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Big bites from Apple

Apple’s announcement advanced medical features on its new Apple Watch and a more affordable iPhone were the biggest bites from its annual product launch, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Apple’s annual early-September event kicked off with a small advance that could make a big difference: the next iteration of the Apple Watch, Series 4, with the first consumer-facing ECG monitor approved by authorities. While the overall design remains similar to its predecessors, the screen is around 30% larger than the previous version, thanks to a smaller bezel. This resulted in new categories, namely 40mm and 44mm instead of 38mm and 42mm. However, Apple Watch bands from previous generations still work with the new Apple Watch. The screen is also rounded at the corners of the display, instead of being a square display inside rounded glass. Despite all the improvements, it still weighs around 30 grams without the watch band. 

The introduction of the first consumer-facing wrist ECG (electrocardiogram) is revolutionary in the wearable space and reaffirms the Apple Watch as a device for the health conscious. The Apple Watch underwent a full internal and external redesign. Internally, the digital crown has been redesigned to be more “clicky”, with haptic feedback, and features a metal tip for use in an ECG measurement. An ECG can be taken when the user completes a circuit by placing the opposite hand’s finger on the metal tip of the digital crown. This is helpful for those who need to know when they are experiencing atrial fibrillation, an irregular beating of the heart. Fall detection has also been implemented, where a user must tap “I’m fine” after a fall, slip or trip. If the Apple Watch is still for a minute after a fall, emergency contacts are notified with a fall message and location.

Next up, the iPhone line was given an update instead of an upgrade with the iPhone XS. Last year broke the 8-year “major iPhone version followed by an S version” cycle. Apple opted to skip what would have been the iPhone 7S and released the iPhone 8. Apple also released the iPhone X for its tenth anniversary of releasing iPhones. This year, the S cycle is back. The iPhone XS sends the message that Apple is not currently concerned with cosmetic features and would rather focus on making its flagship smartphones better internally. 

The iPhone XS was released in 2 tiers, namely the 5.8″ iPhone XS and the 6.5″ iPhone XS Max. The iPhone XS Max is what we know as the “Plus” range, which features a screen that’s almost an inch bigger diagonally than the iPhone XS and holds the same Super Retina Display specification, around 450 pixels per inch. Internally, the iPhone XS Max is no different from the iPhone XS apart from a larger battery.

Apple’s A12 bionic chip is not the first 7-nanometre chip to be announced in a smartphone (that was Huawei) but will be the first to reach the market. The incredible aspect of the 7nm chip is that it houses 6.9 billion transistors, which allow for 5 trillion operations to be run per second. In addition to this, a Neural Engine allocates all the processes where they fit best, either to the CPU, the GPU or processes quickly itself. This speeds the iPhone XS up by 30% compared to the iPhone X – if you are able to notice such things.

Talking pf which, thanks to the better processor, Face ID performs a lot faster. The neural engine can separate hair from the backgrounds of portrait photos. The XS also has wider stereo sound, thanks to a slight internal speaker readjustment. The screen has been optimised for Dolby Vision and HDR10 which work with the OLED screen to provide vibrant colours and distinct on-screen graphics. 

Apple left a surprise for the end of its keynote when CEO Tim Cook introduced the iPhone XR. This iPhone looks and feels like an iPhone XS at first glance, but has been stripped of some features. 

It’s interesting that Apple is not repeating its iPhone 5C mistakes with this iPhone. It uses the A12 Bionic, the same processor in the XS line, which means that the cheaper iPhone performs exactly the same as the most expensive one. The XR has an edge-to-edge display with Face ID, like the iPhone XS, but has an LCD screen instead of OLED. This would have reduced Apple’s cost per unitsubstantially. On the back, the XR sports a single camera instead of the dual camera setup in the iPhone XS. However, the iPhone XR can still do portrait mode photos, thanks to the A12 Bionic. 

Overall, it may seem as if the Apple Watch stole the show, but Apple no doubt hopes the iPhone XR will convince the market it is an affordable iPhone.

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