Apple Keynote September 2019

Apple Keynote September 2019

What was revealed today:

Services

Apple arcade

  • Console-level games (didn't look like it)
  • Launches sept 19 with limited amount of games
  • $4.99 / mo / family
  • Best (presented) games looks very basic, but the price is cheap, so...

Apple TV+

  • 'See' movie trailer
  • 12 show title on big screen - all new / unknown
  • 1 month free trial
  • 1st show launches Nov 1
  • $4.99 / mo / family
  • Apple TV+ free for 1 year for each new purchased device

Hardware

iPad

  • New budget iPad with smart connector to support keyboard and apple pencil
  • $329 regular, $299 for education
  • 100% recycled aluminium

Apple watch

Saves / improves people’s lives
Participates in health research

Series 5:
  • Always on display
  • Compass
  • International emergency calling (LTE models)
  • 100% recycled aluminium
  • New titanium, ceramic materials
  • New Nike and Hermes models
  • $399 for the GPS, $499 for cellular models
  • Available Sep 20
  • Series 3 price down to $199

iPhone

Budget iPhone (formerly known as XR) is now called iPhone 11, and the successor for XS and XS Max are called 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max

iPhone 11

  • 6 colors
  • Dolby Atmos support
  • Dual camera (wide 1x and ultra-wide camera)
  • Night mode
  • Improved front-facing camera
  • New A13 bionic chip
  • Chinese company showing a GPU performance demo with their game demo
  • 1h longer battery than on XR
  • Wireless charging (XR also has it)
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • $699 starting price (nice)

iPhone 11 Pro

  • Everything iPhone 11 has plus:
  • New matte finish
  • New midnight green color (yikes)
  • Up to 1200 nit brightness
  • A13 improvements: Machine Learning, Low-Power design
  • 6x faster matrix multiplication for ML, over 1 TFLOPs
  • CPU cores are up to 20% faster and 30-40% lower power
  • 4-5h longer battery (nice)
  • 18W charger in the box
    New camera system (updated wide + telephoto and a new ultra-wide) - looks like a triclop 😏
  • Simultaneous video recording from multiple lenses in pro apps
  • Starts at $999 and $1099 for the bigger iPhone 11 Pro Max

Apple Retail(?)

  • Custom Apple watch bands
  • Trade in
  • Fifth Avenue store reopening

eSIM

After landing in Las Vegas yesterday to attend CES 2019 before going out of the airport I was advised to pick up my conference badge. And this is when I experienced eSIM goodness πŸ™‚

In order to do so I had to wait in line for about 15 minutes, which should have been far less than what I would've waited to do the same close to the convention center, so I decided to get my badge at the airport.

While standing I realized I forgot my T-mobile US sim card (which probably expired anyway) and since I just came from Europe I didn't have time to buy a new one as well. I opened up Google Maps to figure out where's the closest T-mobile store, as they have the best cellular offerings for tourists.

After few seconds of searching I recalled that on the previous WWDC Apple announced (actually mentioned in only in the list of new 'other' features without any comments) an electronic sim card support for their latest devices. Since WWDC I've heard US carriers adopting eSIM one after another. And that one of the latest iOS updates actually enabled those.

So I started googling eSIM for T-mobile US and I found their separate app just for getting one! I downloaded the app via the airport's wifi, entered my credentials, credit card info and the app offered me to install a T-mobile data plan! After me accepting it and going through few setup steps my phone connected to T-mobile, but also kept connection to AT&T as a roaming carrier for my EU sim card. Now I had connection to two carriers with only one sim card in the single physical sim slot installed! How cool is that?!

And all of the above I could achieve while standing in a line for a conference badge. I not only made my time useful but saved some more by not having to re-route and go to a physical T-mobile store, wait in line there and speak to not always pleasant consultant, take off my phone's case, swap cards, etc. I would be also loosing connection to my original phone which I still need abroad to see incoming calls, get verification SMS, etc, to which I usually take a second phone with me. The second phone is also a hassle - I have to charge it separately, keep an eye on it separately as well.

But now I could avoid all of this: wasting my time by going to a physical store, managing a second phone - which in this particular case I also forgot, the same as my previous US sim card. I would probably have to buy a cheap third phone just for receiving sms on my main EU number without having to swap between US and EU sim cards each time.

I heard plenty of times rumors on Apple's plans ditching all the ports and openings with time. And if the headphone jack was (and is) an arguable port to loose, I will definitely not miss the sim card slot. And in this regard the eSIM is a wonderful replacement: not only it doesn't take away something you need - you can still use your sim slot with carriers which don't support eSIM yet. But it brings the game up in a very noticeable manner not no be worrying and dealing with sim cards with carriers that do support it. And in time most of them will, and that's when all the phones will start shipping without this truly ancient and unnecessary technology, bringing us even more seamless phones, tablets, and who knows, a cellular-enabled Mac but without a sim slot :)

iPhone XR

Apple's latest 'budget' phone caused a lot of buzz. You can find many reviews on it, but here's my short take on this device from a long time iOS and current iPhone XS user.

iPhone XR
Guess which is where?

