iPhone XS has much-improved camera and bigger battery – and price tag – while Apple Watch Series 4 focuses on heart-rate and health
What was announced
The Apple Watch Series 4 will have a larger screen, in a shell that’s the same size edge-to-edge and slightly thinner on the wrist. As well as the standard speed bumps to the internal processors, the other major changes are to do with health monitoring: an ECG lets wearers measure their heart’s health using the device, while improved accelerometers can automatically call for help if the wearer has a nasty fall.
The new watches will be available for pre-order from Friday with prices starting at £399 ($399) for the normal version and £499 ($499) for the model with cellular connectivity. The older Series 3 gets a price cut to £279.
The iPhone X gets split into three devices: a direct sequel, the XS; a larger version, the XS Max; and a cheaper version with a worse screen and camera, the XR.
The XS is faster and better than its predecessor in all the normal ways. The XS Max is too, except it’s now got a 6.5 inch screen. And the XR, with an LCD screen (with slightly less impressive colour reproduction) is still the same on the inside, just without a telephoto lens on the back.
The XS and XS Max will be available for pre-order on Friday, shipping on the 21st. Prices start at £999 ($999) for the smaller version, and £1,099 ($1,099) for the larger version.
The XR won’t be available until October 26, and for pre-orders from the 19th, and will cost £749 ($749) and up.
And yup, that’s the end of the event. Tim Cook says goodbye, thanks the attendees, and “the people at Apple who made this magical day possible”.
Looks like we’re wrapping up, which means the thing that is notably missing, here, is AirPower, a wireless charging set-up that was announced this time last year and still hasn’t shipped. Seems like Apple’s going to try and pretend that delay hasn’t happened.
The Apple TV … doesn’t seem to be getting any hardware updates, just the previously announced software.
And the same is true for the Mac, which is getting macOS Mojave in two weeks.
Finally, a “few more updates” from Tim Cook.
The HomePod now has the ability to be paired to form stereo sound (which was supposed to be available at launch, but whatever), as well a few features that were announced back at WWDC in June.
On to the all-important prices.
The iPhone XS starts from $999 for a 64GB device.
The iPhone XS Max starts from $1099 for a 64GB device. Those are pre-orderable on Friday, and shipping on September 21.
The iPhone XR starts from $749 for a 64GB device – a price cut on the introductory price of the iPhone 8. It’s available to order on Oct 19, and shipping Oct 26. I wonder if that’s to prevent cannibalisation of the gotta-have-it-now crowd?
Price cuts downrange bring the iPhone 7 to $449 and iPhone 8 to $599.
UK prices are TBC. The phones will be carried by all the major carries, including EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone, although only EE and Vodafone seem to be fully supporting features like the cellular Apple Watch and the dual sim support.
Anyway, on to the final iPhone: the bright, multicoloured iPhone XR. Made from aluminium and glass, and with an iPhone X-style edge-to-edge screen, it’s halfway between the iPhone 8 and iPhone X.
The display is LCD, and Schiller calls it the “most advanced LCD ever in a smartphone”. It’s branded as the “Liquid Retina” display (the iPhone XS is a “super retina”, if you’re keeping track), and measures 6.1 inches edge to edge.
But the phone doesn’t have 3D Touch, the pressure-sensitive feature found in every previous iPhone since the 5S. Instead, it’s got “haptic touch”, which basically means it will click if you hold your finger on a button for a while.
Inside is the same chip as in the iPhones XS: the A12. And the front camera is also the same.
As well as the screen, the other major cost-saving is the rear camera: just one, this time, the 12MP wide-angle camera. But the phone doesn’t need the telephoto lens for the fancy new features, because it can fake them made using just AI.
Battery life is “an hour and a half longer than the iPhone 8 Plus”. Is that longer or shorter than the iPhone XS? Give us actual numbers, Apple, don’t make me dig out your press releases from last year and do arithmetic. I’m liveblogging, here.
In non-iPhone news, Google apparently decided now was the right time to announce they’re shuttering their mail service Inbox. Almost as though they’re trying to bury the news?
Apple’s SVP Lisa Jackson (re)announces that Apple is run on 100% renewable energy, and declares that Apple’s next goal is to use 100% recyclable materials. The company’s not there yet, but the XS includes some changes to push that way, like using tin in the logic board, and recycled plastic in the speaker enclosure.
Have another spec-heavy slide:
On battery, the XS has a 30 minute lead on the X, and the XS Max – with the largest battery ever on an iPhone – gets you 90 minutes more.
The iPhones XS are also shipping with dual sim support, through something called “dual sim dual standby”. It doesn’t work with two real Sim cards, though – just with Apple’s eSim support for the second Sim. Except in China, where it does.
In the UK, it’s supported by EE and Vodafone.
For video, the camera can now record stereo sound, and takes very high-quality low-light footage. But no video stabilisation – looks like the opening video of the event was just shot by someone with a very steady hand.
