Apple’s annual September media event is an oxymoron — it’s become almost entirely predictable. One year it introduces a major new iPhone redesign and the next it offers incremental iPhone improvements. And make no mistake about it, despite last year’s Apple Watch debut, at the core of the September event is the critically important iPhone.
To illustrate: In 2011, Apple introduced the incrementally improved iPhone 4s, which in turn introduced Siri as its cool new feature. In 2012, Apple introduced the redesigned iPhone 5. In 2013, came the iPhone 5s, which introduced Touch ID, alongside the polycarbonate iPhone 5c and a redesigned iOS 7. In 2014, we saw the redesigned iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which delivered the larger screens users were pining for, plus a bunch of little improvements here and there.
Now, in 2015, the September event likely will introduce an iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. The obvious question is, what will be the special new featureto make it event-worthy?
Answer: There won’t be one. There will be several smaller improvements this year.
You can expect to see an iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with a faster A9 processor, maybe as much as 2 GB of memory, and an improved iSight camera — possibly at 12 megapixels, possibly capable of shooting at a 4K resolution. It possibly will have optical image stabilization in the 6s model, and a better front-facing FaceTime camera with flash, so the selfie addicts can produce even better photos for social media sharing. Who’s yawning here?
But wait, there’s more: Force Touch. Apple introduced Force Touch in the Apple Watch and added it to the latest MacBooks. The feature is a new user interface input that lets you press harder on a screen to create a new action in software.
Right now, Force Touch is a technology innovation that’s looking for an important reason to exist. It’s like Siri from the early days — barely useful. Yet it’s full of potential. The next generation of apps could use Force Touch to reveal a whole new set of ways reveal new features.
Does that sound vague? Of course it is. Pushing harder to fast-forward a movie faster is handy but hardly important. Diving deeper into a calendar day? My fist pump was just interrupted by a yawn.
So, Force Touch. Important? Yes. Interesting? Barely. A technical achievement on a relatively large iPhone screen? Sure.
Extra Seating? What For?
So, it’s unlikely that Apple will blow anyone’s mind with its next iPhone update. So what’s so interesting about the upcoming event that could justify Apple’s move to a much larger venue this year?
Previously, Apple held media events at the Yerba Buena Center or Flint Center, which have seating capacities around 1,400 and 2,400 respectively. The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which is where the Sept. 9 event will take place, seats 7,000.
That’s a big leap in capacity.
At the same time, the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium has been locked down (with security personal) for an extended period of time leading up to this event, which seems odd if all Apple is doing inside is putting together some hands-on display areas and hanging up some huge decorative posters, even though this is a new venue.
All of this is just incremental evidence that supports the hope that something important might be happening this year.
Apple TV’s Time to Shine?
It seems doubtful that Apple will reveal a new Apple Watch — but it has been a year, so maybe. More likely, though, Apple finally will reveal a new Apple TV. How can it not? Personally, I’ve been hoping for new Apple TV hardware for years, but rumors say it’s been delayed while Apple tries to nail down a new streaming media subscription service with television content producers and owners.
The rumors leading up to the September event have been weaker this year than in years past, with many of them pointing toward the more obvious likelihoods rather than tangible evidence. There’s one rumor that Siri will be a key element in the new Apple TV UI. Apple’s tease in the invitation letter to journalists — “Hey Siri, give us a hint” — seems to bear that out.
If you want to play with Siri, by the way, go ahead and ask for a hint. She has several funny answers for you.
As for me, I’m very excited to see what sort of new Apple TV will be revealed Sept. 9. Actual rumors based on snippets of fact rather than smart supposition are hard to come by, but it seems obvious that the new Apple TV will be a big leap forward. Here’s a rundown of my expectations and hopes:
- Siri for Remote Control. The Amazon Fire TV uses a remote control that lets you search by voice, which I use all the time — and it works pretty well when you’re searching for content to watch in Amazon’s universe. Apple ought to be able to deliver a similar Siri-based feature.
- New Touch-Based Remote Control. Along with using your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch to control your Apple TV, you’ll have the option of a much more user-friendly and versatile remote control that uses touch — maybe even Force Touch — rumors suggest.
- New Subscription TV Service. Forget about it. It’s pretty much unnecessary these days anyway, but persistent rumors suggest that traditional TV execs are nowhere near agreeing to any sort of Apple terms of service. If it ever comes, consider it a pleasant surprise visit from an old friend — maybe life-changing but probably not.
- New Apple TV App Store. The major missing Apple app ecosystem is an App Store for the Apple TV. It’s been long-rumored, long-desired. Apple likely will announce it.
- A Game System. If you’ve got an App Store, games are an obvious addition. With Apple’s sweet graphics capabilities, it has the chance to offer a great casual gaming experience. Throw in some decent physical controllers, and wow, Apple could become an interesting force in the living room.
- A HomeKit Hub. With Siri voice control, the next Apple TV promises to become a compelling hub for home automation, which brings up another potential option — a WiFi hub that’s not an Apple TV at all. Either way, I don’t exactly expect, but I am hoping for a compelling demonstration of how we can use Siri with home automation products, alongside our iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple Watches.
- Apple Music Tie-In. Seems obvious, of course, but it would be quite interesting to see a Siri-capable Apple Music tie-in… something like, “Hey Siri, play Sam Hunt’s ‘House Party…’ oh, and Siri, crank it up loud.”
Apple’s next Apple TV has some catching up to do. The Amazon Fire TV, for example, has a decent voice search. Gaming controllers are available so owners can play games they buy from Amazon’s Appstore.
Sure, Amazon’s ecosystem reach with developers is stunted, compared to Apple’s, but Amazon is doing it reasonably well — given that the app gaming industry is messed up with freemium games and annoying business models.
When you add in the Amazon Echo, which can hear you from across the room, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that Apple doesn’t have some similar capabilities ready to release through an Apple TV or a new type of home hub.
Apple fans are ready for this sort of stuff, and the September event is begging for something jaw-dropping cool. In lieu of a special content subscription streaming TV service, I think Apple has two obvious choices: 1) reveal how John Snow is going to return to Game of Thrones, or 2) wow the sh*t out of us with HomeKit, apps, games, and the promise of using the Apple TV as a real home hub.