The annual September rollout of new products from Apple delivered less this year than I’d expected. And that’s a good thing.
It wasn’t a secret that Apple would be introducing the new iPhone 11. But it was a surprise the base model would carry a starting price of $699 — $50 less than for last year’s iPhone XR. And while we foresaw the announcement of Apple’s new Arcade gaming service and the company’s long-awaited TV streaming service Apple TV Plus, I wasn’t ready for the low price: $4.99 a month for each.
It looks like Apple has taken to heart the lessons of its humbling slump in iPhone sales, which proved there’s only so much consumers will pay for even a very good phone. The company has also realized the vital importance of taking an early lead in a cloud-based gaming market that has attracted the attention of competitors Microsoft and Google.
Apple knows it’s late to TV streaming. Netflix dominates, Disney is on the way, and AT&T isn’t too far behind. So forget about charging premium prices. For Apple TV Plus, it’s a bargain-basement pricing strategy that even included the company’s chief executive, Tim Cook, shouting “This is crazy!” like a guy peddling Veg-O-Matics on late-night TV.
Apart from the pricing, we got an array of predictably impressive products, especially that new iPhone Pro with three cameras on board.
You’ll pay plenty for this phone — $999 for the base model, or $1,099 for the larger Pro Max.
Apart from the cameras, there are major upgrades in screen quality, as well as improved water resistance, a Face ID upgrade so the phone will unlock itself faster at the sight of you, and, above all, a powerful new set of chips optimized for artificial intelligence.
Why would a phone need AI? Take another look at the three rear cameras: one telephoto, one mid-range, one wide-angle. Apple will use the iPhone’s computers to do remarkable things with the images from each of them.
For instance, an upcoming software enhancement will let the iPhone shoot nine images with each of its three cameras, every time you take a shot.
The onboard AI will then figure out which individual pixel from each image looks the best and assemble them into a finished photo. That stunt will require insane amounts of computation, but Apple says its new iPhone chip runs a trillion operations per second, so never mind.
Even more impressive is what the new iPhone Pro can do using an app called Filmic Pro. This app will display separate video streams from all three rear cameras and the front camera, all at the same time, and let you record any two of the video streams simultaneously. Then you can edit them together as you like, right on the phone — the iPhone’s computer is that powerful.
I’d never pay $1,000 for a phone. But there are plenty who might spring for an iPhone just to get hold of this camera. Memo to companies like Canon and Nikon, already hammered by falling camera sales: It just got worse.
Also on tap Tuesday was a new $399 Apple Watch, mainly distinguished by a screen that’s always on. No more having to flip your wrist to see the time. That’s nice.
There was a new lower-priced iPad, too, slightly larger than the model it replaced and priced at $329.
And as is its practice, Apple cut prices on some existing phones: The base model of the iPhone XR is now $599, while the iPhone 8 is reduced to $449.
But the rollout of Apple’s new online services was the most important of Tuesday’s announcements, more so than even the new iPhone. We all have phones, and tend to keep them for years. So Apple needs a new way to make money, through a recurring stream of cash from its loyal fans.
It worked for Microsoft, which earns billions selling pay-as-you-go software and computing services to thousands of businesses. Apple plans to do it by collecting monthly subscription fees from hundreds of millions of consumers.
The company’s doing all right with Apple Music, second only to Spotify. So why not gaming? For $4.99 a month, Arcade promises access to 100 exclusive games produced by major developers such as Capcom and Konami.
Up to six family members can play for this price, using any Apple device. And the first month is free.
As for Apple TV Plus, I was torn about signing up for yet another streaming service. But the trailer for one of its upcoming original shows, “For All Mankind,” was nearly irresistible to a space geek like me.
And at $5 a month, Apple has made up my mind for me. As soon as the Apple TV app rolls out for my Samsung smart TV, I’m there.
Hiawatha Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.