Adonis Diaries

Archive for April 12th, 2015



Female Game Developer: Self-Taught mother Reine Abbas from Lebanon

Taking the industry by storm?

When you think of the tech boom, the Arab world doesn’t necessarily first come to mind.

You think of Silicon Valley, or a the most Silicon Beach, aka Santa Monica.

But despite the majority of media portrayals of that part of the world, Arab countries are making their mark in the technology field in significant ways.

But it’s not just certain regions that are dispelling myths, it is also a certain gender.

Traditionally the tech and gaming industries have been dominated by men.

But in more recent years the gender balance has changed drastically and the industry has seen a huge influx of women gamers as well as developers.

Self-Taught Female Game Developer From Lebanon Taking The Industry By Storm


A recent report from the UK states that more women play games than men in that country.

In the US women are now at 48% of the game-playing population. What does this mean for developers? It means they need to be able to create games that cater to half their audience, where as before women were only seen as a niche market.

While female game developers have had a tough time in the limelight recently with the whole Gamergate scandal, if anything it has proven the ugly truth about this industry: that it needs more women in order for their presence not to be so polarizing and controversial.

A 2014 report showed that women make up 22% of game developers worldwide, a figure that has doubled since 2009. If the trend is anything to go by, this number is only going to increase.

One woman who has been quietly going under the radar of mainstream media for a while now is game developer Reine Abbas.

And yes, she is female game developer. She is from Lebanon, and is considered one of the top 5 most powerful women in gaming according to

Together with two founding partners she created Wixel Studios in 2008 which has since seen the launch of several successful video games. Wixel Studios is also one of Lebanon’s first gaming companies.

One of their more recent games is ‘Survival Race: Life or Power Plants’, available for iOS and Android, and centers on a post-global warming Middle East with two unlikely Arab heroes: Salem, the young Saudi wheelie stunt champion and Abu Ahmad, a middle-aged botanist.

Another game called ‘Little Heroes, Big Deeds’ is an “edutainment” tool for children.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Reine says she didn’t like the disproportionate amount of women not being represented in the gaming world and decided to change that.

The visual artist and self-taught developer said “I thought to myself, ‘I don’t like these numbers’.”

“Lots of people say women don’t step forward, we don’t attend meetings, we get scared, we get married and have kids,” she said.

“[But] we weren’t born like that. For me, and according to studies, it’s how girls are raised.”

She says the culture in many Arab countries gives social cues to girls from an early age to disengage with any activity that requires critical thinking.


“Most of the activities belonging to girls are boring, they’re not challenging. Boys are pushed toward activities where they have to get their brain working,” the mother of 3 said.

Reine believes one of the root problems is that many educational toys have a bias toward boys which is part of the reason the tech field is male-dominated today.

Thank goodness for toy companies like Goldieblox and initiatives like Girls Who Code which are working to change the ratio.

“I was in a park [once],” Reine recalled to Al Arabiya. “There was a mother and a little girl. The girl was climbing a small tree, then the mother yelled, ‘get down! You’re a girl! You can’t climb a tree.’ I wanted to tell her, ‘you can’t tell her this. What do you want her to do, play around with make up all day?”

She is doing her part to range the ratio for her community, by offering workshops and speaking at conferences to urge more mothers to allow their daughters to get interested in tech and gaming.

“One mother, with two girls – they’re great, very smart, good at physics – I asked her to send them to our workshop on gaming. “She said no, then I told her it’s for free. ‘No, even if it’s free, they have their ballet classes’.”

So far she has given talks in Tunisia and will be traveling to Germany to give more.

One of the biggest ways she challenged the men who work with her was by showing them she could have children and still run a successful company.

“It wasn’t easy for them to see me pregnant. They thought, ‘she’s in pain, maybe she’ll stop work’. I saw it with the clients. Their eyes would get bigger. It was challenging, sometimes frustrating to prove that you can do it. You have to make double the effort to show that you can do both.”

Overall her partners were supportive of her and they managed to make it work.

Her somewhat revolutionary mindset in her career was reflected in a TEDx Talk she gave in 2011 where she spoke about a video game her and her husband created which stopped a violent street conflict in its tracks.

They were driving in a strife-ridden area and were trapped by burning cars from all sides at one point. Their obvious choices were to either fight with the angry men on the streets or fight against them.

They chose a third option, and that was to create a video game for these men called Duma.

What happened next might surprise you, but after hearing her speak (be sure to click the Closed Captioning tab) you will understand why this woman is a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world and is representative of a generation of women not afraid to defeat the odds when it comes to doing something they love.

Joanna Choukeir Hojeily and Patsy Z shared this link on FB this April 12, 2015.
Self-Taught Female Game Developer From Lebanon Taking The Industry By Storm.
Reine Abbas is considered one of the top 5 most important women in…


Math forever? How can you start loving math?

Imagine you’re in a bar, or a club, and you start talking to a woman, and after a while this question comes up: “So, what do you do for work?”  (The most dreaded question I expect in a casual conversation)

And since you think your job is interesting, you say: “I’m a mathematician.” (Laughter)

Then 33.51% of women, in that moment, pretend to get an urgent call and leave.

And 64.69% of women desperately try to change the subject and leave.

