As with every iPhone release over the past four years, your average Android fan is probably summing up today's announcement with a big "so what?" In truth, it's an understandable, if predictable, reaction: Apple has quickly gained a reputation in the smartphone community for turning last year's (or the year before that) features into this year's thing you totally won't believe.
As a lumbering multi-hundred-billion dollar consumer product giant, though, Apple has lost the luxury of disrupting a market it took into the mainstream, and has in recent years moved more and more to the conservative side of the smartphone market, calibrating and refining on a basic hardware premise we've all been familiar with since the iPhone 4: one phone, one size, three storage options, and a dogged refusal to give in to market "trends" it didn't agree with.
If it's bigger than bigger then what is it? biggerer?
If iOS 8 was a nod to the continued refinements and evolution Android has allowed in smartphones, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are open concessions to the fact that the smartphone market has broken the mold Apple pioneered 8 years ago. When the iPhone finally made the move to a full 4" display in the iPhone 5, critics immediately looked to the trends being set by Android - probably correctly. Though at the time, at 3.5", the iPhone 4S was already laughably small, and a move to 4" was badly needed as the richness of mobile apps continued to grow.
But as Android phones continued to get larger, gain cores, megapixels, milliamp hours, and LTE, Apple did sort of rest on its laurels. The 5 and 5S were more of a "greatest hits" nod to iPhone legacy, introducing some modern features (Bluetooth LE, LTE, more RAM, HD front-facing camera, updated CPU), but largely saw Apple putting its foot down in regard to major shifts in hardware. To be blunt, they were as Jobsian as any iPhone Apple released, clinging to Appleness oftentimes merely for its own sake.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, though, are an acknowledgement that the smartphone world has changed, and that Apple has been left behind. Even your mom knows that iPhones aren't as cool as they used to be, let's get real: they've rapidly become a pop culture joke more tired than hipsters. Can screen size really bring Apple back to the forefront, though? Of course not: and that's by no means the only thing the iPhone 6 has to offer, but the display is the one place where Apple's strategic course-change is most obvious.
The Inches Game
Apple has long avoided making the iPhone "too big," and there's little doubt that Steve Jobs' regular comments on the size of Android phones being a turn-off for consumers kept it dimensionally challenged even years after his death. Apple, though, cannot hold fast to the utterings of a man four years removed from the marketplace (and earthly existence): big phones have caught on like wildfire in Asia, and 4.7"+ devices are commonplace in the US and Europe.
such thin so curve wow
The very fact that Apple is selling the iPhone 6 in two different dimensions is kowtowing to the fact that one size does not fit all in the smartphone world. From the iPad to the MacBook - and now the Apple Watch - Apple has generally sought to give consumers options in regard to size, while the iPhone has remained weirdly stuck at a proscribed diagonal. This already gives the iPhone 6 a boost in the marketplace: more sizes mean a wider audience. While I don't think this is in itself something interesting to someone on Android, where options in regard to display technology and size are staggeringly vast, it puts Apple on a much more even footing with the most mainstream Android phones out there, like the Galaxy S5, Note 4, LG G3, HTC One M8, and Sony Xperia Z3 / Z3 Compact. This is especially true in the very-big-phone space, where Android has generally been able to conquer without competition - Apple's horning in on that territory now, and they aren't messing around.
Retina HD: because we did in fact not think at the time that we would need to come up with a new Retina branding
Apple has also generally managed to acquire some of the very best LCD panels for the iPhone, though in the last year or two Android OEMs have started to gain traction on things like color gamut and brightness, so it'll be interesting to see if Apple pulls ahead here again or if the larger panels are going to lead to compromises.
I sincerely doubt you'll find hordes of loyal Android users who only stick with the platform because there isn't a big iPhone. I don't doubt that you'll find many people Apple is putting out of the reach of Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC by making a larger iPhone, though - it puts Apple on much more even footing with first-time buyers and compulsive upgraders. Android isn't the only big-phone game in town anymore (I mean, there's Windows Phone, but let's be serious).
The fact is that the larger displays make Apple more competitive, and that this is a real threat to Android OEMs. It doesn't mean it's innovative, magical, or Apple's best-ever: it's just the facts. It's like when Porsche started building a big luxury SUV (the Cayenne): it sold like crazy, because there was demand for big SUVs, and there was demand for Porsches. There's demand for big phones, and there's demand for Apple - you do the math.
The Rest Of The [Hardware] Gang
Apple has long had a reputation for delivering industry-leading mobile camera experiences. With a brand-new sensor, optical image stabilization (in the iPhone 6 Plus), a new image signal processor, 240FPS video, 60FPS 1080p, and phase detect AF (like on the Galaxy S5, just hopefully not sucky like on the Galaxy S5), the iPhone 6 has the tools to live up to that creed. But with Sony, Samsung, and LG all pushing forward at full speed ahead on camera tech (and with a near-guarantee that Apple's sensor is, like everyone else's, a Sony anyway), it's hard to know if Apple will really pull away here like it has in years past. With the 5S, it was already struggling to make waves in a deeply competitive mobile imaging market - the 6 has a fair share of ground to make up. While it's only 8MP, for a really good mobile camera that should be enough in most situations.
