9/9, 6/6+, 10:09, etc.

And different is the one thing about us that will always be the same.

The introductory video was nice, and while I think it isn’t as poignant as the one used to introduce WWDC 2013 (Designed by Apple), I like that final quote. I think it captures Apple’s nature succinctly. I’m sure there are people who’ll read it as a manifesto of being different just for the sake of being different, but the message is more like a simple statement of a company whose culture has always been, We think with our heads, we don’t necessarily follow the pack. And Apple has demonstrated this more than once, so I’ll leave it at that.

The live-streaming

Well, you all saw what happened. It was infuriating. One thinks Apple would know better when it comes to setting up the live-streaming of such an important event; one, because it’s Apple, and two, because it’s not the first live-streaming Apple has provided, and previously things went much more smoothly. At least it started working before the Apple Watch introduction, which was phenomenal.

The iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus

Try as I might to avoid the various reports featuring leaked photos of single components at the beginning, then case parts, then full mockups, and so on, it has been impossible, because rumours and photos popped up practically everywhere, for months. I know it’s very hard for Apple to maintain secrecy once the iPhone designs reach the factories where they’ll be assembled, but this time the rumour industry really did a great job in spoiling the surprise and annoying the hell out of me. Thanks a lot.

So, the new iPhones weren’t that big of a reveal, but that doesn’t mean they’re not beautiful devices and engineering feats. By now it’s like witnessing the unveiling of a new model of a luxury car — you know what to expect from the brand, quality-wise, and you know you won’t be disappointed. This is the ‘boring’ element I feel when a new iPhone is introduced. Better manufacturing details (the glass front that curves around the side to meet seamlessly with the anodised aluminium back, to quote Phil Schiller), better displays (and also bigger), better processors, better cameras… you know the drill. But to avoid being ‘bored’ by all this, one has to slow down, and focus on the various new features and improvements to really appreciate them.

As you know, the new iPhones are both bigger than previous generations’ models — the iPhone 6 is 4.7″, the iPhone 6 Plus is 5.5″. Apple seems to have compensated for the increased size by making both models thinner than the iPhone 5s. That, combined with the rounded edges, should make them easier to handle. That said, they’re both big phones.

IPhone sizes

From left to right: iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPhone 5/5s/5c

This is a difficult upgrade situation for me, at least theoretically, and I guess other people may feel the same. At the moment, I’m still on an iPhone 4, which is even smaller than the 4-inch iPhone 5/5s/5c. I’ve held the iPhone 5/5s/5c and they already felt big in my hand, but after a while their size became more tolerable, probably thanks to the fact that Apple maintained the same width as the iPhone 4/4S. Reaching the top of the screen when trying the phone with one hand was uncomfortable. And this was with the iPhone 5/5s/5c. Now, the iPhone 6 is taller and wider. I really look forward to trying one in person (these new iPhones with such new sizes, in my opinion, really have to be tried out a bit before purchase) — for now, judging from the photos on Apple’s Compare models page, even the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is bound to be a difficult size for my hands to handle. The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus is really out of the question.

I understand why Apple needed to introduce bigger phones, but it’s really a pity that people with small hands and/or people who simply don’t want a big phone in their pocket, can’t upgrade to a new iPhone with the technology of the iPhone 6 but in a smaller footprint. I mean, sure, I could get an iPhone 5s[1], but one of the technologies I was most excited about when the 5s was top of the line was TouchID. With the new Apple payment system (Apple Pay), this technology can really shine, but since Apple Pay works in combination with a physical Secure Element that’s only found in the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, TouchID on the 5s is basically relegated to the role of a cool, more secure way to unlock your iPhone and little else. So, for me, upgrading to a new iPhone now is a path littered with compromises.

