What Matters in a Phone?

The new iPhone SE officially comes out today, and I have had strange feelings about this phone since it was announced last week. That strange feeling? “Why the hell isn’t this my phone?”

See, I’m currently using an iPhone 11 Pro, and have been spending $700-1,200 on a new phone every year for the past half decade. I know this is wasteful, but it’s my financial vice, and I’m otherwise quite frugal, so I can justify it without breaking the bank each year. I know this is silly for most people, but I enjoy it.

But I look at my brand spanking new iPhone (which I of course will likely replace in 5 short months) and while I love how it looks, how fast it runs, Face ID, and how good the cameras are, I keep wandering over to the iPhone SE page on Apple’s site and keep looking for the “gotcha” moment. What is the Achille’s heel that makes this actually a bad phone for someone like me who likes the best in phones?

So far, I can’t really find one.

Yes, the bezels are chonky, Touch ID is a regression from Face ID (for me), and there are no telephoto or ultrawide lenses, but that’s really it. And when I ask myself if those three features are worth the $800 premium I paid for those, the answer is simply…no, not really.

Now buying isn’t an emotionless game, so the fact that I can’t objectively justify it doesn’t mean I’m going to never buy an expensive phone again, but it’s made me see in clearer light than ever how silly some of this smartphone rat race is.

I need a phone to do work. I need a phone to communicate with friends, family, and work colleagues. I need a phone for entertainment. I need a phone that’s easy to use. By those measures, the iPhone SE checks all the boxes.

Tech reviewers, myself included, have had an obsession with thinner bezels and bigger screens forever. I’ve seen a few YouTubers talk about mid-range Android phones you can get instead of the iPhone SE and they show how those phones have smaller bezels and bigger screens. They don’t mention as much how those phones are slower out of the gate, how they won’t get software updates for more than 1-2 years, or how you simply can’t even buy them in the US without jumping through hoops.

So when I see the $399 iPhone SE with 5 years of likely updates, with a really good single lens camera, and with it’s processor that’s faster than all 2020 $1,000+ Android phones, and will likely still be faster than all 2021 Android phones…well, it just looks like a damn good phone, and it makes it look like we’ve been frolicking around in excess for years now.

I will continue to get the expensive iPhones because I will pay much more for the best cameras possible, but yeah, it took a global pandemic for me to get a little perspective on what this smartphone market looks like and what’s really important in a phone.

How Fast Does the USB-C Plug on the Magic Keyboard Charge the iPad Pro?

How Fast Does the USB-C Plug on the Magic Keyboard Charge the iPad Pro?

The answer is kinda boring, actually. It’s effectively the same as plugging into the iPad itself.

Setup

  • 12.9” iPad Pro (2018)
  • Stock 18W charger
  • Stock USB-C to USB-C cable form the box

Basically, I’m charging with the plug that comes in the box.

Methodology

I wore the iPad down to zero, plugged it in, and counted it every 10 minutes for 2 hours. I did it through each plug twice, so I measured 4 times total.

If you were at all interested in killing an iPad battery quickly, open up Fortnite and just jump into a game and leave it. It’ll kill the iPad pretty quickly, but this process still took me all day to do.

The Results

This is a really boring chart, because over two runs, the numbers were basically the same. As far as I can tell, the power-only plug on the Magic Keyboard case is as good as the standard charging I was already doing.

Magic Keyboard for iPad First Impressions

Magic Keyboard for iPad First Impressions

It’s a keyboard case…it’s an accessory…so let’s hit things quickly.

The Elephant in the Room (no pun intended)

In a recent episode of the wonderful Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a certain corgi is referred to as a “thicc king.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that is pretty good way to refer to the new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro.

This keyboard case makes the iPad Pro a comparatively heavy device, if not an objectively heavy one. I’m glad all the early reviews mentioned the weight because even with them, I was surprised how hefty this made my iPad. I’m coming from the Smart Keyboard Folio, and it feels like going from a 12” MacBook (RIP) to a 15: MacBook Pro. No, the MBP isn’t bad, but it’s a notable difference.

