There’s a lot riding on Apple’s massive iPhone 6 and iWatch event. Since the first iPad in 2010, the big question on everyone’s mind has been “what comes next?” Apple updates its lineup on a fairly predictable schedule, but products that push the company into entirely new categories have been few and far between. That hasn’t hurt Apple financially by any stretch; in fact, it continues to make more on each device it sells than just about anyone. Still, a constant stream of promises from Apple’s top execs have drawn out the idea that something big is just around the corner.
That something big is very likely making its debut at Apple’s event next Tuesday, which kicks off at 1PM ET / 10AM PT. The company has spent the past week erecting a large, white building right outside the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, just down the road from its headquarters. While new models of the iPhone are a shoo-in, all eyes are on the company to finally take the wraps off its wearable — the one that’s been rumored to be in the works since 2012, and that could shake up a market where rivals like Google and Samsung already have a head start.
The Verge will be there live to bring you all the news. But in the meantime, here’s what to expect from today's big Apple event.
Two bigger iPhones
Multiple reports have pegged Apple to launch two completely new and different versions of the iPhone 6: one at 4.7 inches and another at 5.5 inches. But it’s not just reports. There’s been a slew of leaked parts (like there are every year), showing off a new design that bears more of a resemblance to the iPod touch and its rounded edges than the slightly taller iPhones we’ve known for the past two years.
What’s the big deal? A larger screen makes text, photos, and videos easier to see. It also gives developers more space within their apps for additional buttons and features, similar to what we’ve seen them do in the jump from the iPhone to the iPad. More importantly though, it puts Apple on equal footing with competitors that have been releasing increasingly larger phones for years. Make no mistake about it, this is Apple playing catch-up.
So what will be new besides the larger screen? It looks like Apple is moving the sleep / wake power switch from the top of the phone to the side. That’s not a new thing for smartphones by any measure, but it makes a difference when using a bigger device where your finger can’t reach the top as easily. Apple is also said to have added a special one-handed mode, something Samsung’s done with some of its larger devices by actually shrinking the interface down.
Bigger phones mean bigger batteries
Apple appears to have made the phone thinner than the iPhone 5 and 5S. Alleged schematics that appeared last month, along with plenty of leaked parts, suggest it’s about 7mm thick, which is a hair smaller than the 7.6mm iPhone 5S. Not everything is shrinking though. The battery expected to end up in the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 clocks in at 1,810mAh, up slightly from 1,560mAh battery in the iPhone 5S. It’s a different story for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6, which is expected to come with a 2,915mAh battery — nearly twice what you find in Apple’s current model. There’s no telling whether that will make a meaningful difference in how long it lasts, something Samsung has gleefully been harping on in its most recent ads.
Also expect a larger 128GB model (you can currently only go up to 64GB on iPhones though Apple’s gone up to 128GB on iPads); a better camera that might actually jut out of the casing a little bit but offer a new feature that takes "super-resolution" photos; an NFC chip; a speedier, next-generation A8 processor to replace last year’s A7 processor; as well as a barometer, which would be a measure things like elevation and ambient temperature.
Also expect the use of sapphire for the screen on at least one of the models, says The Wall Street Journal. Apple’s already used laser-cut sapphire crystal to cover the iPhone 5S’ TouchID button, and has used it as a lens cover on the rear iSight camera since the iPhone 5. Since then it’s ramped up production of the super scratch- and drop-resistant material in facilities in Arizona.
The big question is whether all these new things, as well as the jump to a larger screen, will mean a heftier price. Right now, the iPhone 5S tops out at $399 for a 64GB model on contract, which is how much the first iPhone cost (after a very quick price cut). Size seemingly hasn’t made much of a difference in the price of competing products, with phones like the LG G3, Galaxy Note 3, and just-announced Lenovo Vibe Z2 coming in well below that.
NFC and mobile payments
Apple’s been interested in Near Field Communications (NFC) for years, but has aways stayed away because it’s been such a finicky and poorly-supported technology. That’s about to change though. The new iPhones and Apple’s upcoming watch will feature the wireless technology, according to multiple reports.
Why include NFC? It allows data transfers between devices without using a cellular network, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone have offered this for years, and it’s been used for things like automatically adjusting settings or launching apps when a device is tapped to another NFC sensor. It also lets you pair your device to another quickly, so NFC tags have shown up on gadgets like cameras and printers.
