Apple held its annual fall media event today, announcing new iPhones, Apple Watches, and Apple TV. As usual, we’re here to recap what was shown off, so you know just how close to all your money Apple will be getting this year.
Before that, though, there’s some nostalgia to this event you may find interesting. This year mark’s the tenth anniversary of the iPhone, as well as the first year the company’s newly constructed campus, Apple Park, was ready to be used. It was therefore fitting that today’s big event took place in the brand newSteve Jobs Theater on Apple Park. Jobs was the driving force behind the original iPhone, after all, so there was a lot of poignancy today.
But back to all the cool new stuff! We got the hotly anticipated iPhone refresh, a new Apple Watch, a new Apple TV, and final dates on the release of Apple’s software upgrades. Read about everything here, or watch the event for yourself (link coming once Apple makes it available). I hate rambling intros as much as you do, when all I want are the juicy details, so let’s kick things off with the thing most everyone will want to know about: iPhone.
iPhone: More Options Than Ever
As mentioned, 2017 marks the tenth year of iPhone’s existence. To no one’s surprise, Apple pulled out all the stops in these new hardware upgrades. There’s a lot of detail here, with three phones to talk about. Any prices given will be in U.S. dollars.
Apple used to release one new iPhone a year. Starting with the 6, they moved to two phones a year, with mostly identical features, but different screen sizes. Now, they’re adding another phone to the mix. The iPhone 7 series is to be succeeded by the iPhone 8, the iPhone 8 Plus, and the all-new category of iPhone X (pronounced “iPhone 10”). I’ll cover each in more detail in a moment, but the summary is this. The 8 and its Plus-sized sibling are similar to the 7/7 Plus in many ways. They look the same, their cameras are modest upgrades, they have similar screen resolutions, and their internals are different only in that their CPU is the newest Apple has. The major difference is the inclusion of wireless charging, and the use of an all-glass rear face to allow for this new charging method. The iPhone X, on the other hand, is a step above anything an iPhone has ever been. It has better cameras, facial recognition to replace Touch ID, a much sharper screen made with a whole new technology, no bezel, and other unique features.
What They Share
Despite their different capabilities, iPhone X and iPhone 8 do have a few things in common. I’ll explain those first, then get into the details of each new phone.
First up is the brains behind it all: Apple’s all new processor, the A11 Bionic. This is Apple’s newest design, able to handle the most demanding tasks with ease, while drawing less power than ever. It sports six processing cores, four meant for lower demand operations and two designed for high performance. This lets you use very little power while doing simple tasks like checking email, but get all the computing ability you need when the situation demands it. This isn’t the first time Apple has made a Fusion chip, and it’s not the first such chip to end up in an iPhone. However, it marks the first time an iPhone has had six cores, and these ones really fly. The high-capacity cores are 25% faster than those in the iPhone 7, while the low performance ones are up to 70% faster. There’s also a brand new, tri-core graphics processor, the first one designed entirely by Apple, which gives both graphics and machine learning applications a 30% boost.
While the camera details vary, there is one effect that is shared by iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X: Portrait Lighting. Using this, you can take a portrait shot and apply lighting effects. iOS breaks down the image in real time, and dynamically adjusts the lighting to give the subject in the foreground the effect you want. You can even add this later, as you are editing an image, so long as that image is a portrait shot.
Apple has managed to keep the battery life on the 8 and 8 Plus the same as what’s expected on the 7 and 7 Plus, while getting two extra hours out of the battery in iPhone X. The big news isn’t the battery itself, though, it’s how you charge that battery. At long last, Apple has introduced wireless charging on something other than Apple Watch. Simply drop your phone on a compatible charging mat and it begins to recharge itself. Charging mats are ubiquitous these days, and Apple has confirmed that any Qi-compatible charger will work with iPhone X or iPhone 8. However, Apple-is designing its own wireless charger, the Air Power, planned for release in 2018 and capable of charging AirPods, Apple Watch, and iPhone all at once. Either way, the chance to never plug in your phone again is one a lot of people will be very happy to have.
