Looking Forward to the Apple Watch

I’m a massive Apple fan and have been since I was five years old. My aunt recommended strongly to my father that we buy a Mac in 1997, at a time when Apple was only a few months from bankruptcy. Our first Mac was a Power Macintosh 6500, a beige machine inspired by the era prior to Steve Jobs’s return. I loved that computer. I typed stories on it, listened to audio CDs, played CD-ROM games (yay Myst and You Don’t Know Jack) and learnt how to navigate the Web.

Since then, I’ve followed every development in the Mac Universe very eagerly, watching Apple set the standard in every product category that it touches. They’re not always the first to market, but that’s precisely the point. Apple takes existing ideas and combines them to make the simplest package possible. Apple creates products that are designed so beautifully and made so approachable for pros and beginners alike, that every competitor, and I mean *every competitor*, copies them. Look no further than Samsung with the iPhone, or PC makers’ ultrabooks with the MacBook Air.

It is with this zeal that I await the Apple Watch. I look forward to seeing if it will be an enormous success, a dreadful failure or somewhere in between. I predict that it will succeed, but that it will sit in a similar position to the iPad. It is almost impossible to imagine that anything could take off as well as the iPhone (now the greatest business in the history of all business, following Apple’s last quarter). It will sell well, but will probably face the same scepticism that meets the current wearable market. If anyone has the power to change this, it is Apple, just as it did to the tablet market.

Models include the Apple Watch Sport, Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition

Since the Apple Watch was first revealed in September last year, I have been wondering what it’s most useful feature or features could be, or what would matter to me specifically. In my broad reading about the watch, it seems that some people cannot see how it could be useful. They state that it needs a ‘killer app’ to be successful, something that it can do that no other device can.

This is not the point of the Apple Watch, as I see it. I believe that the Apple Watch can be summed up with two words:

customisation + convenience.

The iPad had and still doesn’t have a real ‘killer app’. The iPad is a deliberately expanded iOS device that does all of the same things as an iPhone (except for phone calls). Apple understood that a gap could be filled. People wanted larger displays than what they had on their phones, but wanted something that was more comfortable than a laptop to carry around or nestle with on a lounge. The iPad has been a resounding success, applicable in both work and leisure situations. The Apple Watch will enable people to not only check notifications more easily and control various another devices and accessories, but also be personalised in a way that no other modern, wearable technology has before. That’s what some critics do not understand; it is not about specifications, numbers, unique hardware-enabled features and geeky stuff. These things help, but what truly matters is the marriage of good design and engaging software to create a unique experience for every individual. Apple creates magic with its products by paying attention to these small details. No other company can do this. No other tech company can inspire the same pride in its consumers.

CEO Tim Cook triumphant at the September 2014 event, unveiling Apple Watch, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and Apple Pay

I imagine that my primary uses for the Apple Watch will lie in social media notifications, music playback, glances at weather and other location information, plus a little bit of Siri. With the way that the Australian dollar is going at the moment and the knowledge that the Apple Watch will be starting at $349, let’s hope that I can actually afford it. #firstworldproblems

Apple can make the watch cool for younger people again, many of whom have given up on wearing watches in favour of awkwardly (and somewhat rudely) pulling out their smartphones to check the time. I’ve always loved to wear watches and see the Apple Watch as the first compelling, modern take on the traditional timepiece.

I look forward to seeing how this next device will go on to influence our lives as the Mac, iPod, iPhone and iPad all have. Even the Apple TV, a supposed “hobby” product, has dramatically changed my lounge room space at home and how my family consumes content.

Apple’s influence is mammoth and there is plenty more to come.

Interface @ the Powerhouse Museum

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to check out the exhibition Interface: People, Machines, Design. Featuring both retro and recent consumer products (primarily from Apple, IBM and Braun), the exhibition focuses on the significance of consumer products in our lives today. More importantly, it illustrates the strong emotional connection that we develop with such products, due to the marriage of effective industrial design, iconography and typography. Ultimately, for a technological product to be successful, it must tell a story and be clear, simple and accessible to as many people as possible.

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My wonderful girlfriend, Natasha, was kind enough to attend with me and watch me giggle with glee as I surveyed the numerous exhibits. My Apple zealotry has (of course) infiltrated her life, and I’m pleased to say that she enjoyed it as well. 🙂

As we toured the rather small exhibition, it became clear that the space itself was constructed to reflect the products featured; everything was minimalist, considered and ordered chronologically, showing the influence of early democratic design by legends like Braun’s Dieter Rams through to today’s ubiquitous smartphones and tablets.

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The exhibition does a wonderful job of tracking the history of modern industrial design. Take for example the history of Braun: on the one hand, the Nazis’ Volksempfänger (people’s receiver) radio was used to restrict radio signals from outside Germany; in the post-war period, Rams’s Weltempfänger (world receiver) was a challenge to this former dark time, opening up to foreign frequencies and ushering in welcoming, open design.
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The original Macintosh ushered in a new era for personal computing. With the inclusion of a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse (first implemented together by XEROX PARC), Apple popularised a new way of interacting with computers that was easier and inviting for everyday people. You didn’t have to be an enthusiast to use it.

It was fantastic to see the history of Apple laid out so well, obviously by people who understand the significance of the personalities involved beyond Steve Jobs. Jony Ive, Helmut Esslinger, Susan Kare… all were mentioned appropriately.

I would highly recommend this exhibition to just about anyone. If you own a smartphone (which you do), it’s amazing to look back and appreciate the immense change that occurred during the 20th century, and the change that continues to occur every day. We take our digital products for granted, along with the empowering connectivity they facilitate. There has never been a better time to be alive.

Rather than bang on forever, it’s best to give you some links to find out more.

To view more photos of the included products, head over to my Flickr page.

