Apple Watch. Initial thoughts. by James Moore

Apple Watch

We saw the release of the Apple Watch last week and while on the whole it was expected; the overall design approach and execution was understated. An unexpectedly expect able design you could say.

Apple makes no doubts that their new product is a watch. A very beautifully crafted quality watch at that. A watch that uses the same materials you'd expect in any wrist wear of value - polished steel, leather, high quality glass, some gold complete with the same design cues you'd expect in a timepiece.

And this is perhaps the problem. Actually problem is the wrong word here. Disappointment will do for now. The simple fact that it looks too much like a watch. Omitting its obvious quality construction, the design approach has been too conventional.

When the iPhone was initially launched there was nothing really like it. Phones were lumbered with keypads and boxy, phone-like forms. Overnight, Nokias and Motorolas began to look a lot older, and thicker. Yet with iPhone we were getting something that would invariably last a few years, but had a great design approach too.

It was an inoffensive, pared down approach and pretty much everybody on the planet, even Apple's rivals admired it. It was one of those launches where the design was not divisive. It had universal appeal.

However, a watch is a very personal purchase. Not in your pocket and many people will own and use the same watch for a number of years while it serves a primary function. On the whole - watches while internally complex are simple devices and perform simple, background tasks. And that simplicity in a sense protects or exempts them from obsolescence. It is a long term purchase, its function to keep track of time with a limited range of additional features. An accessory. A statement.

I do not own a watch. I haven't owned a watch for years. It was replaced long ago by my iPhone which pretty much does all of the same things and it has by in large been getting much much better at doing a multitude of other things over time. It's also replaced my camera, audio recorder and MP3 player.

Faster processors, bigger and better screens, more storage and apps, improved imaging with the camera and video. It's an ever frowing list. The pace of development in hardware and software dictates largely that the purchase of an iPhone has a feasible usage life of around 2-3 years or thereabouts.

General discussion about watches is generally limited with respect to the inner workings other than their accuracy and reliability. It's about design and style. Not essentially a problem for Apple as they and interlinked with design and style anyway. Cost for many isn't an issue. Many will spend thousands on a watch. And in turn, it's already apparent that this too won't be a hurdle for Apple.

The real hurdle is in, ironically time. Or life-time. The purchase of a watch is long term. Simply put, in most cases a watch is a long term purchase that doesn't accommodate the notion of obsolescence.

The very fact that the new Apple Watch makes reference to microprocessors and sensors, in the same breath as quality materials that are built to last is verging on oxymoronic. Yet, technical specification gives rise to just that. Specification. And specification gives rise to inevitable obsolescence.

From a software perspective; as it appears, Apple Watch will be all encompassing from a functionality point of view. To be fair, it has to be in this day and age. Users will expect to be able track and monitor all sorts of data from good ol' time to heart-rate, to Twitter, run times and text messages. Apple said that their intention was not to put an iPhone into a watch factor but having seen the functionality it appears from the outset that this is indeed what has happened.

I'm not questioning the extent of functionality here; but possibly the way it has been addressed and implemented from a User Experience / software point of view.

The exterior is all too familiar, and the software available on the Apple Watch is too. An almost conservative approach. Apple have always been cited for taking the complex and making it simple yet with their Watch they have taken the complex (complex in full features sense) from its other mobile devices and crammed them into the device.

We have the 'Digital Crown' which is to all intents and purposes an anti-touch user-input device. A way to solve the challenges of a device with such a small screen, yet it detaches the user from the interface and content itself. It's an old-school idiom - a physical selector/actuator. Gone are the subtle touch commands, pinches and swipes that are the mainstay of the sibling iPhones and iPads.

In some ways I think that these design responses are  in fact challenges that Apple may not have needed to solve in the first place.

Based on their sculptural teaser the was the hope that the Apple Watch might not really just look like, well, a watch. Or indeed simply be a watch, which we know by now that it isn't. Yet, the concept of it being wearable, perhaps complimentary to an existing watch, like a Fuelband or Jawbone, a really simple form using simple materials. might have given broader appeal. Something that the tech market might just get.

If we were looking at this in a Designer versus Designer 'Top Trumps' vein, a Dieter Rams design viewpoint no doubt would look like a watch. But it would be a much simpler watch on the inside. It would probably be just a watch. Nothing else. Pure and simple.

On the other hand, if a designer like Philippe Starck had approached the same design task; he would have without doubt taken a bolder, more sculptural and abstract approach.

Had Apple looked at a more implied visual design in form, then it would have forced them to reject the software paradigm of the smartphone into something much simpler and more gestural.

Advances in screen technology and LED technology would have allowed this. Notifications could have been coloured glows or symbols prompting you to check your email or your Twitter feed (on your other device). Alerts could be acknowledged or ignored using simple touch gestures.

The time could be presented simply and in much less space using a whole range of simple or abstract ways. Combinations of shapes or single function elegant displays of time. A modern twist on the LCD displays of digital watches yet very much for 2014 (or 2015 when it is available).

And as time progressed; you could keep the watch as the interface was non-specific. Devices could come and go and it would continue to quietly track your heart rate and tell you the time; but it would always be able to sync up with the latest iOS devices when they were released.

