Following weeks of fevered speculation and leaks, Apple on Tuesday unveiled a trio of new products including a larger screen iPhone, a mobile payment service and a high-end smartwatch.
While the announcements made at the press event in Cupertino, Calif. were expected, Apple appeared intent on delivering the message that it’s back in the innovation game. In recent years, the tech giant has come under criticism for not launching a new product category since the iPad, and falling behind rivals like Samsung in smartphone technology.
Apple CEO Tim Cook went so far as to call today’s presentation “an important day in Apple’s history.”
Whether that turns out to be pure hyperbole remains to be seen. Beyond the rollout of a new iPhone, its signature product, Apple is entering newer areas like mobile payments and wearables, where no dominant players have yet emerged.
Below are highlights of Apple’s announcements today:
iPhone: As rumored, Apple introduced two new iPhone models — one with a 4.7-inch screen and other with a 5.5-inch screen. Both are larger than the previous 4-inch iPhone screen, and the latter qualifies as a “phablet” that would compete with popular competing models, including Samsung’s Galaxy Note.
Demand for phablets has risen steadily in the last year, with shipments expected to overtake tablets in 2015. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus feature a new high-definition Retina display and equal to longer battery life than the iPhone 5S.
Powering the phones is a new chip (the A8) that is a smaller but more powerful and efficient than its predecessors, according to Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller. New features in iOS 8, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, also make it easier to use the phone with one hand, like swiping through apps. Other upgrades include new cameras in each model, with digital or optical image stabilization, built in time-lapse video via iOS 8, high-def video recording and faster WiFi.
Pricing for the iPhone 6 starts at $199 and goes to $299 for 64GB of storage built in, and $399 for 128GB. (Previously, the maximum was 64GB.)
The iPhone 6 starts at $299 for 16GB, and $399 for 64GB and $499 for 128GB. The handsets hit stores on Sept. 19 and can be pre-ordered starting Sept. 12. Schiller said Apple is working hard “to make this the fastest rollout ever."
Apple Pay: Apple also introduced a much-anticipated payment service, expected to shake up the nascent mobile payments landscape. The offering, called Apple Pay, is built into the new iPhone models and based on near-field communication (NFC) technology, allowing contactless payment at a point-of-service (POS) terminal. The Touch ID fingerprint sensor, launched in the iPhone 5S, provides a security layer to complete transactions. Apple Pay also promises to power “one-touch” purchases within apps.
People will be able to use Apple Pay at 220,000 locations that support NFC-based payments and include national retailers and fast-food chains including McDonald's, Walgreens, Target, Staples, and Toys 'R’ Us. Visa and MasterCard are also on board as payment processing partners. The service will debut in October in the U.S., with plans to take it worldwide thereafter.
Apple’s ambition is nothing less than to have Pay replace the traditional leather wallet. But so far similar ventures like Google Wallet and the carrier-backed Isis service (now called Softcard) have failed to gain much traction with consumers or retailers.
Apple Watch: The fabled iWatch also became a reality with the company taking the wraps off a sleek smartwatch simply dubbed Apple Watch. The device features a dial on the side Apple calls a “digital crown” for zooming in and out of the screen and for scrolling as well as accessing apps. A demo video at the Apple presentation highlighted the use of Apple Maps on the watch.
The square-shaped watch works with the iPhone 5 and later models, and has Apple’s voice-controlled Siri technology built in. The device can be used, for example, to control playback on the iPhone or raise your wrist to see a notification when you feel the watch vibrate. Using a new platform called “WatchKit,” developers are also creating new apps geared to the Apple Watch, including a Starwood app that will let you check into a hotel, and a BMW app that shows where your car is parked.
Apple itself has rolled out a new fitness and workout apps for the watch, that allowed users to set specific goals for activities and then track the results, like calories burned. When it comes to style, Apple is offering the device in three models: the standard in stainless steel with different bands, another in anodized aluminum, and a third made with 18-carat gold.
The watch, which will also comes in two sizes and will not go on sale until early 2015, will be priced at $349. That’s a tad higher than a rival smartwatch like Samsung’s $99 Galaxy Gear. But Apple has never been known for trying to undercut the competition on pricing.
The initial reaction among analysts and other observers was mostly upbeat about Apple’s entrance into mobile payments and the wearable market. Experts noted that Apple brings advantages to the payments business like its 800 million iTunes accounts, merchant partnerships, and tightly integrated software and hardware to smooth the purchase process.
"Apple Pay will ignite consumers' interest in mobile payments by providing a seamless, secure, and easy way to pay both in store and on the go,” said Denee Carrington, a senior analyst at Forrester. She suggested in a post earlier Tuesday that Apple’s experience with mobile payments in its own stores could help other retailers lower costs and boost revenue by accepting Apple Pay at checkout.
The Apple Watch, likewise, is poised to redefine the smartwatch category, forcing competitors to improve existing products, according to experts. But technology consulting firm Analyses Mason points to its own research showing only 30% of U.S. consumers (and 27% in the U.K.) are interested in buying a smartwatch.