Note that in my case I also have to take into account the price of an unlocked iPhone, since I’m too satisfied with my current provider to switch to the 2-year contract solution therefore paying less for the handset. And prices (and storage offers) are another… interesting thing:

8 GB 16 GB 32 GB 64 GB 128 GB
iPhone 6 €699 €799 €899
iPhone 6 Plus €799 €899 €999
iPhone 5s €599 €649
iPhone 5c €399

 

Some considerations:

  • I don’t get why not offer 32 GB as the minimum storage on the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. For just €100 more you get four times the storage.
  • The prices of the current iPhone 5s offering are ridiculous compared to the iPhone 6 offering. If one has €599 to invest on a new iPhone, with just €100 more one can go from a 16 GB iPhone 5s to a 16 GB iPhone 6. This makes the €649 32 GB iPhone 5s even a sillier offering. You really have to love the 5s or hate the 6 to be purchasing a 5s. Or you must have a really hard time handling the iPhone 6 to refuse to buy it given these prices.
  • In my opinion, prices would have made more sense if the 16GB iPhone 5s had been priced at €499, and the 32GB iPhone 5s at €599 — leaving things more gradual over the whole range of products.
  • The iPhone 5c at €399 may seem a good deal at first glance, but 8 GB, in this day and age, is a ludicrously small capacity for any device, let alone an iPhone.
  • As I tweeted the other day, here’s a bit of fun trivia: a base 11-inch MacBook Air (128 GB) is now cheaper (€929) than an unlocked 128 GB iPhone 6 Plus (€999), at least where I live.
  • Obviously these price considerations have more weight if you, like me, are considering the purchase of an unlocked iPhone. The 2-year contract option makes things smoother overall with regard to upfront financial impact.

To sum up, yes, I would have liked for Apple to offer a 4-inch iPhone 6 as well.

Interpolation on big-screen phones versus tablets

In preparing this piece, I’ve tried to avoid reading other people’s thoughts as much as possible. Yet I couldn’t help but notice a recurring observation in the debate immediately following the introduction of the new iPhones — the fact that big-screen phones can seriously impact tablet sales, because they offer a healthy screen estate that would make the purchase of a separate tablet redundant. Buying a phone with a big screen would allow people to just invest in one portable device, instead of having to carry around a (smaller) phone and a tablet. And for those with a tight budget, a big phone would make sense as a single device solution.

Yes, a big phone is certainly more comfortable for things like browsing the Web, handling email, reading ebooks and magazines, consulting maps and directions; being able to see and read more information at a time is a good thing, no doubt. Less panning and zooming, etc. Perhaps the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus will slow down the sales of the 7.9-inch iPad mini, and perhaps more people who currently own, say, an iPad mini and a 3.5- or 4-inch iPhone, will just upgrade to an iPhone 6 Plus and get rid of the small tablet.

And yet I don’t think tablets are necessarily ‘doomed’ or have lost their reason to exist. I’m drawing and painting using apps like Paper by 53 or Procreate. I’m playing games like Simogo’s DEVICE6 or Square Enix’s Hitman GO. I’m editing a spreadsheet with Apple’s Numbers. I’m writing an article or a short story with The Soulmen’s Daedalus Touch. Or annotating a PDF with GoodReader. Or improvising a tune in GarageBand or creating a beat with Propellerhead’s Figure. Or making a mix with apps like Traktor DJ. These are all activities that I really can’t picture myself doing on a big iPhone instead of an iPad (especially a 9.7-inch iPad, but also an iPad mini). Some of these activities, in my opinion, are just perfect for a tablet — not a big phone, and not a laptop either. Even moderate photo editing can be more fun on a tablet instead of a big phone or laptop. The UI is simply better on an iPad. The hardware is more balanced for certain activities such as drawing, sketching, mapping, painting (especially when done with a stylus). The user experience is overall better. Let’s consider this before rushing to the conclusion that tablets are already behind the times.