Quick note, I think I’ll be fine with the weight, and the product justifies it in other areas, but I think the dismissiveness some have around people saddened by the heft of this thing is misplaced. There are compromises with each of Apple’s keyboard options for the iPad Pro, and there are going to be people who can’t get the perfect one for them because of these trade offs (more below).

The Typing Experience

Ok, this will be quick! The keys feel great! The inverted-T arrows are a delight to have back, the spacing of the keys is perfect for figuring out where you are without looking at the keyboard, and the backlight is stunningly good.

And the base this keyboard sits on is solid as hell. There is no bend in this thing and on a lap it is better than the Smart Keyboard Folio, although it’s not as good as a Mac laptop. It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, but it gets a more hollow feeling when there’s nothing right below the keyboard.

Why No Function Keys?

Well, because there simply isn't room…with this design, at least. See, even with what’s there now, my fingers get dangerously close to hitting the keyboard when it’s leaned back as far as it will go. Another row would technically be accessible, but it would be somewhere between uncomfortable and unreachable.

I miss them, but having lived without them for years now, it’s not a deal breaker.

The Trackpad

It’s definitely small, but considering you’re likely not going to be doing everything with this all the time, it’s completely fine. The acceleration on this cursor movement is a little different from when I paired a Magic Trackpad with this, and it took a little getting used to, but again, shall be fine.

Gestures work great, and as a Mac-users you’ll know how to do some of the basics right away. It’s all smooth and quite frankly, a delight.

As for clicking, the trackpad is the first one Apple has shipped in many years that actually moves. After years of force touch trackpads that simulate movement, it’s technically a notable difference, but because the MacBook ones fake it so well, it’s hard to tell the difference in practice. As a bonus, you still get the ability to press anywhere on the trakcpad to

The Floating Design

I’m not sure what I think about this yet. It certainly looks cool, though.

The worst part about this is that it makes the screen sit higher, and therefore be further away from my fingers for touch input. Despite the addition of a trackpad, iPadOS is still a touch-first operating system, and I touch the screen all the time when using my iPad, so making that a little more difficult is an odd choice.

Charging

The keyboard has a new USB-C post on the side that lets you charge the device. I’ve only used it briefly, but I had it plugged in while doing a 2 hour Zoom call last night and it appears to have charged the iPad up slightly faster than it was burning battery.

This will require more testing to see the speed difference from the main port.

Initial Thoughts

I think this accessory is exceptionally well made and feels like a very natural fit with the iPad Pro. Everything about it from an execution perspective is top notch and the few issues with weight, lacking function row, and limited angles, all have to do with fundamental choices the product team for this made.

If nothing else, this product shows there is room for more accessories in the iPad lineup. The Folio excels at minimum weight with an acceptable typing experience, but lacks full keys and a trackpad. The Magic Keyboard has those full keys and a trackpad, but loses the ability to flip around and adds some heft. Depending on your desires, you might find one of these to be perfect today, but there’s a good chance you’ll want a compromise solution, and that doesn’t exist yet.

Regardless, the trade offs are worth it to me so far and I expect to keep using this thing for the duration of owning this iPad.

Magic Keyboard for iPad Angles

Magic Keyboard for iPad Angles

I just got my Magic Keyboard in the mail, and first impressions are pretty good. Before I spill more words on yet another review of this thing, I'll share the thing that stood out to me first: the angles.

The above photo overlays the 12.9" iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard Folio angles highlighted in red and the new Magic Keyboard's furthest back angle in green.

The Smart Keyboard Folio has 2 angles, both of which I use pretty regularly. The new Magic Keyboard has "infinite angles" and the furthest back angle is just about even with the Folio's further back angle.

