None of the headphone jack, all of the camera bump
Not too long ago, part of the appeal of an Apple Special Event was the surprise. What were we about to see on stage? Could there possibly be a new Mac? I hear they’re announcing an iPhone Mini. Was that blurry elevator shot real, or was it an elaborate fake?
Now a days, blurry elevator shots have been replaced by crystal clear snaps, fresh off the assembly line. Hey, did you know they’re getting rid of the 1/8-inch headphone jack? Did you see they’re moving the antenna bands? Hey, I think the camera bump is actually going to be bigger this year. Ugh. We know more about what Apple will be unveiling at September 7th than we had before any special event in recent memory, but we don’t know anything. What we do know, though, is that – as always – there’s a lot of FUD we’ve got to wade through.
Let’s wade through it together, shall we? Here’s what you can realistically expect at next Thursday’s event.
1) Apple’s had the iPhone on a tick-tock schedule for many years now. One year, there’s the tick: a major, significant redesign, both on the inside and the out – and then the next year, there’s the tock: essentially identical to the last year’s design, but with some new tricks on the inside. The iPhone 5. The iPhone 5s. The iPhone 6. Last year’s iPhone 6s.
This year, however, it looks like Apple is switching things up. While it’s true that Apple will be releasing a new iPhone, and that it almost certainly will be marketed as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus, the new iPhones will be dead ringers for last year’s models. Sure, they’ll be a bit thinner, and they’ll lose the iPhone 6’s infamous antenna bands, but the design language of this year’s iPhones will be that of iteration, not innovation, a markedly different approach.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be significant changes inside. At this point, it’s predictable. Faster processor. More RAM. Better graphics. Then there are the more substantial changes. Hope you weren’t too attached to that headphone jack, because the rumors are true: the iPhone 7 will be kicking that to the curb. I personally have yet to hear what I consider to be valid justification for taking away a feature that millions of iPhone users very likely use every single day, and it’ll be interesting to see if Apple spitballs some justification out there. The iPhone 7’s primary audio input method will likely be its Lighting port, though that’ll make things a bit tougher for people who listen to music while charging their phone, especially if they don’t have a headphone jack-to-lightning adapter with them.
Apple taketh, but they also giveth – next year’s iPhone will be the first to be rated as water resistant. Anecdotally, the iPhone 6s took the first steps towards water resistance, but you might not have known that – Apple has never promised that in advertising, and nor is it rated as such. But this year, Apple is committed, and marketing will reflect that. Just don’t expect to take your iPhone swimming with you every day: water resistance is very different than being rated as water proof. It also looks like the new iPhone will come in at least one new color – a glossy black, similar in appearance to the Space Black Apple Watch option. Apple may also be replacing Space Gray with a darker, but not glossy, Space Black option.
2) There’s one new iPhone 7 addition I’ve yet to mention, and this one is big enough to warrant its own bullet point. As smartphone cameras improved over the years, they began to cannibalize and, eventually, nearly annihilate the point and shoot market. They say the best camera is the one you have on you, and the iPhone’s camera has for quite some time been a damn good point and shoot. This year, though, Apple is taking things one step further by taking a small step outside the point and shoot category and into the professional camera one with the introduction of a dual-lens camera system on the iPhone 7 Plus.
This will have a huge impact on the types of photos you can take on your iPhone, and the amount of detail you’ll be able to capture. One of the biggest benefits that it’ll provide is the ability to take in much more light, which will greatly benefit photos taken in low light. The second lens will also give the iPhone some degree of optical zoom, for taking better shots from a distance. All previous iPhones utilized digital zoom, a method that results in blurry and pixelated photos. Zoomed in photos on the iPhone 7 Plus will be as crisp and clear as photos taken without zoom, until you go past that 3x zoom barrier.
Unfortunately, the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 will not be receiving this new feature, much to the dismay of many podcasters I listen to. I can totally understand the frustration – there’s been almost nothing but screen size separating the iPhone and the iPhone Plus models, other than optical image stabilization. Given that the iPhone 7 Plus will also be the only model to get 3GB of RAM (the 4.7-inch will have to make due with 2GB), this will be the first lineup where the bigger your phone, the better your phone really is true. If you want the best Apple has to offer, you better make peace with that 5.5-inch screen size. Bummer.
3) It’s been two years since we were first introduced to the Apple Watch, and about a year and a half since we could actually put one on our wrist. That’s a fairly long life cycle for a first generation Apple product, especially one with as many obvious areas of improvement as theWatch. Expect Apple to take a second crack at the difficult nut that is the smartwatch category with the Apple Watch 2 or whatever the decide to call it (personally, I hope they ditch the numbers).
