How Kevin Rose came to love the Apple Watch

From his most recent issue of The Journal:

With the release of the Apple Watch 3 (with LTE) I can now truly leave my phone at home for extended periods of time. The LTE plan allows me to receive phone calls (via wireless [AirPods]) and the limited functionality (no browser) and difficulty of use (it’s hard to type) makes me avoid texting and email unless it’s truly an emergency. I also made sure to deeply configure it, turning off all notifications except for calendar events, fitness reminders, and Uber.

Like me, Kevin is finding value in the Apple Watch not only as a tool for enhancing his day when it comes to the normal stuff (notifications, phone calls, fitness, etc.) but he’s also enjoying the ability it give him to disconnect a little from the world. No, not disconnecting entirely, but disconnecting to a point where he can check things and contact people if he wants, but the more limited functionality forces him to only do these things if they’re important.

It’s worth mentioning again how simple the LTE functionality works on the Apple Watch Series 3. You never need to toggle anything or move your SIM card to another device, all you have to do is walk away from your phone. That’s it, put it on a table and walk away. Don’t think about it, just go.

I really, really want Google Clips (but not this version)

Earlier today I wrote about how disappointing the Google Pixel Buds were to me, especially when comparing them to the Apple AirPods. But I would be remiss not to also write about the Google Clips camera Google unveiled at the same event.

I think the Clips camera is a smart idea, but it’s not fully formed yet. The standalone camera can be placed (or clipped) anywhere and it will automatically take pictures and video of things that it thinks are interesting. As the person in the family who normally takes the non-posed photos, I’d love to have a camera do this automatically for me. It would save me some work and would allow more of these impromptu photos to have me in them as well (ah, the cameraman’s curse). Clips should help with this.

But Clips is too limited in this first version to be something I’m going to drop any cash on. From what I can tell, the Clips lens is just like any other camera lens in that it captures a specific frame and that’s it. It’s basically like placing your phone on a tripod and letting it snap pictures whenever it wants. That’s nice, but if the idea of the Clips camera is to capture random moments, it’s quite limited by its ability to only capture a fixed frame. Anything that happens outside that narrow window of vision may as well have not happened.

A Google Clips device with a 360° camera in it would be far more interesting to me. If I could place this little thing in the kitchen during Thanksgiving and it would capture images from all around the kitchen automatically, that would be incredible. If i could place it in the living room on Christmas morning and it would capture each person opening their presents and reacting to everyone else, that would be hugely valuable to me! This would take the burden of me getting images of everyone off of my shoulders and I could know that I’m getting coverage of the morning without having to do anything on the spot. I sure could take my own shots to get specific moments, but using Google Clips as a backup would be more than enough reason for me to shell out hundreds of dollars.

I have to think this is where Google is taking this product, and the tech just wasn’t there to hit the price and size they wanted for this version. I’m sure some people will enjoy this product in its current form, but I’m holing out for now. Please Google, keep exploring this territory and don’t just make this a one-and-done product line!

Trying to understand the hype around Google’s Pixel Buds

I have been a happy AirPods customer since January of this year. I’ve never plugged in a pair of wired headphones since I’ve gotten them, and the mere thought of using a wired connection seems downright archaic at this point. I’ve owned Bluetooth headphones and enjoyed them before, but AirPods felt like the first “no compromises” version of them. So when Google announced their own wireless headphones, Pixel Buds, I was intrigued.

But in a world where AirPods have been around for almost a full year, I have not understood is the hype they’ve gotten from the Google-centric press1 so far. Watch this video to get a taste:

The Pixel buds are said to have better battery life than the competition because of the wired connection between the earbuds, but they have the exact same advertised life as the AirPods (5 hours, and 24 extra hours of charge in the case). He goes on to say the cost of the Pixel Buds is undercutting the competition. The Pixel Buds cost $159, which again is exactly the same as AirPods.

Meanwhile, here’s a video from The Verge:

The Verge calls the Pixel Buds “more pragmatic” than AirPods. How, exactly? They cost the same, have the same battery life, seem to have lower build quality, and are not “truly” wireless headphones, but have a special integration into Google’s Translate app. The feature seems cool, but since you still need to unlock your phone, open the Google Translate app, select your languages, and the other person still has to hold a button and talk into your phone, I don’t see how this is a revolution in translation services.

As far as I can tell, Google’s “AI-powered headphones” (The Verge’s words, not mine) are no smarter than any other bluetooth headphones out there, and certainly not smarter than their main competitors, Apple’s AirPods. The Google Assistant and translation features are 100% run on the phone, just like AirPods, and the only difference is the audio is routed to the headphones, not your phone speakers. You know, exactly like you’d expect when having headphones connected to your phone.

And finally, the case with the Pixel Buds really drives home how nice it is to have truly wireless headphones. My AirPods slide perfectly into their case every time, and have magnets in the case to make sure they slide in correctly every time. This image of the Pixel Buds case from The Next Web makes the Pixel Buds case not look nearly as convenient:

You have to place the earbuds in their spot, which looks easy enough, but then you have to wrap the cord around the outer edge of the inner portion of the case so the lid can close. I can’t comment with authority on how difficult this will be, but even if it’s a piece of cake, it’s still more work you have to do every time you put your headphones in your pocket. On the other hand, the fact that they’re connected also means that they can more easily be put in a pocket/bag without the case a more viable option. On the other-other hand, the fact my AirPods are always in their case means they’re always 100% charged when I use them. I’ve never once had to wait for my AirPods to charge since they’re just always charged. battery life is simply not something I’ve had to worry about.

