Recap of Apple's "California Streaming" September Event

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Intro

Today, as you likely know if you're reading this, was Apple's big September event, entitled California Streaming. For years now, Apple has used this time to announce the latest iPhones, often adding other launches to the agenda. This year was no exception. We have iPhone 13, Apple Watch Series 7, and new iPads, plus some new stuff for Apple Fitness Plus subscribers.

You can watch today's event yourself, or find it on their Youtube channel. As usual, audio description is available.

iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro

Yes, it's called iPhone 13. There was speculation about what Apple would call this generation, given that some cultures consider the number 13 unlucky, but 13 is the name. Physically, this generation looks similar to iPhone 12; that is, it has straight sides instead of the curved sides that iPhone 11 used. It has an array of cameras on the back that stick out a bit, it has the usual edge-to-edge display, the back is glass, you get the idea. What changed, you ask?

Display and Camera

Let's get past this part first, since most of the AppleVis audience doesn't care that much about it. The display has the same resolution as that of iPhone 12, though it is up to 28% brighter. The big change is in the refresh rate, which is how many times per second the picture on the screen can change. This number is given in Hertz, so a screen at 60 Hertz (written 60Hz) updates itself 60 times per second.

Android flagship phones have made 120Hz screens more and more commonplace in the last few years, and Apple has now caught up. Using the same Pro Motion technology found in modern iPads, iPhone 13 Pro's display will automatically adapt its refresh rate to fit the situation. If a video you're watching is 30 frames per second, the screen will throttle down to 30Hz; if you're scrolling around the screen, the refresh rate will match the speed of your finger, making the display look smooth and sharp. Not to be left out, iPhone 13 (not Pro) still gets a new, brighter screen that's easier on the battery, though it lacks Pro Motion.

The cameras on iPhone 13 can, to no one's surprise, handle low light situations better than before and take more detailed images overall. This happens every year, but what doesn't happen with nearly so much regularity is the introduction of whole new photo/video modes. I'll summarize what I can, but honestly, I didn't follow a lot of this part of the presentation very well. I expect the videos Apple used to show all this off were far more impressive than the word salad they threw at us when explaining everything.

  • Cinematic Mode lets AI automatically adjust the focus when it detects a subject about to enter the frame; the user can manually designate a subject the camera should keep in focus; the user can adjust the focus and depth of the shot in real time
  • the advanced optical image stabilization system found in iPhone 12 Pro has been ported to iPhone 13, not just iPhone 13 Pro
  • iPhone 13 Pro supports 6X optical zoom, Night Mode on all three rear camera lenses, and advanced recording formats for videography
  • Both iPhone 13 models support custom photo styles, which are sets of adjustments pro photographers like to make. Now, iPhone will save these and automatically apply them to each picture.

A15 Bionic

This new chip, which is at the heart of all iPhone 13 models as well as the new iPad Mini, is faster than anything that's come before it, as expected. The A15 has four efficiency cores, which can handle background and low intensity tasks easily, and two cores meant for serious work. Add to that the four cores meant to handle graphics, and you have a total of ten. That's before you get to the machine learning engine, a separate part of the SoC (system on a chip) that deals exclusively with machine learning and AI tasks. Oh, and to handle the extra features on iPhone 13 Pro, that phone sports an extra graphics core. With double the cache of the A14, the A15 is, as Apple says, a powerhouse. Still, my impression is that you won't notice a huge difference in daily usage going from iPhone 12 to iPhone 13.

Other Changes

The screen and camera were the focus of this year's iterations, it seems, but there is still more to like about iPhone 13. The battery life is improved across the board: iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13 Pro have one and a half more hours of battery than their iPhone 12 counterparts, while iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max have two and a half more hours than their siblings from last year. Also, the knotch in the top of the screen is narrower, though a bit taller. Speaking of size, the phones overall are very slightly heavier and larger than iPhone 12, but not enough that most people will notice. Still, it means that iPhone 12 cases won't fit.

Colors, Pricing, and Availability

As usual, I am only offering U.S. MSRP prices here, and U.S. availability dates.

iPhone 13 goes up for pre-order on Friday, September 17. Orders will ship, and stores should have devices in stock, on Friday, September 24. Prices start at $699 for iPhone 13 Mini, $799 for iPhone 13, $999 for the Pro, and $1099 for the Pro Max. Note that iPhone 13 now comes with double the storage as compared to last year's iPhone lineup, meaning you get 128GB to start with rather than 64GB. You can also now get a 512GB iPhone 13, and a 1TB iPhone 13 Pro.

For colors, the aluminum iPhone 13 comes in pink, blue, starlight (white), midnight (black), and the usual Product RED. The Pro models, using stainless steel frames rather than aluminum, are available in graphite, gold, silver, and Sierra blue (something like sky blue). Big thanks to this article that briefly describes the new colors!

