A big iPhone, mobile payments, and a smartwatch -- Apple has finally delivered on three of its most longstanding promises about the future of its mobile business. The 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is now accompanied by the 5.5-inch 6 Plus, and both models come with NFC and the “Apple Pay” tap-to-pay system. And the Apple Watch is ready to compete with Google’s Android Wear, with a range of customizable designs and a completely new interface.
Update: Read our Apple Watch review.
Apple is definitely playing catch-up here—it’s adopting features that Google and others announced months or years ago. But this is also how the company has succeeded with products like the iPad: perfect the technology, and then bowl over the competition. We’ve sat through a string of boring Apple events, but this wasn’t one of them.
First: iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
A brand new design
Apple has varied its designs over the years, from the rounded back of the original iPhone to the flat design of the 5S. Today, for the first time, we’ve got two different sizes in the same generation, and they’re coming with plenty of other changes. Visually, the 6 is still very recognizable as an iPhone. But now the glass front melts into the curved all-metal sides on both models, and they’re thinner than previous iterations, with a significant size bump for even the small model. A camera protrudes slightly from the back, and the display is supposed to be stronger, with a higher resolution. Battery life on the smaller iPhone 6 is seeing a relatively small bump, with 10 hours more talk time and an hour more Wi-Fi browsing time, and the 6 Plus will see a larger bump, getting twice as much talk time as the iPhone 5S’ 40 hours and a couple of hours more time browsing the web. But it’s still the familiar black rectangle with curved edges; if anything, it’s a bit of a callback to Apple’s original design – slightly softer and less boxy.
The iPhone 6 Plus
Apple entered the phablet market with the iPhone 6 Plus, its largest phone ever. The Plus has a 5.5-inch screen and a Retina HD display that carries a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, or 185 percent the pixels of the iPhone 5S. And it’s thinner than the iPhone 5S at 7.1 millimeters. The extra real estate lets you put the home screen in landscape mode for the first time; you can also put the phone in landscape to see a second pane for some apps. The keyboard now carries a few extra keys, including dedicated buttons for cut, copy, and paste.
The Plus also gets a new gesture, called reachability: double-tap the home button and the top of the screen scrolls down, letting you reach elements at the top of the screen without reaching with your thumb. It’s all powered by a 64-bit A8 chip, which is 13 percent smaller than its predecessor but offers significantly improved performance, particularly for games. And battery life is the same or better as the iPhone 5S, Apple says.
The iPhone 6
Compared to the 4-inch iPhone 5S, the iPhone 6 is still a "big iPhone" with its 4.7-inch Retina HD screen. But relatively speaking, that puts it in the company of most other Android phones on the market. The new display has 1334 x 750 pixels compared to the 5S’ 1136 x 640 resolution, and while we don’t see the rumored sapphire display, it’s still supposed to have an extra-hard "ion-strengthened" screen. The new body is 6.9mm instead of 7.6mm, with a slight protrusion for the camera. We’ll also see a small bump in battery life along with faster performance from the new A8 processor and new features from iOS 8.
The A8 chip works with a barometer for a fitness focus
Is it a surprise that Apple introduced a new, faster processor for its latest generation of iPhone? No. But we’re still being promised a major bump in specs with the A8 chip, which is supposed to be 50 percent more efficient than the A7 inside the current-generation iPhones and iPads, with a 25 percent faster CPU. Plus it’s 13 percent smaller. The new design is also supposed to manage "sustained performance" better than other processors, letting it run for longer without heating up. Apple is putting a focus on life-logging with this event, so it makes sense that the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus can now calculate not just distance but relative elevation, thanks to a built-in barometer that measures air pressure. Expect a lot more options on your fitness trackers in the coming months.
The camera gets stable
The new iPhones boast improved cameras, though they start with the same 8-megapixel rear camera with a f/2.2 aperture as the last model. But the sensor has been upgraded, and the "next-generation iSight sensor" has what Apple is calling "focus pixels." Those pixels offer DSLR-like phase-detection autofocus, which is supposed to be twice as fast as the 5S. And now it’s easier to take high-dynamic range (HDR) photos. Both iPhones can take HDR shots with a single click of the shutter, rather than a series of shots, as before. Apple has also brought back "True Tone Flash," which, like the last model, uses two different LEDs to attempt to match the color temperature for better flash photos. They shoot video at 1080p at 30 or 60 frames per second, and can do slow-motion video at 240 frames per second. Your panoramas can be up to 43 megapixels, and the iPhone 6 Plus has optical image stabilization to account for shaky hands.
