Bill Bennett

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Apple is one world’s largest companies. It got there by giving people the technology they want. Products include the Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods.

2015 MacBook, MacBook Air, iPad Pro productivity

Nothing bad happened switching from the 2015 MacBook to the iPad Pro. If there were any surprises they were all good ones.

Every Friday morning I pack a computer, coffee money and a banana in a briefcase. Next I catch a bus to town where I work in a client’s office. Although I interview people, make phone calls and attend meetings, I write for most of the day.

Until three months ago my Friday-working-away-from-home computer was an Apple MacBook Air. It served me well. The MacBook Air has more than enough battery life to get through an eight-hour day. It is light, portable, has a great keyboard and runs all the apps I need.

Then I switched to a 2015 MacBook. It was a review machine borrowed from Apple. My goal to understand where the new MacBook fits into the bigger productivity picture.

Comparing MacBook keyboards

In hindsight I found the 2015 MacBook keyboard isn’t as good as the MacBook Air’s. I didn’t notice this at the time. The difference became noticeable when I returned to the MacBook Air earlier this week.

Despite what you may read in other reviews, the 2015 MacBook keyboard is fine. It just doesn’t deal with touch typing as well as the Air.

There’s not much in it. On a scale of one to ten I’d give the 2015 MacBook keyboard an eight. The MacBook Air keyboard scores nine out of ten.

To put it another way, I’ve not used a better laptop keyboard than the MacBook Air’s in recent years.

If this seems fussy, remember touch typing is what I do all day. For me this is one of the most important aspects of a portable device. A better keyboard makes writing more efficient. That’s money in the bank.

2015 MacBook battery life

The 2015 MacBook’s biggest negative is battery life. My two year old Air can no longer last for the ten hours it did when it was new. In part because I now leave wi-fi and Bluetooth on all day. Yet it still gives me well over eight hours.

From the outset the 2015 MacBook battery struggled to last the full eight hours I work in town each Friday. That Retina screen sucks juice.

For weeks I had to devise power-saving strategies such as using my phone for mail and browsing.

That’s not the best way to work and didn’t solve the problem. In the end I gave in and took the power cable with me. It wasn’t optional.

USB-C works for me

Others may whinge, but the single USB-C connector doesn’t worry me. I use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for everything. I’ve heard people complain about the feeble processor. It doesn’t make a difference to word processing or browsing.

The Retina screen is a delight. Not that it makes any difference to my writing productivity. While the Force Touch trackpad is handy, there’s no obvious productivity gain.

I like the way there’s no fan in the 2015 MacBook. You never find yourself wondering what that strange humming noise is.

To be fair, the MacBook Air rarely uses its fan. Sorry to sound repetitive, this also has nothing to do with productivity.

A bigger advantage was the 2015 MacBook’s reduced weight and size. Having less to carry in my brief case may not sound like a big deal, it always felt like a bonus during the commute. It’s a more of a benefit when travelling on an airplane.

Even so, on balance the lower-priced MacBook Air is a better option for my Friday work. That’s clear now after three months with the 2015 MacBook. There’s not much in it, productivity and battery life trump smaller and lighter. Your requirements may differ.

Enter the iPad Pro

When the review iPad Pro arrived I wasn’t sure where it would fit in the productivity picture. At first I doubted I would want to use an iOS device as my Friday computer for the next three months.

I worried about the lack of a trackpad, about the keyboard and what iOS might mean in practice. There was a fear I may not be able to use all the apps I need.

Despite these worries, I took the iPad Pro with me for my regular Friday gig. I decided if the first week was a disaster, I could always switch back to the Air.

Rivals the MacBook

In the event, the iPad Pro was anything but a disaster. It proved a great Friday computer. The iPad Pro could be better than the 2015 MacBook for working away from home.

My iPad Pro is the cellular version. I’ll write more about that in another post. It weighs 723 grams. The Smart Keyboard adds another 330 grams. My 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 1.35 kilograms. The 2015 MacBook is 920 grams.

The iPad Pro is larger than the 2015 MacBook. With a connected Smart Keyboard, it is about the same size as the MacBook Air.

