Some thoughts on the new iPhones, Apple Watch, and Apple Pay

Been meaning to write a few words on everything that was unveiled at the keynote on Tuesday. Stuff kept happening so it got delayed, not to mention I hadn’t watched the keynote properly until yesterday, but here it is finally.

First of all, that live stream. Jesus motherflipping Christ. What a colossal clusterfuck. First it couldn’t manage to keep itself going without dying every few minutes. And when it did work, it had Chinese voiceover. It’s no secret Apple sucks at the Internet. Its live streams have never been reliable. But after hyping it so much this time, even redirecting the homepage to the live stream page and all, you’d think Apple would have beefed up their servers to handle all the load. I hope Apple would swallow its pride someday and just stream on YouTube like normal people instead of embarrassing itself every time.

Now on to the actual announcements, starting with the phones. The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. For someone who wrote at least one iPhone 6 leak story every day, the only thing new to me about the phones was their pricing and release date. Although, I was glad to see that once again, leaked images do a poor job of showing the design and as usual the phone looks much better in Apple’s promo images.

The iPhone 6, I feel, is a solid step up from the 5s. It has a bigger and better display, thinner body, better camera, faster processor, Apple Pay, and improved battery life. If you are a 5 or a 5s owner, there is enough here to want to upgrade, especially if you are in the US where you can use Apple Pay. I’m not a fan of the resolution, but the pixel density is high enough for most people. If you add Apple’s usual ecosystem of apps, the iPhone 6 seems like a brilliant option.

As for the iPhone 6 Plus, honestly, I’m still surprised that it even exists. The leaks had indicated long ago that a bigger, 5.5-inch version was also being developed alongside the 4.7-inch model but somehow I still couldn’t believe Apple decided to make it at all. This is the same company that sold five generations of its only smartphone with a 3.5-inch display, well into 2012, which is when it launched the iPhone 5 with only a slightly bigger 4-inch display. Even then you could tell it did it reluctantly due to market demands. Apple rarely follows market trends and will adamantly stick to its ideologies against conventional wisdom. But if two years ago customers were telling Apple they wanted a bigger screen iPhone, by now they were shouting. And even Apple couldn’t pretend to not hear them anymore.

I loved how Apple offered absolutely no explanation for the bigger screen. The ginormous 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus was announced with an air of nonchalance, as if Apple has been in the business of selling large-screen phones for years, and this was just another one. Steve Jobs famously said “No one is going to buy a big phone” and even called them Hummers. And suddenly the company went from having 4.0-inch as the biggest screen size to directly 5.5-inch. Even Samsung must have went “Dude, what the fuck?”.

But I think it was a good decision. Whether or not you like extra large smartphones, people are buying them as if they are going out of fashion. And people have been asking for bigger iPhones for years. Most people who want a high-end smartphone want an iPhone but they also want a big screen smartphone. Eventually, having a big screen is a bigger priority for some, and these people would eventually end up with a Samsung. Apple must have realized it was losing a lot of customers this way, so it decided to give people exactly what they want.

And going directly to 5.5-inches makes sense. 4.0-inch on the iPhone 5 was a terrible stopgap. Even then other smartphones were offering much bigger displays. The Galaxy S III launched that year had a 4.8-inch display. The Note II had a 5.5-inch display. And both phones were wildly popular. So it’s good instead of going with another intermediary sizeĀ again this year it went with 4.7 and 5.5. And it still has the 4.0-inch 5c and 5s, covering pretty much every base. For once, no one is going to complain about the display size on the iPhone.

As absurd as 5.5-inch sounds, though, if I had to pick one, I’d go with the bigger model. I’m not a fan of huge phones; my upper limit is 5.0-inch, which my personal Nexus 5 just about manages to touch (4.95). But I’m a bit obsessive with the little things (I was going to say OCD but that’s a far bigger problem than most people give it credit for and not something to say lightly) and as soon as I learned that the bigger model has a few extra things not available on the smaller iPhone 6, I no longer found the smaller model to be interesting.

And it’s not small things either (hehe, puns). The OS has been designed to show additional information on the display. The iPhone 6 already shows more info on screen than the previous iPhones; you’ll see more of that web page, track list, emails, tweets, what have you. But the 6 Plus shows even more information. On top of that, iPhone 6 Plus also has a landscape mode for apps, where they show a split screen mode. Even third party apps can take advantage of this, and show a split screen version that is different than justing turning the app sideways (Apple showed the CNN app doing this during the keynote). Even the keyboard has been optimized, and shows extra buttons such as cut, copy, paste, for which you’d otherwise have to use the annoying on-screen popups.

That’s the software side of things. The iPhone 6 Plus also has a proper 1080p display instead of an oddball ‘neither here nor there’ resolution. Your 1080p videos will play 1:1. That alone will make me sleep soundly at night.

