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Jim Dalrymple's AirPods Review

Jim Dalrymple's AirPods Review →

Jim Dalrymple wrote a hands-on review of Apple's new wireless headphones, over at Loop Insight. I just love how he opens his review.

I have seen all kinds crazy things written since the keynote about the AirPods. Some people say they will drop out of their ears when they walk or run, others say we will lose them because they are so small.

Most of these things have been written by people that have never touched the AirPods. I have been using them for almost a week now and I can tell you that those concerns are not warranted at all.

I am not a child, so I think I can keep track of my AirPods—I have for a week with no problem at all. If you don’t think it’s within your ability to keep track of a pair of headphones, then clearly these are not the right accessory for you.

People in the tech industry seem to have a real problem with critiquing anything new, before they've even tried it or talked to anyone who has. It's a weird obsession — this idea that everything new is stupid — especially for an industry built around new and untried ideas.

Now let's let Jim talk about what intrigues me the most: how the AirPods solve the massive problem that Bluetooth headphones have pairing (and re-pairing) to different devices.

The AirPods will respond to whatever device invokes them. For instances, when you put them in your ears, you will hear a tone telling you they are ready. Press play in Apple Music on your iPhone and music will start playing. If you then press play on your Apple Watch playlist, the AirPods will automatically switch to that device for playback.

I was playing a song from my Apple Watch, activated Siri on my iPhone 7, the AirPods switched and activated the mic, I asked Siri a question, and when I was finished they automatically connected back to the watch to finish the song.

That’s pretty cool.

The AirPods also know when they are in your ears. If you are listening to music and someone comes up to speak with you or you’re in line ordering a coffee, you can just take one out and the music will automatically pause. When you put the AirPod back in your ear, the music will start playing again automatically.

And how's battery life?

I will say this: the only time I ran out of battery on the AirPods is when I meant to run the dry. It took 15-20 minutes to get them charged to 100% using the charging case.

On making phone calls and using Siri:

The AirPods will also seamlessly switch when a phone calls in as well. I’ve made and received phone calls using both headphones, in which case you can hear out of both headphones; taken out the left headphone, which then turns off; did the same with the right headphone; and then put them both back in.

The mics on the AirPods seem to be very good, although its hard to do a meaningful test when you can’t tell people why you want to test the microphone. I had one person comment, unsolicited, that I sounded really good while using the AirPods, but he didn’t know why. I didn’t tell him.

Using a double-tap on the side of the AirPods will invoke Siri when using the iPhone. It will pause the music, and then bring up Siri—ask your question, Siri will give you the answer and then return to playing the music in 5 seconds. A completely hands-free operation.

You can change this to have the double-tap do play/pause instead on the iPhone if you like. This is what happens when you use double-tap on AirPods using the Apple Watch.

These are the details that we expect to get right and they certainly did with the AirPods and how they work with the different devices we use.

At $160, I really don't want to like the AirPods. That's a lot of money to spend on headphones. But the magic ability to switch audio from one source to another, to another is seductive. No other headphone on the market can do this. And switching devices is such a pain that $160 starts to seem like a reasonable price to pay to make the pain go away.

If I used a Mac at the office, I think I'd be a lot more likely to buy AirPods. But since my Windows desktop will be unable to use them (it doesn't have built-in Bluetooth), I'm not sure it's worth it to buy headphones that I can only use at home or with iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.

Remind of these doubts when you see me wearing AirPods next summer.

This entry was tagged. Apple

Why Apple Killed The Headphone Jack

Why Apple Killed The Headphone Jack →

John Paczkowski, reporting for Buzzfeed.

For Dan Riccio, Apple’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, the iPhone’s 3.5-millimeter audio jack has felt something like the last months of an ill-fated if amicable relationship: familiar and comfortable, but ultimately an impediment to a better life ahead. “We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space,” he says.

​What did they need the space for?

