Kal Simpson recently had the chance to sit down and have an extensive interview with SILVIA's Chief Product Officer - Cognitive Code, Alex Mayberry. SILVIA is a company that specializes on conversational AI that can be adapted to a variety of platforms and applications. Kal's comments are in bold while Alex's are in italics.
Always good to speak with you Alex. Whether it's the latest Triple-A video game release or the progress being made in changing the way we play, virtual reality for instance – your views and developments within the gaming space as a whole remains impressive. Before we begin, I’d like to give the audience a brief flashback of your career history. Prominent within the video game industry you’ve been involved with many, many titles – primarily within the PC gaming space. Quake 2: The Reckoning, America’s Army, a plethora of World of Warcraft titles.
Those more familiar with your work know you as the lead game producer for Diablo 3 / Reaper of Souls, as well as the executive producer for Star Citizen. The former of which we spoke on during the release of the game for PC, PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, back in 2014.
So I ask, given your huge involvement with some of the most popular titles, what sparked your interest within the development of intelligent computing platforms? No-doubt the technology can be adapted to applications within gaming, but what’s the initial factor that drove you to Cognitive Code – the SILVIA technology?
AM: Conversational intelligence was something that I had never even thought about in terms of game development. My experience arguing with my Xbox and trying to get it to change my television channel left me pretty sceptical about the technology. But after leaving Star Citizen, my paths crossed with Leslie Spring, the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Code, and the creator of the SILVIA platform. Initially, Leslie was helping me out with some engineering work on VR projects I was spinning up. After collaborating for a bit, he introduced me to his AI, and I became intrigued by it. Although I was still very focused on VR at the time, my mind kept drifting to SILVIA.
I kept pestering Leslie with questions about the technology, and he continued to share some of the things that it could do. It was when I saw one of his game engine demos showing off a sci-fi world with freely conversant robots that the light went on in my head, and I suddenly got way more interested in artificial intelligence. At the same time, I was discovering challenges in VR that needed solutions. Not having a keyboard in VR creates an obstacle for capturing user input, and floating text in your field of view is really detrimental to the immersion of the experience. Also, when you have life-size characters in VR, you naturally want to speak to them. This is when I got interested in using SILVIA to introduce an entirely new mechanic to gaming and interactive entertainment. No more do we have to rely on conversation trees and scripted responses.
No more do we have to read a wall of text from a quest giver. With this technology, we can have a realistic and free-form conversation with our game characters, and speak to them as if they are alive. This is such a powerful tool for interactive storytelling, and it will allow us to breathe life into virtual characters in a way that’s never before been possible. Seeing the opportunity in front of me, I joined up with Cognitive Code and have spent the last 18 months exploring how to design conversationally intelligent avatars. And I’ve been having a blast doing it.
Introduction and Specifications
The ZenBook 3 UX390UA is a 12.5-inch thin-and-light which offers a 1920x1080 IPS display, choice of 7th-generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors, 16GB of DDR4 memory, and a roomy 512GB PCIe SSD. It also features just a single USB Type-C port, eschewing additional I/O in the vein of recent Apple MacBooks (more on this trend later in the review). How does it stack up? I had the pleasure of using it for a few weeks and can offer my own usage impressions (along with those ever-popular benchmark numbers) to try answering that question.
A thin-and-light (a.k.a. ‘Ultrabook’) is certainly an attractive option when it comes to portability, and the ZenBook 3 certainly delivers with a slim 0.5-inch thickness and 2 lb weight from its aluminum frame. Another aspect of thin-and-light designs are the typically low-power processors, though the “U” series in Intel’s 7th-generation processor lineup still offer good performance numbers for portable machines. Looking at the spec sheet it is clear that ASUS paid attention to performance with this ZenBook, and we will see later on if a good balance has been struck between performance and battery life.
Our review unit was equipped with a Core i7-7500U processor, a 2-core/4-thread part with a 15W TDP and speeds ranging from 2.70 - 3.50 GHz, along with the above-mentioned 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. With an MSRP of $1599 for this configuration it faces some stiff competition from the likes of the Dell XPS line and recent Lenovo ThinkPad and Apple MacBook offerings, though it can of course be found for less than its MSRP (and this configuration currently sells on Amazon for about $1499). The ZenBook 3 certainly offers style if you are into blade-like aluminum designs, and, while not a touchscreen, nothing short of Gorilla Glass 4 was employed to protect the LCD display.
