Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First impressions: Apple Watch

Apple's new smartwatch has been awaited for a long time, and finally Apple have made it official with the launch of the Apple Watch. No, not iWatch.. just Watch. In fact, there are several different versions in different sizes and materials, which is a bit confusing at first.

As with the iPhone, Apple have entered the market some time after the competition, but they are hoping that the unique features of the Watch will win customers over. One key difference is that a lot of the control of the Apple Watch is done through the "digital crown" on the side, a sort of high-tech clickwheel. Of course, it's a touchscreen as well, but using both control devices might well make it easier than just a touchscreen alone.

In terms of looks, the Apple Watch has some exquisite details, but it doesn't look much different from a whole set of other smartwatches. Remember that we've seen a couple of circular displays on Android Wear smartwatches, but the Apple Watch has a plain rectangular one.

As you might expect, this is not a standalone device and it needs to integrate with a compatible iPhone (5 onwards). Of course, Android users have more choice of devices, but until now Apple users had none at all.

With a built-in heart-rate monitor, gyroscope and a pedometer, combined with integration into iOS 8's Health app and a whole load of built-in applications, then it seems that the Watch is designed to be a fitness companion along with all the other features. Some other features including Emoji-type messaging and a maps application with something called "tactic feedback" which helps you know which way to turn.

The Apple Watch has its own wireless charging system that clamps onto the back magnetically. There are a choice of six straps, including leather ones and sports ones with either traditional or magnetic clasps. Large and small versions are available, plus a "sport" version with a tougher casing and of course there's a gold one too.

Some novel features with the Watch include an application to find where you parked your BMW, an electronic key system for Starwood Hotels (presumably using NFC), and you can use it as a ticket for American Airlines as well.

You'll have a bit of a wait for the Apple Watch, Apple say that it should be available from early next year with prices starting at $349.

19:10 09/09/2014

First impressions: Apple iPhone 6 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus

An expanded version of this article can be found here.
The Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are Apple's latest generation of their iconic and influential smartphone, only this time they take a break from the past and are much bigger devices. The Apple iPhone 6 has a 4.7" 750 x 1334 pixel display, the larger Apple iPhone 6 Plus comes with a 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixel screen which is roughly the same thing that most of the competition has.

Apps are meant to scale up to use the new screen resolutions, although really they would benefit from an overhaul from the developers if there are problems. The iPhone 6 Plus also fully supports landscape mode (something that is patchy on Android devices) which opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Or problems, depending on your point of view.

On the back of these is an 8 megapixel camera which is a bit humdrum these days, however Apple have now added optical image stabilisation (OIS) which Nokia have proved can really improve picture quality. Both models can record 1080p video at 60 frames per second, with a maximum frame capture rate of 240 fps. The front camera has also been improved in order to create better selfies, and it now includes a burst mode.

Physically, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are curved around the edges a bit like the early iPhones, but with design hints of the newer iPhones too.

One new feature is Apple Pay - Apple's take on a mobile contactless payment system. This uses the iPhone 6's built-in NFC capabilities, but Apple have combined with "Touch ID" which uses the built-in fingerprint scanner to verify the user, and have also added a chipset called "Secure Element" to keep your financial data encrypted. This sort of mobile payment system has been struggling to get a foothold, but Apple have several key retailers on board in the US (where the system will launch) and perhaps this is the push it needs.

Underneath, both these iPhones are now 64-bit devices, running on the new Apple A8 processor. There's also a new motion coprocessor, the M8, which helps to take the load off the main CPU. The operating system has also been upgraded to iOS 8 which should run apps faster, with an emphasis on gaming abilities. The iPhone 6 comes with 16GB, 64GB or an impressive 128GB of onboard flash storage.

Apple say that the battery life is better (which in part will be because the battery can be bigger) with a 25% improvement with the iPhone 6 and a whopping 100% improvement with the iPhone 6 Plus. Even with the longer battery life, the iPhone 6 comes in at just 6.9mm thick and the 6 Plus is 7.1mm.

Both devices will start to ship from September 19th onwards in the US. The base model is the 16GB iPhone 6 at $199 when taken with a new two-year contract, the most expensive is the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus which is $399 with the new contract. The price differential between the Plus and the smaller iPhone 6 is $100. Apple say that they are aiming for these phones to be available in 115 countries by the end of the year. Available colours are gold, silver and space gray.