Apple Pay

The brief section about the new payment system was squeezed between two giants, the new iPhones and the Apple Watch, but it’s no less fascinating and innovative. The system is designed to work both for purchases in brick-and-mortar shops and online. For paying in shops, the system relies on the new NFC technology built in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, so the act of paying is basically getting your iPhone out, putting it near the store’s NFC reader, and using TouchID to authorise the purchase. Online payment works similarly, only you obviously don’t need to put the iPhone near any reader. You use TouchID for the purchase. But there’s another key component involved in the Apple Pay system: a so-called ‘Secure Element’. From the Apple Pay page:

Every time you hand over your credit or debit card to pay, your card number and identity are visible. With Apple Pay, instead of using your actual credit and debit card numbers when you add your card, a unique Device Account Number is assigned, encrypted and securely stored in the Secure Element, a dedicated chip in iPhone. These numbers are never stored on Apple servers. And when you make a purchase, the Device Account Number alongside a transaction-specific dynamic security code is used to process your payment. So your actual credit or debit card numbers are never shared with merchants or transmitted with payment.

So, as I briefly mentioned before, even if the iPhone 5s has the TouchID technology, it cannot be used with Apple Pay, not even for online purchases, because it lacks this crucial hardware component. If you really are excited by this innovative payment system, you will have to get an iPhone 6.

One aspect I particularly appreciate of Apple Pay is privacy. As Eddy Cue said on stage, We’re not in the business of collecting your data. As explained on the Apple Pay page, Apple doesn’t save your transaction information. With Apple Pay, your payments are private. Apple doesn’t store the details of your transactions so they can’t be tied back to you. Also worth noting is this bit: Since you never have to show your credit or debit card, you never reveal your name, card number, or security code to the cashier when you pay in a store.

This payment system, once it spreads, is going to be huge. It has all the characteristics to be something that ‘just works’ and to revolutionise the way we make purchases everywhere. Notice how Apple waited to add NFC in its phones until it made sense. Now the company has built around it a very compelling reason for having NFC in a phone, it’s not simply a ‘nice-to-have’ feature without actual uses.

The Apple Watch

The introduction and the Reveal video were astounding and jaw-dropping — almost literally. On stage, Tim Cook was as excited as Steve Jobs was when introducing the iPhone back in 2007. The Apple Watch is a strangely attracting device. It doesn’t scream ‘stylishness’ at first glance, but it definitely has what I call the typical ‘Apple gravitational pull.’ I think that Apple has crafted a very functional device and given it a unique elegance.

There’s a lot to observe and talk about regarding the Apple Watch, and I’m sure that over time and when the watch is available and I can try it in person I’ll have more impressions to share. Here are some initial, scattered observations:

