Impressions on the Apple 9/9 event — a numbered list

Tech Life

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Yesterday Apple delivered a great, well scripted, well presented event and introduced a lot of new things. I’ll certainly expand on some of the following notes in the next days, but I wanted to share a general, quick overview in form of a list of ‘thinking aloud’ bits. The numbering only serves as a reference in case you want to give me feedback on specific observations.

  1. I wasn’t very interested in the Apple Watch-related news, because at the moment the Apple Watch is the Apple product I’m least interested in, but the Hermès combination of straps and watch faces looked gorgeous and luxurious. And the AirStrip app for doctors truly showcases the potential of the Watch and the platform. Really cool stuff.
  2. The iPad Pro has truly got me excited. While I dislike phones with too huge a screen, once we move to tablets and computers, I really like big screens because I just work better with more screen real estate. I’m still very satisfied with my iPad 3 and so far I’ve never felt the urge to update to a newer iPad. But now I know that, when the time comes to update, my next iPad is definitely going to be the iPad Pro.
  3. The Apple Pencil is an amazing accessory. All the talk and sarcasm about Apple making ‘a stylus’ is missing the point. The Pencil is so much more than a simple stylus, and it’s also a very specific accessory for sketching and drawing. I don’t think it can be used in substitution of a finger to generally interact with the user interface like other styluses that have big, soft tips. As for the Pencil’s specific tasks — sketching, drawing, writing — from what I’ve seen in the videos and read in the various ‘hands-on’ articles on different tech sites, the Pencil has a ‘real pencil’ feel when in use. I truly can’t wait to test it.
  4. Seeing people from Microsoft demoing software on stage at an Apple event made me smile, for historical reasons. When the guy said “A beautiful Microsoft Word document” I had to laugh, though.
  5. I enjoyed the Adobe demo. The Adobe Comp CC and Photoshop Fix apps look like great additions for a device like the iPad Pro and I really liked the workflow as demoed by Eric Snowden.
  6. Speaking of the Adobe demo, I couldn’t believe the fuss that was being raised on Twitter and elsewhere for the bit about making the image of the female model ‘smile more’. Every photo of every male or female model that goes on a magazine cover gets retouched, so all the talk about sexism felt a bit exaggerated to me. I once witnessed how heavily a model’s photo was retouched for the cover of a fitness-oriented magazine — the graphic department changed the skin tones, altered the curve of the breasts to make them appear slightly smaller, changed the model’s eyes colour and whitened her teeth… In a nutshell, the ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos were so strikingly different it didn’t even look like the same person. I was told more than once that this practice is rather common, and it’s not limited to photos of female models either. Slightly altering the model’s lips in the Adobe demo was, in my opinion, just a quick way to showcase how powerful Photoshop Fix can be.
  7. Seeing the Apple Pencil in action, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Newton’s handwriting recognition. With this tool and this iPad, it would really be at home. (Sigh)
  8. The Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro, however, didn’t impress me much. Frankly, the one aspect that did impress me is the price. Now, I know that Apple has never really made cheap accessories, but while I feel that $99 for the Apple Pencil is somewhat justified given the technology packed inside that small device, $169 for the Smart Keyboard feels too expensive. I believe one could spend less by purchasing a decent cover and an Apple Wireless Keyboard, and end up maybe with a slightly less integrated setup, but a better keyboard. When the time comes for me to update to an iPad Pro, I’ll certainly get the Pencil, but for writing I know I’ll keep using my Apple Wireless Keyboard and the Incase Origami Workstation, whose design is efficiently device-agnostic. (If it can sustain a 652-gram iPad 3 in portrait orientation, I’m sure it can work with a 713-gram iPad Pro in landscape orientation.)
  9. Everything about this new Apple TV feels right. And for the first time, Apple TV feels like a compelling device to have. More useful, more versatile, more interactive. John Gruber, unsurprisingly, nails it: On first impression, it is everything I wanted to see. It sounds like a small talented team got to build the Apple TV they wanted to see and use themselves. There is a clarity and vision to the entirety of its design. I think it exemplifies the best of Apple. And: I think Apple TV might be the most disruptive product from Apple since the iPhone. Not the most lucrative, necessarily, but the most disruptive — in the sense of defining how all TVs will work in a few years.
