Apple’s Wednesday, September 9th event is shaping up to be one of the largest in the company’s history. The Cupertino-based company is planning to unveil several major new products on stage, including a pair of new iPhones with revamped internals, a sequel to the Apple TV, a larger version of the iPad Air, a refreshed iPad mini, and new Apple Watch accessories. The company is also likely to discuss at least two of its latest software platforms: iOS 9 and watchOS 2. We’ve reported the lion’s share of what is to come at next week’s event, so this article outlines everything we’re expecting and adds some new details…
iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus
Design, 7000 Series + Rose Gold:
In line with past “S-upgrades” to iPhone hardware, this year’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will retain the same designs as their predecessors, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. There will, however, be a slight increase in thickness on the two phones, but this shouldn’t be noticeable to the human eye nor affect compatibility with most protective cases on the market.
While the design and shape of the phones will remain, the devices will actually be made out of an improved alloy known as 7000 series aluminum. Apple first debuted the metal with the Apple Watch Sport last fall, and the company explains the benefits on its official website:
For Apple Watch, we created a new alloy of 7000 Series aluminum that’s 60 percent stronger than standard alloys. Yet it’s very light. Together with the Ion-X glass covering the display, it makes the Sport collection watches up to 30 percent lighter than our stainless steel models. It’s also exceptionally pure, with a beautifully consistent appearance that’s difficult to achieve with traditional aluminum alloys.
Besides the new casing structure, Apple will differentiate the new device with a new color option: Rose Gold. Some reports have called this new color pink, but our sources continue to stress that the color is “definitely Rose Gold in both name and appearance.” The shades of space gray, white/silver, and gold that Apple currently offers for the 6 line will make their way to the 6s portfolio.
Cameras + 4K Video:
This year’s iPhone upgrade will focus a lot on the cameras. Both the front-facing FaceTime camera and rear-facing iSight sensor are due for significant upgrades. On the front will be a much larger sensor that will record 1080p video and could have up to 5 megapixels of still resolution, based on reports from analysts. This would be a major transition from the current 1.2 megapixel sensor on the current line of iPhones. As Apple always notes, hardware is only one part of the story: the new front-facing camera will see improved software integration with a few new features:
- Support for selfie panoramas
- Support for slow-motion video
- Support for higher-resolution front facing video recording
- A software-based flash feature for lighting up the display when you take a picture in low-light environments
On the rear will be a 12-megapixel shooter that is capable of recording video in ultra-high resolution 4K quality. With the iPhones starting at fairly low capacities (more on that below), the inclusion of 4K video recording could pose a challenge for some users. We believe that Apple could be preparing an upgraded version of its iCloud storage backend in order to allow users to take and upload 4K video rather than storing the entire clip offline to their devices. Given storage limitations, it is likely that 4K will be a switch rather than a default recording option.
Force Touch Screen:
In addition to upgraded cameras, another major user-facing feature of the iPhone 6S line will be a Force Touch-based display. Sources say that Force Touch on the iPhone is only akin to the MacBook and Apple Watch in name, as the functionality is much more advanced. With that in mind, sources say Apple will likely call the Force Touch technology on the new iPhones by another name. Force Touch allows the iPhone 6s version of iOS 9 to sense different levels of pressure. According to sources, the new phones will be able to determine the difference between a tap, a standard press, and a deep press, adding a third level of sensitivity over the Apple Watch screen and MacBook trackpad.
While Force Touch on the Apple Watch is used to load additional overlay menus over the small 38mm and 42mm casings, and while the MacBook’s trackpad can sense a Force Click, the screen on the iPhones will be primarily used as a shortcut and navigational tool. Here are some examples from our earlier report on Force Touch coming to the new iPhones:
- New to the Force Touch experience, a user can look up a point of interest in the Maps application, and then Force Touch on the destination to immediately begin turn-by-turn directions. Currently, if a user wants to start navigating to a destination, she must search for the point of interest, click the navigation logo on the map view, then click another button to actually start navigating. In this case, the Force Touch gesture will skip two steps.
- In the Music application, a user can Force Touch on a listed track to be presented with some of the most commonly used actions. For instance, if a user deep presses on the listing for a song, a menu will appear to quickly add the song to a playlist or save it for offline listening. This Force Touch gesture would act as a substitute for clicking the actions button on the right side of each track listing in the Music app.
