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    Tested In-Depth: iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    After living with the new iPhone 6 Plus for a while, Will sits down with Norm to discuss the merits of Apple's biggest smartphone. How well does iOS 8 work on a 5.5-inch screen? Does the stabilized camera and extra battery life matter? We compare the new iPhone models and help Will decide if he wants to stick with the Plus or return it.

    iPhone 6 Plus Impressions and Most Common Questions Answered

    We're in the process of testing the Apple iPhone 6 Plus for our in-depth review, but wanted to show you how the phone compares to previous iPhones and other Android phones, as well as some distinguishing physical characteristics. We also answer the most commonly asked questions about the phone, including battery life, camera, and whether it bends.

    iPhone 6 Plus Mockups and Size Comparisons

    Apple announced its new iPhone 6 smartphones yesterday, both of which are larger than the current iPhone 5/S/C design. To get a sense of how the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch screen phones fit in our hands, we 3D printed mockups based on Apple's posted spec dimensions and compare them to our current phones. Plus, the jeans pocket test! (Thanks to Jeremy Williams for the 3D printing!)

    Apple Announces Its Watch Collection, Launching 2015

    Here it is. Apple's watch. And it's decidedly a watch, not a curved band or "wrist wearable" as we and some other people had predicted. Here's what you should know about it.

    The Apple watch is a touchscreen device worn on your wrist, running a special version of the iOS interface. The big deal here is the user interface--users will interact with it via touchscreen, voice, a dedicated button, and a crown dial on the right side. This digital crown dial is used to zoom in and out of applications as well as scroll and navigate. On the bottom of the watch are four optical sensors for monitoring the wearer's heartbeat, as well as an inductive charger for wireless charging. Activity monitoring is a big part of the Apple Watch, and an Activity app monitors different types of motion like workouts or sitting down at the office. Feedback is provided via a small speaker and haptic feedback provided over what Apple calls a "Taptic Engine." The color screen displays digital clockfaces like Android Wear watches, and you can tap into Apple services like Siri and the new Apple Pay. Developers will be able to adapt their apps and create Watch-specific apps with Apple's WatchKit SDK and APIs.

    The Apple Watch connects to iPhones--starting with the iPhone 5C--via Bluetooth 4.0, but also has Wi-Fi connectivity. As for when you'll be able to buy one, Apple has only said that its Watch will come out in 2015, with a starting price of $350. Apple Watch comes in two sizes--38mm and 42mm--as well as several different finishes and strap options. What are your thoughts about this new smart watch? We'll be talking about it in-depth on this week's podcast, which we're recording tomorrow.

    Apple Announces iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

    As expected, Apple has announced its iPhone 6 line of phones, with two sizes. Here's what's new about them, with our thoughts coming later today.

    The two phones are the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, in 4.7-inches and 5.5-inches. 1334x750 resolution with a 326ppi for the 4.7-inch model, which is the same pixel density of the current iPhones. The larger iPhone 6 Plus has a 1080p display (401ppi), not the 2208 × 1242 resolution that some had hoped. Both phones are thinner than the current iPhone 5S, at 6.9mm and 7.1mm. The larger phones will show more on the home screen (as well as a horizontal view), as well as a landscape mode for apps to show multiple panes. Kind of like the iPad. Apple also talked about its new iPhones using a better screen than previous generations, with an "ion-strengthen" glass, better polarizer, and ultrathin backlight.

    To accommodate the new phone sizes, the sleep/power buttons are now located on the right side of the phones for thumb access. Apple also decided to add a one-handed "reachability" function to the phones--double-touching the home button slides the whole display down so users can access the top of their app pane with the thumb. For the 1080p display that's not the same pixel density as the past phones, apps scale up to full screen using a software scaler.

    Other new hardware is Apple's A8 processor, which Apple claims to be 50% faster than the last generation. Battery life for the iPhone 6 is slightly improved over the 5S, but the iPhone 6 Plus has two hours of extra battery life for web browsing (12 hours from 10). 802.11AC is built-in, along with a new LTE chip that supports up to 20 LTE bands and voice over LTE.

