iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Apple held an event at the Bill Graham Auditorium at just about the regular time as they’ve done for years to announce their new iPhones.

Here’s a brief summary of what’s changed in this year’s phones.

Headphones.

As was rumored, the iPhones 7 have dropped the headphone jack. It was generally used as a single-purpose port based on an ancient design from the 1800s whose time had come.

In retrospect it seems amazing how this change was leaked early. Tech people were prepared for the change by the leaked information, and although they grumbled about it still they were more ready for the change after the leak as it became increasingly apparent that it was going to happen.

It’s not surprising how many people reject change, and although there are some not-so-great effects to this change, I feel like it is ultimately a positive one.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve caught a headphone cable on a door knob and had my headphones violently ripped out of my ears, or found earbuds tangled up in my pocket and given up trying to untangle them. Once, I even foolishly spent more than $100 on a set of earbuds only to have them break, and then the replacement from the company broke within a month. These cables break devices, they are the failure points in headphones, they get tangled and the port itself is often faulty. Pocket crud fills it up and causes random issues with the jack dropping one stereo channel or the other.

There are true negatives to the change, accessibility devices used that port. So do a number of other accessories that couldn’t afford to pay Apple’s certification fees for their Lightning port or where it was just the best mechanism to connect. I’ve got apps that process guitar audio and the only way to connect my guitar the hardware accessory for a long time was via the TRRS jack.

Fortunately Apple has solutions for almost everyone. An adapter ships in the box alongside a pair of their EarPod earbuds that use a lightning cable. The adapter will also be available separately for $9 which is pretty cheap.

I wonder if all of the accessories that have connected through that port over the past 9 years of iPhones will work with whatever hardware is in the adapter. It isn’t clear yet if it moves the digital audio converter outside of the phone yet or not and what capabilities it has. So I won’t know if this will work with my guitar kit.

Apple has also introduced their own wireless AirPod earbuds. All wireless headphones have tiny computers in them, the AirPods have a new system on a chip they call the W1. These look just like the regular EarPods but without a cable, and you’ll notice metal at the ends for the new microphone. They’re smart, they detect if one is pulled out because you want to hear something or someone in your vicinity and pause whatever you’re listening to. Pairing regular Bluetooth headphones can be a pain, but the AirPods begin the pairing process with your nearby Apple devices when you open their case. That case is pretty smart, too. It charges the AirPods whenever you put them away.

Since you can use just one AirPod you could swap between them for hours and hours of listening. I use one earbud all the time to keep a better ear to my surroundings when I’m listening to podcasts. These have the advantage of being smart enough to switch to monaural output when you press play after removing one.

Most Bluetooth earbuds have a cable between the left and the right sides in order to just have the one tiny computer and battery. I’ve got a Motorola set from years ago that do this, they’re tough to kill and have great battery life although they’ve finally lost the little dingus that keeps the cables organized and attached to the part that goes around my collar. That’s where they get thick and have their battery and computer. Otherwise, the earbuds themselves are just dumb cheap earbuds like most.

People complain about the price of the AirPods at $170, which is kind of ridiculous considering that Bluetooth earbuds without cables have a computer and battery in both ears in order to communicate with each other and whatever device they’re connecting to. Most of those sets are also way more expensive. A set of truly wireless earbuds that were originally crowdfunded and looked very interesting Bragi’s Dash, go for $300 and lose their connection between each earbud while in-use causing all kinds of issues. The AirPods will be available next month so we’ll find out then if they’re better, they should be.

There are other changes, but the headphone issue is front and center for most people. It’s reasonable to be upset about it, but wireless audio connections are pretty damn good already so I expect most people will be very happy to move to those headsets.

I’d still understand if this issue would make people hesitant to get these phones at first, but I think that the change is inevitable at this point. Where Apple goes, the rest of the phone and tiny computer in your pocket industry follow. There will be some holdouts, and the transition will not be fun, just as there were with hardware keyboards, flip phones, floppy drives, disc drives, but I’m excited for fewer wires. Finally.

Water resistant, not waterproof.

