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Other World Computing

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Whiskey Lately

How Apple Watch measures your heart rate

Apple new support document details how the Apple Watch heart rate sensor works
The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses what is known as photoplethysmography. This technology, while difficult to pronounce, is based on a very simple fact: Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light. Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through your wrist at any given moment. When your heart beats, the blood flow in your wrist ó and the green light absorption ó is greater. Between beats, itís less. By flashing its LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute ó your heart rate.

AnandTech review of new MacBook

Always excellent deep reviews from AnandTech bring up some of the key tradeoffs of the new MacBook design.

Ryan Smith for AnandTech:
From an end-user standpoint then the focus on the MacBook is going to be on its size, especially its thinness. Itís how Apple is choosing to promote it and itís by far the laptopís most distinctive attribute. At the same time however is the story of how Apple got to this point, and what trade-offs and sacrifices they had to make to get a laptop into this form factor. The laws of physics enforce a pretty clear trade-off between size and performance, so in creating the MacBook Apple has not only created a new size category of Macs, but a new performance category as well. Itís smaller than even the MacBook Air, but it also follows a different performance curve, and ultimately is targeted at a somewhat different user base than the now-traditional ultrabook.

The new MacBook has a retina display, is thinner, and lighter than the MacBook Air, but also manages to do this about relatively similar battery life. Something has to give here and that is with the low-energy Intel Core M processor power management.

Ideally Core M will spend very little time at its base clockspeeds, and will instead be turboing up to 2.4GHz, 2.6GHz, or 2.9GHz respectively. This vast divide between the base and turbo clocks reflects the performance-bursty nature of the Core M design, but it is also why the base clockspeeds that Apple advertises can be deceptively low. In light workloads where Core M can quickly reach its top speeds to complete a task, a 2.4GHz+ Core architecture processor is nothing short of zippy. However in sustained workloads these base clockspeeds become much more relevant, as Core M has to pull back to lower clockspeeds to keep heat and power consumption under control.

Podcast: Apple Watch try-on experience, new MacBook

This week we talk about pre-ordering the Apple Watch and our experiences stopping by an Apple store to check it out. Also the new MacBooks.

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1Password 5.4 for iOS brings Apple Watch support

1Password for Apple Watch helps you find the little pieces of secret info you need every day, quickly and easily. If you need the code to open your garage door, one of your one-time passwords, or to look up the Konami Code for those extra lives when playing Contra, 1Password is right there for you.

I've adorned 1Password with praise for a long time. Not too sure how this will work, but I can say that TouchID support has greatly changed how 1Password makes everything better. I'm curious if the Apple Watch will take that up a another notch.

Reddit Infographic visually describe Apple Watch UI

Kind of neat. I played around with the watch a little last week when it hit stores. I spent more time looking at the hardware simply because I think it might be difficult to get a good sense of things in a demo. I assumed the watch will depend on the my specific phone for the full experience, plus apps are still being developed.

Anyway, I found the UI to actually be a little confusing. What feels like a power button is really a dedicated favorites toggle. The crown is both a scroll wheel and home button, vs what I think of as a scroll wheel and click on a mouse. Plus you've got a touch interface that's more limited than the familiar iOS UI, plus the new force touch interface.

So, yeah, there's a bit of a learning curve. That's not to say it isn't intuitive, it's just that the controls seem familiar but work differently.

Andy Hertzfeld on latest Jobs biography

Andy Hertzfeld:
The agenda flips after Steve returns to Apple a few years later. Now itís time to obscure problems instead of waxing lyrical about them. The main strategy is to simply ignore unpleasant episodes, or to sweep them into a single chapter near the end, entitled ďBlind Spots, Grudges, and Sharp Elbows,Ē so they donít have to tarnish the main chronological account.

I think he makes a couple good points as I'm about half way through the book myself.

