By Dan Moren
September 10, 2019 2:56 PM PT
iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches, oh my: Initial impressions of Apple’s announcements
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
While Jason is out getting his hands on all these fancy new devices, I’ve been sitting at home, quietly mulling over Apple’s announcements of the day.1
So, with the understanding that I only saw what everybody else did on the stream, and have been skimming through Apple’s press releases and marketing sites for a few minutes when I can, here’s a quick overview of what I think are the most significant elements of Apple’s product announcements.
The magnificent seventh-generation iPad
Apple bills the low-end model as its “most popular” iPad, and it’s not hard to see why. There is a ton of bang for your buck in the seventh-generation iPad, which not only gets a bigger 10.2-inch screen, but also, at long last, a Smart Connector for the iPad Smart Keyboard. At $329, the seventh-gen iPad is a compelling device for anybody looking to dip their toe into the tablet market—it’s pretty darn close to impulse-buy territory.
Sure, it’s still “only” an A10 chip, but that’s pretty respectable for many uses, and it makes a great first iPad, especially for kids. Plus, at the rate that Apple has been moving features from higher-end iPads down to its entry-level model, I think that it will only become a better and better deal with each passing year.
Series 5 is alive
There was some debate over whether or not Apple would roll out a true successor to the Apple Watch Series 4. I was not alone in wondering what, after all, the company could possibly add to a new Apple Watch to make it a worthwhile upgrade?
I just had to go and wonder, huh?
Well, Apple answered adroitly with what I’m sure has been the number-one request for the wearable: an always-on screen. That’s right, getting back to what all other watches have had since the era of the pocket watch took us only five years. Eat it, copy and paste!
In true Apple fashion, the company didn’t simply enable this feature and shrug their shoulders about the impact on battery life—no, it redesigned the entire display to make it work intelligently.2 I’m curious to see just how well it works in practice. (Granted, Apple is only offering me a $100 trade-in for my Series 4, which isn’t exactly enticing. Why so little? Is it because the Series 4 isn’t available anymore? Seems counterintuitive.)
The additional features like the compass app and international emergency calling are nice to have, but those are the kind of incremental features that were not going to sell a Series 5 on their own.
The other announcement that will be welcomed by customers is the ability to pair any Apple Watch model with any band. Stratifying the bands always felt like it took the worst bits of the fashion experience to me: “Oh, you want to wear that band with this aluminum Watch?” It may be a status symbol, but this is still a consumer electronics product at heart: don’t tell us our money’s no good here—let us buy whatever band we want.
Going to 11
And then, of course, there are the new iPhones. The 11 looks like a worthy XR successor for $50 less in the U.S.3—though, it’s important to note, the XR is still in the line-up, holding down the $600 price point. Cameras are still what drives phone sales, though, so it was a no-brainer that Apple decided to add another to its “main” model. I am a little surprised that it was the new ultra-wide lens rather than the telephoto, but perhaps they felt like it was easier to sell?
I’m really eager to see the new Night mode, especially in terms of how it stacks up to the Pixel. That’s been one of Google’s biggest advantages in the smartphone market, and I’ve been waiting for Apple to address it somehow.
I still don’t think Slofies is going to be a thing, but hey, I’m old and out of touch. Maybe this time next year, we’ll all be sending slow-motion selfies to each other.
Apple spent a lot of time on the camera, unsurprisingly, but that meant a whole bunch of stuff only got briefly mentioned (if at all), including faster LTE and WI-Fi, the U1 Ultra Wideband chip4, and better Face ID. And I’m still not sure how to think about Dolby Atmos on a phone.
Also, those colors on the Apple press invitation? Yep, they were the iPhone colors. Winners all around.
The iPhone turns Pro
Everything the iPhone 11 is and more. Four hours more battery life than the XS certainly has my attention. Better waterproofing is a plus. Haptic Touch means adieu to 3D Touch, and I say good riddance.
The triple camera system looks great, though I’m not sure how much mileage I’ll really get out of the video features. You know, they keep improving the cameras but I’m not sure how much of a better photographer I’m actually getting to be.
But Apple really reeled me in with that Midnight Green phone. I’m not sure why they landed on green as the first non-metallic color for the top-of-the-line iPhone, but as it’s my favorite color, I’m not complaining. Come this Friday, I’ll be ordering my first non-black phone in years.
Oh, and speaking of ordering, all you West Coast folks complaining about having to get up at 5am Pacific to order your phones? From us East Coasters who had to wake up in the dead of night the past several years, here’s a little message of support.
All the rest
Apple Arcade’s $4.99/month cost was expected—Apple TV+’s less so, though I believe the company had to undercut Disney+’s price, given that the two are launching within weeks of each other, and the latter has a much deeper bench of content.
The bundling of a free year with a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod touch, or Apple TV was likewise unexpected, but it perfectly leverages one of Apple’s competitive advantage of a very broad ecosystem. Cupertino’s taking a long-term play here, hoping to get its most loyal customers attached to its shows before they have to start paying. Just keep that in mind when the company starts talking subscriber figures in the next few months.
As for shows, See got all the attention today. It looks, as my friend James Thomson put it, “expensive”, but I’m not sure I have much to say about it beyond that and the fact that what little dialogue and writing they showed did not blow me away. I suppose we will…find out.
iOS 13’s ship date wasn’t even mentioned on stage, but it looks like it will arrive on the 19th and, in a rare move, Apple has announced that 13.1—which will contain some features that were originally expected to be part of 13.0—will arrive on September 30th, alongside iPadOS. (No news on shipping dates for HomePod and Apple TV software updates.)
There was zero mention of the Mac or Catalina, which is now simply coming some time in October. Which, based on what I’ve heard of the shape the betas are in, is not terribly surprising.
All in all, it might not have been the biggest iPhone event Apple has ever held—and there were a touch too many videos for my tastes this time—but there was a reasonably solid balance of expected announcements and surprises. The returns on new iPhones feel like they’re diminishing, but if you feel underwhelmed, don’t worry: rumors have already started flying about what to expect at next year’s event.
- Well, aside from recording a podcast and two radio segments and generally running around like I’m on fire. ↩
- Knowing the amount of prep work and rehearsals that go into this keynote, I am shocked that nobody told the Apple Watch presenter that 1Hz is still “one Hertz” and not “one Hert.” Heinrich Hertz is rolling over in his grave. Once per second. ↩
- Not so, from what I’ve heard, in the UK, and perhaps other markets. ↩
- For those Tile competitors that did not get announced ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
If you appreciate articles like this one, support us by becoming a Six Colors subscriber. Subscribers get access to an exclusive podcast, members-only stories, and a special community.