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Not a Prediction

Okay: Crazy designer ideas time. Bear with me. This is not a prediction of what may or may not happen at tomorrow’s Apple event. Just a thought that’s been rattling in my brain for the past few months.

Have an iPad handy? Great. If not, use your imagination.

Pick up the iPad and hold it as you normally would in landscape orientation. Where are your hands? If you’re anything like me, one of your thumbs is roughly on top of the home button, and the other one is just about covering the selfie camera. Hands are basically in the middle of the device, in other words.

Now, hold the iPad in portrait mode. Where are your hands? Chances are, your hands are towards the bottom of the device, not the middle. Your thumbs are not covering the center of either long side of the device.

Is it me, or is this an argument for Apple putting the Face ID sensor array on one of the longer, landscape sides of the device?

Now, there may be some perfectly logistical, engineering reason why the selfie cam/sensor array needs to stay on the short side of the device. This is why I’m not making any predictions here. But if it isn’t physically difficult or impossible to put the array on the longer side, I think Apple would and should put it there. Otherwise, forget whether or not Face ID can work in landscape or portrait. We may have to take one hand off the device every time we need to authenticate when we are holding in landscape, anyway. Which would not be ideal.

Ever since the 10.5-inch iPad Pro was released, with it’s slightly longer aspect ratio, I’ve used my iPad in portrait mode approximately 0% of the time. It’s just awkward to hold that iPad in portrait, because of its elongated geometry. Positioning the sensor array at the “top” of that orientation makes no sense from a design standpoint, as it optimizes for an edge case, rather than what I’m guessing is “normal” use for most people. (Again, assuming that engineering challenges don’t make this a moot argument.)

On the other hand, if the sensor array were on one of the long edges of the device, Face ID would work just fine in either orientation for most people, as your hands would never be covering the array regardless of how you hold it.

Just a thought. I’m sure I’ll be proven wrong tomorrow. But I couldn’t let this thought go without at least documenting it.

RECaf 1.1 - With Some New Siri Shortcuts

RECaf version 1.1 is making its way to the App Store today. In addition to some minor bug fixes, this version adds some cool new Siri Shortcuts that make it easy to quickly check on your day’s logging. You can customize the phrase to invoke these to anything you like, of course. They will also work on your HomePod if you have one, which is really cool.

I've found these extra Shortcuts very handy for checking in on my current intake, and when deciding if I really should have that one more Cold Brew in the late afternoon.

You can set up these Shortcuts by going to the History Tab and tapping on the microphone at the top of the screen.

Today Counts

Siri will give you a count of how many items and milligrams of caffeine you’ve logged thus far today.

Elapsed Time

Siri will let you know how long it’s been since your last log entry. If it’s been over ten hours, it’ll also let you know that you are likely no longer under the influence of any caffeine in your system.

Siri will let you know how today compares with the rolling 30-day average that you’ve been logging. If you’ve only started logging recently, of course, your 30-day average is going to be quite low for a while. Once you have a month’s worth of data under your belt, you’ll get a good picture of how today stacks up against your recent days.

RECaf is available now on the App Store. A 14-day free trial is available if you want to try it out.

A Fresh Start

It’s telling that of all the watch faces Apple has shipped since, only the Explorer is anywhere near the same quality of that original batch. All the others are either derivatives of the originals (e.g. Toy Story, Minnie Mouse, Timelapse), obvious examples of engineering over design (Siri, Activity), or complete WTF? (Kaleidoscope).

(Me, back in April of this year.)

I’m happy to see renewed interest in Apple’s watch face design lately. Awesome as everything else in watchOS 5 is, this year’s face additions didn’t change my thoughts on the subject from back in April. Despite loving my new Series 4, I find myself falling back on good old Simple and Chronograph more often than not.

Maybe a little less pyrotechnics, and a little more horology would be a good start.

All kidding aside, I don’t mean to suggest this is an easy problem. And it is worth noting that compared to the competition, Apple is still way ahead.[1]

There seem to be two competing needs for a modern watch face. On one hand, you have people who want beautiful, elegant designs with excellent readability. They want their watch face to look good, in other words. On the other hand, you have people who want to pack as much information into their watch face as possible via more and more powerful complications.

