Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) just hosted its annual September product extravaganza, and by the looks of it there won't be an October event like in years past. It appears that this year Apple is consolidating its product announcements into one event. The Mac maker just announced the latest and greatest iPad and iPhone models, as well as a brand new Apple TV. All of the above were widely expected, but there's plenty to catch up on -- here are the details you need to know.
At long last, the rumored iPad Pro is official. Apple made the iPhone bigger last year, and this year it's doing the same with the iPad. The larger model features a 12.9-inch Retina display, and Apple noted that all of the multitasking features in iOS 9 were designed with the larger display in mind. The company said that it picked the 12.9-inch display since the height of the iPad Air 2 would be equal to width of the iPad Pro, which enables iPad apps to run in full size while multitasking in landscape mode.
A new A9X chip powers the iPad Pro, and Apple says the device is faster than 80% of portable PCs that are shipping today. That's a pretty ambitious claim and a testament to Apple's chip design prowess. There are 4 speakers in the iPad Pro so that it can deliver stereo sound for the first time.
Perhaps most notably, Apple is taking a page out of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface playbook by releasing a stylus and keyboard cover, dubbed Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, respectively. Those are arguably necessary moves as the iPad Pro is clearly positioned for productivity and creativity, and those accessories strengthen the tablet's ability to address those market segments. Indeed, Microsoft and Adobe both came on stage to demonstrate their latest software suites for iOS. Apple Pencil will cost $99 while Smart Keyboard will set you back $169, higher than Microsoft's $50 Surface Pen and $130 Type Cover.
The iPad Pro will start at $799, matching the price point of the Surface Pro 3, although the entry-level iPad Pro comes with less storage at 32 GB. Add $150 to quadruple the storage to 128 GB, and Apple's long-standing $130 for cellular connectivity is here again. That means a fully loaded 128 GB cellular-equipped iPad Pro will cost $1079. The product is set to ship in November.
As far as the rest of the iPad family, the only other change was a new iPad Mini 4 that has the same internal specs as the iPad Air 2. The entry-level iPad Mini 2 got a modest price cut to $269. The iPad Airs are completely unchanged in terms of specs and pricing, which is not only a vote of confidence that they are strong offerings but also potentially evidence that it might not be worth devoting as much developmental resources into the iPad family in general considering the unit growth deceleration.
Perhaps Apple will implement a different kind of tick-tock cycle for the iPads, alternating which model it refreshes each year instead of all at once like it does with the iPhone.
Speaking of iPhone
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus came in just as expected. The headline feature here is indeed Force Touch, except that Apple is seemingly rebranding the technology as 3D Touch. By adding pressure sensitivity to the capacitive touchscreen, Apple is adding new context-specific interface features and shortcuts to the new iPhones. The devices also include a taptic engine like the one found in Apple Watch to give physical feedback to the user. Ahead of the event, I was a little bit skeptical on how successful 3D Touch could be as a selling feature, but Apple's demonstrations were pretty compelling.
However, the true potential of 3D Touch remains to be seen. The OS-level support adds numerous conveniences here and there, but the real test will be how third-party developers take advantage of the new technology and to what effect.
After standing at 8-megapixels for a few years, Apple is moving to a 12-megapixel camera sensor this time around. The new sensor is capable of capturing 4K video, and Apple is introducing a new software feature called Live Photos where the iPhone will capture 1.5 seconds of video before and after you snap. Think of it like the iPhone automatically converts all of your photos into small gifs. Developer APIs will also be available for Live Photos so that developers can utilize them.
The 6s and 6s Plus are powered by A9 chips and will feature second-generation Touch ID sensors for faster fingerprint recognition. 4G LTE and Wi-Fi data speeds also received natural performance improvements. The new models are made with the same Series 7000 custom aluminum alloy found in Apple Watch Sport and Apple is introducing a rose gold color option. The iPhone 5c is seemingly discontinued as all existing models cascade down in price. Apple also announced a new early upgrade program of its own. The new iPhones are available for pre-order starting this Saturday, and will launch on September 25.
Must-see Apple TV
An Apple TV update has been long overdue. It was expected earlier this year in June, but was delayed. The new Apple TV is slightly larger, but will come with a redesigned interface along with a slew of new capabilities.
Apple built a new Siri Remote that includes Apple's virtual assistant as well as a touch surface for smoother interactions. I dreamt of using Siri to find TV content years ago, and Apple has finally delivered (albeit Apple has reportedly shuttered its full-size TV plans). Siri's search capabilities in the new Apple TV are rather impressive and allow users to quickly find a wide variety of content via a wide range of queries. Search will even work across various streaming services.
Apple is finally opening up its TV platform to third-party developers through the App Store, including games. Apple believes that the future of TV is apps. That statement is a little anticlimactic, since essentially all other players in this space have long adopted the "channels-as-apps" paradigm. The new Apple TV is powered by an A8 chip and is priced at $149 for a 32 GB model and $199 for a 64 GB model. The set-top box ships in October.
Those were the major announcements today. Apple also unveiled some new Apple Watch bands and options like adding gold and rose gold to the Sport lineup and unveiling a partnership with French luxury brand Hermes. With as much as Apple announced today, it doesn't seem like an October event is in store. Well, unless you count fiscal fourth quarter earnings.