About Apple’s California Streaming

This week was the ”Superbowl for nerds.” Apple held its annual September event where it showcased the newest iPhones to debut in Autumn. This year sees iPhones 13, which are incrementally better than last year’s iPhones 12. With them, Apple is releasing updated iPads and the latest Apple Watch iteration.

I viewed Apple’s live video announcement — California Streaming — a fast-paced deluge of features packed into a superlative-laden presentation. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m more or less an Apple Fanboy, but it felt a bit like drinking kool-aid with too much sugar. With that small gripe out of the way, here are my personal thoughts as a mobile-computer consumer.


iPad mini

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Going from 7.9” to 8.3”, the mini has more screen, yet it remains mini! That’s a solid win in my book. I think most people want as much display as they can comfortably fit in a pocket or hold in one hand. Apple does this via removing bezels and extending the display to the edges of the device. Samsung’s approach is to fold the screen in half! I think I prefer Apple’s method: it’s simpler, more elegant, more affordable, and less likely to break.

The iPad mini basically got all of the iPad Air’s features, but it also got a $100 price hike over the previous mini, which is a bummer. I was thinking about buying my wife her own iPad mini for Christmas, but now it’s more out of reach. Then again, it comes in my wife’s favorite color: purple.

iPad

Apple_iPad-10-2-inch_Family_09142021

I love the iPad! As I type this blog post, I’m enjoying my 8th gen iPad, which I bought in the Summer. I had figured the 9th gen iPad would not get a significant upgrade, and that’s basically what happened. This newest iPad got 3 updates: a wider front camera that follows people to keep them in frame (Center Stage), the A13 chip to replace the great A12, and a True Tone display that, in my experience, is nice but not a big deal.

The one other update that is worth shouting about is that Apple finally bumped the entry priced $329 iPad from a paltry 32GB of storage to 64GB! For that low price, often on sale for $300, I think anyone can now enjoy a viable and enviable Apple tablet. In addition, the $429 iPad now packs a generous 256GB of storage — nice!

iPhone 13/mini/Pro/Pro Max

Apple_iPhone-13-Pro_Colors_09142021
Apple_iphone13_design_09142021

There’s isn’t much for me to say here except that, like most people, the latest iPhones’ camera improvements are more than welcome. I especially am excited about the iPhone 13 Pros getting a Macro photography capability, preferring both the ultra-wide and macro features over the zoom/telephoto features. In addition, the newest iPhones 13 get better performance (not that they were lacking) and longer lasting battery life — what good is all that CPU power if the phone has no battery power at all?

With new phones, I like that the previous few years’ iPhones, which are still excellent devices, now sport a lower price than ever. Those now “older” phones — still for sale as new — make some of the best tech from Apple available to more and more people. Upgrading my iPhone 8 Plus, for example, to last year’s iPhone 12 versus the 13 would save me $100, yet I’d still get a significant update.

Apple Watch 7

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When it comes to the Apple Watch, I see two sides to it: the fitness side and the smart side. This year’s version 7 does not see much new for either side. Yet while some pundits have panned this year’s Watch as a minor update, I was quite excited for it. Sure, it’s not a huge step up, but it’s better nonetheless. What matters to me is that when I eventually upgrade my current 40mm Apple Watch SE, I’ll see an even bigger display boost when I opt for the now larger 45mm size. Otherwise, I think it performs like my current watch, but it’s vast screen will make using it easier and more enjoyable.

Another welcome change will be the always-on display that’s now much brighter; I presume it doesn’t degrade battery life. Most surprising of all, though, is the new on-screen keyboard! I’m skeptical that it will work well. I suspect the bigger watch size will be easier to tap the tiny letters on. Even without a keyboard, I find voice dictation totally reliable, but it will be nice to try the keyboard once I upgrade in the distant future.


