Apple’s “Hey Siri” special event was so completely jammed with major announcements that a lot of little details fell through the cracks — performance differences between the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, battery surprises in the iPad Pro and iPad mini 4, and connectivity omissions in the Apple TV 4, just to name a few.
Every year, once the event’s dust has settled, I dig through all of the information out there to bring you a clearer picture of what to expect from Apple’s latest devices. Here are the things you’ll want to know about the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro, iPad mini 4, and Apple TV 4…
1) Bluetooth 4.2 Is Everywhere! (Except The New Apple TV. Which Is Weird Because, Well, HomeKit.) As new versions of Bluetooth go, Bluetooth 4.2 sounds like a no-brainer for Apple to support. It’s even more power-efficient than before, offers privacy and security improvements, and promises 2.5X speed increases alongside 10X data capacity increases. The Bluetooth SIG calls it “ideal for the Internet of Things,” such as wirelessly connected home appliances. So it was natural to see Bluetooth 4.2 pop up in the new iPhones and iPads, following its stealthy rollout in the sixth-generation iPod touch this summer. But it’s surprisingly absent from the new Apple TV, which Apple has (until yesterday) publicly touted as a hub for HomeKit accessories; the box only supports Bluetooth 4.0. Perhaps the new 802.11ac support will be enough for HomeKit?
2) The iPhone 6s + 6s Plus May Barely Look Different, But They’ll Feel Heavier. As expected, the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are slightly larger in each dimension than before — just enough to make trim-fitting cases bulge — but they’ll be noticeably heavier. While the size changes are each in the 0.1 to 0.2mm range, weight has jumped by nearly 0.5 ounces on the 6s, and 0.7 ounces on the 6s Plus. This could be attributable to the 7000 Series aluminum frame, or to additional 3D Touch components such as the new Taptic Engine.
3) Those Beautiful Fish On The iPhone 6s Packaging (And Backgrounds) Have Been Identified. For the first time since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple is using wallpaper-like photography on the iPhones’ packages — colorful fish to complement the varied colors of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It turns out that they’re selectively-bred betta splendens, aka the Siamese Fighting Fish, with dramatic tails such as halfmoon bettas or double tail bettas. According to a reader tip, Apple’s team may have come to Thailand to film the bettas earlier this year.
4) About Those iPhone 6s Camera Tweaks. Apple obviously mentioned that the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus sport improved cameras, but it didn’t go into a lot of detail on stage beyond to say that they preserve the prior level of image quality at a 50% higher (12-Megapixel) resolution. Pixel size has notably decreased from 1.5µ to 1.22µ, a non-trivial change that is apparently compensated for with “improved noise reduction.” Consequently, we’ll have to see whether photos look smeared or blurry on a pixel-peeping level to achieve the higher pixel count. But more megapixels will probably be good across the board; Panorama mode now supports up to 63MP, up from 43MP in earlier iPhones. And the front camera’s jump to a 5MP sensor from 1.2MP before is a big deal, as it’s better than expected, and will radically improve the look of selfies. None of the iPads (or earlier iPhones) come close — they’re all stuck at 1.2MP, at best.
A few other things weren’t mentioned on stage. Optical Image Stabilization was a weird and under-described addition to the iPhone 6 Plus over the stock iPhone 6; photographers eventually determined it was primarily assisting the iPhone in taking sharper still images in low light. For the iPhone 6s, it remains a Plus-only feature, but this time, Apple is actively noting that OIS works for video, as well, presumably to reduce shake — as people would have expected in last year’s model. Another interesting detail: 4K videos are being recorded in H.264, and Apple is no longer making reference to H.265 support for any purpose, FaceTime or otherwise. Finally, an iOS 9 feature called “Playback Zoom,” which lets you zoom in on parts of your video after recording, is supposedly supported for the 6s and 6s Plus but not earlier iPhones. I stumbled across the feature when testing iOS 9 on my prior 6 Plus, so I’m not sure why Apple’s limiting it here.
5) One “Worldphone” iPhone? Not Yet: There Are Still American LTE Differences. The good news is that each version of the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus supports most of the world’s wireless bands, including fast LTE bands. But there are still at least two separate hardware models for the 6s and 6s Plus, one with CDMA EV-DO Rev. A support (for CDMA carriers such as Verizon), the other with LTE Band 30 support (for AT&T’s newest chunk of wireless spectrum), so you’ll want to choose the version that suits your U.S. carrier. Note that the cellular versions of the iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro come with CDMA Rev. A and B hardware, but don’t offer Band 30 support.
6) On The Body + Screen Of The iPad mini 4. No surprise here: this version of the iPad mini will be the first to completely break compatibility with prior cases. The fourth-generation model is thinner (6.1mm versus 7.4mm) and lighter (0.65 pounds versus 0.73 pounds), but also taller (203.2mm versus 200mm). Apple has switched the screen to a fully-laminated display with antireflective coating, like the iPad Air 2’s, promising “even more lifelike colors, greater contrast, and sharper, more vivid images.” It’s unclear whether the screen now rivals the iPad Air or iPad Air 2 in color gamut — the last two minis did not — but it’s definitely getting better.
