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20 Sep 18:08

Opening Up Higher Education against the Policy Backdrop of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ – Navigating the Conflicting Discourses

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Gabi Witthaus, SlideShare, Sept 21, 2017


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Once again I find myself wishing people would record their conference sessions - even an audio recording would be far better than slides, padlet and an outline. And this looks like an interesting one. While I don't believe counting words will lead us to a deep understanding of the discourse, it nonetheless points us in some interesting directions, and that's what happens here with this discussion of the discourse around open education. The paper asks, "to what extent does the Discourse of groups arguing for a market-driven approach to higher education overlap with, or diverge from, that of groups who are seeking to open up education?" It's a question I wrestle with. Market principles are very similar to network principles, and yet market principles are subject to failures where the poor and vulnerable are most impacted. So the way we talk about open education is an important indicator of whether or not we think this is a problem. I do - I think it's the problem. 

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20 Sep 18:08

AndroidBeat Daily Brief (Sep 20, 2017): HTC Halts Trading of Stocks Ahead of Potential Takeover, Google Home Mini Leaked, and More

by Chethan Rao
HTC has been going through a tough time since 2016, and news about a possible takeover has been floating around for quite some time. This news might get a lot more traction soon as the company announced some big news. Meanwhile, Chinese manufacturer Meizu unveiled the successor to the M5. Continue reading →
20 Sep 18:08

Here’s what’s coming to Netflix Canada in October

by Dean Daley
cast of stranger things

This month, Netflix Canada will gain the iconic Godzilla movie starring Matthew Broderick, the highly anticipated Stranger Things 2 and the follow-up to another hit Netflix Original, Riverdale season 2.

Here’s a full list of all of the television shows and movies coming to Netflix Canada this October:

October 1st

October 2nd

October 3rd

October 5th

October 6th

October 7th

October 10th

October 11th

October 12

October 13th

October 14th

October 15th

October 16th

Deep Undercover Collection: Collection 1 (available for download)

October 17th

October 19th

October 20th

October 21st

October 24th

  • The Hunt: season 1
  • Wanted: season 1 [Netflix Original] (available for download)
  • Wanted: season 2 [Netflix Original] (available for download)

October 25th

October 26th

October 27th

October 30th

  • Judah Friedlander: America is The Greatest In The United States [Netflix Original] (available for download)

October 31st

This is your last chance to watch

October 1st

  • Romeo+Juliet
  • The Dark Knight
  • Titanic

October 9th

  • Mad Max: Fury Road

October 10th

  • 300

October 15th

  • Happy Feet
  • P.S. I Love You
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

October 16th

  • Entourage

Image Credit: Netflix

The post Here’s what’s coming to Netflix Canada in October appeared first on MobileSyrup.

20 Sep 18:08

watchOS 4 ist einfach besser

by Volker Weber

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Eine bessere Auswertung der Herzfrequenzmessung oder ein schnellerer Zugriff auf die Musiksteuerung, hier Spotify mit Sonos. watchOS 4 ist an vielen Stellen verbessert, ohne dass auch die ersten Apple Watch ausgebremst werden. So entwickelt man ein Produkt sauber weiter.

Apple beweist bei der Watch eine ruhige Hand.

20 Sep 18:08

After the iOS 11 Upgrade :: Choose your file formats

by Volker Weber

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iOS 11 uses new container formats for photos and videos. For the time being I prefer the old more ubiquitous formats, although they are larger. Set in Settings/Camera/Formats.

20 Sep 18:08

Resigning from Fedora Ambassadors

by elioqoshi

After a good home run of over 1 year as a Fedora Ambassador and more than that as a contributor, I have decided to resign from Fedora Ambassadors. I’m not going to bore you with stories of the past. However, I’m resigning in good spirit, knowing that the local Fedora Community is in a better place compared to before I joined. Especially with our newest Ambassador, Mariana, I am convinced Fedora Albania will have a solid future.

While I am a bit worried about diversity in the community (I was the only male Ambassador) I look forward to be more on the sidelines and help mentor contributors into other projects at Open Labs Hackerspace. I am convinced that in the same way I have been supported and mentored by fellow contributors, I should give back to the community in a similar way, by allocating more time to that.

I am grateful for the support we had from Fedora and Red Hat, especially during OSCAL and look forward to shape the next edition with an even more solid presence.

The post Resigning from Fedora Ambassadors appeared first on Elio's Corner.

20 Sep 18:07

Learning as Artifact Creation

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George Siemens, elearnspace, Sept 21, 2017


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"One aspect of connectivism that has great potential for development is the role of the artifact in learning," writes George Siemens. "he web had its velveteen rabbit moment and became real to people who had previously been unable to easy share their creative artifacts. Eventually we were blessed with the ugly stepchildren of this movement (Twitter, Facebook) that enabled flow of creative artifacts but in themselves where not primarily generative technologies." Quite so. This has been one of the aspects oif the internet that has always fascinated me. It represents an explosion of creativity. We haven't seen the end yet. "Change is happening, often under the radar of enthusiasts because it’s harder to sell a technology product or draw clicks to a website when being nuanced and contextual."

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20 Sep 18:07

Updates on the Dropbox Bug Bounty Program

by Devdatta Akhawe

We first launched our bug bounty program in 2014, with initial bounties for critical bugs in the range of $5,000, ramping up to (currently) over $10,000 for critical bugs. Over the past three years, leading security researchers from around the world have participated in our programs with some amazing, often original research. Beyond just the individual bugs, we have learned many a lesson, uncovering unique, interesting threats, exploit vectors, and new research as well as rejigged our priorities based on the bug bounty reports. From Dropbox and all our users, a big THANK YOU to all the researchers that help secure Dropbox for our users!

Today, we’re excited to announce a number of improvements to the program, as well as highlight the progress we’ve made internally, in terms of both response and fix times.

We know that researchers value quick response and rewards. We recently measured our response times since 2014 and learned that 75% of our responses were within 2 days and 2 hours, with the quickest response being around 50 minutes. We have been working hard to improve our responsiveness and our reward latency even more. Over the last 12 months, we’ve drastically reduced our 75th percentile response time to under 16 hours of the report. For high-quality reports, we usually reward as soon as we reproduce the bug. In fact, we have sometimes paid out within minutes of receipt of a bug.

Fastest triage payout tweet
Fast triage payout acknowledgement

Through the bug bounty program, we have found a pool of incredible researchers who consistently do high-quality work. To further encourage such research, we’ve invited these researchers to a VIP program where we provide early access to upcoming features. Since the start of this program, 75% of our VIP reports got responses within 16 hours, and over the last year, we have reduced this time to 9 hours.

Talking to the community, we also know that hackers really value quick resolution of reported bugs. We typically aim to resolve high and critical bugs as soon as possible. We have resolved some bugs in under an hour of the report; for reports with bounties of more than $1,000, we resolved (fixed and out to the world) more than half of them in under 16 days.

Fast bugfix response acknowledgement from Frans Rosen

Dropbox users trust us with some of their most sensitive data, and we work ceaselessly to provide the best possible security for our users. Security researchers participating in our bug bounty program are a critical partner in this effort, and we are excited to announce three new updates to our program.

Tripling bounties

Starting right now, we are delighted to announce that we are more than tripling our bounties, with the reward for critical bugs — for example, bugs that could lead to remote code execution (RCE) on our servers — now topping out at $32,768 and bounties for RCE affecting our desktop/mobile clients at $18,564. To help kickstart this, we have also topped up any critical reports in the last 6 months with the equivalent increased bounty, paying out an additional bounty of over $28,000 for high/critical bugs reported this year.

Special Bonus for Great Research

Additionally, we have instituted a process to review particularly novel, high-quality research submitted to our program. At least twice a year, Dropboxers will go through high-quality submissions and award bonuses. Typical factors going into a decision include quality of report/research, interaction with researcher, and so on. With these bonuses, we also aim to encourage novel research. We just went through submissions this year and awarded an additional $14,000 in bonuses. Here are some examples of interesting bugs that we rewarded:

  1. Neex reported a local file disclosure vulnerability via ffmpeg HLS processing. While the impact on Dropbox was minimal since we sandbox all our video processing, we were impressed with the quality of research in the submitted vector: A video file that reads file contents is a pretty advanced vector.
  2. Mdv reported an XSS in the outbound chat vendor we use on our marketing pages. While the XSS was on the vendor’s domain, we pay based on impact, not based on whose fault it is. Mdv’s report was of a very high quality and thoughtfully explained how the XSS could impact our customers’ security.
  3. Frans reported a mailgun misconfiguration on email.gateway.dropbox.com. We fixed the bug within half an hour of the report. Since this is an unused domain, the impact was low. But, we loved the quality of the report, the clear description of the impact, and identifying issues in integrations is pretty innovative.

Matching donations

We have also started matching bounty donations to charity made through HackerOne. We recently matched a donation to Doctors Without Borders and look forward to supporting many a good cause with this matching.

Dropbox loves partnering with the security researchers to protect our users. Thank you to all the researchers who help make Dropbox secure for everyone!

Devdatta Akhawe manages the bug bounty program at Dropbox on top of his day job as engineering manager of the Product Safety team. If you’re a security researcher interested in participating in our bug bounty program, please contact us on HackerOne. We are also hiring.

20 Sep 18:07

tvOS 11: The MacStories Review

by Ryan Christoffel


WWDC was big this year, introducing new iPad and Mac hardware, Apple’s arrival into the smart speaker market with HomePod, and a variety of exciting software releases across iOS, macOS, and watchOS. But one of Apple’s main platforms was almost entirely overlooked: tvOS. During the WWDC keynote we received word that Amazon Prime Video would be coming to the Apple TV, but nothing else. Sessions held later in the conference revealed that a new version of tvOS did exist, and that it would be coming this year, but the details prove that it’s the smallest release in the OS’s young life. You could say that the focus of tvOS 11 is incremental improvements; the updates here are nice, but they hardly merit a major numbered release.

Automatic Appearance Switching

When the fourth-generation Apple TV launched in late 2015, it came with a bright, white-dominated interface that many found less than ideal for home theater setups. I’ve always been a fan of the original tvOS interface personally, but I know many Apple TV owners celebrated the advent of a new dark appearance option last year in tvOS 10. Though tvOS 10 gained the TV app and Single Sign-on later in the year, when it initially launched, dark mode was its hallmark feature. Perhaps as a sad indicator of tvOS’s slow progress as a platform, this year’s hallmark feature is simply another iteration on the platform’s appearance: automatic switching between light and dark appearance.

While it could be argued that this feature should have been available a year ago, automatic appearance switching is a nice option to have. When enabled in Settings ⇾ General ⇾ Appearance, it makes the tvOS interface light during the day and dark at night, granting users the benefits of enjoying both beautiful interfaces at appropriate times of day. I flipped it on instantly.

Home Screen Syncing

Before now, if you had multiple Apple TVs in your home, or if you had to replace a faulty unit at some point, the absence of Home screen syncing was likely a significant pain point for you. We’ve all grown so used to the benefits of features like iCloud backups on iOS that when we find ourselves needing a tvOS backup and it doesn’t exist, it’s hard to believe. That problem is now remedied with tvOS 11.

Home screen syncing, like many other aspects of iCloud, is mostly an invisible feature. Thanks to the Apple TV’s persistent connection to power, battery drain isn’t a concern, so syncing works in the background without any need for user action. If you want to turn syncing off, you can do so from Settings ⇾ Accounts ⇾ iCloud ⇾ One Home Screen, but otherwise it will work as advertised, keeping Home screens signed into the same iCloud account consistent with each other in every way. Add, delete, or rearrange an app on one Apple TV, and the same will happen on your other Apple TVs.

While I’m sure the majority of Apple TV owners don’t have multiple units, the recent introduction of the Apple TV 4K may change that in the near future. Personally, I’ve grown accustomed to moving my single Apple TV between the living room and bedroom – partly because I didn’t want to pony up for a second unit, but also because I didn’t want to bother with having to manage a second unit. Home screen syncing solves the latter concern.

Expanded Single Sign-on Support

Last year’s much-anticipated Single Sign-on feature arrived late, and had minimal impact. Due to the lack of support from most major television providers, only a tiny percentage of Apple TV users were able to benefit from Single Sign-on’s streamlined approach to authenticating your TV service in various video apps. Consider tvOS 11 the true arrival of the feature, which now sports a huge number of supported television providers, including a couple big hitters like DIRECTV and PlayStation Vue.

Everything Else

There are no other major user-facing features in tvOS 11, but a few smaller things are worth mentioning.

Time of Day in Progress Bar. Tapping, but not clicking, the touch-sensitive area of the Siri Remote while a video’s playing has always shown a progress bar counting down the video’s remaining length. In tvOS 11 that behavior remains, but now if you perform a second tap on the Siri Remote, the bar’s countdown changes to show the current time of day along with the exact time when the video will end, removing the need for user calculations.

AirPods Support. When AirPods launched last year, tvOS was the one modern Apple platform lacking automatic setup of the wireless earbuds; if you wanted to use AirPods with your Apple TV, you had to connect them as a new Bluetooth device. With tvOS 11 that changes, so now if AirPods have been set up on any of your other devices, you’ll be able to easily connect to them from an Apple TV too. AirPods can be selected from Settings ⇾ Video and Audio ⇾ Audio Output.

Music and Podcasts. In the area of OS compatibility, the Music and Podcasts apps have been updated with features borrowed from their iOS counterparts. For Podcasts the update is extremely minor: the Unplayed and My Podcasts tabs have been renamed to Listen Now and Library respectively, matching the accompanying tabs in the iOS app. Apple Music gains social sharing and My Chill Mix, enabling you to see what music your friends are listening to, and access a new, weekly personalized playlist, all from the For You tab.

Right-to-Left Language Support. There is now native system support for right-to-left languages in tvOS, joining existing support on iOS and macOS.


Later this year, Apple’s TV app will gain support for live sports and news, but until then, Apple TV owners are left with a minor software update with a couple nice features, and not much else.

Following the unveiling of the Apple TV 4K – a significant upgrade in sheer power over its predecessor – the Apple TV finds itself in an awkward place: with advancing hardware, but little change to the software. I use my Apple TV every day, almost exclusively in the TV app, but Apple’s 2015 vision for the product was bigger than making it merely a place to watch television: it included games, apps for shopping and vacation planning, and more. Since that time, there’s little Apple has done to foster a healthy ecosystem of apps on the platform. Maybe that Apple-designed gaming controller is still in the works, along with other improvements to apps on tvOS – but for now, tvOS 11 brings positive change, but nothing revolutionary.


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20 Sep 18:07

iWork Apps Updated with iOS 11 Features

by John Voorhees

Apple has released updates to its iWork suite of apps, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, with support for iOS 11’s headlining features. There’s a commonality among the features added to each app that serves to tie them together more tightly than ever before while simultaneously making them easier to use with third-party apps. Numbers and Pages also feature a few additional revisions tailored to their specific functionality.

All three iWork apps support the new document browser, a file picker view that looks and feels just like the new Files app. Instead of being constrained to iCloud Drive or pushed into an app-specific folder, you can open Pages, Numbers, and Keynote files from any cloud service that is a file provider. All three apps were also updated to support drag and drop of text, tables, links, images, and other content between the iWork apps and to and from other apps on the iPad.

Apple also added more powerful shape manipulation features to the iWork apps. New Unite, Intersect, Subtract, and Exclude commands were added to make it easier to create custom shapes. Shapes can be broken apart into component pieces now. Apple’s support documents use the example of breaking the state of California apart from a map of the United States to use it by itself in an app. Shapes and other objects can also be arranged using new Align, Distribute, Flip Vertical, and Flip Horizontal commands.

Numbers's new date, time, and duration keyboards.

Numbers's new date, time, and duration keyboards.


Among the unique additions to the iWork apps, Numbers gained new keyboards for more efficient input including date, time, and duration keyboards and ‘smart steppers’ for making minor adjustments to those types of values. Pages also added a modest but handy gesture. Triple tapping a paragraph now selects an entire paragraph, something I wish more third-party apps supported.

I’m glad to see Apple adding iOS 11 features to the iWork suite on launch day. Adopting the latest technologies of its operating system encourages third-party adoption and serves as an example of how Apple expects those features to be implemented by third parties. It also brings new power and flexibility to each app for users, making them useful alternatives to apps like Microsoft’s Office suite.

The Pages, Numbers, and Keynote updates are available on the App Store.


Support MacStories Directly

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20 Sep 18:07

A mathematician is like a naturalist

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Temitope Ajileye, Medium, Sept 21, 2017


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This is a great short article, and you won't need to understand any math (or biology) to comprehend the significance. Even more important, the core questions asked by mathematician-naturalists are also core questions in knowledge and learning:

  • How similar can something be to a tiger, before it is a tiger?
  • How much of a tiger do I have to see before I can say 'There is a tiger’ ?

In the article this is depicted as a question of classification and categories (and by implication, set theory and the foundations of logic) but when I look at these questions I see them as being about rcognition. We in the fields of knowledge and education ask, "what creates the concept of 'tiger' in people", and "how do they know when they're seen one?"

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20 Sep 18:07

Garmin Edge 1030 vs 820 vs 520 GPS Bike Computers

by Average Joe Cyclist

This post gives you all the information you need to choose between the Garmin Edge 1030 vs 820 vs 520. First I have a chart that highlights the key differences between these 3 bike computers. Then I discuss these key differences. I also offer informed opinion on whether innovations to the Edge 1030 will be rolled out to the other units. Then I offer some advice on which Garmin Edge to buy, based on your needs and preferences. Finally, I present a very extensive chart comparing all of the key features of all 3 bike computers, for those who want to know every single detail.

