• UPDATE 09/07: Apple Announces Sept. 20 Release for macOS Sierra
• UPDATE 09/08: Get tips on being among the first iPhone 7, Apple Watch 2 owners
It’s all over for now – except the re-runs of the streaming video from yesterday. Apple’s iPhone 7 event held on Sept. 7, 2016 probably raised more controversy than it needed to, but it also displayed the company’s ability to continue cranking out innovative high-tech products year after year. Now, I’ll take a look at each of the major announcements from the keynote and offer up my opinion on the importance of each.
Super Mario Run
The event started off with a few announcements from the company, touting the Apple Music Festival that begins in London on Sept. 18
and providing a grocery list of statistics. The App Store has now delivered 140 billion app downloads, sets new records for growth each year, and generates twice the revenue of Google Play. iPhone and iPad are the biggest gaming platforms on Earth, with more than 500,000 games available. So it’s only natural that Mario would come to iOS.
Super Mario Run will be available later this fall, providing one-handed play as well as a battle mode that lets players compete against others around the world. Don’t be concerned about a long stream of in-app purchases hitting your credit card; Super Mario Run will be purchased once for all the play you need.
What’s important: Remember a game called Pokemon GO? It has been downloaded 500 million times so far (and it’s coming to Apple Watch this fall) and has helped Niantic and Nintendo to make a bucketload of money. This should help Nintendo retain its revenue stream and give it the impetus to continue developing for iOS. Oh, and Apple just happens to get a 30% cut of every app sale…
Remember iWork? Apple’s productivity suite has taken the back seat to Microsoft Office for iOS and Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac, but it’s still incredibly popular thanks to its ease of use across the Apple product line. There wasn’t too much to the announcement except to announce cross-platform collaboration across the suite.
Keynote, Pages, and Numbers now allow a number of people to work simultaneously on the same documents. Some of the users can be working on Macs, others on iPhones or iPads, and even Windows users can get in on the action using iWork for iCloud. Expect the update for collaboration “soon”.
What’s important: The announcement shows that Apple is still paying at least a modicum of attention to iWork, and the cross-platform collaboration capabilities might make iWork more attractive to those who don’t want to shell out the continual subscription fees for Office 365.
Apple Watch Series 2
On Sept. 13, watchOS 3 will be available for everyone with a first-generation Apple Watch. The update brings a lot to the table — instant launch of most apps, a new Dock, the ability to change watch faces with a quick swipe, new iMessage features, and the Breathe app to help provide focus and calm. But the big news at the event was the Apple Watch Series 2. You can pre-order one starting Friday, Sept. 9 at 12:01 AM PT.
Here’s a quick list of the features of Apple Watch Series 2. Starting off, it’s not just water-resistant, it’s darn near waterproof. But don’t plan on using it for scuba diving or waterskiing. According to Apple, “Apple Watch Series 2 has a water resistance rating of 50 meters under ISO standard 22810:2010. This means that it may be used for shallow-water activities like swimming in a pool or ocean. However, Apple Watch Series 2 should not be used for scuba diving, waterskiing, or other activities involving high-velocity water or submersion below shallow depth.” Yes, you can use it for swimming, and getting doused won’t cause any problems. Apple even redesigned the speaker on the Watch Series 2 to eject water. Cool.
But the big changes are under the display, which is twice as bright as before, by the way. Apple’s prowess in creating packaged chips — called “SiP’s” (System in Package) resulted in the new S2. It has a dual core CPU and a GPU that’s twice as fast as the first-generation. It also features a built-in GPS receiver, so a lot of position-dependent apps (running apps, for example) no longer require that the owner take along an iPhone just for position data. A demonstration of ViewRanger, a hiking app, showed how the app would work on the small screen of the Watch, providing directions and visual hints to a hiker on a trail.
The high-end gold case options are gone for the Watch, replaced with a new Apple Watch Edition with a ceramic case that’s four times stronger than Stainless Steel. Apple also continues its partnership with fashion line Hermes with a new Series 2 branded line. The big partnership news was Apple’s tie-in with Nike for the Apple Watch Nike+. Featuring a special sports band and Nike+ app, the new watch is targeted at runners. The Nike+ model will not be available until late October.
One other great thing: the original Apple Watch is now known as the Apple Watch Series 1, and it has the same internals — except for the GPS chip — as the Series 2. It’s not as waterproof, so if you’re planning on using the Watch as a swim companion, I highly recommend that you get the Series 2. The Apple Watch Series 1 will start at just $269, the Apple Watch Series 2 and the Nike+ model will start at $369. You can pre-order tomorrow morning for delivery or pickup on Sept. 16.
What’s important: Apple shows its commitment to wearables with a new and much speedier Watch that’s completely waterproof and has a built-in GPS receiver. It expanded its partnerships with both Hermes and the leader in sports apparel Nike, and plans to expand the number of Watches sold by selling an upgraded version of the original Watch starting at $269. On the negative side, the company did not improve battery life, nor did it add a cellular modem. Finally, Apple’s ability to create more and more powerful proprietary SiPs is something that really differentiates the company’s products from the competition.
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
There’s no doubt that the iPhone is the most successful electronic product line ever, with more than 1 billion devices sold. Apple continued the legacy of the iPhone with what I think was a solid evolutionary advance. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus closely resemble the predecessor models — 6s/6s Plus — but as expected they have received some amazing improvements on the inside.