Granted, there won’t be any giant change here, either – the next Apple Watch will be outwardly very, very similar to the original. The Apple Watch 2 may be ever so slightly thinner than the original, but not thin enough to break compatibility with existing bands – that is to say, not much thinner at all. It’ll have a faster processor, something that owners of the original will be sure glad to hear, as well as a bigger battery, though the original 42mm was really no slouch in battery life.
The biggest change in functionality may very well be the inclusion of a built in GPS chip. One of the biggest pain points of the original Apple Watch is its reliance on the iPhone for nearly everything. While the Watch 2 still won’t be so smart without the iPhone around, it will at least be able to track your location, which should make leaving your iPhone at home while heading out on that rainy day run a less bitter pill to swallow.
For those of you who will be sticking with their original model, expect Apple to release about a kajillion new watchbands that will work on both. This seems to be a bit of a trend – new watch bands for each new season of the calendar year. I’ve got enough watchbands to last me a lifetime at this point, but who knows, maybe Apple will finally relent and let me purchase that sweet United States Apple Watch band they sold at the Olympic Village this year. I’d pay some dough to rock that on my wrist.
4) Both the iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch 2 will usher in new versions of their respective operating systems, this year numbered iOS 10 and watchOS 3. Both are fairly substantial upgrades to last year’s versions, though more so on the watchOS side of things, where user interface paradigms have been rethought.
iMessage as both a service and an application has seen the biggest and most obvious improvement this year, learning some pretty cool new tricks hook more people into Apple’s ecosystem than ever before. From the sending and downloading new stickers (similar concept as on Facebook Messenger) to attaching slightly obnoxious animated scenes that play out when a message is received, to iMessage Applications, iMessage is taking a huge step into becoming a platform of its own.
iMessage Applications are by far the most interesting new additions to me. Every app you download from the new iMessage App Store will enhance iMessage in substantial ways. Download Coinbase and send your friend a buck without leaving iMessage; find and send eCards with Jib Jab iMessage application; call an Uber without leaving iMessage. These are just a few examples that will likely be possible when their respective applications launch on iMessage Applications.
Oh, and now you can send and receive Digital Touch messages on your iPhone and iPad, too. Get ready to send your significant other your heartbeat all. Over. Again.
5) No, there won’t be new Macs. Yes, I’m serious. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
This actually poses a pretty good question – when will we get new Macs? Surely, Apple won’t be ignoring the Mac lineup for the rest of the year. It has to be a matter of when, not if. While I’m not sure that the iPad will get any love until Spring, it seems to me like we’re due for an update on macOS Sierra, new iMacs, new MacBook Airs, and – most desperately – new MacBook Pros.
That’s not even mentioning the hole in Apple’s professional desktop lineup, including a Mac Pro that hasn’t seen an update in almost 3 full years and a now discontinued non-Retina display. It certainly seems like there’s room to finagle a second, Mac-focused event in October. This used to be fairly commonplace for Apple, but modern Apple hasn’t had a Mac focused event in quite some time, so there’s also a possibility that perhaps all of these will be announced and released without an event, too. Still, considering how impressive the new MacBook Pro is sounding, that seems like it would be a shame.
Today's devices, downsized
Apple is a company of cycles. Traditionally, Apple has been bound to the calendar like Christmas to December; WWDC in June, new iPhones in September, and new iPads in October.
But Tim Cook’s Apple has been considerably more open to switching things up, forgoing expected events or making announcements at unexpected times. Today we find ourselves on the verge of one such aberrations with the announcement of Apple’s “Let Us Loop you In” Media Event scheduled for next Monday, March 21.
Apple hasn’t ever held an event quite like this, and that means no one is one-hundred percent sure of what to expect. Even so, there are a few smart bets to make. Let’s loop you in – here’s what you can realistically expect.
1) Is it new iPhone time already? The 4-inch “iPhone SE” is a reasonably sized smartphone with more than reasonable specs.
Apple has never released a new iPhone off cycle before, instead opting to update the lineup all at once. That’s all about to change as Apple will on Monday announce the new “iPhone SE”, a sort of spiritual successor to the longstanding iPhone 5s.
The iPhone SE (the name is just speculation, by the way) will be Apple’s new “low-end” device, presumably filling either the slot that the iPhone 5s or the iPhone 6 – or possibly both? – do today. It will have a 4-inch display (the same size as the 5s) without 3D Touch support, the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a top of the line camera, and Apple Pay support. Essentially, the iPhone SE will be an iPhone 6s mini in everything but the name, sans 3D Touch.
Seeing as there have been few to no truly reliable part leaks for the iPhone SE, it’s difficult to say what the new iPhone will actually look like. Reports from reliable sources have ranged wildly from a carbon copy of the iPhone 5s, to a miniature iPhone 6s, to somewhere in between. I’m most tempted to with Mark Gurman, who claims that the SE will resemble an iPhone 5s with the rounded glass and corners of the iPhone 6 and 6s. The biggest disappointment? I expect the iPhone SE to start with just 16GB of storage – or, in other words, not enough.
