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On Apple Planning to Ditch Touch Bar

Note: This is currently a rumor, and I hope it doesn’t come to pass.

I remember the early 90s, when I was first considering getting a 5-string bass. 5-string had suddenly become very popular, thanks to Grunge and a lot of other popular music featuring those extra low notes the 5-string provided.

I was playing around with one in the store, and I got into a conversation with one of the employees.

“Do you think this is a fad? Will we all just go back to 4-string in a few years?” I asked.

“The way I see it, there’s nothing you can do with a 4-string you can’t do with a 5. So why go back to the limitation of the 4?”

I bought my first 5-string a few months later.

Nowadays, there are plenty of 4-string players around. But the 5 also is still used widely. And I’ve never considered giving up those extra low notes.

This is exactly how I feel about Apple’s Touch Bar. There’s nothing your non-Touch Bar Mac can do that I can’t do with my current laptop. So why would I want to give up my Touch Bar for a row of useless function keys I’d never use?

If I were Apple, I’d be doubling down on Touch Bar, not tearing it out in favor of plastic keys that can’t adapt to your needs.

My New Laptop

Yesterday I ordered a new Apple Silicon Mac. The 13-inch Pro, to be precise. With all the trimmings.

I did this, even though:

  • This is clearly a Mac meant to be a replacement for the entry-level 2-port model of the 13-inch Pro. Not the high-end 4-port model I am using to type this.
  • A higher-end version (perhaps with the rumored smaller-bezel 14-inch screen) could be coming as soon as next spring.
  • 16 GB of RAM max.
  • Aren’t we supposed to avoid first-gen hardware?

Here’s why:

  • This 13-inch Pro with M1 (if Apple’s bragging is to be believed) is going to outperform my maxed out 2020 Intel MacBook Pro 13-inch, anyway. Particularly at graphics.
  • My battery life is likely to be close to double what I’m currently getting.
  • I’m betting the better efficiency means the fans will kick into high speed less often.
  • I’m betting the lower RAM ceiling doesn’t impact me as much as most people think.
  • I’ve been buying first-gen Apple hardware for decades and have never regretted it.

All this, for a price that’s $700 cheaper than the Pro I currently own.

And in Silver, of course. Space Gray is so 2015.

This is but the first step in a long transition for the Mac. And it’s historic. My limited experience with the DTK over the summer has shown me that Apple Silicon is the real deal. Rosetta apps don’t feel like emulation. And given how easy porting to Apple Silicon is, most apps will be native very quickly, anyway.

If the more-expensive small Pro ends up getting announced next year, upgrading again is always an option.

Small price to pay for being on the cutting edge of the Mac’s evolution.

Finally, a Small Phone I Can Buy

Long-time readers know I am no fan of big phones. I’ve been begging Apple to make a smaller iPhone since the iPhone 6 was released. And while the SE was a smaller option for a while, I had many good reasons not to go in that direction.

I don’t want a small phone that is also a “budget” phone, in other words. I want a top-of-the-line phone that happens to be small.

Now, I get the limitations of physics. I know a smaller phone is never going to get the same battery life as a large one. And I know it can never have as advanced a camera. I’ve always been willing to compromise on those two specific things, because I don’t believe in magic.

It’s been a long time since battery life was a major issue for me with my phone. And while I love taking pictures, the cameras on cell phones have been “good enough” for me for quite a while. Neither of these things is more important to me than reachability.

And so here we are in 2020, and Apple just announced the iPhone 12 mini. Since I avoid rumor sites, I had no idea this was coming. And I have to admit, I was completely unprepared. It’s been a long time since choosing a new iPhone was more than a matter of choosing a color for me. I fully expected to be ordering the smallest "Pro" phone they offered, even if it were a little bigger than my current 11 Pro.

For at least a few hours, I was truly torn about which phone to get.

But in the end, how could I not get the mini? There are exactly two sacrifices you make when getting this phone vs the new Pro: Battery life and camera. Everything else—from 5G, to the new Ceramic Shield glass, to the A14 Bionic, to FaceID, to OLED, to MagSafe—is pretty much the same.

The iPhone 12 Pro is basically 100% aimed at photographers and videographers at this point. While I’ve never needed to get a Pro, this year I finally don’t even want to get a Pro. It took me a few hours to realize that, but now that I have, I can’t wait to get my hands on the mini.

My New Theory

Here’s my new theory. Maybe I’m nuts.

The new Apple Solo loops are not about the Watch. They are an operations experiment, to see how well Apple can manufacture at grand scale products that are more personal and customizable than ever before.

Some industries would laugh at this being a challenge. But tech companies are not used to this level of customization at all. And no company manufactures product at the scale of Apple at this point.

When Apple got into wearables with watches, they started out small. Two case sizes. Various bands you could bundle in or purchase separately. I think there were roughly 20 different SKUs at launch.

