By John Gruber
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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.