The Significance of Google Photos

As I’ve been exploring the new Google Photos, I have been increasingly impressed. I’ve started to appreciate just how significant a product it is, as it is the clearest confirmation yet of a trending shift in Google’s approach to competing with Apple, how they are positioning themselves as a platform-agnostic service provider, and also what happens when you start to funnel back the power of Google’s data insights and search algorithms into a product for the benefit of the consumer, rather than just for the advertisers.

Google are now platform agnostic

In the early days of Android, it was widely understood that Android represented a way for Google to to maximise its insights into its users as their activity would be totally within the Google ecosystem (as opposed to Apple’s), thereby increasing the value of the data it could sell to advertisers. What appears to have changed, perhaps in part fuelled by the fact that at least half of Google’s ad revenue is coming iOS (source: my memory of reading it all over the place), Google are now elevating themselves up the stack and treating iOS and Android as equals, delivering services of equal quality on both.

Yes, Google would prefer people to use Android, as there are some revenue streams Apple locks them out of on iOS (e.g. Maps, Siri), but with the simultaneous launch of Google Photos on both iOS and Android with identical features and both excellently designed and implemented, Google are no longer pro-actively trying to entice users away from Apple. Instead, they are now hitting Apple where it hurts – delivering services on iOS that are (arguably) better than Apple’s own offerings. In order to benefit from the best of Google services, a user had to be on Android, but that is no longer the case. The Google Photos experience on iOS is tight, well-designed, slick, effortless and free.

So in other words, Google are (relatively) content now to leave iOS users as iOS users, so long as they use Google’s services. Delivering excellent native apps with unbeatable pricing (what is cheaper than free?) is a very good way to do it, but they have an ace up their sleeve to really sweeten the deal…

They are using their data for good, and showing us the future

This is the clever bit. Google has built a business out of amassing user data, analysing it, and manipulating it into useful insights for advertisers, but until now they haven’t applied that analytical engine to a consumer product, for the benefit of the users.

Unlike any other photos service I am aware of, Google Photos offers an unparalleled level of pro-active photo organisation and enhancements, and also a fully automated system of categorisation that allows you to search for anything without having to spend time in advance tagging. Essentially, all the user needs to do is take photos, and Google will figure out what albums to create, what enhancements to apply, and analyse them on the fly for their contents, so if you took a picture of a dog, the next time you search “dog”, that photo shows up. It even recognises landmarks to include photos in location searches, so I could search for “dogs on beaches in France in 2008” and it will show me the relevant results without any manual effort by me.

It is really impressive, and to me feels like a glimpse of the future. When considering new technological advances that meet resistance, I like to ask “if someone with no prior experience of technology was shown the current solution and the proposed solution, which would they prefer?”. If you asked this person if they would like to spend hours organising and tagging their photos, or whether it could be done for them, which do you think they would choose? The knowledge of where our files reside, and the notion of having control over them, are relics of an era where these things were required in order to obtain any benefit. There were no cloud services or good software, so people had to manage their photo libraries manually. But things have changed now – there is no longer a need to manage your files yourself – allow a company to do it for you and you’ll reap the rewards of the latest and greatest technical innovations being served back to you in ways you could never achieve yourself.

Convenience and cost are mass-market factors. Google wins against Apple’s cumbersome antiquated services on both counts.  And here’s the thing – Apple will never be able to compete with these new intelligence-based features Google is applying. They just don’t have that level of data, and probably never will. At least, that is the common wisdom – that it is not possible to have the best search and services experience without giving up more personal data. Apple love to bash Google on privacy, but have not yet been able to show that they can match the power of Google’s services and still allow users to retain their data privacy.

Users can have their cake and it eat

This is great for the users. An iOS user like me who has always preferred Apple’s hardware but Google’s software, can now truly get the best of both worlds without that many drawbacks. I can still enjoy the benefits of the Apple ecosystem where it benefits me (e.g. Continuity and Handoff), but I can also make use of Google’s services just as well (e.g. Mail, Contacts, Maps and now Photos), without feeling like the two are working in opposition.