The 6 Plus also gets optical image stabilization, which should help with low light shots and videos. Also, having OIS means the phone won’t crop the video now like it needs to for digital image stabilization (which reduced field of view). Lastly, there is also a bigger battery that just lasts longer despite the bigger display.

So all this just makes me want to buy the iPhone 6 Plus. I wouldn’t seriously recommend it to others though; I’m used to bigger phones now considering how often I have one with me for review but other people should stick to the 4.7-inch model unless they don’t mind carrying a bathroom tile with them everywhere.

The Apple Watch was a complete surprise. Not that there was a watch but pretty much everything about it, other than that it would be a watch and show time. My personal jury is still out as far as the design is concerned. I’m not fond of the overall shape, I don’t like the way the crown is placed off-center on the side and has that other button there. And the bottom. Dear Lord the bottom. It almost looks obscene with the four LED cluster.

The straps, though. The straps are wrists-down the best thing about the Apple Watch. First of all, Apple has a stunning collection. Six very different design, covering practically every design convention. And while it tries to maintain the traditional look of the particular strap design, you can see the little Apple touches, such as the magnetic clasp on the Milanese loop and the leather loop. And the hinge mechanism. Or should I say hnnnnggg mechanism, cause I nearly came when I saw those strap ends neatly slide into the watch receptacle on either side and click into place. No need for any tools to remove or attach the bands. Genius.

Although I’m not a fan of the design, it’s clear Apple did its homework before setting out to make this thing. Also, so far, only Apple seems to understand that a smartwatch first and foremost is a watch, and a watch is more than just a device for keeping time. It’s an accessory you wear and people, men and women alike, spend a lot of time choosing the design of the watch and matching it with their outfit. This is why it is important to not just ship a smartwatch in two or three colors or straps. Does Timex offer just one design? Does Tag Heuer give you just a couple of strap options? No. And although it is difficult to offer multiple watch designs, they could spend more time on the straps and materials, which is exactly what Apple did. Also, only Apple understands not everyone has huge wrists, so there is a smaller version too, which no one else offers right now. And things like the use of 316L grade stainless steel, 18K gold, sapphire crystal and Ion-X Glass for display protection means Apple knows what it’s doing, even though this is its first watch.

It’s difficult to match the craftsmanship and artistry of a fine analog watch but so far only Apple Watch has come close to tugging at your heartstrings like a good old analog watch. There is no doubt this watch is going to sell a lot. While digital watches, and now smartwatches, have inherently been considered nerdy, the Apple Watch straddles the line between a gadget and a mechanical timepiece. In a way, I like that Apple didn’t go with a circular display. That way, it stays more honest, because a smartwatch does not need to be circular as it does not have a mechanical hand moving in a circle. A circular smartwatch display is a great example of skeumorphism, something people tend to avoid these days. But the design of the straps is more reminiscent of traditional watches. This way, it somehow manages to be the best of both worlds. Just wish the design was a bit more attractive.

On the software side, there are some things I liked, others, not so much. I like that there is a brand new UI, and unlike Android Wear it does not look like the phone UI was adapted for the smaller screen. I like that it supports apps and the things you can do with them. I mean, being able to purchase stuff, book into hotels, and even unlock your hotel room with the watch? That shit is amazing. And I love how Apple manages to get so many companies on board, even before the product gets launched. I also liked all the watch faces.

What I didn’t like were the frivolous messaging features, thing like sending taps or drawings or heartbeats (wut), showing your photos, or calling and messaging from the watch. For a company that often keeps things simple, this feels like it is trying to do too many things at once. Things you don’t necessarily want to do.

The watch apparently will only last a day on a charge. I guess battery life will forever be that Achilles’ heel, forever lagging behind the technologies it is powering. I wonder if there will be a difference between the two sizes. There are still several months before the device is released, so maybe Apple will figure something out till then. That’s probably why it refused to comment on the battery life during the keynote, which it would have otherwise if it was finalized. It’s going to be pretty expensive though, especially the Apple Watch Edition. This device is targeted more as a fashion accessory than a gadget and is priced accordingly.

The last thing I want to talk about is Apple Pay. My first thought was ‘meh’ but when I actually watched the keynote properly I was really impressed by it. NFC payments aren’t exactly new, but Apple’s implementation is really good. It’s easy, fast, and seemingly secure. I particularly liked the online payment part, where you can make online payments with merchants supporting Apple Pay using one click. I seriously hope it comes to India soon, because it looks genuinely convenient and useful.

That’s pretty much it from me about the announcements. I won’t be buying the new iPhones, pretty much for the same reason I didn’t buy the previous iPhone. Apple’s pricing in India is absurd at launch and refuses to go down for several months. I don’t have a problem with the phones but I have a problem spending that much money on, what is at the end of the day, a phone. It’s just wrong and I don’t have enough cash lying around to just go ‘fuck it’ for something like this. I might just pick up the 5s if its price drops further, but not sure about that yet. Let’s see.