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Apple’s tagline for the new iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus is "the only thing that’s changed is everything."
And as much as I would like to reject that statement on its face for being hyperbolic and ridiculous, it has some merit.
From the outside, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6S. That’s because Apple kept the same external design (the rear of the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus is now laser-etched with an "S"), with the exception of the beautiful new rose gold color.
Inside the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus have third-generation 64-bit processors running Apple’s latest A9 chipset. The frame is now 7000 series aluminum (Bendgate is now officially dead).
The glass covering the front of the phone is now different, too. It’s stronger (not sapphire) and it has a special feature: 3D Touch.
The big new flagship feature on the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus is 3D Touch. Similar to Force Touch on the Apple Watch and MacBook and MacBook Pro trackpads, 3D Touch is a technology that allows you to access different parts of the phone by pressing on the screen.
The screen doesn’t physically press in (this isn’t a BlackBerry Storm, thank God), but you do get haptic feedback based on how hard you press.
A regular tap won’t activate 3D Touch — you need to more forcefully press down. Pressing on an app icon such as Facebook or Instagram can offer up some unique options. Facebook will let you check in or post a status update. Instagram will let you go to your activity feed or go directly to the post photo portion of the app.
The best way I can describe 3D Touch is to say it’s like QuickLook for OS X, but on your phone.
Introduced with OS X Leopard back in 2007, QuickLook changed the way I used my Mac. Rather than having to open up documents or photos individually, pressing the spacebar lets the user see what’s a preview of a document, an image or a movie.
Now, that same type of capability is on the iPhone. In the Photos app, pressing down lightly on a photo will open it in preview mode. This is called "Peek." Pressing a little harder will open the photo in its app, full screen. This also works for messages in Mail and links in Messages.
I can’t understate how much this adds to the iPhone experience. 3D Touch gives additional context to the iPhone that is both easy to use and powerful.
As a power user, it’s a feature I know will improve my efficiency and even my productivity.
The best part is there are APIs for developers so they can build 3D Touch into their apps, too.
Camera, 4K video and Live Photos
The camera on the iPhone has always been great. With the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, it gets even better.
Apple put a bigger 12-megapixel sensor into the phone this year. This is a big step up from the 8MP sensor it’s used in years past. And although the aperture remains at f/2.2, Apple says the sensor won’t degrade on low-light performance. It’s also supposed to focus faster than ever.
I didn’t have a chance to take many photos with the camera — we’ll leave that for our full review — but the images Apple showed off that had been taken from the phone looked spectacular.
The front-facing camera, the FaceTime camera, is now 5MP. This is a big improvement and Apple has re-created its flash technology on the iSight camera by using the screen of the iPhone itself. Anytime we get better-looking selfies, the better.
The coolest part of the new camera is a feature called Live Photos. It’s enabled by default and how it works is you take a photo as you normally would. One and a half seconds are captured before and after the photo. When you press and hold on a Live Photo in the camera roll using 3D Touch, you can see the image animate.
Apple says this is going to create a new way people think about photography. And it’s true: Having real still images that have this sort of ability to animate is just cool. It’s like cinemagraphs but automatic.
I can see that there will be some scenarios where this technology works better than others — but the bottom line is that this is an awesome feature.
You can share live photos with anyone else on an iPhone and view it on the Apple Watch, Apple TV and in OS X El Capitan.
The iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus also record 4K video. The 4K video records at 30fps and the demos I saw looked great.
The iPhone 6S Plus gets optical image stabilization (OIS) on its video camera this year, too, in addition to the still camera, which could make the iPhone a great tool for videographers.
The one curious thing about the 4K video is playback. Obviously you can watch it on your iPhone — though you really can’t appreciate the quality on a non-4K screen, but how else can it be viewed?
I asked Apple and was told users can upload footage to YouTube and other sites that support 4K video for playback that way.
I don’t mean to dismiss 4K video — having 4K video support is a great addition, spec-wise — but not being able to AirPlay 4K video to the Apple TV or iMac with 5K Retina Displays seems like a missed opportunity.
The best got better
I’ll be honest, 3D Touch alone is a viable reason to consider upgrading to the new iPhone. Just using it for a few minutes, I’m hooked and can’t wait to see what developers do with this feature.
But the bottom line is that Apple has packed more power, a better camera and some truly innovative new features into the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.
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