Taking a look back at another week of news from Cupertino, this week’s Apple Loop includes the launch of the iPad Pro and MacBook Air, secrets of the iPhone XR, Apple’s latest battery throttle, confirmation of its new selfie mode, updates to macOS and iOS, watchOS update bricking the Apple Watch, and the curious case of your iPhone’s helium errors.
Apple Loop is here to remind you of a few of the very many discussions that have happened around Apple over the last seven days (and you can read my weekly digest of Android news here on Forbes).
The iPad Pro… Is… A… Computer!
Apple’s October launch confirmed Cupertino’s focus is on pushing tablet computing (in the iPad Pro) ahead of desktop computing (in the MacBook Air), with the lion’s share of time going to the new iOS tablets. Jason Snell is happy to confirm he’s a big fan of the iPad Pro range, but does the updated Pro (the Pro X?) appeal to him?
This is the iPhone X factor, applied to the iPad. The home button is gone, replaced with a TrueDepth camera system that allows Face ID to work from any orientation. It’s surprising and impressive when you see the iPad unlock using Face ID when you’re holding the iPad upside-down. The camera can still see your face from down there? Apparently so.
But the big kicker, and the feature that confirms Apple is focused more on the iPad than the Mac, is the dropping of the lightning port for USB-C. It’s a bold statement, but can the closed nature of iOS cope?Snell once more:
But plug in a hard drive or flash drive and you can’t view the files in the Files app. Plug in a USB webcam and I assume nothing happens? There’s more to be done here. On a standard computer we have an expectation of what happens when we plug in a USB device. iOS has holes. Maybe the existence of USB on iPad will finally prompt Apple to prioritize better USB device support in future versions of iOS.
New Macs Arrive, But Profitable Old Favorites Remain
Finally, the MacBook Air has been updated. Move beyond the headline and you’ll see that Apple is still selling the original MacBook Air design at the $999 mark. What has actually been announced is effectively a MacBook Pro Air, which sits above the MacBook, but below the MacBook Pro in the portfolio. It’s an incredibly narrow space to squeeze the laptop into. Nick Statt has more:
It has a Retina display, 50 percent thinner bezels in a design similar to the standard MacBook, and upgraded components. It has a 13.3-inch screen that stretches to the edge of the enclosure, two USB-C ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It also weighs just 2.75 pounds, which is lighter than the previous MacBook Air model that came in at 2.96 pounds.
The new device features the latest generation six core processor, up to 64GB of RAM and up to 2TB of solid state storage. On the back of the device, you’ll find four Thunderbolt 3, an HDMI and USB-A ports. Like the new Air, the updated Mini is made from 100 percent recycled aluminium… That said, the Mini is still priced like an entry level device. The low-end version features 8GB of RAM and starts at $799. Pre-orders for the diminutive desktop starts today, and it starts shipping on November 7.
iPhone XR Secrets Revealed
Meanwhile the team at iFixit have been busy breaking open the iPhone XR to find out what lies inside the new handset… and the answer appears to be ‘the iPhone 9’, or at least the iPhone 8 design cues with the XS chip set:
A peek under the hood revealed design hallmarks reminiscent of both the iPhone 8 (rectangular battery, single layer board) and X (square-ish logic board, Face ID), making this the spiritual “iPhone 9.”
But the XR isn’t all throwback—it’s got the latest silicon, and contains features entirely new to iPhones. We found Apple’s first-ever modular SIM reader, possibly there to help with their newfangled multi-SIM plans.
Apple Prepares To Throttle Last Year’s iPhone Handsets
Tucked away in the iOS update is a feature listed as ‘performance management’ for the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X. This is the auto-throttling feature that was added to older iPhone models that reduces the load demanded of older batteries by reducing performance and speed.
The theory behind the throttling is relatively sound. As batteries get older the chemistry changes and they can no longer put out the same power. Even with current technology, as batteries get older they get weaker. Put too much demand over any battery and there comes a point where it does not deliver. But the older the battery, the lower the threshold is before it simply cannot deliver. In the case of the iPhone, that means the handset will shut down to prevent any damage to the electronics.
The issue isn’t that the feature is present, the issue is that once more Apple is making decisions and not clearly communicating them to its users. This will have a noticeable impact on the 2017 iPhone handset, and users may not understand why their smartphone is slowing down. I examined the issues during the week:
But for the vast majority of users the iOS update will be applied without reading through notes on Apple’s website, the update will be seen as ‘the right thing to do’ as regards security patches and software changes, and many will experience their iPhone slowing down and ‘getting old’ and not understand why.
