What to expect from Apple’s ‘See You’ iPhone event

It’s that time of year again. It’s the end of summer, and Apple is once again on the cusp of introducing a new iPhone. Only this year, there’s a different buzz. There’s been talk of Cupertino playing it relatively safe with a new smartphone for the second year in a row or even taking away the time-honored headphone jack. What’s the deal with that? And of course, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg. The Apple Watch is getting long in the tooth, new versions of iOS and macOS are nearly ready… and as many will tell you, large swaths of Apple’s iPad and Mac lineups are gathering dust. But just what are you going to see when Tim Cook and company take the stage? We’ve rounded up some of the more plausible leaks, rumors and educated guesses to help set expectations for Apple’s September 7th media extravaganza.

The next iPhone: Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away

Rendering of the rumored “iPhone 7 Plus” by Martin Hajek.

Historically, Apple has introduced a major redesign of the iPhone every two years, with a milder “S” update in between. However, this year is something special: The Wall Street Journal and other sources expect the next iPhones (unofficially known as the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus) to play it safe. While there will reportedly be more substantial outward changes than you saw in the iPhone 6s, the Cupertino crew isn’t poised to reinvent the wheel either. It would largely share the same aesthetic that you’ve seen since 2014’s iPhone 6, complete with that curved but mostly featureless aluminum frame. The cleaner antenna lines and possible new colors (rumors have swirled of dark black and blue options) may be the only conspicuous ways to show that you have a new phone.

That’s not to say that the changes would be purely cosmetic — far from it. The standard-size iPhone is expected to get a larger camera that will offer improved light sensitivity while the larger Plus variant may tout dual cameras that offer better focusing and low-light photography, much like what you find on the Huawei P9. There’s also talk of a Force Touch-style home button, a speedier A10 chip, an increased 32GB of baseline storage (with a 256GB option) and even possible dual-SIM support for countries like China and India. One rumor has claims we’ll see higher-resolution displays, but the jury’s still out on that report.

There’s one big thing you probably won’t get this year, though: a headphone jack. As with the Moto Z and LeEco’s latest phones, you’ll have to either plug into the data port (in this case, the Lightning port) or go wireless to listen to your tunes. This doesn’t mean that your favorite wired headphones will instantly become obsolete, mind you. Some leaks have suggested that Apple may offer a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter to accommodate the legions of headphones on the market today. There’s no guarantee that this connector will come in the box, but you’ll probably have some kind of fallback if you’re not quite ready to embrace Bluetooth.

There’s one last, looming question about this iPhone: When will it arrive? An AT&T retail leak hints that the carrier may be bracing itself for an in-store launch on September 23rd, but that’s an unusually long wait for Apple. It typically prefers a release on the second Friday following the event, which would be the 16th. Well-known leaker Evan Blass has heard that the retail launch is slated for the 16th, so it seems like the more probable date.

The first Apple Watch refresh

Unless you count new bands and case colors as hardware upgrades, the Apple Watch has gone untouched since it arrived almost a year and a half ago, in April 2015. That makes it ripe for an upgrade… and many suspect that it’ll get its first big revision at the September event. From a logical standpoint, that makes sense. WatchOS 3 has been in testing all through the summer, existing supplies are running low, and Apple likes to showcase major platform revisions with new hardware. Besides, rumors originally had the new wristwear showing up in March. If it wasn’t quite ready then, it may well be ready now.

So what will you get if it does show up? Much like the iPhone 3G, this second model may be more about addressing the first model’s glaring issues than a complete revolution. Early rumors of a camera have died, and cellular data isn’t expected to make the cut due to battery-life concerns. Instead, the big deal may be GPS: You could get accurate navigation and run tracking without relying on your iPhone.

After that, it may be a matter of refinements. KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who is often on the ball about Apple plans, believes that the next Apple Watch will have a barometer for altitude tracking, stronger water resistance, a larger-capacity battery and a faster processor. That last part is particularly important. While WatchOS 3 will speed up many tasks all by itself, a CPU upgrade could further reduce those annoying wait times that plague the Apple Watch today.

The real mystery is when you’ll see the second-generation smartwatch. There haven’t been any credible leaks, and there’s no extensive history to rely on. The six-week gap between the March 2015 Apple Watch introduction and launch day isn’t typical for the company. If the hardware is ready to go, though, we could imagine it arriving side-by-side with new iPhones in mid-September.

Software upgrade release dates: iOS 10 and more

iOS 10 on an iPhone 6s

Software usually plays as big a role in Apple’s September events, and this year is likely no exception. Given that Apple always ties new iPhone hardware to new iOS releases, we’d expect to see a date for the iOS 10 upgrade at the event. The firm tends to ship those updates at least days before the new iPhones arrive.

