Apple chose style over substance on Tuesday, when it announced a lineup of surprise-free upgrades that didn’t quite live up to the high video production of its prerecorded stream.
The star, if there was one, was a slate of camera improvements for its new iPhone 13 lineup, as well as something far less visible people have been clamoring for: a bigger smartphone battery.View live politics updatesChevronRight
The iPhone announcement was one of a handful of incremental updates the company made to its most popular mobile products. In addition to the new iPhone 13 devices, Apple showcased a new Apple Watch Series 7 that sports a larger screen but familiar features and a pair of new iPads, including a long-awaited update for the iPad mini.
The virtual event featured a mix of well-lit executives, high-production value advertisements, dramatic drone footage, and celebrity guest appearances. But behind the gloss of Tuesday’s product launch, Apple is facing multiple headwinds including antitrust concerns, unhappy developers and security and privacy holes.
How the Apple App Store ruling will change the way you use your phone
Though Apple’s stock was down slightly Tuesday, the company’s strategy of offering only incremental improvements to its devices has paid off in recent quarters. Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the event that iPad sales were up 40 percent this year and in its most recent securities filing, Apple reported 50 percent year-over-year growth in iPhone sales. While Apple’s device features stay the same, its stock valuation — now at $2.45 trillion — continues to go up.
After a temporary slump in sales last summer due to the pandemic, Apple’s business has been reinvigorated, with $66 billion in iPhone sales during the holiday quarter, up nearly $10 billion from the previous year.
Keeping it simple may also prove to be a good strategy in a year plagued by a semiconductor shortage and supply chain disruptions that have left retailers in short supply in many product categories including consumer electronics. According to market research firm Strategy Analytics, Apple has sold 78 million phones that carry the iPhone 12 name this year. To produce that many devices, every tiny change Apple makes to its devices becomes a heavy lift for its suppliers.
Apple also had little to say about its services offerings. Despite lengthy presentations touting already-announced subscription products like Apple TV Plus and Apple Fitness Plus, the company’s services strategy is working. It earned $17.5 billion this past quarter from all of its digital fees, including commission on mobile game transactions and iCloud Photos storage. Just four years ago, Apple brought in only $7.3 billion in quarterly revenue for that category.
“As an Apple customer, you have to accept that most features other than, say, the camera are going to be lagging edge,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. He said cameras offered by Samsung and Huawei are better than those on the iPhone. "There’s not a big enough reason to change over.”
Arguably, the highlight of Apple’s September event was a slew of new smartphones: the iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro, and 13 Pro Max, all with changes that were more routine than revolutionary.
Consider the $699 iPhone 13 mini and $799 iPhone 13. Compared to last year, both phones pack slightly brighter screens, so they’ll be easier to see under harsh sunlight. Their notches — the big, dark camera cutouts at the top of iPhone screens — are about 20 percent smaller. The pair of cameras on both phones’ backs should take slightly better photos in low light. And both models sport Apple’s latest, high-powered processor for improved performance, though you would probably be hard-pressed to see a difference if you already bought last year’s model.
iTrapped: All the things Apple won’t let you do with your iPhone
Meanwhile, Apple’s premium phones — the $999 iPhone 13 Pro and the larger, $1,099 13 Pro Max — are slightly more powerful than the standard iPhone 13s, and feature screens designed to look smoother and brighter to boot. Smartphone photographers can take extreme close-ups with the Pro iPhones’ new macro feature, and will notice slightly better photos when shooting in low light. And would-be movie makers have access to tools that replicate camera techniques seen in classic films.
As ordinary as some of these updates seem, one feature found in all of these phones is worth celebrating: improved battery life. Compared to last year’s models, each of Apple’s new iPhone 13s should last at least an hour and a half longer on a single charge.
One of the biggest surprises during Tuesday’s show was the new, $499 iPad mini, which received its first major redesign in years.
Now, Apple’s smallest slate looks like a pint-sized version of the iPad Pro and iPad Air, albeit with an 8.3-inch screen. The company’s redesign brought 5G to the mini for the first time, as well as a USB-C port for connecting accessories like keyboards, monitors and external hard drives in addition to charging. And despite its small stature, the iPad mini might actually be more powerful than the iPad Air released last year, thanks to its new A15 processor.
