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  • New iPhone Plays Second Fiddle to iPad Pro and Apple TV 4.0

    September 10th, 2015

    As most of you know, the iPhone is the juggernaut that fuels that Apple marketing machine. The vast majority of sales and profits come from a product that was greeted with lots of skepticism when it first arrived in 2007. Hundreds of millions are in use around the world, and at a time when Google’s Android platform still has the numbers, the iPhone has most of the profits.

    So it was expected that the iPhone would get major coverage at Apple’s September 9th media event — and it did, although many were not impressed. But it may have been upstaged by a new member of the iPad family and the long-awaited Apple TV refresh.

    Now the new Apple TV closely resembles the previous model — which will still be sold for $69. But it’s 10 mm taller to contain the more powerful innards. And, no, there’s nothing in the specs that mention 4K support. I wanted to get that out of the way first, because I had expected there would be, but clearly Apple had other priorities. Still, it’ll cost a lot more when it goes on sale in late October. The 32GB model will sell for $149, and the 64GB model will sell for $199.

    That itself might be the deal breaker for some, but don’t dismiss the possibilities. There’s a loot of goodness for the higher price, which starts with TvOS, and its own App Store. This will greatly enhance the new set-top box’s capabilities. The embedded A8 chip supports Metal graphics and CloudKit, and both will be the harbinger of new apps, including high-energy games. But it also supports any app that benefits from a large screen, such as an online store — and, no, don’t expect Amazon to be included. It would be terrific, however, if Apple could work out a deal with them.

    The new remote has a touchpad that eases the clumsy navigation process that afflicted the previous model. It also uses Bluetooth 4.0, so you don’t have to worry about properly aiming the device. The older remote had a narrow range of sensitivity, and it was awkward to use. The upgraded remote will supposedly also operate your TV or sound system’s volume, and turn off your TV. But nothing was mentioned about integration with other devices, such as Blu-ray players, though I don’t expect a gaming console. Clearly that’s one device Apple hopes to replace, although the games shown during the event were more about family play. But the third-party game controllers are coming.

    In addition to touch, the best feature appears to be Siri, which allows it to find the shows you want across several core apps, including iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, HBO and Showtime, with more being added over time. The search capability is quite granular, such as asking about the James Bond movies that starred Sean Connery. But journalists who had a brief hands-on after the Apple event reported some glitches, though, to be fair, the OS is no doubt still under developmen.

    It’s a compelling package, but I wonder if the higher price is as compelling. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough if Apple chooses to release sales figures after its debut.

    The other star of the presentation was the iPad Pro. It’s already getting a bad rap as nothing more than a niche device that’ll cater to content creators and businesses. But there’s a lot going on here, and Apple didn’t do badly when content creators first embraced Macs.

    Although it didn’t seem so large while watching the event on my 27-inch iMac, the 12.9-inch display is 78% larger than the iPad Air 2. But it’s also an amazing piece of miniaturization, since it weighs only slightly more than the original iPad. The A9x processor is said to be of desktop caliber, and faster than 80% of note-books made in the past year. Could it also run OS X? Well, that’s an interesting proposition.

    It sports a Retina display with 5.6 million pixels, more than the 15-inch MacBook Pro. But it’s not just a large iPad. Apple has designed an ecosystem that clearly defines the work path, and the critics are talking about it’s resemblance to the Microsoft Surface. So there’s a $169 Smart Keyboard embedded in a case. There’s also a stylus, which is dubbed Apple Pencil.

    At $99, this stylus is fine-tuned with sensors that alter the digital drawing based on pressure and tilt. One of the demonstrations at the Apple event depicted using one to create awn illustration in a way that used to be the province of traditional pen and pencil, but all done electronically. Those who believe a pen is mightier than a finger will be pleased, and that explains why Adobe made a huge deal of it when they were brought up to demonstrate their iPad-savvy apps. But didn’t Steve Jobs once decry the value of a stylus? Well, this appears to be a far better solution.

    To demonstrate how the world has changed, Microsoft came onstage too, using the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil as tools to create documents in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Here, the former Redmond giant cane across as just another Apple partner strutting their stuff.

    Certainly the iPad Pro makes a huge argument for a tablet as a powerful content creation tool. It’ll go on sale in November for a starting price of $799 for the 32GB version, and it’ll be interesting to see how many people might be willing to set aside their traditional note-books and give this baby a try. But that will depend heavily on how developers respond.

    The only other iPad announcement was an iPad Mini 4, which inherits the form factor and internal workings of the iPad Air 2, which remains unchanged in the lineup.

    The predictions for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were right on in almost every way. The major new feature was a variant of Force Touch called 3D Touch, but you get the picture. The upgrades include the A9 processor, a 12 megapixel rear camera, and 7000-series aluminum alloy to make it less bendable. A rose color version will also be available, and it goes on sale September 25. But iOS 9 will be available for download on September 16; the Golden Master was seeded to developers, along with a seed for iOS 9.1.

    Prices for the new iPhones are unchanged, although AppleCare+ policies will cost a little more. Those hoping for a new 4-inch iPhone will be disappointed. The only model available in that form factor is a legacy iPhone 5s that’s free with a traditional two-year wireless contract. That’s too bad, because I realize that many people really aren’t taken with larger displays, or simply find them uncomfortable. I suppose if customers buy up large quantities of the 2013 iPhone, however, maybe Apple will consider an iPhone 6c.

    And in case you wondered, Apple announced that OS X El Capitan would arrive on September 30, about three weeks earlier than expected. A GM seed was made available to developers and public beta testers.

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