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Apple May Have Good News for People With Small Hands on Monday

A smaller iPhone may be in your future.

by Nicholas Deleon
Mar 18 2016, 12:00pm

Image: Andrew/Flickr

Just a few hours before it argues inside a federal courtroom in California that it shouldn't be forced to help the FBI brute force its way into the iPhone of a dead terrorist, Apple will show off some new gadgets to the press.

Apple on Monday will host an event at its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters that's widely expected to be headlined by the announcement of a new 4-inch iPhone and a 9.7-inch iPad. Apple's highest-profile event of the year typically occurs in September, so consider this a warm-up before a summer filled with iPhone 7 rumors.

Here's how we see things going down on Monday.

The 4-inch iPhone

This will likely be the main attraction of the day. Frequently referred to as the iPhone SE, the easiest way to think about this, says Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, is to picture the form factor of an iPhone 5s but with updated internals more along the lines of the iPhone 6 or 6s. That's in line with multiple reports in recent days. Of course, we won't know for sure until Monday, but Apple's ability to keep secrets isn't what it used to be.

"It would be both the phone for people who haven't had a phone to upgrade to because they like the smaller size, and also potentially be the lowest tier in the lineup," Dawson told Motherboard, referring to its expected smaller price tag, which he pegged at $450 or $550. (The iPhone 6s starts at $649.) If the expected upgrades pan out, you'll likely be able to do things like pay with Apple Pay and trigger Siri merely by speaking "Hey Siri" within earshot of the device, bringing it in line with recent models.

None of these features are new or groundbreaking, and that's completely fine. The story here isn't so much whiz-bang new features—that's the iPhone 7's job later this year—but that Apple is taking the advancements of the last few years, like Apple Pay, and making them available for people who prefer a smaller size or for people who don't want to spend more than $600 on such a fragile device.

The 9.7-inch iPad

As someone who once worked for a publication that was natively designed for the iPad because tablets were the future, the iPad and its role in Apple's lineup continues to fascinate me. With Monday's event, Apple is expected to update the 9.7-inch model with a new name and hardware design that brings to mind last fall's iPad Pro, the 12-inch iPad that Dawson described to Motherboard as a "niche device." "The iPad sells very well to new customers," said Dawson, "so the biggest issue [for Apple] is to convince people who already have an iPad to upgrade to the new one."

And how do we expect Apple to do that on Monday? Look for Apple to re-brand the 9.7-inch iPad to the iPad Pro (from the current iPad Air), bringing with it the features that exclusively debuted with the 12-inch iPad Pro last fall, namely support for the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. "This is potentially an attempt to say, 'You know what, the only way to really stimulate sales of these things is if they start to become a possible replacement for your laptop,'" said Dawson. "A big bump in specs and compatibility with some of those accessories could mean this has some of the same attractions as the 12-inch iPad pro, and yet could be priced significantly lower than that." The iPad Pro currently starts at $799, while the 9.7-inch model is expected to start as low as $500.

Anything else?

While the iPhone and iPad are expected to generate the most interest on Monday, Apple may devote additional time on stage for iOS, the Apple Watch, and the company's ongoing legal battle with the FBI. There's a decent chance iOS 9.3 will be released on Monday—it's been available as a public beta for several months—with features like a password-protected Notes app and something called Night Shift. Think of this as Apple's version of the popular app f.lux, which filters out the blue light generated by computer monitors so that they don't ruin your ability to fall asleep.

Don't expect to see the Apple Watch 2 on Monday, but do be on the lookout for new bands.

As for the looming threat posed by the FBI, while Tim Cook isn't likely to deliver a protracted soliloquy on the matter, it's hard to see Apple not bringing the matter up in some capacity. "I don't think they want [the FBI battle] to become the story on a day when they're introducing what they believe to be great, new devices," said Dawson, who suggested Apple might allude to the matter as it discusses security features of the iPhone like Touch ID and the Secure Enclave. "I would not be surprised if the word 'FBI' isn't mention, but I would be surprised if the words 'security' and 'privacy' are not mentioned quite a bit."