By Jason Snell
September 14, 2021 7:04 PM PT
A few extra notes about Apple’s September 14 event
Dan’s got the quick reactions to Tuesday’s Apple event covered, but I had a few notes left on the cutting-room floor that I wanted to get out before shifting out of event mode. It’s weird to cover these events remotely, rather than driving to Cupertino and back. I don’t miss spending all that time on Interstate 280, but it did give me time to think. Today I did most of my thinking in my garage, instead.
Center Stage is everywhere
I’m a big fan of Center Stage, which debuted in the M1 iPad Pro. Using an ultrawide camera and some machine-learning-driven software to auto-pan and zoom your image for conference calls? It’s the best. The M1 iPad Pro has become my go-to device for family Zoom calls for just this reason.
So… you get a Center Stage, and you get a Center Stage! The new iPad Mini and even the new low-end iPad get the same 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, with a 122-degree field of view, as the iPad Pro, and the same hardware to drive it.
The question is, when is this feature coming to the Mac? (And can it come to the iPhone too, or does that make less sense?) It kills me that the M1 iMac doesn’t support Center Stage. It feels like every other new webcam-equipped Mac ought to have built-in Center Stage from here on out. If the $329 iPad can do it…
Depends on what you call 5G
Apple talks a lot about 5G. I get it—it helps drive iPhone upgrades as the new networking system rolls out into new territories. But of course, when you move to a new cellular technology, there are likely to be growing pains.
Generally when a new cellular standard comes in, the first generation of radios that talk to that standard are… let’s say inefficient. I do wonder if one of the sources of Apple’s 1.5-2.5 hour improvement in iPhone battery life is a new 5G radio that’s less battery hungry. And of course, Apple also pointed out that there’s also a Smart Data Mode, which intelligently shifts to LTE when 5G speed isn’t needed. Smart.
One interesting quirk, though: The new iPad mini’s cellular configuration, which supports 5G, doesn’t support millimeter-wave. That’s the ultra-high-speed version of 5G you see in those “you won’t believe how fast 5G is” demos. This is probably not a big issue, as millimeter-wave is not widely available—but if you’re one of those people who is waiting for gigabit data transfers via 5G, the iPad mini is not the iPad for you. (Stick with the M1 iPad Pro, which supports millimeter-wave.)
Expansion of Apple Watch
The Apple Watch didn’t get a new design, and that disappointed my podcast partner Myke Hurley, who is ready for a refreshed Apple Watch. I get it, but I love the Apple Watch design—and I love that Apple refined it.
Of course, I will need to see it in person—and given that the Apple Watch won’t ship until “later this fall,” it may be a while. But the idea that Apple has refined the curves and created a subtle wraparound effect hits me just right. Making the top of the Apple Watch feel a little less like a little glass hat on top of the rest of the watch should make it a more attractive device.
And seriously: give me that big screen. Give me that brighter inactive display. And yes, give me that software keyboard—though I am unimpressed that Apple kicked an Apple Watch keyboard out of the App Store mere months before introducing its own feature.
The second-best iPhone feature
The best iPhone feature every year, the one which makes people want to update and makes upgraders happy when they get their iPhone, is the camera. Our smartphones are our cameras. The cameras are the most important thing. Apple knows this. That’s why it takes so much time in its iPhone roll-outs to talk about all the things it’s doing with the camera.
But what’s the second most important feature in a phone? I’m here to say that it’s battery life. If your phone can’t get through the day, what good is it? And that’s why I want to call out Apple’s incremental improvement in battery life. The last couple of years, Apple seems to be on a mission to extend iPhone battery life. The fact that they tacked on 1.5 hours (iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 Pro) or 2.5 hours (iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max) should not be underestimated. That’s an impressive addition—and if you’re upgrading from a three- or four-year-old phone, the battery life of a new model will be even more impressive.
I’m not sure I buy Apple’s suggestion that the new Photographic Styles feature will be something appreciated by “pros.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I am skeptical that professional photographers will want to use a baked-in filter for photos, rather than just shooting in Raw and making their own artistic decisions after the fact.
That said… Photographic Styles seems like prosumer catnip to me. For people who care about photography more than the average person but who aren’t quite pros, Photographic Styles could be just the ticket. Think of Photographic Styles this way: Apple is opening up its image-capture pipeline and making it adjustable for the first time. It offers four different presets that capture images in different ways, creating different styles. You can pick which one you want to use, and then all your previews and photos will use that style. Like warm images? Set a style, and everything you shoot on your phone will be that warm.
In addition, Apple has thrown in the ability to edit those presets. It’s just a little bit—based on the presentation, it’s a couple of sliders—but still. If you can find a photographic look that speaks to you somewhere amid those four base styles and the two sliders, you can dial that in. Every single photo you shoot on that camera will then have that look baked in.
Again, not sure pros are going to use it—though perhaps even some pros will see value in dialing in a Photographic Style here and there. And regular folks probably won’t care. But in the middle, there are a lot of people who want to care more about their photos—but won’t be shooting raw and editing every image. Apple has offered the keys to its image-processing pipeline. If you can get most of what you want by tweaking those settings, isn’t that… good? I think it’s good.
The definition of ‘starlight’
Apple’s got a new set of colors this fall, and while the company keeps shifting its definition of black (this year’s blacks are space gray, midnight, graphite, and space black), I’m more interested in… whatever ‘starlight’ is. Silver has been a standard Apple color for ages, but only the iPhone 13 Pro and the stainless steel Apple Watch Series 7 come in silver. For everyone else, please inquire at the window marked ‘starlight.’
I’ve checked around, and it seems like the official line is that starlight isn’t quite silver, but it’s also not quite gold—it’s somewhere in between both. Consider it Apple’s new default for light, inoffensive metallic color. A washed-out gold, a yellowed silver… who knows? Back in the before times, the press got to get their eyes on all of Apple’s products in person after the announcement event. But until the end of next week, we all have to rely on Apple’s photography.
I’m looking forward to meeting starlight in person, whatever it is.
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