New iPhones, Apple Watches, and AirPods Pro–oh my! It’s never a surprise when an Apple event involves updated versions of the company’s products; by now, we all know the pattern like clockwork.
But what is still interesting is seeing the hints that Apple drops in these new devices about the direction those product lines may take in the future. Sometimes those hints are subtle, other times they are anything but.
For my money, the Far Out Apple event falls squarely in the latter category. While you might be excused for thinking that some of the base model products—iPhone 14, Apple Watch Series 8, I’m looking at you—were a bit sparse in their new features, those were more than made up for by some bigger leaps on the iPhone 14 Pro and Apple Watch Ultra. In particular, there were a few features that jumped out as foreshadowing where future devices in those families are headed (or not).
Ah, the Dynamic Island. Yes, the name is ridiculous, but then again, does the name really matter? The iPad name was roundly mocked when the tablet debuted, but nobody has really concerned themselves with it in more than ten years. I’m far more interested in the Dynamic Island’s capabilities and what they mean for the future of the iPhone line-up.
To me, the Dynamic Island is the perfect example of turning a weakness into a strength. In previous versions of the iPhone, Apple worked around the notch, trying to incorporate it into the design while dealing with the obvious limitations of having a big black blob in the middle of the display.
But the Island flips that on the head, inviting you to look directly at the cutout by using it as a place to show off content that’s ancillary to whatever you’re doing with your phone. In that way, it finally provides a better solution to multitasking than notifications, which quickly became overwhelming and block off a big portion of the screen.
More than anything, though, the Dynamic Island signals to me that this is the future of the iPhone. Apple’s not going to spend all this time and make a major shift to the interface of its flagship product only to use it in a single model. I fully expect the entire iPhone 15 line to adopt the same cutout design and feature the Dynamic Island front and center, so get used to it.
Lights, watch, action!
Like the iPhone 14 Pro line, the Apple Watch Ultra is all about pointing towards the future of the Apple Watch line in a year where the standard update is a bit blah. No, I don’t expect the Series 9 to adopt the bulky styling of this extreme Watch, with the oversized crown and flat screen—those, to me, seem purpose-built to this device.
But then my eyes go to that brilliant orange Action button. During the keynote, Apple talked about how the button can provide contextual features, doing a certain task within a given app like starting a workout or dropping a waypoint. This for the first time gives quick (and, importantly, non-touchscreen) access to a software feature, which enables interactions that may have been previously been so clunky that they simply wouldn’t have worked. Apple’s also taking it to the next level by making the button user customizable, for example using it to trigger a shortcut. You haven’t previously been able to specify a user feature for any hardware control on the Watch, so this is a big deal.
And, as with the Dynamic Island, the time and investment in this tells me that it’s not just a one-off for this year’s most expensive Apple Watch. I don’t know if the Series 9 will adopt the Action button, but I firmly believe it’ll find its way into the main model of Watch sooner rather than later. This is a feature that quite simply enhances the Watch as a product, just as much as any additional health sensor.
Not every device takes a leap into the future. This week’s AirPods Pro improvements are nice, but they don’t necessarily presage a major shift to the product line—and, in one particular example, they’re strongly tied to the past: the charging case still features a Lightning port, rather than USB-C.
I’m not surprised by that decision: when Apple wants to signal that it’s really embracing USB-C, it will be via its most prominent product, the iPhone. At that point, the writing will be on the wall, and it will be the smaller devices (AirPods Pro, the Magic Keyboard, etc.) that will have to play catch-up.
But there was a least a sop in the form of compatibility with the Apple Watch charger. Yes, you could use MagSafe or Qi charging with the most recent version, but this means potentially one fewer cable or charger to carry around. Personally, I’m more interested in the adoption of a lanyard attachment—now there’s something that I didn’t think Apple would do, and something tells me we’ll being seeing it in more AirPods in the future.