Apple Watch Series 2’s shifting focus

watchseries2Apple released the second iteration of its Apple Watch — called Apple Watch Series 2 — about a month ago. This update is in line with the company’s preference of small, steady improvements over huge leaps forward. It looks almost identical to its predecessor and features nice changes like on-board GPS, dramatically increased water resistance, a faster processor and an improved display. All in all, it’s a sweet piece of kit.

Is it enough to warrant upgrading from the original model, which is just 18 months old? I don’t think so. It does, however, offer two things: a renewed focus on athletic owners, and a strong incentive for those who passed on the original. That’s the sentiment I’m seeing in the initial reviews.

Writing for CNN Money, Samantha Murphy Kelly notes that, while still a splurge at $369, “…the Apple Watch is finally getting closer to where it should have been all along.”

I should note here that the original model is still available with a price drop and improved processor. That’s more affordable, but it lacks the swim tracking, superior water protection, brighter screen and built-in GPS that make its successor so appealing.

Over at Ars Technica, Valentina Palladino calls the Series 2 “…still optional, but pleasantly defined.”

Meanwhile, The Verge‘s Lauren Goode hits on something I want to examine further. With this update, she notes, the Apple Watch is first and foremost fitness tracker:

“The Apple Watch Series 2 is exactly [a fitness tracker]. It’s what Apple had resisted calling its wearable for the past year and a half, even declining to categorize it as such when citing industry rankings, opting for the ‘smartwatch’ category instead. It is, definitely, still a smartwatch. But the Watch now has focus, and that’s a good thing.”

Apple even announced a partnership with Nike, resulting in the Apple Watch Nike +. It comes with a few exclusives, including a perforated sport band, Nike-themed watch faces and a list of unique Siri commands, as well as deep integration with the Nike+ Run Club app.

Apple’s renewed focus on the Watch as a fitness device is notable because it contrasts earlier marketing efforts and speaks to its future.


When Apple Watch was introduced, Apple positioned it as a fitness tracker but also as a fashion accessory. You’ll remember that model model Christy Turlington Burns joined Apple CEO Tim Cook on stage in 2015 for the device’s introduction. It was a smart move, as Christy — a model and marathoner — represents both fashion and athletics. Christy then posted a series of videos chronicling her use of the Watch in a half marathon.

But really, fashion was the real push.

In October of 2014, shortly after the original device’s announcement, Vogue China featured supermodel Liu Wen sporting the Apple Watch on its October cover. In the following weeks, the Watch appeared on the pages of Vogue France, Vogue USA, Self (USA), and Style (UK). It was a smart move, as it allowed Apple to court an industry that was foreign to the tech giant.

You could argue that is was also a bit of misdirection away from the original model’s deficits: No GPS capability, moderate water protection, a screen that’s hard to read in bright sun. With Series 2, Apple has addressed those issues and is all about touting the device to athletes.

Built-in GPS is great for runners who don’t want to drag an iPhone along. A screen that’s twice as bright as version one means its easier to read outdoors. The real benefit here is for swimmers.

applewatchswimmingApple Watch Series 2 is water resistant up to 50 meters. The Workout app tracks both pool swims and open-water swims, recording laps, distance and stroke. When you opt to start a swim workout, the Watch locks its touchscreen display so that you won’t accidentally engage it during your workout. When you’re done, turn the crown and hit “End.” The speaker then ejects water that was collected while you were in the water.

But really you needn’t be a swimmer to reap this benefit. A water-lock feature is available outside of swimming workouts by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Ever use the shower at the gym? Now you don’t have remove your Apple Watch and pray that no one finds it.

Should you buy?

What does this all mean for making a purchase decision? If you’re main focus is fitness, and you don’t own an original Apple Watch…and you have $400 lying around…Series 2 is a great way to go. Apple’s renewed focus on fitness bodes will for the device’s future.

Those looking for a one-stop wearable should consider the lower-cost Apple Watch. Current models have a faster processor than the those sold in the first go-round and start at $269.

Finally, WatchOS3 has made many original Watch owners — myself included — feel like we got a new device. So I’m happy with my OG Watch.

As for the device itself, it’s just a bit thicker and heavier than the original, but it’s not noticeable on the wrist. It’s still available in the same case sizes (38mm and 42mm), as well as aluminum and stainless steel. Note that a new high-end material, ceramic, has replaced the gold model.

Smartwatches will likely never be as essential as smart phones (especially as long as they rely on a Bluetooth tether for internet connectivity), but they’re maturing into the useful accessory that manufacturers want them to be. Apple Watch Series 2 is a nice step towards that goal.

What’s making me happy this week, Oct. 7

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

What if Dracula was a bibliophile?

the_historian__19The 2005 debut novel from Elizabeth Kostova is a vampire novel, yes, but it’s not what you’re thinking of. In Kostova’s story, a woman recounts the adventure that her family endured when she was 16, traveling abroad with her academic father. Their journey leads to dusty crypts, ancient cities, family secrets and the fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler. Also, books. Lots and lots of books.