“ZenBook 3’s design took some serious engineering prowess and craftsmanship to realize. The ultra-thin 11.9mm profile meant we had to invent the world’s most compact laptop hinge — just 3mm high — to preserve its sleek lines. To fit in the full-size keyboard, we had to create a surround that’s just 2.1mm wide at the edges, and we designed the powerful four-speaker audio system in partnership with audiophile specialists Harman Kardon. ZenBook is renowned for its unique, stunning looks, and you’ll instantly recognize the iconic Zen-inspired spun-metal finish on ZenBook 3’s all-metal unibody enclosure — a finish that takes 40 painstaking steps to create. But we’ve added a beautiful twist, using a special 2-phase anodizing process to create stunning golden edge highlights. To complete this sophisticated new theme, we’ve added a unique gold ASUS logo and given the keyboard a matching gold backlight.”
Subject: Processors, Mobile | May 30, 2017 - 10:43 PM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: amd, ryzen, mobile, Vega
As part of the company’s press conference from Computex 2017, AMD displayed for the first time to the public a working notebook utilizing the upcoming Ryzen SoC with on-die Vega graphics. The CPU is a 4-core / 8-thread design and the system was shown playing back some basic video.
We don’t really have any more detail than that on the platform, other availability in second half of this year. The system being shown was impressively built, with a sub-15mm ultra-portable form factor, putting to rest concerns over AMD’s ability to scale Zen and Vega to the lower required power numbers. AMD claims that Ryzen mobile will offer 50% better CPU performance and 40% better GPU performance than the 7th Generation AMD APU. I can't wait to test this myself, but with a jump like that AMD should be competitive in the processor space again and continue its dominance in integrated graphics.
The Vega on-die integration was first mentioned at the company’s financial analyst day, though if you were like me, it went unnoticed in the wave of Threadripper and EPYC news. This iteration is obviously not using a non-HBM2 memory implementation, but I don’t yet know if there is any kind of non-system-memory cache on the processor to help improve integrated graphics performance.
For a product not slated to be released until the end of this year, seeing a low profile, high performance demo of the platform is a good sign for AMD and a welcome indicator that the company could finally fight back in the mobile notebook space.
Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | May 30, 2017 - 12:48 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: nvidia, mobile, max-q design, max-q, GTX 1080, geforce
During CEO Jensen Huang’s keynote at Computex tonight, NVIDIA announced a new initiative called GeForce GTX with Max-Q Design, targeting the mobile gaming markets with a product that is lighter, thinner yet more powerful than previously available gaming notebooks.
The idea behind this technology differentiation centers around gaming notebooks that have seen limited evolution over the last several years in form factor and design. The biggest stereotype of gaming notebooks today is that they must big, bulky and heavy to provide a competitive gaming experience when compared to desktop computers. NVIDIA is taking it upon itself to help drive innovation forward in this market, in some ways similar to how Intel created the Ultrabook.
Using “typical” specifications from previous machines using a GeForce GTX 880M (admittedly a part that came out in early 2014), NVIDIA claims that Max-Q Designs will offer compelling gaming notebooks with half the weight, nearly a third of the thinness yet still see 3x the performance. Utilizing a GeForce GTX 1080 GP104 GPU, the team is focusing on four specific hardware data points to achieve this goal.
First, NVIDIA is setting specifications of the GPUs in this design to run at their maximum efficiency point, allowing the notebook to get the best possible gaming performance from Pascal with the smallest amount of power draw. This is an obvious move and is likely something that has been occurring for a while, but further down the product stack. It’s also likely that NVIDIA is highly binning the GP104 parts to filter those that require the least amount of power to hit the performance target of Max-Q Designs.
Second, NVIDIA is depending on the use of GeForce Experience software to set in-game settings optimally for power consumption. Though details are light, this likely means running the game with frame rate limiting enabled, keeping gamers from running at refresh rates well above their screen’s refresh rate (static or G-Sync) which is an unnecessary power drain. It could also mean lower quality settings than we might normally associate with a GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card.
Comparing a 3-year old notebook versus a Max-Q Design
The third and fourth points are heavily related: using the best possible cooling solutions and integrating the best available power regulators targeting efficiency. The former allows the GPU to be cooled quickly, and quietly (with a quoted sub-40 dbA goal), keeping the GTX 1080 at its peak efficiency curve. And putting the GPU in that state without inefficient power delivery hardware would be a waste, so NVIDIA is setting standards here too.
