"See you on the 7th."
We see what you did there Apple.
Mid last week, Apple announced the Apple Watch Series 2, the iPhone 7, and a couple key partnerships at it's event at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. While I wasn't able to attend the event in person, I had ideas of grandeur to live blog the event. Unfortunately, life happened and I wasn't able to do that either. My apologies. So, this is a quick recap of what was unveiled, and what it all really means.
Super Mario Run
As a surprise to everyone, Shigeru Miyamoto appeared on stage at the event to announce a new Super Mario game coming to the App Store later this year. Tim Cook opened this section of the keynote by declaring that, based on the numbers, the iPhone and iPad were the world's most popular gaming devices. With the rise of casual gaming, this isn't as far fetched as it might sound. Sure, you may not instantly think of these devices as gaming devices, but think about the last time you played games like Candy Crush, Words with Friends, Bejeweled, or Pokemon Go. Now, compare that to the last time you played something on a console or PC. I would be willing to bet that for 8 out of 10 of you, the gap is larger than you thought. This is definitely true for myself, though, gaming on these mobile devices has never felt as satisfying. Without a doubt, the lack of tactile controls plays into this, but I attribute it mostly to content. That's where Nintendo comes in.
I would best describe this rendition of Mario as New Super Mario Bros meets Temple Run. Miyamoto focused on the fact that this game can be played with one hand, because Mario automatically runs and side scrolls for you. So this isn't a true port of Super Mario to the iPhone but it is a good start. The relationship with Nintendo has been established, and we're starting to see our favorite characters on our primary devices. Miyamoto stated that Super Mario Run will be released at a fixed price, meaning no micro transactions (at least initially) and will be available in time for Holiday 2016. I have to imagine there will be dedicated download cards available in stores this holiday specifically for Super Mario Run. Unfortunately, I don't think unwrapping one of those will be as satisfying as unwrapping Super Mario 64 was during the Christmas of '96.
With Nintendo beginning to develop content for platforms other than the ones they create, there has been some concern over Nintendo's focus on hardware. The 3DS has been a large success, but the Wii U has been a massive disappointment, and the rumors of the new NX console are currently underwhelming. More noise is being made about Nintendo shifting to a software only business model, similar to what Sega did in the early '00s. The only difference being that Sega was (arguably) ahead of it's time, causing Dreamcast sales to struggle, while Nintendo appears to be living in the past, still failing to deliver a full HD gaming experience. Don't get me wrong, I was a HUGE fan of the Wii when it was released. It was insanely innovative at a time when the industry needed it. The real selling point of the entire Wii era, though, was the software content. The game developers, Nintendo included, developed unique and immersive experiences that drew attention away from the graphical capabilities and third-party support. Even though it's only been decade since then, the gaming landscape is vastly different. With VR quickly becoming mainstream, and pocket-sized devices delivering Pixar level graphic performance, Nintendo is struggling to find it's place. The shining star for Nintendo has always been it's first party titles. It may not be a bad idea for them to focus all of it's efforts there, as opposed to trying to compete in a fight they weren't equipped to win.
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I literally cheered aloud when Jeff Williams announced that Pokèmon Go was coming to the Apple Watch. In the past few weeks, I've found myself opening the app less and less. Part of that has to do with where I live. I'm in a suburb of Cleveland, so PokèStops and Pokèmon are somewhat scarce. The other half is that I'd rather not walk around holding my phone with the app open. The Pokèmon Go Plus accessory was one that I was looking forward to because I had hopes that it would keep me playing the game, even when not actively engaged in the app. I wasn't crazy about the idea of having another wearable when I already had my Apple Watch, which is more than capable of doing everything Pokèmon Go requires, but I was still planning on picking it up because when I run, I'd rather have my Activity app open to get credit for the workout than to get credit towards hatching an egg.
Luckily, Niantic and Apple (somehow) heard my request and delivered on everything. You can start a new walk or run from the Pokèmon Go watch app, get Activity credit, and it will alert you of PokèStops, which you can hit directly from the watch, and nearby Pokèmon, which you will have to use your phone to catch.
This watch app will keep my phone battery from dying so quickly, and it will keep me catching Pokèmon for at least a little longer. Niantic stated that it should be available before the end of the year.
Apple Watch Series 2
I know I've stated this here before, and it actually came up in conversation the other day, but my Apple Watch is uncontestedly my most used piece of tech. It is also my favorite.
I love being connected; almost to a fault. My Apple Watch keeps me connected in so many different ways. Yes, getting my notifications on my wrist is the number one way I use my Apple Watch, but there are definitely others. There are a handful of apps I use regularly from my Watch, some exclusively on my Watch. One of my only complaints with the first Apple Watch is the performance. Opening and switching between apps takes far too long. I'm the
idiot guy who stands there staring at the loading icon on his watch instead of reaching into his pocket for his phone which loads much quicker. Fortunately, the introduction of watchOS 3 greatly improves this. App switching is almost instant, and opening an app for the first time takes the wait time from what feels like days to seconds. Apple has acknowledged that the first Apple Watch, even with watchOS 3, is underpowered. Their answer is Apple Watch Series 2...and Series 1.