Moving on to other improvements. The iPhones are now water (and dust) resistant. For up to 30 minutes and 3.3 feet (1 meter), the iPhones 7 can remain in water. So a quick dunk in a toilet or pool shouldn’t be an issue, don’t make a habit of it or try to charge your phone for 5 hours after getting out. Apple won’t cover water damage to the phone under warranty, which makes sense. How do they know if it was in water for less than 31 minutes or 3.3 feet?

Every year when iFixit tears these devices apart I’m kind of surprised at what is inside besides electronics. If you build a computer you know there are gaskets and seals, but glue? An adhesive is what makes up much of the sealing around the device’s screen. It clearly works, they’ve used adhesives for years to keep small mobile computers like iPhones together, but it feels strange to me to buy something held together with glue even if it is in addition to screws.

Cameras.

The cameras on the iPhone are all improved, and there is one more of them if you get the larger Plus phone.

The front-facing camera people use for FaceTime video chat and selfies is now 7 megapickles and can record video at 1080p compared to the 5 megapickles of last year’s iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The front-facing camera on my current iPhone, the 6 Plus, is just 1.2 megapickles. People love selfies, it’s how I take most of the pictures of my son and I together, this is a great improvement.

Previous big iPhone Pluses had a camera feature called optical image stabilization (OIS) that was exclusive to them. Both iPhones now have OIS in their primary camera on the rear of the device, which is great because it makes low-light shots much better as it physically moves the camera system to help keep the shutter open longer and let in more light. Hold out something in your hand and try to keep it steady. That is why we all need OIS.

I called it the primary camera because the Plus now has an additional camera on the back. The regular camera is wide-angle, as it always has been and needs to be in order to let in so much light. The new camera has the trade-off of letting in less light but giving you way more zoom. Apple calls it a telephoto lens, but it’s more like a regular lens in contrast to the wide-angle of the primary camera.

Unless your phone has a camera lens that physically protrudes and can change it’s length, it can only have digital zoom with the typical camera sensor and lens fixture. Digital zoom is complete garbage. All it does is crop whatever picture you get out of the regular sensor. You get less picture data and less of a digital thing means you’re getting crap. Images from phone cameras tend to look like impressionist watercolor paintings when you get in real close via a tight crop or “digital zoom.” This second camera gets you a real, physical, 2x zoom and cropping from that point will be much better than cropping from the wide-angle lens and sensor.

On the iPhone 7 Plus both cameras also work together to improve every photo you take. If you’re outdoors and taking a photo the image processors on the phone will try to get data from both sensors in order to make your pictures better. If you’re indoors and the telephoto camera can’t get enough light to take a good picture, the image processors will dump the data from that sensor. Brilliant.

Both of the cameras on the rear of the phone shoot 12 megapickles.

Adding in another camera is a bizarre but frankly necessary solution, and it’s impressive that Apple recognizes the necessity of making the hump on the back of the phones that contains the lenses and sensors larger in order to include this secondary camera system. Most people think of them as a company that puts form behind function in their designs, this is clearly the opposite. That hump is hideous, and makes the phone slightly more unwieldy because it can’t lay flat on a table. I think Apple recognizes that most people use cases, and cases easily make the hump a non-issue.

Et Cetera.

The iPhones 7 are, of course, faster. They have a new processor with the marketing name, A10 Fusion. The numbers are kind of not important, benchmarks show that they’re faster than their Android cousins, but you should use whatever device you’re comfortable with.

More important than the processor improvements are the fact that instead of going quad-core like other smartphones, the new iPhones are quadcore with a twist. The two other processor cores are slower. What, why? Because then less important tasks take less battery. Smart.

The display on the iPhone has improved, it now has a wide color gamut. This means that reds and greens are supposed to be more correct to life. The cameras are set up to capture this new detail, but that does mean most older photos won’t have the additional colors. It also means that we can’t see these improvements on regular phones and computers, so you and I won’t know what the wide color gamut looks like until we see a new iPhone in person while it is displaying something that has more color data in it.

It’s a little disappointing that the iPhone didn’t receive the true-tone display improvements of this year’s 9.7 inch iPad Pro. That feature detects the lighting conditions in a room or outside and makes a white background look like a sheet of paper would in the same room.