Another 0.8%, probably your cousin, your girlfriend and your mom, know that you work in something weird but don’t remember what it is. (Laughter)

And then there’s  1% who remain engaged with the conversation.

And inevitably, during that conversation one of these two phrases come up:

A) “I was terrible at math, but it wasn’t my fault. It’s because the teacher was awful.” Or

B) “But what is math really for?”

I’ll now address Case B.

When someone asks you what math is for, they’re not asking you about applications of mathematical science.

They’re asking you, why did I have to study that bullshit I never used in my life again

That’s what they’re actually asking. So when mathematicians are asked what math is for, they tend to fall into two groups:

1. 54.51% of mathematicians will assume an attacking position, and

2. 44.77% of mathematicians will take a defensive position.

There’s a strange 0.8%, among which I include myself.

Who are the ones that attack? The attacking ones are mathematicians who would tell you this question makes no sense, because mathematics have a meaning all their own a beautiful edifice with its own logic — and that there’s no point in constantly searching for all possible applications.

What’s the use of poetry? What’s the use of love? What’s the use of life itself? What kind of question is that?

Hardy, for instance, was a model of this type of attack. And those who stand in defense tell you, Even if you don’t realize it, math is behind everything.” (Laughter)

Those guys, they always bring up bridges and computers. “If you don’t know math, your bridge will collapse.”

It’s true, computers are all about math. And now these guys have also started saying that behind information security and credit cards are prime numbers.

These are the answers your math teacher would give you if you asked him. He’s one of the defensive ones.

Okay, but who’s right then?

Those who say that math doesn’t need to have a purpose, or those who say that math is behind everything we do?

Actually, both are right.

But remember I told you I belong to that strange 0.8 percent claiming something else? So, go ahead, ask me what math is for. Audience: What is math for?

Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón: Okay, 76.34% of you asked the question, 23.41 percent didn’t say anything, and the 0.8 percent — I’m not sure what those guys are doing.

Well, to my dear 76.31% — it’s true that math doesn’t need to serve a purpose, it’s true that it’s a beautiful structure, a logical one, probably one of the greatest collective efforts ever achieved in human history.

But it’s also true that there, where scientists and technicians are looking for mathematical theories that allow them to advance, they’re within the structure of math, which permeates everything.

It’s true that we have to go somewhat deeper, to see what’s behind science.

Science operates on intuition, creativity. Math controls intuition and tames creativity.

Almost everyone who hasn’t heard this before is surprised when they hear that if you take a 0.1 millimeter thick sheet of paper, the size we normally use, and, if it were big enough, fold it 50 times, its thickness would extend almost the distance from the Earth to the sun.

Your intuition tells you it’s impossible. Do the math and you’ll see it’s right. That’s what math is for.

It’s true that science, all types of science, only makes sense because it makes us better understand this beautiful world we live in.

And in doing that, it helps us avoid the pitfalls of this painful world we live in. There are sciences that help us in this way quite directly.

Oncological science, for example. And there are others we look at from afar, with envy sometimes, but knowing that we are what supports them.

All the basic sciences support them, including math. All that makes science, science is the rigor of math. And that rigor factors in because its results are eternal.

You probably said or were told at some point that diamonds are forever, right? That depends on your definition of forever!

A theorem — that really is forever. (Laughter) The Pythagorean theorem is still true even though Pythagoras is dead, I assure you it’s true. 

Even if the world collapsed the Pythagorean theorem would still be true. Wherever any two triangle sides and a good hypotenuse get together the Pythagorean theorem goes all out. It works like crazy.

Well, we mathematicians devote ourselves to come up with theorems. Eternal truths.

But it isn’t always easy to know the difference between an eternal truth, or theorem, and a mere conjecture. You need proof.

For example, let’s say I have a big, enormous, infinite field. I want to cover it with equal pieces, without leaving any gaps. I could use squares, right? I could use triangles. Not circles, those leave little gaps. Which is the best shape to use?

One that covers the same surface, but has a smaller border.

In the year 300, Pappus of Alexandria said the best is to use hexagons, just like bees do. But he didn’t prove it. The guy said, “Hexagons, great! Let’s go with hexagons!” He didn’t prove it, it remained a conjecture.

“Hexagons!” And the world, as you know, split into Pappists and anti-Pappists, until 1700 years later when in 1999, Thomas Hales proved that Pappus and the bees were right — the best shape to use was the hexagon. And that became a theorem, the honeycomb theorem, that will be true forever and ever, for longer than any diamond you may have. 

But what happens if we go to 3 dimensions?

If I want to fill the space with equal pieces, without leaving any gaps, I can use cubes, right? Not spheres, those leave little gaps. 

What is the best shape to use? Lord Kelvin, of the famous Kelvin degrees and all, said that the best was to use a truncated octahedron which, as you all know — (Laughter) — is this thing here!

Come on. Who doesn’t have a truncated octahedron at home? (Laughter) Even a plastic one.

“Honey, get the truncated octahedron, we’re having guests.” Everybody has one!  But Kelvin didn’t prove it. It remained a conjecture — Kelvin’s conjecture.

The world, as you know, then split into Kelvinists and anti-Kelvinists (Laughter) until a hundred or so years later, someone found a better structure.