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OWC Envoy Pro mini brings up to 480GB on a USB 3.0 stick

Other World Computing Tuesday announced its Envoy Pro mini storage device. Basically it's an SSD in a USB thumb-drive format. OWC is currently selling 120 GB and 240 GB models with a 480 GB model coming soon.

The Envoy Pro mini is compatible with both USB 2.0 and 3.0. Performance is up to 433 MB/sec on USB 3.0. The combination of capacity, size and performance opens a lot of possibilities for storage on the go.

Pricing is $119 for the 120 GG, 199 for the 240 GB, and upcoming 480 GB will sell for $599.

Apple sets June 8th for WWDC

WWDC will feature more than 100 technical sessions, over 1,000 Apple engineers, hands-on labs to help developers integrate new technologies and fine tune their apps, as well as the Apple Design Awards which showcase the best new apps in the last year.

Apple is accepting applications for tickets through April 17th. A lottery will be conducted to issue tickets rather than the mad free-for-all of recent years. Apple is also making up to 350 WWDC Scholarships available to students and members of participating STEM organizations.

Typically Apple showcases its next version iOS at WWDC. It's also not unusual to learn about OS X developments. Certainly this year will also likely highlight the new Apple Watch and how developers can jump on board.

Apple releases ResearchKit medical research framework

Apple Tuesday announces its open ResearchKit framework is now available. The framework enables doctors, scientists, and researchers to gather data from research volunteers using iOS devices.

The open source framework allows any medical researcher to take advantage of the initial modules in ResearchKit to study health and wellness and better understand disease. Developers can also build new modules based on the open source code and contribute them to ResearchKit. The initial customizable modules address the most common elements found in research studiesóparticipant consent, surveys and active tasks.

ResearchKit seems a pretty compelling initiative to assist in data gathering for any number of health research topics. Basically researchers can utilize already deployed diagnostic hardware in the way of volunteer's iPhones, for example. Also Apple's install base makes it easier to field participants for research.

The Apple Watch store appointment experience

I was curious to check out the try-on experience at the Apple Store both because I wanted to get a look at the new Apple Watch, but also how this system worked.

The store had a large table with a glass covered inset with all varieties of Apple Watches on display. This table was the front and center table everyone will see as they walk into the store. There was also little iPad kiosks on Apple Watch tables. These kiosks had a demo on the iPad and a functional watch secured in a holder. You could learn about the watch from the iPad and give the watch a spin, although this is limited to the screen and controls. To actually try the watch on, you needed a guided tour.

I was an early appointment on Friday, so the staff was still getting their footing in how to run these demos. It was a little awkward and the guy doing the demo seemed nervous. I donít think it had anything to do with me because really all I wanted to do was hold it to get a sense of the product. Iím going to guess there was quite a bit of training/drilling on how to handle this. He did get corrected a few times by another store worker lurking a few feet away. The corrections weren't about details of the watch or answers to my questions, but on protocols of how to handle the merch. I joked around with him just to not make me feel so awkward. Already feeling kind of bad for him, I didnít torture the young man further by asking for fashion advice.

The watches are stored under the table in a pull out drawer. This drawer is locked electronically and opened wirelessly with the staffís iPhone sales device. While a slick idea, the implementation seem clunky. The drawers are hidden, which means there are no visual clues as to where to place the device to trigger the unlock. All the sales people I saw seemed to have to hunt a little to find just the right spot. Also, the locks donít appear to be as nearly as responsive as everyone wants. Once opened, an assortment of watches are held in place with felt holders.

It seems the protocol is for the sales person to pull the watch out and either hand it to the customer or place it on a cloth/mat. One of the discreet scolding appeared when I directly handled one of the watches in the drawer, which I guess is a no-no. Another issue with the setup is the watches donít appear to be organized. My sales person and another were hunting around for specific models in different draws. Apparently also keeping two drawers open is another no-no and that was met with another disapproval from the lurker in an Apple t-shirt. Finally, after i smudged up each watch with my fingers, the sales person carefully cleaned them with a cloth and placed them back in a holder.