The post Garmin Edge 1030 vs 820 vs 520 GPS Bike Computers appeared first on Average Joe Cyclist.

20 Sep 18:07

Amazon working on first wearables to interact with Alexa

Amazon working on first wearables to interact with Alexa:

It looks like Amazon will be bringing one of my predictions to market: Alexa Glasses, where the mobile wearer could communicate with Alexa without having to open a smart phone app. This is a stepping stone to Amazon’s larger intrusion into smart mobile devices, or wearables, the gizmos formerly typified by smart phones and soon to be dominated by glasses and watches.

The company is also bringing out an Alexa smart camera, report Tim Bradshaw and Leslie Hook (paywall):

The glasses are not Amazon’s only upcoming Alexa product launch. The Seattle-based group is also said to be expanding its “smart home” hardware line-up with a new home security camera system. The internet-connected camera would tie into its Echo products, for instance allowing people to view the video feed on Echo Show’s screen, and letting Amazon customers see when their orders from the site have been delivered to their doorstep.

And regarding the glasses: 

A wearable, always-on Alexa communicator could allow Amazon to overcome one hangover from its failure in the smartphone market. While iPhone users can call Siri, and Android users can summon Google’s Assistant, simply by speaking their name, the Alexa app can only be accessed by unlocking the phone and opening an app. 

In 2014, Amazon hired Babak Parviz, founder of Google Glass, who has been closely involved in its Alexa spectacles project. Several other Glass researchers, engineers and designers also have moved to Amazon’s labs, analysis of LinkedIn profiles shows. 

Amazon’s glasses are likely to do away with the camera and screen that made Glass so controversial among privacy campaigners. Dropping those features would also improve the poor battery life that plagued Google’s headset. 

The glasses also could provide a platform for Amazon to move into the emerging market for “augmented reality” goggles. Microsoft, Magic Leap, Apple and Facebook are working on various headsets that would display digital images in front of the viewer’s eyes.

Here’s what I predicted back in January:

Amazon will buy Snapchat, and announce a new take on augmented reality glasses, picking up where Google dropped the ball years ago. Building on the success of Alexa-based Echo devices, Kindle, Fire TV, Amazon Prime, and the growing popularity of Snapchat, Amazon Eyes are the hit of Christmas 2017, with over 50 million ordered in November and December.

So I was wrong about Snapchat, and the product might not roll out till next year, but it’s coming. And AR will be the real lift, although they’ll start with Alexa Show display, and then richer AR.

Amazon is going to change the game, while Apple’s $1000 iPhone X will characterize peak phone when we look back a year or two from now.

20 Sep 18:07

watchOS 4: The MacStories Review

by Alex Guyot

It is difficult to reconcile a critical appraisal of the Apple Watch with the product’s commercial success. To examine the most popular watch in the world1 and find it wanting seems wrong; yet as Apple’s bombastic smartwatch kicks off its third year, its history implores ignominy.

The integration of hardware and software is a keystone in Apple’s foundation. Every game-changing product they’ve released over the years has used this as a core advantage over the competition. Yet despite the Cupertino company’s proven track record, the last three years of Apple Watch have demonstrated a consistent struggle to get this right.

Apple has certainly iterated on unsuccessful hardware and software ideas in the past, but never quite so publicly. The Apple Watch feels like a device that was rushed a little too early to market. Apple knew that it had something good, but it didn’t yet know which areas the device would really excel in.

One of the most interesting pieces of this product’s story is that all signs point to Apple having gotten the hardware of the Apple Watch exactly right, at least in terms of its direction. The original Apple Watch was underpowered and lacking some technology that Apple simply couldn’t fit into it at the time, but the idea was there. In subsequent hardware iterations Apple has significantly increased the processing power, added vital new sensors, improved battery life, and shipped LTE. In this time the case design has remained unchanged (other than growing slightly thicker), and the input methods have persisted exactly. It may have taken until the latest Series 3 release for Apple to fulfill its initial vision for the Apple Watch hardware, but that vision has remained unshaken since the beginning.

The same cannot be said for the Apple Watch software.

Apple’s smartwatch operating system has had a rocky first few years. watchOS 1 was fundamentally broken in several ways, and probably should never have shipped. watchOS 2 was an attempt to shore up and replace the poor foundations under the hood, but it left the substandard user interface to fester in production for over a year. With last year’s release of watchOS 3, Apple took its best shot at rethinking cardinal pieces of that interface.

watchOS 3 was a huge improvement over the blunders that came before it. As I wrote in my watchOS 3 review last year, Apple did great work with the update to cut away the excess and hone the OS to something simpler and more straightforward. It was a significant course correction which set a far better trajectory, but it didn’t get us all the way there.

In a lot of ways it feels like watchOS 3 was the true watchOS 1. Where Apple left off with the smartwatch operating system last year was really the point where it should have started. Nothing was complete, but almost every piece felt primed for improvement rather than necessitating reinvention. In the wake of that update, Apple has been at a crossroads. With the foundations of watchOS finally feeling solid, Apple could either continue to drive the platform forward, or leave it on a slow-moving autopilot.

Yesterday marked the release of watchOS 4 — our first opportunity to see the hope kindled by watchOS 3 borne out — and I’m pleased to report that Apple has succeeded in maintaining the platform’s momentum. Every area that this year’s update focuses on has seen fantastic improvements, and I’ve found myself interacting with my Apple Watch more than ever before. My only disappointment is that the scope of watchOS 4 isn’t quite as far-reaching as last year’s update.

The big themes of watchOS 4 are fitness and music, and Apple has done some excellent work in these departments. New activity goals, completely overhauled Workout and Music apps, auto-launch of audio apps, a Now Playing Complication, and more are all excellent upgrades. As always there is still room for improvement, but many of these features are making the leap for the first time from options on my Apple Watch which I mostly ignore to real features which I find consistently useful in my daily life.

There’s a lot to dig into here with the choices made and the new features added. Let’s dive in and find out what Apple has in store for the next year of Apple Watch.

Table of Contents

Fitness

Apple’s concentration on fitness for watchOS 4 has produced a flood of interesting improvements to the related aspects of the operating system. I’ve never been a big fitness buff, but in testing these features I was taken by surprise by how effective they are.

I’m still not a fitness buff by any definition of the term, but I truly have found myself thinking more about exercise in my daily life since installing watchOS 4. The new Activity goals and reminders have done their job by keeping me from forgetting that my Activity rings exist, and the speed and ease of starting a new workout have broken the barrier of being too much work for me to bother starting workouts when I am active.

I recently moved from the very driving-centric town of Tucson, Arizona to the much more walking-centric town of Minneapolis, Minnesota. My lifestyle has been inherently a bit more active since the move than it was previously, so the new fitness features of watchOS 4 came at a convenient time for me. It’s hard to say whether I would have become as involved with them if I were still living in Tucson, but I was certainly continuing to ignore the fitness features of watchOS 3 for the first few months here before the watchOS 4 beta was released.

If your lifestyle is not at all conducive to being active, I’m doubtful that these new features will be very impactful for you. They’re probably not going to inspire massive changes to the way you live. That said, if you’re on the border of starting to exercise, or if you’ve felt mostly ambivalent but not directly apposed to the Apple Watch’s fitness features in the past, watchOS 4’s new fitness improvements just might push you over the edge.

Activity

Apple didn’t make significant changes to the Activity app itself in watchOS 4, but it did add a series of proactive notifications designed to help motivate you toward completing your activity goals or finishing your daily rings. The first of these notifications are for what Apple is calling “daily inspiration,” and they consist of a variety of different messages which keep you updated on the state of your long or short term activity goals. For instance, you may see a daily inspiration notification informing you that you’re only some number of days away from completing a new streak for one or all of your activity rings.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how many variations of these proactive messages you could see, because they seem to be fairly random about picking metrics to try to motivate you for. Another example I’ve seen is a notification encouraging me to “make it happen today” when I failed to close all three of my rings the day before.

The best news about these notifications is that they’re inconsistent. The exact frequency and composition is ambiguous because they’re generated by some sort of “AI” technique, and the end result is that I’ve never once felt annoyed by them being sent too often. Unlike the hourly “Time to Stand!” or frequent “Time to Breathe!” notifications, both of which I eventually had to turn off, daily inspiration notifications have been effective for me. The fact that they’re different every time helps to keep me interested in reading them and avoid getting sick of them.

Another type of watchOS 4 activity notification is the “evening push.” These messages will pick one of your activity rings which you’re at least somewhat close to completing and let you know exactly what you need to do to finish it out. I’ve seen some of these recommending that I stand up a few more times by the end of the night, as well as a few mentioning specifics like “a brisk 15 minute walk will complete your Move ring for today.” Evening push notifications have more immediately actionable information than daily inspiration ones, but I often feel like they send too late at night. There’s no set schedule for these either (other than the general term “evening”), so I have no idea how they choose when to send, but it definitely varies pretty dramatically. Personally, when it’s 10:30 at night and my Watch tells me I need to go take a 40-minute walk to complete my Move ring, I tend to let that slide. If you’re more religious about completing your rings then maybe that’s information that you want to know no matter what time it is.

Finally there are the “monthly challenge” notifications. These are rarer pop-ups which recommend or update you on a particular goal to pursue throughout the entire next month. If you successfully complete a monthly goal then you unlock a software achievement medal for that month in the Activity app on your iPhone. In my experience these have only come through about two or three times each month — first toward the beginning to set a monthly goal for me to pursue and then one or two times throughout the month to update me on my progress. If you’re someone who really centers their workout life around the Apple Watch then these prompts could certainly be a good way for you to find some new ideas for goals. For me these have been the least effective activity notifications.

Overall, the new Activity notifications in watchOS 4 are designed with a clear goal in mind: making the Apple Watch’s activity tracking features a lifestyle. If you’re already someone who strictly pursues their Activity rings then these will be welcome additions. That said, I think these new notifications might end up having the greatest impact on people who are more on the fence about really getting into the habit of trying to complete those rings. My problem with the Apple Watch activity rings in the past is that I forgot about them throughout the day. For those who feel similarly, these new notifications can serve as a simple, low-friction way to keep activity in mind over time.

Lastly, if your lifestyle just really doesn’t fit with Apple’s views on being active, or if you read the above and can’t imagine these notification being helpful, then you can turn some or all of them off in the Activity section of the Watch app on your iPhone.

Workout

The Workout app for Apple Watch has received a significant overhaul in watchOS 4, and the changes made here are excellent across the board. Apple has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about what users want from a wrist-worn app for tracking workouts, and I think they’ve gotten it right.

If no workout is active then upon first opening the new Workout app you’ll be presented with a simple card view showing every available workout type. Each workout has its own large card, and you can scroll vertically to move through the list. Along with all the workouts which were previously available, Apple’s Workout team has also added a few new options. High Intensity Interval Training will use a new model for tracking your heart rate and motion in order to better calculate calorie burn for interval workouts. The updated Pool Swim workout will automatically track sets and rests, including the pace of each set and the distance for each stroke type.

Once you’ve identified the workout that you’d like to start, a single tap will activate it and start a countdown from 3 to when the Watch will start tracking. This interface is simple, fast, and gets you exactly what you want if you’ve chosen to open this app. The Workout app exemplifies the design direction in which Apple has been taking all of its first-party apps since watchOS 3. These apps are perfectly simplified: honed down to the exact minimum amount of complexity they possibly can be while still fulfilling what the user wants from them.

The only additional aspect of the pre-workout view in the new Workout app is that each card also includes a small button in the top right corner. Tapping this button will let you set a particular metric goal before beginning the workout. The four options are Open, Calories, Distance, and Time. Workouts default to Open if you just tap on them, but if you hit the top button and pick one of these other options then you’ll be taken to an additional interface where you can customize the exact goal that you’re looking for. Distance goals will ask you to specify a particular number of miles that you’re planning to travel, Calories will ask for a number of calories you want to burn, and Time will ask the time you’d like your workout to continue for. Each option will display your previous best for the particular metric to help you decide what goal to set for the current workout. Lastly, each of these options has a specific color, and this color will be the highlight color shown in the workout interface once you’ve hit the start button — including the color of the countdown numbers and exercise animation that will be shown.

It’s worth noting that if you tap on the countdown interface after activating a workout, it will skip the countdown and start the workout immediately. This is a nice addition, although I don’t like how hidden it is. Since I discovered this I’ve skipped the countdown on almost all of my workouts — it’s only three seconds but I’m usually only starting a workout at the exact moment that I plan to begin moving anyway. Another use for this is if you accidentally tap the wrong workout. I think that they should just add a Cancel button on the countdown interface, but barring that you can tap to skip the countdown and then swipe right and hit the End button. If you hit End directly after starting a workout then it will not show up as having happened when you review your workouts later.

Once your workout has begun, the app transitions to a three-page interface. The central page shows your active workout data, including a set of live statistics which varies depending on which workout you choose (generally calories burned will be there, and often distance traveled and heart rate as well). This page also includes some fun new animations which are specific to each work out, such as a figure walking, running, cycling, or swimming.

In an astounding case of poor discoverability, there is actually a hidden action while you’re on this interface. If you want to split your workout into segments without affecting the overall time tracking (the key use for this is of course tracking individual laps during a multi-lap workout), then you need to double tap anywhere in the interface to trigger the end of a segment. This will briefly bring up a view with your statistics for that individual segment before auto-dismissing it after a few moments. Double tapping is conveniently fast to access this feature once you know about it, but a double tap is not a standard convention used anywhere else in the operating system. I discovered this on accident and had no idea what had happened at first, or even how to make it happen again. I think a decent compromise here would be to add a small button to the interface which would trigger a lap, but also continue to allow the double tap. That kind of gesture should be a shortcut rather than the only way to access an important feature.

The last tidbit on the statistics view is that if you spin the Digital Crown you will alter which individual statistic is highlighted. I haven’t used this much myself, but I can see how it could be useful if you are concentrating on a particular metric and want to make it visually distinct from the others for easy glancing. As far as I’ve been able to tell, this highlight doesn’t actually do anything other than make a subtle visual change.

Swiping over to the page on the left in the Workout app will reveal a set of four buttons: Lock, New, End, and Pause. The End and Pause buttons are self-explanatory, and will both immediately End or Pause your workout without further interaction. The Lock button shows an icon of a water droplet, and this is because its purpose is to prevent errant touches from registering on the Watch face if it gets wet from sweat, rain, or water. This option can be a bit confusing if you don’t know what it does because it will also prevent any purposeful touches from registering until you unlock it.

To unlock your Apple Watch after locking it you actually need to activate the screen and then spin the Digital Crown a few times. As you begin to spin the crown you’ll see the water droplet icon appear on the screen and then expand and burst once you’ve done enough spins. At that point your Apple Watch will perform its water ejection dance, in which it emits several loud beeps to clear any water from its speaker. This will happen every time you unlock the Watch from this special Workout lock mode, regardless of whether there is actually water in the speaker.

I’m not a big fan regarding that last bit. I think putting the Watch into a state where you are unable to unlock it without making loud noises is obnoxious and, while unlikely, could even be dangerous. If you’re out exercising and something bad happens, it’s not unreasonable to imagine ending up in a situation where you need to have access to your Apple Watch without it making loud beeping noises — particularly with the new Apple Watch Series 3. The Series 3’s LTE capabilities make it that much more likely that wearers might be leaving home with no other means of communication. I think there should either be an on-screen option to prevent the beeping which shows up when you start spinning the crown, or the process should be split into two steps: press the Digital Crown to unlock the device and then spin it to clear the water, if necessary.

Also, if you’re playing music sourced from your Apple Watch through paired Bluetooth headphones when you spin the crown to unlock from this mode, your playback will be stopped for about 7 seconds while the watch blares noises through its speakers. That’s just annoying.

While we’re on the subject of potentially dangerous unwanted noises, I think it’s especially ridiculous that there’s no way to stop the piercing alarm from sounding on the Apple Watch when you hold the Side Button to call emergency services. This feature was introduced last year, and remains unchanged in watchOS 4. If you are actively attempting to contact emergency services then I think the chance are pretty decent that you might not want your Apple Watch to emit loud noises. While I understand that the noise is there to prevent users from triggering this functionality on accident, the fact that there’s no way to make this call without the noise feels like a huge oversight to me. Requiring some sort of secondary validation in order to prevent the noise — such as pressing the Digital Crown once while holding the Side Button — could be an effective way to mitigate this. Honestly though, I feel like Apple could design a better way to make this option available to users which does not require sounding the alarm to make sure it isn’t triggered accidentally.

It’s worth noting that the emergency services shortcut does remain active while your Apple Watch is in water lock mode. Holding the Side Button will first show the water drop icon alongside instructions telling you to turn the Digital Crown to unlock your watch, but after a couple of seconds this will transition to a red emergency services icon. Continue holding for another second to get the countdown from 3. Be warned though: in this mode the emergency services alarm will blare three times, once for each second on the countdown. When the Apple Watch is not in water lock mode you only hear the siren blare during the second second of the countdown.

Surprisingly, if you force-reboot your Apple Watch while it’s in water lock mode, it will actually remain in water lock mode when it returns to being active, and you’ll have to dismiss that before you can put in your passcode. The workout you were in the middle of will still be active as well. These facts both seem wrong to me — a hard reboot should put an end to both a workout and a water lock.

Returning to the Workout app interface, the final button on the left hand screen during an active workout is the New button. Tapping this will bring up the same card view of workouts that you started from originally, and tapping a card in that list will automatically end your current workout and immediately transition into starting the one you tapped. This functionality will be vital to triathletes, but also can be useful to anybody who switches between several types of activities in a row. As an example, I ride my bike across town once a week to play ultimate frisbee with some friends. When I leave home each week I start a cycling workout for the ride, then use the New button to immediately transition to a running workout once I arrive.

