A huge grain of salt, or why we can’t trust any Apple Watch reviews — yet

April 14, 2015

It hasn’t even been a week since the Apple Watch embargo was lifted, and in that time we’ve had about a kazillion words written and published about the device. I’ve read a few of them, most notably John Gruber’s excellent take on the philosophy behind the product, Nilay Patel’s flashy review with lots of pictures and videos over at The Verge, and David Pogue’s classic column.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, these and many other reviews are all over the place. While some journalists seem genuinely excited about the device, others are more skeptical and point to several things that could prove to be important shortcomings, like its apparently lackluster performance or the bands, some of which could be slightly awkward and uncomfortable for certain people.

Some reviewers, like the ones I mentioned above, have been around long enough to know that it’s better to be responsible when writing about unreleased products, and have measured their words accordingly. Others, unfortunately, have not been as sensible.

These early reviews have been interesting to read because they gave us the first glimpses of what it’s like to actually use an Apple Watch, as opposed to just playing with a demo unit. However at this point, I don’t think any of them really matter, or have any long-term significance. Whether a review has been positively glowing or downright scorching, there’s simply not enough real context and data for it to offer a reliable and accurate representation of the future of the Apple Watch.

For the moment, the only honest, responsible thing to say about the future of the Apple Watch is this: time will tell.

Photo credit: Ryan Ozawa.

The way gadget reviews work in the tech community is simple: when a new product is announced, several media outlets get review units in advance, so that they can work on their reviews. These reviews can’t be published before a certain, previously stipulated date — hence the embargo, which is usually lifted just hours or days before the product officially becomes available for purchase or preorder.

After that and on day one, all the other tech writers who didn’t get a review unit rush out to buy one so that they can work on their own reviews, which are usually published a few days later.

This well-established process creates two categories of reviews: the early ones, and all the rest. Usually, the biggest knock against early reviews is that they tend to be overly gracious, and sometimes avoid criticizing the product too much, perhaps to ensure their authors will stay in the company’s good graces and will keep receiving review units in the future. This is not necessarily true, but it’s what many people think, and so these authors are routinely accused of being biased. Though I don’t personally believe this to be the case, it never hurts to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism when reading a gadget review.

However, in the case of the Apple Watch, it’s not so much a question of bias — although that’s still present — as it is a question of implausibility. I simply don’t think it’s possible to present a coherent, informed opinion about the Apple Watch based on mere days of use, no matter how intensive that use may have been.1 And that has everything to do with the very nature of the Apple Watch.

With a new version of an existing product category, the criteria by which the product is rated are usually clear and understood by all. If it’s a laptop, you take a look at the combination of hardware design, display, performance, portability and battery life. That’s it. A laptop is a laptop, and we’re familiar enough with them that it’s entirely feasible to review one after a week of regular use.

The Apple Watch, on the other hand, lacks any such criteria by which to be judged. Practically all of its functionality is so radically new that we simply lack a framework for understanding how — and if — it will fit into our lives. Not even Apple knows that yet, no matter how confident they may seem today.

With the Apple Watch, we’re all in uncharted waters, Apple itself included. Not to mention the inherently social aspect of the device: features like digital touch and sending your heartbeat to another person are entirely predicated on said person owning an Apple Watch, too. So how can these reviewers test and review those features? Social habits take time to develop, and intimacy much more so. There’s just no way you can guess today if a year from now people are going to love being remotely touched of if it’s going to be the most annoying feature ever invented.

Apple hopes these features will prove to be compelling enough to be accepted into our lives and become established. They’re betting big on the Apple Watch to become their most personal device yet but the truth is, there are still too many unanswered questions, many of which are not Apple’s to answer.

And then there’s the question of 3rd-party apps, which we still know almost nothing about, and which could extend the functionality of the device in previously unimagined ways, much like the App Store did for the iPhone and iPad. Would the iPhone today be as compelling without the phenomenal iOS app ecosystem backing it? Not even close.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your favorite reviewer loved or hated the Apple Watch. If you want to find out if it’s the next big thing, you’ll have to wait a little more — or just buy one and find out for yourself. It’s still early days, and the ultimate fate of the product is yet to be decided. Apple has certainly done everything they could to give the Apple Watch the best possible chance at succeeding, but the final word is ours to say.

