Apple’s September iPhone Event 2019 Notes

Tim Cook photo courtesy of Apple/C Apple 2019

Apple’s annual iPhone event is often the one most leaked ahead of time. Case and accessory designers, investors, journalists, corporate and education buyers, and the general public want to know as much as possible, as soon as possible, to make their products in time for release, know if Apple’s fortunes will change, write articles, and make decisions about future purchases.

This year’s high-end iPhones are rumored to have a new ultrawide third camera lens for “uncropping” images, and a new “Pro” designation. The Xr replacement may have a second camera, and just be called “iPhone 11“.

Also rumored are a new Apple TV device, which is long overdue, a $5 monthly price for Apple’s Apple Arcade subscription, and possibly no iPad and Mac hardware announcements. Although there is a rumor of a new MacBook Pro redesign coming with a 16-inch display, that seems more likely to be announced at an October event along with refreshed iPads such as a 10.2″ base iPad.

Here’s everything that Apple actually announced at today’s event in Cupertino at the Steve Jobs Theater, lets see if the leaks were accurate:

Apple Arcade

Ann Thai was introduced to talk about the Apple Arcade subscription service. As announced previously, the Arcade subscription promises that the games included will not have in-app purchases or advertisements, and will be available across Apple’s platforms. Thai reiterated these promises as well as mobile platform exclusivity and said there would be over 100 games included in the subscription. I understand the need for details to be vague prior to launching a service, when deals are presumably still being done, but there is a pretty big range between 101 and 199 that would be included in the “over 100” range. Presumably there won’t be 200 games in the Arcade service at launch. Thai said that no other game service has had this many games available at launch.

Thai also promised that the new App Store tab for the Arcade subscription would include preview and game guide editorial content, which can be presumed to be un-bylined non-critical garbage.

Thai introduced Konami’s Brand Manager Benjamin Kinney to demo a new Frogger game from Q-Games, the developers of the PixelJunk games. Frogger in Toy Town has Frogger rescuing friends and collecting jelly beans while hopping through an isometric-ish world that looks a little bit like a cross between a more-realistic looking Little Big Planet and the Micro Machines racers.

Frogger is an interesting choice, and it looks like this spinoff takes something back from the Frogger-inspired Crossy Road games, Frogger in Toy Town has different costumes just like Crossy Road, though it shouldn’t have the in-app purchases to unlock them. Kinney promised that Frogger in Toy Town would be available at the launch of the Arcade service.

Thai returned to introduce Capcom’s Peter Fabiano to talk about Shinsekai: Into The Depths, a side-scrolling game featuring the last person on the planet and a drone assistant who both have to survive underwater. Fabiano didn’t promise that Shinsekai would be available at launch, but did promise that it would be exclusive to the Arcade service.

Annapurna Interactive’s Kelsey Hansen was introduced to demonstrate a new game from the well-regarded mobile developer, Simogo, Sayonara: Wild Hearts. Hansen promised that the game would include both racing and rhythm-based tapping for the broken-hearted heroine protagonist. Hansen made no promises of exclusivity or a release timeline.

Thai returned to show us a logo-salad slide featuring various the partners and a release date of September 19th in “over 150 countries” with a price of $5 per month, that is $60 per year, (family sharing included) and “…over 100 new games in our launch catalog in the weeks ahead.”

If I were running the Apple Arcade service I would have some different priorities. I would require participating game studios to have modern labor-first principles with either a co-operative business model or a pro-union stance. It isn’t known how the developers deals work out, but $5 per family isn’t a lot of money to go around. I would expect this could work out for the developers who have a greater volume of players, but then the slice of their pie dedicated to player retention and engagement through community and support would be even lower.

I am also curious to see how game developers and publishers that remain in what is now almost exclusively a free-to-play market outside of the Arcade subscription react if the subscription model is successful and drives players away from their free-to-play model. This subscription business could potentially destroy the predatory nature of the free-to-play business if it is popular. Of course if the developer’s contracts under the subscription service are based on metrics like the time players spend in the developer’s games, there could be new predatory game mechanics that latch on to people’s time more than their wallets.

It is tremendously disappointing that the creative outlet of games is still deeply rooted in the need for survival and I’ve never been more curious about what games and other art people would make if their needs were taken care of by a state that was based on compassion instead of profit.

Still, it is clearly a good deal for families to sign up for the $5/month service if the games are truly good, and I’m hopeful that this subscription could help eliminate some of those predatory free-to-play games or make them change if they want to be included in the subscription.

Apple TV+

Tim Cook returned to talk about their Apple TV+ subscription service and the exclusive shows it would have. Cook introduced the trailer for See, their post apocalyptic series starring Aquaman’s Aquaman Jason Momoa where almost nobody can see.

