Tech Update (September 2017)

Andy Cormack gives us the heads up on what’s on the horizon in hardware and technology, giving you the lowdown on the next big thing.  

This month, he takes a forensic look at Apple’s annual keynote speech, where they announce their up and coming product releases.

As inevitable as the sun rising every day, there’s this year’s Apple keynote speech, and with it more new iterations of devices from the company. You can check out the full keynote event in video form on Apple’s site.

iPhone X

The iPhone X (Pronounced ‘Ten’, Apple’s new flagship smartphone or ‘Phablet’, was the biggest news out of this keynote speech, though some small leaks happened prior to the event that suggested this was coming, but we had nothing more than the name of the phone itself.

Now unveiled in all of its factory fresh glory, let’s get down to the main specs of this thing along with a few, perhaps unexpected, alterations.

The first, and most obvious factor of note is that the home button is now gone, and the screen now covers the entirety of the front face of the device. Apple have removed the home button and the fingerprint scanner, and replaced it with a new 3D facial recognition system called Face ID that seems to be trying very hard to convince consumers it won’t easily be fooled like other systems in the past, due to its depth scanning capabilities, avoiding those awkward situations where a photo is enough to fool it.

“But without a home button, how do we get back to the home screen?” you might ask. They’ve replaced this with a gesture function, where users have to swipe from the bottom upwards to return to the home screen, while the control centre you used to access in that way has been moved in the opposite direction, swiping down from the top right instead.

Of course, this buttonless design isn’t exactly a new concept at this point, the most notable example of this being Apple’s largest competitor, Samsung’s somewhat redeeming and latest device, the Galaxy S8, having released months prior back in April this year, with the same edge-to-edge screen.

Speaking of that screen, it now dominates the entirety of the phone’s front face, stretching its proverbial legs with the extra room the removal of the home button has granted it, coming in at 5.8 inches with a resolution of 1125 x 2436, apparently one of the best looking screens on the market today, with some claiming it “Feels like the future of the smartphone”, according to The Verge website.

The seemingly oddest choice about this new screen however, is that they decided to cut into it at the top in order to fit a relative cornucopia of sensors and tech into a very small space. From left to right along the top of the device you have an infrared camera, flood illuminator, proximity sensor, an ambient light sensor, the speaker, a microphone, 7 megapixel camera, and a dot projector.

Most of this combined overall adds to the fidelity and accuracy that the phone boasts with regards to its Face ID system. The dot projector emits some 30,000 dots onto your face in the infrared spectrum to help depth map it, which is then read by the infrared camera. The rear of the phone also boasts dual 12 megapixel cameras, both with image stabilization.

This is partially how Microsoft’s Kinect device works, working in tandem with a regular colour camera that attempts to calculate depth using depth of field techniques. In this case, the probability is high that the 7 megapixel front facing camera combined with the flood illuminator fills that role in this case. If you’re interested in digging more into how that all works, or at least probably works on the iPhone in a not too dissimilar way there’s an article on GSMArena.

Consequently, this camera tech also allows Apple to be a little playful in other areas, such as the new animoji 3D cartoon animals that copy your facial expressions and motions with the aforementioned camera cleverness.

Next up is the new A11 ‘Bionic’ processor. Apple have decided to include this new iteration of their processor in both the X and the 8, to ensure that developers have a reason to ensure their apps work well on the new processor, since the X will probably be in the hands of a smaller overall percentage of Apple’s user base.

Another feature that bleeds across the gap between the X and the 8 is the wireless charging system along with an ‘in the works’ charging mat, AirPower, which is due out next year. Apple has also worked with existing wireless charging tech standards, stating that as of right now it supports all Qi certified products, including but not limited to those produced by Belkin and Mophie.

The iPhone X comes in both ‘space grey’ and silver colour variants at a price of $999 US Dollars for the 64 Gigabyte version, and $1,149 for the 256 Gigabyte version, with pre-orders commencing on the 27th October, and shipping following a week later.

iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

Much less thrilling, but just as front and centre, are the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, fundamentally serving as a direct refresh of their predecessor, the iPhone 7. Both include the aforementioned feature crossover from the iPhone X, in the form of the new processor iteration mentioned previously and wireless charging, as well as improved cameras, and the new True Tone display tech also featured in the X.

The one upside however, is the 8 and 8 Plus at least have a decent price, with the 64 Gigabyte model being $699 US Dollars ($799 for the Plus), and the 256 Gigabyte model coming in at $849 ($949 for the Plus). The release date for these is a little earlier, with pre-orders beginning on the 15th September, shipping the week after on the 22nd.

Apple Watch 3 and WatchOS 4

The big new thing with Apple’s latest version of Apple Watch is the inclusion of LTE support, meaning you can use it as a phone on your wrist, although you won’t want to use it like that for long periods of time since Apple’s battery life expectancies that they’ve published suggest an hour of phone talk time before the battery runs out, though they have improved the workout tracker’s efficiency, so that lasts longer than previous models.