Part detective novel, part travelogue, part adventure story and part gothic horror, The Historian is a book I enjoy very much. It’s creepy without fetishizing blood, like so many vampire stories do.

I re-read The Historian every October to get me in that Halloween mood. It’s ultimately a book about the love of books, and the power of knowledge. Plus there’s cool vampire stuff.

The audiobook is also very well done.

Paper Planes


This one requires a smartphone so grab yours and point it to This utterly charming little web app has you “fold” a paper airplane and mark it with a “stamp” representing your geographical area. Once that’s done, you tilt your phone to the side and give it a shake to “launch” your paper plane.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of people are doing this at any given time. So, after you launch your plane you’re given something resembling a butterfly net. Again, wave your phone about to catch one, unfold it, and see where it’s been. Every time someone catches a plane, they add their stamp.

I’ve gotten planes with stamps from Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, Johannesburg, South Africa…all over. It’s surprisingly fun.

Ambient 1: Music for Airports

music_for_airportsBrian Eno’s 1978 album of gorgeous, instrumental ambient music sounds like a contemporary indie release. The album was meant to replace what Eno called the “tense” music that’s heard in airport terminals. It was installed at the Marine Air Terminal of New York’s LaGuardia Airport during the 1980s.

The four compositions on this album make perfect backgroud music for quiet, focused work. Seriously, if “instrumental indie” is your thing, this 38-year-old album is for you.

That’s what’s making me happy this week.

You should be watching Fleabag


Fleabag is a television comedy from BBC 3 available in the US via Amazon Prime.* It’s written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays a single Londoner who’s getting by after a personal tragedy.

That sounds dark. It is.

Fleabag is also supremely funny. It is intelligent. Waller-Bridge makes these asides to the camera that are compelling, endearing and reveal the program’s origin as a one-woman show. On stage, of course, such a practice is invisible, as the performer speaks directly to the audience the whole time. On TV, it can be cutsey, gimmicky or otherwise off-putting. That’s not the case here. Waller-Bridge is brilliant with these moments. The way the asides are used changes in such a smart way as the show goes on, but I can’t say more about that.

The season is six episodes long, and it’s clear that Waller-Bridge knows exactly where she’s going with all this from the start. It gets funnier and raunchier (there’s some sex, FYI) as it drives to a conclusion.

Speaking of: loss hangs over this story. The character has a tenuous relationship with her support system. Bad behavior is the norm and you have to decide, do I root for this person or not? Ultimately she’s a sympathetic character, even as a blatant misanthrope with poor impulse control.

Here’s a bit of a warning: do not watch this on a plan, on a train or anywhere else conducive to a wayward glance from a stranger. But don’t let that scare you away. It’s so beautifully cast and acted, that you’re going to love it.

*No Prime? No problem. You can watch episode one for free right now, and sign up for a 30-day free trial of Prime, which will give you more than enough time to binge all six episodes. 

What’s making me happy this week, Oct. 2

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

Audible Channels

audiblechannelsAmazon turned to Audible last week — which it snapped up for $300M in 2008 — for a new benefit for its Prime members. Audible Channels is a mobile app that features curated collections, or “playlists,” of classic short stories and original audio dramas.

It’s absoutely perfect for a commute or an afternoon walk. Over the last week I heard sci-fi stories, a good, old-fashioned zombie story (it is October after all) and more.

I especially enjoyed an origial series called Damned Spot, which looks at the places at which great horrors have occurred. How does violence change a place? After everything has been cleaned up and life has moved on, what remains?

If you love audiodramas, audio books or great radio, this is for you. Snap it up, Prime members, for a story in your pocket wherever you go.

Smartphone Photography 101

Photography Concentrate with Lauren and Rob has published a fantastic article: Smartphone Photography 101. It’s a very deep dive, covering everything from choosing a phone, composition and sharing. If you simply read my description, it sounds like any number of guides you’ve already read a thousand times. That’s not the case. This is a nice article that deserves your time.

“Soon…” by Flybear

flybearFlybear is a musician with a whole five tracks to his (her?) name. Apple Music suggested I might like the song “Soon…” earlier this week, and it was dead-on right. A dance-y, house-y instrumental track, it’s been putting me in a good mood all week long:

Also, “Flybear” is such a great name.

And that’s what’s making me happy this week.

What’s making me happy this week: Aug 13

Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.

Within the Wires

PrintWithin the Wires is the lastest podcast from Nightvale Presents, the group behind Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson (and narrated by Matthewson), Within the Wires presents itself as a series of “relaxation cassettes” that you, the listener, are to experience when you are calm, quiet and alone. In your designated room. Somewhere inside “The Institute.”

As the 10-episode series progresses, fulfill the narrator’s mandate to “listen, remember, comprehend” and you’ll discover a story within the surrealism. A story with specific instructions. There’s more than mindfulness going on here, and each small revelation adds to the larger narrative. I’m having great fun listening, remembering and comprehending Within the Wires.


sueDilemma is a half-hour panel show on BBC Radio 4 extra in which the delightful and hilarious Sue Perkins presents guests with morally ambiguous situations and forces them to defend the actions they’d take if in those very scenarios.

