Everything Announced at Apple’s September iPhone Infomercial 2021

New Hardware: iPad Cheap, iPad Mini, Apple Watch Series 7, iPhone 13

Apple announces new hardware every year alongside their new iPhone. Today’s infomercial or “event” is no different. This is the second pandemic iPhone announcement. This article is going to be long, so here is a table of contents based on the order of appearance:

Apple TV+

Tim Cook introduced a montage of shows for their subscription TV and movie service that are coming this Fall. They’re probably fine shows because they’re produced by people who Apple hired that knew how to make TV shows and movies. There is nothing about the shows and movies on Apple TV+ that couldn’t have existed without Apple. This is the epitome of weird over expansion for a technology company to have its own video service just to, presumably, appease investors and diversify their product offerings to include something they can charge subscription money for. These shows and movies could just as easily be from Paramount or Amazon or any other company and the only thing that would be different is the funding and maybe the product placement.

Ipad cheap

iPad Cheap 2021

The iPad lineup has been confusing for years. There’s an iPad with no surname that I call the iPad Cheap, it doesn’t share the same design and features as the iPad Pro line but it has been relatively cheap at $330 and fast enough. Cook had Melody Kuna, Apple’s Senior Manager of iPad Product Design introduce an updated version of this iPad Cheap. Kuna said the 2021 iPad Cheap gets and A13 Bionic and that this chip is 20% faster than last year’s iPad Cheap. Comparisons were made to the “best-selling” Android Tablet and “best-selling” Chromebook both being slower. The comparisons did not specify which devices or include any idea of what the benchmark was. Both cameras are supposed to be improved. The front-facing selfie camera is now a 12 megapixel sensor with a wider 122 degree field of view that enables Apple’s Center Stage video call feature that focuses on the participants in the call according to Kuna. The display is also said to get the True Tone features, but it is also still stuck with the first-generation Apple Pencil stylus, continuing a distinction that is sure to frustrate anyone who ends up with the wrong Apple Pencil due to an upgrade or gift or for whatever reason. So stupid. The storage tiers at least now start at a more reasonable 64GB. Colors are only Space Gray and Silver. Orders start today, it ships next week.

Ipad mini

iPad Mini 2021

I’m very happy to see the iPad Mini continue to get updates, it is my favorite iPad. Katie McDonald is the Product Manager for Apple’s iPad line and she introduced the new model with a larger 8.3” “Liquid Retina” screen that also gets True Tone among other upgrades and a new design that almost matches the iPad Pro lineup with flat sides but the “all-screen design” to me appears to still have pretty thick borders even if it lacks a home button. There is no ProMotion variable refresh rate support, which is disappointing. Touch ID has moved from the home button to the sleep/wake button. Colors are Purple, Pink, “Starlight” and Space Gray. Apple claims 40% faster CPU performance over the previous generation and 80% faster GPU performance, Apple did not say why the new Mini was faster during the event, because the A-series system wasn’t announced until the iPhone portion of the event, but the secret was the A15. The new Mini also gets USB-C, 5G cellular connectivity, better cameras with the Center Stage feature, stereo speakers in landscape mode, the 2nd-generation Apple Pencil stylus. It’s $500 for the 64GB Wi-Fi model. Orders start today, and it ships next week.

Apple watch 7

Apple Watch Series 7

Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams emphasized new bicycling features for WatchOS 8 with detection for when riders pause briefly, fall detection, and support for e-bikes before introducing a new Apple Watch. The Apple Watch Series 7 is supposed to get a larger display with 20% more screen, 40% thinner borders, and be 70% brighter “indoors, when your wrist is down.” Which is an odd thing to boast about but Willaims said this would make it easier to check the time. Apple’s Product Manager for the Apple Watch lineup, Lauren Braun, went into more detail and said that the OS would get larger, redesigned, buttons to match the larger screen and can fit up to 50% more text on-screen. All of the rumors about the new watch being flat-sided were wrong, it is still rounded. Braun also introduced a very familiar on-screen keyboard that rips off the design of FlickType, an app that was on Apple’s App Store until Apple decided to start rejecting updates to it despie previously praising FlickType as an accessibility tool. The developer of FlickType, Kosta Eleftheriou, is suing Apple for ripping off the design. I hope that Eleftheriou wins.

