Tech Talk: iPadOS / iOS 13.1 First Impressions

This is just from playing with iOS 13.1 for about an hour on my iPad 5th Generation and iPhone X. You can find lots of articles online with in-depth details. So these are just my own first impressions. I hope you find them useful.

The best update for me – video editing!

First what I think is the the best new feature in iPadOS and iOS 13, and what makes it worthwhile updating right away for. Photo and video editing has been incredibly improved! Now you can crop and rotate videos directly! And you can edit video brightness, etc., directly from within the Photos app. Finally! This is a huge convenience. Think about it.

Photos Gallery

The Photos view itself is also greatly improved. If you are scrolling through your photos, you can do it by day, months, years, and all photos. The cool thing is that photos are scaled nicely, and you can see the live photos and videos move as you are scrolling through. It brings your photos more “to life” as you are looking through them. 

Some iPadOS Notes

From 13 onward, iOS is for iPhones and iPadOS is for iPads. I only touch on some of the new features here. There are apparently some cool things you can do between your iPad and Mac as well.

Handoff

I’ve always like the fact that you can copy on one device (iPhone, iPad, Mac) and paste to another. I use that all the time, and it’s one thing that keeps me in the Apple ecosystem.

Handoff is quite cool too. For example, after updating my iPad to iPadOS13, I noticed right away that if I have a Chrome window open on my Mac, there’s a little icon at the bottom right on my iPad which lets me open that same page in Safari. Interesting. Similarly, if you are composing an email, or writing a memo on one device, you can just switch to another device and continue.

Widgets on the Home Screen

The iPad now allows widgets on the home screen, which makes better use of the home screen space. So I can, for example, see the weather and upcoming calendar appointments right there on the home screen to the left of app icons. That’s pretty cool.

Multitasking Enhancements

On the iPad, you can now have multiple versions of the same app open at the same time and other multitasking features. For example, you can have Files open twice in split view and drag files around to different folders that way. It works great, but the UI takes some getting used to. I suspect unless you are using your iPad every day for school or actual work you probably won’t be doing this much. Maybe I’ll feel different about that once I get the hang of the UI better. It does work as advertised though.

Desktop-like Safari on the iPad

In iPadOS the Safari browser is more like the desktop browser now, with tabs and other desktop-like experiences. You can even drag browser tabs to the side and have two pages open at once in split view mode (see multitasking, above). That’s pretty cool. Apple are clearly trying to make iPad more useful as a computer substitute for certain people.

Dark Mode

Another thing I noticed right away is that I don’t really care for dark mode. It clashes in ordinary Mail, because the bodies of a mail are not dark and yet the listings themselves are dark, so it looks weird. Instead of being easy on the eyes, it becomes confusing. I’m sticking with regular window colors.

Slide to Type – and the small keyboard on the iPad

The new slide-to-type, where you run your fingers over the keys instead of typing each letter separately, works flawlessly on my iPhone. In a situation where you can’t dictate I can see this being a big time saver.

Meanwhile on the iPad you can shrink the gigantic on-screen keyboard to iPhone size now. Just pinch in on the keyboard (like you’re shrinking a photo) and you have a much less intrusive keyboard which you can use with one hand. When you do this, slide-to-type also works on the iPad.

Some Mail UI improvements

When you touch the reply icon in Mail, you see lots of options at once: reply all, forward, trash, flag, mark as unread, move to a suggested mailbox, or move to another mailbox – all right there. Also archive, junk, mute, notify me and more are right there. Interesting!

Message Searching 

Searching in Messages is greatly improved, and you can instantly find photos and attachments. Also, some attachments that didn’t open previously now do open, like a sound attachment of birdsongs a friend sent me recently.

Memo Improvements

The Memo app, which I use every day (I no longer use Evernote) gets new features too, like a gallery view (easy to find images and sketches. Another big improvement in Memo is shared folders for collaboration (before you could only share individual notes).

