Considering the iPhone(s) Plus

I've been thinking lately about my next iPhone, and more specifically, what size it'll be. To my surprise, I'm more and more inclined to give the larger iPhone Plus a try.

I didn't seriously consider buying the iPhone 6 Plus when it was first released. The 6 was a significant enough size jump from the iPhone 5 that going even bigger didn't make a lot of sense to me. Despite being a little slippery, I've enjoyed the 6 overall, and haven't felt much need for a bigger screen.

And yet, the Plus is starting to make more sense to me, and the change in thinking has a lot to do with how I use my iPad. I enjoy using the iPad for more involved tasks or reading a book, but if I'm just sitting on the couch browsing through Twitter or skimming a few articles, I almost always use my phone. That's true even if the iPad is nearby. It's just easier to use the device that's already in my hand or my pocket. That's where a Plus phone could come in. If I'm already using my phone in place of the iPad in some situations, it'd be nice to have a little more screen real estate. I wouldn't give up using my iPad, I'd just give myself a little more room on the device I use most often. A little extra battery won't hurt either.

In the past, I've had two main practical concerns about the 6 Plus: one-handed use and size in a pocket. The former concerns me less than it used to, for the simple reason that I don't use the iPhone 6 one-handed all that much either. As for how a Plus might fit in my pocket, I imagine I'd have to try it to really know. What I can say is that I find myself taking the 6 out of my pocket when I'm sitting, so the Plus likely wouldn't be all that different. I don't expect it'd be an issue when walking around.

Fortunately, since Apple lets you return products within the first couple of weeks after purchase, I can give the Plus a try with my next phone without worrying about buyer's remorse.

Fearing an Apple TV Service

Word has been building that Apple is planning to launch a subscription-based Internet TV service near(ish) future, and I'm afraid. My fears can be neatly summed up in one word:


Almost all traditional TV has ads, except for a few premium channels like HBO. And they're horrible. During a typical one-hour TV show, roughly 18 minutes are given over to ads, leaving only 42 minutes for actual content.

In the late 1990s, devices like TiVo appeared that let viewers record or pause shows, then play them back later, fast-forwarding through the ads. (The same was possible with ye olde VCR, with a bit more legwork.) Big media companies hate these devices because they let people skip over the ads that bring in revenue. Fortunately for TV viewers, there's not a whole lot the media companies can do about it. I've been using a TiVo-style DVR for about ten years, and I rarely see TV ads outside of live sports.

Enter a TV service from Apple. In order to launch its service, Apple will need to secure the rights to distribute TV content from the media companies. In those negotiations, media companies are operating from a position of strength: they have the content that everybody wants. Certain to be among their conditions in any contract with Apple: un-skippable ads.

You might've seen these kinds of ads if you've watched shows on Hulu. Guess why: Hulu is a joint venture of NBC/Universal, Fox, and Disney/ABC. It's also worth noting that buying a paid subscription to Hulu Plus doesn't get rid of the ads, it just gives you access to more content. In short, Hulu works the way the media companies want it to: You pay for access to the content, and you're forced to watch ads too. No DVR in the middle, no skipping the commercials. (And no variety in the ads. Seriously, how many times in a row can they show the exact same commercial?)

A TV service from Apple is likely to work a lot like Hulu. It might have a greater variety of content or a better UI, but the commercials will be there to stay. Why is it filling me with fear if it's so similar to existing streaming services? Because an Apple TV service is likely to be far more successful and widely used than Hulu. It'll turn a niche product into a widespread one, and the ad model will come along for the ride. Once everyone is used to un-skippable ads, they'll be awfully hard to get rid of. We'll be back where we started 20 years ago: watching the same ads for Chevrolet pickup trucks for 18 minutes out of every hour. (Oh, and those 18 minutes? That's 30% of an hour, which just happens to be the same percentage that Apple takes as a cut from sales on the App Store. Certainly a coincidence, but an eerie one.)

I tried to watch a show on Hulu recently, and I couldn't get through it. After ten years of commercial-free TV, I just couldn't stand to be forced to watch the same ad over and over. I'd rather record something on my TiVo, watch it later, and skip the ads. Sure, Hulu will let me watch on my phone or iPad wherever I go, but the experience is much worse. An Internet TV service would have to offer a lot more than portability to get me to watch all those ads again. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'd rather keep giving Comcast (Comcast!) my money and using my trusty DVR.