In practice the iPad Pro is as portable as the 2015 MacBook. It puts any extra size and weight to good use. At 12.9 inches, the display is larger than the 12-inch display on the 2015 MacBook. It has more pixels, 2732-by–2048 compared with 2304-by–1440.

A beautiful view

This makes more difference than you might suspect. I get a better overview of my words and can read them better on the bigger screen. The text is clearer, crisper. It makes proofing easier, which means improved quality.

You would need to buy a lot more laptop to get a screen like this. Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 gets close with its 2736-by–1824 resolution across 12.3 inches. The result is better all-round writing productivity.

The iOS 9 slide-over feature makes multitasking practical. I’m no fan of doing more than one thing at a time. Being able to read, say, an email brief while working on a story is useful.

Keyboards

On Friday I used the Smart Keyboard. If I didn’t have that, the larger iPad screen can display a full-size qwerty keyboard. At NZ$319, the Smart Keyboard is expensive. Even so it is a better option than on-screen typing for all but the shortest jobs.

Thanks to the iPad Pro’s large size, the on-screen keyboard is full-size. There’s no tactile feedback, so it’s tricky, not impossible, for touch-typing. It’s the best screen keyboard I’ve ever seen, even so, you wouldn’t want to write War and Peace on it. It’s fine for quick notes.

There are some similarities between Apple’s Smart Keyboard and the Microsoft Surface Pro Keyboards. The keyboard uses the same switches found in the 2015 MacBook keyboard. Instead of the MacBook’s butterfly mechanism, the Smart Keyboard use a custom-designed fabric. When you type, the fabric’s springiness provides the action.

I didn’t have problems with the Smart Keyboard. While it’s not as comfortable as typing on the MacBook Air, it isn’t bad. I’d rate it eight out of ten. On Friday I wrote a little over 1000 words without a slip. Let’s see what I think in a few weeks.

Say it loud

Compared with the MacBook, the iPad Pro has loud loudspeakers. There are four channels of sound, so music plays better than you’d expect from such a thin device. It can be surprising the first time you hear it, even more surprising if you hold the tablet and feel the bass notes vibrating.

One of the biggest criticisms against the iPad Pro is the lack of quality business apps. Although there is no shortage of good iOS apps, few are optimised for the bigger format. My work is writing, so I need word processors. There is no shortage of choice in that department.

On Friday I wrote stories using Apple’s Pages word processor then converted them to Word format before sending. I could have written in Word, the iOS version is excellent. Where practical, I prefer writing in Markdown. My licences for Byword and iA Writer work on the iPad Pro. Both apps are great on the Pro — I’m writing this using iA Writer.

Still an iPad

Apple avoided creating a hybrid device. The iPad Pro is still an iPad. It doesn’t aim to be a PC on the desktop and a tablet on the couch, like, say, Microsoft’s Surface Pro. That’s not a good or a bad thing. It just is.

There are no business apps that I need, that don’t work on the iPad Pro. There are other things that I want to do that work better on OS X or Windows. Last week I needed to deal with data on the family NAS drive — that’s not something the iPad can manage well. I also had to install fresh firmware on a router, the job required an Ethernet-connected PC.

Still the iPad Pro is big. It is fast. And it can do a lot of things that might not be practical on smaller, slower tablets. So far I’ve found it can replace my laptop for my core business applications. It is a great writing tool. I can use it to earn my living. And that’s what matters most to me.

Which mobile Apple: iPad Pro or 2015 MacBook?

While the iPad Pro and the 2015 MacBook have much in common, you’d choose one over the other for quite different reasons.

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook. Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

So which would you choose?1

In the end it comes down to whether you want a touch screen or not, your taste in keyboards and whether you can find the apps you need. Let’s look closer:

Computers don’t get more portable than Apple’s 12-inch MacBook.

Here we’re talking about full-blown computers with a half-decent keyboard2, 12-inch screen, desktop operating system and all the things that collective potted spec list implies.

Despite its 12-inch display, the 2015 MacBook is dwarfed by the 13-inch MacBook Air. It looks just as tiny next to the iPad Pro.

