Apple’s usual September product announcement was anything but, particularly when it comes to the iPhone. Beyond the dearth of the first 5G iPhones—products widely expected for unveiling sometime in mid-October—Apple delivered on new releases around Apple Watch and iPad, and furthermore revealed a much deeper footprint on billable monthly services. The highlights here include Apple Watch 6, Apple Watch SE, iPad Air, and iPad products, as well as the new Apple Fitness+ and Apple One services. Let’s dig into the details.
In a form factor identical to Apple Watch 5, the new Apple Watch 6 could be easily mistaken for its predecessor when viewed from your wrist. The biggest visible change is the addition of a Blood Oxygen sensor to the rear crystal of the watch, comprised of four clusters of green, red, and infrared LEDs that work in tandem with the four photodiodes. The sensor works with the Health app, and can measure oxygen saturation in the blood, or SpO2, to determine how well oxygenated blood is being carried throughout the body. Oxygen level awareness has gained prominence during 2020, since fluctuations can indicate signs of respiratory conditions like influenza and possibly the onset of COVID-19.
Apple Watch 6 also gets dual-core processors based on the A13 Bionic chip used in iPhone 11, and the new S6 SiP is claimed to run 20% faster and launch apps 20% faster than Apple Watch 5. Apple says battery life remains the same at a meager 18 hours (one of our biggest complaints with all Apple Watches), meaning you will still have to charge it every night.
The always-on display retains the Retina resolution of Watch 5, but gets an upgrade to deliver 2.5 times the brightness for what should be much better readability in bright sunlight. The new watch also gets an always-on altimeter feature for more precisely reading out elevation.
The Apple Watch 6 begins at $399 and runs watchOS 7, which brings new face options, more health and fitness features (including low-range VO2 Max), sleep tracking, automatic handwashing detection, cycling directions with maps, and Siri language translation.
Should Apple Watch 5 users upgrade? In our opinion, there is not enough in the new feature camp to make the switch a no-brainer. But if you are wearing an aging Apple Watch Series 2 or 3, this is a big upgrade that may be well worth the cost. But before you jump to it, consider its new sibling, Apple Watch SE.
Apple Watch SE
Apple Watch holdouts looking to move up to a smart watch have a lower-price option in the form of the new Apple Watch SE. The device starts at $279 and brings the same large Retina display as Apple Watch 6 but leaves off some key features—most notably the Blood Oxygen sensor, ECG sensor (though it does have a capable heart rate sensor), and the always-on display feature.
To get to this price point, Apple uses the S5 System in Package (SiP) and dual-core processor, meaning it’s about 20% slower than Apple Watch 6 but up to twice as fast as Apple Watch 3. It also gets the always-on altimeter from the Watch 6, as well as the latest speaker and microphone components that Apple produces.
So, at $120 less than Apple Watch 6, we would not hesitate to recommend Apple Watch SE. The large display alone is worth the $80 differential to the still-available Apple Watch 3, which has been re-priced to begin at $199.
Family Setup in watchOS 7
Up until now, each user with an Apple Watch needed to have their own Apple iPhone for initial setup, as well as ongoing management and usage. That all changes with watchOS 7, whereby Apple Watches for multiple users can be paired, set up, and managed from a single iPhone. This may be ideal for children or for older adults in a household where the individuals do not have dedicated phones, or where users do not want to take on the complexity of setting up and managing the watch on their own.
Each user set up under Family Setup will have their own Apple ID, meaning they can have unique settings and apps, apart from other watches paired to same iPhone. However, users can elect to share data from some features, such as health and location data, with the family organizer. Apple also requires that Family Sharing be set up for all users.
A new feature of interest to parents with Family Setup will be Schooltime, a way to restrict what Apple Watch can do during school hours. For example, when the watch is in this mode, a yellow circe will be displayed to let teachers and parents know that access to apps may be restricted and Do Not Disturb is turned on.
