Apple Watch Promises New App Ecosystem

Apple Watch

To nobody’s surprise, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other company executives unveiled two new iPhones and a “smart watch” at a high-profile Sept. 9 event in California.

The iPhone 6 boasts a 4.7-inch screen (1334 x 750 pixels); its larger cousin, the iPhone 6 Plus, measures 5.5 inches (1920 x 1080 pixels). Despite the larger screens, both phones are thinner than previous iPhone models: The iPhone 6 is 6.9mm thick, while the iPhone 6 Plus is a positively slim 7.1mm. Both phones include the next iteration of Apple’s proprietary processor, the A8 chip, a 64-bit powerhouse with a 20 percent faster CPU than the A7.

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In order to make the larger screens easier to use, the new iPhones feature a keyboard that dynamically adjusts for one-handed typing; native apps such as Messaging now include a two-pane view when held horizontally.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of worldwide marketing and one of the presenters, claimed that apps would automatically scale to fit the new iPhones, even if the software hasn’t been specifically updated for the iPhone 6. Apps will “just work,” he told the audience, although fastidious developers will likely choose to tailor their apps to the larger screens and faster hardware.

The new iPhones, available for pre-order Sept. 12, will come with iOS 8, the latest iteration of Apple’s mobile operating system. In addition to new apps such as Health, there’s also a new focus on “extensibility,” or letting apps share data with one another. Devices that support iOS 8 include all iPhones from the iPhone 4S and up, as well as iPads starting with the iPad 2; the operating system is available for download Sept. 17.

Apple also introduced an e-payment system called Apple Pay, which allows iPhone 6 users to pay for products and services via Near Field Communication (NFC). Early partners include Staples, Subway, McDonald’s, and other major retailers. Apple is still in damage-control mode following last week’s breach of its iCloud, and so executives onstage spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the secure nature of this new service. The bigger question, however, is whether Apple can make NFC—which isn’t a new technology by any stretch of the imagination—go truly mainstream.

As expected, Apple also unveiled the Apple Watch, its long-rumored “smart watch.” A combination of touch, voice, and spinning the “digital crown” fob on the watch’s side will change the screens. (Pressing down that “digital crown” will activate Siri, Apple’s voice-activated assistant.) In addition to telling time, the Apple Watch will offer geo-location, calendars, biometric tracking, support for Apple Pay, and even the ability to communicate with other Apple Watch owners by tapping on the watch’s face.

Apple will offer the Apple Watch in two different sizes, with multiple bands from which to choose. It will come in three editions: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport, and the luxury-minded Apple Watch Edition. Unlike the new iPhones, which will debut this month, the Apple Watch won’t arrive on store-shelves until early 2015. Third-party app developers, get ready: a whole new ecosystem is coming.

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