Apple just introduced the HomePod. Its Apple’s idea of a “better mousetrap” than Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Home smart speakers. You can buy an Amazon Alexa Echo Dot for $39.95. An Apple HomePod is $349.00.
All three devices are SmartSpeakers (a new buzzword). They do the same thing – provide music through their speaker systems and are digital assistants – like asking them, “What’s the weather like outside right now?” Or, “What are the Olympic standings right now?”
To “hear” the difference an additional $310 gets you, you need to listen to the HomePod. Apple engineers spent over 7 years developing the HomePod and the result is exceptional sound. Music (and voice) is clear, crisp, not muddled or dampened. It almost seems that you can hear or sense the different layers present in the most well-recorded music. The HomePod has seven tweeters, a 4″ sub-woofer, and 6 microphones – that can pick up a whispered “Hey Siri” command from across a room – even with rock music turned up high.
In the next few months, Apple will release a software update for IOS devices that will enhance AirPlay to AirPlay 2. This software will allow multiple devices to play to multiple speakers with variable volume levels and additionally play your favorite music throughout the house or just in specific rooms. Apple will license AirPlay 2 to other speaker and headphone makers.
Now for the elephant in the room – Siri. The good news is that Siri works well, especially with music commands, questions, and information about the song, album, track, and even “Siri, who is playing drums on this track?” type questions. As mentioned above having 6 microphones and her ability to pick your voice – even softly – or at a distance is really amazing. Of course, she knows the answers to millions of questions and dozens of commands. Home automation electronics like door locks, thermostats, lighting – all work with Siri spoken commands if the device supports Apple HomeKit software.
HomePod works best if you are an Apple “person.” If you have an iPhone, or iPad, or Apple TV you are going to have no problems with setup and day-to-day use. To select and listen to music you need to have a subscription to Apple Music.
As always Apple will provide over-the-air software updates that increase the value of HomePod and add new features that will make us drool.
Here I am early on Friday morning at the Apple Store in Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m picking up my brand new Apple iPhone X.
I said I wasn’t getting one (at least one of the first ones), so how come now I am? Well, because I was curious about some of the new technology.
The new OLED screen? Beautiful! It looks like the graphics and text are painted on – as close to a perfect screen as possible with 2017 technology. Does the black “slot” at the top center and the “ears” on the top left and right bother me? No, you get used to them very quickly. BTW, how did Apple stuff a 5.8″ screen (larger than my “old” iPhone 7 Plus with a 5.5″ screen) into a shell that is about the same size as a standard 4.7″ screen (like a standard iPhone 6, 6s, 7 or 8)? I don’t know, I don’t care, but am very glad they did. A sweet fit in the front pocket of my pants.
The facial recognition system? Amazing! Fast and accurate. The system recognizes my face very quickly and unlocks the phone in an instant. It can only get better as time goes on.
The missing home button? No problem once you get used to it. The phone requires different gestures with your fingers, but they are easy to learn and use.
All the dozens of other improvements? Animoji’s?, studio lighting? front sided stereo sound? person-to-person payment system? Yup, all are accounted for now or very soon with a simple software update.
Overall appearance and look and feel? Pretty much perfect. Slim, lightweight, with the proper dimensions and “touch.” Easy to look at and easy to hold. A little slippery when holding “naked” (withhout a case.) The front and back of the iPhone are glass and really need to be in a case to be more secure and less slippery. As always, I love the Apple iPhone leather case. Lightweight, slim and buttery soft leather. Even smells good. No more slipping and sliding!
Originally, I held off on ordering an Apple iPhone X because with so much new technology I thought there might be early production problems with the hardware and software. I should have known better.
Apple releases no product before its time. Sure, there are a few things that will be improved as they go along. But certainly nothing major that would hinder your enjoyment and use of a great new iPhone.
Bottom line – if you can afford it and want the newest and greatest go get one.
It’s that time of year – November and the iPhone frenzy is well underway.
I have been on AT&T’s new iPhone every year program for several years. But this year I didn’t order an iPhone 8 or X.
Here’s why. I currently have an iPhone 7 Plus. I checked the specifications of the iPhone 8 Plus and did not see enough of a difference to justify starting the financial clock over by upgrading.
I really considered upgrading or buying outright an iPhone X. There are dozens of new features that are truly the future. But the press has been merciless about the potential for problems with all the new and revolutionary technology.
So I decided to finish off buying my iPhone 7 Plus and hopping off the merry go round with a new phone every year, but always with 24 monthly payments (in fairness to AT&T always interest-free.)
Will I eventually buy an iPhone X? Absolutely! Check with me in three to six months after Apple stabilizes manufacturing and IOS 11.x works smoothly with all the features of the iPhone X. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy a lower bill from AT&T for a while.
Many people are scratching their heads about how Apple managed to cram an iPad Pro with a 10.5 inch screen into a case that is only 9.8 inches tall. This new model replaces the “old” (last year’s model) iPad Pro which featured a 9.7 inch screen stuffed into a 9.4 inch tall case.