2) Will the expected 9.7-inch iPad Pro be the iPad we’ve all been waiting for? And what about the iPad Air line?
Apple will continue to surprise with the reveal of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, a tablet we all knew was coming but expected to be called the “iPad Air 3.” If the recent leaks are accurate, we’re looking at everything the full sized iPad Pro is today, shoved into an iPad Air 2. That means an A9X processor, vastly improved stereo speakers, and the Smart Connector.
Support for the Smart Connector suggests that Apple will be releasing a smaller version of their Smart Keyboard accessory, which Apple currently sells exclusively to the iPad Pro. Rather than connecting via Bluetooth, the Smart Keyboard case will use the Smart Connector to magnetically attach the keyboard to the iPad. The benefit of this is clear – unlike Bluetooth keyboards, which require repeated pairing and repairing, as well as batteries, the Smart Connector allows accessories to be “hard wired” to the iPad, also using it as a source of power.
The real curiosity here comes in the form of the iPad Air. Given that the new iPad Pro sounds like an Air 3 in everything but name, will Apple opt to discontinue the Air line entirely, keeping the iPad Air 2 around as the entry point for the 9.7-inch iPad lineup? Or will the Air coexist with the new Pro line, similar to Apple’s current Mac lineup? There have been no rumors of a redesigned iPad Air, so my bet is on the eventual death of the line.
3) We’re one year in, and that means it’s time for the Apple Watch to get… new watch bands?
When rumors of a March 2016 event initially started flying around, there were three big tentpole products rumored – a new iPhone, a new iPad, and a new Apple Watch. It now seems as though Apple has decided to wait on launching the expected Apple Watch upgrade, however, and will instead roll out a couple of nifty new watch bands. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’m not expecting anything too crazy here, but rather just modest accessories for Watch owners to give them more choice. Expect more colors for Apple’s plastic Sport Band series, a new official “Space Black” Milanese Loop (finally!), and perhaps a new line of Apple designed nylon bands.
If you were holding off on buying a new Apple Watch until the second generation, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that. Current whispers say a September launch is likely, however given how far away that target date, anything could change between now and then.
Oh, this is gonna be big
Apple is a company of patterns. If you look at the release schedule of every major release of nearly every product line, things go off like clockwork. The Calendar strikes June; it’s time to announce the latest operating systems, while September has traditionally brought us new iPhones (and, as of last year, the Apple Watch), and October brings along new Macs and iPads. Take a break for the Christmas season, rinse, repeat.
And yet, if the rumors hold up, this year will go just a tiny bit different – instead of having two separate September and October events, Apple appears to be combining aspects of both into one mega event where they are set to introduce both iPhones and iPads, and even Apple Watch accessories. This “mega-event,” as I’m calling it, is currently scheduled for September 9th – Next Wednesday – and could very well shape up to be one of the most important days in the history of Modern Apple.
But a large event brings about a large amount of FUD, so it’s more important than ever to set expectations well, especially if you’re in the market for some new tech. So to that end, let’s make some sense of the madness and figure out what you can realistically expect.
1) A new iPhone has made its introduction every September since the iPhone 4S in 2011, and all signs are pointing to this year being no different. Apple has been on a tick-tock cycle with their iPhone lineup for years now, a tick being major design changes and a tock being major internal changes, and this year we’re scheduled for a tock release – something that most people have, for good reason, taken to calling the iPhone 6s.
So, what’s that entail? First, like the iPhone 6 last year, the iPhone 6s will not be one phone, instead actually being two phones of two radically different sizes. It’s safe to expect that both of these phones will come in the same sizes as last year’s phones – the 4.7 inch iPhone 6s, and the 5.5 inch iPhone 6s Plus (or whatever they decide to call it). Both of these phones will likely share incredibly similar, or exactly the same, internals with screen size and resolution being the primary differentiator. Last year’s iPhone 6 Plus did have a slightly better camera than the smaller iPhone 6 due to the inclusion of OIS (optical image stabilization), but it’s unclear if the iPhone 6s lineup will follow suit.
Since the iPhone 6s family is expected to share the same design as the iPhone 6 family, Apple has other tricks up its sleeves to help differentiate this year’s iPhone from last year’s. The most outwardly apparent change will likely come from a new color option – Rose Gold. Though we haven’t seen any parts leak from the supply chain with this color, a Rose Gold iPhone does make sense for two pretty simple reasons. Apple’s M.O. has been to keep their iOS device color options in relative sync, and since Apple this year introduced a Rose Gold Apple Watch, it would make sense to bring this color option to the rest of the lineup. Secondly, Apple used the iPhone 5s to introduce two new color options to help differentiate it from the prior year’s iPhone 5 – Space Gray and Gold. It stands to reason Apple would do the same this year.