To make wireless charging work, though, Apple had to forego the aluminum back it has used for years. The back of these phones is solid glass. Apple knows this will be a concern, so they made sure to talk about how much went into making this material. In summary, they claim that it’s the toughest glass to be used in any smartphone ever. We’ll see what the drop tests reveal once the new iPhones are out in the wild.
Surrounding the phone, bringing the front and back faces together, is a band of metal. It is aluminum on iPhone 8, and stainless steel on iPhone X. The aluminum sounds like the same aluminum that made the iPhone 6s and 7 almost bend-proof, and the Apple Watch Sport so tough, so I’m not worried about it. The stainless steel was described as “surgical grade”, and again, I’m not worried about any flexing. That glass could be interesting, though. Remember that wireless charging can’t work through metal, so the switch to a partial or full glass back was almost inevitable.
While wireless charging is the big news, there are some other wireless tidbits worth mentioning. First, LTE Advanced is included in all the new iPhones, letting them access even faster LTE, provided your carrier and area support the feature. Second, Apple is including bluetooth 5, which will allow for more stable and long-range bluetooth connections. Other devices have to adopt the standard before it becomes as useful as it can be, but if nothing else, you should see even less power used by bluetooth while connections between iPhone and Apple Watch might improve at long distances.
All three phone models come in only two colors: space gray or silver. iPhone 8/Plus is also being offered in gold. This gold is a darker shade than the previous gold finish, described by one reviewer as a sort of bronze color. You can preorder the 8 and 8 Plus on September 15, and the first batches should arrive a week later. The iPhone X isn’t shipping until November 3, with preorders opening on October 27. All three phones come in either 64GB or 256GB configurations, with no additional storage options. This marks a change from the previous starting storage of 32GB. iPhone 8 is $699 or $799 8 Plus is $799 or $899, and iPhone X is $999 or $1099. Now, let’s find out why that X is so expensive.
iPhone 8 and 8 Plus
The next iteration of what is now the base model (i.e. the newest, but cheapest) iPhone is the 8. As has become the norm over the last few years, it will be offered in two screen sizes: 4.7 and 5.5 inches. As mentioned, the overall design is similar to that of the 7, with the same buttons, port, and grills in the same places. There’s still a Home button, and it’s the same tactile, semi-virtual one the 7 introduced a year ago, as far as I can tell. The major change is that the back of this phone is solid glass, as mentioned above. Its speakers are also upgraded, with a 25% volume boost and, Apple claims, better bass.
What some thought might be called the iPhone Pro turned out to be labeled the iPhone X, but it’s certainly still apt to call it a pro-level device. Let’s start with the parts you’ll never actually see or touch. Apple says that iPhone X is up to 70% faster than iPhone 7, yet has two more hours of battery life.
This refrain of more power and better battery is one we hear a lot from Apple, but it’s particularly important this time around. iPhone X has advanced support for augmented reality, which developers leverage in their apps through programming interfaces released in beta earlier this year. AR demands a lot of processing power, and the A11 chip is more than up to the challenge. While iPhones back to the 6s will support AR, the X was designed from the start with this new technology in mind. One example: it lets developers access face tracking with the front-facing camera and face ID system. Snapchat, for instance, had a demo where users could add a mask to their face in real time, and the mask would stay on their face even as the user moved in the camera’s view.
The next major change is the new way you’ll unlock the X. Instead of relying on Touch ID as it has since the iPhone 5s, Apple has moved to a facial recognition system called Face ID. A great deal of care has gone into the design of Face ID, since it has to recognize your face—and only your face—in a myriad of conditions that could easily confuse normal cameras. Lighting, shading, facial hair, hats, makeup, glasses, and plenty of other factors had to be considered, and Apple needed a way to handle them all while recognizing a user as quickly as possible. That’s where infrared enters the story. Rather than just a camera image, iPhone X relies on 3d mapping using a tiny, infrared laser to get a precise, 3d image of the face looking at it. An infrared beam illuminates your face, then a projector throws thirty thousand points of infrared light at you. The locations of all these dots are used to build a 3d map of your face, which is then compared to the map stored in iPhone’s secure enclave. A special sub-processor, tuned specifically to work with Apple’s facial recognition neural network, kicks in to authenticate you almost immediately as soon as it detects a face looking at the front camera. That neural network isn’t just looking for a match, though: it learns. If you grow a beard or put on glasses, for instance, the 3d map your phone sees will be different. The AI in Face ID can adapt to that, though, watching for changes over time and anticipating what it should adjust for. Apple even had professional artists create masks and other facial fakes, so they could train their neural net to ignore such attempts at bypassing this new security. The idea that you’re getting not a simple matching system, but a dedicated AI and dual core processor used exclusively for Face ID, shows how much Apple has put into this project.