It is slim, light and silent. So slim, light and silent you might easily forget it is there. In fact I often did. Only last week I left home with the MacBook in a briefcase only to stop after a few minutes to check I hadn’t left it behind.

Unlike the MacBook Air, no fan starts humming when you push the processor too hard. Indeed, the 2015 MacBook barely warms up in use. You can rest it on your lap without burning your thighs.

For a while the MacBook felt like the future of personal computing. That was before I used the iPad Pro.

Tablets don’t come any more computer-like than the iPad Pro.

It may be an iPad, but when you add the keyboard case, it starts to feel a lot like a laptop.

Apple wasn’t first to realise the barriers between the classes of device are breaking down. Microsoft’s Surface Pro is now in its fourth generation and represents a credible alternative to both the MacBook and the iPad Pro.

The key to the iPad Pro is that it is far more powerful than the 2015 MacBook3. This is noticeable when running video or audio editing apps. It handles HD movie editing with aplomb. Complex graphics and photography jobs are a cinch. Add the Apple Pencil to this and you have a superb design tool.

My feeling is this is where developers will focus on the iPad Pro. I’ve seen demonstrations of architectural and medicine apps that push the graphics beyond anything you would find on a conventional laptop. The touch-screen interactivity takes this to a new level.

So which one?

If you want grunt, graphics or work with any creative apps, the iPad Pro stands head and shoulders above the MacBook in terms of raw capability. However, it runs iOS and that operating system still lacks the level of software support you will find in the OS X world. Some creative types may need to wait for their software developers to come up with iOS versions of their favourite apps.

If portability trumps everything, then the MacBook will be your first choice. The keyboard is better than the iPad Pro’s keyboard cover. Unlike the iPad Pro, it has a touch pad. This means you don’t need to constantly  lift your fingers from the keys and touch the screen4.

It’s early days for the iPad Pro, I’ve only had it in my hands for 24 hours, but I’m starting to think It could be my main portable device. That will depend on how I get on with the keyboard. All my important work apps are there and I find the bigger screen improves my overall productivity.

Which means it’s possible I may not need a new OS X computer. For the moment there are a few non-work apps that don’t exist in iOS. I’m due for a technology refresh in the middle of next year, right now I’m not sure which way I’m going to leap. But my next computer might not be a computer in the traditional sense.


  1. I’m sure some Geekzone readers will answer the question with “none of the above”.
  2. This is controversial in some circles. Not everyone likes the 2015 MacBook keyboard. I’m a touch typist and I’ve used it for the last three months. During that time I have written around 100,000 paid words without a hitch. I never thought the keyboard was a problem. On the other hand, I’m writing this post using my MacBook Air and typing feels more comfortable. So maybe the critics have a point.
  3. In terms of raw processing power the MacBook is quite modest by 2015 standards. You wouldn’t choose one to run demanding applications.
  4. Since this was written I’ve changed my view about this. The point still applies, but apart from the need to touch the screen, the keyboard functions as well as the MacBook keyboard. See iPad Pro, 2015 MacBook, MacBook Air productivity.

A month with the Apple iPhone 6S

This year’s flagship iPhone 6s is a big step up in power and capability. The longer you use it, the more this becomes clear; the more you understand why it matters.

At first glance Apple’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus1 look just like last year’s models. That is unless you’re holding one with the new Rose Gold finish 2.

Colours apart, the size and design seem unchanged. Yet the moment an iPhone 6 owner lifts the 6S they will notice something is different. The same applies to the 6 Plus and 6S Plus.

Every dimension on the new phones is a tenth of a millimetre or two larger than the older phones. Both the 6S and the 6S Plus weigh about 10 percent more than their 2014 counterparts.

The phones have more heft. They are more solid. Not that they ever were bendy.

Phones are such an integral part of our lives even minor physical changes are noticeable.

There’s another subtle, yet noticeable change. The new models are also made from a new kind of aluminium alloy.

Different feel

That makes for a different feel. Last year’s iPhone 6 models sometimes slipped from my hands, the new phones have better grip.

If you had told me, before I first picked up a 6S, that I’d notice such tiny differences, I might have laughed. And yet the changes were obvious.

