Apple announces “Self Service Repair” program: parts and tools for customers

In a move that caught just about everyone off guard, and that is surely intended to head off any “right to repair” bills, Apple today announced a new repair program for customers. The “Self Service Repair” program makes parts, tools and manuals available to customers. At first the program will support iPhone 12 and 13 models, followed soon after by M1 Macs. It will start in the US early next year and expand to other countries throughout 2022.

From the PR:

Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer. “In the past three years, Apple has nearly doubled the number of service locations with access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and training, and now we’re providing an option for those who wish to complete their own repairs.”

Customers looking to repair their devices will purchase replacement parts, tools and manuals through a new online store. When the repair is completed, the user will send the defective part back to Apple and receive a credit. From the PR:

To ensure a customer can safely perform a repair, it’s important they first review the Repair Manual. Then a customer will place an order for the Apple genuine parts and tools using the Apple Self Service Repair Online Store. Following the repair, customers who return their used part for recycling will receive credit toward their purchase.”

Of course, the devil is always in the details. How much these self service repairs will cost end users remains to be seen.

Still, this is a huge course correction for Apple and a mammoth win for right to repair.

iPhone 13 Review

It’s hard to remember the world before the iPhone. So many things we take for granted now were the stuff of science fiction in 2007. 14 years later, and nearly an entire generation has been born in the wake of the iPhone, and they know nothing different. It’s hard for any product to keep itself relevant for a few years, yet the iPhone has evolved, improved, improvised and re-invented itself several times in that window, and is more popular today than it was in 2007 on it’s release. 

With the iPhone 13 Pro lineup, Apple focused on the main 3 areas that people want to see improvements on – battery, screen and camera. I’m going to break down the improvements in each area, and then focus on the camera, because it is clearly the biggest upgrade in this iteration.

Battery

Out of the 3 main improvement areas, battery is the least sexy. But it is probably the one that is most appreciated on a daily basis. Both Pro and Pro Max models get bigger batteries this year, and along with new efficiencies in the A15 Bionic chip, get improved battery life . 

Apple touts the Pro as receiving an increase of 1.5 hours and the Pro Max as receiving 2.5 hours more of battery life. This doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but when you factor in the improvements in the second area – the screen, it’s a miracle that battery life increased and not decreased. Anyone who saw what happened when Android handset manufacturers adopted faster refresh rate panels knows what that does to battery life, and it doesn’t increase them.

Screen

The iPhone finally gets a 120hz screen. I say finally because these have been standard fare on many higher end Android phones for several years now. And yes, as I just mentioned, most of the Android phones who adopted higher refresh rate screens did so at detriment of battery life.

But Apple, being Apple, did something a bit different.

Instead of adopting a 120hz panel and calling it a day, Apple realized that having a panel refreshing at 120hz when a user is doing something static was a waste of precious power. So Apple implemented a variable refresh rate. Just sitting there looking at text on your phone screen, or a photo? The iPhone will throttle down the refresh rate to 10hz. The magic part is when you flick to scroll, the iPhone will immediately throttle up the refresh rate to the full 120hz. This adaptive refresh rate takes in to account what you are doing, and applies the necessary refresh rate all the way up to 120hz or down to 10hz. In this way, Apple took something that was done first on Android, and did it way better on iOS.

Camera

Now, Apple brought a number of camera improvements to the 13 and the 13 Pro models. The biggest is democratizing the sensor shift stabilizing that was present on the Pro Max last year, and bringing it to the Ultra Wide lens for all models, Pro and non Pro alike this year. 

Then there is the Cinematic Mode. This is feature I would have figured Apple would have saved just for the Pro models, because, well, it seems like something that could be used to justify the increased cost of the Pro or Pro Max. But since this feature really only dependent upon the improvements made in the A15 Bionic, Apple made it available to all iPhone 13 models.

But for the Pro models, Apple improved the hardware and kept the camera system the same on the Pro and Pro Max models.

The standard wide lens has been upgraded to an f/1.5 aperture. The utlra-wide lens has been upgraded to a f1/.8 aperture. And the telephoto lens, which now features a more telephoto focal length of 77m (equivalent), features a f/2.8 aperture. So you get faster glass, and you get bigger pixels. What this means is better low light performance. Of course, Apple touts better low light performance every year, so the real test is actually putting the cameras thru the paces. So let’s take a look at a bunch of photos taken with both the iPhone 12 Pro and 13 Pro. 