CloudKit 2015

Early last fall, I wrote a post about the strengths and weaknesses of CloudKit as a back end for iOS apps. In part, I was inspired by a post by Brent Simmons, and Greg Pierce chimed in about why he chose to build the sync service for Drafts on CloudKit. At the time, I had some reservations about CloudKit, but it was also too early to say much for certain. A lot has changed since then, and my views on CloudKit have shifted significantly in favor of using it.

One of my concerns last year was that CloudKit might not gain wide adoption, and then quickly be abandoned by Apple. I think it's now safe to say that won't happen. Apple has pretty much gone all in on CloudKit with their own apps, including cornerstone apps like Photos. That alone is enough to ensure CloudKit's longevity. Moreover, CloudKit seems to be reasonably popular among iOS developers for many of the reasons that Greg outlined in his post. Unlike some of it's predecessors, CloudKit should be with us for a while.

The other, bigger concern was that apps were pretty much the only interface to CloudKit. If I needed to migrate data away from CloudKit, I'd have to write an iOS or Mac app to do it. Moreover, there was no way to build a web interface to a CloudKit-based app. That all changed at WWDC 2015 when Apple introduced CloudKit JS and CloudKit Web Services These provide a lot more flexibility, and for me, piece of mind. Although I'll almost certainly start using CloudKit exclusively through apps, an having an HTTP interface means I can expand in the future if I feel the need. Even if I never end up doing anything with it, it's nice to know I have options.

I remember thinking last year that there were just a couple of smallish hurtles before I'd be totally comfortable adopting CloudKit. In 2015, Apple has cleared them with room to spare, and I'm confident in saying I'll use CloudKit next time I need to build a sync service for an app. (Hopefully before too long - but more on that later.)

Apple Watch First Thoughts

Now that I've had a couple of days to use my Apple Watch, I jotted down a few initial thoughts. Here they are, in no particular order.

Use Cases

I've found the Apple Watch particularly handy in situations where it might be inconvenient to dig my phone out of my pocket. For example, I was at a baseball game over the weekend, and was able to read texts and other notifications without having to go fishing for my phone. (A particular challenge since it was a chilly night and I was wearing gloves.) I did find myself going to the phone to reply, but at least I didn't have to fetch my phone as often.

I also really enjoy the quick access to weather info from the watch face. I have the current weather configured as a complication on my watch face, and tapping the weather launches the Weather app. (Bonus, it lets you bypass the app launcher. See below.)

Watch Faces

Playing with the watch faces is really fun, both choosing a face itself, and customizing them with complications. I've mostly been using the Utility face. (Activity in the upper left, moon phase or battery in the upper right, weather on the bottom.) I do wonder why some faces allow fewer complications. The Motion face is a good example – there seems to be amble room for a complication or two, but the face doesn't support them. Why not?

It would also be nice to have more faces, and I do think we'll get them sooner or later, either from Apple or third parties. Faces are the "iPhone case" of the Apple Watch – the ideal place to personalize your watch. (If Apple decides against third-party faces, maybe they'd allow third-party complications?)

The App Launcher

The one thing I really don't like about the Apple Watch is the app launcher screen. It's terrible. Sure, it looks cool, but it's really not very useful if you're trying to get at a particular app. The icons are too small, so they're really hard to tap on, and the blob-like arrangement of apps makes it hard to find an app quickly. It's also hard to get apps into the position you want using the iPhone's Apple Watch app. The blob doesn't always move in the way you expect when rearranging apps, so moving one can cause others to shift out of alignment.

I find myself yearning for a simple paged grid of icons, similar to the iPhone home screen. No, it's not sexy, but it would get the job done. A page-based layout would also make it easier to keep frequently-used or themed apps together, so you don't have to go hunting for them. A 3x4 grid seems about right for the Apple Watch screen size, and would probably even allow the touch targets to get a bit bigger. You could even use the digital crown to scroll through pages. My fingers are crossed the Apple will reevaluate this screen sooner rather than later.


