Seen on the Seventh

I can’t say I was too impressed with the opening video of Tim Cook riding to the event with Pharrell Williams and James Corden — whoever that is. It felt a little bit too much like every other “hilarious” CEO video that never quite manages to be funny, or even interesting. But Apple delivered an impressive set of announcements — headlined by a second-generation Apple Watch, new iPhones, and wireless headphones.

I wasn’t able to watch the event live — aside from a handful of moments in 5-10 minute chunks. Instead, I kept a close eye on my Twitter timeline and watched the full event earlier this morning. The following is my impressions of each of the major announcements, in the order they appeared on stage.

Nintendo

There’s been this hope within the Apple community, for the past several years, that Apple would purchase Nintendo and make a big push for gaming on their platforms. But having Shigeru Miyamoto on stage is proof that an acquisition wasn’t necessary. Nintendo is bringing a brand new game to iOS — Super Mario Run — but that’s only the beginning.

It wasn’t discussed on stage, but Nintendo also plans on releasing at least two more games this spring — one based on Fire Emblem and the other on Animal Crossing. If this is a successful endeavor, I expect we’ll see them bringing even more properties to iOS in the future. It’s a little unfortunate that their first game feels a bit like mobile fodder, but even with its simplistic gameplay, I’m sure it’ll be well received.

What I’m excited about, though, is a future where Nintendo is building games for Apple’s platforms. Nintendo has a knack for building some of the most innovative and entertaining games on the market. And paired with Apple’s hardware prowess, we could be in for something really good.

Apple Watch

Apple has announced Apple Watch Series 2 — the second-generation Apple Watch. They’ve made some solid improvements over the previous model, but I’m not convinced it will spur existing Apple Watch owners to upgrade. I don’t currently have any plans to purchase a Series 2, but don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Apple doesn’t need to convince every existing Apple Watch owner to upgrade, they just need to continue iterating and expand the Apple Watch’s appeal. I think the water proofing improvements and GPS will do that. They’re clearly positioning the Watch more as a fitness device — between swimming and being able to map your route while running — and I think that’s the right move.

Apple’s learned very quickly that fitness tracking is the killer app for smartwatches. At least for now. I expect they’ll continue to focus on this aspect of their wearable until third-party developers find that next big killer app. We all know that it’ll come eventually, but I don’t think anybody will be able to pinpoint what it is until it’s already upon us.

Series 2 comes in the familiar aluminum and stainless steel metal casings — just as the original did — but Apple has replaced the incredibly expensive gold model with a slightly less expensive ceramic edition. I have to admit, it’s an absolutely stunning model based on the product shots on Apple’s website. I have no interest in spending over twelve hundred dollars on a smartwatch, but I can appreciate Apple’s interest in exploring new materials.

Building devices out of ceramic may be expensive today. In the future, that might not be the case. But the only way we’ll ever see an improvement in the kinds of materials used in consumer products is if someone actually takes the time to work with them — I’m glad Apple’s still trying to push the industry forward.

Returning to their focus on fitness, Jeff Williams invited Trevor Edwards on stage from Nike to talk about Apple Watch Nike+ — a special edition of the Watch designed for runners. Apple has had successful partnerships with Nike in the past — the Nike+ kit for iPod immediately comes to mind — and I expect this to be no different. The design doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but judging by the current lineup of Nike running shoes, I think Watch Nike+ will become a highly sought-after product.

I think it was a really smart move to keep the existing Apple Watch in the product line. It gives me hope that they’ll continue to support the first model for several years to come and it gives them a much more affordable price point to get people in the door. I have a suspicion that the Apple Watch isn’t going to explode in popularity until they reach a sub-$200 price point. And continuing to sell last years model is a great way to help them inch closer to that pivotal price.

iPhone

It’s becoming harder and harder for Apple to keep the new iPhone under wraps before its unveiling. As with previous years, most of the design details had leaked weeks (or months) before yesterday’s event. But despite the amount of information we already knew about the product, Apple still managed to impress me with the new iPhone.

Apple conveniently broke down the iPhone announcement into ten landmark features and I’ll tackle each of them individually.

Design: They’ve introduced a new finish — jet black — which has a glossy appearance. This gives the illusion, when the display is off, that the entire device is made from a single material. They’ve also introduced another color — black — which looks a lot like space gray albeit in a much darker hue.

Of the two new colors, I prefer the standard black option. Granted, I haven’t seen them in person, but I’m not typically fond of glossy finishes on devices. It is unfortunate that jet black is only available on the two higher-end storage tiers, but I suspect that’s because of the additional engineering work that goes into manufacturing it.

Home Button: Apple has redesigned the home button and, much like the latest trackpads, removed the physical mechanism. The home button is now Force Touch enabled and uses a Taptic Engine to provide feedback when pressed.

This is something that I’ll have to experience for myself before I pass judgement on it. I’ve read mixed reports on Twitter, from members of the press, with some saying it feels exactly like a button and others saying the opposite. I was initially skeptical of the Force Touch Trackpads when they were introduced in the MacBook, and while I haven’t used one on a day-to-day basis, I was very impressed by them when I tried it out in-store.

