Yesterday, Apple released the iOS 10.3 Public Beta right on the heels of the iOS 10.3 Developer Beta. The developer beta, was released on Tuesday.
I was a little surprised by this move, as iOS 10.3 includes a feature only a nerd’s nerd would like – the Apple File System (APFS).
APFS was announced last summer at the 2016 Apple developer’s conference, WWDC, as an experimental feature in MacOS Sierra. APFS could only be used with SSD drives, and could not be on the boot drive. APFS was also restricted from converting disk drives that used HFS+. The HFS+ file system, released some 18 years ago, is the file system used on all Macs, iPhones, Watches, and Apple TV. I was presuming that APFS wouldn’t show up for iOS until the iOS 11 beta program this summer. It looks like Apple is moving a head, getting ready to bring APFS to iOS devices much sooner than MacOS. Releasing an update that automatically upgrades HPF+ formatted iOS devices to the new APFS is a good sign that development has gone well and that Apple is looking for feedback ahead of a full production rollout in the future.
In addition to APFS, the other feature that I am looking forward to playing with is the new Find My AirPods functionality that has been added to the Find My iPhone.app. This feature will be great to help you track down that missing AirPod that is in your pants pocket, your bag, in between your couch cushions, or behind your bed. Basically, if your AirPods have a charge and are in range of one of your Apple devices signed into your iCloud account, you will be able to get an approximate location. (Remember, these things do not have built in GPS radios.)
There is also a nifty Apple ID option at the top of the Settings list. The purpose of this new setting is to give you quick access to all of your iCloud account settings and options all in one spot. Can’t remember your Apple ID email address? Need to tweak Family Sharing? Want to update your credit card information. It’s all right here.
Wanna try out the public beta? You really need to be ready to deal with some bugs. That’s the whole point of using pre-release software. I also suggest that you run beta software on an iPhone or iPad that is not your everyday or work provided device. The last thing you need is to get stuck in a jam and not be able to make a phone call or do work. Still interested? Head over to beta.apple.com to learn more.
As expected, hot on the heels of the official release of iOS 10.2.1, Apple opened up the iOS 10.3 beta to registered paid developers today.
According to people who have already installed the new beta release, iOS 10.3 includes the new “Find My Air Pods” feature, hourly weather forecasts via 3D Touch on the Weather app icon (would be really useful today), and navigational improvements to the Mail application.
But what I found really interesting was that Apple is including the new Apple File System, APFS, early. I wasn’t expecting APFS to make an appearance on iOS until iOS 11, presumably due out later this year. APFS make it’s first appearance at WWDC 2016 in a preview mode so developers could get experience with it. The current iOS, and MacOS, file system is known as HFS+, which Wikipedia tells us debuted in 1998. Yes, your 2016 iPhone 7 is running a file system that was released 18 years ago. And designed for a Macintosh running a Motorola 68000-series processor. Ah, memories.
Regardless, I was expecting APFS to make its first, non-beta, appearance on the Mac since it is a smaller pool of users compared to the juggernaut that is the iPhone. Looks like Apple is forging ahead with APFS on iOS devices first.
No word yet as to when public beta testers will be able to get in on the 10.3 beta.
Apple gave us four updates for our iDevices and Macs today.
Earlier this afternoon, MacOS Sierra 10.12.3 arrived offering graphics improvements for the October 2016 edition MacBook Pros. The Sierra 10.12.3 update closed up a hole in Preview that was mucking with searching scanned PDF files.
iTunes 12.5.5 was also released for MacOS (and Windows PC) adding “minor app and performance improvements”.
Also arriving today was 10.2.1, a minor security and bug fix update for iPhone and iPad. watchOS 3.1.3 tagged along to give Apple Watch owners a small tune up also.
And, last, but not least, Apple TV got a minor bump up to tvOS 10.1.1 from 10.1.
All of today’s updates are minor security and bug fixes, with no major features or new functionality added.
Look for the iOS 10.3 beta releases to start arriving any day now.
Just a few days ago, I was talking about my accidental trip into the Amazon ecosystem. Today, I want to evaluate where I am going with Apple hardware. What follows is what I think I will be my Apple hardware purchasing plans for 2017 with a little bit of commentary thrown in for fun.
Rumors about the 2017 iPhone have been circulating since before the iPhone 7 launch. What we do know is that the 2017 iPhone, regardless of whether Apple acknowledges it in any meaningful way, will be the tenth anniversary iPhone. We know that the 2017 iPhone will have a new system on a chip, probably called the A11. Maybe more RAM. Personally, I would like to see the return of the squared off sides, like the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 series, but I don’t think that will happen. What I do think will happen is that we will get a curved iPhone display just like the one used on the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge. With all of this in mind, I do plan on buying a new 2017 iPhone Plus. We don’t know if the 2017 iPhone will be an ‘S’ year or not. I feel that if Apple gives us a dramatic form factor redesign in 2017, they should call it the iPhone 8. If there is more than one ‘large’ model, I will likely get the largest screen/best camera model.
