Apple Needs a Watch Jailbreak

There was a lot of discussion in my Twitter timeline yesterday — mostly from Zac Cichy — about the importance of the Apple Watch, or lack there of. It centered around the idea that the Apple Watch is coasting, it’s a good product, but there hasn’t been any killer apps or radical new features introduced since the original model shipped in 2015. And while I agree that there hasn’t been much in the way of substantial improvements in the Watch, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The neat thing about the Apple Watch is that the initial version shipped nearly feature complete. It had third-party apps, complications, a number of watch faces, activity tracking, and more. The device has seen two major iterations that smoothed out the rough edges, but all of the essential features were there on day one. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem.

Maybe Apple should have shipped watchOS 1 without the piss-poor third-party app implementation and spent their time focusing on robust notifications instead. That would have given users something to look forward to and would have allowed Apple to come out of the gate with a rock-solid product. Apple would have been better off if they kept a blow-away feature up their sleeve until watchOS 2 or 3.

Although Apple may have stumbled their way through the early days of the Apple Watch with less-than-stellar implementations of essential features, the Watch is in a really good place right now. watchOS 3 has been an incredible improvement over previous versions of the OS with features like the Dock, fast app launching, activity sharing, and the Breathe app. I don’t feel like there’s anything missing from the Watch.

In a typical day, this is what I use my Apple Watch for:

  • Checking the time
  • Tracking my activity
  • Setting timers
  • Checking the weather
  • Tracking my time performing deep breathing
  • making quick calculations with Siri
  • Quickly replying to messages
  • Controlling media playback on my iPhone

This may not sound like a lot, and none of these features are killer apps on their own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t continue wearing a device just for a few of these features — which is why the Fitbit never appealed to me — but altogether, they make for a tremendous product.

There was one thought in particular from this discussion that had me wondering if there was some validity to the contrarian view:

I wish the Apple Watch got jailbroken. Remember the amount of ideas Apple was able steal from the jailbreak community with the first iPhone?

The jailbreak community was a treasure trove of ideas for Apple in the early days of the iPhone. Without this vibrant community building unsanctioned apps, the App Store may never have been developed at all. The jailbreak community was the first to develop Wi-Fi syncing, multitasking, custom wallpapers, home screen folders, and even copy and paste.

This leaves me wondering what a jailbreak community could do for the Watch. What new features could they develop — that I might never think of — that would feel absolutely essential the second I see them? One could assume that competing smartwatch manufacturers would be pushing the needle and encouraging Apple to develop new and interesting features, but Android Wear is just as stale and at least one major player is abandoning the platform. Without any competition, Apple needs something else to help them innovate, something that will force them to develop features that they never would have pursued otherwise. Apple needs the Watch to be jailbroken.

Goodbye Mint, Goodbye Fever ➝

Shaun Inman:

As of today I’m officially suspending sales and support of Mint and Fever. But! As self-hosted software, absolutely nothing changes and you can continue using both Mint and Fever as you were yesterday. […]

I am unbelievably grateful for everyone who found some utility, personal or professional, in these things that I built over the past decade. I also want to apologize to anyone who didn’t get their activation key in a timely manner or has had a pre-sale or support request go unanswered for too long. I hope Mint and Fever treat you well for as long as you continue to use them.

I’ve been a huge fan of Shaun Inman’s software for years — I reviewed Mint and Fever around the time I first installed them and they’ve been my favorite web analytics and RSS syncing services ever since. But the writing’s been on the wall for both of them for quite some time — development has drastically slowed over the past two years. I expect I’ll continue using them for a while, but eventually I’ll have to migrate to something else.

This is sad news, but I’m glad Shaun will be able to spend less time on projects he’s no longer interested in and more time on the software that gets him excited to code.

Scoreboard for Apple TV ➝

A neat utility app for the Apple TV that helps you keep track of board and card game scores on your television. It’s easy to use, supports up to ten players without scrolling, and can save multiple scoreboards for ongoing games.

If you’re starting to feel like the Apple TV is just for media apps, Scoreboard breaks the mold with a beautiful presentation and great functionality.

How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists ➝

A fascinating piece by Mark Gurman filled with scoops regarding the state of Mac hardware and software development within Apple.

