A Year Wearing an Apple Watch

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the launch of the Apple Watch. It is a device that has had a profound impact on my life both personally and professionally. The Apple Watch I received on launch day is still firmly on my wrist each day (notably with barely a scratch).

I’m a bit of a numbers nut, so I had the idea to see just how much I’ve worn my watch over the last year. The result turned out to be rather striking.

I wrote a little app to dig through all the sensor data collected by the Apple Watch and work out when it was on my wrist and when it was not. I considered a “worn hour” to be any hour of the day during which a sensor sample was collected (so not necessarily worn 100% for that hour, but worn at some point during that hour).

Since receiving my watch 8,784 hours have past, during which I have worn my Apple Watch 7,277 hours. That works out to be around 83% of the time. I have worn it for at least one hour in all but just 8 days (with most of those being a week I intentionally ‘disconnected’ around Christmas).

The average hours I’ve worn it per day is 20.4. With the median a rather staggering 23.

Amusingly, you can clearly see when development of Sleep++ began in earnest in late August, when my wearing suddenly jumps to 24 hours a day.

I remember being rather skeptical of Apple’s original marketing of the Apple Watch as “our most personal device ever”, but a year later I must say that it would be a hard case to make that something that has been physically attached to me for 83% of my life is anything other than personal.

David Smith




iPad : Mac :: Digital : Film?

I love a good analogy. They clarify my thinking in a way that few things can.

While listening to this week’s Analogue a thought popped into my head about how to potentially frame the discussion around doing ‘work’ on iPads. It isn’t perfect (no analogy is) but the more I thought about it the truer it felt.

Using an iPad for work today is what professionally using a digital camera was when they were new.

While I wasn’t a professional photographer during the transition from film to digital, I was an earnest amateur. Many of the discussions today about the role that an iPad can play in a professional context remind me of the same arguments I watched on bulletin boards back then.

Professional photographers were extraordinarily proficient at using film. They had developed incredible workflows (both in camera and in darkroom) for handling film. The results they could get from film were initially objectively better than with the digital cameras of the time. Yet, over time digital overtook the industry and film is now used mostly for novelty rather than benefit.

I have no idea if the iPad (or similar devices) will ever have the same sweeping dominance that digital has over film. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually it did.

David Smith




Introducing Activity++

Today I’m delighted to introduce the next member of my ++ health and fitness app family, Activity++.

Ever since I first got my Apple Watch I have really loved its concept of activity tracking. It breaks down your overall activity level into three measures:

  • Move (active calories)
  • Exercise (minutes of elevated activity)
  • Stand (hours each day where you stood).

It then presents these to you as three rings that you try to close (by hitting your goal) each day.

This concept is great but I’ve always found the actual implementation to miss for me. So when iOS 9.3 introduced the ability for 3rd party developers to access all three of the activity data types I got really excited to finally implement my own personal take on how this data should be displayed. The result is Activity++.

The iPhone App

The iPhone component of Activity++ is geared around trying to create the most motivating interface I could imagine. My goal is to make screen that displays your activity data in a way that drives you to hit your goals.

I wanted to try and get away from it being just a historical record and instead be a tool to help you get healthier. As such the screen shows a single, consolidated timeline of each day your Apple Watch has recorded your movement. You can easily scroll through and get a sense of how well you are doing. The color and size of the circles make it clear when you reached your goals and when you didn’t quite make it.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a ++ app if it didn’t have confetti to celebrate you reaching your goals. So in Activity++ any time you close one of your activity rings confetti will rain down, hopefully giving you that little bit of extra motivation to do it again tomorrow.

You can also tap on any day to quickly see an expanded, detail view of when you were active.

Tapping the top-right button opens up a statistics view that was something I felt sorely missing from the built-in Activity app. You can see what your average performance is, your best day, the frequency you’ve hit your goal for, your longest streak and a snapshot profile of what a typical day looks like for you. It is fun to see all the data your watch has collected over many months consolidated into a single summary.

Streaks

One thing that always frustrated me about Apple’s Activity app was the way they implemented “achievements”. They provide a collection of medals that you can earn by performing certain fitness related activities or hitting your goals for a certain number of days.

