Apple reporters, developers and employees are gathering at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for the Cupertino company’s biggest product launch of 2016.
The new iPhone 7 and the first upgrade to the Apple Watch since its debut two years ago are expected, along with new “AirPod” wireless headphones and the latest iOS 10 software.
Apple’s anticipated move to dispense with the standard headphone jack to push consumers towards wireless audio is already causing controversy, so customers and analysts will be eager to hear how chief executive Tim Cook and his deputies explain the change. Another focus is the expected dual-lens camera, which could give the iPhone new optical-zoom or depth-sensing capabilities.
Tim Bradshaw and Richard Waters are reporting live from the event and rounding up reaction as it happens, starting at 10am Pacific Time (6pm in London, 1pm in New York).
A nice low-light photo to start things off… Is the Apple chief using the new iPhone 7 dual-lens camera for this pic of the venue?
From disappearing headphone jacks to extra camera lenses, read our preview story on five things to look for at today’s event.
The blurry lights of the event’s invitation last week has been seen as a hint of the new dual-lens camera for the iPhone 7 Plus, which is expected to bring SLR-like photo quality to what is already the world’s most popular camera.
Apple’s last event in March came just before its fight over privacy and encryption with the FBI was due to come to trial. In the end, the US government aborted the case before it came to court. But the March event was unusual in that Tim Cook opened a product launch with a political point, rallying customers over privacy and security. I wonder if he’ll do the same today given last week’s adverse ruling from the European Commission on Apple’s tax arrangements with Ireland? Seems unlikely somehow…
Oops… A premature Amazon listing confirms the iPhone 7 branding and dual-lens camera. It’s been taken down again now.
Just in case you were wondering what we reporters have to contend with when we come along to one of these events…
Expectations already surging for a more revolutionary iPhone 8 next year
Lights down, cheering begins and nobody is even on stage yet
And we are starting off with a comedy video of Tim Cook driving to the event doing Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Pharrell Williams to One Republic and “Sweet Home Alabama”.
Cook (IRL) takes to the stage. Apple is working to create its own episodes of Carpool Karaoke for Apple Music, which he says now has 17m paying subscribers, up from 15m in June. Cook talks about the (somewhat controversial) exclusive albums that Apple Music has hosted, from Taylor Swift to Frank Ocean.
App Store update: more than 140bn apps have been downloaded since it launched in 2008. Growth rates are over 100 per cent year over year in the last two months, Cook says, and developed twice the global revenue than its “closest competitor” – which presumably is the Google Play store (which isn’t available in China, skewing the comparison a bit).
In a long-awaited platform leap, Nintendo is bringing Super Mario to the App Store, and his creator Shigeru Miyamoto comes on stage to huge cheers. “We want as many people as possible all around the world to play Mario and they’ll be doing it first on iOS.” The first game is called Super Mario Run.
Tim Cook is back on stage. “I’d now like to turn to new products, beginning with Apple Watch.”
He says Apple Watch was the number two selling watch last year, he says – ahead of Fossil and behind Rolex.
“Apple Watch has really changed what people expect from a Watch,” says Cook, inviting Apple operations chief Jeff Williams on stage to launch the new model.
Continuing the Apple/Nintendo love-in, Pokemon Go is coming to the Apple Watch. John Hanke, chief executive of Pokemon Go developer Niantic, tells us that the app has been downloaded 500m times and players have walked 4.6bn km playing the game.
The Watch app will blend Pokemon Go gameplay with your daily walk or run while allowing you to “focus on the important stuff – what’s going on around you.” A walk is recorded as a workout, counting towards the Watch’s activity goals. The small screen shows distance, nearby Pokemon to catch and the Pokestops located at local landmarks, where players can pick up items.
Apple Watch “Series 2″ has been “completely reengineered”, says Williams. The headline feature is that the new version is swim-proof, making it water resistant to 50m. The industrial design looks pretty similar, with some new finishes and bands.
For route tracking of runs, hikes and bike rides without an iPhone, there is also built-in GPS, bringing Apple Watch’s features closer to traditional running watches by the likes of Garmin.
