This fall’s Apple iPhone event has come and gone almost exactly as expected. Still, there were a few surprising moments in the script, and some of the technology was pretty incredible to see live on stage. And that was the point. Apple’s keynotes — while not above hyperbole and the occasional celebrity walk-on — tend to be calmer affairs. They focus on the products and often let them speak for themselves.
Apple’s big focus here is to make their stores even more of a gathering place than they already are. It’s interesting to see them pushing forward in this area despite the fact they already have incredibly successful retail locations. Our local Apple store is easily the most trafficked location in its mall, perhaps even more than the food court. Retail is the experiment that conventional wisdom said wouldn’t work, yet it has for Apple.
One of the best ways to sell an Apple product is to put it in someone’s hands. Apple retail locations offer that experience far better than any online research or big box store could. Their focus on classes and events gives people a reason to come back time and again. That they’re not resting on their past success here shows they don’t want to lose that magic.
On Apple TV
I didn’t get to see my mythical Apple TV set, but their streaming box gained 4K and the two major HDR standards. It’s also way more powerful, running the same architecture that’s in the current iPad Pro lineup. Unfortunately, Apple has chose not to compete on price. The non-4K Apple TV is starting at $149 with 4K coming in at $179.
To offset that price a bit comes iTunes movie pricing. Apple will be offering 4K content at the same price as HD content. This means no messy upgrade fees like when iTunes transitioned from SD to HD. Right now, The Lego Batman Movie is $30 for digital 4K from Google Play, but it will be $20 in iTunes. If this same pricing structure carries over to movie rentals, I see this being an advantage for Apple.
On Apple Watch
Apple isn’t the first to bring out a cellular connected watch. I believe that honor goes to Samsung. However, all evidence points to the fact that Apple Watch eclipses all other smart watch sales at this time, so this will be new to most people. It’s hard to say how much being able to make calls and texts independently from your watch may shift the mobile industry, but I think this could be a game changer for Apple Watch. Maybe Apple executives will finally start reporting sales numbers on their financial calls.
On iPone 8
It’s a faster iPhone 7. At the end of the day, had Apple retained their naming pattern, this would have been iPhone 7S. It really is just a refinement of the previous generation, which is a good thing in itself. It also features double the storage of the current iPhone 7 models on Apple’s site, but the color options have become conspicuously more limited.
If you are on the fence between an iPhone 7 and an iPhone 8, the decision should come down to one factor: can you live with 32 GB of storage? If the answer to that is yes, save $150 and go with the iPhone 7. If, like me, you find 32 GB restrictive, opt for the iPhone 8.
On iPhone X
This is where the real news is. If iPhone 8 is an iteration of all that the iPhone line has built up to over the past decade, iPhone X (inexplicably pronounced “ten”) represents a break from that tradition to explore new territory. At $999, this model is going to be too expensive for many consumers who will instead pine for iPhone X while purchasing iPhone 8. I think that’s the point.
As noted by others, Apple has a scale problem. Apple usually ships over 200 million new iPhones a year. Even their biggest competitor, Samsung, may only ship a quarter of that number for their most recent flagship. This means Apple can’t include a new technology that can’t be efficiently produced 200 million times a year. Enter iPhone X. Unlike iPhone 8, Apple plans on not shipping 200 million of these, giving them the time to ramp up production on the more advanced features that will eventually trickle down to future standard models.
Do I want an iPhone X? Absolutely, I do. Am I actually going to get one? There’s almost no chance. Here’s the trickier question: does it justify its price tag? I think it does, based on three factors:
- The OLED screen. There aren’t many OLED phones on the market, and that’s because the technology is still expensive. Check out TV prices at your local Best Buy, and you will notice most 55″ televisions are under $1,000. In contrast, the least expensive OLED you will find is the LG B7 at about $2,000. If you want a 75″ OLED, you’ll be paying over $10,000 as opposed to roughly $3,000 for an LED. Apple isn’t dealing with screens this size, but the transition to OLED will still be a significant factor in the price.
- The Facial Technology. The Animoji demo might have been overly cute, but it did demonstrate just how good Apple’s facial mapping technology is. It looks on par with what I’ve seen in Adobe Character Animator CC, which is $19.99 a month (or almost $240 a year) with After Effects. Time will tell how secure or reliable it is in unlocking your phone, but there’s no denying some expensive tech went into that feature.
- The Processor. This is the one advanced feature iPhone X shares with iPhone 8. Early benchmarks put the A11 processor on par with the processor shipping in Apple’s 13″ MacBook Pro.
You put those together with the build quality and other features, and, yes, you have a $999 device in your hands. Whether or not you feel a phone is worth that to you is your call, but iPhone X earns its price tag.
No-shows and Conclusion
This event didn’t talk about the Mac at all, but I was foolish to hope it would. Apple seldom mentions the Mac at their fall iPhone events. They are too focused for that. If the Mac mini is to receive an update, it will probably be a stealth upgrade on their site. As for the iMac Pro or the future Mac Pro, they will get an event all to themselves.
I was a little disappointed the iPod touch or iPad mini didn’t get speed bumps. They are clearly running the oldest architecture of iOS devices, and it’s beginning to show. If Apple doesn’t give them some love soon, I feel strongly they should simply discontinue them.
In the end, Apple made a strong showing that will spur much enthusiasm and discussion. It was an event punctuated by the past — given in the Steve Jobs theater complete with a tribute to the former CEO, nods to the evolution of the original iPhone he introduced, background music featured in ads of Apple past. It also gave us a view of the future, bringing out a phone that is as much prototype as it is product.
The last few months have been interesting for Apple, after a period of time where it felt like they were coasting, Apple seems intent on reinventing themselves again, and that’s always when they are at their strongest.