UPDATE: From the NVIDIA news release just posted on the company's website, we learned of a couple of new additions to Max-Q Design:
NVIDIA WhisperMode Technology
NVIDIA also introduced WhisperMode technology, which makes laptops run much quieter while gaming. WhisperMode intelligently paces the game's frame rate while simultaneously configuring the graphics settings for optimal power efficiency. This reduces the overall acoustic level for gaming laptops. Completely user adjustable and available for all Pascal GPU-based laptops, WhisperMode will be available soon through a GeForce Experience software update.
MaxQ-designed gaming laptops equipped with GeForce GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 GPUs will be available starting June 27 from the world's leading laptop OEMs and system builders, including Acer, Aftershock, Alienware, ASUS, Clevo, Dream Machine, ECT, Gigabyte, Hasee, HP, LDLC, Lenovo, Machenike, Maingear, Mechrevo, MSI, Multicom, Origin PC, PC Specialist, Sager, Scan, Terrans Force, Tronic'5, and XoticPC. Features, pricing and availability may vary.
Jensen showed an upcoming ASUS Republic of Gamers notebook called Zephyrus that hit all of these targets – likely NVIDIA’s initial build partner. On it they demonstrated Project Cars 2, an impressive looking title for certain. No information was given on image quality settings, resolutions, frame rates, etc.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus Max-Q Design Gaming Notebook
This design standard is impressive, and though I assume many gamers and OEMs will worry about having an outside party setting requirements for upcoming designs, I err on the side this being a necessary step. If you remember notebooks before the Intel Ultrabook push, they were stagnant and uninspiring. Intel’s somewhat forceful move to make OEMs innovate and compete in a new way changed the ecosystem at a fundamental level. It is very possible that GeForce GTX with Max-Q Design will do the same thing for gaming notebooks.
An initiative like this continues NVIDIA’s seeming goal of creating itself as the “PC brand”, competing more with Xbox and PlayStation than with Radeon. Jensen claimed that more than 10 million GeForce gaming notebooks were sold in the last year, exceeding the sales of Xbox hardware in the same time frame. He also called out the ASUS prototype notebook as having compute capability 60% higher than that of the PS4 Pro. It’s clear that NVIDIA wants to be more than just the add-in card leader, more than just the leader in computer graphics. Owning the ecosystem vertical gives them more control and power to drive the direction of software and hardware.
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus Max-Q Design Gaming Notebook
So, does the Max-Q Design technology change anything? Considering the Razer Blade B5 is already under 18mm thin, the argument could be made that the market was already going down this path, and NVIDIA is simply jumping in to get credit for the move. Though Razer is a great partner for NVIDIA, they are likely irked that NVIDIA is going to push all OEMs to steal some of the thunder from this type of design that Razer started and evangelized.
That political discussion aside, Max-Q Design will bring new, better gaming notebook options to the market from many OEMs, lowering the price of entry for these flagship designs. NVIDIA did not mention anything about cost requirements or segments around Max-Q, so I do expect the first wave of these to be on the premium end of the scale. Over time, as cost cutting measures come into place, and the necessity of thinner, lighter gaming notebooks is well understood, Max-Q Designs could find itself in a wide range of price segments.
Subject: General Tech | January 3, 2017 - 09:10 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: VR, SoC, snapdragon 835, qualcomm, processor, mobile, CES 2017, CES, AR
Qualcomm Technologies, Inc and ODG (Osterhout Design Group) have announced that the R-8 and R-9 smartglasses will be the first devices powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC. ODG is a developer of "mobile headworn computing and augmented reality technologies and products", and these new models leverage the reduced size and thermal requirements of the new Snapdragon 835 processor.
The R-8 smartglasses, seated next to a glass mug for scale
"The premium Snapdragon 835 processor was designed from the ground-up to support new and innovative products and experiences beyond mobile phones, and it’s great to see that the first announced Snapdragon 835 devices will be ODG’s smartglasses," said Raj Talluri, senior vice president, product management, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. "Thermal dissipation on a heavy compute but small device is very difficult so higher power efficiency is a must. The Snapdragon 835 processor, with our unique SoC design expertise on a 10nm process node, enables ODG to meet their design goals and develop lighter, smaller and sleeker smartglasses that take advantage of the new processor’s superior performance and power efficiency."
The R-9 smartglasses
The Snapdragon-powered R-8 smartglasses are "lighter, smaller and sleeker than any other device in ODG’s portfolio", which should make their use a more attractive option for those interested in AR, VR, and Mixed Reality overlay capabilities. For their part the larger R-9 smartglasses are "based on ODG’s award-winning 50° FOV and 1080p Project Horizon platform". The company's previous smartglasses, the R-7, were powered by a Snapdragon 801 SoC.