The strange thing is that Apple are still trying desperately to build competing services to Google, in order to lock people in to their hardware, but perhaps this is missing the point – users will happily stay on Apple hardware and use Google services – in this respect, Google is not as much of an enemy of Apple anymore, now that it isn’t trying to poach Apple’s hardware sales. Apple doesn’t make money off services – these services exist purely to entice people into the hardware ecosystem. This means Apple’s services will always be a second class citizen to their hardware. Google are now competing for services, on Apple’s platform – a new dimension in this competition and one that Apple are going to have to really up their game to respond to.

My take on the Apple Watch

I’ve owned a 42mm Space Grey Apple Watch Sport for about 2.5 weeks and it is time to put some thoughts down into writing.

I’m not really going to write a review; there are plenty already that explain what it does but that’s not my focus here. I guess what interests me is not the what but the how and the why. Then I’m also going to touch on a few other aspects that I find interesting. Warning, this is quite long.


A solution enhancing an existing fix, rather than solving a new problem

In fact, the why is easy. A lot of people are saying that the Apple Watch is a solution looking for a problem, and in the traditional sense they are right. There is no immediate problem that needs solving with the Apple Watch. But that explanation falls short of assessing the bigger picture. As I’ve found through using it, it turns out that instead of solving a problem as-yet unsolved, what the Apple Watch excels at is allowing us to solve existing problems better. The unsung power of the watch is not in what it does when considered as a standalone device, but how it unites with the phone to create a singular, complimented experience that is superior to using just a phone on its own.

I really can’t stress this enough. When you own an Apple Watch, you are not owning two separate devices that both do different things; you are creating a more robust and seamless digital experience. Ok so it sounds cheesy, but it is true – the value of the watch is in how it integrates, evolves and interacts with your existing digital experience, rather than just creating a new one.

It is hard to explain how significant this is, but I have really started to notice and appreciate it. Also, individual examples just sound boring (remember I don’t want to focus on the what), but when put together and experienced daily, it starts to sink in. What is hard to describe in writing is how it feels. When your watch stops alerting you because it knows you’re using your phone, and when your phone stops alerting you because it knows you’re wearing your watch. When notifications you dismiss on your watch disappear instantly from your phone. When you can place a caller on hold from your wrist while you look for your phone. When you literally don’t take your phone out of your pocket once in a day because you saw and actioned all the little notifications in a fraction of the time from your wrist. When I scribble “SOS” on the screen to my wife while on baby duties and she comes upstairs to help. When I read and respond to text messages entirely with my voice while my hands are busy cooking. It all just sort of adds up into a coherent digital experience that simply makes sense, and you start to realise – this is better.

The Apple Watch is like a bicycle when you also own a car. They both perform a similar function and get you from A to B, but they do it differently, and each are better suited to different types of journey. Why go through the hassle of finding your car keys, getting to the car, and driving 2 minutes down the road and finding a parking space, when you can cycle there and back in the same time? This is what the watch does – it excels at making certain digital workflows faster and easier.

On expectations

Many people I speak to about the Apple Watch quickly question how revolutionary the device is, and whether or not you really need it, and it has highlighted to me a weird expectation that people have of Apple. I don’t recall anyone assessing the revolutionary properties of, say, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear 2, and being disappointed when they couldn’t find any, but by virtue of the Apple Watch being made by Apple people appear to expect nothing less than a technological revolution overnight. I guess that’s testament to Apple’s success to date, but this sort of thinking is lazy.

Think of it like this – the Apple Watch is a watch. The clue is in the title. When was the last time you judged a wristwatch for not being ‘needed’ or ‘revolutionary’? Ignoring Apple’s marketing for a second, I don’t believe the Apple Watch is a brand new category of revolutionary products, at least not going by the iPhone/iPod definition. What it is is simply the modern, digital re-imagining of the wristwatch, designed to seamlessly integrate with your existing digital (Apple) ecosystem and my god when thought of that way, it completely blows expectations out of the water. For a watch, what it has achieved is nothing less than incredible.

Oh, and people who say “isn’t it just a smaller iPhone on your wrist” are admitting to have done literally zero research or spent zero effort contemplating the device. It is the motto for the dummy who wants to be spoon-fed catchy headlines. Ignore these people, and please, don’t be one of them.


Another complaint I’ve heard is that having an Apple Watch will result in ‘notification overload’ – i.e. the barrage of notifications you already receive on your phone will now be bugging you on your wrist.

