Apple usually shows off its latest wares in the fall, but took a few moments today to show off updated versions of the iPad and iPhone. Few people coming into the event expected truly top-tier announcements (look for the iPhone 7 sometime this fall), but today's lower key event holds some important updates for people not necessarily living on the bleeding edge of mobile devices.
A smaller iPhone no longer means a less powerful iPhone.
The just-announced iPhone SE is exactly what analysts and fans were expecting. The easiest way to think about the newest members of the iPhone lineup is to picture a smartphone with the overall size and shape of the iPhone 5s, but with a faster processor, a better camera, and the ability to use Apple Pay, Apple's mobile payments feature that lets you buy everything from toothpaste at Walgreens to lunch at McDonald's with your phone (and a linked credit card).
The iPhone SE directly addresses the fact that the smallest iPhone you could previously buy was the iPhone 5s. That left people who prefer smaller smartphones stuck between using an uncomfortably large device or putting up with 2013-era technology. This matters not just because people want the convenience of paying with their phone, or taking better photos, but because Apple regularly adds vital security enhancements to successive versions of iOS.
iOS 9, for example, bumped the default passcode length to six digits, from four digits on previous versions. Coupled with the fact that newer versions of iOS tend to run slowly on older devices and you've got the perfect recipe to discourage users of the iPhone 5s to stick to older, less safe software.
The iPhone SE starts at $399 (16GB) and will be available on March 31.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro, announced today, is effectively a carbon copy of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro that debuted last fall. The "Pro" distinction adds Apple's Smart Connector, which is used to connect accessories like the Smart Keyboard cover, which is a cover that doubles as a keyboard, and the Apple Pencil, a stylus that Apple expressly aims at artists and designers.
The intrigue surrounding this new iPad Pro primarily centers around whether or not it will help lift the iPad's sagging sales. The research firm IDC noted in early February that tablet sales fell nearly 14 percent in the last quarter of 2015 compared to the last quarter of 2014. The lone bright spot was for a special kind of tablet known as a detachable, which are tablets that have screens larger than 9 inches and detachable keyboards, like Microsoft's Surface Pro and Samsung's Galaxy Tab Pro S.
For actual humans, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro gives people looking to the use iPad as a laptop replacement yet another option. No, it's not as spacious as the larger 12.9-inch model, but it may hit the sweet spot between being big enough to use for work and being portable enough to carry to the local cafe or the conference room down the hall. The iPad Pro line is also quite a bit more powerful than the iPad Air and iPad Mini lines, which should ensure smoother performance in demanding games and professional apps from companies like Adobe and Autodesk.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599 (32GB) and will also be available on March 31.
Tim Cook noted that the Apple Watch is now the best-selling smartwatch on the planet, but then quickly followed by up announcing a major price cut. The Apple Watch now starts at $299, down from $349.
While today's updates are certainly appreciated, an event happening tomorrow is arguably of much more importance to Apple—and to each and every one of us who use Apple's products. The company will tomorrow defend itself in a federal court in California over its refusal to create software that would allow the FBI to hack into an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernardino shooters. Tim Cook even took a few minutes at the beginning of today's event to directly address the case, saying he would not allow Apple to "shrink" from the responsibility of protecting its customers' privacy.
New mobile devices are certainly welcome, but a resolute defensive of customer privacy is even more important.