Apple ‘California Streaming’ event highlights
What was announced, and why it matters
It’s September, and if you have even the faintest interest in consumer technology and all things shiny, you’d know it’s iPhone time. At its California Streaming event last night, Apple introduced four new iPhones, a new Apple Watch and two new iPads a.k.a enough gadgety goodness for the festive season up ahead. Here’s a closer look at what Apple announced, when you can get your hands on them and some of the key takeaways from the launch that you may have missed.
What was launched?
iPhone 13 and iPhone mini: Prior to the event, there was much discussion and debate on whether Apple would end up succumbing to triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13. Apple firmly quashed that possibility across the iPhone 13 lineup, all of which feature a number of things in common including a 20% narrower TrueDepth camera notch, a slightly tweaked design and the A15 Bionic chipset. Quickly, about the A15 Bionic – it uses a 5 nanometer process and nearly 15 billion transistors to power the 6 CPU cores and 4 graphics cores for gains of 50% and 30% in performance and graphics over the unnamed competition, presumably the Snapdragon 888. The chip powers the entire iPhone lineup and the new iPad mini, and I’ll stretch its legs in our full reviews in the weeks to come.
For the regular iPhone 13 lineup – the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 and 5.4-inch iPhone 13 mini - the cameras see some significant upgrades too, with a new 12MP primary sensor with 47% more light gathering capabilities than the previous generation iPhone 12 and sensor-shift optical image stabilization, a feature that was reserved only for the iPhone 12 Pro Max last year. The improved Super Retina XDR OLED display also delivers nearly 30% increase in maximum outdoor brightness (800 nits), and a bumped up peak brightness of 1200 nits for HDR content. All the while seeing battery gains on both models, up 1.5 hours on the Mini and 2.5 hours on the larger iPhone 13.
Interestingly, the entire lineup sees the addition of what Apple calls Cinematic Mode, for video capture. What it does is leverage Hollywood-style rack focusing, sort of like portrait mode for video, to blue backgrounds so that your eyes are drawn to the subject…and intelligently switching away to the background when the subject looks away from the camera or another subject moves into the frame. Plus, you can change focus even after the fact, which opens up a bunch of creative possibilities for your everyday home videos. One to take for a spin, for sure.
The new iPhones will be available in Starlight, Midnight, Blue, Pink and Red colorways and will land on 24thSeptember in the first wave of iPhone rollouts. The iPhone 13 mini starts at Rs. 69,900 while the iPhone 13 starts at Rs. 79,900, and base variants now ship with 128GB of storage instead of just 64GB.
iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max: The Pro models in the lineup, the 6.1-inch iPhone 13 Pro and the 6.7-inch Pro Max, go a couple of steps further than the vanilla iPhone 13s to justify the premium pros are expected to pay. The display ups the ante in outdoor brightness at 1000nits but it’s the long overdue addition of ProMotion – adaptive refresh rates from 10Hz to 120Hz based on how you’re using the phone, a la the iPad Pros – that’s the real draw. The camera sensors have gotten much better too, drawing in additional light for a claimed 92% improvement in low-light photography. There’s a new 77 mm telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, as well as new wide and ultrawide cameras – I’ll save the details and the results for the full reviews. Also neat is the ultra-wide camera doubling up as with a macro mode that allows you go in really close to shoot small subjects.
Elsewhere, the phones pack larger batteries too, with a 1.5-hour battery boost on the Pro and 2.5-hours on the Pro Max. The Pro lineup launches alongside the iPhone 13 on the 24th of September, with Rs. 1,19,900/1,29,900 starting prices for the Pro/Pro Max and a new 1TB storage option at the top end. And a gorgeous new Sierra Blue colorway that’s quite the looker.
iPad and iPad mini: Not many were expecting the iPad lineup to see a refresh, but lo and behold, here we are. The iPad mini is the far more exciting update, with a larger 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display that stretches far closer to the edges than previously and the same A15 Bionic chip as the iPhones. The new mini shares a lot with last year’s iPad Air, including a USB-C port, squared edges design with physical TouchID button, cellular connectivity and 2nd gen Apple Pencil support. New colors too (pink and purple). Meanwhile, the regular base iPad got the A13 Bionic chip, a 12MP ultra-wide front camera with support for Center Stage and twice the storage (64GB) of the previous generation. Both iPads are available today on the Apple India store, and retail from Rs. 46,900 (mini) and Rs. 30,900 (iPad).
Apple Watch Series 7: Take the already popular Series 6 and amp up the screen real-estate by 20% by thinning out the borders to just 1.7mm, and you have the Apple Watch Series 7. With the wider and brighter curved edge screen comes the ability to display more text, accommodate a full keyboard or simply see more elements on the screen in the new Contour and Modular Duo watch faces. The big win is the improvements on durability, with a more robust build that takes knocks and falls better plus IP6X dust resistance (on top of the WR50 water resistance) for well, getting your hands dirty. And while it maintains the same one-day battery life of the predecessor, it charges 33 percent faster compared with Apple Watch Series 6, through a new charging system and a new fast USB-C fast charging cable. Series 7 India pricing and exact availability dates (“later this year” is all Apple’s saying for now) were not available at the time of writing this.
What Deserves Your Attention?
Announcements aside, there were a few features that had me chomping at the bit to try out these new devices. For instance, the new iPads both support Center Stage, previously only available on the iPad Pro. What it does is take the new ultra-wide front camera with a wider field of view, and automatically pans the camera to keep subjects in view as they move around the front of the iPad. Add a few more folks to the conversation, and the camera detects them too, zooming out to include them in the conversation (reminds you of a certain Amazon Echo Show, doesn’t it?). Sounds like something we’ll continue to need as we continue our home-bound work and schooling schedules, and it’s a big plus that even the base iPad supports this feature. Improved battery life was a key theme across all the iPhones, which was a big plus. Video saw a lot of attention at the event, with Cinematic Mode putting more power in the hands of first timers and Apple's ProRes format at 4K/30fps giving pro videographers greater editing control. Elsewhere, the iPad mini seriously impressed in its first update since 2019 – all of the useful upgrades of the iPad Air with the ‘just right’ size that we’ve enjoyed with the iPad mini. And while we’ve seen high-refresh rates on practically every Android flagship so far this year, the iPhone user experience is typically slick to begin with, so I’ll be looking to try out the 120Hz ProMotion displays on the Pro models to see how much of a difference they make in everyday life.