Here’s the bit that I found most interesting:

In the Mac’s heyday, people working on new models could expect a lot of attention from Ive’s team. Once a week his people would meet with Mac engineers to discuss ongoing projects. Mac engineers brought prototypes to Ive’s studio for review, while his lieutenants would visit the Mac labs to look at early concepts. Those visits have become less frequent since the company began focusing more on more-valuable products like the iPhone and iPad, and the change became even more obvious after the design team’s leadership was shuffled last year, according to a person familiar with the situation.

In another sign that the company has prioritized the iPhone, Apple re-organized its software engineering department so there’s no longer a dedicated Mac operating system team. There is now just one team, and most of the engineers are iOS first, giving the people working on the iPhone and iPad more power.

The Mac diehards aren’t just the ones that helped Apple survive through the tough times, they’re also the ones who have evangelized the platform over the past decade — contributing to what it is today. It’s in Apple’s best interest to keep those users happy because a good portion of them have influence over their friends and family’s purchasing decisions. If they switch to Windows, many of their friends will switch back too.

macOS is the current platform of choice for these users and Apple needs to build Macs that appeal to them. But you can’t do that if you’ve shifted the entire company’s focus toward an entirely separate product line.

Minecraft for Apple TV Now Available ➝

Owen Jones on Minecraft News:

Do you own one of those fancy Apple TV devices? Maybe Santa has his elves cooking one up in their high-tech workshop?

If either of those are true, I bring good news! We’ve just released Minecraft for the slim black boxes. And, for a limited time, it comes with seven pieces of lovely DLC, giving you the chance to customise the fun to your liking. Minecraft: Apple TV Edition currently includes the Holiday 2015, Town Folk, and City Folk skin packs, along with the Plastic, Natural, Cartoon, and Festive 2016 mash-ups. It costs $19.99 and is rolling out in all regions as I type.

I’ve never played Minecraft before, but I’m hoping to find a SteelSeries Nimbus under my tree on Sunday and I can’t think of a better game to try it out on.

Steven Aquino Shares His First Impressions of the Apple AirPods ➝

Steven Aquino:

My overall take after a few days with them is short: It’s a great product. They’re yet another example of quintessential Apple—the weaving of hardware and software that works so well you’d swear it’s due more to wizard-like magic than it is to bonafide engineering prowess.

I can’t wait to get my hands on these.

The Best Third-Party Watch Bands ➝

A curated collection of the best third-party Apple Watch bands by the folks at WatchAware. I’ve only ever bought new Watch bands directly from Apple, but that’s mostly because I was worried about the quality from third-parties — I didn’t want to buy a piece of junk. Now that this resource exists, though, I expect I’ll be picking a few of these up soon.

The Gift of Computing

My father-in-law, Bob, has absolutely no interest in traditional computers. There’s been one in his home for nearly fifteen years, but after several failed attempts at learning how to use it, he gave up entirely. His job never required him to use one and he was fine with that — he’d much rather pick up a phone and call someone or grab a book off the shelf than bother with a computer.

Things have changed over the past couple of years, though. He’s now retired and doesn’t get that daily dose of socialization that he become accustomed to over the thirty-five or so years that he worked. He spends most of days doing yard work or various home projects.

When the weather started getting cold this year — and the amount of time spent on yard work diminished — he began to express interest in new forms of communication. Everyone’s so busy these days that they don’t have as much time to pick up the phone and talk with him like they used to. Text-based messaging would be ideal, but again, he has absolutely no interest in using a traditional computer.

Bob hasn’t been quite so hesitant about touch-based interfaces, though. There’s been a handful of times that my wife would sit down with him and they’d tap their way through her iPhone — taking photographs, changing the station in Pandora, sending messages, and initiating FaceTime calls with family members that live out of town. He needed some coaching, but he was able to use the device without too much trouble. And most importantly, the use of direct input methods made the experience much less intimidating to him.

Another one of the hobbies that he’s spent time on since retirement is photography. He doesn’t have an expensive or complicated camera by any means, just an old, digital point-and-shoot. But he loves taking pictures of the wildlife in his backyard — the fox that routinely patrols the neighborhood, the deer that occasionally come off the hill, and the bears that he’s able to spy out the kitchen window. He loves taking pictures and sharing them with anyone who’ll look at them.

