So… Much… Awesome stuff!
Today, Apple took the wraps off updates to its most popular product, and its wearable. We saw the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, as well as the long-anticipated Apple Watch 2. We also got hard dates for the public releases of the upcoming software updates across all of Apple's products. There was a lot covered today, so let's get right to it! If you like, you can follow along on the full video of the event.
iPhone 7: Better than Ever--mostly
To the surprise of no one at all, Apple kicked things off with the next generation of its most popular mobile device: the iPhone. The 6s, released a year previously, was the first to sport displays that know how hard you're pushing on them, 12mp cameras, and major internal updates that brought unheard-of speed and power to a device that still managed to be thin, strong, and durable. This year, they did all of that again, but kicked it up a notch. The result is what I can only describe as mouth-watering (a term I'll be hard-pressed to stop from applying to pretty much everything else I get to write about today).
First, let's talk about the bad news. As many had feared in the months leading up to this announcement, the iPhone 7 is Apple's first mobile device to lack a headphone jack. Yes, you read that correctly. Apple has decided that the future of audio lies in wireless (bluetooth and Airplay) and a new generation of wired connection. Namely, audio will now be served via the onboard Lightning port, or via your favorite wireless headphones/speakers. This offers a number of advantages, chief among them a major increase in digital audio quality. Without going into all the details, Apple has essentially concluded that music sounds much better when decoded through special chips built into Lightning-compatible audio devices, rather than through an internal chip meant to drive audio to any speaker or mixer you care to attach. But don't panic: if 3.5mm is still the only way to go for you, every iPhone 7 will include an adapter that will let you use your existing audio peripherals without any problem. It will also come with Apple's next-generation EarPods, which now end in a Lightning connector rather than the 3.5mm plug we all know and love.
Apple also announced that, for $159 USD, you can own a pair of AirPods, which are high-quality, completely wireless earbuds designed by Apple. That sounds like a lot of money for earbuds, but these things are packed with advanced technology. You can double tap the outside of either one to activate Siri. Both buds have infrared sensors, so they won't play audio unless they are in your ears, and special hardware and software is included to make your voice clearly audible for Siri, phone calls, and the like. They will work for up to five hours on a charge, or you can dock them in their carrying case to recharge them almost five times over. They charge wirelessly in that case, and the case itself contains a battery you charge normally.
The other (possibly negative) change to the iPhone 7 is the removal of the Home button. Don't panic--there's still a button to press in the same place you're used to. Now, though, you don't press an actual button, you push on a pressure-sensitive area that will use the iPhone's haptic feedback to simulate the feel of a button press. It sounds crazy, but it's what the Apple Watch and many MacBook trackpads have been doing for well over a year now. Apple said in the presentation today that this change offers a range of benefits: less moving parts, room for more electronics, and one less way for water or debris to enter your device. The button press feels almost identical to the clicks we all know and love, you still use the "button" for all the same functions, and they even updated the Taptic engine that provides the feedback to offer a wider range of sensations. Of particular interest to those with motor problems is a passing comment in the presentation. It sounds like you can change the sensitivity of the press, much like you can on MacBook trackpads that have this feature. If you have a problem pressing the current Home button, you may be able to make the one on the 7 register with a much lighter push.
Now, onto the fun stuff. I said that this new phone is drool-worthy, and let me back that up. There is a wide range of visible and hidden improvements, from almost invisible antenna lines, to a new color option, and a ton more. Before I tell you why you want one, I'll tell you when. You can pre-order the iPhone 7 on September 9, and it will be available in stores starting a week later, on the 16th.
The camera sensor in both the standard and Plus models received the (now standard) upgrade, staying with the twelve megapixels of the 6s but drastically improving its focus speed, low light abilities, noise filtering, and more. The 7 Plus got an extra boost, with a dual lens setup that offers better performance in low light, up to 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom, and overall clarity than even the updated camera in the 7. This dual camera can even perform a trick Apple says is normally reserved for high-end cameras: shallow depth of field, where the foreground subject is in sharp focus while the background is blurred. No cell phone camera can do this, and Apple can not only take pictures with it, but can preview it on the screen. This magic is achieved by putting the standard iPhone 7 camera on the Plus, then adding a 56mm telephoto lens beside it. Advanced software lets these two lenses work together to perform amazing photographic feats. Just as the 6s Plus got hardware-based stabilization while the 6s did not, so this year does the 7 Plus get a major camera feature that its smaller counterpart lacks. Speaking of stabilization, both iPhone 7 models now include OIS, letting you benefit from the ability for your phone to remove the effect of any small movements your hands make. The front-facing camera picked up some improvements as well: 7 megapixels (up from 5) and even better performance thanks to its use of the advanced features formerly reserved for the rear-facing cameras of iPhones. Finally, both iPhone models include an improved flash, which puts out 50% more light with more accurate colors and the ability to adjust to the flickering of artificial light sources.
