This week Apple held its usual fall product announcement event. We’ll get to the products themselves in just a moment, but first I want to talk about the event itself, and more specifically, the venue in which it was held. This was the first Apple keynote event held on its new “spaceship campus” known as Apple Park, and while we didn’t get a tour of the space ring itself, we were treated to a pretty intimate look at the all-new Steve Jobs Theater.
The event began with a completely darkened theater with a single line of text projected onto a gigantic screen that read “Welcome to the Steve Jobs Theater”. From the darkness came a familiar voice. A voice that we’ve heard many times on stage at Apple events of the past. Of course, I’m talking about the voice of Steve Jobs himself. The quote spoke about the culture of Apple and how Apple must stay true to itself and its beliefs. Of all the quotes that Jobs has had attributed to him, I found this to be an odd choice. The obvious one being the “Crazy Ones” monologue from Apple’s PR campaign. However, it still felt right, and still very powerful, and it was a great way to open the show. Following the clip, Tim Cook took to the stage and continued to pay tribute to Steve with a truly moving, almost eulogy like, speech about what he meant to both Cook himself and Apple as a company. This was definitely a tear jerker moment, and one that I succumbed to without question.
After Cook’s introduction and dedication came an update on Apple retail, which was presented by Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s SVP of Retail. She laid out a grand vision for what Apple is calling Apple Town Squares, a term that they are using to replace the more traditional Apple Store moniker that the retail spaces have had since their inception many years ago. She justified this change by saying that Apple stores aren’t simply a place where people go to buy Apple’s products (although that’s the only reason I personally go there), but more a place where people gather to socialize, learn, and experience the culture. In any case, this means big transformations for many of its flagship stores and an expanded line of services and events to cater to this new community atmosphere that they’re trying to create. If you ask me I think this is grasping a straws a bit, but then again I’m not the head of Apple retail, am I?
Once the retail announcements were out of the way, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of the product launches. First up, was the Apple TV. This product has long been referred to as a hobby by Apple, but with each iteration it seems to inch closer to an actual product line that Apple cares about. That was even more evident on stage at this event a well.
So, what’s new with the Apple TV? Well, quite a few things, actually… but I’m sure the things most care about are the addition of 4K video support, HDR, and some integrated live TV deals that include (some) sports. 4K is a huge deal for those who have a tv capable of displaying it, but I personally believe HDR to be the biggest leap forward with this year’s set top box. HDR stands for high dynamic range, and it basically allows you to see colors and tones that are more true to the human eye than what traditional television has been capable of showing you in the past.
Another huge announcement that coincides with the addition of 4K was that if you’ve already purchased a movie or tv show in high-definition (1080p) you’ll get an automatic upgrade to the 4K version at no additional cost. In addition to that they’re also adding live sports and news from places like the NBA, MLB, Bloomberg, and CNN. This still isn’t exactly what I want from the Apple TV in terms of cord-cutting, but it is a step in the right direction.
For those who have a 4K tv or want to watch their favorite NBA or MLB teams play live, the new Apple TV is a no-brainer. Personally, I won’t be buying one because I don’t have a 4K tv (yet) and there’s no package for NFL games, which is the only sport I (sort of) pay attention to.
Apple Watch Series 3
Next up on the list was the Apple Watch. Tim Cook said the Apple Watch is now the biggest selling smart watch in the world with a customer satisfaction rating that is through the roof. Naturally they didn’t reveal any real numbers here, but its clear that Apple believes the watch is catching fire in a big way.
The latest features on this series of Apple Watch include a faster processor, 18 hours of battery life, and the addition of LTE cellular capabilities. This means you can actually use the watch completely untethered from your iPhone, even to make calls. Apple is also doubling down on the health aspects of Apple Watch by including an all new heart rate app in watchOS 4.
watchOS 4 features an updated Heart Rate app, giving even more insight to heart rate, including measurements during resting, workout, recovery, walking and Breathe sessions. Customers can also choose to receive a notification when their heart rate is elevated above a specific threshold while inactive. Other great watchOS 4 features include the proactive Siri watch face that displays the information users need most throughout the day, an enhanced Workout app with new interface, custom High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout type and auto-sets for pool swims. With GymKit, users will soon enjoy the ability to connect to their favorite cardio equipment and experience two-way synchronization of data with just a tap, resulting in the most accurate information possible.