As for other software? That’s harder to determine. WatchOS 3 seems like a shoo-in for a release date announcement (it’s been in developer testing as long as iOS), especially if there’s a new Apple Watch unveiled at the same time. A tvOS software update is less certain when there’s no word of a matching Apple TV hardware upgrade, although it could happen when Apple TV software updates have sometimes arrived alongside new versions of iOS. And a macOS Sierra launch? Well, that’s up in the air. Although Apple delivered El Capitan in late September last year, there’s no certainty that Sierra will be ready in a similar timeframe. It may have to wait until there’s new Mac hardware. On that note…

Wild cards: new Macs and iPads

Martin Hajek's concept for a MacBook Pro with OLED strip

Conceptual rendering of a MacBook Pro with an OLED touch strip.

If you ask devotees about what Apple needs to upgrade next, many of them will shout “Macs.” It’s for good reason, too. Outside of the 12-inch MacBook and iMac, the majority of the Mac lineup hasn’t been updated in more than a year. Some of this is due to Intel’s slowing refresh cycle and diminishing performance returns, but it’s still true that Apple’s computer line could stand an overhaul.

But will it get that overhaul in September? It doesn’t seem likely. A recent Bloomberg leak claims that a MacBook Pro with a fingerprint reader, an OLED control strip and USB-C is in the works for the fall but won’t show up on September 7th. And mum’s the word on other Mac revamps. Apple did recently stop selling the Thunderbolt Display and is rumored to be building a stand-alone 5K screen that would go well with new Macs, but the mill has been silent on its fate in recent weeks.

You might see new iPads. The iPad Air 2 is nearly two years old, and AppleInsider tipsters have hinted that at least the 12.9-inch iPad Pro may get an upgrade. Like the Mac, though, there’s nothing strongly suggesting that replacements for either will show up in September. Any updates might end up waiting until a separate October event, if not next year. Just keep an open mind — few would have expected the iPad Pro to be introduced alongside the new iPhone last year, and Apple may be content to introduce modestly improved tablets in September rather than save them for later.

Images: Martin Hajek (iPhone render); Reuters / Andrew Kelly (Apple Watch); Martin Hajek (MacBook Pro)

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iOS 10 preview: Apple’s software takes a big step forward

Rumor has it that Apple isn’t going to reinvent the iPhone this year, but you definitely can’t say the same about its software. iOS 10 was unveiled to the world late in the company’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote, and for good reason — there were many, many new software features to unpack.

And now it’s time to play. Assuming you have the guts to install unfinished software, you’ll be able to grab the iOS 10 public beta soon (as long as you’re part of the Apple Beta Software Program, anyway). As a quick reminder, the preview is compatible with the iPhone 5 and newer, the iPad mini 2 and newer, and the sixth-generation iPod Touch. Before you choose your sacrificial iDevice, though, read on to get a better sense of what works in the beta, what doesn’t and how Apple’s approach to software continues to evolve.

The caveat

I’ve been using the public beta build on an iPhone 6s for two days, and so far it’s been remarkably stable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already encountered a handful of hiccups and bugs, but I haven’t run into any full-blown showstoppers either. Still, if you’d prefer not to troubleshoot or restart your phone, you’re better off steering clear of the Apple Beta Software Program. But that goes without saying.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind: Not all the features Apple previewed at WWDC are live yet. In fact, some of the most interesting ones aren’t. (Same goes for Apple’s macOS Sierra preview, as a matter of fact.) Most of Siri’s improvements center on linking up with third-party apps to let you send money through Square Cash, for instance, or track runs with MapMyRun just by asking. Sorry! You can’t do that today; it’ll be a few months yet before developers get their SiriKit-enabled apps ready.

Ditto for applications like Skype and WhatsApp: When updated this fall, they’ll display calls on your lock screen as though they were regular phone calls. This version of iOS 10 also doesn’t consistently transcribe your voicemails either, or get lyrics for your songs, or let you use Apple Pay on the web. The list goes on. Suffice to say the software going live today is just a taste of the software Apple plans to ship in the fall.

The look

It’ll likely be a while yet before we see a redesign as thorough as what we got with iOS 7, but hey: iOS 10 still feels like a refreshing change of pace. Apple’s typeface is thicker by default and notifications and widgets are neatly contained in bubbles, all of which goes a long way toward making things feel cleaner. Speaking of notifications, you can use 3D Touch on supported iPhones to take action without even having to jump between apps. Think: giving a Facebook message a thumbs up or archiving emails in Outlook. Alas, you can’t do any of this while the phone is locked.

