Apple has unveiled a pair of new iPhones.
Apple CEO Tim Cook took to a California stage Sept. 10 and, after a couple of brief updates on the iTunes Festival (now in its seventh year, this edition featuring musicians such as Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry) and the company’s retail operations, moved onto the meat of the unveiling event. The first big announcement: iOS 7 is nearing completion.
Apple’s next generation of devices will come with iOS 7, a radical overhaul of the company’s longtime mobile operating system, which strips out many of the older versions’ graphical elements in favor of an ultra-colorful “flat” layout. While some have praised the new aesthetic as a much-needed upgrade to software that was beginning to show its age, others have denigrated the design as neon-hued spew. In addition to the visual updates, iOS 7 features a variety of software tweaks, including major revamps to the Notification Center and Control Center. Siri, the voice-activated digital assistant, can search Tweets, the Web, and other places for information.
On top of that, iOS 7 includes iTunes Radio, a streaming service announced earlier this year. Apple is making a big bet that the Pandora-like program can take advantage of the rising interest in streaming services. If everything goes according to schedule, iOS 7 will arrive Sept. 18 as a free download.
Cook also discussed iWork, the company’s suite of productivity apps, along with “creativity” apps such as iPhoto (all of it free with any new iOS device). Although the audience turned out for new iPhones, Apple clearly wanted to show that its in-house software is cutting-edge.
Then came the iPhone portion of the program. The iPhone 5 is being replaced by two new smartphone designs.
The first is the much-rumored iPhone 5C, with a plastic casing available in a variety of colors (green, blue, reddish-pink, yellow, white). Apple seems to have done its best to make the device look high quality, with the backing and sides molded of a single piece of plastic; on the hardware side of things, the iPhone 5C comes with a 4-inch Retina display, A6 processor, and 8-megapixel camera. But if Apple wants to truly compete in the midrange smartphone market, the key factor is price, and the iPhone 5C will retail starting at $99 with a two-year contract—not startlingly low, but definitely cheaper than many Apple products.
Apple is also selling its own cases for the iPhone 5C, which could peeve smaller case manufacturers. The cases feature a grid of cut-out circles, the better to see the actual iPhone’s color.
The other new Apple design, the iPhone 5S, is the company’s next-generation “hero” device. While the iPhone 5 was a radical new design, the 5S is an iterative upgrade; on the outside, it looks pretty much the same as its predecessor. The new iPhone features a new color, gold, in addition to the “traditional” black or white aluminum body.
The iPhone 5S has an A7 chip built on 64-bit architecture (capable of running 32-bit and 64-bit apps), which is pretty speedy, to put it mildly. There’s also the M7 “motion co-processor” which boosts the actions of the accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope—in theory, opening the door to more refined motion-related apps, such as ones devoted to exercise. Battery life is rated at roughly 10 hours’ talk time, 250 hours on standby.
On the camera side of things, new features include burst (snap 10 photos at once), slow motion, and an improved panorama feature.
The most radical new hardware addition, however, is probably the fingerprint lock. Instead of inputting a passcode (something a lot of people neglect to do, apparently), users can unlock their iPhone 5S via their finger. The capacitive sensor is imbedded in the device’s home button, which is constructed from highly scratch-resistant sapphire; in addition to unlocking the phone, it can also be used to authenticate an identity for buying apps from the iTunes Store.
Apple’s Touch ID is capable of reading multiple fingerprints; the fingerprint itself is never uploaded to Apple’s servers or stored on iCloud, which could satisfy a few more paranoid users. Pricing for the iPhone 5S starts at $199 with a two-year contract.
Rollout date for both new iPhones is Sept. 20, with preorders starting a week earlier.
The Challenge for Apple
In the months leading up to Apple’s announcement, rumors circulated that the company was hard at work on a cheaper iPhone, the better to compete in the midlevel smartphone market. Those rumors suggested the cheap iPhones (quickly branded the “iPhone 5C,” which proved correct) would come in a variety of colors. So by the time Apple’s unveiling event actually rolled around, there were precious few surprises on that front.
Apple was also expected to upgrade its flagship iPhone 5 device, with the rumor mill hinting that a more powerful processor and camera—but relatively few design changes from the iPhone 5—were in the works for the next version. Various tech publications posited that the next high-end iPhone would come in gold, in addition to the traditional white and black, and feature a fingerprint sensor. (Again, that meant Apple’s actual unveiling event was totally un-shocking.)
It seemed increasingly unlikely, though, that Apple would introduce its two most heavily rumored products, a television set and “smartwatch.” The timepiece has been the subject of fevered speculation for quite some time, but scuttlebutt now suggests its release is actually coming at some point in 2014.
A lot is riding on Apple’s latest iPhones. If the devices prove massive bestsellers—especially by Apple’s already gargantuan standards—it could quiet some of the Wall Street chatter that the company’s most innovative years are behind it. But analysts and investors also want Apple to break into new and relatively untapped markets, including wearable electronics, in order to reactivate the same sort of hyper-growth that drove the company’s stock price into the stratosphere over the past few years. If and when those new products hit the market remains to be seen.