Apple TV+ will be available on November 1st in “over 100 countries” for $5/month. Just like Apple Arcade, the one subscription works with Apple’s family sharing. Cook promised that starting today any new iPads, iPhones, Macs, or Apple TVs would include a year of Apple TV+.

Apple TV+’s original content isn’t very compelling to me, and I don’t think it will be very compelling to most people. There are so many subscription services for TV and movies and without a large catalog of shows I am not personally motivated to sign up for another one. If anything, I would love to drop more of those services. The pitch from Apple for Apple TV+ makes me think they understand how lacking their service is and that might be why they’re offering the seemingly-generous subscription deals to start. Who knows what the cost of these services could be down the line.

Just like with Apple Arcade I’m curious about the labor practices involved in the shows’ development, although I’m less familiar with the TV industry I believe it has a stronger group of labor organizers than the game industry.

iPad Cheap 10.2″

Apple’s cheapest iPad product, the 2018 6th generation 9.7″ device, is getting replaced by a 10.2″ 7th generation device for 2019. Cook boasted about the iPad lineup and the new iPadOS fork of iOS before introducing Greg Jozwiak to talk about the 2019 cheap iPad.

Unfortunately the larger 10.2″ screen of the new iPad still retains the older home-button-based facade of previous iPads instead of the 2018 iPad Pro’s closer to edge-to-edge style. The OS is already focused on swipes and other gestures instead of home-button taps, but the home button is so backwards in 2019. I know some folks prefer it, but that makes the bezel so much larger.

On the upside, this iPad has Apple’s “smart connector” borrowed from the 2017 iPad Pro devices and the 2019 iPad Air. This connector enables a small collection of accessories, mostly keyboards, and almost exclusively from Apple. Perhaps with a larger contingent of iPads featuring Apple’s smart connector we might see more accessories that use it.

With the home button and lightning port I do not at all buy Jozwiak’s line that this iPad is designed for iPadOS. Jozwiak also boasted that the new OS could take advantage of flash drives, but the 2019 iPad Cheap’s lightning port means we are limited to drives with a lightning port or numerous adapters. The future is USB-C and this iPad is held back by an aggressively regressive design. This iPad is also limited to the A10 Fusion SoC, now three generations behind the iPhone. That is the same SoC as last year’s 9.7″ iPad Cheap. It’s also only compatible with the first-generation Apple Pencil.

What a disappointing iPad update. .5 inches of new screen real estate and a smart connector aren’t enough. $330 base price for 32GB of storage, $430 for 128GB, available for pre-ordering today online, it’ll ship at the end of the month. Punishing their most price conscious users with these restrictive storage tiers, misleading talk about the suitability of this iPad hardware for the modern gesture-based OS, and proprietary connectors is something that Apple’s executives should be ashamed of.

Apple Watch Series 5

Cook boasted about the health benefits of Apple’s watch with an advertisement focused on stories from people who contacted their company.

I don’t doubt that the Apple Watch can be beneficial for some folks, but the video reminded me about the exclusionary nature of Apple’s Watch. You have to be relatively wealthy to get the modern models of the Apple Watch with their heart monitoring functionality. Only the wealth has access to those benefits and why it’s disappointing that more people don’t have them. Apple is limited by the profit motive to charge a restrictively high price for their watch.

Cook introduced Dr. Sumbul Ahmad Desai to talk about the Apple Watch health research studies Apple participates in. I don’t know enough about the academic research world to talk about Apple’s exploitation of it. I don’t think that there is any reason to be less skeptical of Apple’s efforts in the medical research field after today. This is a sales pitch for their Watch, after all.

Apple’s Stan Ng was introduced to talk about the Series 5 line of watches with an always-on display. The new display is promised to have a variable refresh rate for lower power consumption, and will dim with a low brightness that matches the surrounding environment until the watch is raised or activated with a tap. Ng boasted that the Series 5 watch has an all-day 18-hour battery life.

The Series 5 watch also has a compass, Ng said, for the Maps app, a new compass app, and a watchface complication.

Ng said the Series 5 models would have more colors and materials than before, Space Gray, Silver, and Gold and the higher end titanium and ceramic materials. Nike and Hermes models are also available.

I think this is an extremely compelling upgrade for people on versions of the Apple Watch prior to the Series 4. The always-on display means that this could be one of the most accurate and useful watches you can buy, even though these Series 5 models remain luxuries at high starting prices of $400. The Series 5 external case design appears extremely similar to the Series 4 design, I’m not sure anyone could tell except for when you see the display active at all times.