Follow all of our coverage of the show at https://pcper.com/ces!
It's that time of year again where the holidays are upon us, it's freezing outside, and balancing work, school, and family events makes us all a bit crazy. If you are still procrastinating on your holiday shopping or are just not sure what to get the techie that seems to have everything already, PC Perspective has you covered! And if you dare not venture outside into the winter wasteland, there is still time to order online and have it arrive in time!
Following the same format as previous years, the first set of pages are picks that the staff has put together collectively and are recommendations for things like PC hardware components like CPUs, graphics cards, and coolers, mobile hardware (phones, tablets, etc.), and finally accessories and audio. Beyond that, the staff members are given a section to suggest picks of their own that may not fit into one of the main categories but are still thoughtful and useful gift ideas!
Good luck out there, and thank you for another wonderful year of your valued readership! May you have safe travels and memorable holidays!
Image courtesy maf04 via Flickr creative commons.
Intel Core i7-6700K Quad-Core Unlocked Processor - $344, Amazon
It's a bit of an interesting time for CPUs with Intel's Kaby Lake (e.g. 7700K) not out yet and AMD's Ryzen Zen-based (e.g. 8 core Summit Ridge) processors slated for release early next year. Last year the i7-6700K was our top pick, and due to timing of upcoming releases, it is still the pick for this year though it may be wise to look at other gift ideas this year unless they really want that gaming PC ASAP. On the plus side, it is a bit cheaper than last year! You can read our review of the Core i7 6700K here.
AMD Athlon X4 880K Unlocked Quad Core - $92, Amazon
On the AMD side of things, the Athlon X4 880K is a great processor to base a budget gaming build around. The pricing works out a bit cheaper than the old 860K as well as offering slightly faster clockspeeds and a better stock cooler.
Continue reading our holiday gift guide for our picks for graphics cards, storage, and more!
The NVIDIA GTX 1080 is the current consumer-grade performance king, and there are a number of brands to choose from. Whichever you go with, the Pascal-based graphics card is ready for 1440 and even 4k gaming along with VR (virtual reality) gaming. The EVGA FTW Hybrid is a beast of a card that can easily be overclocked with keeping temperatures in check.
If you are looking for something a bit cheaper, AMD's RX 480 is a great midrange graphics card that can easily do 1080p with the details cranked up. Sapphire has a good factory overclocked card with the RX 480 Nitro+ which can be found for $250. For reference, check out our reviews on the RX 480 (we also have a video of the Sapphire card specifically) and it's competitor the GTX 1060.
Samsung 960 Evo 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD - $480, Amazon
Samsung's recently released 960 Evo is not the fastest SSD available, but it's no slouch either. Using Samsung's TLC V-NAND flash, its Polaris controller, and 1GB of DDR3 cache, the drive packs 1TB of speedy storage into the M.2 form factor. The NVMe SSD is rated at 3,200 MB/s sequential reads, 1,900 MB/s sequential writes, 380,000 4k random reads and 360,000 4k random writes (IOPS ratings at QD32). It is rated at 1.5 million hours MTBF and while it does not have the lifetime or write speeds of the pro version (960 Pro), it is quite a bit cheaper! The gamer in your life will appreciate the super fast loading times too!
If you are looking for something a bit more down to earth, SATA SSDs continue to get cheaper and more capacious and there are even some good budget M.2 options these days!
MyDigitalSSD BPX 480GB NVMe M.2 SSD - $200, Amazon
MyDigitalSSD's BPX solid state drive pairs a Phison PS5007-E7 controller with up to 480GB of 2D MLC NAND. The drive is rated at a respectable 2,600 MB/s sequential reads, 1,300 MB/s sequential writes, and approximately 208,728 4k random read IOPS and 202,713 4k random write IOPS. Despite being from a less well known company, the budget drive puts up very nice numbers for the price and comes with a 5 year warranty, 2 million hours MTBF rating, and 1,400 TB total bytes written rating on the flash. Pricing is much more budget friendly at $200 for the 480GB model, $115 for the 240GB, and $70 for the 120GB drive.
SATA SSD Recommendations
SATA SSDs are still great options for a system build and/or HDD upgrade, and Allyn has a few picks later on in this guide.
The following pages are individual selections / gift ideas from each staff member!
