Hands-on with iPhones

Susie Ochs is im­pressed by Ap­ple’s new hand­sets

iPad&iPhone user - - IPAD & IPHONE USER -

The only thing that’s changed is ev­ery­thing,” Ap­ple said about the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus at Wed­nes­day’s Ap­ple event. That’s both true and un­true. The case looks pretty much the same, the screen sizes didn’t change, and the en­try-level model still has a pal­try 16GB of stor­age. But in­side it’s an all-new iPhone with some im­pres­sive new ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

I got hands-on time with the new mod­els, and even though the pre­sen­ta­tion didn’t blow me away,

the new 3D Touch and Live Photos fea­tures de­liver a de­light­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

Live Photos

“What is a pic­ture?” pon­dered Phil Schiller on stage. Af­ter more than an hour and a half of key­note, this wasn’t a philo­soph­i­cal de­bate I was ex­cited about hav­ing. But he had a point: A photo is a still im­age of a mo­ment, but a mo­ment can have a be­gin­ning, mid­dle, and end that one frame can’t al­ways fully rep­re­sent. En­ter Ap­ple’s new Live Photo fea­ture. It’s on by de­fault in the main Cam­era app, and if you leave it on, it au­to­mat­i­cally cap­tures 1.5 sec­onds, er, mo­ments be­fore and af­ter your shut­ter press.

That sounds like a video, but Ap­ple says it’s not a video. These are 12Mp photos cap­tured by the rear iSight cam­era, and if you send them to a friend who’s us­ing iOS 9 or El Cap­i­tan, an an­i­ma­tion comes with. (And if you send them any­where else, they ar­rive as plain JPEGs like usual.)

Flip­ping through the Live Photos in the Cam­era Roll, you’ll see a lit­tle glimpse of the an­i­ma­tion – it’s just enough mo­tion to let you dis­tin­guish a Live Photo from a stan­dard one. When you press harder on a Live Photo (a ma­noeu­vre Ap­ple calls 3D Touch on the new iPhones), you’ll see the full three sec­onds of mo­tion.

I have a three-year-old, and a lot of my photos of him wind up blurry be­cause at least some part of his body is in mo­tion vir­tu­ally all of the time – the boy is a walk­ing wig­gle. I don’t think you get to scrub through a Live Photo frame by frame and pick out the sin­gle still im­age that’s not blurry, but get­ting to

see an an­i­ma­tion of one of his wiggles would beat any blurry photo, or one where his eyes are closed.

De­vel­op­ers will get to use Live Photos too – Face­book is work­ing on sup­port­ing the fea­ture, aim­ing to fin­ish by the end of this year. But even if they never leave the iPhone it­self, Live Photos are just cool. You can even use one as your lock screen wall­pa­per, and then 3D Touch it to make it move.

3D Touch

3D Touch, you ask? Yup, that’s the other big fea­ture ex­clu­sive to the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. It works just like Force Touch on the Ap­ple Watch – you press harder, like you’re try­ing to push right through the screen, and that’s a dif­fer­ent kind of touch than a

reg­u­lar swipe or tap. This will let you in­ter­act with apps (from Ap­ple and third par­ties) in new ways.

For ex­am­ple, you can 3D Touch icons on the home screen for short­cuts to cer­tain fea­tures: the Face­book icon hides short­cuts for chang­ing your sta­tus or check­ing in, while the Cam­era app’s icon holds op­tions for tak­ing a selfie or shoot­ing a new video. If you at­tempt to use 3D Touch on an icon that doesn’t sup­port it (like Health), you’ll see the icon pop a lit­tle to let you know that the 3D Touch did in fact register, but noth­ing else is go­ing to hap­pen.

3D Touch gets even cooler once you open apps. You can use it to preview a new mes­sage in Mail, but it’s not quite as handy as Quick Look in OS X, be­cause the preview dis­ap­pears when you lift your fin­ger back off the screen. Dur­ing my hands-on time,

I found my­self 3D Touch­ing a mes­sage, and then lift­ing my thumb to see what it says. But of course, the mes­sage preview van­ishes, so I 3D Touched it again. And again, and again. It would be quicker to just tap the mes­sage to open it.

