Considering WWDC

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) begins next week and, as usual, the rumour mill as achieved maximum output. This is partly fuelled by Apple itself – they’ve been dropping heavy hints about ‘new product categories’ for some time now. A new product category wouldn’t accurately translate into a new iPhone or iPad model.

Sounds like something *completely* different. What could that be?

Home Automation

One rumour points to Apple’s first serious move into the home automation world. Think of your iPhone controlling your heating, air conditioning, lighting and security systems. Philips has already introduced lightbulbs that can be controlled by iPhones (the ‘Hue’ system) and Google’s ‘Nest’ has hit the headlines…though not always for the right reasons.

So it’s not infeasible that Apple could make a move in this space, especially if ‘many steps’ include more apps on iOS to make this easier – rather than Apple-specific products launched next week.

iWatch

What about an iWatch? Well, there’s been a lot of noise but not much detail. I don’t think we’ll see one of these before the Autumn, just in time for crazy-Christmas-shopping-season.

I think Apple will see how upcoming wearables from LG and Motorola are received and then, in typical fashion, launch something that says “Now *this* is how you do a watch!”.

iOS 8

This is all but certain. I’m a little out of the loop here as I’ve been an Android user (gasp!) for the last couple of months (more on that below). But I don’t think the next iteration of iOS will be as significant as the introduction of iOS 7. iOS 8 will most probably be a tidying-up exercise, with the introduction of some changes that users have been asking for.

But not everything – Apple never delivers everything users want. They know best. Allegedly.

Rumours point to an increased focus on health and health monitoring, which will be interesting to see. I use a Fitbit to track my (in)activity and Nike to track my runs. I’m unsure what iOS could include to make health monitoring more relevant and accessible.

OS X Mavericks

Mavericks was a great update to OS X. But it still has some rough edges (including Maps!) so it would be nice to see a meaty update to the OS to smooth these out. More and better interactivity with iOS would be welcome. But most of all, I’d like to see something done about iTunes.

I very rarely even start the app now as it’s such a slow-moving monster. I use Spotify on my iMac for music and Google Music when I’m on the move and dread clicking the iTunes icon.

New iPhones and iPads

The rumour mill has been working overtime on this. If we are to believe those ‘in the know’, Apple will announce two new iPhone models and small updates to the iPad line. The latter will receive fingerprint recognition, just like the iPhone 5S.

The former will appear as 4.7” and 5” screen sizes, as Apple finally realises that the reason so many people have bought Android phones has been for the increased screen real estate. Me included.

I’ll be interested to see what the combination of iOS 8 and a larger screen does to make the iPhone more like the Galaxy Note 3 I’ve been using since March. I’ve really enjoyed my switch to Android  but I’m not averse to making the return journey…if Apple delivers something that ticks all my boxes.

Namely:

  • Improved battery life
  • A 5” screen
  • Better inter-app sharing
  • Ability to choose default apps
  • Easier sharing between Macs and devices (bypassing the horrific iTunes!)
  • Better file management (through an iOS version of Finder)

Am I tempted?

I’m not chomping at the bit to return to the Apple fold as I’m really very happy with my Note 3 and my Nexus 7 tablet. Neither are *perfect*, but to be fair, neither was my iPhone 5S. Using Android has highlighted for me some of the many shortcomings inherent to iOS and the lack of user control that Apple have built in.

I love how, on my Note 3  I can chose the default email and calendar apps. I love how I can share data between any of my apps with a single click. I love the control Android gives me, should I want it. Apple doesn’t seem to trust me with my own devices. Daddy knows best.

The other factor is Google. Their next product launch will be announced at Google IO at the end of June. I’ll be interested to see what they announce in terms of Android (from ‘Kitkat’ to ‘Lollypop’?) and in terms of new tablets. I’m not putting my hand anywhere near my wallet until I can compare both sides.

Thankfully, a return to Apple would be very easy as the vast majority of my apps are cloud based and available on both platforms. Dropbox, gMail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Evernote etc.

After a move to Android, I’m unsure what could bring me back to Apple for mobile devices. I’m still a dedicated Apple laptop/desktop user, but I just have a better mobile experience with Android. And I’m not alone…

I’ll be tuning in to see the event, though probably late as I’m *one again* traveling for work. I can’t remember the last time I was at home for a WWDC announcement. Here’s hoping the crappy hotel wifi holds up for me to watch at least some of it.

Evernote on your wrist?

