By Jason Snell
September 9, 2015 10:51 PM PT
Notebook: Apple’s newest product announcements
It’s been a long day, but before I pass out I wanted to provide a quick take on the new products unveiled by Apple Wednesday in San Francisco.
The thing that struck me the most about the iPad Pro was how light it feels. It weighs the same as the original iPad, but that pound-and-a-half is spread across its 12-by-8.7-inch body. During the stage presentation, they showed photos of someone casually holding the iPad Pro with one hand. It looked wrong—like a bit of marketing hype, trying to make you think that this iPad that’s so large it’s illustrated with a picture of Jupiter isn’t so huge—but it turned out to be right.
In the hands-on area, I also got to type on the Smart Keyboard as well as the iPad Pro’s own on-screen keyboard. The iPad Pro’s screen is so large, the on-screen keyboard is practically a full-sized keyboard on its own, complete with a number/symbol row. There’s even a Tab key. If I focused really hard on my fingers, I found that I could type on the keyboard at a blistering pace.
The Smart Keyboard seems great for what it is, which is a keyboard so small and thin that you can carry it with you everywhere and use it as a screen protector. The keys move, a little, and it’s a comfort to feel real key caps. Whether or not I’d buy one would depend on whether I found myself wishing for a physical keyboard all the time, or whether it was a rare enough need that I’d be better off using the software keyboard and bringing out a Bluetooth keyboard when things got serious.
I was talking to a very smart non-Apple employee in the hands-on area who was incredibly curious about the RAM on the iPad Pro. He said something interesting: That even the iPad Air 2 is plenty powerful in terms of processor and graphics, but even that device’s 2 GB of RAM is just not enough. Why take a device like the iPad Pro, with its PC-caliber power, and hamstring it with only 2 GB of RAM? Gruber strongly bets on 4 GB, which would certainly make a lot of people happy.
Would I buy one? That huge screen is so tempting (especially for reading comics), but I’m still torn between the iPad mini and iPad Air. I think I’d need to spend a lot more of my device time on the iPad Pro before I’d switch, but I’m already feeling a tickle of interest at the back of my brain. Down, boy.
We’ve been speculating about the Apple TV getting an app store for years, and finally it’s here. The interface looked great, and while I’ve never been the fan of using a touch surface to navigate on the Apple TV, the new remote seems to strike a balance between tapping and swiping and using physical buttons (it has six).
Most exciting is unshackling developers who, even when granted access to the old Apple TV, were stuck fitting services into a very simple Apple TV interface template. Now that the Apple TV runs apps, that consistency is out the window. A few years ago I was blown away by the version of MLB At Bat for the PS3, but on Apple TV its interface was vanilla. On stage today, we saw the same kind of creativity in MLB at Bat for Apple TV that we saw on MLB at Bat for consoles ages ago. Other media companies—Netflix, Hulu, maybe even Amazon Instant Video—can create their own experiences in their own apps. I think it’s great news.
And yes, of course the Apple TV does games, too. It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out—if it’s really possible to create a lightweight “casual console,” or if it’ll only ever be an extension of existing iOS games. I was struck by the fact that Apple hasn’t created a generic app that turns an iPhone into the equivalent of the Wii Remote. If a game wants to use an iPhone as a controller—the multiplayer version of Crossy Road, for example—it needs to address that device directly via an app running on it.
I’ve got universal search on my TiVo now, and I really like it—it’s nice to find out whether a movie’s on Netflix, or Hulu, or Amazon—so I’m looking forward to that coming to Apple TV. The Siri implementation on stage was mind-blowing, but in the presentation rooms afterward it was a little more like the Siri we know and don’t entirely love. It’s a service that’s always getting better, and when you learn the right way to phrase a command, it can work like magic.
Integrating Siri into the Apple TV remote is a great idea—you hold down the Siri button and say your command—and the implementation, which floats above the standard Apple TV menu, seems very smart. I guess you could say I’m bullish on the Apple TV—it looks like it may have been worth the wait.
Not a lot to say here, other than that it’s been a year since the Apple Watch was first announced. Things seem stale after a year. Some new colors and bands, along with watchOS 2, is a nice way to give Apple Watch some love as it enters its first holiday quarter.
iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus
The killer feature here is 3D Touch, and while it’s a little confusing to watch, it makes perfect sense when that iPhone is in your hand. I was really impressed with how smart the iPhone is at detecting different levels of pressure. In the few minutes that I was using an iPhone 6S, I never found myself tapping instead of using 3D Touch, and never found myself accidentally “popping” when I was meant to “peek.”
Those two concepts—you push on an item to get a “peek” at a preview of the data that lies beneath it, like the contents of an email or a person’s contact information, and then push a little further if you’re sold on the item to make it “pop” into full view as if you’d tapped on it—show some careful consideration and sophistication. From the “peek,” you can swipe various directions to reveal even more options. It seems complicated to describe, but when it’s just you pushing your screen with your finger, it makes a lot of sense.
In general, 3D Touch seems to have two modes: On the home screen, it’s used to display pop-up menus with links to common functions. You don’t even need to lift your finger from the screen—just push on the Camera icon and slide your finger down to the Take Selfie command, and let go. The Camera app will launch with the FaceTime camera already selected. Press on the Maps app and you can opt to jump immediately to driving directions back home from wherever you are.
In apps, 3D Touch most commonly follows the peek-and-pop approach. Press on an item to get a preview, swipe on that preview to make a quick action like filing an email or replying to a message, or press a little harder to make the item pop into full view. Each press is accompanied by a bit of helpful haptic feedback. It all works well.
Of course, app developers aren’t limited by these two models. Game developers, especially, will probably use 3D Touch in crazy ways that fit into their control schemes. But outside of games, it seems like most iPhone 6S users will be peeking and popping and jumping to quick app actions from the home screen.
The iPhone Upgrade Program
I’m still trying to figure out what I think about the iPhone Upgrade Program, which is apparently Apple’s answer to the wireless carriers’ new installment pricing model. It’s not cheap—you’re paying for an unlocked phone with AppleCare+ and then trading it in for a new model once a year—but I imagine that many of Apple’s customers feel far more loyalty to Apple than to their wireless carrier.
At the very least, the iPhone Upgrade Program gives Apple an alternative way to sell iPhones in Apple retail stores. And wouldn’t it be nice if more people weren’t under contract with wireless carriers and if they could take advantage of an unlocked phone to buy a foreign SIM when traveling internationally?
Is Apple competing with the carriers here? Subverting them? Something else? I don’t know, but it’s an announcement that took me by surprise, and I’ll be curious to see how it shakes out.
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