Thoughts on the Apple event last week

As you may have noticed, Apple held a "Spring Forward" event last week, where they covered a number of topics, including the introduction of HBO Now, ResearchKit, a new MacBook, and provided more information about the forthcoming Apple Watch.

If you missed it, you can watch the event on Apple's site, or see an excellent live-blog summary below the video. (From where I obtained most of the images in this post; credit to Apple.)

It's been a week, and I'd like to share some thoughts.

HBO NOW

The first news that caught my attention was the announcement of HBO NOW.

My wife and I are "cord cutters" — we don't have a cable or satellite TV subscription, and rely on Apple TV for most of our TV content, along with Netflix streaming and such. As such, we have long bemoaned the fact that HBO didn't offer a way to pay for their excellent content without a cable subscription. HBO NOW is the answer we've been waiting for: the ability to get HBO shows without a cable subscription, right on our Apple TV.

This is an excellent deal for Apple, too, with a three month exclusive period, that should drive many more people to consider an Apple TV... helped along by a price drop to just $69 for the hardware. I am a little disappointed that they didn't bring out a new version of the Apple TV yet, but the current unit is okay, if getting a bit long in the tooth.

Apple Pay

Next was some talk about the iPhone, and Apple Pay. I only recently upgraded to an iPhone 6, and haven't encountered anywhere that accepts it in the wild (I don't tend to frequent such places), so haven't yet tried it. It does seem like an excellent feature, though, and I'm glad more and more retailers are gearing up to accept Apple Pay.

ResearchKit

A big surprise announcement was ResearchKit, a framework for collecting information to help with medical research. They spent about 15 minutes talking about this, and while it may not have a significant impact on Apple's bottom line, this is yet another sign of the new Apple under Tim Cook: more focused on improving the world, not just through great customer-focused products, but in improving life and health for humanity in general.

It's impressive that it has already had a big impact, with signups for a ResearchKit-powered study vastly outstripping the usual approach.

MacBook

Before the event, there had been rumors circling for quite a while about a new MacBook, and they proved pretty accurate. This new MacBook is clearly a sign of things to come — the logical evolution of taking the iPad technology and bringing it "back to the Mac" once again.

This new computer has several significant changes. It is of course thinner and lighter than existing Air models, as is Apple's wont... perhaps to a fault. It also has a retina display, which is a welcome addition in such a tiny laptop. I use a several-years-old iMac as my desktop machine, and last year's MacBook Air as my laptop, neither of which has retina. My eyesight perhaps isn't good enough to tell the difference, but I certainly do enjoy retina displays on my iOS devices, so look forward to upgrading a retina Mac one day. I won't be getting this edition, though, since I just bought my Air last year.

The new MacBook also features a new keyboard, with a new switch mechanism and better LED backlighting. I haven't tried the new keyboard, so I don't know whether I'll prefer it over the previous ones, but I hear that it doesn't take long to get used to it.

Also on the input, there's an impressive new Force Touch trackpad, that does away with the physical clicking, replacing it with a taptic feedback that apparently feels just like a click, while offering more customizable options.

I don't want to reiterate all of the changes, so I'll just briefly mention the impressively shrunken logic board, without a fan, and layered batteries. It really seems like an iPad inside a Mac.

Another way it's like an iPad is the reduction of ports: just a headphone jack and a single USB-C port. This was perhaps the main focus of rumors before the event, with lots of discussion on the likes of the Accidental Tech Podcast and elsewhere. Many people were skeptical, and critical of the product after the introduction, but I'm not one of them. As I mentioned, I have a MacBook Air, but it is purely a secondary machine — I use it when traveling (sometimes; often an iPad is enough) or when working on the couch some evenings... or from a hammock in summer.