The answer is simple: Apple pretty much took out the margins (bezels) on both sides of the screen and raised the top by only .4 inches. The margins are the areas that allowed us to rest our fingers or palms on the screen yet would not activate the screen. It seems that Apple has improved the hardware and software to a point where the screen does not register misplaced fingers and palms. Bottom line: the new screen, in pretty much the old case, gives us 20% more screen “real estate” to enjoy sharper (i.e. higher resolution) images, and 50% brighter than last year’s model.
The new iPad Pro 10.5 retains all the quality of the original with an ingenious four speaker stereo system and side edge connectors for accessories like the super slim Apple Smart Keyboard. Upgrades to the device include a more powerful set of cameras (front and rear), the main CPU goes from an Apple 9x chip to an Apple 10x chip which boosts basic processing, resulting in an increase over 250% faster than the previous model, and graphic processing is over 400% quicker than before. Apple claims that all this new hardware will not affect the strong 10-hour battery life.
Other improvements include the availability of a full-size Apple Smart Keyboard and new cases and covers to accommodate the slightly taller body. The new iPad Pro 10.5 also has the fingerprint scanner home button and supports the Apple Pencil. Internal storage RAM begins at 64GB (up from the previous 32GB), and then proceeds to 128GB and a first-ever capacity of 512GB. The iPad Pro 10.5 is reported to have 4GB of RAM.
The old 9.7″ iPad Pro with 32GB and WiFi was $599, the new 10.5″ iPad Pro with 64GB and WiFi is $649. The old 9.7″ iPad Pro with 256GB and WiFi was $899, the new 10.5″ iPad Pro with 256GB and WiFi is $749. The new 10.5″ WiFi iPad Pro with a whopping 512GB of storage is $949. The “sweet spot” appears to be the 256GB WiFi model which packs a larger screen, faster processor, and a whole lot more for about $150 less than last year’s model. If you need the WiFi + LTE cellular models, add $130 to the WiFi-only pricing.
The new device initially ships with IOS 10.3.2. The bigger deal is IOS 11, which ships in the Fall with enhancements available only to iPads. These enhancements will primarily be in multitasking, screen splits (allowing two apps to run side by side in adjacent windows), an application launch bar at the bottom of the screen (similar to a Mac), and a “file” app which allows for controlling where files go (local or cloud). Finally, the updated IOS 11 allows for “drag and drop” for web links, photos, text, and more — from one app to another.
The Bottom Line:
Apple is concerned about the decline in tablet device sales. Consumers do not seem to be in a hurry to purchase newer models, unlike smart phones. Apple has given us a new device with a solid update to both the hardware and software of the iPad Pro line (there is also a 12.9 inch screen series). Even the price seems to be sweeter for the 256GB model. Both hardware and software seem to be moving closer and closer to the tablet form,replacing traditional desktops and laptops. Certainly a case can be made that tablets (especially iPads) make more sense for seniors – the focus of this blog. As always, your comments are welcome.
Yikes! Recently, I came down for breakfast and found my wife looking upset . The back cover (which contains the heart beat sensor) on her Apple Watch had popped off when she removed the watch from its magnetic charger.
With a hand-held magnifying glass I carefully checked out the thin band of glue that encircled the sensor. The incredibly thin, flat -ribbon cable was still attached to the sensor and the back of the watch.
My next step was to search “sensor popped off Apple Watch” using Google and I immediately found that we were not alone with this problem. One of my search links led to the Apple Watch customer support site on the apple.com web site. Over 490 people had reported to Apple that they had had this problem.
Most of the support messages said that we ought to simply take the watch to an Apple Store, and a Genius Bar representative would make things right. Sure.
My wife’s Apple Watch was one of the first groups manufactured and is almost two years old. In other words, it’s definitely out of warranty. Even with an Apple Care warranty, it would be out of the coverage dates. The watch is a stainless steel model and retailed for around $500 when we purchased it. “This can’t be good” I fretted.
For our family the nearest Apple Store is located in East Lansing, Michigan – about an hour away from where we live. Upon arriving the Apple Genius looked at the watch and stated that this was a known problem and that Apple had a program to take care of it.
It seems that using body lotion or sun tan lotion causes the seal to weaken. Within a few minutes he had collected all the important information from me and said that a replacement watch would arrive within 3-5 business days. Since the watch was out of warranty, the price for the replacement was $249 – half the price of the original watch. But wait! Glancing to the right side of the work order/invoice I read what the customer was expected to pay. Obviously I was expecting to pay $249, but the amount showing what the customer was to pay was $0.00: Fantastic.
Five days later we received the replacement watch via FedEx. It was a “Like new” factory re-manufactured watch that was scratch-free and contained a new battery. I simply “paired” the watch with my wife’s iPhone and restored her data from a previous backup. It took less than a half-hour and all went well.
This experience is yet another reason that I’m a solid Apple customer and shareholder. To use that overworked term, Apple “gets it”. They understand that so-called “early adapters” are important to the long- term success of a product and the company that made it and sold it.
Well, after ten versions Apple apparently has gotten it right with the IOS 10 operating system. An operating system (OS) – regardless if it’s Apple, Google, Microsoft, or others – is never really finished. It is always a work in progress; features are added, bugs are squashed, compatibility with third party applications (apps) is improved – the list goes on and on.