You’re never going to please both groups with one face.

Heck, I even find myself sometimes wanting to get more complications onto a face, even at the cost of aesthetics. So maybe it’s more accurate to say there’s no one face that can please anyone, let alone everyone.

Good thing for Apple, there’s no reason one face needs to satisfy all our needs. Just as the lack of plastic keyboard freed up the iPhone to provide a blank canvas for each app, Apple Watch has a similar chameleon-like capability.

I change my watch face as often as I change my watch bands, which is just about every day. More often, even. The versatility of the bands and styles of faces is part of the appeal of the device. This is in stark contrast to the user interfaces of any other Apple device, which each have one distinct look and feel.[2]

In the morning, you can have an information-heavy face showing you all the data you need for your health. In the evening, you can have a stark face that shows nothing but the time.

There are faces I only use with certain bands, too. You probably don’t want to pair Mickey Mouse with a link bracelet, after all.

The original watch face designs reflect an understanding of this need for variety. Each face was crafted carefully, by designers who had spent a great deal of effort learning about the history of timepiece design. The variety reflected the varying needs of not only different people, but different moods and situations. And the designs were steeped in tradition.

Complications were first-party only, few, and rather simple. Which is why so many of those faces didn’t even include any complications or had only one complication slot.

Life was much simpler back in 2014.

The faces that have come since are, as I pointed out in April, derivative of one or two of the original designs. The same hands, with various different backgrounds. Or, in the case of the Siri watch face, great tech demos that nevertheless look less than desirable.

Even the latest Infographic faces on the Series 4 watches are just less-attractive variations of Modular and and Simple.

Meanwhile, in the intervening years since those original designs, as complications became the primary way people get information from their apps, the demand for more and more complications—and more capabilities for those complications—grew. So with some faces, Apple is trying to pack in more and more of this complexity. The result, as with the Siri face, is less than desirable. Overloaded with color and text running in various directions, these faces match almost no band, and they make reading anything an exercise in distraction. I’ve tried for several days now to make either Infographic face look good to my eyes, and I’ve given up. The garish colors are just too much to bear. Even if I leave half the slots empty, there’s just too much to look at in one glance.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have new watch faces that are simply animated backgrounds of different varieties. Most of these offer few, if any complications. Sometimes for no good reason. They end up being novelties you try out for a few hours at most. But they aren’t really useful, ultimately. Some, such as Fire and Water, or Vapor, actually make it difficult to tell the time.[3]

So what can Apple do here? It’s not as if people are going to start demanding less power in their watch face. But I think Apple can certainly rise to the challenge of making new faces that balance elegance with capability. They just need to invest time and effort on the endeavor. Leave the current faces as they are, and bring in some fresh ideas, so they can design new faces in the spirit of what Apple Watch has become, rather than continuing to staple new functionality onto older designs that represent the limitations of five years ago.

Find some of the best mechanical watch face designers in the industry, bring them in house, and lock them in a room until next summer with the rest of Apple’s interface design team. I really think a fresh start is all they need.

Apple Watch Series 4 is a huge step up, in terms of a device that looks and feels more like jewelry than a computer on your wrist. Now the face(s) just need to catch up.


  1. If other smartwatches are the competition, that is. I don’t think they are. ↩︎

  2. It only makes sense, then, that this is a greater challenge requiring a greater effort to get right. And it’s an even stronger argument for why Apple should never allow third parties into this arena. ↩︎

  3. And don’t get me started with Kaleidoscope. I’m still trying to forget that one exists. ↩︎

RECaf is now Available

In case you didn’t see it last week: RECaf is available for download on the App Store. If you are interested in tracking your caffeine intake for health purposes (or just out of curiosity) I encourage you to give it a try. A free 14-day trial is available, which gives you access to every feature of RECaf, so you can see for yourself if it suits your needs.

Why track your caffeine intake? Caffeine is a drug. While studies have debunked earlier conclusions regarding heart problems, high blood pressure, and other issues associated with caffeine, and some studies have even suggested moderate caffeine intake can be good for you, it’s still important to monitor any chemical substance you put into your body. Knowledge is power.