Also worth noting: contrary to expectations, the iPad mini 4 isn’t a full iPad Air 2 replacement. It has an A8 processor instead of an A8X, which means that you get less of a graphics bump (1.6x rather than 2.5x) and CPU bump (1.3x rather than 1.4x) over the A7. Battery life is also going to be a question mark, as it has dropped to a 19.1WHr battery, around 20% below the 23.8WHr battery found in the prior model. On a more positive note, the mini 4’s cameras should be equivalent to the Air 2’s, which will be a welcome improvement.
7) Charging The iPad Pro. Apple spent a nice chunk of time discussing the iPad Pro’s features and design, but didn’t talk much about the battery and charging — will the Pro work with all of the Made for iPad chargers companies have been selling? Surprisingly, the answer is “yes.” The iPad Pro has a 38.5WHr battery, which is actually around 10% smaller than the iPad 3 and iPad 4’s 42.5Whr battery. It comes with Apple’s 12W USB Power Adapter, which given the iPad Pro’s size might lead one to worry about lengthy recharging times. But since the iPad 4 took around 5 hours to recharge with the 12W adapter, expect just under 5-hour recharge time for the iPad Pro — plus compatibility with all of the major iPad charging accessories released over the last 3 years.
8) iPad Pro Smart Keyboard, Smart Connector + Logitech. Although Apple was pretty aggressive in applying its branding to the new Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro (didn’t they call it “Apple Fabric” at one point?), the keyboard case looks a lot like something Logitech would make: it was releasing fabric-surfaced keyboard cases like the Fabric Skin Keyboard Folio years ago. Even if Logitech gets no credit for inspiring or co-developing the keyboard, it’s being allowed to release the first third-party keyboard with Smart Connector compatibility — the three-dot power and data connector on the iPad Pro’s edge. Logitech’s version looks more professional than Apple’s (above), which has an awkwardly asymmetrical folding design.
As Bluetooth keyboards have recently been getting 1-year battery life off of single charges, my gut feeling is that the Smart Connector wasn’t designed for this particular accessory, but rather for future recharging of the iPad Pro in a more natural landscape orientation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to keep such a large screen in portrait orientation for charging.
9) A Few Notes On The New Apple TV. It’s the fourth-generation model, but Apple’s calling it “the new Apple TV.” (An eagle-eyed reader noted that meta code on Apple’s web site showed it under the alternate name “Apple TV 2” — would that have been more or less confusing?) In any case, it will come in a black box, unlike the prior generation’s white boxes.
Apple’s official dimensions show the Apple TV as being around 50% taller than before (35mm versus 23mm), but the same footprint (98mm by 98mm). My personal guess is that the extra size may have been needed for its added 802.11ac with MIMO support, demanding bigger antennas, but it’s also over 50% heavier (425g versus 272g), which is surprising given Apple’s feats of thinning and lightening over the years since the prior Apple TV was released.
Little was made of several interesting hardware changes: it will now support Dolby Digital 7.1 (up from 5.1), HDMI 1.4 for faster data/better color/3D, and USB-C — the latter replacing micro-USB, but still for “service only.” Developers found out that it will have 2GB of RAM, which should be plenty for running iPhone 6 Plus-caliber games, but a challenge for modern console-caliber titles. Less positively, Apple has dropped the optical audio port, which is already stirring up angst with some users, and as noted above, the Apple TV won’t have Bluetooth 4.2 — only Bluetooth 4.0. Somewhat worryingly on the software side, Apple doesn’t say that the new Apple TV will support traditional iTunes Music streaming without Apple Music. Let’s hope that’s a temporary oversight. It’s also highly unclear how the 32GB/64GB hardware will handle apps and games, but initial suspicions are that a lot of streaming will be taking place in the background.
10) Apple TV: Don’t Forget The Siri Remote or MFi Controllers. We knew before the event that it was going to be black and larger than the prior Apple Remote, now with a touch surface at the top. It’s actually two-toned, with a black top and silver bottom, measuring 1.5″ by 4.88″ by 0.25″. Interestingly, Apple will include a Lightning to USB cable for charging the Siri Remote, which is sort of odd since a (new) USB-C to Lightning cable would have seemed like a good match for the new rear USB-C port.
Apple will be selling a wrist strap called the Remote Loop for the Siri Remote akin to the one Nintendo released for its Wii Remote years ago, designed to keep frenetic gamers from pitching their controllers at their TV screens. It will plug into the Lightning port on the bottom of the Siri Remote, and resemble the iPod touch Loop recently discontinued along with the fifth-generation iPod touch. Additionally, while the new Apple TV supports “MFi-based controllers,” the first official game controller for Apple TV has been announced, Steelseries’ Nimbus, thankfully at a reasonable $50 price. It looks like there’s only one button difference — “menu” swapped for “pause” — between this and earlier MFi Bluetooth controllers, but there may be other differences under the hood. In any case, you won’t be limited to the Siri Remote for gaming, and that’s great news.
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