One thing that iOS gets flack for all the time is that lack of innovation in their home screen. “The grid of icons hasn’t changed since iOS 1!” is something I hear regularly, especially when someone is comparing iOS and Android. And I’ve often nodded along with these complaints, but for all the criticism Apple gets for the iOS home screen, the Android home screen is not exactly that much better. Here’s my home screen on the “much more advanced” Android home screen:
Now I do like the fact that I can place icons wherever I’d like, and the option to have widgets on the home screen (even if most Android widgets suck) is nice, but this is what most most people who care about this stuff do with their home screens too. As a sampling, here are the home screens from the top 5 reviews of the new Samsung Galaxy S8:
Wow, such diversity! But okay, okay, I hear what you’re saying, this is one phone and most of these just left the stock look that Samsung ships with the phone. Fine, let’s look at the other top of the line Android phone, the Google Pixel:
It would appear that given the option to do more with their home screens, most people will stick with the grid of icons, thank you very much.
Now this is not to say Apple and Google should not be doing things to advance the home screens on both their platforms, and I’ve written about this before, but this narrative that Android is a bastion of freedom and everyone is able able to make a home screen that is totally unique to them is a bit of an overstatement. Android undoubtedly has more flexibility with it’s home screen, but beyond moving icons to the bottom of the screen, it doesn’t seem like a thing most people take advantage of.
As a side note, if we want to talk about home screen progress, let’s take a look a the home screen on the Nexus One in 2009:
That’s basically a carbon copy of what people are doing on their home screens today. Icons in a grid at the bottom and a search bar at the top.
I struggled to find a high res version of the Google Assistant logo out there with a transparent background, so I made my own. It’s 5,304 x 3,996 which should be big enough for anyone’s needs. Enjoy!
This article on The Motley Fool (at fool.com, which I think is unintentionally apt) is a dumpster fire of Apple Watch analysis.
So, yes. The Apple Watch is a failure. Many of the uses Apple demoed two and a half years ago are bad and unsurprisingly never took off.
At the same time, it’s hard to argue that a product some 25 million people bought and more people are buying every quarter is a disappointment.
Read the whole piece if you want (you’ll probably be happier if you don’t), but it boils down to this: Apple pitched the Watch in 2014 as a mini-iPhone, they shifted focus after seeing what people used it for, and now more people are buying it than ever before, but it’s a failure because the focus of the device changed.
Excuse me while I retrieve my eyes from rolling to the back of my head.
For the record, the Apple Watch business is large enough to be a Fortune 500 company all on its own, Apple nearly doubled their sales of the Apple Watch YoY last quarter, and more people say they are satisfied with their Apple Watch than any other wearable. But yes, the fact that Apple has changed focus and a few bad apps left the platform shows it’s a failure.
This is not my first love letter to my Apple Watch. I hope that doesn’t make me weird.
We all pretty much agree that smartphones are great, right? Yeah, maybe we should use them a little less, and yes, maybe we are eagerly awaiting what comes next in AR/VR/voice interfaces, but we all can agree that just about every adult needs a smartphone these days. And not even “just adults in first world countries” actually, I ‘d say the smartphone has become an essential tool that helps make almost anyone’s life better. If smartphones are too expensive for anyone around the world, we need to work on getting prices down so they can get involved as well.
I say all this to put my opinion on smart watches in context. The Apple Watch and it’s contemporaries are not at the same level as smartphones. I don’t think smart watches can make everyone’s life better, nor do I think the goal of smart watches should be to overtake phones as our primary interaction source. I remember reading Wired’s piece, iPhone Killer: The Secret History of the Apple Watch right before the original Apple Watch came out and getting to this line:
A moment later, he stands up. He has to leave; he owes Dye and Ive an update on something important. In all the time we’ve been talking, he’s never once looked at his phone.
I love that line to this day, and it gets to the core of what I love about the Apple Watch. It’s also a part of the reason I think people had unrealistic expectations for what the Watch would do.
