Well, I did it. After absorbing the March event on Monday and unpacking it with Benjamin on the 9to5Mac Happy Hour podcast this week, I set my alarm for 1:58 am last night and pre-ordered the iPhone SE. Based on Mark’s reporting, I had an early feeling that the iPhone SE would be compelling (aside from color, the iPhone 5c never was to me) and overall Apple delivered.
The FaceTime selfie camera is a bit disappointing and the display contrast is weak, but the price points for 16GB and 64GB had a surprise and delight effect that I wasn’t expecting. So in one week I’ll make the giant leap back down from a 5.5-inch iPhone to a 4-inch one. Expect my thoughts on that experience in a couple of weeks. I’ll also share my iPhone SE review after some testing so send any questions or ideas over; I’m primarily interested in comparing it to the iPhone 5s and measuring the differences.
And now that I’ve had a few days to digest this year’s March Apple event, I have a few thoughts on everything it contained including Apple’s new Woven Nylon bands, the differences between the two iPad Pros, and a comment on tech spring cleaning …
9to5Mac Happy Hour
I’ll start with my iPhone SE purchase. Specifically, I pre-ordered the silver 64GB AT&T iPhone SE at its full $499 retail price. I’ve sold old iPhones and used early upgrades with semi-subsidies in the past, but I’ve never bought an iPhone outright before. Even as an entry-price iPhone, 16GB is still too storage-constrained for me to consider (or give to family) so I wasn’t tempted by the $399 version, but $500 for a 4-inch version of what’s almost as spec’d out as an iPhone 6s is super reasonable. My guess on pricing was 16GB for $450 and 64GB for $550 so consider me surprised and delighted.
As for how the iPhone SE stacked up against my personal wish list for me to consider switching from the 6s Plus to the SE, it has a solid iSight camera, Live Photos, the A9/M9 chip, and subtle design tweaks to denote it’s different. Matte chamfered edges versus shiny looks neat (I kinda wish my iPad did that) and my guess that the FCC labels would be replaced with an SE stamp came through. And iPhone SE space gray is the same as iPhone 6 space gray, not the darker iPhone 5s space gray (for better or worse) which I wondered about.
The forehead, chin, bezel, and thickness of the iPhone SE may feel dated, we’ll see, but I definitely wrestle with one-hand use on both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and beyond so stay tuned for more on this experience. When the iPhone 7 is introduced later this year, though, my run with the SE will likely end and family will inherit it as I expect I’ll compromise on the 4.7-inch screen size in favor of the latest features and design.
Now more on this year’s March event…
I didn’t expect Tim Cook to address the FBI situation and a majority of readers who responded to our poll didn’t think he should, but in retrospect I think it was smart that he did. Cook didn’t specifically call out the FBI specifically, but he did say Apple was “at odds with our own government,” which hit me as strong language when said out loud despite the same message already being drilled in the press. I’m not sure that what happened after the event with the FBI was good or bad, but Cook addressing the situation during the event at least got the elephant out of the room early on even though it felt like Cook never changed his tone.
Some may consider it filler content, but I really enjoyed Lisa Jackson’s presentation on Apple’s environmental effort and being introduced to Liam, the iPhone-deconstructing robot. Jackson joined Apple in 2013 after serving as the EPA Administrator under the Obama administration then stepping down during the height of the Keystone pipeline debate. It wasn’t lost on me that Jackson, who now serves as Apple’s VP of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, was the follow up act to Tim Cook speaking against the Department of Justice of her former boss. Lisa Jackson isn’t quiet about politics, either, as she recently co-authored an endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President, citing climate change.
Jeff Williams, recently named Apple’s COO, followed to give updates on ResearchKit and introduce CareKit. Where ResearchKit is an iOS framework for apps that help users participate in medical research studies, CareKit is more patient-facing than institution-facing and similarly should give birth to a new class of healthcare apps. You could argue this was filler content for an Apple event, too, but I love seeing Williams drive Apple’s medical effort publicly.
My grandmother in her early 60s was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in late 2013 and fought through the hell that is chemo for 11 months. As her primary caregiver, I helped her track her dangerously low blood pressure using Notes on her iPhone and iPad to record it three times each day. Health-tracking on iOS was pretty barebones then; I’d have loved to have HealthKit, CareKit, and the iPhone’s Health app (and maybe even Apple Watch heart rate tracking) to use then so I’m always glad to see the effort move forward and get stage time.
In the Apple Watch space, I was hoping that Tim Cook and company would share their motivation for watchOS 2.2’s ‘pair multiple watches to one iPhone’ feature, but the software update didn’t come up. Instead, we learned that 30% of Apple Watch users regularly change bands (I’m in that camp), and Apple introduced a load of new bands to encourage the other 70% of Apple Watch owners to join in. I went hands-on with the new Woven Nylon strap yesterday; I’m glad it’s $50 and not more, but it feels less premium than the $50 Sport band and the colors kinda aren’t for me. My wife finds the Sport band uncomfortable and irritating, though, and she’s liking the black nylon band so far.