Small gripe here, but double tapping in the leftmost page’s button interface will trigger a new lap segment just like double tapping in the main view will; yet that double tap will not stop the interface from triggering whichever button you happened to perform it on. This means that if you want to trigger a new segment, but you happen to double tap on the End button, your workout will be over when the segment view is dismissed. Another example would be double tapping on the Lock button at the end of a lap. The interface will still show the lap stats so everything will seem fine, but when you get around the track the next time you will miss your next lap because the screen has actually been locked. This makes little sense to me. Apple should either disable double tapping in that area of the interface, or ignore the initial button press if a second tap is registered.

Once you’ve finished your workout — or all of your consecutive workouts — and hit the End button in the Workout app, you’ll be presented with a list of statistics from each workout shown individually. You can review your results here, or hit Done and take a look at them in the Activity app on your iPhone at a later date.

The End button will also deactivate Do Not Disturb mode if you have the new Workout Do Not Disturb option activated. This is off by default, but can be enabled in the Watch app for iOS via General ⇾ Do Not Disturb ⇾ Workout Do Not Disturb. The setting will automatically activate Do Not Disturb mode while you have a workout active, and deactivate it afterward. If you’re someone who really needs to get in the zone and avoid distractions while working out then this could be a great option.

While we’re briefly in the iOS Watch app, there are a couple new settings for Workout that I will touch on. A new Power Saving Mode option will disable the built-in heart rate sensor during walking and running workouts to save battery life. If you’re really interested in precisely tracking your heart rate data then you may want to disable this one. Secondly, a new Workout Playlist option will let you designate one of your playlists from the Music app to have playback started automatically when you begin a workout. This will only occur if you have headphones connected and aren’t already listening to something else.

Returning to the Apple Watch, the final view in the new Workout app is the one on the right side of the screen while you have an active workout going. This view is a modified Now Playing screen, and it’s a great addition to the app. I never exercise without a podcast or some music playing, and the lack of easy access to these controls during a workout has been a big pain point in the past. In watchOS 4 a quick swipe to the side will get you to the controls, and from there you can change the volume using the Digital Crown or skip forward or backward. If you need to interact directly with the app controlling playback then you can tap on the name of whatever you’re listening to to open the source app.

This may not seem like that significant a difference, but one of the biggest annoyances in watchOS 3 and prior was how difficult it was to access playback controls. If you’re exercising and want to control playback from your Watch, it shouldn’t require several button presses and navigating through different interfaces to get there. Particularly for workouts such as cycling, which require much more focus on exactly what you’re doing at any point, it’s extremely valuable to not have to mess around with software interfaces if you just need to bump your volume up or down a bit.

The new Workout app in watchOS 4 is a complete overhaul of last year’s offering, and Apple has done an excellent job with it. The decisions made throughout this interface evince a true understanding of how real users will be interacting with the app. There’s a lot of complexity packed in, but Apple has compiled it into a cohesive and easily navigable model. With the small exception of the double tapping issue, it’s very difficult to make a mistake in the Workout app. That’s the ideal of every good user interface, and I expect this iteration will remain the app’s foundation for years to come.

Now Playing and Auto-Launching

The Now Playing section of the Workout app is only one of the audio-related changes in watchOS 4. Apple has also overhauled the watchOS Music app (we’ll get to that later), added a new feature which automatically launches the source apps for audio that is playing, and granted us a Complication to open the Now Playing screen.

watchOS has an unusual history with the Now Playing screen, mainly due to the fact that, in my opinion, it is one of the few items which Apple got right in watchOS 1 only to later change for the worse in watchOS 3. Now Playing was originally a Glance (remember those?), meaning it was accessible by a single swipe up from the bottom of the watch face, and possibly a few extra swipes sideways if it wasn’t the last Glance you had used. Since third-party Glances were an effectively nonfunctional paradigm back then, I never navigated between any Glances other than System Controls and Now Playing, leaving both of those a maximum of two swipes away at any given time.

With watchOS 3 last year, Apple replaced Glances entirely with the singular Control Center screen. Basically this was an improved version of the old System Controls Glance, and the Now Playing screen was transitioned to a card in the Dock. Here’s what I wrote about this in my watchOS 3 review last year:

No matter which way I look at this, I continue to be confused by Apple’s decision to move Now Playing to the Dock. On iOS, where the Control Center idea came from, audio playback controls have always been a part of the interface. In iOS 10 these controls have been moved to a separate pane that is to the side of the system controls part of Control Center. In watchOS 2, audio playback controls already existed as its own Glance, separate from the system controls Glance, but available via a sideways swipe between the two. I don’t get why Apple didn’t leave the Now Playing screen exactly where it was, alongside the system controls, for the new watchOS Control Center.

The reason that this discrepancy bothers me so much is because of how much I loved the Now Playing screen in watchOS 2. The screen was the only Glance I ever used, so it was always the first thing available when I swiped up. In watchOS 3, I would love to have it permanently tied to the swipe up, in which case I would use Control Center all the time. Instead, Now Playing exists as a weird non-app in the Dock, where its ease of access is reduced since the Dock may be navigated to any particular app at any given time you open it, requiring swiping around to get back to Now Playing.

Throughout the last year of using watchOS 3, my feelings about this change have only grown stronger. I still can’t figure out why Apple has divorced Now Playing from Control Center, and I’m sad to report that there is no change on that front in watchOS 4. Thankfully though, Apple has chosen to add a Now Playing Complication in this year’s update, which enables access to the interface via a single tap.

The Now Playing Complication has effectively solved this issue for me, but one major aspect of the change really bothers me: the new Now Playing Complication is only available for large Complication size classes. In other words, depending on which watch face you’re using, there’s a good chance that you can’t take advantage of it at all.

If you use Modular then of course you’re good to go, and Utility — my watch face of choice — can snag Now Playing in the Complication at the bottom. The same goes for Activity, Motion, Photos, and several others. But if you use Simple, Color, Chronograph, the new Siri face, or a few others, then you’re out of luck. For a reason which I cannot understand, Apple is not offering the Now Playing Complication as a small icon which could be tapped to launch the interface.

To me, a simple icon version would actually be a better option in general. The large version of the Now Playing Complication struggles with the case in which no audio is active at all: it just displays the text “TAP TO OPEN.” (Why they didn’t go with “NOW PLAYING” there, I’m not sure. Tap to open what?) If audio is playing then the Complication will show its title and a small sound bar animation, but these titles are often cut off due to lack of space.

To be fair, Apple is trying to solve this problem in other ways. Namely, in the iOS 11 Watch app for iPhone there’s a new setting, on by default, called “Auto-launch Audio Apps.” True to its name, when enabled this will cause an Apple Watch running watchOS 4 to automatically keep open whichever app is associated with the current audio source. Whenever you look at your Apple Watch while playing audio, you’ll see the audio source’s app shown rather than your watch face.

If you’re listening to music from the Music app on your iPhone or Apple Watch then this works pretty well. During playback when you raise your wrist to look at your watch, you’ll see the Now Playing screen displayed. This gives you instant access to the volume and playback controls without requiring any preliminary swipes or taps at all. In practice I’ve found this is what I want a good amount of the time.

Unfortunately, this new change may fall apart if you’re listening to any audio source other than Apple’s Music app. If the source app includes a watchOS app of its own then instead of opening the Now Playing screen the Apple Watch will open that third-party app. If the app’s interface happens to have playback and volume controls then this may be alright, but lots of them don’t. For me, the vast majority of audio I listen to is coming from Overcast, and the Overcast watchOS app does not support volume control.2 Since volume control is one of the most common actions I want to take when using the playback controls on my Apple Watch, the auto-launching of the Overcast app is more of a hindrance than a help.

The good news is that we have some options here. First off, if the app controlling playback does not support volume control and you require this like I do, you can just uninstall that app’s watchOS app. If no watchOS app is installed then the Apple Watch will default back to the actual Now Playing screen when you play audio from that app on your iPhone. If you don’t ever use the watchOS app version of your audio app then this solution could work for you.

The second option is to just disable the auto-launch feature altogether. You can do this from the Watch app on your iPhone via General ⇾ Wake Screen ⇾ Auto-launch Audio Apps. If you have a watch face that you can put the Now Playing Complication on, this may be a worthwhile option. Complications have special privileges which keep them active and in memory longer than other apps, so the Now Playing screen should respond pretty quickly whenever you access it by tapping the Complication.

I’ve waffled back and forth over the last few months trying to decide which of these options I prefer. In the end, my decision was actually unrelated to the best way to access volume controls. The auto-launch audio apps feature just ended up annoying me so much that I disabled it.

If you’re someone who listens to audio fairly irregularly then the auto-launch setting will probably be great. Personally, I have audio (usually podcasts) playing almost constantly when I’m not actively engaged in something. With the auto-launch setting enabled, my watch face felt like it had basically become the Now Playing screen.

In most situations watchOS will dismiss an open app and return to the watch face after two minutes. With auto-launch enabled, an audio app or the Now Playing screen will be active on your watch display at all times while audio is playing. With as much audio as I listen to, I grew tired of my Apple Watch never showing me my watch face.

As nice as it is to have immediate access to playback controls whenever you could possibly want them, that also comes with the tradeoff of not having access to your watch face whenever you want it. This is a tradeoff that Apple thinks is worthwhile, and I’m sure many people will probably agree. The decision will be different for everyone because it depends entirely on how you personally interact with your Apple Watch. For me, I’m much more content keeping Now Playing as a Complication and disabling auto-launch. My playback controls are still a quick single tap away, but I also get to see my watch face whenever I want to check the time or see my Activity rings.

Regardless of my discontent in a few specifics, as a whole I’m extremely pleased that we finally have options in this area. With watchOS 3 there was legitimately no fast or consistent way to access the Now Playing screen. In watchOS 4 there are several, and even though I think they could each be better individually, the fact that we have them at all is a huge step forward.

Interface

For the most part the watchOS 4 interface has not strayed from the path set by watchOS 3, but there are a few notable changes that are worth a mention. Namely, the entire pairing interface on both the Apple Watch and the iPhone have been revamped, the Dock has been redesigned, and they’ve finally provided an option to replace the honeycomb home screen.

Pairing

In watchOS 4 Apple has implemented a completely new UI for the initial pairing of an Apple Watch and iPhone. This begins with the communication between the two devices, where Apple seems to have borrowed heavily from whatever secret sauce they baked into the Bluetooth connection of AirPods. After turning on an unpaired Apple Watch, just hold it close to your iPhone to see a popup slide in from the bottom of the screen informing you of the nearby watch that is ready to pair. The watch, for its part, will show a screen with an animation of an iPhone moving close to an Apple Watch, and will rotate between languages every few seconds translating the phrase “Bring iPhone near Apple Watch.”

If you hit the Pair button on the popup on your iPhone it will launch the iOS Watch app and begin the pairing process. Alternatively, you can hit the small info button at the bottom right of your Apple Watch’s screen to pick a particular language and region before reaching a screen that directs you to manually open the Watch app on your iPhone. Once you’ve done so, tap the Start Pairing button on the watch to see the familiar particle ball visual that Apple Watches have always used for pairing. Point your iPhone camera at it and within a few moments the devices will be connected.

Once you’ve started this process your iPhone will show a screen requesting that you pick between restoring the watch from any old backups that may exist or setting it up as new. Following that are a few screens of logistics to get through. The main items are choosing a passcode for the watch, setting up Apple Pay, entering your Apple ID to enable Activation Lock, and reading about the Emergency SOS feature. After that, you’ll get the “Apple Watch Is Syncing” screen which informs you that you can continue using your phone and that you’ll get an alert when the sync is complete.

This is the point in previous versions of watchOS where the device would display a large, slowly filling progress circle, and you’d have to leave it alone for a while. In watchOS 4, Apple has really improved this portion of the process. You still get the progress circle, but it has now been shrunk down to take up less than a quarter of the screen. Underneath it is an interface titled “Apple Watch Basics,” and you can scroll down while the watch restores to see three different buttons labeled Display, Digital Crown, and Side Button.

Each of these three buttons can be tapped to start walking through instructions on how to operate the Apple Watch interface. The Display section shows an animation of horizontally scrolling cards, along with the instructions “Tap to select. Swipe to scroll and move.” (Emphasis Apple’s.) Swiping horizontally here moves to a second page which explain Force Touch with an animation, accompanied by the sentence “Press Firmly for more options or to change the watch face.” A Done button in the top left corner will return you to the main interface.

I won’t bore you with the details of the next two sections. They’re identical interfaces to the one described above, but they walk through the various functions of the device’s two hardware buttons. Overall, I’m impressed with this interface, and I love that Apple has figured out a way to turn the excruciating waiting period while a new Apple Watch goes through the initial pairing process into an interactive walkthrough on how to use the device. I think brand new users will get a lot out of this change. Restoring a new device from scratch is one of the only times in software where there is literally nothing else to do with that device — a perfect moment to capitalize on to make sure people aren’t missing any of the features that Apple has worked hard to implement.

Passcode

Once you’ve paired an Apple Watch you’ll be presented with the passcode interface each time you strap it onto your wrist. Apple has changed this interface for the third consecutive year, and thankfully it is continuing to move in a good direction. The tap targets, which last year were made bigger than their original implementation, have now been inflated even further. The delete button has been tweaked to a bright red color and shrunk down smaller than the rest of the buttons, although the tap target for it is the same size as the others.

Tapping each button will cause it to temporarily inflate, which is a good way to help you identify visually that you hit the right button while your finger is still on it. I’m not sure how well this would work as a design pattern in other parts of the Apple Watch UI, but it does strike me as an interesting idea. The small size of the Apple Watch screen makes it inherently difficult to know that you’re tapping what you think you are, and perhaps this brief expansion animation for tapped elements could be useful beyond the lock screen. In their current location these animations are particularly helpful if you catch yourself missing a tap target, as you can slide your finger around the screen to change your tap before lifting. Previously this wouldn’t have helped much because it was still hard to see what your finger was on, but with the expanding buttons under your touch you can get a much better sense of what you’re doing and make sure to release at the right point.

Dock

In watchOS 3 Apple introduced the Dock: a selection of up to 10 apps which would be easily accessible via the hardware Side Button and would also be kept in memory longer. The Dock replaced the old Friends interface, and thus finally provided a good reason for that second hardware button to exist at all. In watchOS 4 the Dock is still around, but Apple has made a few key changes.

The biggest change involves the apps that are present in the Dock. Where watchOS 3 required specific user interaction to add new apps into this privileged list, watchOS 4 has relegated that to an option which is off by default. Instead, when you first install watchOS 4, your Dock will contain a list of the last ten apps that you accessed on your Apple Watch. It’s basically the same idea as the multitasking interface on iOS, minus being able to force quit apps from it.

Personally, I have switched my Dock back from showing most recent apps to showing favorites, and I think that most people interested enough to be reading this review should strongly consider doing the same. The reason that the multitasking switcher works so well on iOS is because the operating system has other convenient avenues for opening an app that has not been recently used. You can quickly access the home screen and open most of your frequently used apps in a matter of moments. If you’re looking for something buried in a folder then it’s also fairly quick and easy to just slide down the Spotlight view and type the name to look the app up. watchOS has none of these conveniences. The only good ways to make an app easily accessible on watchOS are to either add it as a Complication on your watch face (if you have an open slot and app supports a Complication in the correct size), add it as one of the few apps clustered directly around the watch face icon on the honeycomb home screen, or add it to your Dock. With so few methods for quickly accessing apps, changing the Dock so that it only includes recently used apps cuts off a major option here.

It may seem like this doesn’t matter if you, like most people, really only use a small subset of apps. That may be true for the most part, but if you only use a small subset then isn’t it nicer to position those yourself in the Dock and know that they will always be there when you need them? When the Dock is populated with your most recent apps and you need to access an app that you haven’t used in a long time, there are two options. First, you can open the Dock and scroll down to the bottom searching for it, then retreat to the clunky home screen interface if it’s not present. Second, you can skip the Dock altogether and just start the home screen search immediately, which will be much slower if the app actually was hanging around in the Dock somewhere. On the other hand, if your Dock is full of favorites, you will either automatically know that the app you want is in the Dock and exactly where it is in the lineup, or you will know that it isn’t there and you can start swiping around through the home screen sooner and get that over with.3

Furthermore, when you have the Dock set to the favorites option, it will display the last most recently used app which is not already a favorite at the very top of the interface, above the first docked item. That gives you a maximum of 11 apps to hold in the interface, and means that there’s always a shortcut to the most recent app if you ever need to temporarily switch back and forth with one that isn’t marked as favorite. Apple also includes an “Add to Dock” button at the bottom of this recent app’s card, so if you decide a new app deserves favorite status then you can add it quickly and easily from your watch (this button isn’t present if your favorites list is full).

Keeping the above advantages in mind, I really do think that populating the Dock with a list of most recently used apps is a better option for most users. This is because I’d bet that the vast majority of users never once took the time to manually organize their Apple Watch Docks in watchOS 3. By populating the Dock automatically, these users can get some use out of the interface without needing to put any time or thought into it.

Ultimately, I think Apple’s mistake here was diverging the Dock into two distinct choices rather than merging the ideas together. The watchOS Dock would be better if it were modeled after the new iPad Dock in iOS 11. The front part should be a list of a few favorites that the user can specifically choose, and the back part should be a list of most recently used apps. By default there could then be no favorites, so the Dock would just show recent apps in the same manner it defaults to in watchOS 4. However, users would also be free to set their favorite apps in stone directly from the Dock interface, if they ever felt the need to. This combination would leave the Dock the same for the majority of users, but allow those who actually want to to set favorites to do so without losing the definite convenience of still having access to a few recently used apps.

