Live-blogging the Apple Announcement

Apple’s annual new product announcement has just started. It’s in the Steve Jobs Theater at the new Apple campus in Cupertino. They play an audio clip of Jobs’ words of wisdom. It reminds me how different Tim Cook is from Apple’s founder. Jobs was a bit of a tyrant, but he was also a visionary.

The event begins by noting that Apple stores are no longer stores, they’re town squares or community centers or something. Last time I visited one, Apple Maps got lost in the parking lot. Apple’s vision for the stores sounds a lot like Sims. The Cult of Apple has been upgraded to a new release. Larger stores, more cathedral-like. Scientology is burning with envy.

Apple Watch Series 3

Off to the races with the new Apple Watch, Series 3. Cook says the watches are selling, which hasn’t been conventional wisdom. But Apple Watch is now the #1 watch in the world, and well-liked with a 97% customer satisfaction score. He plays a video full of testimonials read by Actual Users.

Apple Watch helps you lose weight and saves your life if you have a medical event. OK, that has happened. Contrast with IBM’s Watson-based cancer treatment feature, still trying to figure out the top 20 forms of cancer. The watch’s heart rate app is pretty good. The watch is now getting resting HR and recovery HR, just like a Garmin fitness watch. It also gets heart rhythm sensing, which is pretty cool. The company has funded a study based on Apple’s heart rate data to figure out how doctors can get insights from the data stream. This is in the new OS update, applicable to Version One and Two users as well as owners of the new one.

Sure enough, the new watch has built-in cellular. That’s pretty huge. So you can get phone calls and listen to music while you’re away from your iPhone, especially if you have the wireless ear buds. Watch gets a dual-core processor and a verbal Siri. It gets a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi upgrade as well as a barometric altimeter. Sell your Garmin stock if you have any.

Watch solves the sim card problem by building in an electronic sim card, so the watch is bigger than the old watch. Cute cut to a developer on a paddle board out on a lake. No harmful materials, and it’s waterproof with no less battery life. $399 for the cellular version, $329 for the non-cellular one. Not as high as it could have been. The old watch gets a price cut, but nobody pays full price for them anyhow.

This is what the Apple Watch should have been to begin with, but better late than never. BTW, Microsoft decided to release an upgrade to its Apple apps right in the middle of the event, very peculiar timing.

Apple TV

As expected, TV gets 4K, again kinda late but still welcome. 4K is pretty worthless without HDR, so Apple TV supports both HDR standards, HDR 10 and Dolby. It uses the new A10X that’s in the iPad Pro. Good news: videos bought from the Apple Store will get free 4K upgrades, and we’ll finally have an Amazon streaming app. These are incremental upgrades, but nice.

Live sports and sports news coming to Apple TV for those with cable subscriptions.  Sell your Roku stock if you have any. Apple TV is the gateway to Apple’s home automation system, Homekit. But the integration is limited, barely scratching the surface of what could be done with Siri on Apple TV.

They trot out a game developer who builds games for the Apple platform. Nice graphics, but who knows how good the game is? Apple TV is not a game console.

iPhone 8

What we’ve all been waiting for, the iPhone announcement kicks off with the usual puffery confusing it with the cheaper smartphones most people have.

Another video, this one full of shots of iPhones, tech porn. OK, back to live action with Phil Schiller on the iPhone 8 and 8+. Yes, it’s pretty and made out of fancy aluminum and glass. “Most durable smartphone ever”, and waterproof. They’ve made some upgrades to the color rendering and sound, and created a new chip called the A11 Bionic. It has six cores, two for high performance and four for energy savings. So multi-tasking is a snap, right? We’ll see.

They’re done a lot of work on image stabilization and photography in general. Especially cool is some machine learning stuff to sculpt the lighting in “portrait mode” that separates subject from background. The phone’s video camera does a lot processing for compression, but this looks like normal stuff. Slow-mo is better.

Augmented Reality gets a big shout-out. The tech that separates subject from background obviously is good for AR, so easy background substitution. Makes me wonder if the iPhone 8 will work for video podcasts.

Demo by game developer of a multi-player AR game that looks pretty impressive. Is this the successor to Pokémon Go? Probably not, because it’s a shoot-em-up game. And it’s exclusively for Apple platforms.

The Future is Wireless

LTE advanced and wireless charging get their own section. The 8 has a glass back for wireless charging, duh. Apple supports a new charging standard known as Qi (“chee”). If Android phones adopt this, we’ll have wireless charging everywhere.

The 8 comes with a minimum of 64GB with a 256 GB upgrade. It’s not cheap at $700 for the small one and $800 for the big one.

iPhone X

Now we’re into the new super-duper iPhone, the edge-to-edge, home button-free iPhone X. Take it away, Phil, to tell us about the “greatest advance in phones since the original iPhone”. This one is has a steel frame, unlike the eights. This one has a “super-retina display” with OLED and is huge.

The resolution on the X is way over-the-top, looks nice on a data sheet but probably not really noticeable beyond the benefits of OLED. The home button is replaced by a swipe-up gesture. This makes multitasking a bit more convenient. As expected, the unlock thing is driven by face recognition like Windows 10. Face ID is the official name. So it’s always looking at you when it’s locked.

iPhone X is watching you

There’s all this IR and neural network stuff to recognize your face. Schiller rightly mentions that this stuff is enabled by Apple’s vertical integration. The anti-spoofing stuff is built into the neural net and the Secure Enclave. Your eyes have to be open and looking at the phone. This supposed to provide 1 in a million protection, but you can add a passcode if you want.

The face recognition stuff also used for animated emojis, called Animojis.

Animojis are based on your own facial expressions

With this large screen and edge-to-edge display, the argument for owning a tablet is harder to make. The X will probably be priced to reflect the fact that it’s really a phone and a tablet combined. Anyhow, little kids are gonna love the Animoji stuff. Maybe that’s the point, build brand loyalty for life.

OK, this is a cool phone with a nice display, great cameras, quirky features, and better battery life. But the price? $999 for the small storage version. Seems kinda fair, given all the coolness, but I do hope to see some carrier subsidies. Of course, the iPhone XI will be even better…

And that’s a wrap. I’m very disappointed that 5G didn’t even get a mention. Too far away, I guess.