Prices start at $199, available in grey, white, and gold
The iPhone 6 starts at $199 for 16GB and goes to $399 for 128GB. The 6 Plus starts at $299 for 16GB and goes up to $499 for 128GB. Both are available in the current "space grey," white, and gold models. The iPhone 5C is now free with a two-year contract. You can pre-order the phones Friday, and they ship Sept. 19th.
iOS 8 is available on September 17th
Apple didn't spend much time talking about any new features in the latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 8, but did announce that it will be available as a free upgrade on September 17th, two days before the launch of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
How ApplePay works
Apple—like every other phone manufacturer—has been trying to replace your wallet for a long time. But attempts to do this have mostly failed, and Apple has stayed away from the most widely accepted method, NFC payments. That’s all changed with Apple Pay. There’s now an NFC antenna at the top of the iPhone, which means ApplePay will function anywhere that something like Google Wallet would work. The TouchID fingerprint reader at the bottom is supposed to provide an extra layer of security. You can either take a picture of a credit card to use it (presumably there will be some safeguards to stop you from stealing your friend’s identity) or use a card that’s on file with your iTunes account already. Apple also has a fairly long explanation for why your data is secure, saying that cashiers and merchants won’t be able to see your card number, Apple won’t know what you buy, and that you can suspend service on a lost phone using the Find My iPhone service—although that’s going to need to be tested first.
So where can you pay?
Apple has struck partnerships for its NFC wallet with American Express, Visa, MasterCard, six major banks including Chase and Bank of America, and 22,000 retailers, including Macy’s Bloomingdale’s, Walgreens, Whole Foods, Disney, Staples, and McDonalds. Eddy Cue says Apple Pay’s partnerships cover 80 percent of the US credit card base, which will hopefully provide enough of a critical mass that paying by iPhone will be more than a novelty.
One more thing: the Apple Watch
More than a timepiece
It’s not called the iWatch, it’s called Apple Watch. Apple is positioning its first new major product since 2010 as a fashion accessory, a communication tool, a fitness tracker, and a method of payment, among other things. As rumored, it’s going to come in a lot of different models: There are two sizes, and six different straps created by Apple itself. There’s a sports band, a leather loop that uses magnets for fastening, and a second leather model that uses a metal clasp, among others.
"Apple Watch is the most personal device we’ve ever created," Tim Cook says. It’s a precise, customizable timepiece accurate to within 50 milliseconds. It lets you communicate directly from your wrist, monitors your health and fitness, and is designed to work seamlessly with the iPhone. It has a touchscreen that can tell the difference between a tap and a long press, which access contextual menus. Apple Watch also has health monitoring features: it measures your daily activity, including steps taken and heart rate. And it charges inductively. But it’s not a standalone device: you need an iPhone to make it work. Cook says it has lots of features that weren’t even covered in detail today, including controlling your Apple TV, serving as a viewfinder for your iPhone camera, and acting as a walkie-talkie. One feature we know nothing about: battery life. Cook didn’t say anything about it.
Check out our hands-on impressions here.
The Digital Crown interface
The key to the interface is the watch’s side-mounted dial, or "crown," which you might want imagine as a reimagined iPod clickwheel. Turning the crown does things like zoom in and out of maps and scroll through messages. Pushing it returns you to the device’s home screen. The interface is designed to minimize the hassle of using a small screen – the included messaging app lets you respond using canned replies or spoken ones that you dictate, and the communication system gets its own little dedicated button under the crown. Beyond that, the interface will also differentiate between taps and hard presses, giving users more options for interaction but departing from Apple’s normal touch system.
The communication button
Prepare to feel like Dick Tracy, because Apple wants you talking on its watch. The app lets you access a list of favorite people, and you can tap on their faces to communicate with them via a phone call or a new messaging app that lets you send drawings back and forth. It’s separate from the messages app, which has some bold new features of its own: one lets you send animated emoji to your friends, and you can change the emoji’s faces by moving them with your fingers.
A true health and fitness device
Apple Watch includes a fitness app that monitors your activity throughout your day, and a workout app that lets you set specific goals for workouts like cycling and running. The apps show you summaries of your fitness and workout data and shares it with the iPhone’s Health app, where it can be accessed by third-party fitness apps.
Two sizes and a lot of bands
While Google is shopping out Android Wear to different manufacturers, Apple is trying to build a whole line of smartwatches on its own. The Apple Watch comes in two sizes, both rounded metal squares, and three finishes, including the "Apple Watch Edition" in 18-karat gold. Beyond that, it’s got six different kinds of swappable band, made of everything from leather to plastic to stainless steel. If it’s like other popular Apple products, the watch will also create a thriving market for third-party accessories, so get ready for a lot of customization.
$349, available early next year
Apple Watch goes on sale early next year for $349 at the low end. "And it is worth the wait," Cook said. Until then, we’re also waiting for any details on battery life and potential wireless connectivity, as well as a full list of prices.