My iPhone SE

This Sunday I activated my latest iPhone, a space-gray 64GB iPhone SE.

I’ve actually been hanging onto my old phone for an uncommonly long time. It was an iPhone 5, with scratches on the glass and a connector that was losing its ability to connect, making every night’s charging a dicey proposition. But I’d held out for one important, fundamental reason: size.

I’ll admit what Donald Trump won’t—I have fairly small hands. Specifically, I have a wider hand with compact digits, what the golf glove industry calls “cadet” dimensions (which always makes me feel like I’m 14 when I buy a new glove, but oh well).

Golf glove sizing, from footjoy.com

You can guess what someone with hands like the one on the right might feel about an oversized smartphone. I didn’t even like it when the iPhone graduated to 4″ from 3.5″, because it became somewhat hard for my thumbs to reach the top row of icons. I regularly use my device one-handed, so the iPhone 6 and 6S were not what I wanted.

The SE, on the other, um, hand, is exactly what I wanted. Updated hardware, updated features, and still the compact size that I could palm with ease. The design may not be as slim as the 6, and its longevity makes it feel a little bit dated, but it’s also a near-perfect design execution, and not at all something I mind re-upping.

And, of course, the SE delivers: fast, easy, familiar performance that embodies a good upgrade. The battery life is phenomenal, too—I’m on an every-other-day charge cycle so far, which I haven’t achieved since, I think, my iPhone 3GS. Hanging onto my phone far past the standard replacement cycle makes me appreciate it that much more.

It’s been a great buy for me, and I’m glad Apple saw fit to release it.

I also picked up a Ringke Snug-Fit case for the SE. I need a case—my kids are clumsy, and so am I—but as a pocket-carrying user, I need a slim one. The Ringke is nearly identical to my previous Case-Mate Barely There, but it’s actually a little smaller (albeit lacking the shock absorption that the Case-Mate includes). By making my new phone just a touch thinner, my phone feels that much newer, and for all of $9.99. So make that two happy purchases, not one.

An Apple Watch update

You haven’t mentioned your Apple Watch much since your tweetstorm on June 1.

Update: I’ve been wearing my stainless steel 42mm Apple Watch for seven weeks now.

Do you like it?

Yes, I do, very much.

How’s the battery life?

Better than my iPhone 5. I have a fairly sane amount of notifications coming into my watch: texts (via iMessage, Facebook and Twitter), calendar alerts, reminders from Due, and not much else. No email, news, stock quotes, or extraneous things that would interfere with my day.

As a result, I rarely use more than 40% of the battery in a day, and I routinely charge the watch every other night, not nightly. I’ve only had one day in this routine where I had to switch to reserve power. Of course, I did have one experience where something drained my mostly-full battery overnight, and I spent most of a work day without a watch, which felt kind of ridiculous. But then, it’s not unlike a quartz watch’s battery dying and your not noticing until after you’ve left the house wearing a watch stuck on 3:19.

What do you use it for?

A whole bunch of stuff, actually. Text messaging has been great, from the one-tap canned replies to the occasional voice recognition reply. I’m getting meeting alerts without having to dig into my watch or look at my laptop, and I enjoy checking (and dismissing) incoming messages by glancing at my wrist. I love how the Due app is set for the Watch; it reminds me of to-do list items daily. It’s just Bluetooth on a minimized screen, but each of these apps has worked beautifully. I’ve asked Siri a bunch of questions, although those are disappointing, because Siri usually prompts me to switch to my iPhone for the answer.

Not actually me.I also make the occasional call on it, which has worked well every single time, whether freeing my hands around the house or allowing me to answer the phone with minimal distraction while driving. The speaker is quiet but serviceable; the microphone has yet to prompt someone to ask me if I’m on my watch and not my phone. The Dick Tracy gimmick has proved to be useful, nerdy and delightful all at once.

And, a bit surprisingly, I’ve embraced the fitness tracking. I get annoyed at myself if I don’t meet my activity goals most days, which is a nice way to keep me on my feet and moving. (I also get annoyed at the stand-up reminders, which I may turn off.)

So you’re happy owning an Apple Watch?

Very much so. I was a bit ambivalent going in, as previously noted in this space; I didn’t quite see the point. Indeed, I got the watch in part to find that out.

What I wound up with is a great little gadget. It’s part fashion piece, part conversation topic, part functional tool, part toy. It has reduced the number of times I grab my phone over the course of a day, which is a victory. Frankly, I get a kick out of it.

So should I get one?

If you think it’ll be fun, then yes, particularly if you’re tired of peering at your iPhone all the time. Do you need one? Not yet, no. It’s not doing anything your phone (and, to be precise, your bluetooth headset and your FitBit) isn’t doing already. But it’s definitely an entertaining, high-quality product, and an amazing piece of human ingenuity.

