Apple is hosting an event on September 9, and by all accounts it’s going to be a real barn burner. The company is set to announce new iPhones, and this much you can take to the bank, but rumors have also arisen suggesting we’ll see a brand new wearable device of some kind – the great and powerful ‘iWatch’ of legend. Apple will also probably showcase iOS 8, along with more details about features like HomeKit and Health/HealthKit that will probably be easier to demo now that developers have had time to build for them. Murmurs also say we’ll finally see Apple pull back the curtain on its long-rumored mobile payments play, and that launch could very well set the commerce world on its head.
The next iPhone is almost certainly going to bring a larger display to Apple’s signature device, and most rumors agree that it will offer up both a 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch option. This will be a marked difference from the existing iPhone, given that Apple has remained committed to a 4-inch diagonal since introducing it on the iPhone 5 two years ago, at which point even that was a big step up from the 3.5-inch screen on all previous iPhone devices.
In addition to a larger screen, expect Apple to introduce a new case design, one that features softer edges when compared to the current look. Leaks and mock-ups based on supposed components from suppliers suggest it’ll have a lot in common with the design language Apple first introduced with the iPad mini, which then made its way into last year’s iPad Air. Most expect a thinner chassis as well, along with the new rounded corners.
Touch ID will almost certainly reprise its role as Apple’s fancy fingerprint unlocked, especially given Apple’s decision to open up access to the tool to third-party developers and apps. It could feature prominently in Apple’s mobile payments plans, too, as an additional authentication layer. NFC, too, is something Apple is said to finally be embracing, also owing to how it can help its mobile payments efforts, and potentially for easier pairing between the new iPhone and its brand new mystery wearable.
New materials used in the iPhone’s construction should include a strong sapphire-based composite of some kind that offers additional projection against scratching and breaking. Apple has a large-scale partnership with GT Advanced Technologies, a manufacturer that specializes in sapphire production, and indications are that we’ll see this bear fruit, though some reports claim that this new tech might only be used in higher-end models of the iPhone, with standard reinforced glass used on less expensive versions.
Finally, expect the usual spate of internal hardware improvements, including a more capable camera, better network connectivity (802.11ac Wi-Fi and LTE-Advanced are reasonable expectations), a boosted processor (A8 generation of Apple’s in-house system-on-a-chip) and more.
While at this point it seems unlikely Apple will actually call its wearable the ‘iWatch,’ it’s still a useful portmanteau for whatever wrist-worn device Apple does launch. Rumors suggest we’ll see some kind of fitness tracking, heart rate sensing, notification delivering smartwatch and activity tracker combo, and recent reports indicate that it could feature NFC and figure prominently in Apple’s mobile payment plans.
In terms of detailed specs, so far we’ve heard precious little and seen nothing in terms of reputable parts leaks from the supply chain. The WSJ and NYT both agree that we’re probably going to get two sizes of screen, with both a 1.4-inch and 1.7-inch version. That screen will be made of a flexible, OLED material that curves around the wrist, say these same sources, and will be rectangular in shape.
Apple’s iWatch has to offer something more than the basic feature set included in existing smartwatches like Pebble and Android Wear hardware, since neither has excited consumers in a way that makes the things fly off the shelves. If Apple wants to mainstream the wearable, it needs to impress out of the gate, and that could be part of the reason rumors say it won’t actually ship the device until early next year, despite an initial reveal next week. That would give software developers the time to build solid experiences for the platform, and it gives Apple more leeway in terms of ramping up production.
We know that iOS 8 will arrive, and Apple has already revealed much of what the new software update will contain, including support for third-party keyboards, a new Health app and HealthKit APIs for developers, plus the HomeKit connected home software tools. Apple has revamped its own keyboard, too, and built-in automatic typing suggestions, plus new Messages and Photos experiences. Multitasking now provides recent contacts for quick access, you can share iTunes accounts with your family, and iCloud drive makes it easier to use iCloud for cross-platform document storage and retrieval.
Apple has already launched a consumer preview of OS X Yosemite, which shows off Continuity and its new Handoff features that let users start actions like composing emails or browsing the web on one device, and pick them up on another, but with the actual launch of iOS 8 we should get a better look at how those work. We’ll also finally see how it handles transferring non-iMessage texts and non-Facebook phone calls to your desktop, since there’s no media gag on the Yosemite preview this time around.
Most interesting will be seeing what Apple does with HealthKit, HomeKit and its mobile payments play. We’ll finally see what these aspects of its software, which are basically empty vessels, can do when filled with content from developers. Will Apple make iOS a full-featured hub for health and medical records? It is reportedly working with healthcare providers, but on Tuesday we should get an idea of how deeply these partnerships run.
Expect consumer availability to follow the Tuesday event closely, with availability either the same day or within a week’s time.
iPad Air 2
We’ve heard just a little about this possibility, so don’t count on it, but KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says there will be an iPad Air 2 announcement at this same event, instead of at a separate one in October, when Apple revealed new iPads last year. The new iPad Air might then be a fairly minor update on the version introduced in 2013, possibly with the addition of Touch ID, and maybe with some additional against in terms of thinning the device case.
This one isn’t in the bag, but if Apple is focused on the rest of the line for updates this year, it could roll iPad announcements into this event. That would still leave October primed for new Mac announcements.
Mac OS X
OS X has an update imminent, as is obvious from the Yosemite preview and continuing beta updates, but it’s unlikely we’ll see it launched for the public at the event, despite the Continuity features that tie into iOS 8. Apple would be hard-pressed to ship two such major software updates at the same time, and so much change across their device ecosystem is also a lot to handle for consumers.
The availability of the consumer preview of Yosemite means that there’s less impetus on getting it out the door in sync with iOS 8, since Continuity can be shown off in other ways to whet user appetite for a later launch. I’d also expect Apple to hold any new OS X launch until it plans on shipping new Macs, and it makes more sense for Apple to wait until October to do that, rather than adding yet another hardware announcement to its full slate for next week.
Packed No Matter How You Look At It
Apple’s event on Tuesday is going to be just packed to the gills with announcements, no matter how much of the above comes true. New iPhones alone would be plenty to crow about, but we’ll almost certainly also finally see Cupertino’s wearable tech play unveiled, and given all the question marks there, that may be an even more exciting reveal.