Musings from Apple’s September 2017 Event

Apple announced a number of new products at its annual fall event this week. This event is always about the iPhone but has recently included the Apple Watch and Apple TV as well. If you want the details of the announcements, take a look at this summary from Gizmodo. I’m interested in several of the new products, which I will be covering here.

Apple TV 4K

apple_tvThe fourth-generation Apple TV was criticized upon its release two years ago for not providing support for 4K resolution and content, even though that content was very, very sparse and TVs were just beginning to offer it as a feature. That gap has been rectified  and is available along with a faster processor and support for HDR. The 4K model slots in above the “regular” model and costs an extra $30. 4K content costs the same to buy or rent as HD content. That’s a big deal because it makes 4K content available to anyone who can view it, at no additional cost.

We have a fourth-generation Apple TV in the living room and we love it. It’s fast, reliable, and the UI works well. Our second-generation Apple TV is up in the spare room and is showing its age. It refuses to play iTunes Store content because it can’t handle two-factor authentication, it’s finicky with AirPlay, and Netflix only works intermittently. We’ve had it for 7 years and it’s time to replace it.

We’re going to buy an Apple TV 4K for the living room, move the 4th gen TV to the spare room, and retire the second-gen. We probably won’t get 4K TV for another year or two, but we’ll be ready with content and a device that supports it.

Verdict – wait for a sale or buy when needed

Apple Watch Series 3

watch

I have an original Apple Watch. It was not very impressive until Apple released WatchOS 3 last year. Since then it’s been a reliable and helpful wearable device. I use it to view my calendar at work, catch up on emails, text, obsessively check the weather, and track exercise. I don’t really use apps but it provides enough features and performs well enough to provide value to me.

Apple released the Series 2 last year with a faster CPU, a brighter screen, GPS, and a water-resistant case. I decided to sit out that release for two reason: WatchOS 3 addressed many of my performance concerns and I expected additional sensors to be added in a future release. The future release is here and its… meh.

The headlining feature is LTE cellular support, allowing music streaming, texting, and other internet services when away from a phone or off of a WiFi network. This is great for folks who run, since they don’t need to lug their phone with them. The CPU is 70% faster CPU and the speaker is 25% louder. Otherwise it is the same size and shape as the current model. It takes the same accessories and offers the same battery life.

A 70% faster CPU is nothing to sneeze about, but the CPU in the Series 2 was pretty smooth as it was. The new CPU is powerful enough that Siri can talk instead of just typing, but I don’t use Siri and I don’t want my watch talking to me anyway. LTE support is nice, but I don’t run and I don’t think I’d use it. It adds an extra $70 to the price of the watch and costs $10/month through your carrier. I don’t care about a louder speaker. As I said, I don’t want my watch talking to me anyway.

I own an aluminum model and would like to upgrade to stainless steel, but it cost $220 more than aluminum. Outside of having sapphire over the screen instead of glass, it is the same. Same speed, same capacity, same features. Stainless models are only available with LTE, which adds another $70, bringing the price up to $650; only $50 less than a 64 GB iPhone 8!

I’ve really got two choices – get a Series 3 in aluminum or pick up a Series 2 in stainless steel when they start to clear out. They are already on sale for $499 and provide almost all of the features of the Series 3 that I would use.

Verdict – see what the sales look like for the Series 2

iPhone 8

iphone_8

While it’s the iPhone 8 in name, it’s really the iPhone 7s in actuality. The case is the same size and shape as the iPhone 7, 6s, and 6 but now has a glass back instead of aluminum, allowing Apple to claim that it is “redesigned” and bump the number. Otherwise it contains the same type of upgrades that an “s” model typically does.

The glass back is necessary to support the 8’s stand-out feature: wireless charging. It’s compatible with the Qi charging standard which means that it works with numerous third-party chargers. Apple didn’t release its own charger but is working on a mat that will charge multiple devices at a time, something not currently possible with Qi. It will ship in 2018.

The 8 has a new A11 Bionic chip with 6 cores and machine learning built-in. It’s faster than the A10 and has a faster Apple-developed GPU. The camera is still 12 MP but includes a new sensor, Image Signal Processor, color filter, and portrait lighting mode to create better pictures. It also includes improved video and slo-mo. The display adds TrueTone technology from the iPad Pro to adjust the color temperature based on the environment. The speakers are a bit louder too.

Overall a nice iterative upgrade to the iPhone 7. Everything else is still there – wide color gamut display, water resistance, solid-state home button with Touch ID, lack of a headphone jack. It’s a solid upgrade that I’d gladly buy this year if it weren’t for the final product announced.

iPhone X

iphone_x

The iPhone X (pronounced “ten”) is the new design fans were expecting last year with the iPhone 7. The centerpiece of the X is its edge-to-edge OLED display. Nearly the entire front of the device is display. It has a higher resolution than an iPhone 8 Plus but is only a little larger than a standard iPhone 8. The screen is OLED which makes its blacks truly black, it supports wide color gamut, TrueTone, extremely high contrast, and for the first time, HDR. It has the same dual-camera setup as the 8 Plus.

In order to make the entire front into a screen, Apple removed the home button and replaced it with gestures. Touch ID is gone as well, replaced it with Face ID, which uses your face to authenticate. Based on the demos it looks OK, but I’m concerned that it is going to be much harder to do and therefore slower than using Touch ID. There are also some gimmicky uses for the front camera such as Animoji.

Otherwise, the iPhone X has all of the same specs as the 8 – faster CPU, better cameras, better sensors, etc. Because it represents Apple’s “next-gen” product (and can’t reliably be manufactured at scale), it commands a price premium of $300 over a similarly configured iPhone 8, $200 over a Plus.

I really love the iPhone X. I want the additional screen space and dual-camera of the Plus and but I don’t want to carry around a giant phone. The iPhone X solves that problem and provides an amazing screen as well. I get everything I want in roughly the same space I have now.

Now that every carrier makes you pay full price for your phone through monthly installments I’m not really concerned about the price. Compared to an iPhone 8, it’s about $12 more a month than the iPhone 8 I’d get. My major concern is Face ID. If it isn’t fast I don’t want it.

The X can’t be preordered until October 27 and ships in November. I don’t want to order it sight unseen, so I’m going to wait for some reviews to post, hopefully before the pre-order date. If FaceID is good, I’ll buy it; if not, I’ll order an iPhone 8 and wait another couple of cycles. In two years its design will have trickled down to the “normal” models and any kinks with FaceID will be worked out.

 

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