Overall, this year sees Apple making incremental and iterative updates. The biggest changes come to the smallest iPad: the mini. While this might not be an exciting and “revolutionary” upgrade cycle, the progress Apple is making by pushing forward in smallish steps is nevertheless welcome and positive gain. Growth in life only sees spurts during adolescence. Generally, life grows by slow and steady consistency. Apple is a mature company, and all the hardware products announced this week are likewise mature.

The other side of Apple’s coin is more interesting to me this year: software. Next week, Apple will release the public versions of its latest operating systems. I’m eager to install the newest iOS and iPadOS software. Many of the features, like focus modes or multitasking buttons, will make current devices more capable or efficient. Shiny new hardware is fun and functional, but the integrated software is also key to giving nerds, geeks, and ”normal” people the tools they need to apply their talents.

Whether being productive and creative, organizing photo albums, or surfing the web, I’m glad to see Apple steadily improving both its devices and apps that make such tasks simple, elegant, and delightful. Here’s to another year of Apple gear.

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag Impression

There’s a new man-bag in town. Call it a satchel, cross-body bag, or a tablet bag…or heck, a man-purse or murse; call it what you want, it’s my everyday carry bag (EDC). Most important and exciting of all, it’s the Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag, and it’s finally here!


Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange

Good things come to those who wait

I waited months for the pre-order to open and then more months for production and shipping to complete until — at long last — my EDC bag of choice arrived in a small brown box off a big brown truck.

Previously, I had spent many weeks researching and shopping online in a quest to find the best bag. Tom Bihn was the best bag maker at the best prices I found. The expert pack company has the widest selection of bag sizes and colors to suit my tastes. I especially like the modular organization system that revolves around the O-ring (please watch the linked video to really see it in action). In each bag are one or more O-rings to which a variety of pouches attach. It’s a simple yet smart and flexible way to keep any bits and bobs tidy; nobody likes a cluttered contents compartment.

Here’s my EDC. (The Android phone placeholder let my iPhone take the picture.)

Sizing Matters

Settling on the right-sized cross-body bag wasn’t easy. I wanted a bag big enough to fit a 10″ iPad. Though concerned a bag that size might be too large for everyday carry, my worries became unpacked. Using the bag on a few normal outings, I’ve found it fitting. I like the ample roominess inside; it lets me easily reach my forearms into it for optimal item retrieval, and it’s spacious enough to hold a small water bottle — something Texas summers requires. That said, I’ve also thought it would be nice to see a Mini Cafe Bag — sized to fit an iPad mini or other 7″ tablet — and I might like to upgrade someday to the Medium Cafe Bag. Having extra room seems extra nice, yet it might be too much.

Delight in Details

Besides its comfortable size, my favorite traits of the Small Cafe Bag are:

  • Strong yet supple shoulder strap.
    • Almost like a car’s seat belt but narrower and smoother.
    • It also has an effective strap pad with tiny grip nubs to minimize shoulder slipping.
  • Simple yet sufficient compartments.
    • There are only 3 (front, back, and main); they’re not overloaded with pockets or dividers.
    • 1 stuff pocket and 3 pen pockets grace the main pouch.
  • Fine quality materials.
    • Firm yet flexible fabrics in and out.
    • They feel very nice yet tough.
    • 525 ballistic outer and 210 ballistic inner.
  • Attractive colors.
    • Burnt orange, gray, and black.
    • I love the burnt orange!
Inside view of the Small Cafe Bag main compartment, featuring: 3 pen pockets, 1 large pocket, and 2 O-Rings. Note the interior color is gray — not black as in a dark cave wherein lurks unknown danger — so it’s easier to see and find what’s inside.

My EDC Kit Fit Out

Primary Compartment

Everyone fits out their everyday carry kit differently. My Small Cafe Bag‘s main area carries an iPad plus four organizer pouches (detailed below) snapped onto the two O-Rings. Also tethered by a key strap are my…car keys.

Snugly tucked into the primary compartment’s stuff pouch are a tin of Altoids and a Leatherman Sidekick multi-tool, or it also neatly fits my JBL Go Bluetooth speaker when needed. The three pen pouches hold two Bic 4-color ink pens and eventually an Apple Pencil.