Conclusion

Whether you think the iPhone 13 Pro is just another iPhone or a significant entry in the iPhone’s 14 year saga will really come down to how much you value your iPhone as a camera. If you take casual pics and don’t think about things like low light photography, macro photography or portrait shots, you will probably be best served with the iPhone 13. If these details matter to you, the 13 Pro is the way to go. If you are an iPhone 12 Pro user and you are thinking of upgrading, you have to ask yourself – is $700 or so (the cost of a new iPhone after trading in your 12 or 12 Pro model) worth it to take macro pics, slightly better low light pics, or to gain a more “telephoto” telephoto lens? Are the battery improvements worth it to you? 120hz scrolling is nice, but I can tell you it’s not something I miss so much that going back to 60hz makes me feel like a caveman.

So, essentially – iPhone 13 Pro… a great upgrade for anyone not already using a 12 Pro.

Apple iPhone 13 Event

The yearly iPhone 13 event has come and gone, and pre-orders for the new devices (except for the Apple Watch Series 7) have begun. I was pretty adamant, based on the rumors, that I would skip the iPhone 13 and stick with my trusty Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro. However, a few things changed my mind.

First, the upgrades this year are pretty modest. But, when you are dealing with a product as mature as the iPhone, you aren’t going to get revolutionary features every year.

What did we get? With the iPhone 13 Mini and iPhone 13, we got bigger batteries, slightly better camera lenses and sensors (though still limited to 12 megapixels), a new sensor shift (ie, image stabilization) feature, and of course, a new processor – the A15 Bionic. The new processor is the key feature, as it powers some nice new software features. Specifically, the Cinematic Mode that is present on all the iPhone 13 models. This feature allows you to perform rack focus in video, something that is sure to elevate the iPhone 13 from a nice tool to augment filmmakers, to one that can be at the center of their workflows. Another software upgrade to the camera app, Photograph Styles, allows you to apply photo filters to the live image while you are shooting to see what the filters will look like before you capture the shot. Apple claims that these filters apply only to the areas of the photo that you would want them to – specifically, leaving skin tones as natural.

The Pro models now feature the same identical camera systems, so the only real differentiator between the Pro and the Pro Max now are battery life and screen size.

What Apple did to differentiate the standard models from the Pro models this year is small tweaks throughout the features. These consist of:

  • 120hz refresh rate. This adaptive refresh rate ramps up and down depending upon what you are doing. But with support at 120hz for games, the gaming experience on the Pro models is going to feel significantly more premium than the base models. The big question is how will this affect battery life. I’ll let you know when my iPhone 13 Pro arrives.
  • More RAM (4GB on the iPhone 13 Mini/13, 6GB on the Pro/Pro Max)
  • Extra GPU Core – 4 on the standard models, 5 on the Pro
  • Batter cameras with faster apertures for the wide, ultra wide. Ultra wide cameras on the Pro models also feature auto focusing capabilities, giving them the ability to perform macro shots.
  • Ability to shoot in ProRes video recording. This is coming in a software update later this year. The ability to shoot in 4K ProRes is limited to the 256GB models (ProRes video formats created incredibly large files, and 128GB wouldn’t be enough to store more than a few minutes of 4K footage). 128GB models can shoot in 1080p ProRes.

So the value proposition is this: Apple improved the overall base model iPhone 13 experience in the batteries, cameras, processors, and added some nice video features (Cinematic Mode/Photograph Styles). The main reason to buy the 12 Pro (apart from the larger screen/battery of the 12 Pro Max), comes down to a better gaming experience, better photographic and video hardware and software), and the increased RAM giving your device the ability to keep more apps running simultaneously. I find the Pro value proposition quite smaller and more targeted this year than most other years. I’d really recommend the Pro models to people who either have to have the larger display size of the Pro Max, or people who actually use their phones for semi-pro or professional video applications. Everyone else will be better served to stick with the iPhone 13 standard models.

Apple Watch

So the Series 7 Apple Watch is one of the smaller updates to date. It received a small upgrade in screen size, and really… not much else. There’s speculation based upon supply chain leaks about what was expected vs what was delivered that Apple scrapped the real Series 7 plans a few months ago, and instead scrambled at the last minute to put together a substitute release. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it definitely feels like this release is small compared to other years. No new ground breaking applications for the Series 7, just small refinements to screen size and some other software editions. If you have a Series 6, you can save your money until next year and not feel like you are missing out on a lot.

iPad

The iPad mini got an update that brings it inline with the iPad Air. There’s no more Home Screen button, replaced with the fingerprint reader on the power button like the iPad Air. I’m not a fan of this design, as you get a mixed experience – navigating your iPad with gestures like you have FaceID, but authenticating with putting your finger on the power button, which, depending upon how you are holding the device, can be a bit of a disruption.