An eariler version of this article indicated that the screen went less far back than the Folio, but that was not accurate. After pushing the screen back harder than I felt comfortable doing, the lid "popped' back a little more, bringing it to where you see it now. I have no idea if it had a weird manufacturing quirk or if this is how every one is, but it's definitely better now.

Today at Apple (at Home)

Today at Apple (at Home)

This is a really cool video series from Apple that gives you a few ideas of how to be creative at home. I especially liked the "Capture striking photography with iPhone" video which gave some good tips for taking photographs in general, not just for when you're stuck at home. Nothing crazy advanced here, but some good tips that are totally worth sharing.

watchOS 7/iOS 14 Wish: Better Notification Behavior

Ok, so this is a kinda vague request, but it’s something that’s bothered me more since I’ve adjusted my watch notifications while going through this COVID-19 mess. Let me try to explain…

Default Notification Behavior

All notifications are mirrored to your watch. This means that everything that buzzes your phone will now tap your wrist. Effectively, you will never feel your phone vibrate because your watch is doing it all for you.

I like this because it makes it so that when I’m wearing my watch, I have one place to get notifications, and when I take it off to charge, my phone seamlessly takes over.

Getting Watch and Phone out of Sync

In order to stay a little more disconnected, I’ve turned off watch notifications for a bunch of apps. Twitter notifications, for example, are not important enough to tap my wrist, but I still want to get them, so I show them on my phone.

The problem here is that now my watch taps me for some things and my phone buzzes for other things. This is not what I personally want, as this introduces two devices that are trying to get my attention.

What I Want

What I would love is for any app that I do not have sending notifications to my watch to switch to “deliver quietly” while I’m wearing my watch. Still send them to my phone and let me see them on the lock screen, but don’t buzz for each one. Then when I take off my watch, start buzzing for all notifications again.

I could accomplish this by making all the notifications I don’t put on my watch deliver quietly, but that’s a decent amount of up front effort and ultimately isn’t what I want all the time, so I don’t think it’s quite right.


This is not a fully formed idea, and there are surely complexities around this, not to mention people who like the current behavior just fine, but for me this is something that annoys me and I wish I could improve more easily.

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

My Apple Watch is Making Social Distancing and Work-from-Home Easier

I’ve been home more in the past 2 weeks than any point in my adult life, and in that time, I’ve come to appreciate the Apple Watch more than ever.

I love the activity tracking for helping me make sure I maintain a healthy amount of activity throughout the day.

I love the stand notifications, yes the stand notifications, for letting me know how much less I get up from my desk chair while working from home. Office work is not very aerobic, but apparently it’s a workout compared to sitting in one’s office all day.

I appreciate the breath notifications because yeah, despite being pretty darn calm most of the time, there have been a a few times these weeks where a couple minutes to collect my thoughts was a welcome reminder.

I love having weather on my wrist and being able to see a t a glance that “hey, it’s pretty nice out now, I should take a walk to get some air and maybe fill those rings.”

I love being able to partially disconnect from Twitter and the news more easily by leaving my phone in the bedroom while I go about other things around the house. If an important notification comes through, I get it on my wrist and can reply either right away or go get the phone if it’s going to be more than a quick reply.

I love being able to have a productivity-based watch face that I can look at at any time and see my next task in Things available if I just need a reminder of what I can work on next.

I love that if I don’t want to have all that productivity stuff front and center then I’m a simple swipe away from my numerals duo watch face that just tells me the time in the most beautiful digital numbers I’ve ever seen on a watch.

Maybe this isn’t fair, but I love seeing notifications of messages from friends and family on my watch. I know, they’re also on my phone, but there’s something about seeing them on my wrist that makes them feel more personal somehow. I can’t logically explain this one, but it’s a thing.

And as an odd thing, I of course enjoy seeing the time on my Series 5 model without raising my wrist. You can lose track of the day when you’re outside your normal rhythm and while many devices in my life have clocks on them, none as as readily accessible as the one on my wrist.

