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More battery outliers, please

In AnandTech’s great review of the MacBook One,1 the extensive battery-testing graphs were a bit depressing to me — not because of the MacBook’s results, which were roughly what I expected, but because of the relatively stagnant battery-life range covered by Apple’s laptop line.

As batteries and components advance, device designers are able to spend those advancements increasing battery life at a given size and weight, or they can keep battery life in the same range and just make the batteries (and therefore the devices) smaller and lighter. In recent years, Apple has chosen the latter almost every time.

The relentless expenditure of technical progress on ever-diminishing thinness and lightness gains rather than battery life strongly suggests that Apple considers battery life good enough across its major product lines. The result is a homogeneous battery-life range across the lineup.

But, especially if you’re not interested in the aging MacBook Air line and only consider the Retina models (once you go Retina, you never go back), those battery graphs make it clear that battery life isn’t good enough across the board yet to stop pushing it forward as much as possible — especially if your use is closer to the “Heavy Workload” test, which I’d hardly describe as an unusual or truly heavy computational load (web browsing, downloading a large file, and playing a movie in the background), under which no Apple laptop lasted more than 6 hours and no Retina model exceeded 5.

These only truly offer “all-day battery life” if you do very light work all day, and don’t work the long hours typical of today’s disturbingly ubiquitous workaholism-glorifying culture in tech companies… such as Apple.

Design is about making difficult decisions and trade-offs. Longer battery lives would make some of the products thicker and heavier, and not everyone would accept that trade-off. But today, everyone who wants an Apple product needs to accept the opposite: thinness and lightness that some of us didn’t need, at the expense of battery life that many of us could’ve really used.

And the larger-screened MacBook Pros that do have large batteries also come with much more power-hungry CPUs, negating the battery-life difference. The 15-inch MacBook Pro, with the largest battery and ostensibly Apple’s best laptop, has only mediocre battery life, due in part to its larger screen but more because of its quad-core CPUs and (mostly) dual-GPU configurations.2

Imagine some of the options we could have if Apple made a few outliers for people who really wanted them:

These would be less newsworthy and dramatic than the thin-and-light gains on the other products, but a lot of customers would absolutely love them. The “iPhone Extended” and the “13-inch MacBook” could plausibly become the best-sellers in their respective lineups, and I know a lot of people who would jump at the chance to buy one of those 15- or 17-inch options.

It’s great that Apple pushes thin-and-light boundaries so aggressively on many of their products, but I wish it wouldn’t be the only choice they offer on all of their products.


  1. My temporary pet name of “the new MacBook”, since it famously only has one USB port, until its actual name of “MacBook” generally unambiguously refers to this product line. 

  2. The base model of the current 15-inch has only the Intel integrated GPU, an option that Apple has made available in some 15-inch generations. I wish my 2012 model had that option. Discrete mobile GPUs run hot and expensively fail often, and the dual-GPU setup in the 15-inch line is often buggy and causes significantly worse battery life when using certain common apps — most notably including Chrome. If I were buying a new 15-inch laptop today, I’d definitely get the Intel-GPU-only base model. 

Popular movies I haven’t seen in the last 15 years

Whenever anyone asks me about a popular movie, they’re flabbergasted that I haven’t seen it. You’d think they’d learn to just assume I’ve seen nothing, but they haven’t yet.

In an effort to accelerate that, here’s a list of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees and top 10 highest-grossing films for the last 15 years. My “I’ve seen it” ratio starts bad and only gets worse over time. Had I not seen most of the Pixar movies because I have a kid, it would be even worse. (My ratio was pretty good before 2000 because I was in high school and had nothing else to do.)