Purchasing Probability – Yes, please!
I use my iPad Air (October 2013) and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (November 2015) every day and I love them. For me, the iPad has taken a central role in my daily computing. Reading the news? Surfing my favorite websites? Catching up on Twitter? Reading ebooks? Watching TV shows and movies? Checking and replying to email? Yup. All of this gets done on my iPads. The iPad Pro covers work-work and ebook reading for class. The iPad Air takes care of my personal needs. In 2017, I am hopeful that Apple will release new iPad Pros. Screen sizes are up for debate. I don’t expect to replace my work-issued iPad Pro. Cost is the main reason here. I would hope that Apple releases an updated 12.9-inch iPad Pro that brings it up to parity with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The way I use my iPad Air, it is still working well for me. I do not expect to upgrade my personal 9.7-inch iPad in 2017. I do think that 2017, with iOS 11, will be the last year for my beloved Air. Check back with me in 2018 to see if there is a new 9.7-inch iPad in my future.
Purchasing Probability – Not likely.
The Macintosh is still an important product for me. Maybe because I have bene an Apple user and fan for so long. Maybe because I prefer Mac OS over Windows and Linux I know I am in the minority here, but it’s the way I feel.
In 2016, I purchased a new 5k iMac and I love it! I chose to go with the 2TB Fusion drive and a 3.3GHz Intel Core i5 CPU. Thankfully, Apple still allows customers to upgrade the RAM on the iMac, so I stuffed it full of 8GB DIMMs and maxed it out with 32GB of RAM. There’s no SSD – they are still too expensive for a 1.0TB or larger drive – and I didn’t get a Core i7 CPU either. And that’s fine. I think my iMac is super-fast, considering my upgrade from a 2009 17-inch MacBook Pro. So, I don’t plan on getting a new iMac in 2017.
I’m on the fence about the 2016 MacBook Pro. I miss having a MacBook for the times I want to do work away from my iMac and home office. Still, the frustration with the MacBook Pro’s inconsistent battery life, 16GB memory limit, and the use of an older Intel Core CPU are tugging on logical side of my brain, and is disrupting the famous Apple reality distortion field. See the Ars Technical 13-inch MacBook Pro review for more details.
On the go writing with Microsoft Word and surfing with Safari can easily be done with my iPad Pro. BBEdit on the Mac and Coda on the iPad Pro are a good match. But not having OmniGraffle (or Visio), XCode, or Eclipse on the iPad hurts a bit. I know I can spend another $100 to get OmniGraffle for iOS, but if I am being honest, I don’t use it enough to justify the cost. I don’t expect there to be new MacBook Pro notebooks in 2017, so I am leaning toward a 2016 MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar and Touch ID. I would get the 16GB RAM upgrade, however, the aforementioned battery issues, are keeping me from spending the money to upgrade to a 512GB SSD and an i7 CPU. So, no new iMac and there is still a 50/50 chance for a new MacBook Pro.
I feel sorry for Mac Pro and Mac mini fans. They are long overdue for some new hardware. Hopefully, 2017 will be their year.
Purchasing Probability – Looking favorable for a 13-inch, Space Grey MacBook Pro.
The Watch is a good product. I’m glad I have it over a Fitbit or a Nike+ Fuelband. I owned both, but I feel that the Apple Watch offers more utility then those other devices. I love having important to me notifications on my wrist. I should exercise more, and hey, who shouldn’t, but in day-to-day usage, I just don’t use the fitness features of the Watch over tracking my walks. With that said, I don’t see myself upgrading to a Series 2 Watch anytime soon. My original, aka Series 0, Watch Sport model with watchOS 3 is good enough for me.
Purchasing Probability – Not likely.
I do not expect that Apple will refresh the Apple TV in 2017. I have a 32GB fourth generation Apple TV. I use it often to watch Netflix and some movies and TV shows purchased from iTunes. But I don’t use it every day. I am not a big apps user. I don’t expect to buy a new Apple TV. I would buy a new Siri Remote if Apple released one, but I don’t expect any new remote to appear in 2017.
Purchasing Probability – Not likely.
In 2016, Apple exited the monitor business. In place of the Cinema Displays, Apple co-designed a new 5K display with LG called the UltraFine 5K Display. My iMac doesn’t have USB-C, so I don’t see myself buying a second monitor. In all honesty, I like the cleanliness of a single monitor on my desk.
Apple is also rumored to be out of the router and Wi-Fi business. As I recently wrote, this means the end of the line for AirPort networking equipment. I just purchased my last refurbished AirPort Express. I wish Apple would stay in this business, because they are very reliable and very easy to setup.
My iMac came with a new Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. I don’t expect to replace them in 2017. Mostly because I still like using my Apple Wireless Keyboard (2006) and my Apple Extended II keyboard (1995). I have gotten better with typing on the Magic Keyboard, but I prefer the key travel of it’s larger format cousins. I would get a new wireless Magic Keyboard if it included all of the function keys of the Bluetooth Apple Wireless Keyboard (2006), but we all know that Jony Ive won’t allow such a monstrosity to be created. Maybe if the Magic Keyboard was released with the same amount of key travel and included the Touch Bar and Touch ID I might spring for it. After all, I’m not above spending $200 for a great Apple keyboard.