The new Series 7 watch also gets new watch faces, Contour, and an update to the Modular watch face. Braun says that durability is improved to be more crack-resistant and dust resistant, and that the new Apple Watch charges faster. It’ll be available in new colors “midnight, starlight, green, blue, and red” as well as the upgraded models for rich people. Band compatability hasn’t changed. Remarkably, Apple is still selling the Series 3 watch for $200 that is supposed to be difficult to update to new versions of the OS and it is Apple’s last 32-bit product. Developers hate it! The $280 Apple Watch SE also hangs on and the Series 7 replaces the previous high-end models at $400. Availability for the Series 7 is “Later this fall.” No 5G on the new Apple Watch and it appears to have the same internal system on a chip as the Series 6.

Apple Fitness+

Jay Blahnik is Apple’s Senior Director of Fitness Technologies and Blahnik talked about how the workouts on the service would be availabile in more countries, and would use subtitles. That seems like a half-assed solution. Sam Sanchez is one of the on-screen trainers and she talked about some of the workout options, including new Pilates workouts. Another trainer, Jessica Skye said Fitness+ would also get guided meditations with video and audio versions. Bakari Williams said that there would be new workouts specifically designed for winter sports. Blahnik returned to say that group workouts would work using Apple’s Messages or FaceTime calls for up to 32 people. Most of the new features are out “later this month” with the group workouts and new countries coming “later this Fall.”

Iphone 13

iPhone 13 & iPhone 13 Mini

Kaiann Drance, Apple’s Vice President of iPhone Product Marketing, introduced the iPhone 13 regular 6.1” and Mini 5.4” variations in front of a bizarre empty outdoor event space. Apple made a big deal of a drone or helicopter camera view that zoomed in to show Drance, but it is an incredibly strange situation. There was also no outdoor audio in the audio feed, so it sounded like the audio was all recorded perfectly indoors. The exterior of the new iPhones hasn’t changed much except for the placement of the cameras being placed diagonally on the back and a supposedly “20%” smaller notch at the top for the front-facing camera system. Drance showed off five new colors for the new iPhone. Pink, Blue, Midnight, Starlight, and Red. . Drance said there is a new OLED that is up to 28% brighter, up to 800 nits, and that the display is more power-efficient. There’s a bigger battery inside, and the devices have the A15 Bionic. Drance boasted that “the competition” is still catching up to where Apple was two years ago in performance which is also a little odd when the iPad Cheap ships with a similar or the same A13 as was available two years ago.

Hope Giles is Apple’s VP of Engineering Program Management for Hardware Technologies. She boasted about how the A15 Bionic system is more powerful and more efficient with 6 cores, two of which are high-performance and four are dedicated to efficiency. Giles said this would speed-up the text-to-speech processing on-device and maps directions. Boring. Giles compared it to the competition by saying this A15 “…up to 50% faster…” Giles also said that games would have access to 4-core GPU that is up to “30% faster graphics than the leading competition.” The neural engine is now supposed to have 16 cores.

All of the comparisons about the A15 being faster than the competition instead of the iPhone 12’s A14 makes me think that it might not be a huge upgrade in terms of processing power.

The iPhone 13 lineup has new cameras. The regular “wide” camera has bigger pixels and an f 1.6 aperture that Apple says gathers up to 47% more light. Optical image stabilization also comes to the cheaper iPhone 13 and the Mini version as well. Last year it was exclusive to the Pro Max model. This is the same feature you may have seen headlines about, where it may be sensitive to being attached to a motorcycle or bicycle. The ultra-wide camera was updated with an f 2.4 aperture. As always, Apple shows off these cameras with professional photography that seems sort-of inappropriate. Camera companies and other phone makers do the same thing. I think it should be mixed with actual handheld shots that show how the newer iPhone deals with challenging situations for these tiny camera sensors better. Apple says the new ultra-wide camera will capture less noise than previous generations.

Video capture gets a “Cinematic mode.” One of Apple’s Human Interface Designers, Johnnie Manzari, talked about the new feature. Continuing the professionals using consumer tools to show unrealistic results fraud, Apple showed off the new feature with a short film called “Whodunit” that demonstrated Cinematic Mode by changing the focus swiftly between multiple subjects and objects in a scene. Manzari said that the focus changes would also automatically change to track the subject of a shot, and if it is tracking a person, it will follow that person’s gaze to change focus away from them and back. Users can also tap to change the current focus after the video is captured.

