch to 3.5mm… we’re going to get an adapter, attach it to our favorite headset, and we’re going to get over the fact that the jack we’re used to is gone.

Camera
There are a great deal of camera improvements in the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus. The table below compares the camera in the last two iterations of Apple’s flagship phone.

Feature

iPhone 7

iPhone 6s

Sensor Size 12MP 12MP
Aperture WA: f1.8, T: f2.8 f2.2
Zoom Optical: 2x, Dig: 10x Digital Only: 5x
OIS Both Plus Only
Lens 6 Element 5 Element
Lens Cover Sapphire Crystal Sapphire Crystal

I’m a decent amateur photographer, and quite honestly, the above features are the ones that I’m really interested in and concerned about when it comes to the camera. These are the core camera features that anyone really interested in the camera will really care about. The faster rating (f1.8 vs f2.2) on the iPhone 7’s rear camera means that it should take better pictures in low light situations. The camera should also be better at capturing sports or other fast action shots.

To be honest, these are all still photo feature related. While the ability to take video is also nice, I don’t do it much. Thankfully for me, though, the video camera feature set between the iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus hasn’t changed. It’s the same as last year’s model.

Since I’m coming from an iPhone 6 to the iPhone 7, I haven’t really had a chance to take or play with Live Photos. To be blunt and honest, I’m not impressed. Live Photos are three to six second movies that your phone takes. The photo appears as a still until you either press and hold or apply Force Touch to your screen.

Live Photos is turned on by default and are taken in Photo (default) mode. I’ve found them to be some of the worst photos AND videos I’ve ever taken. The still shots in them are mediocre at best and the videos are often blurry. When most stills are in the 175kb to 512kb size range and Live Photos are about 2MB in size, they are really nothing more than a waste of space, I’ve found. Unless you’re in a really well lit, naturally lighted area, I’d stay away from them.

Other photos I’ve taken with the iPhone 7 Plus look really good. Take a look at the table below. I’ve got two photos of the same subject taken with both devices and their Info sheets, below. Both photos are of our new puppy, Maggie, a havanese puppy, about 16 weeks old.

img_0102 img_0102-info
img_5820 img_5820-info

There’s nothing special done to either of these photos. I haven’t applied any filters or retouched them in any way. You can see the photo taken with the iPhone 7 Plus has much more detail and is a much clearer, more focused, sharper picture. That’s what a faster lens with a longer focal length and 4 additional mega pixels will get you. The quality and improvement is unquestionable.

When you look at these two sample photos, it’s clear which is the better one – the one taken with the iPhone 7 Plus. It also clearly illustrates why the camera on a smartphone is perhaps the single biggest reason why people upgrade their phones every 12 to 24 months. Their phone is the camera they carry with them everywhere they go.

When you make quality jumps like f1.8 from f2.2 and 6.6mm from 4.5mm, upgrading your smartphone to get a better camera is easy to understand. While I’d quite honestly rather have my DSLR with me to take pictures, this point and shoot camera on the iPhone 7 Plus is really a good substitute in a much more convenient form factor.

NOTE: I’m going to say just this about the pending Portrait mode and the Gaussian blur effect it performs – the blur needs to be more pronounced than some of the sample photos I’ve seen taken by those individuals running the update on an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. Currently, the effect doesn’t feel strong enough to me. You can see some sample pictures published on c|net, here.

I am NOT currently running the iOS 10.1 beta that has this update, though I have access to the software. I wanted to be able to review my iPhone 7 Plus without the possible issues that may come from early betas of this first major update to iOS 10.

Battery Life
The iPhone 7/ 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus are effectively the same size. Each corresponding model in each device series has the same dimensions as the other. However, the inner workings are a bit different and are laid out differently. As I understand it, the batteries in the 7/ 7 Plus is slightly bigger than the batteries in the 6s/ 6s Plus.

Battery specs for the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 6s Plus are below. You’ll notice that the battery ratings for the 6s Plus are slightly better than the 7 Plus. While the battery is slightly bigger, the lower battery life ratings can be accounted for in the updated A10 processor, extra 1GB of RAM (the 7 Plus has a total of 3GB of RAM where the 6s Plus has 2GB of RAM) and the higher resolution display.

Feature

iPhone 7 Plus

iPhone 6s Plus

Improvement 1 hour Longer

N/A

Talk Time – 3G Up to 21 hours on 3G Up to 24 hours on 3G
Standby Up to 16 days Up to 16 days
Internet Use Up to 13 hours on 3G
Up to 13 hours on LTE
Up to 15 hours on Wi-Fi
Up to 12 hours on 3G
Up to 12 hours on LTE
Up to 12 hours on WiFi
Wireless Video Playback Up to 14 hours Up to 14 hours
Wireless Audio Playback Up to 60 hours Up to 80 hours

During the day, I take and make a moderate amount of phone calls. I have some moderate app use. I play a couple hours of games; and I’ve always got at least one smartwatch connected to it – either the Olio Model One or the Apple Watch Series 0. With the iPhone 6, I found that my device’s charge would drop to between 15 to 20% power by the end of the day. I’ve found that with the iPhone 7 Plus, I can make it through the day with well over 55% charge left. That’s about 1/3 more battery life. I find that it also charges back up fairly quickly. I’m usually back up to 95-100% by the time I’m back home from work (a 45 to 60 minute ride).

Conclusion
I have some work to do getting used to the increased device size of the iPhone 7 Plus. I know I’ll get there; but right now, knowing that I have to finish adjusting and have to learn to feel comfortable using two hands to run the device instead of just one will take some time.

The jury is still out for me on the Home Button. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’d like to “like” how the device functions since I’m technically stuck with this until at least next year.

I’ve moved on from the loss of the headphone jack. You should too. It’s not that big a deal… really. As long as I have the 3.5mm to Lightning adapter on my Beats headphones audio cord, I’m fine. If not, then I have to go across the street from the office to the Apple Store to get a new one.

The camera is really great, but I need to spend some more time taking pictures with it. It’s a huge improvement over the iPhone 6 that I’ve been using and its enhancements warrant some serious work.

Battery life on the 7 Plus is decent. While its somewhat less than the 6s Plus, its enhanced components can explain that away, and honestly, it’s a lot better knowing that I’ve got extra battery power to get me through the day when I really need it.

The iPhone 7 Plus would have been a good upgrade for me regardless of the metrics or reasons and results of my first week of use. The device has a larger screen, bigger battery, a better camera and an extra 1GB of RAM (for a total of 3GB) than my iPhone 6, so this was a slam dunk based on those older device specs. Everything else I got was just gravy…

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