Apple had quite the day on Tuesday, announcing a whole mess of new hardware, software, and a payment system that will (eventually) help you ditch those plastic money cards populating your wallet.
So how does all the news break down? Here’s what you need to know, in order of importance and immediacy.
1) The iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus are Big, Rounded, and Go On Sale Next Week
Apple announced two new smartphones on Tuesday: The iPhone 6, and the iPhone 6 Plus. Both phones have the same 64-bit Apple A8 guts, the same M8 motion co-processor, the same revamped 8 MP iSight camera on the back (and 1.2 MP FaceTime shooter on the front). They both come in 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB flavors, and both have 802.11ac WiFi compatibility.
They both have the same new rounded body design, perhaps lightly inspired by the iPhone 2 and 3 of old in shape (but thinner), while using the aluminum and glass you’ve come to expect in an Apple product. It’s a pretty mix, it is.
So, then, the differences? Size, and screen resolution. The iPhone 6 has a 4.7-inch display with a 1334 x 750 panel, while the bigger iPhone 6 Plus has a 5.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 display. Oh and pricing is different, too: $199 and up for the 6, $299 and up for the 6 Plus.
2) Apple’s New Phones Aren’t Pushing The Envelope, and That’s Okay
Apple is a true leader in hardware in some categories. When it comes to cameras, the latest iPhone model is always near the top of the heap, or on top itself. The same can be said in design and materials, especially now that every other flagship smartphone is finally going the aluminum route (the Samsung Galaxy Alpha being a prime example).
The iPhone‘s display is the middle ground. The end result always looks pretty, but the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus aren’t exactly pumping out the pixels. 1920×1080 is the norm, now, yet the iPhone 6 comes in at an odd 1334×750 resolution. Only the “Plus” model offers 1080p. Every similarly-priced Android offering is using 1080p as a baseline, while some are kicking up to 1440p.
And then there are the categories where Apple has taken a decidedly “Wait and See,” approach. This is largely in the radio department, including the likes of 802.11ac WiFi, NFC, and VoLTE. Support for voice over LTE, or VoLTE, is big for Apple, and really big for wireless carriers in North America. Traditionally, phones have passed voice call data over 3G networks, be it GSM or CDMA. But it’s an aging method, and VoLTE puts voice data on the same 4G LTE network as the rest of your data. This means the data that is your voice traveling through your phone is treated like the whatever data your Facebooks and Twitters and Internets are pushing over the network.
The two big advantages to VoLTE? Not only can you use data/apps when making a call when not on WiFi (this is more for the Verizon/CDMA crowd), but you can also make calls over WiFi. The latter is something Apple was aggressive about in its presentation, so expect most of the US carriers to hop on this VoLTE bandwagon, and quick (although it’s worth pointing out that only T-Mobile will support the feature at launch next week).
Regarding NFC? Such chips allow your phone or other device to communicate with – you guessed it – another device. But it does so without having to set up some sort of long-standing or temporary network, like WiFi or Bluetooth. NFC is how Android Beam works, for example.
So Android phones have been rocking NFC for years. But here’s the key question: Who cares?
What good has NFC inclusion done for Android phones? Android Beam is a neat feature, but is it one you use often? How aggressive has Google been with contactless payments? How have app developers pushed the NFC envelope? It’s a nifty technology, but it’s one that Android users (myself included) haven’t really used.
The addition of NFC to Apple phones means the other half of the world should now be properly motivated to use this close-quarters communications goodness. NFC is a big deal for Apple, because it helps with Tim Cook’s grand strategy of…
3) Apple Pay, or Apple Wants All of Your Money to Flow Through It
…Apple Pay. Apple Pay is the new digital, contactless payment system, and boy is it a doozy. Simply put: You’ll be able to use your iPhone 6/6 Plus to pay for virtually anything you buy.
First, you load your credit cards into Apple’s Passbook app. This app doesn’t store your actual credit card and account numbers, though; instead, Passbook and Apple Pay generate new, temporary account numbers for each card/number you plug into it. This way you can use your cards and such without exposing cards to the world. Once everything is loaded up, you go to Staples or McDonald’s (two announced partners) or wherever, buy a bunch of crap you don’t need, and then tap your phone to the base station by your register. There are already a bunch of stations like this, as some credit cards have similar chips built in (tap instead of swipe), but now that Apple is in the contactless payment business? Every business is going to invest in them.
But what about online? Apple Pay works the same way, actually. You go to an online store through an app or Safari, load your cart with the aforementioned useless crap, and then tap one button. Done.
