How far can Apple go?

Rumblings are surfacing about Apple’s recent pricing strategy and I can understand why this is so. An iPhone for £1,000 and up, an iPad for £1,800 and up, and the cheapest Mac starting at above £1,000 feel high to me with the occasional offering (iPhone 7, iPad and Xr) being priced at more reasonable levels.

The above does not look accurate and it isn’t, but consider Apple’s marketing and the Air, iPad Pro and iPhone Xs are spoken about the most, which feeds the thoughts that Apple products are getting more expensive. It’s hard to work out actually which is the clever strategy from Apple, but the high-end products are easy upwards quickly with the low-end staying fairly static. Throw in the series 4 Apple Watch and the cost of accessories such as the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, and you again start to believe that the general pricing is moving up across the board.

Rumours persist that the latest iPhones are not selling as Apple would like and the same has been said of the iPads and Macs which makes all of the sense in the world to me. From what I can see, Apple is gaining customers and maintaining serious loyalty, but is not selling at the same frequency as before which is a problem.

I know a few people, including myself, who are happy with their iPhones and who see no need to upgrade. They last for 5 years max, mostly without issue, and so that may stop the standard user from upgrading (saying that many many people upgrade through mobile contracts). iPads last particularly well and so do Macs, and in these three products Apple may be a victim of its own success. Products that are expensive and which are specified in most cases for longevity, to work well through multiple software updates, will stop owners from upgrading. It’s as simple as that.

Add to this the fact that people don’t tend to be showing off their new phones anymore and that the ‘fashion’ bubble has deflated a little and the problem worsens. Let’s be honest, all phones look the same in 2018 and the Xr is an X is an Xs in terms of how they look from more than a few inches away. Phones are in everyone’s hand most of the time so they have become invisible and all that now matters to an increasing number of people is reliability, good enough features and pricing.

It’s a shame really because we live in a time where a company like Apple has to grow, and grow and grow, every quarter and under this pressure there will be the need to increase pricing to make up for the lack of numbers, but it is merely sharpening a downward curve and lessening the number of people who are able to afford the products.

I have a MacBook, an iPhone X and a series 4 Apple Watch, and even I have spent some time looking at Android phones recently. The eco-system has kept me firmly where Apple wants me to be, but I will tell you that if you have not looked at Android for a while you may be in for a surprise. Some of the phones are a distance ahead of any iPhone in specific areas, but I still get a sense that the software has not changed much at all.

At some point, however, Apple may push too a little too far and people may make the call that the advantages no longer justify the extra cost. It’s by far the biggest threat I see to Apple at this time and it’s not an easy one to stop because of the external pressures to always sell more and to make more profit every three months.

I see a utopia where the company could just concentrate on making the very best products they can at prices that are perfectly justifiable, which has been the case in the past, but alas I suspect that utopia will not be visited any time soon.

Apple Watch apps don’t really matter

This new list of the most useful Apple Watch apps seems familiar somehow. And so does this one. And indeed so does any other list of the ‘best’ Apple Watch apps.

The fact is that there are very few Apple Watch apps that are genuinely useful and which work in a way that makes them not feel clunky. Just look at the apps listings in the Watch app, it never changes. The iOS App Store changes daily, but on the watch side it stays the same.

Strangely, it doesn’t matter because the fact is that watch apps are not needed and for most people there are already enough built in to the Apple Watch, and this gives a lie to the notion that smartwatches will one day replace phones.

I can now understand what the Apple Watch offers and have been impressed by its ability to cover fitness, keep me notified and to obviously tell the time. I have, however, found a small group of third-party apps that work well for me including Streaks, SleepWatch and Better Day. I don’t need any more and probably won’t in the future unless a developer comes out with something special.

So. the lack of apps is on the surface a huge disadvantage for the Apple Watch, but is to those who own one completely inconsequential. 