Apple Watch Series 7

Rumors suggested that this year would see Apple finally give its watch a new design, and that turned out to be completely wrong. The corners are more rounded, or so the presentation suggested, but we didn't get the flat sides the internet was expecting. What the rumors nailed, though, was the screen size--the Series 7 has the thinnest bezels yet. While about the same physical size as the Series 6, the Series 7 fits more screen. Instead of the 40mm or 44mm we've gotten to know, we now get 41mm and 45mm sizes. The screen is also brighter when your wrist is down, making it that much easier to see at a glance. If you can see it at all, that is. I can't.

As usual, there will be a few new watch faces that take advantage of the increased screen real estate. One sports a dial time display that expands off the screen and out of the way when you raise your wrist, leaving the time easily viewable when the screen is not in use, and your complications available when you want to use the watch. The other face offers two large complication slots, in addition to several small ones. Other features for the new screen sizes include a full-blown keyboard (which you can tap or swipe to use), and a general redesign of text and buttons to make things easier to read/activate. Will 40 and 44mm watches get these features as well? We don't yet know.

While the Series 7 has no new medical sensors or processor, it still has some compelling features. First, Apple says that the way they redesigned the screen makes it more resistant to cracking when impacted. Falling off a bike (as was shown in one of the video demos) is less likely to kill your screen, for instance. From what Apple said, this change comes from re-engineering the shape, not the use of a stronger glass. Still, anything that makes my watch less likely to break is good.

Speaking of hardiness, Apple Watch Series 7 retains the same waterproofing as Series 6. Now, though, it can claim IP6X dust resistance. This makes the device much less likely to be damaged by dust or other small particles.

The other big change is in the battery. When charged on the new USB-C cable, the Series 7 can charge up to 33% faster than the Series 6, which itself could charge faster than any Apple Watch before it. Add to that the Series 7's ability to fast charge when it's low on power, and you have a device that is much easier to use all the time. Just eight minutes of charging, claim Apple, will get you enough power to get through eight hours of sleep tracking. A mere forty-five minutes will take you from a dead battery to 80%.

Apple Watch Series 7 is coming, but we don't yet know when. Whenever that day is, you will have some choices. It comes in aluminum, stainless steel, or titanium, either cellular or GPS-only, in 41mm or 45mm screen sizes. The aluminum model is offered in green, blue, starlight, midnight, and Product RED, and starts at $399. If you want an older model instead, the SE continues to be available for $279, and the Series 3 is still--for some reason--being sold as well, for $199. Don't get the Series 3, though. Please don't.

Apple Fitness Plus

Apple Fitness Plus, Apple's paid fitness class option, is expanding. There are now new workout types, including Pilates, snow sport preparation, and mindfulness. The program is also expanding to fifteen more countries and languages. Translation will be done with subtitles, rather than native speakers. Group workouts let users work out together, able to see each other's overall progress. This should allow for more competition, for those who want it. All of this will arrive later this year.

iPad

The iPad got some love during the presentation, specifically the entry-level iPad and the iPad Mini. The former is a relatively small upgrade, but the Mini... Well, we'll get there.

iPad 9

The iPad got the fewest updates, so let's hit that one first. Basically, it's the same device, but with a newer chip inside: the A13 Bionic, from 2019. You can now take advantage of faster machine learning, more demanding games can run, and you'll likely get iPadOS updates for a longer time.

The other big change is that both the front and rear cameras are now 12MP, and the front camera supports Center Stage. This is a feature brought over from iPad Pro that lets the camera keep you in focus, even if you move around, during video calls.

The screen now supports True Tone, which will try to adjust the color output to compensate for the color of ambient light. This has been a feature on other iPads and iPhones for years, but it finally arrives on the cheapest iPad Apple sells.

Given that this model is otherwise unchanged, all cases, keyboards, and other accessories should still work. This model also continues to support the first generation Apple Pencil. It will be offered in silver and space gray, starting at $329 for 64GB of storage. As with iPhone 13, this year's model doubles the storage; a $329 iPad from last year would have had just 32GB.

iPad Mini

This is where the big news is. iPad Mini 6 is the first miniature iPad to sport the edge-to-edge display that has been so popular on the iPad Air and Pro lately. By thinning the bezels and removing the Home button, Apple has fit an 8.3-inch display into the same iPad Mini chassis that used to hold a screen half an inch smaller. If you're a fan of Touch ID, don't panic--that feature has moved to the power button, just like on iPad Air.

