Looped in

Tech Life

Let’s start from the end. To those tech writers ‘bored’ and ‘disappointed’ by the event: what is wrong with you? What did you expect from a one-hour minor event? (‘Minor’ due to the venue Apple chose, its own Town Hall). I’m with Gruber on this: That the event was held in Town Hall and not a larger venue was a signal that Apple wasn’t going to unveil anything spectacular. It’s not reasonable to expect the spectacular from every single event.

Were you bored? Take your grudge to the rumour industry. In recent years, major rumour sites have reached an impressive level of accuracy, and it’s practically impossible to get to the date of a scheduled Apple event being completely spoiler-free. This saddens me. I understand that speculation and rumours are important to keep the tech news landscape interesting, but I sorely miss the days when you had little to no idea about what Apple would introduce; or, if you had, you didn’t know anything about the definitive shape of a product. (I fondly remember Jobs introducing the iPhone and the MacBook Air, for example).

But sometimes I’m happy when the rumour industry gets certain details wrong. According to recent rumours, for instance, the iPhone SE was supposed to share the same curved edges of the iPhones 6(s) and 6(s) Plus, and the same hardware buttons’ placement. I was relieved to see that Apple chose a more conservative approach, retaining both the design and button placement of the iPhone 5s.

A friend messaged me after the event, asking So, what did Apple mean with that “Let’s loop you in” tag line? Not that I typically give much thought to these event tag lines, but I chose to read it this way: what’s been announced and introduced on 21 March is meant to entice people who have been sort of kept out of a loop — i.e., people who still prefer a smaller iPhone than the 6 line, and people who loved the idea of an iPad Pro with that gorgeous Apple Pencil, but didn’t want a device that big. Not to mention people who may have been interested in an Apple Watch, but still felt $349 to be a steep entry price (during the event, Cook announced that now the most affordable Apple Watch — the 38mm Sport edition — will start at $299).

The iPhone SE

And yes, I was one of those people; and yes, what Apple did with the iPhone SE certainly makes me feel ‘looped in’. It’s as if a feature wishlist for my next iPhone materialised before my eyes. After handling the 6(s) and 6(s) Plus, while appreciating certain features (speed, display, camera performance, 3D Touch), I found myself disliking both the size and design — those ugly lines at the top and bottom of the phone’s back, the camera bump, and the ‘flattened soap bar’ shape that almost made me drop an iPhone 6s at the local Apple Store. I really wanted the power of an iPhone 6s in the body of a 5s, and that’s exactly what the iPhone SE delivers.

One of the things I tweeted after the event is that the iPhone SE feels like the iPod Classic. What I mean is that, just like the iPod Classic, the iPhone SE appears ready to attain a similarly iconic status. The iPod Classic is the iPod concept at its most quintessential. And so, I think, will be the iPhone SE. It’s the most well-balanced iPhone, design-wise, and I strongly disagree with those who find its design ‘old’: visually, it has a timelessness that the bigger 6(s) and 6(s) Plus definitely lack. From a usability standpoint it handles unquestionably better. It feels great in the hand, the grip is firmer than its bigger siblings’, it can be used without a case and it doesn’t feel like it’s ready to slip away from your hands when you use it one-handed or when you’re taking photos.

In short — yes, my next phone will be the iPhone SE. In his article, Biggie Smalls, Nick Heer observes:

I’ve always been a fan of the 5S’ form factor, too — to my eyes and hands, it’s the prettiest and most comfortable iPhone ever. But the drawbacks of an SE are not insignificant, compared to a 6S: its display panel isn’t as good, the cover glass isn’t as durable, the Touch ID sensor is the much slower first-generation version, it doesn’t have 3D Touch, and it isn’t available in a 128 GB storage configuration. These are all deal-breakers for me, though they may not be for you.

