By Dan Moren
September 14, 2021 3:21 PM PT
Quick reactions to Apple’s iPhone 13 event
Note: This story has not been updated since 2021.
Sure seems like Apple’s got the whole “slickly produced video” thing down to a science, doesn’t it?
As expected, today’s event saw the wraps taken off the new iPhone 13 series, as well as the Apple Watch Series 7, a revamped iPad mini, and the ninth-generation iPad. With the presentation firmly in the rearview, it’s worth taking a quick look at what Apple showed off.
Meet the new iPhone…similar to, but basically better than, the old iPhone. Every year, Apple improves the cameras and the processors in the iPhone, and this year’s no exception. But I did find it interesting that Apple chose to remark upon two less sexy features: improved battery life and better durability (or so Apple says). Both of those have real, tangible benefits to users, even if they’re not top-line marquee features. It’s always interesting to see Apple focus on things that make people’s iPhones last longer; it’s one place that seems be at odds with its business, since a functioning iPhone doesn’t necessarily need to be replaced as quickly.1
Of course, the main attraction are the new cameras. They’re certainly the most visible bump2 from year to year, and the larger sensors and trickle down of the sensor shift optical image stabilization is sure to provide a lot of benefit for low-light photography. Cinematic mode is wild to look at, but seems like a feature very much geared towards those shooting actual movies, not home videos. The engineering is amazingly impressive—it can anticipate when someone is about to enter a scene!?—but honestly, it seems more like a gimmick to me than something most people will use in day to day life.
One tidbit pointed out later by several sources: the iPhone 13 line is also the first to support dual eSIMs. As someone who’s been using eSIM for a few years now, I love the idea of being able to have two active; here’s hoping that transferring my iPhone 12 with an AT&T eSIM to an iPhone 13 is even easier than it was last year. (But I won’t hold my breath.)
But when all is said and done, I didn’t find the iPhone 13 to be the most compelling model Apple has ever rolled out. Frankly, were I not on the iPhone Upgrade Program, part of me thinks I might give the 13 a miss and wait to see what the 14 has to offer. I already feel like the iPhone 12 Pro is often more camera than I can put to good use; the 13 Pro feels like I ought to let it loose to shoot whatever it wants to—and if it can just go ahead and upload it to Instagram for me, all the better.
I do, however, really like that new Sierra Blue, even if I continue to wish Apple brought the same vibrant colors from the 13 and 13 mini to the Pro lineup.3
Seven game series
Looks like those rumors about a flat-sided redesign could not have been further from the truth. In introducing the Apple Watch Series 7, Jeff Williams emphasized that the corners were even more rounded than its predecessor, as well as incorporating a new “refractive edge”—if anything, Apple seems to be further embracing what’s become the iconic look and feel of the Apple Watch.
The Series 7 does, however, have a larger display, as rumored, which translates to slightly larger case sizes: up a millimeter each to 41mm and 45mm. The Series 7 also has a more crack-resistant crystal and better dust resistance, both of which ought to keep it ticking along pretty well.
The biggest question for me here are the colors. I love the look of the green Apple Watch, but I’ve been wearing a space gray model since the Apple Watch series 0, and I find myself trepidatious about switching to a color. What if it doesn’t complement what I’m wearing? I can switch a band; I can’t switch a watch case. Regardless, it would certainly be a bold look.
The addition of the onscreen keyboard is one Series 7 feature already provoking strong reactions. Developer Kosta Eleftheriou, who has been unflinching in his criticism of the App Store’s failures when it comes to scams, has already threatened to sue Apple for what he sees as copying his watch keyboard app, which was recently rejected from the App Store. As Jason wrote recently, you have to assume as a developer that when you add “missing” functionality to one of Apple’s devices that the company’s going to catch up eventually, and though the removal of his app from the store does seem petty, a court case probably won’t go very far.
There had been some back and forth in the weeks leading up to the event about manufacturing delays for the Apple Watch, and there appears to have been at least some truth to that: everything else Apple announced today had a concrete date associated with it; the Apple Watch is “available later this fall.” So, sometime between next week and December, presumably—which is great for me, as I’m still on the fence about replacing my Series 4.
The new iPad normal
The base-level iPad keeps getting more bang for its buck. That $329 price point is hard to beat, and with the addition of a True Tone display, doubled storage tiers, and the huge leap forward in front-facing cameras, this is an incredibly solid device, even if it isn’t breaking much new ground. The front-facing camera is particularly impressive: from a 1.2 megapixel FaceTime “HD” camera to a 12 megapixel Ultra Wide camera with Center Stage! You can bet Apple realizes how important video conferencing is on iPads.
The surprise for the iPad mini is that it indeed remains a product in Apple’s lineup. The update it got today was sizable—if you will—as it joins the ranks of the iPad Air, iPhone 12 (and later), and iPad Pro in Apple’s modern design language. I’d expect this version of the mini to last for a few years before getting another update, but with the latest and greatest A15 processor, it ought to hold out for a good long while.
The update does mean that the sixth-generation mini is now in the same awkward position that the iPad Air was in last year, when its update meant it temporarily outpaced the iPad Pro. Right now, the mini’s got a better front-facing camera, faster processor, and faster cellular than the iPad Air—plus it can fit in a (very large) pocket. One thing it’s not mini on is price: at $500, it starts at just $100 less than the Air. Remember that “small” doesn’t mean “cheap,” especially where Apple’s concerned.
Nobody really thought there would be new Macs at this event, and Apple didn’t upend those expectations. A new version of AirPods did seem like a possibility, but they didn’t materialize either. Instead we got a sizzle reel of new Apple TV+ offerings and an update to the year-old Fitness+ service.
That latter was particularly gratifying to me, since not only does it include new workout types (including Pilates and, uh, some prepping for skiers) and a geographic expansion, but also several improvements that I’d hoped to see, including a social aspect that lets you create group workouts via SharePlay (which will show up later this fall), enhanced filters, and the ability to pause a workout and resume on any device.
Overall, this event didn’t blow me away. As always, Apple gave a polished presentation and its products remain top of their field, but it perhaps lacked a little something in wow factor: that feature that everybody’s going to be talking about over the next several weeks, whispering to each other “Can you believe they did that?” Which is fine! Not every Apple event has to redefine the entire tech industry, and all of these devices are mature products, making it harder to be truly revolutionary year after year.
The good news? There’s always next year.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]
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