Apple Gives Em What They Want Phones a Watch and U2 Too

Bringing to light several predictions about Apple’s new product announcements, Apple’s big press event yesterday, streamed live from Cupertino, Calif., did not disappoint.

Despite setbacks with streaming at the start of the event — complete with Chinese voiceover and several outages — viewers were finally able to hear and see live demonstrations of Apple’s newest products, notably two new iPhone models and a first of its kind Apple Watch. 

Highlights of the Apple Event

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

“Today we are launching the biggest advancement in the history of iPhone,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, as he kicked off Apple’s first product announcement. 

Referred to by Cook as the “best iPhones we’ve ever made,” the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus offer:

  • Larger screen sizes:  4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, respectively (The iPhone 5s is 4 inches.)
  • Thinner devices: among the thinnest iPhones produced by Apple
  • Retina HD display for sharper images and text
  • Faster Wi-Fi with built-in 802.11ac: up to three times faster than the iPhone 5s, and
  • New landscape views for better content viewing, including a 2-up display for mail that allows you to see a listing of messages on one side, and complete text for a selected message on the other

The new iPhones also boast an Apple-designed A8 chip that makes them 50 times faster than the original iPhone, and delivers graphics at 84 times faster.

They also allow users to make phone calls over a Wi-Fi network, and feature an improved camera with quicker autofocus, as well as video enhancements.

Confirming its move into the health arena, iPhone 6 introduces features to take advantage of fitness apps, including a barometer that senses air pressure to measure relative elevation, and an M8 coprocessor to measure motion data.

The new iOS 8 Health app also makes use of these features to measure physical activities, such as number of miles walked, or number of stairs climbed.

As for battery life, the new iPhones show a slightly better performance than its predecessors.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus start shipping on September 19 in the United States, and in eight other countries. Customers can preorder starting September 12.

Cook indicates that they want iPhones to be available in 115 countries by the end of the year.

iPhone 6 pricing starts at $199 with a two-year contract (16 GB), is available in up to 128 GB for $399, with a 64 GB option in the middle for $299.

iPhone 6 Plus starts at $299 with a two-year contract (16 GB) and offers its 128 GB option at $499, with the 64 GB coming in at $399.

Both iPhones are available in gold, silver and space gray, with options for Apple-made silicon cases in six colors, or leather sleeves in five colors.

iOS 8 is available as a free download for iPhone models of 4S on, and for iPod and iPad users starting September 17.

Apple Pay

“Now I’d like to talk about an entirely new category of service,” said Cook, “and it’s all about the wallet.”

Apple Pay is a payment process built into the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus that allows people to pay without having to dig through their wallets for plastic credit cards that have exposed numbers and not-so-secure security codes, according to Cook. Nor will people have to fill out lengthy forms to pay for online purchases.

People have dreamed of replacing credit cards for years, said Cook, but they have all failed. Why?

“Because most people who have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that is focused on their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience,” he said.

With Apple Pay, the user experience certainly delivers.

Using Touch ID — a way to use your fingerprint as a passcode — customers simply hold their iPhone up to the merchant’s near-field communication (NFC) terminals and tap their finger once on the screen to pay. It’s that fast.

The new process takes advantage of Apple’s Passbook, which was originally developed to allow people to store all of their coupons, boarding passes, loyalty programs, member cards and gift cards all in one place.

To get started with Apple Pay, customers can use an existing card stored in iTunes, or add a new card to Passbook simply by snapping a photo of it with their iPhone. And, since that card data is never stored on your phone or shared with Apple, you don’t need to worry about someone getting your card number if you lose your iPhone, or about calling to cancel your credit cards.

All you have to do is use iPhone’s “Find My iPhone” service to suspend any payments you’ve made with Apple Pay.

Available in October 2014 in the United States, Apple Pay will work with American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Cook also announced Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase as partners.

Macy’s, McDonald’s, Whole Foods and Nike will also accept Apple Pay, among others, including Disney stores and theme parks.

What about those who own an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s? You can still use Apple Pay, but you’ll need the help of the next long-awaited product announced during the Apple event.

Apple Watch

Wrapping up two hours of Apple excitement, the crowd jumped to their feet as Cook unveiled the much-anticipated Apple Watch.

Touted as “the next chapter in Apple’s story,” Cook said the Apple Watch is “the most personal device we’ve ever created.”

With unlimited possibilities to customize the Apple Watch face, the ability to “tap” people, send them drawings or animated emojis, and a wide range of stylish band options to choose from, the Apple Watch appears worthy of its standing ovation.

When discussing navigation on the Apple Watch, Cook commented that “with every revolutionary product that Apple has created, a breakthrough interface was required” – the Mac mouse, the iPad clickwheel, the iPhone multi-touch.

And now there’s Apple Watch digital crown. By turning or pressing the small button or “crown” on the side of the watch, users can navigate their Apple Watch without obstructing the screen. The crown allows users to zoom in and out, scroll through lists, and with a press, return to the home screen.

Of course, you can still swipe the watch face to navigate, as you would using your iPhone. And, to very quickly access your friends, just press the button below the crown to bring up a screen with images of your favorite contacts, and call or message options.

Positioned as an intimate way to connect and communicate, the Apple Watch features a Taptic Engine that senses the difference between a touch and a tap, and allows you to digitally “tap” someone to get their attention. The person on the receiving end can sense the tap on their own Apple Watch. You can also draw and send pictures using your finger on the watch face, customize an animated emoji, and even send your heartbeat to someone directly from your watch.

As for apps, Apple Watch has Siri built in; allows you to store your photos and quickly navigate using the digital crown; and has maps that guide you to your destination with simulated walks and taps when you’re approaching a turn. And with the Watch Kit, developers have endless possibilities for creating apps that appear on the home screen, actionable notifications and lots more.

As with the iPhone 6, Apple has designed the Apple Watch with an eye on health and fitness.

“Apple Watch gives us the ability to motivate people to become more active and more healthy,” said Cook.

The Apple Watch features the Activity app which monitors all activity and movement during the day, and the Workout app, which allows users to set goals for specific exercises such as cycling and running.

The watch measures total body movement, tracks heart rate, and uses the GPS and WiFi in your iPhone to track how far you’ve moved.

“Apple Watch is going to change the way we look at fitness. We think it’s going to help people live a better day and a healthier life.”

The Apple Watch requires iPhone 5, 5c, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus, and comes in three different lines: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sport and Apple Watch Edition.

With so many cool straps to choose from, you’ll definitely need to buy more than one, especially since they’re so easy to click on and off. Durable sporty plastic, leather, stainless steel bracelet and Milanese Loop are among the straps available, and most use magnets to form-fit to your wrist.

The Apple Watch starts at $349, and will be available in early 2015.

“It is worth the wait,” said Cook.

“We think people are going to love to use Apple Watch, and love to wear it. It empowers people and enriches their lives.”

As If It Couldn’t Get Any Better

With so many amazing announcements, I was ready to call it a wrap — until Cook came up with one last surprise.

After inviting U2, a long-standing Apple partner, to perform on stage, he announced that Apple would be giving away U2’s latest album release, Songs of Innocence, for free on iTunes until mid-October — and he made it so at that very moment.

I had to laugh at this comment on Apple’s live blog: “U2 performs live. Put your iPhones in the air.”

With so much innovation and excitement wrapped into one event, I have to say that being part of this event, even in a less-than-perfect live stream, was nothing short of amazing.

Apple Genius has struck again.