Thursday, October 5, 2017

Apple releases watchOS 4.0.1 to address captive Wi-Fi portal bug

Update Notes:

watchOS 4.0.1 fixes issues that in rare cases were causing Apple Watch to join unauthenticated (captive) Wi-Fi networks, such as those found in public places like coffee shops and hotels, which direct the user to a webpage before the network can be accessed.

Quite a mouthful. Good on Apple for issuing a quick fix. Even though it seemed like an extremely rare bug, it was still sloppy.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Apple Watch Series 3 Review: A Coming Of Age Story

When Apple Watch was announced in 2014, many were complaining the company was late yet again to another emerging market. Fast-forward only three years and Apple Watch is purportedly the top-selling watch in the world by revenue (according to Apple). Yes, the top-selling watch, surpassing even Rolex. Just yesterday, Horace Dediu published fascinating analysis of Apple Watch sales which seems to corroborate Apple’s claim.

As you will glean from my review, Apple Watch Series 3 is the epitome of the original. It accomplishes everything the first one set out to do and takes it one step further with the addition of a cellular radio. Think of Series 3 as a high school graduate. It’s not truly independent from iPhone, but it has moved out of the house and is living above the iPhone’s garage. It still needs the iPhone for the foreseeable future, but just took its first big step towards being a grownup.

Read on

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review Roundup: Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3 reviews are in from around the web. While largely positive, an embarrassing bug affecting the Watch’s data connection has been discovered and acknowledged by Apple. I know I’ve been saying Apple Watch Series 3 could be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line, but I also wrote that I hope it would come without the controversy (antennagate). Oops. At least it didn’t get lost in a bar?

Let’s start with the reviews first.

Featured Reviews

John Gruber for Daring Fireball on Siri:

Siri sounds great on the watch, too: crisp and clear. The hardware performance improvements surely help here — the S3 dual core CPU is “up to 70 percent” faster, and the new W2 chip for wireless improves Wi-Fi performance “up to 85 percent”. (The W2 also makes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth more energy efficient, and, it seems obvious, is one of the reasons that cellular networking is possible at all.) The effect of these performance improvements isn’t that it makes Apple Watch Series 3 feel fast, but that it makes it feel not slow. When you dictate a text message to Siri and it just works, without delay, it just feels like it should.

I am SO excited about this. I try to use Siri as much as possible on my original Apple Watch, but it’s way too damn slow.

David Pierce for Wired on connection logistics:

If your phone’s nearby, your Watch connects to it through Bluetooth and uses the phone as a modem. If you’re away from your phone, it looks for Wi-Fi, and as a last resort, jumps on LTE. I never noticed a difference between LTE and Wi-Fi, and in a week of testing didn’t experience any issues switching around. Others had a much harder time, though, and Apple has fessed up to problems switching to unauthenticated Wi-Fi networks without connectivity.” So proceed with caution.

This is exactly how I figured they’d do it, as discussed on Fatherboard Episode 002. The Watch only uses its built-in LTE radio when there is no other option. This makes sense to conserve battery life, but as is being discovered, Apple bungled a distinct aspect of connecting to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Brian Chen for The New York Times on how the Apple Watch is coming into its own:

Although I think most people can skip buying the cellular model, the Apple Watch Series 3 is the first smart watch I can confidently recommend that people buy. While I don’t personally find it attractive enough to replace my wristwatch, the new Apple Watch is a well-designed, durable and easy-to-use fitness tracker for people who want analytics on their workouts and general health (R.I.P., Fitbit).

Important features like the stopwatch, calendar and Siri work quickly and reliably. And unlike its predecessors, the watch has impressive battery life — on average, I had more than 40 percent battery remaining after a full day of use.

So the final verdict? The Apple Watch Series 3 is the first sign that wearable computers are maturing and may eventually become a staple in consumer electronics.

Wi-Fi Bug

Lauren Goode for The Verge on her extreme connection issues:

Where do I start with the connectivity issues with this Watch? It became apparent after my first full day using the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE that something wasn’t right. My review Watch was paired with an iPhone 8 and was on an AT&T wireless plan. In one of my initial tests, I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.

Sadly, Lauren experienced so many issues that she couldn’t even experience the Watch’s full potential. While most reviewers didn’t experience the issue described by Lauren, Serenity Caldwell may have figured out the underlying cause.

Serenity Caldwell for iMore:

Essentially, the Series 3 GPS + Cellular watch tries to save battery life at all times by using your iPhone’s connection, or failing that, a Wi-Fi network. What’s happening here is that the watch is attempting to jump on a so-called “captive” network — a public network with an interstitial login prompt or terms and conditions agreement. (You’ve probably seen these at a Starbucks, McDonalds, or Panera.)

In theory, the Apple Watch shouldn’t be allowed to connect to captive networks at all, because there’s no way for it to get through that interstitial layer. Unfortunately, watchOS 4 has a bug where captive networks are being recognized identically to normal saved Wi-Fi networks — so while you’re technically “connected” to a network, you won’t be able to connect to the internet; nor will you be able to go to cellular, because the Watch’s auto-switching prevents you from connecting.

This makes perfect sense, and I would hope it’s really a bug versus Apple not taking captive portals into account at all. Either way, it’s incredibly sloppy. I would expect this kind of launch bug from Samsung or others, but not Apple.

