By Nicole Nguyen
Ah, glorious September, the best month. It's when the school year starts anew, the weather is just right, and sparkly new iPhones hit shelves.
In normal times, anyway. But these aren't normal times.
This year has been turned upside down. This month, students are logging into Zoom classrooms, the West Coast is on fire, and Apple's annual September iPhone event is going virtual -- and probably won't feature the iPhone at all.
The only clue on the press invite for the streamed Tuesday announcement is "Time Flies." A likely nod to Apple Watch, sure, but perhaps also reassurance that although we expect the next iPhones to be delayed, that delay will feel brief in hindsight.
An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the company's coming products.
In any case, rather than try to predict Apple's plans at the most unpredictable of times, I decided to write a wish list: what we hope to see in the final months of 2020. It's a review of our experiences with Apple devices -- and competing offerings -- throughout the past year and a look at what features are missing in the latest iDevices.
A Goldilocks phone with a zoom camera. There are essentially three iPhones: the pricey iPhone 11 Pro, the popular midtier iPhone 11 and the wallet-friendly iPhone SE. That $700-ish phone -- iPhone XR, iPhone 11 and now, presumably, iPhone 12 -- is the perfect phone for most people, with a good price point, fantastic battery life and most of the latest features, except for one: a telephoto lens.
The current model has two cameras -- wide and ultrawide -- and it is the wrong pairing. Ultrawide landscape pics are cool, but an optical telephoto lens is more useful. It's currently available only in the $1,000-and-up Pro iPhones. And if we're going to have to socially distance for the foreseeable future, we're going to need all the zoom we can get.
An iPhone 12 in a smaller size. It bears repeating: The basic iPhone 11 has the right price and many worthy features. But its display is a bit too large for those with smaller mitts. For me, the added bulk makes it difficult to operate with one hand or securely fit into jean pockets.
Currently, the small-handed folks have two iPhone options: Fork over $1,000 or more for the smaller iPhone Pro, or opt for the $399 budget iPhone SE and lose key camera and security features. I want a third choice: an iPhone 12 that improves on the iPhone 11 yet fits into my undersized palms.
An in-screen fingerprint sensor. We're living in the Mask Era. Face ID is now useless in places where we need it most, like the grocery store. We're hoping Apple takes a cue from Samsung and embeds thumb-identification tech under the screen.
The option to choose your charger. Ming-Chi Kuo, an analyst at TF International, predicts that Apple, to cut costs, will no longer ship power adapters or headphones with its new iPhones. So you could spend a thousand dollars on a phone that can't be charged out of the box.
The move certainly spares the Earth of extraneous accessories. But Apple should give customers the option to forgo the extras, or add what they need at a bundled price. Maybe it is time for a new pair of white buds or one of the newer fast chargers -- or maybe AirPods Pro or a big pair of Beats headphones.
An Apple Watch with longer battery life. The world's most popular smartwatch can detect irregular heart rhythms, call emergency services and track open-water swims. But the Apple Watch lags far behind its fitness-focused and Android-compatible competitors in one key area: battery life.
The current model, the Series 5, lasts about 18 hours and needs to be recharged daily. To take advantage of the new sleep tracking capabilities, you'll need to charge your watch in the morning, but it takes about 2.5 hours to fully power up.
Meanwhile, Samsung's Galaxy Active2 is rated for two to three days without charging. Fitbit's Versa 3 smartwatch can go for nearly a week or run 12 hours with continuous GPS, double what Apple Watch is capable of.
A Qi-compatible Apple Watch. The Watch's proprietary magnetic charger is another battery nuisance. Newer iPhones and AirPods work with the Qi wireless standard, the kind you'll find all over, including at Starbucks and McDonald's. The Apple Watch needs a special, separate charger. Apple, if you can't give us AirPower, you need to give us Qi.
A budget iPad with a Zoom-worthy front camera. The $329 iPad is Apple's Trojan Horse into the battle for the classroom, not to mention all the battles over virtual schooling. And it would be a great learning tablet if it didn't have such a terrible front-facing camera. That 1.2-megapixel 720p-resolution webcam could use a serious upgrade for our e-learners.
A splash-proof iPad Mini Pro. I'll save you my spiel on why the iPad Mini is the best iPad. (So compact! So much functionality!) I just wish Apple believed in the tiny tablet's potential, too. The current iPad Mini, refreshed in March 2019, arrived with outdated hardware, including an older chip, Touch ID and the classic thick-border iPad design.
Making the Mini water-resistant, like the iPhones, would be ideal for bathtub and beach reading. And adding iPad Pro features -- Face ID, a higher-contrast screen, a magnetic strip for Apple Pencil storage and a sleeker design -- would make the Mini the ultimate travel iPad.
A MacBook running Apple silicon. In June, Apple announced a big shift: Future Macs will run on custom-designed chips, replacing the Intel-based processors in today's computers. The company's stated gains in battery life and performance, plus the ability to run iOS apps, are behind the switch.
Apple said its first system would ship "by year's end." I'm hoping it will be a new MacBook Pro or Air. Then, we may finally get a Mac laptop capable of serious multitasking -- with or without Chrome -- that doesn't sound like it is about to blast off into space.
An App Store that reflects the reality of today's tech. The battle between the iPhone maker and developers over App Store fees is far from over. While Apple made some concessions recently, the legal fight between it and Epic Games -- the company behind Fortnite -- could determine the fairness of the App Store's 30% cut of in-app purchases.
Is Apple's rent too high? It's all about balance. Yes, the App Store gives developers access to billions of iPhone users and the ability to make money off them -- but those apps also add tremendous value to the iPhone experience.
And right now, developers are breaking their own apps to circumvent Apple's fees and policies. Netflix can't even tell iPhone users where to subscribe. (It's here, by the way.)
"Do Not Track" features that actually prevent tracking. In June, Apple excited us by announcing many privacy-focused additions in iOS 14. App developers would finally have to ask users for permission before tracking them across other people's apps and websites. This appears to give people power over how much extra data a developer can collect about them -- and many would probably opt out.
It's unsurprising that Facebook, which relies on data collection to serve personalized advertising, complained publicly. Amid that pressure, from Facebook and other publishers, Apple decided to delay the new prompt until early next year. Boo.
My hope is that Apple makes good on its promise, but I'm not holding my breath. Last year, Apple initially told developers third-party trackers in children's apps were banned -- and then softened the guidelines and eventually permitted some trackers and advertising.
And now we wait and see what happens. Stay tuned, the WSJ Tech team will be covering the news Tuesday -- and in one or two more events expected before the year is out. I will be crossing my fingers, hoping to hear any -- or all -- of the above.
(Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has a commercial agreement to supply news through Apple services.)
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