- Another feature in testing, according to one source, are shortcuts that appear after Force Touching an app icon on the Home screen. For example, if a user deep presses on the Phone app icon, he could choose to shortcut directly to the Voicemail tab. This could also apply to deep pressing the News app icon and being taken directly to either the Favorites or For You tabs.
- Some of the Force Touch gestures will come from Apple’s latest MacBooks. For instance, a user can Force Touch a link in Safari to see a preview of that webpage. The gesture also works for deep pressing on an address or contact name to see a preview of a map view or contact card, respectively. Similarly, a user can Force Touch a word to look up its definition.
We also explained the three primary interfaces for Force Touch:
- No additional user interface as with the subtle integration on the new MacBooks
- A user interface that appears surrounding the finger where the Force Touch gesture is conducted
- A shortcut list toward the bottom of the display akin to a typical options list across iOS.
As with the Apple Watch, Force Touch on the iPhones will be tied to a haptic feedback engine to provide physical feedback to an iPhone user. We are told the consistency of the feedback is “nice.” As this will be touching your finger rather than wrist, it may feel more reliable than on an Apple Watch as well.
Update, Sep 5: We’ve learned a bit more about the new Force Touch display, known as the 3D Touch Screen. You can read those details in a new article here.
A9 Processor + 2GB of RAM:
Unsurprisingly, the new iPhones will have an updated, “far snappier” chip known as the A9 processor. Also in the cards: 2GB of RAM like with the iPad Air 2. More RAM will mean the ability to run more apps and web pages in the background without sacrificing speed.
Another new addition to the iPhones is the presence of motion wallpapers on the lock screen. Like the Motion watch face on the Apple Watch, iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus users will be able to customize their new lock screen with animated clips of either bursting paint in many colors of koi fish. We’re told that the new wallpapers look “great,” despite not being lit up by an OLED display.
NFC + Cellular Chips
The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will both feature new NFC chips that likely add a secure element processor, reducing the need for a separate chip. Apple, of course, uses the NFC chip for its Apple Pay mobile payments solution, so a more secure offering is certainly something that will be welcomed by users.
Both new iPhone models will also feature significantly improved cellular data performance. The devices will be capable of delivering up to twice the theoretical LTE download speeds thanks to the new Qualcomm chip. The chip is much more power efficient, as well, according to Qualcomm. Improved power efficiency will lend itself to improving the overall battery life of the iPhone.
Overall, the new iPhones are expected to include a significantly reduced number of chips compared to previous generations. One section of the board that previously had in excess of 10 components has been pared down to 3 main chips, simultaneously cutting the number of parts and increasing the power efficiency of the ones that remain.
Capacities, Prices + Lineup:
Despite the larger file sizes required by 12-megapixel photos and 4K video, the new iPhones will again start off at 16 GB of storage. In fact, the prices and capacities of the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will be identical to the launch offerings of last year’s models. Here’s our breakdown of what to expect from the iPhone lineup on the afternoon of September 9th.
- 16 GB — $199 (on contract)
- 64 GB — $299 (on contract)
- 128 GB — $399 (on contract)
iPhone 6s Plus:
- 16 GB — $299 (on contract)
- 64 GB — $399 (on contract)
- 128 GB — $499 (on contract)
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will stick around at $100 on-contract discounts per capacity, while the iPhone 5s will become Apple’s free on-contract phone. The iPhone 5c, according to sources, will be discontinued while the in-the-works iPhone 6c will not be launched this year.
Design and Ports:
The Apple TV upgrade in 2010 brought a smaller, black puck-like design and that look has been retained with both the 2012 and 2013 refreshes to the device. We’re told that the same aesthetic will continue with the new Apple TV. The new box is said to appear very similar to the current look but will be noticeably thicker, most likely in order to accommodate additional 802.11ac wireless components. The ports on the rear of the device, ranging from power to micro-USB to optical audio to Ethernet, will remain.
Remote Control+ Gaming Pads:
One of the main new features of the Apple TV will be the inclusion of a revamped remote control. The new remote will have the following features, according to sources:
- A larger new design with a built-in touchpad for navigation
- The hardware will still be made from metal, but the casing will be black in color to match the set-top-box
- Larger, tactile buttons to activate Siri and go to the Apple TV’s home screen
- A standard rocker switch for controlling the Apple TV’s volume output
- A built-in microphone for Siri voice input
- Accelerometers for motion control for some parts of the operating system and games
- Replaceable batteries without the need to charge the controller.
