iPhone 8 & 8 Plus
Following the usual cadence, this should be the year of the S models - an unchanged form factor with ramped up internals. However, just as the 7 and 7 Plus essentially iterated on the smash-hit 2014 large screen designs, so the 8 and 8 Plus keep to the same look and dimensions, but swap out the aluminium back in favour of glass so as to support wireless charging.
The iPhone 4 introduced the metal and glass approach, but this time around the glass is the most durable yet with new space grey, silver and gold finishes matching the aluminium band for a seamless appearance. As with last year’s models, they’re water and dust resistant. The stereo speakers are now 25% louder with better bass, while the screen features the True Tone technology introduced with the iPad Pros - dynamically matching screen tone to ambient lighting.
The cameras feature more iterative improvements with a more advanced 12MP camera. The 8 and 8 Plus share an f/1.8 six-element lens with optical image stabilisation (previously exclusive to the Plus model). The 8 Plus is still distinguished from the 8 with a secondary telephoto camera offering optical zoom and Portrait mode.
This year’s version of Portrait mode is once again a beta feature. Portrait Lighting uses the A11 chip and new ISP (Image Signal Processor) to dynamically simulate different lighting situations. The spiel being that just as a professional photographer can ‘sculpt’ the light falling on a subject’s face, so this new mode creates a depth map of a face so as to produce effect such as Natural Light, Studio Light, Contour Light etc. The demo’s and UI looked impressive, of course. In a real world setting, how quickly and easily the modes are to use, how they cope with lighting in the UK rather than California we’ll need to see. The new ISP also enables faster autofocus and, for the first time, hardware enabled multi band noise reduction.
Video offers more straightforward enhancements: 4K video up to 60fps and slow motion in 1080 HD up to 240fps. A larger sensor, with optical image stabilisation and ISP enhancements looks very promising indeed for performance. The ISP features an Apple developed video encoder which apparently does real time analysis of 2 million tiles per second to best optimise h.265 encoding.
In addition, all the iPhone 8 models have cameras that are tuned for AR applications. A new game called The Machines was demo’d on staging with the player manoeuvring around a virtual 3D table top to guide their sci-fi troops into battle. A multi-player game, either locally or online, it boasted impressive visuals but we are obviously very early into AR gaming generally.
The A11 chip shared with iPhone X is a beast. It’s six core, up from four last year, with two high power and four high efficiency cores. The latter are 70% faster than last year’s equivalent cores with the A11 as a whole being 25% faster than A10. It’s also paired with the first ever Apple designed GPU, a three-core design which is optimised to support Metal 2, which not only means faster 3D games, but also supports machine learning and neural networks such as are used with Face ID.
For pricing, the entry-level now starts at 64GB rather than 32GB but that means £699 rather than £599 last year (blame currency rates for half of that increase). The 8 Plus also starts at 64GB, but the £799 compares a bit better to last year’s £719.
Preorders begin this Friday and will ship on the 22nd.
Wireless charging finally makes it to the iPhone series
Wireless Charging & AirPods Update
Despite the addition of wireless charging to this year’s iPhones, Apple isn’t shipping a charger itself. At least not yet.
Apple is instead supporting the Qi standard rather than a proprietary solution. The reason being a key advantage of wireless charging should be quick top-ups at airports or restaurants with open standard charging mats. Existing (and relatively cheap) Qi chargers for Android should work fine with the new iPhones.
However, there was also a Sneak Peak at a 2018 product called AirPower. This is based on Qi technology, but enhanced by Apple so a single charging matt could handle your iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods. It looks super-convenient, isn’t possible with current technology and Apple will share its enhancements with Qi to move the standard forward for all.
This wireless charging vision was added to with news of a new charging case for the AirPods with support for wireless charging and an external rather than internal LED indicator. The AirPods themselves don’t seem to be changed in spec and it wasn’t clear when upgraded units would be available.