The reality is very different. The first thing to note is that there is no increase in the number of notifications you get. If you receive one on your watch, you don’t get alerted on your phone, and vice versa. If you dismiss it on your watch, it is dismissed on your phone. Secondly, you can (and should) customise which notifications get sent to your watch vs being delivered only on your phone. The watch should be for notifications of sufficient importance to warrant a more personal alert. Thirdly, notifications received on the watch are far easier to consume and dismiss than on your phone. A brief glance and a swipe and its gone, taking only seconds to complete.

Before owning the watch I had to go through endless redundant notifications sitting in Notification Centre on a regular basis, clearing them all out. This is due to the ill thought-out way the iPhone handles them – if you open an app directly on the phone without clicking on the specific notification, the notification is not removed from Notification Centre – there is no reverse update from the app back to the Notification Centre. The Apple Watch resolves this problem by making it far easier to see outstanding notifications and clear them. Since owning it, my Notification Centre has been clear and up to date the whole time.

Receiving notifications on your wrist, like many other benefits of the watch, is a subtle experience that really needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated. Suffice to say that as simple a feature as it sounds, the ability to take more control over your notifications and reduce time spent dealing with them while still getting the same amount of information, is very significant.

Fashion and ‘need’

I’ve touched on this already, but it bears repeating. Unlike iPhones which are a commodity item these days and widely regarded as a necessity, a watch is an optional accessory that people choose to wear because of either function (rarely) or fashion (mostly). No-one needs to wear a watch, and for now, no-one needs to own a smartwatch. And that’s ok – to judge the Apple Watch on its ‘needability’ is to miss the point. How many times have you criticised people for spending money on wristwatches because they didn’t need them? Never.

Each individual will place a certain level of value on these two qualities (functionality and fashion), and if a product reaches that person’s minimum combined value threshold, that user may buy one. While normal wristwatches deliver, say, a 10%/90% ratio of functionality vs fashion (telling the time is hardly a differentiating feature of watches), a smartwatch can increase the portion of value delivered via functionality. This means that a smartwatch can still meet a user’s minimum combined value threshold with an increase in functionality even if that comes at the cost of reduced style or visual appeal.

“Traditionally” (if such a word can be applied to a category only a few years old), smartwatches have not been known for also excelling in the fashion stakes, but Apple has cleverly acknowledged that in order for the Apple Watch to succeed, it must not just deliver value through increased functionality but also appeal to people who value the physical appearance and fashion statement that comes with wearing a watch. In this regard, the Apple Watch should be expensive, as for many, watches are a status symbol – unashamed declarations of wealth and personal style. For the Apple Watch to succeed, it must be desirable enough for people to feel able to demonstrate these qualities with it.

Motorola appear to have acknowledged this by allowing customers to customise their Moto 360, although this does appear to be a bit of a bolt-on of options rather than a fundamental change in approach. I think we will start to see a dramatic shift in the other watch offerings as they too wake up and smell the coffee.

Now, the other question is whether the Apple Watch, and other smartwatches, can displace existing mechanical watches owned by watch lovers. I don’t know really, I’m certain the market for real watches will always exist as digital watches will never (at least not for a long time) deliver the levels of longevity that gives so much value to traditional watches, but conversely there must be so many people who would buy a smartwatch if it met a certain level of quality, which I think Apple have shown is entirely achievable. Those who want a good quality and good-looking watch but also are interested in smartwatches now have something to buy, and I think this trend is only going to go one way. More people will buy smartwatches and fewer people will buy traditional watches, I think that is an inevitability, but there will always be room for both.

Battery life

Another big complaint. “You have to charge it every day”. Yes, you do. BUT, this is, for many, a total non-issue. I used to take my ‘normal’ watch off every night and put it on my bedside table. I do exactly the same with my Apple Watch, but I place it on the magnetic charger. That’s it – no change to my routine at all. The battery life lasts about 24 hours (far better than the 18 hours Apple commits to), so as long as I charge it at night, it really doesn’t matter what time I get up or go to bed – it will last until I eventually take it off to charge. In contrast, my iPhone usually needs a top-up in the afternoon – I rarely trust it to last ’til bedtime.