Apple has promised a fix in ‘a future update’, but that doesn’t sound nearly urgent enough. I hope they can fix the bug accurately for release this Friday, or a ton of people may be in for a surprise. Come to think of it, a lot of Apple Stores are in malls, usually surrounded by a few captive portals…

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Apple Watch Series 3 could be the iPhone 4 of its line

iPhone 4 was arguably when the iPhone became the modern iPhone. It was a huge leap from the 3GS. It was really fast, had a sexy glass sandwich design, introduced the Retina display, external antenna system, and more. It even had huge controversies from being lost in a bar and published by Gizmodo to antennagate. Along the same lines, I think Apple Watch Series 3 has the potential to be the ‘iPhone 4’ of its line in terms of performance and adoption (hopefully without the controversies).

I remember being extremely excited for the original Apple Watch’s (delayed) launch back in early 2015, more than any Apple product since the original iPhone. A close match was the AirPods, but that was a different kind of excitement. Now, with Fall quickly approaching, we are seemingly on track to receive another Watch update.

See, it’s all about experiences when it comes to technology. Apple Watch does a subset of things the iPhone does, but the experience it offers is visceral, compelling, and strikingly different than the iPhone. For instance, I’m more compelled to archive email from the Watch because it’s right there on my wrist. Same goes for quickly replying to a message or controlling music playback. These quick use cases and the experience factor make pulling the iPhone out of my pocket seem like a major drag. Using the Watch makes me feel like I’m accomplishing things with the speed of a ninja.

I still have my original 42mm Apple Watch.1 While I love it, it’s an absolute dog when it comes to doing tasks not already loaded in memory. I recently upgraded my wife’s original Watch to a Series 1 and am on the verge of stealing it insanely jealous of the dual-core processor within. I tested hers by asking Siri to unlock the front door; a task that normally takes my Watch around 25 seconds to complete. Hers did it in less than 10. Considering this, I am impressed with myself for holding out for the Series 3, since it is highly unlike me to not upgrade (mostly) every Apple device upon its new release, but I digress.

Before Series 2 was announced, I thought all I wanted was a faster watch. The more I thought about it, though, the more I decided to wait for Series 3.2 While I knew Series 2 would be faster, I’m holding out for a major increase in speed, as I shouldn’t have to wait for my Watch to catch up to my commands. With that said, here’s what I’d like to see in Apple Watch Series 3.

Series 3 Wishlist

  • Faster processor and more RAM, of course. This is arguably the most important and obvious upgrade. Apple is typically not concerned with feeds and speeds, but for such a small device, it’s particularly important. I’m expecting their silicon team to wow us this year.
  • Better battery life. The Series 2 does better on battery, but Apple needs to keep pushing in this space to improve the experience for heavy Watch users. Things like less battery intensive chips are key to ensuring this.
  • Always-on Watch Face. This is dependent on a better battery. Notifications and Hey Siri could still be activated like they are now (raising the Watch first).
  • Smaller bezels. A big trend this year with smartphones, and rumored for the iPhone 8. Reduced bezels on the Watch would allow for potentially bigger screens.
  • Cellular radio. This is a big, heavily requested one. Series 2 checked off the GPS box for runners, so this seems like the next logical step. A cellular radio would enable the Watch to be more independent in most regards. I would think you’d still pair it to an iPhone, but you’d be free to completely leave the phone behind when you need to. It shouldn’t use a lot of data, so hopefully Apple works out some nice kind of deal with the carriers to facilitate an inexpensive connection to your existing plan.
  • Improved Taptic Engine. Series 2 is better, but I think the Taptic Engine could still be more powerful and precise to really get your attention.
  • Space Black variants of Watch bands. Maybe not for all bands, but it would be nice to have more first-party bands that pair well with the Space Black Watch. I’m mostly referring to the silver hardware on the classic leather band, for instance. Let’s get some Space Black hardware on that bad boy!

Unlikely Features

  • FaceTime Camera. This has been rumored before, but I really don’t think Apple would do this. Terrible ergonomics alone are reason enough not to.
  • Smart Watch Bands. A few days ago, Chaim Gartenberg from The Verge suggested smart bands as the future of the smartwatch. While they very well could be, I think the band should be all about form, not function. Having to choose between form and function in a band would be too much.

Medical Series

Tim Cook was rumored to be testing a breakthrough blood glucose monitor that connects to Apple Watch. If Apple is making a play for a real ‘Medical Series’ Watch, it would have to pass stringent FDA specifications to be used for real medical collection of data and evaluation of said data. I think there’s a decent chance we could see a ’Medical Series’ this year. Some Health Plans have already been subsidizing the cost of the regular Apple Watch, and Apple is rumored to be making a play in healthcare. Makes me think this will happen eventually.

Final Thoughts

Announcements from WWDC had virtually no leaks, and we were bombarded with awesome updates. I think we’re in for a similar surprise with Apple Watch this fall.

My other bet is on Apple Watch playing a bigger role in Apple’s ecosystem down the line, potentially involving AR. Imagine the Watch’s motion data being used as a input mechanism for future Apple AR glasses or similar. Sounds cool, right? Let’s get that future here as fast as possible. Bring on Series 3!


  1. Space Black Stainless Steel, if you were wondering. 
  2. I just didn’t care enough about the GPS and swimproof features.