The rumors went back and forth on whether Apple would unveil the iPhone 12 at this event. I argued that, with the events now being digital, Apple did not have to cram everything together in one event, especially given they had said the iPhone 12 would be shipping a little later than usual.
All being business as usual, Apple might have announced everything into one event, but given the circumstances making lemonade out of lemons meant that the iPad and the Apple Watch got some undivided attention for a change. The new iPad Air was even the showcase for the new A14 Bionic chip. This is usually something the iPhone gets to do, as the iPad adopts it in the cycle immediately following the latest iPhone release.
These two devices share one common trait: in one way or another, they have been playing an important role during the pandemic. Whether it’s using Apple Watch to keep active and balanced or using the iPad to do distance learning, gaming or binge-watch Netflix, many have been turning to these devices daily, and some of the announcements from the event will add to their appeal. Apple also referred in a couple of occasions to Apple Card Financing, which had been introduced already for iPad, Mac, and AirPods and now can be used for Apple Watch as well, with monthly payments as low as $12.
Apple Watch Widens Appeal with Family Setup and Lower Price Points
There was a lot of news on Apple Watch, starting with the new affordable Apple Watch SE, the new high-end model Apple Watch Series 6 with its blood oxygen measure and Family Setup, to connect an Apple Watch to someone else’s iPhone.
Family Setup had been rumored for a while, I was actually expecting it to launch with the Apple Watch 5, but it turned out we had to wait a little longer. I am sure Apple would have launched Family Setup even without the pandemic. Still, with kids returning to school and many families caring for older relatives, it certainly seems like this feature is very timely. Family Setup will be available for cellular models only, from Series 4 and later. I do wonder how much cellular connectivity will be a hindering factor for potential buyers, given the extra monthly cost. Of course, if you see these devices as emergency devices, being always connected is a must. Unfortunately, carriers in the US still seem to be profiting way too much from a connected watch, which in most cases uses very little data.
The choices Apple made in what kids are allowed to do right on the watch vs. what the parent or guardian can do on the phone connected to the Apple Watch are quite interesting. Apple offers some thoughtful options like being able to set up which contacts can be called and messaged, or the ability to set up automatic location notifications, and a “Do Not Disturb” mode for school time. Kids can create their own memoji for messages, and they can track their move goal. I appreciate that Apple took a more kid-friendly approach to the rings by focusing activity on minutes of movement rather than calories. Kids who are still growing should not concern themselves with calories, but how active they are, associating physical activity with good health.
Apple is doubling down on Fitness, with the new Fitness + service that ties Apple Watch to fitness videos one can follow along on an Apple device to deliver an integrated work out at a time when most people still cannot go to the gym. Apple also continues to pursue medical research with the new blood oxygen level readings linked to three new studies.
Keeping the Apple Watch Series 3 in the lineup for $199 and adding an Apple Watch SE at $279 offers some new entry points into the ecosystem for new users or multi-device users as Apple makes Watch an integral part of the new Fitness + service.
At $9.99 a month or $79.99 for an annual subscription for a family up to six people, Fitness + is priced quite aggressively compared to subscription such as Peloton, which is currently $39.99 a month. Furthermore, with the new Apple, One service bundle for many users who already subscribe to multiple services, Fitness + might end up being free. For instance, if you are paying for Apple Music Family ($15), Apple Arcade ($4.99), Apple TV+ ($4.99), 2T iCloud ($ 9.99), and Apple News+ ($9.99), you would see a savings of $25 and a free Fitness+ subscription if you signed up to the Premier tier. The Premier tier will only be offered in selected markets, depending on service availability, which keeps things easier than adjusting pricing by market. It will be very interesting to see how Apple will let current subscription holders know pricing is changing.
The iPad Air is Back
iPad Air used to be Apple’s most popular iPad, and then came the iPad 7th generation. Apple surprised most by refreshing the iPad Air to a design and specifications that positioned it right below the iPad Pro, making it an appealing option for users who want a high-end experience for both creation and consumption but don’t need cutting edge features like a Lidar scanner.
The portfolio before the Apple Air was leaving a gap in the middle. If you want to think about it in terms of iPhone, Apple was missing an iPhone 11 iPad equivalent. We will see if Apple retains the smaller iPad Pro model in the future, especially as there will be an ARM-based Apple Mac that could play as a continuation of the iPad portfolio.
With the iPhone/iPad launch out of cycle, I am sure many were reading the tea leaves of what features we saw on the iPad will be in the iPhone aside from the A14 Bionic. I would guess the colors are one, as it would be strange that Apple went for different colors for the two product lines. The second feature would be TouchID integrated on the power button. Considering wearing masks will stay with us for longer than first anticipated making unlocking with FaceID more challenging, adding a fingerprint reader would be very useful. Samsung already offers that option on the Galaxy Z Fold.
Apple continues to widen its reach by strategically lowering the barrier of entry for those products that have the potential to delight the user and create a level of engagement that will make it difficult for them to leave the ecosystem especially now that it is not just about hardware and software but services too.