CUPERTINO, CALIFORNIA: It’s been a decade of the iPhone, and Apple decided to bring in its 10th year in style at the swanky, new venue, the Steve Jobs theatre, at Apple Park. Dedicated to the memory of Steve Jobs, the Theatre symbolises the brand's aestehtics and design to the hilt. That Soon after the event, we got to spend some time with all the new iPhones and Apple Watch Series 3. This is what we thought about them after a brief hands-on.
Let’s start with the more familiar designs first: iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. While we were expecting a 7s and 7s Plus this year (just like the previous few upgrades), Apple chose to (surprise us a bit,) go a number up, signifying that it sees these new devices as completely new rather than just being ‘upgrades’.
While the shape of these phones remains the same, one of the biggest visible changes is the glass back. And this is needed because of the addition of wireless charging. Wireless or inductive charging uses wire coils that transfer current over a small distance – and this will not work through metal. Many other premium phones with wireless charging (like Samsung’s Galaxy S8, S8+, Note 8) already have glass backs.
Some will still take issue with this because typically, Apple phones have always been metal, going as far back as the original iPhone from January 2007. Metal also blocks wireless signals (WiFi, GSM, Bluetooth) so the first iPhone had a large plastic panel to let these frequencies though. All premium metal phones get around this limitation by having antenna bands. They’re so seamlessly integrated into the metal that they can be hard to spot. Now with glass backs, there’s no need for these complicated and intricate antenna bands either. Important to note that these phones all use the open Qi wireless charging standard, so they will work with existing Qi accessories, furniture and cars.
The camera on the iPhone 8 Plus gets a new Portrait Lighting feature which is enabled by the dual camera. You can change lighting on a subject while taking the photo or go to image gallery and change lighting after the fact. Dimensions of the phone are ‘almost’ the same - slight differences here and there mean that some existing cases for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus may not fit.
Now let’s move on to the main attraction: iPhone X. Unlike the other two, there’s just one size, with a 5.8-inch OLED screen. Thanks to the thinner bezels all around, the phone is about the same size as the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, which is to say, very compact! You’ve probably seen the leaks and they were all spot on. First, let’s get the obvious thoughts out of the way. There’s no home button on this iPhone. Something that has been central to the iOS experience since January 2007 is no more. It has been replaced by a simple ‘slide to home’ gesture that you can use in any app. You need to slide up from the bottom of the screen to go home. If you pause briefly while sliding up, it opens the multitasking view.
The other very obvious feature is the large cut out on the top of the screen that houses the front camera and all the sensors (more on this in just a bit). The screen normally extends to either side of this cut out and the operating system and apps can handle this ‘split’ differently. The screen can either extend fully to either side of the cutout or the area can be blacked out by apps (such as some video apps, which might want to display video in a perfect rectangle). iOS also has some neat tricks to deal with the limited amount of status bar space, animating and resizing the battery/network icons as needed.
On the display cutout, there is the front camera, proximity sensor and light sensor as usual. What’s new is the 3D face unlock feature called Face ID. This can scan your face to authenticate you as the user. It works in low light and works when your face is at an angle. Essentially, this replaces the Touch ID fingerprint system. The passcode lock still remains. Apple says that the system will not be fooled by a photo of you or even by a realistic 3D face mask of you.
Big performance gains are promised now, thanks to the new Apple A11 Bionic SoC, built using a 10nm process. A smaller manufacturing scale means faster, more efficient chips and better battery life. The camera is all new too. There’s a new, vertically stacked dual camera system. The dual camera system was previously only on the Plus models. Both rear camera lenses are optically stabilized in iPhone X. And it gets all the same features as the Plus: portrait mode and Portrait Lighting.
A note about fragmentation now. iPhone now has various screen sizes and resolutions and app developers will likely have to modify apps to play nice across all devices like iPhone SE (4-inch screen, 640 x 1136 pixels), iPhone 6/6s/7 (4.7-inch screen, 750 x 1334 pixels), iPhone 6 plus/6s plus/7 plus (5.5-inch screen, 1920 x 1080 pixels) and now the latest iPhone X (5.8-inch screen, 2800 x 1242 pixels)
While this new Apple TV looks the same as the current generation, it has been updated with the Apple A10X Fusion chip for much faster processing and GPU. This is the same chip in the iPad Pro line-up, and it can beat many laptops in terms of outright speed, so we know this is fast. The faster processing opens the door to console-like gaming on the TV, using the Apple TV remote. The interface has been redesigned for 4K and there will be updated content on iTunes as well. If someone already owns a movie in HD, it will be upgraded to 4K free of charge on Apple TV 4k. Plus all new 4K content will be the same price as HD content.
While it looks identical to the current Apple Watch Series 2 - Series 3 has faster processing, cellular functionality and a barometric altimeter. For the first time, Siri can speak to you from the Watch itself - rather than you having to look at the phone. With cellular, you don’t need your phone around to make/receive calls. There is no SIM card slot in Watch - instead, it has a miniaturized electronic SIM. This will be a paid service that will roll out to countries in a phased manner. The idea is that your phone number does not change, whether you are using Watch or phone. Another feature some may find interesting is the ability to stream 40 million music tracks from Apple Music using 4G/LTE. Pair the Watch with AirPods and you don’t need the phone for access to music.