“Let’s meet at our place”
This was the tagline for this year’s widely anticipated iPhone-launch event, which happened on September 12. For the first time ever, the event was hosted at the ‘Steve Jobs Theater‘ in Cupertino (hence the reference to ‘our place’). 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the iPhone – and expectedly, the event was a grand affair, and the launches were certainly not limited to the new lines of mobile devices. Let us here do a quick roundup of every important announcement made at this year’s ‘Apple September event‘:
iPhone 8/8 Plus
The ‘tick-tock development cycle’ traditionally followed by Apple has finally been ditched – with the Cupertino company opting to launch the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus this year (instead of the ‘s’-variants). The bodies of the new handsets are created with ‘the most durable glass in a smartphone’ – with both the front and the back having glass finishes, along with smooth stainless steel borders. The screen sizes for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus will remain the same as their predecessors (4.7” and 5.5” respectively), and the devices will be water-resistant up to depths of 1 meter. Wireless charging has also finally made its way to the Apple devices, on the new flagship devices. The built-in A11 Bionic processor chip of iPhone 8/8 Plus will boost the speeds of these devices by close to 25% over the iPhone 7/iPhone 7 Plus range. The audio qualities of iPhone 8 are also superior than that of iPhone 7 (better bass, higher volumes). The LCD screen of iPhone 8 comes with high-quality Retina Display with True Tone (along with, of course, 3D Touch).
Note: The A11 bionic chip has a 64-bit design. The superior GPU performance of iPhone 8/8 Plus will make the experience of gaming and using augmented reality (AR) apps more immersive.
AirPower – the wireless charger
Apple is playing the catch-up game here, with select Android devices having the wireless charging feature for some time now. Named AirPower, the wireless charging pad (the first of its kind made by the company), it can be used to charge both iPhone 8 and the iPhone X (we are coming to that in a bit) – along with the AirPods and the third-generation Apple Watch. Interestingly though, not much information was shared regarding the price and availability of AirPower – and experts are looking forward to an early-2018 release of the wireless charger. There are certain regulatory formalities (related to the Qi wireless charging standard) that need to be completed, before AirPower can hit the markets.
Note: Users can, of course, still use the Lightning Connector to charge the new iPhones.
Improved phone camera performance
iPhone 8/8 Plus share broad design similarities with last year’s models – but there are several upgrades in the new handsets. We have already talked about the wireless charging feature – and we will put the spotlight on the superior performance of the iPhone 8 camera. The 12 MP camera has an interesting colour filter, together with a brand-new sensor – for better stability and crisper photography on the go. Images will be sharper as a result of pixel processing, while the low-light autofocus is significantly faster as well. As far as the iPhone 8 Plus phablet is concerned, light effects can be enhanced with ‘Portrait Lighting’, while the dual-lens camera has also received two sensors (f1/2.8 and f/1.8). Slow-motion videos can now be shot at 240 fps and 1080p – marking a huge upgrade over the previous models. At the event, Phil Schiller opined that iPhone 8 boasts of the ‘highest-quality video recorder ever in a smartphone’.
Note: The iPhone 8 will have three colour variants – space gray, silver and gold. The prices of the 64 GB models are $699 (iPhone 8) and $799 (iPhone 8 Plus) respectively. Pre-ordering starts tomorrow, and shipments will start from 22 September.
Thanks to the uniformity of Apple’s mobile platform (unlike the fragmented Android ecosystem) – the latest adoption figure of iOS 10 has jumped to 89%. At this year’s ‘iPhone event’, the latest iteration of the platform – iOS 11 - was announced. The new version would debut on iPhone 8 and iPhone X, and has a wide range of new features – right from greater support for augmented reality applications and a rejigged Control Center, to improved Apple Maps and a nifty person-to-person (P2P) payment system via Apple Pay. The 11.0 Golden Master preview of iOS 11 was released a couple of days back – and the final version of the OS is set to arrive on September 19.
Right from the Airport base station back in 1999, to the iPod, the iTunes store and the Apple Watch – the ‘one more thing’ announcements at Apple keynotes have always generated considerable excitement among tech-enthusiasts worldwide. This year, that pride of place has gone to the high-end iPhone X (the name is pronounced as ‘iPhone 10’) – a $999 handset that commemorates the tenth anniversary of the iconic smartphone line. Much like the Samsung Galaxy S8, the iPhone X also has a bezel-less display screen – with the physical home button giving way to a digital one. The surgical-standard steel bands provide additional protection to the glass body (back and front). This model also sports a OLED Super Retina Display (unlike the LCD display of iPhone 8/8 Plus) – and it will be available in two colour variants (space grey and silver). The presence of the breakthrough Face ID facial recognition software is worth a special mention – with iPhone X having the capability to detect changes in facial features (hairstyle changes, facial hair, etc.) and can also identify faces during the day and night. Since there is no home button in iPhone X, Face ID replaces Touch ID – and it is the only way to unlock the device.
Note: Apple VP Craig Federighi ran into a minor glitch while demonstrating the Face ID feature during the event. A second ‘backup device’ was required to complete the demonstration.
macOS High Sierra
The new version of the macOS platform (v.10.13) – macOS High Sierra – was announced at this year’s Apple WWDC – and September 25th has been confirmed as the date on which shipments will start. The update will be downloadable on practically all Mac systems of 2009 or later make (albeit with certain exceptions; there might be compatibility issues with older apps). The Photos application has been revamped, while things have been given a dynamic tweak with the enhanced VR (virtual reality) support. ‘Autoplay Blocking’ is yet another key feature of macOS High Sierra – and it will prevent media content from autoplaying anywhere on the web. Changes have been made in the core file system of the platform as well (powered by the new APFS filesystem).