    The iPhone 6's camera is still a 8MP sensor with a f/2.2 lens and dual-tone flash, but the sensor is redesigned for faster autofocus with phase detection and better tone mapping. The iPhone 6 uses digital image stabilization, but the iPhone 6 Plus has built-in optical image stabilization. The camera lenses also protrudes out from the back of the phone a little bit. 1080p video capture is capped at 60fps, but high-speed recording at 720p jumps to 240fps (8X slow mo). With the phase-detect sensor, continuous autofocus now works in video.

    The phones will come in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold, and pricing for the iPhone 6 starts at $200 on contract for 16GB, with the step up being 64GB for $300. The iPhone 6 Plus costs $100 more for each corresponding model, starting at $300 on contract for 16GB. Pre-orders open this Friday, and the phones will be released on the 19th.

    Testing: Instagram's Hyperlapse App for iOS

    Instagram today announced and released a new iOS video app called Hyperlapse. It was a pet project of Instagram engineers Thomas Dimson and Alex Karpenko, and impressed Instagram founder Kevin Systrom enough that the company developed it into a full-fledged app. Wired Design's Cliff Kuang has an exclusive story about the app's origins, if you're curious. But after a morning of testing, here's what you need to know about it.

    Hyperlapse is a time-lapse app for iOS, much like Studio Neat's Frameographer or the time-lapse feature built into many smartphones. Unlike those apps, three isn't much to configure--you don't set the interval time between snaps, nor the framerate of your output video. You just hit record and Hyperlapse starts record, at a default rate of five frames a second (assuming 30fps output). That translates to one second of video for every six seconds of time passing--pretty fast for a time-lapse. But what makes these time-lapses a "hyperlapse" is the stabilization between captured frames, making it look like your time-lapse video was shot on a gyro-stabilized gimbal. And technically, your video is gyro-stabilized, since the app takes into account the iPhone's gyro data to match frame angles and smooth out the video movement. The result is smoother time-lapses that you'd get than just putting your phone on a tripod, without using complex motion-correction algorithms like Microsoft Research's hyperlapse project.

    I shot a few Hyperlapse videos to post on Instagram, and frankly wasn't very impressed by the output. The gyro-stabilization works to some extent, but doesn't do a good job compensating for very shaky movement. You still have to try to keep your hands still or your phone held steady against a fixed object. Also, the video output on my iPhone 5 took a long time to process for a minute-long clip, and compressed the hell out of it. Hyperlapse is really only ideal if you're shooting the Instagram-preferred 15 second clips (about three minutes in real time), and if you don't care about video compression whisking away HD details. Full clips are saved to the iPhone's camera roll, like the video I uploaded to Vimeo and embedded below. A two minute clip ended up being only 120MB on my phone, and looked worse than a stationary time-lapse I shot and exported with Frameographer.

    Tested: Overcast Podcast App for iOS

    I've spent the last week testing Overcast, a new podcast player from Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper. I spend most of my time in the car listening to podcasts, but I've never found a client that worked exactly as I expect. While there are several apps out there that should provide what I want in a podcast player--a constantly updated list of the shows I listen to, downloaded when I'm on Wi-Fi, and ready to play whenever I hop in the car or hit the play button on my earbuds--every client I've tested has had problems.

    In my week of testing, Overcast hasn't had any of the issues I've come to expect from my other podcast players. Whenever I press play in my car or on my earbuds, the last show I was listening to starts playing. When a new version of one of the shows I subscribe to is uploaded, the app downloads it automatically so it's waiting when I want to listen. And once I created an Overcast account (the process is free and took about 15 seconds), my podcast subscriptions and current progress in each episode were synced automatically between my phone, iPad, and the rudimentary web client at http://overcast.fm.

    The dynamic playlists are the real heroes of Overcast. The playlists collect the most recent or In addition to all the sorting options that are common to many podcasting apps, when you create a new playlist, you can choose which shows to include (or which of the shows you're subscribed to exclude) and note that a subset of those shows are priority shows. When you play the playlist, it plays episodes you've listed from priority podcasts first, then keeps going down the list of podcasts that are part of that playlist, until a new priority episode hits. Many podcast apps include similar features, but this is the first one I've used that consistently worked the way I expected.

