Apple’s ‘California Streaming’ Event

Sep 19, 2021 • Extra Ordinary



Staging

Rather than take place in various scenic locations around Apple Park, the event takes place in various scenic places around California; a subtle reminder of the weird place we are in where Apple has delayed their return to work in Apple Park but many other places are safe to visit while fully vaccinated. And that intro music was awesome.

iPad

The new no-adjective iPad, while not as exciting a product to consumers, is an important product to keep current as it is their bottom-dollar education and business device. It is telling that this iPad and the MacBook Air are regularly the only products that have their Education pricing called out on stage.

The refreshed iPad mini finally clarifies the iPad lineup. Before this event it was unclear where Apple wanted the iPad mini. Now there is the iPad Pro with all the latest and most expensive features for those who want the most iPad can offer; iPad Air and iPad mini represent the middle tier of optimizing features for price, now at two sizes; the aforementioned iPad is assembled from the cheaper parts bin for those who ‘just need an iPad.’ In a world where Apple has infinite resources to explore every permutation of every product, we would have an iPad Pro mini as well.1

Apple Watch

Series 7

I, for one, am glad the edges are still rounded and not completely flat a la the iPhone 12. Flat edges are easier to catch on corners and surfaces. All of the scuffs on my watch are right on the bend of the glass—were the watch flat on the edges, these minor impacts may have dinged a straight line corner.

I was initially disappointed in the lack of new watch faces in watchOS 8 as presented at WWDC, but now we know why: the new faces are exclusive to the new model.2 My heart goes out to the people with Series 4–6 watches with no new faces and no on-screen keyboard despite the awfully minor difference between the two.3

Oh, and what’s the deal with the color Starlight?

Series 3

It is immensely disappointing that Apple is still selling Series 3. Apple should be better than that. The whole reason they refuse to sell cheaper Macs is that they refuse to make a cheap Mac. They even, allegedly, reaffirmed this thinking by nixing a low-cost Apple TV hardware device. Why, then, are they OK with selling a bad Apple Watch?

I challenge the people who made this decision to live with an Apple Watch Series 3 for a few months. Try going to the grocery store using Reminders on a Series 3 as your shopping list and tell me it is OK to sell an Apple device new that lags by three seconds to check off an item after tapping the screen. Tell me it is OK to sell an Apple device new that runs out of storage space so fast you have to unpair it with its iPhone to install a single software update. There is no way this experience is worth $200.

Fitness+

Branching out to more different types of workouts like pilates and meditation is nice.

Group Workouts is a very natural extension of the original service. I feel like it should have had a little more than a passing mention, but considering SharePlay isn’t a launch feature this fall, it makes sense why they brushed past it.

While Apple is doing a stellar job as always with a highly representative and racially diverse cast of hosts, I am surprised by the lack of diversity among body shapes and sizes. When every trainer is slim and fit, people with different physical characteristics can feel intimidated or excluded.

iPhone

iPhone 13 and 13 mini

The diagonal camera arrangement, in rumors, seemed like an arbitrary change to me. However, staggering their layout gives them room for much larger sensors—with Sensor Shift—while still creating room for a larger battery. It is almost a shame they could not fit LiDAR in there, but it makes sense to prioritize other camera improvements first.

I am very sad at the impending loss of the mini iPhone. The only time they called out the iPhone 13 mini was when they were remarking on how impressive it is that they oh-so-generously gave it the same camera features and improved battery life as the iPhone 13.

The red and blue colors are great improvements over last years’ not-quite-red and too-much-blue. Pink is a surprisingly pleasant color too, but I feel as though the light purple was taken away too soon. And seriously, what’s the deal with Starlight?

iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max

ProMotion is the biggest single leap in display technology since Retina. Sure, displays have been getting brighter, more accurate and higher contrast, but true you-have-it-or-you-don’t display technologies are getting rarer as displays are getting more perfect. I cannot wait to see it.

The cameras are now significantly thicker. The big change here is the democratization of last year’s features. More features are enabled on more lenses—and that’s more exciting than it sounds. Both phones gets sensor-shift optical image stabilization. Night mode portraits are now on the Telephoto lens. The Ultra Wide lens now has an ƒ/1.8 aperture with macro photography and slow motion video; hopefully, next year, the no-adjective iPhones will get the same features, as the Ultra Wide lens is the weakest link in their camera system.

One surprising regression is the Telephoto lens. I use it about as often, if not more than, the Wide lens for pictures that matter. Switching from a 2× to a 3× zoom makes it less practical as a lens for day-to-day photography. Another significant change is from ƒ/2.0 to ƒ/2.8, significantly reducing the amount of light it can capture. This is a change that makes me glad to have upgraded last year.

Sierra Blue is a brilliant color.

Cinematic mode

A weird set of trade-offs were made in order to create Cinematic video mode. It will “anticipate when a prominent new subject is about to enter the scene and automatically shift focus when they do,” which sounds like something that could be a hardware feature of the auto-focus function in the ordinary Video mode. But because Cinematic mode also must be able to “change the focus or adjust the blur after shooting,” all of the blurring and depth-of-field effects have to be simulated in software.

While they have made great progress on their software since the debut of Portrait Mode in 2016, software can only do so much. Even on Apple’s own example video, which represents an absolute best-case demo for the feature, pay attention to the left side where the leather jacket elbow meets the chair and you will see flickering on the edge where it isn’t sure what to blur and what to keep in focus. As another consequence of being a software feature, Cinematic video mode is limited to 1080p30 rather than 4K60 in order to process the full frame in real time.

All this is to say that I would really like a more powerful autofocus function in the regular Video mode. Give me the same face and object detection features. After I tap to focus on a point, allow me to tap again to return to autofocus. I would not need to be able to adjust the focus after recording if I had more control over the autofocus while recording. The tradeoffs in resolution, frame rate and blur quality do not seem worth it to me.

A highlight of their weird example short film is the use of Apple Garamond in the title cards.

One more thing

The new MagSafe Wallet compatible with the Find My network is brilliant. What a great feature.

The fact that it does not work with the Clear Case specifically is downright perplexing.4 MagSafe has three jobs: attach magnetically, charge the device (if applicable) and transmit some extra data like when an accessory is attached or detached. The MagSafe Battery Pack is compatible with the Clear Case, and that has to transmit extra information like the battery charge level—so clearly the Clear Case does not inhibit this signal. What is it about the combination of the Wallet and Clear Case that doesn’t work?

A15 Bionic

From now on, the story they tell about the A-series chips is always going to be bigger than the impact it has on the iPhone and iPad. Everyone is going to be extrapolating their claims to fit it into the story of the M-series chips on the Mac (and iPad Pro). Sure, the M1 made a big splash last year, but more important than their giant leap is their next step forward.

Since Apple made no direct comparisons of the A15 to the A14, I and many others were worried it would not be a substantial—or even incremental—improvement. How tragic would it be that after switching the Mac to Apple silicon they are unable to keep their competitive edge?

Now that the dust has settled, it seems as though the A15 actually is a lot faster. And graphics are a hell of a lot faster. Why did Apple not just say so? They work in mysterious ways.

Footnotes

  1. And an iPhone Pro mini.
  2. This could be another example of software changes predating hardware—or in this case, an absence of software changes?
  3. And to Kosta Eleftheriou, who is the latest to be Sherlocked in perhaps the most egregious example yet. Let me just drop this right here.
  4. For the record, I don't find the visible magnets on the Clear Case ugly. I like how the circle perfectly frames the Apple on the back and I like how it reminds me of a floppy disk.

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