The problem with the sharing aspect of his hobby is that, without the use of a computer, he doesn’t have a good way of sending these photos to anyone. If he wants to show someone the fox or how many deer were in the yard yesterday, he has to physically show them the photo on his camera’s display or print them out at the local pharmacy. It’s less than ideal.

Hopefully this will all change next week. My wife, her sister, and I have pooled our money and will be giving him an iPod touch for Christmas this year. The iPod touch seems like the perfect device for introducing computing to his life. It’s pocketable, inexpensive, doesn’t require a monthly service fee like an iPhone, and replaces an existing device for him — his camera.

But we aren’t simply giving him an iPod touch and expecting him to figure it all out on his own. The device is going to be configured for him. Nearly every app on the iPod touch will be hidden inside of a folder on the second Home Screen. The first page of that folder will have nothing but the Settings app in it — making it difficult to find apps he hasn’t learned about yet by stashing them in subsequent pages. The first Home Screen will be completely blank with just two apps in the Dock — Photos and Camera.

Because the iPod touch is going to be pitched to him as a replacement for his camera, Photos and Camera are the first two applications that we will teach him to use. With these he’ll be able to take photos, record video, and share them over iCloud. iOS’s native iCloud Photo Sharing is already my family’s preferred method of sharing photos so he’ll also have access to years worth of photographs by my wife, her sister, and myself that he can like and comment on.

Once he’s mastered the features within these two applications we will slowly start introducing more apps into his Dock and Home Screen. We’ll start with Messages and move on to Weather, Calculator, Google’s PhotoScan, and anything else that he might be interested in.

Even if he never ends up moving past the Camera and Photos apps, it will still be a huge improvement over his previous setup. His photographs will look better and he’ll actually be able to share them and communicate with friends and family through shared photos’ comments. That’s something that isn’t possible for him without the iPod touch. But with any luck, these features alone will spark interest in other applications and he’ll quickly want to learn everything he can about this new, digital world.

Evernote Will Not Implement Its Controversial New Privacy Policy ➝

I’m glad that Evernote is reversing this decision, but I don’t think I can trust a company that needed to be convinced that this was a bad idea. If Evernote released this new privacy policy and no one complained, they would have started reading users’ notes with no remorse. That’s not a good sign about the integrity of those running the company.

The Curious Case of iPad Headphone Jacks ➝

Ben Brooks:

In Apple’s mind I believe they see the iPad as a device in which you don’t ever need wires to use. If you do, you only need one at a time (either to charge while you sleep, or for headphones). Of course Apple’s preference is for you to use AirPods, but lacking that you can use the Lightning port.

I would bet then that the next round of iPad Air, and iPad mini models, you will see no headphone port.

The writing is on the wall for headphone jacks — eventually Apple won’t sell a single device that has one built-in. But this transitionary period will take a few years. I agree with Ben, I think the iPad Air and iPad mini are the next devices that will lose the headphone jack.

I think the iPad Pro will follow soon after, though. iOS devices represent a new era of computing and I think the “pro” iOS users are more willing to accept these types of changes. They’re the bleeding edge users who have already preordered their AirPods or plan on doing so soon. Apple will still probably hear some amount of backlash from them, but not to the same degree as they did with the iPhone — not even close.

I’m more curious about how long it will be before Apple ships a Mac without a headphone jack. And will that happen before they’ve been fully removed from the iOS lineup? Is this the type of feature that Apple will use as a temporary differentiator between the two lineups or will they transition both of them concurrently?

Evernote Employees Can Read Your Notes, and There’s No Way to Opt-Out ➝

Thorin Klosowski, writing for Lifehacker:

In a recent update to its Privacy Policy set to go into effect on January 23, 2017, Evernote lays out how their machine learning technology will work, which most notably includes the fact that “human review is simply unavoidable.” The machine learning analyzes your notes, then provides a number of features, including improved search, learning how you use Evernote then showing you data specific to how you use it, and even detecting if you’re doing something like making a list then suggesting different features. In order to make sure their technology is operating as its supposed to, employees will need to look at the content of some notes.

Wow.