The home button will no-longer physically move. Instead, the phone will attempt to trick you into thinking it moved with haptic feedback. That same haptic feedback will be used throughout the operating system to make the virtual interfaces more physically responsive. I’ve had the home button on a few iPhones fail in the past, so this is a welcome improvement although I’m sure it will take some getting used to.

The speaker on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus is now in stereo and can be twice as loud thanks to the speaker in the earpiece gaining new capabilities. If you watch shows or movies on your phone, this is great. If you ride public transit, I’m sorry for your loss.

One of the most important upgrades I’ve saved for last, and this has carried over to every other iOS device Apple sells, is that the 16GB models are finally dead. You cannot buy an iPhone with too little storage. The only options are 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB. These upgrades still cost too much at $100 for each storage bump, but I felt a small pain whenever a friend or family member bought a 16GB iPhone or iPad. It would have been nice if the base model were 64GB, that’s what I have in my current iPhone 6 Plus, it’s plenty, but 32GB goes a long way to making things better. It should have happened way sooner.

My biggest disappointment with these phones is that the design is largely unchanged from the past two years of iPhone. It’s becoming difficult to differentiate one rounded rectangle with a screen from another, and although Apple has replaced one color (Space Gray) with two others (Jet Black and a matte Black), I wish there were more physical improvements. The rumor mill says that these big design changes are coming next year, which will be the tenth anniversary of the first iPhone.

Would I buy these?

I like these improvements, but my initial plan was to keep using my iPhone 6 Plus until at least next year. It does what I need it to, in general, and these feel like a second “s year” for the iPhone. However, the resale value of that iPhone 6 Plus became almost nothing after this year’s lot were announced. Then along came T-Mobile with a deal to get people locked into two years of service. In exchange for trading in their iPhone 6 and 6s’, people could receive a severely discounted iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. It’s like if you were driving an older Honda and the gas station offered you an almost free new model if you keep buying their gas.

One of the reasons I love the iPhone is that I don’t usually have to deal with a carrier and their terrible service policies and retail stores directly. Attempting to upgrade my iPhone through this T-Mobile deal has proven why I hate doing business with cell phone carriers.

T-Mobile screwed up so badly they had to completely cancel the upgrade order I put in on the first day the phone became available and I’m still not sure if a phone is actually going to come in the mail and if they will actually honor their deal.

I would still recommend that most people save up and buy their phone outright from Apple in order to not have to deal with these carriers directly. Carriers are all scum.

Carrier issues aside, these new iPhones 7 are otherwise fine upgrades if you aren’t going to be very upset about the loss of the headphone jack and I would recommend upgrading to anyone on an iPhone 5 or older device. If you have an iPhone 6 or 6s, you probably shouldn’t do what I did unless you get that good of an upgrade deal. Next year’s iPhone may be an amazing improvement in appearance when this year’s was more about functional improvements to an existing design that is good.

September 7th is Going to be a Busy Day

Now we know where Patrick Klepek went. In a post for Vice Gaming, with fellow Giant Bomb alumnus Austin Walker, Klepek confirms that the rumored variation of the Playstation 4 with improved horsepower would be announced on a very busy September 7th:

Sony will reveal the first details on an upgraded PlayStation 4 at a September 7 event in New York, French gaming website Gameblog reported today. VICE Gaming can confirm that it’s heard the same information from multiple sources familiar with the planned rollout for the new machine. These sources chose to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak publicly about Sony’s plans.

Previously, previously, previously.

That’s not the only announcement that is rumored to occur on the 7th, the iPhone 7 should be announced on the same day.

This is Not Android on the iPhone

Wait, what?

Nick Lee:

Finally, Android on the iPhone
You heard me. The holy war is over, brethren. At Tendigi, we’ve designed and built a case that allows iPhone devotees to sample the best Mountain View has to offer. Join me as I outline the steps taken to achieve this feat, as well as the numerous pitfalls encountered along the way.

Okay, that sounds interesting. I’d love some straightforward method of being able to try out modern versions of Android without having buy Android hardware.

It must have been extremely complicated to get this done in software!

