Apple’s two new mobile products, the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro, aim to put a stronger punch in smaller devices.
Apple’s first product introduction of 2016 was a small affair that revealed relatively incremental product updates.
The iPhone SE updates the iPhone 5s to present-day standards, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro brings many of the features from the iPad Pro introduced in September to the “standard” iPad size.
But as ever, it’s the details that matter, and there are plenty of details that point to more in the future.
iPhone SE. The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are massively successful and drive most of Apple’s income. So why create the iPhone SE? This old-but-new phone exists for two reasons: to keep an inexpensive iPhone in the lineup and to offer a smaller-sized phone.
When the iPhone 6 first arrived a couple of years ago, I thought it was almost too big, but then I quickly adapted. (The iPhone 6s Plus still seems too large to me, but maybe someday I’ll change my mind on that, too.) Yet I know people who, despite the appeal of improved features, just don’t want the larger sizes of the iPhone 6 models.
The iPhone SE has the same case design as the iPhone 5s, but includes a speedier A9 processor and improved cameras. It starts at $399 if you want to purchase it outright, but that’s for the 16 GB model, which I can’t recommend. Spend the extra $100 and get the 64 GB model, the only other configuration. Carrier-contract pricing breaks that down into smaller monthly chunks, depending on the provider.
Apple still values a high-end experience, so it’s not going to create extremely cheap phones. There are plenty of other companies doing that (and barely, if at all, making a profit).
In using the same case design as the iPhone 5s (with a satin finish on the chamfered edge instead of a shiny, reflective one), Apple already had the equipment in place to manufacture and assemble the models.
9.7-inch iPad Pro. The newest iPad is even more interesting, though the clunky “9.7-inch iPad Pro” is the official name.
Apple is designating it “Pro” because of its A9X processor, support for the Apple Pencil, and a new 256 GB storage configuration (the 12.9-inch iPad Pro also gains the larger storage option).
Like the iPhone SE, this update is partially driven by size. Some people, especially those who aren’t looking to use their iPad as a laptop replacement, don’t need the additional size.
Most of the same features of the 12.9-inch model are in the 9.7-inch model. Not everything, though: It includes only 2 GB of working memory compared with the 4 GB in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which may be a limiting factor for professional apps. It also supports slower USB 2 speeds when transferring photos from a camera using Apple’s Lightning port adapter, whereas the 12.9-inch iPad Pro moves image files at much faster USB 3 speeds.
It also has two things that the larger iPad Pro lacks. One is a wider color gamut (DCI-P3, the same used by the 5K iMac), which means it can display more colors with better fidelity than most displays.
The other is a new True Tone display feature. True Tone adjusts the color temperature of the screen based on the ambient lighting of the area you’re in. If you’re in a warmly lit room, the screen won’t blast lots of cool light.
This might be the next iPad I purchase for myself. I’m still happily using an original iPad Air day-to-day, though the split-screen feature doesn’t work on this model, and the Slide Over feature is sluggish.
Bring on the Night Shift. Another important update from this week’s product event is the release of iOS 9.3, available now for most devices. In addition to bug fixes and a few other notable changes (like the ability to set a password for viewing items in the Notes app), this version introduces a new feature called Night Shift.
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Electronic devices are great for reading late at night. However, some studies have shown that the cool-colored light emitted by displays can make it more difficult to later go to sleep.
Night Shift changes the color temperature of the screen, removing the blue in favor of yellow. After installing iOS 9.3, go to the Settings app and choose Display & Brightness to turn on Night Shift (it’s off by default).
I’ve set it to Scheduled, so that the change automatically happens between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.; you can also choose to trigger it by sunset and sunrise, which are looked up automatically based on your location and the time of year.
The shift is surprising at first, but to my eyes it’s a welcome change.
If you want a similar effect on the Mac, install f.lux (justgetflux.com). I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Night Shift come to OS X later this year. (A version of f.lux briefly existed for iOS, but for technical reasons Apple wouldn’t distribute it through the App Store.)
Apple also made incremental updates to the fourth-generation Apple TV and the Apple Watch. There was no mention of other product lines, such as MacBook Pro, iMac or the long-dormant Mac Pro — so there’s surely plenty more to come later in the year.