Maybe time will tell. Apple followed a very safe route with design inside and out. This is probably a considered approach in a first edition launch. Maybe Apple know better than most of us that this is what we need for now.

In any case it's a design approach that is all too familiar.

Simply B&W Tutorial #1 - Using coloured filters by James Moore

Simply B&W Colored Filters

Simply B&W has recently received a (long overdue) update in the App Store. For many of you who have used the app before, you may already know about the coloured digital filters available to manipulate your images. It's long been standard practice for many Black and White photographers to shoot with coloured filters over the end of the lens. This may seem odd to those of you new to the idea of adding a coloured filter when shooting in Black and White. However such filters can dramatically change or enhance an image as the filtration has effect on certain parts of the image, and the filters too generally are dependent on the subject being photographed.

Within Simply B&W there are simulations of such filters, without the need to process film so you can instantly see how the various colours can have an effect on your images. It's a great way to experiment and find the best filter effect that suits the tone you wish to create. Dependent on subject the variation can be quite dramatic, as can be seen in the image as shown above.

Original image showing vivid colours and texture.
Original image showing vivid colours and texture.

For detail in this particular tutorial, I will use a simple image shot much closer to home here in Scotland. Simple in composition, the palette is limited but there is a variety of textures which will serve well to illustrate the effects of the coloured filters. Shot on a sunny day it has hight contrast, vivid colour with striking white jetstream clouds in the sky.

Yellow filter applied
Yellow filter applied
Orange filter applied
Orange filter applied

Yellow and orange filters

The primary filter of choice when shooting in black and white as it is generally useful for darkening skies and emphasising clouds with increased contrast. Whilst yellow filters darken blues, they will lighten greens, yellows, red and oranges. Orange filters render similar visual effects although slightly stronger yet not as bold and dramatic as those given by a red filter.

Red filter applied
Red filter applied

Red filters

A red filter will markedly increase contrast between certain colours such as blues and greens in relation to lighter tones and highlights. Blue skies will be rendered almost in black with bright white clouds, adding instant drama to skies and landscape images. This increased contrast emphasises texture and detail in buildings and undulating surfaces where there is a degree of tonal variation. Reds too are lightened significantly, so interesting effects can be achieved when photographing strongly red coloured objects such as post boxes here in the UK or red flowers, making them appear lighter in tone.

Green filter applied
Green filter applied

Green filters

Green filters are great for capturing detail in foliage, as they lighten the overall scene and enhance surface details. This is particularly useful for example, on organic structures such as buds and leaves. They make great enhancers to macro photographs picking out subjects such as insects from a natural green backdrop. Portraits too make good subjects for the use of green filters. Blemishes and skin tones are flattened out making for more flattering images.

Blue filter applied
Blue filter applied

Blue filters

Limited in application, blue filters can be used to inverse effect of red and yellow/orange filters. Lightening skies and darkening natural tones they can be used to effect to separate layers of water, sky and foliage in complex landscapes. The darkening effect too can vividly increase contrast in certain scenes or add an interesting effect to a portrait.

Experiment

There is no right or wrong; and while there are recommendations for application above, there are no hard and fast rules on where you should use coloured filters. Don't be afraid to try the range of colours on your images and decide for yourself which enhances to the atmosphere of your image.

The option to create presets or 'Bookmarked Edits' which allow you to enhance images with one-touch has been added, so you can try out a range of tonal manipulations in conjunction to the filters to experiment with interesting effects.

Of course filtration alone won't automatically make a poorly composed photograph better, but the awareness of how light reacts in varying conditions will help you to see shade, texture and tone in a new light (pun intended).  In upcoming posts we can look at ideas for shooting with black and white photography; and essentially explore the ways we can use tone and shape to define our images.

Great points of reference for Black and White photography, where I have drawn inspiration from include the works of  Ansel AdamsHenri Cartier-Bresson, Diane ArbusMan Ray, Don McCullin, Harry Benson, Helmut Newton although there are many more on Magnum Photos

SimplyB&W is FREE on the App Store for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

download_app_store
download_app_store

BerryCam Express is now available. Get it for your Raspberry Pi on Github. by James Moore

BerryCam Express

BerryCam Express for Raspberry Pi is now available. This initial release allows you to control the camera on your Pi directly from any networked device including iOS, Android, Windows Mobile or your desktop or laptop PC. Timelapse functionality will follow shortly which means you can control your time-lapse tin can cam and we're exploring adhoc network connectivity so you can use it anywhere.

http://berrycam.net

Pop over to http://berrycam.net for more information and to download the source code from the Github repo.

And another time-lapse taken with the tin can cam... by James Moore

I've been busy recently refactoring the code with a fellow software developer for BerryCam which is to be released imminently; and decided to take a break and go offline for a weekend down to Arran to test out a few new cameras I've built and to try and get more viewpoints into a time-lapse sequence. Working in the same area as last time I deployed two Raspberry Pi cameras in the Illy tin cans both with the same standard components.

Between the two I managed to get around 18 hours coverage with both model A units easily turning in 10 hours capture time at 30 second intervals on 2900MAh AA batteries. I'm currently putting together another few units one of which uses the PiNoir IR camera module.