Apple tried to warn us. The next iPhone would not arrive on schedule, or at least the schedule we’re accustomed to.
During the company’s last earnings call, Apple CFO Luca Maestri said, “As you know, the last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later.” While Apple never fully explained, Apple CEO Tim Cook had mentioned back in February some global supply constraints relating to the Coronavirus.
My assumption at the time, though, was that Apple would announce the iPhone 12 in September but ship in October. Now we know that assumption was wrong (“Time flies” on the event invite was a dead giveaway, but I missed it).
What we got
Apple moved forward with product introductions in September, but from its B Team. Now this is not to say that the Apple Watch and iPad are not important devices. Based on their recent sales track records, they’re clearly important (iPads have become a critical part of the Remote Learning ecosystem) but it’s been a while since either of them led the fall Apple Product launch schedule.
But with the Apple iPhone 12 delayed a bit, Apple had to make a choice. It could wait until next month and do a massive virtual event with at least half a dozen products or break the mold and deliver in September some hardware, most notably the new Apple Watch Series 6 and new iPad Air, and a pair of important service updates and additions: Apple One service bundles and Apple Fitness+ custom workout and fitness service. Fans of the next iPhone could wait.
Doing so, though, meant Apple had to make a couple of other unusual choices. With the new Apple Watch Series 6 shipping this Friday (along with the less exciting new Apple 8th Gen iPad with the last-gen A12 CPU), Apple decided it could not hold back the operating system updates it had been preparing since June (actually longer if you count all the behind-the-scenes coding that led up to WWDC). iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch fans have been toying with public betas for months. Apple cannot ship new products with old OSes. So, it’s shipping all the updates: iOS 14, tvOS 14, watchOS 7 and iPadOS 14 on Wednesday, September 16.
Even more startling, the introduction of Apple’s most advanced mobile silicon did not happen this year on the new iPhone. Instead, the sexy, new 10.9-inch iPad Air, which looks like a younger (fun colors!), smaller version of the iPad Pro (it has fewer cameras — 12 MP and 7 MP — and no LiDAR), has the all new A14 Bionic, Apple’s first 5 nanometer process chip.
In some ways, this makes sense. Apple’s iPad, whether it’s the new Air or the iPad Pros is increasingly all about creativity and productivity. Virtually all models work with Apple’s smart keyboards and Pencils (the iPad Air works with the smaller, better Pencil 2nd Generation but not the original Apple Pencil). iPadOS 14 can transform almost any Pencil scribble into usable text, and the device is a mobile gamer’s dream. Why shouldn’t it be capable of 11 trillion operations per second? On the other hand, the A14 Bionic is still not as fast as the iPad Pro’s A12 Z (though I’m guessing the 5 nanometer A14 Bionic is more energy efficient).
I think it’s fair to say the iPad Air stole some of the next iPhone’s thunder. Apple’s flagship smartphone can no longer be the first device with Apple’s latest silicon (unless Apple shocks us with an A15 Bionic or an A14 Bionic X or Z).
The new iPad Air ($599) also had the honor of introducing a completely new form of Touch ID: a button along one of the iPad’s flat edges. It looks like there’s still ample space along the iPad Air’s bezel for the IR sensor necessary to drive Face ID. I can only assume that substituting Touch ID is one way of keeping the price down and differentiating from the Pro line. I do wonder if the new Touch ID button technology might show up again next month on the anticipated iPhone 12 (the 5.4-inch model that looks a bit like the old iPhone 5S).
Apple pushing the Apple Watch Series 6 ($399) front and center makes sense when you consider how invested Apple is in health and fitness. The company loves touting “lives saved” by the ever-watchful device’s heart sensors. With its new blood oxygenation reading capabilities, which did require the redesign of the watch back, Apple further expands its wearable health repertoire. However, unlike the Watch’s EKG capability, Apple did not seek FDA approval for this new body sensor and is instead positioning the oxygenation reader and app as a wellness feature.
Even without a wholesale redesign (the digital crown, to the surprise of many, survived), there are some other, notable Apple Watch Series 6 features and changes:
- A 2.5X brighter Always on Screen (better for glancing)
- The S6 Chip, which probably helps maintain the 18-hour battery life even with a brighter sleep screen and watchOS 7’s new sleep tracking capabilities
- Always-on altimeter so you always know how high you are
- A new U1 chip for upcoming capabilities like using your watch to unlock or start your car
- No power adapter to lower the device’s environmental impact (hope you have one handy)
- New single-piece Loop bands (there are nine size options)
The more affordable Apple Watch SE ($279)also arrived but Apple couldn’t manage to break the $200 barrier. If you want a sub-$200 Apple Watch you still have to jump three generations back to the Series 3 which has a smaller screen and slower performance. I do like the new Family set-up that lets you give your kids Apple Watches without also handing them an iPhone.
Working out and Bundling up
What Apple did and didn’t do with the Watch, though, becomes more interesting when you consider the brand-new service Apple’s adding: Fitness+. It’s a from-the-ground-up fitness service, featuring hand-picked trainers and custom routines across 10 categories. The service is launching with dozens of routines now, but will quickly add hundreds more as they are filmed in each week in a special Los Angeles studio. The integration between various Apple screens (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV) and the Apple Watch is impressive. If you already work out with your Apple Watch, why not start doing it in front of your TV with some guidance?
Obviously, you have to pay for Fitness+ ($9.99 a month or $79.99 a year), which is why I’m so happy Apple finally introduced its long overdue a service bundle. Sure, they did it at the same time they added yet another service, which means they can charge more for the overall bundles, but Apple One is a start.
$15.95 a month for Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage is decent, but not awesome. Even one person can eat up 50GB of storage pretty fast. I think that all Apple One bundles should start with 1 TB of storage. The $19.95 mid-tier Family Plan ups the storage to 200 GB, but I can tell you from experience that that’s not enough for a typical family.
To get 2 TB you have to pay almost $30 a month. Yes, they throw in Fitness+ and News, but what if you don’t want those services? Once Apple gets some feedback, I hope it adds a more ala carte version of the Apple One bundle.
With its new iPads, Apple Watches, and service options, this virtual event felt like a party in which one guest failed to show-up. A September without a new iPhone is just so 2020.