The big day has finally arrived: the new iPhones (and the rest of Apple’s fall lineup of devices) will finally get their big public introduction when Tim Cook and company hit the stage in the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park in Cupertino later today.
Going in, the world has a pretty good idea of what the morning will look like in broad strokes — analysts, Apple experts and market watchers have debated what we will see next out of Apple. As is usually the case, there has been some fun speculation on that point, with the annual rumors about an Apple Car making the rounds.
But as the event has gotten closer, it has become pretty clear that, as usual, the iPhone will be the event’s center stage player. iPhone sales may not quite be what they once were — as of last quarter they were less than 50 percent of Apple’s total sales for the first time in 12 years — but for the time being, they remain Apple’s flagship product and the center of its ecosystem.
The broad consensus on the latest editions of the iPhone is that there are likely no big changes on the way. Though there have been some early rumors emerging of a radical redesign on a top-end model that might add a stylus or make the device foldable, the emerging consensus is that the of the bigger changes to the iPhone might be the naming conventions around it, with the designation “Pro” replacing XS, XS Max and XR names from last year.
But while the exterior aesthetic is expected to remain largely unchanged, upgrades are anticipated. The most major ones are expected to be to the camera array. Apple’s upper-tier handsets will have three cameras on the back for wide-angle photography, higher-resolution pictures and much-improved video recording. Those additional cameras will be wedded to additional AI features designed to auto-correct and edit photos and video while they are being taken.
Those upgraded camera features are widely expected to be paired with a new co-processor alternately code-named “Rose” and “R1” expected to be rolled out by Apple at the event, according to reports from MacRumors. The new chips replace Apple’s M-series motion processors and bring a wider range of sensors and wireless capabilities that will theoretically enable iPhones to know both where they are and how they are moving.
The Rose chips in their first iteration are expected to support the wireless item-tracking tags Apple is also expected to roll out at today’s event — but according to most experts, the new chips will be broadly useful in expanding Apple’s augmented reality capabilities in the iPhone in the future.
The major functionality upgrade widely anticipated this year is bilateral wireless charging, or the ability to charge up Apple Wireless devices like the Apple Watch or Airpods by lying them directly on top of an iPhone itself. Analysts had been fairly confident that this upgrade was an extremely likely announcement during the event — though over the weekend, respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo reportedly noted that the bilateral charging upgrade might be a more likely 2020 than 2019 feature. Kuo had initially predicted the feature, and that Apple would have to incorporate larger batteries to make it work, but has now officially changed his forecast due to rumors that “charging efficiency may not meet Apple’s requirements.” Kuo is not first to this prediction — Mark Gurman of Bloomberg also reported rumors of Apple having difficulty with the feature’s roll out.
Finally, on the iPhone front, there are rumors likely to appeal to consumers with cracked screens (or those who have recently paid out to get a cracked screen replaced) — Apple is also reportedly making the iPhone more resistant to drops and submersion in water.
The biggest question going into today — and the one least answerable until the results are out and live — is how much the world is going to like the new phones. Apple’s phone sales have been in decline, and the iPhone’s status as a veritable ATM for the company has diminished some in the last several years. Apple has compensated by building out and promoting its services ecosystem (home of Apple Pay, the new Apple Card, Apple Music and Apple Care, among others).
But a big bounce in iPhone sales boosts Apple’s ecosystem ambitions — though as of now, the market is divided as to whether it will get one.
Kuo, for his part, says no — instead predicting that iPhone 11 shipments will decline by 5–10 percent YoY to 65-70 million units in 2019. The reason? “A lack of innovative selling points.”
A tough review, particularly for an item introduced at an event titled “By Innovation Only.”
Others were a bit more upbeat, with Wedbush and BoA analysts estimating that all in all, Apple will ship 180 million iPhone units this year, as many consumers with older iPhone models are due for an upgrade.
“These old phones would be candidates for upgrade, and we continue to look at fiscal 2020 as a ‘Trade-in’ iPhone cycle versus 2021 which should be a 5G-driven cycle,” Bank of America analysts said. According to BoA, there are 200 million iPhone 6 and earlier models which were primed for upgrading.
And notably, Kuo did agree it is possible that Apple will hit that 180 million shipping target — but it will be driven by “price-cut legacy iPhone models” as opposed to the top-of-the line models to be rolled out later today.
Whether Kuo is right — or if Apple has managed to sneak any features more innovative than what the market is predicting — remains to be seen. We’ll keep you posted as more data emerges throughout the day.