Apple held its highly anticipated iPhone event yesterday at the Flint Centre near San Francisco, finally unveiling new large-screened iPhones and, perhaps more importantly, a wearable called the Apple Watch.
Expectations were high, as Apple has been under intense pressure to deliver imaginative new products and prove that is hasn’t lost its ability to innovate in the post-Jobs era. Did they succeed?
On the day, there were perhaps no real surprises due to the amount of recent leaks, but it was clear from the moment that CEO Tim Cook dispensed with the usual sales updates (“…everything is great”) that there would be more than just new iPhones. In that tantalising moment, we knew that something else special would be announced.
It’s easy to succumb to the hype and media frenzy that surrounds Apple’s keynotes, but there were also several smaller things that you may have missed in the commotion.
Before that, let’s take a brief look at some of the key product announcements and new features…
Apple Event Recap
Two New iPhone 6 models – Bigger, Better, Faster
Apple updated the iPhone with two larger-screened models, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus.
Both models received a complete design overhaul consistent with Apple’s 2-year refresh cycle and sport higher quality ‘Retina HD’ displays with curved bezels. Despite the increased pixel count (one million and two million pixels respectively) the iPhone 6 retains its 302 pixels-per-inch while the iPhone 6 Plus improves on that greatly at 402 PPI. This doesn’t quite beat some of the other smartphones available today such as LG’s Quad-HD G3 (538 PPI), but the bigger screens should satisfy demand for increasingly large devices.
Apple has always maintained that one-handed use of a smartphone is critical to its usability, refusing to make compromises unless the technical challenges could be overcome. This has led to several design tweaks to the iPhone 6, such as moving the power button to the right side and improvements to iOS (more on that below) to make more effective use of the screen space and easier one-handed operation.
Apple is often criticised for adding incremental rather than revolutionary new features and capabilities to its products. The hardware improvements to this year’s iPhone 6 can also be considered more of an evolution, but Apple has improved most aspects sufficiently that the end result is, as Tim Cook boasted, the best iPhone yet.
Here’s a brief technical summary of the main hardware updates to the iPhone 6:
- Display: 4.7 inch (1,334 x 750 at 326 PPI) and 5.5 inch (1,920 x 1,080 HD at 401 PPI) versions with better colour reproduction and contrast
- CPU: a faster, more power efficient ‘A8’ 64-bit CPU (and new M8 motion co-processor) that delivers 25% performance increase and 50% in terms of graphics.
- Battery: higher-capacity batteries that give 10 days standby for the iPhone 6 and 16 days for the iPhone 6 Plus
- Camera: an improved 8-megapixel rear camera with f/2.2 aperture, 1.5-micron pixels, with 1080p video recording at 60 fps and 720p slow-mo at 240 fps. The iPhone 6 Plus is differentiated by inclusion of optical image stabilisation
- Sensors: a new barometer measures air pressure, likely to be used in navigation and fitness apps
- Connectivity: NFC contact less, LTE up to 150 Mbps, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) support, and faster 802.11ac WiFi
Mobile Wallet (Apple Pay) – Wireless Payments via NFC
More significant than the actual iPhone 6 hardware itself, was news that Apple plans to enter the mobile payment space enabling customers to use their iPhones as a convenient and secure digital wallet.
With major credit card issuers like Amex, MasterCard and Visa already onboard (plus dozens of retail outlets and the 6 largest US banks), Apple plans to revolutionise the way we checkout and pay for all kinds of goods and services.
Rival e-wallet payment schemes such as Google Wallet have failed to gain widespread adoption, partially because of issues with trust and security, but also due to the practicalities of deploying such a large-scale system that is effectively invisible to users – after all, consumers want convenience (one touch payment) and the confidence that their credit card information will not be compromised.
“Our vision is to replace the wallet” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO
“A truly mobile wallet has long been described as imminent. But it remains elusive…most have been a disappointment or have not worked well enough for mainstream adoption” – New York Times
Apple Pay uses both the existing TouchID fingerprint sensor for authorisation coupled with the iPhone 6’s new NFC wireless chip. With recent attention surrounding Apple’s recent iCloud breaches, security is obviously a key focus – Apple aims to solve some of these issues by securely using ‘tokens’ (rather than the actual credit card numbers) stored in the iPhone’s Secure Element. Merchants never get to see your card, PIN, security code or even your name and address.
The iPhone 6 will undoubtedly sell in the millions, giving Apple the critical of mass users (at least in the US where the service will roll out initially in October) that might just help Apple Pay become the de facto payment method for digital storefronts and in retail. And with Apple’s unique focus on the user experience, it looks like the wallet could soon be replaced by your smartphone.
