Apple to put fresh polish on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV

Sep 9, 2015 1:12 PM by News Staff

"We're about to make some monster announcements."

With that modest vow, Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook kicked off the company's fall press extravaganza showcasing the technology giant's latest wares.

Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, followed Cook on stage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and touted enhancements to the Apple Watch, including new faces and bands. Williams also highlighted what he said are some 10,000 apps available for the device.

"This is a big deal," he said. "It's a really powerful thing to be able to glance at your wrist and see the information important to you."

Next up was the iPad Pro, which Apple said is bigger and faster than previous versions of the tablet. "Today we have the biggest news in iPad since the iPad," Cook said.

The iPad Pro comes with a 12.9 inch diagonal screen, Retina Display, improved audio and what the company calls a "smart" keyboard designed for the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro, which will come in gold, silver and "space gray," will hit shelves in November. Pricing will range from $799 for a tablet with 32GB of memory up to $1,079 for a 128GB, LTE-compatible model.

In announcing the first overhaul of Apple TV in three years, Cook said Apple's goal is to "provide a new user experience that's fun and easy to use." That includes what Apple calls a "revolutionary" remote for its set-top box, which users also may control with Siri, Apple's voice-activated digital assistant.

The new Apple TV features a designated operating system, tvOS, aimed at encouraging software developers to roll out news apps for the box.

"We believe the future of television is apps," Cook said.

Indeed, while most of the excitement surrounding Apple's previous September events focused on the unveiling of a new iPhone, this year there was more buzz about Apple TV.

Apple is positioning the device as an alternative to traditional gaming systems likeMicrosoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 by focusing on more casual, social games that could be downloaded from the App Store. Company executives demonstrated Apple TV's multiplayer gaming capabilities with a brief session of "Crossy Road," a popular mobile game.

Apple says it has sold more than 25 million Apple TV devices worldwide since 2007, but CNET reports U.S. sales slipped to fourth place last year behind Roku, Google's Chromecast, and Amazon's Fire TV.

Although Apple took more than 90 minutes to introduce its latest mobile phone -- the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus -- no device is more important to the company, with the iPhone accounting for nearly two-thirds of its revenue.

Among the enhancements this year is what Apple termed "3D Touch," which the company said offers faster, more responsive access to various tools, and a 12 megapixel camera. The phone runs on Apple's latest mobile platform, iOS 9, and a faster chip that Apple said will improve performance.

"Although they may look familiar, we have changed everything about these new iPhones," Cook said.

The iPhone 6s, which go on sale September 25, will retail for $199, $299 and $399 depending on memory; the 6s Plus will go for $299, $399 and $499. That is the same price as for the previous iPhone 6. New charging docks, along with a range of leather and silicon covers, are also available.

Today's Apple event comes one year to the day after the company unveiled its new, larger and thinner iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models.

Last year's phones were an immediate hit, with sales of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plustopping 10 million in their first three days on the market, setting a new sales record. That was about 1 million more units sold in the opening weekend than theiPhone 5C and 5S in 2013, which may be a more fitting comparison since this is another "off" year in the two-year iPhone product cycle and only incremental changes to the iPhone 6 are expected.

What will it take to get more users to trade in their phones this year? CNET reportsthat according to Kantar Worldpanel analysts, nearly one-third of U.S. iPhone users have replaced their devices within the past 12 months. But another third own iPhones that are at least two years old. Apple's challenge is to convince them that the new model is a big enough advance to be worth the cost, and that an iPhone 5 or earlier is no longer "good enough."

iPhone sales drive most of the company's profits. And the iPhone, which is credited with priming the market for smartphones when Apple introduced the device in 2007, remains a hot-seller. Consumers bought more than 47 million iPhones in the third quarter alone, up 35 percent from the year-ago period.

Still, investors are keen that Apple not rest on its laurels. Even as the company has continued to mint profits, its shares have cooled in recent months amid concerns that Apple's earnings are too dependent on the iPhone and that the latest product upgrades may lack the sizzle to drive big sales.

In trading shortly before the start of Wednesday's event, Apple shares were largely flat at $113, a sign investors were waiting to get a look at the latest product lineup.

Like other major U.S. exporters, meanwhile, Apple is also likely to face headwinds in China, the world's largest smartphone market, as the country's economy slows.

Apple is eager to reclaim market share taken in recent years by Samsung, LG and other mobile phone manufacturers, and the growing dominance of Google's (GOOG) Android mobile platform, which now runs an estimated 81 percent of smartphones worldwide, according to the latest report by industry analyst IDC.

Cook, although short of the charisma and star power of the company's iconic former CEO, the late Steve Jobs, laid on the salesmanship in pitching the new phone.

"These are the most popular phones in the world, but more important to us they're the most loved phones in the world," Cook said.

At last year's event, Apple also provided a sneak peek at the Apple Watch, its first entirely new product line since launching the iPad in 2010. The Apple Watch did not hit the market until this spring, and Apple has not released sales figures to date for the devices, which are priced from $350 to more than $10,000 apiece. IDC estimated in August that Apple shipped 3.6 million Apple Watch units in the second quarter, second inwearable tech only to FitBit, which sold 4.4 million fitness trackers in the same period. However, expectations for the Apple Watch were higher, and Pacific Crest securities cut its 2016 Apple Watch sales estimate from 24 million to 21 million units.

iPad sales also remain a concern as the overall tablet market declines. IDC reports second-quarter worldwide shipments of tablets declined 7 percent year-over-year, and Digitimes Research has predicted an even deeper 15 percent decline in the third quarter.

"As phones have gotten bigger and bigger, people are using their tablets a lot less," CNET's Iyaz Akhtar told CBS News. A larger, more powerful iPad Pro model may hold some promise for combating the drop-off in tablet sales, Akhtar said, but only if Apple comes up with a "killer app" to make consumers feel it's a must-have.

Perhaps more than any other tech company, Apple faces huge pressure to innovate and inspire, to continually break new ground and astonish in ways Jobs, who died in 2011, led consumers to expect -- a level of performance that may be difficult or impossible for any company, no matter how successful, to maintain.


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