4 new iPhone 6s features (that other smartphones have had for ages)
I really respect Apple. For the last five years, I’ve used the company’s MacBooks exclusively for both work and personal computing; I’ve made the Apple TV the centerpiece of my home entertainment system; and I’ve recommended the iPhone and iPad to countless friends and family members. I even referred to the iPhone 6 as excellence exemplified in last year’s full review. For all the vitriol spewed by the Apple maligners that
plague grace the internet’s comment sections, the company doesn’t get away with its insane pricing just because it’s good at marketing; it actually does make excellent products.
But as with every other smartphone maker, Apple rips off some of its ideas from the competition – and because of its marketing alacrity, it’s able to convince a lot of people that its latest “creations” have never been seen before. Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s a huge hunk of hogwash. Here’s four iPhone 6s features that are pretty cool … but which you can find on many other phones right now.
One of Apple’s most noteworthy appropriations is also its most audacious. Along with a new 12MP primary camera, the iPhone 6s brings a new feature called Live Photos that Apple’s Phil Schiller calls “truly brilliant” and “entirely new technology.” The former descriptor is correct; the latter is not.
Live Photos works by automatically capturing 1.5 seconds of video immediately before and after a user takes a still photo with the iPhone 6s. This small window of animation plays upon a long-press of each photo, or automatically when swiping across pictures in the gallery, which enlivens and enhances the experience of using the phone. I know this because I’ve used it before – just never on an iPhone.
In 2013 the HTC One M7 introduced HTC Zoe, a feature that functioned in almost exactly the same way – and it’s been included on every HTC One device since, eventually graduating into a self-contained social network. Also in 2013, BlackBerry’s Z10 and Q10 smartphones launched with Time Shift, which allowed users to select a particular frame from several seconds either before or after a photo was snapped. Last year, Nokia brought similar functionality to Windows Phone with a feature called “Living Images.” The iPhone 6s’ Live Photos feature is indeed a very impressive offering, but an Apple creation it isn’t.
Controlling a smartphone without touching it sounds like a pretty useless gimmick – until you own a smartphone that you can control without touching it. Three generations of Moto X have made this apparent: whether you’re driving, washing dishes, cleaning up the office or just searching for a lost smartphone, being able to summon and control it hands-free is hugely convenient. So convenient, in fact, that Google has baked this feature directly into Android on devices running Qualcomm 8xx chipsets (which is why your Nexus 6 wakes up and awaits instructions if you say “Okay Google” to it).
It’s a feature Apple replicated with the “Hey Siri” command in last year’s iPhone 6 – but only halfway. While the iPhone 6 would indeed wake up upon hearing the “Hey Siri” keyphrase, it could only do this while plugged in, likely due to concerns about battery life in standby mode (concerns which similarly hobbled Microsoft’s Cortana on Windows Phone). The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus rectify this by incorporating Apple’s M9 coprocessor directly into the new A9 SoC, replicating the approach taken by Motorola with its X8 Mobile Computing System way back when.
“Hey, Siri” now works even when the iPhone 6S is not plugged in. Huge. Brings Apple to parity with 2013 Motorola
— Avi Greengart (@greengart) September 9, 2015
Faux Selfie Flash
The aft camera isn’t the only one that’s gotten an upgrade with the iPhone 6s; Apple has also taken the opportunity to upgrade last year’s lackluster 1.2MP selfie shooter with a proper 5MP unit. As any narcissist will tell you, that’s a solid enough resolution to capture even the subtlest of snarky expressions – but lots of selfies are taken at night, and without a front-firing flash or an UltraPixel sensor, lots of them come out too dim to savor, let alone to Snapchat.
Apple’s solution: brighten the display when a selfie is taken so as to make the screen itself into a flash. A fantastic idea … as anyone who’s ever used the stock Android camera app can attest. Google’s camera software almost exactly mirrors this “new” iPhone 6s feature, flashing the display to an all-white screen at the moment of capture to make sure your vibrant visage is visible even in the soupy darkness that is your nightlife. And those reluctant to switch out their stock viewfinder can download any of a number of apps to transform their Android displays into selfie lightboxes as well.
(Protip: If software solutions aren’t your bag and you’re looking for the ultimate in
ridiculous unique accessories to fire up your face for that hot Instagram action … Lenovo’s got just the thing for you. Just be prepared for some hazing when you bust it out; no one ever said being a trailblazer would be painless.)
If still shots don’t peel your banana because you prefer to capture life in all its full-motion glory, we’ve saved the best of the iPhone 6s features for last: 4K video recording. No longer confined to wimpy old 1080p, now you can shoot in super-high resolution with 8 million pixels per frame. That’s a stunning degree of clarity that–
… You know what? Let’s just skip the setup for this one. Here’s a partial list of all the smartphones we’ve reviewed this year that offer 4K video recording:
- Samsung Galaxy Note 5
- Samsung Galaxy S6 Active
- LG G4
- Samsung Galaxy S6 edge
- LG G Flex 2
- Samsung Galaxy S6
So yeah, 4K recording isn’t a new thing. And that fancy “Deep Trench Isolation” camera tech Apple touted today? We saw it (or technology very much like it) last year, in Samsung’s ISOCELL sensor for the Galaxy Alpha.
But let’s be fair
Apple has never been about first-to-market. It’s a company that reimagines existing offerings in a superior form, one whose late founder was unabashedly “shameless about stealing great ideas.” And there’s plenty of room for Apple to improve on what it’s stolen here. HTC’s Zoe was awesome but often confusing; Motorola’s hands-free Moto Voice slows down significantly over time; Apple’s Retina selfie flash is “three times brighter” than normal backlight levels and less likely to wash out subjects; and the iPhone 6s’s 4K videos can be edited directly on the device using some of the best mobile editing software available.
As we were reminded several times during the keynote, that all adds up to the best iPhone yet – and it’s one we’re excited to review in a few weeks’ time. But if you’re yearning for an upgrade right this second and you’re worried you’ll be missing out on any of the above, don’t be. You don’t buy an iPhone to get the hottest, newest thing; you get it so you can experience Apple’s take on something more stable and mature. And that’s exactly what the company looks to be cooking up with the iPhone 6s features we’re seeing here – there’s just not much “new” about it.
Thanks to @tjdonegan for the ISOCELL tip!