Key: Seen it, Haven’t seen it

2000

  • Gladiator
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Traffic
  • What Women Want
  • Meet the Parents
  • Chocolat
  • Erin Brockovich
  • Mission: Impossible II
  • Cast Away
  • Dinosaur
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • The Perfect Storm
  • X-Men
  • What Lies Beneath

2001

  • A Beautiful Mind
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • Gosford Park
  • In the Bedroom
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Shrek
  • Pearl Harbor
  • The Mummy Returns
  • Jurassic Park III
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Hannibal

2002

  • Spider-Man
  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  • Men in Black II
  • Die Another Day
  • Minority Report
  • Chicago
  • Gangs of New York
  • The Hours
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
  • The Pianist
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Signs
  • Ice Age
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding

2003

  • Finding Nemo
  • The Matrix Reloaded
  • The Matrix Revolutions
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
  • Lost in Translation
  • Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
  • Mystic River
  • Seabiscuit
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Bruce Almighty
  • The Last Samurai
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
  • X2
  • Bad Boys II

2004

  • The Incredibles
  • Ocean’s Twelve
  • Million Dollar Baby
  • The Aviator
  • Finding Neverland
  • Ray
  • Sideways
  • Shrek 2
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Spider-Man 2
  • The Passion of the Christ
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • Meet the Fockers
  • Troy
  • Shark Tale

2005

  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  • Crash
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Capote
  • Good Night, and Good Luck
  • Munich
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • War of the Worlds
  • King Kong
  • Madagascar
  • Mr. and Mrs. Smith
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • Batman Begins
  • Hitch

2006

  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Casino Royale
  • Cars
  • The Departed
  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • The Queen
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown
  • Night at the Museum
  • X-Men: The Last Stand
  • Mission: Impossible III
  • Superman Returns
  • Happy Feet

2007

  • No Country for Old Men
  • Juno
  • Ratatouille
  • I Am Legend
  • Atonement
  • Michael Clayton
  • There Will Be Blood
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Shrek the Third
  • Transformers
  • The Simpsons Movie
  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets
  • 300

2008

  • The Dark Knight
  • Quantum of Solace
  • WALL-E
  • Slumdog Millionaire
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Frost/Nixon
  • Milk
  • The Reader
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Hancock
  • Mamma Mia!
  • Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
  • Iron Man
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

2009

  • The Hurt Locker
  • Avatar
  • The Blind Side
  • District 9
  • An Education
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • Precious
  • A Serious Man
  • Up
  • Up in the Air
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • 2012
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Angels & Demons
  • The Hangover

2010

  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • The Kings’ Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
  • Shrek Forever After
  • The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
  • Iron Man 2
  • Tangled
  • Despicable Me
  • How to Train Your Dragon

2011

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
  • Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Fast Five
  • The Hangover Part II
  • The Smurfs
  • Cars 2

2012

  • Skyfall
  • Argo
  • Amour
  • Beasts of the Southern WIld
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
  • The Avengers
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Ice Age: Continental Drift
  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
  • The Hunger Games
  • Men in Black 3

2013

  • Monsters University
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Frozen
  • Iron Man 3
  • Despicable Me 2
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • Fast & Furious 6
  • Man of Steel
  • Thor: The Dark World

2014

  • Birdman
  • American Sniper
  • Boyhood
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • The Imitation Game
  • Selma
  • The Theory of Everything
  • Whiplash
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Maleficent
  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • Interstellar

Quick impressions of the new stuff in the Apple Store today, which probably aren’t useful since everyone can just go see for themselves now

The Apple Watch Sport is perfectly fine. I don’t look at it and feel proud that I’m wearing it, but it seems like a good product, and it’s going to sell incredibly well.

The steel Watch is great. I was afraid it’d be too flashy and too heavy, but it’s neither. It makes me happy but doesn’t feel ostentatious.

The Sport band is comfortable at first but got too sweaty for me, and wasn’t very attractive. I also found it very annoying and cumbersome to attach — it seems designed for people with three hands. But if you’re getting a Sport combo to keep costs reasonable, it’ll be good enough, even if you can’t afford a third hand.

The Leather Loop, my original top pick, was disappointing. Due to the embedded magnets, it feels like hard plastic, not soft leather. I also found it annoying to attach and adjust because the links get caught on the loop-back ring.

The Milanese Loop, my preorder, is decent, but not quite what I expected. The mesh is much smaller in real life than it looks in the photos, so it ends up looking and feeling more like silver fabric than woven metal. It’s easier to attach and adjust than the Leather Loop because it doesn’t have discrete segments, but it still took me a few adjustments each time to get the right fit.

I’d been ruling out the leather Classic Buckle because it seemed so primitive and low-end compared to the other options, but it was the most comfortable band on me. It’s much softer than the magnet-infused Leather Loop, and while it won’t win any fashion awards, it doesn’t look bad — just neutral. Attachment is neither cumbersome nor convenient — it works exactly like every other watchband like it. It’s completely forgettable, in mostly good ways.

