Hello Moto

For those that know me, it’s a really poorly kept secret that my two favourite hardware makers in the world are Apple and Motorola. Apple just make amazing things, year in, year out. Sure their fans sometimes skew a bit annoying, and sure it’s baffling why people celebrate them making 50% margins on a phone, but their hardware is amazing. Motorola for me though, especially in the last few years has been a treat to watch. The company has fallen a long way since the lofty days of the Razr. Up until a few years ago I’d completely written them off as making bland, unappealing hardware with no soul.

Then in 2013, something magical happened. The original Moto X.

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This little phone was a breath of fresh air, not only for Motorola, but for all of Android. It was small, featured near stock Android and nestled perfectly into the palm of your hand. You could customise it using a new site called ‘Moto Maker’ and select different colour backs, fronts and even a highlight colour. It wasn’t just colours either, Motorola had the audacity to offer materials you wouldn’t really expect on your phone, like bamboo. While every other manufacturer was going crazy ‘skinning’ Android to make it look different, Motorola gave us the stock Android User Interface. While every other manufacturer was busy desperately trying to replace every app that came from Google with their own version of the same thing, Motorola instead opted to enhance the core parts of your phone experience in small ways. If the phone noticed you were driving a car, it would offer to read your text messages. If you twisted your hand twice, it would launch the camera app. It would even respond to ‘OK Google Now’ when your screen was locked and your hands were busy. It got so many things right, and restored Motorola’s status as a premium phone maker in a lot of people’s eyes.

Fast forward to 2014, and Motorola launched the Moto X. Same name but a brand new phone. It was bigger, had a better screen and camera and introduced bold new colours and materials like leather. I was initially skeptical of them taking such a perfectly sized phone with a 4.7″ screen and increasing it to 5.2″ but in the end it proved to be a great move. I of course ordered mine, with a custom leather back and orange highlights:

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I loved that this phone was round, like the iPhone’s of old that fit perfectly into my hand. I loved that it was grippy and didn’t need a case to feel like I could use it. But…if I’m being honest, one thing still bugged me. The camera. It was good, but it didn’t hold a candle to the one on my iPhone. In perfect conditions the photos looked the same, sure. On so many other occasions though, when the lighting was bad or the subject moved, the photos were terrible. So when the Galaxy S6 came around with its camera I shelved my poor Moto X and started using that instead.

So here we are, with me reluctantly using a Samsung phone…a company I really don’t hold much love for…when who should come along to save me but Motorola! At an event 2 days ago they unveiled the Moto X 2015. The event itself was a bit cringeworthy, but the phones announced were interesting. I’m going to put aside the Moto G, not because it’s not amazing, but because that could be a whole blog post in and of itself. That little budget phone that has redefined how a budget phone should look and feel continues to go from strength to strength. This year for the first time Motorola has opted for two models of the Moto X, the ‘Moto X Play‘ and the ‘Moto X Style‘. If you’re an Apple fan who doesn’t know much about Motorola you’ll probably assume this is a direct reaction to the iPhone 6 and 6+ lines that Apple sell. You’d be dead wrong. The Moto X Play isn’t even coming to the US and appears to be Motorola’s attempt at making a high end phone for the masses. At roughly half the price of an iPhone 6 and with some amazing specs in tow it’s going to be very interesting to see how its story plays out (sorry).

But I’m all about the Moto X. Motorola said all the right things at the event. They’ve improved the camera and the screen of the 2014 model. Battery life is better. They are sticking to stock Android with a few custom additions. There are more customisation options now in Moto Maker. So I should be ecstatic right? Well honestly…no. I feel nervous and worried. Worried that the phone has gone from what seemed like a perfect 5.2″ screen to a 5.7″ one. Nervous that Motorola might end up being all talk and no game when it comes to the camera. On the camera front it really will be impossible to know until people start testing it. Hands on time from sites like The Verge help, but really you can’t tell much about a phone by taking a few photos in a room. On the size front there’s side by side shots of the Moto X and the Nexus 6 (a phone I find uncomfortably big) and it’s definitely smaller. It’s also smaller than the iPhone 6+ (another phone I find too big). But is it small enough? I sure as heck hope so Motorola. I’ve been impressed with your last two devices and your comeback in the last few years. Please don’t let me down.

