The launch of a new iPhone in the second week of September has become so regular an event that you could set your Apple Watch by it. Equally consistent is Apple’s teasing or trolling with the invite, which I’m now going to indulge in deciphering for the 2016 edition. It’s actually a little more informative than usual — or maybe it’s more amenable to over-interpretation. Either way, let’s overthink this thing together.
Firstly, without trying to insult your intelligence, I have to state the obvious in pointing out that the focus for this upcoming iPhone event will be the camera. That’s why we’re treated to the "See you" language and those pretty multicolored spheres. The latter are there to simulate bokeh, the appealing look of out-of-focus areas in photos with shallow depth of field.
Bokeh is actually one of the hardest things for mobile cameras to achieve, by virtue of the physics of their smaller sensor size. To get the best bokeh, you typically need a very wide aperture and a very large image sensor — it’s actually a flaw in how incoming light is refocused onto the sensor, though just like a distorted rock guitar, that flaw is actually desirable. When Huawei added a second sensor to its P9 earlier this year, it also accompanied it with a sort of bokeh simulator in its camera software, which played a few algorithmic tricks to create shallower depth of field than phones can usually achieve. If Apple has set itself the goal of nailing DSLR-like bokeh with its next iPhone, having a second sensor might help it achieve that in a similar way to Huawei. Well, the rumors do indeed suggest an iPhone 7 Plus with a dual-cam system!
Bokeh and low-light photography are the two big challenges remaining for mobile cameras
The other visual aspect of the invite that stands out to me is the darkness. The background isn’t just black, it’s dark, which is a sense I glean from the muted colors of the bokeh. Most of Apple’s event invites are the converse: bright, airy, friendly, and vibrant. Why do I think Apple’s teasing darkness? Because low-light photography is the next big frontier for mobile cameras. So, if you want to read Apple’s invite in the most optimistic and ambitious way, it’s hinting at awesome bokeh at night, which, in terms of pure photographic muscle, is quite the challenge to set yourself.
My colleague Dieter has some other ideas:
A quick mention is merited for the date and the remainder of the tagline, "on the 7th," both of which point toward the predictable iPhone 7 branding.
More interesting to me, though, are two things that are missing from the invite. This image could easily have been wet as well as dark: just throw a few water droplets up front, like the original iOS 4 wallpaper. That would have been an easy sign of a waterproof iPhone, perhaps too easy for Apple to go for it. As it is, the iPhone 6S is already practically, if not officially, waterproof. Taking the step to certifying that status wouldn’t be too big a deal for Apple, and it could still be done. It would certainly soften the blow of the anticipated removal of the headphone jack.
And speaking of the loss of the headphone jack, the other thing that’s missing is any hint whatsoever toward improved audio. I’ve spent months trying to figure out why Apple would drop the universal 3.5mm headphone jack, and my best theory was that the company would try to sell us all on better audio via the Lightning port. I no longer think that’s going to happen. Apple seems more interested in pushing its wireless-at-all-costs agenda than it is in improving the quality or convenience of music listening.
Phew! Good to get all of that off my chest. What do you guys think, are crazy dual-camera systems the future?