The Apple Watch has absolutely helped me use my phone less. I don’t mean that I read Twitter on it or do “real work” with it, but I do use it to keep tabs on my notifications. I have a select number of apps on my iPhone that can send me notifications, and I only include apps in that list if they give me information that I may need to respond to in a timely manner. Getting notifications on my wrist means I can quickly glance at my wrist to see what’s going on and decide if I need to act on something now or if it can wait for later. My phone stays in my pocket and only comes out if there is something I need to take care of right away. The Watch can take care of some simple actions like favoriting a tweet or archiving an email, but more often than not it’s the gatekeeper, letting me decide whether an alert merits the phone or not. This keeps me in my workflow better than checking my phone every time it buzzes.
Now my phone doesn’t buzz, my wrist taps. Now I don’t check to see what’s new on my phone because I already know.
One of the little things the Apple Watch does so well, and something that helps my above workflow, is that it lets you end interactions just by lowering your wrist. For example, if i am using my phone to look at Instagram, I have to tap the home button to close the app, tap the home button again to get back to my main home screen, and then tap the power button to turn off the screen. When I’m done using an app (or anything at all) on the Apple Watch, all I do is stop using it. I can lower my wrist or simply stop paying attention to it. The screen I’m on will stay active for a few seconds, and will still be there if I have a “wait, what was that?” moment, but it disappears and goes back to my watch face for next time.
This simplification of the user interaction model works incredibly well for the wrist. While smartphones removed the need for us to quit apps and manage processes like we did on our PCs1, the Apple Watch removes the “end of interaction” process entirely. Just stop and move on. It helps make every interaction with the watch effortless. Often my entire interaction is to tilt my wrist a few degrees to see a notification that just came in, and then tilt my wrist back to where it was since I’m going to ignore that notification.
And there’s so much more that I won’t even get into today! The interchangeable bands are a revelation, and I have bought almost a dozen watch bands since 2015. I have worm watches my entire life, but I never bought a new band for any of them. The simplicity of changing bands on the Apple Watch means it’s something I can customize to my liking in a day-by-day, or sometimes even hour-by-hour basis.
The fitness tracking on the Apple Watch is really amazing. I use Apple’s own activity rings to track my activity, but it works just as well with Fitbit or MyFitnessPal or whatever else you like. And all of your favorite workout apps like Runkeeper, Nike, Strava, and more have built native Apple Watch apps, and most of them work quite well. A lot of them have even updated to watchOS 3 and can be used without an iPhone anywhere near.
And there’s Overcast which just added the ability to load shows onto your watch’s local storage. There’s Mobile SpeedPass that lets me pay for gas without even getting my phone out of the car. There’s Apple Pay, which is easy with a phone and even easier with a Watch. There’s HomeKit, which lets me control my smart home devices with my voice, or the simple Home app on the Watch. There’s the watch face itself, where I get a selection of exactly the information I need to see at a moment’s notice. I can go on, but I think you’re with me.
None of what I said above my appeal to you. You may have read through all that and rolled your eyes at my excitement over such frivolous things, but like I said right at the top, this is what I expect. The Apple Watch is a great fit for me, and it provides amazing value that I could not get from just a smartphone. But that doesn’t mean it’s something everyone should own. Even in my review of the original Apple Watch I said:
However, if you are still on the fence, don’t feel like you need to rush out and order one today.
The Apple Watch is industry-leading in the smart watch space, but a smart watch is not something everyone needs. I strongly believe more people would love smart watches than those who own them already. The world is full of products that are not for everyone, but are great for some people. The Apple Watch falls squarely in that category and is not something you’ll see me giving up in an overly dramatic blog post anytime soon. I love my Apple Watch.
- And if you are someone who “closes” all of your apps when you’d done using them on your phone, just know that you don’t need to and your phone runs worse because you do it. Please stop. ↩
The Nintendo Switch is my favorite game system hardware that has ever been made, and it’s the most innovative hardware any game company has released in years. I’m only on my third day with the Switch, but it’s made a strong impression on me already. Here are 3 reasons the Switch is blowing me away.
