Notes on the 2017 Apple iPhone event

Apple delivered its always much-anticipated announcement of upcoming iPhone, Apple TV, and Apple Watch products, this year at the new Steve Jobs Theater. If you are deep into the Apple ecosystem, you probably watched the show online. But for those who didn’t, here are some thoughts and highlights.

After introducing the new “Apple Park” campus, which the company is just starting to occupy, Tim Cook jumped into the launch of the Apple Watch Series 3. When Apple first released the Watch, tech pundits predicted that the device would be Apple’s first major failure since the Lisa and Newton. But Cook claimed that the Watch is now the number one watch in the world; I presume that’s in dollar sales and not units.

I know a number of people that are happy with their Watch. I’d have bought one if I hadn’t spent several hundred dollars on my GPS-equipped, Sunnto climbing watch, which I assume can take more of a beating than Apple’s device.

The most significant change in the Series 3 Watch is a cellular option. You can not stream music, take calls, and connect in other ways without having your iPhone nearby. Better yet, you use the same phone number as your iPhone. That level of connectivity will cost you $399.

Apple emphasized the enhanced sports feature of the new Watch. It now includes a GPS for tracking your outdoor activities and a barometric altimeter. The device’s heart-rate sensor and app is also enhanced. It can now calculate your daily resting heart rate — and also warn you of unusual heart activity. Anyone who’s interested in monitoring their fitness activity will like the changes.

The one downside of the Watch, compared to other sports watches, is battery life. Features such as GPS can consume extensive battery power, and the Watch might need to be recharged daily. My Suunto, on the other hand, will last a week with heavy GPS use and up to a month when used as a basic watch (albeit an expensive one).

Next up was Apple TV. I own two of these devices, one at my Seattle house and the other at my more remote farmhouse. The latter is connected via a cellular link, so downloading iTunes movies is not practical. But we can easily stream Netflix video, and I use Apple’s AirPlay to stream movies downloaded to my notebook to a big, flat-panel TV.

The new AppleTV’s add support for 4K video plus live news and sports shows. And with improved graphics performance, the device is set up for new 4K games. At $179, it’s not something I’ll upgrade to anytime soon — especially because I have no interest in purchasing 4K displays in the near future. (Perhaps when and if my HD flatpanels die.)

Saving the “best” for last, Cook introduced the next generation of iPhones. Thanks to recent leaks, the price and names for the new phones was no surprise. Yes, Apple will release an iPhone X (Ten; celebrating the tenth anniversary of the iPhone) at just under $1,000. That price gives you everything Apple could pack into one phone — starting with an edge-to-edge display that kills off the Home button. To launch the home screen, you’ll simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

What else do you get for a Grand? Most notably facial recognition for unlocking the phone. You simply point the screen at your face and the phone is ready for use. The system uses a number of tools for that complex task: camera, infrared light, dot projector, and other sensors. The IR light allows recognition in the dark, and the dot projector produces a digital map of your face. Apple stated that the system is proof against photos of faces and even physical masks. It’s also unaffected by wearing hats or glasses, or changes in hair style, facial hair, etc. I’m sure that claim will be severely tested when the phones are out in the wild.

If you an emoji freak, the iPhone X lets you create animated versions that mimic your facial expressions and speech. Surprisingly, Apple claims that the X will have twice the battery life of the iPhone 7.

For the rest of us, Apple will release the expected iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. All three new models of iPhone have glass backs that enable something all phone users would like: wireless charging. They support the Qi standard, which means charging pads in all sorts of places such as cars, hotels, and airports. Apple also claimed that the new iPhone’s glass is exceptionally durable.

Photography was a big theme with the new phones. Apple added wider dynamic range, a portrait-lighting mode, and, on the X model, dual optical image stabilization and portrait mode for selfies.

With each new release of iPhone, the more cynical pundits claim that Apple customers are unlikely to upgrade in any significant numbers. As an iPhone 7 owner, I’m happy with what I’ve have. But if you’re on an older 5 or 6 series and you lose or break your phone, you’ll be happy with the iPhone 8s. And who knows, the iPhone X will likely become the next status symbol for those who don’t quibble about dropping a thousand dollars on a new toy.

Personally, I’m far more interested in iOS 11, due out this September 19.

(Note: This article was also published on Mac-Forum.com.)

Canon’s 7D Mark II

I’ve owned a series of Canon DSLRs over the years. Back in the old film days, I was strictly Nikon, as were most professional photographers. But Nikon somewhat dropped the ball on it’s early digital SLRs. One of my coworkers had to send here camera back several times for sensor cleaning. And as a digital-camera reviewer, I found Nikon’s layers of menus difficult to follow.

The first DSLR I actually purchased (after reviewing numerous models and brands) was the Canon 30D. It was a great camera — until it developed the infamous ERROR 99 while I was shooting in the Sierras. The repaired camera lasted less than a year before the problem reoccured. At that point, Canon offered to sell me a refurbished 7D at a discount.

I was mostly happy with the 7D; as someone who was frequently shooting in the backcountry, I soon wished for automatic GPS image tagging. So when Canon released the GPS-equipped Mark II version, I soon upgraded.

Sadly, I’ve found the 7D Mk II’s GPS-location locking painfully slow. In many cases it takes many minutes to find satellites and get a portion lock — if it gets a lock at all. I’ve not seen any useful comments about this problem online, but the small size and placement of the antenna can’t be the cause. I have a SUUNTO GPS watch with an equally small antenna, and it gets a lock within a minute or two.

I’ll have to do more research with Canon, but ideally a firmware upgrade would provide a fix.