There was a lot announced at Apple’s event today, and I’d like to offer this piece as a knee-jerk analysis of what was announced. Before I dig in, I’d like to note that this was the first Apple presentation that used San Francisco as the font, which I think is a great change.
One of the most innovative products announced at Apple’s events today was not a phone, but an accessory which will conveniently upset users which suddenly find themselves without a headphone jack on their phone. Here’s how Apple introduces their new headphones:
Apple® today introduced AirPods™, innovative new wireless headphones that use advanced technology to reinvent how we listen to music, make phone calls, enjoy TV shows and movies, play games and interact with Siri®, providing a wireless audio experience not possible before.
Removal of headphone jack notwithstanding, I am excited to try out these AirPods. I’ve believed for a while now that Bluetooth wireless headphones have become “good enough” when compared to their wired counterparts. Admittedly, there are still problems, specifically the user experience around pairing, especially for multiple devices. While the battery life seems low and the price tag high when compared to similar products, the fit and finish of an Apple product seems present in this product. For instance, with regards to the user experience around pairing, when you pair your AirPods with your phone, that pairing is propagated across your Apple devices using iCloud, so you can use them with your other devices too. Also, you can use just one AirPod, perhaps as an earpiece, to be more inconspicuous, to use it more casually, or to wait while your other AirPod charges.
The bottom line is that I will get myself a pair of AirPods – I’ve wanted a gadget like this for some time, and Apple appears to have nailed the execution on Bluetooth earbuds.
But what of the new iPhone? Here’s how Apple put it:
The new iPhone features new advanced camera systems that take pictures like never before, more power and performance with the best battery life ever in an iPhone, immersive stereo speakers, wide color system from camera to display, two new beautiful finishes, and is the first water and dust resistant iPhone.
What stands out to me about the iPhone updates is that Apple finally seems comfortable with iPhone updates being just that – updates. In the past, the marketing materials and surrounding press all seemed to expect and to be delivering another “breakout/breakthrough/revolutionary” product, where the iPhone 7 seems comfortable with being an all-things-considered total upgrade. The new “Black” is absolutely beautiful, I much prefer it to Space Gray. The stereo speakers, improved display, improved camera, improved processor, and improved battery are all great – Apple really delivered an excellent phone.
Of course, the most glaring change to the every day consumer isn’t even listed in the press release, and that’s the omission of the headphone jack. I’m not personally opposed to removal of the headphone jack, I’ve been using Bose QC 35s for some time now and with great results. However, if I made music on my iPhone and wasn’t able to use flat-response headphones (necessarily with a jack) while charging my device, I’d be pretty upset. The problem for music creators with wireless is latency – when you’re starting and stoping a lot, the delay between hitting play and hearing audio in wireless headphones, even if measurable in the 100s of milliseconds, is infuriating and probably insurmountable for the foreseeable future. Once you start using monitors which process the audio before sending it as output, you can just forget about using Bluetooth, you need a wire.
The way that Phil Schiller justified this change was principally “courage”, but ancillarily having more space for the battery, the 3.5mm jack being “old”, and wireless being the future. The space justification is interesting in that this device is not any thinner than the last iPhone, which included a 3.5mm jack, and also on grounds that I bet this changes makes its way into bigger devices like the iPad, where space isn’t so tight. The “old” justification is not so convincing – the use of pixels, the use of cellular networks, the idea of a CPU are all “old” but still somehow relevant and important. Schiller is right about wireless being the future however, which is the only way I can interpret the “courage” line as arrogant and tone-deaf. The exciting thing about this, to me, is that the market will decide. I imagine Apple has done their homework, and found that not enough people care about the 3.5mm jack to justify its continued existence. I would much prefer to see usage numbers rather than hear about hand-wavy “courage” to justify this change.
The bottom line is that I won’t be upgrading my iPhone 6 Plus to the iPhone 7, but there’s definitely never been a better time to get an iPhone if you’ve wanted one. If I were going for a iPhone, however, it’d be an iPhone 7 Plus in Black, because the increased screen size, battery, and better camera all make for a better phone that the smaller sibling. Like Stephen Hackett, I wouldn’t go for the jet black:
I really like the look of the jet black in photos, but between this note and photos of the matte black option, I’m going matte.
Here’s Apple’s take on the updates to the Watch:
Apple Watch Series 2 is packed with incredible fitness and health capabilities including a water resistance 50 meter rating for swimming,* and built-in GPS so users can now run without an iPhone®. Apple Watch Series 2 also features a dramatically brighter display and a powerful dual-core processor.
The grand irony here to me as an avid Apple Watch user is that across Apple’s entire product line, from their professional-grade desktops to their bottom-of-the-line smart phones, Apple are obsessed with thinness to the detriment of every other metric. Number of ports? Well, we better remove a few in favor of being thinner. Size of battery? Well, battery improvements mean it doesn’t have to be as big, so better make it thinner. And yet, in the one product where thinness really matters to me, on the device which I think stands the most to gain from shaving a couple centimeters, Apple adds more power. These updates to the watch are much needed – third party apps are very slow, I must admit I’ve found the display ever so slightly lacking (but no showstopper by any means), and the experience of having your phone and your watch while running definitely needed rectifying.
The bottom line is that I will not be upgrading my Series 1, but I greatly look forward to getting watchOS 3 on there.