The 5G radios are supposed to be improved, according to Drance, to work with 200 carriers in 60 countries and regions by the end of the year. Supposedly the updated 5G radios and antennas also improve battery life. A “Smart Data mode is still supposed to move back to LTE when 5G isn’t available.

There’s no USB-C on the new iPhone 13. The iPhone 13 Mini is supposed to get 1.5 hours more battery life than the iPhone 12 Mini. Drance said that The iPhone 13 has 2.5 more hours than the 12.

Drance also boasted about the privacy of the iPhone 13, she boasted about the Siri audio requests being processed on the device, and not leaving the iPhone “by default.”  among other features.

Pricing is the same as last year, $700 for the mini and $800 for the regular, Drance boasted about trade-in offers from various carriers bringing that price down which is frankly gross. The default capacity is now 128GB and then there are 256GB and 512GB tiers. At least you get a reasonable amount of storage and there aren’t 16GB iPhones at these prices.

Ironically, the iPhone 13 ad during this infomercial features a caseless iPhone 13 on a motorbike despite recent Apple support articles that claim that the iPhone should be using an isolated mount or it may break the cameras.

Iphone 13 pro

iPhone 13 Pro & Pro Max

Greg “Joz” Joswiak, Apple’s senior-Vice President of Worldwide Marketing introduced the Pro models of the iPhone 13. The Pro models once again have “surgical-grade stainless steel bands” around the outside edge. Colors are Graphite, Gold, Silver, and a “Sierra Blue.” The display is once again a new iteration on the “Super Retina XDR” technology that is supposed to be brighter at up-to 1000 nits and it finally gets Apple’s variable refresh rate (VRR) technology, ProMotion. The VRR can supposedly go down to 10hz for battery efficiency and up to 120hz to match the content and the user input.

Louis Dudley, Apple’s iPhone Product Manager, introduced the new Pro camera systems. The telephoto zoom camera has a 77mm focal length and is a 3x optical zoom. The Ultra-wide camera has an f1.8 aperture, apple says this gets up to a 92% improvement in low-light. The regular “wide” camera also gets an f1.5 aperture with larger pixels for Apple’s claimed 2.2x improvement in low light over the 12 Pro. You can tell Apple doesn’t want you to think too much about this because they switch between percentage improvements and multiplication improvements, but it should still be a good improvement.

Rebecca Pujols is an Image Quality Engineer and she talked about image processing improvements on the Pro lineup. Pujols talked about a new feature called Photographic styles that will be available on all of the iPhone 13 models. Pulojs emphasized that these are inserted into the image capture pipeline and then are improved over what you could achieve with a filter. The camera app will have four default styles including “rich contrast” and “vibrant.” These styles are customizable to adjust how much of different aspects of the style are applied. Pujols emphasized that once you set these styles, you won’t need to apply them to each photo.

Back in the pantheon of unrealistic goals for people buying smart phones. Apple featured a short video made by professional filmmakers to show how they could theoretically shoot a real movie using an iPhone. The one thing that was better about this was that the included behind-the-scenes footage showed the iPhones attached to various mounts like steadicams, something to really demonstrate that end-users should not expect to have their footage look like this.

Joswiak said that 4k/30 ProRes video capture would come to the iPhone 13 models later this year.

There is also one more GPU core on the A15 for the iPhone 13 Pro models versus the regular iPhone 13.

The baseline iPhone 13 Pro is $1000, the larger Pro Max model is $1100. Those models all start with 128GB of storage and go up to 1TB. Orders go up on Friday, the 17th, they ship on September 24th which is the Friday after this one.

Overall

The new iPhones are expensive, and so little separates the “Pro” line from the other iPhone 13 models. That lack of a difference outside of cameras and variable refresh rate display technology between the models is good, because the technology does become more reachable. However, The iPhone lineup is ridiculous. Apple is now selling 8 different models, the SE and 11, and then both sizes of the 12, 13, and 13 Pro which hit every price point from $400, $500, $600, $700, and $1000. It must be incredibly confusing to try to buy an iPhone these days. All of those iPhones are good enough performance-wise with the major changes being camera functionality and screen technologies.

As I said earlier, the Apple Watch Series 3 hanging on is bad for users and developers. The Apple Watch Series 3 is this year’s “16GB Model” of iPhone or iPad. The SE should be $200.

The 5GB free tier of iCloud storage is still a joke, and I harp on this every time Apple mentions anything anymore but it is truly shameful that you could spend $1500 on an iPhone and Apple won’t do anything to help you back the data up so you won’t lose your photos if that iPhone is lost or broken. Some people will never spend the monthly fee to back up their phone storage and it is something that one of the richest companies in the world could easily do to help their users.