Usual battery levels when I go to bed


Since I realised this on about day 3, I genuinely haven’t checked the battery life once. At some point in the future, battery technology will improve enough to allow for watches to be worn at night, but even then I’m not sure I’d want to but clearly many do (sleep tracking remains this strange requirement everyone has, despite no-one actually doing it). As with all other Apple devices, Apple sets a benchmark of what they consider to be ‘good enough’ battery life and then they evolve features and functionality while maintaining that level of battery performance. We have not really seen them focus on improving battery life as a key selling-point yet in any of their product refreshes, and I think the watch will be the same until a new technology arrives that significantly improves battery performance.


Ah the straps. The horrifically expensive straps. There is a sound strategy being employed by Apple here I think, but the moral of the story is the only official Apple strap you own should be the one that came bundled with your watch, the only exception being additional Sports bands, at a stretch.

Here’s the thing. Apple cleverly acknowledged the personal nature of watches and how much of their desire and selection comes down to appearance and fashion. A single gadgety-looking device simply was not going to sell to enough people – people want to choose their watch and feel like it compliments how they want to be seen and look. So, Apple had to offer choice from day 1, hence the selection of bands available for pre-order. However, the speed at which Apple announced the ‘endorsed’ 3rd-party strap program, less than 2 weeks from launch, makes it crystal clear to me that Apple fully expects (and has been planning for) a thriving 3rd party strap market to form the bulk of the strap purchases, just like 3rd party phone cases. Apple will continue to offer their own premium straps for those with cash to blow, but they are there to fulfil a role in setting the benchmark for 3rd parties and offering enough choice in-store to make the watch sufficiently appealing to a minimum number of demographics to ensure an initial critical mass of sales.

3rd party apps

It has to be said – generally, these suck. There appear to be two reasons: 1) technical limitations and 2) lack of purpose.

3rd party apps do not have the same level of access to watch core components and APIs as built-in apps, so they are somewhat limited in what they can do. This will change over time. Also, watch apps are slow. The essence of using the watch is speed, and 3rd party apps fail to deliver on this, meaning it becomes easier to just get your phone out to carry out a task than wait for a watch app to load. Again, this will improve in time as developers get their hands on the watch and the software and hardware evolve.


Get used to this


More interestingly though is purpose. So many of the apps available currently simply port existing functionality to the watch without really thinking about the hard questions of what sort of interactions and use-cases are best suited to the new form-factor. 90% of the apps I’ve downloaded I’ve deleted as they provide no benefit by being available on my wrist. The developers simply haven’t thought it through and have prioritised having presence on the platform early over offering genuinely useful features to the end-user that take advantage of how people use the watch.

To illustrate this challenge, consider the nice assessment I read somewhere that describes how much time a user should be expected to spend using products: ‘hours’ for computers, ‘minutes’ for phones, and ‘seconds’ for smartwatches. If your watch app takes minutes to use, it will be simpler to use your phone.

So, great watch apps need to be fast, and have a clear purpose that can be achieved in seconds. Reading news and scrolling through Twitter feeds are not good use of wrist-time, although I appreciate plenty of people probably do want to be able to do this (but I’m not sure why).

A few good examples of apps getting right are below:

IMG_1839 IMG_1841IMG_1843






Swarm, Do Button, and the stock Weather app. These have a single clear purpose. Swarm present a single button pre-populated with the most likely location so you can check in with a single tap. Do Button here is being used to change my Nest’s thermostat with a single click, and the weather app, while a bit more information-heavy, delivers it without any user involvement.

In contrast, and these aren’t terrible examples but I still question their suitability on the watch:

IMG_1842 IMG_1840







Evernote and Feedly. Lots of functionality or information, but why do this on a watch?