Purchasing Probability – Unlikely, without the release of an iMac compatible Touch Bar and Touch ID Magic Keyboard.
So, there are my plans for Apple hardware in 2017. I don’t think that there are going to be any surprises for me. New releases of Mac OS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS are surely going to be welcomed and will delight customers. I think I am most excited about a new iPhone. I feel that a new MacBook Pro would be helpful with my school work, primarily with my upcoming programming classes this year. I wish I had the option of upgrading to 32GB of memory, but there are still issues to be worked out there.
I have been using Apple’s AirPort Extreme and Express Wi-Fi equipment for about two years now. In a fit of rage over my previous equipment’s constantly poor performance, constant reboots, and dropped connections, I ripped everything out, put in a new Surfboard cable modem and installed a refurbished AirPort Extreme (802.11ac) and Express (802.11n). I never looked back.
I never looked back, that is, until Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg Technology (Warning: auto-play video…Grrrr!), last month, reported that Apple has quietly “disbanded its division that develops wireless routers”. The last time Apple updated their networking hardware was June 2013 for the AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule (for performing wireless Time Machine backups). The AirPort Express last received an update four years ago, in June 2012.
Since seeing the report back on November 21, I have been on the prowl for a second refurbished AirPort Express to extend the Wi-Fi coverage in the kid’s bedrooms. It was one of those things that was on my “I’ll get around to it” lists. Knowing that the AirPort line of products are on the way out lit the fire I needed to get in my last go around with AirPort.
Earlier this week, I happened to check the Apple Certified Refurbished store and saw that all the AirPort hardware was in stock. I hastily purchased another Express. It should arrive today.
Some AirPort History
AirPort has been around for a long time. The original AirPort Base Station (sans Extreme) was released all the way back in July 1999 – the same year Apple released now classic Macintosh machines such as the iBook, the CRT-based iMac, the Power Mac G4, and the PowerBook.
Truth be told, my current AirPort hardware is not my first. I purchased a first-generation AirPort Extreme base station from circa 2007, when CompUSA was closing their brick and mortar retail operations. It supported 802.11a/b/g, and the draft 802.11n specification. (For clarification, the previously mentioned ripping out of hardware was non-Apple 802.11n equipment.)
Oh, What a Mesh!
If you are looking to replace your existing Wi-Fi hardware, I can’t recommend Apple’s router and Wi-Fi hardware. While my AirPort hardware has been extreme-ly (I’m not sorry about that pun) reliable for me, there is no point in investing in new hardware now that we have seemingly reached the end of the road for AirPort.
Besides, mesh Wi-Fi networks are all the rage these days. At a high-level, traditional Wi-Fi networks that have access points sprinkled around a home or small office. Each node connects back to a router base station. As you move between access points, the connection must move (manually or automatically) between the access points (Brain, Wilson, Johnson, 2001). Mesh network connections, on the other hand, are spread out among satellite nodes. All of the nodes talk to each other to create a single, larger wireless area network (Roos, 2007).
If you are looking to install a new Wi-Fi network in your home or small office, I would suggest investigating mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment from eero, Netgear’s Orbi line, Google WiFi (if you are OK with Alphabet snorting up even more of your personal data), and others. Jim Salter, over at The Wirecutter (part of The New York Times Company) has a great overview of the current state of mesh Wi-Fi networking equipment. As of this writing, Mr. Salter last updated his post on November 30, 2016.
Mesh networks aren’t for everyone. They can be expensive. The eero 3-pack, pictured above, is $499. If you have a small home or apartment, you can very likely do well with a single Wi-Fi Router like the TP-Link Archer C7 (TheWirecutter.com review). The C7 can be purchased for under $100.
If you find yourself in a similar situation as I am, and you want to get that one last addition to your home network, you should checkout the RefurbStore website. It “looks into” Apple’s refurbished inventory and allows you to setup an alert when the part you are interested is back in stock. For example, two days ago, Apple had AirPort Express units in stock. Today, they are all sold out. RefurbStore looks like a good way to keep tabs on what Apple has available over time. It took me about four weeks to finally find the Express in stock.
For me, I am sticking with my AirPort Extreme base station and two AirPort Express nodes for a little while longer. Looking down the road, if I squint, I think I see an eero two or three node mesh network in my future. But for now, I’m
I noticed a funny thing while working in my home office today: There’s a lot of Amazon stuff around. Amazon Prime membership. Amazon Fire 7 tablet (5th generation). Amazon Fire TV Stick. And now, the Amazon echo dot, which was given to me as Christmas gift.
Woah! That’s a lot of Amazon tech for a self proclaimed Apple fan.
