Going into today’s Apple event, many were wondering if there was going to be any surprises besides the typical small details. Apple Watch rumors were zilch, while iPhone 11 reports indicated the device would be one of the smallest upgrades in the history of the device.
While the iPhone updates were indeed some of the least obvious in recent memory, Apple came with more surprises than usual, or to put it another way, the rumor mill didn’t do it’s homework this year. From the get-go, Apple surprisingly announced that Apple TV+ would be launching November 1 for just $4.99 a month, and a couple other, non-reported surprises came along the way.
I thought this year I would spend some time looking more in-depth at the event as a whole, including some tidbits behind the scenes and things you may have missed.
Apple started Tuesday’s event showing Apple Arcade, as expected. The service allows customers to get access to 100’s of exclusive, high-quality games at a set price of $4.99 a month. It will be available on September 19 alongside iOS 13, and presumably on the Mac later this year, as Catalina remains without a release date.
The presentation started almost immediately with three Apple Arcade game presentations. These presentations – Frogger in Toy Town, Shensaki: Into the Depths, and Sayonara Wild Hearts were some of the least compelling demonstrations during an Apple event in recent memory. It is also notable, that if you go to the Apple Arcade page right now, Apple showcases several games coming to the service, none of which are the ones that were selected for demonstration.
I was surprised at this presentation conceptually, because games, even high-quality games, are still games, and the unique selling point of Apple Arcade is the access to games, of which the games are a singular component. It is akin to Apple announcing News+ by having someone from NatGeo come up and talk about how good their magazine is. I think Apple would have been much better served to showcase many of the games in quick bursts and focus more on the price, use case, and features like the ability to play between devices and cross-save.
I suspect Apple Arcade is a long play, as I feel about most of Apple’s services, and that the company will find a strong niche audience in the beginning. When the inevitable “Apple Prime” arrives, I suspect people will get more into it.
This was arguably the biggest surprise of the day, and I think got the largest reaction from the audience. After recapping the shows Apple has already showcased, Tim Cook presented See, a relatively compelling drama about a society where everyone is blind. He went on to say that these and seemingly a dozen other shows will be available when TV+ launches on November 1. What’s the price you may ask? $4.99.
But the price was not the surprising part of this announcement. The proceeding announcement, that Apple would offer TV+ for a year, for free, with the purchase of any Apple device beginning today, was the real surprise. This is a major move and reveals far more about Apple’s services game plan than we’ve ever known before. The company has invested billions into this new original content alone, and most of its viewers will never spend a dime to watch it.
It appears instead, that the original investment for this original set of shows is simply to get people involved and get people paying later on. This is a significant play, and while I remain skeptical, I think Apple’s chances of success in TV have gone up in my estimation noticeably since yesterday (or if you are a Vergecast fan, probably a 60 on the go90 scale vs. probably 30 yesterday).
An important note: from what I hear, the Disney+ announcements shook up this plan internally. It was presumed up until earlier this year that TV+ would be $9.99, with some form of trial incentive. The price appears to be a direct reaction.
While I think it was pretty well circulated that a 10.2-inch successor to the 9.7-inch iPad was on the way, it was a bit of a last-second surprise that this happened today as opposed to later this year. The new 10.2-inch iPad includes updated internals and a smart connector for use with the Smart Keyboard. It still only costs $329, and, especially now with keyboard support, it is the iPad almost everyone should get.
I am also curious why the iPad Air exists? It does have noticeably better internals at a lower price point than the iPad Pro, but if you care so much about the specs of your iPad I hope you save up some more money and go for the Pro, as it is so significantly better than an iPad Air. If not, buy an iPad.
iOS 13, iPad OS, and macOS Catalina
Quick intermission to discuss iOS 13 and iPad OS. Apple notably stated alongside the new iPad that it would ship with iPad OS when it launches on September 30. It has since been announced that this is also the date iOS 13.1 is launching, which seems to indicate that iPad OS will not be launching to the public until 13.1, which is unusual.
iOS 13 will launch on September 19, but it is missing a significant number of previously announced features. Things like Siri Shortcuts, AirDrop updates, and audio sharing have been pushed to iOS 13.1. This is because iOS 13 has had an incredibly rough development cycle, I’ve heard from multiple sources, and Apple opted to expedite 13.1 to buy some time if issues arise when iOS 13 ships on these new devices. The most recent iOS 13 betas are far improved from earlier this summer but remain unstable in some use cases.
Also notable, no mention of macOS, which makes sense, as Apple is planning to announce new Mac hardware and launch the OS later this year. However, Catalina is in a dire development state at the moment, with significant issues and bugs. Many of these are likely to be sorted out by the end of October when the OS is supposed to launch.
Apple Watch Series 5
Apple surprised many in the tech world today by not only announcing a Series 5 watch, which some (including myself), reported may not be happening, but that it featured the probably #1 user-requested feature: an always-on display.
I just purchased a Series 4 a few months ago after sticking through a Series 2 for a few years, and I am strongly inclined to upgrade just for this feature. The number of times I have to move my wrist slightly too far for it to be appropriate in the circumstance are many, and I’ve found during workouts the watch is often can’t figure out you’re trying to look at it. The Watch also features some improved internals and health-related functionality, which was expected.
