By John Gruber
Pro Tip: Before buying a book, search the book author’s name on Listen Notes :)
Staging-wise, I’m not sure I get Apple’s “let’s make this all about California” strategy. The footage from various scenic locations across the state was beautiful, but I don’t get why it mattered for this particular event. Apple’s always been in California, they’ve always been proud of being from California. My best guess is that it’s as simple as needing a theme of some sort, and “California scenic beauty” was as good as any, for yet another COVID era event that couldn’t be held inside with an audience. Joz presented outside at Apple Park, and Cook was on stage in the Steve Jobs theater, but I get the feeling they wanted to break away from Apple Park as the set dressing for the whole show, too.
To that point, I thought Kaiann Drance’s segment introducing the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini was the most stunning. Standing on stage, alone, at the San Diego Symphony’s outdoor theater, in front of all those empty seats. It was both beautiful and an instant reminder of what we’re all missing.
Last year, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro — the two “regular” sized new iPhones — shared the exact same protective cases. This year, there are different cases for the iPhone 13 and 13 Pro. I think that’s because the three-lens camera module on the back of the iPhone 13 Pro is bigger than the two-lens module on the iPhone 13. The width, height, and depth of the 13 Pro and regular 13 are identical.
Last year, the 12 Pro Max had a better camera system than the 12 Pro. Only the 12 Pro Max had the sensor shift optical image stabilization, and only the 12 Pro Max had a 2.5× (as opposed to 2×) telephoto lens. This year, both Pro models have identical camera systems. (And, like last year, the regular iPhone 13 and 13 Mini share the same camera system as each other.)
The iPhone 13 Pro camera modules are entirely different from the non-Pro 13 and 13 Mini, though. Not just the existence of the new 3× telephoto, but the 1× (wide) and 0.5× (ultra wide) cameras are better on the Pro models. The 1× Pro camera has a maximum aperture of ƒ/1.5; the 1× non-Pro camera is ƒ/1.6. (Lower values for aperture let in more light; photographer lingo is that they’re “faster”.) The 0.5× Pro camera has a fast ƒ/1.8 aperture; the 0.5× non-Pro camera is ƒ/2.4.
Macro photography is a Pro-only feature, I believe because the 13 Pro 0.5× ultra wide camera has autofocus, and the non-Pro 0.5× camera is fixed-focus.
The front-facing camera on all iPhone 13 models appears to be the same, but only the Pro models can shoot in the ProRes format. (Not sure why anyone would want to shoot ProRes with the front-facing camera, though. But I guess why not enable it?)
The AI-driven automatic focus changes in Cinematic Mode video seem too good to be true. Very futuristic feature, if it works as promised.
I really missed having a hands-on experience with the new devices, if only to consider their colors. “Starlight” appears to be silver with a slight hint of gold. I’m tempted to say champagne, but maybe that implies too much gold. “Midnight” isn’t quite neutral dark gray or near-black — it has a hint of blue or indigo. (Blue is seemingly the color of the year. Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of people I know are planning to get the Pro models in Sierra Blue.)
A bigger screen, with a brighter always-on display mode, and faster charging are OK year-over-year improvements. But clearly Series 7 is a minor, not major, refresh. That’s fine, and inevitable for a maturing product. You’re not supposed to buy a new $500 Apple Watch every year, and while I know a lot of people who buy a new iPhone each year (including yours truly), I don’t know anyone, even devout fitness enthusiasts, who buys a new Apple Watch annually. Even every other year feels pretty frequent. A Series 5 or Series 4, purchased new, should still be a really great Apple Watch. [Update: I should have known my audience better. A bunch of you buy a new Apple Watch every year. I think we can all admit it’s atypical, though — and that developers who buy a new one every year for testing are an edge case.]
Quinn “Snazzy Labs” Nelson flagged Apple for an unfair comparison, regarding just how much more text the larger Series 7 displays can show at a time. The font was the same size, but the line spacing was quite a bit tighter in the Series 7 screenshot. I would also argue that Apple chose text that line-wrapped inefficiently on the Series 6 display, but the difference in line heights is clearly unfair. Apple doesn’t usually play games like that in comparisons. Yellow card issued.
The entry model $199 Apple Watch remains the now-kinda-long-in-the-tooth Series 3. I was really hoping for the Series 4 to take that spot in the lineup. I know developers of WatchOS apps were too. The Series 3 has an outdated screen size that developers are going to have to support for years to come.
