Apple’s iPhone 6S announcement: what to expect
iPhones, Apple TV, maybe iPads, maybe more
It's that time of year again. For five years now, Apple has held a big event around September to announce the next iPhone — or, as in the past two years, the next iPhones. This year is no different. Apple is holding a major event on Wednesday, September 9th in one of the biggest San Francisco conference halls it's ever occupied. We're expecting two new iPhones, but the announcements won't stop there.
This is going to be a big event. If the reports coming out of Cupertino are accurate, we may also be seeing a long-awaited refresh of the Apple TV, a bigger and more capable iPad, and even an updated iPad mini. For all of the details on what to expect — including which of these announcements are a lock and which are just maybes — we've put together a full preview of the event below.
The event itself kicks off Wednesday, September 9th at 1PM ET / 10AM PT. As always, you'll be able to follow along with our live blog for immediate updates on Apple's announcements.
iPhone 6S & 6S Plus
Wednesday's main event will be two new iPhones: the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus, as they'll almost certainly be named. As with prior "S" years, these two phones should maintain the same design that the iPhone already has, albeit with some minor tweaks. Most notably, both phones are expected to be ever so slightly thicker, according to analyst projections and leaked prototypes. That's for a few possible reasons, such as to make room for new components, to account for a change over to the tougher aluminum used in the Apple Watch Sport, or simply to strengthen areas prone to bending.
The biggest new feature of the 6S and 6S Plus is expected to be pressure sensitivity, which Apple calls Force Touch. Force Touch was first introduced on the Apple Watch earlier this year, allowing the Watch's display to detect when pressure is being applied to it. It'll likely work much in the same way on the iPhone: when you press down on the screen, it'll be able to detect where you're pressing and how hard.
Press the screen for... more menus?
Force Touch on the iPhone could be used to pull up new menus or perform specific actions. It might even allow the iPhone to duplicate the functions of a pressure sensitive stylus. More than likely, we'll have to wait for developers to figure out the most interesting uses for Force Touch — certainly, some games will be able to take advantage of it in clever ways.
Read next: The iPhone 6S review.
Oh, and one final note on Force Touch: according to 9to5Mac, the feature may end up being renamed for the iPhone. Its latest report says that "3D Touch Display" will likely be the branding, with the name referencing Apple's plan to have three types of touches used consistently throughout the operating system. That includes a tap, a press, and a deeper press. It sounds confusing, but it's possible that the phone will offer feedback to make the interactions more natural.
Better camera, better specs
Apple will also be giving these iPhones the usual spec bumps. That includes a new, faster processor and supposedly a jump up to 2GB of RAM — finally. The more interesting changes may be around the camera: the new iPhones are expected to have a 12-megapixel rear camera, rather than an 8-megapixel camera like the last four models, according to several reports. It's also expected to be able to shoot 4K video.
There'll be a big change for both iPhones' front cameras, too. That camera is believed to be jumping up to a 5-megapixel sensor with an accompanying flash, which should result in some improved selfies. A flash and a 5-megapixel sensor are pretty standard features across other top smartphones at this point, and given how widely used that camera is for selfies, it's probably about time Apple caught up.
6 on the outside, 6S on the inside
A new color
So how will you let everyone know that you have the latest iPhone and not just an iPhone 6? It sounds like there'll be at least one way: Apple is said to start offering the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus in rose gold, matching the Apple Watch color. It'll just be aluminum — not actual gold — which means it's something you'll actually see around, and not just under Apple's display cases.
All the rest
There have also been some predictions that Touch ID will get a bit faster or more reliable on the new iPhones. Otherwise, that's it for the major changes. The phones are expected to keep their existing pricing and storage tiers, according to 9to5Mac, so the iPhone 6S should start at $199 for a 16GB model, and go up to $299 for the 64GB and $399 for the 128GB model; iPhone 6S Plus models should all be $100 extra. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 5S should each remain on sale, both having their prices cut by $100. That means the iPhone 5C will vanish — and there isn't expected to be a new iPhone 6C to take its place. Not yet, at least.
It's been close to three years since the Apple TV was updated, so it's no exaggeration when we say that Wednesday's announcement is long overdue. Since its inception, the Apple TV has done a fine job of streaming movies and TV shows into the living room, but its capabilities stopped at that. Now, Apple is finally about to take the position beneath your TV seriously and let the Apple TV become a lot more powerful.