Apple is trying another exciting new thing with the watches this year: separating the cases from the bands. Previously, the company sold a series of pre-designated combinations with the ability to swap bands. Now, when buying from Apple online or in-store, you select the casing and the band independently to create your ideal combination. There’s also some new case options: titanium and ceramic.
I suspect this experience has the potential to be one of the best at the Apple Store and is probably how it should have worked, to begin with. I am excited to see if it brings more people to the Watch.
One more thing that will certainly bring people to the watch: Series 3 is now just $199. (I’ve heard that they updated the chip in Series 3 quietly but haven’t gotten confirmation yet)
I’m not going to spend much time talking about the iPhones this year, as they were less-than-expected (more on why ‘less’ in a bit). The iPhone 11, which is succeeding the XR, features a new lineup of colors (red, black, white, green, yellow, & purple), all of which look terrible compared to the outgoing lineup, in my opinion, a new A13 Bionic chip, and new cameras. Battery life is also an hour longer vs. last years already excellent battery life.
These new cameras include many new functions, but the most notable in my mind are the ability to take wide-angle photos and videos, and a new ‘dark mode’ like the Google Pixel. If you’re into photography on your phone these are great things, and I am sure many will enjoy them. Apple also showed off ‘Slofies’, which are slow-motion selfies, that despite the initial bearishness on Twitter I think will become a thing very quickly.
Normally I would be quick to advise against upgrading to this iPhone if you have a XR and say that otherwise, this is the iPhone to get. However – Apple had one more surprising announcement: iPhone 11 starts at $699, instead of $749 like last year. This means that if you are on a program like Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, it may be worth it to upgrade simply because the payment will be cheaper, and you will get the additional benefits of the new model.
This is a great and surprising move, as it goes against Apple’s current ‘focus on ASP’ philosophy. However, I think the Pros will make up most of the loss and it will result in a higher number of units sold.
iPhone 11 Pro
These are a shockingly boring update to last years models, but alas, not every day can not be Erntedankfest and the exciting updates are arriving next year. These phones include an even better camera, and slight improvements to all the other technical aspects of the phone, including the display, Face ID, and the processor.
Notable, however, are two new features of the iPhone 11 Pro (three if you include the camera): First, the new colors and matte-finish look excellent. In particular, I am a big fan of the dusty green and I will probably choose this model if I upgrade. Second, the battery life improvements on these models are ridiculous – four hours on the Pro and five on the Pro Max.
Unfortunately, there is no added price incentive to upgrade this year, unlike the iPhone 11, as the Pro still starts at $999, and I think is an even harder sell than usual with the new low XR price. It’s also important to note that there were about two months last year where the XS and XS Max were on sale before the XR, which is not the case this round. I suspect that, proportionally, the 11 Pro and Pro Max may be the least popular iPhones ever.
The main surprise I was hoping to see today that we did not get was a refresh of the iPhone Upgrade Program, which sources claim is in the works. The program remains the same as previous years, however, there are some new pricing options outside of the program.
Apple is now heavily incentivizing trade-ins and advertising phone prices with the cost reduce assumed. You can now also buy iPhones at a set monthly price outside the program (which, unlike iUP, does not include AppleCare or an ability to trade in once a year), but this will likely help move units. I presume there will be some form of loan associated with this, but it will be interesting to see by whom, and what it might indicate for the future of iUP
There were two notable absences from today’s event that I think almost everybody assumed would be present today:
First: Apple was heavily rumored to be launching an ‘Apple Tag’ device to compete with companies like Tile that would integrate with the new iOS 13 Find My app. We’ve not reported on this previously, but I’ve also heard from sources this is coming, just later this year.
Second, and most notably, it has been rumored for the better part of this year that the iPhone 11 would feature bilateral charging. This would’ve allowed users to charge AirPods or an Apple Watch with their phone by placing it on the back of the device. Last night, Ming-Chi Kuo reported Apple pulled the feature last second due to performance issues, and it would not be present today.
This is notable for two reasons: first, I can only recall one other time Apple pulled a major hardware feature so close to an event – the 3rd generation iPod touch was supposed to have a video camera until about a week before – but this has never happened on this scale. This is so unprecedented, that I find it hard to believe Apple had time to remove the hardware for bilateral before the event, and it may still be present in the shipped units, but turned off. Will be curious to see the teardowns on September 20.
Secondly, this is Apple’s second (or third or fourth depending on who you ask) major gaff when it comes to wireless charging, the first being AirPower. The difference here being that AirPower would have been a technological milestone, whereas bilateral charging is something Samsung and other manufacturers have implemented without issue. Very strange, and I suspect a good story lies here to be told someday.
Overall, this was a pretty good event with a few decent surprises – I suspect it is not the last one of the year. The new iPhones, while maybe being an off-year for users of last years models, remain the best iPhones to date, and both the new iPad and Apple Watch are the best devices ever in both of their product lineups.
Still waiting on that Apple Prime though – which surely must be a part of the strategy here. If not, Apple News+ is going to be very lonely.
Binyamin has been writing about Apple and the tech sector as a whole for over five years.
His work has been featured on Forbes, MacWorld, Giga, MacLife, and more.
Additionally, Goldman is the Founder of BZG, a software development company focusing on Apple devices.