As the tech press rushed to immortalize the annual iPhone (and other stuff) event, it gave me time to pause to reflect. Should I give The Independent readers the party line full of Apple homage, or should I express my personal reaction? Technology-wise, I live in an Apple world. The good part of that is that once you are an insider, the pieces of the puzzle fit nicely, creating a synergy of design and architecture (that’s good because the investment is a tough nut to crack). On the other hand, before I go spouting off these amazements blindly, it would be good to separate the needs from the wants. Today, hopefully, I can do that. I will try to give you the salient implications of the significant product details that are more steak than sizzle. Here’s what I got out of the Apple Event streaming telecast.
The Apple infrastructure
How did Apple become the most successful technology company on earth? They design a product suite wherein every product had an intrinsic benefit to using it alongside every other product. You enter the magic kingdom because you are impressed by the design, quality, and features of a product (usually the iPhone) and keep acquiring more because it makes sense to do so. At some point of investment, you are hooked and can’t reasonably back out. This is not to say you aren’t benefiting. Understand, Apple product investment is based on long-term value. Their stuff really lasts long. I’ve already proven to myself that I can get six years life out of my MacBook Pro versus a Windows notebook that lasts about two years and costs half as much. Point being, you first need to make that investment leap to reap the benefits. On the other hand, today’s Apple Event has me wondering if some of that glittering product line is really useful.
The Apple Watch, expected operational upgrades
I really don’t know why the Apple Event led off with the watch, because it was a real yawner. I don’t own one and never will. No one I know has one. Maybe my circle of friends isn’t cool enough. Or maybe it is a solution in search of a problem. The moment I got a smartphone, I ditched all of my watches. Getting the phone out of my pocket to check the time was easy-peasy.
Up until now, the Apple Watch was not a stand-alone device. You needed to carry a smartphone to run the apps. In that respect, it was nothing more than a tiny monitor with a built-in watch. As expected, today Apple announced that the Apple Watch operating system was being released with the capability to run stand-alone apps. The developer community applauded this move because it cut them in on the action (read: profits).
Beyond that, the only other Apple Phone announcement was that you could get the aluminum case version in rose gold (a gender-neutral name for pink) and a slew of new watchband designs and colors for the fashion-conscience. As for the hardware itself, there was no change whatsoever.
iPad Pro: this thing is a world-beater!
As rumored, the Apple Event introduced the world to a new, larger, variety of iPad. It has a 12.9-inch diagonal screen with amazing resolution, tonal depth, and color response. (As a photographer, I love it. But hold on to your hats, folks—prices start at $799.) The iPad Pro is a delicious recipe: a robust processor, blazingly fast and detailed graphics, support for on-screen multitasking, a touch-sensitive screen (more on that in a minute), and a size that hints at a very practical desktop computer replacement.
Two optional add-on devices round out the iPad Pro. The Apple Pencil is a touch-sensitive stylus. From what I could see, this immediately moved the iPad Pro into the world of graphic tablets, and good ones at that. This feature compares to some of the very high-end (upwards of $2,000) professional graphic tablets with integrated video displays. Designers, artists, engineers, and photographers have to be salivating over the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro combo.
Secondly, Apple introduced an iPad Pro cover that integrates a full-size keyboard for pleasant text entry. The keys are not unlike those found on a MacBook Air. They have ease of travel, click response, and decent size and spacing going for them. The keyboard cover links to slick power and data transfer buttons built into the side of the iPad Pro.
All of this makes me wonder: If professional apps appear that exploit these features, this tablet clearly replaces a notebook computer. Now the cost starts to make sense. Microsoft was on hand at the Apple Event. Their Office Suite is being released concurrently with a boatload of deep capabilities that fit this device like a glove. Now I am anticipating that the folks at Adobe will join the fray with super capable Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign apps that go beyond what is currently available for the iPad Air (currently the bigger iPad).
