Sure, Apple's products are overhyped. But they satisfy customers, and they get better every year.
Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The fantasy TV series chronicled the adventures of a teenage girl with superpowers, and her friends, as they fought vampires and other supernatural menaces.
Every year, the world very nearly came to an end, but total destruction was averted at the last minute by Buffy and her plucky pals. It got to be a running joke on the show. When Buffy was finally killed (spoiler alert: she got better), the epitaph on her tombstone said, "She saved the world. A lot."
Apple is like that. Twice a year, Apple holds its big product announcement events. And every one of those announcements is revolutionary, world-changing, your-life-will-never-be-the-same.
I've been following Apple and using their products for ten years, since the iPhone introduction. I have a Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and I had a pair of AirPods until I lost the darn things in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. I'm still a loyal Apple user.
But am I happy? Enthusiastic? I use Apple products every day; can anybody be enthusiastic about something they use with that degree of frequency? Like any fan of anything (sports teams, Star Wars), I spend a lot of my time complaining.
And so, as always, I tuned in to the live stream of Apple's latest big announcement on Tuesday with a jaded eye. Apple introduced new Apple watches, an Apple TV and iPhones. Here are the highlights of what I found -- the good, the bad and the indifferent -- illustrated with screen captures of the video stream, as viewed on my trusty Mac.
The Apple Watch Series 3
Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch is consistently underestimated, but this one looks like it might be the sleeper hit of the season, more important than new iPhones, which got all the glory.
The big difference between the Series 3 Apple Watch and its predecessors is that the Series 3 supports LTE. You can send and receive calls with the built-in speaker or a Bluetooth headset, listen to music, receive messages and send them using Siri dictation, get directions with Maps, and use the Watch as an activity and athletics monitor.
With this release, the Apple Watch finally finds its place in the world. Even though Apple has sold many Watches already, and customer satisfaction is high (I have one myself and like it a lot), it's a nice-to-have device, not a gotta-have device. If you have an iPhone in your pocket, the Watch is an added convenience. But you can already do everything you need to do on that phone so what do you need the Watch for?
With the Apple Watch Series 3, you don't need a phone nearby. The Apple Watch is for people who don't want to carry around a phone, and who aren't addicted to Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. If you just want to be connected occasionally -- in case of emergency, for example -- and you want to do the other things the Watch can do, then it's the device for you.
The Apple Watch finally makes sense as a mass-market device. The Apple Watch has always had legions of skeptics; Series 3 is going to surprise them.
The Series 3 with GPS and cellular starts at $399, while a GPS-only model starts at $329, and the Series 1 gets a discount to $249. The Series 3 will be available for preorder September 15, with availability September 22. Watch OS 4, the new version of the Watch operating system, will be available on all Apple Watches September 19.
Jeff Williams, Apple chief operating officer, demonstrates the Apple Watch.
Williams demonstrates the Watch's phone quality with a call to Apple's Deidre Caldbeck, who takes the call on her Watch while standing on a surfboard. Hilariously, she struggled to perform this multitasking process without falling down. Sadly, she did not fall down, which would have been more hilarious. The audio quality was very good, by the standards of cell phone audio, and Williams noted it was all done with the cell connectivity and microphones available on the Apple Watch. In other words, the Watch is a practical device for making phone calls.
The Apple TV
Apple introduced a 4K version of the Apple TV, also supporting HDR. Nobody cares. The Apple TV consistently lags the Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV and TiVo in capabilities, market share or both.
Midway through the Apple TV part of the presentation, the activity app on my Watch said it was time for me to get up and move around, so I went into the backyard and played with the dog for a minute.
When I came back, they got into the meat of the presentation.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have what you'd expect from a new model of iPhones: New chips, better performance, better display and better cameras. In addition to portrait photo mode, introduced last year, the iPhone's built-in software can optimize lighting contours on the face when you compose a shot. And you can change the lighting in the Photos app later too.
Phil Schiller, Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing (the tiny man on the right), shows off the new portrait lighting feature on the iPhone 8.
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I'm not posting photos of the iPhone 8 models. They look the same as iPhones have looked since the iPhone 6. Same display size -- 4.7 inches for the iPhone 8, and 5.5 inches for the iPhone 8 Plus. Different colors, though.
