In addition to rolling out its pricey wearable device, Apple detailed its planned retail expansion in the biggest market in the world, made big announcements regarding Apple TV, showed off a new MacBook, and discussed its move into aiding medical research.
Some of these developments could ultimately prove more important than the Apple Watch, which is huge news because it's a new consumer device from Apple, but which must still prove itself with customers.
Apple stores expanding in China
CEO Tim Cook kicked off the festivities by showing off an image of Apple's latest store in China. He said the company has "opened six stores in China in the last six weeks alone," bringing Apple's total in the country to 21.
"We have a very aggressive plan to be at 40 by mid-next year," the CEO said. "I am so incredibly proud of our retail team and everything they do for customers."
An exclusive deal with HBO
The launch of a stand-alone HBO service that does not require a cable subscription has been almost as hotly anticipated as the Apple Watch release date. The service was announced here, as was its $15 monthly price and the fact that it will be exclusive to Apple for three months after its April launch.
"We love HBO," said Cook, who went on to tout all of the cable channel's groundbreaking programming before bringing HBO CEO Richard Plepler on stage to announced the deal.
"We love Apple," Pepler began before officially declaring Apple as the exclusive launch partner.
Ninety days of retail exclusivity seems like a fairly narrow window, but if HBO being offered without a cable subscription is a tipping point that causes people to cut the cord with traditional pay television, it could lead a flood of those consumers to buy Apple TV.
Speaking of Apple TV...
While it was disappointing that Apple did not unveil an update to its 3-year-old Apple TV hardware, the company offset that by slashing its price from $99 to $69. This is a major concession that makes Apple's streaming box cheaper than the top-of-the-line set-top-box offerings from Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Roku.
Apple TV has fallen behind Amazon's $99 Fire TV and the $79.99 Roku 3, but not necessarily in ways that will bother many consumers. Apple's device lacks the games its rival offers, as well as the ability to download apps. However, it has Netflix and Hulu, along with a good variety of the other major streaming services (not to mention the HBO exclusivity window).
At $69 for an Apple device, people might be willing to overlook any shortcomings.
"Perhaps the most profound change and positive impact that iPhone will make is on our health," Cook said. "There are already over 900 incredible apps that help you manage and track your health and fitness."
The CEO wanted more, however, and talked about how the company decided it could make an impact on medical research. He then turned the stage over to Jeff Williams, Apple senior vice president of operations.
Williams said doctors and others in the medical field have told Apple that one of their biggest problems is getting enough sample data to do accurate research. Apple intends to help address that challenge by making the iPhone a diagnostic tool to record needed data.
"We looked at the problem and saw an opportunity to help," he said. "So, today, we're proud to announce ResearchKit."
The new product is a "software framework made specifically for medical research," he said. "It lets researchers easily create apps and it turns iPhone and HealthKit into powerful diagnostic tools."
Apple introduced a new laptop it dubbed simply a MacBook, minus the Pro or Air moniker. The device offers a Retina screen, weighs only 2 pounds, and has a body that is 24% thinner than the current thinnest MacBook Air. It also has a completely revised keyboard that uses an entirely new mechanism to make the keys responsive while taking up 40% less space.
To make the machine so thin and light, Apple eliminated nearly all of its ports, leaving only a single USB-C that can be used for everything from charging to connecting an external monitor.
"We challenged ourselves to take everything that we had learned in designing iPad and iPhone and do something incredibly bold -- to reinvent the notebook," he said. "And we did it."