Apple Event – September 14, 2021

The Apple September 21 Event Announcement. A twilight mountain background with a white outlined Apple logo hovering over a lake.
IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE

Apple had their fall hardware announcement called “California Streaming”. I liked that intro music, but let’s talk about what Apple announced.

Apple Services: Apple TV+ and Fitness+

Apple started off by showing a sizzle reel of Apple TV+ content from Ted Lasso, See, The Morning Show, Foundation, “The Problem with Jon Stewart”, and several other shows.

Apple also took some time to talk about Fitness+ during the Apple Watch discussion (more on that below). Fitness+ is coming to 15 new countries on top of the 6 existing countries. Along with the Apple Watch, Fitness+ includes Tai-Chi, Pilates, and Guided Meditations to the service in both video and audio only forms (the latter for the Apple Watch). There will also now be Workouts for getting ready for Winter Season, like skiing and snowboarding.

Group Workouts will now be available through SharePlay in Fitness+ and FaceTime, so you can remotely exercise with up to 32 people. If you’re unsure about the service, you can now get either a free 1-month trial or 3-month trial of Fitness+ with the purchase of a new Apple Watch Series 7.

iPad: A new base model and Mini

The iPad started off the hardware announcements, and specifically the iPad (nothing I mean, not the Air, Mini, etc.). It gets upgraded to the A13 processor, which supposedly makes it 3X faster than the fastest Chromebook and 6X than Android tablets (which specifically isn’t clear, but is a clear shot across the bow to schools). The cameras will have better autofocus, but the front-facing one is now an ultra-wide 12MP camera, which will also allow it to use the new “Center Stage” feature in the iPad Pro, the one that follows you and adjusts the frame as people come into it in video recording and conferencing apps such as FaceTime, Zoom, and TikTok. It will have support for the Magic Keyboard and other keyboards as well as the 1st Gen Pencil (which makes you wonder what will happen to the Air). And the iPad will now use USB-C instead of Lightning. Price starts at $329 with 64 gigs of storage, and even cheaper for Education institutions.

The new full screen iPad mini being held in one hand.
The new iPad Mini (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)

Next is the Mini. The Mini is now is a full screen device integrating TouchID in the power button. Can comes in Purple, Pink, Space Gray, and “Starlight” which is kind of gold-ish. The overall size is the same, but with the reduced borders the screen is 8.3 inches diagonally so you get more real estate. It really looks like the iPad Air in a smaller form factor. According to Apple, it will be 40% faster in CPU and 80% in GPU performance than the previous version, with the Neural Engine increasing 2 times as much performance thanks to the A13 processor. The Air also gets a USB-C port (which means one more device moving away from Lightning). The cellular models also can now use LTE and 5G. The front camera is the same 12 MP Ultra-wide camera (which means it also gets the Center Stage functionality), and the rear camera is a 12 MP camera with a true tone flash with an aperture of f/1.8, and the ability to record in 4K. The speakers also get some better stereo performance, though we’ll have to wait to see how those sound once people can get their hands on it. The last major hardware change is that the Mini works with the 2nd Gen Pencil and includes a magnet so the Pencil can stick to the side of the Mini. The Mini is available to order today at $499 and will be available next week.

Apple noted that now all the iPads in the lineup are made of 100% recycled material which, if true, is good news for everyone.

Apple Watch: It’s bigger!

The side profile of the Cellular Apple Watch in green (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)
The new Series 7 Watch in Green (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)

Apple Watch was next in the line up. They started by talking about cycling. The Watch can now automatically start and pause the cycling workout when detected, detecting cycling-specific falls, and can better track e-bikes separate from regular bike rides to give you more accurate calorie tracking.

The Apple Watch Series 7 has slimmer borders, giving you about 20% more space than the Series 6, and 50% from earlier generations. The screen is a little brighter as well, particularly when your wrist is down and the screen is dimmed. The bigger screen not only means more text on screen, but will have bigger buttons in some apps, and will have a full keyboard that you can type on with some auto-prediction (which I could see being useful in some instances, but I don’t want to type long messages on it. The shape of the Watch and screen overall has been adjusted a bit, with softer, rounder edges that better flow the screen into the body. Apple says it’s the most durable Watch ever made, with it now being IP6X dust resistant and WP50 water resistant. The Watch will still use the same magnetic charger, but the Series 7 will comes with a USB-C charging cable rather than the classic USB-A cable. According to Apple, it means that the Watch will get a full charge in 45 minutes.

The Series seven will come in “Midnight” a kind of rich black or navy kind of color, “Starlight”, Green (a kind of hunter green to be specific), Blue, and Red are the new colors, plus all the existing colors for the Watch will be available. Along with the new colors will be a number of new Watch bands (though your old bands will still be backwards compatible).

Series 3 is still available (but why though) and still starts at $199, with the SE still at $279, and $399 for the new Series 7.

iPhone: Those are some camera improvements

The rear face of the pink iPhone 13 underneath the front face of the same color and model iPhone (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)
The iPhone 13 in Pink (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)

Here’s the big one, the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. The antenna bands supposedly come from up-cycled plastic water bottles. The display had a bit of focus, as it is now 28% brighter over the last gen, and supports HDR10, Dolby Atmos, and more modes while being more power efficient. You’ll also get a little more screen too, because the notch is a little smaller too.