The currently world is a mess, and we don’t know when things will get back to normal. There are also so many things more important than a watch going on right now, from doctors, nurses, other medical professionals, scientists, couriers, mailmen/women, delivery drivers, grocers, pharmacists, police, firefighters, retail workers, and more all making sure that the world keep functioning. These people are doing more than my watch will ever do for me, but my niche is the Apple Watch, and even with all this going on, my appreciation for it continues to grow.

First Impressions of Mouse Support in iPadOS 13.4

Apple made a lot of iPad users very happy yesterday where they unveiled mouse and trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4. A someone who has been asking for more full featured mouse support for a while, this got me really excited and I immediately installed the update and tried it out.

Pairing Process

Pairing your mouse is super simple. Just hold down the pairing button on the mouse, open the Bluetooth settings page on the iPad, and tap your mouse that appears in the list of available devices.

That’s it, the next time you move the mouse at all, the new cursor will show up on screen.

Movement and Scrolling

Basic mouse support was added in an accessibility feature last year, and that was okay, but it was clearly a hack on top of iPadOS. It was aimed at simulating the same touch events you did with your fingers. This mouse support is much different, and it’s absolutely not a tacked on feature.

First, the cursor itself looks much nicer, and it adjusts its form depending on what you’re hovering over. The way it animates from circle to cursor to buttons is really slick, and immediately made the Mac/Windows style of moue feel a little old to me.

And moving the mouse feels perfectly normal, which is that say it feels like using this mouse on my Mac. Additionally, scrolling with Logitech’s awesome scroll wheel is a delight. This all feels more fluid and more natural than doing these same things with the accessibility version of mouse support.

And if you prefer different settings, there are options to change the tracking speed, the scroll direction, and what the right click button does. Interestingly, there are no options to configure the other buttons on the mouse to do anything. So my back, forward, and scroll wheel buttons all are now left-click buttons, which is weird. Right-click does indeed work as you’d expect.

Where Did the Cursor Go?!

This first implementation is not perfect though. The first thing that throws me is that when you hover over certain elements, the cursor goes away and the thing you’re hovering over gets highlighted. It’s not always obvious what you’re hovered over, especially on things like home screen icons because the difference between the hovered icon and all the rest is super slight. Can you tell where the mouse is in this screenshot?

You might have been able to tell it was Deliveries, but you had to think about it.

Also, because the cursor turns into the thing you’re hovered over, you lose some context on excactly where inside that item the cursor is. This made moving the mouse elsewhere a little odd because I didn’t know exactly where I was starting from. One of the things that’s great about the mouse is how accurate you can be with it and this makes it so you feel less accurate than you’re used to being. Conveniently, you can turn this behavior off by going to Settings > Accessibility > Pointer Control and turning off pointer animations.

I’m leaving it on for now because this is how Apple thinks it should be and I may get used to it and come to love it, but I’m keeping this escape hatch in the back of my mind just in case I never come around.

Unexpected Behavior

iPadOS has always been a touch-first operating system, and over the past decade of using iPads, I’m very used to how things work with my fingers and Apple Pencil. I know how to drag files around, pull up multitasking, and do all the little things with the iPad.

The mouse doesn’t simulate touch interactions, so you kind of have to figure out how to do everything with the mouse. For example, I wanted to select multiple items from the Files app this morning and drag them into Safari. With touch this is incredibly simple. but I could not figure it out with the mouse. I tried CMD+clicking around and could not do it, and eventually gave up and used my meaty fingers in 2 seconds.

Also, things like bringing up multitasking is a little tricky, as are pulling down notifications or accessing Control Center. You can do them, but the actions you perform with the mouse are a bit different and are taking a little time to get used to.

Overall

I think using a mouse with the iPad on its own is nice, but is not something I’m going to do all the time. I did find using Working Copy to edit code and Affinity Designer to edit images to be a little nicer with the mouse, but most things are either the same or more difficult. The iPad’s touch-first UI is really fantastic and I often felt like direct manipulation of the stuff on screen was easier than using an old fashioned mouse to do the same thing. After all, this is one of the things that makes me love the iPad in the first place!

