Wednesday, September 10, 2014

iPhone 6 has arrived...but was it worth the wait?

So, Apple had its big shindig, the H2 keynote.  They announced a brand new iPhone, Apple Pay, the Apple Watch...but, is it worth the upgrade?

In order for a smartphone update to be worthy of an upgrade, some conditions need to be met:

  1. Faster processing
  2. More memory/storage
  3. Better camera
  4. Operating system improvements
  5. General improvements and new stuff

In the case of the iPhone, the product line had become a bit stale so this new model really needed to be an out of the park, grand slam kinda hit.  This particular upgrade hits all the salient points.

Faster Processing

Apple is introducing its newest chipset, the A8 (CPU) and M8 (motion management).  The A8 has 64 billion transistors and is umpteen times faster than its predecessors.  The M8 introduces new features in that it can measure motion and elevation such as going up stairs.  Graphics processing is supposed to be 50% faster as well.  All of this and a reduction in overall power consumption.  This definitely qualifies as a significant improvement to the processing capabilities of the phone.

More memory/storage

Apple did not say anything about the memory on the phone, but there was a nice bump to storage.  The base model comes out with 16G of storage but the next two levels are 64G and 128G.  This is especially important as the iPhone isn't just a telephone or your average smartphone but a personal music system and a place to keep thousands of photos.

Better Camera

The new iSight camera has improved upon previous generations.  We still have 1.5-micron pixels, ƒ/2.2 aperture, and 8 megapixels, but the sensor is greatly improved.  When talking about digital photography, the sensor is likely the single most important thing for getting good, crisp pictures.  The new camera uses on-sensor phase detect focus (called, "Focus Pixels"), improved tone mapping, better noise reduction, improved face detection, better HDR (High Dynamic Range)...all good things.  Apple also claims the front facing camera takes in 81% more light.  The end result is MUCH better pictures.  Another plus courtesy of the larger sized iPhone 6 Plus - Optical Image Stabilization (OIS).  The smaller iPhones, including iPhone 6, use digital image stabilization and while that's good stuff, it doesn't compare to OIS which actually moves the lens as part of keeping things still.  If you're into selfies, iPhone 6 can do burst mode selfies too.  On the video side of the shop, we have 60fps HD video but also 240fps slow motion video.  That's kinda cool and you can get real artsy with slow motion and time lapse.

Operating System Improvements

Apple already gave us the grand tour of iOS 8 earlier in the year and it is definitely a bump from iOS 7.  There are all the standard/sub-standard updates of apps making them look faster or run better, of course.  iOS 8 also increases the usability of the device with things like more interactive notifications; quick-reply; integrated SMS (not just Messages, but actual SMS); cross-platform improvements  including the ability to dial calls from your Mac; new photo editing tools; time lapse mode and timer for the camera; improved searching; and "Family Share" which allows family members to share content.  All are very solid improvements and all will be available on 9/17 to owners of iPhone 4S and greater (as well as iPad2 and greater, and the iPad mini).

General Improvements & New Stuff

Now THIS is where we really get to the meat of things.  The above are all absolute musts for an upgrade to even be considered, but to seal the deal there needs to be some keepin' up with the Joneses.

Probably the biggest issue with the iPhone, compared to Android devices, has been its size.  First everyone wanted smaller but now that we've realized how useful these things are, we asked for a bigger screen.  Android manufacturers responded with devices up to 5 and 6 inches.  Apple...they increased to 4 inches.  Needless to say, that just wasn't enough and the customer base was pretty clear on that point.  They've corrected course and the iPhone 6 comes in a standard 4.7 inches while the iPhone 6 Plus comes in 5.5 inches of phablet phabulosity.  The thickness has been reduced from 7.7mm to 6.9mm and 7.1mm respectively.  The new colors will be silver, gold, and black.

The second complaint has been with battery life.  Apple claims to have improved overall battery life depending on usage with as much as 16 days of standby.  This is a significant claim for those who do not live on their phones.  Overall battery life is said to have improved as well, due to a 50% improvement in the A8's power management capabilities.  Browsing gets up to 10 hours, video 11 hours, audio 50 hours, and 3G talk 14 hours.  iPhone 6 Plus, which can hold a bigger battery obviously, bumps those up a bit -- 3G talk gets 24 hours and audio a whopping 80 hours, while browsing goes to 12 hours and video to 14 hours.

The transceivers have been updated substantially as well.  LTE is juiced up to 15Mbps with 20 bands and carrier aggregation.  VoLTE (Voice over LTE) has been added and that's the next big thing in cellular carriers' world.  On the WiFi front, the iPhone 6 supports 802.11ac, the latest WiFi standard and the fastest yet.  iPhone can also shift calls back and forth between WiFi and cellular now.  (Android has been able to do this a while; T-Mobile uses it extensively, since their network coverage is so poor.)

The iPhone 6 played a little catchup with the addition of NFC features as well.  Near Field Communication allows devices, like smart phones and tablets, to exchange data over a range of a couple of inches.  While this technology is not new, Apple is largely bringing it to the mainstream with their Apple Pay service.  Apple Pay is a payment service that uses a wallet to store your credit card information.  Ever notice the "Tap to Pay" thingmes on the credit card swiper at the supermarket?  That's an NFC transceiver; you will now be able to use your phone to keep track of your credit cards and pay for purchases in a far more secure fashion.  (Android has had this ability a while now.)  This feature is only available on iPhone 6; earlier versions of the iPhone do not have an NFC chip.

Graphics have, of course, improved in this new series as well.  The iPhone 6 has a pixel density of 301ppi on its 4.7 inch, 1334x750 screen; the 6 Plus sports 401ppi on its 5.5 inch, full HD screen with a 1920x1080.  (That's right - a phone with 1080, full HD.)  This gives portable gaming yet another boost and Apple was quick to show it off a bit with a demo of a new game from Super Evil Megacorp.  Between the faster processing, better graphics engine (Metal), and display improvements...they did not fail to impress; the graphics are simply stunning.

The last big thing that comes along is one of Apple's newest campaigns - health and fitness.  iOS 8 introduces two new fitness apps; one that tracks your day, and another that helps you track your workout. There have been fitness trackers for a while that log how many steps you take, your daily heart rate, and more.  The iPhone 6 now has some of those functions as well.  The new "Apple Watch" takes it one step further, providing all the data of a wristband fitness tracker, haptic feedback, and more.  This is nice because it integrates all these trackers into equipment you typically have with you everyday and everywhere you go.

The "Apple Watch" (which I'll review later) also provides you with a wrist based interface to your iPhone.  This is nice because it means the iPhone can stay in your purse/pocket/holster.  What's more, the smart watch includes its very own NFC chip so users of older iPhones will be able to take advantage of Apple Pay by tapping their watch to the credit card reader.  There are some really cool things you can do with this smart watch and it's a very nice companion tool to the iPhone.


Pricing is always a question when there are so many feature improvements and hardware upgrades.  The iPhone 6 will run $199 for 16G, $299 for 64G, and $399 for 128G (with 2 year contract). iPhone 6 Plus is $299, $399, $499 (same storage). They're dropping the 5S to $99 and the 5C to free.  (For those interested, the Apple Watch hits early next year at a very pricey $349.)


The big question: Is the iPhone 6 a worthy successor in the product line and a worthwhile upgrade?  The answer here is definitely a yes.  This new generation of iPhone brings the device up to date compared to its competitors in the market, improves on every aspect of the hardware and design, and incorporates a bunch of new features that moves it to the forefront of the smartphone wars.  The prices haven't really changed, although the iPhone 6 Plus is a bit more expensive than the base model, and there's just a bunch of improvements.  iPhone 6 ships 9/19/2014 (iOS 8 releases to everyone on 9/17/2014).

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