It’s been a long while and I’ve had a lot of catching up to do in the mobile space. For the moment I’ll just touch on a few of my thoughts about the things I’ve seen going on.
For the most part I’ve enjoyed having the latest mobile device of my liking when it comes out, but there are times when I just have to say “I’ll pass.” Thus far, this is looking like one of those years. The iPhone XS, XS Max, XR and Apple Watch 4 were all introduced at Apple’s ‘Gather round’ Event in September. After watching the event and doing a little digging, I came away with the Apple Watch 4 as being the more interesting and useful upgrade than any of the new iPhones for a few simple reasons.
The iPhone XS and XS Max are Apple’s flagship devices that also come with rather large price tags to match. Both iPhones come in 3 storage sizes, 64GB, 256GB and 512GB. Each ranging in price from $999.00, $1149.00 and $1349.00 respectively for the XS and $1099.00, $1249.00 and $1499.00 for the XS Max. This years’ iPhone regardless of which model you chose, each one packs the new A12 Bionic CPU which is a smaller, faster, and more efficient 7nm, octa-core processor; better, larger camera sensors for low light and wider angles; an improved OLED display for more accurate color calibration; and an even larger storage option to round out the top looked at hardware features. After doing a full hardware comparison between last year’s iPhone X and this year’s XS, there really isn’t enough to justify an upgrade in my opinion for iPhone X owners unless you absolutely need dual-sims capability and the improved cellular antenna technology. Especially, after taking the high price tag into consideration.
Tomorrow’s technology today is what the iPhone X brought to the market last year. The iPhone XS is a small but good push forward for those still holding on to much older devices like the iPhone 6 and 7 or maybe even those who upgraded to an 8 last year and are now ready to let go of the home button and Touch ID. Most of the other features that aren’t tied to the new hardware can be found in iOS 12 itself. One example of this is battery efficiency, which is only partly due to more power efficient hardware in the new XS but also due to just improved power management in the operating system itself regardless of the phone model. So iPhone X owners still get the benefits of the latest operating system without needing to have new hardware to match.
Next up is the iPhone XR that sits at the lower end (not low-end) of the hardware ladder, which is a very nice improvement over the last years iPhone 8. Although, some have eluded to the XR as a replacement for the now discontinued SE; it’s not. The XR would be the 9 in this case only this time its being kept it in-line with the high-end by incorporating the same near edge-to-edge display design (good-bye home button) but using much larger 6.1 inch display. Apple was able to bring the new iPhone design to the lower cost device by using LCD rather than OLED, replacing 3D Touch with Haptic Touch and not including the more advanced dual-camera system to name a few. Even without those 3 components you still get all the other benefits of the higher end XS but for less money. Does this help those who wanted a smaller iPhone… absolutely not. It simply shows that Apple can have a lower cost device with good hardware; just not a very cheaply priced device. Hopefully there will be a valid replacement for the iPhone SE because everyone doesn’t like or need a large phone but for now we’ll just have to wait and see.
The Apple Watch 4 is a different story entirely in my opinion. Starting with it’s larger iPhone like style display. It’s now capable of showing more information due to its size and a much more useful watch face. The larger display should also make navigating the UI much easier, especially on the new 40mm watch that now replaces the previous 38mm, which I always felt was to small a display for a smartwatch. Although, the screen has gotten larger the watch itself has gotten slightly slimmer. Measuring in at 10.7mm thick, which is 0.7mm thinner than the 3 series. It isn’t much, but it can make a big difference when it comes to fitting nicely under the cuff of a buttoned shirt sleeve. Also nice is the fact that all the previous watch bands still fit.
Although, thinner, it packs some much needed and improved technology. The new SoC, the S4, is dual-core and makes a similar transition like the iPhone 5s did years ago by going 64-bit. Also like the iPhone, Apple seems to be adding more Haptic feedback that can now be found in the Digital Crown when using it to scroll. Another improvement is the second generation heart rate sensor. The new sensor has the same four sensors as previous models but just in a smaller tighter cluster. This combined with the improved software algorithms should also make it much more accurate.
An excellent and even more important feature added this year is drop detection. Allowing the Watch to automatically dial 9-1-1 and your emergency contacts for you if you’ve fallen and haven’t gotten back up within the given timeframe of around 60 seconds. As someone whose been an avid cyclist and runs I can see where this can be very handy when you’re out and possibly far from home. People with medical conditions, the elderly or if have an unfortunate accident this could also be extremely useful in getting you help quickly if your in your home and by yourself.
The last feature that caught my eye are the eletrodes surrounding the heart rate monitor on the bottom of the watch giving it the ability to perform an ECG (electrocardiograph). I don’t know how accurate it will be but being a medical professional, this has me very curious. I think it may be a smart way to just monitor how you’re doing during exercise or if you have a heart related condition because it will be continually tracking your heart’s rythms. So one to many spikes or drops could indiate an issue. That being said, this in no way should be used nor can it replace a an ECG done in a hospital.
So what did Apple really accomplish this year. Well, this is an ‘S’ year, meaning the new iPhones have small improvements over last years models. Along with that they have also unified the product line once again. So, regardless of which iPhone you look at in this year’s lineup, they all have the same form factor and for the most part the same internal hardware. Unfortunately, there’s no truly stand out feature. If you already have an iPhone X you can and probably should skip the XS unless you really need the larger form factor of the XS Max and a slightly better camera. The Apple Watch 4 is the best upgrade for anyone Apple Watch owner especially if you have a Series 2 or older. All the new features are tied to the new hardware so you can’t get them on older generations. The drop detection is the killer feature in my opinion and the ECG will probably be too once it’s made available. It you have a Series 3 upgrading is a toss up but personally I’d wait at least until next year.