As often happens, my day job took over today. While I was able to watch most of Apple’s event, I missed a few sections and couldn’t write anything more than a few tweets. Duty called and I answered, but I have finally been able to sit down at home, re-watch the entire show and jot down some of the highlights and not-so-highs.
Is it really the iPhone Event anymore?
The iPhones 11 and 11 Pro still had the prime spot in the show near the close. However, you can feel the emphasis shift more and more toward the Apple Watch. Apple’s new Arcade and TV+ Services also helped to open the proceedings. While there have been years when the show was 100% dedicated to the iPhone, there were several different products and services on display today, and they weren’t just side shows.
A surprise that’s not a surprise
It’s hard for Apple to keep anything to itself these days. There were two notable details that made an impression today that I will get to in a moment. The other was that a new iPad dropped out of the sky. While the device itself has been in and out of the rumor mill all year, I don’t remember seeing any significant mentions that it would be part of this show. However, there it was, with its reported 10.2″ screen.
I don’t know if it qualifies as a surprise, but it was definitely a positive that Apple kept the price the same. $329 has been a sweet spot for them at the low end of the iPad lineup, as it is approachable and allows for some really strong sale prices. Expect to see some of those this Christmas. When you consider that this device now has a little bigger and better screen, a processor bump and a Smart Connector and Smart Keyboard compatibility, $329 looks even better.
Services with a smile
Apple took its time talking about Apple Arcade and showing off a few games. The Frogger demo didn’t really impress, but the others looked pretty solid. We already had a good idea that Apple’s new gaming service would come in at $4.99, so that wasn’t a surprise. However, I was happy to see that the rumor was real, as that is a very competitive price that I will be happy to pay.
The bigger story is Apple’s TV+ pricing. Although a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman had it pegged at $9.99, which I thought was crazy and hoped wasn’t true at the time, Apple came in at a far more reasonable $4.99 per month. Even better, anyone who is getting ready to upgrade their iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV will get an entire year for free. Smart Apple. Very, very smart.
Speaking of smart, I can’t help but thing back to the original iPad announcement. Remember when the rumors had the starting price somewhere between $750 and $1000? Remember the overwhelmingly positive response when Apple came in at a more reasonable $499? There were plenty who wondered then if Apple leaked the higher numbers to make their number seem better. I can’t help but wonder the same thing here, especially since the $9.99 rumor came from Mark Gurman, who we know has really solid sources.
Apple’s TV+ still has an uphill battle ahead of it. The streaming landscape is already competitive and it’s about to get insane with the addition of Disney+. However, if Apple can deliver a quality first run of shows and keep new content rolling in, I’m betting a lot of users will re-up after their free year.
Watch out for the Watch
Remember when the tech press dismissed and made fun of the Apple Watch after the new of the Series 0 wore off? Part of that was Apple fault for how they initially positioned the device and oversold its capabilities, but that seems like a distant memory now. It is the belle of Apple’s ball and has become a centerpiece product for them. The new Series 5 still hasn’t quite become an independent device, but the slow progression in that direction is clear.
Apple was able to sneak in a much bigger surprise with the Series 5, as it is the first in the lineup to sport an always-on display. I know countless tech writers and podcasters have been begging for this since the Watch was first previewed. However, there were no rumors that it was coming today. As much as we knew about the new iPhones, this really important feature never surfaced, which is an impressive feat for Apple considering the current state of things. For the tech nerds among us, this feature alone will sell a lot of Series 5 upgrades.
While I know an always-on display feels like a catch-up moment for Apple, I think it is also a classic pass-up moment for them, as well. We all know how Apple always positions these moves- that they wait until a feature is polished and perfect to release it. Sometimes that is just talk, but it looks on the surface like Apple may be delivering a superior version of this feature. If they can without sacrificing battery life, then it will be another win for them in the smartwatch space.
I was a little surprised that there weren’t any new health-specific features this year, but the built-in Compass will be a benefit to hikers and those who jog and run in hilly or mountainous areas. But there is still plenty to like with this new hardware. The always-on screen is should make a big difference in usability and the new Titanium models look really nice and aren’t much more expensive than the Stainless Steel models.
We all know Apple loves them some product videos. The show was full of them, as usual. However, the Apple Watch video full of interviews with health emergency survivors who were warned and/or assisted by their Apple Watches was genuinely touching. That’s because it was real. These were real human beings telling very personal stories about how this piece of technology helped to save their lives. I think back to Tim Cook’s word at the initial reveal of the Apple Watch. he predicted that it would be the most personal Apple device. While it may not be for the reasons that Apple execs thought at the time, he was absolutely right and that video showed why.
Lights, Camera, iPhone
Most of the rumors of the iPhones 11 were focused on their cameras and the bump on the back of the device that houses them. It turns out there is a big reason for that. There a several small upgrades, such as an improved, brighter screen, a matte-finished glass back that is more durable, a new Midnight Green color, and a powerhouse A13 chip powering it all. Thanks to the A13’s efficiency, all three of the new phones will also have better battery life.
All that is well and good, but make no mistake, these iPhones are all about the cameras. And considering that camera tech seems to make the smartphone world go round these days, that is just fine. For all of Apple’s accomplishments in pushing smartphone camera forward in years past, the fact is that they have fallen behind competitors like Google, Samsung and Huawei. However, if the new features and software demoed today deliver the goods, it should put Apple squarely back in the hunt. If nothing else,today was a sign that they understand that they fell behind and are working to fix that.
Along these lines, it won’t be the hardware that tells the tale, but the software. Apple seems to be upping its game there beyond the impressive but limited Portrait Mode. Now they are introducing a Night Mode to compete with Android competitors. While we will have to wait a bit longer for it (just like we did with Portrait Mode), Apple’s new Deep Fusion looks to be their answer to the Google Pixel’s comprehensive AI-based computational photography system. If Apple executes this as well as they did Portrait Mode, then they are back in the game.
The Price is Right
The positive kicker from this Apple Event for me is the face that Apple didn’t raise their prices in response to impending Trump Tariff doom. Rather, most prices stayed the same and the iPhone 11 actually went down, which was a pleasant surprise. Add to this the competitive pricing and promotions for Apple TV+ and we at least have pricing stability, which is great. Considering that Apple hasn’t been raking in iPhone profits like in the past and the considerable trade pressure on them, I’m sure the temptation to pass some of that down the line was real. It’s great news for Apple fans that they didn’t and I think Apple will be rewarded with solid sales numbers in response.
All in all, this wasn’t a groundbreaking Apple event, but it was honestly better than I expected. I had pretty low expectations coming into today, but there was just new and surprising announced to make me happy to buy these new devices and services. I’m looking forward to trying out the new iPhone 11 Pro Max (that is still a terrible name) cameras and software and thanks to the new always-on display, the new Apple Watch Series 5 will feel like a real step forward. Considering how much we knew coming into today, I think Apple did a good job with the hand they were dealt and made the most of it.