But if upgraded internals and new color options are all you’re expecting, you’re underprepared. Apple is heavily rumored to be introducing one of the biggest changes to the iOS paradigm since the original iPhone in 2007 – Force Touch.
Every iPhone since the original 2007 model has had two primary touch methods: taps, and long taps. A long tap on a button may do one thing, such as open an application, while a long tap on an application will initiate the shaky-mode that lets you delete applications. With Force Touch on the iPhone 6s, you’ll be able to actually touch and apply pressure on a button to initiate a third function, whatever that may be.
Rumors on how iOS 9 will make use of Force Touch have been sparse, but I think the best guess may be that a Force Touch will bring up a context menu of sorts, similar to how Force Touch works on the Apple Watch. Force Touching on the Phone app on the home screen, for example, may bring up a menu that lets you immediately call a favorite contact, saving you valuable time by not even requiring you to open the application and navigate the UX to initiate a call. I could see Force Touch on the iPhone being the ultimate implementation of the feature, far surpassing its use case on either the Apple Watch or the Mac – done right, it could someday soon feel as fundamental to the core iPhone experience as third party applications do today.
Quick aside – you may notice that I’ve made no mention of the mythical iPhone 6c, a much rumored third model with iPhone 6 or 6s internals but a 4.0-inch display. It seems likely that the iPhone 6c did exist in some capacity at some point, but it also seems likely that it’s dead, Jim.
2) Again, it certainly seems that Apple is preparing to break from tradition and introduce not just the iPhone 6s, but also the new iPad lineup on Wednesday. My theory for this is thus – smartphones are boring. Last year, Apple used the iPhone 6 event to introduce the Apple Watch, an admission that the iPhone on its own is no longer a big enough deal to warrant its own event. With no major revision to the core Apple Watch hardware on the docket for this year, Apple is likewise using the iPad to pad out the iPhone 6s event this year.
While the iPad line has been faltering lately, Apple is going to give it a much needed kick in the ass with the first major shakeup to the iPad line since the original iPad mini in 2012 – the introduction of the oft rumored iPad Pro. While the iPad has always been accused of being a consumption device, with the iPad Pro Apple is looking to flip that stereotype on its head by making the iPad Pro a content creator’s dream.
As for how it’s going to do that, well, I have one word – one dirty word that Steve Jobs would have cringed at, laughed at, mocked, but this isn’t Steve Jobs’s Apple anymore and life goes on – a stylus. Yup, all signs have been pointing to the iPad Pro making extensive use of a presumably bundled “Apple Stylus” for quite some time now, in a move that has already been and will continue to draw parallels to Microsoft’s Surface Pro line of tablets. Of course, styli for iOS devices are nothing new, and many-a premium styli have existed for quite some time now. The defining feature of Apple’s contribution will be, of course, extensive integration into the core of iOS 9 itself. Expect most of Apple’s bundled application to make use of the stylus in some way, from pressure sensitivity to handwriting recognition, and more.
The iPad Pro will supposedly have numerous other benefits/changes from Apple’s existing iPad line. For one, the iPad Pro will be big – likely around 13-inches, up from the little under 10-inches that the iPad Air 2 sits at. A larger screen, of course, will require a larger resolution, and code found tucked away in current beta versions of iOS 9 point to a 2732 x 2048 resolution with a 265 ppi being a likely candidate. Given the supposed focus on productivity, I would also expect significant updates to all of Apple’s “iLife” and “iWork” apps for the iPad, including iMovie and Garageband. If all of this works out, I could also easily see Apple bringing Final Cut Pro X and Logic X to the iPad Pro.
Aside from the iPad Pro, Apple will likely look to upgrade the most neglected part of their iPad lineup, the iPad mini. A fourth-generation iPad mini will likely be announced, bringing it in line with the iPad Air 2 spec wise with the A8 processor, more RAM, and full multitasking support on iOS 9.
On top of the internal changes, supply chain leaks have indicated that the iPad mini 4 will also have a slightly thinner, redesigned aluminum shell. Still, this will be relatively minor and will mostly just ape what Apple introduced alongside the iPad Air 2 last year. All in all, don’t expect anything huge – the iPad mini 4 will, essentially, be what the totally lackluster iPad mini 3 should have been last year.
3) While the iPad mini is certainly one of the most neglected products on Apple’s lineup, absolutely nothing can rival the level of neglect that the Apple TV has gotten since its introduction in 2007. We’re nearing a decade since the release of that original version, and the Apple TV we all know and kind-of-tolerate-at-best is only the third major revision in the entire history of the product line – and honestly really only the second, considering how minor an upgrade the 3rd Generation was.