In the end I got my questions answers satisfactorily and got some hands on time with the watch. I feel like I walked out more positive about the hardware design than my impressions from the photos/videos. I look forward to getting mine whenever it gets here.

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Recent Articles

Podcast: Picking an Apple Watch, 1Password OTP

Apple Watch Pre-Order Eve, the latest update on 1Password for Mac adds one-time password support and it's kind of neat.

Apple Watch goes on pre-order Friday exclusively online

In a press release Thursday Apple reminded everyone the new Apple Watch goes on pre-order Friday morning at 12:01 AM PT. Interestingly, however, is the provided quote from Apple Retail VP Angela Ahrendts:

ďBased on the tremendous interest from people visiting our stores, as well as the number of customers who have gone to the Apple Online Store to mark their favorite Apple Watch ahead of availability, we expect that strong customer demand will exceed our supply at launch,Ē said Angela Ahrendts, Appleís senior vice president of Retail and Online Stores. ďTo provide the best experience and selection to as many customers as we can, we will be taking orders for Apple Watch exclusively online during the initial launch period.Ē

Apple is offering a two-week "preview" period between Friday and the 24th launch where customers can view the watches in stores. Presumably, Apple would be taking orders then, but it appears customers will be directed to the online store.

It will be interesting if Apple will have any watches available in stores on the 24th like other launches or if this is in fact a new way of handling new product releases.

Still shoppers are welcome to make appointment to check out the watches in stores. It would seem, however, those looking to browse first will likely not get their order on the 24th.

Apple VP Ahrendts tells staff best way to buy Apple Watch

Memo via Business Insider:
The days of waiting in line and crossing fingers for a product are over for our customers. The Apple Store app and our online store make it much easier to purchase Apple Watch and the new MacBook. Customers will know exactly when and where their product arrives.

This is a significant change in mindset, and we need your help to make it happen. Tell your customers we have more availability online, and show them how easy it is to order.

Youíll make their day.

For years Apple has basically exploited its customers for free publicity. People would stand in line for hours, local news would show up and that would help drive hype for new products. Pushing customers to use online systems not only makes for a better customer experience, but it must help enormously with logistics to get the most possible number of boxes to customers on launch day.

The iPhone 6 launch seemed to take an ugly turn with black market line sitters getting products to send to Asia. People were bussed to stores and it didn't appear they were really benefiting or even willing participants in the black market scheme.

Now if Apple wanted to provide an even better experience, they would deploy a system for pre-orders at a more reasonable time. 3 AM for the east coast customers to just start a process that usually slogs on for an hour or more isn't exactly a good customer experience either.

1Password for Mac 5.3 adds TOTP Password support

Agile Bits released the latest version of 1Password for Mac. The new version adds Time-Based One-Time Password to match functionality of the iOS app. This feature makes it easier to utilize higher security from sites such as Dropbox and Tumblr. The video below demos the feature.

A full list of features is available at their blog linked above.

Star Wars: The Digital Movie Collection comings to iTunes

Disney is releasing its collection of all six Star Wars movies on various digital video services including iTunes. The HD versions of the movies will be release for the first time in digital form on April 10th.

In addition to the movies, there are extra content from each film.

HBO Now launches for iOS

HBO NOW is the new standalone streaming service from HBO, requiring only the internet to get every episode of every season of Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Jinx, Girls, The Sopranos, The Wire and so many more series, as well as exclusive movies. A limited time 30-day introductory free trial (then $14.99/month) gets you get instant access to the best of HBO: the original series, movies, comedy specials, documentaries, special events and smart talk shows.

As announced last year, the new stand-alone HBO streaming service is online. For the first time all HBO content is available without requiring a cable subscription. Just in time for this weekend's Game of Thrones season premiere.

