It's September again, and that means another media event from Apple. Apple usually uses these to announce the newest iPhones, the release date of the next major versions of iOS and OS X, and any other big secrets it's been hiding. Normally, the iPad gets either a silent update or a smaller event later in the year, but this time, Apple broke with tradition.
Today, at an event entitled "Hey Siri", Tim Cook and friends delightedly showed off a whole range of new products: the iPhone we all expected, but also an updated iPad Mini, an entirely new category of iPad (the 12.9-inch Pro), a new Apple TV, gold and rose gold versions of the Apple Watch Sport, and a set of new Apple Watch bands. Each of these items is a big deal on its own--the Apple Watch color and band choices perhaps less than the rest--and Apple has a great holiday shopping season in store. Let's have a look at everything and see why your wallet may soon be lighter than you'd planned. I know mine will be!
Speaking of looking, here are a few video links for you, if you want to experience the announcements for yourself:
The new iPhone is probably the most highly-anticipated portion of these fall events, so I'll start here; oddly, though, Apple waited until the end of the announcements to introduce it. In summary: faster, stronger, better cameras, 3D Touch, and still compatible with most of the iPhone 6 accessories/cases you already have.
This is an S year, meaning that Apple kept the iPhone 6 design and just added or upgraded bits. On the outside it looks the same, but on the inside, it sports major changes. Before we go past the metal body, though, there's one thing to know about that metal. In the iPhone 6, some reports surfaced that the aluminum frames of the phone would bend very easily. Apple downplayed the problem, but it seems to have taken notice all the same. This year's iPhones are made of the same "7,000 series aluminum" from which the Apple Watch Sport is constructed. Apple claims that this alloy is sixty percent stronger than regular aluminum and is used in aircraft manufacturing, thus making it far harder to bend your new phone. They also use the same toughened, ion glass for the 6S screen that the Apple Watch Sport uses.
The big feature of the 6S is 3D Touch, a variant of the Force Touch technology we've talked about in the past. ForceTouch debuted on the Apple Watch, and then came to some MacBook trackpads. The system essentially adds a sense of depth, plus physical feedback, to an otherwise flat and unmoving touch screen. It does this by letting you push on the screen, and feel a click under your fingers. The intensity of the click can be varied, and the amount of pressure you use can make different things happen. On a trackpad, for instance, it can make you feel exactly like you've clicked a regular mouse, but you can keep pushing down to get to a second, more forceful click (known, somewhat confusingly, as performing a "force touch"). Since the device knows how hard you push, it can do things like vary the boldness or width of a line you're drawing, based on how firmly you press, or make the rewind button in a media player seek faster or slower according to how hard you push on the screen.
The feedback mechanism in ForceTouch allows for haptic feedback for more than just clicks. While we don't yet know what the iPhone will do with it, some apps on Mac have already used it to give a series of taps if the user tries to go beyond a boundary on the screen. Imagine feeling a very soft click each time you slid your finger from one key to the next on the on-screen keyboard, or touched a different icon or button. Essentially, ForceTouch's haptic feedback and pressure-sensing will open up a whole new dimension in the way you interact with iOS.
For some reason, Apple has branded the implementation on the 6S "3D Touch", rather than Force Touch. This may be due to how it works; instead of pressure sensors under the glass, the system on the iPhone relies on sensors to measure the distance between the screen and the backlight. It combines that data with input from the accelerometer and screen touches to figure out how hard you're pressing.
What we do know about iOS and 3D Touch is that you think of things as windows, and of touch as how far you want to look in. For instance, if you lightly touch a link on a webpage, you get shown a preview of what's on the page being linked to. If you press down harder, the preview expands and the full page loads. You can also switch apps, by lightly pressing on the edge of your screen and then sliding your finger across. Apple will undoubtedly expand this capability as time goes on, but for a first implementation, this seems like a great place to start.
Some of the demos we saw on stage today looked quite interesting. Lightly press an icon on your home screen, and, if the app supports it, you'll get a list of "quick options". The Phone app, for instance, offers a list of your favorite contacts, while Facebook lets you compose a status update without opening the app. Lightly pressing a link inside Safari will, as mentioned, show a preview of the page to which that link will take you, letting you quickly look at information without having to actually open the new page. Lightly press an email, and the email is previewed but doesn't open. You can quickly look at what an email says in this way, without opening it and then having to go back to your inbox. Lightly pressing a time will present a calendar view; if you get a text asking if you're free at 5:00, lightly touch the 5:00 to check your calendar, then reply to the text without actually opening the Calendar app at all. Developers will have full access to the 3D Touch APIs starting soon, letting apps go crazy with drawing, pressure-sensing, and other fun interface designs.