  • The Digital Crown is textbook Apple ingenuity, the kind of design detail that looks so obvious in retrospect, yet no one thought of it before[2]. It’s the concept of the iPod clickwheel applied to a smartwatch. It looks fluid, responsive and intuitive. And like with the iPod, a lot of what you can do with the Digital Crown you already know. For certain settings, it really works like its traditional watch counterpart.
  • Sapphire is the second hardest transparent material after diamond. It’s a great thing, because with a device such as a smartwatch, and especially the Apple Watch considering the ways you interact with it, having a scratch-resistant glass is paramount. In everyday use, it’s easy to accidentally scratch the glass of your wristwatch. I’d say it’s easier than accidentally scratching the glass of a smartphone. No matter how careful you are, sometimes it’s enough to miscalculate a little when going through a doorway and you can scrape the watch against the doorjamb or the wall.
  • I think this quote from Tim Cook may be a way to answer the question many people have raised so far, i.e. “What’s the purpose of the Apple Watch?” — We believe this product will redefine what people expect from its category. Up to now, what have people come to expect from the smartwatch category? Either a somewhat geeky-looking device with a clunky UI, or a device that’s minimal and stylish but with limited functionality. In other words, either a ‘Mr Gadget’ kind of thing, or a fashionable object that puts design over functionality all the way. I believe Apple did a great job in finding a balance between sheer æsthetics and functionality. All tied together by a user interface and a user interaction paradigm that appear to be truly thoughtful and designed specifically for a device you wear on your wrist.
  • I love the way the Apple Watch interacts with the person: it senses that you’re raising your wrist and then activates the display. I was curious to see how Apple would implement notifications on such a device (I made a consideration on notifications and smartwatches a few days ago: in short, notifications need to be subtle), and the solution Apple found doesn’t disappoint. Quoting VP Kevin Lynch, You may have information coming to you. And when you’re notified of things on Apple Watch we’re using the Taptic Engine to give feedback on your wrist. It’s just like somebody tapping you on the wrist very gently. And even if you’re sitting next to someone, they won’t be able to tell that you’re getting notified. […] You can choose what information will come and notify you on your watch. And if you do choose to look at something that’s coming in, you just raise your wrist and the notification will come in. This is subtle and ingenious.
  • Another key point is this sentence from the Apple Watch video narrated by Jonathan Ive: Apps are designed for lightweight interaction. The UI isn’t designed to make the watch replace the smartphone, but it focuses on all the ‘quick tasks’ you normally carry out by pulling out your smartphone for just a few seconds. And the Watch UI is designed to let you do such quick tasks slightly faster and in a more convenient way. The fact that you don’t have to actively ‘unlock’ the Watch every time is in itself a time-saver. To sum up: for simple, quick tasks, you turn to the watch. For complex, longer tasks, you turn to the iPhone.
  • Just look at how Glances are implemented: gestures are simple, effective, easy to remember. You just swipe up from the bottom of the watch face. What you see can be from Apple’s built-in apps or third-party apps, and you can arrange such information the way you like.
  • The UI, again, is optimised for quick interactions: when you receive a message, the message is analysed and you’re given the possibility to quickly choose a reply or dictate one. Or use an animated emoji if you’re so inclined. Actually faster than pulling out the phone.
  • Siri is mute, so interacting with Siri is more discreet than having the Watch respond with a loud, synthetic voice.
  • Digital Touch: an ingenious, fun way to connect/communicate, especially with your significant other and in a private, intimate way. (Jonathan Ive: These are subtle ways to communicate that technology often inhibits rather than enables.) The way you can remotely ‘nudge’ someone who’s also wearing an Apple Watch. Or to quickly communicate using little sketches or by sending your true heartbeat. That’s the kind of touch (pardon the pun) and subtle innovation only Apple seem able to come up with or implement in a meaningful way.
  • As I was following the Apple Watch presentation, I was trying to imagine possible use cases, and while I correctly anticipated its use as a wearable media remote (with the Music app you can control music stored on devices around you: the iPhone, iTunes on the Mac, or the music that’s stored on the Apple Watch itself; Tim Cook mentioning that he uses the Watch to control his AppleTV), I was positively blown away by the Maps demo. At first I thought it was a quirky idea to use Maps on the Watch rather than on the iPhone, but here’s the little stroke of genius: when you calculate the directions to a certain place and start the point-by-point interface, as Kevin Lynch explained, Apple Watch will give you Taptic Feedback on each turn, so you’ll know whether it’s time to turn left or to turn right, and those feelings are different for each direction. You know which way to go without even looking. This is very subtle, very thoughtful, and in certain situations even safer than having to check the phone screen all the time. Lynch mentions other cool use cases, and those connected to travel are what I find most interesting: one-tap airport check-in, hotel check-in (Lynch: Starwood Hotel is creating this great app for Apple Watch that lets you check in to the hotel and you can unlock your hotel room door by waving your watch in front of the door).
  • The Watch display not only senses touch, but also force. I’m really looking forward to a new iPad that can use this same technology so that creative apps can take advantage of pressure recognition when you use the stylus (or your finger of course).
  • I’m already engrossed by this new device. I admit, I’ve always been sceptical about the usefulness of a smartwatch. But then again, I hadn’t seen an interesting device as the Apple Watch. I like what it’s supposed to do out of the box, but what’s really interesting and attractive are all the many uses we haven’t seen yet. The element that has ultimately convinced me to save money to get the Apple Watch is perhaps WatchKit. WatchKit means having apps that extend their functionalities to the Apple Watch, and the result can be an even richer experience. The dependence Apple Watch has on the iPhone may be seen as a weakness, but I think that Apple has figured out a way to make such dependence a strong link and a feature in itself. You can develop on it and for it.
  • The Apple Watch may be seen as a mere accessory to the iPhone, but it’s actually a sort of window on the iPhone — I think we’re seeing what’s bound to become the most useful extension to the smartphone; on the surface, it looks silly to have to carry two devices with you, one dependent on the other in a symbiotic way, but the Apple Watch and the iPhone are going to become almost literally the brawn and brain of our personal digital hub.
  • I’m not an expert on other wearable fitness devices because I’m not really interested in these features, but the fitness-related applications of Apple Watch looks well thought-out and the Activity app has actually piqued my curiosity (perhaps it’s the UI).
  • Battery life is still a mystery. Many people have expressed their concern, and I’ve read mentions that it lasts one day. During the presentation, no one said anything definitive about the battery. The only passing mention is when Cook talks about the (very cool) charging system and says …when you charge it at night or something along those lines. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything. ‘At night,’ in context, may just mean ‘when you’re not wearing the watch’ and not ‘every single night.’ The Apple Watch will be available in ‘early 2015’ — that can mean as early as January or as late as spring. That, in turn, means that Apple has still at least four months to work on that and other details. If you look at every battery-powered Apple device (Mac, iPhone, iPod, iPad), you know that Apple takes the subject of battery life very seriously. So I’m not terribly worried about this matter. I don’t expect the Apple Watch to last a week on a single charge, of course, but even in the worst case scenario that the Watch only lasts one day on a single charge, what’s the issue? Before going to bed, you connect the charger and the Watch charges while you’re not using it.