A new dual-core processor is up to 50 per cent faster than the original, attempting to address the slow performance that was most existing Watch owners’ biggest complaint.
A new graphic processor is twice as powerful, powering a new brighter display that is easier to read in bright sunlight.
Apple hammering away at a far more consistent message for the new Watch than version 1.0: sport, sport, fitness and more sport. Not sure I want to wear a watch while swimming, though.
A new finish for the Apple Watch is a white glossy ceramic. The partnership with Hermes is continuing with a new range of straps. No word on the $10,000 gold Edition version, though…
Apple is also partnering with Nike on a special edition of the Watch with its own perforated rubber band. “We think Apple Watch is the ultimate device for a healthy life,” says Williams. “We think it will be especially popular with runners.”
Apple and Nike have a long history together, going back to the little Nike+ shoe clip that let iPod owners track their runs. Tim Cook also sits on Nike’s board and was appointed its lead independent director earlier this summer.
Nike abandoned its own wearable device, the Nike Fuelband, just ahead of the Watch launch a couple of years ago.
Apple Watch Series 2 is priced at $369 and up, but the Series 1 model will get the faster processor along with a price cut to $269. It’s available on September 16, with the Nike version coming in late October.
Tim Cook is back. “Next up is iPhone.”
We are skipping through the iOS 10 features announced at WWDC in June, from HomeKit to using Siri to call an Uber. “We think this is going to be a really big deal,” says Cook of HomeKit, which is hard to square with the slow progress it has made since it was announced two years ago.
The iPhone 7 is here with a “gorgeous new design” – and here’s Sir Jonathan Ive doing his video voiceover to wax lyrical about its “singular shape”. “Our obsession remains to simplify and improve,” says Jony. “Each refinement serves to bring absolute unity and efficiency to the design.”
And the iPhone is forged with “rotational 3D polishing” and a “magnetized ion particle bath”! I have no idea what that means but obviously it sounds very clever, especially in an English accent.
Phil Schiller is on stage to talk about the iPhone 7′s 10 major features.
“It starts with this new finish,” he says – a high gloss “jet black” finish. The other finishes are black (“just black”), gold, silver and rose gold.
Never has a smartphone casing been given this level of erotic fetishisation.
The home button has been reegineered. It is force sensitive, more responsive – it has haptic feedback (though Apple calls it “taptic”) so you get a vibration when messages come in.
Now, the new dual lens camera, one of the most anticipated features. The image optimisation feature in the handsets has been extended from high-end devices to all iPhones. The new camera chip – called an image sensor processor – has twice the capacity of the old one, which Schiller says means it can do far more work improving the image.
The dual camera is only in the iPhone 7 Plus. One is the regular wide angle lens, the other is a telephoto lens. Using the two together can get a telephoto effect without the elongated lens of a standard telephoto, says Schiller.
By tapping on a button, an image will go to 2x automatically, using the optical zoom. Past that, you can slide the zoom all the way to 10x using software.
Now, an explanation of how it works. The goal, says Schiller, is to get the effect you can achieve with high-end SLR cameras, the shallow depth of field where an image in the foreground – say, a person’s face – is sharp while the background if fuzzy (something called “bokeh”).
Apple’s software gets the same effect by using the two lenses to get depth map of the face in the foreground, then apply machine learning to distinguish that object from the background.
But: this won’t be ready when the iPhone 7 launches. It will be a software update later in the year, promises Schiller. So that means one of the most hotly anticipated features from today’s event isn’t ready yet.
Now the more risky part of the iPhone launch: the replacement of the standard, universally compatible 3.5mm audio socket with its new lightning headphones.
There are over 900m Lightning connector devices, says Schiller.
“We are taking the headphones to Lightning and including them in the box,” he explains, Apple is also bundling an adaptor for the standard headphone socket with every new iPhone.
“Some people have asked why we would remove the analogue headphone lack from the iPhone,” says Schiller, showing a vintage pic of the 100-year-old connector. “The reason to move on comes down to one word: courage – the courage to move on, do something new that betters all of us.”