BentoStack Charge

BentoStack is back, and this time it’s bringing wireless charging to your workspace. Inspired by the modern Japanese lunchbox, the BentoStack Charge is a delightful storage case designed specifically to hold Apple accessories and keep them energized when you’re out and about. With a Qi-certified wireless charger and 5,000 mAh battery built into the Top Cover, you can keep your iPhone, Apple Watch, and the like powered up without hunting for an outlet. Bring the whole box when you’re traveling around or just take the Top Cover for a quick jolt on the go… More here.

Sometimes it is the design that makes a product.

Apple SSD prices have gone up!

I was looking at Amazon.ca yesterday and saw a SanDisk 1TB SSD for $160Cdn. Yes Canadian, so it would be cheaper in the States and cheaper still in the place of origin. So out of curiosity I took a peak at Apple’s SSD upgrade. On a MacBook Air, going from a 128GB SSD/Flash to a 1.5TB SSD is $1500Cdn. They don’t even offer a 1TB option. That’s price gouging pure and simple, especially because there’s no way to retrofit an SSD. I hate to think it, but a much more viable option is to get the minimal SSD internally and get a USB-C external SSD. That flies for a desktop, but not really for a laptop. I know Apple’s always been pricey, but there’s got to be a limit…

…I went all out back in 2014 and got a 1TB SSD on my iMac. As I recall, it was about $700 to get that instead of a regular hard drive. So apparently, Apple SSD prices have gone up! If I was buying today, and had to make the choice final because of not being able to upgrade, I’d probably go with a 512GB drive and use more external space. Even with USB-3, a good external HDD is fast enough for most things. On the other hand, having the extra space means being able to run virtual machines or BootCamp at SSD speeds. Bob

I agree with Bob. I have always eulogised Apple products for their quality and explained to many people that the initial price is almost always retrieved by extended periods of reliability in products that work as they should for many years. However, there are areas where Apple prices things way above the competition and it can seem like taking advantage of the loyalty the company has grown to date.

Apple only accepts complaints by ‘letter’ (update: and by email?)

20th November: I should update this article following a call from Apple Executive Relations today. Apparently you can ask for a complaint to be logged without sending a letter, which I sent this morning as it happens, and the lady who advised me that the Apple Watch was ‘very fragile’ will be spoken to (I feel bad about that). Anyway, I have to send photos of my wife’s Apple Watch and we will see what happens from there. Must say the lady I spoke to today was very professional and allayed some of my concerns, but I remain skeptical about the strength of my wife’s particular series 4 watch.

My word. I have spent many £1,000’s on Apple products over the years and have had the occasional problem with iPhone and Macs, but on the whole the support I have received has been way above what I have experienced from any other company.

A tipping point over the weekend, however, was reached when I was advised that to get a response to a complaint I had to write a letter. Yes, a letter has to be sent to the biggest tech company in the world to achieve any kind of response. For those of you who are unaware of what a letter is it would involve typing or writing some words on a piece of paper, folding up the paper, putting it in an envelope, buying a stamp to stick on the envelope, finding a postbox (that is a red thing that you may see very occasionally) and then putting it through the slot at the top. At this point it will be collected by the Royal Mail, driven to a sorting office and it will then presumably find its way to Apple where someone has to open the envelope, read the letter and then move it to the correct department. The biggest technology company in the world…

My complaint surrounds the problem my wife is having with her series 4 Apple Watch, detailed here, and the fact that to return the watch I have to pay up front (£269). This presumes that the reason the watch has broken is definitely user error and that it could not possibly be a failure of this particular device, or what is in my opinion a design fault.

My anger was not helped by the support agent I spoke to repeatedly telling me that the screen is ‘very fragile’ and that it will break if dropped. I am sure that she was trying to make me feel better, but it had the opposite effect. It should not be fragile and especially as Apple touts the use of Ion-X strengthened glass. No other watch, not one that I have owned and I have owned many, would break in the same circumstance and so I remain perplexed as to what Ion-X strengthening really is. I guess it sounds good in the marketing, but I am seeing little evidence of the benefits.

The end result is that I am returning my stainless steel Apple Watch, scared to wear it now if I am honest and won’t pay AppleCare+ for the privilege, and my wife’s watch will sit on a shelf until it is needed for freelance etc. It’s sad, but my faith in Apple has been knocked in a big way.

