CULT OF PERSONALITY
Hello, AirPods: Apple Introduces Your New Favorite Thing to Lose
Apple killed the headphone jack but introduced waterproofing, a better watch (with Pokemon Go!), and more at the iPhone 7 launch event.
After months of speculation, Apple made it official Wednesday during a live event: the iPhone 7 will be giving us something new—and plenty more of the same.
Expectations for today’s event were uncharacteristically varied. Analysts, consumers, and the press couldn’t make up their minds whether the expected headphone jack-less new phone with its missing physical home button was a much needed innovation, or merely a deliberate slowing down of Apple’s engines to better coincide with next year’s 10th anniversary of their signature product.
2017, many seem to believe, is when we’ll all see the real magic that Apple has been cooking up.
A series of purported leaks leading up to today’s big reveal did little to harmonize expectations. Apple’s notorious secrecy and control of its own product narrative are at this point part of the company’s mystique—and while previous years have seen leaks trickle out of Cupertino, 2016 has seemed particularly ripe with information not meant for the general public.
Hours before today’s announcement, a customized iPhone 7 landing page on Amazon confirmed much of what we had already suspected all along, sucking the wind out of CEO Tim Cook’s sails (if not Apple’s actual sales).
When the livestream finally began, Cook, perhaps more in tune with public perception than we might otherwise give him credit for, poked fun at the leaks while riding shotgun next to James Corden in a Carpool Karaoke skit (with Pharrell along for the ride).
Here’s what we learned about the iPhone 7, Apple Watch, and the rest of Apple’s new fruits:
iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
New colors: Rumored to be called “Piano Black,” the mirror-like, high gloss shade is actually “Jet Black.” Surprisingly, a second new black, simply called Black, will also make its debut with this new model. RIP Space Gray. We hardly knew you.
The physical home button lives on! Long live the home button! But it has been completely redesigned and reengineered, incorporating a Taptic engine to measure the speed and pressure of your touch.
Water (and dust) resistance: Widely rumored, but now confirmed, the iPhone 7’s new enclosure ensures that you won’t be drying your phone out in a bowl of rice after accidentally giving it a bath ever again. The antenna is now embedded in the enclosure of the phone’s pieces, no longer a distraction from the design of the phone itself.
New cameras: A wider aperture, a “six-element” lens, two 12-megapixel cameras on the rear of the phone, and a True Tone flash are now smart enough to compensate for and correct artificial light. Over 100 Billion operations are performed with every photo taken. Rich color, and stunning low-light sensors make for the best photos taken with an iPhone yet. The front camera has been upgraded to 7 megapixels, even in Facetime, and now boasts image stabilization.
Camera geeks will rejoice at new features that will keep photos crisp even at 10x zoom, and manage to recreate the depth of field effects of professional-grade DSLR cameras. A new Instagram filter will now take advantage of iPhone 7’s Retina HD wide color gamut capabilities.
When it comes to performance, a 40-percent faster A10 Fusion chip has Apple reclaiming their “fastest smartphone out there” talking point. Two additional high-efficiency cores (bringing the total to four) and a performance controller will extend battery life and juice up graphics. Apple says the iPhone 7’s A10 Fusion chip is 240 times faster than original generation iPhone’s.
iOS 10 brings new Siri integration, text prediction, and lift-to-awaken gesture functionality. Smart home integration comes to the Home Kit app, essentially making your iPhone the pituitary gland of the internet of things. Behavioral “bubbles,” stickers, and screen effects are all coming to iMessage.
iPhone 7 will be priced at $649 for the most inexpensive model, which sees its storage doubled to 32GB from the traditional 16GB of previous models. The Jet Black finish will be exclusively sold on the 128GB and 256GB models. Silver, Gold, Rose Gold, and Black are available across the line.
The iPhone 7 Plus begins at $769, again with each of the previous model’s storage capabilities doubled.
Apple has done away with the headphone jack (if not the home button), and will be connecting earbuds and the like via the Lightning port from here on out. Apple says Lightning was designed from the start to be an incredible audio connector, if we would all kindly recall. For those who love their iconic white, constantly tangled headphones, fear not: Apple will be shipping iPhone 7 models with an adapter included.
But bigger news still, the company is untethering us from our mobile devices with Apple AirPods, a wireless headphone solution using Apple’s new W1 chip in each ear. Infrared sensors only allow the buds to play while actually in your ear, preserving battery life. AirPods carry a five-hour charge, with an additional 24-hours of juice in their portable case itself, which also serves to charge the tiny devices. Beats will also contribute three new models to the constellation of AirPods for those interested in a premium option.
Back in the phone itself, the iPhone 7 delivers the line’s first true stereo sound.
Apple Watch Series 2
Now the second-best selling watch brand in the world (behind Rolex, naturally) after just eight months of sales, Cook explained that the Apple Watch is #1 in customer satisfaction. Among watches? Among smart watches? It wasn’t clear. But buy an Apple Watch!
WatchOS 3, first previewed in June, it has fine-tuned messages, stickers, and watch faces. The new Scribble feature, which allows wearers to write out responses with a fingertip one letter at a time on the watch face itself, was said to work better than we might assume.
Meditation, health, and game apps all continue to do their Watchy thing, but the real star announcement—and potentially a huge incentive to finally buy an Apple Watch—was that Pokemon Go is coming to wrists before the end of the year. Nearby Pokemon, Pokestops, and egg hatching features will now sync with Apple Watch workouts.
Series 2, a new naming distinction by the company, has been completely reengineered to be swim-proof (the OG was merely splash-proof), and can now function properly up to 50 meters submerged in water. The speaker within the watch itself ejects accumulated water from the watch at the end of a swim, in a bit of an engineering marvel. Will Series 2’s 50 percent faster dual core processor, upgraded GPU, built-in GPS, and better visibility in sunlight be incentive enough to get the general public to begin wearing computers on our wrists en masse? Time will tell.
New finish alert: Ceramic! Apple’s first new material arguably since the rose gold iPhone makes its debut on Apple Watch Series 2. It’s a white watch face, four-times as hard as stainless steel.
Nike and Apple are diving deeper into their mutually beneficial relationship with a dedicated Nike Plus Apple Watch model, promising “the best running experience out there” by incorporating Siri into distance tracking, along with various other features.
Pricing for Series 2 and the Nike Plus Apple Watch models starts at $369. The OG Apple Watch has been renamed Series 1, and will continue to sell with beefed up innards.
The Carpool Karaoke sketch was hardly a fluke. Apple and Corden are producing a series of skits for Apple Music listen...err...watchers.
Sorry Kanye, but it looks like the age of exclusive music releases is only beginning to dawn. Cook proudly announced that over 70 artists had released albums exclusively to the platform this year.
The App Store
Over 140 Billion—with a B—apps have been downloaded from the App Store now. Cook touted a yearly growth rate over 100 percent, and bragged that Apple’s walled garden generates twice the revenue of “their closest competitor.” (We’re looking at you, Google Play.)
“It’s-a meeee, Mario!”
Nintendo godfather Shigeru Miyamoto himself was brought out to introduce the first Super Mario game designed for iOS. A global multi-player battle mode, and subway rider-conscious one-handed playability were touted, while showing off footage of one of the world’s most iconic video game stars looking decidedly Nintendo on an iconic iPhone vertical screen. A Mario-branded set of iMessage stickers was also said to be coming soon.
Apple’s participation in the ConnectedED program was given the spotlight, with 4,500 teachers receiving Macs and Apple TVs. Ten-times that number of students at 114 participating schools will receive iPads.
Real-time collaboration is finally coming to Apple’s suite of productivity and office apps. While Apple’s Susan Prescott seemed delighted with her demonstration of the newly collaborative Keynote app, longtime Google Drive users may find these innovations helpful, if a bit stale.
And one more thing!
Sia! Wait...what? Yes, Sia performed her new Apple Music-exclusive song “The Greatest” live for the first time on the iPhone event stage. Earlier in the week, the accompanying music video drew attention for once again featuring muse and collaborator Maddie Ziegler alongside 49 child dancers in tribute to the victims who lost their lives in the Orlando nightclub shooting earlier this year. The moment of silence in between “The Greatest” and “Chandelier” felt a bit at odds with the sky-high excitement about the new Apple products, though Sia and Ziegler both nailed their performances.
While Apple likes to remind us every chance they get that music is built into the company’s DNA, these add-ons are beginning to feel a bit like your dad singing along to the car radio while all of your friends are in the backseat.