I ended up having to port (or outright build) the following components for Android:

[…]

screenstreamer: A daemon I wrote that connects to the usbmuxd service, transmitting the screen’s contents to the iPhone and emulating touch events on the Android side. This is where the magic happens. While there are many ways to capture the screen on Android, I achieved the best performance by connecting to the SurfaceFlinger service and reading screenshots from it. For more information, see this header file and this presentation. The droidVncServer repository on GitHub also contains some helpful pointers.

Are you kidding me? This is the equivalent of VNC streaming a Windows 10 desktop to an Android phone and saying that you got Windows 10 to run on an Android phone. The “Final product” image is a thick ass backpack that contains off-the-shelf Android hardware strapped onto an iPhone and looks like crap. If this were from a 14 year old at a school science fair that would be incredible.

It’s an SE, As You May Have Heard

These were the hidden images of the Macintosh SE dev team hidden on the ROM

Here’s what happened in the final 1 infinite loop Apple Town Hall today, before everything moves to the new UFO campus next year:

Ufocampus

Apple opened with a short video about the 40th birthday of the company coming up on the 1st. Tim Cook Briefly spoke about the FBI’s misguided attempt at defeating personal security for everyone who uses an iPhone everywhere. Then moved on to former US EPA chief, now Apple enviro director, Lisa Jackson.

After discussing efforts to power stores and server farms with solar and wind farms, Jackson moved on to Apple’s upcycled recycling initiatives. Electronics recycling is great when people are actually motivated to do it. The new program is called Apple Renew and they’ll even help you ship your old devices in for free. Here’s where you can find it online. I love these exploded views:

Recycling

The FBI’s recycling initiative always seems to take a little bit longer while they lock themselves out of your phone for some reason that even they don’t quite seem to understand.

Jeff Williams spoke about Apple’s health initiatives which are fortunately missing  exploded views. Last year they released ResearchKit for people to participate in research studies. This year’s CareKit is a new tool for sharing information about your personal health issues with your doctor and your family through apps created with CareKit.

Nylon watch bands

Tim Cook came back to drop The Apple Watch starting price to $300 from $350. Some stores have been dancing around that price on sale for the past few months on and off. The Watch also got new a few new bands, the nylon ones look pretty cool but they’re almost not NATO-y enough. It also receives WatchOS 2.2 today, which is mainly about internationalization improvements and an update to Apple’s Maps on the device for finding nearby things like restaurants. Here’s what it looks like:

Nearby

Moving on to tvOS 9.2 software update available for the 4th generation Apple TV today. Split-screen NCAA march madness basketball so you can finally watch four teams at once get the least amount of education their basketball institutions can provide under bullshit NCAA rules. You can now enter usernames and passwords for logging into services with Siri dictation and (finally) bluetooth keyboards which had been supported in previous Apple TV generations. I like mine, just wish it were easier to side-load emulators without having to hook it up to Xcode on my laptop. 

Iphonese

Greg Jozwiak introduced the iPhone SE. Apple made four inches great again as was widely rumored with this exact name. I believe this is the first SE Apple product since the Macintosh SE when SE stood for System Expansion. This time the iPhone SE is not getting 3D touch and there is no announced initialism or other meaning behind the name. 3D Touch is the biggest feature of the 6s and 6s Plus missing in the iPhone SE. It still retains more of the squared-circle shape of the 4 and 5 series iPhones it is replacing, and that is honestly a design I preferred in my hand. It’ll be $400 for 16GB. Which is a capacity that very much still needs to go away. $500 for 64GB. Pre-orders are up on the 24th, it ships on the 31st.

After announcing the new 4 inch phone, Jozwiak moved on to reiterating new features of iOS 9.3 which is also out today but were announced in January. Night Shift is f.lux for iOS and is the most important new feature in there. I’ve been waiting for that so I don’t do as much damage to my eyes at night. Great update, wish they had credited or bought out the f.lux people who really popularized the notion.

