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Animojis and 4K HDR – Apple takes a positive step forward for once

Apple’s Face ID features took center stage at the company’s annual product showcase this week where it unveiled its 10th anniversary iPhone X, while we believe the newly unveiled Apple TV device finally embracing 4K and HDR is head and shoulders the most significant piece of news from the event. Most notably because it plans to sell 4K movies with HDR at the same price as HD content – a feat which could genuinely prove disruptive in Apple’s lackluster TV ambitions.

 

Apple has, at long last, folded, amid finger pointing for lagging behind Roku, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV – devices which have all rolled out with new 4K versions within the past year and have been chipping away at Apple TV’s market share. It’s surprising it took so long, given that CEO Tim Cook described 4K as the latest “key inflection point” in his presentation at the company’s new Apple Park spaceship campus in California.

We suspect the company’s ongoing negotiations with major content studios about pricing 4K titles at $19.99 on iTunes, the same as the latest HD movies, were part and parcel of the delay in matching rival devices in 4K – as the studios wanted to lump an extra fee of between $5 and $10 on top of the $19.99 price point to cover costs on their end.

The studios eventually agreeing to this was the correct decision, in our view, one which will drive the uptake of 4K HDR content. An added bonus, announced by Senior VP Eddy Cue, is that HD movies already purchased by Apple TV users will be upgraded to 4K at no extra cost. Netflix content in 4K will also be available on the new Apple TV, which costs $11.99 a month, and it plans to add the Amazon Prime video app with 4K support later this year.

The upgraded Apple TV media adapter, built on the A10X fusion chip, supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 – offering 4K HDR movies from 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Universal, Paramount, Sony and Warner Brothers. It will retail on September 22nd at $179 for the 32GB device, or $199 for $64GB of storage, and the Siri Remote has also had a slight face lift with a new white circle around the menu button.

So Apple has finally played catch up in TV and managed to sway major studios to sell 4K movies at a fraction of the price, but it remains to be seen if Cook and Co can finally step up in original content – the true test of its TV prowess. It’s worth remembering that less than three months ago, Apple poached two of the most seasoned Sony Pictures Television (SPT) Presidents, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg.

What interests us most about the new iPhone X, aside from the failed attempt by Apple exec Craig Federighi to demonstrate its new Face ID unlock feature, is the device’s screen. The 10th anniversary handset has implemented what Apple calls a Super Retina Display, using OLED technology for a better and brighter color experience – stretching to every corner of the device.

Samsung, the world’s largest OLED display maker, will likely win big from supplying the screen technology for the new $999 Apple device, although there has been no confirmation yet if the Korean firm is in fact the OLED supplier for the iPhone X, or indeed the just as new iPhone 8, which has been relegated to the background.

The Super Retina Display panel is reported to be costing Apple around $125 per device, hence the price tag. Like the new Apple TV, the iPhone X supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10, with 2046×1125 resolution.

The iPhone X has also introduced “Animoji,” a feature which allows users to control an emoji using their facial expressions. This animated emoji feature might come across as trivial, but Apple was the first to bring emojis to mobile and today the array of mini images have become a standalone modern language in their own right, and represent a quite sizable business opportunity – even getting a dedicated movie.

Animoji is part of the Face ID package, which has replaced the traditional home screen button to unlock the device  – claiming to be 20 times more secure than touch fingerprint ID. It uses infrared to work in the dark, and combines features including a True Depth camera system, flood illuminator and dot projector with machine learning algorithms to accurately recognize a user from any angle – even capable of seeing past any sneaky disguise attempts.

“Unlocking it is as easy as looking at it and swiping up,” said  Federighi, prior to retrieving a backup device after two failed attempts, which triggered a sudden crash in Apple stocks, but they have since recovered.

We reluctantly concede that Animoji might just be the first genuine piece of innovation from Apple in some time – albeit not the one iPhone lovers have been crying out for which is, of course, battery life.

On that note, the iPhone X comes with wireless charging, using a charging pad via the Qi open interface standard from the Wireless Power Consortium, however, there is no sign of fast charging, another consumer must-have. Qualcomm holds the patents for Quick Charge, so Apple’s heated past with the semiconductor firm was likely a decisive factor in choosing not to license the technology – but we’ll save the open source debate for another day.

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