Apple is usually the company that figures out the best option and makes these kinds of decisions for us. Instead, they’re forcing us to choose strictly between two useful features rather than designing a better interface that incorporates both concepts. I’m hoping this changes in future versions.

Another part of the Dock interface that has been changed is the visual design and layout. In watchOS 3 the Dock was a horizontal list which unintuitively could be scrolled sideways using the Digital Crown — if you found that more convenient than swiping with your fingers. This interface definitely had its drawbacks — mainly that navigating from one side to the other required a lot of consecutive swipes and always felt imprecise. With watchOS 4 Apple has redesigned the interface to be a vertical-scrolling list of cards. The cards overlap so that more than one can be shown on screen at a time (again taking cues from the iOS multitasking interface), and the fact that they scroll vertically makes it much more intuitive to navigate the list using the Digital Crown. Each card can be swiped to the left to reveal a red “Remove” button which won’t force quit the app, but will simply remove it from the list. If you’re using the “most recent apps” Dock setting then a removed app will return to the list the next time you open it, but if you’re using the favorites option then you will just free up another space.

Beneath all of the cards is a button labeled “All Apps,” which exists so that when you scroll through your list and fail to find the app you’re looking for, you can then easily open your watch’s home screen to start the search there. This is a great shortcut which shows that Apple knows exactly how people will be interacting with this interface, although it also goes to show that Apple knows people will be searching their most recents list for apps that aren’t going to be present.

Overall, I like the new Dock a lot. The one visual complaint I have is that with so many apps having a dark theme, it can be a little difficult to differentiate between the beginning and ending of different cards, and I've accidentally tapped the wrong app on several occasions. That’s a minor issue though, and with the favorites option enabled I’m actually very happy with the Dock in watchOS 4. In the future I would love to see them unify the favorites and most recents options, if only because it makes me nervous to be relying on a non-default setting for a core part of how I use my Apple Watch. As long as that stays around, at least there’s an option for people who want to take more control over how they use their Apple Watch.

Home Screen

watchOS 4 brings with it Apple’s first crack at a rethinking of the disaster honeycomb home screen interface. This revolutionary new design is... a list. It’s also off by default.

That’s right — after three years the best idea that Apple has been able to come up with for an improved home screen interface for the Apple Watch is an alphabetical list of apps that you can scroll through from the top to find what you’re looking for. The saddest part is that I find this list significantly more effective than the honeycomb home screen ever was.

While the honeycomb interface is undoubtedly beautiful, usability-wise it is a train wreck. In my experience, if I want to open an app that isn’t positioned directly adjacent to the watch face icon, I end up in a frustrating game of app-themed Where’s Waldo? which often results in me giving up and using my iPhone instead. The Apple Watch home screen interface is simply not good.

Despite that, it remains the default in watchOS 4, which is particularly unfortunate now that they changed the default Dock interface so that most users won’t have shortcuts to get to their most-used apps. Thankfully, this time Apple has at least given us an alternative: Force Touch on the honeycomb home screen interface to expand the options to change between Grid View (honeycomb) and the new List View.

You can scroll through the list view by swiping or by using the Digital Crown, and while it may not be fast to get to an app that is lower down in the alphabet, at least you will have an immediate understanding of how far you need to scroll to find it.

There isn’t much more to say about the list view. It is a significant usability improvement over the honeycomb interface, but it’s still not great. This is by no means a simple problem for Apple to solve, but after all of the extraordinary user interfaces that Apple has designed over the years, I think that they can do better.

Maybe next year will bring the design improvement that I’m hoping for here. For now, at least we can take solace in a simple list.

Control Center

Control Center has seen some nice functionality improvements in watchOS 4. The interface itself is the same, but there is now a new flashlight button available, as well as a new location icon. The icon shows up in the top right corner, and indicates when an app is currently, or has recently used your location. Just like on the iOS Location Services page, a filled in icon means currently in use while an outline means recently used.

The new flashlight button is actually pretty awesome. If you recall from last year’s Apple Watch Series 2 announcement, one of the new features on the updated watch was that its screen could increase to a brightness of 1000 nits (really bright). With watchOS 4, Apple is taking advantage of this to enable using your watch as a flashlight.

Flashlight mode is enabled from Control Center by tapping the button with the picture of a flashlight on it. This will cause a pure white window to expand from the bottom of the display. At the top of this window is a downward-facing arrow with the word “Dismiss” above it, instructing you to swipe down to disable the mode. After a few moments, the window will slide up further to conceal the Dismiss button so that the entire screen of the watch is white.

Here’s the kicker: when then flashlight is activated the white display is actually pretty dim, but if you turn the watch to face away from you — as you will very likely be doing to use it as a flashlight — the screen will then increase to full brightness. Although this feature works on Series 1 Apple Watches as well, it’s even more effective on the super-bright Series 2 or Series 3 models.

Flashlight mode has three different settings, as indicated by the three faint page dots that can be seen toward the bottom. You can swipe the screen horizontally to switch between these modes. The first is the standard flashlight mode, which is nothing but a bright white screen. The second is a bright white screen which flashes. This is meant to be used by runners or other nighttime exercisers as a way to make yourself more visible to passing vehicles. The final option is a bright red display, which I think is supposed to be useful to draw people to you in an emergency situation.

I really like the new flashlight mode, particularly because of the cool way that Apple incorporated turning your wrist. This is yet another example of the company understanding how people are going to be using a feature, and building it to work best in those situations.

New Watch Faces

A watchOS update would not be complete without at least a few new watch faces for us to play around with. This year brings three: Kaleidoscope, Toy Story, and Siri.

Kaleidoscope

The Kaleidoscope watch face was widely dismissed out of hand during the initial watchOS 4 announcement, and to be fair I think these are entirely valid criticisms based on how Apple has marketed it. The Kaleidoscope faces that Apple is actively advertising are in a similar vein to the following:

These kaleidoscope effects may seem intriguing at first, but they’re way too busy for my tastes. The colors are constantly shifting around but the watch hands are always white, so depending on when you look it may be extremely difficult to actually read the time. Also, since you can pick any source picture from which to create the kaleidoscope effect, there’s nothing at all stopping your from creating a travesty like these:

I’m so sorry.

I’m so sorry.

On the other hand, since we have the freedom to pick any image to be the background for the Kaleidoscope face, that means we can also pick images which work way better here. There are probably other examples that I haven’t thought of, but I’ve found that images which are pretty much just one or a few solid blocks of color produce a significantly less terrible effect. Consider the following:

These still aren’t among my personal favorite watch faces, but in testing them out I did enjoy the subtle changes of color throughout the day, as well as the ability to fidget with the spinner and see an interesting effect (spinning the Digital Crown on this watch face creates the same effect as twisting a kaleidoscope). Since the color blocks are clearly defined and untextured, they don’t cause excessive visual clutter, and they don’t affect my ability to read the time on my watch. The blue example above also shows how you can just pick a single block of color, maybe with a little bit of texture added, if you just want that as the background color on your watch face.

If you do decide that you want to try a Kaleidoscope watch face out, you can set it up by using the Create Watch Face extension when activating the share sheet for an image on your iPhone. This will let you pick between creating a new Photo watch face or a new Kaleidoscope watch face. After picking Kaleidoscope you’ll see the same interface that you get when setting up a watch face in the Watch app. You can swap between Facet, Radial, and Rosette kaleidoscope effects, and you can also pick which Complications will be shown on the face. Once you're finished, hit the “ADD” button and your Apple Watch will automatically switch to the new face.

Kaleidoscope supports three different Complications, two small ones on the top and one large one along the bottom. This is almost the same setup as the Utility watch face, except that the two small Complications at the top are different styles than those used by Utility. In Apple’s parlance, Utility uses the ‘Utilitarian Small’ Complication class while Kaleidoscope uses ‘Circular Small’. I dislike Circular Small Complications because they are confined to a significantly smaller space than Utilitarian Small just so that they can fit into a circle rather than a square. A couple example results are that the Date Complication shows just a single number with no context, and the World Clock Complication has to make the text so small to fit the region and the time that they’re almost unreadable. Since I use both of these on my watch face, Kaleidoscope is ruled out for me on those grounds alone. The good news is that it can hold the Now Playing Complication along the bottom, so if you don’t have a problem with the top two then this could potentially be a new contender for you.

All things considered, I think the Kaleidoscope watch face has more potential than anybody expected. It’s not going to be for everyone, but there are some viable options for it that will look decent. The original reaction to this watch face may have judged it a bit prematurely.

Toy Story

There’s not too much to say about the Toy Story watch face, as it’s pretty much what you’d expect. When you set this face up you can choose between four options: Woody, Buzz, Jessie, or Toy Box. The latter will randomly shuffle between a variety of characters from the movies, including the aforementioned three as well as Rex, Hamm, and Bullseye.

Once the face is active, each time you raise your wrist it will show a brief cutscene involving your chosen character, or a randomly selected character if you’re using Toy Box. Some of these are as simple as the character waving, tipping their hat, or pointing at the time in the top right. Other times it can be a bit more in depth, such as Rex running around balancing on top of a ball, or Woody flying a hang glider around. They don’t usually last more than 5 seconds, and you can actually tap on the watch face at any time to manually start another scene. As a small but nice touch, the highlight color on your active Complications will change based on which character is on screen: yellow for Woody, green for Rex, Purple for Buzz, and more.

This watch face includes two editable Complications. At the top, above the time, is a Utilitarian Small Complication which defaults to the current date. At the bottom is a Utilitarian Large Complication which defaults to being off. The Now Playing Complication’s ‘TAP TO OPEN’ text looks especially out of place to me on this watch face since tapping the face itself actually triggers a different action, but I digress.

At the very least the Toy Story watch face is an excellent new option for kids to enjoy, but I wouldn’t judge an adult for picking this one either. There’s no doubt that tapping the face to see these beloved characters run around a bit is fun. If you’re a fan of Toy Story (and come on, who isn’t?) then it’s probably worth taking this watch face out for a spin.

Siri

The Siri watch face is one of Apple’s headlining features for watchOS 4. It’s being advertised as an intelligent watch face which will show you the things you need to see when you need to see them. I really like where Apple is going with this, and I think that there’s a lot of potential for it to grow and improve. Unfortunately, in this initial version, I don’t think Apple has succeeded in fully realizing its vision for this watch face.

The Siri watch face is made up of a series of cards stacked on top of each other, and scrolling the Digital Crown or swiping on the screen will navigate the list up or down. Each of these cards comes from a different first-party app, and they will show items such as upcoming events in your schedule, Reminders that are due soon, news stories, activity prompts, and more. At the top of the interface you’ll find the time as well as two Complications — a Modular Small and a Utilitarian Small.4 By default the Siri watch face places the new Siri Complication in the Modular Small space, and the current date in the Utilitarian Small space. I left these defaults in my tests, as I feel like they fit the watch face pretty well. The Siri Complication is just a single-tap shortcut to activate Siri on your Apple Watch. If I were to stick with this watch face more permanently I would probably swap that one out since the device already has a couple just-barely-less-convenient options for activating Siri.

I really like the ideas behind the Siri watch face. Proactively figuring out and displaying the information that I want, when I want it, sounds like a perfect fit on a device that is all about glanceable information. If I could look at my Apple Watch and have it show me useful information that I need to know without me tapping the screen at all, that would be an unbelievably powerful feature. That’s what the Siri watch face is purporting to do, but at this time it just hasn’t quite gotten there.

For starters, the Siri watch face can currently only show cards from first-party apps. That immediately cuts off a majority of the apps that I use regularly from being able to supply any information to me. Worse than that, the cards that the Siri watch face chooses to show are consistently not at all useful to me. When the cards are useless, the utility of this watch face crumbles.

The best example I can give is the cards for the Breathe app. I have the Breathe reminders on still because, while I ignore most of them, every once in a while one will pop up when I’m in a mood where I could benefit from a quick break to just breathe. In theory my Apple Watch should be well aware that I almost never utilize these notifications, and yet my “intelligent” Siri watch face constantly displays a “Take a moment to breathe!” card among the top two cards in the interface. Since you can only see the top two cards without scrolling, 50% of the glanceable information for me is frequently wasted by this useless reminder. Eventually the Breathe card was showing up so often that I disabled it completely in the settings for this watch face (we’ll get to those in a moment).

Other examples of “relevant” cards that I consistently see: Apple’s stock price changes (I don’t own Apple stock and I don’t remember the last time I opened the Stocks app), random “Memories” from the Photos app, and the weather forecast for Cupertino ( I live in Minneapolis). I eventually figured out that I apparently needed to open the Weather app on my Apple Watch in order to make it sync up with the default location on my iPhone, but I still think the point stands. Regardless of what my default is, if this watch face is truly going to be advertised as intelligent, it should be able to figure out that when I glance at my watch throughout a standard day in Minneapolis, the current weather in a different city is probably not the most immediately relevant information.

The Photos card is a bit of a different case from the Breathe, Stocks, or Weather cards. I have on several occasions tapped on these and enjoyed seeing a random memory from a few years ago. That said, I think that this watch face should be smart enough to place cards like that one further down in the list. At any given time when I glance at my watch my most likely next action is to just lower my wrist again. This watch face should be optimized for that situation more than any other: give me the sort of glanceable information that I could most plausibly benefit from when I briefly look at my watch. Calendar events, reminders, and more can fit into that mold just fine. Photo memories, however, probably cannot. Instead, Photos and stocks and other non-actionable information5 should be shown lower down in the card list. If I’m already interacting with my watch by scrolling that list then there are far better chances that an old memory will catch my interest and I’ll take a moment to look at it.

As I mentioned above, it is possible to turn off individual data sources that the Siri watch face draws from. This can only be done from the Watch app on your iPhone by finding and tapping on one of your configured Siri watch faces. There you’ll find a list labeled ‘Data Sources,’ and you can flip any of them on or off. Since these sources are set on a face-by-face basis, you could in theory use multiple Siri watch faces with different settings for each one, such as configuring a work watch face versus a weekend watch face. That said, it would be even better if your intelligent watch face just knew when you were at work and displayed work information during those times.

I’m sold on the promise of the Siri watch face, but that promise is just not being fulfilled right now. I am optimistic though, and in future watchOS versions I think this watch face is one of the places to keep an eye on. If Apple can ever figure out how to make the data behind this feature actually intelligent then this could be a really great utility on the Apple Watch. I’d love to see support for third-party data sources added as well, but if Apple can’t even get the intelligence down for its own apps then I’m skeptical of how well it will do pulling data from third-parties. I hope that they can eventually pull this off.

First-Party Apps

Last year’s release of watchOS 3 brought a host of updates and new additions to first-party Apple Watch apps. While watchOS 4 has a few items of note in this area, overall the scope is much smaller this year. The biggest changes on this front are the previously discussed Workout app, the newly introduced News app, and updated Music and Camera apps. There are some miscellaneous tweaks to a few others as well, but nothing else especially noteworthy in the first-party watchOS app space this time around.

News

Previous iterations of watchOS have surprisingly lacked a smartwatch-sized version of Apple’s News app, but this year the Cupertino company has rectified that. I didn’t expect much from a News app on my Watch, but I’ve actually found myself pleasantly surprised.

The watchOS News app is a superbly simple interface. It consists entirely of five current event news summaries which are chosen and updated automatically for you. Upon opening the app you are taken to the first of these summaries, and can swipe side-to-side to navigate amongst them. Each summary begins with a small background picture with a title overlaid on top of it. From there you scroll down directly into the text, and if you scroll all the way to the bottom you’ll see two buttons: Save for Later and Next Story.

All five of the news summaries relate to bigger, more full-featured stories. Rather than expecting you to read a whole news story on your Apple Watch, Apple has instead provided the Save for Later button at the bottom of each summary. If you finish a summary and are interested enough in the topic that you want to read the whole story, you can hit the Save for Later button and the full story will be sent to the Saved tab in the iOS News app.

The Next Story button is of course just a shortcut to move one space to the right, but I like that they included a button so that people can still read each summary even if they aren’t aware of the swiping gestures. When you get to the last summary in the group this button is not present.

I didn’t expect that I’d use the watchOS News app nearly as much as I have, particularly given that I’ve barely opened the iOS News app at all since it was introduced. The main reason behind this has been the Siri watch face, which frequently includes these news summaries in its list of cards. I think important, breaking news is an excellent contender for the cards that the Siri watch face surfaces, even the top two slots, but these cards would be greatly improved if the watch face deployed them more strategically.

I would love it if the Siri watch face could differentiate news stories at a high enough level that it would only surface them among the top two cards if there was a truly important story going on. As it is, news stories seem to show up pretty arbitrarily wherever the watch face feels like putting them in the list. While sometimes a story will catch my interest and I will appreciate it being surfaced for me, there are also plenty of times in which it seems like a waste of those top spaces.

Regardless of the Siri watch face’s problems, the News app on watchOS 4 is a great addition, and another fantastic example of how to make a good watchOS app. The News app includes Complications for all size classes, so if you aren’t using the Siri watch face I’d say this app is definitely worth considering for a Complication slot.

Music

The Music app in watchOS 4 has been fully redesigned, and updated to automatically sync certain playlists. One of the pain points in watchOS in the past has been downloading music onto your Apple Watch, because it wouldn’t do anything unless you told it to. In this year’s update Apple is attempting to improve that situation.

