Today Apple is hosting its “Spring Forward” event, and with it comes expectations for more exciting details about the Apple Watch. Before announcements are made, however, here’s a closer look at how the world’s most popular travel accessory is changing—and the latest round of innovations by the technology giant.
iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
Tech enthusiasts had been buzzing for weeks—months!—about the new iPhone. As suspected, there will be two models, the $199 iPhone 6, with a 4.7 inch display (up from your standard 4 inches), and the $299, 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, both of which will be on shelves Sept. 19 but available for pre-order this Friday. There’s no sapphire crystal, as some had hoped, but there is ion-strengthened glass for better shatter resistance. And a new Retina HD display includes over one million pixels on the 6 (38% more than what you’re used to) and two million pixels on the 6 Plus (183% more), plus full 1080p display quality on the latter. All that in a 6.9mm-thin casing—thinner than any iPhone ever made, and quite stunning at that.
Attention travel photogs, photo capabilities get a big upgrade, as well: the new camera is an 8MP iSight camera with True Tone flash and all new sensors for better picture-taking. The best feature here: Focus Pixels, a technology employed by high end DSLRs, which make auto-focus twice as fast and effective. Optical image stabilization will allow the lens to move up and down, side to side, and front to back within its housing, in order to help you get better low-light photos and long exposures. And an intuitive Burst Mode detects smiles and blinks in group shots, automatically picking the best photos from a rapid-fire sequence (this also works on the front-facing camera for—you guessed it—Burst Mode Selfies).
Performance is key with the new iPhones: even with their new, massive displays, they’ll be 50 times faster, with upgraded CPUs. For graphics, the improvement is even steeper at 84 times faster, making it the new platform of choice for more sophisticated games (read: in-flight entertainment!) How does all this impact battery life? Apple says you’ll get just as much juice as you’re used to, or more, with 14 hours of video watching, 80 hours of music listening, and 12 hours of Wi-Fi or LTE browsing on the iPhone 6 Plus (it’s a bit less, at 50, 11, and 11 respectively on the 6). The biggest surprise, and our favorite feature for travelers? The ability to make calls over Wi-Fi without the use of apps.
Of course, some of the benefits you’ll find aren’t hardware-related. With iOS8, announced earlier this year, Apple users will get a few new conveniences—including some that take a page from the Android playbook. Among them: automatic cloud storage for photos, the ability to install custom keyboards for easier on-the-go typing, and family sharing that helps you share music libraries and more with those you love (again: think of all the in-flight entertainment you can access now!).
GoogleWallet has been trying to make mobile payments a reality for some time now, but Apple might just get there first. A new feature called ApplePay will allow you to synch credit cards with your phone, and tap to pay at various stores in the US—Whole Foods, Target, and Starbucks, to name a few. But it’ll also integrate with apps such as OpenTable and Uber, so you can pay for meals/rides/anything without ever sharing your credit card information directly with merchants. It’s touted as more secure, since your card number never reaches a service provider, and access to cards can be instantly wiped from your phone through the Find My Phone feature, should you ever lose track of your shiny new device.
Yes, it’s real. If you had doubts about smartwatches really being a thing, now’s the time to admit you were wrong. History has proved that Apple’s entry into new categories tends to be the tipping point for their mass adoption, and the Apple Watch will be no different. Finally hitting the market in early 2015, the $349 Apple Watch—Apple’s first truly new product in quite some time—includes a rectangular Sapphire display, interchangeable bands in three style collections, customizable faces, a range of biometric sensors, and a force-sensitive interface that registers the difference between a tap and a press (offering a whole new set of controls). A button called the Digital Crown allows you to navigate through menus and zoom, and without obstructing the small screen. How apps work on this interface remains to be seen, but the native software is incredibly robust (think easy-to-scan calendar entries, weather, and progress bars for fitness goals), and the ability to send unique communications—customized emojis, a visualization of your heartbeat, or a doodle you “painted” onto your screen—is a fun (albeit gimmicky) twist.
Why it’ll be especially good when you hit the road? Here’s what we expected: A range of hands-free functions, such as Siri-assisted search and voice texting; easy retrieval of recently-accessed info (say, reservation confirmations); and tactic feedback, which allows you to “feel” information without looking at the screen (a series of taps, for instance, can tell you when to turn left or right as you navigate your way down the streets of New York). And what we didn’t expect: partnerships with Starwood Hotels that will (literally) open the door for mobile room keys, Honeywell for remote smart home controls, and BMW to help you find your parked car. Other ways to use it: as a viewfinder for your camera, a remote for your Apple TV, and a method of mobile payment (thanks to built-in ApplePay). And it’s compatible with iPhones from the 5 to the 6 Plus.
Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.