The Link Bracelet was surprisingly comfortable — definitely more comfortable than the rigid Leather Loop, possibly due to its smoother edges, and maybe even more comfortable than the Milanese. It has by far the fastest and easiest attachment and release, and has my highly desired feature of maintaining its set size between attachments. (Remember, you’re going to be taking the Apple Watch off and putting it on a lot.) I’m unsure of the appearance — I feel like I might be 20 years too young to wear it.

The black Link Bracelet and black steel Watch were almost really cool, but ultimately disappointingly colored. In the brightly-lit glass display table, they look almost tungsten-colored, but in the store’s normal lighting for the try-on, they just looked black. The color reminded me of the black iPhone 5 (not the lighter Space Gray on the 5S) — it reads as black, not dark gray. It’s so dark that it barely looks metallic anymore, losing most of its luster and looking flat and drab. If it was actually a tungsten-like color, it would have been my favorite overall by far, but it’s not.

And the new MacBook is absolutely amazing, revolutionary, and mind-blowing… until you need to use the keyboard for something.

The ducks are always greener

When Casey Liss posted about his switch to DuckDuckGo last month, I switched to it myself and didn’t tell anyone so I could give it an honest try. My principles are only diverging further from Google’s over time, and I feel a bit defeated whenever I turn to them for anything anymore, so I attacked my primary dependence head-on: web search.

In my experience so far, DuckDuckGo’s search is good enough the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, its results are even better than Google’s, and they’re rarely much worse.

The best thing they offer is the !g prefix to direct any given search to Google — but not because Google’s results are better. Being able to quickly try an unhelpful DuckDuckGo search on Google almost always returns equally unhelpful Google results, confirming that the results I got from DuckDuckGo are crappy because web search just sucks these days.

It’s an antidote to grass-is-always-greener syndrome: you immediately see the mediocrity you’re missing and stop doubting your choice.

An iPhone 6 owner lives with the iPhone 6 Plus

After months of ignoring Myke Hurley telling us that the iPhone 6 Plus was great, a bunch of my friends have all tried it recently, and many have converted. See these podcasts:

And these blog posts:

I finally tried the 6 Plus myself as well, having recently taken two trips to the British Isles in the span of a few weeks. I wanted to get a local SIM, and my only unlocked iPhones were my old 5S and the 6 Plus I bought for development and testing that has sat mostly idle for months. I didn’t want the 5S’ worse camera and smaller battery, so I chose the 6 Plus.

The results surprised me.

What’s better about the 6 Plus

This combination makes the 6 Plus unexpectedly awesome for traveling. The battery is so large that you can effectively use GPS and cellular data as much as you want. And you’ll want the best camera available to capture and share photos with all of that battery power, GPS, and data.

I didn’t bring an iPad at all on the trips I spent with the 6 Plus, and I didn’t miss it. There wasn’t a single time when I thought, “I wish I had been carrying 2 pounds worth of an iPad and its accessories all this time so I could do X on a larger screen right now.” (To be fair, I hardly use iPads anymore regardless.)

What’s neutral

Being accustomed to the iPhone 6, the 6 Plus doesn’t feel as huge as it did when it first launched and we were all accustomed to the 4-inch iPhone 5/5S. It stopped feeling huge in my hands within the first few hours of use.

The 6 Plus is indeed worse than the 6 for one-handed use, but not by nearly as much as I expected — both are poorly suited to it.

The 6 Plus also shares the 6’s unfortunate sleep/wake-button placement opposite the volume-up button, which I presume is a victory of visual symmetry over usability. Many months into ownership, I still sometimes accidentally hit both buttons.

Grip is about the same, too. Both lack side-grippability and feel precariously slippery when used without a case, even though I’ve never needed a case for any previous iPhones. The case-edge design (on both models) is so poor that I was very uncomfortable using the iPhone 6 until I got Apple’s leather case a few weeks later. Unsurprisingly, I have the exact same opinion about the 6 Plus: it’s too slippery without a case, but feels great with the Apple leather case.

