Apple Introduces iPhone 6s and 6s Plus with 3D Touch

Introducing the iPhone6s,The only thing that’s changed is everything.


A touch of 3D

The most dramatic example of looks-the-same-but-whoa-it-isn’t: the screen. The displays on the 6s and 6s Plus measure the same as before (4.7 inches and 5.5 inches respectively). But under that glass is some nifty new technology enabling a new interface that Apple calls 3D Touch.

Like Force Touch on the Apple Watch, 3D Touch on the iPhone lets you apply different levels of pressure to the screen to get different results. Press lightly on a message in Mail, for example, and you get a preview; press a bit harder, and the message itself opens up. 3D Touch enables a couple of new gestures — “peek” and “pop” joining the familiar pinch, swipe, and tap.

“Popping and peeking” on an event in Calendar, thanks to 3D Touch. (Photo: Alyssa Bereznak)

This might seem like a small thing, but in demos it seems to make the iOS interface more multidimensional (hence the 3D moniker). With 3D Touch, you can seem to dig down into apps and to move three-dimensionally among the apps you have open.

(For those of you keeping track at home, the pre-event rumor mill was calling this feature Force Touch, which is what it’s called on the Apple Watch. On the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, the name is different, but the idea is much the same.)

Living photos

The new phones also get upgraded iSight cameras with 12 megapixel sensors (compared to 8 megapixels on the 6 and 6 Plus). Apple has never liked to play the specs game and even acknowledged in its demo that adding more pixels can actually degrade image quality. (Of course, the company claims to have solved that problem.) The Facetime camera gets an updated sensor, too — 5 megapixels versus 1.2 in the 6/6 Plus — and the phones support the recording of 4K video (3,840 x 2,160) at 30 fps.

But the niftiest new photo feature could actually be in software, something called Live Photos. In the demo, pressing extra hard on images (using 3D Touch) caused those photos to apparently animate: ripples in water rippled, swimmers swam, little girls smiled.

It’s one of those what-the-heck moments that pop up sometimes in Apple demos, but the cause is actually pretty simple: A new Live Photos setting in the Photos app captures 1.5 seconds worth of images on either side of the photo you’re taking; when you press hard on the image, those 1.5 seconds are added to the photo you’re viewing and, voilà, moving pictures. (Apple took pains to say these aren’t videos, they’re still photos.) Best of all, Apple is making Live Photos part of a developer API, so other camera apps will presumably be able to take advantage of it too.

The basics

Beyond those marquee features, most of the changes in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus are incremental: New chip? Check. (A 64-bit A9, with a new transistor architecture and the motion coprocessor built in; Apple senior VP Phil Schiller claimed that it’s 70 percent faster than its predecessor, the A8, for CPU-centric tasks, 90 percent faster on graphics.)

There’s also a second generation of the Touch ID fingerprint reader, new wireless and Wi-Fi (both faster, of course), and iOS 9. There are new accessories as well: charging docks and covers (in leather and silicone). And there’s a new case finish: rose gold aluminum, joining the existing silver, gold, and space gray.

The iPhone 6s will be available in 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB models, for $199, $299, and $399, respectively. The 6s Plus will be available in the same capacities for $100 more. Those prices are for phones bought with two-year carrier contracts. The 6 and 6 Plus will still be available, for $100 less in 16 GB and 64 GB models; there’s no 128 GB option on either. And the 5s becomes the low-end free option.

The phones will also be available from carriers on installment plans; pricing should range from $19 to $31 a month, depending on model and carrier. And Apple’s introducing a new iPhone Upgrade Program, in which you can get a new phone every year, unlocked (you choose your carrier), with AppleCare+ protection, for a monthly fee (starting at $32).

The new phones will be available for preorder September 12 and will start shipping September 25.

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