Apple held its yearly Fall-ish iPhone event today and released new iPhones, watches, and Air Pods. Here’s my take.
AirPods Pro 2
The AirPods Pro 2 look the same as the current generation but offer up to 2x the noise cancelling magic due to the new H2 chip. Combined with better drivers and amps, they provide better sound as well. A new microphone does a better job isolating your voice, adaptive transparency mode allows outside sounds in but reduces really loud ones like sirens, and touch control allows you to control volume by swiping on the pods. They now include an extra ear tip size for smaller ears, battery life increases by 1.5 hours to a total of 6, and the case now acts like an AirTag and has a speaker so it can emit a location sound you can actually hear. The price remains at $249.
Overall these are pretty good generational upgrades. I have the first-generation AirPods Pro and I really like them. Noise cancellation is good, but not world-isolating amazing, so I’d enjoy 2x more of it. Better sound is always good, extra battery life is always good, and adaptive transparency mode sounds like a nice improvement. The headlining features for me are the ability to adjust the volume from the pods themselves and the AirTag-ness of the charging case. I’ve frequently wished I could adjust the volume from the pods themselves instead of taking out my phone or using my watch (how lazy am I now?). I’ve also lost them in my own house a few times and let me tell you, the “alert” they can send out is useless. Having an actual speaker in the case so you can hear them is a godsend and having the precision tracking of an AirTag will make finding misplaced Air Pods Pro much easier.
All that said, my Pods are working great right now and I have no plans to buy new ones. These will be great whenever that time comes.
As expected, Apple released its latest iteration of the Apple Watch: Series 8. The design is the same as last year when Apple introduced a slightly larger, slightly more edge-to-edge screen. The headlining feature this year is the addition of a temperature sensor with a focus on Cycle Tracking. It still includes the ECG, Blood Oxygen, and Heart rate sensors from last year’s model. It has an improved gyroscope and g-force accelerometer that can detect severe crashes and call emergency services automatically. Battery life is unchanged, though an upcoming update to WatchOS will allow any Series 4 or later model to last up to 36 hours in Low Power Mode. The price remains the same as last year, starting at $399 for the 41mm aluminum model.
Apple has also dropped the Nike+ watch as its own model, but thankfully kept the cool and useful watch faces – they are now available across the entire line. Nike+ watch bands remain. The ultra-expensive Edition models, as well as the cheapest Series 3 have also been discontinued. I predicted that the Series 3 would end last year. I was incorrect, back then but it was pretty obvious that the Series 3 was getting the axe this year since WatchOS 9 won’t support it.
An updated Watch SE gets a performance boost from the Watch 8’s S8 chip, adds crash detection, and international roaming. The colors are refreshed and the back is made of a lighter composite material that matches the color of the case. The 40mm GPS model starts at $249, a $30 drop from last year.
The big reveal was the introduction of the Watch Ultra, which is an outdoor / sports / adventure focused model. It has a larger 49mm case with a flatter-edge design, buttons that protrude for easier access, and a new customizable Action Button. The screen is even brighter (2000 nits outdoors), the battery lasts longer (36 hrs normal / 60 Low Power), GPS is improved, a siren is included that can be heard 600 feet away, and it functions in expanded operating temperatures. It has an exclusive way finder watch face, a red night mode, a new compass, and a special dive computer app Apple partnered on. There are also a set of rugged bands to go with it, and it accepts 45mm bands as well. It only comes in Titanium and is only available with cellular for $799. That makes it cost only $50 more than a similarly configured 45mm Stainless Steel Series 8 model, which isn’t bad for all of that extra functionality.
Out of the fairly large number of watch announcements I’m interested in the standard Watch 8. I have a Series 4 that I purchased off a co-worker a few years ago and I’ve been holding out as long as I can. While I can’t take advantage of the temperature sensor in the Series 8, I do like the idea of crash monitoring. I’ll also get always-on display, compass, brighter and larger display, blood oxygen sensor, faster charging, improved battery life, and the improved durability of the previous three generations. I’m also super excited that I can keep using the Nike watch faces that I love without being limited to only black or silver cases. I’ve always wanted a (PRODUCT) Red watch, and a (PRODUCT) Red Watch I have ordered!
The “biggest” change for the standard iPhone model this year is the reintroduction of the larger “Plus” model. It’s essentially last year’s Pro Max with the standard iPhone feature set. Both models keep the A15 chip from the iPhone 13 series, but get the 5-GPU version used in the Pro. The rear camera gets a larger sensor on the wide lens, the front camera gets a new sensor with an autofocus lens, and a software-based Photonic Engine result in better low light performance and image quality. All models get crash detection and no longer include a SIM card slot for US models. In November all iPhone 14 models will be able to access satellite networks to send emergency texts when they are out of a service area. Colors are adjusted a bit as well. The 6.1″ size starts at $799 ($30 less than before) with the Plus coming in at $899. There is no iPhone 14 mini, but the 13 mini remains on sale along with the full-size 13, the 12, and the SE.
The most dramatic changes come to the Pro line. While last year’s model reduced the size of the notch a bit, this year’s model removes it entirely and turns it into a pill Apple has dubbed the “Dynamic Island”. It’s a clever way to use the cutout in the top of the screen to display additional status information, notifications, and activities. The screen is slightly larger with slightly smaller bezels and is brighter with a maximum brightness of 2000 nits. It’s also now always on. When the phone goes to sleep, it will dim the display in a similar way to the Apple Watch, but will update widgets and notifications. Rounding out the basics are a faster A16 chip with better GPUs.
The rear camera now has a 48 megapixel sensor which provides double the resolution of the previous 12 megapixel sensor. During normal use, it treats four pixels as one to gather better low-light detail, which results in a 12 MP image. RAW mode provides full 48 MP images. Apple also uses this larger sensor at a crop to offer a 2x mode without digital zoom, providing 0.5x, 1x, 2x, and 3x options for more flexible framing. The flash is improved for more even lighting as well. The Pro models also include the Phontonic Engine and similar front camera improvements to the iPhone that provide better low-light performance across all cameras.
Rounding out the improvements are crash detection, removal of the SIM slot for US models, and an additional hour of battery life. Sierra Blue has been replaced by Deep Purple and Space Gray has been replaced by a darker Space Black. Prices are the same as last year, starting at $999 for the Pro and $1,099 for the Pro Max.
I joined the iPhone upgrade program two years ago so that I could always have the latest iPhone. That makes the generation-to-generation improvements less significant for me, but I’m still excited. The always-on display will be awesome and I like that the it can get brighter than before when its on. I’m really excited for the return of the 2x focal length as well. Jumping from 1x to 3x is often too much and digital zoom sucks. Apple is using the larger sensor intelligently while still offering a super high resolution option for folks that want to use RAW. Better low light performance is always a plus as well. The Dynamic Island seems a bit like a gimmick combined with clever disguising of hardware limitations, but we’ll see how it works out.
I’ve already selected my upgrade. I’m getting the Space Black model with the same 256 GB capacity I have today. I’ve chosen an orange leather case to go with it. All I have to do is press the order button on Friday when pre-orders go live.