Apple held its yearly event September 7th, arguably iterating on established technology rather than dropping any new bombs. As usual, much of the presentation was spent focusing on experience and getting past particular specs as quickly as possible. Time was spent on established verticals for Apple, like photography and fitness. My first impression was to consider new experiences that Apple has opened us up to with these announcements, and new verticals that might be served.
Apple Watch series 2
Two new features in the Apple Watch will open up new possibilities to app developers: the new waterproof case and standalone GPS.
While the iPhone meets IP67 (keep the immersion time under 30 minutes, people), the new Watch promises to withstand long periods of immersion. This opens up a whole world of opportunity for any activities done in the water. Adding tracking to those who swim or row for exercise feels new, but this is also an improvement in ruggedization. Tasks done out of network reach with ruggedized GPS units — mapping, construction survey, scientific data-gathering — could potentially move to this lighter footprint with little investment in extra protection.
Just asking a friend working for the USGS here in Washington about the possibility of a ruggedized watch in the field, he responded: “If I didn’t have to have the GPS hanging off of my body, along with a laser rangefinder, pencil, and clipboard, that would be great! We run in track log mode, and waypoints are very important to us. We continuously map for 30+ miles. So yeah, if I could have that as a watch, I would totally do it.”
With standalone GPS, use of location tracking in situations unfriendly to phones is clearly a new path for developers. Health and fitness applications could now support water activities, though it’s unclear to this writer whether this data could be applied in a new way that would diverge from usage in biking and running apps. In the healthcare realm, patients, first responders, EMT technicians, and others looking for wearable alternatives to bulky, ruggedized gear now have a waterproof option.
Apple announced performance increases in the form of their new A10 processor: 4 cores. This translates to 40% faster than A9 or 120x faster than the original iPhone. Graphics performance is 50% up from A9, consuming two-thirds the power of the A9. In the same breath Apple announced a stunning improvement to the camera — 12MP for the back, 7MP for the front camera. Frustratingly, only the 7 Plus gets the new dual camera, allowing depth of field and enhanced optical zoom. While these improvements will open the door further for casual photographers and game developers, any boost in graphics performance coupled with increased visual acuity brings AR and VR applications to mind. While Apple has been silent in light of VR products built by Samsung for Android, there still wasn’t clear commitment to an AR or VR story out of the box. We’ll have to wait for devices in hand to see what the improvements translate to in terms of AR and VR experience.
Lastly, the big switch for audio people is official: no more headphone jack. Listeners everywhere will now need to pack an extra adapter or adapt to the not-so-new world of Bluetooth audio. While Apple touted its ‘courage’ in tackling audio quality in a wireless scenario, its new AirPods will have to be heard to be believed, though the engineering involved in their newest headphone product seemed impressive on the surface. No, the removal of the headphone jack is the latest in moves away from wires towards a life with your digital products void of wires.
In closing, the new ideas present in Apple Watch 2 and iPhone 7 are incremental improvements, gradations on a curve of innovation that reads as levelling out. Apple has a less game-changing, strategic story to tell now that the space is growing in maturity, but that’s a fact of life, not a fault. Players on any wireless platform are going to be driven by users’ needs and desires—these improvements are the result of Apple listening to its audience and responding. For app developers, it’s up to us to use these changes to improve experiences for our audiences.
Image courtesy of Julian O’Hayon for Unsplash.