Apple also updated its cheapest iPad, which sells for $329. This ninth-generation tablet now uses the same processor as Apple’s iPhone 11, and comes with double the storage compared to last year’s base model. Meanwhile, the dinky, 1.2-megapixel camera Apple used last year has been replaced with a 12-megapixel camera that plays nice with a feature to keep you centered in your video calls.
PSA: Update your Apple devices now.
The Apple Watch is getting its biggest redesign in years, but you’ll have to look closely to see it. The screen on the Series 7 watch is 20 percent larger than last year’s model — and 50 percent larger than the third-generation model, thanks to shrinking borders. So what would a larger screen do for you? Apple says it redesigned a lot of buttons to make them bigger and can fit 50 percent more text on the screen. There’s even now a full keyboard available for pecking out texts and emails.
Other changes are minimal. There’s a more durable, dust-resistant screen, and it should charge 33 percent faster — though Apple said nothing about improving the battery life. Apple didn’t add any new health or body sensors like it did last year.
The name of the event was “California Streaming,” but the actual announcement was short on details about its various streaming services. Cook touted popular Apple TV Plus shows, which include Emmy-nominated conversation pieces such as “Ted Lasso,” but did not drill down to viewership numbers.
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Apple had a lot more to say about Apple Fitness Plus, the company’s answer to Peloton. The $10-a-month workout service is adding a few new types of exercises, including Pilates workouts and guided meditations. You can see a live video of their face in the corner of your screen while streaming a workout, and add up to 32 people.
Overall, the event checked all the boxes for an annual listing of updates. That’s likely enough for people who already own Apple devices and are just ready to upgrade.
Geoffrey A. Fowler, Steven Zeitchik and Tatum Hunter contributed to this report.
Apple’s fall announcement event was...underwhelmingReturn to menuBy Tatum Hunter3:03 p.m.Link copiedLink
For anyone hoping for new AirPods, striking camera improvements, significant updates on 5G or any real commitment to sustainability, today’s Apple announcement event will have come up short.
But the event also may have disappointed anyone expecting a good show. The announcements were prerecorded and while avoiding big events during a global pandemic is commendable, Apple’s speakers repeated themselves and each other, leaving viewers little to feel excited about.
Wake us up when Apple’s hardware catches up to its competitors — and its flashy marketing language.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
The iPhone’s camera improvements target actual prosReturn to menuBy Geoffrey Fowler2:59 p.m.Link copiedLink
Apple knows camera improvements drive many people to upgrade their smartphones — and it called the iPhone 13 Pro its “biggest camera advancement ever.” It used professional film directors to drive home the point.
How useful those upgrades will be to regular iPhone owners remains to be seen.
Here are the highlights:
What Apple didn’t announce is that its new cameras come with higher-resolution sensors, which had been rumored. The iPhone 13 Pro cameras still shoot at 12 megapixels. Of course, megapixels aren’t the only thing that matters in a camera, but having more pixels does give photographers flexibility to make big prints or crop and zoom in on subjects after the fact. For comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 offers a 108-megapixel mode.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
What’s so ‘pro’ about Apple’s most premium iPhones?Return to menuBy Chris Velazco2:30 p.m.Link copiedLink
For the past two years, Apple has called its most premium iPhones its “Pro” models. Usually, that just means they come in different colors and have extra cameras, but things are a little different this year.
The iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are in some ways very similar to the premium models we saw in 2020 — they both use 6.1- and 6.7-inch screens, respectively, and feature the same (pretty good) levels of water and dust resistance as last year. But these new Pro iPhones have improved, “ProMotion” screens that allow for super-smooth motion on-screen when you’re whipping through apps or playing compatible games.
Their cameras are somewhat improved, too, though, with new tools for macro photography and cinematic video recording (you know, for all those filmmakers dying to shoot from their smartphones). And to accommodate all that footage, you’ll be able to buy an iPhone 13 and 13 Pro with a full terabyte of storage — presumably with an eye-watering price tag to match.
