Hands-on Impressions from Apple’s Wonderlust Event

Apple’s event wrapped up several hours ago, and I really enjoyed my first iPhone event. The vibe was really different from the WWDCs I’ve attended, with a much broader selection of media folks there.

The Steve Jobs Theater is exactly as nice as you’d think it would be. Everything is beautiful and perfect. The audio and visual systems are incredible. From my seat, I could see into the sound booth, and I wanted to chat with those folks about all the cool gear they had.

As things opened, the real-life Tim Cook greeted us with several of his trademark “Good Morning!” cries and then a giant Tim Cook started in on the announcements.

Tim Cook

Apple & the Environment

Back in 2020, Apple committed to being 100 percent carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by the year 2030, and today’s event provided the company a chance to update everyone — including Mother Nature in that video — on how things are going.

As detailed throughout the keynote, Apple is using recycled material in more and more of its products. For example, the original Apple Watch Ultra used all new material in its Titanium case, and now the Ultra 2 is using recycled titanium. Moreover, these products are now carbon neutral:

  • Any aluminum Apple Watch Series 9 or SE when paired with the new Sport Loop
  • The Apple Watch Ultra 2 when paired with the new Trail Loop or the new Alpine Loop

I look forward to seeing what other products Apple can move to this new era. The sooner they get there, the better.

New Apple Watches

There’s no real way around this, but both the Series 9 and Ultra 2 are a bit boring, visually speaking. We didn’t get the rumored darker Ultra 2! But inside, there are some interesting things worth talking about.

The first is the S9 that powers these new watches. The silicon in the Apple Watch has been stagnant for a few updates in a row, but this year, performance should be notably better, as Apple shared:

Apple Watch Series 9 is powered by custom Apple silicon in the all-new S9 SiP. Apple’s most powerful watch chip yet delivers systemwide improvements and brand-new features, including a new double tap gesture and on-device Siri with the ability to access and log health data privately and securely. Apple Watch Series 9 also has a new 4-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast, when compared with Apple Watch Series 8. The power efficiency of the S9 SiP allows Apple Watch Series 9 to maintain all-day 18-hour battery life.

The new double tap gesture is really neat, and it builds upon AssistiveTouch, which showed up a few years ago. In my demos, it worked perfectly every time.

Tapping your index finger and thumb together will trigger whatever is the default button on the screen at any given time, assuming you are looking at a first-party watchOS app. I was told directly that there is not an API for third-party developers to integrate this into their app beyond use with notifications. Once you’re in a third-party app, there’s no double tap support, at least for now.

The iPhone 15 & 15 Plus

This year is another round of Apple taking Pro phone features and moving them down into the mainstream devices later, such as the A16 Bionic, which makes its appearance here after being in the 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max last year. Likewise, the Dynamic Island comes to the 15 and 15 Plus, letting the Notch start its journey into the history books. The screen is also brighter this year, reaching 2,000 nits when used in sunlight.

One thing I didn’t expect to see was Apple’s 48 megapixel sensor pop up in the mainstream phones so soon. But it is here, and in addition to being able to produce “2x” photos by cropping that big sensor, photos can now be saved as 24 MP images, as outlined in Apple’s press release:

A 48MP Main camera shoots sharp photos and videos while capturing fine details, with a quad-pixel sensor and 100 percent Focus Pixels for fast autofocus. Using the power of computational photography, the Main camera gives users a new 24MP super-high-resolution default, offering incredible image quality at a practical file size ideal for storing and sharing. By intelligently integrating hardware and software, an additional 2x Telephoto option gives users three optical-quality zoom levels — 0.5x, 1x, 2x — for the first time on an iPhone dual-camera system.

Physically, the 15 and 15 Plus are very similar to the 14 before them, but now the aluminum rails around the phone curve to meet the front and back glass. The sides are still flat, but this rounding at the edges makes it even more comfortable in the hand. The change also makes the new iPhones look a hair thinner, to my eye at least.

The camera bump mesa is still big, but Apple has infused the glass in a new way that I do not understand, but looks great.

On the other hand, the 15’s colors are all too muted for my taste.

iPhone 15 Pro & Pro Max

My word, I love how these phones look:

I got a lot of questions from folks about these finishes, and here are some thoughts:

  • I get that the colors are kind of boring, but I love the “Natural” finish so much, I don’t care about the others.
  • Apple’s video made the brushed effect look more noticeable than it is in person. If you are familiar with the Titanium Apple Watches from Series 6 and Series 7 days, that will get you in the ballpark.
  • As noted by The Verge, the rails will pick up fingerprints, which is a bit of a bummer.
  • Keep in mind, most people use cases and probably never noticed how smudgy the old Pro phones were. Or even what color they were.

Ditching stainless steel for titanium would make these devices lighter on its own, but Apple did more than that when rebuilding the pro iPhones:

Using an industry-first thermo-mechanical process, the titanium bands encase a new substructure made from 100 percent recycled aluminum, bonding these two metals with incredible strength through solid-state diffusion. The aluminum frame helps with thermal dissipation and allows the back glass to be easily replaced.

Who doesn’t love a good thermo-mechanical process and better repairability?

The new design also uses THE SMALLEST BEZELS ever, meaning the 15 Pro and Pro Max are slightly smaller than the 14 line, which you can see on Apple’s website or in these amazing illustrations by Kate (the Official Relay FM Historian) on Mastodon:

RHL's Charts

As always, the new Pro phones pack nice camera updates. The updated 48 MP sensor on the Main camera gets the same high-resolution 24MP default file format trick that the 15 and 15 Plus get. There was also a lot of talk about improved low-light performance, updates coming to Portraits and a lot more. I lost track of some of the specs in the middle of the presentation, but I’m excited to see what these things can do.

USB-C All the Things

The biggest news today is the iPhone’s move to USB-C, which is overdue but welcome nonetheless. Lightning was a great connector, but it’s time had come:

  • 2003: 30-pin Dock Connector introduced
  • 2007: Original iPhone unveiled, complete with a 30-pin connector
  • 2012: iPhone 5 debuts with Lightning
  • 2023: iPhone 15 launches with USB-C

The real question is how long it will take Apple to remove Lightning from all of its devices, but the clock is ticking.

As expected, Apple downplayed the change, promoting USB-C as a universal standard and in use across the rest of the Apple ecosystem. While the European Union may have pushed Apple into this and while many people will complain that Apple “just” changed their ports around, USB-C is a win.

It’s a huge win if you spring for a 15 Pro or Pro Max, as the USB-C ports in those models are capable of USB 3 speeds up to 10 GBps.

Oh, but USB-C ports in the 15 and 15 Plus are clocked at the same measly 480 MBps.

Oh, and a 10 GBps USB-C cable is not included with the purchase of an iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max.

Oh, and you can’t buy a USB-C case for your AirPods Pro; the only way to upgrade to the new charger is to replace your AirPods Pro entirely.

All of these things are bad.

The Feelings Part

Being at this event on 512 Pixels’ 15th birthday was amazing. Getting asked about our work with St. Jude was even more special. In all the excitement today, I got some time to reflect on what the last decade and a half has meant.

As I said yesterday, thank you.