Podcast/Music Playback Control Concern on Apple Watch

One of my concerns with the Apple Watch is music playback. I've had the Pebble Watch for over a year and I use it heavily for audio playback control on the iPhone.

The Pebble has four physical buttons and no touch interface and that's going to work better for me than the Apple Watch. Other than telling the time and getting notifications on my wrist, controlling audio on my iPhone is the next most used feature of my Pebble.

I wear headphones constantly while commuting, working, walking or whatever and my iPhone lives in my pocket as much as it can. The majority of the time, the Pebble is in the Music app on the Pebble. There is one button on the left and three on the right. The left button lets me go back to the previous menu, which I do on occasion. But the three right buttons are a killer feature for me.

When connected via Bluetooth to my iPhone I can pause/play, track forward, track back, volume up and volume down without having to look at my Pebble or iPhone. The middle button acts as pause/play and changes function for the top and button buttons. The top button can either be track back or volume up. If it's track back and you press the button once, it will go to the beginning of the track. If you hold down the middle button, you feel a vibration and the function of the top button has no changed to volume up. Similarly for the bottom button. It can either be track forward or volume down.

I use these buttons constantly through my day.

That's for when I'm listening to music. Podcasts are a little different. For the track back and forward buttons, instead of going to the beginning of the podcast, they skip 30 secs back or 30 secs forward. If I missed something somebody said, I can tap one button and listen to that 30 seconds again. I've never looked at my wrist. I just felt for the button and tapped it. If somebody comes up to talk to me, or I'm walking into a bank (for example), and I want to pause my podcast or music. I feel for the middle button and pause the audio without having to look down.

This is where my concern for the Apple Watch comes in. When I'm wearing my Pebble, one of it's killer features for me is the audio control. I hardly look at the Pebble to find the buttons on know which buttons to click. I can, and have, controlled music playback in the dark. I've even caught myself at a house party controlling music playing from my iPhone through a speaker system through from my Pebble. The conversation didn't have to stop. I heard a song I didn't like and quickly tapped one button to go to the next track.

With the Apple Watch's touch screen and digital crown, I don't know if that's going to work out so great for me. I would have to look down every time to scan back 30 secs in my podcast to find the touch target and skip tracks. Or finding the right area to pause the audio. Right now I just need to tap one button without thinking.

One thing that could be interesting is if podcast app developers take advantage of the digital crown. We know that it can be used to zoom in and out and control the volume. But if you could have change the behaviour to jump back 15/30 secs if the digital crown is flicked up or skip forward if flicked down.

There is another button on the Apple Watch, which only brings up your favourite contacts - so I don't think much can be done with that.

TL;DR All this to say, I use my Pebble heavily to control audio from my iPhone without needing to constantly look at my wrist . With the Apple Watch relying heavily on the touch interface, I don't think it's the best choice for me today.

Apple Watch In-Store Experience

Walking In

I was away for a bit — somewhere without an Apple Store — and decided to take a trip to one of the local Apple Stores in order to check out the new Apple Watches.  Watches?  Watch Collections? Whatever.

I think this was the first day that you could call spring, so a lot of people were motivated to be outside rather than in a mall or an Apple Store. That means, I got a bit lucky when I walked into the Apple Store and there wasn't much of a crowd. Obviously, the few people that were there on a Sunday were crowded around the new device. That used to be the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus - nobody cares about those anymore. They were the flavour of the month last week.

Reading a few sites about Apple news, I knew that I would have to get an appointment to try on a Watch. That didn't bother me so much, I knew there would be a table with a glass top showing off the new Watches and probably a demo unit somewhere cycling through a video.

I started over to the table and noticed the  Watch Edition in the table cabinet. Luckily an Apple Specialist asked if I had any questions and of course I wanted to try it on. He set up an appointment for me in 5 minutes, so I waited for a few minutes before I was brought over to another table.

Trying On

It's a typical Apple Store Table that looks like it came out of IKEA (or somewhere similar) with six Specialists standing behind six leather pads around the table. The young man asked if I had considered which collection and/or band I would be interested in. I said, "Let's start at the Sport and then try Steel."

He pulled out his special iPod Touch in it's special Apple employee case and taped the back of the case on a special area of the side of the table allowing him to open up a hidden drawer. Now, I get why the six Specialists are standing around the table in those strategic spots — those are the spots for the drawers. The drawers can hold up to 18 different watches. That's not enough to have every combination possible but close to half. You can get a good mix of the different size faces and try the different styles of bands. Also, in each hole there was a piece protruding up that looks like a dock for the Watch, but I'm pretty sure that it's just a magnet to keep things in place instead of sliding around while the drawers are being opened and closed.