Driving those cameras is the newest mobile processor to come out of Apple's labs, and it's the definition of mobile powerhouse. The A10 Fusion processor is a beast, out-performing the (already impressive) iPhone 6s by a massive margin. Along with the A10 is a graphics chip that does ten billion operations on every picture you take with your iPhone, from identifying objects to adjusting colors and lighting and more.
Last month, Apple introduced a 2TB iCloud storage option. Some wondered if this was another way to justify the continued use of 16GB chips in iPhones and iPads, but Apple put those fears to rest today. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus will start at 32GB and go up to 256GB, with a 128GB option in the middle. This means that many people will be able to get the cheapest iPhone 7, but still have plenty of room for music, movies, and apps, while those who need more storage than iPhones up to now have offered will be able to get the 256GB model. This is a good thing, as the increasing quality of the iPhone's camera, along with the ability to shoot 4K or slow motion video, not to mention the introduction of Live Photos last year, all mean that camera usage will eat up more storage than ever.
The 7 looks similar to the 6s series, including the curved glass on the edges of the display. That display, though, is brighter and sharper, with more accurate color representation. It is also bounded by two speakers. Yes, the iPhone 7 brings stereo sound to your pocket, by using a speaker in the usual place on the bottom, and a much-improved speaker near the front-facing camera. The bottom speaker also got an update, and Apple says that both speakers have better sound than ever. Plus, the phone can pump out twice the volume, thanks to getting double the outputs.
Finally, a brief mention of colors. In addition to the now standard rose gold, gold, and silver, Apple has introduced two new color options: black, and jet black. The difference is that black is a light-absorbing, matte black, while jet black is shiny and polished. It will be interesting to see if these colors make it into other Apple products.
Apple Watch 2: the One You'll Definitely Want
Did you sit out round 1 of the Apple Watch because it was a first-generation Apple product? Did you not like its reliance on the iPhone? Did you think it was just a little too laggy? Well, get ready to make your bank account cry, because if you've been holding out for Apple Watch act two, you'll be buying more than just a new iPhone this year. Even if you don't want the newest one, Apple has a way to make you cough up the cash. Speaking of which, you can pre-order the Watch starting September 9, with pickups starting a week later.
Apple has taken the last sixteen months to make major additions and changes to the Watch. Externally, it remains identical to the previous generation, so if style is your hang-up, you're out of luck. Happily, though, current chargers, cases, and other accessories should still work. Though it looks the same, under the glass and metal hood of the new Watch are a GPS chip, larger battery, more powerful processor, and better waterproofing.
This Watch aims to address many common criticisms of its predecessor. It has GPS on-board, so you no longer need to carry your iPhone to get accurate distance readings while taking your Watch for an outdoor workout. The increased waterproofing lets you swim with your Watch, wear it in the shower, and generally not worry about letting it get wet. Of course, Watch owners have already been subjecting version 1 devices to such treatment, but Apple has officially recommended against doing so. Now, there are no such concerns. Swimming workouts are finally on the exercise menu for Watch users, with the upcoming Watch offering both pool and open-water swimming workouts. These will adjust to your stroke over time, getting better at estimating your calories burned and other metrics. Since they can't completely stop water from getting into the speaker, Apple's engineers have designed it so the speaker itself will expel any water at the end of a swimming workout.
As mentioned, there's a new CPU hiding behind the updated Watch shell and internal waterproofing. It won't beat your new iPhone in a race, but it's not meant to. Apple says this chip is more power-efficient while being half again as fast as the previous version, letting it do more, faster, while not sacrificing any battery life. Yes, you can expect roughly the same time between charges as the last Watch, but what you get out of that time will happen more quickly and offer better functionality. The graphics processor is similarly upgraded, offering far better detail and frame rates than before. All this is displayed on a screen that is a great deal brighter than the old model, making the Watch easier to see in bright light.