This was great for the first few weeks that I had my Apple Watch but once I had achieved each of these goals the motivation I had received from them fell off dramatically. So instead of taking a medal based approach in Activity++ I instead focus on displaying how long you have kept a streak of goal achievements going for.

I’ve found these streaks to be a much more long-lived motivator. The nice thing about a streak is that you can always start one, just hit your goal two days in a row…and the longer you keep it going the more motivation it tends to provide to keep it going.

The challenge, however, that focusing on streaks created is the desire to want to workout every single day. In my own fitness life I find that to be very problematic, and often leads to injury. In fact I found this to be very rough when I was trying to get Apple’s “Perfect Month” medal, it just wasn’t good for my body. So I wanted to make sure that Activity++ provided a way to avoid this pitfall.

To address this Activity++ will allow you to take a single day off from reaching your goal, but only once you have reached it for six consecutive days.

These “Rest Days” allow you to take healthy breaks as part of your fitness regime, but still keep the motivation of a long streak going. Because you have to have already reached your goal six times before you are allowed to take a rest day I have found that it is difficult enough to keep a streak going that it feels precious to continue, but not unhealthily challenging.

Complications

Ever since watchOS 2.0 changed the look of the activity ring complications to be colorful I’ve yearned for a way to replace them with my own. I typically use the Utility face and the colors here just feel out of place and distracting.

Similarly I’ve had a “few” gripes about the physical layout and structure of the rings since the Watch was first released. I view my activity data most often through the complication so I want it to be perfect.

That is the standard I’ve strived for in this app. The improvements are as follows:

  1. Monochrome, always.
  2. Never fill something that isn’t actually completed close enough to full that you could accidentally think you’d reached it.
  3. Change, subtly, the colors when they are completed to make it very clear when you hit them.

The result:

Both of the two complications in this image show the same activity data, but the Activity++ one does it in a much clearer way.

Glance and Watch App

In addition to the complications you can also view your activity data on your Apple Watch via either the glance or watch app. These are all geared towards showing you everything you might want to see about your activity data as quickly as possible, so you can put your wrist down and get on with your day. The built-in apps force me to be continuously swiping through pages of data to see what I want.

The glance shows you both your goal progress as well as a detailed view of your activity.

The app itself shows a big detail graph of your daily activity.

Activity++

Activity++ is available now in the App Store. It is $3 (or local equivalent). I really hope you enjoy it and that it will help you to become and remain more active.

David Smith




A Nerd’s Review of the Tesla Model S

This past week saw a wave of excitement around Tesla and their Model 3. I watched all of this with rapt attention as I saw what appears to be the start of the next chapter in personal transportation. It was all doubly compelling to me as someone who recently took ownership of a Model S.

Over the last few months as I’ve gotten to know this marvelous machine it has reenforced my expectation when ordering the vehicle that it was going to be a driving experience unlike anything else I’ve ever had.

This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Model S. I’m sure you can find dozens of far more qualified automotive journalists who have written in greater detail about this car than I ever could. Instead, I’m going to draw on my own background as a lifelong nerd and technology enthusiast to discuss what makes it so compelling to me.

Driving Performance

The car I owned and drove prior to my Model S was a 2005 Toyota Corolla. By no means a sporty or even lively vehicle, but a reliable and sturdy companion that served me well for over a decade. So you can imagine, stepping up into a vehicle with as much performance in one wheel as that Corolla had in all four of its was quite a shock.

I have had the privilege of driving high performance vehicles before so the raw power the Tesla enjoys wasn’t altogether new. What is so striking when driving an electric vehicle, is the way it puts down that power.

Whenever I’ve driven before there was always a sense of drama in acceleration. In my Corolla with it straining to fulfill my direction, in an M5 with it proudly shouting about its ability to perform. In the Model S there is essentially zero drama. It just always has exactly as much power as I want, and lays it down on the road instantly and without fuss.

At first this sometimes felt a bit overwhelming, almost as if I were hammering in a picture hanger with Thor’s hammer. Having to be exceedingly careful to not slip on the pedal and suddenly be going 90. But over time this immediate power is rather intoxicating and reassuring.