  1. It’s actually worse, because they only had a few days to use the device and write the reviews.

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Mike Bates on picking the right bag →

April 13, 2015 |

Last week, Ben Brooks wrote an article on how he chose the right bag for a short trip. That same day I also shared my own views on the matter, along with a simple set of rules to cover most situations. Now it’s Mike Bates’s turn to share his approach and while I focused more on traveling, he goes at it from an everyday carry perspective:

For a long time I had just one bag that I used for several years, cramming whatever gear the occasion required into, but since then I’ve made a handful of bag purchases (both good and bad) which lead me to where I am today. I’m not completely happy with my current setup, but it certainly works. Albeit with regular bag-changes and lots of moving gear in-between different packs.

What I like most about Mike’s system is that it is solid, functional and it scales very neatly from a super-minimal MacBook sleeve to a versatile 25-liter backpack.

Because he lacks an iPad-optimized bag though, Mike plans to buy the ONA Prince Street in the future. The Prince Street is an amazing bag — I’ve also been considering it for some time — and I’m sure he’s going to love it. However, I have a feeling it will render his current ONA Bowery redundant.

Of course, as far as problems go, that’s definitely a nice one to have.

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How ‘Daredevil’ is Unlike Anything Marvel Has Done So Far →

April 13, 2015 |

John Gholson, on the new Marvel TV Show that debuted on Netflix on Friday, April 10th:

Daredevil is unlike anything Marvel Studios has done. We got a look at the first five episodes of the 13-part season, and it’s nothing like the Marvel Studios films nor the spin-off shows from ABC. This is great news. This is a low-key, performance-driven crime drama, where the episodes don’t follow a tidy formula nor aim to move Daredevil kids meal toys. It’s street-level and human and it’s going to make a lot of fans of “ol hornhead” very, very happy.

Daredevil, missing the luxury of a $200 million budget like its big-screen peers, is shot like an indie crime film (or a low-budget horror movie – lots of darkened rooms with one sickly amber key light) and makes the best use of its greatest resource, a talented cast. All of the players, from Deborah Ann Woll as the complex, troubled Karen Page to Bob Gunton as the smarmy “Owl” Leland Owlsley, command the screen with the same level of interest as the title character himself.

Daredevil always struck me as one of the most interesting Marvel characters, and also one of the most underrated. Unfortunately, the completely forgettable 2003 movie starring Ben Affleck did more harm than good to the character’s popularity. Now it looks like we’re finally getting a decent show that makes the horned hero justice for a change.

If like me, you’ve been patiently waiting for the man without fear to return to the screen, it looks like this new show is everything we hoped for and more, and it “only” took 12 years. Oh well, if they don’t screw it up again, it’ll have been well worth the wait.

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Photojournalism in color →

April 13, 2015 |

Kenji Kwok makes an interesting case for photojournalists to finally leave black and white behind:

There’s a sombre mood to black and white photography that is so attractive to new photographers and preventing even seasoned photographers from progressing towards what we actually do see – colours. In an interview of renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1971, Sheila Turner-Seed asked what he thought about colour photography, and his reply: “It’s disgusting.”. He chose to stick with photographing in black and white because the thought of having multiple people dictating the different colouring processes (limitation of colour photography in the past) seems to complicate the simplicity of photography. But that bold pledge of allegiance to black and white photography continues to guide the digital world of photographers today, from fine art to landscape, and especially photojournalism.

I get the point Kwok is trying to make — although I disagree with him — but I have a feeling he’s misreading Cartier-Bresson’s words to create a counter-argument for his narrative. Either that or he hasn’t read the complete interview — which by the way, is fantastic.

The reason Cartier-Bresson disliked color photography was not limited to the complexity of the coloring processes or the lack of fidelity in color reproduction at the time. Those things certainly didn’t help, but Cartier-Bresson had other, more personal reasons to prefer black and white. From the same 1971 interview:

Q. If the technical problems were solved and what you saw on the page would really be what you saw with your eyes, would you still object [to color photography]?

A. Yes, because nature gives us so much. You can’t accept everything of nature. You have to select things. It’d rather do paintings, and it becomes an insoluble problem. Especially when it comes to reportage, color has no interest whatsoever except that people do it because it’s money. It’s always a money problem.