But the preview isn’t re­ally for read­ing, it’s for quick triage. Ap­ple calls the first preview the ‘peek’, and if you don’t lift your fin­ger, you can swipe up, left, or down for op­tions. Swipe right to mark the mes­sage as read – you’ll see a Mark As Read op­tion as the preview slides to the right to re­mind you what will hap­pen when you lift your fin­ger. Swipe left to delete the mes­sage. Swip­ing the mes­sage up pro­duces but­tons to re­ply, for­ward, flag, re­mind you about the mes­sage later, or move it else­where. Since you need to tap those but­tons sep­a­rately, the swipe-up move does fix the preview win­dow in place.

If you 3D Touch the peek again, you’ll open the mes­sage, a move Ap­ple calls the ‘pop’. If you peek and don’t pop, the mes­sage doesn’t get marked as read, so peek­ing in is a quick way to see if an email is the droid you’re look­ing for with­out hav­ing to go back and mark it as un­read if it wasn’t.

3D Touch does tons of things in Mes­sages, too: Hard-press a name for op­tions to call, FaceTime, add to con­tacts, and so on. Hard-press URLs to peek at them, and again to pop into Sa­fari. Hard-press street ad­dresses to see them on a map, or dates to make a cal­en­dar ap­point­ment. This should pre­vent a lot of switch­ing back and forth be­tween apps when you’re mak­ing plans with groups of friends.

As with Live Photos, the 3D Touch fea­ture is open to de­vel­op­ers. For ex­am­ple, Face­book’s app

icon has short­cuts to post a new sta­tus or check in right from your home screen. In­sta­gram lets you 3D Touch ev­ery­thing, peek­ing into thumb­nails and user pro­files any­where in the app. I asked if 3D Touch could be used to pro­vide hap­tic feed­back for an iPhone key­board, and the rep didn’t think that was in the API just yet, but wasn’t to­tally sure. Still, even as it is to­day, I think 3D Touch has the po­ten­tial to make Ap­ple’s large-screened phones eas­ier to nav­i­gate with one hand.

Early adopters of the Ap­ple Watch had mixed feel­ings about Force Touch on that de­vice. It’s un­be­liev­ably handy, but not ex­actly in­tu­itive – there’s def­i­nitely a long learn­ing curve be­fore your brain re­mem­bers where to Force Touch and what you’ll find once you do, since ev­ery app can use

it dif­fer­ently. In my short hands-on time with the iPhone, I had the same prob­lems, but hope­fully once the iPhone 6s is in my pos­ses­sion full-time, 3D Touch will quickly be­come sec­ond na­ture.

Cam­era and hard­ware

The iPhone’s rear iSight cam­era has been up­graded to 12Mp, and can shoot 4K video. The im­proved FaceTime cam­era on the front can take 5Mp stills. I didn’t get to fully test ei­ther in the demo room, of course, but the shut­ter speed is crazy fast, and zoom­ing in on the demo photos on each de­vice re­vealed tons of de­tail. Panora­mas are up to 63Mp now, and I love how their ded­i­cated al­bum in iOS 9 shows you the whole panorama in each thumb­nail.

Be­sides the new cam­eras, the hard­ware is nearly the same. The sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Touch ID home but­ton works faster, ac­cord­ing to Ap­ple, so we’ll do some side-by-side tests when we get our iPhone 6s re­view unit. The new rose gold colour is re­ally nice in per­son, and Ap­ple was smart to re­lease it along­side a rose gold-coloured alu­minium Ap­ple Watch Sport, so you can match colours with­out hav­ing to mort­gage your home for a rose gold Ap­ple Watch Edi­tion.

The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are ever-so-slightly thicker than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, but only by two-tenths of a mil­lime­tre, so def­i­nitely not no­tice­able when you’re hold­ing them. Cases for the new phones should fit the old phones, and cases for the old phones may fit the new ones, depend­ing on their de­sign and ma­te­ri­als. All the but­tons and ports are in the same place, and so is the cam­era.

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