The Apple Event — No Surprises Here!

March 22nd, 2016

The rumor sites were pretty much on the mark about Apple’s March 21st media event. From a 4-inch iPhone, to a mid-sized iPad Pro, even the basic specs were mostly accurate. Clearly Apple’s supply chain is leaking like a sieve and it’s doubtful Apple can do very much about it.

But they were game. Apple put on an efficient, informative show, but there were no show stoppers of any note.

Still, if you want a 4-inch iPhone with specs to match the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus, or you had hoped for an update to the iPad Air 2, you weren’t disappointed.

Before getting to the hardware, Tim Cook covered the basics about Apple’s dispute over the FBI over the demand that it create a GovOS to allow the authorities to break into an iPhone 5c used by a terrorist. But the whole controversy might be moot. According to published reports, the Justice department has asked the court to vacate the motion ordering Apple to develop that backdoor, claiming that, “an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method to unlock” the iPhone 5c. If that method works, Apple won’t need to get involved. Big sigh!

I wonder if that’s an ethical hacker. The statement appears to imply a hacking scheme of some sort.

Moving on, Cook’s lieutenants delivered presentations on Apple’s environmental initiatives, such as how their gear is constructed to allow for easy recycling. Some stage time was also devoted to ResearchKit and CareKit, which are designed to empower medical research and help patients manage their conditions and care.

I’ll take the product intros, such as they are, in the order in which they were delivered. You’ll understand why I feel that much of it could have been accomplished with press releases.

So we have the Apple Watch. Without revealing any actual numbers, Tim Cook boasted that it’s the top selling smartwatch in the world. He also said it was number one in customer satisfaction. So what’s new and different? Well, more fancy watch bands, including some made with woven nylon. Echoing what some dealers have already done, the starting price was cut by $50.

Now reducing prices is nothing new for Apple, even though some will claim it’s evidence that the Apple Watch is a poor seller. Regardless, the move might help sell some extra watches ahead of the introduction of the second generation model, which will probably happen by fall. Remember that Apple cut the price of the third generation Apple TV last year, a few months before the new model was introduced.

Speaking of Apple TV, Cook said it had achieved record sales, but still no numbers. As of now, some 5,000 apps are available in its App Store. The tvOS update, released shortly after the media event, added folders to better organize apps, a dictation feature, Siri support for the App Store, support for the iCloud photo library, plus the long-awaited Bluetooth support so you can now pair a keyboard.

Cook introduced VP Greg Joswiak to introduce the iPhone SE. The feature set for Apple’s smallest iPhone is mostly comparable to the larger handsets except for, as predicted, the lack of 3D Touch support. No big deal. So it includes the A9 chip, and a 12 megapixel camera. Both computing and graphics performance was said to be identical to the larger iPhones, which makes the iPhone SE twice as fast as its immediate predecessor, the iPhone 5s; graphics are said to be three times faster.

If your wireless carrier is one of the few that still offers a two-year contract, you can get the entry-level 16GB version free. The 64GB model is $100 more. If you want to buy the unlocked version, the iPhone SE is now the cheapest model Apple has offered so far, listing for $399 and $499. Supposedly you can get one of these babies for as little as $17 per month on a lease or purchase plan.

In his introduction to the iPhone SE launch, Cook mentioned that, in 2015, 30 million 4-inch models were sold, and that was all legacy gear. So the big question is, and I’ve asked it before, why did it take six months to introduce it? Or was this meant, in part, as a stop-gap to prop up flagging sales until the next model intro? However, it won’t help this quarter’s sales much, since it won’t ship until March 31st; orders will be accepted as of March 24th.

During his presentation, Joswiak also announced that iOS 9 was now running on 80% of all active devices. This is, in part, due to the fact that it supports the same hardware as iOS 8. With the introduction of the iPhone SE, Apple launched the promised iOS 9.3 update.

In case you’re wondering, the adoption rate for the latest Android OS from Google is in the low single digits.

The new features in iOS 9.3 aren’t terribly spectacular, but still pretty clever. So there’s Night Shift, which moves the display colors to the warmer end of the spectrum. This is designed to help you sleep better if your eyes are focused on your iPhone or iPad at night. There are also improvements to such apps as Health, Maps, News, and even CarPlay. The latter is now being supported by most of the major auto makers and has been, or is being, introduced in over 100 models. In all fairness, many of these cars also include Android Auto; the auto makers are clearly not trying to play favorites.

There’s a long list of changes and improvements in iOS 9.3, including special features for education. So feel free to check them out at Apple’s site, or you can take a few moments to read the release notes when you see the update being offered on your device.

VP Philip Schiller demonstrated the expected successor to the iPad Air 2. Also known as the iPad Pro, it offers essentially the same features and specs as its 12.9-inch counterpart, and that includes support for the Apple Pencil. But Apple didn’t stop there. A True Color feature uses ambient light to offer better color accuracy. I suppose that’ll turn up in the next version of the larger iPad Pro.

While ignoring the sales decline, Cook announced that some 200 million were sold so far, and that the majority of iPad Pro users so far come from Windows. Thus it is being referred to as the “ultimate PC replacement.”

If you want the smaller Pro, the price is $100 more than the previous mid-sized iPads, but you get 32GB storage on the $599 entry-level version, compared to 16GB on the iPad Air 2. $150 more gets you 128GB; another $150 takes it to 256GB, a first for an iPad. The larger iPad Pro is also now being configured similarly. Preorders begin on March 24th, with shipments starting on March 31st. Again, it’s too late to really boost this quarter’s sales.

If you still want an iPad Air 2, you can now buy one for $100 less. And no, the new iPad Pro doesn’t provide any new incentive for me to use one.

Oh, and by the way, Apple also released a maintenance update for El Capitan, OS 10.11.4.

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2 Responses to “The Apple Event — No Surprises Here!”

  1. DaveD says:

    Interesting, new hardware on new products to be forthcoming to existing ones. As expected, no Mac news except for an El Capitan update. Haven’t gotten around to use my OS X 10.11.3 installer downloaded several weeks ago. OS X Yosemite has been behaving quite well after the last Security and Safari updates that the urge to move off has lessened. Maybe waiting for the 10.11.5 update which should pop up before WWDC?

    I’m glad that both encryption and the environment were mentioned at the event. Great to see Apple standing up for our privacy, moving rapidly to be environmentally green and making us more aware how to do business.

    • With few exceptions, such as confident with an Apple event, such as a WWDC, you can expect Mac announcements to come in a simple press release unless there’s a major change in form factor, or an all-new model.


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