It was our second Apple event in a month, and as with the previous endeavor, Apple kept it tight and focused, discussing only two product lines: the HomePod and the iPhone.
The HomePod gets mini
The HomePod hasn’t exactly been a wild success for Apple, so making a smaller, cheaper model seems like a good move if Apple wants to stay in the smart speaker/home audio business, which it apparently does. Unsurprisingly, the mini doesn’t change much in the way of the speaker’s look and feel: it still has the same mesh fabric cover, as well as the same not-quite-a-touchscreen-but-still-annoyingly-sensitive controls. (The lack of tactile controls on the top of the HomePod is a constant frustration for me; even bumping it with my arm has accidentally triggered startlingly loud music playback.)
Most of the mini’s features also come to the larger HomePod—including the new Intercom ability, which Amazon’s Echos have offered for a while—though there are some exceptions. For example, the smaller speaker has a U1 chip, which is in last year’s iPhone 11 models, this year’s iPhone 12 models, and the Apple Watch Series 6. This will hopefully allow more seamless handoff features than the currently wonky NFC implementation in the full HomePod.
However, the HomePod mini doesn’t get the “home theater” features of the full HomePod when paired with an Apple TV 4K; I presume that means the surround sound-like features rather than being unable to pair with an Apple TV at all.
Unclear to me is whether the HomePod mini and full HomePod can be combined in a stereo pair, especially since it seems the minis are using the U1 chip for automatic pairing. And, perhaps most surprising, the unchanged HomePod stays in the lineup today, still at the same $299 price point, even though it is one of the few Apple products to regularly see deeply discounted prices.
I shall call it “mini iPhone”
Kudos to Apple for making a small phone at last. Even with a larger display, the iPhone 12 mini is smaller than even the recent iPhone SE 2, though they’re the same thickness. Size and color are two important factors, and it’s smart of Apple to have a variety of options in that department.
Not your parents’ MagSafe
Rumors of a reuse of the MagSafe brand turned out to be spot on, as the new iPhone 12 models have a magnetic feature that not only aids charging (by making sure the wireless charger lines up), but also adds the ability to snap on cases and other accessories, like a leather wallet.
It’ll be interesting to see how third-party hardware makers will embrace it, but it has potentially significant advantages in places like car chargers, where you’ll be able to magnetically snap your iPhone onto a mount and have it charge wireless. And it works through cases and maintains compatibility with Qi chargers. If Apple wants to move its iPhones to a port-less design, this is how it begins.
Speaking of charging, I think the new MagSafe Duo charger looks great, especially for traveling, but there’s no price or ship date listed, which makes me wonder if Apple didn’t learn its lesson pre-announcing a wireless charger last time around. There’s no way they’d make the same mistake twice, right? Right?
Goodbye chargers and headphones
Jumping to an environmental segment in the midst of an iPhone announcement might seem weirdly anticlimactic, but it ended up making sense, since it was a way to couch the news that Apple will indeed be removing chargers and headphones from iPhone boxes. Apple’s Lisa Jackson pointed to the tons of chargers that are already out there and the ability to shrink box sizes, both of which are solid points.
But Apple is still including a Lightning-to-USB-C charging cable in the box. On the face of it, this is an interesting choice, since most people probably don’t have a USB-C power brick, but I think that’s precisely one reason they did it: because customers can still use all the USB-A Lightning cables they have lying around for most cases, but get the ability to use fast-charging when connecting to the USB-C port on their Mac. It also points to why the company didn’t change to a USB-C port on the iPhone: everybody still has Lightning cables, while many fewer people have USB-C cables. Again, I’m more convinced than ever that we’re going to an all port-less iPhone, probably sooner than later.
iPhones? Oh yeah, iPhones!
Weird to put the iPhones themselves at the bottom of this list, impressive as they are. In general, iPhone updates have started to seem a little more rote, despite the amazing amount of power that gets squeezed into them every year. The new designs are eye-catching and slick, though I have to admit I think the iPhone 12 colors/finish looks better to me than the shiny Pro models—your mileage, of course, may vary.
The case for the addition of LiDAR was made here a little better than with the iPad Pro earlier this year, but it still seems like a feature that most people aren’t going to care about—until Apple makes a serious AR play, anyway. For now, it’s little more than a bullet point.
As someone on the iPhone Upgrade Program, I’ll still likely take get an iPhone 12 Pro to replace my current 11 Pro. The Pro Max is still a bit too large for me, and as attractive as the iPhone 12 and 12 mini are, I have to admit I’ve come to love my telephoto lens and the optical zoom. (Boo on Apple for heavily marketing the “4x zoom range” between the Ultra Wide and telephoto—it’s accurate, but it’s misleading to my mind.)
And oh yeah, the new iPhones also have 5G. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]