On Tuesday, Apple chief executive Tim Cook will take the stage for the first time in the Steve Jobs Theater at Apple’s new campus. Apple plans to unveil three phones — another first — including a premium model that could cast a halo over the rest of the line, and perhaps even the rest of the smartphone industry.
The hoopla Apple has generated around the iPhone’s 10th anniversary is a reminder of how much the company relies on its iconic gadget, which still represents about two-thirds of sales despite Cook’s concerted push into services. In fact, Apple’s entire business is built on the back of the iPhone: It’s a remote control for the Apple TV and upcoming HomePod speaker; it’s currently tied to the Apple Watch, syncs with the iPad and Mac, and is home to services like Siri, Maps, and Apple Music.
In recent years, Apple has experimented with cheaper models in a bid to sell more phones in emerging markets where it’s often an also-ran. The gambit has had mixed results, and Apple now mostly positions its smartphone as a near-luxury product. That strategy is being tested as never before because the premium iPhone X will for the first time break the $1,000 price barrier, which could be too rich for many consumers.
There’s little question the new trio of phones will sell briskly, but competition is increasing at home and abroad. According to Counterpoint Research, Chinese phone maker Huawei has surpassed Apple as the second largest smartphone brand after Samsung. For its part, the South Korean company has launched its own trio of well-received phones this year, the Note 8, Galaxy S8, and Galaxy S8+. Google is expected to announce new versions of its Pixel phones in October, while Chinese phone maker Xiaomi announced its Mix Mi 2 smartphone this week with an all-screen design that shares some characteristics with the iPhone X.
Below is a breakdown what to expect at Apple’s most important event in years, including a new version of the Apple Watch that connects to wireless networks and an upgraded Apple TV. The company is also preparing important software updates for all of its platforms — iOS, watchOS, macOS, and tvOS — and is likely to showcase some features from those on Tuesday.
Apple plans to unveil three iPhones, including two that are upgrades to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus called the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, and a premium model called the iPhone X. Here’s what we know about the high-end device:
■ This is the most obvious change — so your friends know you have the latest gadget. It’s an all-new look that drops the bezels around the display. Almost the entire front of the phone will be screen save for a cutout at the top for the earpiece, selfie camera, and sensors. The sides will be a continuous stainless steel band and the back will be made of glass — like the iPhone 4 from 2010. Look for the rear cameras to be vertically, not horizontally aligned, for better augmented reality apps.
■ With no bezels and no borders on the top and bottom, the focus will be on the new screen: an OLED display that more accurately reproduces colors and makes content much crisper. You’ll be able to see more texts, videos, and website information without scrolling down because the screen will be taller than the one on the iPhone 7 Plus. Expect the whole screen to be slightly larger than the one on the iPhone 7 Plus (5½ inches), but because of the lack of bezels, the phone’s overall size will be closer to the smaller iPhone 7. The screen will also feature ‘‘True Tone’’ technology, a sensor that allows the screen to change temperature based on the environment, according to leaked software code.
■ Just as significant as additions to the iPhone are the pieces that are missing. A decade after debuting the home button as the main physical control on the device, Apple is removing it for the premium model. In its place: A thin virtual bar that can be dragged up to launch features like multitasking and close apps.
■ Also gone is the fingerprint scanner. Introduced with the iPhone 5s in 2013, the Touch ID feature in the home button let iPhone users unlock their devices in a split second. It also authenticated Apple Pay transactions and approved downloads from the App Store. For this next phone, the company tried to embed it into the screen itself, but faced manufacturing problems, according to past reports.
■ In place of Touch ID there’ll be a 3-D facial recognition scanner for unlocking the phone. It’ll aptly be called Face ID, according to the leaked code. It’s designed to scan your features within a few hundred milliseconds and can work even if the device is laying flat on a table. The sensor would also be used to authenticate payments and launch secure apps, Bloomberg reported. It will work in the dark, too.
■ This is a new feature to the iPhone, but one that’s been on competing smartphones for a number of years: You’ll be able to lay the iPhone on a charging pad instead of plugging it into a charging cable.
■ Apple will flex its semiconductor-design muscles yet again with a new chip for the iPhone likely to be dubbed the A11. The component is said to be based on a 10-nanometer manufacturing process, which means it will be more efficient so your iPhone battery will last longer. The company has also been working on a dedicated AI chip.
■ As usual, the iPhone will ship with new software. This time around it’s called iOS 11. Key additions include a redesigned Control Center, support for augmented reality apps, Apple Pay support in iMessage, maps for inside airports and malls, and a dedicated app for managing files. The 3-D sensor will also scan your face and apply your facial expressions to new animated emoji in iMessage.
■ The other two models are expected to look similar to the current iPhones, but will have a faster processor and potentially glass backs to also support inductive charging.
The Apple Watch also is set to see a much needed upgrade that partly frees the device from the iPhone.
■ Cellular data: The most significant new hardware feature will be a wireless option that handles fast LTE data. You’ll be able to leave your new iPhone behind because this version of the Apple Watch can connect to cellular data networks, including those from Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T in the US, and some carriers internationally. Imagine loading directions in maps on your wrist and streaming music while on a walk through those wireless AirPods earphones. You’ll also be able to make phone calls with your iPhone’s number.
■ New colors: The Apple Watch will look physically similar to prior models, but will be offered in at least two new colors: a grey ceramic and a coat of gold called ‘‘blush gold,’’ according to leaked software code. The LTE models will also show a cellular connectivity meter in the middle of the watch face and include a red dot on the digital crown.
■ New bands: Since the first Watch launched in 2015, Apple has refreshed its selection of straps every six months or so. The last update happened in March, so a new collection makes sense at this event.
■ Apple is continuing to make significant changes to the Apple Watch’s software on an annual basis. This year, as previewed at the June developers conference, the company is rolling out a new Siri-powered watch face that can preview your day, improvements to the Workout and Apple Music apps, and support for connecting to gym equipment. Apple is also adding its News app to the device along with the ability to send and receive money from contacts via Apple Pay.
Set to debut is the first update to the set-top box since its overhaul in 2015.
■ The main upgrade will be support for 4K video, a standard with much higher resolution. Of course, this will require a 4K TV. Apple has been in talks with popular video streaming apps, TV studios, and movie studios about supplying 4K content for the box.
■ To go along with 4K, Apple is planning to support HDR video playback as well. This standard shows video with much more vivid colors.
■ Faster processor: The updated box will feature a faster processor to handle the higher-resolution video. The current Apple TV box, introduced in 2015, features the A8 processor from the iPhone 6, which launched in 2014. For comparison, the iPhone 7 includes the A10 chip.
■ Right now, users can access live TV streams from a number of Apple TV applications by asking Siri or launching those respective apps. Apple is testing expanding that access to its TV app launched last December. That means no more clicking on different app icons, although you’ll still have to enter any required login details.
Sept. 12 won’t be it for new Apple products in 2017. The company promised two major launches in the fall, a product category and a souped up Mac to appeal to the company’s small, but important, professional user base of video editors, photographers, and software programmers.
■ The Siri-powered smart speaker, introduced in June, ships to customers in December. The speaker will be a gateway to Apple Music in the home by way of speakers that can adjust to conditions in different rooms. Apple could provide more details on the speaker’s functionality at the iPhone event.
■ Also shipping in December is a high-end version of the iMac. Like the current iMac, this one will have a high-resolution 5K display, but the internals are all new. The machine packs in some of the fastest processors and graphics chips on the market and starts at $4,999. Apple has also said that it’s working on a new Mac Pro (the company’s high end desktop without a built-in screen) and a new external monitor for professionals.