As expected, Apple showed off two new iPhones yesterday with decidedly larger screens, enticed the audience at Cupertino’s Flint Center for the Performing Arts with a preview of three smartwatches that will be available next year, and had a reveal or two up its sleeve.
The iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus are 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches diagonally; the most recent iPhones measure 4 inches across. The new versions are also thinner. They will be available on Sept. 19.
“These are the best phones ever made,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP for marketing, at the much-ballyhooed event whose webcast was marred by embarrassing technical problems. “They are the best we know how to make, and I think the best anyone has ever seen.”
Features include a mobile payment system called Apple Pay, the processor is about 25% faster, and the batteries will last a tad longer. Also, “they include new wireless capabilities to get faster Internet speeds from cellular networks,” reports the New York Times’ Brian X. Chen. “In addition, they support making phone calls over a wi-fi network and have an improved camera with a sensor that reads light and does quicker autofocus.”
Three of the four major telecoms immediately went into a “have-we-got-a-deal-for-you” frenzy.
“Verizon Wireless said Tuesday it would give customers a free 16 gigabyte iPhone 6 if they traded in an eligible working, older iPhone model and signed a two-year contract,” Thomas Gryta and Ryan Knutson report in the Wall Street Journal. “Sprint said it would let customers trade in up to three phones per line, give consumers up to $300 per device and match any rival's trade-in offer. T-Mobile US said it would beat any rival's trade-in offer and throw in an extra $50.”
After running down various benefits (Apple Pay, working on the go) and a few cons (one-handed texting will be difficult for the normal-sized hand) in the new designs, the WSJ’s Geoffrey Fowler concludes, “in a few months, many of us will wonder how we ever used such a small ‘phone’ before.”
As expected, Apple also unveiled the Watch, its first “personal tech gadget for years to go without the ‘i’, as well as the first major launch that the late Steve Jobs had nothing to do with, reportFinancial Times’ Tim Bradshaw and Richard Waters.
When it hits the market in 2015, it will indeed feature a Fitness app that tracks stats such as steps taken and heartbeat, as well as messaging, calendar, map and music player functionality. There will be three initial versions — Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition — starting at $350.
“What we didn’t do is take the iPhone and shrink the user interface and strap it on your wrist,” CEO Tim Cook, who received a fair share of plaudits for firmly taking the company’s reins in the post-Jobs era.
"This has got Tim's fingerprints all over it. He's clearly the one who guided and directed this," said analyst Tim Bajarin at the event, report Andrea Chang and Chris O’Brien in the Los Angeles Times.
“In one stroke Apple has redefined the smartwatch category and propelled it into consumer consciousness,” CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber said, according to the FT report. “For Apple’s competitors, it will turn a tough category into a nightmare.”
“The most consequential headline at the event went unannounced,” writes Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times. “The biggest news was about the old Apple: It’s back, and it’s more capable than ever.”
Not everybody was as impressed, however. Apple’s share price went up to $102.91 at one point yesterday but fell to $97.99 by the market’s close. The $30 billion differential is “twice as much as the entire market value of Tiffany,” points out Forbes’ contributor Brent Arends, adding a personal observation that the Watch “doesn’t look any more stylish to me than some of these other funky watches.”
And USA Today’s John Shinal clearly blamed the high price of the watch for deflating the stock, pointing out that the price was rallying as the details about the new phones were unveiled but “turned decidedly down” once the Watch took the stage.
There’s “just one big problem” about Apple Pay, too, as Jacob Davidson writes in Time — initially, only about 220,000 stores have near-field communication (NFC), the technology Apple Pay relies on to work. “That’s about 2.4% of the roughly 7 million to 9 million merchants in the U.S. that accept credit cards,” he reports. But Apple is busy signing up shopkeepers and “estimates that 83% of credit card purchases will be compatible with the service,” the Washington Postreports.
There’s clearly “Plenty of Promise, Plenty of Unknowns” about the Apple Watch, as the hed over Lance Ulanoff’s Mashable piece puts it. The biggest marketing question is, “How are they going to present the watch in a way that we will consider it to be a part of our daily work wear, social wear, and fitness wear?” as reader Alissa Greene commented on Monday.
What can we say but “time will tell.”