“Our smartphones are packed with technologies and we all want more,” he says, from bigger batteries to faster processors.” Ancient single purpose analogue connectors “don’t make sense”, he says.
That’s a style risk: who wants to be the first to walk around with white sticks (presumably the batteries?) hanging out of their ears?
Schiller is pulling out the stops with his speech claiming only Apple is capable of reinventing wireless audio. Apple is “fixing the things that are difficult to do”, he says.
“We do have a vision for how audio should work on audio devices.”
And that vision is the AirPods – a pair of new shiny white headphones with no wire between them.
“We are just at the beginning of a truly wireless future,” says Jony Ive in a video showcasing the new design.
Apple uses iCloud to simplify setup, doing away with switching and pairing, and using a new proprietary W1 chip. Some new Beats headphones will also use the W1 chip.
(Interesting that there has been no mention of Bluetooth at all yet.)
Battery life for AirPods is 5 hours each, charged from a case which is smaller than today’s wired EarPod box.
That’s it with the wireless headphones. Now, the final point Schiller wants to make about the new iPhone: performance (his number 10 in a rather patchy Top Ten list).
He’s boasting about the phone’s new processor, called the A10. It’s a quad-core processor, twice as fast as the A8 two years ago. Two of the cores are more power-efficient, so tasks that are allocated to these when possible to save battery.
Now we’re hearing about the graphics processor. There’s been a lot of talk of silicon today, from the new dual-core processor in the Watch Series 2 (which will also be put into the first generation Watch) to the chip Apple has developed for the AirPod.
Battery life: Upgrading from the 6S to the 7 should bring an extra two hours of battery life, says Schiller, with a one hour improvement for the Plus model.
The iPhone 7: the same price as the 6, with storage doubled from the old model.
The iPhone 7 Plus has the same storage options, 32GB, 128GB and 256GB.
The 6S and 6S Plus storage will also be increased, to 32GB and 128GB.
The upgrade program – which gives you a new iPhone every year for $32 a month – will be extended from the US to UK and China.
Orders for the new iPhone will be taken from September 9th, with shipments starting on Sept 16. That’s eight days before the end of Apple’s quarter, so a fair number of sales should boost the latest quarterly figures.
Tim Cook is back to sum up. He reminds us that the Bill Graham auditorium is a music venue and music is “part of our DNA” (is it?) Last time he stood on this stage and said that, I think we ended up with a U2 album getting automatically downloaded whether you wanted it or not.
No such danger this year. Instead, a performance by Sia.
While that goes on: analyst Geoff Blaber at CCS Insight echoes the point about who this new iPhone is aimed at: “Upgrades are all important to Apple and for consumers coming from an iPhone 5s or iPhone 6, the iPhone 7 will feel like a considerable step up.”
The new dual camera was launched today with the promise of more professional looking photos. But the real secret might lie in what it makes possible in future, as analyst Benedict Evans points out
The show’s over. Let the debate begin: Did Apple do enough to convince with the end of the phone jack? And will those new gizmos being added to the Apple pantheon – an adapter to plug old anolog headsets into the new single port, and the dangly-looking AirPods – keep getting lost at the back of a draw somewhere or at the bottom of a handbag?
For the rest: Apple was fighting hard today to shed the label of “incremental”. Every new iPhone is meant to be the latest and greatest, and there was a lot to justify that label for the 7, starting with the higher performance, the dual lens camera and the greater protection from water and dust damage. For anyone who already owns a 6S there may not be much reason to trade up, but this is squarely aimed at owners of older 6 models.
Add in the Watch Series 2, and it is clear that most of the enhancements to the latest gadgets are coming from silicon and software. Apple’s bet this year: it can produce meaningful enhancements without noticeable changes to the outer shell.
Our own Tim Bradshaw is now proud to model the latest look in aural fashion…
If there are batteries in those dangling ends, let’s hope the lithium ion is stable.
Here’s a look at how the AirPods pair with the iPhone.
That case contains its own battery, it’s meant to extend the 5 hour life of the AirPods to 24 hours.
That’s it from us in San Francisco today. Make sure to look out for our further coverage on FT.com for the rest of this week, including hands on with the new gadgets.