Tim Cook has had his first Steve Jobs moment.
With Tuesday’s introduction of the new iPhone 6 line, Apple Pay and Apple Watch, the company’s CEO escaped the public shadow of his revered predecessor. Now the question is: Can he deliver in the same impressive fashion?
The early signs indicate he just might. While Apple’s presentations are usually packed with an amen chorus of fans and tech journalists, the details the company revealed about its next line of phones, its new payment processing system and upcoming smart watch gave a clear sign that Apple is not becoming stagnant, as so many critics had feared.
The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are almost certain to be hot sellers when they become available on Sept. 19. The 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch models level the playing field between Apple and its larger-screened Android competitors. The processor and camera improvements are impressive. And the user interface changes the company showed off were promising.
Like the iPhone 5c and 5s, though, there’s no question about which model Apple is favoring. The advantages of the iPhone 6 Plus over the iPhone 6 go well beyond the screen size. The 6 Plus’s optical image stabilization (versus less effective digital stabilization) and a significantly better battery life will be strong drivers to the more expensive model, something that should make investors happy.
While the iPhone will be the company’s cash machine, the most interesting — and impressive — part of the event wasn’t the phone — or even the Apple Watch. It was Apple Pay, the company’s vision of changing how people interact with both brick and mortar and online retailers.
Apple had its ducks in a row with this announcement, offering up an extensive line of bank and credit card partners, as well as a staggering number of retail allies. The company hammered home the security of the system (an admittedly awkward topic for them after the security breaches that resulted in personal photos from celebrities flooding the Web last week). And it’s not going to make people wait long before they can try it out.
While Apple Pay has the potential to severely disrupt the way people make purchases, it also underlined how critical battery life will be for mobile devices moving forward.
While both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus have a slightly stronger batteries than their predecessors, neither boasted a quantum leap. And while it’s inconvenient to have your phone run out of juice today, it doesn’t impact your ability to pay for things. If Apple’s true goal is to replace the wallet, as it stated in its presentation, it has a few critical steps to complete first.
As for the Apple Watch, it was a striking debut, but it raised several critical questions that Apple failed to answer.
For instance, how long will the battery last — especially among heavy users? Does it rely on the iPhone for all of its functionality – or can it do some communicative tasks on its own? (And, if so, how? Does it use WiFi or BlueTooth to communicate with the iPhone? Or does it have an independent LTE connection – which could carry an additional charge for consumers?)
Almost certainly, anyone who suffered through the buggy livestream of the event or attended in person is already saving for the Apple Watch, but that’s simply a matter of the company preaching to the converted.
The success of the Apple Watch lies in whether the mass market deems this a must have.
To Apple’s credit, the live demo was flawless. And the listed feature set – mobile payments, messaging, health monitoring, haptic navigation, unlocking your hotel room without a key, regulating your home thermostat, finding your car in a parking lot, etc. – was extensive and designed to appeal to a wide audience. Heck, even the $349 price tag isn’t terrible, given that this is an Apple device.
But there’s a lot of time between the excitement of the unveiling and retail availability — which gives potential customers plenty of time to question their need of the device.
Apple faced some lofty expectations when it took the stage Tuesday — and even some of the company’s ardent supporters were concerned expectations might have been too high. But the company delivered a solid 1-2-3 punch of products and features. And ultimately, Tim Cook and company may have given Apple an even bigger boost than onlookers were expecting.
Chris Morris has covered consumer technology and the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and breaking several major stories.