But here’s what Apple’s “pro” iPhones still don’t have. While iPads have embraced USB-C ports for connecting additional accessories, these $1,000+ iPhones still use traditional lightning connectors. Audio professionals who want to use headphones with these things still need to use an adapter, since the headphone jack disappeared years ago. And years after Samsung introduced its own giant phone with stylus support, you still can’t use an Apple Pencil with an iPhone.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
Why Apple doesn’t actually need to make its phone much betterReturn to menuBy Reed Albergotti2:23 p.m.Link copiedLink
Are you getting iPhone announcement deja vu? That’s because Apple moves slowly and deliberately in deciding what features to add to its phones. Companies like Samsung, by comparison, have been adding cutting-edge features, such as phones that fold in half and long-range zoom lenses in its cameras.
The truth is that Apple’s decision to stay just behind its competitors on performance is an excellent business decision. It keeps its margins high, and sales are booming anyway. With the introduction of 5G, consumers are racing to the stores to buy iPhones, just the way they are.
After four straight quarters of shrinking iPhone sales, Apple began to turn things around in the holiday season leading into the pandemic. Apple saw 66 percent growth in the quarter ending in March and 50 percent growth in the latest quarter, with $40 billion in sales. During the past holiday season, Apple sold an incredible $66 billion worth of iPhones.
Early adopters who want to try out the latest tech might not be impressed with Tuesday’s Apple event, but Apple’s investors have to be delighted.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
New iPhones will have better battery lifeReturn to menuBy Tatum Hunter2:19 p.m.Link copiedLink
Finally: A significant battery-life improvement from Apple.
The company said the just-announced iPhone 13 will give people an extra two and a half hours of battery life each day, compared with the iPhone 12, while the 13 Mini will provide an additional hour and a half compared to the 12 Mini.
Meanwhile, the new iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max offer similar improvements: the 13 Pro comes with an extra hour and a half of battery life, while the 13 Pro Max comes with an extra two and half hours, Apple says.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
Here’s why you need to update your Apple products right awayReturn to menuBy Tatum Hunter2:11 p.m.Link copiedLink
A reminder to everyone reading that Apple issued an update to its software Monday because it had a serious flaw that allowed bad actors to infect iPhones, iPads, Macs and Watches with surveillance tools. This “zero-click” spyware used compromised iMessages to infect devices without their owners even having to click — so targets were unaware they’d been infected. Until you update, your device is at risk.
Not sure if you’ve already gotten the update? Here’s how to check:
On an iPhone, open the Settings app. Go down to General, and select Software Update. You want the iOS version to be 14.8. If your software isn’t up to date, there will be an option to “Download and Install.” (While you’re at it, turn on automatic updates. That helps keep your devices secure.)
On a Mac computer, you want to be running MacOS version 11.6, and on an Apple Watch, look for WatchOS 7.6.2.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
The iPhone 13 and 13 mini are (still) all about the basicsReturn to menuBy Chris Velazco2:08 p.m.Link copiedLink
Gadget leaks and industry prognosticators warned that Apple’s new iPhones might be light on flashy new features. It seems that they were right.
The company was quick to talk up the new iPhone 13 and 13 mini, which come in a few new colors and feature a notch (otherwise known as that black camera cutout at the top of the screen) that’s about 20 percent smaller than what you’d find on earlier models. Both versions of the non-Pro iPhone 13 also use a new, brighter version of the company’s new Super Retina XDR display, which should help users to see better in harsh sunlight. And, of course, Apple remains terribly keen about 5G; it says these new iPhones will support 5G from over 200 carriers in 60 countries by the end of the year.
So far, we’re looking at pretty subtle improvements. If anything, the real draw is the silicon Apple packed inside it. Both versions of the iPhone 13 use the company’s new A15 Bionic chipset, which Apple (as usual) claims is the “latest CPU in any smartphone.” That may be true — we’ll have to see for ourselves — but don’t expect a huge jump in performance if you bought last year’s model.
Throw in a “cinematic” video mode for the iPhones’ cameras and some under-the-hood battery improvements, and we’re looking at a set of devices that mostly tend to the basics. Just like Apple’s cheap iPad, the bump in storage might be one of the most notable changes here. The base iPhone 13 mini will come with 128GB of storage and cost $699, while the larger iPhone 13 with the same storage will cost $799.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
Fitness Plus adds Pilates, the ability to watch your friends sweat at the same timeReturn to menuBy Heather Kelly2:00 p.m.Link copiedLink
Apple’s workout service is adding a few new types of exercises. People who pay $10 a month for Apple Fitness Plus can soon do its Pilates workouts and guided meditations. Apple also is adding special workouts to get people ready for winter sports such as skiing. The service still doesn’t appear to work on Apple laptops and requires an Apple Watch and other Apple devices to stream on.