Apple says that Face ID is twenty times more secure than Touch ID, and that it will work despite changes in facial hair, glasses, hats, and so on, thanks to the AI mentioned above. On stage, at least, the whole thing was amazing. The presenter’s iPhone saw his face and unlocked at the same time he had moved it into position, ready to use. Just putting your phone so the screen is pointed toward your face, as most users would do anyway, is enough to trigger the process. By the time you’re ready to use the phone, it has unlocked and is ready to go. Apple is so confident in this new system that they’ve replaced Touch ID with Face ID for everything. Do you secure your banking app or password manager with Touch ID? Now, your face will unlock those apps. Apple Pay? Authenticated with your face. Purchases in iTunes or the App Store? Yep, you guessed it. Real-world tests will tell the full story, but during the demo today, the whole thing seemed as close to magic as Apple has ever gotten. Well, the very first time the presenter tried it, it did have a hiccup, but after that it worked perfectly.
I want to offer some notes on Face ID and our community of low vision/blind users. Speaking as someone with nystagmus and very limited vision, I initially shared your concerns about my ability to use this system. For security, Apple has made it so you have to be looking into the camera before Face ID will unlock, which is good. After all, you wouldn’t want someone to unlock your phone while you sleep, or steal your phone and turn it toward you for a second so it is open to the thief’s use. But most of us can’t look at the camera. We now know that Apple has an accessibility setting to disable this feature, letting Face ID authenticate you whether you’re looking at the camera or not. From what I can piece together, this will let you hold up the phone, and be done. So long as you’ve got the camera in about the right place, Face ID can do its thing. Given voice guidance in Apple’s Camera app, I imagine VoiceOver will guide you should minor positioning need to be done, but that’s in no way confirmed. My main point is that you shouldn’t worry about Face ID and accessibility. This new method may not be as convenient for you, and you may not like it, but it’s not the only option out there. Apart from the camera and screen, the iPhone 8/Plus offers the same speed, charging, and other advances as iPhone X, so Touch ID is still available to you should you choose it. If you want to try the X, though, I wouldn’t let Face ID be the reason you don’t. Could it be less secure? Yes, that’s possible. Could you wind up able to use the attention feature despite your visual impairment? Also possible. This is one of those times I’m going to strongly recommend trying the feature yourself before you buy.
Face ID’s hardware offers other opportunities Apple plans to take advantage of. Some of these are the color-adjusting True Tone feature introduced with the iPad Pro, not locking if the user is still looking at the screen, and more. The big one, though, is called Anemojis. Rather than a static emoji, iPhone X will look at the expression of the person using it and add that expression to the emoji. You can also record a voice clip to accompany your creation. At long last, we can make a unicorn adopt the expression we want, and make it say anything. The system tracks more than fifty facial muscles, and offers over a dozen base emojis to start from. Presumably, more will be added as time goes on.
iPhone X offers other internal changes: its camera is an improved version of the dual lens setup first introduced on the iPhone 7 Plus last year. As well as the usual speed and accuracy upgrades we’ve come to expect from camera updates, it offers optical image stabilization for both lenses. This gives images more clarity, especially when zoomed, and improves low light performance. The front camera is still 7MP, but is now capable of Portrait Mode shots thanks to the hardware behind Face ID. The rear camera’s video abilities have improved: iPhone X can shoot 4K video at 60 FPS, or 1080P at up to 240 FPS. For still shots, the LED flash now has four LEDs instead of two, and is more accurate in matching the color it uses. Apple also claims there is zero shutter lag when taking photos.
