The event scheduled for Tuesday, September 10, should be filled with a whole lot of new devices.
When Apple’s annual fall hardware event takes place next week, it will come amid an important shift for the company. Sales of the iPhone, the device that has made the company hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade, have slowed. Jony Ive, the legendary designer responsible for the look and feel of all things Apple, has left. The company has been pushing subscription services like never before, in the form of streaming music, digital news, and star-studded original video series. Somewhat bizarrely, it just started offering a credit card.
To be clear, Apple is still one of the most valuable tech companies in the world, with a stockpile of over $200 billion in cash. It’s doing just fine, and it will continue to try to lock people into its ecosystem with the iPhone as the linchpin. But the challenges for Apple at this particular moment are complex. At a macro level, Apple faces the regular threat of disruption to its famously efficient supply chain strategy because of President Donald Trump’s trade feud with China. The security of iOS is falling under greater scrutiny. And Apple’s positions as both a giant store for apps and as a powerful app maker itself are being questioned. Tech, over the past few years, has finally met its skeptics.
Meanwhile, when it comes to hardware and software—the stuff that billions of people interact with every day—Apple is under pressure to innovate. Competing phone makers have added more and more features to their high-end smartphones, and consumers are holding out for something that is actually worth the upgrading. Apple still has a firmer stance on privacy than other tech companies, and it will undoubtedly talk about that next week, but it still needs to convince people to pay a premium price for that.
The Main Event
The star of Tuesday’s media blitz will still be the iPhone. This year, Apple is widely expected to show off three new models, as it has done since 2017 when it announced the iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Bloomberg reports that two at the top of the line will have the “Pro” moniker and will include a new, triple-lens camera system that captures better low-light images, wide-angle photos, and near-professional videos. There will also reportedly be a successor to the iPhone XR, the “cheaper” phone from last year that had an LCD screen, not an OLED display, and impressive battery life.
Of course, in this era of computational photography, it’s not likely that just new hardware is going to give the iPhone’s camera a boost. Advanced software, running on powerful neural engines, can now do everything from fixing blemishes and closed eyes on the fly and applying depth-of-field affects to live video to stitching together several images for the best possible composite. Expect to see more of this on these so-called pro phones.
Apple usually rolls out an updated system on a chip each fall, which points to a new A13 processor this year. FaceID is also said to be getting an upgrade, so that it recognizes more angles of your face. (My unique chin rolls thank you.) And if Apple’s invitation to the event is any indication, we might be in for new colors too; think hues like pastel yellow, sea-foam green, or Easter purple.
It’s unclear whether we’ll see new Apple Watch hardware this year, a processor bump, or just updates to the existing watch casings. But one rumored new feature has Apple Watch fans excited: 9to5Mac reports that the Apple Watch may soon have a built-in sleep-tracking feature, some kind of application that would measure the wearer’s quality of sleep and add it to the plethora of health-related data that Apple scoops up through the Watch.
This raises obvious questions around battery life—and not just how long it will last, but when people will be expected to charge the watch, since a lot of people do this overnight. According to the report in 9to5Mac, Apple has developed a feature “that will remind users to charge their watch beforehand so they can get through the night.” And maybe if the new iPhones have a wireless charging feature similar to new Samsung phones—where the back of the phone itself becomes a Qi-enabled charge pad—you’ll soon be able to plop the watch on the back of your iPhone when you’re not using it.
Many More Things?
In the Steve Jobs era, Apple was known for its “One more thing …” surprise at the end of big events. In the Tim Cook era, Apple is more known for its sometimes-dizzying number of announcements across a wide variety of product categories. If the rumors and early reports prove true, this event will fall right in line with the current paradigm. The new multithousand-dollar Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR monitor, first announced in June, might finally ship. Same with Apple’s new premium streaming video service, TV+: It was announced last March, and was expected to formally launch in the fall. Bloomberg also reports that Apple is working on a MacBook Pro laptop with a larger, 16-inch diagonal display.
There may be a refresh of the pricey iPad Pro, which usually runs on the latest Apple processor, as well as an update to the entry-level, education-focused iPad. Plus, while these might not be announced next week, we may even see new AirPods and HomePods soon.
All of this is designed not only to push up average selling prices on premium hardware (and keep up those profits), but also to keep customers firmly locked into Apple. An Apple Watch only works with iPhone; the best cross-device messaging app is still, really, Messages; products like AirPods and the HomePod technically work with non-Apple products and services, but they’re not optimized for them. Apple is always going to try its hardest to convince you that to live your Best Life™, you’ve got to be in this system.
Is it time for Apple to introduce some sort of version of Apple Prime? Maybe a service called … Apple Pro? I’m far from the first person to float the idea of a comprehensive subscription service for Apple stuff, and the reasons for not doing it are as valid as the reasons why it makes sense.
But with so many disparate products and services, and with the single-handed allure of alu-minium industrial design diminishing, Apple might be wise to figure out a way to offer consumers some sort of packaged deal. If you become a customer of Apple iCloud, Music, News+, and TV+, and if you’re already paying off your premium hardware in monthly installments, then you might already be paying close to $100 per month just to live in the world of Apple—the one where Cook calls privacy a “fundamental human right,” even though you’re paying major bucks for it.
Maybe you’re even paying for all of it on that fancy new titanium credit card.