New iPhones. A revamped Apple TV. A monster-size iPad. New Apple Watch models. This week's Apple showcase in San Francisco was one of the of most jam-packed Apple events in years in terms of product announcements. But Apple's stock still sunk, and social media turned on Apple for charging $99 for a pencil — and for using it to "fix" a woman's smile during an on-stage demo.
I'm not looking at Apple through gold-colored glasses, but it seems like the critics are ignoring some pretty awesome innovations. Here's where Apple is truly leading, and where it's falling flat.
3D Touch a Breakthrough on New iPhones
How many times do you start using your phone only to forget why you unlocked it once you see all your new notifications? With the 3D Touch display on the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, Apple will let you get things done faster right from the home screen. The pressure-sensitive screens allow you to long-press on an app icon to see various shortcuts. Touching the Camera app, for instance, can launch you right into a selfie or video recording, while pressing the Phone app will display your favorite contacts to dial.
The Peek feature is especially clever, as it lets you preview all sorts of things without diving into menus. I love that I can press on a date and time in a message to quickly see if I have that window of time open for an appointment, without opening the calendar app.
Unlike Android phones, the iPhone 6s can tell the difference between a little and a lot of force.
iPhone Upgrade Program Will Create More iAddicts
With all the hardware news from Apple's event, this important initiative probably got lost in the shuffle for a lot of iPhone fans. But it shouldn't be ignored. Apple's new iPhone Upgrade Program lets you get a new iPhone every year by paying $32.41 per month (for the 16GB model). That fee includes AppleCare, which covers both support and accidental damage. So you won't have to worry if you drop and crack your device.
The major wireless carriers offer installment plans of their own, and Sprint provides an iPhone for Life program for a much cheaper $22 ($15 for a limited time) per month, but it doesn't include AppleCare. (T-Mobile's Jump plan, which costs $10 monthly, does include insurance.) Apple's program gives you more flexibility, by allowing you to choose your carrier after you buy the phone, so you can ride on AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or T-Mobile.
Siri + Apple TV = Much Smarter Discovery
People love to hate Siri, but Apple deserves a lot of credit for making the most of Siri's contextual intelligence with the new Apple TV. Say you're searching for comedies using your voice with the new Siri remote. Without starting your search over, you can narrow it by saying, "Show me movies just with Adam Sandler." (I won't judge.) You could even then say, "Just show me the good ones," to pare down search results even more based on viewer ratings. You can search across a wide range of services, including HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix and Showtime.
You can also use Siri to control playback in smart ways. For example, if you ask, "What did she just say?" your Apple TV will back up 15 seconds and even include closed captioning.
Now that Apple TV has a new app-friendly backbone in tvOS (based on iOS), this $149 device has a ton of potential as a gaming console. But it remains to be seen how compelling that experience will be. The platform needs more developers first.
iPad Pro: Too big, too expensive
During our first hands-on experience with the iPad Pro, the huge and very sharp (2732 x 2048 pixels) 12.9-inch display impressed, as did the four speakers around the slate. But I'm having a hard time figuring out what users this supersized tablet is for. I suppose creative pros will like the Apple Pencil for drawing and touching up photos, but why charge an extra $99 above the already-steep $799 starting price? At least the Surface Pro 3 comes with a pen.
Apple also charges more for its Smart Keyboard ($169) than Microsoft does for its Type Cover ($129). The most exciting thing about this tablet is its A9X chip, which is supposed to deliver desktop-class performance. If the chip benchmarks well, a successor could very well end up in a future MacBook.
16GB of Storage in 2015? Really?
Back in July of 2014, I said 16GB smartphones are the biggest rip off in tech. And despite rumors that Apple would continue down this crazy path with the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, I held out hope that the company would come to its senses. Not so much. Despite being able to shoot 4K video — which eats up gobs of storage — and upping the megapixel count on the cameras to 12MP, the new iPhones continue to start with just 16GB of storage.
Flagship phones from Samsung, LG, HTC and others have made the jump to 32GB, so why not Apple? At the very least, spending an extra $100 on the bigger 6s Plus should get you 32GB standard, as this is a more premium handset. Instead, you'll need to spend $100 more on both the 6s and 6s Plus to jump from 16GB to 64GB. I wouldn't recommend anything less than 64GB for people who plan to use all of their phones' features.
The 4K Disconnect
The new iPhones shoot 4K video, but you won't be able to enjoy that footage at its native resolution on your Apple TV. That's right, the new Apple TV doesn't support 4K content, whether you shoot it yourself or you want to watch movies or TV shows in higher res.
To be fair, 4K is still in its infancy, but Amazon and Netflix both offer shows in 4K, including hits like Orphan Black and House of Cards. If you're going to spend $149 on a set-top box, you should know that it's future-proof. Although the Nvidia Shield starts at a pricier $199, it supports 4K.
One event doesn't define a company's present or its future, but if I had to give Apple a grade right now, I'd say it's a B+. The 3D Touch display on the new iPhones, and Siri integration on Apple TV, prove that that company is still pushing the innovation envelope. However, the Apple TV picture is incomplete without a live-TV service to go with it, which is rumored to be coming later for $40 per month. Apple also deserves kudos for giving iPhone shoppers more flexibility in how they buy their devices, even if it's a ploy to get people hooked on yearly upgrades.
On the other hand, the "Apple Tax" is still very much in effect, whether you're talking about the skimpy 16GB of storage for a very expensive $649 iPhone 6s ($749 for the new 6s Plus) or $99 for a digital pencil. And while the iPad Pro looks very powerful, it doesn't look versatile enough to replace a laptop. The Apple Watch got lost in the shuffle at Apple's event, but I expect Apple to stay in the smartwatch lead as the company continues to add more features, including the Pebble-like Time Travel.
As with the Live Photos feature in the new iPhone 6s camera, which reminds a lot of people of HTC's Zoe, no one said Apple's innovations needed to be original to have a big impact.