Fall 2020 Apple Event
Well, yesterday was Apple's big October 13th event. Apple's fall event is one of the biggest Apple events of the year, often more exciting than WWDC early in the summer, owing to the announcement of new iPhones.
This year was a little different, of course, and we got a virtual Apple Event rather than the normal in-person one, but that didn't stop Apple from announcing their new phones just in time for the holidays.
Apple started the event by dropping a new HomePod on us: the HomePod Mini. Basically, it's a smaller HomePod that costs $99.99. I've never personally been a huge fan of the HomePod, mostly because of Siri and pricing.
See, in my experience Siri works really well when it's working locally, but not great when working on things like questions, news, or weather. For example, I never manually set an alarm on my phone. I always just ask Siri to "wake me up at [time]." I do the same for reminders and alarms too. Siri does not do well, however, when you ask it almost any kind of question. I almost never get a "smart" answer from Siri. If it isn't something incredibly simple, Siri tends to just tell me "here's what I found" and present me with a list of Google results.
That's why the HomePod never really excited me; I like my smart speaker to be, well, smart. I use Alexa speakers in my apartment to answer questions, tell me the news, give me a forecast, and a lot more. Alexa is really good at answering questions in a way that Siri just isn't. Granted, Apple does claim that Siri is now knows "20 times" as many facts, but that alone doesn't sell me on the HomePod yet.
There's also the subject of price. The latest Fourth Generation Echo Dot (Amazon's own small smart speaker) retails for $59.99, almost half the price of the HomePod Mini. I have a Third Generation Dot (now $40-$50) and it works great for all my needs, so I can't believe the Fourth Generation is any different.
Now, Apple's claim to fame regarding the HomePod has always been its sound quality. I really like the sound on the original HomePod; it is, to my ears, objectively better than the sound of any Echo (or Google Home) product. That being said, the better sound of the HomePod wasn't enough to justify a higher price tag and worse assistant then, and it isn't enough now with the Mini.
Apple also revealed some new phones yesterday, and there's a lot to unpack. They announced four phones with whole new designs, colors, features, and a new iteration of MagSafe.
There are now four flagship iPhones: the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. Prices range from $699.99 all the way up to $1099.99, and with that features change. Obviously all the new phones come with the new A14 chip, and there are camera upgrades all around, but like always the more expansive models come with more features.
The redesign is definitely a good thing. The iPhone 12 line shares the straight, rectangular look of the iPad Pro (and now iPad Air, if it's ever released) line, which I really like. Looks aren't everything, though. I also find that angular phones like the iPhone 4 and 5 are easier to hold. They feel less slippery to me than the current curved phones, especially those with glass backs. Hopefully this redesign means less dropped phones.
The 12 Mini is interesting; I'm a small phone person, and the $699.99 price tag isn't terribly insulting. I look forward to playing with one at some point in the next few months. The only fall back I see with the Mini is battery. Small phone means small battery, and that means worse battery life. Granted, no one has gotten hands on it to actually test that yet, so we might be surprised. I doubt it though.
The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro saw some camera upgrades as well. They now both feature new 12 Megapixel camera arrays, both getting a standard and wide angle lens. The camera set up now also has a wider aperture (f1.6 instead of f1.8), which should help with low light photography. The Pro and Pro Max also sport zoom lenses, but the Pro Max zooms 2.5 times the standard lens while the Pro only zooms 2 times.
Interestingly, Apple also claims the new cameras will be getting "Apple Pro Raw" and Dolby Vision HDR (essentially even better low light processing software), but hasn't said when those will be available.
The big new feature of the iPhone 12 line, however, is the return of MagSafe. If you're a nerd like me then you know the woes of AirPower, and if not, I'll explain really quick. A few years back, Apple announced that they were working on a new type of wireless charging mat. Rumor was AirPower wouldn't require the perfect-placement that you see on other wireless chargers for sale today; it'd just be one big mat you could plop your phone on anywhere. After a few years of delays, Apple killed the project.
MagSafe seems to be Apple's fix for AirPower. Basically, MagSafe is a new wireless charger from Apple that the iPhone 12 automatically lines up on using magnets. This fixes the "perfect placement" problem of normal wireless chargers that AirPower was supposed to fix, but in a different way. It looks pretty cool, but not groundbreaking. The new accessory line up might be a different story, though.
Along with a new wireless charger, Apple is also releasing accessories that magnetically adhere to the back of the iPhone 12. One, for example, is a card holder not unlike the ones we see today that stick to the back of phones like a sticker. I'm not overly excited about what accessories Apple showed on stage yesterday, but I bet we're going to see some really cool stuff come from third party accessory companies.
So what do I think? Honestly, the iPhone 12 feels a lot more like the iPhone 11S. Under the hood, the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro aren't all that different from the 11 and 11 Pro. Sure, it'll come with the new chip, but the A13 is still plenty fast. Even my iPhone XR's A12 chip is having no issues with strenuous games and apps on iOS 14. The redesign is also great, and MagSafe looks like it has potential, but nothing I saw yesterday made me think "I need to get my wallet out right now," like sometimes happens with these events.
Apple always makes a good phone, but I think I'm going to sit this year out.
Oh, and don't buy a HomePod.