On the outside, the new iPhones have two new colors — Jet Black and Black. Jet Black is a highly-polished, shiny dark black obelisk that is sure to get small scratches (a fact that Apple acknowledges in the iPhone 7 fine print), while Black is the new “Space Gray”. Gold, Silver and Rose Gold finishes remain in the line. The Home button has been replaced with a force-sensitive, solid-state button that really doesn’t move, but feels like it — in other words, it uses a Taptic Engine to emulate the feeling of button presses. Thanks to the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack (more on this later) and other changes, the new devices are water and dust resistant, meeting the IP67 protection standard. That means that the devices are dust-tight and can be immersed up to 1 meter deep in water for 30 minutes with no water ingress.
One of the biggest changes is with the camera…or in the case of the iPhone 7 Plus, cameras. With the iPhone 7, there’s a single camera with optical image stabilization that allows up to 3 times longer exposures, a faster f/1.8 aperture six-element lens, and a higher-speed 12 megapixel sensor that’s 60% faster than before. The flash has four LEDs instead of two, but the amazing thing is that there’s now a flicker sensor that can sense the flickering of lights and adjust the exposure accordingly.
Now, take two of those cameras, with one having a 28mm wide-angle lens and the other a telephoto lens, and you can do some magic. The iPhone 7 Plus puts those two 12 MP cameras side by side, using them for an instant 2X optical zoom with a tap, or up to 10X digital zoom. Also demonstrated, but not shipping until later this year is a capability to take portraits with a very shallow depth of field. Remember the invitation for the event which showed lights in “bokeh” effect? That’s what you can do with the upcoming portrait mode, which creates a depth map for the image being photographed, then electronically determines what should stay in focus in the foreground while unfocusing the background. This is all done in software, something that DSLRs require big lenses to accomplish.
There’s better audio on the new devices, with true stereo speakers. One is at the top of the phone — actually, it’s a vastly improved ear speaker for the phone — and the other is at the bottom. The speakers put out twice the volume of the iPhone 6s speakers and have much increased dynamic range.
Apple also did something that has become highly controversial by getting rid of the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack and moving to the Lightning port for wired headphone connectivity. According to the company, there are over 900 million Lightning connector devices in the world, so they felt it was time for a switch to an all digital audio port.
But Apple wants to move beyond wires, and introduced new wireless headphones called AirPods that will be available in late October for $159. They use a special wireless chip developed by Apple called the W1, and the AirPods can be used singly or as a pair. Each can be used for up to 5 hours, and come with an AirPod case that charges the headphones. By using its own proprietary chip, Apple was able to make pairing of the AirPods to an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad or Mac as simple as pulling the AirPods out of their charging case and then clicking or tapping a “connect” button. Apple’s Beats subsidiary is also taking advantage of the W1 chip in three new products, the Beats Solo 3 Wireless, Powerbeats 3 Wireless, and BeatsX Wireless headphones.
What’s inside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus? A much more powerful yet more efficient processor called the A10 Fusion. This SoC (system on a chip) has four cores, two of which are used for high-performance operations and two for high-efficiency operations. How does the system decide which cores to use? Easy — Apple built in a performance controller that makes the call. The A10 Fusion chip is 40% faster than the A9 in the iPhone 6s line and twice as fast as the iPhone 6’s A8. In terms of graphics performance, the GPU is 50% faster than the A9 and 3 times as fast as the A8, all while using less power. The amazing figure? The CPU is 120 times as fast as the original iPhone CPU, while the GPU is a whopping 240 times faster than the one in the original iPhone.
The iPhone 7 will start at $649, coming in 32, 128 and 256 GB versions, while the iPhone 7 Plus will start at $769 with the same storage tiers. If you want one of those shiny “Jet Black” versions, you’ll need to buy either a 128 or 256 GB model. Apple will keep the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus around, changing the storage tiers to 32 and 128 GB. Pre-ordering begins the morning of Sept. 9, with deliveries and pickups on Sept. 16. The new devices run iOS 10, which will be available for the general public on Sept. 13.
What’s important: Apple realizes that the iPhone is the most popular camera on the planet, and the new two-camera iPhone 7 begins to blur the line between a simple “point and shoot” camera and much higher-end professional cameras. The removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack has raised a lot of pointless controversy, primarily from people who think that they’re going to be forced to use wireless headphones. While that is Apple’s ultimate goal, there’s nothing further from the truth; the iPhone 7 comes with Lightning-equipped EarPods, as well as an adapter for those who wish to continue to use their old “analog” 3.5mm headphones.
One of arch-rival Samsung’s major selling points — water resistance — has been taken away from them by the new iPhones, and frankly that is something Apple should have added years ago. Once again, Apple’s ability to create powerful proprietary SoCs that are unrivaled by any competitor is its primary edge in the smartphone wars.
Wrapping it up
All in all, I felt that the event was fairly impressive. Apple demonstrated that it will maintain its leadership in the smartphone and smartwatch markets through products that add some cutting-edge technology to an established and trusted product line. While Wall Street seemingly yawned at the event, that’s quite typical. The big indicator is how analysts view Apple’s long-term prospects, and most seemed to have confidence in the company’s future.
The big question is how many people will pre-order the new products tomorrow; that’s an indicator of how well the products will be received in the market, and unfortunately Apple has announced that it will break from past precedent and not announce how pre-orders are going. We’ll probably all find out on Friday, Sept. 16 if stocks at stores are limited.