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Watching the surprises at the Apple September event

Posted on 14 Sep 2018

Update: Edited on 17 Sep 2018 to correct previous error regarding dual SIM capability on the iPhone XR.

Wednesday saw the usual excitement at shinobi HQ as we gathered around the TV for Apple’s much-anticipated September event.   The ‘Mission Impossible’ themed video, backed by panoramic views of Apple’s campus, got things off to a great start, with a little excitement and humour.

A hearty upgrade

After a brief introduction by Tim, Jeff Williams took centre stage to talk about Apple Watch. Unveiling the Series 4 it will have come as no surprise to many that the screen size has increased. Given the real estate that is commonplace on many smart phones these days, a larger screen on your wrist makes sense. My initial thoughts were that it is an ‘S’ upgrade, providing me with no compelling reason to trade in my trusty Series 2.

This view was promptly shattered however when Jeff began talking about the Series 4’s improved heart monitoring capabilities. Having recently had an ECG myself, I know that it cost me time out of my day whilst the time of the physician could have certainly been spent better elsewhere. The announcement of FDA approval really gives me confidence that this feature will change lives for the better. Once again Apple have delivered a first, whilst the competition still lag far behind in this sector. With its AFib and fall-detection capability I feel Apple Watch will appeal to a new segment of consumers. There really is finally a reason for most people to consider an Apple Watch.

Look but don’t touch

As always, what many were eagerly awaiting (including us) was the announcements on iPhone. Phil Schiller followed an elegant teaser video and introduced the iPhone XS. Whilst the upgrades Phil announced seemed fairly usual for ‘S’ models, the announcement of the XS Max was a pleasant surprise. Despite giggles over the naming of the device, we were awe-inspired by its huge display and can’t wait to see one in the flesh. I do wonder however if Apple may have shot itself in the foot here. This phone may finally bridge the gap between phone and tablet by being a one size fits all device. Time, and iPad sales figures, will tell.

This year finally sees the death of Touch ID, although it is still available on the iPhone 7 and 8 models. Similar to when Apple removed the headphone jack, they are sure to receive some backlash here. However as with previous innovations where Apple have chosen to ‘be bold’, in the long run consumers and the industry generally tend to follow suit and adopt the technology. Personally I feel consumers will favour the larger screen over the home button.

On a personal note it was good to see that Apple’s rumoured plans to completely abandon 3D Touch were false – I personally love this feature and would be sorry to see it go.

Aiming low enough?

Last year’s announcement of the iPhone X led to a good deal of criticism of its pricing. Apple keeps exact sales figures close to its chest but rumours suggest it hasn’t sold as well as planned. I thus expected this year’s event to include some price restructuring. The iPhone XR would appear to address pricing by making iPhone available to ‘more customers’. Again the naming prompted some frowns at shinobi HQ. Personally the letters XR reminded me of my early days as a motorist – UK readers may remember this lettering used by Ford on the higher performance variants of their vehicles.

Regardless of the name, the XR does boast a healthy specification, especially the A12 Bionic chipset. Apple’s previous ‘budget’ handset, the 5c, had the internals of the previous year’s flagship but that isn’t the case with the XR – it’s certainly as future-proof as its pricier stable-mates. I was also particularly impressed that despite having a single lens camera it boasts portrait mode – a feature previously enjoyed only by owners of higher end handsets.

I was sorry to see the demise of the SE – one would assume that profit margins don’t warrant the work necessary to upgrade this model. Perhaps even the naysayers finally want larger screens. The 7 is still an affordable handset at $449 which I think previous would-be SE buyers may well consider.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all new iPhone models will support dual SIM, as consumers have requested this for years. This move suggests Apple is focussed on expanding into areas where it has previously failed to get a foothold, such as developing countries.

Conclusion

Despite the leaks spoiling the surprise, Apple’s September event didn’t fail to impress. Once again Apple leads the way in the wearable sector with its Watch Series 4 and its advanced heart monitoring capabilities. Already the leader in this segment, Apple is unlikely to lose this crown soon. Rather than simply participate in annual specification upgrades Apple has once again delivered innovation which should move the industry forward.

With the quality of the competition being so strong, I was really keen to see which way Apple would take iPhone next. Despite perhaps less than ideal naming, Apple do appear to have produced some impressive devices. The demise of the SE, abandonment of the home button and the increase in screen size suggest Apple are responding to consumer want. Whilst iPhones have never been a cheap product, Apple to some degree aims to target consumers of varying budget. Whilst dual SIM capability is far from groundbreaking it illustrates that Apple see potential in a market beyond that which they’ve targeted in the past. Perhaps this is part of a strategy to work beyond a rather saturated existing market.

Apple clearly still wants to be seen as the good guy. Reminders of commitment to consumers’ privacy along with initiatives to be kinder to the environment were clear illustrations of this.

Amidst all of the fanfare I feel the battery technology side of things is still woefully lacking; perhaps this is not an Apple-specific concern but more one of the industry as a whole. Similarly I feel AI is still an exciting prospect that has still been largely ignored. Apple now truly has delivered the tools for developers to create amazing apps that leverage AI; perhaps this will begin to happen once the use-cases are clearly understood.

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