Subject: Processors, Mobile | October 18, 2016 - 11:32 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: SoC, Snapdragon 653, Snapdragon 626, Snapdragon 427, snapdragon, smartphone, qualcomm, mobile
Qualcomm has announced new 400 and 600-series Snapdragon parts, and these new SoCs (Snapdragon 653, 626, and 427) inherit technology found previously on the 800-series parts, including fast LTE connectivity and dual-camera support.
The integrated LTE modem has been significantly for each of these SoCs, and Qualcomm lists these features for each of the new products:
- X9 LTE with CAT 7 modem (300Mbps DL; 150Mbps UL) designed to provide users with a 50 percent increase in maximum uplink speeds over the X8 LTE modem.
- LTE Advanced Carrier Aggregation with up to 2x20 MHz in the downlink and uplink
- Support for 64-QAM in the uplink
- Superior call clarity and higher call reliability with the Enhanced Voice Services (EVS) codec on VoLTE calls.
In addition to the new X9 modem, all three SoCs offer faster CPU and GPU performance, with the Snapdragon 653 (which replaces the 652) now supporting up to 8GB of memory - up from a max of 4GB previously. Each of the new SoCs also feature Qualcomm's Quick Charge 3.0 for fast charging.
Full specifications for these new products can be found on the updated Snapdragon product page.
Availability of the new 600-series Snapdragon processors is set for the end of this year, so we could start seeing handsets with the faster parts soon; while the Snapdragon 427 is expected to ship in devices early in 2017.
Subject: Networking, Mobile | October 17, 2016 - 11:00 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Snapdragon X50, snapdragon, qualcomm, modem, mobile, mmWave, LTE, cellular, 5G
Qualcomm has officially unveiled the development of a new 5G modem with the Snapdragon X50, which targets OEMs and early 5G development. The X50 supports milimeter wave (mmWave) technology initially, and rather than replace existing LTE solutions the X50 is designed to work alongside LTE modems integrated into Snapdragon SoCs, for a seamless handoff between 5G and 4G networks.
"The Snapdragon X50 5G modem will initially support operation in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum in the 28GHz band. It will employ Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antenna technology with adaptive beamforming and beam tracking techniques, which facilitates robust and sustained mobile broadband communications in non-line-of-sight (NLOS) environments. With 800 MHz bandwidth support, the Snapdragon X50 5G modem is designed to support peak download speeds of up to 5 gigabits per second.
Designed to be used for multi-mode 4G/5G mobile broadband, as well as fixed wireless broadband devices, the Snapdragon X50 5G modem can be paired with a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ processor with an integrated Gigabit LTE modem and interwork cohesively via dual-connectivity. Gigabit LTE will become an essential pillar for the 5G mobile experience, as it can provide a wide coverage layer for nascent 5G networks."
Ratification of an official “5G” standard has not taken place, but Qualcomm hopes to position itself at the forefront of its development. The mmWave technology (which is explained in this video) is only one part of the puzzle:
"Work has begun on defining, standardizing and designing the new OFDM-based 5G New Radio (NR) as part of the global 3GPP standard. 5G NR is being designed to support a wide variation of device-types, services and deployments. It is also being designed to get the most out of every bit of spectrum across a wide array of available spectrum bands and regulatory paradigms."
(More information is available on Qualcomm's 5G Technologies page.)
The Snapdragon X50 modem is set to begin sampling to OEMs in the second half of 2017, with the first half of 2018 projected for the first commercial products featuring the new modem.
Introduction and Specifications
The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are here, and while outwardly they look very similar to last year’s 6s models, there have been some significant upgrades (and a highly controversial change) to the new phones. Is there enough in this iterative update to justify an upgrade? After spending a couple of weeks using one as my primary device, I will attempt to answer this question.
While there had been rumors swirling of an all-new design featuring an OLED display, Apple appears to be holding back until next year - which just happens to be the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. Considering this fact, it may just be that the iPhone 7 is something of a stop-gap for 2017. Some of the rumored elements are here, however; with the elimination of the physical home button (it's a solid-state version now) and 3.5 mm headphone jack (the latter causing much consternation). The camera on both phones is completely new as well, with a special dual-lens version exclusive to the 7 Plus.