Drop your Apple Watch from 2 feet and the screen smashes

As you may know I have owned a lot of watches and one thing that they have all had in common is the ability to survive life. Whether they have been £10 or £1,000 I have never had a watch crystal break from a fall, and I have accidentally dropped a few of them.

My wife, however, made the mistake of dropping her series 4 Apple Watch from 2 feet onto the bathroom floor, onto the little rug around the toilet, and look what happened-

It appears to have landed on its edge and cracked the entire screen from end to end which I would argue is ridiculous. Just look at how the screen is attached to an Apple Watch and you can see where the problem is-

The screen is raised way above the case which makes it prone to damage from a variety of incidences, large and small, and in my opinion is an impractical design which is open to damage.

Add to this the fact that the Apple Watch is not heavy and that Apple touts the screen toughness, I cannot understand how it could break so easily.

Anyway, I started a chat with Apple and-

Alejandro
Thanks for contacting Apple Support. My name is Alejandro. Please give me a moment to look over your information.

Alejandro
Hi Shaun! I hope you are enjoying your day so far. I see that you need help with your Apple Watch?

Shaun McGill
Yes, it’s my wife’s Apple Watch series 4. She dropped it on the floor from about 2 feet and the screen smashed. How much is a repair for an incident like this?

Alejandro
Let me go ahead and help you with that

Alejandro
May I know in which country are you located?

Shaun McGill
UK

Alejandro
The out of warranty service fee for your Watch model it’s £286.44

Alejandro
You can double check this here: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/watch/repair/service/pricing

Shaun McGill
wow. Didn’t realise it would be so much and that it can break so easily from a 2 foot drop. OK, thanks for the information

Alejandro
It has been a pleasure Shaun! I really hope you are satisfied with my service and the information provided

Shaun McGill
Not really

£286.44!

A few seconds with the new iPad Pros

Photo 12-11-2018, 15 50 32

I got a few seconds with the new iPad Pros today, two minutes to be precise, and I was vaguely impressed by what I saw. The displays are very impressive and in particular the bigger model shines. It feels like you are using a real desktop computer when looking at web pages etc, but of course the reality of diving back in to iOS soon changes the perception that it can be used for every advanced task.

Most impressive is the speed which is remarkable when first experienced. Everything flies at breakneck speed and feels instant, to the point that it almost feels overpowered. It is a very powerful tool and one that for day to day use will serve you well.

Strangely, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the new design. In the marketing shots the flat sides look sublime, but in the real world they become invisible and I found myself preferring the older style curved iPads next to them.

Finally, the price is obviously a barrier for many and I couldn’t ratify how either model could be worth the cost. Then again I am happy to pay the same or more for an iPhone with almost exactly the same components and specs. Weird how we perceive value sometimes.

PS. The Smart Keyboard is quite good, but no way near the quality of a proper keyboard in my view.

How does a watch guy fall for the Apple Watch?

IMG_4895

When I reviewed the series 4 Apple Watch a few weeks ago I was somewhat disparaging about certain aspects. The battery life was a big downside for me, but perhaps more than anything the fact it is not a ‘real’ watch stuck with me more than anything.

I returned the watch to Apple and was happy enough, but something was nagging at me. A sense that something was missing and this was enhanced by continuing disappointment with Fitbit’s latest products. The Fitbit Charge 3 has proved to be as poor as the Fitbit Versa in terms of accuracy and with fitness currently being very important to me it was time to give up on a brand that had helped me get to the weight I was at 21 years old and which made me fitter than I had been since that age.

My experience of Apple Watch fitness has been poor over the years for a number of reasons. I don’t like the rings idea and in particular the ridiculous stand ring which is a novelty at best. However, the hardware is very accurate and I have found much consistency in the step counting, calorie calculations and the heart rate averages. This builds confidence and has given me a platform to build a fitness setup that works for me – more on that in a future article, but it’s safe to say that I have replaced the Fitbit hardware and software with arguably a much better solution.

So, the fitness was covered, after much research, and I took a punt and bought another series 4 Apple Watch. In the first few days of use I realised what had been nagging at me previously.