Long Screenshots Doesn’t Work

A feature that looks convenient, but doesn’t work for me right now is long screenshots. In Safari, Mail and other Apple Maps you supposedly can now take a long screenshot without doing it in parts and then using an app like Stitch-It to piece it back together again. It’s supposed to save it as a PDF in Files. I tried this, and it saves it as a PDF in Files, but it’s just the selection as before. I’m checking into this.

iOS 13 / iPadOS 13 are also noticeably faster. I recommend updating if your device supports it.

112 iPhone XS’s = one house. And the update lifetime of a new iPhone.

I was thinking about my iPhone X today, the upcoming iOS 13, and how much these devices cost, as well as their lifetimes.

My partner recently bought a new iPhone XS directly from Apple here in Japan. It has 256 GB of storage and he also went for AppleCare Plus.

In February, we both also bought our nice, little house here in Tokyo.

While comparing apples and oranges, it is curious to note that the cost of our house is equivalent to just 112 iPhone XS iPhones. I’m thinking of a small stack of iPhone X boxes, 10 wide and 11 high. That would easily fit on my computer desk, next to my MBP. It seems weird to think that such a small number of iPhones has the price value of our 3 story house.

While I’m waxing philosophical, I was also looking at the upgrade lifetime of new iPhones. iOS 13 will drop support for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. They were released in 2014. That means the iOS upgrade lifetime of an iPhone is just 5 years. On the other hand, my MBP (late 2013 retina) can still be upgraded this fall to the new macOS Catalina. Even 2012 MacBook Pro’s can. So the upgrade lifetime of a Mac is 7 years. Is the difference for marketing reasons, or are there technical reasons why it’s not possible to upgrade an iPhone 6 to iOS 13?

Of course I realize that an iPhone 6 doesn’t suddenly become useless just because it can’t run iOS 13. But iPhones are expensive. If they cost $1,000+ new and can only be upgraded for 5 years, that’s $200/year upgrade life. Better than Androids of course. But still, it makes me wonder at how materialistic I’ve gotten. Or we have all gotten.

I rarely feel like upgrading my computer. I think most people are that way. Yet we seem to always want to upgrade our iPhones. I have done so regularly every 2 years at least since they first became available in Japan.

My conclusions? None really. But I do feel like maybe it makes sense to use iPhones as long as computers, and maybe it isn’t necessary to upgrade so often, as long as the battery is kept in good shape. But then, there are those regular camera improvements…

Personal review: The Apple Watch

I had never seen an Apple Watch until last month. Then I visited my friend, Sue, in St. Louis. She had upgraded to an Apple Watch Series 4 and offered me her Apple Watch Series 1, if I’d really use it.

Note: The Apple Watch Series 1 is the 2nd version of the Apple Watch. The very first one did not have a “series” model, and is now obsolete. But the Series 1 can still be updated to the latest WatchOS.

The last time I owned a watch was… a long time ago. My thought was, since I always have my cell phone with me why on earth would I need a watch? I know the time.

So I was never interested in even checking out what the Apple Watch could do. Now I see, and I’m impressed! It’s so much more than a time piece!

Let me go through what I’ve discovered.

Telling time

Of course, since it’s a watch, you can see the time. I do notice this is easier around the house, for example, where I’m not carrying my iPhone constantly. By the way, the watch itself (this is the 38 mm model) weighs almost nothing. You don’t even notice it’s there most of the time.

You can customize the Watch face a zillion different ways. In addition to a variety of built-in (and downloadable) faces, you can use photos from your iPhone albums. Here is my current “Monta watch.”

Monta custom Watch face with weather “complication”

You can add what Apple calls “complications” to a Watch face, which are extra features. Yes, “complications” is a weird name. They are add-ons, if they fit. You can tap on the complications and see more info. In this case, I can tape on the weather complication and see more details about today’s weather, including rain forecasts and temperature predictions thoughout the day.

Touching on the weather complication – it’s raining now, but should clear up by noon

By the way, you can easily take screenshots of the Watch and they are instantly synced to your iPhone camera roll. That’s where most of the pictures for this blog post come from.

Even just up to this point it is cooler than any other watch I’ve had. But wait! There’s more!

Notifications

You can install apps on the Watch, and you can mirror the notifications you get on the iPhone or set custom notifications. Many notifications (e.g. Messages) let you reply from the Watch itself. More on that below.

