At 10am Pacific on September 10, Apple will host its annual iPhone event in the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s campus in Cupertino, Calif. We’re expecting new iPhones and a new Apple Watch to be sure, and as has been the case for recent Apple launches, there have been reliable leaks of details about both.
With the event less than a week away, let’s look at what we know so far—what will be different about the new iPhones? What features are coming to the Apple Watch? And will Apple actually deliver a “one more thing” announcement on top of the usual this time?
We’re doubtful about big surprises at this point. The days of surprising revelations seem to be over; the company has settled into a fairly predictable product-release schedule, and most major details about new products—be they hardware or software—tend to show up in reports in tech and business publications around the Web.
That said, sifting through all the reports to find the reliable ones can be a real task. So can framing each report in terms of how likely it is to come to pass. That’s what we’ve tried to do here. Let’s start with the iPhone.
Once again, three new iPhones
The new iPhones are all about the cameras. But let’s start with the names. A Bloomberg report citing sources familiar with Apple’s plans says that three iPhones will again launch. They’ll be direct successors to each of the 2018 phones—the iPhone XS, the iPhone XS Max, and the iPhone XR.
The two high-end phones—follow-ups to the XS and XS Max—will carry the “Pro” label, a la the iPad Pro or MacBook Pro. We expect the sizes and basic form factors to stay pretty close to the same, so “iPhone Pro” and “iPhone Pro Max” wouldn’t be surprising. Not as much is known about the name of the XR replacement, but iPhone 11 is certainly possible. One other possibility—and this is pure speculation based on past Apple naming conventions—is that the company might simply rebrand that model as the “iPhone.”
Above all else, the upgrades this year are about cameras. The flagship feature, probably exclusive to the iPhone Pro models, will be greatly improved optical zoom and low-light photography, as well as the capability to take much wider-angle photos. Video recording is also likely to improve.
Apple will introduce a completely different camera array on the back, and this will probably represent the biggest change to the devices’ appearance apart from the logo change we’ll get into momentarily. That means a triple-camera lens system for the Pro models and a dual-camera system for the cheaper model. It will be the first time every iPhone Apple introduces in a given year will come with optical zoom, and it seems possible that Apple will include an OLED in all three models for the first time, not just the two flagships.
You can also expect this year’s set of announcements to herald the death of 3D Touch, a power-user feature that Apple introduced in earlier iPhones to allow for nuanced, contextual behaviors beyond a simple tap. Many users aren’t even aware of some of the powerful things you can do with 3D Touch, and Apple already dropped it from the iPad Air this year and the iPhone XR before that. In its place is Haptic Touch, a technique that is a little less efficient for some use cases in that it involves holding down on a UI element for a period of time.
Other planned improvements include a wider-angle Face ID camera for easier facial authentication, better water resistance, a faster A13 processor, and the ability to wirelessly charge AirPods directly from your phone—something Samsung already introduced with much fanfare in its phones.
Don’t expect 5G in Apple’s iPhones this year; Qualcomm’s current 5G modems aren’t ready for iPhone primetime, and Apple ultimately wants to make its own. But 5G will likely be the headlining feature in 2020’s iPhones.
This last bit hardly counts as a major feature, but it is a departure from convention: several alleged leaks from the supply line and the iPhone case ecosystem, collected and shared by 9to5Mac, indicate that Apple may move the location of the Apple logo on the back of the iPhone this year. Since the very first iPhone, the logo has been centered in the top half of the phone’s back. Many in those two communities (the supply line and case-makers) are moving forward with either the knowledge or the assumption that Apple will move to the center of the back—that is, not just centered horizontally but vertically as well.
Apple Watch series 5—or something, anyway
Little is known about what Apple has planned for this year’s Apple Watch, but that might be because the company doesn’t have much planned at all. Don’t worry—watchOS 6, which will launch alongside any new Watch, is a major upgrade. But in terms of hardware, all we know so far is that Apple’s own software beta releases include images that indicate the Watch will be offered in titanium and ceramic materials, which are not currently offered.