Apple TV: big improvement, but not as good as it could have been
Next up was the expected announcement of the fourth-generation Apple TV. Of note, this device included a remote control with a built-in track pad, volume control, TV on-off switch, and very cool Siri voice recognition. This was the worst kept secret Apple ever exposed. Why? Because it wasn’t a secret at all. Details have been dribbling out for weeks to build intrigue. The remote now works over Bluetooth, so pointing the device at the box is a thing of the past.
Inside the little set-top box was a powerful new processor, a vastly improved operating system with universal search capabilities, integration with the Apple Music service, and app support with an app store (gaming, research, communication). The gaming feature works with the remote or any iPhone, thus allowing multiple players.
What is missing? Two biggies as far as I can tell. The device operates at 1080p resolution. With 4K coming on strong, that puts it into the realm of planned obsolescence. Also, the streaming content service is still in the negotiating stage. Networks have resisted signing up. Sooner or later, they will have to realize that Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Showtime are eating their lunch. I imagine full network integration on an a la carte basis will be added next year. That will pretty much be the kiss of death for cable and satellite TV.
iPhone 6s and 6s Plus: hardly worth the time slot
I paid attention to this because my AT&T plan provides me with a new smartphone every 12 months. Generally, I jump at that because my monthly payments stay the same and I get a fresh battery in the deal.
Every other year at this time, Apple releases a new series of iPhones. On alternating years, the release upgrades iPhones with refinements, a few added competitive features, and a new operating system. This is an alternate year. That is what the “s” in the model number indicates. The new iPhones look identical to last year’s release of the 6 and 6 plus. Here are the changes as far as I’ve been able to determine.
The case now has the option of rose gold. I’m not a pink kind of guy, so I couldn’t wait for that Apple Event segment to end. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looks like all of the case color options (silver, space grey, gold, and rose gold) now have white bezels in front. So much for my preference for the “goth” look. The case is now made from a tougher 7000-series aluminum alloy. As an engineer, that sounds pretty cool. But does that really matter?
The iPhone sizes remain the same as the 6 series introduced last year. I’ve decided to try the 6s plus. Yet I’m hesitant because it seems that it’s not meant for a pocket. I’m not one of those people that walks around phone-in-hand.
Internal upgrades include a more powerful processor (read: faster), a major camera upgrade to 12 megapixels, and 4K video recording capability, a five-megapixel front camera, a pressure-sensitive screen, and a few other minor things. Along with the camera upgrade, there is an interesting new feature called “motion picture.” It is a still picture, but alongside that it records the video activity for 1.5 seconds before and after the main frame. The effect is interesting and entertaining. After thinking about it, I rationalized that this has some unexplained requirements. First of all, a normal JPEG file cannot hold movement data. Can this be shared with non-Apple devices? Will it ever become a standard? Secondly, in order to record 1.5 seconds in advance implies that the camera is continuously recording 1.5 seconds of video in a buffer. That is a memory hog, a processor hog, and a battery hog. I hope I am wrong about this. Or, at least, I hope the feature can be disabled. We will soon find out.
Operating system upgrades throughout, a clean sweep
There isn’t much more to say about this other than that every Apple operating system is having an upgrade version released shortly to support all the new hardware features. To describe all the tweaks is pointless. The list goes on and on. My concern is this: There are now so many options and features that learning to be proficient with them requires practice, concentration, and patience. Not fun. I will use my stuff in a “keep it simple” mode.
Macintosh computers: nothing new at this time
There was no portion of the Apple Event devoted to the Mac world. Nothing is changing at this point. There really is no need to. Apple wisely applied its resources to the cash cows. The computers work great—they are built to last and aren’t something anyone would replace yearly. It reminded me of the Seinfeld “Pitch” episode: “This is a show about nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
I just looked at the word count. I am way over. If you need more or want to express your opinion, leave a comment below. Otherwise, go to apple.com and get the party line.