Other thoughts

I don’t really want to tread into review territory, but here are a few other aspects of my experience with the watch I feel like mentioning:

  • Bugs – yes, the Apple Watch software is buggy. Sometimes calendars don’t sync, messages get delivered to my phone instead of my watch, apps don’t load etc. I’m confident Apple will address most of these fairly quickly with software updates so it is not a big concern.
  • There is a steep learning curve. You have to learn to take the time to customise the watch to your own use, including getting notifications right. If you don’t do this, I imagine it could become a frustrating experience. There are few new interface paradigms to understand, such as glances, but after a week I was completely familiar.
  • The app layout screen isn’t particularly enjoyable to use. A bunch of apps in no discerning order is not a natural way of navigating. While you can fully customise the layout, there is no assistance offered and it is up to your own creativity to decide what works – this isn’t fun. I’d rather just have a layout that makes sense, perhaps with some options to refine it, rather than a blank canvas I have to constantly experiment with.
  • Digital Touch started off as a novelty but quickly turned into a fun and useful way to communicate with my wife on a daily basis. This includes brief S.O.S. messages when I need help looking after our baby, or just little taps to say hi to each other when I’m at work. It is a really nice addition, but in its infancy and I probably wouldn’t use it if my wife didn’t also have a watch.
  • The watch face lights up automatically when you raise your wrist, but only if your wrist is sufficiently horizontal. If your wrist is at an angle and you rotate it to see the time, you’re out of luck. I hope Apple improve this.
  • There is so much more Apple can do with Handoff and Continuity – the interaction between the watch and the iPhone. I hope they focus on this.

In summary

As I continue to use the watch, I have been increasingly impressed with it. It doesn’t deliver the ‘wow’ factor that one may initially expect, but that is not a failing. The watch is there in the background, subtly offering up information and alerts when needed, and then disappearing again. It is a digital compliment to your phone rather than an alternative or addition, and it is starting to define a new way of living your daily digital life.

Don’t expect fireworks. Do expect to be patient and rewarded with a vision (and experience) of an easier, more fluid and more exciting digital existence. The Apple Watch is very mature for a first-generation product, and of course there is so much room for it to grow. I can’t wait to see how it evolves.

An experiment in “doxing”

Recently some internet user really pissed me off by using anonymity to insult me and my family because I dared state something he disagreed with. Just this once, filled with anger and succumbing to the desire for retaliation, I decided to see what I could find out about him just by doing a few google searches.

I had never tried this before, but after about 30 minutes I had found out: his real name, Twitter account, job, employer, home address, wife and family’s names, what car they drove, some details about a family illness and a few other things like a charity run they did and a company they set up. I was really surprised not only by how much I found it with so little effort, but that someone would so willingly insult and abuse others online when this much information about him was public on the web. This guy had a good job and a family yet went online anonymously and insulted strangers on the Internet in really nasty ways.

Anyway, I’m sure you think this sounds creepy of me and it probably was, but it was more of an experiment than anything else. Of course, I did not do anything with any of that info and didn’t keep any of it. I wouldn’t do it again I don’t think, but it was an interesting experience I just thought I’d share that highlights just how much info on people is readily accessible by anyone with a bit of internet savvy.

From talking about this sort of thing with others, it seems clear that many people have an expectation of privacy on the Internet, even regarding information that they have made publicly available (intentionally or otherwise). Personally I disagree; while doing what I did is certainly a bit creepy and perhaps unethical, we all need to take responsibility for the data we put on the web and be prepared to face the consequences if someone decides to collate it.

It’s that scenario someone did a video of once: locate someone in a bar via their check-in, do 10 mins of Internet research on them using public info, then approach them and mention some things which they wouldn’t expect a stranger to know. In the video, some people exclaimed it was an invasion of privacy and they would sue; others understood what was going and we’re accepting that such an activity is possible.

What do you think? Was I totally out of line? Have you done anything like this or had it done to you?

My Thoughts On Gamergate

The #GamerGate ‘movement’, for lack of a better term, has been growing in publicity, impact and toxicity of late and as ‘someone who plays games’ (carefully avoiding the term ‘gamer’) and ‘someone who respects the right of other humans to voice opinions without fear of abuse’, I feel obliged to put my position on it into writing (I think I just did).

Quick background on GamerGate (ok “quick” and “GamerGate” don’t really come hand in hand so bear with me)…

The current incarnation of #GamerGate started with an ex-boyfriend of a female game developer writing a blog post about their time together including accusations that she cheated on him with a gaming journalist; the implication being that she did so in return for favourable publicity about her game. This started the notion that there was a debate to be had about “ethics in game journalism”. Nothing wrong with that – the symbiotic relationship between developers and the games press that writes about and recommends their games is interesting and if there are conflicts of interest in existence, a discussion about these is of course justified.