Pebble’s announcement of an Evernote app for their smart watch has piqued my interest.

I think Pebble is the standout winner (so far) in the battle of the smart watches, due to a combination of usability and battery life. Cost is obviously a factor too.

Now they’ve opened an app store and one of the biggest names to announce an integration is Evernote  As readers of this blog will know, I basically live in Evernote and the ability to have lists and notes appear on my watch would be really, really useful.

This might just push me over the edge into buying a Pebble.

Except for the pervasive iWatch rumours and my all-encompassing need to buy everything Apple launches. However, Pebble is available for $150 (about £90, with free shipping). I can’t see Apple launching an iWatch for anything less than twice that price.

What would make a smart watch attractive to you?

For me, it would need:

  • A reasonable form factor, looking more like a watch than a small PDA strapped to my arm

  • Battery life that lasts several days at a time before a recharge

  • Integration with my iPhone

  • A selection of apps that play nice with the services I use everyday

Pebble can tick all of these boxes.

Hmmm….

Considering a bigger iPhone

It’s mid-January, so obviously rumours of the next iPhone model have started. Actually, I read iPhone 6 rumours the day after the iPhone 5s was announced.

I suspect some people spend their entire technology writing careers creating and propagating crazy Apple rumours.

Implausible rumours aside, the trend for bigger mobile phone screens continues, while Apple has retained the same form factor some quite a while (in technology terms). I’ll admit I was disappointed that the iPhone 5s was effectively a pretty minor upgrade from the iPhone 5 – though increased memory and finger print scanning were both welcome.

For some reason, I’ve had a thing for ‘phablets’ (a phrase I dislike using, but it seems to have stuck. To me, it sounds vaguely medical and not at all appealing). Those impossibly large mobile phones basically straddle the space between large mobiles and small tablets.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and the Asus Fonepad Note FHD 6 fall into this category. Super-big bright screens and the potential for using a stylus rather than your finger. And I love them. The drawback fro me is they run Android and I’m firmly ensconced in the Apple iOS eco-system. Apps, music, films, TV shows, contacts, calendars… all the information and entertainment I use on a daily basis.

So I’ve been hoping that Apple will follow this trend – while simultaneously doing something interesting – and offer us a larger screen iPhone. Maybe it’ll be the iPhone 6. Maybe it’ll be a parallel iPhone model in addition to the iPhone 6. I don’t really care, as long as it has the following:

  • A screen that’s *at least* 5 inches
  • Retina display
  • Improved battery life, as it’s going to be used to watch movies as well as function as a phone
  • Optimised for use with a stylus (maybe even an Apple stylus)
  • Some phablet-optimised apps to take advantage of the bigger screen (like the Samsung Note)
Are these in any way realistic? Well, there are several hurdles, based on everything Apple has said and done before now. For example, Steve Jobs is on the record as criticising the use of a stylus with a mobile phone.
Then again, he was on the record as saying people didn’t want to watch video on a mobile device.
A bigger screen would add complexity to the app eco-system in that apps would need to work on multiple displays (iPhone 4S, iPhone 5s and iPhone phablet). I don’t think this is beyond Apple, but would require cooperation from the app developers.

There’s the potential for an Apple phablet to cannibalise sales of the iPad Mini, but then again, does Apple care where the cash comes from, as long as it continues to roll in, tsunami-like?

To this amateur enthusiast, it looks like phablets are here to stay. Both phablets and larger-screen mobiles like the Samsung Galaxy S4 are incredibly popular. I seem to be surrounded by Samsung mobiles on the tube every day and I’m insanely jealous of the large, bright screens when I compare them to my iPhone 5S.

From that perspective, Apple isn’t innovating – it’s not even keeping up with the competition.

Would an Apple phablet replace my iPad Mini?

Nope. But I might not bring it with me as regularly when I leave the house. A larger screen phone could replace it for reading the news and watching video podcasts. But I’d still want it for reading books and taking on holidays instead of a laptop.

You see? I’ve essentially rationalised my use-case for an Apple phablet, which doesn’t require me to sell my iPad Mini. A skill I’ve finely honed since my addiction to consumer technology began in the 90’s.

Rumour’s aside, I think it’ll be extremely disappointing – even to the most die-hard of Apple’s fans – if they don’t do something interesting with the iPhone in 2014. “Interesting” to me would be a larger screen.

“Jaw-dropping” would be a combination of phablet and iWatch.

Apple, please.

Take my money.