First we'll go over the specs of these phones. As you can see, there are still some areas that are not fully known, such as the exact speed of the low-power cores in the new quad-core SoC, and the specifics about this year's GPU.
|Apple iPhone 7||Apple iPhone 7 Plus|
|Processor||Apple A10 Fusion SoC
2.34 GHz dual-core + 2x low-power cores (? MHz)
|Graphics||6-core (unknown GPU)|
|Screen||4.7-inch IPS, DCI-P3 capable||5.5-inch IPS, DCI-P3 capable|
|Cameras||Back: 12MP, ƒ/1.8, OIS
Front: 7MP, ƒ/2.2
|Back: 12MP, f /1.8, OIS
Dual-camera with 2x telephoto lens
Front: 7MP, ƒ/2.2
|Video||Video: 4K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60/30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps||Video: 4K @ 30 fps, 1080p @ 60/30 fps, 720p @ 30 fps|
|Wireless||802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO
Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
|FDD-LTE (Bands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30)
TD-LTE (Bands 38, 39, 40, 41)
UMTS/HSPA+/DC-HSDPA (850, 900, 1700/2100, 1900, 2100 MHz)
GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
|Battery||1960 mAh||2900 mAh|
|Dimensions||138.3 x 67.1 x 7.1 mm
(5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches)
138 g (4.87 oz)
|158.2 x 77.9 x 7.3 mm
(6.23 x 3.07 x 0.29 inches)
188 g (6.63 oz)
|Price||$649 - $849||$769 - $969|
Nearly a Decade of iPhone
The iPhone was introduced in 2007 (Image credit: Apple, via archive.org)
It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years since the original iPhone launched. Announced in January of 2007 by Steve Jobs during his keynote speech at CES, it set a standard that the rest of the industry would take some time to meet (remember, the first Android phone was over a year away at this point.) But nine years is an age in technology years, and that first version seems like an antique now. (The original iPhone specs: 3.5-inch display with 320x480 resolution, single-core ARM processor running at 412 MHz, 128 MB of system memory, 4GB/8GB storage.)
Subject: Mobile | September 7, 2016 - 09:16 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: smartphone, mobile, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 7, iphone, DCI P3, apple, a10
Another Apple announcement is in the books, and with it comes the expected refresh to the iPhone lineup. The new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus offer some notable upgrades from the previous models, though it's the lack of a 3.5 mm headphone jack that has been getting much of the attention.
Looking past the omission of the headphone jack for a moment, what exactly is new and noteworthy here? For starters, the iPhone 7 brings a new SoC to the table with the A10, a new design that is Apple's first foray into a "big.LITTLE" type of configuration. Unlike the A9 SoC's processor, a dual-core 1.85 GHz design, the A10 now offers a pair of high-performance cores, and a pair of high-efficiency cores that Apple says require only 1/5 of the larger pair's power. This sort of processor configuration is obviously similar to a number of existing ARM designs, which similarly combine faster and slower cores in an effort to reduce power consumption - though the 1/5 number is significant. It will be enlightening to see what the actual core speeds are - as well as particulars on the GPU, which is "50% faster" than the A9's PowerVR GT7600.
Other major updates include the cameras, which now features optical image stabilization (OIS) in the regular 7 as well as the 7 Plus (it was a 6/6s Plus-exclusive feature previously). The camera - or rather cameras - on the iPhone 7 Plus provide separate wide-angle and telephoto lenses, and allow for some powerful depth-of-field effects as demoed during the presentation. The displays contain another significant update - but not in resolution. The previous (low) 750x1344 resolution from the 6s remains in the iPhone 7, with the 7 Plus sticking to 1080x1920. The upgrade comes from the backlighting, which now provides 25% greater brightness and much wider color from the DCI P3 color space.
The lack of a 3.5 mm headphone jack was rumored for months leading up to today's announcement, and of course it will be a controversial topic. The Lightning connector is the only port on the iPhone 7/7 Plus, and Lightning-connected earbuds are included along with a 3.5 mm adapter (which also includes the DAC and headphone amp). The new haptic motor for the new non-mechanical home button is partly to blame for the omission of the headphone jack, but might also have been removed as part of the process to make the iPhone water resistant - a first for Apple.
Wireless earbuds ("AirPods") were also announced, which look pretty much like the existing "EarPods" with the cord cut off. One final note on sound: the new iPhones have stereo speakers for the first time, with sound claimed to be 50% louder than previous, and now emanating from both ends of the phone.
The family of iPhones now includes the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, along with existing 6s, 6s Plus, and the iPhone SE. In a surprising move, Apple announced that they would upgrade last year's 6s models to shipping with double the base storage - 32GB vs. 16GB - for the same price.
Pre-orders for the new iPhones begin on September 9th, with pricing beginning at $649 for the 32GB iPhone 7, and $769 for the 32GB iPhone 7 Plus.