The Series 4 watches aren’t available on Apple’s website anymore, the Series 3 models are still available at $200 to start.

Cook closed out the Watch section with this ad.

iPhone 11

Cook introduced Kaiann Drance to talk about the 2019 iPhone 11.

The base model of the iPhone 11 replaces the Xr, which is good because that name was confusing and the Xr only has a single camera. The 11 has two, so it will no-longer be an exact downgrade from the old Plus models of iPhone. Confusingly, the new second camera is not a “telephoto” that can get a true optical 2x shot, instead the 11 model has the rumored ultra-wide camera.

The camera app has been updated for the new ultra-wide camera to let you optionally zoom out of the frame more, instead of zooming in. Drance boasted about something called Semantic Rendering new to the image capturing technology of the iPhone. Drance said this feature better identifies the subjects of photos taken with the iPhone 11 for other processing features to work on their captured images. Drance boasted that the portrait-mode image capturing would now work with pets, now that the system has a second camera to work with.

Google has been capturing what are pretty impressive images at night on their Pixel phones using additional image processing that Apple may have been reluctant to do previously because it is less true to what the sensor and our eyes see, and it may have other drawbacks as well. You have to keep the shutter open longer, which is very difficult to do when people are taking quick snapshots without the aid of a tripod.

Drance said the iPhone 11 would also take these kinds of enhanced shots at night with the aid of new image processing features, and did not mention the competition.

The iPhone 11 camera app now takes a video when you hold down the shutter button instead of the burst mode of photo frames. That’s a fine change, I often find myself wanting to capture a video and not getting to the option quickly enough.

The front-facing selfie camera on the 11 has been updated with a wider view when the phone is in landscape orientation. The front-facing camera also gets 4k60 video recording and slo-mo. Drance called slo-mo videos “slofies,” ugh.

Of course there is a new system-on-a-chip package for the iPhone 11, the A13 replaces the A12.

Drance introduced Yang Yang from TipsWorks to talk about a game called Pascal’s Wager for the iPhone. It looks a lot like the PS4 exclusive Bloodbourne, some of the textures and geometry looked really low resolution, but the game does boast a solid 60 frames-per-second and this is a pre-release preview, those could change. Interestingly, this game is a separate purchase instead of an Apple Arcade exclusive, pre-orders will be available next month for Pascal’s Wager. I don’t think there will be any reason to pre-order the game, pre-ordering games is usually a bad idea before reviews are available. I hope it isn’t free-to-play garbage.

When Drance returned she boasted that the iPhone 11 would have an hour more battery life than the Xr, which had more battery life than the Xs and Xs Max. It would also have faster Face ID. “WiFi 6” which is the new marketing name for 802.11ax, the successor to 802.11ac.

The base iPhone 11 also has new color options, purple, white, green, yellow, black, and red. The overall design of the 11 retains the style of the iPhone X, but with a similar 6.1″ LCD screen to the Xr.

The iPhone 11 display is the same resolution as the Xr, 1792 by 828. This is still lower than the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone 7 Plus which had a straight 1080p physical display resolution.

Drance closed out the iPhone 11 talk with this ad for the base-model unit.

It’s an interesting ad because it shows the iPhone getting knocked around, into a purse, off a nightstand, and getting splashed with water, et cetera. As far as I know, the Apple warranties still do not cover water damage and definitely don’t cover damage due to the iPhone being scratched or destroyed in a purse or from a fall. Only the AppleCare+ insurance plan covers damage and that is only with an additional incident fee, and even then only two or so of those incidents. The ad also shows the night mode photo screenshot in some weird-ass bar with people wearing masks, and from the perspective of the viewer the photo the camera takes is brighter than the reality of the situation. Very strange advertising situation when these accidents aren’t covered by the built-in warranty.

The starting price for the iPhone 11 is $50 lower than the Xr‘s $750, so $700 gets you a base model 64GB iPhone 11. 128GB is $750, 256GB is $850. 128GB is a nice sweet spot for the future unless you’re taking a lot of 4k60 video or downloading big movies and shows. The storage tiers should not exist, storage upgrades should be possible with MicroSD cards unless they’re prohibitively slow compared to the built-in flash storage, but at least a decrease in price is positive. The iPhone 11 will be up for pre-order on the 13th at 5AM Pacific time. I would recommend waiting for reviews.

iPhone 11 Pro & Pro Max

Cook returned to introduce a short ad for the 2019 iPhone 11 Pro, and then Phil Schiller to talk about the product. The Pro distinction was framed by Schiller as being for professionals who need something they can “count on” while also being for “all of us who simply want the best product made.” The “Pro” distinction for Apple obviously means “better” “more expensive” and “higher margins” for more profit. The iPhone 11 Pro is no exception, three cameras, stainless steel body, the back is still glass for no good reason, despite being termed something to “count on.

