Apple Special Event: the big overview

By The App Business under Insights, Design 13 September 2014

Last week, the anticipation was really building at TAB HQ as we looked forward to the Apple Special Event on 9th September. If you read our iOS 8 Pre-Release Briefing and our thoughts on WWDC14, you will have had a good sense of what was on the horizon. Operating systems aside, though, what the vast majority of us were waiting for was a sneak peek of the latest Apple products in all their glory.

And it turns out that Apple didn’t disappoint. Not only did they announce two new iPhones and a brand new service in Apple Pay, they also announced a completely new product: the Apple Watch. So, if you missed all the action of the event itself, here’s a quick, handy roundup of Apple’s Big 3 – and, as one of TAB’s junior designers, my own take on what were personal highlights for me.

But before we start, here’s a link to a more detailed take on the event and what the Apple Watch really means from our Co-Founder and Strategy Director, Dan Joseph.

The iPhone 6 and Apple Pay

It goes without saying that both of the new iPhones have a beautiful design. With screen sizes of 4.7” and 5.5”, they both boast ion-strengthened glass that beautifully curves around the outer edges of the devices. But bigger screens is about more than just good looks: for designers, we’ll potentially find ourselves working in points instead of pixels, and at @1x so we can easily scale the designs for the various screen sizes. Autolayout will become more important as interfaces will need to adapt for different screen sizes and different orientations.

There are also advancements in both models’ camera, with a new sensor technology called Focus Pixel that allows the camera to autofocus faster. And – finally – Apple are going to sell a 128GB model that has long been overdue. But besides these enhancements, one of the biggest and most important new features of the iPhone is NFC for mobile payments in the form of Apple Pay.

Apple Pay will be built into every iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and works through an integrated NFC antenna. Apple claims that this is going to revolutionise the way we pay for things, and certainly, it looked impressive. A lot of work has gone into security: the secure element that stores payment information is kept on board the phone, and Apple were keen to stress that privacy has been strongly protected with purchases remaining completely anonymous.

Take a look at Apple Pay in action here.

To use Apple Pay, you simply hold up your device to the contactless checkout, and put your finger on the touch ID sensor. It’s that simple. Once added, all of your credit and debit cards will be easily accessible from the Passbook app. Unfortunately for us here in the UK, we won’t get the chance to really explore Apple Pay for a little while yet: it will only be available in the US at launch in October 2014. Mobile payments are nothing new – however, this technology could be very promising, particularly if NFC payments become a standard across many devices, including Android.

The even bigger reveal: Apple Watch

With the excitement ratcheted up accordingly, Apple finally announced their highly anticipated wearable – the Apple Watch (not, as many may have expected, iWatch). The Apple Watch will launch in early 2015.

Apple is describing this as their most personal device yet, with support for 18 interchangeable straps that are customisable with two different sizes of watch face. A lot of the specs have been left to our imagination, but Jony Ive did mention it has a flexible retina display that can recognise a simple tap from a deep press, using a technology called Force Touch.

From a UI perspective, the Watch has a really interesting new user interface that heavily uses the digital crown on the side of the device. This digital crown is used to navigate through the interface without obstructing the display. Although we don’t know much about the watch’s small screen dimensions and pixel density, we do know it’s going to be great to design for. This smaller screen will focus much more on the experience of using the device, rather than the details of the UI.

As the Watch is an extension of the iPhone, it’s going to be an really interesting UX challenge to think about how we can create Watch experiences, based on lightweight interactions that work alongside the apps we build for the iPhone. We are now starting to see why Apple moved from the gradients and skeuomorphism in iOS 6 to a new, flatter design aesthetic for iOS 7: this new design language can be adapted to many different screen sizes and shapes to integrate with the two new iPhone sizes and the Apple watch.

There were many questions that were left unanswered, such as the battery life (that old chestnut), DPI of the ‘flexible retina display’, and how exactly it’s going to work alongside the iPhone – but there’s nothing new in that. We’ll just have to wait until next year.

Wrapping up

So, overall, at TAB HQ we’re itching to try out the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the coming weeks. It’ll be interesting to see how we approach the engineering of mobile software for these new, bigger iPhone screens, matched with the challenges of the smaller Watch screen. And while I can see the Apple Watch being a big hit with consumers, for us as designers, the potential challenges of designing mobile software experiences for a whole new Apple device, which integrates with a user’s suite of Apple products, promises many design challenges ahead.