One of its more interesting additions is a feature for working out “with” your friends. When you connect with a friend, you’ll see a live video of their face in the corner of your screen, by the workout you are both doing. Up to 32 people can work out together at once this way, which is a lot of unflattering angles of your sweating friends but perhaps the perfect motivation to get you going.AdvertisementUpdates continue below advertisement
Apple Watch 7 gets a larger screen but not much elseReturn to menuBy Geoffrey Fowler1:50 p.m.Link copiedLink
The Apple Watch is getting its biggest redesign in years, but you’ll have to look closely.
The screen on the Series 7 watch is 20 percent larger than last year’s model — and 50 percent larger than the third-generation model. Apple did that, in part, by slimming the unused borders between the screen and the edge to 1.7 millimeters.
So what would a larger screen do for you? Apple says it redesigned a lot of buttons to make them bigger and can fit 50 percent more text on the screen. Believe it or not, there’s even now a full keyboard available for pecking out texts and emails. That sounds … complicated.
Other changes are minimal. The Series 7 has a more durable, dust-resistant screen. And it should charge 33 percent faster — though Apple said nothing about improving the battery life. Unlike with other smartwatches, you still need to charge the Apple Watch pretty much once per day.
The new Apple Watch says my lungs may be sick. Or perfect. It can’t decide.
And unlike in previous upgrades, Apple didn’t add any new health or body sensors to the Apple Watch 7. Last year’s big addition was a blood-oxygen sensor, which our tests found sometimes gave very inaccurate readings.
Apple updates its two most affordable iPad modelsReturn to menuBy Chris Velazco1:42 p.m.Link copiedLink
Apple’s most popular iPad is its cheapest model, and the company announced some upgrades to the device Tuesday.
The latest iPad now uses the same A13 Bionic chip as Apple’s iPhone 11 phones — giving this year’s model extra horsepower. It also updated to a 12-megapixel front-facing camera that plays nice with the company’s Center Stage feature, which uses AI trickery to keep you centered in your video calls.
The $329 base model also now comes with double the storage compared to last year’s version.
The $499 iPad mini also got its first major redesign in years. Now, Apple’s smallest tablet looks like a pint-size version of the iPad Pro and iPad Air, just with a smaller 8.3-inch screen. This redesign also brings a USB-C connector to the mini for the first time, along with optional 5G connectivity. Apple didn’t mention it during the event proper, but it confirmed in a news release that the new iPad mini uses the same A15 Bionic chipset that’s expected to go in today’s new iPhones.
‘California Streaming’ event is light on streaming statsReturn to menuBy Steven Zeitchik1:35 p.m.Link copiedLink
The Apple event was called “California Streaming,” but for those hoping Apple CEO Tim Cook would offer meaningful data on Apple TV Plus, the opening of the event was underwhelming. Cook touted the streaming service’s shows, which include Emmy-nominated conversation pieces such as “Ted Lasso,” but did not drill down to viewership numbers.
Apple TV Plus launched nearly two years ago with a curated list of shows and films as the company hoped to give consumers another reason to purchase products within its ecosystem.
Although it spent lavishly on production and acquisitions in some instances, Apple has at times struggled to compete with Netflix’s high-volume output and Disney Plus’s brand-centric approach, though “Ted Lasso” and the recently released dramatic comedy movie “Coda” appear to be breaking through.
The service costs $5 a month, but many consumers were given long free-trial periods. It is not known how many of those customers Apple has been able to retain — because they like the service or possibly forgot to cancel. Apple could say more about the service later.
Apple event opens with a musical montage, because why notReturn to menuBy Heather Kelly1:13 p.m.Link copiedLink
Denied yet another live event in its multimillion-dollar Steve Jobs Theater, Apple has gone all in with the finest drone footage money can buy for its fall iPhone announcement. Because of the pandemic, the “event” is actually a prerecorded video of executives and high-end ads that Apple is streaming online.