I do think this makes the use case for a larger, desktop iPad (or even an iPad hooked up to an external monitor) to be a much more compelling use case going forward. I also wish I had a track pad to try this out with. I think a track pad + keyboard + touch would be really nice, and I look forward to trying that out in May when the very expensive, but very cool looking iPad Magic Keyboard comes out.

My Short 2020 iPad Pro Wishlist

I am currently using a 12.9” 2018 iPad Pro and I truly love it. We are a few weeks (maybe) away from a new model coming out, and I thought this was a good time to get a few ideas out there about what I would want in an upgrade.

As far as I can tell, neither of these have been mentioned in the rumors, so if they come to pass, remember you heard them here first. 😉

New Webcam Placement

The current webcam is at the top of the screen if you’re holding the device in portrait, but this is the iPad Pro, and I would guess most people use it in landscape most of the time. With this configuration, the webcam in on the left, middle of the screen, and that’s just an awkward angle for conference calls.

I’d love to see Apple move the camera to the top of the iPad when it’s in landscape mode. Sure, leave the normal iPad, the Air, and the Mini where it is, but this pro machine needs a better webcam position.

New Premium Keyboard

Ok, hear me out, but I want Apple to sell a more expensive keyboard than the Smart Keyboard Folio. With rumors that trackpad support is coming, and my wish from January that Apple release a laptop-style iPad, I think I’d love to see something like the Surface Book, where the iPad can click into a keyboard/trackpad/battery combo.

This would give us the stability of a laptop form factor in our laps, the freedom to tear off the iPad whenever we want the freedom the iPad allows, and potentially a lot more battery life with a second battery housed in the keyboard.

On the battery front, not only would this be a welcome improvement to the already great battery life, but that heavy battery will help add some heft to the base, making it easier to get the weight ratio right so the screen doesn’t want to tip the whole thing over.

Market Share, Profits, and Other Poor Arguments for Product Quality

Apple financial announcements are a real mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it’s interesting to see how well the company is doing, but it also makes some people take odd positions when talking about Apple products.

I’m not going after anyone specifically, but let’s imagine someone debating whether or not a feature that should come to the iPhone. One person eventually says something like, “the iPhone works for 1 billion people, so I guess they don’t think it’s needed.” Or imagine something like, “Apple needs to grow services revenue, so you can’t be that made that they’re pushing them in ads throughout iOS.”

Comments like those are pretty representative of the commentary I sometimes see online. Hell, I even get into the game sometimes when I celebrate Apple Watch sales continuing to rise! But as an old-school Apple fan who got into the company in the mid-90s, this ability to reference Apple’s financial success or market dominance as evidence of their products’ quality is a relatively new phenomenon.

In the 90’s I didn’t have the luxury of falling back on the “lots of people buy Macs, so they must be good” argument that I see about iPhones, iPads, and AirPods today. And if someone told me that Windows must be better because it owned 98% of the PC market, I would have told you to GTFO with that weak argument. Whether it’s computer brands, movies, or music, just because something is the most successful does not mean it is the best version of that thing.

Even today, Microsoft’s software runs on about 94% of personal computers, but you certainly wouldn’t use that as evidence that Windows is good. Similarly, Android controls 86% of the smartphone market, but I bet even fewer of you would say that’s a reason to say it’s better than iOS. And finally, Amazon and Google’s combined 53% share or smart speaker sales has no impact on what you think about letting those speakers into your home.

Maybe you don’t think this applies to you, and many of you will be right, but I think that much like Microsoft fans in the 90s and 2000s, there are a healthy number of Apple fans these days who use the company’s success as the ultimate indicator of their products’ quality.

Oh, and remember this the next time you see someone complain about people talking at length about the new Pixel phones which “aren’t even that popular” or “get disproportionately more coverage than their market share warrants.” ✌️