The only real analogy I can think of to describe how different this feels is to compare it to SSD hard-drives. SSD hard drives when they came out were ‘worse’ than traditional spinning disks in a wide variety of ways. They were smaller capacity, sometimes had lower maximum throughput and were considerably more expensive. But, from the moment you first used one it completely ruined computers for you. Going back to spinning disks once you have tasted instantaneous delivery feels broken.

It is the same with driving a Tesla. There is essentially no latency in your driving interaction with the car. I’ve often heard car fanatics (especially those who love manual transmissions) describe the feeling of being ‘connected’ to their car as they drive it. That their desire and the car’s ability to deliver it become closely and completely linked. Tesla delivers that experience but without all the training and skill needed to dance with a transmission.

Perhaps most remarkable is how having regenerative braking changes things. Whenever I slide my foot slightly backward on the accelerator the car immediately begins to slow. The subtle difference between having to pull my foot all the way off the accelerator and then depress the brake makes a huge difference in how responsive the car feels to my desires.

Admittedly it took a few weeks to get smooth with it, but now that I have it is delightful. It feels like the car and I are perfectly in tune with each other about how I want it to move.

Charging

For better and worse charging things up has become a near constant part of my life. I charge my phone, my watch, my headphones and now my car. When we first started thinking about moving away from an exploding dinosaur vehicle to an electric one, charging took up most of the space on our concerns list.

Visiting a gas station had become so routine, familiar and expected as to almost feel inevitable. It is what I’ve been doing for the entirety of my driving career and so feels second nature. The thought of instead needing to remember to plug in my car each and every night was admittedly a bit daunting. In the end it has really been a rather boring non-event.

It is now just a simple habit that I am used to. I park the car, get out, walk around to open the door for my kids and on the way almost absentmindedly pull the charger from the wall and plug it in. It’s so unconscious now that I occasionally have moments of puzzlement trying to remember if I did it or not.

What surprised me most around charging was not what it was like to keep a car charged but instead how much it drew my attention to how awful gas stations are. We still have another car that requires increasingly less frequent trips to the gas station. The smell was oppressive and the experience decidedly gross.

Also surprising, was how nice it is to essentially always leave your house with a full ‘tank’. No more rushing out of the house, late for an appointment, only to discover that I have to stop for gas along the way. I had worried that I’d have a constant sense of anxiety about having enough charge, instead I find I think about keeping my vehicle fueled less than I did before.

Road Trips

We have taken our Tesla on 5 long distance road trips so far, the longest being 540 miles roundtrip. The experience of these is undeniably different. In some ways better and in some worse.

First off they now require more thoughtful planning. I can’t just head off onto the open road without a plan, expecting that there will be a gas station at each and every exit off the interstate. Now I need to sit down and think it all through more carefully. Personally I kind of enjoy this, I have a bit of a penchant for spreadsheets and formulas so it isn’t unpleasant work, but it is decidedly more work than I’ve had to do before on trips.

Secondly, the pacing of the trips is necessarily different. There have been road trips in the past when I have, admittedly foolishly, driven for hundreds of miles straight without stopping (usually when the kids were asleep and I feared waking them). This is simply just not an option any more. I am forced to take proper breaks every couple of hours whether I want to or not.

The reasonable part of me thinks this is for the best, that my tendency to push my ability to safely focus on driving beyond what I could do was reckless. This enforced pacing does also have its upsides. I will say that while the trips take longer to complete I arrive feeling noticeably better than before. Previously I’d always arrive home from a long drive feeling mentally and physically drained. Now I feel just slightly stiff from sitting for a few hours straight.

The last difference in driving long distances has to do with how autopilot (discussed in more detail next) changes your interaction with the trip. For long stretches of highway, where autopilot is very confident, your mindset changes away from intense focus and instead towards simple supervision.

The car is doing nearly all the work for you. I don’t (and shouldn’t) trust it enough yet to not continue to pay careful attention to what is going on but it is surprisingly restful to not have to be constantly making dozens of small adjustments and decisions. I suspect this also feeds into the experience of arriving at my destination feeling much less drained.