Surface observations are trivial. Putting the snob value of Rose Gold to one side, external changes are no reason to choose an iPhone 6S over a 6.

What they say is more important. They tell you that there are internal changes. As it turns out, significant internal changes.

Changes

Apple’s advertising says: “The only thing that’s changed is everything”. It’s a typical Apple marketing slogan.

 

No doubt during the launch someone also said words to the effect that these are “the best iPhones ever”. Just as last year’s were and next year’s will be. The time to worry when new iPhone models are not better than those that went before.

You have to be careful with marketing-speak. While both statements are true, they are not valid reasons to spend a lot of money on a new phone. What matters is how the phones work in practice. In other words: do they bring anything new to the party?

The simple answer is that they do. Most of the important new capabilities lie inside. They will matter to existing Apple users more than people committed to alternative brands. Still, they are significant.

Touch a new dimension

Apple’s biggest innovation in the iPhone 6S is 3D touch. The phone can sense how hard you press when using the touch screen. This allows it to do new things.

If you’re on the home screen and you press an app icon, then apply extra pressure, it feels like pressing a button. There’s a slight vibration from the phone’s Taptic engine.

This is more than the usual phone vibration. Choose and press an icon for an app that is 3D touch ready and you’ll feel a single pulse vibration. You’ll also see a menu on screen offering what Apple calls quick actions.

Quick actions

There can be up to four quick actions. In some ways they are like right-clicking items on a computer. The specific quick actions depend on the app. In the case of the Pages word processor app, a single quick action allows you to open a new document.

If the app isn’t 3D touch ready, you’ll get a triple vibration. Your fingers soon learn to interpret this as a “nothing to see here, move along” message.

Written down, this may not sound like a big deal. Used daily, 3D touch and quick actions become second nature. The iPhone 6S starts to feel more responsive. The taptic engine is more than a cosmetic update.

Peek and pop

App developers can choose how to use 3D touch inside their apps. Many Apple apps already have 3D touch features. The most popular use something Apple calls “peek and pop”.

In iOS Mail, you can use the app as normal with the touch screen. Reach an interesting looking message, apply extra pressure and the message will highlight. Others fade into the background.

Press harder and a window opens in a similar way to Quick Look in the OS X Finder. This is the peek. It will show you a preview of the message.

Look inside

If you let go at this point, the message preview window closes. If, instead, you apply a little more pressure, the message opens in the normal way.

From an open preview you can move the message left or right, up or down. This will perform the normal Mail swipe actions like deleting or archiving.

All this sounds complicated and tricky. My first reaction when I read about it was to assume it would be something only keen Apple geeks would bother with. After a short demonstration I realised it’s going to be mainstream.

It took some getting used to this advanced user interface. That’s why I left it a month to write this review. I wanted to see if I was still doing these things after a few weeks. I am.

My only gripe about peek and pop is that it isn’t always there. At least not yet. Once you get the hang of it, you expect to find it in every iOS app.

That’s going to take some time. By the time the iPhone 7 rolls around most apps will use this more advanced user interface.

Processor

In general users don’t care much about the processor chips in their phones. The important point is whether a phone has enough power to keep up with the software. We care about responsiveness.

It is worth mentioning the A9 processor in the iPhone 6S. Apple says it is 70 percent faster than the A8 used in the iPhone 6 models [3].

The A9 also includes the phone’s motion coprocessor that can figure out if the phone is moving. Meanwhile Apple has doubled the Ram in the new iPhones.

In practice this means you can have many apps open all the time and switch between them without missing a beat. You can also open more browser tabs. The upshot is you can push the phone harder than in the past without running into problems.

Camera spec bumped

My work means I often have to take photos in poor light conditions. Three years ago phone cameras weren’t up to the job most of the time. That’s changed. Every phone that’s passed through my hands this year can take decent journalist-style shots.

Phone makers all emphasise the recent improvements made to their cameras. Apple is no different. The company upgraded the cameras on both the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.

One thing I don’t like about the 2014 iPhones is the bump where the rear camera sticks out of the phone body. That hasn’t changed for the 6S and 6S Plus. You can read my review of six months with the iPhone 6 Plus here.