It’s even possible that Apple will not actually position this as an Apple Watch series 5. It may instead keep the series 4 nomenclature and simply offer these new materials as options for the existing Watch. For better or worse, this is one of the big mysteries of this year’s event. We’ll have to wait and see.
iOS 13, macOS Catalina, watchOS 6—all the OSes
While Apple already detailed its slate of operating system updates earlier this year, the company will announce launch dates for many, if not all, of them at the September 10 event. Historically, iOS and watchOS updates have typically gone out to the public within a week or so of the event, with macOS following only a few days later.
We won’t get into too much detail about these new releases here. We already covered them when they were first announced at Apple’s developer conference in June—and we’ll have reviews for both iOS 13 and macOS Catalina not too long after they launch to the public.
But the short version is that iOS 13 brings a Mojave-like Dark Mode to iOS devices, as well as a new branch of iOS called iPadOS with new power-user features for Apple’s tablets. Catalina’s flagship feature will be Catalyst—the introduction of iPad apps to the Mac. Catalina will also include some major new changes to which apps will run on macOS and under what conditions: 32-bit apps will be deprecated completely, and app-signing processes for third-party developers will be a focus. Finally, watchOS 6 will bring an on-Watch App Store, menstrual-cycle tracking, and activity trends for following fitness outcomes over time.
Maybe: Apple TV 4K
This rumor just broke Wednesday: Apple may be close to releasing a refresh of its Apple TV 4K streaming media box for the home theater. The updated version would have either Apple’s A12 or A12X CPU—the same included in the 2018 iPhones or in the 2018 iPad Pro, in the case of the A12X. The A12X (or even the A12) would dovetail nicely with Apple’s plans to launch Apple Arcade, its games subscription service.
In fact, we don’t see much need for improvement regarding performance as it pertains to any other function of the Apple TV 4K besides games; the current model performs admirably with all of its supported streaming content, and its user interface is generally quite zippy. But if the focus is on games, then Apple needs to replace the current remote, which has proven unpopular with many users and a serious limitation to the complexity of games viable on the platform.
The Apple TV 4K does support more traditional wireless gaming controllers from third parties like SteelSeries, but we found when interviewing developers that not including an optimal gaming controller right in the box is one of the main reasons the Apple TV 4K hasn’t taken off as a gaming device.
The leak didn’t give a timeline, so even if it’s real, this product might come later. But given that the Apple TV 4K shares a lot in common with the iPhone in terms of both CPU architecture and operating system (the Apple TV’s tvOS is based on the iPhone’s iOS), and considering that the current Apple TV model was announced at the iPhone event in 2017, it wouldn’t be out of left field for Apple to reveal the new streaming box at Tuesday’s event.
Probably not just yet: New iPads, AirPods, or Macs
There have been a plethora of reliable reports about Apple’s future Mac and iPad plans, including the imminent arrival of a 16-inch MacBook Pro that would be the first to make major design changes to the current Apple laptop lineup; internals refreshes for the iMac, Mac mini, and MacBook Air lines; the already announced Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR; and refreshed iPad Pros and entry-level iPads.
While some of these products are surely not far around the corner, we don’t expect Apple to announce them next week. The company has established a fairly predictable cadence in recent years, and in that cadence, the focus of the September event is iPhones. Apple will likely release minor refreshes to the Mac lineup (CPU bumps and the like) without event fanfare, and major updates like the rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro redesign will probably come in another event held in October. We’ll explore those products more in the coming weeks.
Apple is also working on new AirPods that would feature noise cancelling and water resistance, according to multiple reports from multiple sources, including the aforementioned Bloomberg article. But it’s likely they won’t be ready to ship this September, and they might even slip into next year. Still, the AirPods could at least be revealed next week rather than in an October event if Apple feels they are ready to showcase.