However, instead of said debate taking place in an objective fashion, the ‘voice’ of the gamers instead turned hostile towards the female developer mentioned above, to the extent she received online abuse and hate that had real consequences to her offline life (threats against her family etc). This disproportionate hate towards her (none was directed towards the complicit male journalist or the ex-boyfriend and his wildly-inappropriate blog post) sparked a wave of commentary by other women in the industry, voicing their long-felt opinions about inherent sexism and misogyny that they deal with on a daily basis (as Charlie Brooker put it, if The Internet was a MMRPG, make sure you don’t pick “Female” as the character class as there is an instant difficulty increase). They too then became ‘targets’ of Gamergaters, again receiving death threats, abuse, ‘doxing‘ etc, for the sole crime of voicing an opinion that some people objected to. The irony of someone voicing concerns about free-speech, only to be forcibly shut down by those who apparently are fighting for free speech, should not be understated.

So at the time of writing we are in a position where any woman who dares voice their opinion about the role of the “gamer” in the current market, sexism in games or online abuse in general, can generally expect to receive the same treatment. All the while, the GamerGate supporters still justify the continued existence of the movement by dismissing the abusers as a minority who don’t represent the whole (while still benefitting from the atmosphere of fear they create), and that the issue of abuse is being used by the general media to divert attention from their true cause, which is of political interference with games and ethics in journalism.

What do I think?

My opinion is thus: while there is ongoing abuse of women, or anyone else, for any reason, associated with the “GamerGate” movement, any other discussion, warranted or otherwise, is irrelevant and inappropriate. The abuse must end, and that is the only discussion to be had. The Gamergate banner has been tarnished beyond repair, and to continue to attempt to justify support of it while real people are being forced out of their homes is intolerable, and supporters should be ashamed of themselves.

I also do not fully believe that the supporters who say they actually care about journalism and politics really mean it – I have suspicions that that they just think they mean it as it gives them what they feel is a publicly-acceptable facade to an otherwise childish attitude to equality and acceptance. The complete lack of sympathy shown by all GamerGate supporters in the face of the inexcusable abuse and harassment that is being carried out in their name, only indicates complicity with that activity. Saying they disagree with abuse is irrelevant if they continue to stand behind the banner.

Actions speak louder than words, and right now the only actions are targeted hate, justified by meaningless words.

The Current Crop of Smart Watches are Dead on Arrival

As smart phones become more prolific and revenues from new users decline as the market becomes saturated, the tech industry is desperately looking to be part of ‘the next big thing’. So far, these seem to fall in to two camps: wearables, and more recently, home automation. Alliances are starting to be formed and strategies starting to unfold, but it is very early days.

Smart watches are the most prominent example of the next wearable device around the corner. What I would like to share is my belief that the current offering of smart watches are not only completely pointless, they demonstrate a profound lack of vision and original thought by manufacturers.

A device needs to have a purpose. A reason for its existence. I don’t believe that smart watches manufacturers today have the faintest clue what the purpose of their watches is. Companies know that wearables are all the rage. They know that there are painful examples of companies falling behind by missing a trend and failing to recover (e.g. BlackBerry), so they are pumping out smart watches to ensure they get a piece of the pie. But does this pie actually even exist yet, and what purpose do these devices really serve? What benefit do they really bring? And are they any good?

As Michael Mace puts it:

What’s the compelling, broadly appealing usage that could drive adoption of a smart watch or glasses? So far I don’t think there is one.

So far, the vision, if you can call it that, that manufacturers seem to have is for smart watches to provide a ‘heads up’ of content from your phone, and to act as a sort of mini assistant on your wrist. They are laden with functionality inherited from their phone counter parts; they have large, appealing screens, and are brimming with connectivity, sensors and information. So what’s not to like? Well, how about the fact that they have terrible battery life, are enormous, and look horrible? Seriously, have you seen the LG G? If we ignore the lack of purpose/killer app for one second, consider that any one of these drawbacks in a normal watch would be enough to prevent someone buying one, so do the benefits of a smart watch outweigh having all three drawbacks? As Ben Thompson astutely points out:

To put it another way, in the case of a phone, the only decision to make is which phone to buy. When it comes to a watch or other wearable, though, there is another question that has to be answered first: do I even want to buy one at all.