For even more information about the exhibition and the specific products, visit the museum’s website.

What Is Accessibility?

Social media encourage online participation, interactivity, connection and access through a variety of devices every day (Dreher, 2012). Goggin and Newell (2007) describe digital technology as a ‘texture’ of how we think, feel and communicate. Prior to undertaking BCM310, a subject during my study at the University of Wollongong, I was unaware of the social exclusion that digital media can create for people with disabilities. There is a great range of medical and pharmacological technology that aid those living with disabilities (Goggin and Newell, 2007), but digital media (and many other technologies) are often slow to meet their needs, only tailoring to the broader, ‘non-disabled’ community.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the organisation responsible for establishing global Internet standards, with 66 guidelines for website design and instructions for technical implementation (Green and Huprich, 2009). One of the Consortium’s primary goals is to make the benefits of the Web “…available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability” (W3, 2012). Some organisations have adopted W3C-recommended inclusive technology. Apple, for example, has integrated screen-reading and voice capabilities into their Mac OS X and iOS operating systems (Goggin and Newell). Social media, however, have been slow to adopt such technology. Perhaps the most perplexing example is Twitter, which is often regarded to be the simplest of social networks. Twitter’s interface, for those with visual impairments, can be complex to navigate. To combat this, however, developers have created a site called ‘Easy Chirp’, an alternative site that allows users to login with their Twitter accounts, and use a simpler interface, with larger fonts, easier navigation between tweets and coloured highlighting for selected items. Screenshots comparing the original Twitter interface and alternative Easy Chirp can be seen below.

While a positive example of technological adaptation for those with disabilities, Easy Chirp has its flaws, such as a lack of sans serif fonts. In addition, the lack of accessibility improvements in Twitter itself, and the need for a third-party solution further proves the lack of insight and innovation in redesigning online user interfaces to aid those living with both physical and mental disabilities (McLellan, 2011).

References:

  • Berkeley, 2009, Educational Technology Services, retrieved 07/04/2012, from http://ets.berkeley.edu/images/apple-accessibility-logo?size=_original.
  • Dreher, T., 2012, Digital Social Inclusion: Focus on Disability, BCM310, Emerging Issues in Media and Communication, delivered 2 April.
  • Easy Chirp, 2012, martinfeld Timeline, retrieved 08/04/2012, from http://www.easychirp.com/app/tweetroll.php.
  • Goggin, G. and Newell, C., 2007, ‘The Business of Digital Disability’, The Information Society, Vol. 23, pp. 159-168.
  • Green, R. and Huprich, J., 2009, ‘Web Accessibility and Accessibility Instruction’, Journal of Access Services, Vol. 6, pp. 116-136.
  • McLellan, P., 2011, ‘Web Accessibility’, Master of Arts Thesis, IT Leadership Graduate Program, The College of St. Scholastica.
  • Twitter, 2012, martinfeld Timeline, retrieved 08/04/2012, from https://twitter.com/martinfeld.
  • W3, 2012, About W3C, retrieved 07/04/2012, from http://www.w3.org/Consortium/.

This post was written originally as part of the undergraduate BCMS course at the University of Wollongong.

iPay. iLearn.

Image: Amber Hunt, 2010

Today, information is king. We are now witnessing the boom of digital ‘cognitive capitalism’, where information and education are bought and sold with great ease. Cognitive capitalism, however, has existed for centuries within the institution of the university. Tertiary institutions have held at their “…centre the highly-credentialed content expert who generates individually-authored print documents fully protected by copyright” (Miller, 2009, p. 147). Copyrighted materials have been offered at a high price in the form of textbooks, and more recently, through online subscriptions to journal article databases that have been paid for before they even reach students. Miller (2009) describes the university as ‘frozen in time’, a prehistoric world almost completely separated from the effects of globalisation and democratising technology.

In the last 25 years, the ‘ivory tower’ of the university and associated publishers has worsened, as they have become high-technology, low-skilled industries driven by economic growth and Fordist expansion (Dyer-Witheford, 2005, p. 71).

Global publishers now potentially face a challenge with Apple’s entrance into the textbook market. Apple now sells interactive, multimedia textbooks (US$14.99 each) in its iTunes-based iBookstore, featuring powerful annotation tools. Apple also offers a new application called iBooks Author, which enables independent authors to create and sell content without the need for a publisher.

Whilst Apple’s new foray into textbook production and distribution does empower students and authors, it still exhibits cognitive capitalism. For example, iBooks textbooks may only be sold through the iBookstore, and are limited to the proprietary iBooks e-book format (Reid, 2012). Reid (2012) asserts that the technological industry is begging for standardisation.

Universities and publishers need to exit the ‘ivory tower’, and move beyond the archaic media and distribution channels of textbooks and journal article subscriptions. They must, however, exercise caution before adopting a potentially worse proprietary environment that controls students, scholars and authors alike.

References:
  • Dyer-Witheford, N., 2005, ‘Cognitive Capitalism and the Contested Campus’, Engineering Culture: On The Author as (Digital) Producer, New York: Autonomedia, pp. 71-93.
  • gearlive, 2012, Apple Introduces iBooks Textbooks, retrieved 01/04/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6HeyTldraw.
  • Hunt, A., 2010, 3 Ways You Can Manage Your Debt – Quicken Loans Online, JPEG, retrieved 31/03/2012, http://www.quickenloans.com/blog/ways-manage-your-debt.
  • Miller, R., 2010, ‘The Coming Apocalypse’, Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1, Duke University Press, pp. 143-151.
  • Reid, C., 2012, ‘iBooks 2: Reinventing Textbooks or Lulu on Steroids?’, Publishers Weekly, Vol. 259, Iss. 4, New York, p. 1.

This post was written originally as part of the undergraduate BCMS course at the University of Wollongong.