Let's get the specs out of the way. Apple Watch Series 2 is rocking...
- Dual-core S2 Processor
- 2x brighter display (1000 nits)
- Built-In GPS
- Water and Sweat Resistance (up to 50m)
The form factor is exactly the same (actually slightly thicker and heavier) and the bands are even the same as its predecessor. Speaking of, the Apple Watch released in April of 2015 has been rebranded as the "Apple Watch Series 1". As a part of this rebranding, and Apple acknowledging the performance issues on the watch, the Apple Watch Series 1 has received an upgraded S1P Dual-core Processor, giving it similar performance as the Series 2 models.
Looking at the specs sheet, this Series 2 watch doesn't appear to be that drastically different than what we already had. And that's true. Depending on how you use your watch, however, these upgrades could be massive. Personally, I do a lot of running (not nearly as much as I should be) and the Built-In GPS is a big upgrade for me. I currently have a small back strap I put my phone in to run, and use my Apple Watch as the controls for both music and GPS. Now, I can leave my phone at home, and my runs will be a little more comfortable without my phone strapped to me. I'm sure you're thinking, "but what about music?" In case you weren't aware, you can actually sync songs directly to your watch. I'm not sure why this feature isn't talked about more, but you can store up to 2gb of songs via a playlist to local storage on the watch. Apple even provides a helpful support article on how to do so. This is definitely part of Apple's strategy with the watch moving forward, as displayed in this quote from the website:
Wirelessly listen to music right from your watch. Our new AirPods make the perfect accessory, automatically pairing with your watch so you can go on a run without your iPhone. And with all-day battery life, they’ll keep going as long as you do.
This is talking about the relationship the Apple Watch will have with the AirPods (which we'll get to later), but it's part of the ecosystem they're trying to build; keywords, without your iPhone. The Apple Watch is becoming, and will be, a major stand-alone player in the Apple world.
The same story can be said about the water resistance feature on the Apple Watch Series 2. It really depends on the type of person you are on if you will truly take advantage of it or not. Apple spent a lot of time talking about swimming with the Apple Watch and being able to track those workouts. That's all well and good, but I personally don't exercise this way. I'd love to, it's just not accessible to me. The way I envision taking advantage of the water and sweat resistance is, believe it or not, kayaking. Last summer I started kayaking with my brother and my fiancé. It's a great workout, and an excellent way to experience the outdoors. Now, when I'm paddling down stream, I can track the workout, and do everything I would normally do on my phone. While my phone is sitting in a waterproof bag, I can get my notifications, take a phone call, or respond to a text message, thanks to the Scribble feature in watchOS 3.
I'm glad Apple waited at least 18 months to announce updates to the Apple Watch. I'm also glad the updates were mostly minor and directed towards a specific audience. For a watch, I believe they are going to have a hard time establishing a frequent upgrade cycle. The Apple Watch Series 2 feels more like an official release, with the original Apple Watch having been more of a beta. They established their footprint, they learned how people were using it, and delivered the features they were missing. Oh, and they made a ceramic Watch Edition, if you have $1300 to spare.
The launch of the iPhone 7 was plagued by rumors and leaks. Unfortunately, each spec and feature of both the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus were already known prior to the announcement. It was more of a confirmation than an announcement.
Apple didn't have much to say about the iPhone 7 proper, focusing all of it's attention on the iPhone 7 Plus. Based on the number of pre-order stock still available for the iPhone 7, I think it's safe to say that no one was really bothered by this. For the most part, though, all features available in the iPhone 7 Plus are available in the iPhone 7, aside from the dual-camera system.
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are sporting a 5.5-inch and 4.7-inch Retina display, respectively, that has a wider color gamut than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Still the same LCD display, though. I imagine we'll finally see Apple move to an OLED next year with the iPhone 7S. I haven't seen one of these in person yet, but the reports are that even though it's still an LCD, the wide color gamut makes it feel like an OLED. We'll be sure to touch on that in our full review, which unfortunately is going to be a little delayed thanks to the poor Apple Upgrade Program reservation experience.
Let's do a quick rundown of the other upgrades in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, starting with the new A10 Fusion Chip. Apple has stated that this is a Quad-core chip, but it really acts more like two Dual-core's. I came across this tweet last night, comparing the specs of a 2011 Skylake Intel i7 processor to the A10 in the iPhone 7.
Intel Core i7-6770HQ (Skylake 4 core, 2.6 - 3.5 Ghz, 45w TDP) vs. iPhone 7 in GeekBench 4 -- 4226 vs 3233 pic.twitter.com/BuVoqFVmAc— Jeff Atwood (@codinghorror) September 10, 2016
It is incredible how close these two are. That Skylake chip was top of the line just a few years ago, and now it's (basically) inside of our phones. Crazy how fast technology moves these days.