Weaire and Phelan found this little thing over here, this structure to which they gave the very clever name “the Weaire-€“Phelan structure.”

It looks like a strange object, but it isn’t so strange, it also exists in nature. It’s very interesting that this structure, because of its geometric properties, was used to build the Aquatics Center for the Beijing Olympic Games.

There, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, and became the best swimmer of all time. Well, until someone better comes along, right?

As may happen with the Weaire-€“Phelan structure. It’s the best until something better shows up.

But be careful, because this one really stands a chance that in a hundred or so years, or even if it’s in 1700 years, that someone proves it’s the best possible shape for the job. It will then become a theorem, a truth, forever and ever. For longer than any diamond.

So, if you want to tell someone that you will love them forever you can give them a diamond. But if you want to tell them that you’ll love them forever and ever, give them a theorem! (Laughter)

But hang on a minute! You’ll have to prove it, so your love doesn’t remain a conjecture.

Reine Azzi shared this link on FB

For the love of math (I sucked at it) in Spanish with English subtitles.

With humor and charm, mathematician Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón answers a question that’s wracked the brains of bored students the world over: What is math for?
He shows the beauty of math as the backbone of science — and shows that…|By Eduardo Sáenz de Cabezón


Reviewing the Apple Watch: After a week of wearing it:  The Verge score 7

The Apple Watch is an extraordinarily small and personal device.

It is designed to participate in nearly every moment of your day, but almost never directly interact with anyone else. It knows when you’re wearing it. You can talk to it. You can poke it — and it can poke back.

Every so often, the Apple Watch thinks about your heartbeat.

But the Apple Watch is also an enormous device.

It’s the first entirely new Apple product in 5 years, and the first Apple product developed after the death of Steve Jobs.

It’s full of new hardware, new software, and entirely new ideas about how the worlds of fashion and technology should intersect.

It’s also the first smartwatch that might legitimately become a mainstream product, even as competitors flood the market.

Apple has the marketing prowess, the retail store network, and the sheer determination to actually make this thing happen.

It just has to answer one question: would you actually use the Apple Watch instead of your phone?

Let’s just get this out of the way: the Apple Watch, as I reviewed it for the past week and a half, is kind of slow.

There’s no getting around it, no way to talk about all of its interface ideas and obvious potential and hints of genius without noting that sometimes it stutters loading notifications.

Sometimes pulling location information and data from your iPhone over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi takes a long time.

Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all.

Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back.

Apple tells me that upcoming software updates will address these performance issues, but for right now, they’re there, and they’re what I’ve been thinking about every morning as I get ready for work.

Wearing a smartwatch like the Apple Watch is a far deeper commitment than carrying a smartphone in your pocket; you are literally putting the technology on your body and allowing it to touch and measure you while you display it to the rest of the world.

Committing to technology that’s a little slow to respond to you is dicey at best, especially when it’s supposed to step in for your phone.

If the Watch is slow, I’m going to pull out my phone. But if I keep pulling out my phone, I’ll never use the Watch. So I have resolved to wait it out.

I’m putting my phone in my pocket and this Watch on my wrist, and we’re taking this trip together.

These mornings have been full of self-reflection, moody contemplation as I gather my screens of all sizes and pack them in a bag, work alerts flashing across an array of devices that are all less important than my phone.

I love my phone. Everyone loves their phone.

The only real question a smartwatch like the Apple Watch needs to answer is “why would I use this instead of my phone?”

The answers so far haven’t been apparent; the Watch seems like it can do a little bit of everything instead of one thing really well.

So I’m putting my phone in my pocket and this Watch on my wrist, and we’re taking this trip together.

We are going to need more coffee.

As an object, it makes sense that the Watch is not nearly as cold and minimal as Apple’s recent phones and tablets and laptops.

It has to be warmer, cozier. It has to invite you to touch it and take it with you all the time.

Take the bands off and it’s a little miracle of technology and engineering and manufacturing, a dense package containing more sensors and processing power than anyone could have even dreamed a few decades ago.

It’s a supercomputer on your wrist, but it’s also a bulbous, friendly little thing, far more round than I expected, recalling nothing quite so much as the first-generation iPhone.

It is unbelievably high tech and a little bit silly, a masterpiece of engineering with a Mickey Mouse face. It is quintessentially Apple.

It’s also surprisingly heavy. I noticed when I was wearing it, and everyone who held it commented on the weight.

That might simply be a function of how unfamiliar watches have become; my stainless steel Apple Watch with leather loop band weighs 2.9 ounces, which is more than my plastic Nixon’s 1.7 ounces or the 1.8-ounce Moto 360, but much less than my 5-ounce Baume and Mercier.

All in all, the Apple Watch isn’t light enough to fade away, but it’s also not so heavy that it’s a distraction.

On the right side of the Watch you’ll find the Digital Crown scroll wheel and a dedicated button (the official name is just “side button”) that opens your favorite list with one tap and activates Apple Pay with two taps. This side button is extraordinarily confusing — it looks and feels so much like an iPhone sleep / wake button that I still hit it to turn the screen on and off, even though I know I’m doing the wrong thing.

On the back of the Watch, there’s a slight dome that holds the optical heart rate sensor and the inductive charging system.