When you open up the new music app you’ll be presented with another vertical-scrolling list of cards. Each card will show an album cover on it that comes from the album or playlist that it’s associated with. The interface is very Cover Flow-esque, but also fits into the new design decisions that Apple has made throughout the operating system. Tapping on any of these cards will immediately start playing the corresponding album or playlist, the title of which is shown at the very bottom under the cover image.

At first I wasn’t sure whether I liked that tapping these immediately started playback rather than displaying the list of songs like the Music app for iPhone does. After using the app for a few months though, I’ve embraced this wholeheartedly. Similar to the choices made for the Workout and News apps, this is a design decision made specifically to keep the Apple Watch interface as simple and straightforward as possible. If you want to do playlist management or find a very specific song, for the most part you’re probably better off doing this from your iPhone. If you just want to transition from not listening to music to listening to music as quickly as possible, then your Apple Watch is the place to go.

Interestingly, Apple seems to have made the decision with watchOS 4 to divorce the Apple Watch Music app from the iPhone Music app. In previous versions of watchOS you had access to the entire music library from your iPhone, and choosing a song that was not downloaded to your watch would kick off playback from the iPhone instead. In the new update this is no longer supported at all. Instead, your Apple Watch will receive a small subset of playlists and albums as specified by you in the Watch app on your iPhone. These will be the only songs available in the Apple Watch music app.

If you’re an Apple Music subscriber than by default the Apple Watch Music app will get the following playlists synced over: Heavy Rotation, My Chill Mix, My New Music Mix, and My Favorites Mix. The latter three are the familiar playlists from the For You section of the Music app for iOS (My Chill Mix is a new addition here as of this summer). Heavy Rotation is not a playlist itself, but rather a collection of playlists and albums that you listen to frequently. You can see these in the Music app on your iPhone in the Heavy Rotation section, which is mid way down the For You page.

If there are other specific playlists or albums that you want synced to your watch, you can add those from the Watch app on iOS. Open the Music settings page, scroll to the bottom, and use the ‘Add Music...’ button to pick your favorites. Once added these should be kept up to date automatically if you make any changes to the songs within them. You can also disable any of the default synced playlists from this page if you don’t want them on your Apple Watch.

When I first started using the new Music app, my default playlists were not automatically synced over. I had to manually tap the sync buttons and place my Apple Watch on the charger to get all of the data moved. This was annoying, but after I did it the first time the Watch seems to be doing a good job of syncing changes to those playlists automatically and I haven’t had to worry about it again.

Once a playlist has been downloaded onto your Apple Watch, when you start playback it will play with your watch as the source. Sadly, the Music app still does not support playing through the watch’s speakers, but it does support AirPods. If you use AirPods then your Apple Watch will automatically grab their Bluetooth connection when you first start playing Music. You’ll see an interface pop up allowing you to pick a source for the music to play through while it attempts to connect, so if you have a different source available then you can pick that instead.

After the Apple Watch has successfully taken control of your AirPods or another Bluetooth audio source, the source view will dismiss automatically and you’ll be taken to the Music app’s Now Playing screen. This view is slightly different from the external Now Playing screen, because it includes a small list icon in the bottom left corner. Tapping this icon will bring up a similar playlist view to the one you see in the Music app for iPhone. At the top is the playlist artwork and title, with two large shuffle and repeat buttons directly below that. Under those is the list of songs in the playlist or album, and you can scroll through there and pick particular songs if you’d like to skip around.

That’s all there is to the Music app, another great example of building Apple Watch apps which are stripped down to their essentials. This app does exactly what you want it to do in the majority of situations — no more and no less. If you need to perform a task that is too complex for the Music app on your Watch then you should probably be doing it on your iPhone anyway. In watchOS 4 you don’t have any other choice.

Camera

The Camera app in watchOS 4 has picked up a pretty significant feature expansion, although it still looks as simple as ever when you first open it. The app will still launch the Camera app on your iPhone and mirror the image on your Watch screen, providing buttons on the watch to take a picture immediately or to take one after a three second countdown. As of watchOS 4, you can now Force Touch the screen to bring up four different options: flipping between the front and rear cameras on your iPhone, activating or deactivating the flash, enabling or disabling HDR mode, and enabling or disabling Live Photos.

The watchOS 4 Camera app also supports other iPhone camera modes for the first time. You can’t switch the mode from the watch itself, but if you swipe on the Camera app on your iPhone the Apple Watch will now switch modes as well. You can record time-lapses, Slo-mo videos, normal videos, or take square photos. The only mode which is still not supported is panorama mode, but I think that is for fairly obvious reasons.

It’s good to see the Camera app improved to support all of these modes. I don’t use this app particularly often, but when I do it’s always a great help. I’m happy to see these artificial limitations removed from it.

Phone

The watchOS 4 Phone app finally includes a keypad view, allowing you to initiate phone calls directly from your Apple Watch. While I haven’t personally found much use for this app over the last couple years, the lack of a keypad has always seemed like an odd and somewhat arbitrary omission. The new keypad is also made available while a phone call is active, so now you can use your Apple Watch to navigate a phone tree, buzz people into your building, etc.

Timer

The Timer app is saying goodbye to the circular, clock-style picker design for setting custom timers. Instead, this has been replaced with a more iOS-style picker, as seen above. The Timer app will also now show a button to repeat a timer when it goes off, so you can quickly restart it if you are timing some task consecutively.

Maps

The Maps app is mostly the same, but has received a small update to the design of the live, turn-based navigation UI. This includes the addition of lane guidance, but unfortunately does not show the current speed limit — another new feature of the iOS 11 Maps app.

Heart Rate

The Heart Rate app in watchOS 4 has been updated to show a graph with the last 24 hours of measured heart rate data on it. This graph now takes up the top half of the screen, leaving the bottom half to show the same old heart rate calculating animation and the current heart rate once it has been measured. This is still just a single page app, but Apple has managed to squeeze a lot more data into that page without making it feel too crammed — a solid update.

The Heart Rate app also has an updated Complication which will show your measured heart rate throughout the day when you glance at your watch. This is only on larger style Complication sizes, smaller sizes will still just be a shortcut to the Heart Rate app.

Performance

If that 70% speed increase for the Apple Watch Series 3 piqued your interest but you’re not quite ready to upgrade, watchOS 4 has some good news for you. Apple has managed to pull significantly better performance out of older hardware by unifying the processes which control the UI elements and the logic of watchOS apps.

Back in the watchOS 1 days these processes were the main culprits for the incredibly poor performance of apps, because at that time the logic was running on the iPhone while the UI process ran on the Apple Watch. A huge improvement in watchOS 2 was bringing the logic processes over to the Apple Watch itself, but they still ran separately from the UI. This year Apple has managed to merge these processes together into one, and the results really are noticeable. Apps on watchOS 4 launch faster and run smoother.

It seems to me that the unification of these processes marks the end of the low-hanging fruit for watchOS performance improvements. As we move forward I expect the hardware of older models to start being a major limiting factor in the effectiveness of software upgrades in this area. At this point, Apple has already improved performance more than I ever expected they’d be able to without hardware processor changes. If you have an Apple Watch Series 1 or Series 2, performance is probably good enough that you don’t need to upgrade this year for speed advancements alone. If you’re still using an original Series 0 then it’s at least worth considering, but you could probably push it another year too.

Miscellany

We’ve made it through the main features, but there are still a few other miscellaneous improvements that I’ll run through briefly here.

First, watchOS 4 is opening up more categories in which Apple Watch apps are allowed to run in the background. This list now includes workout apps, navigation and public transit apps, audio recording apps, tour guides, and a few others. These apps can execute in the background of watchOS while other things happen and then tap the user with haptics whenever they need renewed attention. In previous versions of watchOS, only audio apps were allowed to run in the background.

Second, you can now spin the Digital Crown upward when your Apple Watch screen is off to manually turn it on. In my experience this method works a bit more reliably than just tapping on the blank screen does, so I’ve mostly adopted this method for when I want to turn on my watch screen without raising my wrist.

Third, your Apple Watch will now wish you a happy birthday. This will come in the form of a special notification which shows balloons floating up across your watch face when you tap it. When I tested this, the notification stayed pinned to the bottom of Notification Center on my watch all day. While this could potentially be annoying, I’ll admit to finding a modicum of enjoyment in being able to procure a flood of balloons on my watch face throughout the entire day. I may have tapped it more times than really necessary for “testing” purposes.

My birthday is an April, so I can’t say for sure how good Apple is at knowing when your birthday is. I was able to trigger this functionality manually by entering a random date in August as the birthday in my personal contact card on my iPhone. Prior to setting that I did not have a birthday set in the contact card at all, so I’m not sure if the Apple Watch would have missed my real birthday completely or if it’s able to draw from other sources to figure that information out. If you’re looking forward to this feature, you might want to save your birthday in your contact card just to make sure your Apple Watch gets it. Consider it an early birthday present to yourself, since you’ll probably forget about this until the notification pops up.

Next, watchOS 4 advertises the introduction of person to person Apple Pay payments. Unfortunately, this feature has not been active during the beta period, and will likely end up being delayed until a point update later this year. We’ll have a post on MacStories about this feature whenever it ends up being released.

Finally, in watchOS 4 developers will be able to access Core Bluetooth, the framework that manages Bluetooth connections to third-party devices from the Apple Watch. Previously all Bluetooth connections besides headphones had to go through the attached iPhone, but now watchOS apps can connect and communicate with third-party Bluetooth devices directly from the Apple Watch itself. This means that a wide variety of hardware sensors can now be used without an iPhone present, which is a huge win for fitness trackers, health-related devices, and more. It’s no coincidence that this change is arriving just in time for the LTE-enabled Apple Watch Series 3, but direct Bluetooth communication will work with non-LTE models as well.

Conclusion

Last year Apple reimagined watchOS in a way that changed its course and set it up for future success. With watchOS 4, Apple has proven that it’s capable of bearing that success out. For the first time ever we’ve seen the results of a watchOS update which can focus on making progress rather than repairing past mistakes, and it really does make the future of the Apple Watch look brighter than ever before.

watchOS 4 is still far from perfect. Low-hanging fruit like a truly replaced home screen, improvements to notifications, and much more still remain. The new “intelligent” features are yet to really feel intelligent at all, and the story around audio controls lacks cohesion. As much as there is to complain about though, this year feels like the first time that there’s even more to praise.

Fitness features on the Apple Watch have never been better. The new Workout app is an excellent upgrade which fits an impressive amount of complexity into an app which still comes off as simple during use. New Activity notifications keep you motivated and aware of the status of your goals, but don’t appear so often as to become an annoyance. While audio controls may be fragmented and unsolved, they’re still significantly improved over what came before. Between the Now Playing Complication and auto-launch, you’ll be able to find a setup that works for you — and it will be a lot more useful than last year’s.

watchOS 4 has also introduced a redesigned Dock, significant performance and background improvements, new watch faces, new and updated first-party apps, and more. Taken altogether this is a significant update with effective new features.

When it comes down to it, the biggest indicator of quality for every operating system is how much you use it. With watchOS 4, I’m using my Apple Watch more than I ever have before, and I’m truly enjoying its conveniences. There’s still a lot more work to be done here — watchOS undoubtedly remains in its infancy — but after this year I feel confident that Apple will be able to handle it.


  1. That’s watch, not smartwatch. ↩︎
  2. This is possibly because it can’t, but that idea seems to be disputed↩︎
  3. Siri is of course another option for opening apps, but in my experience the virtual assistant is far too inconsistent on the Apple Watch to be counted on. Maybe this will change if you pick up a Series 3 with LTE, but even then using Siri is not always appropriate depending on the situation you’re in. ↩︎
  4. The “Modular Small” class of Complications are, unsurprisingly, the square Complications that you’ll find several of on the classic Modular watch face. These are a fair amount bigger than the other two classes of “small” Complications, but they are still technically a small size class and do not give you any different app options than you have from other small types. They will give a lot more space for the Complications that are available in the size though, so these are usually easily readable, which I like a lot. ↩︎
  5. If you’re someone who considers stocks to be actionable information, then you are also going to have way more reliable methods of keeping up with the stock market than an “intelligent” watch face. ↩︎

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20 Sep 18:07

iOS 11 Review Extras: Audiobook, eBook, Making Of, and More

by John Voorhees

Federico’s annual iOS review has blossomed into something much bigger than just another review on MacStories. In fact, there is more happening around the release of the iOS 11 review this year than ever before. In addition to the review itself, we have lots of fantastic extras that extend beyond MacStories to Club MacStories, AppStories, and Relay FM’s Connected, only some of which were announced yesterday.

The Audiobook

For the first time this year, Federico’s iOS review is available as an audiobook narrated by Relay FM co-founder Myke Hurley. Myke’s narration brings Federico’s review to life in a way that you’ve never experienced a MacStories review before. It’s perfect for commuters or to take with you to the gym or on a long flight. The audiobook, which is over 5 hours long, features a single MP3 file with chapter markers for easy navigation.

Overcast, Bound, and VLC are all good choices for enjoying the iOS 11 review audiobook.

Overcast, Bound, and VLC are all good choices for enjoying the iOS 11 review audiobook.

Overcast Premium subscribers can upload the audiobook, which I've found is an excellent way to listen. Another great option on iOS is Bound, an audiobook player that supports Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. You can also use a more general-purpose media player like VLC.

The audiobook version of the iOS 11 review is available for $9.99 (plus VAT for EU customers), but Club MacStories members can get it for 60% off the regular price – just $3.99. Instructions on how to use the exclusive Club promo code are available in the member Downloads area.

Now is a great time to join Club MacStories, especially if you are interested in the audiobook. By joining and taking advantage of the audiobook discount, you can enjoy your first month of Club MacStories, which costs $5/month or $50/year, and the audiobook for less than the price of the audiobook to non-members. That’s a bargain by itself, but by joining, you also have access to the free review eBook, past eBooks, the full archive of back issues and new issues of our weekly and monthly newsletters, plus hundreds of dollars of discounts on apps and services being announced through the end of the month, and other perks. We’d love you to be part of our growing community, so please consider joining the Club.

The eBook

This is a special time of year for all of us at MacStories because Club MacStories just passed its second anniversary, which we are celebrating through the end of the month with discounts on apps, services, and other surprises. One of the perks members of the Club enjoy is complementary ebooks of Federico’s iOS reviews and other longform articles. The eBook looks great in iBooks and features all the media and layout options you’ll find on the MacStories version, including interactive footnotes and video players.

The eBook version is available for free exclusively to our Club MacStories members, and can be downloaded in the members-only Downloads area.

The Making Of

More than ever before, Federico’s iOS 11 review is a collaboration with a team of talented people who helped bring it and the extras to life. In this week’s edition of the Club MacStories Weekly newsletter, the people who contributed to the review will tell the story behind their roles. Among the stories Club members can look forward to is Myke Hurley’s tale of transatlantic narration as he recorded sections of the audiobook in New York and London throughout August and into September.

The Podcasts

In keeping with tradition, this week Federico, Stephen Hackett and Myke Hurley have released a special episode of Relay FM’s Connected dedicated to the review. Among other things, expect to hear Federico’s thoughts on iOS 11 now that it has launched and an inside look at the process of creating the audiobook from Myke.

This is the first iOS review released since Federico and I launched AppStories, and we’ve got two episodes for listeners this week. The first is Episode 23, the regular weekly episode of AppStories, that we released alongside Federico’s review. This week, we focus on the apps Federico used to create the review from the day he landed in San Jose for WWDC to today when he hit the publish button. We also discuss some of the third-party apps featured in the review that highlight iOS 11’s marquee features.



The second episode is something entirely new for AppStories that we’re calling AppStories Unplugged. It’s a casual, more free-form, and longer version of AppStories that we plan to release periodically as an exclusive perk to Club MacStories members. In the inaugural episode, Federico and I discuss some of our favorite iOS 11 apps and what writing at MacStories during the summertime review season is like.

Club members can download AppStories Unplugged from the members-only Download area now.


This is the most exciting time of the year for all of us at MacStories. We’re a small team that grows a little each summer to accomplish all that the iOS review adds to the day-to-day of running MacStories, Club MacStories, and AppStories. We make it through propelled by Federico’s enthusiasm and inspired by his dedication to creating the very best for our readers and listeners.

Now, after many long months, it’s nice to take a moment to catch our breath and share it all with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as Federico and we did making it.


Support MacStories Directly

Club MacStories offers exclusive access to extra MacStories content, delivered every week; it's also a way to support us directly.

Club MacStories will help you discover the best apps for your devices and get the most out of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Plus, it's made in Italy.

Join Now
20 Sep 18:06

I’ll be Guest Lecturing (again) at McGill University

by CT Moore

For the 3rd time, I’ve been invited to guest lecture at McGill University‘s School of Continuing Studies. And once again, I’ll be guest lecturing to students enrolled in their Current Trends in Digital Communication course, taught by none other my friend and colleague Michelle Sullivan. Whereas past lectures covered Local SEO & Content Marketing Strategies and Using Social Media for SEO, […]

The post I’ll be Guest Lecturing (again) at McGill University appeared first on CT Moore's Blog.

20 Sep 18:06

Apple Posts How-To Videos Featuring Third-Party Apps

by John Voorhees

Last month, Apple posted a series of short how-to videos to prepare customers for iOS 11. The videos each featured one new aspect of iOS 11 delivered in a light-hearted humorous style. Apple has added three new videos in the same style that feature third-party apps.

The first spot, ‘How to retouch a photo,’ features Pixelmator and demonstrates how to erase a stranger from a photo. The video concludes on a light note with ’You did great! The guy never knew what hit him.’

