Apple rolls out new products

09/11/2014

Apple rolls out new products

CUPERTINO, Calif. – Sept. 10, 2014 – Tech's worst-kept secret has been revealed. Apple on Tuesday introduced two new larger-screen iPhones, a new mobile payments system and an Apple Watch.

Now the inevitable question turns to whether all those people postponing the purchase of a new smartphone or plunging into the wearables space should start lining up now.

It's a question that cannot be answered immediately, not without first testing out the new phones or smartwatch.

But the vibe I'm feeling in Cupertino is really positive.

Count me among those who were hoping Apple would go larger to match display sizes found on rival Android and Windows Phones. With the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, that's just what Apple did.

The former has more than 1 million pixels in a device that measures 4.7 inches. The latter is a 5.5-inch screen with more than 2 million pixels.

The phones have a glass front that curves around the side. The back is anodized aluminum. The Retina HD displays are not only stunning but virtually indestructible, Apple claims, though the rumored Sapphire display did not happen. The phones are also thinner than before and noticeably light when you pick them up.

The large displays, of course, let you see more on the phone – whether viewing your stock portfolio or inbox. Apple can go with a bigger keyboard layout too, which in theory might improve your typing output. There are also dedicated keys for such commands as cut or copy.

As has previously been announced, you'll be able to eschew Apple's own keyboard for third-party options if you prefer – that's one of the features that comes with the new iOS 8 software update.

A new gesture called "reachability" lets you double-touch the Touch ID fingerprint scanner so the top of the display is pushed to the bottom of the screen – it lets you reach stuff at the top of the display with one hand. The sleep-wake button has moved from the top of the iPhone to the side. Inside is a faster Apple-designed A8 chip and a new barometer sensor. Apple says its wireless LTE capability is more robust, too, and includes technology called VoLTE, which can be used to make calls clearer and also permit a user to take advantage of simultaneous voice and data.

Wi-Fi has also been beefed up, Apple says. And you'll be able to make calls over Wi-Fi and switch seamlessly to cellular as you move about. T-Mobile will be the first U.S. carrier to implement this.

Among the many camera features that Apple is touting on the new iPhones is super slo-mo video at 240 frames per second, along with improved auto-focusing. Time-lapse video is a nice photographic addition that comes with iOS 8.

The FaceTime HD camera on the front boasts a new sensor and face-detection feature. You can now use the front camera for burst photography – that is, taking a whole bunch of pictures at once. As if one selfie wasn't enough.

Apple says the battery life on both models has been improved, more so on the iPhone 6 Plus.

Apple says there are 1.3 million apps for the iPhone these days. And of course the new phones exploit the many improvements that come with iOS 8, which will be available on Sept. 17, two days ahead of the new phones.

IPhone 6 starts at $199 for 16 gigabytes or $299 for 64GB with a standard two-year cellular contract. One hundred dollars more buys you 128GB. The iPhone 6 Plus goes for $299, $399 and $499. Apple is keeping the 5c in the lineup; it's now free. The 5s also sticks around, for $99.

• Paying by phone. As had been rumored, Apple is also moving into the mobile payments space, with what the company calls ApplePay built into the new phones. It exploits NFC (technology Apple has pooh-poohed in the past), Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner, the camera on the phone and the (up-to-now) seldom-used Passbook app.

Apple has lined up an impressive list of partners starting with American Express, MasterCard and Visa, and most of the largest U.S. banks. ApplePay works with 220,000 U.S. merchants, Apple says, including Macy's, Bloomingdales, Walgreens, Subway, McDonald's, Disney (including Disney World) and others.

You can also use it with such online merchants as Target.

There are still substantial challenges. First and foremost, it is really hard to change consumer behavior. Sure, it's not uncommon these days for people to pay for coffee with their phones or present a boarding pass on their handset at the airport. But most of us – if we don't use cash – have no problem pulling plastic out of our physical wallets. According to a new report by CreditCards.com, 44 percent of survey respondents said they would never use their phones to pay for items and 18 percent said they would "hardly ever."

• The Apple Watch. Time will tell whether the new Apple Watch will emerge as the first must-have wearable. But I can tell you it is the finest-looking smartwatch I've seen. Apple has paid more attention to style and aesthetics in its new products than rivals, or at least it often seems so. Such detail work is especially important in something you're supposed to wear on your wrist. As with other smartwatches, consumers will be able to change faces on the new Apple Watch and customize it in various ways. I especially liked a watchface featuring Mickey Mouse.

The squarish display on the watch is flexible, and Apple Watch has a digital crown on the side you use for navigation. It doubles as a home button. Apple will make different band sizes available, along with a variety of watch cases.

The touch display can recognize the difference, Apple says, between a press and a tap. The watch works with Siri: You can ask for movie times, for instance. It can serve as a locket for all your photos, using the digital crown to zoom in. You can display Maps and get directions, with haptic feedback to help you know which way to turn. Apple CEO Tim Cook says he uses his watch to control Apple TV and says the list of features is "a mile long."

The watch requires an iPhone (dating back to the iPhone 5 model). It will come in three editions when it hits in early 2015. Starting at $349, it doesn't come cheap.

Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY, Ed Baig

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