The videos have been getting more complicated over the past two years. Tuesday opened with a musical montage of California locations, including dunes, redwood groves, palm trees and deserted beaches. Notably missing were wildfires, thick smoke and drastically low lakes, all of which are current features of the state.
The video then cut to Apple CEO Tim Cook, who at first appeared to be in Joshua Tree himself. But nope, he was just in front of a really big screen, ready to talk about California dreaming.
What’s this year’s marquee iPhone feature?Return to menuBy Chris Velazco12:43 p.m.Link copiedLink
Apple’s most memorable iPhones stick in people’s minds because of a standout feature or design change. The iPhone 6 was the first to be joined by a “Plus” model, as consumers flocked to them in droves. A few years later, the iPhone X stood out for the way it reset Apple’s approach to phone design. And last year, for the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, the big deal was all about 5G.
So, what will this year’s models be remembered for?
Well, a fairly steady stream of leaks suggest there won’t be many dramatic changes to the iPhone formula this time. We might be looking at a smaller notch according to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, and maybe some screens with high refresh rates that make animations and transitions look super-smooth. (These would finally put Apple’s smartphone displays on the same playing field as high-end Android devices, which nerds like me have awaited for years.) But even if these changes turn out to be real, neither seems like a game changer.
“I only expect incremental innovation on the new range of iPhone 13 flagship devices,” Forrester vice president and principal analyst Thomas Husson wrote in a note.
There was one rumored feature that caught even seasoned Apple fans by surprise: satellite connectivity, so people could fire off emergency messages when cell service isn’t available. The value of a feature like this feels especially clear at this moment, when Gulf Coast residents are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, questionable cell coverage included. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot to suggest that a feature like this will be available this year — or that Apple will even fully pursue it.
All told, we might be looking at a surprisingly quiet year for the iPhone — we’ll soon see if Apple focused its resources on something else.
Behind the event, Apple’s battle with developers, privacy advocates and spiesReturn to menuBy Heather Kelly and Reed Albergotti12:15 p.m.Link copiedLink
Tuesday’s iPhone announcement will feature plenty of smiles, shiny new gadgets and well-rehearsed executives. But behind that high production is a company putting out multiple high-profile fires.
On Monday, just a day before the event, Apple issued an urgent security patch to close a flaw exploited in the hacking of iPhones and other devices made by the company. Researchers at Citizen Lab found the new exploit from NSO Group’s Pegasus surveillance tool targeting iPhones and other Apple devices through iMessage. While Apple’s patch was aimed at the Pegasus exploit, the company did not mention NSO Group. Citizen Lab found the flaw was most likely being used by government agencies that purchase NSO’s software to hack Apple customers remotely. It’s what’s known as a “zero-click” attack, in which the target does not even have to do anything to give up full access to their iPhone or Mac.
New Pegasus hack found targeting Apple devices through iMessage, researchers say
The news came on the heels of a federal judge issuing a landmark ruling on Friday that accused the iPhone maker of anticompetitive behavior. In the lawsuit against Apple filed by Fortnite maker Epic Games, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Apple must allow app developers to “steer” customers within apps to alternatives to the tech giant’s payment processing service, which collects up to a 30 percent fee on digital transactions. It marks a major victory for developers who have long complained of the tight grip the tech giant holds over its app store on the roughly 1 billion iPhones currently in use. Epic wanted the judge to force Apple to allow alternative payment processing services within apps and competing app stores on the iPhone. It plans to appeal the ruling to a higher court in hopes of getting more out of Apple.
Judge’s ruling may take a bite out of Apple’s App Store, but falls short of calling the iPhone maker a monopolist
On another front, Apple was forced to delay the rollout of a controversial plan earlier this month to scan users’ photos for child sexual abuse material. Security and privacy experts warned the software could open a back door to iPhones, giving governments and even hackers access to the devices without permission. Apple had touted its method of scanning as a privacy enhancement that set it apart from its competitors, but the company seemed unprepared for the overwhelming backlash. Its top executives blamed the public relations blunder on confusion about the technology Apple was using.
Apple delays the rollout of its plans to scan iPhones for child exploitation images