Looped In

The event started off with a video looking back at the past 40 years of Apple. The company will be celebrating its fortieth birthday on April 1 and this event will likely be the last one held on their current campus. Next year, Apple plans to move to their newly built Campus 2 which features a larger theater which will host many product announcements in the future.

I was pleased with Apple’s announcements on Monday. The event didn’t have quite as many flashy flagship products like we see from their fall announcements, but each update was solid in its own right. A couple of these products will make their way into my life over the next few months — I have my eye on the Woven Nylon Watch bands and my fiancée will be buying an iPhone SE soon. And I will almost certainly be purchasing a subsequent version of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro when I’m due for an upgrade in a few years. While this was one of Apple’s shorter events, there’s still plenty to talk about.

Apple Watch

Tim Cook began his discussion of the Apple Watch by talking about how successful the device has been and led into mentioning how much people love to swap their bands. I took this as a strong indication that the current generation’s lug mechanism isn’t going away anytime soon — I expect they’ll keep it around for as long as they’re physically able to. I only own two bands currently — a white Sport Band and a black Leather Loop — but I’m no longer worried about amassing a large collection and having them go to waste when new versions of the Watch are released. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think Apple would release this many bands if they didn’t expect buyers to continue using them across generations.

Tim noted that about a third of Apple Watch owners regularly change their bands. I’m also beginning to think that my theory could actually be true that Apple will release a version of the second-generation Watch that doesn’t come with a band in-box. If a large portion of Watch owners already have a collection of bands, why not sell them a new model at a slightly reduced price?

The Woven Nylon Bands look fantastic. I haven’t decided on my favorite color yet, but I can definitely see myself wearing one. Among the other new bands, the yellow Sport Band keeps jumping out at me. I’m not sure if I’m ready to wear such a bright color — my wardrobe is about 70% gray, thanks to John — but the shade of yellow they chose looks absolutely brilliant.

The price drop to $299 came as a surprise. I don’t know if anyone was expecting Apple to do that. Although, it has been nearly a year since the current model was released — if they’re not going to announce an Apple Watch 2, dropping the price seems like a logical choice to help keep sales from dipping.

iPhone SE

The iPhone SE really does look almost identical to the iPhone 5s. There’s some minor cosmetic changes, like the matte finish on the chamfered edges and an inset stainless steel Apple logo, but the biggest upgrades are in the internal hardware. It features the same 64-bit A9 chip with M9 motion coprocessor as the iPhone 6s. This means the iPhone SE is equal to the 6s in CPU and GPU performance which is a huge increase over the previous 4-inch device.

What makes that even more incredible is that the iPhone SE actually features slightly better battery life than the 6s in most cases — presumably because of the lower energy draw from the smaller display.

Apple didn’t skimp on the camera either. According to John Gruber, the rear-facing camera is as close to the same camera as the iPhone 6s as possible given the two devices’ different housing. Unfortunately the front-facing camera is a lower quality 1.2MP camera instead of the 5MP camera on the iPhone 6s. This is a bit of a disappointment, but I wouldn’t consider it a deal breaker. The vast majority of my photos are taken with the rear camera and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

I was a little taken aback by the $399 price point. My guess going into the event was that it would start at $449 for 16GB and $549 for 64GB. It’s not a massive difference, but the lower price point is really going to help them in developing countries and with buyers on tighter budgets.

I find Apple’s current iPhone lineup to be a bit peculiar now that they’ve released the iPhone SE. There’s this glaring oddity between the SE and the 6s — the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great devices, but I almost wish Apple made a clean break and discontinued them entirely.

The iPhone SE features better performance than both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and at a lower price to boot. I would guess that Apple plans on keeping the SE around for quite a while — probably 18-24 months — and keeping the iPhones 6 around allows them to sell devices with larger displays at less expensive price points than the flagship models. But it’s hard for me to understand why someone would buy an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus at this point.

I suppose if you’re on a tight budget, need a phone immediately, and just have to have the larger screen then the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus is a logical choice. But I can’t imagine myself ever being in that scenario. I would either make do with the smaller screen and enjoy the improved performance or limp along with whatever junk drawer phone I can get my hands on until I can afford the flagship device. I guess everyone’s tolerance level is different while making compromises when purchasing a new smartphone. But there’s no way I would recommend the iPhones 6 with the lineup in its current state.

I can assure you, though, that the iPhone SE will be my fiancée’s next iPhone. She’s been waiting since last fall for a new 4-inch device to upgrade to and she couldn’t be happier about the iPhone SE’s feature set and performance. For anyone curious, she plans on buying a 64GB model in rose gold.

iPad Pro

Apple is really pushing the idea that Windows users will come to the iPad and I think it’s a great strategy. What this does is target the typical mainstream user — the person who does occasional word processing and spends most of their time playing games and communicating with friends on Facebook.

For many of these users, their smartphone has slowly become their primary computing platform. Apple want’s to build off of that familiarity and offer them a device at a reasonable price point with a display much larger than the one in their pocket. The iPad is more than capable of performing all of the tasks that mainstream users need and, by targeting typical users, Apple doesn’t have to worry about as many of the power user arguments that we’ve seen about the iPad over the past several years.

The new True Tone Display sounds like an impressive improvement over previous iPad displays. Having the screen function more like paper by matching the tone of the environment’s ambient light seems like something you won’t want to revert from after experiencing it. I can see designers and photographers finding this especially useful if they’re working on projects that will eventually be printed or built into physical objects.

I’m very happy that Apple was able to build the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s four speaker system into the 9.7-inch device. The orientation features wouldn’t have much of an impact on me — my iPad is always locked in landscape mode — but I would really enjoy having stereo sound.

I’m a bit annoyed that the new iPad Pro has a camera bump. I don’t have a case on my current iPad and don’t plan on ever using one. This means it spends a lot of time sitting flat on a table during use. From what I understand the bump doesn’t result in any wobble, but I’ll have to try it myself to believe it. And even if it doesn’t wobble, the bump will likely cause the device to sit on a slight angle. I doubt it would annoy me long term — I’d probably get over it — but I sure hope Apple is able to remove the bump entirely by the time I’m ready to buy one for myself.

This event was one of surprising price points for me because I was yet again caught off guard by the $599 starting price of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. For that you’ll get 32GB of storage, but there are options for 128GB and 256GB at $749 and $899 respectively. I hadn’t considered the idea of Apple dropping the price of the iPad Air 2 to $399 when I was thinking about pricing for the iPad Pro. That’s why I would have placed my bet on a starting price of $649 or $699 for this device.

There’s no doubt in my mind, I will buy a 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Not this particular model — I’m not due for a new iPad for another three years or so. But I expect the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will maintain a sizable distance from the mainstream iPad from a performance and features standpoint. As long as that’s the case, it will be worth paying a little extra for. I do almost everything on my iPad and when I eventually upgrade to an iPad Pro that “almost” qualifier might not be necessary. In my next iPad, I’m going to want as much performance as I can get out of a 9.7-inch tablet. And for that, I’m going to want an iPad Pro.