The main way it's going to do that is with an app store. According to BuzzFeed News, Apple is planning to let developers start creating Apple TV apps, allowing them to put games, new video services, and other apps right on your TV. That alone will make the Apple TV far more capable. While we don't really know what — if anything — makes for a good TV app, games and new streaming services will quickly open up far more possibilities for the set-top box than it's had before.
Siri, search, and interface updates
We're also expecting some big changes around how you navigate the Apple TV. Right now, the interface is just an endless grid of rectangles that you scroll through until you find the service you want. Worse, if you want to find a specific movie, you have to go look for it in every service you have until you find it.
The new Apple TV is supposed to solve that. The main way is with Siri and a universal search, according to BuzzFeed News. Rather than typing out the name of a movie, you should just be able to speak it to Siri and have the Apple TV show you which services are streaming it. And that's it. Done. It's not a unique feature — Amazon introduced something like this over a year ago, for instance — but it's going to be extremely helpful.
The interface itself is also expected to get some sort of design overhaul. It's not clear if that'll just be stylistic or if it'll go deeper and actually make the system's menus more intuitive, but the latter would certainly be preferred.
A new remote
The good news is that the way you navigate the Apple TV is supposed to change big time. For the most part, that's thanks to a fancy new remote with Siri built in. You'll just hit a button and speak into the remote, and that'll be what activates the universal search feature mentioned above.
The remote is also supposed to have a swipeable touchpad, which will hopefully make moving around the Apple TV's endless menus a bit quicker. It may also be helpful for gaming — the remote is supposed to double as a basic game controller, according to 9to5Mac, with it even having motion sensitivity built in just like an iPhone. Other than that, you can probably expect it to maintain some sort of home or menu button and a play / pause button.
But no Apple streaming service
It's been widely reported that Apple eventually wants to offer its own streaming TV service. Unfortunately, that's not going to start next week. Or even necessarily this year, as Recode previously reported.
Content deals aren't easy to make, and content providers are likely hesitant to work with a behemoth like Apple, which can turn an industry inside out. Instead, Apple seems to be interested in getting Apple TVs next to as many television sets as it can, so that when the service is ready, plenty of people will be able to sign up.
That hardly means that there won't be anything to watch, however. If you're a cable subscriber — or you know the password of someone who is a cable subscriber — you should be able to stream TV from a number of major networks. There'll also still be all of the apps you expect, like Netflix and Hulu, and likely a whole lot more once app developers get to work.
All the rest
The Apple TV box itself is believed to be getting a bit slimmer on the outside. On the inside, it should be much more powerful, too. According to 9to5Mac and BuzzFeed News, it's expected to receive some version of the A8 processor that's currently in the iPhone 6, and it'll include either 8GB or 16GB of storage (we'd obviously love to see the latter, but never count on Apple to be generous with storage). Pricing is reported to start at $149, and it wouldn't be surprising to see models with additional storage sell for a premium.
The only big downside that's been reported about the new Apple TV so far is that it isn't believed to support 4K video, according to 9to5Mac. That isn't a problem if you only plan on keeping it for a couple years, but 4K TVs are making their way into the market in a big way. If you're buying a TV soon, there's a good chance you'll be going 4K, and this model of the Apple TV won't be ready for that. For most people, that's not going to be a problem — there isn't much to watch in 4K yet anyway — but it's worth keeping in mind.
For about a year now, word has been going around that Apple is working on a larger iPad. Apple supposedly wants the new iPad in stores by the end of this year, and that means it could see an announcement on Wednesday, according to 9to5Mac. Its announcement isn't a sure thing, but if we don't hear about it this month, we'll almost certainly hear about it next.
There's no guarantee that the bigger iPad will be called the iPad Pro, either; but the name fits with Apple's existing naming schemes, so we're running with it until Apple says otherwise.
A way bigger display
Don't just think bigger tablet. Think: "this is basically the size of a laptop."
A bigger screen than the MacBook
The iPad Pro is expected to include a 12.9-inch display — for context, the new MacBook has a 12-inch display, and the MacBook Pro starts with a 13.3-inch display. This is going to be one big iPad. Expect that display to be every bit as sharp as the iPad Air's, too. This is almost certainly going to be a high-end tablet.