The home screen, containing installed apps
Some more apps on my home screen

I do feel more “in contact” with my notifications now. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But, for example, it’s easy to tap away junk or unimportant mail and get it trashed from the Watch without ever even opening it up on the iPhone or Mac. You can also dismiss notifications and at least be aware something is waiting for you.

I also like seeing short synopsis of news alerts from the New York Times or Apple News.

The “dock” on the Watch showing recently used apps

Notifications can have tone, haptics, or both. I did run into an “age-related snag” with Message tone notifications. The pitch is so high I can’t hear them! Sue could. I could hear all the other notifications except for Messages. I sent Apple feedback on that, because you can’t adjust the pitch.

Finally I decided to just use haptics, because the beeping was getting annoying anyway, while the haptics are subtle and not really disruptive.

This is a problem though. There are Apple product users of all ages. I was sort of hoping to show off the Watch to members of my volunteer class on Sundays. But almost all of them use just the standard apps, and at least half the class are seniors in their 70s and 80s. It’s amazing that Apple created a device that can’t be heard well (pitch-wise) by seniors. It’s pretty common knowledge that we lose the ability to hear higher pitches as we get older.

Still, haptics are easier on your overall senses I think, since it’s something you would be wearing all day.

Notifications work in a very logical way with the iPhone. If the iPhone is on, notifications go there. If the iPhone screen is off, then the Watch gets the notifications. This way you don’t get bothered with duplicate notifications.

Heart Rate

This is cool. It comes with sensors that rest against your skin and tracks your heartbeat!

Heart rate with history you can tap on

Activity

I’ve never had a FitBit or any device like that. The most I have is MapMyRun to track walks and bicycle rides on my iPhone. The Activity feature tracks used calories, walking, exercise, amount of times you stand, gives reports, adjusts goals and is pretty cool.

You can tap and see how far along you are. Your goals are to complete each ring.

It can be a bit of a nudge sometimes (“How about standing for 1 more minute now to reach your standing goal?”) but generally it’s interesting.

Yay. I reached my goal. My Watch is happy with me – for now.

Smart replies

This is a cute feature if you need to reply to Messages (or anything) from your Apple Watch and don’t want to dictate or “draw in” a message. Dictation works fine, but sometimes you just want to make a quick reply. And sometimes you’re not in a place where it’s easy to dictate. The “drawing” letters feature also works surprisingly well, but it is slow.

I noticed this feature when driving back from shopping and Sue asked me, “Will you be home soonish?”

(Note: Yes I know I shouldn’t be looking at the Apple Watch while driving.)

While safely at a stop light I did want to send a quick reply though and was surprised to see the first suggestion was, “I will be home soonish.” I sent that.

It turns out that WatchOS analyzes the grammar of received messages so it can come up with appropriate quick responses. Very cool! You can also add your own canned responses.

Replying to a message – The choices are dictate, an emoji, draw characters and below that some suggested smart replies and your own canned responses.

Listening to music

I’ve found this to be useful when listening to music on the train with headsets on. Instead of taking your iPhone out of your pocket to see what song is playing, or skip a song, etc., your Watch automatically knows you are listening to music and the default display changes to something like this.

Oh, you gotta have friends…

Camera remote

This is a genuinely cool and useful feature. The Apple Watch acts as a remote for your iPhone camera. You can flip between front and back cameras, and there is a 3 second timer option so you can lower your Watch out of view once everybody is in place.

Using the camera remote feature on the Apple Watch to take a picture of Dave, Nobu, and me.

Taking notes

Surprising, Apple Notes is not available for the Apple Watch. A strange oversight. But Google Keep recently released a WatchOS version, so you can use it for quick notes, including check lists for shopping.

Dictating a note into Google Keep on the Watch

Battery Life

During a normal day I have had no problem with battery life. I put it on in the morning and take it off when I go to sleep. It magnetically attaches to the small USB charger, and if you then stand it on its side it goes into “nightstand mode” where you can see the time by tapping on the phone – or even tapping lightly on the table it’s on.

My biggest battery test was returning back to Tokyo from St. Louis – almost a 24 hour day, door to door. It was a race against time, and when I got home the Watch was down to 1% and I just barely got it connected to the charger when it finally ran out of juice.