A tentpole feature of the new iPhones are improved camera systems that are larger than the cameras in the devices that preceded them. The iPhone 7 now has the optical image stabilization feature previously reserved for its larger Plus siblings. And the iPhone 7 Plus has two complete camera systems side by side — one with a fixed wide-angle lens, the other with a 2x zoom telephoto lens. At the top of both devices is something called the “driver ledge” — a small printed circuit board that drives the iPhone’s display and its backlight. Historically, Apple placed it there to accommodate improvements in battery capacity, where it was out of the way. But according to Riccio, the driver ledge interfered with the iPhone 7 line’s new larger camera systems, so Apple moved the ledge lower in both devices. But there, it interfered with other components, particularly the audio jack.

So the company’s engineers tried removing the jack.

In doing so, they discovered a few things. First, it was easier to install the “Taptic Engine” that drives the iPhone 7’s new pressure-sensitive home button, which, like the trackpads on Apple’s latest MacBook, uses vibrating haptic sensations to simulate the feeling of a click — without actually clicking. (Did we mention that Apple killed the physical home button too?) Taptic Engine vibrations will also be used to deliver feeling specific notifications — hitting the end of a scrolled page, for example. And because Apple has given developers an API for it, an awful lot of other stuff as well — particularly in games.

“You can’t make it feel like there’s an earthquake happening, but the range of customization lets you do an awful lot,” Apple SVP Phil Schiller explains. “With every project there are things that surprise you with the meaning they take on as you start to use them. The Taptic Engine API is one of them. It turned into a much bigger thing than we ever thought it would be. It really does transform the experience for a lot of software. You’ll see.”

Second, there was an unforeseen opportunity to increase battery life. So the battery in the iPhone 7 is 14% bigger than the one in its predecessor, and in the iPhone 7 Plus, it’s 5% bigger. In terms of real-world performance gains, that’s about an additional two hours and one hour, respectively. Not bad.

Even better, removing the audio jack also eliminated a key point of ingress that Riccio says helped the new iPhone finally meet the IP7 water resistance spec Apple has been after for years (resistant when immersed under 1 meter of water for 30 minutes).

The 3.5-millimeter audio jack has been headed to its inevitable fate for some time now. If it wasn’t the iPhone 7, it might have been the iPhone 8 (or, for that matter, the iPhone 6). In the end, it was simple math that did the audio jack in, a cost-benefit analysis that sorely disfavored a single-purpose Very Old Port against a wireless audio future, some slick new cameras, and the kind of water resistance that anyone who has ever dropped an iPhone in the toilet has long wished for.

​Given that the new iPhone comes with both Lightning ear pods and a Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, I think this is a very fair trade off. I already do most of my listening with Bluetooth headphones, so this really won't affect me that much. I think the updated features are worth the loss of my headphone jack.

This entry was tagged. Apple iPhone

Walking to Better Health

You may have heard that you should walk at least 10,000 steps per day, for your health. How good is that advice? The software developers at cardiogram have developed an app that tracks your heart rate, using your Apple Watch. They decided to combine the data from the Apple Watch's heart beat sensor with the data from the iPhone's step counter, to see how walking distance affects your resting heart rate.

I'm not sure how scientifically rigorous these results are, but they did come up with some interesting correlations.

Graph of step count versus heart rate

In cardiovascular terms, the drop in heart rate from 1000 steps/day to 2000 steps/day is significant: a full 3 bpm decrease. And as step count increases, resting heart rate steadily drops—until you reach about 5000 steps per day. After that—6000, 7000, even up to 10,000 steps—the curve flattens.

Graph of exercise intensity versus heart rate

Even if you get 10,000 steps per day, if your heart rate doesn’t go over 130 bpm, there’s not much impact on your resting heart rate. In contrast, even 4000 steps / day of high intensity exercise delivers a benefit: about a 4 bpm absolute drop in resting bpm, which doubles to 8 bpm at 10,000 steps / day.

Graph of minutes of high intensity exercise versus heart rate

Even 45 minutes per week of high intensity activity (heart rate >= 150bpm) placed participants in the lowest tier of resting heart rate.

I like this kind of analysis because it's actionable. I've been making some, small, effort to walk each day. I have a goal of 5,000 steps per day. But I've been skeptical of whether or not it actually matters, if it's just a few steps here and there. According to these numbers, it doesn't. I'm just fooling myself.