About an hour into the presentation, Tim Cook delighted the audience by using the legendary “one more thing” line that Steve Jobs popularised. This was the setup line he used to introduce the world to the Apple Watch, and an announcement that even overshadowed the iPhone 6.
Apple’s intention is to make the best smart watch in the world – an incredibly precise, stylish and functional device that is a more intimate way to connect and communicate with friends, that works seamlessly with the iPhone, and that acts as a comprehensive health and fitness device.
Apple’s philosophy is that as a personal device that is worn all day and every day, a watch should not simply shrink down and replicate the typical smartphone experience (after all, interacting with a tiny touchscreen is inherently cumbersome). To overcome such issues, a ‘digital crown’ – a kind of miniature scrolling click-wheel – is used to zoom into and scroll through content such as messages and photos. It seems clear that as a companion to an iPhone, a watch that can receive notifications, update your Facebook status, provide directions and enable the wearer monitor and track their health and fitness, could become an incredibly useful and perhaps indispensable product.
Apple understands that a watch is also a fashion statement and lifestyle accessory. With just about every mobile manufacturer and tech company seeking to enter the nascent wearable market, Apple is determined to put its own unique spin on the smart watch.
Available from early 2015, the technical details were thing on the ground. Unfortunately there was no mention of screen resolution, memory capacity, or most importantly battery life. But the early showcase looked very promising – the health monitoring and fitness aspects combined with the attractive interface and high quality materials (we finally discovered where all the sapphire screens were to be used) should mean that consumers are willing to pay a premium for what is being perceived as a luxury product.
Will the Apple Watch prove more successful than the likes of Samsung’s Gear and the Moto 360 smart watches? Only time will tell…
Things You Might Have Missed at the iPhone Event
1. One-Handed and Landscape Mode
The iPhone 6 Plus is large. Without changing the interface to accommodate using such a large screen with one hand, Apple would have been in danger of violating their principle of one-handed use – the reason that was often given why the iPhone display never increased beyond 4 inches. A new landscape mode for the home screen and a new dual column layout for apps such as Mail aims to present information more effectively, in a similar manner to the iPad.
There is also a one-handed mode that temporarily pulls the entire display down, supposedly making it easier to reach the more inaccessible parts of the screen.
2. iCloud Pricing Slashed
Since the high profile attack and leak of celebrity pictures stored in iCloud, it’s no surprise that Apple focused on the security aspects of its new payment system. Notably absent however was any mention of iCloud security, although a more competitive pricing structure was announced quietly on Tuesday that aims to encourage greater adoption for sharing files, storing photos, and backups.
While not covered in any great detail at the event, iCloud nevertheless plays an important part in tying users into Apple’s ecosystem. Storage plans are now offered at 5 GB for free, 20 GB for £0.79 per month, 200 GB for £6.99 and 1 TB for £14.99. Unfortunately, iCloud is still more expensive than Google and Dropbox.
3. VoLTE and WiFi Calling
VoLTE is a relatively new packet-based network technology for voice that operators are looking to implement in the near future. By including this feature, Apple is future-proofing the iPhone and investing in the next generation of mobile networking. As a further enhancement, iPhone owners will be able to place a call over a WiFi network and seamlessly handover to a VoLTE call.
As VoLTE slowly becomes more widespread, consumers (and operators) will benefit from more flexible and powerful ways to make voice calls. The feature is initially available only on EE (in the UK), and Verizon and T-Mobile in the US.
4. More LTE Bands Than Any Other Smartphone
Apple states that both iPhone 6’s support more LTE (long term evolution) network bands than any other smart phone. Up to 20 bands are supported (7 more than the iPhone 5s), which means the iPhone will work with high-speed networks around the world than ever before. It also enables Apple to consolidate the RF chipsets and reduce the number of versions that are required to work on various operators that use different radio frequencies.
5. iPod Classic Killed Off
Nobody noticed that after the keynote, Apple’s website update silently killed off the iPod Classic. Once a mainstay of Apple’s business and credited with helping turn their fortunes around, the click-wheel version’s time was up once touch screens became the norm.
Music still plays a huge part in Apple’s DNA however, as evidenced by the appearance (and slightly awkward conversation with Tim Cook) of U2 whose new album was given away for free to all iTunes account holders.
Unfortunately, there was no word either on a refresh to the Mac Mini or Apple TV. Perhaps the television will be the ‘one more thing’ next year…