Disclaimer: I spent with this device only 30 minutes in the Apple Store, checking it thoroughly. I also spent few days afterwards reading and watching any review of it I could find. Reason: I was researching what would be the best phone for my wife, for her needs and usage and I wanted to make the right choice.

My wife had a nice but already quite old iPhone 7 and I wanted to upgrade it for her. The main reasons why she uses and chooses the iPhone - is that for her the camera is the most important part of the phone. Battery life is second, third is everything else, including geeky specs she doesn't care about at all like I do.

Essentially the XR is very similar to the flagship XS:

  • Same 1x camera sensor, although with a bit bigger lens, allowing more light to come in
  • Same world class A12 chip
  • Same nearly bezel-less screen, front camera, Face ID, all other internals are completely the same

What is different:

  • Aluminum body unlike stainless steel in the XS. This gives it a less premium look, especially if you compare it to a shiny white XS with a chrome bezel. Both phones have glass front and back (for wireless charging)
  • Screen is LCD vs OLED on the XS. The screen bezel is a bit wider, the screen resolution is also a bit lower
  • Only 1x camera instead of 1x and 2x on the XS
  • Colors: XS comes in black, white, gold, where the XR is blue, yellow, orange, white, black, red, grey
  • Max memory capacity: 256GB for the XR and 512GB for XS
  • Battery on the XR lasts longer due to that less detailed screen
  • Obviously price: XR starts at $750 when base XS model costs $1000

Now, whether the difference is worth in my mind:

  • Build material: most people use a case anyway, so I guess it doesn't really matter which material you have - matte aluminum or glossy stainless steel - it won't be visible anyway
  • Screen resolution: the XR has 326 PPI, XS has 400+. Bringing them really close to my face - I couldn't tell the difference. The reason for this is the technology of the screens. LCDs tend to have equal pixels with almost no empty space in-between whereas OLED pixels are arrange differently and they require more pixels per inch (ppi) to have the same picture sharpness for the same physical dimensions. So here I can't recommend going for the higher PPI of the XS unless you really see it. I don't. Even with a sharp vision
  • Screen technology: LCDs have a long history of improvements: they are fast (the iPad's LCD supports 120hz refresh rate), they are bright (and nicely visible in direct sun), colorful (years of calibration), don't tend to flicker (due to their nature) and are cheaper to make (that's one of the reason of the lower price of the XR). OLEDs theoretically should have richer blacks (because each pixel is individually highlighted and black colors are just switched off pixels with pure black levels), higher contrast and nicer picture, and being thinner allow wrap the end closer to the edge giving that smaller bezel than on LCDs. But OLEDs may suffer with flickering for a distinctive eye (I don't notice it), burn-in of the pixels (taken care by software most of the time, I never saw one). OLEDs also cost more to produce, hence the higher price of the XS. Personally I thought OLEDs are far superior. And after my iPhone 7 it looked that way. On my iPhone 7 the blacks looked grey-ish, for someone else - blue-ish. On my iPhone X and XS black is black, no questions asked. But when I looked at the iPhone XR, its blacks (despite the backlight illuminating the whole screen and not individual pixels) where almost unnoticable! Apple did a very good job with the XR's LCD: not only its blacks are almost black, but its whites are even whiter than on the XS's OLED! In person you would clearly see the difference between whites in favor of the XR (XS looks yellow-ish in comparison) but not so clearly the difference in blacks. I tested both phones at max brightness with TrueTone off and I was just blown away how XR's screen looked good. So in this regard I can recommend both phones. If you can't sleep without having OLED on your phone - go for the XS, otherwise the XR is a very good option
  • Screen bezels: yes, they are more noticeable on the XR, but only if you hold it next to an XS. If not, you won't tell, no one would tell the difference in bezel size. So again, if you can't live with the thought of having bigger bezels - XS is your choice, otherwise the XR is almost the same
  • Cameras: even though the XS has 2x (which is not always true 2x), I was torn apart here. The XR has noticeably better low-light portrait mode but I just try to avoid taking pictures at night anyway due to smartphones' camera limitations. So 2x for me is more desirable, because in the day time it allows me to capture things which otherwise would be too tiny to bother to shoot. But your mileage may vary here
  • Battery: the longer the better, right? I wish I could trade some thinness of the XS for the bigger battery, so XR here in my opinion is superior.
  • Max memory: for me this is a tie - I don't need as much memory as it's physically available at the moment
  • Colors: XR colors are much more fun than the boring b/w and gold in the XS. But again, because of glass backs, you probably will keep both in a case, so this doesn't really matter. Unless you're really careful, never dropped the phone - the red XR looks so good, you wanna eat it πŸ™‚
  • Price: this is important for everyone. Obviously the XR is a winner here: you can get either the 128GB or the 256GB version still cheaper than the entry level 64GB XS