All of that is about to change. Apple has often dubbed the Apple TV a “hobby,” but come next Wednesday it will officially be a hobby no longer. The Apple TV is due for a massive upgrade, both internally and externally, and will mark a complete change in the way that Apple views the television.
According to rumor, Apple has completely rethought the very underpinnings of the device, bringing it in line with Apple’s modern iOS devices. And as a modern iOS device, the Apple TV will be transformed into a full blown platform – complete with a software development kit. While Apple had provided partners with a private, extremely limited SDK for the existing Apple TV, developers were hand picked by Apple and were extremely limited in what their applications could do and how they could look. No more: if you believe the little birdies’ chirps, we’re talking a full blown SDK that will make developing complex applications and highly advanced games a real possibility.
That’s right – I said games. While Apple isn’t focusing on rivaling the Xbox and the PlayStation any time soon (sorry, Cult of Mac), rumors suggest that Apple will be incorporating complex gaming support into the core of the Apple TV, taking advantage of the latest version of Metal (roughly equivalent to DirectX on Windows) found on iOS 9. Developers should be able to take full advantage of the Apple TV’s new remote, which will feature a small trackpad, two dedicated buttons, and motion control support, enabling games that could capture the hearts and minds of the “softcore” gaming crowd in the same way that the Nintendo Wii did back in 2006, and that the iPhone and iPad have today.
One of the best features of the Amazon Fire TV has to be the built in microphone support, and Apple will apparently be “borrowing” this fantastic idea for use in the next generation Apple TV. If reports are to be believed, Siri is about to get a huge boost in the form of extensive knowledge about movie, television, and game content. Simply activate Siri on the Apple TV, say “I want to watch Boy Meets Girl” (because who wouldn’t want to watch Boy Meets Girl?), and Apple TV will automagically figure out where you can watch – whether that be on the iTunes Store, Netflix, Disney, whatever.
It’s hard to overstate how fundamental this change is. Back when there were only a handful of television channels on the air it was a lot easier to keep track of what station was home to what programming. But in today’s world with literally hundreds to thousands of sources of quality entertainment, the old “channel” model – which the current generation Apple TV so heavily relies on – is completely broken.
For example, I’ve watched “Mr. Robot” weekly since the show (which is fantastic, by the way) started earlier this summer, but not once have I paid any mind as to what channel that show is actually on. Why would I? To me, Mr. Robot is a show that I can play on Xfinity On Demand. To watch Mr. Robot on the Apple TV today, I would need to go find what channel Mr. Robot actually plays on (USA Network, apparently), find the USA Network app on the home screen if there even is one, and if not wade through the other Apple TV apps to figure out if it may be anywhere else. All of that will soon be solved with a simple “Hey Siri, watch Mr. Robot.”
In the eyes of the modern television viewer, the “channel” has been relegated to the technological dustbin of the twenty-first century, and Siri on the Apple TV will make this all the more obvious.
4) Don’t worry Apple Watch, we didn’t forget about you! Even though the Apple Watch is by far the freshest mobile product in Apple’s lineup, it too will get just a little bit of love next week in the form of some new configurations and accessories. Trustworthy little birdies suggest that Apple will be releasing a new Apple Watch Sport model featuring the Watch’s signature 7000 series aluminum anodized gold, just like the iPhone and the iPad (not to be confused with the 17-carot gold found in the $10,000+ Apple Watch Edition).
Coming along for the ride will also likely include new color options for the Sport Bands, which are said to be deeper and richer in color than the current neon offerings, including a Product (RED) Sport Band. While this will be welcome news to many, this won’t be the first time we’ve seen such bands – Apple showed off new sport band color options during a private event earlier this year. Also in the cards – a price cut, likely to jumpstart Apple Watch sales heading into the Christmas season.
5) This may be a given, but new iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watch devices and configurations all suggest that new software is right around the corner. I would highly suspect that Apple will be releasing iOS 9 around the same time that they release the iPhone 6s, with watchOS 2 also making its official final debut that day as well. We know pretty much all there is to know about iOS 9 and watchOS 2 given their prominence at WWDC 2015, but if you need a refresher on that, I wrote some detail hands on impressions of the beta versions of both iOS 9 and watchOS 2 throughout the summer over on DotUnderscore.
Phones, Macs, and Watches - oh my
I’m a procrastinator. I have a tendency to wait until the very last minute to do anything, including publish these sort of What to Realistically Expect stories. Finally, my infliction has paid off – if I had written this even just last week, I would have jotted down new Apple TV hardware and software as a stone cold sure thing. Yet according to the ever reliable Brian X. Chen, Apple threw away plans to announce new Apple TV hardware and a cohesive developer ecosystem at WWDC at the very last minute because “the product was not ready for prime time”.
