Special: On Apple’s iPad Pro, Apple TV, & iPhone 6S Special Event

by on September 15, 2015

Although Apple’s event took place almost a week ago and much of the Internet has spilled plenty of digital ink over the iPad Pro, new Apple TV, and iPhone 6S, I wanted to take my time and mull over the the big and small points of the event. I think some of these will be more apparent once devices start shipping, but the overall trend seemed to be incremental updates to keep Apple competitive.

iPad mini 4

The iPad mini has always been a device that Apple didn’t quite know what to do with. The first edition was a repackaged iPad 2 being sold alongside the oddball iPad 4. Much like the iPad 2, it also stuck around quite a bit longer than it should have, serving as the cheap iPad. The second revision was essentially a smaller and every-so-slightly slower iPad Air, complete with Retina Display and snappy 64-bit A7 processsor. The iPad mini 3 was disappointing—an iPad mini 2 with TouchID, Apple Pay, and gold option for $100 premium over its predecessor. The larger iPad had gotten an increase in power and became even slimmer, creating a gap in performance for the two current-generation iPads. Thankfully, this was mostly fixed with Apple’s briefly-mentioned update to the iPad mini (it got about a sentence)—it’s closer to the iPad Air 2 by being slimmer, having an A8 (although not A8X) processor, and a better display. The iPad mini 3 was dropped, giving each current-generation iPad a prior-generation counterpart as the cheaper option.

Despite Apple’s quick mention, I find this a fascinating update and can’t wait to see what the benchmarks look like for this device, as it’s a compelling product and I might pick one up instead of a refurbished iPad Air 2 (the prices of the two are very close).

Interestingly enough, the iPad mini 4 is not just slimmer than its predecessors, but is slightly longer, requiring new cases and accessories. Fortunately, Apple will sell you a new Smart Cover and/or a silicone case (much like the one released for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last year).

iPad Pro

While the smallest iPad received a significant update, the larger one did not—the iPad Air 2 will continue as-is for the foreseeable future. Instead, there is an even larger model to take the reigns as the big, powerful, professional model. The best way I’ve described it to my non-tech friends who have asked is that it is a bigger, more powerful iPad. My description may be a disservice to the device, but at this point, that’s what it is. We’ll need to have developers take advantage of the extra screen real-estate and processing power. As much as I’d love for this to replace my computer, especially at work, there are a few tasks that I need a Mac for.

In the discussion of the iPad replacing the Mac, I think we’re still very early on, but this is a positive first-step. If we were to use the analogy of the Apple II to Mac transition, we’re probably still in the era of the Mac Plus and Apple IIgs, but the iPad has gained ground in terms of raw processing power much faster than the software has caught up.

As for the accessories, the Smart Keyboard and the Apple Pencil, I think they make sense for such a device and it is a natural evolution, not quite "ripping off the Surface" as the Internet was quick to exclaim. I subscribe to the idea that the iPad is still a tablet first and most comfortable in that role, while the Surface is a PC first that just happens to have a tablet form factor. It’s a good device, but different enough from the iPad Pro that they will cater to very specific buyers. The accessories are a bit on the pricey side, but not too much more than some existing options available for other iPads.

Watch Updates

I think the additional finishes and other band colors are certainly going to help sales and may have been in the works all along. I still think the Sport Bands should be about $35 for it to feel more like an impulse purchase, but I’ll most likely pick up another. Lots of quality options are good, and I think this may cause indecisive buyers to end up with a few different ones, especially if the pastel Sport Bands were off-putting.

The partnership with Hermès makes sense where Apple wants to take the Watch and if it helps them sell more, why not? Pricing aside, as I already have a Watch Sport, I’m not really interested in it, but I can see this selling a few more to people that may have dismissed Apple’s wearable.

iPhone 6S

Unsurprisingly, there’s a new iPhone. It’s shaped mostly like the 6 and 6 Plus, but faster, has a better camera, and a number of improvements borrowed from the Apple Watch. I think the addition of 3D Touch makes sense, as does the inclusion of the Taptic Engine. The Live Photos feature, larger photos (12MP) and videos (4K) will mean that the 16GB iPhone will feel even more cramped, so shame on Apple for not starting the lineup at 32GB.

Apple also has their own iPhone Upgrade Program, which gets you an iPhone with AppleCare+ from about $32/month. It’s not a bad deal, especially if you have to have the newest model every year. It should be really helpful in countries where iPhones aren’t subsidized and carriers don’t have their own loan programs, but also a great option in the United States if you don’t want to deal with carriers.

I think the iPhone 6S is a solid update to an already great phone and will be an excellent upgrade for anyone with an iPhone 5S or older. For me, I’ll wait until next year before considering a new iPhone.

Apple TV

I find the Apple TV to be one of the devices I enjoy, but don’t use it as much as I’d like. Compared to my AT&T U-verse TV service, there is about a 70/30 split for using live TV and the DVR vs. Apple TV. Although I’m not sure that will change with the new version, it’ll be interesting to see what developers create for both content and games.

I’m not really interested in games on the Apple TV (although that may change), but I do see it getting some use for fun group games, much like the Nintendo Wii when it was launched. Compared to the rivals from Microsoft and Sony, the Wii was less powerful, but thrived with social environments.

The spec-geek in me wonders why Apple doesn’t have a gigabit Ethernet port, but the actual user in me probably won’t care.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

This particular event was well-paced and mostly free from awkward interactions and jokes that we saw with a few recent events. It felt like it had a bit too much content, where certain items could only get a brief mention. Besides the iPad mini 4, the other was the revised iCloud pricing. I’m glad Apple is being a bit more competitive and really wish they announced when that would take place. Maybe then I’ll move my photo library to iCloud.

As this may be the final event for Apple until next year, it set the stage for a solid holiday season lineup. The A5 is finally dead from almost all devices (the only holdout is the cheaper Apple TV, where it probably is sufficient). This also means that the iPhone and iPad lineups are all 64-bit. There’s a lot to be excited about, whether you’ve just preordered a new iPhone, waiting for an Apple TV or iPad Pro, or trying to decide if the iPad mini 4 is right for you. Oh, and even if you’re not buying anything, iOS 9 and watchOS 2 will be introduced this week, giving new capabilities to existing devices. In terms of iOS, Apple has been all about smart, incremental updates and last week’s event certainly impressed.

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