Apple has just concluded its annual September media event. This year's, which it titled "By Innovation Only", gave us new iPhones, the Series 5 Apple Watch, and more details on the company's new Apple Arcade and Apple TV Plus subscription services. Innovation, though, wasn't exactly the word I first thought of when I considered how to sum up the announcements. Don't get me wrong: the new iPhones have some great new features, and it will be interesting to see where the new subscription services go. But this wasn't a year for major design changes, like when Face ID and lack of bezels arrived with iPhone X. Still, there's some cool stuff in here, so let's get right to it.
The highlight of all these events is always the newest iPhone, so let's address it first. Apple is making three new models this year, just like they did in 2018 with the XR, XS, and XS Max. The XR is being replaced by the iPhone 11, the XS by the 11 Pro, and the XS Max by the 11 Pro Max. "Pro Max" is an, um, interesting name, but at least we finally have numbers in the names again! Moving forward, the new iPhone lineup will be: iPhone 8 for $449, iPhone XR for $599, iPhone 11 for $699, iPhone 11 Pro for $999, and iPhone 11 Pro Max for $1099.
All three iPhone 11 variants share several features:
- an additional camera lens, giving dual lenses to the entry-level iPhone 11, and triple lens setups to the Pro phones
- the ability to record video when the user taps and hold the shutter button while in a photo mode
- the ability to crop and otherwise edit video from within the Photos app
- new, tougher glass on the front and back, which Apple claims is the toughest glass on the market
- the A13 processor, capable of up to a twenty percent speed increase, while using less battery
- more battery life than the 2018 phones: an extra hour on the 11, four more hours for the 11 Pro, and five more hours on the 11 Pro Max
- new color options
- a virtual sound experience which Apple claims will be "immersive", and will support Dolby Atmos
- pre-order any of these on September 13, starting at 5:00 A.M. Pacific time, or buy in stores starting September 20
- a new payment plan, where approved buyers can pay monthly instead of all at once, with lower payments for those trading in older iPhones
- the new U1 chip, which enables more precise locating at close range and other, as yet untapped, abilities
If you're waiting for other details--wifi and cellular improvements, app load times, upgrades to dust and water resistance--well, so am I. The speaker rushed through a few points about dust/water resistance being better, wifi 6 being included, and that was pretty much it. We know the A13 is, according to Apple, "the fastest CPU and GPU in any smartphone on the market", so we can assume iPhone 11 will run faster. Yet we have no specific examples or numbers. From materials published after the event, we know that iPhone 11 has an IP68 rating, and the afore mentioned U1 chip. The big focus during the presentation was on the cameras, though. Here's what we were told, mixed with things I've since read online.
The "budget" model, the iPhone 11, is still impressive. It is similar to the iPhone XR from last year, in that it uses an LCD screen, has no bezzels to speak of, uses Face ID, and has a glass back and metal around the edges. But it has new cameras, an hour more battery life, and the new A13 processor.
The camera system has the usual lens, plus an ultra-wide angle lens capable of capturing 120 degrees. This is all supported by the same software-aided photography tricks we've come to expect, but with upgrades. Portrait mode has been improved, low-light processing is better and kicks in automatically, auto focus and highlighting are better, there are more auto focus pixels on the sensor. You get the idea. The front camera can capture a wider view when held in landscape orientation, and both it and the rear camera array have increased video recording abilities. For instance, you can record 4K video at 60FPS, and use the front camera for slow motion video now.
iPhone 11 has a matte finish on its glass, not the glossy finish from last year's iPhones. It uses aluminum on its metal sides, just like iPhone XR. Unlike the XR, though, it comes in six new colors: white, black, green, yellow, purple, and Product (Red). It can be pre-ordered on September 13, starting at 5:00 A.M. Pacific time, or picked up in stores starting September 20. The 64GB model will cost $699.
iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max
Like iPads, iPhones seem to be moving toward basic and pro tiers. iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have some advanced features missing from iPhone 11, and are--not surprisingly--priced accordingly. Since the only real difference between the two pro models is the screen size, I'll cover them both here. Unless otherwise stated, everything in this section applies to both.
For the first time, an iPhone has four camera lenses: one for the front-facing camera, and three for the rear-facing one. That rear sensor array sports a telephoto lense, a standard lens, and a wide-angle lens. This gives the phone the ability to optically zoom in 2x, or out 2x.
As in iPhone 11, the Pro has new software to up its photography game. There's the same updated HDR, better focusing, and other improvements from the 11. The two big features of the Pro's camera are High-Key Mono, a portrait option that I honestly don't understand at all, and the "mad science" (Apple's words) of Deep Fusion. This latter trick is actually quite impressive, even if I can't visually verify that it does as good a job as Apple claims. Basically, the phone captures eight images with short exposure, then the ninth with a longer exposure when you actually press the shutter button. In one second, artificial intelligence breaks down all nine frames, and combines the details from all of them into a single image that should be the best possible shot. Think of it as stiching together the best bits of nine images to make one image with those best bits coming together.