Day 1 with an Apple Watch

I’m on Day Four wearing my Apple Watch, and I like it very much. I’m finding it useful, attractive, comfortable, interesting and fun.

Of course, my first day wearing it was something else entirely. And while reviewers intentionally give new products some breathing room, I thought I’d take a stab at quantifying the first impressions of a Watch wearer. This is a product with a learning curve—does it create impediments? Frustrated expectations? Or would it all be part of the fun?

So I live-tweeted my day getting used to the watch (to the chagrin of my friends on Facebook, where my tweets cross-post). I’m a few days removed from the experience, so they are presented below as-is. All in all, it was a very good first day.

A review of the watch-ness of the Apple Watch, by a longtime watch-wearer and Apple product user who got to play with the Watch for 10 minutes at an Apple Store today

I went to the Apple Store in Soho today mostly to check out the Watch from the perspective of a watch-wearer.

I’ve been buying first-generation Apple products since the 1990s, so buying the Watch is sort of a fait accompli for me. The product is apparently a personal one with a learning curve, so outside of toying with it for a minute, I didn’t try too hard to use it.

But that’s because this is a different kind of purchase—it’s fashion, it’s luxury, it’s apparel and accessories, it’s 30 different default combinations of Watch and Watch Sport sizes, colors and finishes. From that angle, it’s a far more complicated product to order than just picking the amount of memory for your iPhone, and choosing white, black or gold on the back.

Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was asked to make an appointment to view the Watch with a specialist. The front of the Apple Store now resembles a Tourneau: lots of product quietly tucked away, available for sampling only when handled in a 1:1 customer interaction. There are plenty of watches on display for tinkering with the UI, but to try one on, one gets personal assistance—and security oversight.

It took Apple all of two minutes to get me to a specialist, who had gotten to the store at 4 a.m. and was understandably not in a real salesy mode. She let me play with every style of watch, though, and helpfully showed me how certain physical components worked. My impressions:

  • For anyone who thinks about fashion, it will be hard to buy the Sport over the Watch. The stainless steel looks, well, like stainless steel, polished to perfection and with the right heft for a watch of importance. The Sport is fine for casual and sport usage; it looks plenty nice on its own. But it’s a matter of context. The Sport won’t look quite right under a suit-sleeve or French cuff. I have long worn a watch for fashion purposes, and I’m going to be hard-pressed not to pay the extra $200 for the stainless.
  • There’s a substantial difference in the screen real estate, and thus areas for interaction, between the 38mm and 42mm models. As someone whose thumbs often miss the letter targets on the iPhone keyboard, I’m glad I can buy the larger one and have it fit my wrist.
  • I really love the basic sport band. The material looks and feels terrific. It’s soft and comfortable on the wrist, although clasping it will take some getting used to. I thought it looked nice enough to carry the watch face in style.
  • The leather bands didn’t do much for me. Mind you, I’m not really a leather-watch-strap guy, historically, so I didn’t expect them to.
  • The metal bands were really disappointing to me. The Milanese band, which I’ve long admired on Skagens, was thin and narrow, and I could almost see my wrist through the gaps in the mesh. The link bracelet, meanwhile, reminded me more of a $30 Casio than my Breitling, which is not the impression a thousand-dollar watch should give.

This last point is where Apple’s pivot is going to really have to accelerate in the coming year or two. The craftsmanship behind these accessories is obvious. However, it’s a technical attention to detail at work, and not yet an emotional one. I’d love to have a handsome link watch from Apple; perhaps I will wind up with one through a third-party watch band seller. In the process, though, I came away a little disappointed with the fashion side of the Apple Watch.

That said, the product is an exciting one; the screen is gorgeous, the tapping mechanism borders on cute, and the innovations to come in the next couple of years is too great to ignore. Check this space again come summer when I can report on what it’s like to own one.

Update: “Trying on the Apple Watch” mirrors my in-store experience pretty well and captures some of what I tweeted in the moment but missed in my write-up. Apple doesn’t know how to do personal, wearable luxury yet, and it’s going to be a little while before they get the rhythms just right. In the meantime, we’re stuck with non-functional watches and salespeople that lean toward geeky technical expertise rather than the emotional, tangible experience in which a watch purchase traditionally relies.

What the watch industry is missing

I’ve been following the Watch reaction since its unveiling last week, and I keep coming back to the short-sightedness of the luxury watchmakers’ reaction.

Mostly, the watch industry has been complimentary, in its way, of the Apple Watch. They are right to compartmentalize it as fundamentally different from their products, and to appreciate it on its own level. Sample quote: “I do not believe it poses any threat to haute horology manufactures, I do think the Apple Watch will be a big problem for low-priced quartz watches, and even some entry-level mechanical watches.” (Monday Note has a good roundup.)