If the operating system developer had only one hardware device to write OS software for it might be easier to get it right. Writing OS code that works reliably on an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple Watch, and Apple TV for current devices, as well as for older devices, is quite a trick. There are thousands of permutations. Getting it right is very difficult, time consuming, and R&D expensive.
Apple is just about the only hardware manufacturer that also writes its own OS software. Samsung, Lenovo, Sharp, HTC, and dozens of others hardware manufacturers depend on OS software written by companies like Google (who makes Android OS software) and Microsoft (who makes Windows OS software) to develop their operating system software. Yes, I’m aware that Google also manufacturers the Google phone and the Chromebook, and that Microsoft manufacturers the Surface laptop. But these are “one-off” machines.
A few quick examples of improvements in IOS 10:
1. A completely redesigned Maps app that is simpler, bolder looking, and easier to use. A major improvement in day-to-day use. Location accuracy is also much better.
2. You can now read voicemail messages as well as listen to them. The voice transcription is pretty accurate and predictable.
3. The Photos app now includes the ability to organize by faces and map locations. Now you can easily find all the photos of your children and your friends. The map locations allows you to see all the photos you took in a specific location (as determined by GPS).
4. Siri is now open to developers so that you can directly tie into services such as Uber.
5. The music app tied to Apple Music is greatly improved in look and feel (see an expanded description below).
6. The Messages app has gone crazy! It has its own App Store. Add stickers, GIF’s, emojis and more.
7. iPhones now support a “raise to wake” feature that lets you see notifications without having to push a button.
8. The ability to remove Apple default (stock) apps like Stock, Weather, and most others. They can be reloaded later if you wish.
One detailed example:
When Apple introduced the “Music” app two years ago it was a mess. Missing options (like sorting lists), difficult navigation going from one area to another, inconsistency of menus are just a few examples. For a company that had just introduced its new 30-million-track service, like Spotify, it was a lame first attempt.
Last year’s IOS 9 update was somewhat better – but still not truly Apple in look or feel.
This year’s IOS 10 update is much better; a simpler, more stark appearing interface is easier to understand and use, with black and white graphics and text, while color is employed sparingly for emphasis. Sorting by artist, album, release date, and more, is available throughout the application. Song lyrics are also available for most tracks. The star rating system has returned to the joy of many long time iTunes users.
On a different subject – creativity:
Apple has been criticized for a lack of creativity since the death of one of its founders – Steve Jobs. I’m not sure that criticism is deserved. Here are three examples of recent product innovations.
1. The Apple Watch (second edition), has met with success from the media, retail, and the user communities. It’s now water-resistant, has a faster processor, improved operating system (3rd generation), longer battery life, and a less expensive starting price.
2. The Apple “W1” Bluetooth audio chip was just released. It is used on the new Apple AirPod wireless headphones, and several of the new Beats (owned by Apple) brand of wireless headphones. The W1 chips offers:
a. Extreme battery life – 40 hours of playtime vs 2-4 hours of most other wireless headphones.
b. Extreme range (distance) – up to 300 feet vs 33 feet of most other Bluetooth devices.
c. Simple pairing (connecting) interface – works with any Apple IOS 10 device by simply connecting to your first device, and then the rest of your devices are auto connected (if you use the same Apple ID on all of your devices).
3. The recently introduced MacBook Pro laptops with a new OLED color touch-bar located above the keyboard that dynamically changes depending on the software app being used.
My bottom line:
Apple is not perfect; not even close. But in many ways, they have innovative design, solid manufacturing, and great (read: loyal) customer support. I admit to being an Apple “fan boy”. 2017 will see the tenth anniversary of the iPhone. It will be interesting to see what improvements and new features will be added to IOS 11. Stay tuned!
Much ado has already been made about the “missing” iPhone 7 3.5mm audio (headphone) jack when Apple introduced the two new iPhone 7’s yesterday.
Apple claimed that the reason they removed the jack was to make room for new technology in future iPhones. I also suppose that the jack will be missing when Apple introduces new iPads in late 2016 or early 2017.
Sure, Apple saved a few pennies and gained a bit more room by removing the jack, but they spent more than they saved by including a set of earbud headphones with a lightning connector – and also included a little device that lets you continue to use your analog headphones by connecting them to the convertor and then onto your lightning connector.
Most folks would say that a digital headphone sounds crisper and clearer than an analog headphone. So where is the harm or foul? You can enjoy your new iPhone 7 with the included digital earbuds – or connect your existing Beats, Sennheiser, Sony, Motorola or other studio headphones to the phone with the included adapter. In addition Apple and Beats (owned by Apple) introduced new wireless headphones that can be used with the iPhone 7’s. And finally there are dozens of Bluetooth wireless headphones already on the market that will work with the iPhone 7’s.
Tell me again why you are unhappy?
Early on Friday morning (3 AM EDT) I’ll be placing my order for a new iPhone 7 Plus. Am I disappointed that it won’t have a 3.5mm headphone jack. Nope!