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The first demo unit I tried was the Space Grey  Watch Sport with the fluoroelastomer band. My new helper friend would rest the watch demo on the leather pad, ensure the drawer was closed, rub the watch with a special cloth, unbuckle and then ask for my wrist. It was very methodical. Okay, it's a lot smoother and softer than I was anticipating. My experience with rubber watch bands has been limited to watches from manufactures such as Timex and Casio. Nothing wrong with those bands and brands, I was assuming that the band was going to be a little "harsher" than it actually was.

Something I noticed right away was that the Watch face didn't turn on when taped or the pressing the buttons. Not sure the reasoning behind it. Maybe a security aspect to prevent anybody from running out with it — not really sure.

Going on from there, I tried the  Watch (nothing) with the various bands that they had available in their secret drawers. The leather loop, the Milanese loop, the buckle, what ever the others were. I've forgotten the rest. My helper was sure to tell me that the different leathers were procured from different countries — France, Italy and Netherlands (I think). I didn't matter much to me, so I didn't retain it. Sorry guy. Each time I asked to try a different band, the same methodical process of tapping the special iPod Touch case, bringing out the watch, rubbing it down was repeated and reversed each time. Not sure if the employee was taking pride in the process or that's the "prescribed" manner.

My favourite was the Milanese Loop on the Steel model (they should really call it the Steel model, but maybe Pebble got there first?) It was worth noting that the finish on the bands.

A good portion of the multitude of bands that are available will only look good on the  Watch (nothing). Apple is putting more attention to that collection than the others. The anodized finish of the Sport collection does not match with a good portion of the bands. The clip mechanism to connect the Milanese band as same finish as the  Watch (nothing), so it may look a little silly if you try to put it on a Sport.

The "try on" appointments are 15 minutes long, so I was running out of time on my allotment and thanked the guy for his time and he suggested that I take a look at the demo models that were available on a bench to the side.

Demo Units

Moving over to the side benches, you're greeted by a plastic white wedge that houses an iPad mini on the left and an  Watch (Steel) on the right.

I had read online that the Watches were demos and running a demo loop. But that must have been at that writer's particular store, because these were working units at my Apple Store. That being said, there were some aspects of the software that were disabled such as Bluetooth syncing and the Remote Camera app but the rest was working.

Naturally, I started at the home screen on the watch without paying attention to the iPad mini. These iPads are all over the place in the store showing you the details of the product. The first app that I launched was the watch(?) app. Maybe "time piece" app? What ever it's called, it' brought up a watch face. I saw the iPad slip to the next slide in it's demo reel but didn't pay much attention to it.

To customize the watch, you force press into the screen. So, let's try that. A similar taptic engine that I tried in the new MacBook Pros is present but my mind wasn't as tricked about pushing "into" the display as it was on the trackpad on the MBPs. Whatever, it did the job. A new menu was brought up for customizing the watch. There are a handful (maybe 7) of watch faces that are available to switch to, but I notice a "Customize" button.

Pushing that brings up a whole slew of options to tweak a watch face to a way that you like. You can decide if you want the current temperature in the corner, the moon phase, sunrise/sunset time in each corner, the colour of the second hand, the detail in the face ticks around the dial and much more. I quickly tried these for the the analogue faces and then the digital faces, but there weren't as much options in the digital category. That being said, there was an option to add more faces in the future.

Next I tried the weather app and the iPad went no the next slide of it's reel -- wait a minute. The iPad knows which app I am launching on the phone and then brining up some details on the iPad. That's so cool! Wait, wait. What if I go to the Messages app? Does it change then? OMG the iPad changed to show Messages. That's so cool.

On a side note: That wedge it powered solely by a battery. I assumed that it was fastened to the table some how but it was just the weight of the wedge and friction. I was able to slide it over a bit and then realized there was no whole or connection underneath. So I can pick this up? Sure enough, you can pick it up. You can walk around with it. The iPad display is on the whole time. There is one Lighting port on the back, which has to be for charging and updating. There must be a charging station in the back because there were eight of these units on the benches.

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The Messages app has that thing where you can send a heartbeat, but that wasn't working because the heart rate monitor was partially covered in the demo unit. But I did notice that there was a green light emitting from the back of the Watch. I'm guessing that has to do with reading a heart beat. Okay, I'm not really guessing I know that's why it's there but there it's not next a wrist for measuring so nothing came up.

The Watch reacts well to touches but I noticed that it is a little laggy when opening up stock apps. These are pretty simple apps, heavier third party apps are going to be a bit laggier when launching.