For a company that promotes itself as putting the user first, Apple sure has a habit of hiding away the decisions it makes in loco parentis, instead of having clear and easily understood conversations with its customers.
iOS 12.1 Fixes Beauty-gate Selfie Filter
Alongside the new iPads and Macs, Apple released an update to iOS, taking it to version 12.1. This takes care of a number of embarrassing bugs from iOS 12.0 and 12.0.1, as well as adding in three major features – dual SIM support, camera depth control, and group FaceTime (plus an almost obligatory expansion of supported emoji). Amit Chowdhry takes a closer look, including those all important emoji!:
Over 70 new emoji are being added to iPhones and iPads with iOS 12.1. This includes characters with red hair, gray hair, curly hair or who are bald. There are also new emotive smiley faces and emoji representing food like a mango, a cupcake, leafy greens and a bagel. And there are new emoji representing sports like lacrosse and softball. Plus there are new emoji for animals like a raccoon, a llama, a kangaroo, a mosquito, a lobster and a swan. For global users, there are new emoji for moon cake, a red gift envelope and a nazar amulet. Outdoor enthusiasts may appreciate emoji for luggage, hiking boots and a compass.
It will also remove the beauty filter that Apple has quietly added to selfies. Gordon Kelly has more details:
There is also one notable hidden highlight: an end to the so-called BeautyGate. Apple quietly admitted its beautifying selfie camera problem last week and with iOS 12.1 users no longer look like they are made from plastic. Whether the option to re-enable this faux-beauty mode will be offered (some like it), remains to be seen.
MacOS Update Follows iOS Path
The new Mac hardware were accompanied by a point release of macOS mojave. Now at 10.14.1, the update brings the new iOS Group FaceTime feature to the desktop, along with the new iOS emoji. Juli Clover reports:
macOS Mojave 10.14.1 brings more than 70 new emoji characters that are also available in iOS 12.1 and watchOS 5.1. There are new options for red hair, curly hair, no hair, and gray hair, along with characters to represent superheroes, cold face, party face, pleading face, and face with hearts.
There are a number of new animals and food items like kangaroo, parrot, lobster, mango, lettuce, and cupcake. Tweaks have been made to some existing emoji as well. The iPhone emoji, for example, has been updated to look like the iPhone X with no bezels or Home button.
WatchOS Update Bricking Apple Watches
For a brief moment, Apple Watch users also had a software update as WatchOS was bumped up to 5.1. Unfortunately the update is bricking Apple Watches around the world and there is no fix that can be implemented by the user, or at an Apple Store. Apple’s customer base is naturally annoyed at this turn of events and questioning Apple’s competency. Leo Kelion reports:
Chris Ball from Belfast said Apple Support had sent him a message saying: “I know it’s hard to be without your Watch, but this is the only service method available for Watch. Even if you went to an Apple Retail Store or Apple Authorised Service Provider, we’d need to ship the Watch to a repair depot.”
He expressed frustration that having recently spent £750 on the device he would now be without it for days.
“My Apple Watch is now completely useless, stuck on the Apple logo screen… So I have to wait, due to a problem Apple’s software caused, meaning I have no watch. I would like to question their quality assurance on software.”
Helium leak crashes your iPhone. It might not be April 1st, but on first glance the idea that a Helium leak could break your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch, while Android devices continue to work sounds crazy. But once you take a closer look, it all turns out to explainable. Kyle Wiens picks up the story for iFixit:
A failing oscillator would match Erik’s symptoms, which he reproduced in an experiment. “I placed an iPhone 8 Plus in a sealed bag and filled it with helium. This wasn’t incredibly realistic, as the original iPhones would have been exposed to a much lower concentration, but it still supports the idea that helium can disable the device. In the video I leave the display on and running a stopwatch for the duration of the test. Around 8 minutes and 20 seconds in the phone locks up. Nothing crazy really happens. The clock just stops, and nothing else. The display did stay on though.”
I was able to repeat his experiment in our lab. My iPhone 8 lasted about four minutes in a helium atmosphere before it shut off entirely.
Apple Loop brings you seven days worth of highlights every weekend here on Forbes. Don’t forget to follow me so you don’t miss any coverage in the future. Last week’s Apple Loop can be read here, or this week’s edition of Loop’s sister column, Android Circuit, is also available on Forbes.