I didn’t get here by way of a conscious effort. The Amazon ecosystem crept into my life slowly over the course of 2016. First was my Prime membership with a trial in January and for real in February. Then, for our family vacation to the beach in Cape Cod, I purchased a “throw away” Amazon Fire 7 tablet. Then Amazon Prime Day rolled around in July, and I was looking for an easier way to watch Amazon’s Bosch on my TV rather than watching it on my 27-inch iMac. Two days later, an Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote arrived. And then there is the Amazon echo dot sitting at the corner of my desk that I received as a Christmas gift.
That’s a lot of Amazon stuff.
So, what now? I don’t use the Amazon ecosystem for buying ebooks, music, TV shows, or movies. For that, I solely rely on Apple and their various iTunes stores. While I don’t expect that to change in 2017, I think that there will be some chances for Amazon to “win” some of my personal time.
I think that the Fire 7 tablet is a lame duck. All of my ebook content from the iBook Store. The only Amazon ebooks that I have are a handful of $2.99 or less books I got for the beach.
I do really enjoy reading Connelly’s Bosh and Lincoln Lawyer books, so when the new season of Bosch is released, I plan on watching with the Fire TV Stick. I feel that Netflix and iTunes content will stay with my Apple TV.
Then there is the echo dot. The state of AI gadgets, in my opinion, is still very much a “hobby”. Yet, with an Amazon Prime membership, I find that I am buying more things from Amazon than I did in 2015. And that is the whole point of all of this stuff from Amazon. To get you to buy more things from them.
Damn you, Jeff Bezos, you got me!
With that in mind, I think I will start 2017 by playing with the echo dot to buy things. I think it will be an interesting experiment and a completely different use case than how I use Siri.
Having slipped into the Amazon ecosystem by someone who is such an Apple fan was a jarring realization. I think it happened because subconsciously I feel that Amazon, like Apple, provide a better experience than those of say the Microsoft or Alphabet Google ecosystem. (Disclaimer: I am a die hard Office 365 subscriber.)
I have been buying goods from Amazon for so long now (I started buying things from Amazon back when it was an online book store), that I have come to trust them with my information in a way that I never felt comfortable with Google’s services.
So, it will be an interesting year, 2017, as I dip my toes into the full Amazon ecosystem with the Alexia-powered echo dot and Fire TV. I’ll use the Fire tablet to configure and manage the two.
I have been using my iPad Pro 12.9-inch for the last year. When I purchased my iPad Pro, I purchased the Apple Smart Keyboard. This past November 22, after a year of the Smart Keyboard and having read reviews from bloggers and hearing podcasters talk about the Logitech Create keyboards, I decided to get one. What follows are my thoughts and impressions about 12.9-inch Create keyboard.
Logitech Create Backlit Keyboard Case Mini Review
I love using my iPhones and iPads without cases, yet I cannot stand having scratches, nicks, or scuffs so I always use a case or some sort. My iPad Pro, issued to me by my employer, has spent the last year protected by the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Silicone Case.
The Logitech Create 12.9-inch keyboard, in my opinion, is on the opposite end of the keyboard spectrum from the Apple Smart Keyboard. The Create fore goes Apple’s minimalist obsession and let’s their Smart Connector-based keyboard be true to itself. To get a sense of the size, the keys on the Create keyboard are about the same size as those on the Apple Magic Keyboard. The best part about the Create keyboard is that there is actually movement in the keys (key travel). If you like the keyboard on the MacBook Air, then I think you will like this keyboard a lot. Since retiring my 17-inch MacBook Pro, the iPad Pro with Create keyboard has become my on-the-go writing tool.
The key caps are a nice size and I can easily touch type on this keyboard just like I can on my wireless Microsoft (at the office) and Apple (at home) keyboards. The Create keyboard also has an extra row of function keys that are missing from Apple’s Smart Keyboard. Create also sports backlit keys, another feature that is missing from the Apple stock keyboard. The function keys that I find myself using the most are search, backlight brightness up and down, lock, and home. In the position of the Fn key on the Magic Keyboard, Logitech placed a keyboard key, which when pressed, brings up the iOS 10 on-screen keyboard.
I have been using the Create keyboard with three main apps on my iPad – Microsoft Word, Outlook, and OneNote. When I get in a groove, and typing furiously (for me), my personal preference is for the Create keyboard over the Apple Smart Keyboard. For writing in my lap while on the go, I feel that the Create keyboard is the sturdier of the two.
The Logitech Create keyboard case is available in five colors: classic red with gold keyboard top, purple, blue with silver keyboard top (the version I purchased), black with silver keyboard top, and black. I have a silver iPad Pro, and I thought that the blue/silver case looked the best partnered up with my iPad. Red/gold was a close runner up. If I had a black iPad Pro, I would have only considered the two black versions. Personal preferences will obviously vary.
For as much as I like the Logitech Create keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, there are a few downsides to consider.
The Create keyboards is big and heavy. It’s the price to be paid for being true to itself. Much more so than the two-piece Apple solution. It’s something buyers need to consider if they travel around a lot. For me, the extra bulk is not too much of a problem because I don’t travel much. Logitech has included a wrist rest, however, it is shallow, and my palms hang off the edge. This is not a deal breaker. The total size of the keyboard and wrist rest is constrained by the size of the iPad Pro. I am glad that Logitech used the majority of the space for the keys over that of the wrist rest.