Glances are a great way to get some quick information and launch an app for more depth. Since the app launcher is so unpleasant to use, I find myself launching apps using Glances whenever possible. For example, I'll open the MLB At Bat glance to check the Red Sox score, then tap it to launch the At Bat app for a more detailed look. (18-7 against the Orioles? Ouch.)

Right now, third party Glances are read-only, but a few of Apple's let you interact with them. The Now Playing Glance is a great example: You can play or pause, skip forward or back in the current song, or change the volume. Hopefully Apple will let developers make interactive Glances soon.

Third Party Apps

Based on some of the pre-launch reviews, I expected third-party apps to be pretty slow. Fortunately, I've been pleasantly surprised to find them fairly responsive. Overall, apps that load fewer graphic elements seem to be the fastest, which makes sense when you consider that many graphics are being copied from the iPhone over Bluetooth or WiFi.

As predicted, lots of apps don't seem quite right on the Apple Watch. They either try to do too much, don't do enough, or focus on the wrong things. There's also a clear difference between Apple's own apps and third party apps, simply because they can do more – animations, sounds, taps, sensors, more flexible layouts, etc. It offers a glimpse of what's possible on the watch, and a lot of third party apps will be vastly improved when they have access to all these tools.


One of the most unique features of the watch is the ability to send drawings, taps, and heartbeats to other Apple Watch users. Unfortunately, there aren't too many people who have them yet, so it's a little like only being able to text one or two people. This could be a lot of fun if the Apple Watch takes off.

The animated emoji are a fun idea, but a little strange or creepy at times. I think I'd prefer just bigger versions of regular emoji. (Apple Watch does let you send regular emoji, but only one at a time. Why not allow multiple emoji in one message?)


The battery seems great so far. In my first two full days of use, my battery has ended the day around 45-50%. It's been enough of a non-issue that I took the battery meter off my watch face.


The charging cable that comes with the Apple Watch is significantly longer than the iPhone's Lightning cable. It's really nice if, for example, you don't have an outlet right by your nightstand. Here's hoping this year's iPhones come with longer cables too.

I got the white sport band and have found it quite comfortable to wear, and relatively easy to put on and take off. I haven't had problems with sweatiness under the band, although in fairness, it hasn't been particularly hot out. Overall I find the Watch (Sport, 42mm) quite light and natural-feeling on my wrist.

Manifest for Apple Watch

When I first started developing Manifest, I realized it would likely be a great fit for the Apple Watch. Tracking time shouldn't, er, take up much of your time. Manifest is designed to let you quickly start or stop a timer and then get back to what you're doing. As luck would have it, that's also central to the design of the Apple Watch, and I'm happy to say that Manifest supports Apple Watch on day one.

Manifest on the Apple Watch has two parts: the app itself, and a Glance that you can access by swiping up from the clock face. The Glance shows you information about your currently-running timer, including the elapsed time, project, task,and notes. You can tap the glance to open the main app.

Manifest's watch gives you access to your full list of timers, one day at a time. You can tap a timer to see more information, or to start or stop it. Force tapping on the timer list will let you view a different day or add a new timer.

I'm really excited for people to try Manifest on their new watches, but I'm also apprehensive. The Apple Watch is a totally new device, and like most developers, I'm releasing this app without being able to try it on actual hardware. Greg Pierce summed up the feeling nicely in his open letter to Apple Watch early adopters:

We developers are excited about our new watches, too. We also may take weeks or even months to make sense of what we can, should and should not do with our apps on the watch.


Also, be aware that there are significant limitations to what we can do on the watch. We might like to make our watch app work without an iPhone nearby, make it play sounds, tap you, add a widget to the watch face, etc., but we do not (at least yet) have access to those features. Understand that if our apps are not as powerful and full featured as the ones Apple provides it may be because of these limitations.

I expect that the Manifest watch app will grow and evolve significantly as we all get a sense of what works and what doesn't on the Apple Watch. As Apple makes them available, I'll take advantage of new tools to make the app better and more refined.

If you're an Apple Watch owner, the most helpful thing you can do is try Manifest on your watch and [let me know][] what works and what doesn't. Feature requests, thoughts about what the app does, what you wish it did, and how it performs are all welcome and appreciated!

Manifest is available today on the App Store.