I can use these numbers to make a new goal. I want to start taking high-intensity walks 2-3 times a week. I've already been monitoring my heart rate. It stays around 90 beats per minute, most days. My initial goal is to lower that to 80 bpm. If that happens, I'll set a new goal.

Becoming Steve Jobs

Becoming Steve Jobs →

Cover photo for Becoming Steve Jobs

I just saw this book announced on Daring Fireball. This is the book that I wanted to read, when I read Walter Isaacson's dreadful biography of Steve Jobs.

A brilliantly reported, compellingly written book that overturns the conventional view of Steve Jobs—the Jobs that is frozen forever as half genius, half jerk—Becoming Steve Jobs answers the central question about the life and career of the Apple cofounder and CEO: How did a young man so reckless and arrogant that he was exiled from the company he founded become the most effective visionary business leader of our time? Drawing on extensive interviews with Jobs’s inner circle, family members, friends, and competitors, veteran journalists Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli present a portrait of Jobs that is far more nuanced and intimate than previous biographies.

It's $14.99 on Kindle and I already pre-ordered my copy. It'll be published in just 3 weeks—on March 24.

This entry was tagged. Apple Reading Ideas

Why Manufacturing Jobs Move Overseas (An Apple Case Study)

Why Manufacturing Jobs Move Overseas (An Apple Case Study) →

This was a very interesting read. If you haven't already read it, you should. Most commenters that I've seen have focused in on the wage differential (and the hours that the Chinese employees work) between U.S. and Chinese workers. That wasn't, primarily, what caught my eye. Instead, it was the overwhelming difference in flexibility.

One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. … Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

Can you imagine a union dominated, U.S. manufacturing plant turning around assembly line processes anywhere near that quickly?

Though components differ between versions, all iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.

Simply put, China is a lot closer to the raw materials than America is. In many cases, it makes a lot of sense to keep the manufacturing plant close to the supply chain.

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

How about quickly, nearly instantaneously, finding new employees to ramp up production?

“[Foxconn] could hire 3,000 people overnight,” said Jennifer Rigoni, who was Apple’s worldwide supply demand manager until 2010, but declined to discuss specifics of her work. “What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

… Another critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States.

In China, it took 15 days.

… In particular, companies say they need engineers with more than high school, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. Americans at that skill level are hard to find, executives contend. “They’re good jobs, but the country doesn’t have enough to feed the demand,” Mr. Schmidt said.

There are many, many reasons why manufacturing jobs are being created in China and not in the U.S. It's nowhere near as simple as just calling it "greed" and condemning U.S. employers. In a highly dynamic, constantly changing world, is the U.S. producing skilled employees (at all skill levels!) who are willing to quickly change what they do and how they do it?

Steve Jobs: 1955-2011

Steve Jobs

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

(Ecclesiastes 2:18-25 ESV)

Steve was richly blessed by God and we were all richly blessed by what he did, here on the Earth.

My daughters routinely watch Pixar films. Every night, they sleep in sleeping bags decorated for Pixar characters. Tonight, my daughter took a Cowboy Woody doll to bed with her. They both clamor to play games and watch movies on our iPad.

My life has been enriched by my iPod touch and everything that it allows me to do. I'm typing this on my MacBook Pro and I'm eagerly awaiting the day I can upgrade my phone to an iPhone 4S.

All of these products have been personally overseen by Steve Jobs and have been built according to his vision and his values. And they are all that there is. Apple will live on and will continue creating great products. But Steve's personal vision and creativity ends here. It seems sudden and too soon. I had no idea he was this sick and this close to the end.

He will be missed.

This entry was tagged. Apple

Steve Jobs Resigns

Letter from Steve Jobs

To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

Well, damn.

Thanks, Steve, for all of the great products that you and your team have brought to the market. From my first Mac (a PowerMac G5), to my first Mac laptop (a white iMac), to my first iPod (3rd generation click wheel iPod), I’ve loved every Apple product that I’ve owned. I’ve been inspired by the careful attention to detail, in every single facet of the product design. I’ve been inspired by your business methods and the amazing success that Apple has achieved.