There are magnets in the wrist rest that will put the iPad to sleep just like any other Smart Cover. The magnets aren’t powerful enough to keep the iPad closed. I attribute this to the sheer bulk of the Create case. If I pick up my iPad Pro by the top half of the Create case, it will open. While walking around the office with my iPad, there is some minimal movement between the iPad and Create. Because of this, I worry about the plastic key caps rubbing up against the glass screen and marking it up over time. As such, I felt it was necessary to buy a glass screen protector for the iPad Pro. I have no evidence that the screen would become damaged. It was an emotional response to my desire to keep my hardware looking like it just came out of the box. Again, results will vary.
The one gripe that I do have, that was “fixed” with the Create keyboard for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, was the inclusion of a loop for storing an Apple Pencil. There is a lot of space where the Pencil loop could have gone in the 12.9-inch model. I personally feel that early adopter feedback informed Logitech’s decision to include the loop on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro Create keyboard case. I am looking forward to seeing the loop on a future 12.9-inch Create keyboard.
The Logitech Create keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the keyboard for people who prefer a more traditional keyboard experience. I find it delightful to type on and the experience is more like the other keyboards in my life. I also appreciate that Logitech let this be the keyboard that it wants to be – size and weight be damned – and I appreciate it.
The Logitech Create Backlit Keyboard Case for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can be purchased for $149.95 from both the Logitech and Apple online stores or in retail stores that sell iPad Pros.
Earlier this week, Apple’s wireless ear buds, AirPods, when on sale in Apple Stores. After selling out almost immediately, I finally got mine today. What follows is my story and first impressions about getting my pair of AirPods.
I first learned about Apple’s new AirPods wireless earbuds like many of you…while watching a recording of Apple’s iPhone 7 event back on September 7th. I was super excited about them and was looking forward to getting a pair to go with my iPhone 7 Plus. Alas, the AirPods wouldn’t be ready until “October”. Throw in a “We need a little bit more time to get them exactly right” from Apple PR and you end up with some disappointed customers.
Fast forward to December 13, when Apple dropped a press release stating that the AirPods where now on sale at Apple.com. Whoa! I totally missed the press release because, you know, work, and by the time I checked out the online store, AirPods were showing delivery dates three to four weeks out. Having to do the responsible adult thing this past Monday meant that there was no chance of taking the morning off to get in line at one of my local Apple Stores. Topping it all off, AirPods are showing delivery dates around mid-February. 2017. Ugh!
But my luck changed today, thanks to iStockNow.com! Using their inventory status tool, I was energetically checking AirPod stock in Connecticut, New York City, Long Island, and southern Massachusetts. Yes, I seriously considered driving out of state, taking a train down to Grand Central Station, or taking my car over to Long Island via ferry.
At 3:30pm, I saw that Apple Danbury received some in. The hour drive, by comparison to getting on a ferry, wasn’t too bad, but driving back home in rush hour traffic would have been the worst. With AirPods in my bag and my finger hovering over “Buy with Apple Pay” in the Apple Store iOS app, I chose to wait. I decided to wait a half hour to get back to my iMac, and I told myself that if they were still available for pickup in Danbury, I would buy them and go pick them up after dinner. When I checked the status, to my surprise, the AirPods were sold out in Danbury, but were “in” at Apple Trumbull. I hastily changed by order and purchased them online for pick up today. He shoots! He scores!
Earlier today, I dropped by Apple Trumbull in Westfield’s Trumbull mall. The store was busy, as you would expect, but not super packed. The greeter checked me in, and a few minutes later, Joe was coming over help me finalize my order. Joe recognized my name from the store’s grand opening event two years ago. We got to talking and I decided to open my AirPods in the store and set them up. Joe gave me a quick session on how to pair AirPods with my iPhone 7 Plus (Spoiler Alert: Flip open the AirPods case next to your unlocked iPhone running iOS 10) and how to use them. There was a lot going on in the store, so I appreciated him taking some extra time with me for a one-on-one. I also took a few minutes to talk to Mary, the store manager, just to let her know how awesome her staff is.
W1, iCloud, and the Magic of the Secret Sauce
AirPods, are Bluetooth wireless ear buds. The bud part that goes in your ear is styled after the current EarPod wired ear buds that Apple puts in the box with the iPhone. I always thought that Apple’s ear buds were comfortable to wear, and the AirPods are no exception. Pairing Bluetooth devices is a real pain in the neck. Apple solved this problem by creating the W1 system on a chip. W1 makes pairing AirPods with your Apple devices effortless if that device is running iOS 10, macOS Sierra, or watchOS 3. Just hold the AirPod case a few inches away from your unlocked iPhone and flip open the AirPods case. Boom!