You’ll also find a pair of buttons that release the watchbands. They’re flush with the case but relatively easy to depress, and the bands slide right out. You can make the Watch work in basically any orientation you’d like by flipping the screen with a setting in the iPhone app — a boon for the left-handed. It’s a fairly simple system, so expect to see tons of third-party Watch bands; Apple says it has no problem with that.

Apple Pay is my favorite feature on the Watch.

Apple gave me three bands to play with: the leather loop, the Milanese loop, and the white sport band.

I mostly stuck with the leather loop, which feels more like plastic than leather but which I found super comfortable because it was so easy to readjust throughout the day. The white sport band basically felt like any other plastic band I’ve worn. I felt ridiculous wearing the Milanese Loop, so I didn’t.

The face of the Watch curves up off the sides, leaving a noticeable air gap above the display underneath. But besides that small complaint, the display is simply terrific. It carries the same Retina branding as the iPhone display and it delivers, with imperceptible pixels and inky blacks that allow the screen to blend right into the curved sides of the glass.

It’s easily the best smartwatch display on the market, and it would be unassailable if not for the air gap. It’s light-years beyond everything else.

The back of the Watch is arguably more beautiful than the front.

On Your Wrist

Once you actually start living with the Watch, it quickly becomes clear that there are 3 main ways to actually use the thing: the watch face, the app launcher, and the communications app.

Apple is insistent that one of the main functions of the Watch is simply to be a great watch, so when you raise your wrist, you’ll see the time by default, just like a regular watch.

The lone exception out of the box is the workout app, which Apple says is “sticky” so people can check their exercise stats quickly at the gym.

In the first of many moments where the Watch felt underpowered, I found that the screen lit up a couple of ticks too slowly: I’d raise my wrist, wait a beat, and then the screen would turn on.

This sounds like a minor quibble, but in the context of a watch you’re glancing at dozens of times a day, it’s quickly distracting. Other smartwatches like the Pebble and the LG G Watch R simply leave their screens on all the time; having a screen that constantly flips on and off is definitely behind the curve.

Telling Time

The main watch face really is a complete self-contained experience: if the Apple Watch had no other functionality except for what you can do from the watch face, it would still be competitive.

Customizing the watch Face is the first time you’ll use Force Touch: you push a little bit harder on the screen, and you can swipe between Apple’s selection of watch face templates, each of which can be customized and saved as individual variations.

Most of the templates are minor riffs on the same basic analog watch, but others are very strange indeed, like the animated butterfly and jellyfish.

There’s no particularly great digital face, and there’s no ability to load up your own watch faces or buy new ones from the store, which is a clearly missed opportunity.

If the Apple Watch had no other functionality except for what you can do from the watch face, it would still be competitive.

The Watch app is literally the most central experience on the Watch — you can rearrange every app icon on the homescreen except the Watch icon, which is always in the middle. What’s fascinating and somewhat confusing is that so many of the Watch’s core abilities are only in the Watch app, so interface ideas you learn there don’t work anywhere else.

For example, the Watch app is the only place to access notifications after they appear. Notifications are the most important part of any smartwatch experience, but on the Apple Watch you can only swipe down to see your notifications when you’re on the watch face.

Once you click the Digital Crown and open the app launcher, the notification drawer goes away entirely and swiping down does nothing. Same with Glances, which are essentially single-screen status updates from various apps you access by swiping up from the Watch app.

They’re a major piece of the Watch experience, but they disappear everywhere else in the operating system. These are radically different interface patterns than iOS, where you can access the notification center and control center from virtually everywhere, and it makes navigating the Watch interface more confusing until you get it.

The Law of Wearable Success

In order to be successful, any given piece of wearable technology has to be useful the entire time it’s on your body.

Prescription glasses sit on your face, but improve your vision all the time, so they’re successful.

Sunglasses sit on your face and make you look cooler all the time, so they’re successful.

Google Glass sits on your face, but mostly does nothing, so it’s a failure. It’s a simple formula.

Understanding that the Watch app is an entire primary experience unto itself is the key to understanding what happens when you press either of the buttons on the side of the Watch — they launch the other two main Watch experiences.

Pressing the side button takes you to a totally unique contacts screen, which is where you send the ephemeral Digital Touch messages. Clicking the Digital Crown on the watch face opens the honeycomb app launcher, which is where you can open the various other apps on the Watch.

All of this sounds complex, but you’re not really supposed to use it all at once — the aim is for the Watch to shine in 10- 15-second burst throughout the day, not in extended usage sessions. And that was borne out every morning, because I didn’t have any reason to wear the Watch until I left the house.

I was half-hoping to put on the Watch in the morning and use it instead of my phone, but that didn’t happen.

I grab my phone first thing in the morning and use it nonstop to prepare for the day: I organize my calendar, catch up on The Verge, check Twitter, and bang out replies on Slack and email.

None of this is even possible to do on the Watch.

Apple spent tons of effort and millions of dollars promoting the iPad as a business and creation platform instead of just a consumption machine, but there’s no fighting the tiny display and limited input options of the Watch — this thing is all about quickly glancing at information, not really doing anything with it.

It becomes far more valuable once you’re on the move.

