A few caveats up front: By the time the new iPhone 6s arrived on my desk, all hell had already broken loose. My babysitter had called out sick that morning, just as my kid was waking up with a mild fever. At work, we were "crashing" in a package for our November issue with about a week's lead time—the magazine equivalent of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for 15 on a day's notice. Doable, but hardly ideal. Test-driving a new phone, with all its attendant snafus, was sandwiched on my "looking-forward-to" list somewhere between trying on swimsuits and a dental cleaning.
Nonetheless, there it was. And thank god for both of us, it delivered exactly what I needed: shortcuts. Forget all those high-minded do-gooders spouting off about how there are no shortcuts in life. Not only are there many worthwhile ones—I'm looking at you, Amazon Prime—but the iPhone 6s is loaded with them: time-saving sidesteps and bypasses that pretty much dispense with the clunky business of email and calendaring and all but re-conceptualize the way you use your phone.
High praise? Yes—but it's merited. Read on.
The biggest difference between the 6s and its predecessors is the "pop and peek" feature. Whereas in the past, you gently tapped on an application to open it (email, photos, calendars), then went ahead and did your business, the new phone allows you to press firmly on an email to 'peek' at what's inside. I'm singling out email, though the peek function works on pretty much all the Apple-installed apps, because it's a genius response to on-the-bubble spam you're not quite ready to unsubscribe from but don't really have the time or patience to deal with. For me, it's fashion and retail-related spam which tends to languish in my inbox because I'm prone to end-of-season-sale FOMO. Now I can quickly scan these emails for anything particularly mind-blowing (Saks is offering Manolos at how much off?!) before dumping the email for good.
With a single press on the app, you can take advantage of all sorts of slick one-touch efficiencies. Press on the Maps icon for directions; press the News icon for the latest New York Times headlines which you can then save for later or share...with a single pop, you can search for a specific song or album or forward a photo. No more jumping around apps to get stuff done.
Worth noting: The pop and peek feature won't feel intuitive at first, and definitely took some getting used to. For years, we've been inured to treating our iPhones like museum pieces. Who among us hasn't shelled out the $100-plus to replace a cracked screen? Now we're told that, yes, you can (and should!) shove that stubby finger of yours at the glass and press hard—not too hard, but way harder than the dainty swipes you've grown accustomed to. It feels almost sacrilegious to manhandle the phones that way.
But like most things in life, you eventually get used to the change, like that that teeny pop sensation you'll feel in your hand when you press an app open with a single touch—that's the "taptic engine", as Apple's dubbed it, and it's the same sensation as the alerts on the Apple Watch. You'll get used to sidestepping annoying email threads and forwarding pictures in a nanosecond.
As someone unashamed to admit she suffers from ISBS (I'm So Busy Syndrome—admit it, you know you do, too) I've quickly developed an obsession with peeking at links. All day I'm inundated with links. Articles from colleagues. Funny videos I "have to" watch. Clips of shows I missed. Clicking on these endless links can often feel like doing the backstroke in an Olympic-sized pool. (When. Am. I. Going. To. Be. There. Already?) The peek feature lets you can scan a webpage, deciding in a snap whether something really merits your time or even your ultimate seal of approval: sharing to Facebook.
Other ultra-useful Easter eggs: Press on the upper left of the display and you can multitask screens—no more double clicking the home button to toggle between apps. Press and hold the phone icon to add a new contact on the fly (because how awkward was it fumbling to add a contact before, until finally someone would take mercy on your poor soul and just text you the details). Whereas before, you'd swipe right from the home screen to search, now that screen is occupied by your top phone contacts and most-used apps, location-based suggestions for food, coffee and gas nearby, and a roundup of headlines from the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. It's a brilliant use of what was otherwise a wasted screen.
The folks at Apple say that Facebook and Twitter are working on 6s enhancements to their mobile apps, so you'll be able to peek at network updates and tweets without ever actually opening the apps—quite possibly the antidote to those ultimate time sucks.
The second key update to the 6s is what Apple's dubbed "Live Photos" but what I like to call the "Harry Potter" feature. Remember those paintings on the walls of Hogwarts that animated as the junior wizards alighted the stairs? Yep, your photos are about to spring to life.
Here's how it works: The camera feature has a "live" photo button you press that captures a second and a half of video just before and after you snap a pic. Afterwards, press and hold the image and you're rewarded with a video that effectively documents the context of your shots. Remember my sick kid with a fever? I kept taking pictures to send to his worried 'Bubby,' quickie visual updates on his condition as the day wore on. Later, as I reviewed my photos, I was transfixed by the way he'd turn his head, rub his eyes, and then look up at me just as I snapped his photo; the way he tucked his blanket under his head as he lay in his crib; his tummy rising up and down as he slept.
Because of their brevity, Live Photos feel almost more valuable than videos for capturing the nuances and tics of our loved ones. The effect of these micro-videos is nothing short of haunting. You'll replay them over and over again, hunting for ineffable clues: Did those photos of your ex portend to the ugly breakup that would follow? Was that shock or pride on your mom's face when you surprised her with a visit? Did James Franco really smirk when you snuck up behind him in Duane Reade for a pap shot?
See it—and the "pop" function—in action here:
I've been thinking about how Live Photos will enhance media and journalism, how powerful images can be with the added benefit of context. It's one thing to see Viola Davis in all her Emmy-winning glory (and to watch the clips of her stirring acceptance speech), but it's quite another to feel the gravity of her big moment in a 3-second still. I'm curious what photographers will make of the new feature, how the experience of the before and after of a photo changes the relationship a viewer has with it. (And if you're a photog, reach out to me with your feedback.)
According to Apple, each live photo equals roughly 2 regular photos in terms of storage. You'll want to keep that in mind before your next snap session. And if you want to exchange live photos, your friends and family will have to download iOS 9. It won't be long before Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Dropbox update their apps to support Live Photos. A game changer, for sure.
If you're already an iPhone devotee, expect some impressive upgrades. If you're on the fence, the 6s is tricked out with utterly useful—and absolutely addictive—new features that once again set the bar pretty high for the category. And if you're like me, racing to your next meeting, measuring your free time in minutes, jonesing for the paths of least resistance and hankering for some Matrix-like alternate universe where the pace might slow down just a bit so you can actually savor a moment or two, the iPhone 6s overdelivered. Busy women never underestimate the value of a good shortcut.
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