So, what’s the point of the Apple Watch? Is it an indispensable device, accessory, extension? I would say no, but it looks something nice and fun to have, and a useful addition if you’re minimally interested in tracking your activity or if you prefer to interact with your smartphone in subtler ways. It’s designed in such a way that it can be as unobtrusive as a ‘dumb’ watch if you want. It’s there, you can barely look at it throughout the day, but a quick turn of the wrist and you can check the time; a swipe up and you can check your calendar, appointments, etc.; a quick message or ‘pulse’ to a friend is just a click of a button away. You can customise basically everything, from the outer look of the watch by choosing materials and straps, to the software and the information it presents. You can choose what can send you notifications. You can carry out all sorts of quick tasks without pulling out your iPhone every damn time. And doing much of those quick tasks the way you do them on the Apple Watch actually makes sense, you don’t have the feeling it’s all a gimmicky experience.

What I ultimately find exciting is the level of freedom you’re given to design your very interaction with the device. And of course the many possibilities that opening the Watch environment to third-party developers entails. I predict that next year we’ll see the start of another little revolution with the Apple Watch, a phenomenon that will bear similarities with the iPod boom more than a decade ago.

 


  • 1. The iPhone 5c is definitely old compared to the 6 and 6 Plus, its A6 processor is now two generations old, and the 5c has no motion coprocessor.
  • 2. Reader Martin Steiger writes me (and I thank him for the clarification):
    The digital crown was actually developed in 2003 by Swiss designer Hannes Wettstein for visionary watch developer Pierre Nobs’ V-Tec Alpha watch.

    Other elements of the Apple Watch are not new either, the design goes back to the Ikepod brand and watch – co-founded and designed by Marc Newson who’s now with Apple, the brand itself went bankrupt in 2003 – and Tissot had a smart watch called T-Touch with a touch-sensitive clock face around 15 years ago.

    (Combining already invented single elements to a user-friendly product is of course Apple’s core strength as we all know…)

 

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!