Back Pocket

Though this open pocket on the back of the Small Cafe Bag is large enough to accommodate an eReader or small paperback, I normally use it for only one thing: my iPhone 8 Plus. Located on the back, it stays against my body while wearing, which makes it feel somewhat secure despite being open on top. And since I access my phone often, it’s nice to quickly and easily slip my phone in or out. It can lay vertically or horizontally, and there’s room for other items when needed. The other use of this open pocket is quickly storing the shoulder strap when hand carrying the bag.

There’s one small challenge worth mentioning here. The handle strap on top of the bag somewhat overs the back pocket and sometimes hinders access to it. It’s minor and easily managed, but it might be the one imperfection of an otherwise ideal EDC bag. This little issue also might be solved through usage over time, causing the handle strap to become set in an upright position. As it’s new, the strap lays flat and down toward the back pocket’s opening.

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange
Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag in Burnt Orange – back pocket

Front Pocket

This is the only zippered compartment in the Small Cafe Bag and is tucked under the main buckled flap, so I find it’s the best place for my “wallet” (also with its own zipper). My wallet is tethered with a 6″ Key Strap. The front pocket also contains other thin or flat items: trail mix bag, almond butter, and a mask.

Pouches

I’m super happy to embrace Tom Bihn’s O-Ring system with organizer pouches. To arrange my accouterments, I have 4 add-ons clipped to O-rings throughout, tailored to my daily essentials:

  • Clear Organizer Pouch.
    • This replaced my old-school bi-fold leather wallet to carry cards and some cash.
  • Ghost Whale Organizer Pouch – Small.
    • The quintessential sunglasses pouch.
  • Ghost Whale Organizer Pouch – Super Mini.
    • AirPods case goes here.
  • Q-Kit – Mini.
    • This cool little taco-shaped pouch holds my spare EarPods (neatly coiled in a plastic snack bag), Advil, Burt’s Bees lip balm, and a spare key.

The nicest aspect of all these pouches is their matching colors: burnt orange and gray. (There are many other colors to choose from.)

Tom Bihn Small Cafe Bag with organizational pouches tethered.

Freudian Slip

Another add-on package to mention — a packet-full-o-pockets — is called the Freudian Slip. It’s a custom tailored insert for the Small Cafe Bag that features several pockets and a handy looped pull-strap on top. While I don’t know if this insert will fit in the bag along with an iPad, I’d like to try it in the future (in Cloud gray of course) since it might be useful to have in lieu of the iPad sometimes. I’ve also wondered if the Freudian Slip would be a better option than separate organizer pouches clasped to O-Rings. Then again, the Slip also has its own O-Ring too. Also, it has a large enough pocket to contain an iPad mini/7″ tablet or eReader.

A Tablet Bag

I categorize this bag impression under Mobile Computing: Accessories because carrying a tablet requires things like a case, sleeve, or a bag — often a combo of those. An EDC bag large enough to lug a lightweight laptop replacement (iPad) is an essential accessory.

The Small Cafe Bag, though little enough for everyday carrying, is large enough to house an iPad or similar 10″ tablet (or a Nintendo Switch). Given that, I designate it as a Tablet Bag. I make this distinction because in American culture, traditionally it has been acceptable or “normal” for a male to carry either a backpack, briefcase, or a laptop bag, but anything smaller has often been deemed inappropriate for a male.

Tradition is nice and all, but times change. Since a cross-body laptop bag is acceptable for men, then why not a cross-body tablet bag? It’s smaller but not necessarily less masculine. While there are several bag makers on the market that provide solutions for anyone to carry tablets among everyday essentials, Tom Bihn makes the one I like best. The Small Cafe Bag is an excellent tablet bag and EDC bag.

Oh, and by the way, I love the burnt orange color!

If you fancy a full preview of the Cafe Bags from Tom Bihn, watch this video here.