It turns out that I’ve gotten really good at using my phone with one hand while I walk to the train. I’m really good at looking at notifications come in on my phone screen and dismissing them with my thumb, or pressing the volume buttons to turn up the music, or even sending a quick text message with one thumb. I can even do some of that without looking very carefully at what I’m doing, since there’s muscle memory involved.

But you simply can’t one-hand the Apple Watch. It’s the simplest thing, but it’s true: because it’s a tiny screen with a tiny control wheel strapped to your wrist, you have to use both hands to use it, and you have to actually look at it to make sure you’re hitting the right parts of the screen.

You have to carry your coffee cup in your other hand if you’re not interested in spilling on yourself. If you’re like me and you refuse to use both backpack straps so you can be a One Strap Cool Guy, this means your bag will sometimes fall off your shoulder while you screw with your smartwatch, and you will be a No Straps Smartwatch Guy Murdered By NYC Traffic.

Please do not die this way.

The Watch made it a lot easier to keep my phone in my pocket on the walk to the train.

Of course, you can’t one-hand any smartwatch; that’s just part of the deal. But no other smartwatch has this much going on — the Apple Watch literally has buttons and knobs — and no other smartwatch has so many lightly concealed designs on one day becoming a platform as powerful as your phone.

If the existential question for the Apple Watch is “why would I use this instead of my phone?” then the answer almost always has to involve “because it’s more convenient.” That’s sometimes true of the Apple Watch, and sometimes not.

The white sport band is pretty comfortable.

But when it’s more convenient, it’s far more convenient.

I usually spend most of my commute to work with my phone in my hand — listening to music and checking messages as I walk to the train, and reading saved articles on the subway.

The Watch made it a lot easier to keep my phone in my pocket on the walk to the train — I saw notifications coming in on my wrist, and I could control the music apps on my iPhone from the Now Playing Glance on the Watch. The Watch also started tracking my steps and logging my movement into the Activity app, for a pleasant morning jolt of gamified living. So far, so good. But there’s more work to be done here.


Notifications on the Apple Watch work pretty much just like notifications on any other smartwatch: you feel a buzz, you look at your wrist, and it shows you some information.

Apple’s big trick with the Watch is dramatically improved buzzing with what it calls the “Taptic Engine.”

It’s a haptic feedback system that feels wildly different from the fuzzy, cumbersome vibrations of other devices. Apple’s Taptics are more like the Watch tapping your wrist. The taps can come in different patterns and strengths; Apple says the Taptic Engine plays a vibration waveform related to the audio waveform of associated notification sound. Imagine a set of stereo speakers, but the right channel is insistently poking you along with the music.

I muted the sounds. Is there any way to be a worse person than having high-pitched dings alert everyone that you’re about to look at your watch?

If anything, Apple has been underselling the Taptic Engine, and I sort of understand why — you have to feel it to get just how different and powerful of an idea it is.

But it’s also pretty clear that taptics on the Watch are only the first half of a brilliant idea. There are a ton of missing pieces that need to get filled in before the Taptic Engine lives up to its potential.

It’s also pretty clear that taptics on the Watch are only the first half of a brilliant idea.

First, the Taptic notifications are fairly weak and fairly short — if the audio alert is a beep, you’ll get one insistent poke and that’s it. They’re easy to miss.

To counter this, Apple’s built a setting called “prominent haptics,” which basically revs the engine at full speed like a more traditional vibration to get your attention before playing the far more subtle Taptic notification. It’s the haptic equivalent of having an assistant blow a reggaeton horn before discreetly handing you a note in a meeting.

But the biggest missed opportunity is that there’s no way to customize the notification sounds and Taptics on the Watch. I couldn’t set a different alert for messages than for mail or calendar invites; they all just sort of felt the same.

Without this ability, the Taptic Engine is just a small improvement over existing smartwatches. Let me create and set my own notifications, and it’s a revolution.

Getting notifications on the way to work also highlighted a key issue that the Apple Watch shares with Google’s Android Wear: you have to be really bought into a single ecosystem for everything to work well out of the box.

If you’re not a believer in all of Apple’s apps and services, the Apple Watch is going to be a little frustrating until developers build more support for it.

For example, it’s easy to send iMessages from the Watch, but there’s no way to use WhatsApp or Hangouts.

I spend a huge part of my day in Slack; it’s somewhat useful to know people are mentioning you in a chat room because of taps on your wrist, but it would be much better if you could actually do something about it. There’s a lot of work left to be done here.

You customize which notifications you receive in the Apple Watch app on your phone, which is a complicated affair. There’s not a lot of intelligence or customization: apps that have been updated to support the Watch will let you either mirror your iPhone or set up Watch-specific settings, while older apps just let you turn notifications on and off.

There’s no master switch to turn all notifications on and off, which is a huge pain. Like every smartwatch vendor, Apple needs to put a lot more thought into which notifications it’s showing you and why.


I’ll just be super blunt about the music app on the Apple Watch: it’s not as good as wearing an old iPod nano on your wrist.

Remember when turning sixth-generation iPods into watches was a thing? That nano did a great job of displaying a lot of music information on a tiny screen, and the Apple Watch does not.

Song and album titles get cut off in lists and on the Now Playing Screen, album art isn’t as big, there’s no ability to sync podcasts, and on and on.