The iPad Mini has always been on a unique upgrade cycle. It goes years between refreshes, but when Apple does update it, they tend to bring it up to current specs. The new iPad Mini has the same A15 SoC as the iPhones 13 — in fact, it has the 5-core GPU like the iPhone 13 Pro models, not the 4-core GPU like the iPhone 13 and 13 Mini. The previous iPad Mini had the A12.
The iPad Mini is really more like an iPad Air Mini. The new regular “iPad” still has a home button and sharp-cornered display. The Mini has the modern round-cornered display, no home button, and a Touch ID sensor on the power button — just like the current iPad Air. Also like the iPad Air, the new Mini has a USB-C port instead of Lightning. The volume buttons for the Mini are on the top of the device — a first for iPad. I’m guessing that decision was mainly about supporting the magnetic Pencil 2 along the long side of the device where the volume buttons traditionally go for iPads.
One thought that occurred to me is that it’s good to see Apple pushing forward on their own original service products. Even putting aside the legal and legislative attention regarding the App Store — big things to put aside, at the moment — I just don’t think it’s healthy for Apple to depend on rent-seeking to grow Services revenue. Getting 30 percent of the revenue from subscriptions to other company’s services is a fine business, financially, but it’s like junk food for any company’s culture. Apple is a great company because they make great original things that people want to pay for. TV+ and Fitness+ are exactly that. Collecting 30 percent of another company’s in-app subscription revenue is not. ★
I probably asked a few days too late — there was a credible leak purporting to show the packages for “iPhone 13 Pro Max” silicone cases from Apple over the weekend.
What intrigued me were the number of folks responding on Twitter who said that while they voted for “iPhone 13” as what they would be named, they wish that Apple would drop the numbers and just go with iPhone, iPhone Mini, iPhone Pro, and iPhone Pro Max, with implicit model years to tell them apart from new models in subsequent years. That’s basically how Apple names its other products — with the notable exception of Apple Watch (see below).
But just plain “iPhone” wouldn’t work for iPhones, because iPhones are different. When Apple introduces a new iPad Pro, it replaces the previous iPad Pro. You can’t go into an Apple Store and buy a new 2018 iPad Pro. But you can buy a new iPhone XR from Apple today — a model that was introduced in 2018. (I’d wait until next Tuesday before doing that.) Apple Watch is the only other product that’s sold like iPhones, with previous “series” sticking around for years at lower prices.1
Apple wants people who are buying new iPhones that were first introduced 2–3 years ago to feel like they’re getting a new iPhone. They should, because they are — they’re great devices at lower prices, and will be supported for years to come. But if the iPhone XR were named “iPhone (2018)”, it’d feel old.
I get it: it seems odd that in 10 years we might be awaiting the introduction of the iPhone 23 lineup, but at the moment, I don’t see this changing. The NFL just keeps counting Super Bowls — at least Apple only used Roman numerals for the X and XS/XR years. ★
The Apple Watch numbering scheme is simple: new year, new series, incremented by one. The iPhone numbering scheme is not simple. There was no iPhone 2 — the second iPhone was named iPhone 3G. Thanks to the 3GS, the iPhone 4 was in fact the fourth model year. But then came the other “S” years: 4S, 5S, 6S, XS. And Apple skipped “iPhone 9” entirely. If Apple had stuck to a numbering scheme as simple as Apple Watch’s, next week’s new iPhones would be the iPhones 15. ↩︎
Apple today announced that it is working with several states across the country, which will roll out the ability for their residents to seamlessly and securely add their driver’s license or state ID to Wallet on their iPhone and Apple Watch. Arizona and Georgia will be the first states to introduce this new innovation to their residents, with Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah to follow. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will enable select airport security checkpoints and lanes in participating airports as the first locations customers can use their driver’s license or state ID in Wallet. Built with privacy at the forefront, Wallet provides a more secure and convenient way for customers to present their driver’s licenses and state IDs on iPhone or Apple Watch.
There’s a lot of information about exactly how this will work in the Newsroom post, including screenshots. I got to talk with Apple about this today, and I’m impressed. A few important details:
Driver’s licenses and state IDs in Wallet are only presented digitally through encrypted communication directly between the device and the identity reader, so users do not need to unlock, show, or hand over their device.
This is a super key point. Of course no one wants to hand over their phone to anyone. More importantly, no one should ever hand their phone to a police officer, and that goes a hundredfold if it’s unlocked.1 The Wallet system Apple has designed for ID is very much like Apple Pay. When you pay with a physical credit card, you often hand your card to an employee. When you pay with Apple Pay, you never hand your phone to an employee. It wouldn’t even work, because no one else can authorize an Apple Pay transaction without your biometric authentication. This ID feature for Wallet is exactly like that: it doesn’t work without your biometric authentication, and your phone does not unlock when you use it.