    The app is brand new, and has a handful of rough edges. I'd love to be able to set my own defaults for the per-podcast episode retention and notification settings. It's a hassle to have to open settings and adjust the retention from 3 to 1 and turn notifications off for every show I subscribe to. I also encountered some inconsistent behavior when setting shows to be included or excluded from playlists. It took a few times for my changes to stick.

    Overcast is free, with a single $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock a handful of advanced features: variable speed playback, voice compression for shows with audio issues, and a nifty feature that shortens shows by removing some of those pregnant pauses. There aren't any ads, but you do need to sign up for a free account if you want syncing to work. If you give Overcast access to your Twitter account, it will pull recommendations for new shows to listen to from your feed. The free version of Overcast is already the best podcast client I've used for iOS and it's well worth the $5 if you want any of the additional features or just want to support people who make great software.

    Tested In-Depth: Pebble Steel Smart Watch

    What's the point of a smart watch, and how does it complement your use of a smartphone? That's what we wanted to figure out in our testing of the Pebble Steel. Will and Norm both use the Pebble for a month and discuss how it changes the way they regularly interact with their iOS and Android phones.

    Tested In-Depth: Adobe Ink and Slide Review

    Has anyone ever used a good stylus for the iPad? We sit down to discuss the fundamental problems with writing with a stylus on the iPad, and what tricks hardware companies use to make writing and drawing on the tablet feel as natural as possible. Plus, we test Adobe's new Ink and Slide hardware tools, as well as their new drawing apps.

    Apple's Unveils a New Direction for iOS and OSX at WWDC

    This morning Apple announced the next versions of its operating systems--OSX Yosemite and iOS 8. The focus was on interoperability, both between between devices and apps. Finally, your Mac, iPhone, and iPad will be able to directly communicate with each other. In addition to the existing AirDrop file transfer feature working cross platform, Apple is adding something they're calling Handoffs, which allow you to start work on one device, then move in-progress work seamlessly to another. Think about starting an email on your phone, then moving to your laptop or vice versa. You'll also be able to make and take calls on your phone using your Mac or iPad and your Mac and iPad will be able to automatically share your phone's Internet connection when you're away from Wi-Fi. Apple's position as a soup-to-nuts hardware and software provider leaves them uniquely suited to deliver this kind of interoperability. I'm surprised it's taken this long.

    The biggest announcement today is that Apple is finally adding much-needed app interoperability to iOS, which seems superficially similar to Android's Extents and Windows 8's Contracts. These APIs will not only let apps share files with each other (without needing an Internet connection), but they'll actually all developers to embed functionality from one app in another. The simplest example is if you buy an app that adds photo filters, those filters would be available in all applications that let you take photos and apply filters.

    Of course, Apple also unveiled the usual laundry lists of new features for both OSes. OSX Yosemite is getting a cosmetic refresh to bring it more in line with iOS7, an enhanced Notification Center, Dark mode (which dims the Dock and menu bar), and filesystem-level integration with iCloud (including access to files your iOS apps save in iCloud). It will be available for free this fall, with a public beta this summer. iOS 8 gets updated type-ahead prediction on the default iOS keyboard, iMessage enhancements including thread muting and unsubscribe for group iMessages, widgets in the Notification Center, notifications that allow responses from the notification banner itself, 3rd-party keyboard replacements, family sharing of iTunes-purchased content for up to six accounts, and central hubs to collect information from fitness and health monitoring devices and connected home hardware.

    If this works as advertised, these updates are huge. These updates represent more than the crop of cosmetic updates we saw last year or the ill-advised merging of iOS and OSX we saw in years prior. Instead, Apple seems to be moving OSX and iOS together in a way that aligns with the way I actually use these these very different devices. Instead of building a one-size-fits-all solution, it feels like Apple is trying to remove the barriers that separate my phone, tablet, and laptop without compromising the strengths of any of the platforms.

    Why Are Apple's USB Chargers Are So Expensive?