In general I went with the XS because:

  1. It was available sooner than the XR
  2. The geeky specs are better (even though practically I don't see most of them πŸ™‚)
  3. I actually use the 2x quite a lot where 1x just wouldn't be enough
  4. If there would be an XR with everything as is but with 2x, I would probably buy it instead, because XS prices are way out of hand for something like a smartphone where for $200-300 you can buy something usable with stock Android.

But again, I wanted to choose the best not for me but for my wife. I was thinking long and it was painful πŸ™‚. I was considering the XR most of the time:

  1. Bigger battery
  2. Worse specs my wife will never notice anyway
  3. Red color, it's that awesome, yes

But I went with the XS instead, only because of one thing: the 2x camera. The camera (as well the 256GB version to store them) is of the most importance for my wife, so I couldn't ignore that. She doesn't take as much low-light pictures as much she misses on photos of objects too far away. But if not that, I would have taken the XR in a heartbeat. Even for myself! At some point I was even thinking to 'downgrade' to the XR from the already owned XS. It's really that good. On another hand, if you're an ultra geek living on the edge - the XS/XS Max is for you. Which objectively because of a significantly higher price has a much worse price/value ratio.

P.S. If you're considering the XR, go with the 128GB version. I recently noticed I'm pushing towards my 64GB cap quite often, because of media taking so much space lately. On the XR the extra 64GB over the base version cost only $50 more which are really reasonable and which you will definitely miss down the road.

Easier to recommend before

As I recently mentioned in my iPhone portrait and camera zoom posts, previously it was easier to recommend Apple products to people around me.

I've touched this topic few days ago by saying how for many years I was amazed and blown away buy the sheer technical accomplishments Apple was able to achieve.

MacBook
I remember the days of the Sony Vaio laptop series, how it had the thinnest, lightest and most powerful Windows devices at the time. And when I learned about Apple's MacBooks which were even more slick, powerful and compact I couldn't wrap my head around on how that was even possible. Being a teenager at that time I was very lucky to get a white polycarbonate MacBook as a gift from my dad. And that was truly an exceptional device for that time, far ahead of the competition in every imaginable manner.

iPod-nano-2
But my first actual Apple device I got a year before my first MacBook. It was an iPod Nano 2g with 2GB of ram which was leaps and bounds better than my iRiver mp3 player that it replaced. The iPod was so thin and so well built and so comfortable to use with the click wheel, I to this day wonder how two similar but so different (iRiver and iPod) products could exist at the same time. The difference and superiority of the iPod was uncanny.

MacBook -unibody
After my first MacBook in few years I again was lucky to upgrade it to the first unibody aluminum MacBook Pro. It was such a huge upgrade in terms of look and feel and it pushed the MacBook so far away, since not any other competitor could match the quality even of the previous white MacBook, and this new device with a chassis milled from a single piece of aluminum was just lightyears ahead of anything on the market.

iPhone-3g
And then came the original iPhone. First, I was like 'eww, it can only run 1 app at a time when my Nokia can hold 32 apps in the background no problem'. But then, when the iPhone 3G came I finally understood how good that 1 app at a time were. At that time, I was already using one of the Sony-Ericsson smartphones with a stylus and the transition to using a phone with your finger went incredibly smooth. Since the iPhone 3G I owned each version of it, since all the internal (not always the external) upgrades were compelling to push me for the latest version each year.

Both the MacBook and the iPhone was a pain to use in an environment of Windows computers and smart and dumb phones of that time. On Mac OS I had problems printing, working with office documents, working with network devices. On the iPhone I couldn't send anyone files via Bluetooth, I didn't have MMS for a while, first few iPhones had to be unlocked via a proxy sim card to work outside of US.

But all of that was worth it for what you were getting. On the MacBook there were no viruses on Mac OS (still almost virus-free), it had a stellar trackpad (still the best among all laptops), long battery life, insane build quality. The iPhone was just an all-screen device, with one of the best cameras since the 3GS era and most importantly it had a fluid intuitive UI and new, best, innovative 3rd party apps when the App Store launched in 2008.

Though the years under Steve Jobs Apple kept innovating and being far ahead of the competition in many aspects: great hardware and software design, build quality and materials, newest technologies, seamless ecosystem and hardware+software integration, first platform of choice for desktop and mobile developers. But I guess it's hard to keep the lead forever. This is why in my opinion Apple gradually lost a few of their advantages to the competitors and this is why it's now harder to recommend their products anymore.

