Updated December 19th, 2015.
The big day has come and gone, and the new iPhones and the Apple Watch are all anyone wants to talk about. I can’t count how many people have written to ask me “So which one do I get?” and “What do you think about the watch?” so I am going to answer the questions here on the blog.
The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus
It’s hard to form an opinion about these phones in advance of holding them in my hands. They’re both bigger than an iPhone 5, we know that– and the iPhone 5 is already a little too big for one-handed use. At least for my hand. Apple has addressed this problem in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus with a feature called “Reachability” that brings controls closer to the bottom of the screen, easily requested via double-tapping the Touch ID sensor.
“Reachability” will not be able to help me fit the phone into my pants pocket unless I lose more weight (that’s what I did for the 5s) or buy bigger pants (no way). Also, whether it’s useable one-handed or not, if the larger size makes it uncomfortable to use that will be a major drag. The iPhone is in my hand many times a day and if I’m going to get a new one it had better be comfy to hold. I will simply have to see these new iPhones in person to see how they fit. That would be my advice to you as well.
Specifications-wise these are awesome phones. A faster chip. More storage. Higher contrast on the screens. Near-Field Communication (NFC) for use with Apple’s new “Apple Pay” system. Better cameras. Thinner front to back. Better battery life. Faster wireless performance. All good.
Even if I had an iPhone 6 and a 6 Plus right here at Boyce Labs I would not be able to tell you which one is right for you. I can tell you, though, whichever you get, spend an extra $100 and get the 64 GB model. Used to be, you got 16 GB in the base model, 32 GB for another $100, and 64 GB for another $100. Now you spend that first extra $100 and you get all the way to 64 GB. (Another $100 and you’re at 128 GB– also a good deal compared to what we used to get. I guess what it boils down to is “try to get past the base model. There’s better value up the line.”)
iPhone design has two goals that are completely at odds with each other: on the one hand, we want things to be small, for carrying and storage, and on the other hand we want things to be big, for ease of use. You can’t have it both ways (though the flip-phone came close). It’s interesting (to me) that Apple decided to go big. Now I wonder what will happen to the iPad mini as the iPhone 6 (and especially the 6 Plus) could be seen as a smaller iPad, with phone service.
The Apple Watch
I notice that Apple’s website calls it simply “Apple Watch” or “the Watch” (without the Apple logo)– that is good, because I am not so sure that an Apple logo will show up properly on web browsers around the world. Here’s one (Option-Shift-k, in case you’re typing along at home, on a Mac).
So let’s talk about the watch.
I usually don’t generalize but there are two kinds of people: those who wear watches, and those who don’t. This is going to be interesting to watch (pun) because anyone who wants to wear a watch, and has the money to buy a $349 Apple Watch, probably already has a fancy watch on his wrist, and if there’s one thing I know about “Fancy Watch Guy” it’s that he likes the watch he has now. I suppose we may see people wearing two watches at once. Otherwise there are going to be a lot of Rolexes gathering dust on the dresser.
The people who don’t wear watches have their reasons, and those reasons will still be there, Apple Watch or no. For example: I keep banging it on things, it catches on stuff, it’s too bulky, I’m afraid of losing it, if I want to know what time it is or to send a text message I just pull out my iPhone.
In short, this is really different than the environment the iPhone was born into, where everyone had a phone but everyone hated it. Here, at least some of those who have a watch like their watch, and those who don’t have a watch have reasons for not having one and the Apple Watch doesn’t address those reasons. The iPhone solved a problem everyone had (“I hate this phone!)”, but the Apple Watch isn’t solving anyone’s problem. In a way, it’s a solution without a problem. It certainly looks beautiful and it’s an impressive achievement. But I wonder whether Apple’s asking us to drink a little too much Kool-Aid here.
Keep in mind that the watch is not really a standalone device. Yes, it can tell time by itself. But it gets a lot of information from the iPhone, so you’d better carry your iPhone with you if you want the watch to be fully functional. For example, if you’d like the watch to give you directions from here to the nearest barbeque joint, the watch will not be able to help you unless it can connect to your iPhone to figure out where you are. If you’d like your watch to have the right time, and to know what time zone you’re in, you’ll have to have your iPhone nearby so the watch can get the information from it. You can use the watch to take a picture, but only if you’re using it to control the shutter on the iPhone’s camera. You can play a song, but only if what you’re really doing is telling your iPhone to play the song. Etc.
The list of things that the watch can’t do without an iPhone is long enough that for practical purposes, you’d better have an iPhone and you’d better have it with you all the time if you’re going to get an Apple Watch. This is slightly disappointing as I was hoping to be able to wear the watch instead of carrying my iPhone for those times when the iPhone is too big, too bulky, or to difficult to carry (on a run, or on a bike ride). Even so, it feels wrong to complain about what the watch can’t do, when the list of what it can do is so lengthy.
Assuming the iPhone 6 fits nicely in my hand I will probably get one as soon as my AT&T contract allows. I can’t imagine the 6 Plus fitting nicely in my hand but I’m keeping an open mind and if it fits, I’ll get that one instead. 64 GB, like we talked about.
On the other hand (actually, on the other wrist), I do not expect to be buying an Apple Watch as soon as I can. Beautiful, yes. Handy, probably. Fabulous enough to change me from “I don’t like wearing watches” to “Check out my new Apple Watch!”– probably not. As with the iPhone 6 Plus, I will not rule it out a priori. I would be thrilled, though, to find myself changing my mind.