So, Apple’s March Special Event has just concluded. The company launched a new, smaller iPhone and a new, smaller iPad Pro. There was plenty more to discuss besides products in a fast-paced but relatively brief keynote presentation. Here’s a recap of everything you might have missed.
Apple CEO Tim Cook didn’t waste any time in mentioning the company’s very public spat with the FBI over encryption. “We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy,” he argued.
No surprises to see this addressed, as the event takes place just a day before a big court hearing on the subject. A solemn-looking Cook promises that “we will not shrink from this responsibility.”
As expected, the big announcement was about a little iPhone. Apple unveiled its first 4-inch iPhone since the iPhone 5s came out back in 2013. Despite there not being a new model in nearly three years, the company still sold over 30 million 4-inch iPhones in 2015 alone. Hence the demand for an updated model. The new, smaller handset is called the iPhone SE and looks near enough identical to the 5s.
The iPhone SE will include the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s, offering twice the speed of the 5s and triple the graphical performance. It also boasts better battery life, Apple’s latest 12MP camera (that means 4k video and Live Photos), plus the NFC chip required to use Apple Pay. Quite the upgrade for those who have been waiting for a smaller iPhone.
iPhone SE is available at $399 for 16GB storage, or $499 for a more realistic 64GB storage. Orders begin March 24, and the device will ship the following week.
Apple’s latest operating system, iOS 9.3 was launched shortly after the presentation. Though not a full-point release, it has some cool new features which make it a worthy update. Chief among these is Night Shift mode, where the device changes the display tone at night to help you sleep better. There’s also an update for the Notes and News apps, adding password security and increased personalization respectively.
An interesting aside from this rather short part of Apple’s Special Event: a whopping 80% of active Apple devices are running iOS 9, whereas just 2% of active Android devices have upgraded to its latest operating system. We’ve recapped all the new features of iOS 9.3 already: upgrade now, and read about it here.
9.7-inch iPad Pro
The other big reveal of the night was a smaller version of last year’s super-powered iPad Pro. Confusingly, it’s not really given a distinct name, but rather referred to as “the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.” A bit of a mouthful, but it looks like a very impressive device and could lead the way to a simpler tablet lineup from Apple of merely iPad and iPad Pro, each coming in two sizes. Apple has apparently sold over 200 million 9.7-inch iPads to date, which is why it decided to bring its most powerful offering down to the popular size.
As for the specs, it’s pretty much the same as its bigger brother, packing just as much power and all the same features as the existing iPad Pro. There’s a new Smart Keyboard accessory to fit the smaller screen, and of course the highly lauded Apple Pencil will work with it. Apple seem to be targeting users of old Windows PCs, offering the iPad Pro as “the complete replacement” to a desktop PC. So it’s mostly the same as the iPad Pro, but with a couple of improvements: a TrueTone display, which senses ambient light and adjusts the screen colors accordingly; and a screen that’s 40% less reflective than the iPad Air 2, meaning it’s great in all light conditions.
The new iPad Pro will come in three configurations: $599 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB, and $899 for 256GB. That’s the first 256GB iOS device ever, and could possibly pave the way for a matching iPhone 7 this Fall. Like the iPhone, orders start March 24 and it’ll be available the week after.
Apple’s Environmental Director Lisa Jackson took to the stage to give us an update on Apple’s ongoing quest to make the world a better place. She says that a massive 93% of Apple’s operations centers worldwide are run on renewable energy, and the company is keen to get this figure up to 100%. Huge energy projects like the yak-friendly solar farm in China are helping to achieve this goal.
Meanwhile, 99% of Apple packaging comes from recycled or sustainable sources, and the company has created a robot called LIAM who is responsible for deconstructing old iPhones so the parts can be efficiently reused and recycled. The robot even got his own video clip.
Jeff Williams, Apple Chief Operating Officer, was up next to talk about the Health app and related ResearchKit initiatives. An impressive video showed off “radical new solutions” to age-old health issues, such as diagnosing autism early, dealing with Alzheimer’s and predicting Epileptic fits. Apple’s Health apps can track data to help with all of these problems.
There was also a new Health-related app framework for developers launched called CareKit, designed to “build apps that empower people to take in active role in their care.” It should mean a whole host of great new Health apps for recording symptoms and sharing health data with family, friends and health professionals. A quick word about privacy: “you decide which apps you use, and who can see your information,” Williams assures the crowd.
The presentation included a very quick interlude to talk about the Apple Watch. First up, Tim Cook talked about how it was not only the bestselling smartwatch in the world – despite Apple not publicly releasing sales data – but also had the highest customer satisfaction.
He then announced a slew of new watch bands in different colors, as well as one in a brand new material: a four-layer woven nylon. Fancy. Perhaps more importantly was the fact that the Apple Watch will drop in price to start at $299 for the 38mm Sport edition. Paving the way for an Apple Watch 2 this Summer, perhaps?
Like the watch, Apple TV took a bit of a back seat to the bigger announcements of the day. After explaining that the TV App Store already has more than 5,000 apps, Cook tried to convince the audience that adding folders to the TV Home Screen was a “great feature.” A welcome one, sure, but even by Apple standards that’s hyperbole.
A more welcome announcement was the improvement of Siri, adding a dictation function for input into search, username and password text boxes. Finally! No more painful manual typing of complex terms with the on-screen keyboard. You can also now use iCloud Photo Library with the Apple TV, and view Live Photos on the big screen.
One more thing…
We were hoping for a classic Apple “one more thing” announcement to blow us away at the end of the presentation, but unfortunately it just ended kind of abruptly after all the usual stuff. Wouldn’t it have been great if Apple shocked the world with an unexpected Virtual Reality or Apple Car announcement?
Maybe it’s down to the fact that nearly everything was leaked ahead of time, but this special event felt a little lackluster in comparison to past product announcements. The new iPhone and iPad are great entries into Apple’s lineup, but there were a distinct lack of brand new features to get excited about.
Looks like we’ll have to wait until later in the year for the bigger product reveals like the Apple Watch 2 and iPhone 7. Stay tuned, and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for the latest on all things Apple.