Note: HTC VIve and SteamVR headsets are compatible with the latest version of the operating system.
The fourth iteration of the watchOS platform has also been announced by the Cupertino tech giant – and it has also been armed with an excellent set of features. For starters, there is a special HIIT mode (high-intensity interval training mode) in the Workout application – while the upgraded wearables can also be used to seamlessly exchange pertinent information with gym tools and equipments. The heart rate analysis has also been bumped up in watchOS 4 – with particular attention being placed on resting period heart rates and recovery periods. The P2P Apple Pay system on the iOS 11 platform has been brought to the Apple Watch platform as well, and the overall integration with Apple Music has been made stronger (auto-syncing of personalized playlists now possible). Swim-tracking has been upgraded too.
Apple Watch 3
Some might dismiss them as ‘too expensive’, but Apple Watch is certainly the runaway leader in the global smartwatch market. In a report published last month, it was revealed that sales of Watch were up by ~50% in 2017, on a YoY basis. Apple CEO Tim Cook took the opportunity to highlight that Apple Watch had now overtaken Rolex in terms of sales – catapulting Apple to the position of the numero uno watch seller in the world. The much-anticipated Apple Watch 3 made an appearance at the event – with the built-in cellular data connectivity (LTE support) making it much less reliant on paired iPhones (no more mobile data drains, finally!). Thanks to the addition of a brand-new dual-core processor, the latest rendition of Watch is more than 65% faster than its predecessor. The smartwatch can do things like stream Apple Music, send/receive messages, follow maps and place/receive calls – without the user having to connect it to a iPhone. Several new Watch bands were also showcased, along with a new Apple Watch Edition model (gray ceramic).
Note: Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE connectivity is priced at $399 (without cellular data, the price falls to $329). Shipments are slated to start from 22 September.
Smarter ARKit applications
At the launch event, there was a live demo of an AR game (with detailed player positioning and all) – to provide Apple developers a clear idea of the type of technical enhancements coming to the ARKit platform. We have already mentioned that iOS 11 will have expanded AR support – and the improvements in ARKit will enable third-party app developers to come up with more interesting, innovative and engaging applications. While interest in VR and AR has been rising rapidly – real-life ‘made with AR’ applications have mostly been clunky and rather ho-hum in terms of performance. With the new and improved ARKit (along with Google’s ARCore), things are set to change – if the sheer quality of the first set of apps made with ARKit are any indication. It might well be that, half a decade later – 2017 will be viewed as the year when AR technology really took off.
Fifth-generation Apple TV
Dubbed as the ‘Apple TV 4K’, the fifth-gen Apple set-top box will be the first to support for 4K resolution video playback, along with ultraHD and HDR compatibility. The latest Apple TV will be powered by the powerful A10x fusion chip – with experts estimating that the chip will make it at least 2X faster than the fourth-gen set-top box. According to senior VP, Eddy Cue, the GPU of Apple TV 4K is, under optimal conditions, 4X faster than that of the previous model. Watching live sports will become more interactive than ever before, and all media content purchased FHD itunes will be amped up to 4K, as and when such 4K content becomes available. The built-in HDR support will help in generating brighter colours and better contrasts. Apple TV 4K preorders will start tomorrow.
Note: 4K videos offer much sharper display than the full-HD 1080p videos supported by previous Apple TV versions.
11. Animojis for iPhone X
The Face ID software of the $999 iPhone X makes use of infrared sensor and flash (useful for low-light detections) in its pioneering ‘true-depth camera system’. Animojis (animated emojis) are playful new additions – that create cool emojis on the basis of the facial expressions of end-users. Videos and images with Animojis can be sent/received as well. Several different Animojis are available – including fox, monkey, panda, and even an alien. In essence, the facial recognition software of iPhone X can ‘read’ facial expressions, and then, it creates animojis to mimic these expressions. A fun feature indeed!
12. And finally, Apple Park
Tim Cook showed his emotional side at the Special Event, as he expressed his gratitude at being the first person to welcome the audience at the sprawling 175-acre Apple Park – and the newly inaugurated Steve Jobs Theater. Often referred to by outsiders as the ‘Apple Spaceship’, the Park was described to have been ‘a sea of asphalt’ once – before being designed to its elegant, sophisticated, green form at present. Interestingly, the entire Apple Park runs on fully renewable energy sources (there are >9000 trees over here). This will be the company’s new main campus – and the employees will begin to move in here before the end of 2017.
Note: The Apple Park also houses one of the biggest solar installation systems in the world.
Pre-ordering for the iPhone X (billed as the ‘future of the smartphone’) will start from October 27 – more than a month after iPhone 8/8 Plus goes on sale (September 22). Some experts also noted the fact that Apple shares dropped by ~4% on the day of the announcements – probably indicating that more was expected from the event (particularly on the AR front). Even so, the first-ever ‘iPhone event’ at the Steve Jobs Theater was a grand affair with many interesting announcements (none bigger than the iPhone X). All eyes are now on the release of these products – and the sort of reviews that they manage to garner from early adopters.