It’s September and that means Apple has released its latest batch of goodies to the world. Each year we’re given something that amounts to a small increase in performance and maybe a couple new features. These new goodies are often laughed at by the anti-Apple crowd but are coveted by anyone who actually takes the time to use an Apple product. The actual net impact is always more. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
This year we saw new bands and colour options for the Apple Watch. An iPad Pro which is an upscaled 12.9 inch iPad aimed at the enterprise market. The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus which are minor revisions on last years model with updated hardware stats and a new interaction method called 3D Touch. And finally, a revamped Apple TV with Siri voice control and the ability to take apps from the tvOS app store.
This general reaction to this years announcement was relatively low key. The watch bands and colouring options didn’t attract much attention. The iPad Pro was seen as too late to the game unless you were already an iPad content creator. The new iPhones were seen as the expected stat bump and were only highly anticipated by those who upgrade yearly. And finally, the Apple TV didn’t warrant a look unless you use the device or are a developer who watched the unveiling.
The iPad Pro will be a great device if you already use an iPad for business or creative purposes. Using the iPad Pro you also have the option of using the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro (which from the side looks an awful lot like the Microsoft Surface keyboard). Users also have the option to purchase an Apple Pencil which is a smart stylus. It communicates directly with the iPad conveying angles, writing pressure, and position all in order to provide a first rate writing/drawing experience. The iPad Pro ships in November so aside from demos we don’t know which applications will be most popular for the device. My personal feeling is that it will be a success in the two previously mentioned areas. For me it’s a shame that a device like this doesn’t run OS X but Apple is renowned for its insistence on separate operating systems for classic input (OS X) and touch (iOS). After all, if the device ran OS X it would be a even more of a straight up Surface clone
No one usually gets excited about ’s’ variants of iPhones. While CPU speed increases and camera upgrades are always welcome what isn’t talked is what makes this batch of iPhones the most important. One of the features of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus has the potential to be the most important new feature since the release of the App Store for iOS. Know which one it is?
Earlier this year Apple refreshed the MacBook Pro line and released the new MacBook and they feature a technology called Force Touch, the Watch also has Force Touch. Force Touch is the technology that allows the user to experience a press and click on the trackpad or watch face but the glass surface doesn’t move in any detectable way. Earlier this year I talked about why Force Touch was important and how the technology must iterate in a meaningful way. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus accomplish that.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus iterate on Force Touch by expanding it to include multiple levels. That is why the technology is now called 3D Touch. It adds another level of force awareness to the device. The Apple team has marketed 3D Touch’s gestures as Peek and Pop. Peek allows you to get a quick view of an email, message, photo or one of many other objects on your iPhone. While Pop expands what you have “Peeked” to become your primary view. All of this is acted upon with the force of your thumb. 3D Touch also can be used to move the text cursor which makes text selection easier, it also enables what are essentially the same as right click context menus on our desktop computers, and of course pressure sensitive drawing.
Apple’s Promotional 3D Touch Video
While Apple’s designed use cases for 3D Touch are novel they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Developers will no doubt find amazing ways to use 3D Touch in their applications and that is what awaits over the next 12–18 months. As developers adopt the technology, 3D Touch will work its way into the usage patterns of iPhone (and presumably iPad) users. The technology will advance each and every year, becoming as ubiquitous as tap, swipe, and pinch did when the iPhone was first released. With any Apple release it’s not about chasing the ever increasing megapixel count on the camera or gigahertz rating on the CPU, it’s about advancing and streamlining the user experience to provide technology that fits into our lifestyle. That is what makes Apple special and in particular this years iPhone release.
The Apple TV has been neglected for far too long. Apple wants the ability to become the media hub in your living room, Microsoft already does this well with the Xbox, and Google does it simply with the Chromecast. The old Apple TV was limited to media from your local library and that available on iTunes. This revamped Apple TV still allows for that but also is going to have an App Store of its very own. This is perhaps the largest announcement at this years product unveiling aside from 3D Touch.
The Apple TV has always been positioned as a device ready to take on the TV market the same way Apple did with music when the iTunes store first launched. They have been met with reluctance by the TV industry after the TV industry witnessed what happened to the music industry. The App Store is probably a way of side stepping this issue. With the App Store on Apple TV any media company is able to develop an app and charge for content if they desire. This moves the terms of engagement into a playing field that media companies can be comfortable with. Going forward unless a broad streaming deal is reached between Apple and the big distributors the app model is probably the best we can hope for.
There’s also another upshot to an App Store on Apple TV. That is gaming. This Apple TV will be compatible with bluetooth based game controllers in addition to the Apple TV remote. This will let games initially written for iOS to finally have a place on the TV where they can be played just like any other game on your Xbox, Wii, or PlayStation. iOS games are great and were already very fun when streamed to the Apple TV via AirPlay (over the network), this just goes one step further. The downside? This squeezes Nintendo even more so from the casual side of the market. But that’s a topic for another day.
While this years Apple September product unveiling may not have received as much media attention as it should have, it wasn’t dry for content. The two biggest and most profound unveilings were 3D Touch for the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. As well as the new Apple TV with App Store capabilities that can double as a casual gaming platform. As always with Apple there’s those who will automatically dismiss anything released as a gimmick or childish. Apple at the philosophical level isn’t about releasing new products just for headlines. They release products that actually advance the computing ecosystem as a whole. Where would we be if it were not for the release of the first iPhone?