(Excerpt from Apple PR Website)
As someone who cares about their health now, more so than ever, I’m glad that Apple is focusing its efforts on making the watch a device that can help people live longer, healthier lives. That being said, I still feel as though the watch has an identity crisis. Apple can’t figure out if it wants the watch to be a fitness accessory or a fashion piece, and I think until they figure that out the watch will always be a tweener product that is ultimately trying to serve too many masters. Add this to the list of items I’m NOT buying this time around, but if they start adding more compelling heath features to watchOS or redesign Apple Watch Series 4 completely, I’ll be all-in for sure!
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
Ok, here we go… Time to talk about the iPhone. This year’s model is officially called the iPhone 8, and just like last year comes in two distinct sizes; the regular 8 and the oversized 8 Plus. While the design of the phone isn’t a huge departure from the previous iPhone 7, it does have one change that I find appealing, and that’s the addition of a glass back. I’ve been wanting Apple to ditch metal backing for a while now, and I’m glad they found their way back to using glass. In my opinion it is more aesthetically pleasing, feels better in the hand, and even though it does have a chance of shattering, it still shows scuffs and scratches less than an aluminum back (I think).
The phone itself isn’t getting much of an upgrade if you ask me. The camera got minor spec improvements and the processor is much faster, but otherwise it’s a typical S cycle iPhone. The major difference actually comes in the software, with the addition of an improved Portrait Mode and Portrait Lighting (beta), which will undoubtedly help you take the most badass Snapchat photos you’ve ever seen! In all seriousness, I love what Apple is doing in the space of mobile photography, and I think eventually mobile will catch up to consumer and maybe even pro level photography as well. That’s a good thing too, by the way, because it makes photography accessible to anyone. Whereas before you’d have to shell out thousands of dollars to get into the game.
Last, but certainly not least, is a feature many will say Apple is late to the party in implementing… Wireless charging. Yes, before you send me hate tweets, I realize Android phones have had this feature for a long time. Big deal. In my opinion this isn’t even a huge deal, because either way, you’re still tied to some sort of device that is plugged into a wall, so therefore the term “wireless” is a misnomer altogether. But, I digress. Now you can charge your iPhone without plugging it in… Yay! There will be many wireless charging pads available at launch time, but many of them from third party vendors. Apple’s own wireless charging pad, known as AirPower, won’t even be available until some time in 2018.
My final verdict on the iPhone 8 is that it’s a great phone if you’re coming from an iPhone 6 or 6s. If you’re coming from an iPhone 7, however, I’m not sure how great of an upgrade it actually is. Especially when you take into consideration the last item on our list, the iPhone X. I think you already know the answer judging by my comments, but I will not be buying the iPhone 8 or 8 Plus either.
What would an Apple Keynote be without the iconic phrase “One more thing…”? This was a staple of the Steve Jobs era keynotes where Jobs would seemingly be ending the presentation, and then pull one last amazing rabbit out of his hat. Given the leaks about the iPhone X before this week’s presentation, I’m not sure Apple quite captured the magic of what this moment might have held ten years ago, but it was still a nice walk down memory lane for me.
This is the mythical unicorn device that everyone has heard about and has been waiting for all year. Well, I have at least. The question, however, is does it live up to the hype? Well, that’s debatable at this point, and I won’t truly be able to form my opinion on it until I hold in my hand. But that doesn’t mean that the presentation wasn’t compelling and that Apple didn’t do a hell of a job designing, manufacturing, and selling the damn thing, because OMG this thing is gorgeous.