Otherwise, you get a slightly underclocked A15 chip in the mini, 5G support (in the cellular models, but no mmWave support), and some new colors. Fans of the minis form factor will probably be happy that it got some love, but at a $499/649 price point. for 64GB/256GB configurations, the mini isn’t the value proposition it once was.

The base model iPad got a small update as well. It is now sporting an A13 processor and a true-tone display. The base model also went form 32GB to 64GB. The entry level iPad remains one of the better technology buys at $329, not just from Apple, but from any company. The spec bumped version now features 256GB of storage, but at an increased cost of $479. Otherwise both still use the same accessories and case sizes as before.

So what swayed me to get the iPhone 13 Pro instead of holding steady with my 12 Pro? First off, the new Cinematic Video features look impressive, and will be a welcome addition to my videography toolset. Second, the addition of macro photography is another feature that I could justify upgrading for. Finally, the improvement in battery life sealed the deal. Battery life on my 12 Pro hasn’t been bad, but I’ve noticed in the last month or so that I’m running out of battery regularly before the day is over. The Battery Health is rated at 88%, so I’ve had 12% degradation in about a year of everyday use. This isn’t terrible, but it’s enough that had I kept my iPhone 12 Pro, I probably would have opted for a battery upgrade before the year was out. Upgrading to the new model solves that problem for me, and gets me some very nice photo/video features as well.

iPhone 12 Pro Review

The iPhone 4/5/SE form factor makes triumphant return.

A few weeks in to using my iPhone 12 Pro, and the one word that’s sticking out to me that I could use to describe Apple’s iPhone’s is consistency. Each yearly upgrade brings a few small changes. Gone are the days when a new release would contain revolutionary features that made it a must have upgrade. The iPhone 12 Pro packs a few notable upgrades in it’s chassis, but if you are using an iPhone Xs or an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here that’s in the ‘must have’ territory of an upgrade. But what is here is good, so let’s break it down.

5G (finally) arrives

Apple took it’s sweet time with bringing 5G to the iPhone, and I don’t fault them one bit for being one of the last manufacturers to add 5G to their devices. First off, 5G is a battery drain. And while the 5G modems have gotten better with their power consumption, they still draw more power than the 4G modems. Apple tempers this with the ability to use ‘Smart Data’ mode, where the phone intelligently determines if you are performing a task that would benefit from 5G. If you are, then it turns on 5G. If you aren’t, it turns 5G off. Additionally, you can drop back to 4G all the time or force the phone to use 5G all the time. How much 5G affects your battery performance will entirely come down to your usage, and whether or not you are in a 5G capable cell. But the speed increase with 5G can be significant, so it’s a welcome addition.

iPhone 12 vs the 12 Pro

After viewing this years iPhone offerings, I initial thought I was going to go with the iPhone 12 over the 12 Pro. But after having the Pro for a few days, I returned it and opted for the Pro. However, I think that most people will be better served by the iPhone 12.

First off, the two phones form factors are identical. They both can use the same cases. The key differences between the two models comes down to these points:

  • The iPhone 12 weighs less than the 12 Pro. This is primarily due to the 12 using an Aluminum frame, while the 12 Pro uses a Stainless Steel frame. The 12 Pro is a smidge lighter than the 11 Pro, but overall, I preferred the weight of the 12 over the 12 Pro.
  • The screens on each are the same dimensions and resolution. The 12 Pro however, can handle Dolby Vision HDR playback, and boost to a slightly bright setting.
  • The iPhone 12 Pro gains the Telephoto lens. Most people will be served well with the 12’s wide and ultra wide lenses and won’t miss the Telephoto. Being a big camera nerd, the Telephoto lens was one of the key reasons I opted for the Pro.
  • The 12 Pro also has a LiDAR scanner. I could care less about Augmented Reality applications, but the LiDAR scanner plays a big part in helping the 12 Pro cameras focus faster in low light.
  • The 12 Pro is reported to have 6GB of RAM vs 4GB for the 12. The extra RAM will mean more apps can stay open at a time, and you’ll see snappier results when switching from app to app.
  • And finally, the 12 Pro will have the ability (in a later software update) to shoot photos in Apple ProRAW. There’s really no technical reason why the 12 couldn’t do this as well, but Apple feels the need to lock certain features, even if they are software based, to justify the higher cost phone.
  • Color options. The Pro gets you graphite, silver, gold and Pacific Blue (which seems to be the most color judging from the stock outages). The iPhone 12 gets you White, Black, Blue, Green and (Product) Red. The blue is a brighter shade than the Pacific Blue, and is my favorite color out of all this years models. I really wish Apple had used this blue on the Pro. Keeping with last years differenatiation, the iPhone 12 back is glossy with the camera hump using a matte glass, and the 12 Pro back is frosted matte glass and the camera hump is glossy. The 12 Pro Stainless Steel frame is a fingerprint magnet.

