¶ Bigger than bigger

The anticipation before last week's Apple event was at the highest since the 2010 iPad announcement. The hype in the air was palpable, and everyone knew this was going to be a big event.

The event itself was amazing, but it wasn't without its hiccups for the folks watching from home.

The Livestream

As if there wasn't enough hype surrounding the event from the media alone, Apple fanned the flames a bit higher by tossing up a giant countdown to the beginning of the event showcasing a lifestream of the event. In recent years, Apple has done these lifestreams more and more, so I usually dispense with following a couple liveblogs in favor of just catching it live.

This year was a disaster on this front. The lifestream kept crashing, then showing a test image with the media team's schedule. When it did seem to work, you could hardly hear Phil Schiller because of the translator being piped into the same audio stream. Things didn't start coming together until we were well past the iPhone announcement.

Issues with the livestream aside, the event it self was great. Especially if you went and re-watched it later after the proper fit and finish of production quality we know and love was added.

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

The first 10-20 minutes of a keynote are usually dedicated to talking about the health of the retail stores and the various other numbers Wall Street is interested in. Not this time. Tim Cook dispensed with the pleasantries and 7 minutes into the show the new iPhones were revealed.

As all the rumors suggested, Apple brought out larger iPhones. 4.7" and 5.5". The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, respectively. The two phones are identical in features in every way except two:

  1. The iPhone 6 Plus has optical image stabilization, instead of just digital stabilization like the iPhone 6.
  2. The iPhone 6 Plus has a nifty landscape mode that is similar to the iPad, where apps like Mail and Messages will have a split column appear.

Pre-orders went live yesterday and I promptly ordered two, one for my wife and one for myself. We both went with the iPhone 6, space gray, 64 GB on Verizon. I was really glad to see the mid-tier price point jump from 32 GB to 64 GB this year. The high end went to 128 GB. I am baffled as to why Apple kept the low end at a paltry 16 GB instead of bumping it to 32 GB.

The one thing I always love the most about a new iPhone is the camera improvements. In that regard, I was bummed that the iPhone 6 did not get the optical image stabilization, but I do not want a 5.5" phone. That is so big you could serve a lunch on it.

Speaking of the iPhone 6 Plus, every non-techy person I have talked to this past week is flat out excited for it, and declared they will be getting the 5.5" phone. I do think the iPhone 6 Plus will prove insanely popular. It turns out people really want a really huge phone. It certainly isn't in my taste, but it is clearly the preferred trend.

And the pre-orders backed that up. The iPhone 6 Plus sold out just about everywhere very quickly. While I do think it likely had more limited quantities than the iPhone 6, I really think it is the preferred device among the masses.

Apple Pay

Another great feature of the new phones is the built-in Near Field Communication (NFC) chip and antenna. NFC is the standard for contactless payments. If you have a credit card with the little pay wave symbol on it and you can just wave it close to the checkout terminal, it is the same technology.

Apple is integrating a new service into the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus called Apple Pay. The idea is that you enter your credit or debit card into Passbook (by taking a picture of it). Apple verifies it is indeed your card. You then see one of these pay wave enabled terminals at a store, and you hold the top of your phone up to it and rest your thumb on the Touch ID sensor. The iPhone authenticates it is you authorizing it to pay, and does the payment.

What is neat about Apple Pay is the security behind it. The merchant never sees your card number, your name, nor your address. Instead, the iPhone generates a one-time payment code, and that is used to reference your card with the bank for the payment. Apple also never sees where your purchase was made, what you bought, or how much you spent.

And if the merchant is ever compromised (think Target and Home Depot in the past year) all the thief gets is the one-time code, not your card info. So you don't have to get your cards re-issued.

And if your phone gets stolen, you can disable it for payments from Find my iPhone on the web or another device. Even if you can't get to that right away, the phone can't authorize a payment without your fingerprint.

All around this seems like a welcome improvement to making secure payments to a system that is rife with insecurity. I mean, come on, when you hand a check or your credit debit card over to someone else for payment, everything needed to make fraudulent transactions is right there printed on the check or card.

Apple Pay also has a component that can be used in-app to make easy payments using Touch ID.

Apple Watch

I cannot tell you how glad I am that I don't have to be typing iWatch for the years to come. Honestly, Apple Watch isn't much better, and it is more to type, but I just thought the iWatch name sounded weird.

Apple's first intentional take at a wearable device comes in the form of a watch. There are three different models, with two sizes each, and 6 different bands (in two sizes each). That makes for quite a few different combinations.

The Apple Watch has a color touchscreen, a single button reminiscent in appearance of the iPhone's sleep/wake button, and a new Digital Crown, which is used for zooming and scrolling depending on context, and as the home button when pressed.

The Apple Watch doesn't do much different from other smart watches already on the market. It tells the time (obviously), displays notifications from your iPhone, allows brief interactions and responses largely using voice, and has some app integration. But it appears to do all of those much better than other attempts at smart watches. The smoothness of interaction is fluid.

One thing the Apple Watch is adding in that I haven't seen a great deal of in other smart watches is the health & fitness aspect. Essentially, it has all the hallmarks of a Fitbit that is enhanced further when paired with your iPhone. I think the fitness aspect will be huge for the Apple Watch.

From a looks department, it is a handsome timepiece. The digital crown really helps to give it the watch look & feel. And it is certainly the best looking smart watch yet. However, to me it does look extremely 1.0. I can't help but be reminded at the drastic difference in aesthetic, style, thickness, and weight between the original iPad and the iPad 2. It was night and day.

I am planning to hold off on the first crack at the Apple Watch and see what Apple does with a second go at it. I am certainly excited by the concept of the Apple Watch, but at the same time I have questions about how yet another device fits in my life.


As is normal with Apple's big Fall event, they close it out with a musical performance. This year was the band U2, who I actually like. I grew up listening to their albums as my parents had them.

After the performance, Tim Cook and Bono had a very rehearsed , sometimes awkward, exchange about U2's upcoming album, and after beating around the bush, announced that the album would be a free gift to every iTunes account holder for through mid-October.

Tim and Bono did a little countdown from 5 and then Tim said that it just went live. Amazingly, for as many technical issues as the livestream had, the album was in my purchase history within a moment and I had it downloaded a moment later.

As odd as the whole exchange on stage was, I have to hand it to Apple for giving away an entire new album to so many people so quickly. It was a pretty neat experience.

Only Apple

This event was simply jam-packed with great announcements. Not one, but two new iPhones, the new iOS 8, a new, secure payment service that looks like it will be fantastic to use, the Apple Watch becoming a reality, and the largest and fastest rollout of a new album in music history.

Tim Cook has said at the close of the last few events "only Apple" could accomplish all that it does. And I think that is incredibly true. Apple makes the hardware, software, and the services that bind all of its products together into a way that makes experiencing technology almost life-enriching. It is because they sweat the details of all those areas that only Apple could pull all this off.