Conclusion

It’s fun. It isn’t vital to have. But it is a genuinely interesting supplement to an iPhone, with extra features you wouldn’t ordinarily think of as being on a watch. It even lets you make or receive phone calls!

With later series, the Watch also supports Suica pay, so you can use your watch to get on trains and buses, and pay for things without taking your iPhone out of your pocket.

It’s a relatively unintrusive, extra assistant for iPhone users throughout the day.

There’s more – I feel I’ve barely touched the surface. But you get the general idea. I like it!

The iPhone X – a review from an iPhone 7 Plus upgrader

At the beginning of January, due to some special circumstances, I had an opportunity to sell my iPhone 7 Plus and upgrade to a new iPhone X, SIM-free and direct from Apple Japan, with the total cost to me coming to zero. So I went ahead and did it. Usually I always keep an iPhone for at least two years. This is the first time I ever upgraded early.

Some things worried me about the iPhone X (e.g. the notch and the mechanical side button). So I was somewhat wary. But since it didn’t cost me anything I took the leap and have been meaning to post a review of the iPhone X since then.

These are from notes I took since January:

No Home Button, Gestures, and FaceID vs TouchID.

As everybody knows, the iPhone X eliminates the home button creating a display with almost no bezel – a near “full screen” experience.

Until the iPhone 7 Plus I often had home button problems because they were mechanical and wore out. With the iPhone 7 Plus the home button became a non-mechanical button with haptic feedback. I thought it was great.

With the absence of the home button in the iPhone X you must learn new “gestures” to replace what you used the home button for. And FaceID replaces the TouchID fingerprint sensor in the home button.

I found learning the new gestures only took about one minute. The fact you swipe up from the bottom of the screen instead of pressing the home button, or swipe down from the top right to enter the control center is no issue at all. Those gestures are quite smooth.

In my opinion it’s also easier to return to the other open application using iPhone X gestures. The way of displaying the open apps is smoother than the double-clicking of the home button.

The really nice thing about FaceID is that it gives you an overall smoother interaction with the whole of iOS, and with apps which support FaceID. Here is a simple example of what I mean. Say I want to unlock my iPhone and go into my Commerce Bank account app. With the previous TouchID I need to first press the home button to wake up the iPhone, leave my finger on the home button to let my fingerprint unlock it, open the Commerce Bank app, then rest my finger on the home button again to authenticate myself to the bank.

With the iPhone X I just pick up the iPhone and say, “Hey Siri, open Commerce Bank.” Without touching anything, the iPhone X recognizes my face and unlocks, opens the Commerce Bank app, and that app also uses FaceID to authenticate me and log me in where I see my balance. It’s a noticeably more elegant, quick, and smooth operation.

So I would say the absence of the home button, and the general use of FaceID vs TouchID is clever and elegant and an improvement over the home button and fingerprint sensor method.

That said, I think the way FaceID is used with Apple Pay to confirm a payment is somewhat awkward. You are asked to double-click the mechanical button on the right side. It’s mechanical. It takes some force. It can wear out. I hope the confirmation is changed at some point to something like a force touch on the screen. However, I find this is a feature I might use once every few days compared to general use of apps, so it’s not really a big issue.

One other point is that FaceID itself isn’t flawless. You have to hold it at the right distance or it fails. So you have to get a bit used to it when using your iPhone in bed, for example. This is pretty easy to get used to though.

Another point worth mentioning is that I don’t think FaceID is as hard to fool as Apple claims. My friend, Dave, also has an iPhone X. The only thing we have in common is that we are both not-so-young white males. I am 62 now, and Dave is turning 99 tomorrow. Yet FaceID on Dave’s iPhone X recognizes me also! I think what happens is that FaceID adapts over time. So if I’m helping Dave with his iPhone X and I enter the passcode correctly often enough that FaceID starts adding data from my face to the stored face so there is some “weird hybrid face” data stored inside. Anyway, I hear from iOS 12 that families will be able to store more than one face, so this is a minor point.

The bottom line is that I do like the absence of the home button and prefer FaceID over TouchID.