While you are giving RECaf a spin, I also highly encourage you to try logging with Siri Shortcuts in RECaf. Everyone I’ve spoken to who liked the app initially, ended up loving it once they started logging with Siri. Shortcuts really are transformative. I’m starting to set them up in a number of apps on my personal phone, and it’s changing the way I interact with my phone regularly.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank some folks. First and foremost, my good friend Curtis Herbert (of Slopes fame) who spent more time than he would have liked helping me out with the server-side validation / in-app purchase portions of RECaf. I would not have been able to launch this app without his help, and I definitely would not have been able to triage all the crazy errors I was getting on my initial launch day, either. Speaking of which, some folks at Apple (some of whom I will never know) were also instrumental in helping me track down some internal issues as well. And the review team has been extremely supportive. It’s easy to take swipes at big companies when you are frustrated, but the people I have interacted with at Apple have always been top-notch.

To all my beta testers, the folks at MacStories who have helped me get the word out (read Federico Vittici’s Review of iOS 12—it’s awesome), and the early-adopter customers who helped me fix some critical issues in the initial days the app was available—thank you for your patience and support.

You can call yourself an indie dev all you like, but you can’t do everything alone. If you know anyone who would be interested in RECaf, I always appreciate you helping me spread the word. And if you have any feedback on the app itself, there’s a link in the More section to drop me a line.

Adventures in Transferring Music to a New iPhone, 2018 Edition

Fall is here, and that means it’s time for yet another chapter in Joe’s Adventures of Getting His iTunes Music Collection onto His New iPhone.

Don’t worry: This one has a mostly happy ending.

Long-time readers will recall past issues with getting my music situation settled on the iPhone every year. Here’s the short version:

  • I want ALL my music on my phone, downloaded, and ready to play. I am away from internet connectivity often enough (on the subway, on airplanes, and so on) that having local music at the ready is essential. I do not like choosing the music I might want to listen to two days before I go on a trip. Call me crazy, but I expect my music experience in 2018 to be as good as what I had with my iPod back in 2002.
  • I have tons of music in my iTunes library. Hundreds of gigabytes worth. Tens of thousands of songs.
  • Much of the music in my library is from iTunes. Much of it is not. I’ve ripped old CDs, downloaded tracks from indie bands, bought tracks from other online services, etc.
  • A good number of my tracks are not available on iTunes. Either they never made it there, or they have since been taken down. Most of these tracks are obscure stuff from unsigned bands or alternative releases that are only available in physical form, etc.
  • In a new twist for this year, I’m now an Apple Music subscriber. I use the service mainly for discovery, and so I can ask HomePod to play things for me very easily. But I still want to keep my precious collection of owned music safe and secure, in case I ever stop being an Apple Music subscriber.

If any of the above sounds familiar, congrats. You are as odd as I am when it comes to music. I get that most people don’t care about locally stored songs, and they listen to the same five tracks over and over again for several months at a time. Congratulations to them. Apple has you well covered. For the rest of us, getting our peculiar musical needs met takes a bit more effort.

This year, because I’ve added Apple Music into the mix, and along with it iCloud Music Library, I had to change up my methodology a bit.

I won’t go into why here, but you can read all about why I use iCloud Music Library on my phone and iPad, but not my Mac. Unsurprisingly, that bug has still not been addressed.[1]

So here’s what I did. I’m happy to report this worked out very well.

Step One - Get a new phone, but leave music alone

I tend to order my new iPhone for pickup at the retail store. I like to get up in the morning early, head down to the Upper West Side, pick up my phone, and get home by 9am or so.[2]

When I got my new phone this year, I restored over the wire from a backup I made on iTunes that morning. This is preferable to an iCloud backup in a few fundamental ways. First, it’s encrypted, which means all my passwords to my apps come along for the ride. I don’t have to spend the majority of my day launching apps and logging back in. I may have to reauthorize FaceID a few times, but overall it’s far smoother. Second, it’s much faster than an iCloud backup.

iCloud backup is great for daily backups and emergencies. For a new phone, I highly recommend running an iTunes wired backup of your old phone just before purchasing.