My daughters are growing up with Apple technology. They navigate around our iMac with amazing ease. They’re pros at using our iPad and constantly ask to be allowed to play on our iPod Touches. Your systems have made computing easy for them and even at the young age of “nearly 3” and “almost 5”, they’re not afraid to experiment, learn, and create.

Thank-you, God bless, and I wish you nothing but the best as you start this new chapter of your life.

(I have no doubt that Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, Jonathan Ives and the rest of the crew will continue to make great products and have great success. But Apple without Steve just feels wrong and I’ll miss knowing that he’s there.)

This entry was tagged. Apple

Sprint to Get iPhone 5

Sprint to Get iPhone 5 →

Sprint Nextel Corp. will begin selling the iPhone 5 in mid-October, people familiar with the matter said, closing a huge hole in the No. 3 U.S. carrier's lineup and giving Apple Inc. another channel for selling its popular phone.

… Sprint will also carry the iPhone 4, starting at the same time, one person familiar with the situation said.

Nice. My contract is up for renewal in July. I wonder if Sprint would give me an early upgrade option before then?

Alternate link for the poor benighted souls that can’t read the WSJ online.)

This entry was tagged. Apple Iphone Sprint

What Makes the iPhone Work

Gruber, on why the iPhone is so successful:

One obvious but wrong answer would have been for Apple to start with a phone. That's what most companies in the mobile handset industry have done and it's led them to a dead end. The problem is that while successful complex systems evolve from simple systems that work, not every simple system that works can support additional complexity. It's not enough just to start simple, you have to start simple with a framework designed for future evolution and growth.

Consider that none of the major new features in the iPhone OS 3.0 software is related to the telephone. MMS comes closest, but even that doesn't pertain to phone calls. The "phone" in "iPhone" is much more about ubiquitous always-on wireless TCP/IP networking than it is about the 20th century conception of telephony.

And that's the main reason I'd like an iPhone. Always-on internet access, anytime, (almost) anywhere -- and it fits in my pocket.

This entry was tagged. Apple iPhone

Apple proposes tiny RF modules for ever-present connectivity

I'd just like to point out that I advanced this idea during my sophomore or junior year of college (sometime between 2002 and 2004). My college friends can verify that -- I promoted the idea to pretty much everyone. But I never wrote it down, so I can't really prove it to the world. Oh, well.

With the exception of the iPhone, Apple's products largely lack technology to provide ubiquitous access to the outside world while on the go. However, a new proposal from the company would attempt to solve this problem, and provide ever-present access to the Internet, through a series of tiny RF modules that can be toted or place just about anywhere.

In a 36-page filing published for the first time Thursday and titled "Personal area network systems and devices and methods for use thereof," the electronics maker outlines a system for allowing products with only short-range communications circuitry, such as iPods and MacBooks, to connect to and leverage those equipped with long-range technology, such as the iPhone or specially designed RF modules.

AppleInsider | Apple proposes tiny RF modules for ever-present connectivity.

This entry was tagged. Apple

MacBooks and Firewire

I was initially excited about the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models from Apple. Then I noticed that the new MacBook doesn't include a Firewire port. This is a bit of a big deal for me. My Panasonic video camera requires Firewire to download videos to the computer. I like using my MacBook to download and edit videos while on vacation. If I decide to buy one of the new MacBooks, I'll no longer be able to do that.

Now AppleInsider is reporting that Steve Jobs himself has replied to an irked Apple customer. Says Uncle Steve:

Actually, all of the new HD camcorders of the past few years use USB 2.

The new HD camcorders start around $500.

He has a bit of a point. I would like an HD camcorder. But my wife needs a new laptop now and I'd prefer that it be compatible not just with our future camcorder but also with our existing camcorder. Was now really the right time for Apple to remove a port that many of its users still need?

(Yes, I'm whining a bit. Sales of the new MacBook will probably be spectacularly good anyway. It's a good machine. But I wanted to have both my bread and my cake.)

This entry was tagged. Apple