Apple has long had a playbook for iPhones, its most important product: Keep rolling out bigger, faster and more expensive models. On Wednesday, September 12th, it repeated that strategy by introducing another round of iPhones that are — you guessed it — bigger, faster and more expensive.
According to The New York Times, the model with a 6.5-inch screen, the iPhone XS Max, is Apple’s biggest iPhone ever and will start at $1,100. (And, yes, its name is a mouthful.) Last year when Apple debuted its iPhone X, the starting price was $1,000.
More notable, perhaps, was how much Apple is now evolving its smart watch into a clearly health-related device. The company showed off a new Apple Watch with an electronic heart sensor approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That could lead to new implications for health care — and prove to be a major selling point for a device that has played second fiddle to the iPhone.
Apple on Wednesday unveiled the iPhone XS, a premium model with a 5.8-inch screen, and the iPhone XS Max, with a 6.5-inch screen, its biggest-ever smartphone. The company also showed the iPhone XR, an entry-level model with a 6.1-inch screen.
The XS models are generally sped-up versions of last year’s iPhone X. Apple emphasized the phones’ advanced processor, durable glass and so-called Super Retina OLED display with a wide color gamut.
The iPhone XR will come in white, black, red, blue and yellow, and is just as fast as the XS models. It has a single-lens camera, unlike the XS models, which have dual-lens camera systems. And it uses LCD, a less expensive screen technology than the OLED used for the XS, and the casing is made of aluminum, unlike the stainless steel that the premium phones are composed of.
It’s obvious why Apple and other phone makers like Samsung keep enlarging their phones: Phones with bigger screens are selling well. When presented with the choice between a small phone and a bigger one, most people will go with the latter. That’s similar to how just about everyone wants a big-screen TV.
But for mobile phones, there are trade-offs. For one, the larger phones are more difficult to use with one hand. With last year’s 5.8-inch iPhone X, it was difficult to reach your thumb across the screen to type a keystroke or hit a button inside an app.
The larger screens raise an important question about design. Will Apple do much in the near future to improve one-handed use?
When Apple’s screen sizes started growing with the iPhone 6 in 2014, the company released a software shortcut, called Reachability, through which users can tap the home button twice to lower the top of the screen and make it easier to reach buttons up there. That feature still exists for the new iPhones, but the lack of a home button makes it more difficult to use — instead of double tapping the home button, now you swipe down from the bottom of the screen.
Bigger, faster and pricier. Where have we heard that before?
As Apple has made its phones larger and faster, it is also charging more for them. The company said the new iPhones would start at $750, $1,000 and $1,100. The starting prices last year were $700, $800 and $1,000.
It’s a tried-and-true strategy for the company to milk a product line that has saturated the market; Apple said Wednesday that it had shipped nearly two billion iPhones and iPads.
Unit sales of the iPhone were about flat in the latest quarter compared with a year earlier, but iPhone revenue rose 20 percent, to $29.9 billion. Something else that rose 20 percent? The average selling price of the iPhone.
By going bigger, Apple is trying to grow not just by raising prices but also by getting customers to use their devices even more. Research shows people with larger smartphones use them more, particularly to watch movies and play games.
That’s good for Apple. A central part of its strategy is to get existing iPhone owners to pay for more services on their phones, like Netflix and HBO. For each subscription bought via its App Store, Apple takes a 30 percent cut for the first year and 15 percent for each subsequent year. That bet seems to be working: Apple’s services revenue rose 31 percent to $9.55 billion in the latest quarter.
The iPhone is old enough now that figuring out what to call the new versions each year has become tricky. Last year, on the device’s 10th anniversary, Apple skipped the iPhone 9 and went straight to the iPhone X. (But it pronounced the model “ten” and not “X.”)
That X has now created an awkward situation for Apple. The company has typically appended an S to the name of the second iteration of each generation of phones, like the iPhone 5S, 6S and so on.
But this year, that meant calling it the iPhone XS. Never mind that XS is the abbreviation for extra small — not an adjective Apple wants for its $1,000 phones — but say “XS” out loud. In the age of smartphone addiction and devices that cost as much as some refrigerators, “iPhone Excess” may not be great for branding.
Instead, the new iPhone XS is pronounced “iPhone 10S,” or as the audience at the Apple event quickly realized, “iPhone Tennis.” Add the new iPhone XS Max to the mix and you’ve got “iPhone Tennis Match.”
Apple Watch becomes more of a health device
Apple introduced the Apple Watch Series 4, which it has designed to be more of a health aid. It’s the first redesign of the company’s smart watch since it was introduced in 2015. The new watch is slightly thinner, but the black frame around the screen — what is known as the bezel — has been removed to create a larger display area.
Significantly, Apple said the new watch had a faster processor and better health and motion sensors. For instance, the watch can detect when a wearer has fallen down, a leading cause of injuries. If you have fallen, the watch is designed to prompt you to alert emergency services; if it detects no motion by the wearer after a minute, it calls automatically. The watch can also perform a electrocardiogram, alerting you to worrisome heart rhythms.
Apple said that the new watch would be the first over-the-counter ECG device offered to consumers and that it had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. (Apple may want to check its claim of being first, as other companies said they had been ahead of it with the agency in this regard.)
The device’s new health features are sure to increase Apple’s dominance of the smart watch category — and they underscore the company’s focus. When the watch was first released, critics and consumers were confused about its utility. Over time, Apple has refined the device to focus on its health and fitness capabilities. Now the narrative is clear: Get this watch, if you want to live.
The Apple Watch will be available in several colors and band styles; watchbands from older models will work on the new model. The Watch starts at $399. It will begin shipping on Sept. 21.
The new Apple Watch ushers Apple into the realm of selling bona fide medical devices, complete with a shout-out from the F.D.A.
“The F.D.A. worked closely with the company as they developed and tested these software products, which may help millions of users identify health concerns more quickly,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the F.D.A. commissioner, said in a statement.
Apple’s formal entrance into medical devices brings heft to the idea of tracking health with consumer wearables. Until now, they were largely limited to the casual counting of steps or watching heart rates climb at the gym. At Wednesday’s event, Apple featured remarks from Dr. Ivor Benjamin, the president of the American Heart Association, who described the ability of wearable devices to measure heart rhythms as “game-changing, especially when evaluating atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.”
Even Vic Gundotra, the chief executive of AliveCor, which sells a wearable device with similar heart-testing capabilities, said Apple’s decision to enter the market would make consumers’ use of electrocardiograms take off.
The F.D.A. warned that the Apple Watch was not meant as a substitute for traditional diagnosis, and it said the device was not intended for people under 22 or those with a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.
The readings may not always be helpful, and doctors are advised not to use electrocardiograms as a screening tool for someone without symptoms, said Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “People are going to start looking at their watch as if something is wrong,” she said.