The machine now comes with the new A15 Bionic. This new chip has a new 6-core CPU with 4 efficiency core and 2 high performance cores (compared to 2 of each in last year’s model) which still holding a 16-core Neural Engine and 4-core GPU. Overall it has 15 billion transistors on the chip. So perhaps you won’t notice many changes graphically, but some of your apps may be able to open and work even faster.

Of course we should talk about the cameras, because that’s where the biggest focus was. The 2-rear facing cameras are now diagonally placed (so that you can prove you have the newest one). The wide lens has a 1.7 micrometer sensor, a f/1.6 aperture lens, and has the 12 Max’s lowlight sensor for better night shots. This is an example of moving the newest tech from the Pro generation last year to the base models in the next (or future) years. In software, you’re also getting the new “Cinematic Mode” with rack focusing (like you see in movies), so it can quickly adjust the focus automatically from one part of the scene to another. So when a person looks away at something the iPhone will shift the focus from the person to what they’re looking at, or the iPhone can follow the focus with a moving target. Of course you will be able to adjust the focus manually and have the iPhone follow the focus on your own target (all done in Dolby Atmos). This can be used both on the front and rear facing cameras.

Apple says the Mini will get 1.5 more hours and the 13 will get 2 more hours of battery life than the 12 mini and 12 respectively due to a bigger battery and improved software functionality.

The 13 and Mini will come in pink, blue, “Midnight”, “Starlight”, and Product Red. The Mini will start at $699 for 128 gigs of storage, and the 13 will start at $799 for 128 gigs (compared to the same price as last year for 64 gigs of storage), so now you’re getting more for the same price. Apple also announced these models can come with 256 or 512 GB of storage, and some partners will let you get up to $700 worth of credit when trading in qualifying models (which may just mean the last generation or 2 of phones).

The side profile of the iPhone 13 Pro showing the silence switch, the camera bump, and the volume buttons, next to the rear facing view of the phone.  IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE
The iPhone 12 Pro in the new “Sierra Blue” (IMAGE COURTESY OF APPLE)

But not to be out done, let’s talk about the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. Both have a bigger battery and the A15 Bionic. Unlike the 13 and 13 mini, though, this one will come with a 5-Core GPU (probably the first real processor difference between the Pro and base models). The display will now be Pro-Motion, meaning that it can automatically adjust between 10 Hz to 120 Hz depending on what’s on screen. So scrolling on your phone and games will go at faster frame rates where as static text in an email will be at the lower frame rate to preserve battery. The Pros will also be bright, getting up to 1000 Nits outdoors for an even brighter screen and 1200 in HDR settings.

The cameras in these will keep the same arrangement, just in a lighter “Sierra” blue color, as well as a brighter gold, solver, and graphite color. The telephoto has a 3x zoom and 77 mm lens. Wide lens has a f/1.5 aperture and 1.6 micrometer, and the Ultrawide lens has a f/1.8 aperture, and 92% improved low light performance. Apple says all the rear facing lenses will now be able to shoot night mode, so hopefully that means you’ll get better shots at night at all levels. And the Pros now have a 3x optical zoom, so you’ll have closer shots in your photos and video.

It’s not just hardware though, as now you can pick Photographic styles when taking photos. They’re similar to filters, so you can make scenes more vibrant or darker photos. But they’re smarter since they will be more selective with what is changed, so you won’t have weird changes with skin tones. Fortunately this is coming to the iPhone 13 and Mini as well as the Pros.

But video got even more impressive, as Apple tends to be the best smartphone for video. Apple showed off shooting in Cinematic Mode using and the 3x zoom in video. But arguably the most amazing thing briefly mentioned is the fact that when recording in Cinematic mode, you’ll be able to adjust the focus after recording! As a video guy, I’ve never been more tempted to do a year-to-year upgrade. Apple also said the Pros will be able to shoot in Apple’s Pro-Res video format and record up to 4K at 30 frames per second in ProRes. So the Pros will really be closer to replacing high-end video cameras for a lot of people, especially if it turns out as good as Apple showed it.

Apple said the Pros will have a bigger battery, and thus the 13 Pro will have 1.5 more hours of battery life, and the Max 2.5 more hours of life compared to their 12 predecessors. Starts at $999 for the 13 Pro, and $1099 for the Max, with a new 1 TB option at the highest end.

All 4 phones will be available for pre-order on the 17th and will be widely available on the 24th of this month

Summary:

I’d say as a collective overhaul, this seems like a pretty OK announcement. I think these are some nice refinements to the devices, but nothing really just stands out as a major hardware improvement. The attention paid to the lower end iPad and Mini is good, and I think a lot of users will really appreciate the Center Stage feature when talking to their families.

The only major hardware major announcement for me is the Cinematic Mode. As with all things we should wait to fully judge it when we get our hands on it, especially if changing the focus after recording works as well as Apple seemed to indicate.

And while a minor not, the fact that 3 devices (the Mini, the iPad, and the Apple Watch’s charger) have now all switched from either USB-A or Lightning to USB-C is pretty indicative of the next steps. The only new devices left still using Lightning are all iPhones. I think we have a pretty clear sign where things are going, so pour one out to Lightning before it sails off to the sunset.

But what did you think? Let me know in the comments below what you like or didn’t like. Hopefully see what Apple has in store for the Macs later this year.

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