What has changed is camera resolution. Apple has boosted this to 12 megapixels. More pixels means being able to capture more detail. We’re at the point now where adding megapixels does little for picture quality. It does help with digital zoom. The downside is the camera captures more data, so phone memory runs out fast. Bigger pictures also chew through mobile data limits faster.

The iPhone 6s Plus now has optical image stabilisation for both video and still photos. The earlier 6 Plus model had stabilisation for stills.

My recent schedule has meant I haven’t taken many work pictures with the new phone. Most of the ones I’ve taken have been to test the camera. While stabilisation means an improvement, it’s not a dramatic step up from the iPhone 6 Plus. The difference is more noticeable with shots taken in low light conditions.

Let’s hope this works well when I have to move fast to shoot pictures on the fly.

One new feature that could help my work is Live Photos. These are short Harry Potter-style moving snapshots. In effect you capture a few seconds of movie footage, although Apple prefers not to use the M word in this context.

What I’m hoping to do with Live Photos, is, in effect keep the camera running when, say, someone is speaking. Then run through afterwards and pick out the best shot[4].

Minor niggles

The faster processor means a smoother iPhone experience. Although I never had trouble with the earlier iPhone 6 models, more speed is a productivity boost. There’s no reloading when returning to open apps after a long pause.

One persistent problem involves moving from landscape to portrait orientation. There are still times when the phone doesn’t re-orient the screen. My fix for this is to give the phone a shake. It doesn’t always do the trick.

On a similar note, some third-party apps fail to make use of the landscape orientation. That’s not something to blame on Apple. Over time this issue will fix itself.

In the past I’ve found Siri a struggle. While the software still has trouble understanding my hybrid accent, its performance is better on the iPhone 6S Plus.

Given the greater demands on memory from higher resolution pictures, a 16GB model seems like a bad idea. Unless you don’t take pictures or store music on your phone, this model seems like a non-starter.

Computer

The iPhone 6S and the 6S Plus are handheld computers that are also cameras and phones. That’s always been the case with smartphones. Until now they’ve not been able to replace desktops and laptops for day-to-day work. They weren’t powerful enough. They didn’t have big enough screens. They didn’t have the best mix of features. Now that’s changing.

Phones have already been our central productivity tool for years. There are people who use nothing else. While that’s not always practical, modern phones are able to take more and more of the burden.

Earlier this year I wrote a 1500 word feature on an iPhone 6 Plus. I tapped it out using my thumbs.

It isn’t as easy or as comfortable as doing the job on a laptop. Still, it shows that, at a pinch, I can rely more on the phone and less on the PC.

And that’s what’s happening. The iPhone continues to move centre stage. It is taking on a bigger and bigger role.


  1. Although I sometimes refer to the iPhone 6S in the text, most comments also apply to the 6S Plus.  ↩
  2. It’s no accident Rose Gold is this year’s most popular colour. It gives an outlet for those who want to make it obvious they are rocking this year’s model.  ↩
  3. Apple also says graphics are 90 percent faster. They are big claims.  ↩
  4. I’ve not yet figured out how to do this — it’ll be a project for a rainy day.  ↩

Apple Watch: It’s not about the functionality

There is a lot to like about the Apple Watch. You don’t need to buy one. Not yet. That’s not the point.

Nobody needs an Apple Watch. This product is not about need. It is not about making you more productive. An Apple Watch won’t boost your efficiency any more than a $100 Swatch watch will.

It isn’t a business tool. Strictly speaking New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department shouldn’t allow business owners to depreciate an Apple Watch to reduce their tax bill.

Fashion statement

Apple understands this inessential dynamic perfectly. That’s why the technology company has geared up to sell the Watch as a fashion accessory. The Apple Watch is a personal statement, maybe even a status symbol.

You may not need an Apple Watch. You might want one.

Let’s not get too puritanical about this. Watches have long been more than mere timepieces. It’s no accident they are sold in jewellery shops, not in business equipment suppliers.