Once my backup was restored, I waited for my apps to download, then went about my day. I made no attempt to get music onto my phone, unless it was to download an album or two to listen to while working. The real process was going to have to wait until bedtime.

Step Two - Get any music that was inadvertently downloaded off the phone

Just before bed that first night with my new phone, I went into Settings > Music > Downloaded Music and erased any songs I had downloaded throughout the day. This is to prevent accidental duplicates. Then I went to Settings > Music and turned off iCloud Music Library. This is necessary for allowing my Mac to transfer files to my phone manually. (Remember, I keep iCloud Music Library off for my Macs, for reasons stated here.) I also double checked to be sure Optimize Storage is turned off.[3]

Step Three - Plug into iTunes and get ready to drag some music

Next, I plugged my new phone into my MacBook Pro and fired up iTunes. I made sure I had music selected from the category selector. Once the phone was recognized, I could see it in my Devices list on the left. I selected artists from the Library list (you could just as easily select songs if you like), selected ALL of the tracks by first selecting a track, then typing Command + A to Select All, then dragged all of those files over to On My Phone.[4]

After a few seconds of waiting, the head’s up display on iTunes confirmed that the files were indeed beginning to copy.

Step Four - Go to bed

Seriously. In the case of my library, this was going to take a few hours. There’s a reason I do this at the end of the day.

Step Five - Confirm everything has copied

The next morning, I awoke to find that all of my files had copied over just fine. No error messages on my Mac, and a quick trip to the Music app on my phone showed tons of tracks in the Downloaded Music list. Long-time readers will understand why this made me so happy. If you’ve been dragging and dropping from iTunes to phones over the years, you’ll know that this hasn’t always been a guaranteed outcome. I am glad to see that this is still working perfectly in the latest iTunes and iOS versions.[5]

Step Six - Re-enable iCloud Music Library and do some downloading

Now that my entire library from my Mac was on my phone, I wanted to get iCloud Music library up and running again. That’s as easy as going back to Settings > Music and flipping that switch back on. The phone will ask you if you want to keep the music you’ve already got on your phone. Make sure you do that, or else you’ll end up with no locally downloaded music again. I worried for a moment that I may end up with duplicates in my iCloud Music Library as a result of this, but so far that does not seem to have happened.

Finally, I went to the Music app on my phone, scrolled through the recently added section, and downloaded those few albums I had downloaded recently on my old phone for discovery. Those tracks aren’t on my Mac (thanks to the fact that I can’t run iCloud Music Library on my Mac), so I needed to bring them back down onto the phone manually. Not a huge deal, compared to downloading everything that is on my Mac manually.

Conclusion

Compared to previous years, where I’ve spent several days or even weeks trying to get my entire library to my phone, this worked out great in one night. It would be a bit easier, of course, if Apple fixed the iCloud Music Library duplicate issue on the Mac. But for now I’ll take it.

I’m sure I’ll discover an album or two I had downloaded to my old phone that I’ve forgotten to re-download on the new phone. I figure that will be a minor annoyance compared to years past.

Hopefully, if you’ve got a bug up your ass about music like I do, this method will help save you some agony.


  1. My offer still stands, Apple. I’m happy to swing by the Park and show you my iTunes Library, and what happens to it when I try to turn on iCloud Music Library. ↩︎

  2. People insist to me that having the phone shipped directly to their house is better. But then they are invariably tweeting at 3pm that their FedEx driver hasn’t arrived yet. ↩︎

  3. Optimize Storage will erase music from your phone at seemingly random intervals, serving only to enrage you when you are on the subway and want to listen to a specific album that’s no longer on your phone. It is the worst switch on my iPhone, and I wish it would die a thousand deaths.

    You may feel differently. ↩︎

  4. Depending on the size of your library, you may have to be patient with this. I clicked and held down for several seconds of beach-balling before I was able to start dragging the tracks. But eventually, it worked out fine. ↩︎

  5. Again, whoever at Apple is responsible for fixing dragging reliability a while back in iTunes, know that your efforts are still being appreciated by music nuts like me regularly. You have made the world a better place. ↩︎