Apple Event Roundup: New iPhone SE, 9-Inch iPad Pro, Software, and a Few Surprises

 New iPhone 5 SE, 9-Inch iPad Pro, Software, and a Few Surprises

All of the main news had already leaked, and I was ready to be underwhelmed by today's Apple event. Yet I always come away excited: Apple's vision and constant focus on developing its products always impresses me. Let's begin with the surprises, then summarize the announcements that were expected.

Lower Prices on Apple Watch and iPad Air 2

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Along with the introduction of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple dropped the starting price on the iPad Air 2 to $399, down from $499. And along with the introduction of a new woven nylon band for the Apple Watch, and new colors, Apple also announced a new starting price for the Apple Watch of $299, down from $349.

True Tone Display

If there were rumors about this, I hadn't seen them. The new iPad Pro has what Apple calls a True Tone Display. It measures the color temperature where you're located and matches the colors on the display to the ambient light. If the lighting in the room is toward pastels, the display takes on that character — just as a sheet of white paper would reflect the warm or cool quality of ambient light. Apple said that this not only makes the display look more natural but is also easier on your eyes.

This is what I like about Apple. it's always introducing features that improve the user experience, always making its technology better.

New iPad Pro Camera and SD Card Adapters 

This announcement went by pretty quickly, but cheers from the audience made it clear that these new adapters are a welcome accessory. Apple introduced a USB Camera Adapter and a Lightning SD Card Reader. They'll allow you to import files directly from your camera or upload them directly from an SD card. There was no mention of pricing or availability.

CareKit, Environmental Awareness

​We like Apple's gadgets, and that's why most people tuned in today. But Apple began by talking about two areas that show it's not simply interested in the bottom line: the company's steps to improve the health of the environment and the health of individuals. Apple documented its progress toward its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy, stating that 93 percent of its operations worldwide are run on renewables.

And Apple announced CareKit. Apple said that its open-source HealthKit platform is being widely adopted by research centers and that it was proving to not only be useful for research but, surprisingly, was empowering people to take a more active role in their care—something Apple hadn't expected. That inspired the company  to develop CareKit, a new open-source platform.

For example, one of the most important factors in the outcome of surgery is what patients do during the recovery process. Often they fail to follow the guidelines they've been given, typically on a sheet of paper. A CareKit app guides them through the process and offers, for example, checklists so they can make sure they're doing everything they're supposed to. Plus, their physicians can monitor their progress and, if necessary, dynamically update their care guidelines in real time. I was impressed that Apple has broadened its mission in this way.

9.7-inch iPad Pro

Other than the True Tone display, this new iPad Pro was pretty much what everyone was expecting. And even so, I came away excited — and am seriously considering getting one. The name is simply iPad Pro, and it has all the features of the larger model introduced last fall, including the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. The price starts at $599 for the 32 GB model, which is $200 less than the entry-level 12.9-inch iPad Pro. On price alone, the device is appealing, given that it has all the power of the larger Pro in a more affordable and more portable form factor.

Phil Schiller began by asking, Why a 9.7-inch iPad Pro? And he gave two reasons: 1) It's large enough to get work done, yet small enough to carry around. He said it's the most popular-sized iPad, with over 200 million sold. And 2), he said that most of the iPad Pro users are coming from Windows machines, and that the iPad Pro is the "ultimate PC replacement."

The features include a variable refresh rate display, which saves energy and refreshes fast when necessary. It's 40 percent less reflective than the iPad Air 2 and 25 percent brighter—and better than any other tablet in this regard. There are four speakers, with the stereo effect changing depending on whether you're holding your iPad horizontally or vertically. It has twice the volume of the iPad Air.

The new iPad Pro includes hands-free "Hey Siri," such that you can invoke Siri without being connected to a power source. Internally it's powered by the speedy A9X processor, with the onboard M9 coprocessor. It comes with a 12-megapixel camera that lets you shoot 4K video and edit multiple videos at the same time. It also has a 5-megapixel FaceTime Camera with Retina Flash.

It comes in four colors: silver, gold, space grey, and rose gold. In addition to the $599 model with 32 GB of storage, the other options are 128 GB for $749 and 256 GB for $899.

iPhone SE

I clearly didn't expect to get excited about a 4-inch iPhone, but after Apple presented it I could see the appeal. Again Apple offered a rationale: 1) Some people prefer a smaller, more compact form factor, and 2) for many people it's their first iPhone, with the lower price being part of the appeal. Simply put: the demand is there.

The iPhone SE is similar in size and style to the iPhone 5 family, but has the power of the iPhone 6s. It includes the A9 and M9 processors, making it double the speed of the iPhone 5s, with graphics being three times faster. It includes a 12-megapixel camera with True Tone Flash, Live Photos, and the ability to capture 4K video and edit two video streams at the same time. Wireless is also upgraded, with more LTE bands and faster LTE and WiFi. It includes an NFC chip for Apple Pay. Also, it includes hands-free "Hey Siri" when not connected to a power source.

The price is $399 for the 16 GB model and $499 for 64 GB. You can get it for free with a contract, or for $17 per month without a service contract.

Available for Order March 24

The new iPhone and iPad models will be available for orders on March 24 and will ship on March 31.

iOS 9.3 Includes Night Shift

As expected, iOS 9.3 is now available, with the biggest new feature being Night shift. iOS automatically shifts the color spectrum on your phone to the warmer end of the spectrum around sunset. Research has shown that exposure to blue light emanating from phones and tablets interferes with circadian rhythms, and therefore interfere's with one's sleep. So this shift reduces your exposure to blue light. Apple's apps have also received updates. The Notes app is now password protected. The News app includes Top Stories and Editor's Picks. CarPlay has new features in the Music and Maps apps, including nearby locations.

tvOS

Apple also announced an upgrade to tvOS that I'm looking forward to using. Chief among the new features is the ability to organize apps into folders and Siri dictation. The latter means, for example, that you can now use Siri to dictate your login credentials or to search for apps. You also now have access to your iCloud Photo Library and can view Live Photos.

Tim Cook spent some time touting the new fourth-generation Apple TV and said that the App Store now has over 5,000 apps.

New Apple Watch Bands and Colors

 

Finally, the Apple Watch got some love. In addition to the new lower price of $299, Apple announced a new woven nylon band as well as new colors.

40th Birthday

The event began with a 40-second video summarizing Apple's past 40 years. On April 1 Apple will celebrate its 40th birthday. It's been quite a ride — revolutionizing so many areas of technology, from the personal computer to the phone to the watch. And the company just keeps "pushing forward," in the words of Tim Cook.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.