The Display.

Some of you may have followed my long battle involving the iPhone 7 Plus vs the iPhone 6 Plus displays. I think the iPhone 6 Plus had a brighter and whiter display. I’m happy to report that the new OLED display on the iPhone X is noticeably brighter than the iPhone 7 Plus was. Unlike with my iPhone 7 Plus, I do not need to use the screen at full brightness, even when reading on the train. The OLED does have a blue hue when looked at at an angle, but that is a general characteristic of OLED displays and not disturbing.

However! Please note that the nice bright and white display doesn’t happen by itself, using Apple’s default colors and what they call True Tone. With True Tone enabled, the display looks dingy and yellow. I honestly don’t understand Apple’s obsession with yellowish displays. If you think the iPhone X display is a bit yellow looking (the same thing applies to the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus), then I recommend turning True Tone off and adjusting the color tint in Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. There, turn Color Filters on, choose Color Tint, set the Intensity all the way to the left, and set the Hue about 80% to the right. When you do that, the display color becomes what Apple calls “cooler” and what we ordinary people call “whiter and less yellow.”

Anyway, the display is noticeably nicer than the iPhone 7 Plus, and with the settings changed I am happy with the quality and color. Sometimes I feel like I wish that whites were a bit whiter, but generally it’s a very nice display, as long as you don’t use True Tone.

The Notch.

This feature certainly was controversial at first. As everybody knows, the iPhone X is almost a full display, but there is a small cut-out at the top in portrait mode for the front camera and FaceID and other sensors. Current technology still requires a non-display area for those features. I would say that 96% of the time I don’t notice the notch, or if I do it looks ok. Maybe 4% of the time it’s a little jarring, like when I open Mail, because the the background is white so the black notch area stands out.

Some apps do it nicer, because they either have dark backgrounds, like the Stocks app, or the Camera app, so you don’t notice the notch at all. Some other apps will “letter box” their display area which has the equivalent appearance, just making less use of the display.

It helps to think of the display areas on either side of the notch as “extra display space” with extra info (time, wi-fi indicator, battery indicator, etc.) rather than thinking of the notch as  a missing area.

My overall feeling is that the notch is fine given current technology. And it’s interesting that other smart phone makers are starting to copy that design now.

The Camera.

The camera is a slight improvement over the iPhone 7 Plus. It works a bit better in low light. The new “portrait mode” is a stand out feature, letting you create portraits easily with what seems to be studio lighting. I’ve taken some beautiful portraits using that feature. I wouldn’t upgrade from the iPhone 7 Plus to the iPhone X just for the camera improvements, but the improvements are there. Also, with the front camera you can create animated emoji which are fun to try out at least once. In the next version of iOS there will be more animated emoji features. I look forward to trying those.

The Speakers.

While I’m not an audiophile, I did notice that the speakers on the iPhone X are a noticeable improvement in sound quality over the iPhone 7 Plus, in volume and sound quality.

The Size.

First I was worried because while the iPhone X is often touted as having a larger screen than the iPhone 7 Plus in a smaller body. That actually is only true vertically. With the elimination of the top and bottom bezel and home button, there is much more vertical screen space on the iPhone X than on the iPhone 7 Plus even though the actual size of the phone itself is much smaller. But the iPhone X is a bit narrower. So overall, it has a bit less square inches of display than the iPhone 7 Plus.

This has turned out to be a complete non-issue for me. The screen is large and fine. And when I see an iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8 Plus they look like unwieldy behemoths. The iPhone X has a smaller body, weighs less, yet has a taller display and almost as much total display space as the iPhone 7 Plus or iPhone 8 Plus. It’s a perfect, very convenient size for holding in my hand or putting in my pocket. My iPhone 7 Plus used to stick out of pockets and looked awkward. It’s hard to imagine wanting a larger iPhone at this point. To me, if I need a bigger display I think that’s when I would use my iPad.

I know this isn’t a thorough review. I didn’t go through all the specs. The iPhone X of course has a faster processor, more RAM and more internal storage than the iPhone 7 Plus did. I just covered some of the areas of particular interest to me.

Overall conclusion? I love the iPhone X!