Apple on Wednesday unveiled the iPhone 14 lineup, the Apple Watch Ultra, and the new AirPods. The big theme of the day was keeping users more locked in the company’s ecosystem. Also: CEO Tim Cook reveals his biggest debate with Steve Jobs.
Most of the major changes were expected, but Apple revealed some smart touches, in particular, the dynamic island of the iPhone 14 Pro. The feature is a real feat. There’s nothing more “Apple” than taking the ugliest part of the iPhone (the notch) and disguising it as one of the most impressive hardware-software built-in features in years.
The Pro improvements contrast with those of the standard iPhone 14, which has not changed since the iPhone 13. It follows the same playbook as the iPhone XS in 2018: you can get a larger screen in the form of the iPhone 14 Plus, like the XS Max. Otherwise, there is little reason to upgrade.
It’s fair to say that the regular iPhone 14 is the least impressive year-over-year update in product history. Apple didn’t even bother to give the standard iPhone 14 its newest chip, which was an unprecedented move.
Meanwhile, the second-generation AirPods Pro responds to many long-time user requests. It improves noise cancellation, bass, and sound, better background noise blocking, and longer battery life. It has the ability to slide headphone rods to control playback and volume.
For consumers new to the AirPods, the latest Pro model seems to be a great option. If, like me, you bought the first AirPods Pro in October 2019, now is a good time to upgrade, especially if your batteries are dwindling.
The problem with bringing lossless audio to AirPods is Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a wireless protocol that doesn’t have enough power to stream such high-quality audio. It’s no secret that Apple has been cooking up a solution. A replacement for Bluetooth would bring the feature to future AirPods.
There is not much to say about the new SE. The company developed a different production process and gave the device a cheaper back cover to help reduce the price by $30: $249 instead of $279. That was a necessary move with the discontinuation of the $199 Apple Watch Series 3. If you have a 2020 SE, I see no reason to upgrade to a slightly faster processor.
The 8 Series model isn’t a dramatic upgrade either. It has a body temperature sensor for women’s health, something that could benefit millions of people. But the model lacks design changes, additional health sensors like a blood pressure monitor, a faster processor, better speakers, or better battery life (aside from the new low-power mode).
It’s also worth noting that Apple won’t allow users to determine their actual body temperature with the new sensor. It helps customers replace thermometers as they have done with blood oxygen readers.
The Ultra, so, is one of Apple’s most impressive new pieces of hardware in years. Its programmable side button, giant screen, and oversized battery life will be appreciated by anyone who wants the best Apple Watch, not necessarily just divers or marathon runners.
With that in mind, I’m not sure Apple should have exclusively focused its Ultra marketing on extreme sports athletes. Instead, it could also have highlighted how the features appeal to non-athletes and released a plethora of daily-wear bands. An update to the link bracelet in titanium, for example, would have been great.
But even if the Ultra watch and iPhone 14 Pro are worthy upgrades, the biggest issue of the day was making it as difficult as possible to get away from Apple’s ecosystem.
This goes beyond how well the various products work together. The company is increasingly touting the iPhone and Apple Watch as devices that can save your life. The watch already offers the ability to detect heart problems or a bad fall. Now Apple is introducing car accident alerts and emergency satellite services.
The idea of Apple products saving your life will surely be ingrained in people’s minds by the company’s marketing department in the coming months and years. That will leave many consumers with the distinct impression that getting rid of their iPhone or Apple Watch is an irresponsible move.
Of course, Apple’s rivals like Samsung Electronics Co. have their security features. And companies like T-Mobile US Inc. are trying to open up satellite connections to all mobile phone users, not just the iPhone crowd.
But Apple is hard to beat to make its technology seem like the safest bet. Other changes, such as the company’s shift to virtual eSIM cards in the United States, could make it even harder to ditch the iPhone (though it can create complications for customers traveling internationally and using carriers that don’t support the standard).
The issue of locking users into Apple’s ecosystem has been important to the company in recent years. These days, the ability of Apple products to play well together is more of a competitive advantage than ever and key to expanding the company’s user base, generating more recurring revenue, and most importantly, preventing defections to rival platforms.
I attended the Code Conference on Wednesday night, where Cook, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Jony Ive were interviewed by Kara Swisher about Steve Jobs’ legacy. Before the night concluded, an audience member asked Cook why the iPhone hasn’t adopted RCS, or rich communication services, a Google-spearheaded messaging replacement.
He told the questioner, “I don’t hear our users asking us to put a lot of energy into it right now” and suggested that he buy his mother an iPhone if he wants to message her more fluidly. That says it all.
Tim Cook reveals his biggest disagreement with Steve Jobs. Here’s another fun fact from the Code Conference: Tim Cook discussed the biggest debate he’s ever had with Steve Jobs. For the original iPhone, Cook wanted carriers to subsidize the device to make it cheaper for consumers. Jobs wanted carriers not to subsidize him and instead give Apple a revenue share of the carrier’s plans.
The original iPhone launched at $499 without subsidy. Jobs got away with it, but not for long. A year later, the iPhone 3G was priced at $199 and customers received subsidies instead of Apple getting a share of the revenue. Cook said the subsidy approach helped drive the device’s massive growth and called the debate with Jobs a multi-year discussion.
The Wristcam update promises video calls without an attachment. Wristcam, a niche accessory that adds a video chat camera to the Apple Watch, will get a small update along with WatchOS 9 next week. For the first time, the third-party Wristcam app on the Apple Watch will allow users to receive video calls from an iPhone without the Wristcam accessory. That means Apple Watch users can send audio and receive video without sending video.
September 12: Apple’s iOS 16 will be released to all users before the new devices arrive later in the week.
September 16: The iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max go on sale, along with the Apple Watch Series 8 and the second-generation Apple Watch SE.
September 23: The Apple Watch Ultra and second-generation AirPods Pro hit stores.
October 7: And finally, the iPhone 14 Plus goes on sale.
Stay Tuned with Us: