Last night, I watched Apple’s September Special Event live on a big screen in a lecture theatre at iOSDevUK with around 100 other iOS developers and software engineers, all eagerly awaiting the next round of product launches from our favourite manufacturer. There had, as usual, been so many leaked documents and pictures that we pretty much knew what to expect, but they still managed to surprise us a little.
Tim Cook kicked off the event with updates on Apple Music, now boasting 17 million paid subscribers and the App Store, which has now hit an impressive 140 billion downloads, netting Apple twice the revenue of their nearest competitor. This was time for possibly the biggest surprise of the evening, with Tim inviting Shegiru Miyamoto on stage to reveal that video games giant Nintendo would be bringing their iconic Mario character to iOS for the first time in a new game, Super Mario Run. We hadn’t seen this coming at all and the guys in the lecture theatre seemed pretty universally excited.
Tim went on to speak about their education program, supplying free devices to teachers and students and revealed that schools would be teaching programming using Swift Playgrounds later this year.
Next, Susan Prescott took to the stage to introduce real time collaboration in iWork. This will allow users to collaborate online using the iWork suite (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) to create and update documents, presentations and spreadsheets in the cloud.
Tim then introduced Jeff Williams to talk about the first of the hardware updates we were all waiting for so keenly, Apple Watch. Having assured us that the accessory is now the world’s best selling smartwatch and revealed that this summer’s hit game Pokémon Go is heading for the watch later this year. Jeff went on to tell us that, as we were expecting, the Apple Watch would be getting a reboot in the form of the Apple Watch Series 2. The watch has been completely re-engineered and is now totally waterproof up to 50 meters which, along with new swimming fitness features, will be a revelation for swimmers wanting to use the device during their training. The watch also now has a dual core chip, which will process graphics twice as fast as the previous model and the display is twice as bright; the brightest screen ever on an Apple device, in fact.
The watch now has its own GPS chip, meaning users can enjoy location-aware apps without having to carry their phone and this is available for third party developers to use in their apps. Jeff also revealed a new white ceramic finish would be available on the Series 2, which is 4 times harder than stainless steel and, while it’s definitely not my style, I’m sure this will please some people. Jeff also invited Nike president Trevor Williams to tell us that Nike and Apple’s long running partnership would continue with a range of watches, the Apple Watch Nike+, aimed specifically at runners.
The Series 2 watch will be out later this month, priced from $369, with the earlier model, now called the Series 1 priced from $269 and including an updated dual core chip.
Anyone who hasn’t been hiding under a rock for the last few months knew pretty much what to expect from the new iPhones. We’ve been seeing schematics and leaked photos all over the internet, so there weren’t too many surprises here. After Tim let us know that they had now sold over 1 billion iPhones, Jony Ive introduced the new devices via a video of their revolutionary new polishing process. The iPhone 7 is shiny. Very shiny.
The major surprise here was the Apple have ditched the Space Grey finish in favour of two new dark finishes: the incredibly shiny “Jet Black” and a more toned down matte black finish which they’re calling “Black”. The silver, gold and rose gold finishes that we’re more familiar with are still there too. The lack of a Space Grey option was very disappointing, especially for some of the developers I was with who have coordinated Space Grey MacBook/iPad/iPhone combinations.
The phones have been designed to be practically seamless and the finish looks great. They’re also now water and dust resistant which is great news for everyone, particularly the more clumsy among us.
Phil Schiller gave us a rundown of everything that’s new in the iPhone 7. The home button has been completely re-engineered to be more responsive and to include force touch and the phone now includes the Taptic engine. We have previously seen the Taptic engine on the Apple Watch and this will be available for developers to harness in their own apps.
As usual, the camera has been upgraded significantly, now boasting an optical image stabiliser, flicker sensor and some pretty serious digital processing going on under the hood. We can now edit Live Photos with live filters and the camera supports the wide colour gamut for even deeper colours. The really exciting camera upgrade, however, is only available on the iPhone 7 plus, which houses a second rear-facing camera, allowing for two times optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom. This will also allow users to take stunning depth-of-field photos which haven’t been possible before.
The new retina HD screens are brighter and also support the wide colour gamut. The devices now contain two stereo speakers at the top and bottom of the housing and the speakers are twice as loud as the ones in previous iPhones.
iPhone 7 and 7 plus are powered by the new A10 Fusion chip, offering the fastest processing and best ever graphics performance in an iPhone – in fact it’s the most powerful smartphone chip ever. And at last storage has been upgraded, with Apple ditching the 16GB entry level in favour of 32GB, 128GB and 256GB models, a move which will be welcomed with open arms by many.
Battery life, despite all of the updated features, has also been improved, with the 7 offering 2 hours more from a full charge than the 6s and the 7 plus, beating the 6s plus by an hour.
The rumours that Apple would be removing the audio jack on these models turned out to be true. The EarPods supplied with the new phones will have a Lightning connector and they’ll include a Lightning-to-mini-jack adapter in the box for those of us who prefer to use our existing headphones. Despite having known about this change for some time, I’m still disappointed by the decision to remove the audio jack. Yes, it opens up more space for Apple to cram more great features into the phones, but it means I couldn’t charge my phone while listening to music using my favourite headphones. Of course there are Bluetooth headphones available that get around this issue and this was Apple’s next announcement.
AirPods are Apple’s wireless version of EarPods. They pretty much look like they’ve just cut the cable off their existing offering, but of course they’re much cleverer than that, with microphones built in and are tappable to launch Siri. They charge via a special case which holds 24 hours of charge – enough to fully charge the AirPods several times. I won’t be investing in the AirPods, however. I’ve never been able to get the EarPods to stay in my ears and without a cable to tether them to me, I’m sure I’d lose the AirPods in no time.
We were all hoping to hear about new laptops at the event, but perhaps Apple are saving that for another day in the (hopefully not too distant) future. We eagerly await it.
by Olly Berry