After being ignored, marginalised and then removed from the keyboard, it looks like the venerable OS X Dashboard just took one more step towards being excised completely. I'm honestly surprised it took this long. In it's prime, it was good for quick tasks (like using the calculator widget) or checking some information at a glance. However, that's also what the iPhone is good at. My own personal shift away from the Dashboard corresponds exactly to when I bought my first iOS device. * 

And now, for much of what the Dashboard does, the Apple Watch is even better than the iPhone.**

Just kill it, already.

*  An iPod Touch, as it happens, but the same principle applies.

 ** Not as a calculator, though. Been there, hated that.

Time and Power in WatchOS 2

Looking at the new features added to the Apple Watch OS today, it seems to me that Apple was being ultra-conservative with battery life with WatchOS 1. There are lots of examples but I think the best example is the photo watch face.

The photo watch face displays the time over the top of a photo selected by the user. It seems to be a sparse watch face with one complication, similar to the Motion or Solar watch faces except with less graphics, animation and code. I cannot believe such a simple watch face was cut for time, especially considering it uses the same basic template as two other watch faces. It probably would have taken an Apple engineer an hour at most, some of which would be copying code.  It's just too simple.

However, a photo takes up more power on an OLED screen than the predominantly black watch faces in WatchOS 1. My thinking, therefore, is that Apple held back anything at all which was non-essential and that could have had a impact on the battery life until they were sure that the watch battery was up to par in real world usage. Indeed, as I said, there seems to be a few of them - video, native apps, independence from the phone on known wifi networks, the time lapse watch face and so on.  

Less than a day's battery life would have been a -gate level news story for the Apple Watch and probably very damaging for a new product category (let alone the first new one since Steve Jobs died). Now that it's clear that even the smaller Apple Watch seems to have at least 36 hours battery life under what its customers have collectively decided is normal use, Apple is free to start sapping the leftover battery in the service of extra features.

Clockwork Skeuomorphism

It's not unusual for new technologies to drag along some of the design elements of the old - computers have keyboards just like typewriter keyboards even today - but most do so only out of habit and then abandon those elements that don't work fairly quickly. For example, television shows were originally treated basically like radio shows with video or a televised version of theatre but quickly expanded into a far more dynamic, cinematic medium.

I put the trend towards round smartwatches in this camp. The vast majority of what any computer screens display is predicated on the rectangle - lists, photos, buttons, paragraphs, characters and pixels... The entire user interface is based around them.

This, in turn, is because most of what we do also trends towards rectangles - pages, screens, boxes, keys, laptops, paper notebooks and characters of text (as empathised by any government form you may fill out).

Some user interfaces can be made circular - buttons can be round and progress bars can curl around a circular path - but it's clear that we tend towards the rectangle in how we work and how we think. Yet, we have small wrist mounted computers with round screens. It makes sense only in one context - the watch face. The clockwork sweep of the hands is a circular motion.

To be clear, I like the look of the round LG smartwatches, for example, but consider it to be a clear case of form over function. A round face is attractive but not useful. It is a wasteful affectation that benefits one facet of the watch and hobbles the rest.  



The Semantics of Piracy

An article is popping up over the web today: Is Downloading Really Stealing?

It's an interesting question which has been debated all over the web and after careful deliberation I've decided that, my God, but that's a waste of time.

There is a lot to debate about the new world of digital content, intellectual property and illegal downloads. There are genuine concerns about the rights of creators (indeed, the livelihood of creators), the availability of content, pricing, morality and legality. However, whenever those debates start to happen, say on Reddit, someone always uses the approximate shortcut of calling it "stealing" or "theft" and the debate gets dragged down into arguments over semantics.

It doesn't matter. The semantics of legal definitions are only relevant in court. If we all collectively decided tomorrow that copyright infringement wasn't theft, none of the problems with it or issues around it would be gone.

There are better things to discuss here. More productive, more interesting things than the same tired old ground on which no one is giving an inch and into which people with good points get dragged purely because a turn of phrase.

For the record: Legally, it's not theft. I looked it up. However, from a practical viewpoint, "theft" is a close approximation which gets the general idea across and is much shorter to type than "copyright infringement".

Alas, I feel I must warn against doing so.

The War of Pockets and Wrists

Among the doubters of the nascent but, I think, promising smartwatch market, I often hear something along these lines...

Why would I want a smartwatch? My smartphone does all the same things and it only takes a second to get it from my pocket.

My usual reply to such people is that the war between a device in your pocket and a device on your wrist has been waged before - and the pocket watch lost. 

While that argument is true, it's a little simplified because the pocket watch and wristwatch were both single-function devices and that single function worked perfectly well when shrunk down to a size that fitted on your wrist. However, the smartphone has a large screen which is used to its fullest. With a smaller, more limited display, a smartwatch will not be able to do nearly as much. So, unlike my analogy of the war of the watches, the smartwatch is inherently crippled compared to a smartphone. 

The basic point, however, is still a good one and is borne out by a thousand other inventions like the TV remote, garage remote, smart homes, microwaves, keyless entry, voice control on your phone, NFC payments, and even things like SSDs and the relentless march of faster, more powerful computer processors.

You should never, ever underestimate an invention that saves time, even if the time it saves if less than a second.