The second video, ‘How to copy and paste across devices with iOS 11’ features Curator, but highlights the Universal Clipboard, an iOS system feature. Curator is a mood-board and presentation app for creating collections of photos. The spot shows how to copy an image on an iPhone and paste into the Curator app on an iPad, explaining ‘the ice cream cone is now going to fly through the air’ and showing a time-lapse video of copying and pasting images over and over commenting ‘Really nice time-lapse everybody.’

The final video features GoodNotes and is called ‘How to magically convert notes to text and share them with iOS.’ The video shows how to use the lasso tool in GoodNotes to select handwritten notes and convert them into text that you can share via the system share sheet.

Like the videos posted by Apple in August, these spots strike a good balance between being informative and humorous. I’m glad to see Apple calling out third-party apps too because the ‘Pro’ in iPad Pro is as much about the third-party tools that are available as it is about the device’s hardware features.

You can watch each of the videos after the break.


Support MacStories Directly

Club MacStories offers exclusive access to extra MacStories content, delivered every week; it's also a way to support us directly.

Club MacStories will help you discover the best apps for your devices and get the most out of your iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Plus, it's made in Italy.

Join Now
20 Sep 18:06

Visual narrative of six asylum seekers

by Nathan Yau

We often visualize migration and people movement as lines that go from point A to point B. While this can be interesting for overall trends, we lose something about the individuals leaving their home and traveling in hopes to find something some better. Federica Fragapane, in collaboration with Alex Piacentini, focuses in on six people leaving point A for point B to tell their stories.

Tags: asylum, migration

20 Sep 18:06

Recording Podcasts with a Remote Co-Host

I previously wrote about my editing workflow for podcasts and I thought I’d follow up with some details on how I record both Not So Standard Deviations and The Effort Report. This post is again going to be a bit Mac-specific because, well, that’s what I do.

Communication

Both of my podcasts have a co-host who is not in the same physical location as me. Therefore, we need to use some sort of Internet-based communication software (Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc.) to talk with each other. Another simpler option is to use web-based communications platforms that are built for podcasting, including Zencastr or Cast. These platforms take advantage of WebRTC to record audio on each co-hosts machine (more on this later).

Web Platforms

For those who are just starting up, I would recommend something like Zencastr or Cast because they are easy to setup and basically “just work”. (One note: if you are using Safari 10.x on the Mac (which doesn’t support WebRTC), these sites won’t work. Use Google Chrome instead.) For these web sites, you need nothing more than a pair of headphones with a built in microphone (like the ones that likely came with your cell phone) and a computer. Communication occurs over the Internet, as you might expect, but the audio that is recorded is the audio that comes from your microphone. The audio that goes over the Internet is not recorded.

The advantage of this system is that

  1. You don’t have to worry about synchronization—the audio is recorded simultaneously.
  2. The audio quality is good because it is recorded locally.
  3. Files can be uploaded immediately to the cloud so that the editor can quickly assemble them (i.e. Zencastr uploads files to Dropbox).

The disadvantages of these services are

  1. They charge a monthly fee with tiered plans (Zencastr has a free “hobbyist” plan)
  2. They only can handle certain host setups
  3. In my experience, communications noise can still affect the audio (not sure why).

Both Zencastr and Cast are fairly new offerings and therefore occasionally have to work through some bugs and wonkiness. Hilary and I started out using Zencastr for Not So Standard Deviations but eventually moved off of it. This was in part because one time we thought we recorded an entire hour-long episode and it turned out the file was corrupted (we had to re-record it the next day). To this day I’m not sure what happened, but after that I resolved to have more control over the process.

“Manual” Platforms

The alternative to the web-based platforms is to use a more manual approach. I have found this system to be more reliable, if not a bit more complicated. Here, you can use Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime, or another Internet-based communications program. I’ve used most of them and I’ve found that Google Hangouts is probably the best (but it is pretty close all around). Obviously, the quality of your Internet connection will be more important than which software you use, and that may depend on exactly where in the world you are.

Recording

The basic idea is that there are two types of audio streams: the audio generated by each co-host/speaker and the audio that is passing across the Internet. The basic process here is

  1. Each speaker/co-host records their own audio file on their computer using a program like Quicktime or Audacity or something similar. On the Mac, this is super simple—just open up Quicktime Player and goto File > New Audio Recording…. After that, just click the red circle button and you’re recording!
  2. You can also record the Internet audio using a program like Ecamm or Audio Hijack. This is strictly speaking not necessary but it is useful as a backup audio recording and also for synchronizing the various speaker audio files in the editing phase.

If you’re going down the road of manual recording (and you use a Mac) I strongly recommend that you invest in getting Audio Hijack. It is a phenomenal program that lets you do basically anything on the Mac involving audio. If your Mac makes a sound in any way, you can easily record it.

With Audio hijack, you can set things up to record audio, save it to a file in various formats, and send the audio to different outputs. Here is my setup:

Audio Hijack setup

Here’s how it breaks down:

  1. I am recording my audio using an ATR USB Microphone (the exclamation point is there because my mic is not connect right now)
  2. I record my co-host’s audio through Google Chrome (via Google Hangouts).
  3. Both my and my co-host’s audio is saved to separate uncompressed 16-bit mono AIFF files that will later be imported into Logic Pro X for editing.
  4. I then route each audio stream through Peak/RMS meters to make sure our respective microphones are tuned properly and that the audio isn’t peaking.
  5. Then my co-host’s audio is routed to my headphones (Internal Speakers) so that I can hear her.
  6. The combined audio with both my and my co-host’s voice is then saved to a single 256 kbps MP3 file. This final file is the backup audio file that I can use to help with synchronization.
  7. The co-host then sends me her locally recorded audio file through Google Drive or Dropbox.

The advantage of this approach is that it can be adapted and modified in a variety of ways including a combination of in-person and remote guests (the web platforms can only really do remote guests). For example, if you have an in-person guest you can record both in-person audio streams and send it through a loopback device so that the remote person can hear it. “Multi-ender” podcasts are starightforward because everyone just records their audio separately and sends me the resulting audio file. I still have the combined recording as a backup just in case.

20 Sep 18:06

9 Principles Behind Successful Online Community Strategies

by Richard Millington

This is part 2 of our 6-part series on community strategy (click here to read part one).

If you like the series, consider signing up for our Strategic Community Management course.

Enrolment is now open and the course begins on October 9th, 2017.

This is going to explain the key processes behind establishing community goals and winning internal support.

About half of our clients ask for our help to set the goals for their community. The following might help.

This is a big topic, so I’ve divided it into 9 key principles.

Principle 1: Engagement Should Never Be A Goal

Many of the community and professionals we’ve worked with and trained over the past decade used to make the same mistake. They believed if they could get the engagement metrics high enough, they would finally get the support and respect they needed. They spent their time trying to get more engagement and reporting on engaging metrics.

The brutal truth is the engagement metrics will never be high enough to get you the support you need.

Chasing more engagement is a fools’ game and condemns you to the engagement trap.

Not many people working in communities today have the right goals. Setting the rights goals should be a transformational process for your community and your career. By the end you should be working towards something you know you can achieve, that other people support and that you know is valuable.

Principle 2: Goals Come From Your Stakeholders

Far too many engagement professionals set the goals for their community and then toil endlessly to win support for them. I know one director of community who has spent five years of her career trying to get internal support for her community’s goals.

The key to career success is to reverse this.

Don’t set goals and try to win support for them from colleagues. Find out what your colleagues already support and use these as your goals. It’s a lot easier to swim with the current. If you don’t want to fight every day to get support, begin with goals people already support.

Principle 3: You Don’t Truly Have Support Until You Get More Resources

Ignore what other departments say, you only truly have support when you get more resources you didn’t already have.

Your organization could commit far more to the community than they do today. For example:

  • The sales team can drive new prospects and clients towards it.
  • The PR team can promote your community.
  • The HR team can embed it within newcomer orientation for all employees.
  • The content team can test content in the community.
  • Engineering or R&D can give community direct feedback into the product.
  • The CEO can participate in the community.
  • Marketing can give-away free products to top members.
  • The web team can feature it more prominently on the website.
    etc…

Imagine each department as an engine cylinder you need to fire up to support your community. It’s your job to get each department supporting the community with more resources. This is going to require building powerful alliances where you come up with the goods (more on this later).

Principle 4: The Best Goals Come From Extreme Listening

Make a list of your stakeholders (colleagues, your boss, CEO, CFO, CMO, dir. Marketing, HR, IT, and anyone else who might be interested in the community). Interview each of them to understand their priorities. Ask them what they spend their time doing, what they hope to achieve, what they’re afraid of.

Pay careful attention to what they say and how they say it.

What do you they talk about excitedly and what do they sound bored by?

Attend the meetings of other departments too. Learn how they think and what information they prioritize. Almost everyone we interviewed who has won internal support regularly attends the meetings of other teams

Your goals will come from the above information. Remember goals are personal. Most goals will be those which:

  1. Save time.
  2. Save money
  3. Avoid making mistakes/looking bad.
  4. Achieve superior outcomes/better performance.
  5. Impress boss/colleagues.
  6. Feel more important and respected.
  7. Feel better about the work they do.
    (generally in this order)

You should be able to build a clear list of goals, for example:

Person(s) Wants/Fears
Your Boss
  • Wants to show improved member satisfaction.
  • Wants to be seen as someone who ‘gets things done’ in an organization that’s typically slow.
  • Worried that other people will get in her way.
Legal rep.
  • Not have anyone ‘go rogue’.
  • No surprises.
  • Wants people to appreciate what the risks are.
Boss’ boss
  • Worried about PR disasters and negative inputs reaching the exec team.
  • Wants to see better media coverage of the company.
Dir. Marketing
  • Wants to be able to reach as many people as possible with a message.
  • Worried about declining reach on traditional channels.
CEO
  • Wants the company to look innovative.
  • Present new technology at events.
CFO
  • Find ways to save money.
Team members
  • Be seen as valuable by their boss.  
  • Get to work on projects they’re most passionate about.
IT/Tech
  • Not have their time wasted.
  • Not have new priorities dumped upon them.
  • Have a say in new ideas the organization will develop.

etc…….

Principle 5: Avoid The Big, Noble, Goals Trap

Everyone believes that delighting customers, breaking down knowledge silos, and cutting costs are a good idea.

Everyone will agree these are good goals and they want to support it. But few of this group will help you because the goals are too broad and too distant to help you now.

Base your community goals in the day-to-day reality of your audience. What are they working on today? What do they need help with? What are they struggling with?

Principle 6: Use The Stakeholder Matrix To Prioritise Goals

Now prioritise this group by their interest in the community and their influence over it. Adopt the goals of those at the top of the list. For example, above, the goals might be:

  • Answer every possible question our best customers have. (stakeholder: boss)
  • Identify and resolve possible PR problems before they become major problems. (Boss’ boss)
  • Increase reach of promotional messaging. (dir. marketing)

[see goal framing here]

Notice each of these is relevant to goals right now. This is a key part of getting support.

If you can’t tackle all 3 (and 3 is a lot), focus on just the goal for whomever has the highest influence.

This framework will also guide how you interact with each of your stakeholders. You shouldn’t send the same messages to legal as you would to your boss, for example.

Principle 7: Build Stories To Support The Goal

Now you have a goal, you need persuasive stories to establish it. Anytime anyone asks you about the community goal, you should state the persuasive goal and then use a story to illustrate it. This means using Evernote, screenshots, or any system you like as a story capture system.

Your stakeholder framework will show what kind of stories to look out for.

Using the above example, you would capture stories of the top members who were happy they got their elusive questions answered quickly, of potential PR crises avoided, and the number of people your community was able to reach.

Data helps, but it’s only the backdrop to the narrative.

Remember stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Make them fun and interesting. If you don’t have stories of your own, start looking at other comparative communities. Don’t stop until you have at least a dozen great stories. Match each story to your community goals.

Principle 8: You Are Not A Jedi

No combination of words will win you the support of sceptical colleagues. What you bring into the meeting is far more important than what you say in the meeting.

If you want the PR team to promote you, bring them five incredible case studies they can promote.

If you want the sales team to help you, bring them a list of 20 useful leads.

If you want the engineering team you help, bring them valuable feedback they can immediately use. etc…

Success is going to mean building alliances where you have to give support to get support.

Figure out what the community can give to different people and departments within the organization.

Principle 9: Keeping Support Isn’t Binary

Support isn’t binary. People leave and priorities shift.

You need to set aside a big chunk of your time (at least 30%) to building and maintaining internal support.

This means attending meetings, taking colleagues out for a coffee, and finding new ways to bring value to other groups.

Community Goals

Your community goals will guide everything you do in the community.

Your goals determine what platform you select, how you set the platform up, what you ask your members to do, how you motivate them to do it, and what you report internally.

Setting community goals and winning internal support are two parts of the same process.

You should, if you follow these 9 principles, find that you can finally stop trying to fight for support and take a deliberate approach to getting the results you want.

Strategic Community Management

If you found this or the last part of our series useful, please consider signing up for the Strategic Community Management course.

The course will transform how you approach your community, help you escape the engagement trap, and guide you to deliver exactly the kind of results your organization needs.

And the fee is only $675 ($1100 if taken with Psychology of Community).

I think that’s a fair bargain.

20 Sep 18:06

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

by Michael Kalus

Introduction

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

A few months ago I reviewed the Vibram Fivefinger “KSO”. This was a “ten year anniversary” model they released back in 2015. Together with the KSO they also released the “Classic”. Weirdly enough both of them are only available in all black.

The KSO model quickly became my favourite “bum around” shoe earlier this year, but the easy on/off nature of the Classic intrigued me and so I got a pair.

The Review

First things first, the design is a bit…. well, of an acquired taste if you’re a guy. Yes, they’re Fivefinger’s and thus you already need to get used to the look, but the men's and women’s version both are the same and I can’t help but being reminded of the “Ballerina flat” type shoe.

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

Having said that, this is really more the flip-flop version of the Fivefinger. It’s easy on, easy off. The toe pockets as well as a high and inward bent heel cup hold the shoe to the foot.

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

It has the same sole as the KSO, so you will have good ground contract and slip resistance, but on the inside the shoe has a rather low “lip” and that is were stuff can get in. Having said that. It hasn’t shown to be a problem so far for me, the only time that was an issue was when I walked through deep sand and sank in, but then the KSO can also get some tiny sand kernels in through it's top mesh and they’re just as uncomfortable then. Also harder to put on and off. The Classic's easily shake out.

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

In order to adjust the fit of the shoe, there is a pull string and an arrest clip at the back. I didn’t really find a lot of use for it. In general the material is stretchy enough that it clings to the foot without the need of tightening. If you find that your foot “falls” out of the shoe all the time you may want to go a size smaller. They do seem to run the same as the KSOs, probably because they seem to share the same sole, but if you’re like me and have two different sized feet you may still want to go down a size (I went from a 45 to a 44, they both fit, but the 44 feels a bit more secure on the smaller foot).

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

Price

Vibram has started a Canadian store and you can buy them there for $109, though I found that the selection and pricing for Fivefinger’s in Canada is better on the Amazon website. They carry a broader range than the Canadian Vibram store and their prices are better. Just make sure to look for the ones that are actually sold as part of PRIME, as I found there are some third party sellers online that charge… creative prices for the Fivefinger’s.

The Conclusions

Pros

  • Lightweight shoe
  • Easy on / off
  • Basically a flip-flop in Fivefinger form.

Cons

  • The look, yes even for a Fivefinger as a men’s shoe they look odd.
  • Stuff can easily get in, especially on the inside of the shoe / arch where the lip is lower.
  • Only available in black.

Yay / Nay?

Having tried them out over the last few months I would have to say they are awesome for running out quickly or just bumming around during the day. They are a bit lighter and easier to get on and off than the other Fivefinger’s and they do feel solid. I had some worries about the shoe easily coming off but in general I didn’t find that a problem. I heard of some people running Marathons in them, clearly a possibility though that wasn’t why I got mine.

There really are only two things I’d like Vibram to do.

  1. Bring in some additional colours next year.
  2. Maybe revisit the inside lip, it basically is the sole and then a thin stretch of flexible material. A slightly higher lip may make it a bit easier to keep stuff out, though in day to day life it turned out to be of little concern.

[REVIEW] Vibram Fivefinger’s “Classic”

20 Sep 18:05

Still Skeptical About Tweetstorms

by Eugene Wallingford

The last couple of months have been the sparsest extended stretch on my blog since I began writing here in 2004. I have missed the feeling of writing, and I've wanted to write, but I guess never wanted it enough to set aside time to do the work. (There may be a deeper reason, the idea of which merits more thinking.) It's also a testament to the power of habit in my life: when I'm in the habit of writing, I write; when I fall out of the habit, I don't. During my unintended break from blogging, I've remained as active as usual on Twitter. But I haven't done much long-form writing other than lecture notes for my compiler class.

And that includes writing tweetstorms.

I'm one of those people who occasionally snarks on Twitter about tweetstorms. They always seem like a poor substitute for a blog entry or an essay. While I've probably written my last snarky tweet about tweetstorms, I remain skeptical of the form.

That said, my curiosity was aroused when Brian Marick, a writer and programmer whose work I always enjoy, tweeted yesterday:

[Note re: "write a blog post". I think the tweetstorm is different lit'ry form, and I like exploring it.]

I would love for Brian or anyone else to be able to demonstrate the value in a tweetstorm that is unique from equivalent writing in other forms. I've read many tweetstorms that I've enjoyed, including the epic Eric Garland disquisition considered by many to be the archetype of the genre. But in the end, every tweetstorm looks like either a bullet-point presentation that could be delivered in Powerpoint, or something that could stand on its own as an essay, if only the sentences were, you know, assembled into paragraphs.