    You probably don't think too much about power bricks, but you probably should. After digging deep into a wide variety of power bricks, Ken Shirriff wanted to see why Apple's 10W iPad charger costs $20 when there are counterfeits that are widely available for around $3. The result is worth reading, but Ken's evidence indicates that not only will the official brick charge your devices faster, the counterfeit he opened up is downright dangerous. (Thanks to @SolrFlare for the tip.)

    Will 9
    In Brief: Why Apple May Want to Buy Beats

    Last week, the Financial Times reported that Apple was in close talks with Beats Electronics--the makers of Beats by Dre headphones and the recently launched Beats Music streaming service--to purchase the company for 3.2 billion dollars. That would be by far Apple's largest acquisition to date, topping the $400 million they spent on NeXT Computing over a decade ago to revamp its Mac OS business and bring Steve Jobs back into the company. While the deal is still yet unconfirmed, it's looking more likely that it's real, given Beats' Dr. Dre posting a celebratory YouTube video. The prevailing thinking is that Apple may want beats not primarily for its hardware business (which made $1.4 billion in 2013), but for the music licensing rights associated with the new Beats Music service (assuming they're transferrable). iTunes and the music download business is on a downward trajectory, while subscription-based streaming is still in its relative nascency (Spotify has "only" 10 million subscribers). My thoughts on this are more in line with Om Malik's--that even if this is a play for streaming relevance, it is a bootstrap solution at best that's indicative of Apple's larger issues. As VC Fred Wilson puts it, Apple's cloud services lag far behind competitors'. The company's focus on hardware may put it at a big disadvantage in the coming years when Google and Facebook's services become even more integrated into consumer technology. (Other food for thought: HTC previously owned a 50.1% controlling share in Beats via a $300 million investment, before divesting itself of the company through two 25% buybacks, the latter valued at $265 million.)

    Norman 1
    Tip of the Day: Making Dialing Into Conference Calls Painless

    If you regularly dial into conference bridges you'll love this tip. Conference bridges are services that you dial into and then enter a numerical code to connect to your conference call. Today I learned that you can put the conference line's phone number and the access code for your call into the location field of your calendar event, separate the two with a semi-colon, and iOS handles it smartly.

    When you tap the phone number to dial it from the iOS meeting, it carries over the access code as well. When it's time to enter your code, you just tap the "Dial xxxxx" in the lower left corner of the Phone screen. I don't know when they added this functionality to iOS, but I'm a fan.

    In Brief: Dark Sky for iOS Is Rad

    A few weeks before SXSW, I installed Dark Sky on my phone, and I've been consistently impressed since then. Dark Sky accurately predicted rain in Austin and San Francisco, and even manages to give useful forcasts in San Francisco's microclimates. Because of SF's coastal mountains and fog, it's regularly 50F by the ocean and 85F if you go 15 minutes inland. Even in this hostile environment, Dark Sky gives accurate predictions by comparing your physical location with real-time radar and temperature data from Forecast. Because the app does most of the hard work on servers and sends you a push notification when you're about to get rained on, I haven't even noticed any impact on my battery life.

    The upshot is that if Dark Sky lets me know it's about to rain, I reach for my rain coat. That is well worth the $4 price of entry to me.

    Will 1
    iOS 7.1 Is Out

    Earlier this week, Apple quietly rolled out iOS 7.1. The point release includes support for Apple's new in-dash CarPlay technology, plus minor redesigns to the Phone and Calendar apps, an optional tweak to allow push-to-hold functionality for Siri, an automatic HDR mode for the Camera app, a slew of new accessibility options to disable disorienting animations, and improvements to TouchID on the iPhone 5s. The improvement I'm most excited about though is the reduction of Springboard crashes for iOS 7 users. To update your device, go to Settings > General > Software Update.

    Will 9
    CES 2014: Parrot MiniDrone Quadcopter

    Even though it's technically not an automated drone, we're excited to try out Parrot's new MiniDrone quadcopter, a smaller and more nimble version of their AR.Drone. This mini-quad hovers in place and is controlled with a smartphone, and its roll frame lets it slide along ceilings and walls.