The brighter, larger, True Tone-enabled display isn't the only change. Inside, you'll find stereo speakers (well, stereo when in landscape mode), 12MP cameras on the front and rear, the same A15 chip as in iPhone 13, more battery, compatibility with Apple Pencil 2 (complete with magnetic dock), and 5G cellular support. On the outside, iPad Mini now has a USB-C port in place of a Lightning port, letting you connect a multitude of devices without adapters or bottlenecked speeds.

This is a huge, exciting upgrade for anyone who relies on iPad Mini. You can pre-order today, with deliveries and in-store stock arriving on Friday, September 24. Color options include purple, pink, starlight, and space gray. This iPad starts at $499.

Stream Over

That's it, apart from the announcement that all the software updates (minus macOS) will be released on September 20. What did you think? Were you underwhelmed, or is your wallet already weeping?

Personally, I'm not a huge iPad guy, so am not tempted by the iPad 9 or new iPad Mini. My iPhone 11 still does well, and there's nothing in iPhone 13 that's compelling enough for me to want to upgrade this year. My Apple Watch Series 6 is also great, but I have to admit that the Series 7 is calling to me. I'm curious about the keyboard, I'd love to have a second large complication slot, and the fast charging is very appealing. I'm someone who is mildly irked whenever my Apple Watch isn't on my wrist, which was part of my motivation for getting the Series 6 last year. Being able to have my watch spend even less time on the charger would be nice...

Anyway, let me know what you thought and what you bought in the comments! It seems likely that there will be another Apple event later this fall, so we'll see each other again soon.

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Comments

Submitted by Jenna Pepper on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I was excited about all the new products... and then the presentation ended. Guess it's an S year for everything except the iPad Mini. Ah well, my iPhone 11 should last another year or two.

Also, no USB C on iPhones. Yeah, Apple will definitely go portless before letting go of those sweet, sweet MFI royalties. Also also, no purple iPhone. Big sad. The only way I'd upgrade before a year from this release is if I start making use of the cameras more or somehow can't get enough performance out of the a13 while flicking between Twitter and Telegram.

Oh hey, are they going to do that silly $30 surcharge for unlocked models like last year?

Submitted by JC on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Hi,

Same here. my iPhone 11 still serves me well, since I got it last year. moreover, the event was recorded in pristine quality. Apple does a tremendous job at this, so hats off to apple for another fantastic video presentation.

Submitted by Simon on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I think that for most people, this was a great event. For blind people, the phones are probably pretty underwhelming. I'm not going to say I'm disappointed because I think these are pretty fantastic phones, and I wish I could afford to buy one for the people I know who love taking photos. At this point, it's possible the iPhone 13 pro is a better deal for some than a 1000-dollar camera.
That said, I bought an iPhone SE in mid-2020 and other than the admittedly abysmal battery, I couldn't be happier with it. It has the small design we all came to know and love, the same chip as the iPhone 11 of that year, and no real downsides for someone who doesn't care about a camera or 5G. I think it's probably the most successful phone yet in the blind community; almost everyone I know has one unless they previously bought a 2018 or 2019 phone. So even though I acknowledge that the iPhone 13 are fantastic, and in some ways they would be infinitely better than my current SE, I can't justify the enormous price tag, especially since I would definitely spend the extra money to buy a pro for the lidar features. There's also a persistent rumour of an iPhone SE refresh in 2022, and I would certainly buy one without a second thought if it came out. And in terms of thoughts that are not blind-specific, I'm extremely disappointed that the iPhone 13 has no USB-C and no touch ID. Those are two features that would make the phone infinitely more appealing to me, and I think part of my problem is that I feel like Apple could have tried a little harder and could also be communicating more with users and product makers about upcoming hardware changes. It's ridiculous that we have no idea if or when Apple plans to do either of these things.
My watch is the series 4 without cellular, so for the sake of faster charging and that rather nice Flick Type clone, I'm considering buying a series 7. I don't consider that as much of a priority as my phone, but I think 3 years is long enough to justify buying a new one.
In better news (but also in support of keeping my current phone), I'm really excited about the iPad Mini. It has both USB-C and touch ID, is just as fast as the iPhone 13, has an absolutely stellar battery, and is still small enough to come with me everywhere. I have the previous iPad mini model with the A12 chip, and I've found I can actually hold it in one hand like a phone and use it pretty comfortably, so I think this will make up for any possible slowness I might experience on my iPhone SE. Since both the watch and iPad Mini have cellular options, I'm pretty sure I can order them through my carrier and pay 0% interest over 24 months, so I don't really need to budget for a huge purchase. I'd say I'm at least 50% likely to buy a watch and 80% likely to buy an iPad Mini, but have little to no interest in a new phone until the SE is too outdated or behind the curve for me, or until Apple adds touch ID, USB-C, or both. I consider face ID to be a downgrade even though I acknowledge that some people like it. More people just tolerate it because it's the only way to have a modern phone.
Oh, and the fact Apple is still selling the series 3 is just hilarious. I hope developers stop supporting this abomination of a watch. Anyone who chooses to buy one rather than an SE deserves the crippled functionality they get. One would think these would be acceptable watches for kids, but they don't even work with the new family sharing feature introduced last year, so they're essentially useless. If someone reading this is seriously considering getting one, don't. Spend the extra $80 and get an SE. They're fantastic watches both in general and in comparison, and Apple is probably only selling the series 3 because they have too many of them in stock.

