When Apple’s annual fall hardware event takes place next week, it will come amid an important shift for the company. Sales of the iPhone, the device that has made the company hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade, have slowed. Jony Ive, the legendary designer responsible for the look and feel of all things Apple, has left. The company has been pushing subscription services like never before, in the form of streaming music, digital news, and star-studded original video series. Somewhat bizarrely, it just started offering a credit card.
To be clear, Apple is still one of the most valuable tech companies in the world, with a stockpile of over $200 billion in cash. It’s doing just fine, and it will continue to try to lock people into its ecosystem with the iPhone as the linchpin. But the challenges for Apple at this particular moment are complex. At a macro level, Apple faces the regular threat of disruption to its famously efficient supply chain strategy because of President Donald Trump’s trade feud with China. The security of iOS is falling under greater scrutiny. And Apple’s positions as both a giant store for apps and as a powerful app maker itself are being questioned. Tech, over the past few years, has finally met its skeptics.
Meanwhile, when it comes to hardware and software—the stuff that billions of people interact with every day—Apple is under pressure to innovate. Competing phone makers have added more and more features to their high-end smartphones, and consumers are holding out for something that is actually worth the upgrading. Apple still has a firmer stance on privacy than other tech companies, and it will undoubtedly talk about that next week, but it still needs to convince people to pay a premium price for that.
The Main Event
The star of Tuesday’s media blitz will still be the iPhone. This year, Apple is widely expected to show off three new models, as it has done since 2017 when it announced the iPhone X alongside the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. Bloomberg reports that two at the top of the line will have the “Pro” moniker and will include a new, triple-lens camera system that captures better low-light images, wide-angle photos, and near-professional videos. There will also reportedly be a successor to the iPhone XR, the “cheaper” phone from last year that had an LCD screen, not an OLED display, and impressive battery life.
Of course, in this era of computational photography, it’s not likely that just new hardware is going to give the iPhone’s camera a boost. Advanced software, running on powerful neural engines, can now do everything from fixing blemishes and closed eyes on the fly and applying depth-of-field affects to live video to stitching together several images for the best possible composite. Expect to see more of this on these so-called pro phones.
Apple usually rolls out an updated system on a chip each fall, which points to a new A13 processor this year. FaceID is also said to be getting an upgrade, so that it recognizes more angles of your face. (My unique chin rolls thank you.) And if Apple’s invitation to the event is any indication, we might be in for new colors too; think hues like pastel yellow, sea-foam green, or Easter purple.
It’s unclear whether we’ll see new Apple Watch hardware this year, a processor bump, or just updates to the existing watch casings. But one rumored new feature has Apple Watch fans excited: 9to5Mac reports that the Apple Watch may soon have a built-in sleep-tracking feature, some kind of application that would measure the wearer’s quality of sleep and add it to the plethora of health-related data that Apple scoops up through the Watch.