The screen is the next change. From the beginning, iPhone screens have been surrounded by a bezel on all four sides. A Home button was centered below the screen, and a camera and speaker grill were placed at the top. This gave iPhone a relatively large amount of unused space on its front face. Now, the X has changed all that entirely; the screen extends to the bottom and top of the face. Coupled with the removal of the side bezels, these changes fit a 5.8-inch screen into a device only a little larger than an iPhone 7.
This new display isn’t just bigger, it’s far more beautiful, by early reviews and Apple’s own presentation at least. The OLED technology Apple is using (the first time OLED has ever graced an iPhone’s screen) gives the X a resolution of 458 pixels per inch, which is even greater than the already impressive iPhone 7 Plus. This screen is so good that Apple decided to rename it, calling it a “Super Retina display”. OLED also offers much better colors, with more vibrancy and deeper blacks, all while using far less power than the LCD tech other iPhones use. As mentioned, True Tone is included, letting the screen change its colors to stay accurate despite colored light sources shining on it.
I know, I know… The home button. Let’s talk about that home button. Yes, it’s gone. I’m sorry, but there you have it. The screen of iPhone X extends from edge to edge, with only the notch in the top for the speaker and camera to distract from an otherwise uniform display. The status bar is now set on either side of that notch, leaving the rest of the screen wide open, all the way down to the bottom edge of the phone.
Don’t panic! First, AppleVis has learned that the side button will be used to invoke Siri, access the accessibility shortcut, and so on. This will still work during setup, meaning that you can enable Voiceover when you pull your iPhone X out of the box and set it up on your own. Simply press the side button three times. As to the gesture that has replaced the home button, you will get haptic feedback to let you know where to swipe up. It sounds awkward, I know, but I’m not worried. The Touch Bar, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and other new Apple products all turned out to have full VoiceOver support, so I can’t imagine this being any different. Sure, it will take getting used to, and it won’t be for everyone, but don’t write it off just because it’s not something any of us have dealt with before. Besides, this phone will finally introduce the “tap to wake” feature that has been on Apple Watch for years. Since there’s no home button to press, you can simply tap your screen to bring up the lock screen. This is in addition to the “raise to wake” we got in iOS 10 for existing iPhones.
Apple Watch Series 3: Ditch the Virtual Wires
Apple Watch has always been a wireless device. It hooks to iPhone via bluetooth, it can only be charged wirelessly, and it has no ports or jacks to speak of. For all that, it’s always been limited in one key way: an iPhone needed to be nearby for almost anything except workouts and playing music. This necessity has always made me think of the Watch as a wired wireless item, relying on no physical connections, yet needing an iPhone to be within bluetooth range.
Now, Apple has removed this restriction with the introduction of a new Apple Watch which includes an LTE chip inside. It can run Siri, download information in apps, update complications, and so on, all with no iPhone present. To save battery, this new Watch will rely on an iPhone if one is in range. But it no longer needs one to function.
Despite adding an antenna, extra radios, more battery, a CPU that’s up to 70% faster than the Series Two, and a SIM card, Apple has hardly increased the size of this new Watch. The casing is the same size as the Series Two, while the back crystal (where the heart rate sensor is) extends just a quarter of a millimeter more than the previous generation Watch. They also put in a new wifi chip, called the W2, which consumes half the power of the previous wifi chip in an Apple Watch. Although it draws less power, the W2 can boost wifi speed by up to 80%. This, and other advances, lets Apple claim an eighteen-hour battery life for the cellular Watch, with “a mix of cellular, bluetooth, and wifi usage”. I suspect that relying on LTE constantly will cut this number down considerably, but we’ll have to wait for the tests from early adopters to know just how the battery fairs under heavy LTE usage.
