When Apple (AAPL -2.63%) holds a press conference to introduce new products, expectations run high.
Even when the public and the media have a general sense of what might be introduced, as was the case for the company's March 21 event, the possibility of surprises still has the public hyped in advance of the big reveals. Of course, as M. Night Shyamalan has shown with his films, being known for delivering twists becomes a heavy burden. The same problem affects Apple, which goes into every event trying to offer up news that the public and the press don't see coming.
Tim Cook. Source: Apple.
That's a bit of a curse that can overshadow what would have been exciting news had it not been predicted or reported previously. In this case, Apple was expected to unveil a a new, smaller version of its iPhone, as well as a smaller iPad Pro, its answer to Microsoft's (MSFT -2.31%) Surface Pro, along with some software news and perhaps some Apple Watch changes.
That's pretty much exactly what it did, but there were a few mild surprises, and knowing in advance shouldn't dim enthusiasm for the company's latest innovations -- even though it may.
Apple is helping people get healthy
After an opening segment on the company's recycling efforts, Tim Cook turned the stage over to COO Jeff Williams, who talked about how information gathered by the company's ResearchKit has helped researchers around the world. He noted that it's been used for a Parkinson's disease study that became the largest such study in less than 24 hours, and for research that identified asthma triggers in all 50 states.
"When we introduced ResearchKit, our goal was to help medical research," Williams said, explaining that now the company understands that it can also help people manage their illnesses. "We think empowering people with data about their health is very important, so today we are introducing CareKit."
The new tool for software/app developers will help healthcare companies and institutions people track their own care while being able to track and share information with caregivers. Williams, of course, took pains to note that the information tracked would be shared only with the user's permission and that data would be treated with the utmost privacy.
New Apple Watch bands, price
Cook took the stage back to talk about Apple Watch and introduced some new bands for the wearable. They included a woven nylon band, as well as new sport and leather bands in all-new colors.
"We're really excited about this new spring lineup," he said. "We want even more people to enjoy Apple Watch." That's why the company has cut its base price to $299.
Apple TV getting better
The CEO continued by touching on Apple TV, which is getting improvements to its interface.
"We've got some other great features coming to Apple TV, like folders. Now you can organize your apps on your home screen just like you want to," he said of the free software update, which is available immediately. The update also includes expanded ability to use Siri to navigate the service.
A new, smaller iPhone
In expected news, the company introduced a new version of its 4-inch iPhone with enhanced specifications. Called the iPhone SE, the aluminum phone has many of the features offered in the current top-of-the-line models.
"The heart of the iPhone SE is our chip. Our amazing A9 chip with is embedded M9 processor," said Greg Joswiak, who heads up iPhone marketing. The new phone has the "same incredible graphics performance as the 6S, which is three times faster than the 5S."
In addition, the new SE also has improved cameras and better battery life than the company's previous model at that size, iPhone 5s. It also can use Apple Pay, and it will be shipped with iOS 9.3, the most recent version of the operating system, which was launched on the day of the Apple event -- March 21.
The SE will be priced starting at $399, the lowest price the company has ever introduced a new iPhone at. The company will be selling the phone on installment plans starting at $17 a month. Pre-orders begin March 24, and it will ship the following week in the United States.
The goal of the new iPhone is for it to entice customers using older models to upgrade.
"The replacement cycle for iPhones has stretched to 27 months," compared with the 23 months of two years ago, RBC analyst Amit Daryanani wrote in a note to clients, Bloomberg reported. The new handset will "ensure that consumers who have a three-year-old 5S or 5C don't switch to Android for lack of new iPhone products."
The iPad Pro gets smaller
"People love iPad Pro," said Phil Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, as he took the stage. "It is a revolutionary device."
Schiller then introduced a 9.7-inch iPad Pro that weighs less than a pound. He noted that the goal of the new model is specifically targeted at taking customers from Microsoft.
"There's a second group of people we'd love to reach with this new iPad Pro: Windows Users," he said. "The majority of people coming to iPad Pro come from Windows."
The new iPad Pro. Source: Apple.
Schiller also noted that there was a major opportunity to win customers from products running Microsoft's OS, because "there are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old," he said. "This is really sad."
The smaller iPad Pro has what Schiller called a a Pro display, as well as improved color saturation. It also has a "true tone display," which measures the "color temperature" of ambient light and adjusts the display to match. In addition, the new iPad has an improved audio system with four speakers.
The company also introduced a new smart keyboard sized for the smaller device, as well as a new line of Lightning adapters, including an SD card reader. In addition, the smaller iPad Pro includes an improved 12MP camera, which can shoot 4K video, as well as a 5MP front-facing "selfie" camera.
The 32 GB model starts at $599 (without the keyboard), and orders will be taken starting March 24 for shipping beginning March 31. Models with more storage, up to 256GB, are also available on the same date.
One more (small) thing
Cook closed the event noting that this would probably be the company's last media event from the room the event was taking place in.
"The iPod was announced in this room. So was the App Store. We have lots of great memories here," said Cook, who explained that the company's new headquarters would likely be ready before its next product launch. "We expect that we're going to have many, many opportunities to invite all of you to join us there."