I’m prepared to be wrong about these, and maybe I’ll get a pair next year to try them out, but as of right now there seems to be a lot of buying into Google’s marketing jargon by many publications out there.


  1. Publications focused on Google. I don’t mean to imply the whole tech press is in the can for Google. 

The best apps and services for doing work (for me)

It seems like everyone (including me!), has a fascination with what tools people use to get their work done. It’s been a while since I did one of these, so I figured I’d give it a go! Here is a relatively complete list of the apps and services I use to get my work done1.

Photo Storage

iCloud Photos is fantastic, and has only gotten better over the years. I love it for it’s native integration into my Apple devices, which means my photo library is very reliably synced between all my computers. In addition to easy syncing, I also like the “memories” feature that creates A.I.- generated videos of certain events. These are not always great, but I save a good number of them and share them with my family. The value these provide is invaluable. The facial recognition is also great and catches almost all photos and tags them appropriately.

I also keep my photos backed up to Google Photos as well, as I prefer their search ability. iCloud is good at finding people, but not good at finding things. Google is good at both, so I keep that library available for those times I need to search for something random.

As a side note, all the photos I take on my Nikon are run through Adobe Lightroom on my Mac, although I’ve taken to using the Lightroom app for iOS for shooting a lot of my “fancy” photos lately. The app lets you shoot in RAW and has processing controls almost in line with the desktop app.

Video Editing

Final Cut Pro X is my go to here. I love it, and it has totally broken me away from the traditional non-linear timeline. Considering my history in this territory (I went to school for this, my degree is in TV production) that’s a major accomplishment.

Audio Editing

Logic Pro X is overkill for what I do (mostly podcasts), but it means I am never limited by my editor. If you’re on a Mac, GarageBand is free and is a great alternative.

Graphics editing

This is a mix of Sketch and Photoshop for my still images. Most of what makes it onto BirchTree was created in Sketch, although Photoshop is excellent for my wallpapers and device mockups.

On the motion graphics side I use Apple Motion. After Effects would get the job done too, but considering how on-and-off I am with using this app, it was better to buy the one without a subscription plan.

Email

Newton is the best email app I have ever used. It’s $50/year, which makes it easily the most expensive email app I’ve seen, but the apps on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows means I get the same email experience on every device in my life, so it’s worth it for me.

All my email runs through Gmail.

File Storage

I recently switched away from Dropbox to being all in on iCloud Drive. At $9.99/month for 2 TB of storage, the price can’t be beat. Additionally, the new Files app in iOS 11 made me love this service. Their web interface could use some work, but Apple has made this a very compelling option for those who are all in on the Apple ecosystem.

Maps

I use Apple Maps to navigate since I prefer it’s navigation interface far more than Google’s, but I sometimes use Google Maps to find more information about a place I’m going. No, I don’t want to argue about this one.

News Reading

Unread for iOS is my current favorite RSS reader. I have about 100 feeds I follow (most are low volume, don’t worry!), and I also use Apple News on iOS to get more general news. I love Apple News’s curated content and find it to be much better than similar services like Flipboard and Google Play Newsstand.

Task Management

Today, OmniFocus! Yesterday, Things. Before that, Todoist. Before even that, OmniFocus.

Basically I try everything and always end up back at OmniFocus.

Password Management

1Password has been great for years, and since they have added their families feature a year or two ago it has solidified its place here for me. My wife and I have our own vaults, and being able to hop into hers (and her into mine) in rare cases is hugely beneficial.

Writing

Every world I write is in Ulysses. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating that Ulysses is my favorite app…full stop. It’s my favorite iOS app and it’s my favorite Mac app. It’s simple if you need it to be simple and it’s powerful if that’s what you need from it too.

Writing Code

I’ve recently fallen in love with Visual Studio Code, which is quite fast, has a bunch of great built in tools, and has a decent library of third party plugins. This is my favorite Microsoft product.

Notes

Apple Notes works really well for me. The syncing is solid, the shared notes feature is great, and it’s built into all my Apple devices.

FTP

Transmit is fantastic, and it was just updated for macOS with a beautiful new UI. The iOS version is also constantly updated and is a powerful way to access your remote files on the go.

For what it’s worth, most of my FTP servers are hosted at DigitalOcean, which has been very good to me over the years. The text you’re reading right now is from a DigitalOcean server! Their new Spaces service is a very good alternative to Amazon S3 if you were looking to try something else.


Let’s do a lightning round of fun stuff to close this out!

Castro is my current podcast app, although I love Pocket Casts and Overcast too. None really do everything I want, so I tend to bounce around.

Twitterrific is my Twitter app of choice, and their new Mac app is pretty darn good.

Pocket is my save-for-later service (Pinboard is good too, but Pocket is free and this is something I just got tired of paying for).

Safari is my favorite browser, although I have a soft spot in my heart for Vivaldi.

Apple Music is my music streaming service.

And of course, my weather app of choice is Today’s Forecast 🙂


  1. Note that this is for my “tech writer” job, not my day job. Those tools are more Windows-based and I’m more limited in what I can use, but I may do that list sometime as well.