The Series Three uses your existing cell number for phone calls. Once set up on your carrier, it can function entirely on its own, including letting you talk to Siri or dictate to send messages and other textual information, making phone calls, and keeping your friends updated with your current location. Basically, if your iPhone isn’t nearby, the Series Three can act as a substitute in many ways. You can even use Siri, and bluetooth headphones, to stream tracks from Apple Music. Speaking of Siri, the Series Three has a good enough processor that Siri now speaks with the same voice as is found on iOS.
The Series One will remain on sale, for $249/$299 (38/42mm sizes). The Series Three will cost $329/$379 for a version without cellular connectivity, and $399/$449 with cellular. While pricing will vary by carrier, two U.S. carriers have announced initial plans that will let users add an Apple Watch for $10 per month. The Series Three is available in a new gold finish (like that of the new iPhones), space gray, or silver, and new bands are coming out as well. Preorders start September 15 and should ship a week later.
Apple TV: a Shinier Picture Than Ever
Apple TV is a great way to watch your favorite content, use apps, or maybe just turn your TV into a fireplace or cool-looking picture. But it’s always been limited in its ability to render high definition video. With all of Apple’s devices (save the MacBook Air) sporting amazing displays, and with more and more content nowadays being delivered in 4K resolution, the choice to stop Apple TV from supporting 4K has baffled users for many months. Today, Apple finally addressed that concern, announcing the Apple TV 4K
The new Apple set top box is far more powerful than the previous generation—no surprise there. It includes the same processor as is found in the 2017 iPad Pro, making it more than capable of handling 4K video. It can also now run more complex and high-resolution games, adding to the reasons you might buy it over some of the other gaming consoles out there. It not only supports 4K, but also HDR (high dynamic range). This lets each pixel of the higher resolution content you can now watch pack in more detail, looking even better than simply upping the pixel count.
Even if you’re not into games on this device, 4K content is a major selling point for many (sighted) users. Alongside the announcement of this new Apple TV, we got a surprise: any HD movie you’ve purchased from iTunes will receive a free update to 4K. If you have a movie collection you watch with friends, and a 4K television, you might consider upgrading your box to this new model so you can play that shiny new 4K content in all its high-res glory.
The new Apple TV isn’t replacing the existing ones. You can still get the fourth generation at its normal price of $149 or $199, while the 4K model is between the two at $179. You can order it starting September 15, with deliveries starting September 22.
Apple finally announced release dates and new details on all its software. We’ll get iOS 11, tvOS 11, and watchOS 4 on September 19, with macOS 10.12 High Sierra following on September 25.
We got reminders and details of some of the new things coming to some of these platforms. In watchOS, for instance, your heart rate will be easier to see as a complication and can show your resting and recovery numbers. Apple will also be launching a study, in cooperation with Stanford Medical, to see about detecting arrhythmia automatically. Finally, your Watch will notify you should your heart rate go up while you aren’t doing anything to make it do so.
In tvOS, Apple is adding notifications, live updates, and other automatic details for sports fans. They are also adding live news, though it was unclear if the news is specific to sports or is more general.
That’s everything from today’s event. A 4K Apple TV, LTE-enabled Apple Watch, three new iPhones with incredible new features, and the news that the big software updates will finally be here soon.
Personally, I’m excited to see where the new iPhone and Apple Watch go in the months and years to come. Not excited enough to drop money on upgrades, but not at all underwhelmed, either. I just don’t think the new features offer enough utility in my own use case to make it worth the money. The lack of a home Button on iPhone X doesn’t bother me in the slightest. No, more screen real estate won’t help me much, but neither do I see it causing problems. Besides, iPhone 8 is still a shiny, new, faster-than-ever iPhone that is seems well worth looking at if you’re in the market for an upgrade.
Are you excited about iPhone X, sticking with the 8, or maybe not impressed by either? Are you upgrading your Apple Watch, or finally considering your first one, thanks to the addition of LTE? I don’t think I’ll be replacing my Series 2, but then, I said that about my first-generation right up until I got said Series 2. Knowing me, I’ll have an iPhone X and Series Three Watch by the end of the year, despite my best intentions. My wallet hopes not! What are you thinking? See you in the comments!