Both methods are tied into Touch ID, so your fingerprint acts as the master key.
This is important on a number of levels. For starters, you won’t be swiping cards at the likes of Target anymore, only to find out your card number was stolen (along with 40 million other numbers) because of lackluster security. Is Apple Pay hacker-proof? That remains to be seen, but a thumbprint trumps a decades-old magnetic strip any day of the week.
This shift also means Android is going to have to get serious about contactless payments, and fast. I’d expect some contactless Google Wallet news in the near future.
4) Apple Announced Watches that are Coming in 2015
The Apple Watch is now a thing. Well, it’s sort of a thing, as the line isn’t launching until “early 2015.”
There are three Apple Watch lines, and the lowest entry point is $349. There’s the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Sport, and the Apple Watch Edition. Ignoring the fact that “Apple Watch Edition” is a really stupid name, each lineup has two sizes (38mm and 42mm). Some models have multiple colors. And there are a lot of different, interchangeable strap options.
There a lot of choices here, but the basic breakdown is easy to digest: The Apple Watch is for most of us (…who are willing to spend $349 on a smartwatch), the Apple Watch Sport is for the fitness freaks, and the Apple Watch Edition (ugh) is for the gold-loving upper-crust millionaires in the audience. Seriously, the Edition models are all made from 18-karat gold.
The Apple Watch platform looks incredibly slick, and I really like some of Apple’s choices here. The band/strap system will make accessorizing painless (but expensive), the digital crown/home button is a fantastic approach interface, and you know Apple is going to have decent app support at launch.
But then there’s the bad news. For starters, the Apple Watch seems to be more iPhone-dependent than many Android Wear watches are on Android phones, which means there are more scenarios in which your phone and watch must be buddies (like working out). The starting price of $349 is another drawback, since most of the Android Wear crowd comes in around $180-$250. That’s a big investment on top of an iPhone 5, 5S, or 6 Series phone, while an Android Wear watch will work with nearly any KitKat Android phone. Which brings us to our next point…
5) The Cost Gap Between Google and Apple Remains the Same
The smartwatch is a luxury, absolutely. There is no one on this planet, Dick Tracy aside, who needs a smartwatch. But it’s a luxury some of us want to invest in, and as cheaply as possible.
Google, while having plenty of flagship phones, has always been about choice (for better or worse). This choice means getting a respectable Android phone on the cheap (Moto G anyone?), and now, getting an Android Wear watch on the cheap. $180 for an LG G Watch isn’t cheap, but it’s “cheap” when the other half is spending a minimum of $350.
It will take some time to truly develop, but you will see the same price and offering gap that exists between Apple and Google in the smartphone arena form in the smartwatch arena. More Android offerings of varying shapes, sizes, and prices, complimented by phones of the same creeds. Apple’s $349 barrier isn’t going to change anytime soon, and the same can be said of its long-standing $199 iPhone price. Even if the Apple Watch drops to $299, it will be competing with Android Wear devices that, flagships aside, will be in a race to the bottom.
It’s the classic battle that Google and Apple have been engaged in for years, but on a new, smaller battlefield.
6) Apple is Silent on Security
Apple didn’t talk about this much during its iDevice presentation, but iCloud security took a step in the right direction this week. Along with two-step authentication on iCloud and iTunes, which has been around (but not really talked about) for a few months now, Apple is now email notifications for new logins. If your iCloud or iTunes account is accessed from an unknown device – two-step verification or not – Apple will send you a note detailing the login. The login tracking should help you keep aware of unwarranted access, which can be thwarted via the classic “log out all sessions” button within your account.
Two-step verification, while not new for Apple, means your phone can act as a verification device (you log in with your username and password, then a second temporary code is sent to your phone), which should help keep at least some unwanted persons out of your private bits.
This week’s Apple event was all about phones and watches, so part of me isn’t surprised that security (when not talking about Apple Pay) was swept under the rug. But there’s a number of security ideas Apple could implement in the near future. One being: If you’re comfortable with your iPhone being your two-step verification device, perhaps Apple could incorporate Touch ID into the equation. Need to log into iCloud on a new laptop? Press your thumb to your iPhone, and the laptop is added to the safe list.
So we got new phones, a new watch, a new world-dominating payment system, and some desperately-needed security measures. Its position opposite Google is unchanged, even with the new hardware, as the two still maintain their 1A/1B status in the mobile world.
Are you planning on buying the new iPhone? What do you think of the new hardware? Let’s get this party started in the comments, folks.