By Dan Moren
September 15, 2020 12:30 PM PT
Some quick thoughts on today’s Apple event
Apple’s concluded its latest event and it was a quick, efficient affair at just over an hour. Still, Apple didn’t waste too much time, rolling out a handful of expected announcements, one or two surprises, and some unforeseen details. Here’s a quick rundown of what was shown off and the salient details that struck me.
Apple Watch goes to VI
There are two new Apple Watch models: at the top of the spectrum, the new Series 6, which packs in additional features—an improved always-on display, a new system chip, and a blood oxygen sensor; and the Apple Watch SE which doesn’t replace the low-end Series 3, as expected, but stakes out a $279 GPS/$329 GPS + Cellular middle ground. It uses the new larger screen form factor, but lacks the always-on display, ECG capabilities, and new blood oxygen sensor as the Series 6. It also comes in an aluminum finish only and a smaller range of colors. (Hey, there are blue and red Apple Watch finishes now! Awesome!)
Overall, Apple’s reserved the always-on screen as one of its primary selling points for the Series 6 which, though disappointing, is hardly surprising. There will come a day, surely, when every Apple Watch being sold has an always-on display, but today is not the day. Still, at 65-70 percent of the price of the Series 6, it seems to provide more than 65-70 percent of the features, so I imagine it’ll convert a lot of people who want the cheap price of the Series 3, but the much nicer bigger screen.
Ditching the power adapter for the Watch seems like a solid idea—of Apple’s products, I imagine it’s the one that requires the lowest power draw; any old USB power adapter can probably handle it. The new Family Setup option is another nice addition; perhaps more plausible to get a Watch for a younger kid than an iPhone?
Those new bands are cool, but don’t expect them all to be affordable. The Solo Loop is $49, which isn’t surprising, but the Braided Loop is a pretty eye-popping $99. Just on the edge of impulse purchase there.
Service lineup shapes up with Fitness+
An Apple fitness service has been rumored for some time, and if you had to guess what it might look like, this seems pretty much it: close integration with Apple Watch sensor details, custom Apple Music playlists, and professional trainers.
Interesting to see Apple roll this out when they still maintain a partnership with Nike, which offers its own fitness service—though Nike also has a free tier, which Apple Fitness+ lacks. (You do get that three free months with a new purchase, which is on par with the original Apple Music trial, if not quite the generous terms of that one-year free of Apple TV+.) The rest of us get a free month.
Apple’s not only been making a big deal about fitness for a while, but it’s also clearly been backing that up by building out a fitness team, and from little we saw of Fitness+, it’s not a fly-by-night affair. I think a lot of people currently stuck in their houses are going to be inspired to give it a shot, and tying it into other Apple products1 is potentially going to win it some converts.
Speaking of tying it in with other products….
With the leaks over the weekend, the news about the Apple One bundle did not come as a shock—even the name was pretty well staked out. But what we do have now are details—specifically three plans.
Individual costs $14.95 per month and includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50GB of iCloud storage. (Individually, around $21/month.)
Family bumps that to 200GB of iCloud storage that you can share among six family members for $19.95 per month. (Individually, around $28/month.)
Premier also includes Apple News+, Apple Fitness+, and 2TB of iCloud Storage “where available” (countries that support Apple News+, presumably), for $29.95 and can still be shared amongst six family members. (Individually, around $55/month.)
Currently, I’m only paying for Apple Music and 200GB of iCloud storage, which costs me $12.98, but that’s because I’m still on that one year Apple TV+ free trial. Once that’s over, it’ll bump me up to $17.97 (assuming the $4.99 Apple TV+ subscription holds true). Which means if I sign up for the Family Plan—something which I don’t currently need—I’ll get Apple Arcade for essentially $2 per month which, okay, fine, but not something that really does it for me.
The Premier plan seems the most attractive, pricewise, but the real question is whether you use or would use enough of those services to justify the savings. But Apple News+ very much feels like it’s being thrown in there after the fact because it’s the service nobody really wants?
Worst of all, today’s announcements did nothing for iCloud storage tiers. Everybody still gets a measly 5GB to start, so if you’re going to be paying more for some of those plans, might be worth it to at least get some additional services for a discount.
iPad goes out for some Air
The eighth-generation iPad update was one of the more surprising announcements, but it’s not as though it’s a major one. The A12 Bionic provides a nice speed bump and holds down that valuable $329 price point, but that’s about it.
The iPad Air, though, got the big expected redesign, mimicking the Pro’s look but with some novel aspects. Most significantly, the iPad debuts—possibly for the first time ever—Apple’s next-generation silicon, the A14. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will also be in the iPhone 12, and was likely supposed to debut simultaneously in both, had the iPhone been ready in time. I’ve also crossed my fingers that whatever Apple silicon Mac gets unveiled by the end of the year will have a version of it as well.
There’s also the new Touch ID sensor embedded in the Sleep/Wake button. There’s been speculation for a long time that Apple wasn’t done with Touch ID yet, and now we’ve got our answer. The big question is whether that will make it into other Apple products: I imagine the underlying improved sensor could show up in a Mac, for example, but given the problems our face-mask lifestyles have raised, might the soon-to-arrive iPhone 12 have both Touch ID and Face ID? Doesn’t seem out of the question to me, and it would be a welcome addition.
The Air also gets a USB-C port and support for the Magic Keyboard, a smart move since it opens up sales of that accessory to a big new market. Other than the additional cameras, LIDAR, and the bigger screen option, the Air is pretty competitive against the Pro; the big thing holding it back at present is storage—the base model is just 64GB, and you’ll have to fork over another $150 to move up to 256GB.
Unlike the Apple Watch, the iPad Air does include a charger in the box. For one thing, it’s a USB-C adapter to provide faster charging; I have noticed that even my 10.5-inch iPad Pro from 2017 struggles to power up from a low charge with a USB-C-to-Lightning cable connected to my iMac. For another, many users probably don’t have a USB-C charger sitting around as they do with countless traditional USB power plugs, and, as Washington Post tech reporter and my former Macworld colleague Heather Kelly pointed out, the majority of recent iPad purchasers are new to iPad period.
Finally, let’s all give a big welcome back to color! The blue and green iPads look great to me, and I’d happily take either of them to replace my tried-and-true space gray model. Here’s hoping that more color makes its way to the Mac lineup too!
Update: A previous version of this article misstated the base-level iPad Air storage as 32GB; it’s 64GB.
- I note the Apple press release on Fitness+ calls out the iPhone 6s or later, iPhone SE, iPad Pro, 5th generation iPad or later, iPad mini 4 or later, iPad Air 2 or third-generation iPad Air, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD…but no mention of the Mac whatsoever. Even though the Fitness app could run on forthcoming Apple Silicon Macs? Guess we’ll have to wait and see. ↩
[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
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