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Originally published Friday, October 10, 2014 at 5:57 PM

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Plus-size iPhone too much, but device synergy impresses

Jeff Carlson looks at new and upcoming product releases from Apple, including the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, what’s new with Touch ID, and how devices are communicating with each other in better ways.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Practical Mac

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are in the wild along with iOS 8, but Apple isn’t done for the year. Next week it’s hosting a media event where the company is expected to announce a release date for OS X Yosemite, new iPad models and, hopefully, new Macs.

I like new hardware as much as the next person, but what’s excited me about this fall is how Apple’s products are working better together.

iPhone big and bigger: The internal improvements to the iPhone line are what we’ve come to expect — faster processor, better performance and so forth. But really, the biggest consideration about the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus is their physical sizes.

The size question really comes down to personal preference. In testing both models, I found the iPhone 6 Plus too big. I’m a little surprised to say that, since I do quite a bit of photography that benefits from being viewed on a large, high-resolution screen.

But that’s what my iPad Air is for, and I don’t see a need to replace the iPad with a large phone.

The iPhone 6 Plus does gain features not found in the iPhone 6 solely because of its screen. When you rotate the phone to a horizontal orientation, the home screen rotates, too, just like an iPad. Also, apps can take advantage of the extra space; Mail, for example, shows your inbox and the current message side-by-side.

I wish Apple didn’t restrict those capabilities to just the iPhone 6 Plus. The screen on the iPhone 6 is plenty big enough to support the shifting layouts, which makes it seem as if Apple decided to just give the Plus extra selling points. (At the launch event in September, I was told the differentiation was due to research on how people were using both devices during testing; I don’t doubt that’s true, but I also don’t think it’s the whole story.)

Apple has cannily pushed hard to advance the cameras in the iPhone for several generations, and the photo capabilities of the sixes make me consider upgrading from my iPhone 5s (which possesses a high-quality camera).

The new Focus Pixels feature of the image sensor really does improve autofocus speed, which is especially apparent when capturing video. Apple keeps chipping away at the little nuisances like that which make people look down on “camera phones” as being inferior. The lowlight performance is also improved, especially on the iPhone 6 Plus, which has an optical image stabilizer for just that task.

The right touch: The iPhone 5s introduced Touch ID last year, a way to unlock your phone by reading your fingerprint. It was a nifty convenience, but under iOS 8 it’s even more useful. Both iPhone 6 models include Touch ID sensors.

The new operating system extends Touch ID to third-party developers, and at the top of my list is Agile Bits’ 1Password (agilebits.com), the app that securely stores all my passwords.

Not only can I open the app using my thumbprint, thanks to iOS 8 extensions I can access my 1Password logins in Safari. No more dancing between 1Password and Safari with cut-and-paste, or switching to 1Password’s built-in browser (which was a fine solution at the time).

Touch ID on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is also instrumental in the upcoming Apple Pay service. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Apple Pay — security being at the top of the list — but convenience will be the one that will speed adoption.

Continuity: With iOS 8 and the expected OS X Yosemite, Apple devices are talking to each other in better ways. Start an email on your iPhone and complete it on your Mac without any complicated networking maneuvers: In Yosemite, an icon appears in the dock indicating you can click it to hand off the message (or document, or Web page).

You may already be seeing this in action if you own an iPhone and iPad: With a Web page open on the iPhone, for example, you’ll see a Safari icon on the iPad’s lock screen. Swipe up and the page is loaded.

I also like the new feature for accepting or initiating phone calls on devices other than the iPhone. In the Yosemite public beta, for example, I’ve received phone calls on my Mac and talked using a microphone headset instead of the iPhone’s earbuds.

Apple knows that many of its customers now own more than one device, and is taking advantage of the ways the hardware and software communicate. For us, that means less friction over trying to make things work.

Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to carlsoncolumn@mac.com. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.



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About Practical Mac | Jeff Carlson

Mac owners, this is for you. Practical Mac explores Apple's new software offerings, hardware upgrades and more. Appears every other Saturday.

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