Apple last week announced with great fanfare the launch of two new phones and a smartwatch, but what surprised many was the demo of their new service ‘Apple Pay’. The Apple Watch - its first new product line since the first iPad and the death of its co-founder Steve Jobs, runs apps, acts as a health and fitness tracker and communicates with the iPhone.
While rival smartwatches already exist, experts said Apple had a history of entering sectors relatively late and then changing their direction. Apple also unveiled two new handsets that are larger than previous models. The iPhone 6's screen measures 4.7 inches (11.9cm) and the iPhone 6 Plus's 5.5 inches (14.0cm) - a change that analysts said should help prevent users migrating to Android.
But the surprise announcement at the launch was the new Apple service called ‘Apple Pay’, which chief executive Tim Cook said he hoped would "replace the wallet" in shops. The Apple Pay service depends on an NFC (near field communication) chip featured in both the new phones and watch. Apple described the service as being "secure" because it worked without Apple needing to store the credit card details itself, or the user having to share their name and card details with the cashier. iPhone owners will be able to use it by waving their handset above an NFC reader at a shop's till.
Several other firms have tried to pioneer touch-less payments, but they have yet to become popular beyond credit and debit cards that include the feature. And with contactless so common in many countries, one has to wonder if Apple has missed the boat here - waving a credit card at a payment reader is hardly a challenge.
The Apple Watch comes in two sizes and is controlled by what Apple calls a "digital crown" - a dial on its side that allows content on its screen to be magnified or scrolled through, and can also be pressed inwards to act as a home button. The display is a touchscreen that can detect the difference between a light tap and heavier pressure from the user's fingers. In addition, the device runs Siri - Apple's voice-controlled "personal assistant".
It offers a variety of different watch faces, can alert the user to notifications, act as a heart rate monitor and show maps. Apple said that apps could be processed on an iPhone, but displayed on the watch in order to extend battery life. It did not say how often the device needed to be recharged.
Most of these features are available from competing products, but the device had the potential to ignite the wearable market, as many Apple products have been shown to do.It will cost $349 - which is more than recently announced Android Wear watches from Motorola, Sony and others - and will not be available until early 2015. Meanwhile, Apple saw its global share of smartphone shipments slip from 13 percent to 11.7 percent between the second quarters of 2013 and 2014, according to research firm IDC, while Android's share grew.
"The main benefit for Apple in going to a larger size of screen is not so much to woo people over to its devices, but to prevent its customers defecting, particularly to devices such as Samsung's Galaxy Note," said John Delaney, head of IDC's European mobility team. Apple said that the A8 chip featured in the new phones would provide 25percent faster compute performance than before. The improved resolutions - dubbed "retina HD" - mean that the iPhone 6 offers 326 pixels per inch and the iPhone 6 Plus 401ppi. While better than before, the resolutions are still beaten in terms of raw numbers by Samsung's flagships - the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 - and the HTC One.
Apple's shares spiked higher during the press conference, but ultimately closed 0.4 percent down on the day.