Apple staged a news conference March 21 at its Town Hall auditorium on its in Cupertino, Calif., campus, but it did not introduce any new products.
The world’s richest company unveiled only updated versions of existing products. The last time Apple showed a legitimately new product was the Apple Watch back in September 2014.
This time, the company introduced a smaller iPhone (the SE), showed a refreshed edition of the iPad, previewed iOS 9.3, dangled some colorful new watch bands, offered an update on Apple TV and gave reports on sales and how some of its vertical-specific apps (namely health and environment) are doing in the marketplace.
Well, as athletes and teams can’t win ’em all, neither can companies make big news every time out.
CEO Tim Cook, however, did reveal a legitimate milestone: There are now more than 1 billion active Apple devices in use. That number is impressive in anybody’s book.
iPhone 5s Discontinued
Back to the product news. With the 4-inch iPhone SE now ready for sale, the 4.7-inch iPhone 5s has been discontinued because it will be cannibalized in short order. By the way, the iPhone 5s, which was very progressive for its time, was introduced in September 2013, only two-and-a-half years ago.
Companies—and certainly not only Apple—seem to enjoy putting pressure on their customers with new versions coming out all the time, even though the current devices they have usually work just fine for much longer windows of time than the company wants people to believe. As powerful as ever are corporate marketing and advertising machines that twist arms until customers capitulate and shell out more and more money for new and newer products.
While Apple was trying to make it seem like it was launching an entirely new product, it wasn’t. The iPhone SE—which Apple wants people to pronounce as “ess-say,” and good luck with that—is not a new phone. It’s a slightly smaller iPhone 5S with a more powerful processor and better camera.
Why go smaller, anyway?
“Some of our customers, believe it or not, told us that they wanted smaller phones,” Cook said. “So we’re making them.”
Nothing Overtly Different, Except Screen Size
Outside of its innards—and of course they are important—there is nothing new in the size, shape or look of the iPhone SE, except that one can buy it in fashionable rose gold. The 4-inch iPhone SE isn’t a new version of the iPhone 5 or 6; it’s just the iPhone SE. It features a 12-megapixel camera, has an improved battery, works hands-free by calling out “Hey, Siri,” and features a 64-bit A9 processor and M9 motion coprocessor.
With a 64-bit A9 processor and M9 motion coprocessor, the iPhone SE is as powerful a CPU performance as an iPhone 6S and twice as powerful as an iPhone 5, Apple product manager Jeff Williams said.
Apple has bumped the camera performance way up on the iPhone SE. “It’s the most powerful 4-inch phone ever,” Williams said. Pricing starts at $399 for the 16GB model, with the 64GB tagged at $499.
The iPhone SE also has the ability to shoot and capture 4K video, a first for Apple. iPhone SE preorders begin March 24, with availability starting March 31.
The iPhone SE also features a 802.11ac WiFi radio and the ability to make phone calls using WiFi only. Its networking has been clocked at up to 433M bps—three times faster than the iPhone 5s.
Apple Replaces iPhone 5s with iPhone SE, Updates iPad, iOS
iPad Pro: Retina Display, Four-Speaker Sound
The new iPad Pro includes a 64-bit A9 chip, wide-color Retina display, four-speaker audio, 4K video, 12 megapixel iSight camera, Retina flash and iOS 9.3.
The iPad Pro (9.7-inch screen) pricing starts at $599 for the 32GB model for WiFi only and ranges up to $1,099 for the 12.9-inch, 256GB iPad Pro.
iOS 9.3 runs on 80 percent of active iOS devices, while the latest Android version (Marshmallow) is running on about 2 percent of Android devices, product manager Greg Joswiak said.
Cook noted that there are now more than 5,000 apps for Apple TV in the AppStore, including dictation, Siri, iCloud Photo Library, and Folders for images and video.
Cook noted that the Apple Watch, launched two years ago, is now the “No. 1-selling smartwatch in the world,” without giving sales numbers. He observed that “about one-third of Apple Watch users change their bands regularly,” so the company showed some colorful, new choices for those folks.
Apple Lowers Price of Watch to $299
Apple has lowered the entry-level price for the watches to $299.
Apple Senior Vice President Lisa Jackson showed a video that highlights an Apple-designed and -made robot, called Liam, that is used to take apart recycled iPhones to reuse some of the components. It unscrews screws, pulls out silver and gold parts, discards unusable components and generally helps the environment by doing all this.
Cook started the March 21 event by addressing the current hotly contested issue of how much control government should have when it comes to encrypted data on personal electronic devices. Apple is legally contesting the FBI’s order for it to unencrypt information an iPhone 5C that belonged to a now-deceased terrorist who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., last Dec. 2.
The FBI believes there is information on the iPhone that, if obtained by law enforcement, could help circumvent similar attacks in the future.
Cook Reiterates Apple’s Stance on FBI Order
“We built the iPhone for you, our customers, and we know it is a deeply personal device,” Cook told audience members. “With that, comes a significant responsibility. We need to decide, as a nation, how much power the government should have over our data and our privacy. We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country. This is an issue that impacts all of us, and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”
What will turn out to be more significant in the long run, perhaps, is that this event turns a page in Apple’s 40-year history: The next corporate event will be held at the company’s new spaceship-like headquarters across Highway 280 from the original campus.
Cook said the next Apple event will be held in a futuristic new auditorium on its new campus in Cupertino—located on the same lot Hewlett-Packard used for more than two generations.