Apple today unveiled two new iPhones, mostly confirming the rumors about bigger displays, a faster processor and a redesigned keyboard. But the new iPhones were just the beginning of a series of major announcements, which included the roll out of iOS 8, a brand new mobile payments system, and Apple Watch, the company’s highly-anticipated wearable device which will go on sale early next year.
Here’s a quick wrap-up of what we learned during today’s presentation:
As expected, Apple is introducing two new iPhones – the iPhone 6, which will have a 4.7-inch screen, and a larger 5.5-inch model which will be known as the iPhone 6 Plus. Both phones will showcase a new Retina HD display, featuring over 1 million pixels on the iPhone 6 and over 2 million pixels on the iPhone 6 Plus.
It was clear from today’s presentation that Apple spent many hours agonizing over the functionality of the bigger iPhones and was keen to adhere to a principle of Apple founder Steve Jobs, who believed that mobile phones should be capable of being operated with just one hand. Consequently, there are some new swipe and touch gestures included with the new iPhones, including a “Reachability” feature that allows users to quickly slide content to the bottom of the bigger screen.
Apple also gave assurances that the majority of the 1.3 million apps that are now in the App Store would look good on the bigger screens thanks to a “desktop-class” scaler that’s incorporated into the new devices.
Other enhancements include a brand new A8 second-generation 64 bit chip, which will improve processing speeds by up to 50 percent, an M8 motion coprocessor, which gathers data from advanced sensors, and a barometer, which can help health and fitness apps measure elevation and performance.
Camera enhancements include optimal image stabilization and a number of improvements to the iPhone’s video capability, including video stabilization and the ability to shoot slo-mo video at up to 240 frames per second. There will also be “burst mode” for the front-facing FaceTime camera, which will no doubt please the selfie generation!
The new iPhones come in gold, silver or space gray and start at $199 for the 16GB iPhone 6 and $299 for the 16GB iPhone 6 Plus. Responding to calls for more storage, Apple is skipping the 32GB version of both devices, instead jumping straight to a 64GB option followed by a brand new 128GB category.
Customers will be able to pre-order the new phones from September 12, with the ship and in-store date set for September 19. In keeping with previous discounting policies, the existing iPhone 5S will now be available from $99 and the iPhone 5C for free, both with two-year contracts.
Apple’s new mobile operating system features an all-new Photos app, which makes it simpler to search and organize your photos, plus an updated Messages app, which allows users to add voice to a message or quickly send a video.
There are also enhancements to the keyboard, improvements to the Health app, and more synchronization through iCloud, including the ability to start an e-mail on one device and finish it on another.
iOS 8 will be available for download on September 17 and is compatible with the iPhone 4S, iPad 2, iPod touch 5th generation, and later devices.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the presentation (apart from U2 giving away their new album on iTunes for free; more on that later) was the announcement of Apple’s new mobile payments system called Apple Pay. The surprise was not the fact that Apple was getting involved in payments – that information had been widely leaked before today’s event – but just how far along Apple is in terms of development and deployment.
Making a payment using Apple Pay will be as simple as placing your iPhone next a checkout reader and holding your finger on the Touch ID button. There are currently an estimated 220,000 US merchants featuring tap-to-pay devices at checkout with more coming on stream all the time. To facilitate utilization of its payments system, Apple has already made arrangements with dozens of well-known retailers, including McDonald’s, Macy’s, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Staples, Disney and Whole Foods. The payment system will even work online, with apps like OpenTable and Groupon displaying a Touch ID button within their apps.
If you have an iTunes account, Apple will automatically add your iTunes credit or debit card to Apple Pay on sign up, and entering additional payment options is as simple as taking a photo of the relevant card. Apple took great pains to stress that they will not be tracking users purchase or spending habits. Even the cashier won’t be able to see any information, including the customer’s name and address.
Apple Pay will only work with the new iPhones but it should be operational as soon as they are available.
Last but not least was the much-anticipated announcement of Apple’s first foray into wearable technology through Apple Watch (not called iWatch as most people had speculated).
Although the square face of the Watch looks a lot like some of the other wearable tech devices that have appeared over the last few years, the Apple device can be customized to the nth degree. It comes in three different versions – Watch, Watch Sport and Watch Edition – and each version can be fitted with a multitude of different straps to “fit your tastes and personality.”
The Watch will feature an array of custom apps that will allow you to do everything from control your music to send an “I’m thinking of you” message to a loved one through a simple wrist tap. In fact much of the functionality of the Watch relies on Haptic technology – vibrations or taps that have a specific meaning. For example, the Watch’s GPS function can send a different turn right or turn left haptic, so you know where to go without even looking at the device itself.
Along with the usual tap-to-zoom and swipe gestures, the Watch features a control wheel or “Digital Crown” that resembles a large winding wheel on the side of the device. Pressing or turning the Digital Crown allows additional scrolling, as well as a quick way to get back to the Home screen.
Despite the inclusion of email, contacts and other everyday functions, it was clear from the presentation that Apple was placing great emphasis on the health and fitness possibilities of the Watch. As well as a heart rate monitor, the Watch features several other sensors that allow the device to interact with an array of health and fitness apps, helping users both monitor current activity and set future goals.
It remains to be seen whether wearable technology is a fad or whether it has some usefulness to individuals beyond the geeky and the curious. It certainly got the Apple faithful excited, with a launch date of “early next year” eliciting the only groan of the entire presentation. Prices for the Apple Watch will start at $349.
Something for nothing
As they have often done in the past, Apple executives added a musical component to today’s presentation, inviting U2 to come on stage and play a track from the band’s new album, Songs of Innocence. Afterwards, Apple CEO Tim Cook and U2’s Bono got together to announce that the album would be available as a free download on iTunes through October 13. That represents a potential fan base of over 500 million and presumably a sizeable investment for Apple – a fitting way to end a presentation that was never short of surprise or big ideas!