The anticipated event of the fall just came to a close; Apple's biggest unveiling since the landmark products of the Mac PC with a mouse, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Not only has Apple entered the wearables consumer electronics (CE) market with the new AppleWatch, due out in early 2015, but they have changed the way that CE devices, and especially wearables, will be evaluated going forward.
Today's announcements came with many expectations around larger phones, sapphire crystal faces, and the expectation of what the rumor mill was calling the iWatch. Financial analysts were ranging in advice from sell while Apple is high before it disappoints, to buy before the next anticipated iPhone refresh pushes prices upwards.
There was talk of components and NFC payments, of a new design to compete with the larger Android smartphones, and the growing global competition in which Apple, once again, would have to separate itself from the pack. Questions mounted throughout the summer, and especially more recently, with the release of new Asian and European OEMs' devices through IFA, as we reported on last week. All the while, we all expected another round of updates today, maybe a first generation attempt at a wearable, and we wondered how Apple would compete in the hardware feature battles, especially in today's tightening marketplace.
On the software side, we all expected interesting things given HomeKit and HealthKit development platforms, and the application suites to integrate a growing IoT user experience. How that would be achieved was left on the table as the likely focus of what we'd be talking about this afternoon.
We expected quite a bit – what we got was more than I think most of us imagined, and that, after all, is the legacy and tenacity of Apple and its core differentiator in the highly competitive CE world. The new iPhone 6 and 6+ have some exciting components such as the Apple A8 chip, a 64-bit, second generation, core processor that provides 25% faster processing power and up to 50% faster graphics. Combining an impressive 1334 x 750 (1 million pixels) on the iPhone 6's 4.7" display, and then 1920 x 1080 (over 2 million pixels) on the iPhone 6+ on its 5.5" display. Both screens are built with ion-strengthened glass, improved polarized photo aligned IPS liquid crystal, all resting on a LED backlighting layer. The visual experience of the iPhone jumped manifold greater than when we were introduced to Retina displays.
The integration of data and graphics processing at these speeds and resolution quality not only provides a seriously new experience for users' daily smartphone interactions, but now it also gives consumers a truly mobile theater for gaming, video, movies and entertainment. As the creators of Vain Glory, a new interactive multi-player game, said during the Apple event, "[...] the intent is to move the hardcore, gaming experience of PCs now to the mobile device world." From the looks of what we saw today, both developers and Apple have broken through the CE doldrums and have delivered a new experience to the CE mobile market. Apple's A8's dedicated M8 motion co-processor, swiping, movement, and an array of sophisticated sensors will be tapped for entertainment and new application development.
Apple also has improved how devices connect and have provided better experiences in the sharing of data and voice messages. The new LTE capabilities built into the iPhone 6 and 6+ push connectivity into a faster realm with a 150 megabit/sec experience, thanks to carrier aggregation and 20 LTE bands that can be seamlessly leveraged during data and voice connections. Furthermore, Apple is introducing a new technology into the iPhone 6 and 6+, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) that can take phone calls from 3G and upgrade the quality to 4G to simultaneously improve voice and data globally. VoLTE will roll out on these new iPhones with 802.11ac which is three times faster than Wi-Fi. Importantly, the new, integrated technology is able to seamlessly use Wi-Fi connections over standard cellular connections when cellular signals are poor and, as you move through locations, your call is shifted between the connectivity options without notice so that the call experience is elevated.
The camera too has been significantly improved in the new iPhone 6 and 6+. The new 8 megapixel (MP) iSight camera with increased aperture and motion stabilization, new sensors ("focus pixels") are all dedicated to improving image capturing whether still shots or video (slow motion or real time), macro zoom or wide panoramic, and across all lighting situations. Apple also provides new tone mapping, noise reduction, stabilization, and improved lenses, placing front and center the recognition that consumers' smartphones are their digital cameras and camcorders today. To handle all of the video and imaging demands of the new camera, Apple dedicated a hardware block on the A8 chip to increase the image processing power so that the user is able to take and keep the best pictures and memories.
This year consumers globally have dealt with data breaches into credit card companies through major retailers globally. Apple has long been working on NFC payments and today we see a true progress toward the smart wallet. The iPhone 6 and 6+ are both hardwired with a dedicated NFC antenna built into the top of each phone. Additional security includes tough ID and secure element storage of payment information through encryption. Further protecting your data, during transactions, a one-time, dynamic security code are transmitted between your bank and the merchant (either hardware (iPhone) to hardware (merchant payment device) or through an app on your iPhone 6 or 6+). In this manner, there is no relaying of your credit card number, name, or other personal information; if your phone is stolen, no information is stored on the phone so there is no need to cancel credit cards, etc. Privacy, security and ease of transactions are made elegant and improved with these new NFC payment features. There has obviously been quite a bit of work with major retailers and vendors in concert with Apple. As a result of having laid this groundwork, the likelihood of NFC truly taking off is finally a reality.
But wait, there's more!
Not only were the iPhone 6 and 6+ announcements significantly improved and beyond industry expectations, especially given the crowded and competitive landscape today, but Apple took down the house with the unveiling of not just a smartwatch, but a new user experience – a new bar was set for wearable, ubiquitous computing.
AppleWatch is not just a smartwatch, it is not just a new CE wearable, it directly addresses the gap that exists between sport watch, smart watch, and wearable IoT, but it does so in a completely new and desperately needed elegant fashion. Form meets function finally. Apple has again presented a device in which the uniqueness of individual users and use cases, of fashion and expression, of communication and interaction come together. This is where Apple went with the new AppleWatch. This device won't be available until Spring 2015, but from what we saw today, Apple's sleek new design with attention to slim and wider wrist sizes especially (versus the bulkiness of existing smartwatch designs that truly don't work on smaller human frames), the AppleWatch is sure to be a fashionable and usable device that will catapult Apple device sales much as the initial iPod, iPhone, and iPad did.
More importantly, the AppleWatch changes the interactive environment for users and their devices. There is a new intimacy that is at the center of the AppleWatch. It reflects what and how people act with and attend to their smartphones today. Apple has again concretized the personalization aspect people want from their daily devices. In Apple fashion, they changed the interface and interaction in unexpected ways through truly innovative designs, views, and screen navigation that is as elegant as historic timepieces but with the depth of sophisticated smart computing and smart life functionality that defines the great technology innovators of our time, companies like Apple.
True, I am floored by this device. The marketplace for smartwatches and smart sport watches is rather meager when it comes to differentiation that actually matters in a true use case scenario. The shrinking of smart devices and the bulking up (quite literally) of watches and sports watches that we can choose from today has been less than inspiring. The smart and sport watches out there are cool, certainly, but inspiring and changing my experience and reference points for how I interact and seamlessly weave technology into personal events and into my social communications? Nope. Today, I saw a crack in the dam that will very likely, once again, change CE technology. IoT and ubiquitous computing are truly closer to reality, and the excitement is palpable.
It will be an exciting new year in 2015. Until then, get in line for the Sept. 12th pre-order dates, and the Sept. 19th ship dates for the new iPhone 6 and 6+ in the US and eight other countries. Apple promises that an additional 106 countries will quickly follow before the end of 2014.