I have said it before, Apple products remain the best and the finest examples of what is possible in the consumer space but it is sad that all the excitement has gone from the Apple seminal presentation.
Don’t get me wrong… this isn’t their fault. They continue to be funny, slick and awe inspiring and their message is as clear as ever before. But gone are the days when all we knew was that “something new” was coming. We didn’t know what is was or what it looked like and we’d have to wait until the following day, with images chunking into view over a dial up connection, just to see what it was. For an Apple nerd, Christmas came four times a year and nothing typified this more than the launch of the original iPhone 10 years ago. No one outside of Apple knew what was coming and when it was announced to a great deal of excitement and anticipation we were all blown away. No one, aside from perhaps Jobs, knew how significant this day was to be and we were all left shell shocked at what this might mean for the future. We were all better for not just the product, but the wonder it left us with when the curtain fell. These days every YouTube blogger, internet sage and newspaper has leaked the look, the feel and the specs of every product and so all we are left with is the slightly anti-climatic announcements on the day. All I can say is thank God the presenters and the staging remains top hat… at least thats something to look forward too.
Anyway, with that slightly self indulgent “back in my day” rant out of the way… what about the new products announced on the 13th Sept 2017.
As this was the 10th anniversary of the iPhone we always knew that this was going to be something special and, certainly in the mobile phone arena, they did not disappoint.
As Apple started with the new Apple Watch, this is where I will start this article – for the purposes of recollection if nothing else.
Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple watch Series 3 is everything the first edition should have been from Day 1 but couldn’t have been because the technology wasn’t there yet. Yes, I am sure your neighbour will tell you that his Android watch has been doing this for years but I can assure you this was a gimmick to stick on the box that never really worked so it doesn’t count. So now that we all know how good your current Apple Watch is, we can look forward to the awesome thing that it became today.
As I alluded to above, the Apple Watch is now independent from your iPhone. This means that you can now use Siri, send texts, take and make phone calls when you are out of the house and your iphone is at home. The demonstration of this was done between a man on stage talking to a woman standing on a paddle board in the middle of a lake. The call was as natural as you’d imagine it would have been had she been using a handsfree phone, so I can only assume that they have vastly improved the speaker in the watch… something that prevented me from taking calls on the old one. For myself, the real world implications to this new feature, are vast. I often exercise with my watch (duh) and since pairing wireless headphones to the watch I can listen to music as well. Added to this I have ApplePay on my watch so a walk to the shops can be me, my backpack, my headphones and my watch… no wallet, no phone, no worries. Of course in the past this caused issues if I needed to be reached or make a phone call of my own. Personally this means my wife can call me and give me last minute orders on what to purchase and, because she formulates her wishes in stages (sometimes lasting minutes) this can be an issue when she cannot update my list en route. But in a more serious vein, being free of your phone when walking or swimming or shopping and being able to call in times of distress is a real bonus.
Of course this isn’t the only knew feature… it also comes with better heart rate monitoring and workout settings and a much faster processor.
WatchOS 4 was given a brief overview, having already been showcased at the WWDC, but it is enough to say here that the new software with its new goal settings, encouragement reminders and new watch faces, makes using the Watch even better and with the new hardware it’s an all round winner. As you might recall, I bought the very first watch but skipped Series 2 because, while I can continue to use the the new WatchOS and all its features, the water proofing and speed enhancements didn’t grab me enough to spend the money. This time however, I will be pre-ordering as soon as possible.
Apple TV 4K
Next up was the new Apple TV. Now I am a huge Apple TV user and it must represent at least 98% of the content I watch on TV. The new Apple TV looks the same as last revision but comes with the ability to watch content in 4K. If this kind of thing is of interest then this is a worthwhile upgrade because content really does look fantastic in 4K on a large telly. However if you are like me and find HD just fine then your current series 4 box is just fine as it is. As a side note… if you’ve purchased any movies in HD they will be automatically converted to 4K at no extra charge… so that’s nice.
Then the presentation turned to the red headed stepchild of this event (I’ll explain later)… the iPhone 8.
As expected the iPhone 7 was replaced with the iPhone 8, skipping the “s” series for the first time since the iPhone 3G. The iPhone 8 has the same form factor as the 7 but comes in fewer colours. However the body is all glass – toughest glass available – allowing for wireless charging. As predicted the camera is better – isn’t it always – and the internal CPU faster and the memory greater. Had it not been for what came next there surely would have been cries of “Apple’s lack of innovation” or “tired format”. But what came next simultaneously changed the iPhone and doomed the 8 to the iPhone time will forget.
The iPhone X, from the back, looks a lot like an iPhone 8 and as it turns out has pretty much the same cpu and memory capabilities… but that is where the similarities end. The screen takes up the phone front of the iphone, dispensing with the bar at the top – mostly, it now has a notch – and bar at the bottom taking with it, the Home button. Now this immediately strikes you as awesome and worrisome in equal measure. Firstly the screen is gorgeous and the real estate that comes with losing the black bars is fantastic. But what about the Home button, that place that you could always turn too when you wanted to get out of an app and return to the home screen? What about TouchID and ApplePay?
The lack of home button is going to bewilder low vision or blind customers in the beginning because this little physical depression was always a cue for them to orientate the phone correctly. I am guessing now it is the earpiece at the top or the speaker grill at the bottom that will give them a sense of the phones position in their hands.
Touch ID, at least on this phone, is a thing of the past. Access, other than a pin number and as a quick to access ApplePay is now done via the new FaceID. Now face recognition has been tried before on other platforms and has been a disaster. The Galaxy 8 touted this as a key feature but it was defeated easily and was so useless that even Samsung themselves told buyers that their face recognition system should not or could not be used for security related services. So it was through suspicious slits that I watched Apple sell us on the concept that their face recognition system was actually more secure than TouchID. As the iPhone X will not be in serious use until October or even November we won’t be able to fully test the claims that this face recognition system – unlike all the others – is as safe as a finger print. If the lengths Apple have reportedly gone too make sure it cannot be faked out with a photo, a Hollywood special effect quality face mask or video… I’d like to think we are in pretty good hands. It will also work, we are told, if you are wearing sunglasses, grow a beard (that’s my mum covered) and change your hair style or colour.
But even as early testing suggests it might work as advertised more people are worried about how easily a thief or law enforcement might be able to open a phone by simply showing the stunned user their phone and then run away with an unlocked phone. Well it turns out that you have to actually be looking at the phone and stare at it, so even looking away for a microsecond will make your face unworthy. Mind you, some might even say my face is already unworthy and I am not sure i can disagree with that sentiment.
My advise, at least the advise I am following, is to wait until the iPhone X is out before making a decision about it or the iPhone 8 as your next phone. It has been a week since the iPhone 8 and X were announced and while I initially thought that the iPhone 8 would be relegated to the back shelf of history’s bar fridge, some reports are suggesting this might not be the case. After all it has TouchID, it looks familiar and feels good and it has the same internals as an iPhone X. It has also been reported to be actually a tad faster in benchmark testing? But on the other hand the full screen is glorious and FaceID is intriguing so I will want to feel it in my hands and unlock it with my face – as well as having it fully tested by real people – before I give up my beloved iPhone 6S.