It was Apple Announcement Day on September 9, 2014. At Flint Center in Cupertino, the location where the late Steve Jobs unveiled the Mac 30 years ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook and other executives announced a slew of products and services which for all intents and purposes can be considered the new era for Apple. Having dominated the premium smartphone market and the tablet market with their iPhones and iPads, Apple is moving into wearables with their Apple Watch as well as into facilitating payments with their new service, Apple Pay. Oh, and they announced two new iPhones: the iPhone 6 with a size of 4.7″, and the iPhone 6 Plus with a size of 5.5″.
Even though they announced the iPhones first, it was clear that Apple officials wanted to devote a lot of time to their new device in a brand new category. The name eschews the long-running “i” naming scheme, which is interesting by itself. The Apple Watch is not circular in shape like the just announced Moto360 and like most wrist watches, but instead, it is a rectangular touch screen watch with a flavor of iOS called Watch OS powering it. It comes in two sizes and its belt/strap is easily switchable, potentially creating a huge 3rd party opportunity for the same.
Although the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to use the GPS and WiFi to measure distances and such, it does have its own sensors to measure not just steps but also the intensity of your workouts. Besides keeping extremely accurate time (it continuously checks the global standard time), it also provides customizable watch faces which are not just skins. These watch faces provide further interactions and customizations, based on the specific face. For example, an “earth” based face could then provide the alignment of planets at that given time for that particular location, or another face that can show the next appointment on the calendar.
Of course, the big news here is the interaction mode. The Apple Watch has a “Digital Crown” which looks very much like the crowns on regular wrist watches. Instead of winding the watch, the Digital Crown helps in navigation: scrolling up and down, zooming in and out, etc. In addition, there is a button below the Digital Crown which acts similar to the Home button on iPhones, iPods and iPads, in that it returns you to the main home screen. The other innovation touted in the Apple Watch is the display, which is made in a way that it can detect the difference between a touch and a press. Depending on what it is, the Watch OS and the apps therein behave and react differently. The Apple Watch features a heart rate sensor which uses infrared and visible-light LEDs and photodiodes to detect your heart rate. It uses induction charging via a new magnet-based charger. Curiously, no mention was made of the expected battery life of the Apple Watch.
Apple is also touting a new development kit called WatchKit which will enable developers to build (or extend) apps and utilize the new gestures as well as interaction modes. For example, actionable notifications are supported, but because of the much smaller real estate on the screen, they will need to be re-tooled.
Finally, Apple officials spent quite some time going over Digital Touch which is a new form of communication delivered in Apple Watch. With Digital Touch, you can doodle on the watch face and your friend can see it being drawn in real time and reply back with their own doodle. Digital Touch can also be used as a simple walkie-talkie. It also offers a way to just tap on the screen and send the tap to your friend, and finally, Digital Touch also allows you to capture your heartbeat for a few seconds and send that exact same pulse to your friends. I don’t know how much of this is gimmicky or truly useful but given the new paradigm, I suppose the message here is that the opportunity is endless.
The other new category Apple entered is in the mobile payments. With Apple Pay, Apple now provides a way for customers of its phones to pay in stores and online without having to enter credit card and billing/shipping address details.
Apple Pay works with NFC in the real world (offline) and contactless payment processing machines. The NFC technology, combined with Touch ID, enable a seamless transaction without having to fumble around your wallet or purse looking for the right card and then signing papers and such.
Apple Pay works by setting up one’s various credit and debit cards (American Express, MasterCard and Visa have signed up in the US) in Passbook. This wallet is also made available to 3rd party apps securely. Neither the 3rd party nor the merchant has access to the actual card number or details. Instead of actually sending the credit or debit card numbers, Apple Pay instead sends a Device Account Number which is in turn stored in a new Secure Element chip only available in the new iPhone 6 devices and Apple Watch. Oh yes, the Apple Watch will support Apple Pay. Which means, you can pay using your watch and not even remove your phone from your pocket.
Besides the 3 big card networks, Apple has signed up most of the big banks that issue these credit cards and has also partnered with 220,000 stores which will be set up to accept Apple Pay payments sometime this Fall.
iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus
The event started off with the introduction to the new phones. As expected and heavily leaked, Apple finally jumped to a larger screen iPhone but instead of introducing one new form factor, they went with two completely new form factors this year. iPhone 6 is the 4.7″ device and iPhone 6 Plus (a very Microsoft-ian name, dare I say!) sports a 5.5″ screen.
Besides the size, the screen resolutions also differ: the iPhone 6 is at 1334×750 and the iPhone 6 Plus is at 1920×1080. The iPhone 6 Plus has a bigger battery and more importantly, it has Optical Image Stabilization which may support even better low-light pictures. Both the models now support faster LTE and wireless AC standard. Both have new camera sensors, although the megapixel count remains at 8MP. (I know, I know, it is not all about the megapixels, but I just wanted to make a mention.) The video camera in both the models now supports slow motion video at 240fps. Both the models also feature new processor and motion sensor chips, A8 and M8. In a surprise move, Apple went with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB storage models and not 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. iPhone 6 is priced at $199, $299, $399 respectively for those capacities, with a 2-year contract, and the iPhone 6 Plus is $100 higher across the board. Given the larger screen and the obsession at Apple of single-handed use, Apple introduced “Reachability” a feature which brings the top part of the screen halfway down so that one can reach it with their thumb. This is invoked by gently double-tapping the home button. Both the models also now include a barometer so the phone can track your elevation which can be helpful in fitness tracking apps. The new iPhones also support WiFi calling when the carrier supports it, so presumably one can start a call in the car on cellular and once they are home or in the office, switch to WiFi seamlessly to continue the call over WiFi. This is beneficial for those who are not on unlimited calling plans or if they have poor cellular signal in places they want to make a call from.
All of these announcements are huge in their own ways, but regardless of what you think about each of the products or service, it is clear that these are Tim Cook’s creations. The Steve Jobs era has been completely transitioned to the Tim Cook era. We may very well look at Apple Watch in a few years and realize it was the big turning point for Apple. The iPhone is clearly the center of the Apple universe, which is astounding because it is only seven years old as a product. Personally, I have stuck to the “s” releases of iPhones: 3GS because it introduced video (Blackberry had that forever!), 4S because of the much improved camera and speed/processor, and 5s because of Touch ID. I will continue that and wait for the 6S Plus next year. How about you?