So in the end it’s about meaning, and interest. If color is of no interest to you, then having it not only fails to add significance to your images, it actually takes away from them. That’s what Cartier-Bresson believed, and that’s the reason he only shot in black and white.

Of course, you may agree with that sentiment or not. My personal beliefs lie somewhere in the middle. I love black and white and tend to edit the majority of my street images that way, and I definitely shoot with black and white film more often than with color film. However, there are certain situations where I absolutely prefer color.

At the end of the day the good news is, we don’t need to choose. Color and black and white are not two different ways to tell the same story, each one tells their own story in their own different way. We can — and probably should — shoot in both black and white and color, and shoot to our heart’s content. The only real way to find out where you stand is by experiencing both and figuring out which one is closer to the way you see the world.

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How to develop C-41 color negative film at home →

April 13, 2015 |

If you’re into film photography but can’t find a laboratory that will process color negative film for you, you may want to look into processing it yourself at home. Luckily, this article by Sam Agnew has everything you need to know. Via The Phoblographer.

It may look daunting at first but don’t be discouraged. All it takes is some basic equipment and you don’t even need a darkroom. Other than the temperature-sensitive nature of the process — all liquids must be kept at precisely 40 degrees Celsius — it really is pretty simple. And as a side benefit, it will be a lot cheaper than having a lab do it for you.

I myself did it for the first time last week, except with black and white film. There are a few differences: temperatures are lower for black and white — around 20C — and the whole process takes quite a bit longer, but in essence it’s the same thing.

I’m very happy with my results, and I fully intend to keep doing it from now on — but more on that later.

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Fleeting beauty: What Japanese culture teaches us about the cherry blossoms →

April 13, 2015 |

Lovely piece by Diane Durston for the Washington Post:

The Japanese words “wabi” and “sabi” express the rather complicated feeling we have for this kind of simple beauty; a loveliness that is all the more precious because of the realization that nothing lasts. They describe the quietly moving beauty of a handcrafted bowl that has been handed down in the family for generations—you feel the touch of the hands of everyone who has cared for it over time. It may no longer be a perfect bowl, and you understand that, like the cherry blossoms, it won’t last forever, but that is what makes it all the more exquisite. As Leonard Cohen said, “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

The cherry blossoms are a yearly event near and dear to my heart. My hometown, Plasencia, is located right in the heart of Jerte Valley, one of the world’s leading cherry producing regions.

Every year around April, when the cherry trees blossom in a spectacular coordinated display that paints the entire valley white, thousands upon thousands of tourists gather to witness this magical sight.

For a few precious days — the full bloom rarely lasts more than three days — we are reminded of how beautiful our planet can be, and how fleeting beautiful things are.

Photo credit: “A Flood of Cherry Blossoms”, by Miquel González Page.

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Josh Ginter gets down to work →

April 11, 2015 |

Fantastic, brutal and completely honest piece by Josh Ginter on how — and more importantly, why — work has been keeping him away from The Newsprint lately:

Over the past few weeks, work has equated to progress. Movement, in a forward direction. Acquisition of skills. Patience in acquiring those skills. And a work ethic I never thought I would enjoy.

Progress is addicting. Growth is addicting. Accomplishing goals is addicting. My only regret is the amount of dust collecting on my camera.

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and in those moments, the only way I’ve found to move forward is to keep your head down and keep pushing as hard as you can, for as long as it takes. And the thing about putting in the hours and working your ass off is, things usually get better a lot sooner than you thought they would.

Hang in there Josh, and don’t worry about your camera. It’ll be right there waiting for you — along with the rest of us.

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HBO reveals first teaser of True Detective’s Season Two →

April 10, 2015 |

It looks good. Very good:

My first impressions are twofold:

  1. I like the new cast, particularly Rachel McAdams as the female lead, and I’ve had a soft spot for Kelly Reilly ever since I first saw her in The Spanish Apartment. The male characters are also well cast in my opinion. I’m not so sure about Taylor Kitsch, but I’m a huge fan of Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

  2. That’s all well and good, but we were promised a new season featuring two female leads, and in the end we got three male and one female as the lead characters — Kelly Reilly was cast in a supporting role, apparently. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, but I was already expecting a different type of story and to be honest, I was quite excited about it.

But like I said, it looks very good. I can’t wait.

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