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By Jason Snell

The 2019 iPhone event: Hits and misses

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The 2019 iPhone event is in the books. Before I pass out, I thought I’d do a quick run-through of some (but by no means all!) of my post-event thoughts, organized through the narrow, cruel lens of hits and misses. There will be more, I’m sure, later this week.

Event hits

The Apple Watch display. As Myke Hurley and I mentioned on Upgrade last week, for a few years we’ve been dreaming of an Apple Watch with an always-on display. The truth is, if you think back five years to the original launch of the Apple Watch, the features that were most obviously missing that would one day need to be addressed were: cellular connectivity, standalone apps, and an always-on display.

After the last couple of years, I guess I figured that Apple didn’t really care so much about doing what it would take to make sure the Apple Watch display doesn’t require a mildly aggressive wrist flip to see the current time. Maybe I assumed they’d rationalized the need away?

Boy, was I wrong. The slides accompanying the announcement of the feature pretty much nailed all the situations in which having an always-on display would be preferable to the current state of affairs. And it turns out we were waiting for a redesigned Apple Watch display that could seriously save power by doing things like ratchet down to a single update per second and dynamically adjust brightness. Apple also appears to have adjusted watch faces to reduce motion when in an inactive state—for example, it seems that the second hand just disappears when you’re in this mode, which makes sense.

This feature might be my favorite item in the entire event. It’s a major upgrade in Apple Watch functionality. And to think, I didn’t see why Apple needed to bother this year. I guess the rumor mill failed us on this one, but what a delightful surprise.

Apple Arcade. This feels like the winner out of all of Apple’s recently announced services. More than a hundred games, no sleazy grinding for in-app purchases, new games on a regular basis, and all for $4.99 a month? If you ever play games on iOS, or Mac, or Apple TV, this just seems like a great deal. I can’t wait.

iPad. It’s not exciting, but Apple’s upgrade to the cheap iPad—which is, Apple pointed out, also the best-selling iPad model—is a necessary thing going into the holidays. This low-end iPad now has all the features that, four years ago, were the traits of the high-end iPad Pro—support for Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. By slightly adjusting its size, Apple has allowed the low-end iPad to work with the same Smart Keyboard used by the iPad Air. I’m not quite sure why there still needs to be an iPad Air between this iPad and the iPad Pro, but that’s an issue for another time.

The Apple TV+ bundle that isn’t a bundle. I’ve been hoping for a while now that Apple would grant a year’s worth of service to buyers of new Apple hardware, but I was thinking about expanded iCloud storage space. That didn’t happen, but Apple hardware buyers will get a year of Apple TV+ free. In the long run, I’m not sure what happens here, but it’s a way for Apple to expose its new video service to a whole bunch of people, and anyone in the services business will tell you that acquiring customers is the most important thing. To get the free year of Apple TV+, you’ll need to sign up for the service—with a auto-renewing payment at the end of the year. Apple hopes you’ll fall in love with some of its shows and decide you can’t live without it, and let’s be honest here, eventually the content will determine Apple TV+’s success or failure.

The Camera app. I wrote a thousand words about this over at Macworld today, but suffice it to say that Apple is doing some pretty clever things with the new ultra wide camera on the iPhone 11 models. And while the jury’s out on Night Mode until we can actually use the thing under real conditions, it’s a feature that Apple really needed to offer, given its smartphone competition. It’s one thing to add cameras—it’s another thing to add all sorts of smart software and very polished user-interface design to make the many cameras come together and feel like a cohesive product.

Event misses


The “See” trailer. Yes, this is one of the most expensive TV shows ever and all of that money was on display on screen. It looked great, is full of impressive actors, and apparently there’s a lot of action. But the more I learn about the high-concept premise of the show, the less I want to watch it. As my podcast pal Tim Goodman says, you can never judge a show from the trailer—but the job of a trailer is to make me excited to watch a show, and by that measure, I think the “See” trailer didn’t do its job.

Software release timing. What a weird, staggered schedule Apple has set up for itself. iOS releases one time, iPadOS releasing later, macOS in October, watchOS releasing sooner for some models but later for others. The Deep Fusion “computational photography mad science” feature got a lot of time on stage and a lot of love from Phil Schiller, but it’s just a promise for a feature that will appear “later this year.” It’s all understandable, perhaps, but it’s still messier than Apple would like.

Jobs’s Law. I made up this thing I call “Jobs’s Law,” which is that Apple products (especially the iPhone) strive to get thinner every year. This year, it looks like Jobs’s Law took a pounding, as both iPhone 11 Pro models are thicker and heavier than their iPhone XS equivalents. On the bright side, this is probably why the battery life on these models improved by four and five hours—and based on the iPhone users I know, a lot of people would trade a few fractions of a millimeter of thickness and a few fractions of an ounce of weight for hours of extra battery.

Sleepy West Coasters. The west coast is the best coast, but on Friday we’ll have to wake up at 5am to order new iPhones, while east coasters will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8am. It’s only fair, I suppose, since Apple used to make east coasters get up at 3am to order their phones. And to be honest, I’m not sure getting up at 5am is dramatically worse than staying up until midnight to place an order. California will survive the early wake-up call.

Slofies. No. Please, no.

Stop trying to make Slofies happen.

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