For devices like my 4th generation AppleTV, the pairing process is still super simple, but you must press the round button on the back of the case to initiate the pairing process. Because all my Apple devices are signed in to iCloud using the same account as my iPhone, all my devices instantly knew about my new AirPods. That takes so much of the hassle out of trying to use Bluetooth headphones and ear buds with more than one device. I love my PowerBeats ear buds for working out at the gym, but I almost never bother trying to get them to connect to my iPad Air to watch a TV show or movie. Thanks to W1 and iCloud, using AirPods with all my iDevices is really easy.
AirPods in Action
There are some cool things you can do with AirPods. First off, if you pull one of the ear buds out of your ear, whatever you are listening too or watching will instantly pause. Pop the bud back in, and the music or video automatically resumes. Double-tapping either one of the AirPods will summon Siri. You can ask Siri to raise or lower the volume, skip the current track, or read new messages. Any command that you can issue to Siri from your iPhone, Watch, or Mac will work. In my few hours of playing with them, I haven’t found a command yet that didn’t work. My daughter Kate wanted to do some Christmas shopping this evening. I brought along AirPods so I could listen to some Christmas music while walking around the local Target. A good song came on, and I pulled out one ear bud and popped it into her ear so we could both listen. We got an aisle length apart and her AirPod bud was still rocking out without any trouble. While connected to my iMac (in my finished basement), I could listen to music on my AirPods two floors away in my bedroom. That’s some really great range! You can also use one AirPod at a time. You won’t be listening in stereo, but that’s perfectly fine while talking on the phone or listening to spoken word content in podcasts or audio books.
In just a few hours of using them, I have had a good experience so far. They sound pretty good. Obviously, personal preference will come into play here. I’m not an audiophile, and I like the sound of the wired EarPods. To me, AirPods sound as good as the wired ear buds. They are light weight and are comfortable to wear. I think the best part about AirPods is that there are absolutely no wires to get tangled up in. I won’t catch the wire around the arm rest on my office chair. There’s no cable to bunch up behind my neck while walking or running. And the AirPods in their case is a smaller package them my PowerBeats in their case. The negatives I can see with the AirPods in my limited amount of testing are the purchase price ($149.00) and the fact that unlike EarPods or Beats headphones, there are no buttons on AirPods. Volume up, volume down, play/pause, and track skipping can only be done via Siri, from your iPhone, your Watch, or another connected Apple device. This wasn’t an issue for me. Each time I double-tapped an ear bud, Siri correctly understood and issued my voice commands. Even in a busy Target store. The pause/play feature also worked well just by taking one ear bud out of my ear. AirPods provide about five hours of continuous use, and are charged when they are placed in their case. The case charges via a Lightening cable. A Lightning cable is provided in the box, however, you will need to provide an adapter, like the one that comes in the box with iPhone. This might be a problem for some heavy iPhone users who may need to charge their iPhone and their AirPods/case at the same time.
But let’s cut to the chase. Everyone I talked to about the AirPods at work, and Meghan, my Apple loving child, thinks I’m crazy for wanting AirPods because I will promptly lose one and be sad. I baby my Apple equipment. I can’t imagine a normal day-to-day situation where I would misplace one or both buds. They sit nicely in my ears. Shaking my head in a vigorous side-to-side “No!” motion does not cause them to fall out. Walking around the mall does not cause them to fall out. Double-tapping them does not cause them to fall out. Lying in bed watching a movie on my iPad wasn’t a problem. Heck, I even did 30 jumping jacks without any problems. Every ear is different, so your individual mileage may vary. When I’m not using them, I plan on putting the buds back in their charging case, so I don’t expect to misplace either of them. There is no “Find My AirPods” app, so you will need to remember where you put them down.
Everything told, I’m super excited to have a pair of AirPods, especially considering how constrained supply is right now. They sound great, the W1 chip makes the Bluetooth pairing process dead simple, and they work as advertised. In a word, I would call the new Apple AirPods “magical” and I am going to enjoy using them.
Apple launched the new iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in the United States, Canada, Australia (Hi, Jodi!), the United Kingdom and other locations around the world on September 16.
Let’s just get a couple of things out of the way right from the get go. First, iPhone 7 Plus has, practically, the exact same body as the iPhone 6 Plus and 6S Plus. The next major redesign is expected to be the 2017 model, which will mark the tenth anniversary of iPhone. Secondly, the 3.5mm headphone jack is gone. Done. Stick a fork in it.
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, despite their names, are actually the eleventh generation iPhone models. This includes the original iPhone, released in June 2007, and the iPhone SE, released in March of this year.
iPhone 7 Plus Hardware
Exterior Changes and Enhancements
New for the 2016 model year, iPhone 7 Plus comes in two new finishes – the high gloss Jet Black and, my personal favorite, matte Black. Gone is the Space Grey option. Silver (aka White), Gold, and Rose Gold round out the color options. Besides two new color options, there are some other differences you should be aware of.