Android Manufacturers

If you’ve ever been curious about how Google, Manufacturers and Carriers work together to bring you an Android phone, then this episode of Material is for you. We also discuss the recent Motorola event. It’s worth staying past the closing music just to hear my favourite bit of any podcast yet!

Joe Bloggs, But Rusty Doesn’t

When I first started Rusty Rants, I had no clear goal in mind for how often I’d post here. My idea was that whenever something took my fancy and was too long for Twitter, I’d drop it here. As the site got more and more popular though, it started to make me think twice before posting things to it. Is this good enough? What if I’m wrong about this? It certainly didn’t help that I met a lot of people from both Google and Apple at I/O and WWDC that all said they read it. I felt like yelling “GET OFF MY LAWN KIDS”…but then I remembered that I’d set up this lawn and stuck a sign on it that said “Come take a look, everything is free”.

So let’s make a deal, you and I dear reader. I’ll leave the stats page closed and post whatever takes my fancy. You in turn will just skip over anything that bores you. Deal? Deal. Awesome.

So the first thing I haven’t been posting about is every time a new episode of Material comes out. I think I might from now on, just for kicks. Todays episode is for anyone who has ever wondered about what Google Now is, and where it’s going. Next weeks episode is going to be super interesting, but I might leave that a surprise.

I wrote a draft of a slightly conspiratorial post about how it was interesting that Apple News and ad-blocking Safari extensions were both launching with iOS 9. One being exclusively supported by iAds, the other one potentially cutting off mobile ads on iOS at the knees. In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t publish it without researching it more. I’d like to do more of that from now on. In fact for those on iOS 9, I added this very blog to the platform, just to see how it all worked. You can add it by tapping this link on your iOS 9 device.

Oh, and future posts should be more about other things and less about me. Look at me making all these rules with myself and agreements with you, my imaginary Internet friends. We should totally poke each other on Facebook sometime!

Material, The Podcast

It will probably come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of podcasts. The main reason that Pocket Casts exists today was so that Philip and I could have an app to listen to them.

Ever since I switched to Android last year though, there has been a huge hole in my podcasting life. On the Apple side of things you can take your pick of great shows that cover both Apple news, and Apple topics. On the Android side the news side is really well covered by shows like All About Android and Android Central. The technical programming side of things is too, by one of my favourite podcasts, Fragmented.A deeper topic based show though? Not so much.

Until today.

Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears. No really, and quite literally. Let me introduce you to Material, the Google podcast I’ve always wanted:

Material

Material is a weekly discussion about the Google and Android universe. Every week, we try to answer the question, “What holds up the digital world?” The answer, so far, is that it’s Google all the way down. The show is intended for people like me. It’s also intended for those who use iOS devices, even exclusively. We’re not here to beat the Google drum or make you switch, just to give you a perspective on what the other side looks like.

I keep saying we? Who is joining me in this crazy endeavour? None other than Andy Ihnatko, beloved tech pundit and Yasmine Evjen, passionate designer and Android user. Also the fine folk at Relay FM have welcomed us to their network. It’s so exciting to have such a great home for our podcast and to get to do it with two amazing co-hosts.

Do yourself a favour, come and join us.

Subscribe links: Pocket Casts | iTunes | Feed | Website

All The Things

I’m still catching up on all things work and decompressing after spending 15 days in the US for Google I/O and WWDC. In place of some blog posts, I thought I’d throw out a few other places you can hear me talk about recent events.

First up there’s our Google Play Developer video which was a blast to be involved in:

I was recently on episode 32 and episode 33 of the Design Details podcast (Pocket Casts link). We chatted about Google I/O, WWDC and some weird designer stuff I’ve never heard of ;)

I was of course on episode 13 and episode 14 of Topical (Pocket Casts link). Again we chatted about Google I/O and WWDC. Episode 14 though was more dear to my heart, it was all about Internet Fame.

