2018 Diary: Where am I at with my Apple devices, and how will they get me to upgrade?

Ever since the Apple Watch, I’ve used a diary format to track my experience of Apple products over time. A conventional review represents a one-off take on a product at the time it’s written, but product diaries of my Apple devices provided a much more rounded perspective – from pre-purchase expectations through established use.

Unsurprisingly, I generally have plenty to say in the early stages, and less as time goes on. But as we approach the end of the year, I thought it would be useful to provide a roundup of my current view of each – as well as a look at how Apple might persuade me to upgrade next year …

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I have diaries for each of my current Apple products:

Where am I at now, and what’s Apple’s challenge if it wants to sell me new Apple devices next year? Let’s start with the iPhone …

iPhone x

iPhone X

I’ve said before that, for me, my iPhone is probably my least-important piece of Apple kit. That’s because, when I’m at home, my Mac is my primary device, and when mobile it’s my iPad. The iPhone is the device that fills in when I just want to do something very quickly – check the weather, send a text message and so on. If I’m going to spend more than a minute or two doing it, I’ll generally use my iPad instead; this goes with me just about everywhere.

But I have to say that, of all the iPhones I’ve owned, the iPhone X has seen the most use. While I probably would still swap it for a modern take on the iPhone SE given the chance, the size is a reasonable compromise. It slips easily into most trouser pockets (less happily in a jeans pocket when cycling), but the screen size is large enough not to feel cramped. So if I’m waiting in a coffee shop line, for example, I can use that time to catch up on Facebook or the news.

I still love the form-factor. I only ever notice the notch when looking at a photo – it’s effectively invisible to me the rest of the time. The gestures likewise feel very smooth and natural.

Why didn’t I upgrade? The iPhone XS really offers very little over the iPhone X in my view. The speed difference is utterly irrelevant. The improved HDR performance is nice but marginal. The ability to adjust apparent depth of field after taking a photo would be worthwhile if I ever used Portrait Mode, but I don’t – if I want shallow depth of field, I switch to my Sony a6300 or Nikon D3 instead.

Looking ahead, it’s actually quite hard to predict how Apple might persuade me to upgrade next year. I suspect the notch will get smaller, but as I say, I don’t find that an issue. If it succeeds in selling me a new iPhone, it will most likely be a series of incremental improvements which add up to a package which makes sense rather than any one killer feature.

And for friends who’ve asked my advice on which iPhone to buy, the iPhone XR is my default recommendation. That gets you most of the benefits of the iPhone XS at a more sensible price. If I were buying today, that’s probably what I would get.

iPad Pro

iPad Pro

I’ve waxed lyrical about the new 12.9-inch model, and my enthusiasm hasn’t worn off in the slightest. I still think this is so good that it justifies the undeniably high price-tag, and it’s still my recommendation to friends who can afford to lay out that kind of cash.

The screen size makes it more useful than ever for practical tasks, and more immersive for entertainment apps.

It’s the only iPad on which I have ever routinely used split-screen mode, because that feels genuinely usable at this size, while it always felt cramped on smaller models. There are times when my partner and I have watched a TV show together on it. I wouldn’t describe it as ideal as a shared Netflix device – it’s still relatively small – but it’s certainly usable even for that.

And yet it’s still portable enough to carry routinely. The 12.9-inch model is probably at the limit for a mobile device, but I still could see a very good case for a larger model for use as a casual device at home. Much as my Mac is my primary device, it does still signal ‘work’ while the iPad signals ‘play.’

I still adore the slab-sided design. Face ID is fantastic – so much slicker than Touch ID. All in all, there’s nothing not to love about it.

If my Mac is my most important Apple product, my iPad is my most-loved one. That’s partly because it’s more associated with fun than with work, but also because it’s my most flexible device. It gets used every single day as an ebook reader and for casual web-browsing from the sofa. It gives me immersive online access from coffee shops or on public transit. It’s a brilliant device while travelling, providing everything from downloaded Netflix shows to watch on long-haul flights through mapping and what’s on guide to travel blogging. And while I use it more for play than work, it’s also an excellent machine for use when writing while mobile.

In terms of what it would take to persuade me to upgrade, well, this is Apple’s easiest sell. As my favorite gadget period – not just my preferred Apple product – the cost per use is very low, so that justifies regular upgrades. If Apple were to offer a significantly larger one, it could probably sell me a second one – one for use while mobile, the other for sofa use.

MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro

While I was a fan of upgradable Macs, I made my peace with the idea that this is no longer an option.

I think Apple has redefined the meaning of the Pro label in MacBook terms. Once, it meant a desktop-class machine with much of the upgradability that goes with that label. Today, it means a machine which combines power with portability. And Apple is probably right that this is what the majority of MacBook Pro buyers want these days.

I have to say, viewed in those terms, the machine is a winner. It absolutely flies through everything I ask it to do, including editing 4K video. The display is fantastic. The huge trackpad is brilliant. The keyboard is something I’ve come to like if not love. And it’s all wrapped up in a beautifully portable form factor.

Back in the days of my 17-inch MacBook Pro, I owned a MacBook Air as well, as I wanted something more portable for some mobile use. These days, my 2016 15-inch MacBook Pro is sufficiently small and light that one machine does it all.

The Touch Bar is still something I view as something of a gimmick, but that’s not really a complaint – more something I’d have been happy to be without.

The one thing I would like is new monitor. Indeed, I’ve been looking for two years now, but no-one has yet made one that hits all of my bullet-points. Trying one possible contender has left me in no doubt about the form-factor I want, though: 34-inch plus, curved. Perhaps 2019 will be the year someone finally makes one – maybe even Apple.

As for upgrading my Mac, I generally max mine out with a view to keeping it for 4-5 years. Cost alone means I normally stick to that timescale, but also the rate of development in laptops isn’t rapid enough to suggest any reason to upgrade more frequently. About the only thing I can see at present that could have me upgrade earlier is bringing back a modern take on a 17-inch model – something I consider sadly unlikely.

Of course, it’s always possible Apple could pull some other major development out of the hat next year, but otherwise, Apple’s Mac sales people will be seeing me again in 2020 or 2021.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch is an interesting product category to me. It’s a device I never thought I needed or wanted, and about which I’ve never felt excited –  but it did fairly quickly come to be something I now regard as pretty indispensable.

That’s not because it does anything my phone can’t. Mostly, it’s used as a way to view notifications, issue Siri commands and pay for things. But there’s an undeniable convenience to being able to use the Watch for each of those – especially when mobile. It’s simply much easier to glance at my Watch when I get a notification than it is to reach into my pocket for my phone. It’s easier to raise my wrist to my mouth to tell Siri to remind me of something. And it’s easier to hold my wrist out to a payment terminal than it is to pull out my phone.

I was, though, in no rush to upgrade. I skipped the Series 1 and 2, and only really upgraded to the Series 3 because it was a fairly low-cost one. The Series 4 was an easier sell because I love the larger display and improved raise-to-Siri functionality.

I wasn’t tempted by the LTE functionality – there’s literally never a time when I go out without my iPhone – and I haven’t had cause to regret the decision to opt for the lower-cost model.

Future upgrades? We’re none of us getting any younger, so I think further health sensors will be the easiest way for Apple to tempt me to upgrade. Without that, based on the incremental updates we’ve seen so far, I’d expect to sit out the next generation or two.

HomePod

HomePod

The HomePod quickly impressed me, and one turned into two and then three.

HomePod’s performance couldn’t compete with true hi-fi systems – but was closer than I expected. And I absolutely love the convenience of simply telling the speakers what to play.

The approach I’ve developed is to use HomePods for casual listening, and my B&O system or borrowed Naim, for active listening, when I was doing nothing else but listen to the music. And in truth, 99% of my listening falls into the former category – where the convenience of HomePod wins out.

What’s really interesting, of course, is that it’s no longer a case of HomePods versus everything else. Apple’s decision to allow first Amazon Echo and later other third-party speakers to play Apple Music is a game-changer. Assuming that same functionality comes to high-end speakers, we’ll no longer have to choose between convenience and ultimate audio quality.

For that reason, I’m in wait-and-see mode for now. Especially as one of the drivers in my BeoLab 6000 speakers has blown, and there doesn’t seem to be much difference in price between a repair and a used replacement pair. So after 20 years, 2019 might be the time to consider a speaker upgrade … at which point the HomePods may get replaced or shuffled around.

Apple kit

So that’s where I’m at with my kit. Happy with my iPhone, MacBook Pro and Apple Watch. Absolutely delighted with my iPad. And content with my HomePods for now, but eagerly hoping for B&O smart speakers with built-in access to Apple Music.

What about you? What Apple kit do you love? And what are you planning or hoping to replace next year? Do let us know in the comments.


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