Even neater: you can now adjust the depth of field of an image after the fact. Schiller calls is a “new era of photography” and, while it’s not just Apple making these advances (shout out to Google), it’s incredibly impressive.
Phil Schiller returns, to talk about the iPhone XS’s camera.
It’s a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 12MP telephoto camera, with an “improved True Tone flash”. On the front is a new 7MP sensor.
“But increasingly what makes photos possible are the chip and the software that runs on it,” says Schiller. The A12 Bionic has a newer fancy image signal processor, and brings the AI chip in as well, pulling face detection and “facial landmarking” into the mix. The camera can do a trillion operations per photo, apparently.
One feature that enables is “smart HDR”, which brings a few photos of different exposure together. The way it does that is constantly shoot a four-frame buffer, with different exposures, so that the second you hit the shutter lens, it’s already got all the information it needs for a full HDR image. Neat!
We’ve had a game, we’ve had an AR app, so now, another games developer, talking about an AR game. It’s arcade classic Galaga, in AR form.
You point at flying bugs with your phone and then shoot them. It looks … banal. But it might be fun to play with kids, or if everyone involved is very drunk?
Next up, a developer and a basketball player. I imagine the tall guy is the basketball player.
They’re talking about an AR app called Homecourt. The app recognises a basketball court automatically, and can use AI to track shot attempts and successes. It tracks six metrics for every shot the player takes, including leg angle, shot speed and jump height.
It looks quite cool! This feels like the sort of thing that you used to only see on professional broadcasts, but now can be done automatically in real-time.
Apparently the result of all those techy changes is a good topline number: apps can launch up to 30% faster.
But other than that, we’re mostly getting a walkthrough of iOS 12 now, which we already heard about back in June.
The new chip at the core of the iPhone XS is the A12 Bionic, produced using a 7 nanometer process. It’s a bit techy, but that is impressive: it means the smallest features on the chip are just 7 nanometers across. The size of a glucose molecule, for comparison, is one nanometer.
Similarly techy is the fact that the chip now has a 4-core GPU, a 6-core CPU, and a Neural Engine – all capable of performing 5 trillion operations per second.
Less techy: the phones are now available with up to 512GB of storage. That’s a lot of photos.
FaceID is “faster than ever before”, Schiller says, but otherwise seems unchanged. Which makes sense, because faces are largely the same as they were last year.
Here’s a slide with a bunch of specs, for those interested in that sort of thing:
iPhone XS Max
And on to the larger phone, with a 6.5 inch display.
It’s basically the same size as an iPhone 8 Plus, with an extra inch of display, making it “bigger than plus size”, which is why it’s the “iPhone XS Max”.
Phil Schiller hops up to talk about the iPhone XS – pronounced “tennis”, apparently.
It has a gold finish (as well as silver and space grey), making it “the most beautiful iPhone we’ve ever made”, and is covered with a new glass that is the “most durable ever”.
It’s more waterproof, rated for up to 2m for ten minutes. That holds for water, wine, orange juice and beer, apparently.
But most of these specs are the same, broadly as the iPhone X – we’re getting more comparisons with the old iPhone 8 Plus, and yes, it is still the case that the screen is bigger while the phone is smaller. It does, apparently, have a 60% greater dynamic range than the old iPhone X.
Cook back on stage, and we whizz over to the iPhone.
The iPhone X has “changed the industry” and became the “number one smartphone in the world”, Cook tells us. “Today, we’re going to take iPhone X to the next level. I’m excited to show you what is by far the most advanced iPhone we have ever created.” Cue the video for the iPhone XS – in, as expected, two sizes.
The company is adding to its high heart-rate alert with three new features: a low heart-rate alarm, a notification for signs of atrial fibrillation (a condition resulting in an irregular heart-rate), and a new sense for enabling ECG measurements.
“We’ve added sensors at the back of the watch allowing you to take an electrocardiogram, otherwise known as an ECG,” Williams said. “This is the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers.
“An ECG measures the electrical activity of the heartbeat. Now you can take an ECG anytime, anywhere.”
Ivor Benjamin, president of the American Heart Association, comes on stage to note that patients often report symptoms that aren’t present when they come to the doctor – exactly the sort of symptoms that are extremely hard to diagnose.
Williams confirms that Apple has received FDA approval for these features – which means for now, they’re US only.
On battery life, the Apple Watch lasts “all day” apparently.
It’s coming out in three aluminium finishes, and three stainless steel versions too, while all the older bands are compatible with the new watch as well.
On the commercial partnerships: the Nike Sport loop has reflective yarn for night-time visibilty, and the Hermes versions have new faces.
Pricing starts at $399 for the GPS version and $499 for the cellular version, with a price cut for series 3 to $279.
You can order it from Friday, shipping on Friday 21 September, and watchOS 5 is launching on 17 September.
And, of course, Williams leans heavily on Apple’s record v Google and Facebook to note that you can trust it with your health data: it’s all encrypted, on-device, and only you get to decide who sees it.
