Can Apple make you upgrade?

Article By : Brian Dipert

Perhaps the biggest Apple news is the elimination of the legacy 3.5mm analog microphone-and-headphones port.

Apple has unveiled its latest generation 4.7in and 5.5in smartphones, succeeding their iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus precursors from a year earlier, along with the second-generation Apple Watch, replacing its two-year-old (at least from an announcement standpoint … shipping happened later) predecessor.

Perhaps the biggest news, albeit some of the least surprising considering the abundance of pre-event leaks, is the elimination of the legacy 3.5mm analog microphone-and-headphones port. In its place, Apple put a second speaker, thereby delivering stereo playback for the first time. The company also claimed that the freed-up space allows for more elaborate integrated camera configurations, along with a higher capacity battery. Both a Lightning-to-analog adapter and a Lightning-based headset are bundled in the box, thereby reducing transition pain. And partner Belkin has even come out with a bulky "dongle" that resurrects the ability to charge the phone while simultaneously using a wired headset. But Apple Vice President Phillip Schiller's "proud" statement that the decision took "courage" was more than a bit over the top.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of these two new handsets, at least to this engineer, is their SoC nexus, the Fusion A10. While listed as a "quad core" design, it's really more of a dual-dual core, in the spirit of licensor ARM's big.LITTLE high performance-plus-low power architecture (although Apple's CPU designs are custom, albeit ARMv8A instruction set-compatible, of course). But Apple claims it's 40% faster than its A9 predecessor, and initial leaked benchmarks seem to confirm its status as the latest in a series of Apple custom SoC design success stories.

Also notably impressive to me are the updated optics. "Selfie" fans, myself being not among them, may squee when they hear about the 7MP front cameras, upgraded from 5MP versions in the iPhone 6s models. What I'm referring to is the rear camera architectures. This time around, not only the "Plus" but also the standard handset variant offers optical image stabilisation; the maximum aperture has also been further widened (albeit with no resolution increase this time, not that additional pixels would really even be necessary), welcome news for photo shooters in bars and other dimly lit environments.

And, again confirming a longstanding rumour, the "Plus" model's rear camera is now a dual-lens configuration. In part, this allows for expansion of the optical zoom range, since one lens stack is inherently wide angle, with the other being telephoto (I wonder how Apple will handle stitching together/transitioning between the slightly different subject perspectives?). It also enables depth-sensing special effects such as shallow depth of field (aka bokeh), with other computational photography- and computer vision-enabled capabilities sure to follow.

A shiny black chassis option has now been added, and there are a few other tweaks, such as improved water resistance (which is not linked to the headphone jack removal; Samsung's Galaxy S7 is similarly water exposure-tolerant while being 3.5mm-adorned). Apple has finally dropped the low priced but barely usable 16GB flash memory storage option; and speaking of memory, the "Plus" variant seems from leaked benchmarks to contain 3GB of RAM versus the usual 2 (likely due at least in part to the dual camera array's needs, not to mention the higher pixel count screen's larger graphics frame buffer requirements). But I don't see anything here that will compel existing iPhone 6 and 6s owners to upgrade, in the absence of an expired battery, cracked screen, or something like that. And I'm not the only one who's come to this conclusion.

[Apple AppleWatch]
__Figure 1:__ *Second generation Apple Watch (Source: Apple)*

The second-generation Watch is an even less substantial update. Water tolerance has been improved, specifically via a redesign of the integrated speaker, and a built-in GPS receiver is now standard (versus relying on the GPS facilities of a tethered iOS device), thereby enabling a bit more in the way of standalone operation capabilities. A ceramic chassis option is also now available, as is a design tweaked, runner-tailored variant developed in partnership with Nike. The SoC is now dual-core in nature, which should improve UI responsiveness … with that said, the first-generation Watch isn't going away any time soon, and in fact has been similarly processor-upgraded. Again, as the changes are incremental (and modestly so) I don't see anything here that will dramatically grow the smart watch market or even compel existing owners to upgrade.

This article first appeared on EDN.

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