Water and Dust Resistant: The iPhone 7 is rated as IP67, which means it is capable of surviving immersion up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. That will protect you from accidental spills or drops in a puddle, but I wouldn’t suggest taking it in the pool.

This was my biggest disappointment from the entire event. I suppose I got my hopes up with my theory of Apple hitting it out of the park with water proofing, but I shouldn’t have let that get the best of me. If my theory was true, there would have been many more rumors about it. Maybe they’re saving it for next year’s model.

Camera: Apple completely redesigned the iPhone’s camera system this year. The iPhone 7 feature’s optical image stabilization, a larger aperture lens, a new high-speed sensor, a quad-LED True Tone flash, and a brand new image signal processor. It’s a pretty impressive upgrade from last year’s model.

Apple didn’t stop there, though. They have further widened the gap between the 4.7- and 5.5-inch iPhone cameras by adding an additional camera assembly. Using these two 12MP cameras — one with a wide-angle lens and the other with a telephoto lens — the iPhone 7 Plus will have optical zoom, digital zoom with drastically improved image quality, and a new portrait mode which uses software to mimic a shallow depth of field.

The new camera features really have me torn — along with many others, I presume. As much as I enjoy having a 4.7-inch iPhone that actually fits in my pocket, the two lens camera is intriguing to me. I don’t take photos as often as I’d like to, but when I do, I’m usually taking pictures of my nieces and nephews. The shallow depth of field effect in the new portrait mode looks like a killer new feature. And I suspect there will be a lot of users who upgrade to the larger device just for that feature alone.

Retina HD Display: The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus displays are now 25% brighter and sport a wider color gamut. There isn’t too much else to say about the new iPhone’s display. It’s always been impressive and nothing’s changed there. The additional brightness should help when using the device in direct sunlight and the wider color gamut will allow for more rich images.

Speakers: For the first time in an iPhone, Apple has added stereo speakers. This will allow for twice the volume output of previous iPhones and offers an increased dynamic range. Even though I have Bluetooth speakers, AirPlay devices, and headphones, I still find myself regularly using my iPhone’s built-speakers. I’m happy to see they’re making improvements on this front.

EarPods: Apple is removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. There’s been plenty of articles written about why that is or isn’t a good idea, but truthfully, I don’t really care. In my life, there are only two items that I connect to my iPhone with an audio cable — the Apple EarPods that ship with the device and my car stereo. Both of these are easily fixed when I eventually upgrade to a device without a headphone jack. I can simply use the Lightning EarPods that Apple ships with the iPhone and I can use the included Lightning to headphone adapter in my car. Super easy.

I understand that this is a major concern to people who regularly use the same pair of headphones with a handful of devices. Not all of them have a Lightning port and some of them don’t support Bluetooth. The good news is that you can continue using your headphones with the Lightning to headphone adapter. It isn’t the most elegant solution, but it’ll certainly get you by until all of your devices support the newer technologies.

I think Apple did an excellent job explaining why they were moving on from the headphone jack. The key to it all is that handset manufacturers are doing everything they can to pack as much technology into their devices as possible. Space is at a premium and it doesn’t make sense to waste so much of it on a single-purpose connector. As annoying as it may be to a large number of users, I think any rational individual can understand why Apple’s doing this.

AirPods: Apple has removed the wires from their EarPods and engineered their own W1 Bluetooth audio chip to produce a set of wireless earbuds. They use infrared sensors to detect when they’re in your ear which will prevent them from wasting energy by unnecessarily playing back audio. They last up to five hours with their built-in battery, but come with a charging case that can provide a total of 24 hours of listening.

The pairing process is quite impressive — which is exactly what I would expect from an Apple product like this. You simply open the AirPods’ case near your iPhone and tap the connect button. The headphones are then automatically setup with your iPhone and Apple Watch. They even use iCloud to propagate the pairing to your iPad and Mac.

Apple’s AirPods are impressive from a technological standpoint, but I don’t think I’ll end up buying a pair. They’re fairly affordable, at $159, but I’m not too keen on truly wireless headphones. Having two independent earphones leaves me worried that they’ll get lost too easily.

And I’m not thrilled about the five hours of battery life either. I frequently wear headphones at work for several hours at a time, I don’t want to take them out for a recharge just to make it through an entire day. Until they offer battery life in the neighborhood of eight hours, I’m just not interested.

Apple Pay: The iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2 will support the NFC standard used in Japan for contactless payments. Apple will be using this to rollout Apple Pay for Japan in October.

Performance: The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus include a brand-new generation of A-series chips called A10 Fusion. It features a four-core CPU — two high-speed cores alongside two high-efficiency cores. This allows the iPhone 7 to achieve significantly improved performance on CPU intensive tasks while allowing for better battery life while running less demanding applications. The A10 Fusion will offer improvements by just about any metric and really shows the advantage Apple has over other handset manufacturers — no one else has access to chips like this.

The story of performance is just about the same every year — massive improvements over last year’s model. What’s most interesting to me, though, is that the iPhone 7 is likely at or beyond parity with the performance of the most powerful machines in my house. I haven’t seen benchmarks quite yet, but based on the increases over the iPhone 6s, that means the iPhone 7 will be the most powerful computer many people have ever used in their life. And it fits in their pocket. That would have been unbelievable just a few years ago.