Last week, while I got ready to attend Apple's product launch extravaganza in San Francisco, I started asking myself big-picture questions which I hoped the event would answer. Now that the event is over, would you indulge me as I go over the questions I asked and ponder whether Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, and the other Apple execs who presented onstage addressed them?
Onstage, when Phil Schiller addressed Apple's decision to ditch the headphone jack, he boiled it down to one word: "Courage." Apple has a long history of being willing to eradicate old technologies in the interest of pushing its devices into the future, or just making them thinner and lighter. Almost always, its willingness to do so riles people up. And almost always, the company's thinking makes sense in the fullness of time.
I don't get the sense that everybody who was skeptical about the death of the headphone jack before the event was immediately swayed by Schiller's pitch:
Still, as someone who was guardedly concerned about the move when I first heard about it, I find it easier to understand when I think about its impact on the iPhone 8, 9, 10, and beyond. Just as Apple removing the floppy drive from the original 1998 Mac helped propel the entire industry forward into an era when files would be shared over the internet—or at least via far higher-capacity storage media than a floppy disk—the deletion of the headphone jack is less about this year's iPhone than it is about an era to come in which cables of all sorts start to look like antiques. Or so I hope.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus (and 6 and 6 Plus before them) feel almost like the same camera in two screen sizes. With all the scuttlebutt about the iPhone 7 Plus's two-lens camera, I wondered if the big iPhone would feel like the flagship of the new line, or if it might differ from its smaller cousin in other respects.
After having attended the event, I think the difference between the two models is a tad less pronounced than I thought it might be. Yes, the 10X zoom and depth-of-field effects made possible by the dual-lens camera are cool, and might be a tipping point that leads some people to opt for the 7 Plus. But the smaller iPhone 7 also got a major overhaul to its camera. The distinction between the two models seems to be contingent on what Apple can cram into their cases, not a particular desire to aim the two iPhones at different audiences.
Well, the sample photos Apple showed looked spectacular, of course—they always do. The company didn't declare that the iPhone 7 Plus's camera had reached SLR quality, but it did quote a professional photographer saying he expected the iPhone to become a standard piece of equipment for serious shutterbugs' toolkits.
Me, I mostly shoot photos with my iPhone (or sometimes an Android phone such as the Honor 8). But when I'm shooting images I really care about, I still bring my trusty, bulky, pricey FujiFilm X100S. If either of the new iPhones leaves me seeing no reason to bother with the FujiFilm—even at family events I'm documenting for posterity, not Instagram—it will be a personal sea change.
This one seems pretty clear. Except for the nifty new ceramic case option, the Apple Watch Series 2's major changes—GPS and a swim-proof case design—are all about making it a better companion for people who are serious about fitness. In 2014 and 2015, it felt like the fashion angle was as important as any other aspect of this watch, but now it's taken a sharp turn toward health-related features.
Well, for some people, Pokémon Go surely counts, and it's coming to the watch. We also got a sneak peek at ViewRanger, a hiking app that leverages the new built-in GPS. Beyond that, the new watchOS 3 should let new developers build significantly more sophisticated apps, and it shouldn't be too long before some of them pop up in the App Store.
Sorry, there was no significant iPad news at this event except for a more collaboration-savvy version of the iWork productivity suite. See you in 2017, iPad.
Was the Apple TV even mentioned onstage today?
I don't think the company willfully held back cool stuff back in June so it could unveil it today. But we did learn about some software features that are tied to new hardware, such as the iPhone 7 Plus's depth-of-field portrait mode, which is due to arrive as a software upgrade later this year.
In retrospect, Apple mostly used the event to deal with the task at hand: explaining to people why they might want to buy a new iPhone or Apple Watch. That mission crowded out almost everything else, such as news relating to products that didn't get an upgrade, like the Apple TV and iPad (and Mac).
That doesn't mean that Apple isn't thinking about such matters, just that it it's doing far too much to cram all of it into a two-hour presentation. And there's every reason to think that the company will only get busier in the years to come—which might mean that no future Apple event will feel anywhere near as comprehensive.