Tick tock. Time passes, and September 9th is nigh upon us. That means “tomorrow” for you less-prosaic types. Siri is still being entirely stubborn and refusing to give any sort decent hint so – once again – it is left up to me to provide you with a sneak peek at what’s going down at the annual iPhone media event. Casually drop some of these little gems at the water cooler today, and your assorted cronies will think you are a genius tomorrow. You should be able to parlay that into at least a free coffee, and maybe a muffin too … use your powers wisely.
What’s we will be seeing tomorrow:
New iPhones – Say hello to the 6S and the 6S Plus. Like most of the “S” generations, this is mostly a performance and refinement update and – as always – is aimed at people who have hardware from three years ago … in this case the owners of the 5 and 5c. The new hardware will look pretty much exactly like the existing 6 and 6 Plus, albeit with a slightly thicker metal case to deal with handful of morons who think it is a good idea to put a thin aluminum object in their back pocket and then sit on it for three or four hours. What’s inside, however, gets some serious love. The processor is the latest of the A9 family and gives a significant performance boost. Most of that boost will be aimed at improving the camera – so many improvements, in fact, that the “6S as a camera” probably deserves a post all on it’s own. Battery life is a tad better, memory management is more efficient, and the networking hardware gets a semi-overdue overhaul. More interestingly for average users, force-touch and the taptic engine, both cornerstones of the Watch experience, come to the iOS family for the first time. And the screen remains beautiful, untainted by the garish “colours” and horrid saturation issues of OLED. Whew.
iOS 9 – No real guessing games here, since this was announced months ago and everyone already knows the release date. The betas have been out and in testing for almost as long, so everyone knows what’s under the hood as well. The one big thing of note is that Mobile Safari will now accept plug-ins, including potential ad-blockers. You will hear a lot of hue and cry about this, on both sides of the coin, but the fact is that advertisers and publishers have brought this upon themselves. It’s not the ads that people hate, its the poisoned browsing experience caused by all of the monkey business attached to the delivery of those ads. Good riddance.
OS X “El Capitan” – Again, not any actual precognitive powers needed. We’ve had the release date and all the details for quite some time. Most of what is going on here is a “Snow Leopard” under-the-hood kind of update – adding the Metal graphics framework from iOS, a long-list of kernel tweaks for both security and stability, and a bunch of network performance boosts – but there are a couple of notable UI things that are worth mentioning. First, a big change in window and workspace management. You can continue to use and arrange windows the way you always have, or you can start pinning windows to screen-edge lockpoints and work in what is essentially a split-screen mode. Second, the way that virtual desktops are used and managed has been completely overhauled. If you have giving a glance to “Spaces” in the past and decided it wasn’t worth the effort, you would take a look again now. The whole multiple-desktop experience is suddenly fluid and intuitive instead of kludgy and obtuse. Better, you no longer have to dick around with Mission Control if that’s not your cup of tea … just drag a window to the top of the screen and everything opens up. And third, Spotlight gets some long overdue love. Searches are actually global now with results from your data, the ‘net, and what’s in your apps all sharing a single coherent results pane.
Fonts – This might not get a lot of mention tomorrow, but changes to the standard system fonts are interesting from both “a single computing experience” and “the future of the computing marketplace” standpoints. San Francisco now becomes the default system font for western users on all of the platforms. More intriguingly, a shitload of work has gone into tweaking the Ping Fang and Hiragino Sans system fonts, along with a completely overhauled input method for Chinese and Japanese users. If you were wondering about the location of the big growth markets in the computer world, that should give you a pretty good clue.
WatchOS 2.0 – This is a big fat hairy deal. It’s the first step of untethering the Watch from the phone, and launching it as a full stand-alone platform. There is a long way to go, but this is the start. Until now, the Watch is mostly a “triage” device for the associated phone – it keeps your phone in your pocket and your mind on whatever you are really doing, not constantly dealing with personal information flow. For a lot of people, this is already good enough, and that’s fine. But for the future of actual wearable computing, this is an exciting bit of new ground. Also, it probably means that Ned Yost can no longer wear his Watch in the dugout.
Other Watch Bits – Certainly a couple of new cosmetic options for the Xmas buying season – bracelets and bands, mostly, along with a new finish. Also, a raft of new things – cars, home integration devices, services, companies – that will directly support the Watch. Just shiny fluff, mostly.
AppleTV – And, finally, the star of the show. This was supposed to be shown at WWDC and was pulled at the last minute. A lot of people thought that it was because their much-talked-about content deals with the big networks had fallen through. A lot of people were wrong. The next-gen AppleTV was pulled because the interface just wasn’t good enough to pass muster at that time. Apple isn’t worried about the content deals yet … in their mind, that is putting the cart before the horse. What was being sweated was polishing the interface to the point where it stops being a semi-decent media hub and starts being a whole-house touchstone for, well, everything. Apps, games, media, your data libraries … the end-game here is to start the ball rolling on the same sort of infrastructure giant that the iOS family has become. Once you have that sort of mass, the content deals come to you, and not vice versa. It makes sense, and with the new device being rebuilt from the ground up to be interacted with instead of just a dumb pass-through device the strategy has a real shot. The new OS is much more “iOS” than “set top box”, integrates Siri for the first time, and it’s easily the best interface for this sort of device ever. Period. Finis. The wildcard here is the controller – a “smart” controller that does duty as a remote, a navigation tool, and a gaming device. How does that work? Who knows? This is the one deep dark secret that nobody seems to have any dirt on … or if they do, they ain’t talking. How this all comes together is probably going to be the most interesting part of the whole show. Well, that and the tech media’s reaction to the fact that the new device at $199 is going to be at least twice the price of any previous AppleTV release. Horror! Scandal! Shock! Whatever.
What we won’t be seeing tomorrow:
Any sort of iPad announcement. Get a grip, people … that’s an October thing.