The other major upgrade in the 6S is in the cameras. The rear camera now has a 12-megapixel sensor with advanced features to give you the best possible images, plus speedier auto focus. The front-facing camera, meanwhile, is now five megapixels, and is capable of taking panoramic shots, recording video at 1080P, and providing a makeshift flash by making the screen of your device turn bright for a split second when the picture is taken. The screen flash can even adjust its color according to the scene, offering Apple's True Tone flash without needing to use a second set of LEDs. Compare all this to the eight and 1.2 megapixels of the iPhone 6's rear and front cameras, and the improvement is clear (pun most definitely intended).
There's a new aspect to pictures coming with the iPhone 6S: Live Pictures. Essentially, you get a picture, plus 1.5 seconds of video on either side of the shot, including audio. Apple says this feature takes up very little extra space, and will offer a way for pictures to be more than just snapshots in time. There's even an API, letting non-Apple apps support playback of Live Pictures. On the 6S, you press in on a picture to play the live version. Yes, you can disable the feature if you want to, just like you can disable automatic HDR on other iPhone models.
Apple has made changes to many of the internals of the 6S, using less power while offering greater speeds. Wifi and LTE, for instance, can now support speeds twice as fast as before, while the A9 processor runs seventy percent faster than the iPhone 6 even as it uses less battery.
The battery in the 6S will, as a happy consequence of all this careful engineering, last longer than that of the 6, and allow for more power-hungry features. For instance, Apple is so confident in the 6S battery that they've made one feature exclusive to the new phone: Hey Siri will work all the time. Currently, if your iOS device is plugged into AC power, you can say "Hey Siri [some command]" and Siri will do what you said. Leaving this on all the time, though, would be too much of a battery drain, so Apple doesn't offer the option… until now. If you have an iPhone 6S, you'll never again need to press and hold the home button to activate Siri. In addition, Your motion coprocessor is now always on, whereas that of the iPhone 5S or 6 is only powered up every few seconds unless you're actively tracking a workout. This lets step counting and other health information on the 6S be more accurate than ever
Other under-the-hood changes between the 6 and the 6S include:
- An upgraded processor--the A9--capable of even more performance than the blazing fast chip in the iPhone 6. Apple promises more power for you to use, while using less power from your battery.
- There's an improved LTE radio that consumes less power and can provide faster speeds, though such a speed increase will depend on your cell carrier to deliver.
- Similarly, the wifi chip has been updated. It still uses the 802.11AC standard, as far as we know, but Apple has made it potentially faster. Only real-world tests will tell if there actually is a difference.
- TouchID is now twice as fast as before, making unlocking your phone that much more convenient.
Not surprisingly, the 6S will come in the same flavors as the 6, and for the same prices. The three storage options are 16, 64, and 128GB, and the two screen sizes are 4.7 and 5.5 inches. The available colors will also stay the same, but will gain an additional option--rose gold. You can preorder a 6S starting Saturday, September 12, and shipping begins on September 25. Apple will also start selling accessories for the 6S--its full range of silicone and leather cases, charging docks, and so on.
Yes, if you were hoping for a smaller iPhone 6C, or that Apple would start at 32GB instead of 16, I'm sorry to say you'll be disappointed by today's announcements (possibly until November, possibly much longer). However, Apple will be making the iPhone 5S its free-on-contract option, so if you really want that smaller screen, you can still get a phone that supports TouchID, a 64-bit processor, motion processor, and more.
To pay for your new phone, you can go the usual route and get it through your carrier, or you can consider Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Program. Essentially, you pay Apple a monthly fee instead of paying your carrier. You get an unlocked phone for the carrier of your choice, and use it as normal. The price for this is higher than most carriers would charge--starting at $32.41--but the advantages are that you can upgrade every year even though your phone isn't paid off, and you get Apple Care Plus included in the price.
Apple did offer one consolation to people wanting more data: iCloud storage has increased. The 5GB option is still what everyone gets for free, but Apple now offers more competitively priced paid storage options:
- 50GB for $0.99 per month--two and a half times what that price used to get you
- 200GB for $2.99 per month, a dollar less that the previous price for this tier
- 1TB for $9.99 per month, which is double what $9.99 got you in the past
While this isn't the larger storage capacity iPhone many were hoping for, it still lets you offload a lot of data to the cloud for very little money. Of course, now that the new iPhones can shoot 4K video, you may find your storage filling up faster than before.