As for the rest of the exterior of iPhone 7 Plus, the camera bump frame is now part of the back plate. The plastic antenna lines that ran across the back of the iPhone are gone. The antenna lines that do remain are much harder to see as they almost perfectly blend into the case. There is a real possibility that if you aren’t looking for them, you won’t see them on the Jet Black or matte black iPhone models.
iPhone 7 Plus has the exact same dimensions and weight of the iPhone 6S Plus. Sadly, while an iPhone 6S Plus case technically “fits” the iPhone 7 Plus, the cutout for the camera is all wrong and you will have to buy a new case, or cases if you like to switch things up regularly. At least we got a bonus last year with the iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus cases being interchangeable. Looking ahead to next year, I do not expect the cases to interchangeable either due to the rumored exterior casing changes.
Stereo Speakers and the Lighting to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are now outfitted with stereo speakers. To get stereo sound, Apple kept the original speaker at the bottom right of the device and added a new and improved speaker at the top of the phone. The speaker that you hold near your head when making a phone call is also the other have of the stereo speaker pair. To test out the sound quality of the new iPhone, I used both, my iPhone 7 Plus, my iPhone 6S Plus, and my 5K iMac to play The Del-Vikings’ Come Go With Me (Single Version) from their album “20th Century Masters – The Millenium Collection: The Best of The Del Vikings” which was purchased form iTunes.
I started the test by first listening to the song on my 5K iMac with my 20 year old Cambridge Soundworks small desk speakers and sub-woofer. Then, I listend to the first 30 seconds on the iPhone 6S Plus, followed by the same 30 seconds on my iPhone 7 Plus. To my old ears, I personally felt that the iPhone 7 Plus most closely matched the warm, rich sound from iTunes on my iMac. On the iPhone 6S Plus and iPhone 7 Plus, the volume was set to 50%. Just for fun, and to use a song that my kids would know, I repeated the same test with Taylor Swift’s Blank Space from her “1989” album. I still felt that the iPhone 7 Plus offered a better listening experience than the iPhone 6S. Your opinion of the sound quality and my selection of music will vary.
The elimination of the 3.5mm headphone jack has gotten the Internet in tizzy. For me, it’s not a big deal for a few reasons, not least of which, when I listen to music or podcasts on my iPhone I do so with a pair of wireless PowerBeats ear buds. At the office, I have a pair of old Apple ear buds that came with my work issued iPhone 4S. So I have an extra Lightning to 3.5mm adapter at the office. Again, as with the stereo speaker test, the results are subjective, but I found the sound quality of music played back on to the PowerBeats and iPhone 4S era ear buds with the adapter to be the same as that of my iPhone 6S Plus. I did get burned once by not having a 3.5mm jack on my iPhone 7 Plus when I had to drive my wife’s car to work. Her car doesn’t have Bluetooth and iPhones connect to the in-car stereo via a…yup, you guessed it! A 3.5mm aux headphone jack. (I know. We’re living like savages! It is 2016, after all!) So, I listen to FM radio on the way to work and used my adapter on the ride home so I could catch up on my podcast queue.
The Display and the Home Button
During the iPhone 7 launch event that took place on September 7, Apple spent a lot of time talking about the display in the new iPhone. Looking at the same Home screen (the exact same icon arrangement with the exact same wallpaper) I can’t see a difference between them. I am sure that there are technical differences that I do not know to look for or am not trained to detect, but in terms of every day usage, I just don’t see the difference.
I was expecting the iPhone 7-series phones to have the True Tone feature that debuted earlier this year on the (baby) iPad Pro 9.7″. I guess that’s a feature that will have to wait until the 2017 iPhone.
3D Touch is the same as it has always been from the iPhone 6S-series. I encourage everyone who has an iPhone 7-series phone to 3D Touch everything to discover new shortcuts. Apple, distressingly, keeps 3D Touch actions well hidden in the UI and you will need to discover them on your own. Show of hands: Who knew the Stocks app has a 3D Touch action?
iPhone 7 Plus also has a new, solid state, 3D Touch solid state physical Home button. The new Home button is fully integrated Touch ID sensor, which isn’t mechanical like all of the past Home buttons on older iPhones. Instead, to simulate a button press and the “click” feel, the iPhone 7 Plus Taptic engine vibrates. I know the button isn’t moving, but my mind sure think it does. You might need a day or two to get used to it. You can use the new Home Button feedback setting (Settings > General > Home Button) to control how forceful the haptic feedback is. There are three options. I prefer the “2” setting myself.
The Hardware Changes You Cannot See
Mercifully, Apple has finally abandoned the 16GB memory configuration. Hallelujah! The last few years have proven particularly challenging for people like my wife who always get the “cheapest” iPhone and then promptly fill it up photos of the kids and cat memes downloaded from Facebook and Instagram. What space is left after that is filled with a handful of apps. iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus provide some relief.