Given that I’m an avid user of the current iteration of Apple TV (I stream all my nightly television from there), I’m bummed to see this cut. I was hoping this would be when the Apple TV truly grew up and became a major player in the Apple line-up. Alas.
Time is short and things run behind schedule, and so it goes. There’s always September.
And in the spirit of that, we’re still on the verge of an entire week’s worth of new Apple products, platforms, and goodies. The Apple TV may not be there, but there’s still plenty left to cover. Here’s what you can realistically expect at WWDC 2015, starting tomorrow, June 8th.
New software, new hardware, new SDKs
While Apple famously remains mum on the future of most of their products, popular Apple rumor site 9to5Mac has today apparently spilled the beans on the near future of two of Apple’s most exciting products – the Apple Watch and the Apple TV. According to the new report, which cites a “proven source”, Apple is hard at work on both new software and hardware for the two product lines as well as at least one new service which will tie into both.
On the Apple Watch side, Apple is said to be busy adding in some low hanging fruit on the software side. Apple’s incredibly useful “Find My…” suite of services will expand to a new “Find My Apple Watch” function, which will allow you to locate the Watch’s general location and allow you to lock it or wipe it if lost. Given the Apple Watch features very few connectivity functionality of its own, Apple will apparently be basing this on a new service called “Smart Leashing”, which will allow the Watch to more accurately determine how far away the Watch is from your phone using services such as wi-fi and Bluetooth. This will supposedly also allow the Watch to warn a wearer with a few taps if it’s getting too far away from its connected iPhone.
Apple is also said to be working on the third party app ecosystem for the Apple Watch. First, the Apple may be working on improving the functionality of the current WatchKit SDK, the platform that Apple currently uses to wirelessly transmit app projects from iPhone apps to the Apple Watch display. Apple is said to be expanding this to allow developers to create their own Complications, widgets that live on the Watch’s watch face to provide nuggets of information. Complications are currently limited to Apple’s built in applications, such as showing the current weather information from the built in Weather app. 3rd party Complications would open up a new world of possibilities – for example, replacing Apple’s built in Weather complication with a preferred third party alternative. On top of the improvements to the current WatchKit, Apple is supposedly also hard at work at the successor to WatchKit – native Apple Watch applications that natively live on the Apple Watch hardware that don’t directly rely on the user’s iPhone. This next-generation Apple Watch SDK will enable much more powerful, functional, and sophisticated applications and will remove a majority of limitations that have frustrated many day one Apple Watch developers.
On the Apple TV side, 9to5Mac seemingly confirms that Apple is on the verge of releasing a next-generation Apple TV box alongside its first major software update in years. The new Apple TV is said to be much more powerful than the previous generation while also managing to become much slimmer than the current device. Apple will also introduce a third party application ecosystem for the new Apple TV OS, allowing developers to create their own apps – such as games, video streaming, music streaming, news, and more – for the Apple TV for the first time. Apple is said to be bundling in a more advanced remote control for the Apple TV, which may or may not include a Force Touch trackpad. Apple will also supposedly promote the Apple Watch’s Remote app to the primary remote for the Apple TV for Apple Watch owners. Apple is also apparently busy readying their new Live TV replacement service for the Apple TV, which will allow you – get ready for this – to watch live content a la cable, streaming directly to your Apple TV. This service is said to be slightly behind the new hardware and software initiatives.
What is left more ambiguous in 9to5Mac’s report is the timing of all the above. It would stand to reason that Apple is incredibly interested in pushing as much of this as possible at the company’s upcoming Worldwide Developer Conference, which is slated for June 8th – particularly the developer initiatives. Apple may also reveal their new version of their smartphone and Mac operating systems, iOS 9 and OS 10.11, alongside the new Apple Watch OS and Apple TV.
Let’s, just this once, take some wild guesses.
Given the imminent release of the Apple Watch – come on, that can’t be a spoiler at this point – it’s all too appropriate to compare Apple to the clock. Like the clock we all live by day in and day out, Apple observes a fairly strict set of cycles and patterns. Springtime is quiet time, with all the cooks busy in the kitchen preparing the second half of the year’s goodies. With June comes WWDC, Apple’s first big event, alongside Mac notebook hardware and new major versions of iOS and OS X. Then September – iPhone time – and finally late October, the iPad.
This year had to be different. When Apple announced the Apple Watch at last September’s media event, it was also announcing its first new product category since the iPad in 2010. It was announcing a product unlike one ever to come out of Apple; intimately customizable, from watch face to watch band to watch price. Are you in the market for the potentially five figure Apple Watch Edition, by any chance?
The Apple Watch makes predicting Monday’s event impossible. Traditionally, anybody who knew how to read Apple’s product release cycle and what type of product they traditionally released could make fairly accurate predictions on what to expect – it’s why we’ve been correct in all but one of our nearly twenty predictions thus far. This time, the only thing we can know for sure is that the Apple Watch is coming. Everything else?