I am sympathetic to the idea that there may be a new literary form lurking here. Like any constraint, the 140-character limit on tweets causes writers to be creative in a new way. Chaining a sequence of similarly constrained statements together as a meaningful whole requires a certain skill, and writers who master the style can pull me through to the end, almost despite myself. But I would read through to the end of a blog entry written as skillfully, and I wouldn't have to do the assembly of the work in my head as I go.

Perhaps the value lies in Twitter as an interaction mechanism. Twitter makes it easy to respond to and discuss the elements of a tweetstorm at the level of individual tweet. That's handy, but it can also be distracting. Not every Twitter platform manages the threading as well as it could. It's also not a new feature of the web; any blogging platform can provide paragraph-level linking as a primitive, and discussion forums are built on modular commentary and linking. Maybe tweetstorms are popular precisely because Twitter is a popular medium of the day. They are the path of least resistance.

That leads to what may be the real reason that people explore the form: Twitter lowers the barrier of entry into blogging to almost nothing: install an app, or point a web browser to your homepage, and you have a blogging platform. But that doesn't make the tweetstorm a new literary form of any particular merit. It's simply a chunking mechanism enforced by the nature of a limited interface. Is there anything more to it than that?

I'm an open-minded person, so when I say I'm skeptical about something, I really am open to changing my mind. When someone I respect says that there may be something to the idea, I know I should pay attention. I'll follow Brian's experiment and otherwise keep my mind open. I'm not expecting to undergo a conversion, but I'm genuinely curious about the possibilities.

20 Sep 18:05

Wired Wednesday: Nuada smart glove, Pi wireless charging & iBeacons

20 Sep 18:05

Our Necessities for Small Family Living

by Alison Mazurek
Back to basics.... photo: Blue Window Creative

Back to basics.... photo: Blue Window Creative

I am loving contributing to the Small Family Homes series. It makes me step outside of what I would normally write, and gives me an assignment, not unlike school (I love school), to put my own words and thoughts to. This month the title is "Necessities of Small Family Living". At first thought, the obvious response is to list all of the items in our home that make living small more comfortable or even possible...

Our Wall Bed
Our Wall Bunk Beds
An Expanding Dining Table
A Quiet Dishwasher
A Cordless Skinny Vacuum
Fast Drying, Thin but Cozy Towels
Wall Mounted Book Shelves
Canvas Toy Bins

But these are all just things, and truly the biggest necessity to living small as a family is our commitment to it. Our initial resolve (or stubbornness) to stay in our small space has evolved into a Minimalist-ish philosophy of constantly evaluating how we spend our time and money to maximize our time together as a family, and carving out time for adventures. More than what specific things we have to live small, it's more about what we don't have. 

Less is More
Learning to live with less things has been a long, slow process for us. We didn't instantly have an edited and organized home that manages to house 4 people (and our house is still imperfect and in need of more organization and editing!). But owning less things means less time shopping, cleaning, and maintaining things which creates more time, space and energy to do the things that bring us the most joy. Adventures, especially travel, is what keeps us excited and motivated to stay in our space and has been the greatest gift of living small.

Re-framing
Our relentless pursuit of less things is also combined with a choice to re-frame our thinking to see our small space as giving us so much . While this may sound crazy but instead of focusing on what we don't have, like a second bedroom, mudroom or a backyard, we focus on the many things we do have... We live in a beautiful and inspiring city with mountains and ocean, a walkable, diverse and vibrant neighborhood, beautiful parks, in-suite laundry, and good coffee. I think that's why camping has appealed to us so much lately. Taking lessons from camping of slowing down and simplifying into our daily lives. When camping we have one wrought iron pan and one cup each and we have to pee outside, but we are having so much fun! Returning home after camping we realize how many modern luxuries we have but how little we need to enjoy ourselves.

Adventuring with our wildling.  photo: Blue Window Creative

Adventuring with our wildling.  photo: Blue Window Creative

While part of it has been an overall philosophy of fewer things, this is our practical list of questions that have served as a really useful tool in keeping our home un-cluttered and functional. It also helps when you keep your partner in check by reminding them of these questions in moments of questionable judgement. Trevor is always checking me on kids clothes or home accessories and I'm always questioning him on dry-fit clothes or sports equipment. We constantly ask ourselves the following, and it is probably our biggest necessity for Small Family Living:

Do I really need this?
Could I wait to purchase it?
Is there something I currently own that could achieve the same purpose?
Is it beautiful and useful?
(If it's clothing) Can I name 4 outfits involving this piece?
Following the One in One out rule... so what is leaving if I am buying this piece?

 

 

This post was written for inclusion in the September collection of the Small Family Homes Blog Community. Read below for more writings on living small from our community of writers. Check back next month for a new topic and posts in the series and follow our community board on Pinterest for the latest small homes and family minimalism pins!

 

Justice Pirate-- "7 Simple Living Must-Haves" : When simplicity seems so far away or impossible to embrace, you realize it is the best and easiest way. 

Little Bungalow-- "Small Space Essentials" : My five favourite items for making small space living more enjoyable. 

Real Food Simple Life-- " Furniture Free Living: A Necessity in our Small Family Home" : Why our large family decided to go furniture free and how it helps us thrive in a small family home. 

A Life Shift-- "10 Must-Haves for Small-Space Family Living"  : What is essential to how we live compared to families with more space? 

Tiny Ass Camper-- "Our Essentials for Thriving in a Tiny Space" : Reflections on what skills have become our essentials for thriving in less than 100 sq. ft.

Shelley Vanderbyl-- "Home Design for Happiness" : Artist gives 10 ways to design your space for happiness. 

RISING*SHINING-- "Necessities in Our Smallish Home" : The tangible and intangible things that keep our home functional and enjoyable. 

Fourth & West-- "Hashtag Flexibility" : If one characteristic has punctuated our life in a small home, it is flexibility.

 

20 Sep 18:05

Data Visualization for Social Science

by Kieran Healy

Data Visualization for Social Science
Data Visualization for Social Science is a practical introduction to data visualization using R and ggplot2. The main goal of this book is to introduce you to both the ideas and the methods of data visualization in a clear, sensible, and reproducible way.

Through a series of worked examples, the book shows you how to build plots piece by piece, beginning with scatterplots and summaries of single variables, then moving on to more complex graphics. Topics covered include plotting continuous and categorical variables, layering information on graphics; faceting grouped data to produce effective “small multiple” plots; transforming data to easily produce visual summaries on the graph such as trend lines, linear fits, error ranges, and boxplots; creating maps, and also some alternatives to maps worth considering when presenting country- or state-level data. Plotting estimates from statistical models and from complex survey designs are also covered. The book then explores the process of refining plots to accomplish common tasks such as highlighting key features of the data, labeling particular items of interest, annotating plots, and changing their overall appearance. Finally it discussesa some strategies for presenting graphical results in different formats, and to different sorts of audiences.

Learning how to visualize data effectively is more than just knowing how to write code that produces figures from data. This book will teach you how to do that. But it will also teach you how to think about the information you want to show, and how to consider the audience you are showing it to—including the most common case, when the audience is yourself.

This book is currently in progress. A draft version of the manuscript is available as a website, at http://socviz.co.

20 Sep 18:04

Exciting New Things for iOS 11

by Mick

We’ve just shipped Things 3.2 with three awesome new features: Direct integration with Siri, drag & drop for iPad, and link detection for third-party apps. This update also provides full compatibility with iOS 11 and watchOS 4. Let’s take a look at how these new features work.

Siri & Things

In iOS 11, Things is directly integrated with Siri. We emphasize “direct” because we’ve actually had a Siri-to-Things feature for years – but it has been using the Reminders app as a go-between. With Things 3.2, you can now speak directly with Things – it’s an entirely new way to interact with your task manager.

You can speak naturally when using Things, making requests in two general categories: creating tasks and viewing lists.

Adding a task with Siri

Creating tasks is quite easy. Here are a few examples:

Add a task in Things.
Add “buy milk” using Things.
In Things, remind me to “buy milk”.

You can include a date or time:

In Things, remind me to “buy milk” tomorrow at 10 AM.

You can add a task directly to a list:

In Things, add “buy milk” to my “Shopping” list.

Viewing a list with Siri

You can also view any list. Simply refer to your projects or areas by name (or part of their name).

Show my Today list in Things.
Show my “Presentation” list in Things.

This also works great for tags. So when you’re running errands in town, say:

Show my “Errand” list in Things.

You can even query the Upcoming list to see how your week is looking:

In Things, show my list for this week.

Siri saves you from having to type, and makes task management with Things effortless.

Drag & Drop

Our second feature for iOS 11 is drag and drop for iPad. It allows you to drop content into Things from other apps – either as new to-dos, or into the notes of existing to-dos.

For example, you might want to link to emails you need to get back to later. Simply drag the email with your finger – from Mail into Things – and let go. The new to-do will include a link to the email so you can easily open it later:


Dragging emails from Mail into Things.

To add something to an existing to-do, simply open the to-do first and then drop the dragged content into its notes. For example, you might want to add a series of links while researching something:


Dragging links or texts from Safari into Things.

Third-Party App Links

Finally, Things 3.2 delivers one of your most-requested features: support for third-party app links! In the past, if you created a link to another app, such as Ulysses, you would see a string of text like this:

ulysses://x-callback-url/open?id=imkX-yOF9WgAT5pNg0P7Pw

The problem was, Things didn’t know this was a link to a file in Ulysses, so it just displayed it as plain text. But in 3.2, Things now understands that it’s a link and makes it tappable for you:

Third-party app links

This feature makes it possible to reference files from a myriad of other apps and then access them later with a quick tap. We haven’t tested it with every app, so if you notice any links that don’t work as expected, please let us know.


Things 3.2 is available now as a free update for all our users – we hope you enjoy the new features! Stand by for a Mac update on September 25th, which will bring full compatibility for macOS High Sierra.

Have a great and productive week!

20 Sep 17:44

Four ways Chinese product designers are different from US

by Eva Yoo

For a foreigner first entering Chinese websites, or a Chinese app, the first experience can be pretty overwhelming. Taobao, 58.com and Dazhong Dianping provide so many buttons of categories and promotions on one page, as Chinese people prefer this user interface. It’s not only the design of the Chinese app or website, but also workflow and working style of Chinese designers and tools, platforms that they use creates the difference. For foreign startups looking to find Chinese designers, they should first understand these differences before they scan job applicant’s skill sets.

According to the 2015 London Consulting Report, there are 17 million designers in China. Along with the rise of China’s app, website, and digital products, product designers have been increasing steadily in the market, and now accounts for about 30% of the entire designer workforce. The report says product designer is the most promising sector in design.

To assist these increasing designers to develop apps, prototyping tools (原型工具) help startups to design but also manage different versions. We interviewed the CEO of Chinese prototyping tool Mockingbot, Zhang Yuanyi to discuss the difference between Chinese designers and overseas designers.

Beijing-based Mockingbot has observed their user cases since their first product release for international users in 2012, followed by their domestic product launch in 2014. Among Mockingbot’s total users of 600,000, overseas users currently account for about 10%. Interestingly, Mockingbot’s overseas customers are mainly concentrated in BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Indian users currently account for more than 50% of our overseas users, Zhang says. According to him, Mockingbot’s users are 50% product manager, 20% designers, 10% entrepreneurs, 10% small design and developer outsourcing team, and 10% students.

Mockingbot, having both Chinese users and outside of China users, gave a view of how Chinese product designers are different from US product designers.

Mockingbot team (Image Credit: Mockingbot)

Mockingbot team (Image Credit: Mockingbot)

1. China’s app development workflow is product manager-centric

In a previous interview with TechNode, Mockingbot pointed out that the workflow is product manager-centric in China, while the workflow is designer-centric in Europe and the United States.

Zhang believes this difference is actually decided by the product. As an example, he compared Paypal and Alipay. Paypal’s function so simple and straightforward, but Alipay is rather complex.

“Foreign product logic is relatively clearcut and simple, so you can ask UI, UX designer and functional designer to take over the task. But in China, because of the complexity of the product, a person can not take all the work. It needs to be broken down into tasks, which required a position like a product manager who is responsible for product interaction and business logic behind,” Zhang said.

Hao Jie, Senior Designer at Mockingbot, told TechNode what China’s product manager is responsible for.

“Product manager needs to follow up with their boss, designer, developer and participate and control all these stages: product architecture, planning, demand, design, project and management and much more. This leads to the uniqueness of this career,” Hao Jie said. “But in recent years, more and more large companies adopt project manager-centric workflow.”

2. Chinese people prefer using Sketch over Photoshop

While Photoshop still dominates the market with 57% market share, Sketch is catching up. 2015 data on Avocode shows that Chinese users prefer using Sketch to Photoshop. Now more and more people use vector design tool Sketch, which offers a bunch of plugins as well as its own API. Using Sketch, the designer doesn’t have to think about screen densities to make the image bigger or smaller.

“People around me, including myself are already loyal users of Sketch,” Hao Jie said.

According to Zhang, about 25% of Mockingbot users use Sketch. Sketch plugin is one of the popular plugins provided through Mockingbot, and Sketch plugin usage is about 5% among all Mockingbot users.

3. Chinese designers aren’t remote workers yet

“Working remotely” trend has been popular in foreign countries for many years, the concept took off with the book Remote: Office not required published in 2013. However, Zhang Yuanyi sees that because of the differences between domestic and foreign environment, remote work is not very suitable for China market to achieve its biggest output.

“City development the US is more balanced, so the talents are also relatively scattered, but in China, most of the talent, especially internet talent are concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Remote work can lose the advantage of efficiency,” he said.

For example, let’s say you’re considering about hiring a person with capacity of 100 in US. But he and the CEO are based in the different city. Assuming that remote working efficiency is 10% lower than working in the same office, his output will be 90. This is still more cost-effective than hiring a person with a capacity of 80 and working in the same office. But in China, remote workers in lower-tier cities have a capacity of 80, and coupled with the loss of communication efficiency, it really is better to look for a capacity 90 who can work in the same city.

4. WeChat service account and WeChat mini program are on the rise

While developing an app is still norm outside of China, WeChat service account and WeChat mini program have supplemented or replaced mobile apps in China. According to Q2 2017, WeChat mini program monitoring data released by Aladdin, there are now 10,000 WeChat mini program developers and over ten million users using WeChat mini programs (in Chinese). Aladdin founder Shi Wenlu mentioned that there are now over 25 million WeChat service account in the market.

Zhang Yuanyi believes that WeChat’s service account and mini programs are more of an opportunity for them, helping them to broaden the audience and usage of their products.

“Not long after WeChat introduced mini program, we added mini program-related templates to Mockingbot, and this template and our previous WeChat public account template has been the most used among all the Mockingbot templates,” Zhang said.

20 Sep 17:44

JD vs Alibaba: The war for China’s fresh food

by Rita Liao

Before Xiaohui leaves the office at the end of a long workday, she picks up her phone and begins thumbing the screen. “The carrots and spareribs will be delivered when I get home in an hour,” she says. Married with a five-year-old, she used to pick up ingredients for dinner from a grocery store on her way home. Now, the meat, vegetables, and fruit are only a few taps away.

Among the half-dozen produce apps Xiaohui uses are Fruit Day (天天果园) and Yiguo (易果), two of China’s major fresh produce shopping sites. They are also, unsurprisingly, backed by the twin e-commerce titans JD.com and Alibaba respectively.

The giants have convinced Chinese people that they can buy nearly everything—from clothing to cars—via the mobile screen, and are now telling them that they don’t need to touch the bok choi before serving them to the table. In 2015 and 2016, JD lay out two rounds for Fruit Day. In August, Yiguo nailed $300 million from Alibaba’s B2C e-commerce Tmall (in Chinese), adding to the previous three rounds that Alibaba had put in.

fresh produce

Market size of China’s produce e-commerce 2012-2019 (Source: Analysys)

Chinese online retailers have long wanted to figure out the online groceries game—tantalizing and still largely untapped. In 2016, China’s fresh produce e-commerce reached RMB 91.39 billion (roughly $14 billion) in transaction volume, up 68.6% year-on-year (in Chinese) according to data company Analysys. A study co-released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and AliResearch from last September shows that only 7% (in Chinese) of Chinese urbanites’ grocery shopping happened online.

Grocery isn’t the easiest thing to sell online. Unlike most commodities that are conveniently standardized, each piece of fruit, vegetable, and meat is unique: housewives may not trust a JD employee to pick their peaches. Produce is also perishable, demanding hefty investment in warehousing and cold chain. To have a comparative advantage over local groceries, produce e-commerce must carry a wide enough variety, and it needs to have a significant scale from the start or the big stock will just spoil. All this hard work is, eventually, met with low net margins.

“This industry is bitter because everyone is losing money,” said President of JD Fresh, Wang Xiaosong, in an interview with local media last September. “The average net loss is at 35-40%. That’s why from the second half of last year [2015] to this year, fresh food e-commerce companies have shut down one by one. As soon as capital dries up, cash flow is in trouble.”

A 2016 study by the China E-commerce Research Center shows that out of the 4,000 existing fresh produce e-commerce companies in China, only 1% are profitable (in Chinese). A glimpse at the deals that JD and Alibaba make with their fresh food allies sheds light on how this bitter battle of freshness can be fought.