    Testing: Logitech PowerShell Controller for iOS

    Since the first games appeared in Apple's app store, the iPhone and iPod Touch have been eating away at dedicated handhelds' market share in mobile gaming. With the convenience of being able to play great-looking games on a smartphone, not only were more people playing games, but those people were playing games on the iPhone at the expense of Nintendo and Sony's portable consoles. But a contingent of "core" gamers would not be swayed so easily--the lack of physical buttons on the iPhone made it an inferior platform for "traditional" console games. Simulating those buttons on a touchscreen (or the use of capacitive accessories) was a stopgap measure, often implemented poorly. And while developers eventually figured out how to make excellent games that suit touch, accelerometer, and gyroscope controls, there hasn't been a good solution for the kind of side-scrollers or platformers that we loved on the DS and PSP. Mario beats endless runners any day of the week.

    iOS games could benefit from physical controls. But be careful what you wish for, because you might get just it.

    Last fall's iOS 7 introduced a MFi (Made for iPhone) specification for certifying hardware controls for iOS games. That meant accessory makers could create gamepads and cases with thumbsticks, buttons, and triggers that would work with any MFi-enabled game, no proprietary Bluetooth connection or API required. Three MFi controllers have been announced so far, from Logitech, MOGA, and SteelSeries, and Logitech's PowerShell is the first one I've tested. And after a month playing games with it on my iPhone 5, I'm left unenthused about the prospect of bootstrapping hardware game controls for any iOS games at all.

    The PowerShell works exactly as advertised: you get to have physical analog buttons for a variety of side-scrollers, adventure games, flight sims, and fighting games. But its problem isn't compatibility, it's one of ergonomics.

    Testing: Pencil Bluetooth iPad Stylus

    Going to get straight to the point with this one: FiftyThree's Pencil Bluetooth Stylus isn't worth $50. It may be one of the best styli you can buy to use on an iPad--or at least the most comfortable--but ultimately disappoints as a viable alternative to writing or sketching with an actual pen or pencil on a sheet of paper. The problem isn't that Pencil fails to achieve what its creators wanted it to do, but that it, along with every other capacitive stylus for the iPad, is trying to address an unsolvable problem. The capacitive touchscreen of the iPad--and corresponding iOS finger-detection software--simply was not made to work well with a stylus.

    If you want to buy a stylus to draw or write longhand on your iPad, you have two basic options. The first is a "dumb" stylus that's essentially a pen with a rubber tip (or nib) that activates the iPad's capacitive sensors, just like your fingers. Studio Neat's Cosmonaut is a good example of this kind of stylus, but you can find alternatives in all shapes and sizes, and often at very lost cost. In this category, what matters are the ergonomics of the stylus body and the rigidity of the nib--which determines how much "feedback" you get when pressing the stylus against the screen. Many artists stand by these simple styli and are able to doodle and actually work with them.

    The other category of iPad stylus has electronics to communicate with the tablet to better simulate the pen and paper experience. These typically pair with the iPad over Bluetooth, using that connection to enable features like palm rejection, pressure sensitivity, different "brushes", and even erasing. But in order for these smarter styli to work properly, they have to be used in apps that recognize their capabilities. That's how Pencil works.

    FiftyThree (the team that worked on Microsoft's canned Courier tablet project) created Pencil to work in concert with its Paper app. We've talked about Paper before, and not much has changed since its release last year. It's still an elegant drawing app that's really simple and fun to use, with either a stylus or finger. Five different virtual brushes are available (one is free, the others are $2 each), and Paper's innovation is that it uses the speed of your brush stroke to determine the width of the line drawn. The idea is that the faster you move your finger across the screen, the less weight you're theoretically applying to the stroke; pressure is extrapolated from speed.

    That's ostensibly the reason the Pencil stylus doesn't have pressure sensitivity like other Bluetooth connected styli like Pogo's Connect or Wacom's Intuos Creative Stylus. For some digital artists, that's a deal-breaker, since Pencil won't work as well on pressure sensitivity-enabled apps like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Adobe Photoshop Touch. But that's not the reason I was disappointed by Pencil. The problem is latency.