That already was far more customized to individuals than anything Apple had done before. (5 different colors of iPod were probably the closest they had come.)

Fast forward to a few years from now, when Apple starts delivering their next big wearable device. Glasses are the current rumor. Have you ever seen one style of glasses frames that looked good on everyone? You’d need dozens of different frame styles, in many different sizes, to even begin to reach mass market appeal. When I go to buy glasses, I try on at least five different frames before I find one I like, and that’s after I dismiss the obviously wrong ones. It’s hard enough to convince people who don’t need glasses to wear them. If the frames look terrible on me (Hello, Google) Apple is never going to reach the market scale they want.

Factor in prescription lenses for many of us, and you’re talking about a made-to-order product. Built at Apple scale. That’s never been done before by anyone.

Make no mistake: This will be the biggest operations challenge Apple has ever faced, by a long shot.

So, to help them get ready, we get baby steps. Individualized watch bands. In 9 different sizes. 7 different colors. Two styles (Braided and Sport). For 44 and 40 mm watches. It’s not nearly as much of a challenge as glasses will be, but it sure looks like a step in that direction.

RECaf Gains Sleep Analysis, Other New Features

Rumor had it, Apple was going to add native sleep tracking to Apple Watch.

In 2019.

That summer, I began work to add sleep data analysis to RECaf, a feature I had wanted since I conceived of the app. The timing seemed right. If Apple were going to be adding sleep tracking to Apple Watch as a first-party feature, I wanted to be right there, ready to take advantage of that sleep data as soon as Apple started its marketing.

Scientifically, it’s pretty well established that caffeine has some sort of impact on sleep for many people. (Not everyone, of course. I seem to be immune.) But most people I know can’t have coffee at night and then get a great night’s sleep. Taking the sleep data people record on their watches or phones and comparing it to the caffeine data being recorded in RECaf seemed so obvious.

This is at the heart of why we track these stats. We want to know how we as individuals respond to different stimuli. Maybe caffeine has no impact on your sleep, even though it does for many other people. Why not figure that out for yourself?

Shockingly, no other caffeine tracking apps seem to be doing this analysis. And very few sleep trackers do, either. This made it a perfect differentiating feature for RECaf.

But it was a hefty challenge. So much to learn. Sleep data is stored in a somewhat unintuitive way in HealthKit. And every sleep tracker seems to record data a bit differently. And then there was the challenge of how to display the data. How to compare it to your caffeine data. What were the most interesting conclusions I could draw? What would present the most value to my customers?

In the end, I settled on scatter charts (Shout out to Mike Selsky, not only for pointing out the appropriateness of scatter charts, but for writing the Swift code for generating the trend lines for me.) And I focused on a few basic data points. How much caffeine did you have vs. how much sleep did you get? How late was your last caffeine intake vs. how much sleep did you get? And finally, how long did it take you to fall asleep vs. how much caffeine you had, and how much time had passed between your last caffeine intake and going to bed?

Full Sleep detail view with charts

The feature was close to being wrapped up and ready to go a year ago. It still had bugs that needed to be worked out. But I was on track to ship at least sometime in the fall of 2019.

Then Apple announced a new Series 5 Apple Watch—without a single mention of sleep tracking.

Still, there were plenty of third-party sleep trackers out there. Plenty of people interested, I’m sure, in how much caffeine was impacting their sleep. But the golden marketing opportunity seemed to be lost. I got super busy with other things, and before you knew it, those last few bugs never got fixed, and nothing ever shipped.

Fast forward to this June. WWDC. Apple finally announces a native sleep tracking app in the upcoming watchOS 7. Okay. Time to dust off the old sleep tracking code and work up a new release for this fall.

And so here we are. Almost a year to the weekend after I “finished” the feature. Sleep analysis is finally here in RECaf.

I could have waited for Apple’s announcement of this year’s new Watch series. I assume it will have some sort of hardware enhancement to make sleep tracking even better. But for the sake of all those folks who won’t or can’t upgrade their watches this year, I wanted to get the feature into a watchOS 6-compatible version, so they could enjoy it, too. (I plan to move RECaf to iOS 14 and watchOS 7 very shorty after iOS 14 ships.)

There are some other good new features in the latest RECaf version as well. Reordering of favorites. Logging hydration into HealthKit along with the caffeine entries. (Coffee and Tea are mostly water, after all.)

There are also a lot of under-the-hood enhancements in this version. A complete refactoring of the caffeine source model. Finally properly utilizing Apple’s Measurement API for conversions. More reliable Siri Shortcuts. Improved performance and reliability of statistical data presentation. And on and on. Combine. SwiftUI. All the buzzwords.

It’s a big release.

So check out RECaf today. The update is now available on the App Store.