I almost never plug in anything to this machine, other than power when I stop using it. The battery lasts longer than I typically use it, so rarely need to plug in to recharge, and I don't need to connect an external keyboard, screen, or other devices. I can certainly understand that people who use it as their primary machine in a desktop situation might have issues with only having one port... but for those people I don't think it's unreasonable to plug in a hub like Apple's new one (albeit overpriced) or the inevitable third-party ones. That seems like it'd be more convenient, instead of having to deal with multiple plugs every time you want to take the computer away.

But what do I know... that isn't my use-case, and I suspect that Apple envisions people using a laptop as their primary machine to go with the Pro edition instead. I do have some experience with this scenario, though: before I got my iMac, I did use a MacBook Pro 17" as my primary machine, along with an external display... but I preferred to use the built-in keyboard and trackpad, so still didn't have all that much plugged in.

Apple Watch

Was there anything else? Oh yeah, some watch gadget.

The coverage of the new Apple Watch seemed almost like an afterthought... almost an hour into the show, and only taking about half an hour. But that's not unreasonable, since this served mainly as a reminder of the introduction, and an update to answer some questions. Little details like pricing and availability.

Prior to this event, Apple had only announced the "starting" price of $349. There were wide-ranging guesses on where the other models would end up, with John Gruber of Daring Fireball making what many people thought were wildly high predictions on the gold Edition model pricing, initially around $5,000 then later predicting $10,000 and up to $20,000. Which turned out to be very accurate, with the Edition models priced between $10,000 and $17,000. I'm not a watch guy, so those prices seem way more than I'd ever pay for a watch, but I certainly understand that in the high-end luxury market, those prices are very reasonable.

For the middle model, confusingly just called Apple Watch, there was perhaps less of a range of expectations, and the pricing that eventuated seems reasonable, given the $349 starting point for the Sport model: $549 for a sport band up to $1,099 for a black link bracelet.

I'm definitely excited about the Apple Watch. I plan to get one, if only so I can test the Watch app for my Pack packing list app (business expense!). I haven't worn a watch in years, but I think that will be changing soon, as it no doubt will for many people.

I'm not sure which exact model I'll get. Definitely a 42 mm Sport model, though — 42 as I have large hands, so the 38 mm wouldn't fit me, and Sport because I'm budget-constrained, and not really a fashion person. I'm leaning towards the Space Gray case, but might be okay with the silver aluminum case with green band, too. The other colors don't really do it for me. I'd like to try on some of the other band options as a future expansion option... particularly the Milanese Loop and Leather Loop. But I think I'll be happy with the rubber (excuse me, "fluoroelastomer") band.

Ulf Dunkel's picture

Re: Thoughts on the Apple event last week

Thank you for your great comments on the Apple event.

"Also on the input, there's an impressive new Force Touch trackpad, that does away with the physical clicking, replacing it with a taptic feedback that apparently feels just like a click, while offering more customizable options."

I wonder what you are talking about here. I use the latest 27" iMac with a Trackpad, and I do not have to physically click down the pad, but just do soft taps to send a click signal to the machine.

I wonder if you're currently using a trackpad for your old iMac. Did you set
"System Preferences > Trackpad > Point & Click > [x] Tap to click" as well as
"System Preferences > Accessibility > Mouse & Trackpad > [x] Enable dragging"?

Or are you talking about something totally different and I just misunderstood?

David Sinclair's picture

Re: Thoughts on the Apple event last week

Hi Ulf,

Yes, I know about the tap-to-click option on existing trackpads; I use that with my Magic Trackpad.

I take it you didn't watch the event coverage, or read about the new MacBook? It has a new trackpad that doesn't have a physical switch; it can detect a press (as opposed to a tap), and use haptic feedback to make it feel like you are actually clicking. It actually has multiple levels of pressure sensitivity, which will be useful for many apps as a new gesture. See Apple's product page for details.

I went to an Apple Store a few days ago and tried an updated MacBook Pro with the new trackpad (as the new MacBooks aren't out yet). It was an amazing experience: it really does feel like you are pressing the trackpad down, but it isn't physically moving at all.