Those bubbly new widgets appear when you use 3D Touch on supported apps too, and from there it takes one more touch to add it to your Today feed. They can be a little temperamental, though: Only after two days of testing did the weather widget finally decide to display the outside temperature. (The answer: too darn hot.) Naturally, Apple redesigned lots of other bits and bobs for this release. The Control Center you invoke by dragging up from the bottom of the screen has been split into two pages, one of which is reserved for music controls.

Now, back to the big, bold aesthetic Apple is pushing this year: It can be hard to avoid. Perhaps the best example of this is the radically redesigned Music app, which is… divisive, to say the least. It’s all about punchy colors and extreme legibility. I don’t mind it, but others who have seen it are not thrilled. Pro tip: You can change the font size used in the Music app from the device’s settings. This new aesthetic carries over into other redesigned apps like Health (which now also lets you opt-in for organ donation) and the Clock app (which now has a bedtime mode to keep you well-rested).

The fun

Nearly all of the neat features in the updated Messages app work just fine. You can “handwrite” notes by turning the iPhone on its side, send heartbeats with digital touch, leave “tapback” reactions on things people send you, and more. My favorite so far: using bubble effects to basically yell at other people using iOS 10. Quickly sending GIFs with the included #images iMessage app is a close second; in case you forgot, Messages is one of those Apple-made apps that will soon benefit from third-party developer support. For now, though, the only other available iMessage apps let you share your recently played music or share animated images like the ones Apple uses on its Watch.

It’s also now dead simple to share a recent photo since you have a live camera preview as soon as you tap the photo icon. One touch snaps a shot and preps it for sending, though there’s a noticeable delay in this beta build. Oh, word to the wise: If you don’t want to get caught in flagrante delicto, hold off on sending racy messages. If you send a message obscured by invisible ink to someone who doesn’t have iOS 10, the message appears normally with a follow-up that says “sent with invisible ink.” The app sometimes says the secret message hasn’t been delivered to the non-iOS 10 device, but it almost always was.

Apple has added plenty to the traditional messaging experience, and it’s all pretty fun, but it sometimes feels like a bit much. Apple is facing stiff competition from Snapchat, Facebook’s Messenger and others, but with all that’s going on here, I can’t help but think the company is just throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks.

It’s not strictly part of the upgraded Message app, but there’s a lot of fun to be had with the keyboard as well. By default, the keyboard suggests an emoji when it detects a word that matches it. If you switch to the emoji keyboard in that case, all the words that can be emoji-fied glow orange. Tapping any of them replaces the word with the pictograph. Too bad that other keyboard tricks, like free time suggestions based on your calendar, don’t seem to work all the time yet. For now, only specific phrasing (like “I am available at…”) seems to trigger the schedule suggestion.

The helpful

You’d be forgiven for thinking Apple didn’t do much with its Photos app; at first glance, there aren’t many obvious changes. (Your albums are now laid out in a grid instead of a list, so enjoy.) The biggest difference here is that iOS doesn’t just use your photos’ metadata to organize everything; it can organize them based on what’s depicted in them too. It’s a lot like Google Photos, except all of the machine learning magic happens on the phone itself. The downside? If you have a ton of photos like I do, it takes iOS a long time to initially scan them all. Side note: Don’t be shocked if this blows through your battery.

The results are usually great. You can now search for broad categories like “cat” or “drink” or “bikes” in addition to just places, and the results have been almost completely been right on the mark. One search result for “bikes” returned a photo from Barcelona where a moped lay at the bottom of the frame, shrouded in shadows. Not bad, Apple. Your photos automatically get bunched into Memories too, like “Best of the Year” and “Last weekend.” There’s more to memories than just an array of photos; you’ll get to see where the photos were taken and who’s in them.

It’s too bad the auto-created video montages Apple (“memory movies”) have never loaded properly for me. Maybe your luck will be better than mine. On the plus side, you can edit Live Photos now, and all the changes you make apply to the still and the video that surrounds it. Live Photos still aren’t my thing, but this is still a welcome move nonetheless.

Engadget’s parent company might own MapQuest (which is apparently still a thing), but I’m all about Google Maps. My devotion has been more or less unwavering, but Apple Maps in iOS 10 just scored major points with me thanks to the improved (and enlarged) navigation interface. Seriously, it’s so much easier to read at a glance than Google Maps that I can almost see myself switching. There’s also a little weather display in the corner, and the app is better about suggesting places you might want to go to and how to get there. You’ll eventually see other apps like OpenTable hook into listings you find in Maps, but we’ll have to wait a few months before that functionality becomes available.