Watch makers, the posh, old-fashioned Swiss kind, advertise in prestigious titles like The Economist. They use snob value and emotional pulls to get the well-heeled to part with $10,000 or more for something that is functionally no better than a $100 Swatch. Both tell the time with enough accuracy and reliability.

Target audience

If you’re reading this expecting technical specifications, nerdy talk about speeds and the like, you are not in the Apple Watch target market.

Likewise, it’s not for if you worry about application ecosystems. Although there is a thriving one.

You should avoid going near an Apple Watch if you’re wondering how it will hook into your enterprise computing systems. Even though there’s a good chance it will do that.

The Apple Watch is cool. It is fun. It is nice to have.

It is useful. But that’s not why anyone will buy it. On the other hand, it may be what they feel they have to tell their spouse or accountant.

Health and fitness

There is a potential serious reason buying an Apple Watch: It does a great job of monitoring your health and motivates you to exercise more. This was enough to convince my wife that I wasn’t just playing with a fancy, indulgent toy.

Heath apps are important, although you can do the same with a fitness gadget costing one-tenth of the cost.

The key to understanding the Apple Watch is that, despite the name, it isn’t a watch, it is a wrist computer.

Computers once filled cathedral-like spaces. When I first met an ICL 1900 in the 1970s, it filled a large room and needed air-conditioning.

Modern computers have now shrunk to the point where a powerful device can sit in a package that’s about 10 mm deep and 42 mm by 35 mm.

The Apple Watch has a Retina display, a microphone, speaker, sensors and a gyroscope. There are moving parts on the back to send you touch messages. Apple calls this Haptic Touch.

Magic

The microphone and speakers allow you to control the wrist computer using your voice. This doesn’t always work well for me thanks to my mixed up accent, but when it does work it feels like magic.

That last word is important. For someone who grew up before computers were everywhere, the Apple Watch feels like magic.

When the ICL 1900 was moved into the Technical College where I first learned about computers, a wall had to be removed and contractors with cranes had to hoist a ton or more of hardware into the building. Now I can have more power on my wrist. That’s magical.

What’s even more magical is that this is the first generation Apple Watch. If the development of earlier Apple products is anything to go by, the hardware will get better and better with each generation.

Moreover, this magic technology is accessible. While the Apple Watch isn’t cheap, the review model on my wrist costs around NZ$ 1000. That’s theoretically within reach of most of us. Anyone who wants one can get one.

iPhone integration

You must have an iPhone to use the Apple Watch. The only official way to control the device is from an iPhone. Even if you didn’t need to control it that way, the Watch apps are so tightly integrated with phone apps they wouldn’t make sense without an iPhone.

Where the Apple Watch scores: Elegant timepiece

The Apple Watch makes a great timepiece. It looks good and feels good. I’ve seen and used other wrist devices, this is the nicest.

Telling the time the old fashioned way, by glancing at the wrist, isn’t a ground-breaking application by any stretch. Yet it is the thing I do most with the Apple watch. It does this well and with elegance.

Until I had the Apple Watch I used an old-school wristwatch. This often works better for me than using my phone, which I don’t always have in my pocket when I’m at home.

The Apple Watch comes with a variety of watch faces. My favourite is Utility: a classic analogue watch face with a moving second hand and a date window, all done in pixels.

Where the Apple Watch scores: Fitness

After three weeks with an Apple Watch I’m learning where it fits into my life.

For me, fitness tracking is the key feature. The Activity app pulls data from an accelerometer and the heart rate sensor to measure how much exercise you get.

The data is displayed in three coloured rings which progress clockwise throughout the day. It both indicated progress and shows how much more exercise you need to do to hit target. You also get nags to stand up once an hour.

Of course none of this is unique to Apple Watch, there are fitness apps for devices costing one-tenth the price.

I’ve tried them, but didn’t stick with them. Activity on the Apple Watch stands a better chance of having a long term effect on my health and exercise. I’ve been using it to weave exercise into my daily routine in new ways.

My wife, Johanna, tells me Activity has had a big effect on me. It makes me more inclined to get small extra bursts of exercise to move those bars around the circle. I like it because the goals it sets are not that difficult to reach.

If the Apple Watch means I live longer and stay healthier, it is well worth the price.