Autopilot

The Tesla’s autopilot features are mind-bendingly strange at first. There is something profoundly disconcerting about pulling a lever twice and then giving up primary control over a several ton vehicle traveling at 65 miles per hour. While I know intellectually that similar things happen all the time while I travel by air, rail or ship it feels very different to pull that lever myself.

I firmly believe that fully autonomous driving will become typical during my lifetime. It is a strange thought that I may never need to teach my 4 year old daughter how to operate a steering wheel. The experience of control and interaction that driving affords is a big part of what makes it pleasurable rather than just functional. Giving it up will be quite a significant change.

Tesla’s autopilot system is a far reach from truly autonomous driving but also tantalizingly close. It is very competent at typical and routine highway driving. It can hold its speed, adapting to changing traffic conditions. It can keep itself perfectly centered in a lane and on command perform neat, clean lane changes. Closer to home it can park itself with a precision I doubt I’ll ever match.

In its current state I consider myself a better driver than it is. I can anticipate things it can’t yet and make subtle adjustments that it hasn’t quite learned yet.

For example, it disclosed a little maneuver I do while driving that I was unconsciously performing each time someone passed me quickly. Whenever I’d notice a car speeding up in my side view mirror I’d shift slightly to the opposite side of my lane. A small adjustment, but one that leaves a bit more space between us.

It is a small thing for sure, but when I first tried to use autopilot I found I was intuitively pulling on the wheel whenever this happened and nervous because the car didn’t do the same. Instead it keeps itself perfectly centered at all times. I suspect its algorithm will improve over time but was slightly reassured that my 17 years of driving experience has led to some advanced skills it hasn’t quite matched yet.

As with everything Tesla does, autopilot seems to be getting better each and every software update (which as a side note is amazing…my car is better now than when I bought it, which is quite a thing).

While now I find I rely on autopilot mostly just situationally when having the extra help is useful, I imagine the days where my skill exceeds my car’s will be short-lived. Sadly I don’t get software updates, my driving is probably about as good as it will ever be. Autopilot is bound to catch up.

Connectivity

The last area I wanted to mention was how delightfully fun it is to have a car nearly as geeky as me. All the small things it can do by having a smart computer connected to a persistent internet connection.

Getting a push notification on my phone when my wife plugs in the car upstairs feels like magic. Or being able to check on the charging status when I’m thousands of miles away, such fun. Lots of these little abilities aren’t necessarily transformative on their own, but they are delightful nevertheless.

That said, I must admit that I find the Tesla app…well. kinda awful. It isn’t even updated for the iPhone 6 screen! (sigh)

But you know what, the joy of having a geeky car is that I can just write my own. Which is exactly what I did. It has been really fun to be able to think through how I would have designed an app for my car and then be able to write it for myself.

I’ve never really been a tinkerer with cars. I’m not the kind of person who can change their own oil. I’ve always really respected and admired those people but it just wasn’t me. It is really fun to finally have a car that I can tinker with. Using an API rather than a socket wrench.

Conclusions

I know and am keenly aware that writing a blog post extolling the virtues of an undeniably expensive car is ripe with peril. I thought long and hard about whether I even should. In the end what made me write this post was the overwhelming excitement I feel about driving it. It genuinely feels like the future. Each time I walk up to it, even months later, it puts a smile on my face.

Watching the Model 3 unveiling last week put an even broader smile. That Elon Musk and company have been able to pull such a marvelous machine into this world by sheer will is genuinely inspiring. I love that their goal in creating this amazing technology wasn’t to keep it reserved for a few, but instead drive earnestly and steadfastly towards making this as broadly accessible as they possibly can.

I’m glad that in some small way my getting this car has helped them change the world. That might sound a bit silly, and it probably is, but such is the effect owning this car has had.

Tesla has made me feel the same way I did about Apple back when the iPhone was introduced. A kind of boyish excitement about watching the future come into existence. Much like I did back then with the iPhone, when I started making apps for the App Store, I love feeling compelled to find what my own contribution to this story might be.

David Smith