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Here’s what should excite you about the new iPhone 6S

Apple has released some new iPhones. They come with the company’s new operating system, are available with a new aluminum finish, and boast a bunch of the incremental upgrades that accompany every new product under the sun.

In these ways, the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus would be easy to dismiss as the same off-year product updates Apple popularized with the iPhone 4s or 5s. But these new iPhones also have features that will change how people take photos, interact with their phones, and view the concept of ownership in this new age.

Apple iPhone 6s

Cosmetic changes & improved specs

First the easy stuff. These new iPhones are available with a new Rose Gold finish, and Apple claims that it has developed new forms of aluminum and glass to make the devices more durable than their predecessors. They have updated processors, ship with iOS 9, and boast improved front-and rear-facing cameras.

iPhone 6s Live Photo

GIFs & Live Photos

Then comes the more interesting things, starting with Live Photos. These are basically animated GIFs that the new iPhones make whenever someone takes a picture. They have sound, are about three seconds long, and can be viewed by making a long press on any photo captured with these devices’ new cameras.

Automatically generating these GIFs is a nice nod to the forms dominance on the Internet. Who wants to watch a video or see a still image when an animated GIF is available? I suspect these Live Photos will be very popular — and that their popularity will be increased by the fact that services like Facebook will support them within the year, thus helping them attract all kinds of attention.

It’s hard to overstate how having Live Photos available on something like Facebook could help sell the new iPhones to many consumers. There’s nothing like good ol’ fashioned jealousy, especially where social media is concerned, to make a bunch of people want something they might have otherwise dismissed.

The interaction that allows people to view Live Photos — a long press — is part of a much larger change Apple is making to how people interact with the sheets of metal and glass that serve as windows into much of their lives. Apple is calling the upgrade 3D Touch, and horrible name aside, it’s kind of a big deal.

A screenshot showing the iPhone 6s' 3D Touch capabilities in action.
A screenshot showing the iPhone 6s’ 3D Touch capabilities in action.
3D Touch – Awful name, big addition

3D Touch is essentially bringing the concept of a right-click to the iPhone. Instead of restricting people to interacting with content shown on the screen, 3D Touch allows iPhone owners to view pertinent information or perform common tasks with little more than a long, forceful press or simple gesture.

This means things that previously required a few taps, like responding to an email or viewing flight information from a text message thread, can now be found a little more easily. It might seem like a small change, but this could make the day-to-day experience of using an iPhone less painful than before.

Features like 3D Touch and Live Photos aren’t going to make anyone want a smartphone. Hell, both of them probably sound like gobbledygook to people who aren’t already sold on animated GIFs or using smartphones every day. Instead, the features are supposed to appeal to people who already own a smartphone, whether it’s an iPhone or some Android device or another.

Apple iPhone Upgrade Program

iPhone upgrade program

That’s where the iPhone Upgrade Program comes in. Apple wants to make it easier for people to get a new iPhone every year. To do that, it’s offering unlocked devices for a monthly fee starting at $32, effectively allowing people to rent the latest-and-greatest iPhones for the 12 months between releases. Once that new device is available, consumers will be expected to turn in their old one.

It does sound tempting. But, then again, I’m also a foolish consumer who has been willing to do obscene things with his Verizon account just to get new phones whenever an old one starts showing any kind of problem, or a new one is announced with enough new features to warrant even a little excitement.

And it’s hard not to think of this as an iPhone-as-a-service play. Instead of having something you own forever, Apple is basically asking people to pay for their phones the same way they pay for their Netflix subscription. Why buy a movie when you can rent all of them? Why get an iPhone you’ll eventually replace? It’s so much more convenient to just rent one out for a little while.

That could have questionable consequences for the concept of ownership. Do we really need to rent everything we use? Wouldn’t it be nice to own some things outright instead of having everything depend on monthly payments? Those are just a few of the concerns I have about this new upgrade program.

Still, I have to hand it to Apple: the company picked the right time to introduce this new, potentially lucrative pricing structure. These new iPhones aren’t just incremental upgrades; they’re poised to change the way people use their phones or share moments from their lives. I’d pay a few bucks each month for that.