Still not interested? No problem. Apple will continue to sell version one of its wearable, but discounted by $120 and packing the new internals. In other words, you can buy the non-water-proof, dimmer-screened version (what they call the Series 1) for $249 and up, or get the water proofing, better screen, and GPS chip of the new Watch (Series 2) starting at $369. Also worth mentioning is the Nike Plus Watch, which is an Apple Watch presented by Nike with special features and bands, designed specifically for runners. This will also be $369 and should come out sometime in October.
New Software for Everyone
As Apple covered in detail back in June, this year sees iOS10, watchOS3, tvOS10, and macOS10.12 (yep, that's macOS, not OS X anymore). For full details, you can check out our coverage of those announcements, but the highlights are below. All these updates will come out on September 13 (except macOS, which will arrive a week later) and, as always, will be free. Remember that iOS and macOS drop support for some older devices this year, so you may not see the update available even after it comes out.
watchOS3 will make app loading much faster, offer live app previews, allow for more complications, and swap out the friends list for a "dock" of the apps you use most. The side button not only brings up apps instead of friends now, but just might save your life. If you press and hold it for a few seconds--past the shut down/low power mode screen--you will be connected to your local emergency services (yes, this requires your iPhone to be nearby). The feature will not only know and dial the emergency number for wherever you happen to be in the world, but will then alert up to three of your contacts and display your medical details on its screen. Finally, Apple put more work into fitness: wheelchair users have their own setting, which customizes the Watch to wheelchair activity, while the Workout app got easier to use and the Activity app gained some social competition features, if you choose to use them. What VoiceOver got: silent time-telling through Watch vibrations, and a cool feature that lets you toggle which items (other than time) are spoken when you wake up the Watch.
iOS10 brings a huge amount of changes across the platform, but some will have to wait for developers to catch up. Siri now has the ability to call you a ride, message or call using third-party apps (such as Facebook Messenger or Skype), and more. VOIP apps like Skype can now integrate themselves into iOS' phone features, offering voicemails, missed calls, contact methods, and so on. That is, you will soon be able to save "Fred", your contact, in your phone favorites, specifying that you want to call him with Skype. Plenty of other areas got a lot of attention in this release, too: notifications, 3D Touch, mail threads, the Messages and Maps apps, and more. Much of this integration will, as mentioned, have to come from third-party developers adopting Apple's new offerings. What VoiceOver got: a pronunciation dictionary, more voices, and improvements to braille screen input. Low vision users will also be happy to learn that there's a system-wide magnifier option, that lets you instantly start using your device as a video magnifier.
macOS Sierra brings several improvements and changes, but perhaps the most anticipated feature is Siri. You can now talk to Siri just like you do on your mobile devices; send messages, play music, open apps, and more. This update also introduces iCloud syncing for your desktop and documents folders, optimized storage for helping to use the cloud to augment your local storage, the ability to unlock your Mac with your Apple Watch, the introduction of Apple Pay to desktop Safari, and more. VoiceOver got a setting for how to handle "1 row added" announcements, as well as several welcomed changes. For instance, it now speaks mail previews even in expanded threads in Mail, and will say "in" or "out of" instead of the much longer "interact with" and "stop interacting with" messages. Several long-standing bugs were also fixed, like the problems with Trackpad Commander or password fields when you use the caps lock as the VO modifier.
tvOS will introduce single sign-on, as well as letting Siri search by topic across its entertainment sources. The former is perhaps the biggest deal, as it will relieve the most headaches. Essentially, all those apps that need you to sign in using your cable subscription details just got much easier to use. Once you sign into one of them, Apple TV will use those credentials to automagically sign into others you install. Sign on once, and you basically authorize your Apple TV, rather than just that single app. Unfortunately, none of us here at AppleVis are Apple TV beta testers, so we can't offer VO-specific improvements coming in this release.
Until Next Time
That's a look at everything Apple introduced today. The new iPhone 7, the second-generation Apple Watch, and final dates for all the new software coming our way.
Personally, I'm hoping to get both the new Watch and the iPhone 7 (not the Plus, though). My only decision will be whether to get the 128GB model, or go for the cheaper 32GB one instead. The phone will be great, but the new Watch is what I'm really excited for--faster, with more power and less lag, plus the better waterproofing (I love to swim) and GPS tracking.
Are you underwhelmed? Holding out for the tenth anniversary iPhone next fall? Switching Watches, or getting your first? Is the loss of the headphone jack just too much? Sound off in the comments!