By Dan Moren
September 7, 2022 1:47 PM PT
Apple’s September event: Winners, losers, and those in between
By now, we’re all familiar with the structure of an Apple event. The company trots out a coterie of executives to talk up its latest products, complete with slickly produced videos extolling the virtues of the latest technologies, all carefully constructed to get customers to open their Wallet apps.
But after the dust settles and more details emerge, it becomes clearer what are the real highlights of the event and which announcements may be more marketing than substance. Bearing in mind that nobody yet has these products in hand for a thorough review, here are my early picks for the winners and losers in today’s event—and those we still need to learn more about.
AirPods Pro get more useful
As an owner and daily user of the first-generation AirPods Pro (recently replaced thanks to the infamous crackling problem), I’m not particularly looking to shell out for a new pair, and the improved audio and touch features aren’t calling out to me.
However, what I do want is the new AirPods Pro case, which solves a number of little frustrations with the current model. For one thing, it’s compatible with the Apple Watch’s magnetic charger, which can mean one less cable to carry around. For another, the case has Precision Finding for U1-compatible iPhones, making it even easier to track down when you’ve misplaced them (not to mention a built-in speaker that provides louder alerts).
Finally, and I realize this will seem silly to some, a built-in lanyard loop. Yes, the sleek elegance of the AirPods Pro case is lovely, but having a way to actually attach it to something without putting it in a third-party case? Now that’s a game-changer for me. If only I could just upgrade my first-gen AirPods Pro with a new case.1
The Apple Watch Ultra embraces buttons
For years, Apple has waged a war on buttons, a campaign that culminated in the deployment of the infamous third-generation iPod shuffle. But it seems as though with both Steve Jobs and Jony Ive gone from Apple, the button faction is making a comeback.
The new Apple Watch Ultra—the company’s ridiculously overpowered smartwatch that’s a way finder, dive computer, and rugged adventuring gadget all in one—features a brand new Action button, in brilliant orange. The button is contextual, allowing you to quickly start a workout, drop a waypoint, and more. But Apple also describes it as “customizable,” suggesting that users will be able to define their own uses for the button as well.
On a device as small as the Watch (even the larger Ultra), space is at a premium, and dedicating that space to a hardware button that users can configure for themselves, well, that says that this isn’t merely a whim. Here’s hoping the Action button might make its way into the Series 9.
The iPhone Pro gets Pro-er
Early rumors about the 2022 iPhone line-up suggested a significant departure from years past: only the iPhone Pro models will get the newest Apple A-series processor. That prediction was borne out in today’s announcements, though the iPhone 14 did get a sop in the form of one additional GPU core in the A15 Bionic over last year’s configuration.
While this might frustrate certain iPhone 14 buyers who prioritize a new processor, it does certainly provide a sharper dividing line separating the standard level phone from the Pro models, making it a bit clearer why you’d want to spend the extra money on the high-end phone. No doubt it also helps Apple manage supply constraints on its newest chip by putting it in a phone that fewer customers may buy.
If nothing else, it does solidify the Pro as the flagship model of the iPhone line, with all the attendant bells and whistles, rather than simply being the costliest.
The physical SIM card
The writing’s been on the wall ever since the iPhone embraced eSIM back in the iPhone 11. Every square millimeter inside the iPhone is amongst the most valuable real estate in the world and having to design around a removable tray was surely frustrating for the company’s engineers. (Remember how excited Apple was to remove the headphone jack, a piece of equipment that took up much less space.)
Well, the physical SIM has now ridden off into the sunset, and I have to say good riddance. As someone who’s done a lot of SIM swapping over the years when traveling abroad, eSIM is a far more attractive proposition, and I’ve been using it as my primary SIM for several years now.
Removing the SIM tray no doubt eases both the phone’s waterproofing and frees up a little room for more battery (maybe that’s where that extra hour of video playback over the iPhone 13 Pro is coming from.) Plus, think of all the liquidmetal Apple will save not having to package those SIM removal tools!
There’s been a lot of consternation over Apple’s color choices, and this year seems to solidify that the company is dedicated to following the most boring route. Aside from the bold Product(RED) model, the iPhone 14 lineup opts for the desaturated tints favored in the iPhone Pro lineup, with a pale purple and (yet another) pale blue alongside the seemingly ubiquitous Midnight and Starlight.
The Pro lineup, meanwhile, sticks with metallic Gold and Silver tones, although the always curious Space Gray has now been banished in favor of a Space Black. And this year’s random selection on the Wheel o’ Color is a deep purple that hopefully will be perfect for space truckin’?
Meanwhile, the Apple Watch Series 8 loses the Series 7’s blue option2, leaving its only color option the Product(RED) version, along with Midnight, Starlight, and the very neutral Silver in the base model, or Graphite, Gold, or Silver stainless steel finishes. The SE model is only in aluminum, and doesn’t get the red option, so I hope you like some variety of gray. And the Ultra isn’t exactly ultra in color selections: you can get its titanium case in any color you like, as long it’s Natural.
Exclusive Apple Watch Nike faces
Apple’s partnership with Nike isn’t entirely at an end—the company did announce new Nike-themed watch bands today—but the once-exclusive Nike watchfaces are no longer locked to individual SKUs: any Apple Watch can get them.
Not so for Hermès, which got a brand new exclusive watchface today, to go along with expensive new bands. I wouldn’t expect to see it go the same way as Nike any time soon.
The jury is out
Apple’s satellite emergency service
One of the marquee announcements of the day was Apple’s new satellite-based emergency service, which lets you send a text message requesting help even when you’re not in cell range.
On the face of it, this idea seems great, and will almost certainly become the foundation of a future Apple video of all the people that have been saved by the feature. But one asterisk did make me raise an eyebrow: the note that it’ll be available for free for two years with the purchase of an iPhone 14 model. What happens after that is unclear; Apple does not specify, even in its detailed knowledge base article, what the feature might cost after that. Or, if people buy a new iPhone, whether they’ll once again get it for free?
Kicking that decision out two years might allow Apple time to see how many people actually use it, and what pricing might then have to look like, or it may extend the date after that, thinking it’s a bad look to provide a handy emergency feature that might become unusable without a fee. (The company certainly doesn’t want stories about how people might have been saved if only they had paid for the emergency feature.)
Personalized spatial audio
Despite the amount of time Apple has spent promoting spatial audio, I haven’t found the feature to be as exciting as the company would like me to. So the idea of personalized spatial audio isn’t exactly setting the world on fire for me. Scanning your ears with the True Depth camera seems…interesting? But I’m curious to see how it works in real life. And since this feature doesn’t arrive until macOS Ventura and iPadOS 16 ship later this fall—yes, you read that right, not iOS 16—we’ll likely have to wait and see what the next iOS 16.1 beta brings.
Is it cool, or just super weird? I don’t know! Finding a way to incorporate the camera cutout into the screen design, drawing attention to it rather than trying to hide it, seems very clever, but I’ll be fascinated to see how it works in practice. I’ve grown plenty accustomed to the notch over the past several years, and there are probably a few years left before everything can be put under the display, so in the meantime, Apple’s probably going to lean into this approach, and I think it might be a winner.
Innies vs. outies
I guess it depends on which one was waiting for the subway.
[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.]
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