That last point sounds dull, but Williams notes that it enables the Watch to detect a fall. “Identifying a fall sounds straightforward, but it requires a large amount of data and analysis. With falls, there’s this repeatable motion pattern that happens. When you trip, your arms go forward; but when you slip, your arms go upward.”
The new accelerometer and gyroscope look out for these signs, and the Watch pushes the option for calling emergency services if it spots them. If there’s no movement at all for the next minute, it calls emergency services automatically.
It’s fair to say that the feature could save lives.
Already getting a bit bullet-pointy, here:
- The digital crown now has haptic feedback, giving it a clicky feel reminiscent of the old iPods.
- The speaker is 50% louder.
- The back of the watch is made of black ceramic, letting radio waves pass through the front and back.
- The central chip is the called the S4 (of course), with a CPU that promises “up to two times faster performance”.
- The accelerometer is “next generation” and can sample data 8x faster.
The Breathe app is also a watch face, apparently, helping those who turn to their Apple Watch for a moment of mindfulness.
For less useful trippy watch faces, there’s now some elemental videos that you can play in the background, showing fire, water and air bubbling around.
Cue the video introduction for the Apple Watch Series 4, which looks… exactly like the leaks.
“Everything about it has been redesigned and re-engineered,” Williams says. “It all starts with a stunning new display. The screens are significantly larger; in fact, over 30%. And we’ve done this with minimal changes to the case size. It’s thinner, so there’s less total volume, and every part of the UI has been redesigned.”
“We’ve created new complications [the widgets that can be put directly on the watch face] “that show more detail,” he adds. “We also redesigned the modular face, with more graphical information: so now, you can track the live score of your favourite team with MLB At Bat, or your flight information with the Qantas app.”
Williams introduces the three cores of the Apple Watch: connectivity, fitness, and health.
As an aside: This is notably different from Cook’s priorities when the Watch was launched, which combined health and fitness and included timekeeping as the third plank. Both, of course, are a callback to Jobs’ own introduction of the iPhone, as an iPod, Phone, and internet tablet.
We’re starting with the Apple Watch, though. “Now, Apple Watch is being embraced by so many people around the world,” Cook says. “It’s not only the number one smartwatch in the world, it’s the number one watch period.”
Cook introduces Jeff Williams, Apple COO, on stage to talk through the Watch further.
Mildly diverting pastiche done, Tim Cook takes to the stage, setting the scene by talking about Apple’s mission to make computing “more persona”.
The iPhone’s operating system is, he says, the “most personal” one, and the number of iOS devices shipped is shortly going to hit 2bn. That’s a big number.
We’re off, with a short video of people entering the theatre, followed by a longer Mission: Impossible parody of someone running Tim Cook’s remote control over to the presentation.
(If anyone is looking for clues as to what’s about to come, I reckon the first video is already providing one: it’s perfectly stabilised. Video stabilisation is one of the features that Apple’s lagged behind competitors on.)
What to expect
Three new iPhones, the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR, will be announced tonight.
- The first is a standard update to the iPhone X, with faster innards concealed inside a barely changed exterior case (other than the new option of a gold phone).
- The second is an all-new replacement for the old iPhone Plus models, upsizing the iPhone X’s form-factor (replete with notch and FaceID) into a larger body. Unlike the Plus, however, don’t expect substantially different specs; this is likely a size difference only.
- The third is more of a mystery. Designed to fill the cheap end of the lineup, replacing the iPhones 8, it won’t have the expensive (beautiful) OLED screens of the iPhone X, but may still achieve the edge-to-edge display and FaceID. Look for it in a variety of colours, too, mimicking the old iPod Minis.
Two new Apple Watches – or two sizes the company’s new smartwatch, the Series 4. Apple appears to have succeeded in cramming an edge-to-edge display into these watches too, allowing it to offer larger screens without making the watches themselves bigger.
New iPads. Something’s probably happening, since Apple’s been making icons for an iPad without a home button (which it then accidentally included in a beta version of iOS 12 – rookie error). But quite what will be replaced is still a mystery. Other rumours include a USB-C connection and a missing headphone jack.
That long-delayed Airpower wireless charger. Announced last year, but still not for sale, Apple probably decided to hold the release for the next big event. The only question is, will they mention it on stage, or be embarrassed enough to sneak it out through a press release.
A new Mac Mini. It’s been years since this line got a refresh, leading many to conclude it was dead, but word on the street is that Apple is looking at a replacement for a hardware design that has proved enduringly popular.
New AirPods. We’ve got the specs – two-way wireless charging and noise cancelling features included – but no hint of a release date. Probably coming next year rather than this, though.
Hello, and welcome to another iPhone launch event.
At 6pm UK time (10am San Francisco, or 1pm New York), Tim Cook will take to the stage in the Steve Jobs Memorial Theater in Apple’s Cupertino campus to reveal new iPhones, Apple Watches and more.
We’ll be liveblogging the event here, or, if you’re so inclined you can watch the whole thing live on Apple’s website or on Twitter.
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