This year's new iPhones event surprised us with just how unexpectedly good the phones are, plus just how much else was announced from the new always-on Apple Watch to a 10.2-inch iPad.
After a year that seemed to always sideline hardware in favor of services like Apple Card, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ and to an extent Apple News+, September saw a more familiar Apple. While software played a huge part and services got plenty of mentions, it was iPhone launch season and Apple did it well.
Perhaps surprisingly well.
While most analysts had been expecting the new iPhones to do just fine, the feeling at the time was that this was inevitably going to be an interim year. With the certainty that 2020's iPhone 12 will have 5G, it was hard to see what 2019's could offer. And it was very easy to imagine people putting off upgrading for a year.
It was easy to expect a slow year until the presentation started. Or more accurately, until key points of the presentation were reached. If you were in the market to upgrade anyway, you might have been convinced by the brand-new midnight green color.
Otherwise, it was probably the cameras that did it. The new iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max feature a triple-camera system and we thought we knew what that would give us, but perhaps we didn't. It's when you see how the ultra-wide lens works, and when you see how brilliant this phone's camera is in low light that you appreciate what it can do.
Then for many of us, the moment we started looking to trade in our 2018 iPhones, or save up to spend from $999, came during the time third-party app developer Filmic Pro was on stage.
The company demonstrated a forthcoming version of its eponymous app in which we will be able to select any two of the iPhone's cameras — and record video from both. Simultaneously.
Since the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max's selfie cameras are now the same 12 megapixels as the rear ones, this means you could film an interview, film a real conversation between two people. Admittedly the two people would be talking with iPhone on a tripod between them, but the price of a little distraction for each is a full, real-time conversation recorded.
Equally, you could shoot both a regular and a widescreen shot of your subject. All you needed was a new iPhone and a copy of Filmic Pro that's going to be updated by the end of the year.
There can't have been a YouTuber or a filmmaker who didn't immediately recognize what these options could mean. It saves you set up time, as you can record two views together instead of having one take widescreen and another, separate one close up.
It means you have options to cut away to different views when you need to cover up an edit.
Filmic Pro was already an impressive video camera app. This first major public appearance of it on an Apple stage will have certainly sold more copies of it and sold a lot more iPhones too.
However, the idea does turn out to be better in theory than in practice. At the time of writing, Filmic Pro has not yet been updated, and the latest word from the company is that an announcement will be made in mid-January.
But the company's blog post about the feature also notes a limitation you rather wish they or Apple had mentioned before. Any app doing this kind of multi-cam recording uses an Apple API — and it limits you to 1080p on every camera.
Not just filmmakers
Apple may have gone big on the triple-camera system in the new iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max, but, of course, it wants absolutely everybody to buy a new phone.
We've previously praised the iPhone XR as being an exceptional phone for the price, one that doesn't feel any less of a premium product.
It's not as if we thought the iPhone 11 was anything but excellent, either.
We raved about all three phones, in fact, and we weren't alone. Remember that this was a year when no one expected very much from the new iPhones. Yet still Apple was able to boast about the rave reviews it got from just about everywhere.
As dove deeper into the new phones, our opinion didn't change much. But, we did see how the iPhone 11 is an interesting mix of the iPhone XR and iPhone 11 Pro hardware. And, we saw that the iPhone 11 Pro Max has a new battery design and also ditches the old L-shaped motherboard. We also learned that Apple has filed for a trademark for "Slofie," the slow-motion selfie.
Once you'd seen what the phones could do, then even before the keynote was over, you were juggling figures in your head, and you were comparing models trying to decide which was best for you. It became a real issue whether or not you should upgrade if you had a 2018 iPhone — or perhaps whether or not you could justify doing it.
These questions occupied us all, and if the iPhones had been the only thing announced at the event, we'd have been happy.
But there's more
Okay, perhaps not. But there was so much more announced at the iPhone event, and we might as well get the iffy stuff out of the way first.
We've become used to a new version of iOS being announced at WWDC and it being released just in time to be pre-installed on new iPhones. That happened again this year with iOS 13, but Apple might as well have told us to hang on a bit, as it also announced when we would get iOS 13.1.
Apple truly is a software company that makes hardware, though, because when you do have new devices and a new OS, you get things like the Apple Watch Series 5.
Apple Watch Series 5
You already know that the main feature of the Apple Watch Series 5 is that its display is always on. Instead of the screen being blank until you tap it, or turn your wrist just so, Series 5 always shows the time.
Apple touted its attention to detail in this process by showing us how it had created low-power versions of all its Watch faces. (We would like there to be third-party Watch faces, but that's another story.)
Every face has its regular, full-power version, and then where the old Apple Watch would turn the screen off, the Series 5 turns it to low-power. The same face is displayed in its lower-power version, which means both that it dims and that it changes some complications. Instead of continually updating the second hand, for instance, it might just show you the minutes.
In real-world use, we would come to find that battery life was affected more than Apple had wanted us to believe. But then that improved greatly under watchOS 6.
Plus, there was a demonstration of Apple's extreme attention to detail that it did not mention. Naturally, every speaker at the keynote, at least the Apple employees, was wearing an Apple Watch. Every speaker started the event wearing the Apple Watch Series 4. Following the reveal, everybody was wearing an Apple Watch Series 5
The new iPad
Alongside the Apple Watch and the new iPhone 11 range, Apple also unveiled a new iPad. This is the seventh generation of the original iPad, and it broke with tradition by introducing a 10.2-inch screen.
If you were in the market for an iPad, then this model with its $329 starting price — or $299 for education buyers — was pretty much ideal for most people.
It wasn't right for everyone, though. At the same time that Apple launched this regular iPad, it discontinued the 9.7-inch-inch iPad Pro. That model had a better screen and a faster processor, and what's more, it started cropping up in Apple's refurb store for around $50 more than the new iPad.
Consequently, if the natural decision was to buy the new regular iPad, the informed one was to check between it, previous models, and the iPad mini to choose what was best for you.
Services and software
There was yet more at this September 2019 event, and it was highly unusual. You may never see Apple doing this again, and you surely haven't seen it done before. Apple announced something inexpensive.
It announced two of these inexpensive things. Apple TV+ was to be $4.99 per month — and so was Apple Arcade. As a temporary extra incentive, Apple would also give you a year of Apple TV+ for free if you bought a qualifying device, such as an iPhone 11 Pro, Apple TV 4K, iPod Touch, and others.
That's Apple giving us something for free. Free plus the cost of the device, anyway.
Not everything is rosy
While the iPhone event dominated September because of just how much it included, the rest of the world didn't pause.
So from September 1, the US implemented tariffs that affected imports of the HomePod, AirPods and desktop Macs.
That was reported on September 20, though. On September 30, we learned that no, there were still key parts of the Mac Pro that would not escape the tariffs.