All Apple Watch Sport models (aluminum cases with Sport or Woven Nylon bands) dropped $50 to start at $299, which isn’t totally unlike the iPhone after it was on the market for a while before the second generation model. Note that the band prices didn’t change and neither did the stainless steel Apple Watches (which can be bought with Woven Nylon bands but not Sport bands now); I wouldn’t be surprised if the Apple Watch 2 once again started at $349, not $299, but the lower price is psychologically easier to digest. Note, too, that Best Buy, Target, and others in the U.S. have been selling Apple Watches for $100 off the retail price off and on lately. See: 9to5Toys.com.
Apple TV came next. I covered tvOS 9.2 in depth earlier this week, and overall it brings the fourth generation Apple TV to feature parity with the third generation Apple TV (finally) and goes even further with app folders, search dictation, and iCloud Photo Library. When Apple TV 4 launched at the end of October, I wasn’t exactly comfortable recommending it just yet, but tvOS 9.2 improves enough about it that I recently bought a second box when it went on sale (the $150 price is my last complaint; $99 would be so easy to recommend). Tim Cook even made a little news by revealing that CBS, A&E, The History Channel, Lifetime, and FYI would be coming next to Siri and universal search.
I’ll skip over the iPhone section as I’ve written at length on my thoughts there already. The smaller iPad Pro, however, is just plain complicated. Remember when the iPad 3 debuted in March then got replaced by the iPad 4 in October? As a 12.9-inch iPad Pro customer, the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro feels sorta like that. It has enough differences like a True Tone display, higher spec’d camera with Live Photos, and always-on Hey Siri (despite having the same A9X/M9 chip) that it could pass for next year’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro in terms of features, but the 2GB of RAM versus 4GB on the bigger iPad Pro makes it easier to digest.
The naming convention is also as confusing as the iPad 3 and iPad 4 (the new iPad and iPad with Retina display); Apple doesn’t seem to have one specific name for either iPad Pro now if you browse its website. Until Apple Pro’s up the iPad mini (not that that’s happening), I’m personally sticking with big iPad Pro and small iPad Pro to differentiate as 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch is a technical mouth full. I did find it fun to see Phil Schiller present the small iPad Pro considering he’s the SVP where product marketing (and presumably naming?) lands.
Overall, I’m happy to see Apple put together a second March event after the big Spring Forward March event in 2015. The ‘Let us loop you in’ event was much smaller in comparison, and only about an hour long, but it sure beats going from September to June without any new products or news to share. We didn’t see new Macs (although there’s evidence a refresh is pending) and that iTunes update for Apple Music that Eddy Cue mentioned was pretty tiny (although the small iPad Pro says it requires iTunes 12.4 while 12.3.3 is the latest version and adds small iPad Pro support so something bigger is likely still coming).
And finally, a comment on spring cleaning. My colleague Chance auctioned off his big iPad Pro to bank roll buying the small iPad Pro, which motivated me to similarly auction off a few Apple (and Beats) items in the name of spring cleaning and simplifying my hardware catalog. My main computer is a spec’d out 2012 Mac mini and I have the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard for mobile (with the excellent Screens app to remote into my always-on Mac when needed) so I parted ways with my 12-inch Retina MacBook. It’s a terrific notebook, but it has a lot of overlap with the iPad Pro and my desktop Mac is fine for now … a super slim 15-inch Retina MacBook is my dream notebook anyway.
The Magic Keyboard replaced my Apple Wireless Keyboard last year so I took the old one out of the closet and turned it into cash. I also parted with the original Magic Trackpad and SuperDrive for near retail cost; it helps to fanatically collect Apple packaging. I also split up with my Beats Solo2 Wireless headphones (Best Buy is doing the same) as they charge with microUSB unlike my Beats Pill+ which uses Lightning; between the Magic Keyboard, Siri Remote, and my iOS devices, that cable is getting increasingly more important and I’m sure Lightning-powered Beats headphones are inevitable.
Anyway, I think there’s something to be said about the positive feeling of spring cleaning, especially tech spring cleaning, and slimming down your hardware catalog every once in a while. Wrapping this all up, I’m happy to see Apple did a little spring cleaning of its own by discontinuing the 2013 iPhone 5s in favor of the iPhone SE; if Apple updates the iPad mini again this year, I’d hope to see the 2013 iPad mini 2 also exit. I also don’t think the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus should live past this fall as the iPhone SE, iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, and whatever new debuts would fill out the lineup properly. All of this moving forward without looking back as Apple celebrates 40 years next Friday … but what better reason to keep the hardware lineup fresh and say goodbye to old hardware, right?