Amazon Releases Shopping App for Apple TV ➝

Chance Miller, writing for 9 to 5 Mac:

The app is rather basic in terms of features and you must be a Prime member in order to use it. Upon downloading it, you’ll be given a code and asked to head to Amazon’s website on your phone or computer to sign in. From there, the app will ask you to create a four-digit pin number for completing purchases.

My theory is that Amazon is testing the waters to see how many of their users have Apple TVs and whether it would be worth developing a video app for. Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Apple Store Employee Says iPhone Battery Replacement Plan Is a Mess ➝

Ben Gilbert, reporting for Business Insider:

One longtime Apple store employee told Business Insider the battery replacement takes anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes. It may not sound like a lot of time, but for store employees, those replacements add up.

In the case of the employee we spoke with, even though they’re not in a flagship store in a major city, the staff is seeing anywhere from 15 to 30 battery replacements every day — that’s limited by the number of replacements that can be conceivably done in a workday by a single Apple Store technician. Their store “takes in more than we replace in a day,” they said.

This is exactly why I’ll wait until after Christmas to get my battery replaced. As annoying as it is to have these problems, I’d rather deal with it for another couple of weeks than have to wade through the crowds at the Apple Store. They’re already busy enough during the holidays, but this battery replacement program seems to be making things much worse.

macOS 10.12.2 Removes Battery Time Remaining Estimate ➝

Michael Tsai:

I never liked how the estimate claimed to be accurate down to the minute. I would like to see an estimate with fewer significant digits, both to hide the erratic changes and to avoid over-representing the accuracy.

This would be a much more elegant solution to the problem rather than removing the indicator all together. Saying something like “About 4 Hours Remaining” would give you most of the information you needed without making you feel like the estimation is gospel.

iPhone 6s Battery Woes

Over the past few months, I’ve been having some major battery issues with my iPhone 6s. On a typical day, I’m lucky if I get over 4.5 hours of use on a single charge. And I’ll occasionally experience unexpected shutdowns — my iPhone will have anywhere from 30-50% left, but will just shutdown and offer the dead battery indicator. Once I plug the device in for a minute or two, it will reboot and display roughly the same battery life as when it shutdown, but will be usable for another hour or two without issues.

That’s pretty pitiful if you ask me — I feel like I’m constantly tethered to my wall charger. And on days when I know I’m going to be using my device extensively without access to power, I’ll usually keep it in Low Power Mode the entire day. That, of course, means that I miss out on Hey Siri, background app refresh, and automatic downloads until I return to a location with reliable charging capabilities.

As someone who preordered the iPhone 6s on the first night it was available, the device is just outside of AppleCare’s reach. I was beginning to consider replacing the battery myself. iFixit offers a battery replacement kit for $45 and I’m fairly confident I could perform the repair without too much trouble.

Then, a few weeks ago, Apple announced a battery replacement program for iPhone 6s owners. If your iPhone’s serial number fell within a certain range and you were experiencing issues, you could get the battery replaced for free. And anyone who paid to have their battery replaced by Apple could request a refund. Problem solved!

Except for one little issue, I live about two hours away from the nearest Apple Store. I don’t want to take the four hour trip (total) just to find out they don’t have the part in stock, leaving me with no option but to return at a later date. In order to get a bit more information about the process, I contacted Apple Support through their online chat system.

The person I spoke with was knowledgeable about the issue and could confirm that my iPhone was within the affected serial number range, but was only able to offer a couple pieces of advice to help the repair go smoothly. She told me to make an appointment so I wouldn’t have to wait after I arrived and call the store before I leave my house to see if they have the part in stock. That sounded like great advice, but with how busy life is this time of year, I decided to try a different approach before trying my luck at the Apple Store.

I contacted my local Best Buy early last week to confirm that they were an Apple authorized service provider — they are — and to see if they would be able to handle the battery repair. My nearest Best Buy is about 20 minutes from my house and it would be much more convenient if I could go through them. The person I spoke with on the phone didn’t seem particularly knowledgeable about the issue or even about Apple repairs in general. From what I can gather, the two Apple repair techs were the only ones on staff who had any idea what was going on.