Upgraded iPad Mini
The previous iPad Mini update--from the second to the third generation--was widely regarded as a disappointment. The internals were practically untouched, the screen was the same, and the only big change was the addition of Touch ID. This year, though, Apple has pulled out all the stops. The newest iPad Mini includes specs that bring it in line with the iPad Air 2, once again making the Mini a true competitor in the market of smaller tablets. It also got an upgraded camera, and now sports the same shooter found in the iPhone 6 or iPod Touch 6. While Apple didn't say it, I feel it fair to speculate that some of the video-intensive features of iOS9 will now run on the latest Mini. It will be interesting to see what happens as people get ahold of these devices and start putting them through their paces.
Not surprisingly, the Mini 4 will be priced the same, and offer the same storage capacity choices, as the previous generation. Specifically, prices will start at $399 for 16GB, plus more if you want to add cellular support. You can choose either space gray, black, or gold; no rose gold option here, at least not yet. No word on what will happen to the Mini 3; Apple usually leaves the previous generation of a device in circulation as a cheaper alternative, but that isn't always the case.
The iPad Pro
Rumors have swirled for years that Apple was pondering a super-sized iPad. Today, they were proven correct.
The iPad Pro is a 12.9-inch iPad, which you may recognize as being huge for a tablet. For productivity, though, it can't be beat: it can run two apps side by side--with far more space for each than on an iPad Air--and it can do it in landscape or portrait. The screen is nearly as large as that of a 13-inch MacBook, yet the entire device is barely thicker than that screen (6.9mm) and is touch-capable. The screen even packs in more pixels than the retina display on a MacBook--5.6 million of them--and sports advanced features like a custom controller and variable refresh rates to save power. All this is packed into a device weighing just 1.5 pounds.
The Pro sports an A9X processor, which puts the iPad Air 2 to shame in terms of CPU and graphics performance: it is 1.8 times faster in CPU power, and twice as fast at graphics tasks. It also includes something never before seen in an iOS device--four speakers! For those of you who want to really hear your audio, the Pro seems a great choice. It sports two speakers on the top, and two on the bottom, which Apple claims can pump out three times the sound of the Air 2. The Pro can even balance the sound based on how it's tilted, so that audio always sounds centered both vertically and horizontally. Despite its capabilities, it still boasts a ten-hour battery life.
Apple will be selling two new accessories for the iPad Pro: an external keyboard named the Smart Keyboard, and a stylus called the Apple Pencil, used for drawing and handwriting. The keyboard will attach magnetically, and will sit over the bottom part of the iPad Pro. When it's attached, iOS detects it and adjusts accordingly, though we didn't get much detail on just what such adjusting entails. The keyboard is powered by, and sends data through, the magnetic connection, so there's no need to charge it or connect to it through bluetooth. It uses the same switches as are found in the new MacBook's keyboard, and is covered in a special woven cloth. No word on what that feels like under the fingers for now.
As a side note, the on-screen keyboard is extended, and can customize itself to the app you're using. Numbers, more punctuation, editing buttons, and more are all displayed with the extra space the Pro offers. It isn't yet known if this customization is available to developers, or if Apple supplies a set of pre-defined keyboards from which apps can choose, or if an entirely different mechanism is in use.
The Apple Pencil is a way of drawing on your iPad's screen with pinpoint precision. It includes pressure sensitivity, letting it tell iOS how hard you're pressing, and can also differentiate between your using the tip versus the side as you draw. Use it to sketch in Notes, add annotations or sign documents sent to you in Mail, write in the margins of Word documents, draw shapes, and more. Developers will have access to all this, letting them build stylus support into their own apps. The Pencil runs on battery power, and can be charged directly from the iPad Pro's Lightning connector, or by normal charging.
Unfortunately, you can't get your hands on one of these giant iPads just yet. Apple won't be shipping anything until sometime in November, and there's nothing yet about when preorders might open. The Pro will start at $799 for 32GB and go up from there; add $150 to increase to 128GB, and add even more for cellular connectivity. As mentioned, the Smart Keyboard and Pencil are sold separately: the keyboard is $169, the Pencil is $99.
When Apple discounted the then current-generation Apple TV by $30 back in March, many people wondered if a newer model was on the way. When WWDC 2015 came and went with no such update, everyones' sights switched to the fall event… And here it is at last!