One: Play how you want
The Switch was marketed as a home game console first, and a portable machine second, but my early impressions are that the Switch is equally great at both. The simplicity of transitioning from docked to portable mode and back to docked is amazing. There is essentially no delay in the transition from one modo to the other. The tablet screen is on before it’s even pulled fully out of the dock, and there’s a few second delay when going from portable to docked, but I think that’s mostly an HDMI thing rather than a Switch thing. Either way, it’s really fast.
Moving beyond docked vs portable play, there are tons of options for how to control your game. If it’s docked, I can us the Joy-Cons attached to the included Joy-Con grip and it feels like a traditional (if oddly sized) game controller. I can also hold the Joy-Cons completely untethered from one another and rest my hands wherever they are most comfortable. This could be especially great for people who have carpal tunnel issues and need to hold their arms at more natural angles. I don’t have issues with this, thankfully, but even I enjoy being able to just have my arms where they are comfortable and play like that. I never even considered this as something I’d be interested in before I had this, but I love it.
I got quite a bit of joy (pun not intended) from being able to hand one of the Joy-Cons to my wife and we each used one to play Mario Kart 8. It’s not quite as nice as playing with full controllers, but it’s great to be able to have multiplayer gameplay possible right out of the box without needing to buy more hardware.
And finally, I can upgrade from the Joy-Cons to Nintendo’s Pro Controller and get a controller that feels very similar to a PS4 or Xbox One controller if I’m more comfortable with that. It’s absolutely not required, but it’s an option for people who want it.
What’s wonderful is when you undock the Switch and start to play portably, none of those above options go away. I can still us the Joy-Cons in the grip, I can use the Joy-Cons separately, I can hand one to someone else to play multiplayer games, or I can use the Pro Controller. I have one more option in this mode, and it’s snapping the Joy-Cons onto either side of the Switch tablet and play like it’s a big portable console. This is how I’ve spent most of my early time with the Switch, and it’s a great way to play.
Unlike every other attempt at hybrid TV/portable gaming, you never feel like you’re compromising with playing one way of the other. That’s a huge accomplishment and can not be over-appreciated.
Two: Snappy user interface
Unlike every other piece of Nintendo UI since the Wii, the interface on the Switch flies. Every action feels like it happens immediately, and I never feel like I’m being slowed down by the software. The menus are crisp and clean, and look thoroughly modern.
Even features that the PS4 and Xbox One enjoy, such as instant-on games are a reality here, and it’s just as amazing as it is on those more powerful consoles. I can turn my Switch “off” (sleep mode, really) and come back later and open up Breath of the Wild to the exact spot I left off. I was also able to pause Breath of the Wild, go to the eShop and buy Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, start the download, and then go back to playing Breath of the Wild without a hitch. Again, I can do this on the PS4 and Xbox One already, but being able to do it on a less powerful machine makes the Switch feel like it’s playing above its weight class, and that’s great.
Three: Multiple users
The Switch makes it easier to (ahem) switch between different users. I don’t have a lot to say about this, but the fact that you can share a single Switch with multiple people and everyone gets their own settings and game saves is amazing. Something like this would have been great to have when I was younger and I shared my gaming systems with my bother and sister. No need to share game saves anymore 😍.
I have been bowled over by the hardware and user interface in ways I was not expecting. I knew I would enjoy my Switch, but I was not expecting to be this overwhelmed. I have not even talked about how amazing Breath of the Wild or Mario Kart 8 is on the Switch, but even without those, I’m a very happy camper. Maybe I’ll come down from this high in a few weeks, but I’ve owned a good number of gaming devices over the years, and this is the strongest first impression I can remember having to any of them.
The Switch is still very hard to find in stores, but if you are thinking about getting one and happen to come across one, I give it my highest recommendation.