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No surprises from Apple

23 Mar 2016  | Brian Dipert

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I wish that I could tell you that Monday's Apple intro event was radically (or even remotely) different from what I prognosticated last week. After all, who doesn't enjoy a surprise, right? Unfortunately, the Apple rumour mill is becoming increasingly accurate all the time, thanks to a combination of supply chain and developer leaks (along with the occasional internally-sourced data dribble). With that said, the event wasn't completely drama-free, and don't forget, my last-week coverage included a few then-unanswered questions, which are now known.

iPhone SE

I guessed right on the name, the guts, and pretty much all of the details. This is basically an iPhone 6s in iPhone 5s clothing. No 3D Touch (but you already knew that). An 8-to-12 Mpixel uptick for the rear camera, although no resolution upgrade for "selfie" fans (but youdo get Retina Flash support this time, which you didn't have on the iPhone 5s). A two-generation newer SoC, along with twice the DRAM. Integrated NFC for digital wallet support (to do Apple Play on the iPhone 5S, you needed to use a NFC-equipped Apple Watch intermediary). And 802.11ac support this time around, plus faster (Category 4) LTE.

The biggest surprise here was the price. The 16GB variant of the (unsurprisingly now obsolete) iPhone 5s had cost $449 contract-free (i.e. unsubsidized). The 16GB iPhone 6s costs $649. The 16GB iPhone SE? $399 (and $499 for the 64GB version, the only other capacity alternative currently offered). My wife's iPhone 5 is getting long in the tooth, with a no-longer-functional hardware volume button and a battery in need of replacement. She's angling for an iPhone 6s, but I'm going to try to steer her to the much less expensive iPhone SE. After all, a 0.7" diagonal screen dimension differential only translates to a ~17mm differential in screen height, and a ~9.5mm differential in screen width...

9.7" iPad Pro


Figure 1: The 9.7" iPad Pro's LCD is enhanced from the 12.9" precursor, complete with a featured Apple's calling True Tone.

Again, it's pretty much as I suspected. Its integrated Lightning controller only supports USB 2 transfer speeds, not the USB 3 capabilities of its big brother, but otherwise it's pretty much a shrunken down 12.9" iPad Pro, complete with a Pencil, Smart Connector-based detachable keyboard, etc. System memory capacity isn't public, per longstanding (and annoying) Apple tradition, although it'll quickly become known once units show up in developers' and users' hands...I'm putting my money on 4GB, as I mentioned last week.

Pricing isn't surprising...the 16GB iPad Air 2 formerly cost $499 (Apple cut the price $100 today, along with obsoleting the first-generation iPad Air), whereas the 9.7" iPad Pro starts at $599 for the lowest-capacity 32GB variant. The capacity family extends up to 256GB (a 256GB version of the 12.9" iPad Pro was also added today). What was surprising here is that both the front and rear cameras of the 9.7" model are higher-res than those in the 12.9" model...5 Mpixel vs 1.2 Mpixel for the front, 12 Mpixel vs 8 Mpixel for the rear. And the LCD is also enhanced from that in the already-pretty-darn-good 12.9" precursor, complete with a featured Apple's calling True Tone, which dynamically adjusts display parameters based on the sensed ambient brightness and colour temperature.

Apple Watch

New Apple watch bands

Figure 2: Apple CEO Tim Cook and new Apple Watch bands, screenshot from Apple's "townhall" event March 21, 2016.

New band options, which were expected. And a $50 price drop, which wasn't. In last week's writeup, I wrote, "Cutting prices to stimulate demand isn't Apple's style," which is generally true, except when demand vastly undershoots expectations...which has seemingly been the case with the Apple Watch. In a sense, this is old news; Best Buy, Target and other retailers have been doing $50-and-more-off promotions for months now, via price cuts, bundled gift cards and other fiscal tricks. But now it's official. Will it work? Only time will tell.

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