Rummaging around in the Settings app/pane I noticed that Watch had some songs preloaded, the WiFi MAC address, the Bluetooth MAC address, the version number and all that. Ten songs already on the watch ay? Well let's go find those.

Launched the iTunes/Music app to find that there were some songs in there, but I couldn't hear them. They could have been static for all I know but I could change the volume and track. If you do that force push thing (which I was on every new pane) you have the option pick the source of your music library and AirPlay. You can AirPlay from the watch to an Apple TV? Interesting. I'm sure that you will be able to select "Phone" as source and then AirPlay that music without having to pull out an iPhone. That's kinda cool.

There isn't much else to say about the apps but the crown and the button. The crown felt nice to run up and down. It didn't take a long time to figure that out if you want to zoom in and out or scroll up and down.

The buttons — that will take more practice. I never read the manual, so I never knew which button was which. The crown is a button as well don't forget. The first time I came to pressing one of them was in the Messages app. I was doing that fun thing where you draw something and it sends it to somebody else. Yeah it's cute, but I pushed the crown to go back a pane. To be honest, I can't remember if it did what I want. But sometimes, I would push the regular button when I thought that was the intuitive thing to do in that situation, but it brought up the quick contacts menu. Not what I wanted. Not sure if that's going to have to be more practice on my part or something Apple didn't think through properly. To be honest, not sure how much I would use that quick contacts menu. I would want to allocate that button to something else. To what? Not sure.

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Take Away

I wish I could remember what was in this section of the Apple Store two weeks ago. Now, Apple is devoted two full tables and two side benches to the  Watch in one my local stores. That's pretty much the minimum that is necessary in order to show off the Watch collections.

I have a feeling that some of the Specialists that helped me today were not locals. I suspect that some were trained in the States (maybe Cupertino) as part of a secret class and then loaned to individual Apple Stores until such time that the local Specialists have time to be trained. I'm pretty sure I overheard a conversation about a hiring/training exercise later that night. There isn't anything else new for employees to be trained on other than the  Watch collections.

They were pushing to buy the  Watch (nothing) saying that it was "better kit" than the Sport collection. Another customer was attracted by the crowd in the story and starting looking at the Watches in table cases. When asked if he wanted help, he replied "What's this good for if I have my phone right here?" The Specialist came up with some scripted answers on why an average consumer would want one of these: "Hands free experience" and "it has a heart rate monitor." That's all he had to offer? The other patron was not convinced.

I have to admit, I felt that I didn't need one walking into the Apple Store this afternoon but the experience was polished enough that I just want one. It's a well made piece of tech. It feels good and fun on the wrist. Earlier I said that I would like the Milanese loop on the  Watch (Steel) but I suspect that I would never wear the  Watch to a formal function that would warrant a Steel Watch. I would rather wear a nicer Steel watch that I have already. I'm not ready for that.

On a regular day, I wouldn't mind wearing an  Watch Sport. Right now, I like it. It feels nice. If I preorder right now, I won't get the Watch until June. That's a deterrent but gives me more time to think about it. It will be almost $600 for Canadians. I can think of better things to spend that kind of change on.

Field Notes: Arts and Science

I love pens and paper, and have a small collection of Field Notes. The latest addition to the FN collection:

Our 23rd COLORS release introduces a brand-new, larger FIELD NOTES format for Summer 2014. We’ve created a limited-edition 2-Pack of 7.5-inch by 4.75-inch “Note Books,” big enough to accommodate ideas from both sides of your brain. Both books feature sturdy Mohawk Loop 110-lb covers with silver ink and debossed logos, with 64 pages of Finch Opaque 50-lb text paper inside.

I have wanted a larger Field Notes notebook, I'm excited to check these out when they show up in the mail.

Looking Forward to WWDC

I don't usually talk about, or post what I think is going to happen at Apple's WWDC Keynote presentation on Monday (June 2nd) -- but everybody else is, so I am going to as well. This is a developers' conference first and good PR, the Hajj for Apple fans for apple second.

Pretty certain

Because this conference is for developers and the press, we can be certain of a few things that will be announced.

iOS 8

This is obviously going to happen, I just want to see: * some better support for Bluetooth keyboards * AirDrop between Mac and iOS * better handling of notifications * App tiles (? - I really like the look of Windows phone)

OS X 10.10

No brainer. The name? Prob Yosemite. Somebody online pointed out that it is Yosemite's 150th anniversary (or something like that) so Apple may try to be a little nostalgic -- I don't see why not. But Apple is Apple, and there are so many places in California that there is just no knowing.