  10. One thing to note about how the TV experience will be transformed, about the future of TV, etc. — That we’re entering a new era of people potentially spending hours and hours sitting in front of their TVs. And it’s going to be, you know, a bit like the old days…
  11. The new iPhone 6S (which sounds like “iPhone success” when you say it out loud) and 6S Plus have the same exterior design of the 6 and 6 Plus. And when I see those lines in the back of the phones, visually separating the top edge, the centre, and the bottom edge of the chassis, I’m reminded of how awful they look. I know the change of material in those parts of the phone was necessary for the antennae, etc., but I still believe Apple could have made them more visually subtle, blending more with the aluminium finish. Also: that camera bump.
  12. 3D Touch: it’s of course a great feature, and the tasks it carries out, the way it integrates with iOS 9, is all really smart. On Twitter I said that 3D Touch is a sort of right-click for Multitouch, as it usually invokes contextual features and menus. I admit I wasn’t convinced at first, thinking that, interaction-wise, what you can do with 3D Touch could be equally achieved by long-presses. But it’s a short-sighted observation, first because in iOS there are already long-press gestures in place, and adding more on top of them would be confusing and generally a terrible idea. Secondly, as it has been pointed out to me on App.Net, 3D Touch and the Taptic Engine are a great opportunity to refine and extend accessibility features on iOS.
  13. On the other hand, 3D Touch is a hardware feature that makes possible a lot of new gestures, interactions and functionality in the system software, and it’s currently only available on the new iPhones. In this regard, all previous iPhones and other iOS devices are made obsolete. I understand not offering certain software features on previous-generation devices that nonetheless support iOS 9; older hardware has its limits, and it may not perform optimally, or may even lack the necessary components to provide the functionality required by the newer software. But what’s made possible by 3D Touch is really a lot, and it’s really a big step forward in the user interface. An iPhone 6S and an iPhone 5S can both run iOS 9, but the experience on the 6S will feel quite different thanks to the hardware advantage of having (among other things) 3D Touch. Apple has truly found a way to urge people with older iPhones to upgrade. Even owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus: a couple of friends of mine have already told me after yesterday’s event that they’re thinking about getting a 6S and 6S Plus, respectively.
  14. Speaking of upgrading, it’s indeed a pity that the iPhone 5S will be the last of the iPhones with a 4-inch display. Some were hoping that Apple could offer a new iPhone for those people — and there are a lot — who still prefer smaller phones. Having tried iPhones of all sizes, I must say that the iPhone 5/5S/5C is the line that feels the best in my hand, and it’s still my favourite iPhone design together with the iPhone 4/4S. The 4.7 inches of the iPhone 6/6S are manageable, but not without a period of adjustment and training (for me, at least). The 5.5 inches of the 6 Plus/6S Plus are utterly awkward for my hands. I couldn’t own such a phone, I’d be constantly afraid of dropping it.
  15. The new camera technology in the iPhone 6S/6S Plus blew me away. The photos Schiller showed the audience yesterday were gorgeous, especially the one of the girl on the ferry, where you could clearly see the iPhone’s camera performance in a situation where natural and artificial light mix in a difficult way. Very impressed. If I could afford it, I’d get an iPhone 6S for the camera alone.
  16. On the other hand, Live Photos looks like a bit of a gimmicky feature to me. It’s cool, mind you, but I have the feeling it’s going to get old very soon, despite Schiller’s excitement about it.
  17. In recent times, Apple has ‘doubled down’ on Siri, making the virtual assistant more responsive and capable. The interactions when using the Apple Watch and now the new Apple TV are fun and well thought out, but I don’t know how much or how often I’d personally use Siri. It’s certainly a matter of habits and lifestyle, but for the majority of the tasks I could carry out by invoking Siri, I’m usually faster at carrying them out by myself, manually. I speak three languages, so I’ve been trying to interact with Siri in English, Italian, and Spanish; and despite the progress, interactions with Siri still feel too much of a hit-or-miss affair for me. Most of the time I’m too impatient to give Siri a second chance — I just do the task myself.
  18. The updated iCloud storage options and pricing are sweet. With the previous offering, you got 20GB for $0.99/month, 200GB for $3.99/month, 500GB for $9.99/month, and 1TB for $19.99/month. Now you get 50GB for $0.99/month, 200GB for $2.99/month, and 1TB for $9.99/month. I think $0.99/month for 50GB is just perfect for my needs, but the new prices are overall much more compelling than before.
  19. My first reaction at the end of the keynote: Apple doomed? LOL.

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