Apple Introduces New iPhones XS, XS Max, XR & S4 Watch

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Apple’s newest iPhones are the iPhone Xs and the unfortunately named iPhone Xs Max, named so for their internal upgrades and new sizing, rather than radical redesigns. The new iPhone Xs looks similar to last year’s iPhone X. It has a 5.8-inch OLED display, the same edge-to-edge screen, the same notch at the top. It does come in a gold finish, which is new for this phone body, and Apple says the phone is built with a newly-formulated, stronger glass. Also, its waterproofing and dust-proofing have been improved.

The iPhone Xs Max is the Xs’s new larger sibling. The Xs Max essentially the same sized phone as the iPhone 8 Plus (which feels ginormous compared to the iPhone X), but it has a 6.5-inch OLED display. Like the iPhone XS, it comes in a gold finish, is built with strengthened glass, is more waterproof, and supports FaceID and 3D Touch.

The iPhone Xs starts at $999—the same as last year’s iPhone X—and the larger iPhone Xs Max starts at $1,099. Both phones go on sale this Friday, September 14 and become available on Friday, September 21.

These phones weren’t the only ones announced today. Apple also showed off a lower-priced $749 version called the iPhone XR that will become available in October.

Turn the Dial
This year’s high-end phones can be described as evolutionary, not revolutionary. Apple emphasized the handsets’ display technology and processing power as a way to differentiate this year’s phone models from last year’s. Both phones support Apple’s True Tone display and support Dolby Vision and HDR10. Their displays aren’t just Retina displays; they’re super Retina, Apple says—the same screens found on last year’s iPhone X.

As you might have guessed, the new iPhones also have a new chip. It’s called the A12 Bionic, an update from last year’s A11 Bionic. It’s a 7-nanometer chip and, according to Apple, is capable of a whopping 5 trillion operations per second. It has a 6-core CPU, 4-core GPU, and an 8-core dedicated machine learning engine. Apple trotted out a series of game developers at its hardware event in Cupertino, California today to demonstrate how these new phones can handle heavy gaming loads.

As WIRED’s Tom Simonite has pointed out before, that 7-nanometer figure is a measure of the size of the transistors, and in this case, that means they’re very small. It’s worth noting that Qualcomm, which makes the high-end chips found in Android flagship phones, has also said that a 7-nanometer Snapdragon processor is in the works. However, this has not yet shipped, which makes Apple first to market with this kind of mobile chip.

For consumers who aren’t as interested in the size and efficiency of chips, the cameras on the iPhones might be more of a lure—although again, Apple went deep into the weeds when it began describing why this year’s cameras are supposed to be better. A dedicated image signal processor and neural engine perform a trillion operations on every photo snapped with these new phones. They’re supposed to identify faces, and reduce redeye. The new cameras have “smart” HDR, with zero shutter lag, Apple claims. The front-facing camera is twice as fast. The word “bokeh” appeared on a slide, alone, on stage. You can adjust the depth of field on a Portrait photo after it’s been captured. A 4K video demo was shown.

Basically, these new phone cameras do what phone cameras have already done. For awhile. But…better.

Battery life is said to be slightly improved, as well. Up to 30 minutes more for the iPhone Xs, and up to an hour and a half longer on the iPhone Xs Max. As rumored, the new phones also come with dual-SIM support for people who switch SIM cards often.

The iPhone is Apple’s most important product, accounting for as much as two-thirds of its revenue in any given quarter. But sales have been slowing in recent quarters. Apple has compensated for this by raising the average selling prices of its phones; by convincing consumers to pay upwards of $1000 for a phone, and by creating enough envy that people who don’t want to take the $1k-plunge are still trying to buy into less expensive iPhones.

Apple first rolled out a plus-sized phone back in 2014, with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus. Between 2014 and 2017, the design of the iPhone didn’t change all that drastically. Then, with the launch of the iPhone X last fall, Apple introduced a new, edge-to-edge OLED display, face authentication, and seriously impressive cameras.

This year’s new phones fall in line with “S” upgrades: they’re getting better internals, but they don’t look drastically different from the year before. How they perform, on the other hand, is something we’ll have to test and report back on.