Starting with iPhone 7 models, Apple has doubled the amount of memory for each of the storage tiers. The new storage options are 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB. This change, which many have felt was long overdue, I think, will give people like my wife a better customer experience overall. I should note here, that if the iPhone 7 Plus was a car, the Jet Black version would be considered the “special edition” as it is only available in the 128GB and 256GB storage configurations. I recently saw an iPhone 7 at Apple Trumbull. It looked nice, but it was covered in finger prints and I could see at least a half dozen scratches in it’s glossy finish on the back. That would drive me insane. I do not regret my matte Black color decision. Not for one second.
iPhone 7 Plus Dual Camera System
A new feature that is only available in the iPhone 7 Plus, and the primary driver for my decision to continue to be a paying member to the “Plus Club”, is the new and improved 12MP cameras. Yes, as in two. The iPhone 7 Plus has the standard 1.8 aperture wide-angle 12MP camera that was included in the iPhone 6S Plus. New this year is the inclusion of a 2.8 aperture telephoto camera. Both cameras work in tandem and give you the option to use a 2x optical zoom or a 10x digital zoom. I am not a “camera guy”. In my initial tests in direct sunlight or a well lit room, photos taken with the iPhone 7 Plus and the iPhone 6S Plus look equally crisp. A picture of my cats in waiting for breakfast in my kitchen in low light looked much better than I was expecting. (I didn’t have my iPhone 6S Plus with me at the time, so I have no comparison photo.) A second photo is took at a wedding this past weekend of my wife and her sisters with very low light was better than I expected, but does get “muddy” when I start to zoom in. Apple is also working on iOS 10.1, which is currently in beta testing, that will add a new digital bokeh photography option. Bokeh photography, in layman’s terms, is that cool style where the subject is in sharp focus while the background is blurred out. Personally, this is the camera feature that I have wanted to be able to do for a long time, but never knew what it was called or how to do it. There is no work as to when iOS 10.1 will be released. If I was a betting man, I would guess that iOS 10.1 will be out before the end of the year.
For people who prefer the smaller iPhone, Apple is now shipping optical image stabilization in the 4.7″ model. Previously, optical image stabilization was a feature that had been reserved for only the larger 5.5″ iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6S Plus. Now all iPhone 7-series owners will get the feature.
Water and Dust Resistance
Lastly, there are three invisible enhancements to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that you can’t see, but will be glad are there. Starting with the iPhone 7-series, iPhone is now splash, water, and dust resistant. iPhone 7 has received an IP67 rating under IEC standard 60529 (Apple, Inc., , 2016). Your iPhone fell in the pool? Not a problem. Youngster watching video on your iPhone and spills their drink on it? Not a problem. You put your iPhone in a blender and then turned it on? Yeah, sure. You will have a bit problem. iPhone 7 can save your bacon from life’s every day problems involving water. It is not impervious. Just keep in mind that “water resistant” dones’t mean “water proof”. Knowing is half the battle.
iPhone 7 Plus ships with iOS 10 by default. iOS 10 is, in my opinion, a pretty good release. It’s fast and stable. Some of the changes will take some getting used to, like the swipe to unlock gesture going way and the new look and feel of widgets, Notification Center and Control Center. I am still not a fan of the recent iterations of the Music app and the Apple Music service.
In day-to-day usage, I don’t see any major differences with iOS 10 running on my iPhone 7 Plus and my work issued iPhone 6. Many of the differences I have come across so far are the little things on the iPhone 7 Plus. For example, when in Fantastical, when flipping the wheel to set the date and time for events there is Taptic feedback that you would expect if you were turning a well made dial knob. Similarly, when you zoom in or out on a photo, there is a little bit of feedback when you reach the maximum zoom levels (both in and out). Also, using the pull the refresh gesture in Mail there is a bit of feedback too. These little “finishing touches” are not essential to the overall iPhone and iOS 10 experience, but they do add to the fit and finish of iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus.
Over all, if you are looking to upgrade to a new iPhone this year, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus offer some excellent features if you are coming from an iPhone 6 or earlier iPhone. The storage upgrades alone are worth it. If you have an iPhone 6 Plus or iPhone 6S, I am not as confident saying hands down you need an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus. With iOS 10, a free upgrade for all iPhone 5 and later model iPhones, the decision needs to be much more personal, in that you need to weight the pros and cons of buying a new iPhone. If you are the tech nerd in your group of friends, you probably will want to upgrade. If you like to take great quality photos with your iPhone, you will probably want to upgrade. If you have a Samsung Galaxy Note7, you will absolutely want to upgrade to iPhone 7 Plus – if for no other reasons, iPhone doesn’t explode. If you are happy with your current iPhone, I don’t think that there is a single “gotta have it” feature of the iPhone 7-series that demands that you go out and get one right now. All-in-all, if you need or want a new iPhone, there is a lot to like about the iPhone 7-series.
iPhone Handsets and Release Dates
iPhone (2G) – June 29, 2007
iPhone 3G – July 11, 2008
iPhone 3GS – June 19, 2009
iPhone 4 – June 24, 2010
iPhone 4S – October 4, 2011
iPhone 5 – September 21, 2012
iPhone 5S – September 20, 2013
iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus – September 19, 2014
iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus – September – September 25, 2015
iPhone SE – March 31, 2016
iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus – September 16, 2016
Apple, Inc. (2016, September 7). iPhone 7 Tech Specs. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from Apple.com: http://www.apple.com/iphone-7/specs/