Now that we are past Thanksgiving and well into the holiday season, I would have bet good money that Apple was done releasing new hardware products for the year. But yesterday, Apple released new hardware and software, including Apple's first external battery accessory: the Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s. Here is the full list of what came out yesterday.
Smart Battery Case
Apple has never before sold its own external battery for an iOS device, and I assumed that Apple was happy to leave this field to third parties. But yesterday, Apple released the $99 Smart Battery Case, a case for the iPhone 6 / iPhone 6s that has a hump in the back to house a battery. It is a 1,877mAh battery, which can take the iPhone from 0% to around 80% power. Added to what you get with the iPhone's built-in battery, Apple says that with the Smart Battery Case you can get up to 25 hours of talk time (versus 14 for the iPhone alone) and up to 18 hours of Internet use on LTE (versus 10 hours for the iPhone alone).
The Smart Battery Case comes in White or Charcoal Gray. It has a Lightning port on the bottom so you charge the case and the iPhone together just like you charge an iPhone, and it is thin enough at the bottom to work with the iPhone Lightning Dock. The case has passive antennas included, to counterbalance any impact that the battery might otherwise have on phone reception.
If you want more information, Joanna Stern of the Wall Street Journal wrote a good review, with a video showing how it works. So did Christina Warren at Mashable. And if you want one lawyer's opinion of why Apple chose this design, check out attorney Nilay Patel's article on The Verge where he speculates that Apple designed around Mophie patents. [UPDATE 12/11/15: John Gruber reports that a well-positioned source denies Patel's theory.]
Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader
For many years now, Apple has been selling connectors that you can use to get photos from a camera to an iOS device. Back in 2011, I reviewed the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit, which let you transfer pictures from a camera or from an SD card to an iPad using the 30-pin connector. When Apple replaced the 30-pin connector with the Lightning connector, Apple updated its camera connection devices, releasing a Lightning to SD card reader, and a separate Lightning to USB camera adapter. But those Lightning adapters would only work with an iPad, so you could not import pictures directly into an iPhone — which always seemed like a strange omission.
As noted below, yesterday Apple released iOS 9.2. One of the changes is that the iPhone can now work with Lightning camera adapters. Thus, you can take a picture with your fancy DSLR camera, then remove the SD card from the camera and connect it to an iPhone that has a Lightning connector (iPhone 5 and higher), and then you can import to the iPhone to edit the picture or share it with someone else via email, text message, etc.
Here is a picture of the SD Card adapter that I had previously been using with my iPad, which now works with my iPhone 6s thanks to iOS 9.2:
And here are some of the screens that you see when you import photos to the iPhone, such as that picture above:
Yesterday, Apple also released a new version of its $29 Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader. From what I can tell, from the outside, it looks identical to the prior model, pictured above. But inside, it is upgraded to support USB 3.0 speeds, which means that you can import pictures much faster if you use an iOS device that can handle USB 3.0. Currently, only the new iPad Pro can handle USB 3.0 speeds, but I suspect that we will see this come to the iPhone and other iPads next year.
There have been times when I have been on vacation and, at the end of a day during which I have taken hundreds of pictures with my Nikon DSLR camera, I have wanted to import the photos to my iPad so that I could see the pictures on a large screen. When you have hundreds of photos, importing pictures with the prior version of the adapter did take a while, so it is nice that the new model has the ability to import at a faster speed. And if you are importing 4K video, I imagine that USB 3.0 speeds would be a huge improvement. Having said that, since I already own the older model, I don't plan to upgrade.
In addition to those two hardware announcements, Apple updated virtually all of its software yesterday. The new version of iOS is 9.2. There are a small number of new features, such as the support for the SD card reader that I mentioned above and Apple Music improvements, such as the ability to create a new playlist when you decide to add a song to a playlist. For the most part, however, iOS 9.2 fixes some bugs. Here is a full list of what is new from the Cult of Mac website.
Yesterday, Apple issued a minor update to the operating system for the Apple Watch. watchOS 2.1 adds support for nine new languages, including Hebrew and Greek, and Siri now supports dictation in Arabic. But other than that, it is mostly bug fixes. For example, I sometimes noticed that I would delete an event in the calendar on my iPhone but the event would still be shown in the complication on my Apple Watch. This should be fixed now.
Apple also updated the operating system for the new Apple TV. One nice improvement is that you can now use the Remote app on an iPhone or Apple Watch to interact with the Apple TV. This means that if you have to enter a long password, you can use the keyboard on your iPhone, which is much easier to use than the on-screen keyboard on the TV. And you can use the Remote apps on the iPhone and Apple Watch to swipe to control Apple TV, which is useful if your remote isn't nearby.
tvOS 9.1 also gives Siri support for Apple Music, assuming that you are a subscriber. So now you can say, for example, "play song New New Orleans on Apple Music" and in a few seconds you should be listening to the great song that my father wrote after Hurricane Katrina, recorded by his band Beau Swank. It's still a little finicky, but in my tests last night, Siri and Apple Music usually worked together quite well.
OS X 10.11.2
I don't really discuss the Mac on iPhone J.D., but just to show you how busy Apple was yesterday, the company also released the latest version of Mac operating system (OS X El Capitan), version 10.11.2. There is actually quite a bit in that update to make the Mac work better with iPhones and iPads, including: (1) improved Handoff and AirDrop, (2) Apple fixed a bug that impaired importing pictures from an iPhone to a Mac using a USB cable and (3) improved iCloud photo sharing for Live Photos.
All in all, not bad for a Tuesday.