It does a fine job of controlling an iPhone, but as a dedicated music player it leaves a lot to be desired.


Glances also feel like they have enormous untapped potential.

A Glance is just a status screen for an app on your phone, much like the app widgets on the Today screen of an iPhone. You swipe up from the bottom of the watch face to access Glances, and then swipe horizontally through the Glances you have installed.

Apple says Glances are “real time,” but they’re not — opening a Glance kicks off an update cycle, which usually means it’s pulling data from your phone. The updates don’t take long — unless the Watch is trying to grab your location, which always takes forever — but the delay means you can’t just bang through Glances to see everything that’s going on.

The Twitter Glance is set to display top trends, but by the time it loads I could have pulled out my phone.

Transit is set to show me the nearest mass transit options, but it takes so long to find my location I… could have just pulled out my phone. This is a theme.

If you don’t have Bluetooth headphones connected, picking a song stored locally on the Apple Watch kicks off playback on your iPhone. Clever!

All of this will presumably get solved, of course — third parties just have to build in support for the Watch and figure out how to best use these features.

But that will take time, and the Watch needs to sell in numbers that will justify that investment for the long tail of apps. And there’s a real chance the solution is just a faster processor that uses less power in next year’s Watch. Moore’s Law tends to solve a lot of problems like that.

Apple Pay

But when all those pieces fall into place, it’s incredible. Apple Pay is my favorite part of the entire Watch, a little blast from the future.

Paying for coffee at The Café Grind in Manhattan involved nothing more than double-clicking the communications button on the Watch and holding my wrist over the terminal; it beeped and the payment processed instantly.

Paying with the Watch is even faster than paying with an iPhone, since it doesn’t have to read your fingerprint: it’s ready to go anytime after you put it on your wrist and unlock your phone with your fingerprint.

I love using Apple Pay with my phone, but it’s even better with the Watch, some mild contortions to line it up with payment terminals aside. (facilitating payment. How could we facilitate income?)

Apple Pay remains a shining example of what Apple is able to do when it has complete control over hardware, software, and services.

I’m really eager for The Verge to collaborate more with Racked, our sister site that covers fashion and shopping.

Ultimately both of our sites are about trends and consumerism, and the crossover from fashion into tech and back again is definitely real — that’s what the Apple Watch is all about. So I hijacked a meeting to talk about potential crossover ideas and talked about the Watch with Izzy Grinspan, Nicola Fumo, Julia Rubin, and Callia Hargrove instead.

What’s most interesting to me about their reaction to the Watch as a hardware object is how much it still comes off as a gadget, despite Apple’s best efforts to make it a luxury item.

It’s still a screen; it’s still a bunch of radios; it’s still technology.

They were hyper-critical of the materials and finishes, particularly the leather loop, and it was incredibly obvious that while a little bit of design goes a long way in the tech world, it’s going to take a lot more time and a lot more work to play in the fashion game.

Around lunchtime, I’m usually running around the office at full speed: quick story updates, watching videos we have in the works, calls with our editors in other locations, talking to other teams around the company on projects we’re doing together.

I generally leave my laptop at my desk and try not to look at my phone while I do this so I can focus on the people I’m talking to, but that also means I’m ignoring a bunch of other people who are sending me notes.

The Watch helps with this — as long as you’re using Apple’s messaging apps, it lets you send quick messages and replies right from your wrist.

Texting and iMessage are the easiest to use, since that’s the most universal network the Watch is connected to: you reply to texts using canned replies, dicate a message with Siri, or send emojis.

The canned choices are supposed to be smart: the Watch reads your texts and tries to figure out appropriate replies automatically.

Unfortunately, this only seems to work well if the people texting you write complete questions with the answers embedded, like they’re defense attorneys leading an aggressive cross-examination of a hostile witness. “Do you want Mexican or Chinese for dinner?” will trigger useful smart replies, but if you mostly text with vague lolspeakers like me, you’re going to get a bunch of suggestions that make it seem like you’re pushing off real answers because you’re busy cheating on your wife.

Happily, you can change the defaults.


You can also dictate a message with Siri, but Siri on the Watch suffers from the same performance-related issues as everything else that requires a data connection to your phone and can be a little slow to respond.

It’s also extremely susceptible to background noise: I tried to text a friend in the office, and Siri picked up Sam Sheffer’s voice from across the room.

In a coffee shop, it was thwarted by the background music. I also never really got the raise-your-wrist-and-say-Hey-Siri move to work, mostly because it only really works after the screen flips on, and the screen delay wrecked my timing.

When Siri did work, it was for the small stuff Siri is generally good at, like converting units in the kitchen or setting a timer. Anything more complicated generally resulted in Siri prompting me to use my iPhone.


You can also send emojis to people using the Watch, which is a decidedly mixed affair.

Picking the emoji selector opens a four-panel interface, with a long list of the standard emoji on the fourth screen.

The first 3 screens are Apple’s own custom emoji, and they are… well, they’re super creepy. You’ve got a smiley face, a heart that explodes into other hearts, and what appears to be the disembodied hand of a mime, and you use the Digital Crown to smoothly transition these figures between their various states of emotional distress.