Let’s, just this once, take some wild guesses.
What to realistically expect…” is a series of posts which we use to temper expectations concerning upcoming industry events. This Monday’s event promises to be one of the largest Apple events in recent memory, making this one of the most difficult – and interesting – events to predict. Read more to hear what we think.
Maybe - I mean weirder things have happened
I specifically remember sitting on my uncomfortable, college provided dorm bed a couple of years back and being so excited about the Ouya. A $100 game console with a beautiful, functional user interface, familiar and quality controller, at a price even a broke college student could afford, plus an open software development kit familiar to the thousands of existing Android game developers; yes, the Ouya seemed to have it all. Then it came out, and it was a huge, mega flop. In fact, the Ouya was such a huge flop that it effectively killed any interest most people had in the entire category of Android game consoles that seemed so exciting, so recently.
Yet here I am, the week of CES 2015, so excited about this – an Android game console with essential all the same great, promising qualities that I saw in the Ouya just two years ago. The Razer Forge TV is the first Android game console that may actually have the one thing that the Ouya never did. The Forge TV has a chance to survive – or maybe even thrive – in the console market.
With a quad-core Snapdragon 805 CPU and a Adreno 420 GPU, the Razer Forge TV is a relative powerhouse, far more capable than anything the Ouya could possibly dream of. Graphics capability wise, we’re looking at something roughly on par with the last generation big name consoles, the Xbox 360 and the PS3. It’s got a beautiful controller, an impressive selection of existing Android games, and perhaps importantly the Razer name – one that has become synonymous in the PC industry with quality gaming equipment. This is where the Ouya may have gotten cut at the jugular. While the Ouya certainly had promise, nobody would deny that, it was incredibly ambitious for what amounted to a Kickstarter funded start-up. To compete in such an intense market one needs a name that can draw people, and I think that’s exactly what Razer has and what could propel the Forge TV to greater heights.
Not to mention the Forge TV’s ultimate trick – streaming. Razer knows that while Android games are good, they’re no match for true console experiences. That’s why they’re padding the Forge TV’s native game library with a collection of Steam games already installed on your PC. Razer promises that their streaming solution is so low-latency that streaming games becomes an actually enjoyable experience. That is “enjoyable”, meaning more than the “mildly infuriating” experience on today’s solutions. It’s also worth mentioning that the Forge TV doubles as an entertainment box running Google’s new Android TV operating system.
The Forge TV console ships this Spring for just $99 for the console only, or $150 for a bundle with the included Bluetooth controller. That’s a fair price for everything you’re getting – let’s just hope Razer can actually pull it off.
It's an Android tablet, but nice
Dell hasn’t always been known to make the most lust-worthy devices, but the company has struck design gold with a couple of the new devices they’ve brought with them to CES this year. Introducing the XPS 13 laptop – an ultra-thin, ultra-portable, ultrabook with an optional super high resolution display, an aluminum body with just a touch of carbon fiber, and practically no bezels. Okay, there’s a little bezel, but we’re talking one tiny bezel here.
Spec wise, we’re looking at all options coming equipped with a next-generation Intel Core processor, which the company just announced at CES this week. There’s a model with a 1080p display that starts at a cool $800, while higher end model with the 4K display will cost you a more hefty $2,349. The lesser model went on sale today, while the 4K model ships soon.
Next up is the Venue 8 7000 tablet, an Android 5.0 tablet that has more than few tricks up its sleeves. For one thing, it is gorgeous, with an amazing aluminum body, and OLED (yes – OLED, like the ones found in LG’s new TVs) 8-inch display with an impressive 2560 x 1600 resolution. But what makes the Venue really special is its camera set up. Intel’s new RealSense technology is on board, marking the first tablet – and one of the first devices – to have the new, motion and depth tracking technology with Kinect-like utility.
The Venue 8 7000 starts at a very reasonable $400 and is also available in a higher end LTE model. If that perks your ears up, you can head on over to Dell’s website and get yours now.
webOS lives on... again
Last year LG resurrected Palm’s ill-fated webOS smartphone platform, reimagining it as a next-generation Smart TV platform with little in the way of any sort of competition when it comes to usability and design. It was just June that LG announced that they’ve sold 1 million television sets running webOS, and now the company is back with seven – yes, count them, seven – new models running an upgraded version of LG’s webOS platform, which the company is calling webOS 2.0, all in various sizes. Oh, and some of them are even curved.
But unlike last year’s webOS Smart TVs, which featured essentially mostly conventional 1080p LCD panels, this year LG is making a bold move by heavily pushing the next generation 4K OLED technology. OLED panels have several improvements over traditional LCDs, including blacker blacks, deeper and richer colors, and better energy efficiency.
