The “S” upgrades for Apple’s iPhone are not known for being outright stunners. They have, for the longest time, been placeholders for a better refresh the year after they have been unveiled. In-between introducing a few new features that are enabled by a new version of the software they run, iOS, they only have incremental hardware updates to keep the pre-order numbers up and the queues a little longer the night before the launch weekend. That may not be the case with this year’s “S” upgrade which, necessitated by the presence of a bigger iPhone model that was introduced last year, makes it needful to unveil two iPhone 6S models: the iPhone 6S itself and a larger iPhone 6S Plus (quite a mouthful, huh?).
Apple kept the size configurations at 4.7 inches for the standard iPhone model and 5.5 inches for the Plus model. Is that the newfound smartphone sweet spot like 3.5 inches was during the Steve Jobs era? We’ll only know if Apple goes for a third straight year with it and not abandon it for something else same time next year now that there is a bigger 12.9 inch iPad to provide all the inspiration Cupertino needs to match ahead with its new “big is better” mantra. The new iPhones also, surprisingly, don’t shed any more weight. We’ve been treated to the “thinner, lighter and better” spectacle every time Apple CEO Tim Cook and his marketing chief Phil Schiller take the stage to announce and demo new smartphones and tablets. If anything, the new iPhones have added some fat. Yeah, a diet coke for them might not be such a bad idea after all. I guess there’s a limit to it all. So much that cases for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus may end up not fitting if you tried them on the new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus. Whereas the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus weighed in at 129 and 172 grams respectively, the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus weigh 143 and 192 grams respectively.
The increase in weight is necessitated by the improved feature set of the new iPhones. the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus become the first iPhones in history to feature 3D Touch. 3D Touch is simply an evolution of Force Touch, the feature that debuted on the Apple Watch that responded to various levels of pressure applied on the display to trigger some predetermined actions. It is a clever use of taptic engines and all the screen real real estate on the big iPhones to get more done and if the analysts have their way, this could spell doom for the physical home button that has been a mainstay of Apple iPhones since 2007.
New Cameras and Live Photos
The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus also mark the first time in three years that Apple has given the iPhone’s camera a bump in megapixel count. The new iPhones ditch the iPhone’s 8 megapixel shooter for a new 12 megapixel iSight camera. The front-facing FaceTime camera has also been refreshed with a new 5 megapixel sensor for better selfies. The 6S Plus, like the iPhone 6 Plus before it, also gets what the standard model misses: optical image stabilization (OIS).
The highlight of the Apple event where the new iPhones were introduced, like every other Apple event, was not on the bump in megapixel count itself but rather what users could do with them. In past releases Slo-Mo, the slow-motion shooting capability of the iPhones, was the feature that blew the audience away. Last night it was Live Photos that did it for the audience consisting mainly of Apple employees and journalists and the thousands watching the live stream many miles away. Live Photos is not a new feature on smartphones but it is a new feature on iPhones. Live Photos is simply a stitching of stills 1.5 seconds before and after you take a shot complete with sound. GIFs? Anyone remember Sound and Shot on the Samsung Galaxy S4? The beauty of it, like in every feature the iPhone packs, is the simplicity in user execution. Users don’t need to do a thing. It is turned on by default in the new iPhones (and you can bet it is not coming to any older iPhone).
The highlight of any iPhone unveiling is the small things that make the devices Apple makes ticks and there were plenty of them last evening for Apple to share. As is usually the case, we are left with simple graphs and percentages to work with and not all that gory geeky stuff you get every time an Android OEM announces a new smartphone. For instance Apple touts a 90% increase in processing speed on the new A9 chip over the old A8 processor as well as 90% faster graphics. Want to know about the RAM you’ll be working with on the new iPhones? Wait for a proper teardown from the experts.
Of course the new iPhones will ship with the latest version of iOS, 9. For those who’ve not made up their minds yet on whether to upgrade their iPhones, September 16th is the date that needs to be marked on your calendars as it is when Apple will start seeding iOS 9 to the existing lineup of iPhones.
Pre-orders for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus start on September 12th and the first customers should have them on the 25th when they also become available in stores. To everyone’s surprise (before that leaked photo of the packaging 2 days ago), Apple is keeping the 16 GB iPhone as the base model. For many, despite Apple promising that future iOS updates (starting with iOS 9) won’t take up more space during the upgrade process, this is still a bummer. Live Photos are just photos and not videos and as a result won’t fill up your precious little fruit but what about 4K videos? The new cameras on the iPhone support 4K video recording very well. Add to the instant shutterbug that hits everyone with a half-decent smartphone camera and you realize 16 GB is child’s play. Then again, it could be the reason why iCloud rates dropped to rock bottom prices (starts at 50 GB for a dollar) even though Apple will only give you 5 GB for free.
The iPhone 6S will cost $649 (16GB), $749 (64GB) and $849 (128GB), while the 6S Plus will go for $749 (16GB), $849 (64GB) or $949 (128GB) unlocked.