The iPad Pro is almost certainly going to be as powerful — and very likely more powerful — than the current top-of-the-line iPad. Chances are, this new iPad will get filled with the same general specs as the new iPhones, including an A9 processor and 2GB of RAM. If Apple really is designing this iPad for the office, than it might make sense to see extra connectivity features — be it additional ports or wireless systems like NFC, as AppleInsider has reported — to let the tablet do a bit more.
With a stylus?
Steve Jobs famously derided the stylus when introducing the first iPad. But times have changed, and so have touchscreens. At least one analyst — and a reliable one, at that — has been guessing that Apple will sell a stylus alongside the iPad Pro. And as of Friday, 9to5Mac was reporting that a stylus may actually ship with the iPad Pro. Either way, Apple creating a stylus in would mark a big shift in how it sees the iPad being used.
There's a good chance that the iPad Pro will use the same Force Touch technology as the Apple Watch (and soon the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus) in order to let its users get more done. Combined with the tablet's big size, a stylus could make this iPad into an excellent tool for creating art. It's possible that pressure sensitivity will make the iPad better for note-taking, too, which may finally make the iPad a viable alternative to a notepad when walking into class or a meeting. 9to5Mac also reports that Apple is working on a keyboard accessory for the iPad; it sounds like the keyboard won't be included, but — like the Surface — it's possible that it'll be a must-have accessory. Between that and a stylus, Apple should be able to set the iPad Pro apart from the iPad Air in a real way.
Every time Apple introduces a new screen size, it adds some new features into iOS to take advantage of the difference. That'll likely be no different here, even if the changes are small. 9to5Mac reports that some changes are expected in how Siri and Notification Center are presented. One big feature that we're certain to see is multitasking. Apple is introducing true multitasking with iOS 9, and it's sure to play a prominent role here. With a screen that big, perhaps the iPad Pro will even be able to handle more than two apps at a time.
All the rest
The iPad Pro is by far the upcoming Apple product that we know about the least. It's easy to guess at what's in a bigger iPad, but it looks like we're going to have to wait for Apple to explain what extra software features are in it — not to mention why you'd actually want to buy this thing. According to 9to5Mac, even if the iPad Pro is announced on Wednesday, it likely won't ship until November. That'll give you plenty of time to decide if you really need one.
iPad mini 4
That's right: we may see two new iPads on Wednesday. If 9to5Mac is right that Apple is introducing iPads at this event, then we're expecting to see a new version of the iPad mini, too. Last year, it was left behind when the iPad Air received a spec bump, and it looks like the mini is now finally due to receive an upgrade of its own, putting the small tablet on par with the iPad Air 2.
The iPad mini 4 is supposed to take after the iPad Air in one other way: design. Though they already look a lot alike, the mini is supposed to shrink down even more to match the size of its bigger sibling. That means an even thinner and more portable tablet — basically, it's shaping up to be the iPad mini we wanted to see last year but never got.
And the iPad Air?
Oddly enough, there hasn't been any word about an iPad Air 3. The iPad Air 2 came out about 10 months ago, so an update is due in the near future, but it's possible that Apple is changing up its plans. With the arrival of the iPad Pro, Apple may want to put more of an ability gap between its tablet lines, and one way to do that is by making one of them cool off for a year. Another effect of that decision: producing the iPad Air would get a bit cheaper, which is something that Apple could definitely use.
New Apple Watch bands
The Apple Watch was first announced this month last year, but it wasn't actually released until this April. That means Apple's smartwatch isn't anywhere near due for an update, and it isn't likely that Apple will tease details that early again, either. But 9to5Mac reports that Apple may still have something to share: new color options for the Apple Watch's sport bands. A bit more variety is something the bands could definitely use… especially since, I dunno, maybe everyone isn't into pastels?
Apple has likely already announced iOS 9's biggest features, but there's one big thing we don't know about it: when it's coming out. As usual, the new version of iOS will ship with the new iPhone, and that means it'll likely be pushed out to the public a few days beforehand. Expect Apple to give a release date for iOS 9 sometime in mid-September. As for OS X El Capitan, you'll probably have to wait until October, if history is any indication.
Update September 4th, 12PM ET: this story has been updated to reflect a new report describing the iPad Pro's stylus.
Update September 8th, 11:05AM ET: this story has been updated to reflect a new report on Force Touch's branding.
Apple Event: iPhone 3D Touch demo