There new color options are Midnight Green, Space Gray, Silver, Gold.

As with the 2018 iPhone Xs, which was smaller than the 2018 Xr, the 2019 11 Pro has a smaller 5.8″ display than the regular iPhone 11. The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 6.5″ display again. Both the Pro models have an OLED screen with genuine Retina resolutions, no half-assed 1792×828 bullshit like the iPhone 11.

Schiller also compared the iPhone 11 Pro models’ display to that of their desktop Pro Display XDR, Apple’s only in-house display, that costs $5000 before you even consider their $1000 stand. That’s one way to frame the high prices for modern iPhones in a positive light.

Sri Santhanam was introduced to talk about the A13 processor in the iPhone 11 line. Santhanam talked about the technical improvements, which makes it even more ridiculous that they are withheld from 2019 iPad Cheap, iPad Mini, and iPad Air. Presumably the Pro line of iPads will get the A13 updates next month, and the other devices could get it next year but it seems likely that Apple will continue to withhold the highest end SoC from some of those models.

Schiller returned to boast that the 11 Pro gets up to 4 hours more battery life than the iPhone Xs. The iPhone 11 Pro Max gets up to 5 hours more battery life than the Xs Max. We’ll have to see how that works out in reviews when last year’s Xs and Xs Max had less battery life than the Xr which has now been replaced by the base 11.

Of course, with three cameras on the back of the iPhone 11 Pro that means this device has at least four total if you include the front-facing selfie camera. The “telephoto” 52 mm focal length camera is only on the Pro models. What I wouldn’t give for just a single large camera lens.

Schiller showed off the new camera systems with professional, creative, photography shot on the iPhone 11 Pro models. As much as I appreciate seeing good photos taking by good photographers, I would also like to see comparisons of typical snapshots that regular people take. A photo at a bar, a birthday party, a bird in the distance, there are lots of challenging situations to take photos in that typical iPhone photographers (all of us!) would like to see, and while it would be unusual to show typical photos instead of pro photography for an Apple iPhone event, it would be very helpful to show the improvements in these photos instead of just pro photos taken on a cherry picker over a skatepark as Phil Schiller demonstrated. I believe the value of these phones and their camera system improvements are in the ease-of-use and improvement for non-professional photographers.

Schiller introduced the idea of a new camera feature he called Deep Fusion to take advantage of the A13‘s machine learning capabilities to take a great photo even in “…low to medium light” by combining 9 images into one composite. Schiller said this feature was a “sneak peek” and that before you press the shutter button the iPhone has already taken “…four short images” (he’s referring to the time the lens is capturing, exposure length) and “four secondary images.” Pressing the shutter button causes the iPhone to take one long-exposure image and then work on a final image that it determines to be the best. I would very much like to see this in comparison to a DSLR or mirrorless camera, the extents the engineers at Apple have to go to in order to work around the small sensor sizes physically available on an iPhone are ridiculous.

I suppose if Apple were excited about making these comparisons to real cameras, they would do so.

Video improvements are also on deck for the iPhone 11 Pro, all three back-side cameras can apparently shoot 4k60 video. Schiller introduced a Hollywood-quality video shot with these phones, I’m still kind of burned out on professional videography, this is not within the capability of a typical user. A hand-model demonstrated a user taking video of two children in a field of colorful sheets hanging on what appeared to be lines, but again, this is a ridiculous, non-typical, test.

Schiller also pointed out that iOS 13 will allow users to edit video within the photos app for more than just trim adjustments. As someone who has been suffering by bouncing out of the app to iMovie for years to make simple corrections like rotating the video to the appropriate orientation, this is greatly appreciated.

Schiller introduced Sean Baker and Chris Cohen for FiLMiC Pro to talk about the app’s future upgrade to include shooting from multiple cameras at the same time. The demo video is professional, but almost entirely outside the realm of a typical user. The iPhone in the demo sits on a specialized rig with one person operating the iPhone 11 Pro on some ridiculously expensive looking tripod and mount, and another person pushing the first person on some fancy ass stool and mount to hold the tripod and the rest of the rig on top of a movable platform.

I recently attempted to record a video on a Sony NEX-6 mirrorless camera and I’ve never seen a better example of how important the powerful optical image stabilization is on an iPhone for video. I regret using the Sony for that task, but the Sony’s sensor is so much better for still-photography just because it’s physically larger and lets in more light. I can crop photos from the NEX-6 and they don’t up looking like a water-color painting.