Caveats for Family Setup are many. First, it only works with an Apple Watch Series 4 or later, as well as the new Apple Watch SE. Secondly, the phone needs to be a GPS + cellular model versus a lower-priced GPS-only model. Furthermore, the family organizer needs to have an iPhone 6s or later and be running iOS 14 or later. And while a cellular model is required, the phone does not need to be subscribed to a cellular plan, though that will prevent access to some features.
iPad Air (4th Generation)
Who would’ve thought? With the announcement of the 4th generation iPad Air, Apple has relegated its own iPad Pro line to second chair by outfitting this new iPad with their fastest chip ever, the A14 Bionic. This gives the iPad Air a 40% speed boost over its predecessor, achieved through a 6-core design. While the speed crown may be short lived pending the likely release of new iPad Pros sometime in 2021, it does beg the question: Is there a need to buy an iPad Pro at all for access to the best speed and features?
Apple further confuses the selection process by crafting the new iPad Air in an entirely fresh chassis formed in the square-edged shape of the latest iPad Pros, dishing the tapered chassis design of previous iPad Airs and standard iPads. Gone is the standard Touch ID sensor on the front face, and in lieu of using Face ID like the iPad Pro, Apple has moved to a next-generation Touch ID sensor integrated into the top button (located on the top edge of the chassis).
The display has been upgraded to a Liquid Retina design with 3.8 million pixels of resolution, and has grown from 10.5-in. to 10.9-in. In lieu of the dual back cameras on the iPad Pro, the new Air gets a single 12 MP camera, matching the Pro’s top resolution. On the front, there is a 7 MP FaceTime HD camera.
Also new to the iPad Air: USB-C charging. Gone is the Lighting connector in lieu of the industry-standard USB-C spec. So, expect to see a USB-C charging cable and compact charger in the box.
The new iPad Air will begin at $599 for the Wi-Fi model, while the Wi-Fi + Cellular model will begin at $729. The new iPad works with the Apple Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and the 2nd generation Apple Pencil. Of course, the new iPad Air runs the new iPadOS 14, which was released on September 16, 2020. Color choices have grown to five, with silver, space gray, rose gold, green, and sky blue available at launch in October.
One limitation of the iPad Air compared to the iPad Pro lies in maximum memory available. The iPad Air models max out at 256 GB, while the iPad Pro can be ordered with up to 1 TB.
iPad (8th Generation)
The standard iPad has also received an upgrade. In this 8th generation of the original iPad, Apple has integrated the A12 Bionic chip to bring a 40% performance boost over the last generation and also built in Neural Engine technology from the iPad Pro line for the first time. That’s the extent of the changes.
So, at the same price at the last generation, beginning at $329, you get more power along with the 10.2-in. Retina display, standard Touch ID sensor on the front face, an 8 MP camera, and the Lightning connector for charging. The iPad works with the Smart Keyboard and the 1st generation Apple Pencil accessories.
The new iPad is already available for order.
In its first foray into fitness-related services, Apple announced Fitness+, a $9.95 per month offering designed to work with Apple Watch and bring personalized workouts, metrics, and visualizations to iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV devices. You can think of this as Apple’s play to combat the on-demand streaming workout services offered by exercise bike maker Peloton and others.
Apple plans to launch Fitness+ before the end of 2020, and says they will initially offer Cycling, Treadmill, Rowing, HIIT, Strength, Yoga, Dance, Core, and Mindful Cooldown workout types. Apple Watch customers will be able to use any brand of fitness equipment or no equipment all depending on the workout selected.
Ideally, customers will use Fitness+ in front of a big-screen TV to get the full benefit of the studio-style workouts. Of course, that will require the existence of an Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD setup box.
Given the abundance of Apple after-the-sale services, it was inevitable they would begin bundling them in some fashion. That’s precisely what they have done with the new Apple One offering, a package approach to subscribing to multiple Apple services at once and potentially saving money versus purchasing them individually. Starting in Fall 2020, Apple will initially offer various types of packages including combinations of Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Fitness+, Apple News+, Apple Arcade, and iCloud storage services.
These services will be bundled as follows:
Individual at $14.95 per month. Includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage.
Family at $19.95 per month. Includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 200 GB of iCloud storage. Can be shared with six family members.
Premier at $29.95 per month. Includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple News+, Apple Fitness+, and 2 TB of iCloud storage. Can be shared with six family members.
As one would expect, Apple One will allow usage of the subscribed services across iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV, and Mac devices.
While we can certainly see the significant savings with all three options, we would like to see Apple offer more flexibility in the packages. For example, the only way to get a break on Fitness+ is to purchase the high-end Apple One plan.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.