The iPhone X sports a 5.8-inch Super Retina display, OLED screen, a TruDepth front-facing camera, and a design that sports an all-glass front and back with a surgical grade steel band around the edges. Wow. No matter how pretty the phone might be, or how awesome the features are, it doesn’t come without its share of tradeoffs or controversy. For one, the home button has been completely eliminated. You now unlock your phone through something called Face I’d, which uses the TrueDepth front-facing camera to map your face and recognize you when you’re looking at the phone. Some will think this is cool, some will say its creepy, and inevitably it won’t work for some on the first try and they will proclaim Apple is doomed. As for me, I’m still on the fence, and will have to see it in action first. For me it seems odd to ditch a behavior you’ve engrained in us for the past ten years, but as a technology enthusiast I also understand that things do and must change in order for the industry to move forward, so we’ll see!
You won’t just use Face ID to unlock your phone, but also to authenticate Apple Pay. Now, instead of just double-tapping the home button, you double-tap the side button, look at your phone for a second, then tap to pay. For me this seems like extra work, and I think I’ll miss the simplicity of Touch ID in this respect, but again, I won’t know until I try it, and I should also note that I usually pay with my Apple Watch when using Apple Pay nowadays, so I’m not too worried about it.
The cameras on the iPhone X are also getting a dramatic upgrade over the iPhone 7 Plus. The camera(s) are 12MP but have a much larger sensor this time around, sport an all-new color filter, and both cameras now have OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). The rear camera(s) also support depth-sensing, facial recognition cameras that allow you to use Portrait Mode like never before. There’s also a new feature called Portrait Lighting (still in beta) which allows you to adjust the lighting around a subject to solely focus on them, which could be amazing or completely suck. We’ll have to wait and see it in practice rather than with Apple’s pixel-perfect examples on their website.
Ok, it’s time to talk about it, even though I really don’t want to. Let’s talk about The Notch. Immediately after the iPhone X appeared on screen people went bat shit crazy about the small flap, or notch, at the top of the screen on the device. Some going as far as saying Apple has lost its sense of taste when it comes to industrial design, and that the phone was an outright piece of shit, simply because of this one aesthetic hiccup. In short, this year’s notch is last year’s camera bump.
So the question becomes, why the notch exists in the first place. Only Apple knows the real truth, but in my opinion, I don’t think Apple ever intended to have this visible on the device at all, and they simply couldn’t perfect the technology to tuck it away under the screen, or they ran out of time to get it manufactured. In other words, somebody looked at the calendar, said “oh shit, we’ve got to ship an iPhone in a few months”, and Jony Ive yelled from across the lab “oh bloody hell, just ship the one with the damn notch on the top. We’ll fix it next year.” That’s how it all went down, at least in my head.
As you an see, I couldn’t care less about the notch. In fact, I like it because with the new gestures for accessing Notification Center and Control Center, the ears on either side of the notch give me a much easier target to swipe down from. As with anything like this, there will be some frustrations, and I get that. Game play and watching video are going to be a pain in the ass with a little black notch overlapping part of the UI. But it is what it is, and if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. That’s how we get Apple to change things. We vote with our wallets. However, they’re still gonna sell a gazillion of these things in my opinion, so for the small vocal minority, you’re just going to have to live with the iPhone X and all its notchiness for now.
Oh, and yes, I’m buying an iPhone X. Just in case that wasn’t clear from the start.
Overall I’d rate this Apple event at about C+ to a B-. The iPhone X was clearly the star of the show, but it wasn’t as impressive as some, including me, were hoping it would be. The rest of the products had some meaningful updates, but nothing really that makes me want to run out and buy one right away. If you’re two revisions or more behind on any of these products, by all means upgrade like you’ve never upgraded before. But if you have last year’s model of Apple Watch, iPhone, or don’t own a 4K TV, I’d honestly skip the rest for now, unless you really want the iPhone X like I do.