The October Apple Event might have been a little later than usual this year (for obvious reasons), but there wasn’t anything too unexpected in 2020’s autumn showcase. We got an expected refresh of iPhones, an exclusive 5G name drop, a petite addition to the HomePod range and some interesting evolution of the underlying tech.
Our mobile app developers, UX designers and systems integration experts watched with interest last night. It turned out that there was something new for the Voice & Virtual Assistant team too.
Here’s a quick round up from our mobile engineers and designers as to what we saw, what all this new mobile technology all might mean for native iOS apps and which phone to put on your Xmas list.
(And if any of this gets you thinking about a new idea, get in touch as we’d love to find out more).
Introducing the HomePod Mini
First up at the Apple Event was the HomePod Mini. This is Apple’s foray into the mid-range smart speaker market, which brings welcome competition to a segment previously dominated by Sonos. At £99, it’s unlikely to lure many away from Amazon’s many sub-£50 offerings or Google’s Nest Mini, but it’s a decent option for those already hooked into the Apple ecosystem, that want a premium audio experience, but don’t need a huge speaker to annoy the neighbours with.
It’s a fairly run of the mill smart speaker with an Apple twist. As you’d expect, it does multi-room audio, stereo pairing, multi-user, and intercom, the latter also tying into CarPlay, Apple Watch, and AirPods, if you need to bug someone out of range of a HomePod.
HomePod Mini is also Apple’s first use of the U1 Ultra Wideband chip on non-phone devices, allowing you to take control of a HomePod Mini just by bringing your phone close to it (in a future software update).
The speaker can integrate with more platforms with shortcuts on watchOS 7, SiriKit Music on HomePod, and SiriKit Media on Apple TV. Apple recommends downloading Xcode 12 beta and using their resources to create apps that work with Siri. We’re thinking Siri shortcuts from our iOS apps to the HomePod – looks like we’ve got some homework to do.
For users of alternative streaming services, Apple has said that they’re opening up the platform to bring deeper integration to apps like Spotify. Previously you could AirPlay to the HomePod like any other device, but in the future you may be able to “Hey Siri, play Despacito on Spotify”. It remains to be seen if Spotify and Apple will put their differences aside, but things are looking good for consumers.
Have you got a question about Voice Assistants? Get in touch as we’re happy to answer!
5G was the big ticket feature of the Apple Event, with support for mmWave, offering speeds of up to 4Gbps in ideal conditions, but a more realistic 1Gbps on average. One major caveat though: mmWave will only be available in the US, as evidenced by the absence of the antenna window on the side of the phones in international shots, and the lack of non-US 5G frequency bands on the spec sheet.
Apple have also continued in their goal of making greener products by not including headphones or a mains charger in the box. By doing so, they can reduce the amount of packaging needed, which means 70% more iPhones can fit on a shipping pallet.
There will no doubt be plenty of moaning about this, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t already have a drawer full of odd chargers you keep around just in case your fancy GaN 18w charger kicks the bucket?
Speaking of chargers, Apple have kind-of brought back MagSafe, much to the chagrin of the die-hard MacBook Pro fans. The new MagSafe is a system of cases and accessories that attach magnetically to the back of the phone, one of which is a magnetic wireless charger. It’s no AirPower, but it does offer up to 15w, twice that of conventional Qi.
All 4 models have been redesigned with thinner bezels (which means bigger displays without increasing the footprint to match), and the display uses Apple’s latest Ceramic Display technology, to offer up to 4x higher impact resistance. The redesigned body now means the phone is thinner and lighter than previous generations, but come on, when have Apple ever put out a thicker phone? It still has the camera bump though…
In previous Apple Event launches, we’ve noticed that only the Pro models got an OLED display, but this is now available on all 4 iPhone 12 devices, which makes sense given all of them support HDR video recording.
For our designers, the iPhone 12 brings a new optimisation challenge to continue to build adaptable interfaces for all environments. Apple’s human interface guidelines will continue to be a close ally as app optimisation and localisation progresses 1 step further, not just for screens, but to integrate with the new HomePod Mini and our old friend Siri into app extensions.
It would be a shame to miss that the front selfie camera also got a bit of love, with support for Night Mode to enhance low-light shots without requiring the flash.
12 & 12 Mini
The October Apple Event introduced us to the 12 and the 12 mini, a welcome addition to the lineup for those of you that don’t need a phone the size of a house brick. Internally, they’re both identical, and have the same A14 Bionic chip as the Pro models. You still get 2 cameras on the back (one wide, one ultra wide), with decent specs as always. While both models get Dolby Vision HDR support (to make your TikTok videos really pop), you’ll be limited to a “paltry” 30fps at 4k.
Both models come in five colours: Blue, Green, (PRODUCT)RED, White, Black, with 64/128/256GB storage options.
12 Pro & 12 Pro Max
Much the same as the 12, but with the inclusion of a telephoto third camera on the back, support for Dolby Vision at 4k60, and new for this year’s Apple Event, their new AppleProRaw file format for photos, allowing photographers to capture even more colour data.
The cameras also gain new optical image stabilisation tech, previously found only in high-end DSLRs. This new technology dubbed “Sensor-shift”, as the name implies, moves the sensor rather than the lens, allowing for faster reaction to any movement that would blur the image. This also allows for even longer exposures too.
LIDAR (similar to tech used in self-driving cars to map the world around them) is now no longer exclusive to the iPad Pro. With this extra camera, AR experiences start almost instantaneously, without having to sweep the room to get enough tracking data. LIDAR is also used during low-light shooting, where autofocus from the 3 standard cameras is not reliable enough.
Not to be outdone by the iPhone 12’s selection of colours, the Pro comes in Graphite, Silver, Gold, and Pacific Blue, which make the stainless steel case look absolutely stunning. Storage is 128/256/512GB for both models.
All in all, the new phones are a decent, if rather pedestrian update. As with the Apple Watch announcement a few weeks ago, there’s nothing outstanding that makes sense upgrading from last year’s models. Even the iPhone X has still got life in it, and offers an excellent experience on iOS 14. If your contract is up for renewal, you’ll be spoilt for choice on which new iPhone to get.
We’ve been following Apple Events for eleven years and always with one eye on what it means for our clients and their customers. If you’d like to understand more about how evolving mobile technology can help your organisation, we’re always happy to offer advice. Just get in touch – one of our 180 mobile experts will have an answer.