iPhone X Home indicator, go home. (As in: away. Forever.)

You probably know by now that in its desire to eradicate buttons, Apple’s ditched the Home button from the iPhone X. Instead, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go Home. (Control Centre is now activated by dragging downwards from the top-right of the display.) Presumably to help people get used to this, a Home indicator sits at the bottom of the screen. Which is fine. But it never goes away. Which is not.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. If you’re watching full-screen video and don’t interact with the display at all, the Home indicator temporarily buggers off. But if you’re playing a full-screen game, or using a full-screen app? It’ll be lurking, in all its glory, like someone’s scrawled across the bottom of your screen in pen. Bafflingly, it also turns out the thing sticks around on screen grabs, which will be just wonderful for journalists. And notably, developers are forbidden from hiding the indicator when interaction is happening on screen. The most they can do is fade it a bit.

Apple got heavily criticised for a lack of affordances when iOS was stripped back to Ive-level minimalism a few years ago. But the problem there was primarily in not knowing whether buttons were buttons. You had to tap things to discover whether or not they were interactive, which is terrible design. The Home indicator, though, feels like a really weird decision. By all means, have it there to begin with. And for those users who need the reminder, let them keep it. But for everyone else, there needs to be a setting to banish the thing for good. Having it sit there permanently is a distraction that feels decidedly un-Apple.

November 7, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Dear news outlets: please drop your drop tests for iPhones and other devices

A number of years back, I was getting out of a car, and my Nintendo DS took a tumble on to the tarmac. On retrieval, I discovered it was in a bad way. More recently, I’ve had an iPod touch fly across the office and survive entirely unscathed, and an iPad Air hit the floor with a sickening thud, but that was found to be totally fine when examined.

Oddly, I didn’t feel the need to write articles for major newspapers about these events, because they weren’t news. When you drop stuff, it might break. That’s not news. If the things you drop happen to have glass screens and surfaces, they might break. That’s not news. And yet today I was pointed at a ‘news’ piece about the new iPhone X. It wasn’t news.

The publication dropped their new iPhone on to tarmac from three feet up. The screen cracked after the first drop, which they argued was “not good”. On what basis? What’s “not good” is this type of bullshit clickbait article that is ultimately entirely worthless. (And, no, I’m not linking to it.)

Still, presumably said publication is ensuring its various stupid, wasteful tests are all equivalent, so they can accurately gauge the relative strength of the various devices they’re ruining?

Tough to say, because none of our tests are scientific

You just hope when these idiots arrive at the Genius Bar, Apple knows who they are, notes they dropped the device with the intention of breaking it, notes some kind of AppleCare condition they’re in breach of, and hands over a roll of gaffer tape rather than a replacement iPhone.

November 6, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple didn’t send me an iPhone X review unit. Here’s what I’m going to do about it

Apple didn’t send me an iPhone X review unit. Clearly, I should now be outraged or something, and so here’s what I plan to do:

  • Get on with my life, continuing to write about Apple as I see fit, working with my existing iPhone that’s only a couple of months old, and which I’m actually perfectly happy with anyway.
  • Keep an eye out for iPhone X coverage, because I’m naturally interested in it, and may well upgrade to that line when next year’s model’s released.
  • Pop into a local Apple Store when the iPhone X is on display and the crowds have died down a bit, to play around with one.

Here’s what I don’t plan to do:

  • Whine about Apple giving some people who aren’t wealthy white guys iPhone X review models to talk to their readers about.
  • Complain about Apple further widening its reach beyond tech bloggers, by giving people in other areas of journalism (including YouTube) a chance to talk about the new phone.
  • Conflate people being seeded with a review unit with them seemingly getting a bit of hands-on time, to make a short video.
  • Call out and insult the 19-year-old nephew of a writer who was provided a review iPhone X, because said reviewer gave the kid the iPhone for a bit to see what he thought about it.

Because that would be a shitty thing to do.

October 31, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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One Home Screen on Apple TV – one big pain in the backside

When making major changes to how devices work, it’s important to not foist them on users – and to at least enable reversion should someone not like something. The new Apple TV OS, tvOS 11, failed for me on both counts.