Update: 7-31-21

Here are various photos of the Small Cafe Bag with a 10.2” 8th gen. iPad in a Fintie case. Given that the 10.2” iPad measures 9.8”x6.8”, I think an 11” iPad Pro, measuring at 9.74”x7.02”, would also fit the bag (depending on the size of a case, if any). I plan to use the Logitech Combo Touch keyboard case (in the Fall) and may share another update with photos of that as well.

iPad in case on Small Cafe Bag
The encased iPad appears too large for the Small Cafe Bag, but it fits very well.
Encased iPad in Small Cafe Bag
Small Cafe Bag with iPad and organizer pouches.
iPad in case inside Small Cafe Bag empty
Small Cafe Bag with an encased 10.2” iPad.
iPad in case inside Small Cafe Bag full
Small Cafe Bag stuffed with an encased 10.2” iPad and organizer pouches. It’s a good fit; contents are manageable.

iPad in case in Small Cafe Bag back pocket
In a pinch, the encased 10.2” iPad fits the back pocket a bit squeezed. It stops about 1/2” above the bottom of the pocket due to the shape.

Apple Watch And AirPods Still Delightful

The tech we rely on everyday is sometimes a delight and other times a disaster. When it works how it should, all’s well. When it doesn’t, “&$!#%.” Given the complexity of a computer, it’s kind of a miracle it works at all. And with computer chips in everything these days, no one escapes both the benefits and detriments of digital devices. That said, I’m here to talk about how much I’m still lovin’ my Apple Watch and AirPods after 6 months of usage. To this day, they remain surprisingly delightful.


AirPods

Let’s start with the AirPods. These little white ear candies are excellent. Their case is small and ergonomic, so it fits my pocket, ensuring I can always pop my portable audio plugs into my ears at any moment. Fancy that song stuck in my head? Just AirPods and play. Ready to catch up on that Podcast? Instant gratification on the go. Also, the AirPods themselves being small means they never obstruct my sunglasses or my hat. It’s little things like that which add up to satisfaction.

It gets better. My AirPods do double-duty since they instantly connect with either my iPhone or my Apple Watch. When I go for a run, I leave my phone behind and play audio straight from my watch to my AirPods. Look, I know this will sound “sound-bitey,”, but Apple isn’t lying when they say they’re magical. The tech wizardry at work really does work. In 6 months of exercise, my AirPods have been extremely reliable. Of course, I also wear them while at work, around the house, and even while driving.

AirPods have the instant Siri summoning feature that, while I don’t depend on it regularly, when I do think to use it, the response is quick and accurate. Frankly, it still feels like a tech demo sometimes because of how easy it is to use. But what I love most is how simply and easily I can have instant audio always at the ready. Oh, and because AirPods mean wireless audio, the convenience is worth their retail price.

Apple Watch

Next, Apple Watch. This thing is — avoiding the “life-saver” hyperbole — fantastic. When I bought the watch last Christmas, I intended on using it to help me get back into shape and stay fit. It’s working! I recently fulfilled my first 180 days of using Apple Watch, so I can now finally see my fitness activity trends. After 6 months of exercise, my cardio level is improved. I can see it in the data metrics thanks to the Fitness and Health apps, but I can also feel it. I can run farther, faster, and easier than before. The watch has been super reliable at recording all my fitness activities: standing, moving, exercising. It’s great at motivating and reminding me to cease and desist from a sedentary lifestyle. Seriously, it feels great after a 2 hour video game session to put on my running shoes and get moving outside.

Besides fitness, I have enjoyed my Apple Watch for all its computery capabilities too. In addition to instantly glancing down at the time, I also check the current temperature and wind speed at any moment (which helps me exercise outside at the best time). It has many of these types of nifty features I savvy. Yet the two biggest things I’ve loved using for the past 6 months are Notifications and Audio.