The overdue

There’s a lot more going on with the Music app than just a new look: The whole flow has changed. By default, you’re dropped off in the Library upon launch, where you can access all the songs you’ve saved or downloaded. Simple enough. It’s the For You section that seems to have gotten the most attention. Instead of just giving you a bunch of random playlists you might like, Apple now does a better job of explaining why its choices might be up your alley. The Connect tab is gone this time, so posts from acts you follow are in For You as well. Thankfully, they’re buried at the bottom and easy to ignore if you find them as utterly pointless as I do. Perhaps the most important interface change is that search gets a tab of its own, making it easier to find your perfect summer jam.

Like Music, Apple News also received a facelift that’s big on bright colors and big text. And again, the biggest change is the For You section, which is to say it now actually works. The Top Stories were the same between devices running iOS 9 and the iOS 10 beta, but the update brings subsections of stories that seem better tuned to your interests. In my case, those subsections included the Middle East, currency markets, startups and technology — all things I dig, and have searched for recently. Throw in notifications for breaking news and we finally have an Apple News that feels like it’s worth using.

The odds and ends

Not everything fits neatly into a box, but here are a few changes to the iOS formula that you should definitely be aware of.

  • Yes, you can remove Apple’s first-party apps, and yes, it is glorious. Technically, it’s just user data that’s deleted; the app itself remains hidden on the device, but I’ll take that symbolic victory.
  • Raise to Wake does exactly what it says, and it works remarkably well for checking the time and your notifications
  • You can swipe left from the lockscreen to launch the camera. (It takes a little getting used to.)
  • I didn’t always love how fast the TouchID sensor worked on the 6s and 6s Plus. Coincidentally, Apple now requires you to push the home button to unlock instead of just laying a finger on it. No more inadvertent unlocks (though you can revert to the old way in settings)!
  • You can access Spotlight search from just about anywhere, since the search bar now appears at the top of the drag-down notifications shade.
  • Apple’s Home app is pretty (there’s that bold aesthetic again), but I couldn’t properly test it since I didn’t have any HomeKit gear on hand. Check back for our impressions in our eventual full review.

We can’t issue a verdict on iOS 10 until it launches this fall, but Apple has taken some significant steps forward here. iOS 9 built the foundation for a lot of these features, and with iOS 10 we’re seeing Apple try to figure out how they best work together. Sometimes that means rewriting the rules, and other times that means letting other people build on top of the existing platform. How well that will all work is the big question, and we should have our answer in a few months.

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Apple’s App Store is changing, starting with subscriptions

At next week’s WWDC, Apple is set to unveil some major changes to the way developers and users interact with the App Store. According to Apple’s senior VP of Worldwide Marketing (and perennial WWDC keynote presence) Phil Schiller, Apple is working to improve everything from the app review experience to the discovery process. But the most notable change is a shift in the business models to allow for subscriptions from any kind of app.

As The Verge reports today, the 70/30 revenue split between developers and Apple will stay in place, but apps that keep a user subscribed for more than a year will see that split shift in their favor to 85/15. “Now we’re going to open up to all categories,” Schiller told The Verge, “and that includes games, which is a huge category.”

According to LoopInsight, developers will be able to choose “one of over 200 subscription price points” and will be able to create region-specific pricing. If a developer chooses to raise a subscription price, users will have to re-authorize the price increase. The new system will also effect current subscription-based apps.

The shift looks enticing for developers, who will now be able to offer their apps and games for a monthly fee rather than a single price up front. And with iPhone sales finally on the decline, the arrangement also allows Apple to turn existing users into even more lucrative revenue streams.

Also per Schiller, Apple will be introducing display ads into the iOS App Store search results for the first time. Although Apple has previously stated that Featured positioning in the App Store is “not for sale,” Schiller now feels confident they’ve built a system that will work for everyone. The auction system behind the ads, Schiller said, will be “fair to developers and fair for indie developers, too.”

As for the app review process, Schiller says that the turnaround time has dropped to the point where a full half of the apps submitted to Apple are reviewed in the first 24 hours and 90 percent are reviewed within two days.

Finally, Schiller is looking to drive even more traffic to the App Store, to the point where it becomes a daily visit for most users. One of the ways Apple plans to do that is to add a “Share” button to every app’s 3D Touch menu on the home screen. As you might expect, tapping the share button allows you to shoot off a download link on your social network of choice.

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