A common theme among other reviews is that the 6 Plus is a “different kind of device” that inspires a different usage pattern, more like a tiny iPad than a large iPhone, with more two-handed and/or landscape-orientation usage. I haven’t found this to be the case. Maybe that’s because I’ve never been a heavy iPad user, but the 6 Plus doesn’t feel like an iPad or a new kind of device at all to me — it just feels like a huge iPhone.

In fact, the iPad-crossover enhancements mostly annoy me, and I’d disable them if I could. The iPad-style treatment of split-view apps and slide-up modal views in landscape orientation feels cramped and hacky at best — it just feels like a too-small iPad, rather than a too-large iPhone. I’m also constantly rotating the home screen unintentionally, requiring me to use portrait lock regularly for the first time.

What’s worse about the 6 Plus

Having expected huge downsides in grip and one-handed use that simply didn’t materialize, the 6 Plus’ benefits have been almost “free” over the 6. The only significant downside has been the 6 Plus’ physical dimensions.

The biggest problem I’ve hit is that it just feels uncomfortably huge and awkward in my pocket more often than the 6 (which did have this issue sometimes as well, but not as often), and it’s clumsier to insert and remove from pockets.

At first, I didn’t think its pocket size was a problem. But I’ve found myself often taking it out and putting it on the desk or table in front of me, which I’ve never regularly done before. It also feels uncomfortable in my pocket if I’m moving around a lot, and I find myself always trying to slide it to the side of my leg instead of the front.

Two compromised phones

Overall, the 6 Plus is a major compromise, and it never lets you forget that — but so is the 6.

The 6 Plus’ battery life is the biggest advantage to me by far. While that’s a nice (and mostly unadvertised) bonus for the 6 Plus, it’s also a condemnation of the iPhone 6 and Apple’s apparent belief across iPhones, iPads, and Macs that battery life is good enough already and doesn’t need significant improvement.

Apple’s obsession with thinness as the top design priority, spending most of the technical progress that accumulates over time on size reduction rather than increased battery life, is also likely to blame for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ worst design flaw: their slippery sides, which exacerbate their unsuitability for one-handed use. (The tolerable but unfortunate camera bulge is another victim of thinness-above-all-else design priorities.)

Having used an iPhone 6 full-time from its launch until these 6 Plus experiments over the last few weeks, I can confidently say that neither phone is extremely well-designed. Both have nontrivial and completely avoidable flaws. But the 6 Plus has bigger advantages over the other phones, while the 6 seems to sit in a mediocre middle ground.

CGP Grey summarized the difference well in the aforelinked Hello Internet episode: “I am more and more convinced that the iPhone 6 is the phone for nobody; it’s the in-between phone that has all of the disadvantages of both [the 5S and 6 Plus]”.

An iPhone 6 thick enough to have 50% more battery capacity would be a better overall iPhone than the 6 or 6 Plus. The increased thickness required for the battery would likely be more grippable and more usable without a case, and would even eliminate the camera bulge. It would be a bit heavier, but I don’t know a single iPhone 6 owner who wouldn’t accept that trade-off.1

Apple chose not to offer such a device. Instead, today’s iPhone lineup requires that you choose:

I wish we didn’t need to make this choice. But given the options we have, I can see why so many of us are choosing the 6 Plus.

The 6’s relative mediocrity is probably why so many of us are looking around and trying the 6 Plus — which shares many of the same design flaws, but provides more substantial advantages. I’d still rather use an iPhone 6 than a non-iPhone, and the larger screen and better camera have spoiled me enough that I don’t want to go back to the 5S, but I don’t think anyone will look back fondly on the iPhone 6 in a few years. Ultimately, beyond any particular feature concerns or battery capacities, I hope the next iPhone doesn’t have as many physical design and usability flaws as the 6 series.

In the meantime, I might stick with the 6 Plus. It’s probably easier to buy pants with bigger pockets than to convince Apple that a bigger battery is a more welcome improvement on the next mid-sized iPhone than an extra millimeter of thinness.


  1. Third-party iPhone batteries and battery-cases can approximate this ideal device, but only poorly. Battery packs are great for travel but extremely clunky for daily use. Battery cases are better, but even the thinnest cases require much more bulk to deliver a given battery capacity than simply building it into the phone. And personally, I find them all hideous in pocketability, operation, and appearance. 