Hey look, let's pretend exploding the lens tells us things about it, like that it has a sensor! neat.
The new A8 processor appears to be another dual-core 64-bit design, like the A7, though Apple's promising that on its new 20nm architecture the A8 will be 25% quicker and 50% more efficient than A7, though it's clocked at a meandering 1.4GHz. GPU performance is also seeing a big boost, probably (ie, not confirmed) moving up to the six-core PowerVR GX6650 GPU (IT says 192 cores to poo-poo on NVIDIA, but on the basis shading clusters like they used to rate them, it's six) that Apple is saying is up to 50% faster than the old one. To state the obvious, you'll be seeing these new guts in the next iPad later this fall too, and they'll likely be cranked up to 11 with the extra heat dissipation that form-factor provides.
A GPU doing GPU things I think
Speaking of heat, Apple promises this new A8 processor won't throttle under heavy loads for up to a full 20 minutes of power-intensive usage, unlike "competing" (read: Android) smartphones, thanks to that new low-power 20nm architecture. That's definitely something that piqued my interest in the presentation as a G3 user, a phone which is constantly getting hot and slowing down under demanding conditions.
We don't know how much RAM the iPhone 6 has, but 1-1.5GB is as good a bet as any - Apple has traditionally been extremely conservative adding more RAM to its iDevices, and that trend has yet to really be bucked. It may be interesting to see if the 6 Plus actually gets a RAM boost due to its higher display resolution, though I'd sort of doubt that.
It totally looks like a pen at this angle
On the storage front, Apple is surprisingly being kind of disruptive. While the base model of the 6 and 6 Plus both have a frustrating 16GB of internal storage, move up $100 and you'll hit 64GB instead of 32. Go up another hundred bucks and you'll now find 128GB models. That's kind of a big deal, especially for media junkies with money to burn - and that's not an insignificant market.
I'm glad Apple's doing this, if only because it'll light a fire under the collective asses of Samsung and other Android OEMs to offer more storage options to customers that don't involve the joke that is the microSD card. I would bet strongly on this model shifting over to the next iPad this fall as well. When it comes to pricing for phones and tablets, Apple is the one case where I believe in trickle-down economics: this is going to change the strategies of competing companies, probably benefiting consumers at large. Ever try even finding a 64GB Android phone in the US? It's essentially impossible - carriers do not offer them, because everyone buys the base model. Maybe this will at least get Samsung to up their standard storage to 32GB, because these days 16GB is not cutting it. For once, Apple is doing something right by customers here: letting us know that, no, NAND really isn't that expensive.
Still, don't expect these phones to be cheap: the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus is $949 unlocked. Yikes. The base model 16GB iPhone 6 is $649, though, putting it in the same neighborhood as most US Android flagships, while the 16GB 6 Plus is $749.
By the way, the 6 Plus on-contract at 128GB is $500, which is the definition of insanity.
The iPhone 6 also picks up Wi-Fi AC, Wi-Fi calling, VoLTE, 150Mbps LTE-A, and additional LTE band support across the world. This stuff is just catch-up, though, and thanks entirely to Qualcomm's radios - not really much to do with Apple, and stuff that pretty much any high-end Android phone has had for a year.
As for the battery, Apple doesn't publish capacity, only use estimates - we'll have to wait until a teardown happens. The regular 6 gets around 10 hours of LTE browsing (the most power-intensive task Apple tests), and the 6 Plus gets 12 hours, a 20% boost. These aren't huge gains over the 5S, and Apple has generally been very slow to up the capacity of its batteries in the iPhone, to the angst of many heavy users, who wear out their batteries relatively quickly thanks to multiple charges a day. I've always believed Apple should up the battery on the iPhone, and the iPhone 6 doesn't appear to remedy that to any great degree, though I can't say the current crop of high-end Android phones (S5, G3, M8) are doing spectacularly on that front, either. At least the 6 Plus appears to be making gains, which may make it the darling of business buyers.
Overall, as far the insides of the iPhone 6 go, Android buyers aren't going to see anything radically new or interesting. If anything, the guts of the iPhone 6 are probably the least exciting part - they add more radio modernization, more performance, better battery life, and better picture-taking, but all of these gains seem incremental, even if the increments may be fairly large in some areas. Android phones still remain the spec-geek powerhouses with their high-clock quad-core CPUs, high-resolution cameras, and large RAM allocations. Apple still seems to be holding steady on the "less is more" hardware philosophy apart from storage and display size, instead focusing on doing the most humanly possible with a given set of components.