Unfortunately, neither of the Apple techs were available when I called, but the employee I spoke with set up an appointment for me to come in later in the week. I came in fully prepared — I had unpaired my Apple Watch, backed up my device with iTunes, and was ready to sign out of iCloud and erase the contents of my device before handing it over for the repair. But none of that happened.

Instead, I was told that they don’t offer loaner phones at all and that they would have to hold my phone while they waited for the part to arrive. That’s three days at the earliest before the part arrives, another day for them to perform the repair and test it to ensure everything was working well. And again, that’s the fastest timeline he could offer me — I’d have to go four or more days without my iPhone or Apple Watch. That’s ridiculous. At that rate, I’d be better off mailing my iPhone to Apple for them to perform the repair.

So now I’m left trying to find enough time to travel to my nearest Apple Store. It’s not something I can really do on a random afternoon — four hours, round-trip, means I’ll have to go on my day off, at some point, scheduling around all of my family gatherings and other holiday-related commitments.

But even if I did make it up to the Apple Store, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to perform the repair that day. Based on Dr. Drang’s experience, I’ll have to go to the Apple Store and speak to a Genius in order for them to order and reserve the part for me. Then I’ll have to return once the part arrives. I might have to make two trips to the Apple Store — a total of eight hours of travel time — in order to get this repair completed.

I can understand that Apple is constrained on replacement batteries and I also know that I’m a unique case in that I live so far from an Apple Store, but there has to be a better way to handle this. The cost, in gas alone, for me to travel to my nearest Apple Store is about $20. If I take two trips, I’m getting dangerously close to the cost of that iFixit repair kit — which is currently in stock and ready to ship immediately.

I’m not sure how I’ll end up going about the replacement. I’ll probably just wait until after Christmas, when things slow down, and make the trip to the Apple Store. Hopefully by then they will have sorted out the supply issues and I’ll be able to get it replaced in one trip. But, if they continue having supply problems, I’m not ruling out the possibility of just replacing the battery myself. According to iFixit’s guide, it only takes about 30 minutes to perform — I could have it done the day the part arrives, I wouldn’t have to spend much time without my device, and I wouldn’t have to travel 4-8 hours. That last point alone certainly makes it an appealing option.

The Future of AirPort

It was a sad day when Mark Gurman revealed that Apple was discontinuing development of their AirPort routers. I could usually pass off a rumor like this as just a rumor, but considering the source, it’s likely true. Mark Gurman has an impeccable track record when it comes to Apple’s future plans and I doubt this particular news is any different.

But the home network is the foundation by which all of Apple’s products are built. And I think it would be foolish for them to completely abandon the market. I can see why the current lineup may be failing, though. They don’t offer much above and beyond what other manufacturers’ products do, but they’re much more expensive. Designing new, mesh-capable routers that offer modern functionality — like Siri support or a whole-home backup solution — would go a long way towards enticing new customers and would allow Apple to continue charging premium prices.

If Mark Gurman says that Apple has disbanded the AirPort team, I’m sure it’s true, but I can still hold out hope that Apple is halting development of their current router lineup in an effort to build something new to replace it with.

The first product in this new lineup would be an internet-connected speaker with a built-in microphone for Siri — let’s call it the “Apple Hi-Fi”. It would be built-on iOS, directly compete with Amazon’s Echo, and integrate with all of Apple’s services. There would be an app for iOS that handles the setup process — you give it your iCloud and iTunes credentials, alongside your existing Wi-Fi password (if you’re adding it to a network) and the Apple Hi-Fi takes care of the rest.

Of course, the Apple Hi-Fi’s Siri implementation would be able to respond to queries about the weather, set timers, and read Wikipedia articles, but Apple would have a big advantage over competitors by integrating their services. There’s dozens of potential opportunities here, but this is a handful of my favorite ideas:

  • AirPlay functionality for playback from Macs and iOS devices.
  • Apple Music integration for streaming music from the cloud.
  • Reading the latest headlines from Apple News.
  • Informing you about upcoming iCloud calendar events.
  • Communicating over iMessage.
  • Perform FaceTime audio calls.
  • Telling you the location of friends and family with Find My Friends.
  • Control HomeKit devices.

The thought of Apple building an Amazon Echo competitor is exciting, but once you consider the huge potential for unique functionality, this thing starts to sound like a real home run product. As long as Apple is willing to swing for the fences, this thing could be huge.