These are the thirstiest emoji in history. I keep sending people a crying smiley face with its tongue hanging out just to see who my real friends are and who will call the police.

A selection of passive-aggressive smart replies:

  • I’m on my way
  • Sorry, I can’t talk right now
  • Can I call you later?
  • Talk later?
  • Can’t talk now…
  • Hold on a sec
  • Call you soon
  • Text you in a bit

I don’t know why Apple picked just these three emoji things, or if there will be more, but I do know they are super weird, and render as animated GIFs when you send them. Super weird animated GIFs that look like Facebook stickers.

Digital Touch

Lastly, there’s Digital Touch, which Apple has been promoting as a key communication feature of the Watch. There’s no icon for Digital Touch on the homescreen, though.

The only way to access it is to click the side button to open the favorites screen, then pick a friend who has an Apple Watch.

Digital Touch will show up under their name as a small finger icon. You can send taps, draw small pictures, and the thumps of your heartbeat by holding two fingers on the screen for a few seconds.

There’s no send button — you just do whatever you’re going to do, and the messages fly off into the ether.

Digital Touch is remarkably small-time.

But here’s the thing — it doesn’t happen in real time. I had assumed that sending a heartbeat meant that my recipient would just start feeling my heart on their wrist like some sort of cosmic love connection, but that’s not how it works.

Instead, you get a regular notification which sends you into the Digital Touch canvas, where the message plays back: the taps come through, the drawings draw themselves, the heartbeats beat. A small button in the upper right fast-forwards to the end if you’re impatient, and when the message is done playing, it’s gone forever, Snapchat-style. Poof.

It’s all remarkably small-time. It’s cute, but it’s a weird thing to hype as much as it’s been hyped, especially because it has such a deep network effect problem — it’s only useful if you know other people with Apple Watches. An extension of Digital Touch into iOS proper seems inevitable, especially if the next iPhone picks up the Taptic Engine. But for now, it’s a cool demo and not much more.

There’s no doubt that being able to send quick replies from your wrist is a powerful idea; it’s the stuff of science fiction legend, and every smartwatch has to be able to do it.

But the Apple Watch is just the first step towards making that reality. It’s not anywhere close to being an actually-powerful communications tool, especially not when it’s competing with the phone in your pocket.

Mobile phones are among the most revolutionary communications tools in modern history, and it’s going to take a lot more than a lonely mime flashing a peace sign and a few heartbeats to meaningfully extend their capabilities.

It’s well after lunch. I’ve had this thing on my wrist for something like six hours now, and the truth is that I’ve barely used it.

That’s by design: again, you’re only supposed to interact with the Apple Watch for 10 to 15 seconds at a time and then get back to your life.

On one level, that all makes perfect sense: my regular watch has had a dead battery for over a year. I don’t exactly use it for anything except looking cool.

How much am I really supposed to use the Apple Watch to make it worth whatever price I’ve paid for it?

On another level, everything about the Watch is designed to reinforce the idea that you have some sort of real life to return to once you’re done using technology — that you’re not just sitting at a desk in your office with your laptop and your phone, getting work done.

That’s the situation I’m in most afternoons — meetings have wrapped up, decisions have been made, and I’m catching up on email, editing, reading the site, and generally setting up the next set of things I have to do.

I’m as plugged into the internet as I can possibly be, using my phone and my laptop for slightly different variations of the same task: communicating with people.

This is where the Watch’s lack of speed comes to the forefront — there’s virtually nothing I can’t do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone except perhaps check the time.

It’s not just the small screen or the quick in-and-out interaction design, it’s actual slowness, particularly when it comes to loading data off the phone.

Third-party apps are the main issue: Apple says it’s still working on making them faster ahead of the April 24th launch, but it’s clear that loading an app requires the Watch to pull a tremendous amount of data from the phone, and there’s nothing fast about it.

I sat through a number of interminable loading screens for apps like CNN, Twitter, The New York Times, and others.

Apps that need to pull location data fare even worse: the Uber app takes so long to figure out where you are that you’re better off walking home before someone notices you staring at your $700 Watch and makes a move.

What good is a Watch that makes you wait?

This first set of Watch apps is really just loading additional screens from the apps on your phone; you might think of all of them as remote controls for your phone apps.

True native apps are coming to the Watch later on, and I assume they’ll be faster. That’s a big deal: without a rich set of apps that extend the phone, it really is just another smartwatch.

But right now, it’s disappointing to see the Watch struggle with performance.

What good is a watch that makes you wait?

Rendering notifications can slow everything down to a crawl. Buttons can take a couple taps to register.

It feels like the Apple Watch has been deliberately pulled back in order to guarantee a full day of battery life. Improving performance is Apple’s biggest challenge with the Watch, and it’s clear that the company knows it.

Apple’s done an awful lot of work to position the Watch as a fitness device — in many ways, it’s the only thing it can do that an iPhone can’t do.

With a built-in heart rate monitor, an accelerometer, and the advantage of always being on your wrist, the Watch feels like it should be the ultimate fitness wearable, a tiny supercomputer to put all those Fitbits and Ups to shame.

But like so much else with the Watch, while the fitness capabilities are the first steps towards what eventually might become a juggernaut, they’re nowhere near a complete solution.