Apple offering employees up to 50% discount on Apple Watch at launch

Tim Cook:
I know that many of you have been looking forward to choosing an Apple Watch for yourselves, and we want to make it easy for you. Starting Friday in countries where the watch is available for pre-order, a special Employee Purchase Plan will offer a 50% discount on any Apple Watch or Apple Watch Sport for your personal use.

The discount tops off at $550, so thatís the most an employee can receive on a gold Apple Watch Edition.

This is interesting. Typically Apple employees receive discount promotions after products have been available for a while. Here it seems employees will get discounts at launch. That doesnít really sit well with me unless there will be a shipping delay on employee purchases. Apple should make sure initial customer demand is met before filling employee promotions.

With that said, to me this is similar to when Apple gave free iPhones to most employees after it launched the original model. This perk was well after initial demand was filled and got a lot of phones out in the wild. It would seem this promo will quickly get Apple Watches out in public for others to see and help encourage app developers. This seems a real smart move to get momentum rolling on a new product segment.

Perhaps cynically, this will also help boost launch sales numbers for Apple.

It will be interesting to see how many watches are available for the launch. If supplies are constrained and customers leave stores empty handed, or even if pre-orders arenít filled for launch day, that would be a case of Apple not putting its customers first.

Apple Watch Guided Tours

Apple has a new site showcasing various Apple Watch features. The page has an overview video and 10 clips on individual features. Right now only three clips are available as Apple will presumably roll out new videos as the 24th launch day approaches.

Product tours aren't usual for Apple has they've done similar marketing sites to promote new iPhones and iOS features, but this feels a little to me like the original iPhone launch. Apple had a menu of features on the site that introduced people to an unknown product, which is what we have here.

Podcast: Apple Watch Preview/Preorder, Steve Jobs Book + More

This week we try to figure out options for pre-ordering the Apple Watch. Plus there's a new Steve Jobs biography.

Evernote makes scanning easier with auto detection

Evernote 7.7 for iOS builds in whatís basically features of their still new Scannable app:
Evernoteís camera automatically detects and captures the paper that matters: business cards, documents, Post-it Notes, and receipts.

Hover your phone over what youíd like to capture. The app detects the edges, what type of paper it is, and creates a crisp digital reproduction. Evernote will even auto-file the image in a designated notebook. No swiping, tapping, or futzing. Itís dead simple.

I use Scannable basically just to get content into Evernote, so building these features into the app itself is convenient. If I want to share scans in other ways, using the Scannable app would make sense there.

I tried the features out and the auto detection seems to work fine, even though I had some crashes. Still the new camera feature makes a number of image capture tasks easier.

Wired on the Apple Watch origins

David Pierce for Wired
Our phones have become invasive. But what if you could engineer a reverse state of being? What if you could make a device that you wouldnítócouldnítóuse for hours at a time? What if you could create a device that could filter out all the bullshit and instead only serve you truly important information? You could change modern life. And so after three-plus decades of building devices that grab and hold our attentionóthe longer the betteróApple has decided that the way forward is to fight back.

Some interesting tidbits that Apple obviously is wanting to drip up as the Apple Watch launch is nearly here.

Amazon Dash Button

I noted Amazon Dash yesterday on Twitter and said I thought it was neat, but I couldnít see myself using it. Iíve been thinking about that. Basically Amazon Dash is a wireless ordering button linked to your account that acts as an inventory pull system. The idea is you stick one in your laundry room and when you run low on detergent, for example, you push the button and a replacement is ordered from Amazon.

Cool ideal, but seems to put a premium for the convenience. For dry/household stuff, which seem ideal for Dash, even with their Pantry and Subscribe/Save programs I find Amazon more expensive than superstores and warehouse clubs for brand names. You can save even more money buying store brands. The biggest issue for Amazon I think is unit purchase costs go down as package size increases. So, buying in bulk you can save money, which is a pretty intuitive concept. The issue for mail order, however, is bigger the unit count, the more it costs to ship.