In addition to the new bundled remote, the new Apple TV will support third-party Bluetooth controllers for gaming. Apple first brought support for controllers in iOS for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch a couple of years ago, but these accessories have not gained popularity. With a gaming focus on the Apple TV, perhaps these third-party offerings will improve in both functionality and usage.
A8 Chip + No 4K streaming:
Sources confirm that the new Apple TV will be powered by an A8 processor, which is a huge upgrade from the single-core A5 chip in the current Apple TV and an even bigger upgrade from the A4 chip in the preceding hardware. While a new chip with improved video processing capabilities is in the wings, the new Apple TV will lack support for streaming 4K video from both the internet and the next iPhones.
On the software side, one of the most anticipated features of the new device is system-wide, universal search based on iOS 9’s new Proactive Spotlight Search technology. Currently, Apple TV users have to search for content app-by-app. With this new Apple TV, there will be a single search field that can look for content across applications. Here is how we explained it in our previous roundup of what to expect from the new Apple TV:
Speaking of search, it sounds like one of the reasons behind making the new Apple TV software directly based on iOS 9 is for its new Proactive search support. In iOS 9, Proactive search brings new, more powerful and accurate system-wide search support. As Jeremy Horwitz also noted in March, one of the biggest omissions from the current Apple TV is system-wide search support. For example, a user cannot search for “James Bond” and see results across the iTunes Store, Netflix, the Crackle app, and the Apple Music library. Apple is said to be planning to fix that with the next-generation Apple TV software, but we are told that the company may wait to integrate the new search features until the Apple TV is populated with third-party applications.
Thanks to the Apple TV now running an iOS 9 core, it is likely that the search functionality will be able to work across apps from the Apple TV App Store. Of course, this will require developers to ensure search compatibility with their apps, but Apple’s apps should work with the universal search feature out of the box. As the Apple TV is an Internet streaming-based device, the search will work beyond content stored/cached for offline playback.
Siri + Interface:
While the internal hardware and functionality of the Apple TV will see a revamp, we believe that the new operating system’s design will more closely match a fresh coat of paint. In terms of features, Siri will be the main navigational tool for the new Apple TV. A source has told us that most of the operating system will be controlled by Siri and that the voice assistant will be pegged as the premier feature of the new Apple TV. Thanks to the microphone in the new physical remote, it will be much easier to search for content using the voice-based Siri system. For example, users will likely be able to search for a James Bond movie by saying “Search for Goldfinger,” or begin playback of an Apple Music playlist by saying “Play my Party Mix.”
The redesigned interface will be more similar to that of iOS. The overall interface will be similar to that of the current scrolling list of large icons, but with a refreshed and more modern look akin to iOS 9. The new Apple TV will also feature an App Store. Third-party applications support plus a full Software Development Kit for the Apple TV will be two tentpoles of the new device. This means that developers will be able to build apps for Apple TV just like they would the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch.
Pricing, Capacities + October Launch:
The new Apple TV will cost more than the current $69 model, starting at $149, according to trusted sources. The current cheaper version will stick around, however, and gain the future cable replacement service. We’re told that Apple has developed a pair of capacities for the new Apple TV: 8GB and 16GB. If Apple does indeed launch both capacities, the $149 model will include 8GB of storage and the 16GB option will cost $199. If Apple chooses to launch solely the $149 model, they’ll up the memory to the full 16GB. This would double the current 8GB of storage available for media caching in the current Apple TV. However, the new model is capable of playing games and storing apps, so Apple will likely push for users to keep more space free.
Design and Name:
The long-rumored 12.9-inch iPad has been referred to as the iPad Pro in many claims, and sources have now confirmed that iPad Pro will be the actual marketing name of the device. Codenamed J99 and J98 internally, the new models will feature a larger, 2732 x 2048 display that is encased in a thin bezel similar to the designs of both the iPad mini and iPad Air. Said a source, “it literally looks like a big iPad.” The device will have a similar aluminum back with curved edges, a FaceTime camera on the front, and an iSight camera on the rear. We can’t imagine why people would casually use a camera on a nearly-13-inch tablet, but perhaps it will be useful for App Store apps, video recording in professional settings, and for FaceTime.
