“Would you buy the new Apple devices?”

This is the other question I get asked after new products are announced at an Apple event. Here’s the answer.

iPhone 6s/6s Plus tl;dr Yes.
The new upgrades are actually more significant than usual for an “s” release. 3D Touch, twice the RAM, Live Photos, and more.   

3D Touch is extremely compelling to anyone who wants fast access to functions of their iPhone directly from the home screen or in apps. It’s a convenient set of shortcuts not too dissimilar to hotkey shortcuts on desktops.

Right now it is difficult to say without going hands-on if 3D touch is implemented well, it’s possible (but unlikely) that we’ll constantly be accidentally triggering these new gestures if the implementation is poor. However, everything I’ve heard so far indicates that the “peek” and “pop” gestures, light and harder presses that are different from the taps we do today, and their associated haptic feedback that inform your fingers when they have succeeded in their task, are all working great.

I hope we eventually get improvements to the software keyboard that include haptics through this 3D Touch feature, even the low-quality vibration some Android devices do on tapping a keyboard key is a useful form of haptic feedback and has been missing from the iPhone. One keyboard improvement we did get the ability to switch it into a touchpad mode to move the text cursor a bit easier than before.

There are improvements to the GPU and CPU. The graph is very impressive. But these upgrades have been a non-issue since the 5s. Games and apps are of course going to run great and load slightly quicker. It is crazy that we are at the point where performance improvements are mundane in mobile devices, but here we are and performance has been fine for years.

Even though there is a slightly smaller battery in the 6s, and both of the new iPhones are very slightly thicker than their predecessors due to (rumored) enhanced sturdiness in the case design, battery life will be consistent with the previous generation due to improvements in power consumption in iOS and the system on a chip.

RAM gets a big bump from 1GB to 2GB. Apple doesn’t like to talk about RAM, it is another boring spec that is almost irrelevant to most people buying these devices. 2GB is a huge increase.

Currently when you switch between apps on iOS it is fairly likely that you will come back to one to find that your place in a web browser is lost or an app just has to relaunch itself because it was killed by a timer or because of low memory conditions. More RAM means that will happen less often and although 2GB seems paltry compared to what is in our desktops and laptops it is quite a lot for today’s mobile devices.

The M7 and M8 coproessors on previous iPhones gave these devices the ability to track the number of steps taken in a day and other sensor data with minimal impact on the device while it is otherwise occupied or asleep. An upgrade to the M9 coprocessor enables it to have an (optional) always-on “Hey Siri” functionality for accepting voice commands. Previously this was only available while the iPhone was plugged-in to charge. With iOS 9 the new iPhones will also be able to train on your specific voice for the “Hey Siri” command.

Photography is one of the most important functions of a smartphone today with the rise of Instagram and the truism that the best camera is the one you have with you, your phone needs to have a good quality camera sensor behind lenses. It seems like most people don’t consider the quality Smartphone camera quality and functionality is constantly undervalued . People seem to value cheapness over quality or do not even consider the camera as a feature to be evaluated when picking out a phone.

The megapickle improvements to the camera are surprising and good if it was truly done without sacrificing picture quality. I know that seems like an impossibility. How could the specification of the jump from 8-12 megapickles lower image quality? Easy. Look at any cheap point and shoot camera. They’ve been increasing the megapickles without increasing the physical size of the actual tiny little sensor in the camera and the photos that come out of them are awful. The smaller the sensor the less surface area there is to catch light. The less light the lower the image quality. The higher megapickles must be accompanied by a larger sensor. This is why the iPhone camera has been 8 megapickles for so long. It is really very difficult to stuff a good camera sensor into a compact form factor like a smartphone without either compromising on the quality of the sensor or on the design of the device by stuffing a giant bulging lump of lens and sensor on the back of the device and even then it still won’t guarantee pictures of a higher quality. Apple barely gets away with the tiny extra bulge on the back of the 6 and 6s and that did not go away with this revision.

The front-facing camera also gets a huge bump from 1.1 megapickles to 5 megapickles. Selfies are going to look much better with that and the live photo feature that (optionally) records a few seconds of video and audio around every photo looks compelling but is difficult to judge without seeing how people use it in person. With TimeDoctor Junior on the way I’m very interested in this feature as an intermediary step between regular photos and going through the trouble of recording and editing a full video. However, there are also privacy implications that people may not understand at first with Live Photos. What happens when you take out the camera, pan away from something embarrassing or private that you don’t want recorded and take a photo? You might accidentally share more than you thought.

I still want to see test photos from the new iPhones taken by people who don’t have perfect lighting conditions (all Apple photos demonstrated at the event on Wednesday were, of course, hand picked photos taken in optimal conditions.) But it is still true that no other smartphone manufacturer is as focused on camera quality as Apple, and that also shows in the other spec bump to 4K video. Good luck recording any of that on a 16GB device. Even with improvements to the OS which in iOS 9 requires less storage at upgrade time, app thinning to make download sizes smaller, and TK app content segregation that 16GB capacity option still needs to go away. It is insulting to Apple’s customers and an embarrassment to Apple that has stuck around like a nail sticking out of playground equipment waiting for anyone who doesn’t know better to come along and step on it.

There is no new 4 inch device this year, the 5c is gone from the lineup, the 6 and 6s are 4.7 inches, and the 6s Plus is still a whopping 5.5 inches. Optical image stabilization remains an exclusive to the 6s Plus and 6 Plus. People want bigger devices, I wrote the majority of this article on a 6+, and it will be interesting to see how long the 5s sticks around in the smaller and free-on-contract slot but I know that some people will miss small phones.

Touch ID is supposed to be improved and faster on the new iPhones, it’s a great feature for security that I miss when I go back to the iPad Mini 2 and I don’t know how it can get any better than it already is.

The wireless radios are improved in the 6s and 6s Plus, supposedly this means that we’ll get better signal indoors using LTE Advanced, a new upgrade to our regular LTE service. My understanding is that T-Mobile will be the only carrier to support this standard at the launch of the new iPhones.

Overall, these are great upgrades and I would gladly recommend either of them to anyone who is still on a 5s or older device. Although the upgrades are very significant for an s-year upgrade I’ve got the 6 and will be staying put until at least the iPhone 7 unless this site starts getting Daring Fireball levels of traffic and success overnight. Anyone who is still using subsidy phone discounts is getting screwed by their carrier and should very much consider paying for the device outright if possible or going to one of the new installment plans offered via Apple (which include Applecare+) or their carrier (which don’t, but are cheaper.) Just don’t buy the 16GB model, there is no excusing why it stuck around again this year.

The new iPads tl;dr Maybe
The iPad Air 2 did not get a sequel. Apple might phase out the Air’s 10 inch form factor in favor of the iPad Mini for regular users, which did receive an update to get the iPad Air 2 guts. The iPad Pro is extremely compelling for people who want to make things, but might be lacking pro-level apps at launch.

This will eventually leave just the mini’s small form factor for reading, watching TV, games and taking notes. The iPad Pro will be the device for anyone who wants to attach a keyboard for writing, or drawing and other kinds of document markup with the new stylus, or reading large format files like comics newspaper, magazines, and reference books that benefit from the enormous screen. More custom pro-level apps will become available for this iPad, but as a first-generation device there isn’t much available for it yet.

In the past I have toyed with the iPad as a device for editing and managing photos but it hasn’t handled RAW files well and the limited capacity for photo storage has also been an issue. iCloud photo sharing is fine for JPEGs but I’m doing all of my real work in Lightroom still. Professional photographers won’t be doing much with this besides maybe showing off their portfolio of finished JPEGs.

There was an accidental leak from Adobe on their website that indicated this new iPad Pro is getting an upgrade to 4 GB of RAM, this is a huge increase. That RAM is essential in order for the iPad Pro to be the multitasking powerhouse with big creative apps.

It’s interesting that 3D Touch did not come to the iPad Pro. I don’t know why this pro device was held back from the 3D Touch features when they would be so useful for iPad Pro. Similarly, the stylus could be just as useful on the Mini or Air. I would expect that functionality to eventually trickle-down to those devices like when Touch ID came up to the iPad from the iPhone.

The new Apple Pencil stylus and Smart Keyboard keyboard cover look great for writers and artists but I don’t think that it makes sense to buy the first generation of this iPad Pro if you’re not a writer who hates laptops or an artist who is using the iPad and Apple Pencil as a secondary device with something like Astropad to turn the iPad into a Mac version of the Cintiq. There just aren’t that many compelling use-cases for regular people with this device yet. I’m glad Apple is making it, I believe that iOS will be the future of computing as it continues to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop with devices like this, but this device really isn’t for many people yet. I would personally get the iPad Pro if I had the opportunity, but I can’t recommend it to anyone else today. Even developers are left out as you can’t code on the iPad Pro in Xcode. However, The iPad Mini 4 is a great choice for anyone who wants to upgrade from a previous generation or get their first iPad.

The New Apple TV tl;dr Yes
Apps are the future of streaming television, and although I’ve been happy with the current line-up of Apple TV channels they aren’t really apps and there is no app store for them to be distributed. It’s been years since we saw a real update to the Apple TV and tvOS with an app store, universal search, and a new remote is just is just what the doctor called for.

Even if Apple didn’t work with anyone else to add support for it, the new search that lets you check if a program is available through iTunes, Hulu, Netflix, and other services with one search instead of several is already great today.

About the only thing that doesn’t make sense with the new Apple TVs are why we need different capacities for a device that streams video from the internet instead of downloading and supposedly won’t let apps store more than 200MB of data at a time.

Although it will require developers to work on a new control scheme to support the Siri Remote’s swipe-able case, many already do that for other platforms and third-party controllers. Being able to talk to your TV is going to be cool if it works well, and even if it doesn’t we’ll still have a better device with more control over it through this remote compared to the traditional four-way directional pad and select button device that spends most of its time lost between my couch cushions.

Games will be fun on the New Apple TV, developers will work around the storage limitations, and I believe this will be a fantastic device after all is said and done. I wouldn’t hesitate it to recommend to anyone who is thinking about getting rid of cable television or is already getting their television a-la-carte through services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now. I just wish I could run older emulators on it without having to jailbreak it.

Apple Watch tl;dr No

The only change to the Apple Watch at this event were new colors and bands. Wait for next year.

Author: Jack Slater

A Philadelphian exiled to Hawaii. You can follow or contact me on Twitter where I’m @TimeDoctor, via the contact page, or via e-mail to zjs AT zacharyjackslater dot com

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