The point is, these watches are not essential items. People can simply choose not to buy one, which is not an option for most people when it comes to phones. So the value and quality has to be that much higher, and I simply don’t believe the current breed of smart watches comes anywhere close to delivering that level of value for mass market appeal.

After all, simply showing email alerts on your wrist is at best a nice to have, and at worse a further digression from reality in an industry already trying to get you to spend more time focussed on its products than real life. Personally, notifications is a turn-off rather than a turn-on for me; I want to see something innovative and genuinely useful. The only company who’ve headed in the right direction are Withings with their year-long battery life smart watch, but this is still a basic activity tracker that syncs with their proprietary app. Is that the best we can do?!

And that’s where most of the the industry players fail so hard. They aren’t thinking of the future, they are just trying to compete in the present. Google, to its credit, is always pushing forwards but only on a technological (and endlessly creepy and self-serving) front – they are terrible at creating things of beauty, things that people desire. They exist in a commodity market where cheap sells. Watches do not exist in that market. They are well designed, last forever, and people expect to pay for that. Smart watches are not new. Remember the Casio watch calculator? Technological prowess is not enough – they have to appeal on a functional, aesthetic and emotional level too.

For all the companies that are playing follow-my-leader with each other and creating devices purely for the sake of ensuring those devices exist, of course Apple stands out as the company that follows its own agenda. Whatever your thoughts on them, you cannot deny that they don’t follow trends. Sure, they nick plenty of minor functionalities from competitors, as competitors do to them, but when it comes to the big products and the reasons for existence, Apple makes up its own mind and releases products it believes people will want. And this is what I’m hoping they are up to with wearables. I have no idea what they’re planning – a watch, a wristband, who knows, but I’m hoping beyond hoping that it isn’t just another me-too device. I want it to have purpose, be different. If we look at their current direction of home integration, I think it is safe to say that this device will closely tie in with your other home devices. Perhaps some form of control? What about if it had no screen at all? I’ll safely bet that it won’t need charging every day. The battery life issue cannot be overstated – only the hardcore geeks are going to replace their wristwatch with something that requires charging on a regular basis.

The current smart watch market is like a toy fair for geeks. For everyone else, these watches are just the tech industry’s way of practicing self-gratification. We need to see something with purpose that is exciting, innovative and truly forward thinking before this device category becomes mainstream and not just a fad for techies to have something to talk about.

Getting a bit pensive about technology

My last blog post was in June this year. That level of activity is not really good enough so I’m thinking about where this blog fits into my life these days. The problem is that I’m becoming more reflective about technology and social media, and their place in our daily lives. For me, I’ve become very self-aware of how much time I spend staring at my phone or tablet whenever I have time to kill. Be it on the tube, at home, on my lunch break at work, it is so easy to just get out my phone and absent-mindedly stare at an app until something else comes along, and it is really beginning to bother me.

Continue reading

Apple’s TV solution is already here

There’s always been a lot of discussion about what Apple’s play for the living room would look like. Some people think they’ll build an actual TV while others think it will be some form of set-top box.

Personally, I think it is neither. I believe their TV solution is already here, and it is called, funnily enough, the Apple TV. You can pick one up for £99 and it will instantly let you rent movies and stream music and video from your iOS devices.

But this is just the start. One of the lesser-publicised announcements at WWDC, as part of the iOS 7 feature list, is support for 3rd party game controllers, by allowing them to be certified for use under the existing “MFi” (Made for iPhone) program.

This means that soon, you can use a console-like controller with an iOS device, and you can bet your bottom dollar that this will be rolled out to the Apple TV. All that is required is an app store for Apple TV and you’re set.

So, we have a £99 box that streams all your content and can play games. That to me sounds like a pretty compelling proposition.

The only bit I haven’t figured out is the hardware. Apple have spent the last few years slimming down the Apple TV, removing built-in storage in favour of streaming. However, to run apps, it will need storage, and to play decent games it will need beefier hardware, which will bump the price. There’s still a big gap up to the next level, so there’s room to increase the price, but it does change the dynamic somewhat.

Anyway, can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Some more great commentary on this by Austin Sweeney on his blog