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+
- iPad Cheap 2021
- iPad Mini 2021
- Apple Watch Series 7
- Apple Fitness+
- iPhone 13 & iPhone 13 Mini
- iPhone 13 Pro & Pro Max
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 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 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 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.
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 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 & 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.
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.