Submitted by Brad on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

None of this stuff sounds like anything i'd want or need.

I have an Iphone SE2020 and I think I'll have it for another 2 or so years.

Submitted by Jo Billard on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I wasted my time, nothing was interesting, and I didn't hear any of the audio description I'd been told about, so there were spaces when I didin't know what was going on.

Submitted by Bingo Little on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

To begin with, all the people I know who love taking great photos can afford one of these iPhones themselves so I've no reason to worry on that score! Personally I thought when it came to that part of the presentation Apple were doing their best to string it out a little - my guess is there isn't quite as much to say about these new camera features as the time spent on them would suggest. There was a very high degree of repetition - higher than one would normally expect, i mean.

I have an SE2020 and nothing about the iPhone 13 makes me want to change that. I'm particularly disappointed that touch ID didn't get worked into the power button or somewhere else on the device. I know there are some face ID fans out there who think we're old hat clinging on to touch ID but it's not just on the blindy wish list.

The iPad clearly doesn't fit significantly into my use case scenario to justify the expense. I have an iPad Pro from 2016 already and don't make much use of it, so can't really be in the market for a new one.

The watch did peak my interest. whether the new features are enough to get me out there buying a new one I don't know; but given I'm not buying a phone this year I might just spend my money on a more expensive edition of the watch - perhaps I'll migrate from my aluminium series 4 to a stainless steel series 7? The keyboard does seem very interesting and I think I'd use that feature. I'm guessing BSI isn't coming to the watch, however, unless they implement a one-handed mode version.

Finally, yes it was a good presentation but it was also a reminder of how presentations, shows, sports events etc. without audience or spectator interaction are so flat. I have experienced the same during sparcely populated or empty lectures I have given in my job (I still have to give the lecture even if no students attend so it can be recorded). You have to rely on somewhat synthetic enthusiasm and I got that sense through much of the presentation yesterday. I hope next year they can deliver this before a live audience.

Submitted by David Lai on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

My preference for a smaller form factor and modle was glad they kept the mini. Not sure if next year will be the same, though I will indeed miss unlocking the phone from my pocket. However, my 5-year-old iPhone SE first gen now has an unstable battery, and with 64GB of storage, and the fact it's gone silent on me with no reason at least twice, I guess I can justify my upgrade without waiting for another year. Plus, the A15 chip means I can take advantage of advanced accessibility features with VoiceOver. I'll patiently wait till when I can decide from one of the 3 storage options.

Submitted by Igna Triay on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

While interesting, i'm fine with the devices I have at the moment, iphone 12 and watch series 4. Something confused me though. Does the apple watch series 7 still charge with the little platform thingy we have seen with previous watch moddles, that tiny circular stand? Got confused with the usbc cable part.

Yes, the Series 7 uses the same charging mechanism we've come to know. At least, from what I could tell. The USB-C part refers to the connector. Instead of plugging into the charging block in the wall using the larger USB-A connector we've all come to know and love, the new cable uses USB-C. It supports pulling more current, so can charge Apple Watch faster than the previous cables can. I believe you'd also need a 20A or better brick to take advantage of it, but most any USB-C charger these days is 20A or above anyway.

Submitted by Missy Hoppe on Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Like most of you, I was pretty underwhelmed by the event yesterday. Especially with the pandemic, I would have thought that touch ID would have been a priority feature. I think touch ID in the power button would be spectacular. With that being said, though, I think I will end up buying a new phone this year. My 8 Plus is beginning to show its age, and while it still has some good life in it, I'd like to give it to my mom so that she can retire her old iPhone 6. Also, I think I'd really benefit from all of the accessibility enhancements I'd get from a newer processor. I really like the idea of the iphone mini from the perspective of being pocket friendly, but I just don't know yet. It's not like I need to order first thing Friday morning, so I might wait until some reviews are posted; also hoping for more in depth descriptions of the colors. The sierra blue iphone pro sounds kind-a nice, but I'm also curious about the pink and blue regular iphones. I just wish that making a decision wasn't so difficult.

Submitted by Jenna Pepper on Thursday, September 16, 2021

My sighted friends tell me that the new keyboard on the watch is eerily similar to FlickType. Guess that explains a lot. I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed.