Here we are: Apple just announced the ninth version of the iPhone, the thing that every ad will be compelling you to buy for the next year. It’s the same 4.7-inch aluminum sliver that makes up the 6, but with a way better camera, and some touchy-feely tricks.
Visually, it’s going to be a case of meet-the-new-boss: the 6S will be a hair thicker than its predecessor, but not enough that you can tell the difference with a pair of calipers. Otherwise, it’s the same rounded edges, buttons, and 4.7-inch screen that you can find on the iPhone 6.
There’s going to be one important change to the body, though: a new 7000-series aluminum alloy, the same found in the Apple Watch Sport, will be used. Maybe it’s strong enough to withstand violent bending? I’m sure the good YouTubers of the world will investigate fully.
The Ion-X glass covering the screen is also newer and stronger — fewer cracked screens, fingers crossed.
We’re also getting a new color: don’t-call-it-pink ‘rose gold’ joins space gray, white, and gold in the lineup.
Apple introduced ‘Force Touch’, a pressure-sensitive trackpad that provides haptic feedback, back with the Apple Watch last year. It’s now weaseled its way into the 6S, under the guise of ‘3D Touch’. What does that mean? Well, the touchscreen can now tell how hard you’re pressing (it can differentiate between a tap, a standard press, and a deep press), and use that to help you navigate around your phone faster. Push lightly lets you ‘peek’ at things, deep press causes it to ‘pop’ out for further touching.
Examples: deep press on the phone icon to go straight to voicemail. Deep press on a song in Music to get a bunch of different options. Press extra-hard on a location in Maps, and your phone will start turn-by-turn navigation there with no further prompting.
Apple’s hammering how this will help you navigate around without loosing your place — rather than having to tap into a email to read it, you can lightly press to peek preview, and then longer press to dive in if needed.
Basically, 3D Touch should let you navigate around your iPhone much quicker. It doesn’t add much (if any) new functionality, but in a lot of places, one deep press replaces two or three normal taps.
There’s also haptic feedback — the screen has little motors behind it, which buzz in a particular way when you press the screen. It should feel something like clicking a trackpad.
It’s worth pointing out that Apple is not the first company to use this kind of technology, in either a laptop, or a smartphone. The technology to make it possible has been around for a while — it’s all about combining that with the right software mix to make it useful.
The iPhone’s camera has always been very solid, but this year Apple’s looking to do a little better than that. Both new camera modules, on the front and the back, are a real doozy.
The front-facing camera is getting a major upgrade to deal with the rise of the selfie generation. It’s now a much larger sensor, capable of taking 1080p video or 5MP stills. The software that controls it is also getting a revamp: you’ll now be able to take ‘selfie panoramas’ (although, just because you can do something, does not mean that you should), slow-motion video, and use the phone’s screen as a makeshift flash.
The real magic is happening around the back, though: a new 12-megapixel camera, able to take much better stills, but also capture 4K video. That’s not a first for a smartphone — that crown was taken all the way back in 2013 — but here’s hoping that integrating 4K video into an iPhone will make the format more popular.
It’s not all about the megapixels, though: using new technology like ‘deep-trench isolation’, the sensor has been improved to give better color accuracy, less noise, and superior low-light performance. The long and short: better, prettier pictures.
There’s a new A9 processor, with all the kinds of improvements you’d expect — 70 percent faster at CPU tasks, 90 percent faster for GPU, according to Apple’s scrupulously honest stats guys. The motion co-processor that tracks your activity also gets a shout-out: this time around, it’s integrated right into the A9 processor.
As always, that will allow increasingly graphics-intensive games to run — games which, buy the way, will make use of 3D Touch as another way to play.
TouchID is here as well, and 2x faster to boot.
On the network front, we’ve got 300Mbps LTE Advanced with 23 LTE bands, and ‘twice as fast’ Wi-Fi for all you Google Fiber peeps out there.
The new iPhone will be shipping with iOS 9, the latest and greatest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. We’ve already had the chance to play with beta versions of that software for a few months now, but the new iPhone will be getting a few tricks we haven’t seen before.
For starters, the always-listening ‘hey Siri’ feature now really is always listening: it used to only work when your iDevice was plugged in, but now it will work whenever your phone has charge (just like Google Now, ahem).
There’s a new thing called ‘Live Photos’, as well: basically, still photos that have a couple seconds of video and audio integrated around them. By default, your phone will grab those little moments whenever you get a photo; force-touch on an image in your library, and it will ‘come to life’. Viewing support will happen on any iDevice, from iOS to WatchOS and OS X, and Apple will add third-party support, starting with Facebook later this year.
Apple isn’t the first company to do this kind of live-photo trickery — along with a whole plethora of apps, HTC’s Zoe app and Nokia’s Lumia phones were doing the same kind of thing three years ago. As ever, it will be all about third-party developers (and Apple’s crazy-huge user base) to make this work.
On-contract, the base iPhone 6S will run $200, or $27 a month on instalment plans from certain carriers. Or, for $32 a month you can do something new and different: the iPhone Upgrade Program which gives you a new unlocked iPhone every single year on the carrier of your choice, plus AppleCare+.
iCloud is also getting cheaper: $1 a month for 50GB, which should help with all those 4K video clips.