Apple’s rumored to be eyeing it as a way to let people pay for things using their phone like a credit card. People already do that with Apple’s App Store, in iTunes, iBooks, and from within apps, but the company’s expected to open that up in other places like actual retail stores, where you could tap to pay. Apple has more than 800 million iTunes accounts set up and attached to payment information, giving it plenty of weight to throw around, and it's reportedly already made agreements with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express leading up to tomorrow's event.
Apple’s said to have built NFC into several prototypes over the years, including the iPhone 5. Funnily enough, Apple executive Phil Schiller dismissed the technology in a 2012 interview with All Things D, saying "Passbook does the kinds of things customers need today." Apparently that's changed.
Developers have had their hands on iOS 8 since Apple’s developers conference in June, but it’s still a work in progress. Expect that to change tomorrow, with a finished version that developers will get the same day, with the public getting it next week. Apple’s done that for the last three years, and expect the same thing to happen this time around.
iOS 8 isn’t a dramatic visual change like iOS 7, as much as a huge pile of new features that open up the platform and tie it deeper to Apple’s OS X desktop software. Among the new features is something called Continuity that lets people hand off their tasks from an iPhone or iPad to a Mac. Apple’s also added a new predictive keyboard called QuickType, and actually opened up iOS to third-party keyboards, something Google’s Android has offered for years.
Other new features include voice and group messaging, a file browser for iCloud, unlimited photo and video storage in iCloud (if you pay for storage), along with a new app called Health that tracks health statistics and is expected to be an integral part of Apple’s wearable.
Just about everyone’s got a smartwatch out by now, but not Apple. That’s all but guaranteed to change tomorrow. The big expectation is a wearable device that runs iOS, come with the App Store, and that can measure biometric information to feed into Apple’s HealthKit service and Health app. Yet one of the most closely guarded details is what exactly it will look like. Is it a watch, or something like a fitness band? A pair of reports from The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times last week said the device will feature a flexible OLED display and come in multiple sizes. On the hardware side, it’s said to have things like wireless charging, and the aforementioned NFC chip for making payments and possibly other uses.
The first murmurings that Apple was working on this bubbled up out of China near the end of 2012, with the expectation that Apple would have a product ready to go sometime later that year. That didn’t happen, but just about every one of Apple’s competitors has readied smartwatches since then. Google’s even introduced an entire wearables platform, with the first big wave of products out the door and onto the wrists of customers.
As for when Apple’s watch is coming out, and how much will it cost, there might be a wait involved. Citing sources, Recode says that Apple plans to ship it sometimes next year, and for less than $400. Some of the other big questions that Apple needs to answer are how existing iOS applications will work with it, as well as how it’s going to be better than the growing list of devices that are already out there.
Contrary to popular belief, the iPod is not dead. At least not entirely. While iPod sales have declined since 2008, people are still buying them. Just last quarter, Apple sold 2.9 million iPods, and historically, more than half of those have been the iPod touch.
But one big reason we’re due for an update is time. The last time Apple overhauled the iPod touch was alongside the iPhone 5 in 2012. That design extended the screen to 4 inches and added a small loop for a camera strap. But a lot’s changed since 2012, especially on the inside of Apple’s iOS devices. The A5 chip that’s currently on the touch is getting long in the tooth, especially when compared last year’s A7, and the A8 that's likely to be in the iPhone 6. Graphics-intensive games like the recently-released Bioshock are proof of that, since the latest iPod touch can't even run it.
One wrinkle in this is that Apple quietly launched an updated version of its entry-level iPod touch near the end of June that added a 5-megapixel iSight camera to the back of the device. It also trimmed the prices on the two higher-end models.
Up in the air is what happens with Apple’s other iPods. Apple revamped the iPod nano in 2012 with a narrow metal design that added Bluetooth, yet it also added a strange not-quite-the-iOS-you’re-used-to interface that’s nothing like where Apple went with last year’s iOS 7. There’s the very real question about how this product will exist alongside a wearable that might do many of the same things. As for the iPod shuffle and iPod classic, Apple seems to have taken them as far as they’ll go. Each serves its purpose, either as a very cheap clip on MP3 player, or a portable hard drive for your entire music collection. You have to wonder how long the Classic has though, especially since Apple now owns two streaming music services.