Though Apple's annual product reveal event on Wednesday was titled “By Innovation Only”, there was no “one more thing…” on offer at the Steve Jobs Theatre. But there were incremental improvements for the new Watch, three iPhones and entry level iPad on display, as well as announcements around Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.
Not everything was available to try on the day, but I was able to play around a little with the iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max. The new camera lenses are a little raised, but don’t bulk out the phone as much as it looked in the flatter photos. The width of the phone doesn’t feel different to last year's XS Max.
The extra lens makes a huge difference to photos, and it was obvious in the brief moments in which I was able to operate the camera app that it’s a lot more advanced. Shifting among the three lenses is easy, as is starting to record a video by holding down the shutter button.
Of course, if you’re using one of the many, many Android phones that already have night mode and three cameras, there's not much new for you.
More impressive was using the cameras in the new Filmic Pro app, and being able to see a preview shot from all four cameras at once. All the shooters can do up to 4K 60fps video, and Filmic promises the ability to record from two of them simultaneously.
Depending on the pricing of the app, that could really change the game when it comes to the quality of super low budget independent films, giving more people opportunities to tell their stories. Not that a $1749+ phone is ultra affordable, but it’s still cheaper than most actual fancy cameras.
Playing the Apple Arcade games on the phone was fun. The graphics were console quality as advertised (though more Xbox One than Xbox One X), and the gameplay was smooth. It was a good way to show off the power of the A13 Bionic chip.
On the phone, the cameras are definitely the most noticeable stars of the show, but the speed and graphical improvements under the hood will perhaps be the most appreciated. Although there was nothing groundbreakingly new, it should be enough to satisfy most iPhone fans who weren’t hanging out for 5G or USB-C.
Over on the Watch, many of the improvements are software related, and thus coming to all recent Watches. On the hardware side of things, the addition of a compass will probably be overlooked until people actually get to try it.
The best demonstration of the compass during the hands-on time was with the Night Sky app. Night Sky has been available on the iPhone for yonks, but there was magic in just being able to open it and wave your arm around to see the constellations. Perhaps a little awkward for everyday, but still nifty.
It was also interesting to be in Yelp and having a little compass pointer in the bottom showing you the direction of the restaurants. Not quite as helpful in Australia, given how much more frequently Zomato is used over Yelp, but this might encourage more local adoption of the app.
Seeing the always-on display dim and change the background was nice, though again not that impressive for owners of current non-Apple smartwatches.
It’s perhaps not a feature many would have chosen over sleep tracking (given the need to charge overnight thanks to the 18-hour battery life), but it will come in handy while using fitness apps or when you’re contorted into uncomfortable positions on the tram.
It’s not worth the upgrade for Series 4 or perhaps even Series 3 users, but those looking to jump on the Watch bandwagon or upgrade from an even older model should be happy, even if that $649+ price tag stings a bit.
The new seventh generation standard iPad has the same A10 chip as before, but now has a slightly bigger 10.2-inch screen and some of the features of the iPad Pro, without the Pro price tag. Using the Apple Pencil with it worked well, as did the keyboard case. It’s not something owners of last few iPads will necessarily be rushing to upgrade for, but nevertheless it’s a nice add-on for those who are in the market and have $529.
It was on the iPad that I got to properly check out the Arcade tab of the App Store. It’s just like browsing the regular App Store, except that subscribers will be able to get anything for free, which is certainly my preferred kind of store. Of course that subscription itself will cost you $7.99 per month.
Playing the new Frogger In Toy Town certainly made me a little nostalgic for Crossy Road, but the graphics were extremely good for a Frogger and the game was fun. It’s one I look forward to playing when Arcade is available on the September 20.
The author travelled to California as a guest of Apple.