Along with the aforementioned new LTE support, the new watch also includes a barometric altimeter, so it can tell if you’re going up and down the stairs easier, which should help with workout tracker accuracy. Barometers aren’t something that’s exactly new to the smartwatch sector, but is new to Apple’s Watch series, so it’s a welcome addition.

The watch is also running at a new higher speed, its dual core processor bringing with it not only some extra horsepower, but also a little more power efficiency, making the watch run for a lot longer in most circumstances.

The design of the Watch 3 isn’t going to exactly blow your mind, with same rounded square design as previous models. Its OLED screen, however, is still one of the better ones out there right now.

The pre-order and release dates for these are the same as the iPhone 8, on the 15th and 22nd respectively. The watch will come in variants both with and without LTE, the non-LTE version being $329 US Dollars, while the version with LTE will set you back an extra $70 at $399. On top of which, you’ll then need to pay somewhere in the region of $10 per month on top of your phone contract to also connect your watch.

The release of the new watch also aligns with the new WatchOS4, so all new watches will have the latest version of the OS out of the box. The new iteration of the OS include features such as the ability to pair Bluetooth devices. There’s also some new watch faces and improvements to the fitness apps. Siri is also included on this latest version, so you can tell it all your darkest desires, or just use it as a digital assistant. Each to their own.

Apple TV 4K

Many might be uttering “Finally!” at this point, since Apple’s competitors have all supported 4K for quite some time, but better late than never I guess? Apple showed off the new TV 4K, which includes an A10X “Fusion” processor, the same one inside the iPad Pro, giving it the extra firepower it needs to deal with the increased resolution.

Those that have previously purchased HD movies from iTunes will have a nice little bonus, getting their purchases upgraded to the 4K versions for free. The new device will also support Netflix 4K in order to make sure buyers have enough content to plow through if they’re hungry for 4K media, with plans to also integrate Amazon Video later on in the year.

On top of all this, Apple has partnered with Dolby to include Dolby Vision in their new boxes, tech that allows content capable of giving it the ability to shine even more, with better colour representation and overall picture quality. This is perhaps an uncharacteristically fast move from Apple, as they typically hold off until the market has matured further in cases like this.

Pricing for the new 4K TV iteration weighs in at $179 USD for the 32 Gigabyte version and $199 for the 64 Gigabyte one. Release dates for this also coincide with the iPhone 8 and Watch 3.

iOS 11

iOS 11 brings with it a bunch of new functionality and quality of life features, so let’s dig in.

First of all, the control centre has had a revamp. Gone is the need to move between 3 panels with varying options that were decided for you. Now you can fully customise what appears here outside of a few mainstays. Outside of standard controls such as brightness, volume, and connectivity options, there’s a whole bunch of others you can now optionally include, with basic apps such as timer, calculator, alarm, as well as shortcuts for other useful things like the camera, flashlight, notes, and much more. All customisable to your own needs and included modularly in the new control centre’s layout.

Apple has also included some new functionality in the form of long presses that perform different actions across the various controls, for example the brightness widget will control night shift with a long press.

Siri has had some added functionality in the form of the ability to type to it as well as speak to it, making those awkward times when it doesn’t recognise what you’re saying a little bit easier, or for those situations where talking at your phone would be less appropriate. On top of this there’s been some interface changes, including a look that’s not dissimilar from Google’s ‘Cards’ design.

There’s also been a bunch of additions to the camera app, with support for optical image stabilization, low light, and HDR, along with video features such as a miniature editing suite for looping and trimming, as well as compression. On top of this you can also grab photos from videos. Furthermore you can now record your screen, and even include voice-over to share with others.

A number of quality-of-life improvements have come to the keyboard also. Now you have the ability to swipe downwards on the top row to easily type numbers without the need to use shift, and you can also swipe individual keys to use punctuation. Also, you can now have the keyboard ‘squish’ itself to the left or right side slightly, to make left or right handed typing a tad more comfortable.

The app dock on the iPad has been improved significantly, allowing many more apps to be placed there – roughly 13 to 15 of them, depending on your iPad model.

If you’re a fan of multi-tasking on your iPad, apps that you use in split view together are now shown in the new ‘Spaces’ view together as well, so you can easily swap back between views you’ve been using on the fly. On top of this you can now split view three apps at once. Additionally, you can drag and drop files between apps in split view; that’s not to say that every app supports this right out of the gate, and it seems to have some teething issues, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Spaces is the new app overview area, combining the control centre with background apps.

There is a new centralised file browser app now too. Not only does it support local storage and Apple’s ecosystem with iCloud Drive, it also allows you to link a variety of other third-party storage options too, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and more, all manageable in one single place.

A big one for many who dislike the exceedingly white interface, Apple has included a ‘Smart Invert’ option under accessibility features, allowing you to invert the colours of the interface while leaving colour important things such as images and media, along with specific apps the correct way around, meaning we have a sort of improvised dark theme.

iOS 11 starts rolling out to iPhones and iPads everywhere from the 19th September, so look forward to these new updates, you can find out more on Apple’s official website.

Tech Update – August 2017

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