But here’s the thing: anyone who buys an Apple Watch is going to stop buying other watches, regardless of price point.

I keep thinking about my own use case. I’ve been a daily watch wearer since elementary school. I wear a watch with a great degree of pride, as the accessory I rely on. My watches are carefully chosen, and whether an inexpensive Swatch, an oversized Nixon or a finely crafted Breitling, they are a fixture in my life.

Of course, I’m also a daily Apple user, and an early adopter of their products. I own the first-generation iPod, the first iPhone, the first iPad. I undoubtedly will buy the Watch, even though I’m not a rabid message-sender, even though I’m not a jogger, even though I’m not yet 100% certain where the new device journey will lead me. It’s a new Apple gadget and it’s a watch—I’m powerless to resist.

And once I have the Watch, I’m going to wear it regularly. I will tinker with it, find its ideal use cases, answer a thousand questions about it, be proud of it as I was my other first-gen Apple products and every one of my watches. As with the iPhone, I expect it to become part of my daily routine.

And once I’m doing that, well, my other watches don’t stand a chance. Because as the Watch assimilates itself to my life’s rhythms (or, perhaps, vice versa), not wearing the Apple Watch will feel like something’s missing. The vibrations and alerts and shortcuts that aren’t offered by my quartz Zodiac will be glaring omissions. Before long, I’ll be strapping on the Watch every day, just as I put my iPhone in my pocket.

If the Watch works for me, my workaday watches will slowly get relegated to my nightstand drawer, and future watch purchases will shift from investing in the next object of beauty and personal expression to saving a few bucks for Watch 2. And Apple will then own a thirty-year habit of mine, just like they came to own my music and phone habits, too.

Frankly, I’m not even sure I’m happy about this. But I’m going for it. I expect millions of folks like me will, too, and when they do, the disruption to the watch industry will not be pretty.

Obsolete vs. useless

Quartz and Wired is making a big deal today out of a new survey that shows 58% of American households still have a VCR.

“It shows,” writes Christopher Mims*, “that a majority of Americans are holding onto a device designed to play a media format that isn’t even available anymore.”

But there’s a reason for this “lingering on past their expiration date,” as Mims nicely puts it: old VHS tapes.

While millions of Americans have moved on from tape formats, decades of media were created and stored on them before discs, drives and cloud storage appeared. And while it’s easy to replace that videotape of “Dirty Dancing” with Blu-Ray or a stream, doing so with home movies and one-offs taped from live TV is much harder. Many families have paid for a service to migrate their essentials; mine has dubbed its childhood videos from Super-8 to VHS to DVD over the past 15 years. But many others have not. And until they do, they’re not ditching their VCRs.

I still have roughly 800 cassettes in my possession (well, technically, they’re in my parents’ basement, to my mother’s ongoing chagrin, but still), including a number of bootlegs, one-offs, hard-to-find albums, and irreplaceable moments, from a Taj Mahal concert at summer camp in 1989 to my college radio shows. It’d be great to digitize them for posterity. But seeing how hard it is even to move all my CDs to MP3, the digitizing of my tapes won’t come for awhile. And while I wait for myself, I’m glad to have a working cassette deck, still gorgeous in its anachronistic 1988 glory.

So color me unsurprised at the persistence of the VCR. It remains peripherally useful for many, even in the rarest of moments. And so it remains, unbothered in many homes’ wall units, biding its time, and probably blinking ––:–– as usual.

* Of course, Mims is the author behind the recently infamous “2013 was a lost year for tech,” which suggests he’s in the dot-com-needling-provocateur game right now, much like Farhad Manjoo a couple of a years ago.

On LCD screens and parenting

Behold: the Fisher-Price Apptivity Case, a protective baby-friendly cover for your iPhone.
I’m a digital guy, have been since I got an Atari as a second-grader. I now have two kids that can’t help but see my TV set, laptop, iPad, iPhone, iPod. They think it’s fascinating and fun.
So I did what any responsible parent should do. I downloaded and tested some age-appropriate apps and let my older son explore. The iPad and iPhone are genius devices in their usability, with their clutter-free fascia and immersive interfaces. So now the gadget is teaching the boy animals, colors, shapes, letters, memory retention and matching, spatial relations, you name it. We also set up guidelines: no screens between breakfast and dinner, no YouTube (Thomas the Tank Engine snuff films! who knew?), you have to play out difficult boards and not quit things quickly, etc.
That boy is now 4 and is as digitally savvy as anyone his age. He’s also wicked good at memory matching games, he can write his letters in capitals and lowercase, and he plays sophisticated games like Flow, Trainyard and Rush Hour better than many adults. Heck, he figured out how to unlock the home screen at 21 months. And he still loves his real-world toys, crayons and books.
Done right, gadgets are as wondrously useful for young people as they are for adults.
My baby boy is 15 months and dying to play with the iPhone. Right now he only gets glimpses when his big brother is engaged. Soon enough, Eli, soon enough.