Getting notified by apps via my watch is delightfully convenient. Again, it’s this little thing plus others that, while simple, make a profound difference in daily living. The audio is a killer feature too — it’s like an iPod is strapped to my wrist. Three apps on my Apple Watch are now must haves: Music, Podcasts, and Now Playing. They all showcase direct quick controls for any audio playing, be it from my iPhone or from the Watch itself. The sounds stream straight to my AirPods…did I mention how great AirPods are?


Suffice to say, the AirPods and Apple Watch have easily become as essential to my daily digital lifestyle as my iPhone (which I’d say equals or exceeds the necessity of my work computer, a Windows PC). My other personal device is a Chromebook, and while great for what it is, I plan to usurp its dominance with an iPad in the coming weeks. Hopefully AirPods don’t get confused when switching between iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. Given the complexity, it wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, I’m talking about Apple’s ecosystem, so it should all just work. I’m certainly willing to give it all 6 more months.

Apple’s WWDC21 Inches iPad Forward

This week, Apple’s keynote at WWDC21 showcased a wide array of iterative and innovative software enhancements to its ecosystem of digital devices. The iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac are all becoming better, yet there are signs of feature creep. If true, it’s unsurprising and unfortunate, but I’m excited for some of the new and improved things. Apple’s overall focus and purpose, perhaps the theme of WWDC21, is privacy; the company wants your personal data to remain private. While overall this is a good thing, my focus is iPad.


Apple announced a tall and wide stack of stuff in the opening keynote. A big question and expectation going into the keynote concerned the evolving stance of iPad. Would Apple finally remove the training wheels of restriction from iPadOS and let it ride freely as a “real computer?” Many tech geeks, like me, had waited and wondered. Answer: it depends on who you ask.

I saw promising upgrades to iPad that I’m happy for, and if it persists as more of a tablet computer and less of a “real” computer, that’s fine with me — Apple, and others, still sell real laptops and desktop machines too. The most important changes to iPad affect its multitasking system; it’s being somewhat simplified with visible buttons in addition to its invisible gestures. Users can see windowing options (they’re discoverable) via a new button and choose one with a simple tap. No longer must normal people become power users and memorize a convoluted bunch of finger gymnastics to invoke multi-window layouts.

That said, since the previous multi-tasking methods remain intact, the new button set-up, though simpler in itself, is an addition atop an already complex system of windowing on iPad. This is construed as feature creep and upsets the balance between simplicity and capability. Such imbalance introduces complexity, antithetical to iPad, which threatens to become more convoluted and less elegant. Apple continues to slowly yet steadily evolve iPad to become “more” or “better” yet keeping its position between a smartphone and a laptop. Adopting the best of both ends of the mobile computing spectrum while mitigating compromise is a tricky endeavor. Failure incurs disdain with labels for iPad like, “just a big phone” or “not a laptop replacement.” Conversely, the better Apple succeeds, the more magical iPad becomes.

iPad has other new tricks up its sleeve. Like on iPhone, one welcome change lets widgets be placed anywhere. There’s also a new bigger sized widget that makes better use of iPad’s large display, letting users see more content at a glance. How useful this is remains to be seen, but I think it will aid productivity. iPad now has the App Library too. Like its phone cousin, the auto-categorized groups of apps appear in a full screen array when a user swipes past the last homepage. The App Library can also be quickly accessed from any homepage via the Dock, which is great for easily selecting any additional app for multitasking.

Other new features coming to iPad match those new to iOS 15 for iPhone. Some faves I’m excited for are: tags with custom smart folders in the Notes app, EXIF metadata in the Photos app, live locations of family in the Find My app, and tab groups in Safari to name a few. Inexplicably, the Weather app and the Calculator app remain missing from iPad, as if to offset feature creep with feature disparity.

The popular tablet designed in California is getting incremental updates this year, which isn’t half bad, considering it’s already a fantastic computing device. Prior upgrades gave iPad full mouse and cursor control, making it more computer-like than ever. Apple’s ongoing progress with iPad while maneuvering it along the mobile computing midline is laudable. Though imperfect or slightly disappointing to some tech enthusiasts, Apple’s overall strategy is sound and admirable. I miss my iPad Air 2 and plan to buy a new iPad later this Summer.