I got to be on All About Android and try out my American accent. I think Ron loved it.

Chris Lacy of Action Launcher fame also invited me on his aptly name ‘The Blerg’ podcast to chat about, you guessed it, WWDC. (Pocket Casts link)

If you love short podcasts, then my appearance on inThirty is for you. You’ll never guess how long it goes for.

If that’s not enough Rusty in your life, then honestly, you probably need some therapy. Either that or you need to watch this gif on repeat.

What to Wear?

One of the benefits of being curious about technology and running a company where we get to buy it to test on, is that I get to play with a lot of cool gadgets. When it comes to watches alone I have the Apple Watch, LG G, LG Watch R, Moto 360, Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Sony Smartwatch 3. I thought it might be interesting to compare Android Wear and Apple Watch as they are today.

Hardware
Hardware wise nothing matches the build quality of the Apple Watch. The way the bands work, the level of finish present in the body, stunning. There is only one body design, in two sizes, which you can customise with different bands. I personally don’t find the rectangular design of the Apple Watch appealing. It’s not ugly by any stretch, more just unassuming. That makes sense, if you only have one watch you have to make it unassuming to match all the different bands people might choose.
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Android Wear watches on the other hand are cheaper and vary wildly. The LG G and Galaxy Gear were the first two out of the gate in June of 2014. Both chunky and square, they feature designs only their mother would love.
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The Moto 360 and LG R on the other hand reference more traditional watch vocabulary and opt for round designs. The 360 looks like a watch from the future, while the LG R tries very much to blend in as a watch from the past.
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None of the Android Wear watches are built to the same standard as the Apple Watch, but for me they have one huge advantage: you can pick the style you like best. Personally I prefer the LG R because when I put it on, it looks like a watch. Apart from its size, it’s unassuming and most people don’t comment on it because it looks like a regular watch.

One important thing to note: if you have small wrists and don’t like huge watches, all but Apple’s 38mm watch are not for you.

Hardware
Between all the watches listed above there are 3 different screen technologies being used: OLED (Apple, LG R, Samsung), LCD (LG G, Moto 360) and Transflective (Sony). Out of the current crop the Apple Watch stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s clear, easy to read from any angle and bright.

When you’re not using the Apple Watch, the screen turns off. You can tap a button, tilt your wrist or tap the screen to turn it on. Android Wear on the other hand has an ‘ambient mode’. This means when you’re not using it you can still see a low power version of the information it’s currently showing.

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Once you have ambient mode and can read the time and your latest card at all times, it’s really hard to go back. I’d bet good money that Apple will introduce this feature to Apple Watch in the future.

Modes
The Apple Watch feels like a small iPhone on your wrist. It has a watch face, from which you can pull up for glances, down for notifications. Press the digital crown and you’re on the home screen covered in tiny app circles. From here you can launch pre-installed apps and any third-party apps that have watch apps inside them. That’s assuming you can hit those tiny tap targets, I’m still missing and launching the wrong app all the time. There’s a dedicated friends button that brings up a list of contacts you can message. In terms of interaction models: you can touch it, force touch it, swipe up, swipe down, press the two buttons and scroll the digital crown. All in all there are a lot of ways to interact with this watch.
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Android Wear on the other hand is much simpler. Your home screen is your watch face. Cards appear at the bottom Google Now style when they are relevant. Playing something? A playing card appears on top. Upcoming meeting? A card appears telling you before you need to leave. You can dismiss a card by swiping it away. Pull the cards up to reveal more details, and swipe right to take them full screen. Apps are available too, in the latest version you tap the screen to bring them up.
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Notifications
Both Android Wear and Apple Watch let you configure which apps show notifications on your watch. By default both mirror the notifications you’re getting on your phone, to your watch. On Android Wear any notifications you dismiss are dismissed from your phone. On the Apple Watch this only seems true of iMessage and a few other select apps.

Both platforms feature actionable notifications, and these are supported on the watches as well.