Want to see

Apple TV API / Improvement

I feel that this is a sleeping giant. First, Apple needs to issue a software update that will fix many of the bugs. Having experienced these problems first hand and hearing many others with the same problems - e.g. long load times and crashing.

Mac Mini

This is just me being selfish. I'm been looking to buy a Mac Mini for a wee while now and I don't want to buy one late in the product refresh cycle. It's been a while since we got a refresh on this bad boy. There are a lot of people that buy them to switch out from Windows or as servers because they are the only Macs that can be run headless.

It would be interesting if utilized the "desktop class" A7 processor in the Mac Mini. I want to see a Mac Mini that takes the design of the [Mac Pro}(http://www.apple.com/macpro).

Maybe(?)

Home automation

Apple doesn't make any home automation devices but they do sell them and they make the best remote for them. If this rumour does come to fruition, I feel that Apple is going to position this as a hub for all home automation. They will try and create a standard and API for hardware manufactures utilize in order for the devices on heterogeneous home system to communicate with each other making smarter home.

Not holding my breath

Health book

This one, I'm not sure about. I understand the draw for this to happen, but again Apple doesn't make any of these devices and I don't think they will ever get into developing medial hardware.

There are companies that have been developing medical equipment for years and they have a trust behind the name. These are devices that are monitoring people's lives. These have to work 100% of the time -- he hardware engineers take on a responsibility to ensure that these will not malfunction at a any time, much less a critical time.

That being said, some of the health categories listed in the rumoured health book screen shot require invasive procedure in order to make a reading. From my interaction with biomedical engineers at universities, we can keep an eye on emerging technology in the "medical sensor" domain. We have seen some really preliminary results, but nothing robust enough for mass consumerism. There are so many things that could go wrong with monitoring your vitals, for example, blood pressure cuffs are really easy to put on incorrectly.

I can just imagine Tim Cook sitting in a chair in his office with a big grin on his face because everybody's speculation may be so off.

My Favourite First 5 Minutes of The Prompt

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I'm a big fan of podcasts, 5by5 and especially the guys on The Prompt. The three co-hosts - @iMyke, @viticci & @ismh - have a good chemistry together (so cliché) and are a lot of fun to listen to.

But the first five minutes of this week's episode had my laughing out loud. The transcript below starts at just after t = 3:00 into the episode.

Link to episode page and show notes.

Myke: So, I had spagehtti carbonara this weekend
Federico : Mmm...
M: ... and tweeted about it to Federico and he was very, very unhappy at me because of the time that I ate the pasta.
F: I mean you were eating pasta at like 5pm.
M: Well, it was...
F: What are you, like an old man or something?
M: I was sitting in an Italian restaurant for dinner.
F: So was it lunch or dinner, at 5pm? What do you do for the rest of the day if you have dinner at 5pm?
M: (Aside) What did we do?
F: Do you just sit around and try to fall asleep?
Stephen: Hmm.
F: What did.. if you.. I don't know, it's just so inconveiable for me.
M: So bassically after that, I then.. well after being out all day, we kind of combined lunch and dinner, you know. As you do in these scenarios. And then later on...
F: No you don't do, you don't combine lunch and dinner.
M: Okay, okay, okay, then we ate more later on and then watch The Godfather so.. you know.
F: Mmm..
S: Mmm..
M: I'm sorry, Frederico.
F: You will do better next time.
M: Well the thing that I'll do next time is not tweet a picture about the fact that I'm eating pasta.
F: You should just, you know, eat pasta when it's time for pasta.
M: It was definitely time...
F: Not at 5pm, it's... Myke.
M: It was time for pasta.
F: Noo
M: I wanted pasta, and that was the time.
F: I mean, of course, I get the argument that you wanted pasta so you ate pasta. But, it's just dinner is at least 8pm.
S: That's so late. I agree 5 is early, but 8 is late. [Pause] Maybe we should just stop doing a podcast together.
M: Or at least just do one about pasta.
S: Yeah, yeah, we're gonna pivot The Prompt into the 5by5 Cooking Show.
F: Hmm, that's a nice idea actually.
S: Yeah. I would, I would - we could do a video podcast...
F: Can we call it the "Pasta-Cast"?
S: Obviously, Frederico cooks you pasta while speaking in Italian, only wearing an apron. It will be 5 stars in the iTunes store. Without a doubt.
F: That's how you do it. Yeah.
S: Yeah, we're definitely gonna earn the explicit tag.
F: Yeah, what ever.
S: Umm, yeah I think this is- and I would say that this just be the last Prompt. There's nothing going on next week.