It’s the little things that build up to create a solution that in time feels necessary. These two examples may feel incredibly pointless, but they exemplify things that the iPhone could not do in certain situations-

I was in a meeting with a senior manager at work and my wife sent me a message asking if I wanted to walk the dog after work or if I was happy for her to do it. Being that it was a cold day I didn’t fancy ending my day getting even colder and the senior manager was sat directly opposite me so I could get my phone out without it seeming too obvious. I caught the message on the Apple Watch and managed to scroll down and send ‘OK’ as a response. The result was an hour saved later in the day and I could stay a little warmer.

The next day my daughter attended her first night at Police Cadets and was very nervous about going. We dropped her off and she had to fill in some forms, but she did not know all of the details required, which would likely have made her even more nervous. I didn’t have my iPhone with me when I saw the panicked message on my watch asking for a list of information so she could complete the forms. I replied, she was happy and the nerves subsided a little for her. This may sound unimportant, but she has had a hard time of late and attending events with groups of people is a big thing for her, and in that instance the watch helped.

So that was some of the use case covered and after wearing the Apple Watch for two weeks straight it kind of became normal. Worryingly I wasn’t missing my Oris watch as much as I expected, but there was one aspect that still bugged me. The Apple Watch felt like a bit of plastic strapped to my wrist and offer zero personality to me which is a problem for those of us who have obsessed over watches as the only bit of jewellery we wear.

I am fortunate in that I could sell a watch which would pay for a stainless steel series 4 Apple Watch and that is what I did. The final part of the experiment was to see if it felt like a real watch on the wrist while offering the functionality that I had become used to.

With the addition of a few straps to play around with I found that I started to enjoy the look of the series 4 and to this day it has remained on my wrist as my main fitness tracker, time teller and assistant which ensure I miss nothing and that my iPhone gets less use than it did before.

My wife also bought a series 4 as she was experiencing the same Fitbit problems as I was and strangely she went for the gold 44mm version. She is tiny and has small wrists, but she felt that the bigger watch looked better proportioned and despite its size it really does look good on her. Big watches on petite women always look good in my view.

The next step for me will be to see how the cellular functionality changes my usage and when my contract is moved over in a couple of days I will write about that experience, but for now I find myself surprised at the fact I am not wearing a real watch anymore and just a little bit sad at the thought of it.

£339 or £12 for an Apple Watch Strap: you decide

I love well made products and will gladly pay for a quality brand that will last me for many years, but there are moments when the price gap is just too much.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 16.55.55

£339 and beautifully made

There is little doubt in my mind that the above watch strap, available direct from Apple, is exceptionally well made. There is little doubt that it would look great on the wrist, but for just £90 more you can buy a whole Apple Watch series 4.

Screenshot 2018-11-10 at 16.56.24

I have just received the above strap. It is also very well made.

Having just received the strap above from Amazon for £11.99 I must say that it looks great and is very soft on the wrist. I don’t care what other people think about what is on my wrist, but I do care about saving £327 on something that is in many ways the same product.

The mix of colours struck me when I saw the Hermès offering and I get that with both products. It so happens that I went for the one that I could buy 29 times before I reached the expense of the official one.

As an aside, look at the two product images above. They are identical in almost every way, Not sure how legal this is…

The 2018 iPad Pros

“These iPad Pros aren’t cheap. Throw in a $179 Smart Keyboard Folio and $129 Apple Pencil and even the $799 base model will run you over $1,100 all told. (The 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard Folio is $199.) But these aren’t “just tablets”. They’re tablets, yes, but there’s no just to them. Dollar for dollar, they’re a better value than any MacBook Apple has ever made. They match — and in some areas exceed — the CPU and GPU performance of MacBook Pros that cost $3000 or more. These are serious iPads for serious iPad users… More at DF.”

No one can deny the power in the new iPad Pros or the impressive designs. However, and it is a point raised by many reviewers so far, the software is lagging a long way behind the hardware at this point- you don’t need that much power for the things 95% of iPad users do and for the other 5% it is still a battle to do powerful things. The software is holding the hardware back.