Apple serves up new Watches, iPads and services as appetisers for next iPhone
Series 6 comes with breakthrough health features; iPad's 'big year' capped with more versatile models
No iPhone at this usual time of the year, but Apple wanted to make sure it would keep its users busy until the big reveal comes along.
The tech titan on Tuesday introduced the latest iterations of its Watch and iPad line, along with new services, which served as a prelude to the main event expected in the coming weeks.
Apple normally holds its flagship special event in September to unveil the newest iPhone, but was forced to move it to a later date owing to the fallout from the global coronavirus pandemic that has severely disrupted supply chains and affected all industries.
Still, Apple has somewhat cemented itself as pandemic-proof: It has emerged largely unscathed from the Covid-19 effect, reporting blowout financial results in its most recent fiscal quarter. As at Tuesday, its stock is up almost 56 per cent this year, handily beating out the broader Nasdaq's 23 per cent gain.
This has helped the company's market capitalisation spike and hit the $2 trillion mark on August 19, making it the first US firm to do so, joining and surpassing oil giant Saudi Aramco in that very elite club. At Press time, it was at $2.01 trillion.
The company's stock inched up 0.2 per cent at the close.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, in his virtual keynote from Apple Park, addressed the challenges brought about by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, but expressed confidence that all these will soon be behind us.
"As we all continue to make our way through these difficult times and face the challenges that Covid-19 is causing, it's so inspiring how people everywhere have adapted: Working remotely, learning from home and gathering virtually to stay close to family and friends," he said.
"We know that life won't always be like this and we're all looking forward to better days."
Given the entire scenario, Apple's launch event was focused on helping consumers further deal and cope up with the current situation, which has - unlike most others - positively benefitted the company, in quite stunning fashion: Time was when Apple was seen to be one of those to be severely hit by Covid-19, especially when word started to spread that it would delay the launch of the next iPhones.
However, the pandemic came at a time when Apple had already been riding high particularly on its services. At that point, however, the effects of Covid-19 crushed demand for just about everything and severely limited consumer spending power, casting dark clouds of uncertainty even over the most powerful tech firms.
But instead of folding, Apple bucked the trend and emerged a winner - and runaway one at that: The diversification of its strategy by focusing more on services to enhance its overall ecosystem has certainly paid off. Couple that with the lower-priced or same-cost-but-better hardware that Apple introduced along the way - the new iPad Pro, MacBook Air and second-generation iPhone SE - the company was able to not just weather the Covid storm but keep its ground as the industry was battered.
First revealed was Apple Watch Series 6, alongside watchOS 7. The new wearable can now measure blood oxygen in just 15 seconds, is 2.5 times brighter and has an always-on altimeter. It also comes in a new Product(RED) colour.
Blood oxygen saturation - more commonly known as SpO2 - acts like a vital sign, containing key information on breathing and circulation.
Apple Watch Series 6 in Product(RED) and Watch SE
Apple used the new S6 chip, a dual-core processor based on the iPhone 11's A13 Bionic. It runs 20 per cent faster, which in turn launches apps at the same speed. While no specific figure was given, Apple says Watch Series 6 has improved battery life and charges to full capacity faster in under an hour-and-a-half.
To further improve its health capabilities, Apple is teaming up with top institutions, including Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research and the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre to better understand how blood oxygen measurements and other Watch metrics can help with the management of heart failure.
And in a major move, Apple has signed a partnership with the government of Singapore for the LumiHealth initiative, a first-of-its-kind programme initiated by the city-states Health Promotion Board in collaboration with Apple to encourage healthy behaviour by using the Apple Watch. The two-year programme will start in late October; the LumiHealth app is ready for pre-order on the App Store.
The Apple Watch has been the best-selling smartwatch for years now, and testimonies from its users - featured in Apple's keynotes - give a glimpse of how wearable technologies can serve as life-savers in critical situations, for which reason Apple is pushing further to improve its offerings.