It’s a lot funnier than I’ve made it out to be.

Much like the 1990’s party game Scruples, Dilemma presents a situation and asks players how they’d act. For example, “You’ve been offered $25,000 to give a one-hour talk at a convention put up by [Company A]. The topic is right in your wheelhouse. The only problem is that Company A is owned by your spouse’s nemesis, and s/he is begging you not to do it, despite the fact that you really need the money.”

The reason that Dilemma works so well is Sue Perkins. She’s very fast on her feet, witty and does not let her guests out of giving a definitive answer and defending it. My favorite segment is the lightning round in which contestants have only a couple of seconds to pick the more morally upright item in a pairing:

“One massive eye in your forehead or never eat dairy again.”
“Robocop or Terminator: which is the better middle name for your child?”
“Would you rather the queen’s face be as small as it is on stamps, or that stamps were as big as her face?”

It’s smart and funny.

The Girl With All The Gifts trailer

Last year I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey and now I’m going crazy for this trailer. This atypical zombie story features Melanie, a “hungry” (the book’s term for zombie) who is strapped to her wheelchair every morning, at gunpoint, and wheeled into her classroom. Melanie’s teacher, scientist Helen Justineau, recognizes something in her student that’s beyond her condition or her genius IQ. The story goes on from there.

The trailer seems to retain the smart, subtle horror, heartbreak and moral ambiguity of Carey’s novel. It’s gotten me excited for the film, and that’s a trailer’s job, isn’t it?

What’s making me happy this week – July 22

Here’s a look at some of the amazing, hilarious and thoughtful things that are making me happy this week.

My Dad Wrote a Porno

mdwapOpen your podcast app. Delete every show you’ve got in there and then subscribe to My Dad Wrote a Porno. Why? Because it’s the only thing you’ll want to listen to for several days.

My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast done by a delightful British guy Jamie Morton and a couple of this friends. Apparently a couple of years ago, Jamie’s father asked him to read a few pages of a book he had written. Turns out it was an erotic novel called “Belinda Blinked*,” and it’s every bit as glorious as you imagine self-published erotica with that title would be.

Belinda is the sexy salesperson from the pots and pans company called Steels Pans. She does whatever she can to land buyers for her company’s cookware.

Jamie and his co-hosts James Cooper and BBC Radio 1’s Alice Levine are absolutely hilarious in their take-down of the book. Best of all, Jamie’s Dad — who goes by the amazing pen name Rocky Flintstone — loves the show and all of the attention that his work is getting. When you do a “so bad it’s good” kind of thing, there’s the tendency for the commentary to get mean-spirited. That’s not the case here. It’s all in good fun. Red plastic handcuffs and all.

This probably goes without saying, but the hosts spend each episode reading from a story with very adult situations and language. So be warned.


hqIn HarmonQuest, writer, producer and podcaster Dan Harmon plays a D&D-style role playing game (I think it’s Pathfinder, actually) in front of a live studio audience with a few friends and one rotating guest star. These games are typically funny enough to listen to, but throw in the audience and the fact that the adventures are animated, and you’ve got a goblin-slaying, dragon-taunting, orc loaf sandwich eating good time.

The gang plays for laughs and guest stars like John HodgmanAubrey PlazaRon Funches and Paul F. Tompkins get right into it, even when they’ve never played RPG’s before.

You can watch the first episode for free on YouTube, but you’ll have to pony up for a SeeSo subscription ($3.99/mo.) for the rest.

Stranger Things

stThis eight-episode suspence series from Netflix starring Winona Ryder is a sheer delight. It’s a real “kids on bikes” show that is presented though such a dutiful 80’s lens that the decade itself is character. Stranger Things scratches a nostalgia itch for me in a completely satisfying way.

But it’s not just a love letter to the 80’s. Stranger Things is a fantastic little show.

Four young friends are playing Dungeons and Dragons in a basement when mom insists it’s time for the game the end and the kids to go home. One of the kids goes missing along the way, and the mystery begins. There are classic thrills and chills here, and none of the torture porn that’s so popular these days.

Stranger Things feels like an after-school special, a Stephen King story, and early Spielberg all at once. And boy, does it nail the 80’s feel perfectly, from fashion to music cues, in a way that I haven’t seen since House of the Devil.

It’s a compelling show that just works, from the young actors who play the kids (they’re fantastic) to the synth-y, bass-y music and gorgeous type on the title, right on up to the casting of Winona Ryder who does a fantastic job as the harried, lower-middle-class mother who only wants to find her son. I’m already jones-ing for season two.

Ged’s Pokéwall


My friend Ged Meheux of the Iconfactory has made a Pokéball-inspired wallpaper for your iPhone 5 Series, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad and iPad Pro.

Bring your Pokémon GO to another level and be the envy of your Pikachu-chasing friends.

*In fact, the book’s full title is, “Belinda Blinked;  A modern story of sex, erotica and passion. How the sexiest sales girl in business earns her huge bonus by being the best at removing her high heels.”