Apple’s treatment of their workers has been excruciatingly terrible for years with a bizarre sense of toxic positivity, and they are a rent-seeking business that steals 30% from possibly the majority of external software developers.

There are heaps of criticisms to make of this company, and they are all deserved and the result of capitalism that is speeding the destruction of our planet no matter how much Apple claims to have been progressive or environmentally-friendly. Every appeasement Apple makes to environmentalism or demonstration of philanthropy is a symptom of capital that should have been regulated or taxed along with the rest of the rich businesses that are destroying our planet and hurting the people who live on it. I will give Apple credit for one thing, it is more possible to keep an iPhone for longer, in terms of software updates. No other phone maker has made phones that could theoretically get updates for so long. However, Apple’s work against the right-to-repair has demonstrated that Apple is absolutely on the wrong side of history overall.

Cosmic Sin (2021) Movie Review

Cosmic Sin might be the worst movie I have ever watched. It borrows a lot from Halo and Starcraft 2 but is as boring a static loading screen.

The movie stars Bruce Willis as a forcibly retired space soldier named James Ford who killed 70 million people occupying a rebellious space colony using something called a Q-Bomb. Willis, as Ford, is brought back into service to deal with a hostile first contact situation.

Ford’s got a boring sidekick played by Corey Large. Frank Grillo’s character, General Eron Ryle, has a mildly interesting role to help end the movie, which everyone who watches Cosmic Sin should be grateful for. There is a soldier who is reminiscent of the Terran Ghost unit from Starcraft played by C. J. Perry (WWE’s Lana). The only scientist in the movie is Perrey Reeves playing Dr. Lea Goss. Reeve’s persona is the only one interested in peaceful communication with the vicious aliens and she also turns out to have left Ford, but not because he slaughtered 70 million people. Perhaps she isn’t a good judge of character but you won’t care about her or anyone else in this film because all of the acting is cold and boring.

The titular Cosmic Sin is that the team goes off without authorization to Q-Bomb and genocide the aliens before they can push their invasion force through some kind of quantum wormhole.

Cosmic Sin as a whole looks like a cheap movie and an excuse to act alongside Bruce Willis who did not seem to want to be in the film. The most interesting thing about the movie is a space bar with a robot bartender who is a knockoff of every robot design with a digital smiley face.

The short hour and a half running time is the only redeeming quality here. Do not watch Cosmic Sin. It isn’t the “fun” kind of bad sci-fi, it is just bad.

Rating: 0 out of 5.

Robert Yang’s Quake Renaissance

The Internet’s JP tweeted about this fantastic series on RPS from Robert “radiator” Yang about Quake’s history, how to play it with mods today, and the wonderful history of the scene around it:

Quake modding symbolizes the opposite of work – it is life. And ultimately this is what the Quake Renaissance is about: when our communities control our own games – from the source code and tools, to the social hubs and archives – we can reinvent it as necessary, and through it, reinvent ourselves too.

I love this view on the state of the Quake game, engine, and tools, and it’s always been true about communities: Nothing is owned by the companies involved, they are owned by the communities around them. The harder companies try to lock down on games (or any work), the more they strangle community interest in the thing. The id software of today is only capable of producing locked-down experiences with the noose of capitalism around them.

There are some mods in the new 2021 re-release of Quake, and more coming which is excellent. Get those map-makers, artists, and developers, paid. But this re-release services as an excellent comparison to the wonderful communities that have formed around the original Quake. The 2021 release of Quake will never be the open platform that the full source of the original engines and tools and people produced and the executives above the developers of these ports will likely never understand why people continue to engage with the open-source tools and engines around id’s old games. The money people only engage in open source when it is profitable and exploitable, otherwise they will continue to release locked-down, useless versions of their new games that nobody forms a permanent community around. Is anyone modding Doom 2016 or Doom Eternal? (I mean this seriously, I do not believe they are, but it is possible people are doing their best with the tools available) The executives involved should still be embarrassed by the comparison between classic Doom modding and what isn’t possible with the latest games.

How-To Geek: “Why You Should Use Proton Instead of the Steam Linux Runtime”

You should really just go play Escape Goat 2

The situation with Windows “API Compatibility” or emulation, however you call it, came to an inflection point when Valve started pushing or reassuring developers that they don’t need to port their games to Linux for them to work well on the Steam Deck. Jordan Gloor at How-To Geek has this article titled “Why You Should Use Proton Instead of the Steam Linux Runtime”:

When you use Steam’s compatibility features to run games on a Linux PC, you may have the option to run it with one of two utilities: Proton and Steam Linux Runtime. Between the two, you should probably choose Proton. Here’s why.

Gloor goes through a few reasons that it might be preferable for Linux gamers to use Proton instead of a native Linux port. Gloor says that the smaller size of the Linux game-playing audience means that the game developer may have spent fewer resources on making the port function well versus the Windows version of their game.

I don’t think Gloor is a bad person, but this is bad advice for both game players and Linux as a whole. Articles like this are disappointing, but they are the natural consequence of what Valve is doing by pushing their Windows API compatibility emulation layer over native Linux ports. It would be interesting if game developers have the option to disable Proton for their games because, and I cannot stress this enough, Windows emulation or compatibility layers truly are a coincidence when they work. Especially with games from smaller developers who do not have fantastic commercial success, I would not expect Proton to be the correct choice or to be surprised when Proton doesn’t work. Valve will most likely not take the time to make sure that, for example, Escape Goat 2 works in Proton. Yes, Escape Goat 2 is a real and very good puzzle game with a native Linux port. There are tens of thousands of games on Steam, it is impossible that these games will all work well in Proton. Linux users should absolutely go with the native port first, when they have the option.

Quake 1’s Re-Release on Modern Platforms

At QuakeCon 2021, Bethesda and id software re-released Quake 1 for Windows, and put it out for the first time on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One & Series S/X. The Windows version is free to anyone who already owned it on Bethesda’s launcher or Steam.

The re-release embeds the original game inside of Nightdive Studios’ KEX engine, which does make it a little different but there are some possible benefits to the update. Steam and Bethesda Launcher users can still choose to launch the original game.

One of the benefits of this re-release are slightly updated features to support things like achievements and modern widescreen graphics resolutions and play at them out of the box. Quake 1 also gets split-screen and cross-platform multiplayer but it requires a Bethesda login.

Currently the versions on the latest Sony and Microsoft consoles run via backwards compatibility, a native version is coming to those platforms “soon” according to a FAQ on Bethesda’s website.

That same FAQ notes that the original Nine Inch Nails soundtrack is included for Quake 1. The original expansion packs are also included, as well as a new pack from Machine Games who made the recent Wolfenstein games.

Quake 64 is also downloadable in-game, more free add-ons are promised to come later.

This re-release is interesting because it really cements how commercial releases of games are matched to the point in time they’re released in. There’s a few ways to think about it.

The first is the obvious business realities that have changed in the decades since Quake was released. id software was an independent company then, and now they’re a subsidiary of Bethesda and Microsoft.

Then there are the technical perspectives. With all of id’s updated versions of games in the past, they’ve released the source code. Quake 1‘s source code has been out for decades now. There is a healthy community of developers for it. Those developers will continue working on the open-source versions but the this new re-release of Quake 1 is not open-source and may not ever come to Linux or macOS or whatever platform you’d like to run Quake 1 on. That may not seem like much, but we’ve seen so many platform changes over the years that rendered the original releases of not just id’s games, but all games on computers obsolete and difficult to run.

Valve’s Proton does let you play this new re-release of Quake 1 on Linux through Windows emulation or “API Compatibility”, but that seems like a bad way to go about it when the original game has been ported to Linux both by id software and been maintained by the community for decades.

As a multiplayer game, there will be security issues for people playing Quake 1, though this version doesn’t support dedicated servers it does still communicate over the network.

The one good thing I can think about this Proton availability under Linux is that it may make it easier to download the files for Quake 1 and then use them in another version of the engine. That’s how it worked with the newly available Windows Store version of Quake 3.

It makes me wonder what the value is to the community for working on the open-source versions of these games. Providing free labor for a big company like Microsoft or Bethesda is exploitative and wrong, but it is even odder when the companies involved are just going to ignore all of the work the community does and put out another point-in-time release that will stop working in another few years.

From what I’ve played, there is nothing wrong with this version of Quake for the platforms it is on, it is just very clearly not from the id software that cared about open-source and almost nobody from that era is still with the subsidiary of a subsidiary. It is not at all surprising that this version of Quake was released without the code, it is just disappointing.