Other great stuff

When the Watch sends you a notification, you get a tap on the wrist. For this to work, the strap has be on tight. It feels just like a tap and that’s nothing like the feeling you get when an iPhone vibrates. There’s not necessarily a noise, that depends on the nature of the notification.

Where the Apple Watch earns a pass mark: Weather

There are few parts of New Zealand where the weather isn’t, let’s say, variable. Having up to date weather forecasts on your wrist is handy. I glance at the watch before leaving the house to see if I need to carry a jumper, a jacket or an umbrella.

The Weather app could be better. It pulls forecasts from the Weather Channel in the USA, this is not the best source of New Zealand weather information.

I’ve been caught out a few times, particular when the forecast says dry and it starts to rain. Both the New Zealand Herald and Radio New Zealand offer more reliable forecasts.

The weather display can be over fussy at times and hard to read — especially if outdoors in bright light. The user interface isn’t great either.

Where the Apple Watch earns a pass mark: Battery life and wireless charging

My Swatch goes for almost a year between batteries. The Apple Watch goes for a day. In fact, I’m a light user, so most of the time I can squeeze two days out of a single charge.

That’s not great, but it isn’t bad. I’ve never had the Watch run out of juice before my day is up. I usually wear it for 16 hours, there have been days where it has been in use for 20 hours. Not once did I need to reserve mode.

The Watch comes with a wireless recharger. You sit the watch on the small metal plate and feel a magnetic pull when it’s in position. It charges in a couple of hours, but I tend to leave it overnight.

Ideally a wrist computer would run for days on a single charge. That’s not going to happen in the near future, battery technology is advancing, but not at the same pace as digital technology.

Where the Apple Watch disappoints

Overseas reviewers are positive about Apple Pay. It doesn’t work in New Zealand. This is a disappointment as not carrying cash or cards would make life easier.

I always thought wearable computers would be a perfect match for voice recognition. That still holds, but I struggle with Siri on the Apple Watch. There are two problems.

First, I feel self-conscious holding my watch up and speaking into it in public. It’s embarrassing. This applies in spades when receiving incoming voice calls because everyone nearby can hear both ends of the conversation.

My second struggle with Siri is that is doesn’t work well for me. I have a clear enough voice but an accent that sits somewhere between New Zealand and South East England. Siri just doesn’t understand me enough to be useful. In almost every case I can get what I want faster by typing.

Steep learning curve

Unlike most other devices, it takes time to adjust to an Apple Watch. It took me a week of adjustment. Some of that was me, some of that the watch.

For some reason it had difficulty syncing at first. Then, once the watch seemed to be successfully paired with my iPhone, there were parts of it that were not. For the next three days my iPhone Activity app wasn’t picking up the data collected by the watch.

Most other apps and functions appeared to sync. The phone would burst into action if there was an incoming phone call or if a text message arrived. But Activity data didn’t make it.

There was another weird sync problem. If I paired my iPhone to the Watch, I couldn’t use the phone’s Bluetooth for anything else. I like to relax and listen to music stored on my phone through a Bluetooth speaker, for three days I couldn’t do that.

This isn’t how the Watch and iPhone should work together. I unpaired, then rebooted both. On the second try, I managed to fix whatever was stopping the speaker connection, but the Activity data still didn’t sync. A third reboot did the trick.

This was not a good start.

Conclusion

All-in-all you don’t get a lot of must-have functionality for your money with the Apple Watch. It doesn’t make me more productive, I suspect that was never a design goal.

The fitness features are better than any I’ve seen elsewhere. After three weeks I’m already seeing minor improvements thanks to the watch — that makes it worthwhile.

Two years ago I wrote about the smartwatch being dead unless Apple did something clever with the format. The Apple Watch fixes that. It breaths life back into the segment.

If your life revolves around an iPhone, you want to monitor your fitness and you like the sound of an Apple Watch, then I recommend you buy one. Otherwise, it may be wiser to sit out the first generation and wait to see what comes next.

Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard works everywhere

There’s a lot to like about the Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard. It switches quickly and smoothly between computer, tablet and phone. You can use it to jump from one operating system to another without your hands ever leaving the keyboard. It does all this at the twist of a dial.