Yiguo-Alibaba

12-year-old Yiguo is more than an investment for Alibaba. It is, in practice, the operator behind Tmall’s fresh food unit “Miao Xiansheng” (喵鲜生 or Mr. Fresh in English) (in Chinese). Alibaba’s “platform” approach—online marketplaces populated by third-party merchants—means that it lacks the logistics know-how and cold chain capabilities needed for delicate produce. Aside from supply chain resources, the Yiguo bundle also brings along ExFresh, its cold chain logistics subsidiary. According to Farmers Daily, cold chain logistics can cost two times more than logistics for regular commodities and can eat up 25%-40% revenues for e-commerce companies. (in Chinese). Part of Yiguo’s fresh funding from Tmall will go to beef up the ExFresh’s cold chain capacity.

“Yiguo’s infrastructure—from front-end omnichannel operation, back-end management, to a logistics network across the country—means that we aspire to and can be China’s enabler of new retail for produce. We are like a USB that can be inserted instantly,” Jin Guanglei, co-founder of Yiguo says in an interview (in Chinese) with Deqian Wan, a freelance blogger on Chinese e-commerce. ExFresh is also giving a cold chain boost to Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao, helping the latter handle produce orders.

Yiguo is in line with Alibaba’s core of being an asset-light, high-margin model that has made it successful. However, founder of Alibaba Jack Ma recently claimed in an interview with Bloomberg that the company will need to move away from its asset-light approach if it wants to grab a bigger share of global trade. Concurrently, JD—who prides itself on the customer trust bestowed by its direct sales and in-house couriers—is gradually opening up to third-party merchants; gross merchandise volume (GMV) in this category grew 61% in 2016 to reach RMB 272 billion ($41.5 billion), taking up 41.3% of JD’s total GMV. Direct sales increased at a slower pace of 46%.

jd alibaba

Fruit Day-JD

Compared to Alibaba’s tight hold on Yiguo, JD’s approach to Fruit Day comes across as reserved. In 2016, JD founded a business unit dedicated to fresh food headed by Wang Xiaosong, a key figure in the company’s early success in 3C (Computing, Communication, and Consumer). The newly founded JD Fresh leverages the parent company’s existing warehousing and delivering network, and bets big in building its own cold chain network.

“Produce is a long-term investment for JD,” says Wang in the interview. “We will invest heavily in cold chain, aiming to build out 20 cold chain warehouses, deliver to 240 cities, and run 6000 distribution hubs.”

This means JD Fresh is less reliant on outsiders in getting its vegetables to customer doorsteps. Both JD Fresh and Fruit Day sell directly to customers, so the allies are to some extent in competition. Collaboration takes place mostly in logistics (in Chinese), founder of Fruit Day Wang Wei told local media. Currently, 70% of Fruit Day’s Beijing orders are handled by JD.

“JD’s advantage lies in its robust logistics, whereas Alibaba’s is its large customer base,” Kai Ge, who runs a community for Chinese fresh produce e-commerce founders, says to TechNode.

JD’s asset-heavy model means it won’t have the profitability level of Alibaba in the near future, but JD‘s founder Richard Liu believes that trust earned via quality will eventually pay off. To sell free-range chickens, for instance, JD goes as far as subsidizing rural farmers. Liu blogged about (in Chinese) the “treadmill” (跑步机)—homophonic to “running chicken” (跑步鸡) in Mandarin—project where chickens’ feet are tied to a step tracker. If a chicken runs over one million steps, he proclaims,”JD will promise to procure it at three times the local price!”

richard liu

JD’s free-range chicken supply chain project (Image credit: JD.com)

The Last Mile

Neighborhood groceries have the advantage of being within walking distance. To win, online retailers must fetch the food to consumers more efficiently. Whole Foods doesn’t only bring produce to Amazon. Its 460 stores in well-heeled locations across the US can also work as fulfillment and distribution hubs needed for Amazon’s last-mile delivery, not to mention the customer data that comes with every purchase.

This is why Alibaba and JD are chasing after brick and mortar grocery stores for the past few years.

In 2015, JD put $700 million in Yonghui Superstores for a 10% stake, gaining access to the latter’s nearly 500 supermarkets across China. Last June, JD struck a strategic partnership with Walmart that led to the full integration of the giants’ platforms, supply chains, and customer data. Walmart soon debuted on JD Daojia (JD到家 meaning “JD to home”), the O2O arm of JD: Items ordered on JD Daojia are dispatched either from JD warehouses or Walmart’s prime city locations based to achieve optimized delivery routes.

Alibaba is also adding a big offline footprint. In May, the giant acquired an 18% stake in Lianhua Supermarket from Yiguo, making it the second largest stakeholder of the chain that claims 3618 physical stores across 18 provinces and municipalities as of 2016.

Jack Ma envisions a future that the online-offline division blurs. He names it the “new retail”, which in his own words is “the integration of online, offline, logistics and data across a single value chain.” Hema Supermarket, whose founder Hou Yi formerly headed JD’s supply chain, epitomizes Ma’s vision.

Customers who have downloaded the Hema app can shop, dine and enjoy a faster checkout in the sprawling, futuristic Hema store. Those unwilling to leave the couch can have their orders delivered under 30 minutes given they live within a 3-km radius from Hema’s 13 locations in China’s major cities. JD’s ally Yonghui also introduced a similar concept called “Yonghui Super Species”, a blend of retail, dining, and mobile app.

“Alibaba and JD are like yin and yang,” Kai Ge reckons. “They are shadowing each other in every move, and will spearhead China’s fresh produce revolution together.”

20 Sep 17:36

Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Approaching independence

by Patrick O'Rourke
Apple Watch Series 3

Since launch, I’ve always liked the Apple Watch a lot.

I’d even go so far as to say I’m a big fan of smartwatches in general, including Google’s Android Wear platform — especially since the tech giant’s recent 2.0 update.

“Despite what some may have initially thought, myself included, the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 is not a complete replacement for the iPhone.”

That’s because I use smartwatches in a very specific way: for notification triage.

Given that I work in media, I’m often responding to a deluge of email and messages at all hours of the day. For the last three years, the Apple Watch has allowed me to put away my phone when I get home and prioritize only the messages that matter, giving me a much-needed reprieve from my busy job and letting me disconnect from the world, even if only slightly. This is something I value greatly.

Apple Watch Series 3

That’s how I utilize the Apple Watch, but other people likely use Apple’s wearable in a completely different way. I know people who use the Apple Watch as their core fitness tracking device, as well as those who actually use the platform’s various apps — which launch much quicker now with the Series 3 watch and watchOS 4.

To some extent, the Apple Watch Series 3 is for users who fall into the latter category; those that enjoy using their Apple Watch as an iPhone companion.

Despite what some may have initially thought, myself included, the cellular Apple Watch Series 3 is not a complete replacement for the iPhone, though it is slightly more independent depending on what you’re doing with the wearable.

In fact, it’s still very much tethered to Apple’s smartphone, only in a different way. To some who perhaps feel the Apple Watch should have been a completely independent device when it launched roughly three years ago, this may be a disappointment.

However, those who are already sold on the what the Apple Watch is capable of, will find a lot to like about the series 3.

Specs

Size: 42MM, 38MM
Series 3 (GPS + Cellular) requires an iPhone 6/iOS 11 (or later)
Network technology: GSM / HSPA / LTE
Body dimensions: 42.5mm x 36.4mm x 11.4mm (1.67 x 1.43 x 0.45 in)
Weight: 52.8g
Build: Stainless Steel/Ceramic back
SIM: Embedded SIM card (Apple e-SIM)
50m waterproof
Display: AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors
Size: 1.65 inches (~55.4% screen-to-body ratio)
Resolution: 390 x 312 pixels (303 ppi pixel density)
Multitouch Yes
Operating System: watchOS 4.0
Chipset: Apple S3
CPU: Dual-core
GPU: PowerVR
Internal: 16 GB, 768 MB RAM
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.2, A2DP, LE
GPS Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS
NFC Yes
Sensor: Accelerometer, gyro, heart rate, barometer

Apple Watch Series 3 cellular limitations

Apple Watch Series 3 cellular

During my extensive testing of the Apple Watch Series 3’s cellular capabilities, I uncovered a few interesting caveats regarding what the wearable is actually capable of doing.

For instance, if the iPhone is off or its battery has died, only iMessage and phone calls can be received or sent via the Series 3. So if the person you’re trying to contact is an Android user and you’re attempting to reach them through standard text messages, you’re out of luck unless you call them. Furthermore, voicemail won’t work and Mail can’t connect when the smartphone the Series 3 is tethered to is turned off.

In order to receive notifications, the iPhone the Apple Watch is connected to must be powered on and connected to the internet in some way, as the phone acts as a conduit for all content sent to the Series 3.

Apple Watch

During my time with the new Apple Watch, I left an iPhone 8 set up with the Series 3 at home and headed out grocery shopping. I received texts, Facebook messages, Gmail notifications and when I had my Gmail account setup through Apple’s Mail app, the ability to respond to emails.

Call quality was impressive even with spotty mic proximity, though taking calls with the Apple Watch is less than ideal, especially in public — you’ll get some strange looks. I did, however, run into a few issues where I lost cellular signal completely, though this only happened once and the disconnection lasted roughly 10 minutes.

Also, the Series 3 will not work when outside of Canada, so roaming is not an option.

Apple Watch Series 3 messages

The Series 3 isn’t designed to be only used on cellular either. In Apple’s mind, users will still use the watch as they always have, with the wearable tethered to an iPhone. However, because of the freedom cellular provides, they’ll now be able to venture off without their smartphone for brief periods of time.

This is also how Apple gets by with stating that the Series 3 still features “all-day battery life” despite its cellular connectivity. Surprisingly, this claim is accurate, as long as you don’t solely use the watch on cellular. That said, even when using the device only on cellular, I was able to squeeze out battery life that lasted from early in the morning until late in the evening. This length of battery life from such a tiny device with a cellular connection is an impressive feat on Apple’s part.

Cellular setup and use case

Apple Watch Series 3

Now that the series 3’s limitations as an independent device are out of the way, let’s take a look at the setup process and how the Series 3 fits in the Canadian cellular market.

At least at launch, the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE is available exclusively through Bell, though Telus says that it will eventually support the wearable as well. Telus specifically told MobileSyrup that it “looks forward to launching the Apple Watch 3 as soon as the system’s technology is in place; it’s part of our commitment to putting customers first.”

“At least at launch, the Apple Watch Series 3 LTE is available exclusively through Bell.”

It’s unclear whether Bell flanker brand Virgin Mobile will also sell the Watch, but Telus’ Koodo has already confirmed it will not stock the wearable.

As it stands right now, Rogers and its sub-brand Fido, as well as regional carriers like Vidéotron and Sasktel, do not currently support the Apple Watch Series 3’s marquee feature, LTE connectivity.

Apple Watch Series 3 vs Series 2
The setup process is simple enough with Bell. Users need only navigate to the Apple Watch’s iPhone app and set up the carrier’s ‘NumberShare’ $5 add-on through various in-app displays. It’s also worth noting that NumberShare also requires a $10 activation fee with Bell, though the first three months of the plan are free through a limited-time promotion.

While $5 a month may seem like a small amount of money to share a phone number with a wearable, to others, this may seem like an astronomical and unnecessary price tag.

When it comes to the Series 3, I could probably live without cellular connectivity since my iPhone is almost always with me. In the few instances where I may not have Apple’s smartphone, though — for example when sailing my sailboat in the middle of Georgian Bay or when I’m playing hockey — I could see the Series 3’s ability to take phone calls becoming very useful.

Apple Watch Series 3 vs Series 2

Paying an additional $5 on top of my already expensive monthly plan for those few instances where cellular would come in handy, however, isn’t worth it for me.

Those who use the Apple Watch Series 3 for fitness purposes will likely really enjoy the Series 3’s cellular connectivity feature since it will allows them to leave their smartphone at home when on a run, or when exercising in some other way, and still stay connected.

How much value you’ll get out of cellular connectivity with the latest version of the Apple Watch really depends on how you intend to use the wearable.

What else is new?

Apple Watch Series 3 arm

Along with cellular connectivity, the Series 3 LTE, as well as the Series 3, have received a number of hardware upgrades. It’s important to point out that aesthetically the watch looks almost exactly the same as the Series 1 Apple Watch, though the LTE edition does feature a red digital crown, a move I found gives the watch a dose of visual flair. Size wise, the Series 3 is also slightly larger than the Series 2, but only by a few millimetres.

The watch’s S3 dual-core processor is now 70 percent faster than the silicon featured in the Series 2, according to Apple. In my experience, Apple’s claims seem accurate regarding the Series 3’s power.

“The watch’s S3 dual-core processor is now 70 percent faster than the silicon featured in the Series 2.”

Launching apps, navigating the watch’s menu and just doing simple tasks like switching watch faces, feel faster and more responsive than they did with the Series 2, though this could also be due to watchOS 4’s various stability improvements to the watch’s operating system (more on that later).

Other new hardware features include a barometric altimeter, allowing those that use the Apple Watch for fitness to track their elevation, as well as a new and improved W2 wireless chip. Siri, a feature I have rarely touched with the Apple Watch Series 1 or 2, also now speaks on the Apple Watch and utilizes the Series 3’s speaker. For those of us who want to avoid talking to an AI assistant in public, it’s also possible to speak to Siri via AirPods.

Apple Watch Series 3 Siri

In general, the fact that Apple has opted to once again stick with the same design for the Apple Watch Series 3 is disappointing. It’s not that the Apple Watch is a drab looking wearable. In fact, it’s still one of the best-looking smartwatches on the market in my opinion, with perhaps only the now discontinued Moto 360 2nd Gen surpassing it slightly. I was just hoping that three years into this product category, Apple would opt for a visual revamp.

That said, the fact that the Cupertino-based tech giant was able to cram cellular technology, including an antenna that’s built directly into the Apple Watch’s display, is an impressive industrial design achievement.

Apple has also added a new Sport Loop watch band with the Series 3 that offers a stylish mix between the normal Sport bands and Apple’s more recently released Nylon offering. On a side note, this strap is extremely comfortable and is great for when it’s hot outside.

watchOS 4

Apple Watch Series 3

Beyond cellular and hardware improvements, the real star of the Apple Watch Series 3 is watchOS 4, the new version of Apple’s smartwatch operating system that’s also coming to the Series 1 and Series 2.

Similar to watchOS 3, which was a fitness-focused rethink of the wearable OS, watchOS4 brings with it a host of new features, including a new Siri watch face that dynamically updates over the course of the day by learning your routine in relation to Calendar, Reminders, Activity and Wallet app activity. Siri is also accessible through this watch face with just one tap.

While this watch face feels like a less capable version of Google Now in some situations, it’s also a welcome addition to the smartwatch line and a page right out of Android Wear.

Apple Watch Series 3

There’s also a new kaleidoscope watch face and of course, Toy Story watch faces that bring Woody, Jessie and Buzz Lightyear to users’ wrists. I’m not particularly fond of the idea of walking around with Buzz Lightyear on my arm, but I did get a kick out of the Toy Story watch face’s various animations.

Activity coaching has also been updated with new features, likely in an effort to take on Fitbit’s upcoming Ionic smartwatch. For example, the Activity app now sends out progress updates based on personal activity levels and features monthly challenges. Perhaps most useful for someone like myself, who is only casually interested in the Apple Watch’s fitness features, is the new feature that tells users exactly how long they need to walk to close their rings.

“The idea behind pointing out irregularities in your heartbeat is that they could indicate a larger medical issue.”

watchOS 4’s updates to the Apple Watch’s heart tracking functionality are perhaps the most noteworthy. Any Apple Watch equipped with heart rate sensors is now capable of recording your resting heart rate, your recovery heart rate, your average walking heart rate and any spikes in heart rate that occur could occur when you’re not exercising. The idea behind pointing out irregularities in your heartbeat is that they could indicate a larger medical issue, though Apple was quick to emphasis that the Apple Watch is not designed to diagnose heart conditions.

Apple Watch Series 3

A new complication allows users to view their latest heart rate reading, and during workouts, its now possible to see your average heart rate reading and recovery heart rate.

Overall, there’s a lot packed into watchOS4 this year and I’m pleased with the progress Apple is making with the wearable OS, especially considering many of these new features are also available on older generation Apple Watches. However, those hoping the Apple Watch’s shift to a fitness focus was just a temporary reprieve from the direction the company was initially taking to wearables may be disappointed by some of the watch’s new features.

Looking to the future

Apple Watch Series 3

The Series 3 also has one particularly interesting feature on the horizon: the ability to load Apple Music songs to the watch that can then be listened to via Apple’s AirPods — a welcome addition to the phone. Apple also plans to allow users to stream music and radio directly from the Apple Watch via cellular, giving people access to 40 million songs directly on their wrist.

Again, while this particular feature doesn’t appeal to me given I almost always have my iPhone on me, I can see it being a hit with fitness-focused uses. Not only will they be able to receive notifications on the go, but they’ll also soon be able to listen to music too.

The post Apple Watch Series 3 Review: Approaching independence appeared first on MobileSyrup.

20 Sep 17:35

Gmail and Inbox will now convert addresses, phone numbers and contacts into interactive links

by Dean Daley
Gmail on a smartphone

Google is adding a new feature to its Inbox and Gmail applications which will automatically turn addresses, contacts, e-mail addresses and phone numbers into interactive hyperlinks.

gmail opened to an e-mail on a smartphone

Within the two apps, tapping on an address will open the Google Maps app; tapping on an email address will allow the user to start comping a new e-mail; and tapping on a phone number will open the user’s default phone app.

The roll out for the feature starts today globally on iOS and Android and will hit everyone within the next one to three days.

Source: GSuite 

The post Gmail and Inbox will now convert addresses, phone numbers and contacts into interactive links appeared first on MobileSyrup.