An interesting sidenote: when using a Touch ID iPhone with Apple Wallet’s ID feature, you must register one and only one finger when you add your ID to your Wallet, and whenever you verify your ID in Wallet, you’ll need to use that same finger. Apple has never recommended allowing your spouse or partner to register one of their fingers on your iPhone, but many people do that. This feature is designed to ensure that the same person who enrolled their state ID in Wallet is the same person verifying it biometrically. (This is not an issue with Face ID, obviously.)
To use your ID in Wallet, you tap your phone (or watch) against an NFC terminal, and you get an Apple Pay-like sheet showing you who is asking for your ID (e.g., TSA), and exactly which details from your ID they’re asking for (e.g., name, photo, date of birth — but perhaps not other embedded details like your blood type or your home address). So if you’re just buying booze, say, and the clerk or server needs to check your age, they could prompt only to verify that you’re 21 or older, without even seeing your exact birthdate, let alone any other details from your ID. It is exceedingly more private than handing over a physical ID card, perhaps even more so than using Apple Pay compared to handing over a physical credit card.
Also, it’s an open standard:
Apple’s mobile ID implementation supports the ISO 18013-5 mDL (mobile driver’s license) standard which Apple has played an active role in the development of, and which sets clear guidelines for the industry around protecting consumers’ privacy when presenting an ID or driver’s license through a mobile device.
Apple announced Apple Pay 7 years ago. It worked at few places at first. Soon, though, it started being accepted at more establishments, as businesses upgraded older terminals with new card readers for modern chip-enabled cards. But two years in, the impatient gimme-that-one-cookie-now-I-don’t-care-if-I-can-just-wait-a-few-minutes-and-get-a-whole-bunch-of-cookies-later geniuses at Business Insider were running headlines like “Apple Pay Is Struggling to Catch On”.
These things take time, partnerships, evangelism, planning, and diligent hard work. There were a lot more complaints asking why Apple Pay didn’t work almost everywhere circa 2016 than there are kudos now that it does work almost everywhere. Patience and focus are essential to winning a long game, but success can be rather thankless. Apple excels at thankless long games. Other companies, not so much.
I expect a similar timeline for using ID through Apple Wallet: a year or two where it seems like we can’t really use it anywhere, another few years where we start using it more and more, and then, when we start getting close to a decade down the road, without much fanfare, it’ll be our default method of presenting ID.2 ★
Seriously, never ever hand your phone to a cop or anyone vaguely cop-like, like the rent-a-cops working for TSA. If they tell you that you must, refuse. If you really need to hand it over, they’ll take it from you. Also, and this is really important, something you should internalize now, so you don’t have to try to remember it in a moment of stress or panic: how to hard-lock your iPhone.
With a Face ID iPhone, you hard-lock your iPhone by pressing and holding the side button and either volume button. Two seconds or so — just long enough to make the “Slide to power off” screen appear. (That screen also has sliders for Medical ID and Emergency SOS.) With a Touch ID iPhone, you just press and hold the power button.
Once you do this, your iPhone will require your passcode to unlock. You can’t use Face ID or Touch ID to unlock until after you’ve unlocked with your passcode. That means even if someone confiscates your phone by force, they cannot unlock it by pointing it at your face or by forcing your finger onto the Touch ID sensor. Remember to put your iPhone into this mode every time you’re separated from it as you go through the magnetometer at any security checkpoint, especially in the airport.
Don’t just memorize this, internalize it, so you can do it without even thinking. Make it something you know the way you know your own middle name. By design, it’s an action you can perform surreptitiously while your iPhone remains in your pocket or purse.
Another action to remember: If you click the power button five times in a row, your iPhone will immediately sound a klaxon and will initiate an Emergency SOS call in three seconds. This will also hard-lock your phone, but, by design, it is the opposite of surreptitious. ↩︎
I’ll tell you what would be some nice icing on the cake: if Apple can convince state DMVs to let Apple design the digital cards in Wallet. My driver’s license is so goddamned ugly — mostly typeset in Arial (of-fucking-course), with a script font for “Pennsylvania” that looks like it came on a clip art CD included free with every Compaq PC in 1994 — that if it were a design project for a class I was teaching, I’d pull the student aside and make them this offer: take an F for the project, or, promise to change majors and I’ll give them a gentleperson’s C on their way out the door of design school. Most other states don’t do much better. ID cards should be beautiful and inspiring objects, a source of pride. Help us Apple-Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope. ↩︎︎