The truetone display of the new 10 inch iPad Pro

Phil Schiller came up to introduce the new 10 inch iPad Pro that replaces the iPad Air for anyone interested in that size of device. Huge screen improvements compared to the Air, and it even has sensors to adjust the display so that the color balance and brightness of the display’s white balance adjusts based on the lighting of the environment you’re currently in. It’ll also have the speakers, pencil and keyboard add-ons, and other improvements that already work with the iPad Pro. Though the 13 inch Pro lacks some of the updates seen in the new 10 inch Pro, the 13 inch version still sounds preferable to me. The camera gets a big upgrade to iPhone quality , recognizing that many people are goofily taking pictures with huge tablets so why not.

Schiller calls the new 10 inch iPad Pro a PC replacement, I’m still waiting for Xcode for iPad to cede that. $600 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB, $899 for the new 256GB tier on Wifi. Pre-orders go up on the 24th and it ships on the 31st. The 13 inch iPad gets the new 256GB model at the new high end wifi-only price of $1,100.

Peel iPhone Case Review

A Peel

There’s this iPhone case called the Peel. Apple… Peel, get it?

Here’s what the makers of this case promise for your $25:

This Peel case lets you protect your phone while keeping the same form factor. Other cases add bulk and weight to your iPhone but Peel cases are almost invisible.

That’s all true and it sounds awesome compared to other third party cases. The other ones all look ridiculous with huge logos, and bizarre contortions in their designs to make their cases look distinctive instead of getting out of the way of the iPhone design and just protecting the phone.

My last case, the Speck CandyShell Grip had their logo that looks like Kurt Vonnegut’s asterisk on the back and is ribbed for grip. It was great at protecting my phone from short falls without being as bulky as your typical Otterbox case. Even though it looked like a novelty condom for a robot, it was the Wirecutter’s top iPhone case pick for a while and I appreciated their recommendation. Then the thin strip of rubbery material on the Grip above the iPhone’s lightning port broke. Oh well. For a few months I tolerated the break while keeping my eyes open for an alternative when someone mentioned the Peel on Twitter and their pitch worked.

The Peel feels like the opposite of every other third-party case. Instead of being thick, it’s thin. Instead of having a distinctive look, it gets out of the way so that you can see the design of the $600+ phone you purchased instead of your $20 robot condom. 

Unfortunately the Peel is so thin and papery, immediately after receiving it in the mail I wondered aloud, “this costs $25?”

Putting the case on my 6+ was a little bit more reassuring. The first thing the space-gray case made me think of was a stocking on my space-gray 6+. The Peel feels perfectly formed to the iPhone that it is protecting. There’s an anecdote on the product page about Apple’s in-store repair techs replacing an iPhone and forgetting to take off the Peel because they didn’t know it was there. I’m not sure I believe that, one look at the back or sides of the phone and you’ll see it, but the transparent case does get out of the way except for the raised area around the protruding camera of the 6+.

Where the Peel goes from slightly too expensive and ineffectual to WTF is in resolving the largest issue with the iPhone 6 and 6+’s survivability, grip. It’s a slippery phone and despite the FAQ page that suggests it enhances the phone’s grip if anything, the Peel sometimes feels even more slippery than a bare iPhone.

The front with the peel

The Peel will still protect your phone case from scratches and short falls, but not the screen. The Speck CandyShell Grip had a bit of a bumper around the edges to protect the iPhone from drops that land on the front. The cost of the Peel being perfectly form-fitting to the iPhone is that there is no protection on the screen. Of course, the people who made this case also sell a screen protector that is even more expensive at $30.

There is an advantage to being form-fitting in not ruining the design of your $600+ phone and in not blocking access to ports. My last few cases required adapters to fit headphone and auxiliary audio cables. The Peel requires no adapter for any port and the various buttons and switches on your device are left unencumbered.

That isn’t enough of an advantage to justify the usability and price of this almost paper-thin case.

If it had more of a grip, if it protected the screen with even a tiny amount of a lip around the edges of the iPhone, if it were cheaper, I might be more likely to recommend the Peel. Instead, it’s too expensive, doesn’t offer enough protection, and makes your iPhone even more slippery. Don’t be fooled by the svelte form-factor (0.35mm) and the unbranded and unobtrusive visual aesthetic. Get a hideous robot condom if you want to protect your phone.