All those are certainly not deal-breakers for me, nor for those people who come from an older iPhone model. I currently have a 32 GB iPhone 5, so the SE’s display panel is likely to be better; the cover glass is probably the same, which is fine by me; it might have a first-generation Touch ID sensor, but given that my iPhone doesn’t have one, it’s still a great improvement; the lack of 3D Touch is a non-issue for the way I use my iPhone; and as for storage, while I strongly believe Apple should get rid of the 16 GB capacity once and for all, I must say that 32 GB can be enough (I currently have about 12 GB free in my iPhone 5), and a 64 GB iPhone SE will be more than enough for a lot of people. In my opinion, Apple has chosen all the right trade-offs in engineering the iPhone SE.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro

What about the new smaller iPad Pro? When rumours started circulating that what was first believed to be the new iPad Air 3 would actually be a second, smaller model in the iPad Pro line, I didn’t understand the move. What would make it a ‘Pro’ iPad? Just the Apple Pencil support? And when it’s time to upgrade the iPad Air 2, how is Apple going to differentiate the two 9.7-inch iPads? Things got clearer for me at the end of the iPad Pro introduction, when this slide came up:

The new iPad line

It makes more sense when you put this lineup in context with other Apple product lines. Compare this with the current MacBook line: the iPad mini and iPad Air 2 are like the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air, while the 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are like the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro. Maybe the feature gap isn’t exactly the same for now, but the new grouping in the iPad family makes more sense to me now. Two consumer iPads on the left, two prosumer iPads on the right.

As for the differences between the Air 2 and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, there’s definitely more than meets the eye. Just look at this other slide, recapping what the new iPad offers:

iPad Pro features

The smaller iPad Pro is an absurdly compelling device. It has basically everything the 12.9-inch model has (except the size), and more, though I think the bigger iPad will get the better True Tone display and the better cameras at the next iteration. It will definitely meet the needs of all those who want a powerful iPad with unmatched drawing abilities but feel the 12.9-inch model to be a little too much to handle. I have a third-generation 32 GB iPad, and seeing how a 32 GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro today costs as much as my iPad cost me in 2012 while packing an incredible amount of technical innovation under the bonnet, upgrading to this new iPad should be a no-brainer, and it will be for a lot of people. I guess the iPad Air 2 will remain a viable option if, and only if, you’re really on a budget. As for me, I still aim to save enough money to get the 12.9-inch model — contrary to my iPhone size preferences, when it comes to… non-pocketable devices, I prefer bigger screens.

The only design detail that perplexed me is probably the same that perplexed you — the protruding rear camera. Craig Grannell writes:

In terms of specifications, it seems to match the camera in the iPhone 6s, but that also means — just like on the iPhone — it is not flush with the case. When used flat on a table, this means the new iPad will wobble — not great if you’re drawing with Apple Pencil or even playing games. And how strong is that lip around the camera? What potential is there for damage? Will users essentially be forced into buying a case, thereby adding heft to the iPad and making its ‘thinness’ largely irrelevant?

I share his same concerns, though Matthew Panzarino has posted a brief video showing that the iPad does not wobble during use. Something that left me just as perplexed. It should wobble, but perhaps it’s a matter of size: the camera protrusion can be much less noticeable when counteracted by the wider surface and distributed weight of a 9.7-inch iPad, as opposed to the smaller surface of an iPhone. I’m just guessing here; I’d really like to try the new iPad in person.

There are sadder things

During his iPad presentation, Phil Schiller (senior VP of marketing), fired this torpedo (emphasis mine):

There’s a second group of people that we’d love to reach with this iPad Pro: Windows users. You may not know this, but the majority of people who come to an iPad Pro are coming from a Windows PC.

Windows PCs were originally conceived of before there was an Internet, before there was social media, before there was app stores, and this is an amazing statistic: There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old. This is really… sad. It really is. These people could really benefit from an iPad Pro.

When they see the features and performance and capabilities of a product like the iPad Pro, designed for the modern digital lifestyle, many of them will find it is the ultimate PC replacement.

While he has a point, judging from many people’s reactions on Twitter and elsewhere, the part of his quote I’ve emphasised above did strike a discordant note. Some said that this is a bit rich coming from a company still selling a 13-inch MacBook Pro containing 4-year-old technology, and whose current Pro laptops could really benefit from an update. I think that Schiller’s comment wasn’t meant to come across as harsh as it sounded. I took it to simply mean that many PC users with old computers are really missing out and should consider an iPad Pro to jump on the Post-PC era bandwagon. But yes, the delivery probably turned out to be more unfortunate than intended.

I’ll just close with a quip — There are sadder things than five-year-old PCs: the current state of the Mac App Store, to name one.

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