So again, being the camera nerd that I am, I opted for the 12 Pro over the 12.

But I suspect that most people don’t care or wouldn’t use the telephoto lens all that often, and would be better server with the iPhone 12.

Cameras

So, if you’re considering the 12 pro over the regular 12, most likely it’s because of the telephoto camera, the (promised) ability to shoot RAW, and the addition of Dolby Vision HDR, a video format that captures more dynamic range (10 bit vs. 8 bit for regular video footage).

Dolby Vision footage does look nice, but be warned that you need a device capable of interpreting and outputting Dolby Vision to see it in action. The iPhone 12 Pro/12 Pro Max can playback video recording with Dolby Vision, and you can stream 4k Dolby Vision to AppleTV. But if you share your Dolby Vision footage to another iPhone user who doesn’t have a 12 Pro/12 Pro Max, they won’t see the increased dynamic range. And uploads to YouTube won’t retain that information either. So while it’s a nice feature, apart from making the footage you shoot look nicer on your phone, you won’t be able to share that improved footage beyond the iPhone 12 Pro phones. I’m sure as time goes on more and more devices will be able to handle Dolby Vision, and maybe even sites like YouTube will accommodate it. But for now, it’s a cool feature that has no real practical application.

MagSafe is reborn

Everyone laments the passing of MagSafe charging cables for the Mac laptops. MagSafe made the power adapter cable magnetically attach to your computer, which made plugging and unplugging a bit easier.

Apple has resurrected the MagSafe brand for the new charging system for the new iPhones. If you’ve used “wireless” chargers, you know their biggest problem is that if you don’t place the phone precisely in the right area, it will not charge. If you have your phone charging next to your bed and accidentally nudge it slightly, you could wake up with a phone that isn’t charged.

MagSafe solves this by using magnets to precisely place the charger in the correct spot on the back of the device. Apple is extending this magnetic attachment to cases and to accessories like the wallet attachment. I’m sure you’ll also see lots of the 3rd party accessories pop up in the future that take advantage of MagSafe. And who knows – maybe MagSafe will return to Macs in the future, or expand to iPads. It certainly fits in with Apple’s push to remove ports when possible.

The downside is there’s a very real possibility a future iPhone might do away with the Lightning Port in favor of all wireless connectivity and charging. I still think there’s plenty of applications beyond charging that require a physical cable, so I’m hopeful this doesn’t happen anytime soon.

Pros

  • 5G is here if you have access to it in your area
  • New “ceramic shield” glass looks to be much strong than prior glass
  • LiDAR helps low light focusing and allows for portrait mode in similar low light conditions.
  • Dolby Vision makes 10 bit video HDR recording possible, albeit with limited playback options.
  • MagSafe is wonderful, so long as it’s not a harbinger for a port less iPhone in the future.

Cons

  • No 90 or 120hz refresh rate displays
  • Battery life is slightly less than the 11 Pro, mostly due to 5G.
  • No more EarPods in the box
  • No more charging brick included in the box (now a $19 accessory)
  • Color options on the Pro are more staid than the iPhone 12 (subjective, I know).
  • Only the 12 Pro Max gets the full sensor shift OIS. 12 Pro Max also gets a ‘longer’ Telephoto lens (65mm vs. 52mm on the Pro).

Summary

The iPhone 12 is the better bargain. The more pocketable weight along with the ‘grippier’ feel of the phone makes it the better feeling phone for most people. However, if you use your iPhone as a content creation tool, and feel you need the telephoto lens and video/software improvements (like Dolby Vision and ProRAW), along with the increase in RAM, the 12 Pro is a great tool that won’t disappoint. Users on the X or Xs will see the most benefit in upgrading. If you already have an 11 Pro, there’s not a lot here for you to upgrade to. You are better off waiting for 2021, which will include all the features in the 12 Pro, and possibly 120hz refresh rates.