The Legend

Despite Apple each year proclaiming that they created the best ever iPhone, in my opinion iPhone 5s was best iPhone Apple ever made.
Legend-1

Not only it brought the new soon to become industry standard - Touch ID, but it continued on the amazing industry design which got even better after being introduced in the iPhone 5. Many years after and few months ago they reused those straight lines in the latest iPad Pro unfortunately leaving the polished cut of the bezel of the iPhone 5s behind.
Legend-2

That phone's design was so unique at that time that I wanted to keep it as a memory on how good the hardware design might be because I had the feeling it will be hard to release something more beautiful. And I think none of the next designs on the line could achieve that level of polish. Unfortunately, I had to give my personal phone away long time ago so I wasn't able to leave it for my collection of awesome hardware I owned. But recently I was lucky enough to buy it for testing content on smaller screen devices, which are seemingly going away. The iPhone 5s is the last 4" Apple device supported by the latest iOS and that's probably the last year of support for this phone by the latest software. But it was a good ride, and supporting it for 5 years is unheard of in the industry.
Legend-3

I'm really happy that I am able to keep this marvel of engineering in my drawer to be able to take it once in a while in order to appreciate this piece of technology.

Purposeful limitation

After being misled on the promise of the 2x camera on my iPhone I felt the same thing with portrait mode.

On the iPhone Xs (and previous 2-camera lens setups) portrait mode supposedly is possible because of the second camera whereas on the Xr you can get them with one camera. Google for example does portraits with one camera on their Pixel 2 and 3 for few years already and does actually a quite job with that. The same as with digitally stabilizing video on the original Pixel which turned out to be really good comparing to OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) at that time.

Don't get me wrong, I like portraits, even the fake ones you would get from a mobile device. They look noticeably better than regular pictures we had all this time and I'm glad the whole industry moved into that direction. But forcing buying a two-camera phone for portraits is just pure marketing, the same as forcing to upgrade from an iPhone X to Xs for Smart HDR which essentially is a blown-up saturation software-wise possible on the X as well.

Previously the push to new hardware was with actual improvements in it. Now it's just purposeful limitation accompanied by better selling marketing shots. Just like with the new butterfly keyboard on the Macs (which no one actually asked for) that made the product look better on photos but made its operation worse on a daily basis. People keep dealing with it, which let Apple not to fix the flawed keyboard much for three years already. The same reason of people accepting everything lets Apple charge for features on newer devices that technically could have been on older devices as well.

All that said Apple doesn't feel being a pioneer in technology like when I started using their products twelve years ago. Nowadays formerly known copycats like Xiaomi or some even less known Chinese brands are pushing the envelope by building ideas that market leaders can't deliver. Maybe it's not Apple's fault in particular, but it's just what happens with companies that get big. Just recall the huge Nokia back in the days overrun buy a considerably small at that time company from Cupertino which was so far ahead in everything and so easy to recommend to switch to.

You're overpaying for your iPhone's camera

Just as I've mentioned in my summary on why you're overpaying for your high-end smartphone's camera, here are my thoughts specifically about the iPhone's dual camera setup and why you're overpaying for it.

iPhone camera

I got a dual camera first in the iPhone X, so I personally wasn't familiar with it on the iPhones 6 Plus, 6s Plus, 7 Plus and 8 Plus (which was presented along the iPhone X).

First, I was sold on the 2x camera since quite few of my photos started making more sense with having objects to be bigger to be recognizable and framed better in general. I also had to do less movements trying to capture something and not having to physically get closer to it.

But then I stumbled upon some article comparing 2x optical zoom from the second lens to the 1x lens digitally zoomed in two times. And somewhere in that article I noticed the author mentioning the fact that the 2x camera might not even being used depending on the conditions. Whether the phone would use 2x or not mainly depends on outside lightning. So at times when you're surrounded with dim light, and take 2x photos, they are actually taken with the 1x lens and 2x digital zoom.

Here's an experiment: go to a place with dim lightning, close your 2x camera with a finger and switch to 2x. You'll see the image zoomed, even though your finger is clearly in the way. And since you paid for the 2x camera which is not always used, it means you overpaid on the promise of it.

I get that's no surprise the 2x isn't always used, because with that tiny telephoto lens and tiny sensor you can't fight the laws of optics. But Apple is still not shy selling the zoom feature like it's the best in the world and people buy and pay for that idea and not the actual thing. And I get this is pure corporate marketing BS aimed to boost sales but previously I never felt that mislead like I do this day. And from now on each time I will hear about camera improvements pushed so hard each year as one of the biggest on the market I would be much more skeptical to what is being promoted and promised.

Continue reading my thoughts on the potrait photo letdown when that post goes up.