Date:2 July 2016
From Apple hatred to “I need this in my life”, one Android and Windows fanboy gives the Cupertino lifestyle a whirl for a month.
It’s not that I don’t like Apple devices. Right now, I have an iPod plugged in to my car. Also, I am one of the few people I know who loves to use iTunes (mostly for its superior tagging). I just haven’t seen the value in the premium price for the devices. Is the iPhone 6S really R4 000 better than say, a Huawei P8? No.
And it all starts with the iPhone. It’s the device that truly changed the game and turned smartphones into a market that supports an entire accessories industry. Each new iPhone announcement points the related industries into the direction of that year. The buzz surrounding the upcoming iPhone 7 possibly doing away with the 3,5 mm audio jack has triggered a global debate. But that’s still a few months away. Right now I’m staring at the latest available product, wondering if I can love it.
The Macbook was going to underpin my narrative. The original plan was to type out the story using those innovative butterfly switch keys. But that train was derailed mainly by my own preference for mechanical keyboards when writing anything of importance – and PM’s first Apple product test in at least two years is an important one. Another hind-rance is that I struggle to understand why I need to use an accessory to use an accessory. USB type-C is the future, you better believe it, but that future is still a bit down the road. The least Apple could have done is add in a USB 3.0 port to build a bridge to tomorrow. Instead, I’m stuck with squared-off plugs to stick into a rounded port.
The Macbook is an almost impossibly thin device, though – a true feat of engineering. I marvel at the clean lines and reimagined keyboard switches, the trackpad that doesn’t actually move, but still responds with that familiar click when you press on it. The up-firing speakers at the top of the keyboard are great and located near perfectly. The screen is crisp and sharp. Any Macbook owner would be proud to haul this beauty out at even the most pretentious coffee shop.
But then you realise that the legendary Apple logo doesn’t glow. There’s no SD card reader and, if there was one, the mediocre hardware would cave under any editing load. I’ve complained before about the Intel Core M chip being deployed in high-cost devices and never is its lack of power more exposed than trying to handle multiple Chrome tabs, or anything significant task, on the Macbook. Mac OS X El Capitan is a great operating system, but fails to hide the limitations of a chipset that is probably better suited to tablets than laptops. I expect a laptop to do more than be a word processor and expensive Facebook machine.
For thin and light with great battery life with some power under the hood, Apple already had the Macbook Air. A portable large screen that is perfect for media consumption and light productivity is called iPad Air. Macbook doesn’t have a clear role, but it seems like it will end up replacing Macbook Air because Macbook Pro has shed the optical drive and, with it, any need to be thick.
I still covet it and its all-metal build. I managed seven hours on the trot and a full day of standby only sipped about four per cent of the battery life. I have dreams of covering multiple-day trade shows with the Macbook at my fingertips, but ain’t no way I can get the wife to sign off on a R12 000 purchase that I can’t edit any video on.
The 6S is the best iPhone yet. It finally managed to eclipse the previous iPhone I regarded as the supreme handset – and still do, with regard to design and size – the 5S. Where I felt the iPhone 6 was an incremental upgrade, even though it introduced a larger screen, the 6S hugely improves on everything. There’s a brand new camera sensor, faster TouchID, blazing hardware, more RAM, unconfirmed restistance to the elements and a stronger metal chassis. Then there’s the often misunderstood 3D Touch screen, which has altered my interaction with all touchscreens for the foreseeable future.
If the clever folk at Cupertino could make the iPhone waterproof, I’ll march into the iStore the next day and get myself one. For now, though, I can see the appeal. It’s the effortlessness that sets the iPhone apart. The camera isn’t the quickest in the race to find focus, the sensor isn’t the largest, it doesn’t have the highest resolution and the app doesn’t launch the quickest. But overall you simply point and shoot and share your great results 90 per cent of the time. That effortless sensation extends to TouchID and the general speed which the operating system operates at. My wife has an iPhone 6S now after I had to stop her from putting her Samsung S4 Mini through a wall. She says she will never go back. Why? Because everything you need on the iPhone is easy to find, not buried in sub-menus. The only tech support I needed to offer to date was to get a unique ringtone and Music app-related questions (which I had no answer for).
Apple devices are often criticised for forcing users to live in the walled gardens of its operating systems. This is true. Besides that, the lack of widgets and customising options for the UI is a dealbreaker for me. But I’m also a geek who doesn’t mind trawling forums for rooting tips and new mods. My wife isn’t. She just wants a great camera and a phone that works.
Because Apple controls the hardware design and the OS it can optimise everything. The upside of this is a full day of juice from a miniscule – by today’s standards – battery. While I’m against the current trend towards slimmer devices instead of giant batteries, it was great to get home in the evening with 25 per cent left, something my ageing Sam-sung Galaxy S5 hasn’t done in a while because of poorly optimised software updates. As a complete package the iPhone is ahead of its competitors, although that distance is diminishing rapidly and not with the jump in price.
I EXPECTED MORE from the Apple Watch. Tech writers the world over bombarded Samsung for its flaws in the Gear product line and heralded the Watch as the saviour of the wearables. I own a Samsung Gear Fit and have spent time with all the other Gear devices and I can say that if it wasn’t for the developer community rallying around the Watch, there’s be no difference between Gear S2 and Watch. Even my lowly, much maligned Gear Fit has about 75 per cent of the same functionality.
Detailed future weather forecasts, activity tracking and launching Strava were my most used features. I’ll admit that taking calls on the watch in the car was handy a couple of times, but that’s because I didn’t connect the iPhone to the Bluetooth speaker. I also assume that if you’re spending R6 000 on a watch you’ll need to charge every night that you drive a car equipped with Bluetooth and will sync your device with it because you don’t cycle through phones as regularly as a tech reviewer.
That said, the Apple Watch is effortless in its implentation. It’s a second screen for your iPhone and you will see yourself picking your phone up less. I’d personally wait for the next generation of the device to at least improve the battery life before committing any money to the idea, though.
The fourth-generation Apple TV is, surprisingly, the star of the 2015 Apple show for me. If you don’t know about Apple TV, it’s a puck that you plug in to your TV and then connect to your Internet. Now you have an Apple-powered smart TV for less than R3 000 if you were clever and bought the 32 GB model. Apple TV has evolved from iTunes on your TV to accept purpose-built apps and games, which is what the storage is for. Don’t worry, I foolishly believed that I could store my iTunes purchases on it, too.
Oh, and Siri for Apple TV doesn’t work in our country yet. So all searching is done by clumsily swiping through an alphabet via the trackpad on the remote control. I also find it odd that the Bluetooth doesn’t support a keyboard which would make life much easier and while the unit does sport a USB type-C port, the minimal literature claims it’s used for maintainence purposes only.
I love Apple TV so much that I spent money on one and it has simultaneously solved my need for YouTube on my TV and brought Netflix into my lounge in one fell swoop. Plus, the headroom for growth of the TV OS platform is cavernous, given the company’s commitment to it. And if my data bundle is depleted I can always stream media via Airplay from my Android tablet and any of the many downloadable apps which support it. But that’s a story for another day.
This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.