Force Touch + Stylus:
Sources confirm that the iPad Pro will include a Force Touch based screen, similar to the one on the new iPhones, in addition to a stylus accessory. We’re told that the stylus, which will be bundled with the iPad Pro in box, will “not look like a traditional” one. The stylus will open up the door to enhanced drawing and design apps on the new iPad, and the integration with the Force Touch screen will allow the stylus and the iPad Pro to work differently based on the levels of pressure applied by the stylus to the iPad’s display. Additionally styluses will be sold separately.
Cases and Keyboard Accessories:
We are told that the iPad Pro will gain the usual suite of iPad accessories from Apple: Smart Covers and Smart Cases in the normal array of both colors and materials (polyurethane and leather). These will likely be priced a little bit higher than their smaller counterparts for the iPad mini and iPad Air due to the additional materials. We’re also told that the iPad Pro has been designed with wider support for Bluetooth keyboard, and it appears that Apple is also preparing a keyboard accessory of its own.
Speakers and Ports:
As can be seen in our schematics above, the iPad Pro will make use of its larger space to house stereo-style speakers: two on the top and a pair on the bottom. The top will feature a headphone jack as well, while the bottom will have a standard Lightning connector. The side will include the standard volume rocker panel. There have been rumors of additional USB-C ports on this device, but perhaps those were added in a revision to the device and are not shown in our few-month-old render above. Nonetheless, in the age of wireless networking, additional ports are likely unnecessary. After all, even the OS X-based MacBook is a single port machine.
The iPad Pro will ship alongside iOS 9.1, the first milestone upgrade to iOS 9. The new OS is expected to include special improvements for the larger display, such as optimized versions of Split-Screen apps, Picture-in-Picture video playback, Notification Center, and Siri. Apple has also been working on a new multi-user mode for a future version of the iPad operating system, but it is unclear if that addition is ready to go for the iPad Pro this fall.
While the iPad Pro is expected to be introduced at this event, we are told that the product will actually begin shipping in November. Before the launch, Apple will put up the new devices for pre-order on its website. Pre-orders are expected to begin at the end of October. There are a few reasons for the lengthy lead time between the September announcement and November launch: Apple wants to market the device to enterprises, allow developers time to re-work their apps for the larger screen, and produce enough units for the launch.
iPad Mini 4
Last year the iPad mini was left behind in the update cycle in comparison to the upgraded and thinner iPad Air 2, as it solely gained the Touch ID sensor and in-app Apple Pay from the iPhone. This year, we expect the iPad mini 4 to come with a thinner design that matches the thickness of the iPad Air 2. It will likely be lighter as well thanks to the thinner aluminum casing.
New Cameras and Chips:
The current iPad mini includes last-generation FaceTime and iSight cameras, so it is likely that the HD quality of the front sensor will be upgraded while the rear camera will move from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels in order to match the latest iPod touch and iPad Air 2. Moving closer to the latest iPhones and the iPad Air 2, it is likely that the new Mini will either incorporate an A8 chip or A9 chip. The current iPad mini includes an A7 processor, which first debuted all the way back in 2013.
Thanks to the faster processor, the iPad mini 4 will unlock full Split-Screen apps for the first time on the 7.9-inch Apple tablet. The 9.7-inch iPad Air with the A8X chip will already support those iOS 9 features when they receive the Software Update this fall.
New Sport Bands:
While unlikely to get actual stage time, we are told that Apple is preparing to announce a series of updated Apple Watch bands next week. The new bands will be new color options for the Sport Band line, according to the sources. Earlier this year, Apple Chief Design Officer Jony Ive showed off new Sport Band colors, ranging from red to purple, at private showcase events, so it seems like that at least some of those colors will show up on wrists beginning next week. Otherwise, we do not expect any significant Apple Watch hardware changes besides the possibility of new gold Apple Watch Sport colors.
In terms of software, Apple has been finishing up work on the Apple Watch’s first significant software update: watchOS 2.0. The new version of watchOS includes a new Nightstand Mode for timekeeping and managing alarms, the ability to run apps natively on the Watch for increased speed and access to hardware sensors, an Activation Lock for deterring theft, a trio of new watch faces, support for third-party watch face complications, and new options for the Digital Touch messaging service. Apple will likely announce a launch date for the new OS next week as well.