Apple Watch S4 Adds ECG, EKG, and More Heart-Monitoring Features

IF YOU EVER wondered what the Apple Watch is really for, that’s no longer a question—at least, not for Apple.

The new Apple Watch Series 4, revealed by Apple earlier today, underscores that some of the watch’s most important features are its health and fitness-tracking functions. The new watch is one of the first over-the-counter devices in the US to offer electrocardiogram, or ECG, readings. On top of that, the Apple Watch has received FDA clearance—both for the ECG feature and another new feature that detects atrial fibrillation.1

The new Apple Watch starts at $399 for a Series 4 model with GPS, and $499 with cellular. The Series 3 Watch gets a price drop and now costs just $279. The new watches go on sale this Friday, September 14, and they become available on September 21.

Apple’s new Series 4 smartwatch includes some notable hardware updates: it has a new edge-to-edge display that’s more than 30 percent larger than the display on previous models. It has a redesigned crown, which was leaked beforehand; the bold red dot has been ditched for a thin, red outline. The crown also gives haptic feedback.

It has a new system-on-a-chip, which includes a 64-bit dual-core processor (Apple claims this makes the watch two times faster than earlier models.) The watch’s speaker is also louder, to accommodate a new walkie-talkie feature that will launch with the newest version of the software. Battery life is, unfortunately, unchanged—Apple says it will last about one day.

But some of the biggest updates ushered in with this new smartwatch are a combination of hardware-and-software features. One of the watch’s new faces is an incredibly dense, health-focused face, that shows your activity levels, heart rate, workout shortcuts, a shortcut to music, and more. Another watch face is comprised entirely of Apple’s “Breathe” app, an app that reminds you to, well, breathe.

The Watch also now detects when someone falls and uses Siri to initiate an emergency call if the wearer hasn’t moved after a fall. (Although, I still might not be entirely confident in Siri getting the job done here.)

But by far the most significant announcement is that the Series 4 watch, which has improved heart rate sensors, is transitioning into a more serious role as a clinical health tracker. Ivor Benjamin, the president of the American Heart Association, made a brief appearance on stage to vouch for this. The Series 4 watch will send a notification if your heart rate is too low and if it detects instances of atrial fibrillation. And it allows wearers to take an electrocardiogram, as mentioned earlier. The latter two features are possible because of Apple Watch’s new status as an FDA cleared device, the company says.

According to the CDC, between 2.7 and 6.1 million people in the US have atrial fibrillation. And as the US population ages, that number is expected to increase.

“Fitness is at the core of Apple Watch,” Apple COO Jeff Williams said today at the hardware event. “And while you could always check your heart rate … it’s become an intelligent guardian for your health.”

Watch This Space
Apple has launched five versions of its smartwatch since 2015: The original watch, a Series 1, 2, and 3, and now, this one. When Apple first launched the watch, it was positioned as a product with multiple value propositions. It recorded workouts and had built-in heart rate sensors, so it was a health tracker…but it didn’t have GPS, and its heart rate sensing was fairly basic. It paired with the iPhone, but it wasn’t supposed to replace your iPhone; instead, it showed you iMessages when you couldn’t look at your phone. And with the launch of the smartwatch came the launch of a new platform for micro-apps. For a while, it seemed like people really would use the watch to track their Uber or to read snippets of news.

Those use cases still exist, but the watch didn’t become the app platform Apple said it would. Instead, it became known for its notifications and its health tracking. Now, Apple is doubling down on health tracking.

That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been successful for Apple, however. While Apple has never broken out smartwatch unit sales in its quarterly earnings report, CEO Tim Cook said earlier this year that the Apple Watch was part of a product category that’s “now the size of a Fortune 300 company.” On stage at the hardware event today, Cook said it was the “number one watch in the world.” According to research firm IDC, Apple is currently the global leader in the connected wearables market, shipping an estimated 4.7 million units in the second quarter of this year. Chinese company Xiaomi, which takes a low-cost/high-volume approach to wearables, is close behind Apple in the number two spot.
– Lauren Goode I Wired