I have two Apple TVs: one is in the office, used as a ‘review’ device for my app and game round-ups; the other’s in the living room, and used primarily for watching telly.

On turning on the living room Apple TV recently, I was surprised to see its intentionally stripped-down Home screen suddenly littered with dozens of games and apps. It turns out it had implemented One Home Screen, a new Apple TV feature that syncs Home screens across your devices.

This was mildly irritating. What pushed it over the edge into bafflingly stupid was when I turned this feature off, all the ‘new’ apps and games remained. And if you know how much of a pain in the backside it is to remove tvOS apps, you’ll know the next half hour wasn’t exactly a thrill ride.

Perhaps this was a glitch, but I’d have much preferred a dialog box to confirm the sync, rather than the Apple TV wrongly assuming I wanted One Home Screen on, and merrily doing what it wanted all by itself.

October 12, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions, Technology

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Apple TV 4K and why Apple needs to realise some markets are a race to the bottom

Many people don’t get Apple pricing. They note rival devices are significantly cheaper, and so Apple should ‘compete’ by lowering prices accordingly. Instead, Apple shoots for the high end of the market, grabs most of the profits, and leaves everyone else fighting for scraps.

Mostly, this works. In tablets, there’s simply no competition if you want a device for more than the odd bit of gaming, Netflix and web browsing. Even premium Android tablets are hampered by an app ecosystem that rarely rises above mediocre.

In smartphones, desktops and notebooks, competition is stronger, but even there Apple often wins out through a combination of build quality, software, and services. For many people, for example, you’re only going to prise a device that supports Messages out of their cold, dead hands.

Television is different. Despite Apple’s hopes that the future of television would be apps, the reality is most people use their telly boxes to watch stuff. Although decent apps and games exist for Apple TV, what I hear from developers is sales aren’t stellar (to put it mildly), and most users are gawping at the latest shows and movies rather than battling it out in virtual worlds, or having their telly demand they do more sit-ups.

This presents a problem for Apple, because success in this area largely rests on TV networks and channels supporting your hardware – and that only comes when enough eyes are along for the ride. In the UK, the pickings are slim when it comes to major players. Beyond Netflix and YouTube, you’ve got a BBC iPlayer app that seems to have stumbled in from 2015, and that’s vastly under-featured compared to the app on Android and Amazon boxes. And then there’s the ongoing farce that is NOW TV, a third-generation Apple TV app that’s lurching about like a zombie, desperate to be put out of its misery. Amazon Video’s supposedly showing up at some point, but isn’t here yet. And other major broadcasters like Channel 4 and ITV are entirely absent despite releasing apps for rival boxes and smart TVs.

One strategy with Apple TV would have been – in an un-Apple manner – to go all-in for the mainstream. Fill that little black box full of amazing technology, and an interface far beyond the competition – but price it to grab marketshare.

Instead, Apple decided to be Apple. On stage at the most recent Apple event, execs talked about the benefits of the new Apple TV 4K: amazing picture quality (although The Verge took exception to that in certain circumstances), integration with Apple services (such as Photos), and support for Dolby Vision and HDR10. What they didn’t talk about was a price-point that shot it far beyond its contemporaries.

Amazon’s new Fire TV is now in pre-order, and the contrast is stark. The lack of Dolby Vision HDR support in Amazon’s box might be a red line for some, but the unit costs a penny under 70 quid. You could buy two and still have nine quid in change compared to the price of the old Apple TV (£149!), let alone the new one, which starts at £179. Even for a great many Apple fans, this is just too much to swallow. I can’t imagine many newcomers faced with these two options plumping for Apple. And if the user-base doesn’t grow, services will fade, leaving Apple TV an increasingly insular and limited experience.

I like Apple, and write about the company a lot. I also like Apple TV. It’s a solid unit, with a decent UI, and a ton of potential. But if none of that potential is going to be realised in terms of the unit’s primary purpose, what’s the point in buying Apple TV over an Amazon box? That’s what Apple needs to address, rather than beaming that you can rapidly get an iCloud photo gallery on your telly.

October 6, 2017. Read more in: Apple, Opinions

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