Schiller highlighted the iPhone's augmented reality capabilities, which the company previewed in the spring. (See Apple Tunes Up Siri & Cloud Services.)
Next page: The iPhone X: The big finish
Schiller showed a couple of games -- which did indeed look impressive, if you are interested in games, which I'm not.
He showed the MLB.com At Bat baseball app, which lets a user look through the phone display at the field to see baseball stats of players. And he showed a star map that lets you overlay information about the sky over the real sky.
Augmented reality will be world-changing -- when it achieves the science-fiction vision where users wear digital eyeglasses and contact lenses and see the augmented reality overlaid on the real world. As long as you have to hold a phone or tablet in front of your face, AR will have limited usefulness. Still, Apple is getting off to a good start with the technology, and by the time AR does become mainstream, Apple will be well positioned with technology experience and an ecosystem of software development partners.
The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus get wireless charging for convenience, using the Qi standard. I have generally found wireless charging to be fussy; it's easy to knock your device out of alignment and suddenly you're not charging anymore. Still, it's a nice alternative to plugging in wires.
Both iPhone 8 models will be available for preorder Friday, and in stores beginning September 22. Pricing starts at $699.
The big finish: The iPhone X, the tenth anniversary iPhone.
On the one hand, the phone is overhyped. The marquee feature is the edge-to-edge OLED display. The display covers the space that used to be occupied by a home button; instead of tapping the home button, you use a gesture to get to the home screen. These are features that competitive phones already have.
On the other hand: The iPhone X looks like a great phone, and an improvement over previous models.
That edge-to-edge display is more screen real estate and less useless bezel, so that's all good.
For me, personally, the size looks ideal. It's a 5.8" diagonal. I've often thought that a tablet the size of a Kindle Paperwhite, with a 6" display, would be ideal for me; the iPhone X is very nearly that.
Another marquee feature for the iPhone X: It unlocks using facial recognition -- called Face ID -- rather than Touch ID with your finger.
The iPhone X is unlocked by the owner of the phone simply looking at it. The phone recognizes the owner's face (which already makes the phone smarter than a cat). Face ID works even when you change your hairstyle, wear a hat, put on or take off glasses, or grow a beard. It works during the day or at night, and adapts as your face changes over time, Craig Federighi, Apple senior vice president of software engineering, said at the introduction. The phone doesn't unlock unless you're looking directly at it with your eyes open.
But Face ID isn't perfect. During the onstage demo, Face ID failed once. Federighi quickly switched to a backup phone and kept on going. The glitch caused Apple's stock to drop, but then it recovered (only to decline again after the conclusion of the product introduction, closing at $160.82, down 0.42%, and declining an additional 0.04% to $160.75 after hours).
Apple's Craig Federighi
Federighi shows the iPhone X home screen with edge-to-edge OLED display.
You thought I was kidding about the poop emoji, didn't you?
Like the iPhone 8, the iPhone X supports AI. You can add a mask to your face using the selfie camera.
And the iPhone X supports "Animoji" -- a combination of AR and emoji. You can talk into the selfie camera, record a video message, and the face of an emoji will play your message back, mimicking your facial expressions. Federighi demonstrated a unicorn, a cat, and -- my favorite -- the poop emoji.
Talking poop: My inner 12-year-old died from joy.
The iPhone X will be priced starting at $999 (expensive!), and will be available for preorder beginning October 27, with availability beginning November 3 (so long to wait!).
Is the iPhone X overhyped? You bet. Is it revolutionary? Maybe not.
But it looks like it's an improved iPhone. And that's typical of Apple's products over the past decade. Apple hasn't had a revolutionary product since the original iPhone ten years ago. But it excels at making products that people like. And it just keeps doing it every year. That's how Apple stays in business, and stays profitable.
And maybe we did see a revolutionary product from Apple this week. Not the iPhone X, which gets all the attention, but the Apple Watch. It's a phone for people who don't want to carry around a phone. That's a product with potential.
As for me: I expect to get an iPhone X. I mean, bigger OLED display and animated poop emoji? How can I say no to that?
— Mitch Wagner Editor, Enterprise Cloud News