A couple of the other smaller upgrades include water and dust resistance, as well as an improved battery giving an additional 1-2 hours of talk time over the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Increased battery life is always a welcome addition, and I'm personally glad to see water resistance finally come to the iPhone. Not that I'm going to be jumping into pools with my phone in my pocket, but it gives me peace of mind. It also means I could have been using my phone as I was standing in the pouring rain at Wrigley Field a couple weeks for the Pearl Jam show.
One addition to the iPhone 7 I forgot to mention is the new Jet Black color option. This new color looks a lot like the color of the Mac Pro. It is a deep black with a gloss finish, that really makes it pop. If you decide to go with the Jet Black model, though, you're going to have to be pretty careful with it. Apple has a footnote on their iPhone 7 page that is basically a disclaimer for how easily this finish can pick up micro abrasions.
The high-gloss finish of the jet black iPhone 7 is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process. Its surface is equally as hard as other anodized Apple products; however, its high shine may show fine micro-abrasions with use. If you are concerned about this, we suggest you use one of the many cases available to protect your iPhone.
If you're okay with this, and you haven't already gotten your pre-order in, shipping dates for this model are pushed back to mid-late November already.
Alright, alright...yes, Apple removed the headphone jack. This has pretty much split the market into two categories, as Apple tends to do. We have those who love it, and those who hate it. Personally, I approve of the decision, and here's why.
Apple is always forward thinking. When they make a decision, it is almost always coupled with a strategy that reaches multiple years out. For instance, when they decided not to add a USB port to the iPad at launch, but then replaced MobileMe with iCloud some short time after. Sure, the market may not have been ready, but they kickstarted it in the right direction.
I will admit, I am less affected by the decision to remove the headphone jack because my primary set of headphones are wireless. Even so, Apple is including a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in the box with every iPhone 7, so you can continue to use your existing headphones.
I believe the decision to remove the headphone jack is coupled with another coming in either the iPhone 7S or the iPhone 8. The only somewhat legitimate argument I've heard to Apple removing the headphone jack is now the inability to charge your phone and listen to music at the same time (without a $40 adapter). A major feature that the competition has, that Apple has been holding out on, is wireless charging. Apple already has this technology in the Apple Watch, albeit a proprietary spec and not Qi. My HTC 8X Windows Phone had this in 2008, and yet Apple is still waiting. I guess they never truly had a compelling reason to add it, until now. They have a problem that needs solved, and now they can slap some innovation and a price tag on it. Excellent business strategy, but frustrating as an end user.
The analog audio jack is an antiquated technology, and it is time for us to move beyond it. Someone has to be the first, and, in my opinion, Apple is the perfect company to hit this change head on (even though Motorola already ditched it months ago). Is Lightning the correct input to move to? Probably not. Something like USB C would make more sense, given it's universality. We all know that will never happen, though. Be prepared for a lot of adapters between Lightning, USB C, and analog headphones.
So, all of this talk leads us into our next topic...AirPods.
Apple Design is usually striking at first glance. The design of the AirPods had to grow on me a bit, though.
The EarPods are some of the most comfortable earbuds I've ever used, if not the most comfortable. When I heard that Apple was working on a wireless version, I was excited. My current primary headphones are the PowerBeats2 Wireless. They sound great, they fit my ears well, and they stay on when running/working out. The only slight dislike I have is the cable that attaches the two ear pieces together. These new AirPods are completely wireless, giving you just the two in-ear monitors, and that's it. Apple has built a brand new wireless chip to power these, and initial reports are that it's excellent. To pair, all you have to do is hold them near your iPhone or Apple Watch, and it'll prompt you; no more fiddling with Settings menus. My biggest concern with the AirPods is their ability to stay in the ear during a workout. During the stage tests following the announcements, I did see some Twitter videos of people jumping up and down and flailing about, and the AirPods didn't budge a bit. So I'm hopeful, but I'm sure sweat will play a factor.
The AirPods come with a charging case, that holds a 24-hour charge. What this means is, you charge the case, rather than the AirPods directly. When you dock the AirPods in the case, they will begin charging. This is similar to what the Samsung Gear IconX's do, but the case for those, I believe, only holds a charge that is about half that, and the ear piece's only hold a charge for 1-3 hours, while Apple is quoting 5 hours for the AirPod's. These things charge quickly too. 15 minutes of charging will net you 3 hours of listening time. Also surprisingly, the AirPod's will retail for $159. The Samsung Gear IconX's retail for $199. The gap in price is accounted for on the IconX's by their 4gb of onboard storage, allowing you to add music directly onto the headphones, but I'm not sure how useful this is. (Be on the lookout for Dan's review, coming soon.)
All in all, design aside, I am strongly considering replacing my PowerBeats2 with the AirPods. The battery life is a strong selling point, and the ease of use pairing to my Apple Watch to go out for a run is intriguing.
Also, if you haven't seen this new video ad from Apple, you should check it out. It's one of the best marketing videos I've seen.
Will you guys be picking up an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus? Apple Watch Series 2? What about the AirPods? How do you feel about the removal of the headphone jack? Sound off in the comments below!