The Watch’s health and fitness features are broken up across two apps: Activity and Workout.

The Activity app is beautiful, but extremely basic — it’s what monitors your movement. You can set goals for your calories burned, exercise, and standing, which are displayed as three concentric rings. Red is calories, green is exercise, and blue is standing. I’m not sure why standing is measured in “hours” — the Watch just bugs you to stand up for a couple minutes every hour, and that’s good enough.

It’ll also show you your steps and total distance, which is nice.

The Watch and phone work together to make it even more accurate.

All of this tracking worked fine while I was wearing the Watch, but there just wasn’t much else going on.

Unlike the Fitbit and other popular activity trackers, there’s no social component here to let you compete with your friends, and there’s no tracking of your calories burned against your weight or what you’re eating.

The data feeds into the iPhone’s Health database, so other apps could pull from there and give you these other features, but out of the box it’s just a very basic activity tracker.

The other health and fitness app is Workout, which offers you a series of presets geared towards various cardio workouts.

It’s not a huge list of choices: you’ve got indoor and outdoor walking and running, elliptical, cycling, stair steppers, rowing, and the catchall “other.”

Apple says these presets all trigger specialized algorithms that use the accelerometer and heart rate sensor in slightly different ways to capture extremely accurate data. If you’ve got your iPhone in your pocket, the Watch and phone will work together to calibrate accelerometer data against the phone GPS to make it even more accurate. Neat.

It’s definitely nice to have these presets built in, but again, it’s all pretty much table stakes.

There’s nothing that captures lifting weights, yoga, or other exercises that don’t either crank up your heart rate or trip the accelerometer with movement. You can use the “other” preset, which will always give you credit for a brisk walk even if the other sensors aren’t returning a ton of data, but it’s definitely not perfect.

And I found that the heart rate sensor struggled during my workouts, especially when I was really sweaty; it consistently measured about half my correct heart rate instead of my full 148bpm.

Again, Apple will surely improve all of this with software updates; it’s hard not to see them adding more workout types over time.

But out of the box right now, the Apple Watch is a very expensive, barebones fitness tracker.

It’s much nicer than its competitors — I used it with the white sport band and thought it was really quite striking — but it’s certainly not more full-featured.

After the gym, I head to Betony for drinks with Eater managing editor Sonia Chopra so we can talk about a future of food series for later in the year.

So far I’ve mostly used the Watch either alone or in an office environment, but it’s really different to have a smartwatch in a bar: here, even small distractions make you seem like a jerk.

Sonia’s trying to describe the project to me and find ways to work together, but I keep glancing at my wrist to see extremely unimportant emails fly by.

It turns out that checking your Watch over and over again is a gesture that carries a lot of cultural weight.

Eventually, Sonia asks me if I need to be somewhere else. We’re both embarrassed, and I’ve mostly just ignored everyone. This is a little too much future all at once.

By the end of each day, I was hyper-aware of how low the Apple Watch battery had gotten.

After one particularly heavy day of use, I hit 10% battery at 7pm, triggering a wave of anxiety. But most days were actually fine.

Apple had a big challenge getting a tiny computer like this to last a day, and it succeeded — even if that success seemingly comes at the expense of performance.

You only get a charging cable, which is lame. For $700, you should get a nice charging stand, like you get with the $249 Moto 360.

Apple makes a stand, but it only comes with the $10,000-and-up Apple Watch Edition models. Crazy.

But do you want another tiny computer in your life that you have to worry about and charge every day? That’s the real question of the Apple Watch.

Does it offer so much to you that you’re willing to deal with the hassles and idiosyncrasies of a new platform that is clearly still finding a true purpose?

The Apple Watch is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology. But that ambition robs it of focus.

There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today. It is one of the most ambitious products I’ve ever seen; it wants to do and change so much about how we interact with technology.

But that ambition robs it of focus: it can do tiny bits of everything, instead of a few things extraordinarily well.

For all of its technological marvel, the Apple Watch is still a smartwatch, and it’s not clear that anyone’s yet figured out what smartwatches are actually for.

If you are willing to go along on that journey, then you’ll enjoy the Apple Watch. It is a bauble, after all, and baubles delight simply by their presence.

Apple will update the software, and developers will make apps, and Google and Samsung and Microsoft will release competitors, and the people who love technology will have something to buy and argue about, talismans that display tribal affiliations.

But that’s technology as fashion; it’s not quite yet fashion itself. If you’re going to buy an Apple Watch, I’d recommend buying a Sport model; I wouldn’t spend money on how it looks until Apple completes the task of figuring out what it does.

Good Stuff

  • Easily the nicest smartwatch available
  • Platform has endless room to grow, especially with native apps
  • Taptic Engine is really cool

Bad Stuff

  • Performance issues, especially with apps and location services
  • Notifications need way more granular settings
  • Much more expensive than other smartwatches
  • Animated emojis are nightmare fuel
Sherif Mktbi  shared  The Verge link this April 10, 2015.

We spent a week wearing the Apple Watch to answer the question — should you buy it?

The Apple Watch is Apple’s first entirely-new product in five years.
I’ve been wearing one non-stop for a week trying to answer the question: is it worth buying?




April 2015

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