At a special 'Town Hall' event in Cupertino, California on Tuesday morning, Apple unveiled its new iPhone SE — a 4-inch phone with many of the hardware advantages of the latest flagships — as well as a smaller iPad Pro and updates to its software platforms and Apple Watch.
The new phone is designed both for people who like smaller devices but don't want to sacrifice quality, and for those looking for a less expensive entry point for their first iPhone, Apple executive Greg Joswiak said, noting that millions of older 4-inch iPhones like the 5s are still sold every year.
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Apple launches new smaller iPhone SE
Apple reveals a new iPhone and iPad Pro plus a robot called 'Liam' to help recover precious materials from old iPhone 6 devices.
Looking like an iPhone 5s but powered by the same 64-bit A9 chip found in the 6s, Apple claims the SE is the most powerful phone of its size ever created, with its processing and graphics performance identical to that of its larger siblings.
The phone also packs the 12 megapixel camera and all the imaging and video capabilities of the iPhone 6s, as well as Touch ID and Apple Pay capabilities, although it lacks the newer phones' 3D Touch screen.
The iPhone SE will launch at $679 for the 16GB model in Australia, which is quite an increase over the American launch price of $US399 ($536.38), but still leagues cheaper than Australia's iPhone 6s starting point of $1079. For the 64GB version of the iPhone SE, Australians will pay $829. The phones are available in the familiar colours of space gray, silver, gold and rose gold (AKA pink).
The iPhone SE will be up for pre-order in many countries around the world, including Australia, on March 24. It will be released next week on March 31.
Continuing the trend of downsizing, the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro has all the features of last year's 12.9-inch model — including the powerful A9X chip, four speakers, compatibility with Apple Pencil and its own smart keyboard — but in a more manageable form factor. The biggest new feature is a camera that detects the temperature and intensity of ambient light to adjust the screen for a more natural feel.
The smaller iPad Pro will also come in rose gold, unlike its predecessor. It will start at $899 for the 32GB model in Australia, while those who need more storage can go for the $1049 128GB model, or shell out $1399 for a whopping 256GB of storage.
The pricing for the new tablet compares favourably with the big iPad Pro — which also gets the optional bump to 256GB of storage — which ranges from $1099 to $1599.
Apple also announced updates to its tvOS and iOS software platforms for Apple TV and iPhone respectively, with the former getting the ability to dictate search text, usernames and passwords as well as the ability to place apps in folders. The latter will see a 'Night Shift' mode and additional functionality for the iOS Notes and CarPlay apps, in line with the 9.3 beta software.
Throughout the event Apple took several swipes at its main competitors in the smartphone and premium tablet space, with Joswiak pointing out the meagre percentage of Android devices running the latest Android 6.0 software compared to the near totality of iOS devices running iOS 9.2.
Apple VP Phil Schiller talked about how "sad" it was that so many PCs currently in use were more than 5 years old, saying the new iPad Pro was specifically designed to woo Windows users to the Apple ecosystem.
Apple also announced a price drop for Apple Watch, and introduced new straps including a woven nylon band, new leather and sport bands and a space black milanese loop. In Australia, the Apple Watch Sport will now start at $429 for the 38mm and $499 for the 42mm, down from $499 and $579 respectively.
Cook opened the event by announcing that, just weeks ahead of Apple's 40th birthday on April 1, there are more than one billion apple devices in use around the world. This was quickly followed by a reaffirmation of the company's commitment to keeping its iPhones locked down in the face of growing tensions with the American government.
"We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data, and your privacy", said Cook. "We owe it to our company, and we owe it to this country. We will not shrink from this responsibility".
Apple entered the fight with the US government when asked in February to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation unlock an iPhone 5C used by San Bernadino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple says providing law enforcement with a way into iPhones would weaken security for the entire userbase.
Apple also spent time during the event talking up its eco-friendly credentials, announcing that it uses 100 per cent renewable energy in many countries around the world, including in Australia and the US. It also showed off a handsome Apple robot named Liam which dismantles used iPhones to capture precious metals for recycling.
On the health front, Apple extended its ResearchKit offering to include 'CareKit', open source software that allows for apps that integrate with a user's healthcare plans and gives them useful information that might usually only be seen by physicians.