That all said, the gap, especially in terms of wireless features and performance, seems to have closed a little. Category 6 LTE adds more theoretical network headroom for LTE-A that some Android devices will doubtless advertise, but Apple's basically got a cellular radio here that's good for the next few years, and that's an area where the company had lagged behind until a year or two ago. Wi-Fi AC is a nice addition, too, and should keep the 6 future-proofed for modern home networks. Apple has also continued in its tradition of very modern, high-performance GPUs from Imagination Technologies, so I have high hopes there. Qualcomm's Adrenos are good, but there's little denying that a lot of the mobile game development community is still putting more time into optimization for Apple's hardware, and that gives IT and its PowerVR chips a bit of an edge.
iOS 8 In Action
I wrote about iOS when it was unveiled back in June at WWDC. My opinion remains pretty much unchanged: iOS 8 is easily the most serious mobile OS Apple has shipped to date, and it's a marked departure from the "bumper-bowling computing" that iOS has been a poster child for since the iPhone 3G.
Widgets add a big personalization factor, and are almost definitely an attempt to take on Google Now. Third-party keyboards are huge. Actionable notifications actually go a step further than Android's own, and I'm a bit envious. iOS is finally getting an intent-picker system know as "extensibility," and that has really big implications for content sharing and moving data from one app to another - it's a huge deal, even if Android has had it forever and generally done it very well. Continuity will give Apple's productivity suite more modern sync and collaboration, though it's still well-behind Google Drive or Office Online, but it will also add better SMS handling in iMessage, which still tends to trump Hangouts on features. iTunes and App Store family sharing are big for parents who share their devices with their children, and Google simply doesn't have an analog for this yet.
Things like HomeKit and HealthKit are a bit less frightening, as the emerging smart home and health tracking markets have yet to be dominated by anyone, nor has anyone exactly nailed down those experiences just yet - it's actually a bit weird to me Apple is getting in on them at this point, because they're so young.
Number of lines to be utterly disrupted by people using tap-to-pay wrong: measurable
Then we've got Apple Wallet which, to be frank, really is just Google Wallet but Apple. This sort of branding can make all the difference in adoption, but I remain wary of the entire NFC payment regime at this point: the clunkiness of Wallet tap-to-pay even to this day is almost embarrassing, and I'm not sure even Apple can change such an ingrained consumer habit as swiping a credit card even if they can make it quick and easy. While scanning a QR code at Starbucks to pay and get loyalty rewards has become increasingly common, I'm not sure the benefits of NFC payments (mostly security) will have broad appeal, especially when you'll still have to carry your wallet around with you anyway if you want cash or to pay for something somewhere without an NFC scanner.
That said, depending on how much Apple opens up NFC in iOS 8, we could see some really interesting NFC use cases emerge in the app ecosystem across more than just iOS. While Android has had NFC in most major phones for years, Apple's continuing refusal to adopt it has without a doubt slowed the development and product integration of the standard, so in this case a rising tide may lift all boats. That's something we can all, theoretically, be happy about.
Oh, and you can now do your iPhoning horizontally, for reasons and stuff.
I'm not sure why this image had to be at such a dramatic angle but I guess that's #landscapelife
By Your Powers Combined
When you consider the iPhone 6 / 6 Plus along with iOS 8, I think this is easily the most compelling iPhone in a long, long time. Like, iPhone 4 long time. I remember actually deciding between an iPhone 4 and a Nexus One - it wasn't an easy decision. Apple has modernized the OS and kept the hardware up to date while upsizing its phone to contemporary proportions - that eases a lot of pain points for more serious phone buyers.
Of course, it's still an iPhone, and it's still going to have the limitations of one. I use an iPad Air every day, and iOS is good for some things, but I find it frustratingly hamfisted in regard to stuff like notifications or personalization. The RAM management sucks, too, and iOS 8 looks to be no lighter on the footprint side - I am not looking forward to the performance changes on my Air once I give it the update, let's just say that.
From an Android user's perspective, though, the iPhone 6 - I think - would be the least painful switch for such a person in a long time. I'm not going to make that switch (I'm a Google fanboy, and iOS is simply not a place for Google fanboys), but it's clear Apple is paying more attention to the competition, especially in regard to software, than it has in years past. The new screen size options are really just necessary evolutions, it's the OS where the iPhone is really moving forward.
A lot of that movement is still catch-up, though, as Android users have been happily humming along with things like NFC, rich notifications, widgets, intent-based actions / sharing, collaborative document syncing, and NFC payments (well, not humming along, but we have them) for one, two, three, or even four or more years.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus come in space grey, silver, and strongly-consider-getting-help-gold. They also did a watch and it will cost at least $350 and I do not have the patience or sanity to talk about that right now, probably because I'm a little jet lagged.
Apple (come on click it you know you want to)