Wednesday, 9 September 2015

What to expect from Apple's 'Hey Siri' iPhone event

Anyone hoping for a massive design overhaul has at least a year to wait -- the two new iPhones, the 6s and the 6s Plus, should look just about identical to the models we've already got. The only major exterior differences are subtle ones, like a near-imperceptibly thicker waistline, a new rose gold finish and a shift toward the same 7000 Series aluminum used in the Apple Watch Sport. Sorry. Still, that just means we're getting plenty of under-the-hood improvements. Expect to see some new silicon in the form of a new A9 processor made by Samsung coupled with 2GB of RAM (finally bringing it in line with the iPad Air 2).
We don't know how fast the A9 is going to be clocked, but snappier performance is table stakes in a game like this and at least one sketchy rumor claims it's about 20 percent more powerful than last year's A8. Meanwhile, a tipster on Weibo first posted details of the new iPhones' 12-megapixel camera back in July, a notion that's been accepted and expanded on in recent weeks. The camera upgrade also means the new iPhones will be able to shoot 4K video, a feature that's already found its way into most flagship Android phones. Throw in a screen-based selfie flash and a modestly improved FaceTime camera and you've got the photographic situation in a nutshell.
And then, of course, there's Force Touch. We've already gotten a taste of it in the Apple Watch and a slew of updated MacBooks, but the feature is expected to get a little more nuanced when it makes its way to these new iPhones. 9to5Mac reports that the 6s and 6s Plus will be able to pick up three distinct levels of pressure -- a tap, a press and a deep press -- with a little help from an updated version of Apple's Taptic Engine. Let's not mince words: This has the potential to be the biggest change in how we interact with iPhones since the launch of the App Store seven years ago. Reports suggest that Force Touch will be very subtly integrated into the system as a whole, acting as a way to access actions and shortcuts for supported apps. This might not sound like a huge deal, but developers will flock to it and it's in line with the "get things done faster" philosophy Apple embraced with its Watch.

The iPad finally goes Pro

The first mention of a super-sized "Pro" iPad model started floating around in 2013, and it looks like its time has finally come. If all those rumors hold true, we'll be looking at a tablet with an enormous 12.9-inch display onstage soon -- that's even larger than the Surface Pro's spacious screen. While we're talking Surface similarities, Apple reportedly has a keyboard cover and a Force Touch-sensitive stylus ready to go with this premium slab, although you'll probably have to buy them separately.
A pro-level version of the iPad will need more than just a big screen to set itself apart from its punier siblings, and that's where 9to5Mac says the new A9X chip comes into play. It's said to be a big step forward from the already-powerful A8X chipset in the existing iPad Air 2, but the big question is how much more oomph does it pack than the A9 found in the iPhone 6s. Here's hoping the answer is "loads." This thing should also come with a lot of custom iOS 9 enhancements to put that screen to good use; among other things, we're hearing it can run two full-size iPad apps side by side. Alas, don't expect to waltz into an Apple Store and buy one the day after the event: Production delays have been part of the iPad Pro narrative for months and the best guesses now have pegged a late fall launch.
Then there's the slightly neglected iPad Mini line, which was hardly touched last time -- all it got was a new color and a Touch ID-laden home button. Feh. The scuttlebutt this time 'round suggests Apple's tiny tab will sport the same specs and sleek design we got in last year's iPad Air 2. Better late than never, we guess.

The OS-man cometh

New hardware also means new software to power it, and we've already got a solid graspon what's new in iOS 9. Now all that's left to wait for is an official release date, which Apple will probably drop toward the end of the event tomorrow. We'll also likely get a firm launch window for watchOS 2 as well, which brings a handful of new watch faces and support for native Watch apps to your wrist. Does anyone care to make a bet?

Reaching deeper into your living room

The Apple TV is no "hobby" -- not anymore. It's a cheap, easy-to-use Trojan horse that funnels more of Cupertino's content into our lives and it's getting a pretty hefty upgrade. On a hardware level, the next-gen Apple TV should be bumped to either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage and get the same A8 brain as the current generation iPhones. That trademark black chassis should shed a few millimeters in the process, but the really neat physical changes might happen on that once-chintzy silver remote. TechCrunch suggests it'll have embedded Wii-like motion-control sensors, which developers will probably have a field day with as they build apps for display in the platform's new App Store. And yeah, as you probably guessed, the unholy combination of a motion-sensing controller and an app store means we're likely to see gaming take on renewed importance onstagetomorrow.
Waggling your remote isn't the only new way you'll be able to interact with an Apple TV. In addition to having a touch-sensitive pad wedged into its top quarter, the remote will have a microphone so you can chat up Siri. If reports hold true, you can ask Siri to search for specific actors or titles with your voice -- it'll then scour multiple sources for content that fits the bill. The age of universal search is upon us, and it couldn't have happened soon enough. After all, pecking out titles like Scrotal Recall with the d-pad on existing Apple TV remotes was always, always a pain in the ass. In a way, the Apple TV is being molded into something more like the NVIDIA Shield TV set-top box; you won't hear us complaining about that. The thing is, this new version of Apple's squarish hockey puck isn't expected to play nice with 4K video content. The move isn't completely insane -- there's still a dearth of ultra-high-res content out there -- but it is a little puzzling considering the new iPhones should be able to record at that resolution just fine.