Philosophies
Like a small iPhone on your wrist, the Apple watch is all about configuraiton. Pick the watch face you want from the list of predefined ones that come with it. Customise the watch face with complications. Choose your glances and their order. Select which apps do and don’t go to the watch, and sort those apps. It’s very much up to you to set it up in a way where all the glances and apps you need access to are in a familiar spot. Then it’s up to you to pull up those glances and apps when you need them.

Android wear of course lets you choose and customise watch faces too, you can even download third-party ones from Google Play. Watch faces aside though, Android Wear is very much Google Now for your watch. It tries to bring relevant information to you, at the time it thinks is appropriate. You don’t really set it up, you don’t customise glances, things just come to you. This can be an amazing experience, like when my sister visits me from interstate. A few hours before she lands her flight details appear on my watch and it tells me when I need to leave. I didn’t configure that, it automatically found her itinerary in my email and knew how to parse it. At times it feels like magic. It’s not always great though, often when I’m out somewhere it will tell me how long it takes to get home, something I don’t care for. Other times it knows I’ve googled a nearby business and will give me a card with directions to get there, even though I have no intention of going. It’s a machine trying to guess what you need, and with that comes both the magic of when it gets it right, and the annoyance when it’s wrong.

Voice Input
Both watches feature really robust voice input that seems to understand everything I say. In the case of the Apple Watch this surprised me the most, since just last year Siri could barely understand a word I was saying.

Messaging
Apple felt that contacting your friends was so important they put a giant button on the side of the watch for it. Pressing it brings up a predefined list of your favourite people who you can send weird 3D renderings, digital touch messages or just plain old text to. I’ve lost count of the amount of time I pressed that thinking it was a home button, but eventually my fingers learned that it wasn’t. So far I’ve only found this useful for scaring people with crazy looking 3D tongue guy, or sending and receiving crude pictures of human anatomy (yes, I am indeed a 5 year old). This feels like a novelty that most people won’t use past the first few weeks of having the watch. Drawing on that tiny screen is just too hard and there’s zero indication given as to if the message has been sent, or the other person read it.

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Google seems to think this is important to, and in the latest update of Android Wear it lets you message your recent friend list either by dictating text, or drawing emoji which it will then interpret. Again, not super useful for me, but your mileage may vary.

On both platforms the only messaging feature I do use is occasionally replying to a message using voice to text. It’s handy in a pinch when you don’t have access to your phone or don’t want to pull it out of your pocket.

Good Vibrations
When a notification comes in, the Android Wear watch vibrates. The vibration feels like a phone, a shaking of the device that’s hard enough that you know something is going on. You can hear the vibration too, just like on a phone, but there’s no speaker that makes noise.

The Apple Watch vibrates a lot differently. Dubbed the ‘Taptic Engine’ it does what can only be described as a gentle side to side movement of something at the base of the watch. It doesn’t feel like someone is tapping you, but more like the watch moved on your wrist. The vibration itself is almost silent, you can’t hear it happen. Out of the box the Apple Watch also plays notification sounds from its speaker, like pings when receiving an iMessage. You can turn these off in the settings. I found the taptic style vibration to be a lot better because it was less violent, and not audible to other people. That said it is gentler, which led to me sometimes not even noticing it had happened, even when I turned it up all the way.

Fitness
Both watches can track your steps, elevation and heart rate. The main differences here is that Apple’s built in Activity app seems more polished and useful. That said it has some version 1.0 bugs, like telling me to stand up when I’d already been standing for the last 20 minutes.

The Sony Smartwatch is the only one with a built in GPS, so that you can accurately map your run without needing your phone. The rest can do the same if your phone is on your person, which considering the size of phones these days is becoming less and less practical.

Both platforms sync with an information database of your health data. Apple with ‘Health’ and Google with ‘Google Fit’.

Final Thoughts
The point of this article wasn’t to review the two platforms and tell you which one is better. I simply wanted to highlight the interesting differences between the two. In any case, Android Wear watches only work with Android phones. Apple watches only work with iPhones. This means if you want a smart watch you don’t actually get to choose between the two platforms, unless you want to swap phones as well.