OLEDs aren’t necessarily anything new – they’ve been a staple of numerous CES’s past, at this point – but LG’s new webOS 2.0 OLED Smart TVs promise to be among the first relatively affordable OLED sets. 4K panels, of course, offer a much higher resolution than 1080p displays resulting in a much sharper, more detailed picture.
LG hasn’t said anything in the way of pricing or availability of any of their 4K OLED Smart TVs, however expect to learn more in the weeks and months ahead.
It's like the original G Flex, but better
As we reported in our pre-CES coverage, LG is back with the sequel to last year’s original G Flex smartphone – and this time, you might actually want it.
Whereas last year’s model featured a ridiculously large 6-inch display, the G Flex 2 has a much more manageable (yet still very, very large) 5.5-inch display. That’s still firmly in “phablet” territory, but let’s be real here – last year’s G Flex felt more like a small tablet than a big smartphone. The technology inside that warped body is also much improved; whereas the original G Flex had a 720p display, the new model features a 1080p resolution – a noticeable improvement over the older model at this screen size.
LG says this new G Flex 2 is 20% more durable than last year’s model, and is able to recover from more scratches, more easily than last ear’s model using an improved version of the company’s unique self-healing finish found on the back of the phone, whereas Gorilla Glass 3 strengthens the front.
There’s a next generation Snapdragon 810 processor inside, one of the first mass market a 64-bit mobile processors to make their way into an Android device. There’s also a 13 megapixel camera on the back and a 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera, for all your selfie needs.
The LG G Flex 2 will ship later this first quarter on AT&T, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular calling first dibs in the United States. Pricing has yet to be announced, however LG did say that the company is considering this a niche, high-end device that will likely cost more than the existing (and more capable) LG G3.
Bringing Smart Homes to life
I’ve been a fan of the Smart Home concept since I first saw the American classic movie “Smart House” by the Disney Channel, which means I’ve been waiting to talk to a robot house for the last 15 years. Finally, my time as come, and it figures it would be in part thanks to Apple to lead the charge; though Apple may not actually have any sort of presence at CES 2015, hardware supporting their HomeKit smart home ecosystem is absolutely everywhere.
iHome, manufacturer of an absolutely endless line of portable speaker systems that work well with iPhones, iPods, and iPads, came to CES with their first HomeKit accessory, the $40 SmartPlug. SmartPlug works as an intermediary between the electrical outlets in your house and whatever you plug into the wall, allowing you to turn nearly every piece of electronics in your house on and off, right from your iOS device. It even supports Siri, so if you’re really lazy, you could just say “Hey Siri, turn on my lamp,” and poof – lamp is on.
There’s also Switch by accessory manufacturer iDevice, another device that plugs into your wall outlets and devices to do the same. iDevice’s accompanying application allows you to set “schedules”, which work as advanced timers. Know you get home from the library at 3:00 PM every day? Switch will remember to turn on the lights before you even get home.
Next up – and most ambitiously – there’s the Elgato Eve, a complete line of HomeKit connected devices and sensors that do everything from determine how energy efficient your home is to the amount of water you consume in a given timeframe, to automatically turning the lights on and off like the aforementioned devices, and even the weather both in and outside your house. Elgato’s Eve iOS application then puts all of this data together to give you a ridiculously specific idea of every element of your living environment.
While Apple has yet to officially launch HomeKit, and none of these devices have hit the market just yet, CES 2015 is the sign we needed that smart homes will finally become a real, honest to goodness thing this year. While we may be a little while away from talking to a holographic avatar representing your house complete with a unique, crazed personality – especially one with the likeness of famous actress Katey Sagal – I think this is close enough to count. Welcome to the future!
There will be smartwatches galore
CES 2015 will be the year of the smartwatch. It will also be the year of the sub-$2000 4K television set, the far-away 8K television set, virtual reality, and driverless cars. It will be the year where smartphones became passé; it will be the year home automation became a legitimate, for real, real thing. Or, maybe, 2015 will be none of those things. Maybe 2015 will be the year of something crazy, something none of us could have possibly expected.
Maybe whatever we get at CES this year will be something so jaw dropping, so amazing, that it will instantly send ripples through the fabric of space time, changing the course of humanity forever. Maybe CES 2015 will bring something quiet, something small, something that slips underneath the radar and we don’t even notice it yet somehow manages to become the next big thing.
Maybe CES 2015 will be none of those things, and maybe it’ll just be another average, expected – albeit boring – trade show with a bunch of things that nobody wants, and things that everybody wants but nobody will get (at least not yet).
Whatever CES 2015 brings, we’ll be right here to deliver the biggest, baddest, and maybe most ridiculous it has to offer. Our CES 2015 coverage begins now.