The other big focus for Apple was the screen. iPhone 11 Pro has what the company calls the best screen in any iPhone, with more pixels and brightnes than ever. They claim that it's the same display technology used in the Mac Pro's screen. It's so good, in fact, that they couldn't resist giving it a big, long name: the Super Retina XDR Display.
iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max come in new colors, each of which has a matte finish instead of the glossy finish we saw last year. The metal is still stainless steel. The new colors are midnight green, gold, silver, and space gray. Pricing starts at $999 for iPhone 11 Pro, and $1099 for the Max variant. As a bonus, you'll get an 18W charger in the box, whereas other iPhones (including the 11) come with the old 5W charger.
Apple Watch Series 5
Today saw the release of a new series of Apple Watch, something I didn't really expect. The Series 5 replaces the Series 4, but Apple opted to keep the Series 3 around, now starting at $199. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that the Series 5 starts at $399.
What's new, you ask? The main features are a compass, with an accompanying app, and a display that's always on. Also, the cellular model of the 5 will now be able to call emergency services in any country you're in, which I didn't realize was a limitation before. It wasn't clear to me if this feature will come to other series of cellular Apple Watch.
The compass lets you know which way you're facing, obviously, but it's integrated in some neat ways. It appears in the Maps app, letting you orient yourself more easily. It also has a complication so you can know which direction is which at a glance, and it has an app that shows you direction, incline, elevation, and other details. According to articles I read, it also includes a cone which gets narrower the more confident the Watch is in the reading. If you're around a lot of metal that is interfering with the compass, the cone will be wider. In the middle of the woods, it will, presumably, be narrow or disappear since the compass is working just fine.
The new watch has a whole new kind of display, but the important thing is that it never turns off. When you raise your wrist or tap the screen, things work as they do on any other Apple Watch. But instead of turning black after a few seconds, the Series 5 just dims. An Apple Insider article described the effect as the complications "frosting over", while the time appears to overlay them. This isn't much good for VoiceOver users, but those with enough vision to see the screen will be very happy.
The final change is in the casing material. The aluminum case is still around, as is the stainless steel. The latter now comes in space black, brushed steel, and gold. The new material, titanium, can be gotten in either space black or brushed natural. Finally, a ceramic option is available in white. To accompany all these new colors and casings, Apple is finally letting users pick the color band they want, in what it calls "Apple Watch Studio". This feature is available online and in Apple stores.
Aluminum is the cheapest option, at $399 for the non-cellular version. As usual, these are available on September 20, but you can pre-order them right now (September 10).
Surprise! Apple updated its entry-level iPad, the one you can get for $329. It kept the A10 Fusion chip inside, but it gave the new iPad a 10.2-inch screen compared to the previous version's 9.7-inch. It also added the smart connector we've seen on iPad Pro and iPad Air, letting you use official or third-party smart keyboards with the new model. This update also includes support for the first-generation Apple Pencil. Don't worry: there's still a home button.
The iPad is otherwise unchanged, as far as I know. The storage options are the same, the price is still $329 and up, and the color choices haven't changed. As with the other hardware talked about today, you can pick this up on or after September 20.
Apple Arcade is a service that will offer users over a hundred games at launch, with more coming each month. The hook is that you can play any game for a single fee of $4.99 per month, and you can play on macOS, iOS, iPadOS, or tvOS. You can try Apple Arcade for a month before you commit to paying for it, which will be perfect for checking to see if any accessible titles can be found. Apple made no mention of this, but you never know. The price includes the whole family, assuming you have Family sharing set up. You can start playing on September 19.
Apple TV Plus
Apple is offering an array of original content that you can watch on any of its devices (no word on watching through a web browser on non-Apple hardware), and it calls the service Apple TV Plus. It will cost just $4.99 per month, but don't start paying that just yet. If you buy a new iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Apple TV, or Mac, you get a year of Apple TV Plus included for free. The fun begins November 1.
To answer a few common questions:
- While audio descriptions weren't mentioned during the event, we have since learned that all Apple TV Plus content will have descriptions and closed captioning available.
- Only Apple's original content is available. This isn't like Netflix or Prime Video, where original shows are mixed with mainstream ones.
- Yes, $4.99 covers you and your family, just like Apple Arcade.
We finally have release dates for the upcoming software. The new versions of watchOS, iOS, macOS, and tvOS will be available on September 19. That day will see the release of iOS 13.0, while iOS 13.1 will follow on September 30. That's the same day that iPadOS will come out. It's an odd schedule, but there it is.
One other bit of sotware news is Apple Research. This app, coming later this year, will offer various health-related studies in which Apple Watch owners can enroll. Apple is partnering with various universities and hospitals to conduct studies on various aspects of health, hoping to leverage its large install base to get a lot of people--and thus a lot of data--to the teams running the studies.
Until Next Time
This announcement had far too many promo videos for my liking, and the iPhone details focused so much on the camera they pushed aside the information I was hoping for. Still, we got the new iPhone, entry-level iPad, Apple Watch Series 5, Apple TV Plus and Apple Arcade services, and final details on the upcoming operating system upgrades. Not bad!
Right now, I'm considering trading in or selling my iPhone 7, and getting the 11 (not the Pro). My Series 4 Apple Watch is just fine, and I don't exactly need an always-on display. What about you? Any upgrade plans? Will you be checking out Apple Tv Plus? Did Apple miss something you were looking forward to? To the comments section!