Apple

And Just One More Thing…The World’s First Look At the iPhone X

The wait is finally over.

“It’s a show stopper” were the words that led USA Today’s coverage of the Apple event and iPhone X launch, while the somewhat more circumspect team at The Washington Post noted that “the bar was high” and that “analysts seemed to think the company hit the mark.” And while most of the other comments in the tech press – literally thousands of them – ranged from the giddy to the nonplussed, the whole world seemed to like the 5.8-inch OLED screen, the home button-free design, the “super retina display,” the facial recognition biometrics and the customized animated emojis (animojis).

Well, with three possible exceptions.

Although the $1,000 price tag was anticipated and expected, it was nearly universally commented upon, as it officially makes Apple the price leader in its category (by about $50, as the latest and greatest from Samsung clocks in with a $950 price tag). But while the $1,000 price point is not universally beloved, no one is really accusing Apple of price-jacking merely for the sake of boosting the margin. According to Neil Cybart, an Apple analyst who runs the website Above Avalon, Apple is likely raising the price to account for the expensive new tech inside the phone.

“I’m not necessarily expecting them to have higher margins on this particular iPhone,” Cybart noted. “They’re pretty much trying to get the same margin that they already do, but that just means with a higher price.”

Also raising more than a few eyebrows was the iPhone release date. The pre-order and shipping dates are more than a month away: the 27th for ordering and November 3rd for shipping, over a month later than everything else that Apple rolled out today. That has raised concerns about supply – particularly going into the holiday season – and potential problems, particularly with Face ID, which glitched during its public test drive today.

And third: According to an informal PYMNTS Twitter poll, 52 percent of respondents said that they weren’t impressed by any of what they saw at Apple’s launch event.

Tough crowd.

The iPhone 8 Also Makes Its Debut

On Aug. 15, 1977, an Ohio state astronomy professor detected the only evidence of extraterrestrial life in deep space when a radio telescope picked up a stream of both letters and numbers telegraphing a radio transmission 30 times louder than the background buzz of deep space. To this day, it has never been explained, rediscovered or repeated. If you’re wondering why you have never heard about it before now, it’s because on August 16th, 1977, Elvis Presley died – and even the possibility of discovering aliens couldn’t compete with The King.

Such may end up being the ultimate fate of the iPhone 8: a better designed, marginally improved version of the iPhone 7 that was overshadowed by the “one more thing” that followed shortly after its introduction at the Apple event.

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus have glass backs and come with three aluminum trim options: black, gray and gold (not rose gold, as that fad may be over). Twice the speed of the iPhone 7, they also offer lengthened battery life and an updated camera that allows users to import custom light features. Apple has also given the new iPhone 8 an enhanced Augmented Reality function that could make Pokemon Go look frighteningly primitive in the near future.

The iPhone 8 has a base price of $699 for the regular and $799 for the Plus. Orders will begin Friday, September 15th with a ship date of the 22nd.

Apple Watch 3: Free Of The Phone At Last

The big, though largely pre-forecast, announcement about the third iteration of the Apple Watch is that it now comes reloaded with its own cellular service, and is no longer dependent on an iPhone to operate. Users can receive calls, pay with Apple Pay, access maps and even chat up Siri without needing to be connected by Bluetooth to the phone (though it does seem the watch has an enhanced functionality when attuned to a phone).

The cellular service will piggyback onto a user phone number (providers will likely charge an additional fee) and consumers can still opt to purchase a Bluetooth-enabled watch for $329 instead of the $399 price point for the cellular version.

The fun upgrade comes care of Apple Music: Cellular watches will also double as music streaming devices, giving users access to the 40 million or so songs in Apple’s catalogue.

The watch also sports a slightly enhanced battery life of 18 hours.

Apple Retail: Embracing The Town Square

In a day dominated by tech, Apple’s head of retail, Angela Ahrendts, took a slightly different tack to talk about the Apple retail reset. In an era filled with conversations about how to create the right retail experience for a new age of always-connected customers – customers Apple essentially ushered in a decade ago with the release of the iPhone – Apple seems to have come up with its latest answer.

“Gathering places.”