The shifting media landscape

Few visualizations of the transition from old media to new media (to which I’ve long been contributing, as both a digital media veteran and a reader) are as stark as the sales trend of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, which ceased print publishing this week (edited for clarity):

Sales of the Britannica peaked in 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold in the United States. … Only 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they are bought. … Now print encyclopedias account for less than 1 percent of the Britannica’s revenue.

Brittanica’s been in print for 244 years. (It has the New York Times and The Economist beat by nearly a century.) But in a relatively brief 22 year span, the print encyclopedia’s distribution dropped by 93% and the share of the publisher’s revenue from those books dropped by 99%.

I continue to read many publications in print form, atop the multitude of web pages I consume. But I suspect it won’t be long before my only practical reading option is a tablet.

List of Apple devices I have owned, used and loved since 1981

Aw, what the heck. Today is a nostalgic one thanks to Steve Jobs. Everyone I read keeps posting about how they’ve used so many Apple devices over the years. So I took stock.

Apple ][e (loved)–I didn’t have my own, I just used Mike Han’s a lot. Circa 1983.

Apple //c (owned)–the ][e was off the market by the time my parents bought me my own computer.

Apple Macintosh (loved)–again, I didn’t have my own, I was forced to go over to Felix Sheng’s and Howard Slatkin’s houses and be jealous of theirs. Howard’s dad had the original Talking Moose app, which I fondly recall to this day.

Apple Personal Modem 300/1200 (owned)–this is the gadget that really changed how I view the world. I fell in love with online communication back in late 1987.

Macintosh LC (owned)–my first Mac. Kind of a piece of crap, particularly after I installed AutoDoubler to find hard drive space and my processor slowed to a crawl.

Macintosh SE/30 (loved)–I inherited this when I took over my college newspaper. It’s probably my all-time favorite computer, even though it was three years old when I used it. I had on it Eudora, Microsoft Word 5.1a, and a Klondike solitaire app, and it was just about perfect.

Macintosh Performa 636CD (owned)–the Mac I got after I wiped the LC hard drive and sold the machine. It was fine.

Power Macintosh (used and owned)–I had Power Macs at two different jobs in the 1990s and early 2000s, and purchased one for myself in 1998 after I moved to New York and needed a decent machine at home for freelancing. I forget the model number, but I was very happy with my personal Power Mac, which I upgraded several times over the years. I used Power Macs in vintage (pre-PowerPC) mode as well as with G3 and G4 chips. Soldiering on through Apple’s darkest years, loyally, hopefully.

PowerBook G3 (loved)–my close second on the favorites list. Gorgeous, powerful, transportable, rugged. The Economist got me one for my international travels and it went around the world with me with aplomb. To this day part of me wishes they’d bring back an evolved version of this laptop design, with its soft-touch matte black exterior.

iMac (loved)–I was still plugging away on my hotrodded Power Mac when the iMac blew onto the scene. I didn’t buy one, but everyone else did, including my my mom. Bondi Blue everywhere. (Mom is on her third iMac now.)

iBook (used)–when I met my wife, she had the Bondi Blue Tangerine Orange Mac laptop. Cute and durable.

iPod (owned)–the original model, 2001. My parents thought I was nuts buying a $399 gadget that no one had ever heard of. (I still have it, and it still works, although the battery is shot.)

iPod mini, 3G, nano, Classic, Shuffle (owned)–I believe my household has had 10 iPods through the years. Five of them are currently in use in one way or another. We never did get an iPod Touch, though.

PowerBook G4 (owned)–purchased when the iBook and PowerBook G3 both fell apart. Served us well for years.

iPhone (owned)–bought the original model the first weekend. Rock star.

MacBook (owned)–our current machine is another gem. Fast, useful, attractive, everything an Apple product always is. I have a nearly identical MacBook Pro at work.

iPhone 3G (used)–Amy got this one, I didn’t.

iPhone 3GS (owned)–and now we both have this guy, awaiting the 5, whenever it comes out.

iPad (owned)–we didn’t buy one, then Amy got one, then we didn’t use it for awhile. We have since discovered that it is our three-year-old son’s favorite toy. (I still don’t use it for much. Maybe the iPad 2 will change that.)

The only company in my life with a similar longevity is Nike, whose shoes I’ve been wearing since first grade. Quite a run for a technology company. Godspeed, Apple.