Special: Regarding the iPhone SE and iPad Pro 9.7″ Event

by on March 29, 2016

It took me a little while to comment on last week's Apple event because it was unlike almost every other Apple event in recent history. Besides the fact that it was done after about an hour, most of the products were variations on products that we had already seen before. After taking about a week to think things over, I think this may be a very notable event for years to come, although many have not realized it yet.

The Environment & CareKit

Like many, I sort of skimmed through this portion initially, as it's mostly along the lines of things that we've already witnessed. Apple has made a big commitment to helping the environment and I fully agree with John Gruber that Apple is probably not making that big of an impact directly, but should act as a template for other large companies to improve energy usable and sustainability. Still, I like what they're doing, and the Pixar-esque video about Liam, the robot that takes apart iPhones, was a nice touch. As with many others, I see Liam as a first step to having iPhones manufactured by machines.

CareKit serves as a natural evolution of ResearchKit and sets the stage for developers to make even more useful medical apps. I'm a firm believer that we can solve a lot of things with technology, but sadly policy or data just don't exist. While this may not necessarily lead to the cure for cancer or stop a heart attack, it's a great first step.

Apple Watch

The $50 price drop on the Apple Watch Sport makes sense, as $299 is a great psychological price drop for a product that Apple has already gotten almost a year of sales from. The new band colors are certainly nice for those who were sick of the prior palette, but also now has me thinking that if there is a color I like, I'd better get it instead of waiting.

Additionally, the nylon bands are interesting in that they're a mix of different colors, so you'd have to be pretty happy with the combinations to buy them. Still, they run $50, so it might not be a big deal to add one to my collection.

iPhone SE

There were numerous rumors leading up the launch of the iPhone SE and most got about 80% correct. That's fine, considering that most of the parts in the supply chain probably were overlooked because they resembled the iPhone 5S or 6S. Clearly there was enough demand for a new 4" phone and a lower cost phone, so Apple saw this as a way to kill two birds with one stone. Instead of following the template of the 5C, Apple took the core features of an iPhone 6S and stuck them in a 5S case. Other than the screen, the rest of the components that weren't as good as a 6S were at least as good as a 6, which is a fair tradeoff:

  • Standard LTE instead of LTE-Advanced (and a few less bands, notably 30 which AT&T uses in a few markets)
  • First-generation Touch ID instead of Touch ID 2
  • No MIMO Wi-Fi
  • 1.2MP FaceTime camera instead of a 5MP model

Still, compared to the iPhone 6, the following are upgrades:

  • A9 processor running at the same speed as the iPhone 6S
  • 2GB RAM (same as iPhone 6S)
  • 12MP rear camera (same as iPhone 6S)
  • LTE Band 12 (T-Mobile's "Extended Range LTE")
  • Better battery life
  • No camera bump

In some ways, this almost feels like Apple made this phone to celebrate their old stance that 4" was the best size (because your thumb can reach here and here) and is rewarding those who agree. Maybe even, and this is a reach—no pun intended—it's a make-this-one-for-ourselves type product. Regardless, the SE branding has been used on some Apple products before and the old-school Mac geek in me was immediately reminded of the Macintosh SE/30: current-generation power in a small size.

You can use any existing iPhone 5/5S cases and all existing accessories will work. I'm sure most places that sell iPhone 5/5S cases are quickly changing their signage and case manufacturers are quickly getting old inventory ready for sale again.

For those who have an iPhone 5S, it's a great upgrade at $399 (16GB) or $499 (64GB). If you have an iPhone 6 and don't mind the smaller screen, you'll have a much faster phone and can probably sell your current iPhone to cover the costs.

From a speculation standpoint, I suspect Apple will discontinue the 6/6 Plus models in September, leaving the line up as the iPhone SE, iPhone 6S, and whatever the new flagship model is. The SE may even outlast the 6S—by not using a number, Apple has effectively made this phone current for as long as it sees fit.

I’m also seeing some parallels with this update and last summer’s iPod touch update—Apple mostly went all out with current specs and kept the price low and will probably keep the device as-is.

I'm planning on dusting off some old iPhone 5 cases and picking one up to replace my iPhone 6. It's not that the larger form factor is bad, but there are many times that it has presented itself as awkward, and I rarely had that happen with prior iPhones. As I'm not trying to replace my iPad and iPhone with one device, the "Plus" models don't really appeal to me. Therefore, I might as well have the smallest and most powerful phone I can.

iPad Pro 9.7"

The iPad Air line, much like the MacBook Air line, is soon going to be a thing of the past. The original Air was discontinued and the Air 2 had a $100 price drop. This means that you can now get the iPad mini 4 and the slightly-more-powerful iPad Air 2 for the same price. No iPad model starts at $499.

Instead, Apple introduced a new 10" iPad that looks mostly like a mashup of the iPad Air 2, iPad Pro, and iPhone 6S and called it, unsurprisingly, also the iPad Pro. Now featuring better speakers on either end, a Smart Connector, Apple Pencil support, and a better camera, this iPad Pro gives you just about everything its larger sibling has in a more familiar size. The big differences are that it has a better iSight camera (12MP), True Tone display (it white-balances itself), 2GB RAM (instead of 4GB), and LTE as an option for all storage tiers. Curiously, besides the camera bump, the cellular "window" has been redesigned, looking a little different than the larger iPad Pro (which uses a black or white plastic window like every iPad prior). Prices start at $599 for the 32GB model.

Like the other current iPads, this Pro now has a Smart Cover that pairs with a silicone back case, creating a nice, but expensive protection combination. While I like the look/feel of it, the fact that what was a $80 leather option is now a $120 synthetic option has me thinking my next iPad may never be graced with a first-party case.

If I'm sounding less-than-enthused about this iPad, I'll admit that I'm not racing out to buy one, as with the other products introduced at this event. It certainly is faster than my current iPad, does a bit more, and is a nice update overall, but my iPad is good enough and this move has me suspicious about Apple's positioning of the newest iPad. This has been the first full-sized iPad price-hike and with all the negativity about growth on the platform, it seems like Apple did the opposite of the iPhone SE: you can have the latest, but it'll cost you more, otherwise you can get the prior year's model as a cheaper option. I guess the best analogy is if Apple didn't release the iPhone SE and instead charged $100 more for the 6S, creating price points of $549, $649, and $849. I'm sure I'll eventually get this device's replacement or its replacement's replacement to take over from my iPad Air 2 in the future, and at that point, will be satisfied with the improvements.

Still, the continued development of the iPad platform is a great sign. As we have processing power that rivals desktop computers, it would be nice to see developers take advantage of it on a large scale, rather than being afraid that only those with 12.9" iPad Pros can use it.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this event explained Apple's views on helping the world and set the stage for other product lines in the future. I suspect we'll eventually get to an iPad line featuring just a mini, 9.7" Pro, and 12.9" Pro, maybe with the prior year's models. As for the iPhone line, the SE looks to be a multi-year thing, especially as Apple may do away with device numbering as a whole. If anything, September looks a lot more interesting.

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