Stores aren’t designed around merely selling goods and fixing cracked screens, Ahrendts told the crowd. Instead, Apple is trying to create locations where consumers can become “communities.” To foster that effort, Ahrendts showed off the latest wave of redesigned Apple stores – complete with Genius Groves full of IT support and trees – as well as spaces equipped to host concerts, lead workshops, serve as meeting rooms and provide venues to teach everything from coding to photography to music-making.

Excited by the new camera features, but unsure of how to use any of them? Apple doesn’t want to just sell you the phone – they also want to enroll you in a class to help you use the camera better.

“Our retail purpose has always been to enrich lives, ensuring all of Apple comes together,” Ahrendts noted toward the end of her remarks.

And, since the iPhone is still 55 percent of Apple’s revenue, they also probably want to sell you a new phone at some point.

The iPhone X: The Big Idea

Goodbye bevels, home buttons and, alas, even Touch ID (we hardly knew thee).

In line with Steve Jobs’ famous “and one more thing…” quote, CEO Tim Cook introduced the iPhone X (pronounced “ten,” not “X”) as “the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone.”

Much of what was announced was expected, including an expanded OLED screen and a “super retina” display with 2.7 million pixels, the highest resolution in pixel density ever in an iPhone. Its 5.8-inch OLED display boasts a 1 million-to-one contrast ratio.

Facial recognition biometrics were the day’s show stealer – and they were advertised as not only unlocking the phone, but also accessing services like Apple Pay and third-party applications, such as mobile banking. The system also reportedly works in light and dark conditions, cannot be faked out by a picture or realistic mask – not even wearing a hat or putting on glasses will confuse it. Also, it is programmed to learn a customer’s face over time, so it will still work if someone loses weight, grows a beard or (sigh) just gets older and sports a few more wrinkles.

According to Apple, the device has a one in 1 million chance of being unlocked by a random stranger’s face, as opposed to Touch ID’s one in 50,000 chance of being unlocked by a random stranger’s finger print. Apple did note that those odds may change in the case of things like close familial resemblance – and that Apple owners with evil identical twins should consider setting stronger than usual password back-ups.

Most observers agreed that these features are all amazing and well ahead of anything in the market today. Samsung, by comparison, has facial recognition in its latest iteration of the flagship Galaxy phone, but it cannot be used with things like Samsung Pay, which still relies on fingerprint scanning.

But those features have to work, and a possible gaffe during the live demo today cast some doubt on that. When Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, took to the stage to test drive the facial recognition software in front of the audience, it seemed to briefly request that he input a passcode, indicating that the tech had not been able to recognize his face.

Guess he was that one in a million.

However, many others pointed out that iPhones always ask for passcodes when switched on, and it was possible that Federighi’s phone had recently restarted, hence the password request.

From where we sit, Apple’s new phones are beautifully designed devices with some cool tech embedded inside. But we think that all of this coolness requires a lot of behavioral change for the consumer. Looking at a phone to wake it up might be okay, but while you’re standing at a POS to pay, with having to press a button on the side at the same time? Maybe not so much.

Apple Pay has had a hard enough time igniting, and this could very well extinguish whatever spark might it might have had.

Noticeably absent was a big push around Siri and any cool voice-activated enhancements. Also missing was any news on Apple Cash, its P2P platform. What did capture everyone’s attention were the animated emojis, which are animojis that are now part of iMessage on the iPhone X. The 12 available animojis use Face ID to enable the user to add a voice and expressions to any of them. You can choose from a couple of animals, and even the poop swirl. Perhaps there is something to that $1,000 price tag, after all.

Still, that mild spooking, combined with the very late iPhone release date, did seem to dampen investor enthusiasm coming out of today. Apple Stock ended Tuesday trading at $160.82, down 0.4 percent.

But then again, a run up in Apple price, followed by a post-announcement dip, is something of a common occurrence for the company, making it difficult to judge investor confidence on one afternoon’s worth of data.

Luckily, in a few weeks’ time there will be a bevy of data, such as how many customers pre-ordered, how many orders Apple manages to fill and how many people camp out in front of an Apple Store to get their own iPhone X. Will all of this information be enough to quiet skepticism that a phone that still carries the vast majority of its profitability can continue to lead the market 10 years after it first emerged?

Stay tuned … it only gets more interesting from here.

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