If you own a mix of hardware from different brands and running different operating systems, it makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, you can do better than if every digital device in your home is just Android or Apple.

In testing I found the keyboard works well with almost everything. I tried it with an iPad, iPhone, Android phone, Android tablet, Macintosh and a Windows PC.

Almost everything…

It didn’t work out of the box with my Windows Phone or Blackberry and I didn’t spend long trying to force the issue.

The K480 looks like a keyboard. Not a regular keyboard: It’s smaller and squarer than most. The design has a faint whiff of Fisher-Price about it. By that, I mean it fat and chunky with rounded corners and rounded typewriter keys.

There’s a groove set above the keys which acts as a stand for tablets and phones.

A dial set in the right of the case just above the escape key has three settings, marked 1, 2 and 3. You use this switch the keyboard control between devices. You have to remember which number is which, but that’s no big deal. Flicking the dial moves keyboard control seamlessly between the three pre-set options.

 

This isn’t the greatest-ever keyboard. Logitech makes a number of better ones. If you type all day it’s not for you. There isn’t even a full set of PC keys. But you wouldn’t buy this as a typist’s keyboard, it’s all about the device switching.

I can touch type on almost anything, including the sometimes maligned 2015 Apple MacBook keyboard. Although I could, at a pinch, touch type on the K480, it’s action didn’t feel as good or flow as well as, say, the excellent Logitech Ultra-thin Keyboard Cover for iPad Air.

Practical, not portable

The other downside is the keyboard barely scrapes a pass mark for portability. At about 800g it weighs more than my iPad. It’s a little too thick and long to slip in a bag with a tablet. Again, you’d choose this if you think device switching trumps mobility.

One odd feature is the K480 needs two AAA batteries. Logitech says the batteries will last for two years. I’ve no idea how true that is, but after two months the batteries in my keyboard are going strong. On the whole I prefer rechargeable devices, but buying two AAA batteries every couple of years is no hardship.

Conclusion: The Logitech K480 Bluetooth keyboard is a smart answer to a specific problem. It does what it sets out to do with style and it’s affordable. You can buy it for less than NZ$100.

Publishing on Apple News

Apple is working with publishers to add a new and fast-loading news app to iOS.

The app, called Apple News, will show up on iPhone and iPad home pages when iOS 9 arrives later this year.

Apple News pulls in news feeds from different publishers. It displays them in a magazine-style format like Flipboard. Readers will be able to filter their feeds so they can get the subjects they care about most.

The idea is that you’ll be able to quickly read the material you consider important from a variety of sources without jumping from one app or website to another.

Resembling RSS

In some respects it’ll replace RSS readers. They never recovered from the death of Google Reader.

Because it comes from Apple there’s an emphasis on how things look. Apple News is prettier than Google Reader replacements like Feedly. Although they set a low bar to beat.

The app will format material for iOS devices and will adjust for screen size. Most likely there will be something for Apple Watch owners too.

Apple has signed up publishers. I’m curious to see how the model might work for publishers and writers.

We need fresh ideas. Few existing online publishing models work except for publishers with material worth putting behind a paywall.

Advertising

Apple News will include advertising. At the same time the iOS 9 Safari browser will include optional ad blocking.

You could see this as Apple making life hard for publishers operating out the in the wild while offering something cosy inside the walled garden.

There’s another way of looking at this: Online advertising is a mess. Few publishers make more than a pittance from running banner ads, Google ads or indeed any kind of advertising. Ad sales stopped on this site because the revenue didn’t cover administering ad sales let alone other costs.

Things are extra hard for publishers when it comes to earning money from mobile readers. That’s where the audience is, but mobile ads earn a fraction of the money earned by PC browser ads. A small percentage of bugger all is not worth the effort.

It’s unlikely Apple News will do much for income, but it’s a publishing channel and business model worth exploring.

Can Apple will make it pay? That’s not a given. Remember the old iOS newsstand wasn’t a rip-roaring success. Remember how excited news publishers like Rupert Murdoch were about the iPad’s potential to save their broken business models?