The new Apple TV runs a variant of iOS9, dubbed "tvOS", and developers are finally able to make apps for it. It also supports Handoff, so someday soon, you could walk into your house while listening to music on your iPhone, and tell your Apple TV to keep playing the tunes. Or, you could be browsing the web on your TV, then open Safari on your iPad and pick up right where you left off. Third-party apps will be able to offer similar experiences, making your home a connected part of your iOS ecosystem like never before. Most exciting for me, tvOS includes a wide array of accessibility features, from Voiceover to Zoom and a lot more.
This generation Apple TV is a radical redesign in terms of software, but the hardware looks similar to the device we already know and love. It has a similar shape--albeit ten millimeters thicker--and the same ports and connectors. An A8 chip (the same one found in the iPhone 5S, and years ahead of the chip in the now outdated Apple TV) powers all this, offering hugely improved performance and efficiency.
Why would anyone browse the web on their TV, though, and how exactly would you "tell" the Apple TV to play music? Apple has two exciting answers: Siri, and a super-advanced remote. With Siri, you can say what you want your TV to do, and it will do it. The experience seems to be very similar to Siri on iOS; you hold down a button on the remote, say your command into the built-in microphone, and watch what happens. Unlike Siri, though, commands for your Apple TV include things like "search Youtube for cat videos". You can also run a general search, and results will be pulled from any app or video source your Apple TV can access (a small list for now, but expected to grow as time goes on). Siri can also filter results; one demo had it find "action movies", and then the command "only the James Bond ones" was issued. Siri dutifully removed all movies except the James Bond ones from the list. Filtering is supported for actors, genres, dates, and other criteria.
The updated remote includes not only the microphone, but a touch surface as well. You can swipe through results, tap the one you want, flick up for additional details, and more. I got the impression that this remote offers you a trackpad for moving through your Apple TV's interface, essentially. The touch surface also offers a way to quickly scrub through shows and movies, and even issue VoiceOver gestures. Paired with Siri searching and the deep integration with your other iOS devices, this is looking like quite the upgrade.
What else can powerful internals, a connection to a TV, support for third-party apps, and bluetooth support offer? Games! Apple is touting this Apple TV as a potential gaming console, and even offering game controller support. Developers will find it easy to port their games made for iPhone or iPad over to Apple TV, since everything runs the same under the hood, such as using the same Metal graphics engine. Pair that with the new remote's motion-sensing abilities (oh yeah, the remote can do that, too!), controller support, and you have a winning combination.
The $69 Apple TV is still available, for those who don't care about all these new features. The new box will cost $149 for 32GB, or $199 for 64GB, and includes one remote along with the Apple TV itself. Apple says that shipping will start in October, and that developers will be able to start building apps for tvOS much sooner.
The Apple Watch is getting a software update soon, which will bring a ton of new features. Before that, though, the hardware is getting some attention: a set of new bands has been announced, including special leather ones from Hermes, and a new color option--rose gold--will be coming to the aluminum Sport model. If you were hoping for hints about the next Apple Watch, you're out of luck this time.
As usual, Apple took a moment to tell us when the next major versions of all its operating systems would be rolling out to the public; fortunately, it's very soon. OS X 10.11 El Capitan will be here on September 30, and--as has become the norm--will be a free upgrade. Any Mac capable of running Yosemite will handle El Cap just fine, and older devices should even see some performance improvements. iOS9 will be arriving next Wednesday (September 16); similar to El Capitan, it will run on any device that can support iOS8, and should boost older devices some. Finally, watchOS 2.0 will be coming to your wrist on the same day as iOS9, ready to bring native apps, better performance, and a whole host of other improvements.
This event was one of Apple's biggest yet. We saw the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, sporting 3D Touch displays and vastly improved cameras; the iPad Mini 4, a major overhaul to Apple's smaller tablet; the iPad Pro, a first-in-class large tablet from Apple; a new Apple TV which brings third-party apps--especially games--to the living room, as well as a Siri-powered universal search; release dates for watch OS2, iOS9, and OS X 10.11; vastly increased iCloud storage plans; a new iPhone Upgrade Program; and new Apple Watch bands and color options. It was a busy couple hours, but was very much worth the wait.
Now, let us know your plans. Will you upgrade your iPhone? Finally get an Apple Watch, now that the software is being updated? Did the new Apple TV or iPad Pro interest you at all? Will you switch to iCloud storage, given the new pricing structure? If you didn't plan to upgrade your iPhone before, maybe the new Upgrade Program has changed your mind? Hit the comments section!