Censoring myself for Apple

In his widely circulated “Fear of Apple” post, Eli Schiff accuses iOS developers of withholding criticism of Apple or censoring themselves to stay on Apple’s good side, prominently including and citing me.

I’ve heard from quite a few people who think my Functional High Ground article and my regretful follow-up indicate that I’m censoring myself for Apple’s benefit, afraid of getting on their bad side. This is a profound misinterpretation and misrepresentation of what I actually wrote and feel.

As anyone who’s read my site and listened to our podcast for a while would know, I criticize Apple all the time. A developer’s view of their computing platform and software distribution partner is like any developer’s view of their programming language of choice: if you don’t think there are any major shortcomings, you just don’t know it well enough yet.

No sensible developer should be worried about angering “Apple” by fairly expressing legitimate criticism.

There is no single “Apple” to anger, as the company comprises thousands of people across many different departments, all of whom can think for themselves. I’m sure some of them can’t take criticism well and may be vindictive — any large group of people will contain almost every personality type — but that’s not the attitude of any of the Apple people I’ve interacted with.

Quite the contrary, actually: every Apple employee I’ve spoken with has not only been receptive of criticism, but has practically begged for honest feedback from developers. The idea that you’d be penalized in the App Store for being critical of Apple on your blog is ridiculous and untrue.

Apple employees are also humans, Apple users, and often former or future independent app developers. Chances are very good that any criticism we have is also being criticized and debated inside Apple. Employees can only exert so much influence inside the company, and they need people like us to blog publicly about important issues to help convince the higher-ups to change policies or reallocate resources. One of the reasons I don’t expect to ever take a job at Apple is that I believe I can be more effective from the outside.

The reason I regretted publishing the Higher Ground post isn’t that I criticized Apple — it’s that I wrote it poorly by my standards, then my sloppy work spread like wildfire far beyond anything I’d ever written, with my name used to fuel a hamfisted and misleading narrative about Apple that I don’t really believe. I thought I’d made that clear, but apparently not.

My words on this site sometimes, and unpredictably, have a sizable influence, which is both flattering and terrifying. If I write something critical, there’s a decent chance that the people whose work I’m criticizing will see what I wrote and be hurt or offended by it. That doesn’t make me afraid to criticize anyone, but it demands that I choose my words very carefully to ensure that I’m making a solid, fair argument.

The Future of the Dumbwatch

A common theory among existing watch manufacturers and watch owners, exemplified by TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver, is that the Apple Watch not only won’t hurt the existing high-end watch market, but will probably even help it:

“Apple will get young people used to wearing a watch and later maybe they will want to buy themselves a real watch.” …

Biver added that the Apple Watch will ignite a mass interest in the watch market when it is released in 24 April, benefiting traditional watch brands in addition to those with smart devices.

It’s a pretty optimistic take. That’s via John Gruber, who added:

This is how watch collecting works. You get hooked, and start buying more watches. And then you choose between them based on your mood or the occasion.

That’s how watches have worked to date, but I think that time is over for a big chunk of the market.

People will keep buying dumbwatches, and people who don’t buy dumbwatches will buy the Apple Watch. The big question is whether the people who buy dumbwatches and the Apple Watch will continue wearing and buying dumbwatches for very long.

Apple Watch Buyers ? Other Watch Buyers

The Apple Watch isn’t just a watch, interchangeable like any other. It’s an entire mobile computing and communication platform, and a significant enhancement to the smartphone, which is probably the most successful, ubiquitous, and disruptive electronic device in history.

Once you’re accustomed to wearing one, going out for a night without your Apple Watch is going to feel like going out without your phone.

I suspect smartwatches will be a one-way move for most of their owners, and most people won’t wear two watches at once. The iPod didn’t make people appreciate portable music enough to buy a Discman for the weekends, and the iPhone didn’t ignite interest in flip-phones or PDAs.

Some people will always want to own and wear traditional watches, but they’ll only become more of a niche, not a growing market. People will buy whichever kind of smartwatch works with their phone platform — iPhone owners will get Apple Watches, and Android owners will get Pebbles or Android Wear watches — and then, most of them will be effectively removed from the traditional watch world from that point forward.

The dumbwatch industry’s best hopes are either their own successful lines of Android Wear watches, or praying that the overlap between their customers and smartwatch buyers doesn’t get very big.

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