Finally, the 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max include a faster 18 watt charger, a huge upgrade over the 5 watt charger included with every prior iPhone and the regular iPhone 11. All of the iPhone 11 models (Pro and regular) have lightning ports instead of USB-C.

Schiller closed his talk about the iPhone 11 Pro with this advertisement.

The ad is just as ridiculous as the one for the regular iPhone 11, depicting all kinds of scenarios that are not covered by the warranty and tests done in laboratories. The ad does mention one improvement that was rumored but not on-stage, Face ID improvements mean that it’ll work from more angles.

Last year I wrote about how I was considering getting off the iPhone upgrade cycle so that I could focus my still photography on a compact mirrorless camera. I’ve finally been able to do that with a 6-year old Sony NEX-6. The difference in experience between shooting on an NEX-6, even in comparison to the iPhone Xs Max I carry every day is huge. There is only so much that Apple can do with the physical constraints of the iPhone‘s depth, and while I am hopeful that the improvements to the camera system this year will improve the experience of shooting, I am more sure than ever that the right move for someone who is disappointed in hobbyist photography on the iPhone is to get off the upgrade cycle and stick with a phone for more time, and decide to move to a standalone camera for stills at least.

It can be frustrating to carry around a second device just for stills. The NEX-6 for example has a much lower quality display than any iPhone ever made, it can make photos look poor until they’re transferred to another device with a better display, but it’s also a liberating experience. I treat the SD card almost like a roll of film and just transfer photos to my iPhone with Apple’s lightning to SD card dongle at the end of the day, which is also when I have time to briefly edit them and share them with friends and family.

I love photography, I believe the iPhone is a technological wonder, but this 6 year old camera that is full of limitations (don’t even ask me how broken the NEX-6’s “app store” is) does a better job in most of the challenging situations I end up taking photos in than an iPhone that was released last year!

Just like the iPhone X and Xs, the iPhone 11 Pro is a thousand dollars for a 64GB model, and then it’s a $150 upgrade to get to the 256GB model at $1150. That is probably the right storage for future proofing if you’re not shooting 4k60 video constantly. 512GB is $1,350. The 11 Pro Max is $1,100 for 64GB, $1,250 for 256GB, and $1,450 for 512GB. Both new iPhones will be up for pre-order on the 13th at 5AM. I would recommend waiting for reviews.

The external designs of the iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max appear largely similar to the X, Xs, and Xs Max these “Pro” models are replacing. I don’t think anyone would notice the difference between an iPhone 11 Pro and an iPhone Xs if they were both in a case that covered the back, unless you count the cameras or see a bit of the new green color. Notably, Apple now makes clear cases for all of the new iPhone models to show off the color choices, not just the Xr replacement in the base iPhone 11.

I feel no desire to upgrade my iPhone at this time, as an experiment using a standalone camera alongside the iPhone Xs Max has been a success and I might just upgrade my camera at some point in the next few years. The “Deep Fusion” feature is interesting, and of course each year you wait to upgrade your phone will make the next leap that much more interesting. If I were still on an iPhone 7 Plus or older device, it seems like it’d be a great year to get the iPhone 11 which finally has two cameras again, even though neither is the telephoto 55mm lens of the 7 Plus, they can at least have stereoscopic imaging for better “portrait mode” photos which I have all but given up on with my Xs Max. They still error out between strands of hair and between legs and arms too often to be useful.

Overall

I’ve never been more disappointed with Apple’s exclusionary pricing and terrible labor practices. Their technology is wonderful, but the profit motive absolutely corrupts the products and services at almost every turn. Boasting about thumb-drive compatibility on the new cheap iPad when you’ll need an adapter or a new thumb-drive to work with the lightning port is ridiculous and that’s just one of the decisions Apple made to keep costs down on one of their devices.

I’m happy for people who are able to afford Apple’s devices and receive health, privacy, productivity, and other benefits, but I’m disappointed more people can’t access them and Apple’s labor practices globally with their retail and manufacturing employees remain detrimental to their image.

Despite the things that Apple does in terms of the environment, their rich executives and investors are profiting off of low wages in manufacturing and retail, and environmental destruction.

Apple’s competitors are worse in many of these regards, but that doesn’t mean that Apple should be shielded from criticism.

One more oddity, every game demo had the presenter introduced, but not the person actually playing the game.

The leaks were mostly correct. We can expect another event later this year, possibly in October, for iPad Pro and Mac updates. Hopefully that new Apple TV, too Though those updates and the release of the new Mac Pro could be done in a more limited fashion if Apple’s people decide not to do another big event.