That said, the company is also determined to make these services available to even more users with the debut of the Apple Watch SE, a lower-specced and budget-friendly Watch that still bears most of the health and safety features of its higher-end peers. The SE name is a nod to the iPhone SE, also a more affordable device that doesn't compromise on performance or power.
Also debuted was Family Setup, which allows users to pair iPhones and Watches in order to, among others, keep track of children or set which contacts can be allowed on certain devices. Emergency SOS can also be accessed at any time. It requires an Apple Watch Series 4 LTE or later, and will be initially available with select carriers in Mainland China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, the UK and the US.
Prices were unchanged again, with Apple Watch Series 6 starting at Dh1,599 for the GPS version and Dh1,999 for the LTE model. The Watch SE, meanwhile, starts at Dh1,149 and Dh1,349, respectively.
Apple also added to its galloping Services segment by introducing Fitness+, an app that, among others, connects users to trainers for expert coaching, provides recommendations and other fitness-related services. Its interface is similar to Apple's other native apps, with a clean look and easy-to-navigate interface.
One of its key features is personalised recommendations: For example, it takes into consideration a user's previous workouts then suggests what could be the next best one to perform. Apple has poured in thorough research to make sure algorithms are accurate and guarantees all data is secure.
Fitness+ is available across Apple's ecosystem; if a workout is selected on an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it automatically starts on the Watch and metrics are shown on-screen.
The service will be available in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US by the end of the year and will be priced at $9.99 a month or $79.99 a year. Watch buyers will get three months free.
Meanwhile, the long-anticipated Apple One subscription service was also unveiled, a service that clubs in Music, TV+, Arcade, News+, Fitness+ and iCloud, plus family sharing.
Users in the UAE will be able to select from two different tiers with monthly fees: Individual, which includes Music, TV+, Arcade and 50GB of iCloud storage for Dh39.95; and family, coming with those four but with 200GB of iCloud storage and family sharing of up to six members for Dh52.95. Users can save up to Dh28 on these subscriptions.
A third, premier, includes the apps and family sharing above, but with 2TB of iCloud storage, along with News+ and Fitness+. No UAE pricing is available yet; in the US it will be $29.95 (about Dh110).
'Big year for iPad'
In its tablet computer category, the eighth-generation iPad was revealed, which will, for the first time, use Apple's Neural Engine, making the device capable of processing five trillion operations in a second. This, the company says, will make it 40 per cent better than the previous generation with up to twice the graphics power.
Apple is also reiterating how it's been blurring the lines between its tablet and traditional machines: It says the new iPad is twice faster than the best-selling Windows laptop, thrice speedier compared to the top Android tablet and up to six times better than the best Chromebook.
The 10.2-inch device is the latest in Apple's line-up of iPads that supports the company's mission of providing portable productivity. Earlier this year, a new iPad Pro with a Lidar scanner was introduced, proving that the device is not just for daily routines, but also for more serious, performance-hungry processes such as gaming and professional endeavours.
Prices start at Dh1,349 for the Wi-Fi version and Dh1,879 for the Wi-Fi-plus-cellular model.
Apple also introduced a completely-redesigned iPad Air, which uses the company's latest five-nanometer A14 Bionic processor, making Apple the first in the industry to use a chip of such small scale. This allows the new iPad Air to be perform 40 per cent better than iPads using the A13 with up to 30 per cent faster graphics. All parts combined, it can process 11 trillion operations per second.
It has a new all-screen design with a bigger 10.9-inch Retina Display, Touch ID located at the top button, a USB-C port, the same 12MP camera used on the iPad Pro and across-the-board improvements. And in another first for the iPad, it comes in five different colours.
The new iPads are also Apple's most environment-friendly in this category, part of its efforts to become a carbon-neutral company by 2030.
Cook also announced that Apple's new operating systems - iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, tvOS 14 and the highly-anticipated iOS 14 - will be available starting on Wednesday.
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