WWDC 2021 Wishes

Apple’s annual developer conference is around the corner, and there seems to be eager anticipation in the tech community. I’m excited as a consumer (okay, kind of a fanboy). When it comes to #mobilecomputing, the Apple ecosystem is tops, yet this year’s WWDC could raise the bar higher. I’ve got a few things I hope to see.


Widget Wishlist

First up, new and improved widgets. I love the clean and simple design direction Apple took last year with iOS14. Now I’d like to see widgets become actionable. For example, the Reminders widget could allow you to check things off a list in the widget without needing to open the app. Also, I think the Clock widget should have a digital option (2×4 size). Just let me place a large digital clock on my home screen (like Android) – thanks. Next, I noticed that the News app has a widget option for “full screen” 4×6 size, but only on the “Today” screen (left of Home) and only using the “For You” section of News. In iOS15, this 4×6 option should be enabled for all widgets on any home screen, and for the News app it should extend beyond the “For You” section. Finally, iPadOS15 should allow widgets to be placed anywhere like iOS14 while also gaining the above improvements.

iPad Upgrades

I plan to buy an iPad in the near future, eager to use it as my primary computer (because, “What’s a computer?”) I love the last few big updates iPadOS received (desktop-class web browser, Smart Connector, full native mouse/cursor support, app Sidebars) that make iPad more computer-like than ever. But there’s still room for improvement. I’d like to see multi-user support, so I could let my kids use my iPad with their own user account for example. Also, I think it’d be good for iPad to finally support Xcode and other “pro” apps because it would further legitimize iPad as a “real” productivity device. This, in turn, would spur greater focus on iPad development in the long-term. Another big area in need of advancement is multi-tasking. I think Apple should strive to simplify gestures used for app management without sacrificing multi-app capability. At the same time, I think iPad should never enable windowed apps like on macOS or Windows. Apps should remain full-screen or split-screen, but there must be a way to make multi-app control more intuitive.

Outside of software for iPadOS, I have a specific request for Apple on the hardware side. Please give the entry level iPad base model (at $329) 64GB of RAM instead of the paltry 32GB. Seriously. Or at least compromise and add a 64GB option mid-way at $379. Another choice: make the 32GB model cost just $299 and the 128GB model cost only $399.

watchOS

For Apple Watch, there’s at least one app sorely missing: Notes. The next watchOS should add the Notes app simply to view notes on my wrist and enable voice dictation to create new notes. Speaking to my watch to add short text snippets to iMessage or compose quick email works great, so it would be easy to use for capturing a new note on the go. It’d be nice to just raise my wrist and say, “Note to self…” and fill in the blanks, creating a new note in the default section of the app.

iCloud

I understand that Apple is a traditional hardware/software company. Its paradigm is for consumers to use native apps on local devices. I like this a lot. But we do live in a mobile first, cloud first world where web apps are growing better and more prevalent than ever before. With that in mind, Apple should seriously revamp its iCloud website. It works. It’s nice. But it has feature and design disparity with its native app counterparts. And it’s slow. Because iCloud.com could use much improvement, it does disservice to the many web users who happen to not compute on an Apple device. Otherwise, the iCloud sync service works well in the background yet could be more reliable. I’ve seen a few inexplicable sync issues within Notes between iCloud and my iPhone. Thankfully, the issues always get sorted out in time, but they don’t instill confidence in the service.

Apple is likely to surprise developers and consumers with new and improved features across all its devices. I hope they do their usual and add more quality of life/ease of use things, the kind of stuff that “just works” in daily life. I’m sure there will be a lot of upgrades related to the M1 CPU with new software/hardware that relies on it. That stuff is exciting because, if nothing else, it shows that Apple continues to innovate. The Apple ecosystem as a whole will benefit.