From a hardware standpoint, I don’t expect the Apple Hi-Fi would look too dissimilar from the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It would undoubtedly feature Apple’s own aesthetics, but would be more or less cylindrical in shape with ports on the back. The major change would be its ability to act as a home router in addition to its Siri functionality.

The next product would be a spiritual successor to their current AirPort Time Capsule — I’d call it “Apple Time Capsule”. Much like the current model, it would feature an integrated, multi-terabyte hard drive for use with Time Machine and simple shared storage. But it could also be a target for iOS backups as well. This would be perfect for users who want local backups of all of their devices to shrink the amount of downtime during hardware failures — restoring from a Time Capsule would be much quicker than from iCloud.

But iOS backups alone wouldn’t be enough. The Time Capsule could be given your iCloud credentials and, if enabled, would automatically encrypt and upload all data stored on its drive to iCloud. Whenever any of the files change, those changes would remain in-sync with the copies on iCloud. This would make the Time Capsule a whole-home backup solution that offers local and offsite copies.

Apple could continue offering their current prices for iCloud storage, but would treat Time Capsule backups as a separate entity, charging a flat monthly fee for the service. The amount of storage available to you would be tied to the amount of storage inside your Time Capsule — when you reach your limit, the oldest backups would be automatically deleted to make room for the new ones.

This new Time Capsule would be the device most-likely used as your main Wi-Fi base station. So although any of Apple’s new routers could be used this way, the Time Capsule would be the only one that features multiple Ethernet ports for a wired network.

The last product I’d have in Apple’s new router lineup would actually be the Apple TV. Apple could add the ability for their set-top-box to act as a home router or extend an existing network with mesh capabilities. The current Apple TV already has an Ethernet port, why couldn’t you connect that to your modem and setup the network on your television with the Siri Remote?

With the Apple TV, Apple Hi-Fi, and Apple Time Capsule, the company would be able to offer one complete thought around home networking. Each appliance would have the ability to be your main base station or contribute to a mesh network. But in addition to that, they’d each offer unique functionality that goes above and beyond the typical home router.

Each customer would be able to mix and match these products to fit their home’s needs. Maybe you want two Apple TVs and a Hi-Fi; a Time Capsule and an Apple TV; one of each; or just a Time Capsule — simply pick one to be your main base station and setup the others to connect to it. This is exactly the type of product lineup that I have come to expect from Apple — deeply integrated into all of their services and built to work together. I hope that disbanding the AirPort team was the first step towards a future lineup like this.

Early Thoughts on DirecTV Now ➝

Eric Schwarz:

I sort of see the product as a public beta right now. It’s mostly complete, but with the amount of excitement and emphasis that AT&T is putting on it, they’d be morons not to tweak it a bit these first few months. By offering a discounted rate and free devices to early adopters, the risk is pretty low.

The thought of paying $35 or more each month for a streaming media service seems outrageous to me. Between the WWE Network and Hulu, I currently only pay $23 a month. What has me interested in the service, though, is the free devices they offer. The way I see it, if I pre-pay for three months of DirecTV Now, I’m essentially paying $105 for an Apple TV and getting the service for free. That’s a great deal even if I never launch the DirecTV app and cancel before it auto-renews.

Seagate’s New Amazon Cloud-Syncing Portable Hard Drive ➝

A neat new hard drive from Seagate that automatically uploads backup copies of everything stored on it to Amazon Drive. This seems like the perfect backup solution — offering local and offsite backups in a single product.

Counterfeit Apple Chargers Fail Safety Tests ➝

BBC News:

Investigators have warned consumers they face potentially fatal risks after 99% of fake Apple chargers failed a basic safety test.

Trading Standards, which commissioned the checks, said counterfeit electrical goods bought online were an “unknown entity”.

Of 400 counterfeit chargers, only three were found to have enough insulation to protect against electric shocks.

This problem has been around for quite some time, but it seems to have gotten a lot worse recently.

The ‘Twist’ ➝

A great tip by Joe Cieplinski on how to prevent your cables from fraying prematurely. I don’t experience this problem as frequently as other people do — my cables tend to last for several years, even the ones I use every day. But I’ll probably give the twist a shot anyway.