What I wonder is if Amazon could work out deals with vendors to reduce costs with warehousing and using volume purchases. For example, could Amazon convince vendors to warehouse closer to their distribution centers, thus giving an advantage over conventional retail? Maybe theyíre already doing this to some extent. And could Amazon get deals by not just buying bulk retail units, but bulk individual units? Again, Amazon is already kind of there. Amazon offers frustration-free packaging, which is not only convenient for mail order, but saves money on shipping and packaging. So, instead of ordering cases of nutrition bars in retail boxes, they could be lose or bundled with shrink wrap. Amazon could save money on shipping and it should be cheaper from their vendors than what conventional retailers pay.

If Amazon can do that, then they should be able to better compete with conventional retail, but hereís the kicker: Rather than trying to compete on cost with bulk, Amazon could right-size purchase for just-in-time inventories. So, if Iím running out of those nutrition bars, I push the button and 2-3 days later Iím resupplied for another couple weeks. The key is if Amazon can reduce costs enough by leveraging their system vs conventional retail so that they can do this at a competitive price. If youíre living in an apartment or smaller home, this is really advantageous because you donít need large pantries or storage closets for stuff. Plus, you donít have cash tied up in months worth of inventory.

So, right now Dash Button seem convent, but not very efficient for those who care about costs. That could change, however, and really change how people shop.

Early Benchmarks at new Macbook

Juli Clover for MacRumors:
Performance wise, the Retina MacBook seems to be par with the higher-end 2011 MacBook Air with a 1.8GHz Core i7 processor, but graphics performance on the new MacBook, which Geekbench does not measure, should be superior to that machine.

The new Macbook uses Intelís Core M processor, which is a departure from the Core i5/i7 CPUs used in previous MacBooks. As with everything mobile these days, the power consumption feature is a premium, along with the footprint required to run and cool. The other part is on-board graphics performance, which as indicated, we donít know yet.

So, basically the CPU in the new MacBook is as fast as a three year old MacBook Air. Thatís an interesting tradeoff to get something thinner, lighter, with a Retina display all without greatly sacrificing battery. Personally, still using a 2013 MacBook Air for the bulk of my mobile work where Iím away from the desk. Performance really isnít really a factor since I mostly use the web, email, Evernote, etc and no real heavy applications.

Report: The how, the where, and the when for the Apple Watch ordering

9 to 5 Mac has a nice compilation of details on the Apple Watch. The Apple watch is going to be quite a bit different than other Apple product launches.

I'm curious about making a try-on appointment starting April 10th. It sounds like you can make an appointment to check out the watches at an Apple retail store, and then pre-order your preference. Ideally, that's the way to go, but I wonder at what point they cut off deliveries for launch day?

There will also be a new reservation system where you can pre-order your watch and pick it up in store. That part isn't completely new, but what is different is reportedly you'll be able to try it on before paying for it. And you will have the option to try other watches. Again, I wonder how that will work for launch day.

Of course, these are problems for the super nerds who want a watch of their liking on launch day. After the initial surge these questions won't matter.

Apple retail tracking site ifoapplestore calls it quits

Gary Allen is ending his project tracking Appleís retail stores at iifoapplestore. Over the years the site has been a great resource for the happenings with Appleís retail arm, especially in the early years. Covering Apple retail has been a passion as he has visited over 140 stores around the world as most unique tourist. Gary cited mainstream coverage of Apple retail as he no longer is serving an obscure niche.

Anyway, I appreciate his parting words of advice:

My final advice is: donít overthink Apple. Instead, remember Steve Jobs and his boundless enthusiasm and joyóespecially on stageófor what the products can accomplish and make possible. Itís fine to speculate on sales numbers and stock price. But itís more pertinent to wonder how FaceTime or other Apple product feature can bring distant people together, to help diverse cultures understand one another to make a better world.

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