fb-pixel

Apple unveils new iPhones, a watch

As expected, Apple Inc. went big Tuesday, and not just with two supersized versions of its iconic iPhone. Chief executive Tim Cook also revealed a new wireless payment system to let shoppers use the iPhone to purchase products. And Apple showed off not one but two versions of an upcoming wearable device, with distinctive features and styling that could heat up the lukewarm smartwatch market.

In all, it was an aggressive bid by Apple to assert leadership in consumer electronics in the face of intense competition, especially from archrival Samsung Electronics Co.

“It was a pretty big broadside,” said Roger Kay, founder and president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a technology research firm in Wayland. “They let off a lot of stuff.”

Advertisement



While Apple is the leading smartphone brand in the United States, it has less than 12 percent of the global market, which is dominated by Samsung and other firms that make phones running the Android operating system from Google Inc. One reason is the popularity of Android phones with screens much bigger than the 4-inch screen of Apple’s current flagship, the iPhone 5S.

The new iPhone 6 will feature a 4.7-inch screen, while the iPhone 6 Plus will be 5.5 inches. Industry analysts had predicted that the new phone would use a screen made of extremely scratch-resistant artificial sapphire, but the phones’ technical specifications do not mention the use of sapphire screens. However as predicted, the new phones feature sharper screen resolution and a more powerful processor chip.

“The team has worked hard to make them the best we know how, from their ion-strengthened glass all the way down to new, thinner backlights,” Apple senior vice president Philip Schiller said. “And yes, they’re bigger — they’re a lot bigger.”

The iPhone 6 also introduces Apple Pay, a system that turns the phone into an electronic wallet. Users can store their credit card data on the phone, then make purchases merely by waving the phone at a wireless payment device. It’s an idea that Google tried to pioneer years ago with a service called Google Wallet. But retailers, bankers, and cellphone carriers never got on board.

Advertisement



However, Apple has lined up the support of the three major credit card companies — Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc., and American Express Co. — as well as major banks such as Capital One that issue most of the cards in use in the United States.

Apple also rattled off an impressive list of major retailers that will accept payments from Apple Pay. These include department stores Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, the Walgreens drugstore chain, fast-food titan McDonald’s, and Framingham-based office supply retailer Staples.

“A lot of retailers would love to interact with customers with digital wallets,” said J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge. “The more connected you are to your customer, the more you’re able to promote to them.”

Gownder added that Apple’s embrace of the technology might persuade more consumers to give it a try.

But Ramon Llamas, a research manager at IDC in Framingham, predicted many consumers will be reluctant to trust Apple with their sensitive financial data, after the recent scandal in which hackers stole intimate iPhone photos of celebrities such as film star Jennifer Lawrence and put them on public display.

“I think it’s going to be a concern,” Llamas said. “I think it’s going to be a reason for people to say, ‘Let’s hold off.’ ”

Advertisement



The unveiling of the new Apple Watch proved to be the dramatic highlight of the day. Apple showed off a prototype watch with a 1.65-inch screen, as well as another slightly smaller version. Each is designed to work in tandem with an iPhone. As with other smartwatches, users can check e-mail and appointments and issue voice commands.

But the Apple Watch features an innovative user interface that sets it apart from rival products. Its touchscreen will sense the difference between a gentle tap and a firm push, which could increase the array of touch commands that the screen can recognize.

“It’s incredibly customizable, so you can find one that reflects your personal style and taste,” Cook said. “We invented new, intimate ways to connect and communicate directly from your wrist.”

The watch also has a traditional looking “crown,” the little wheel found on the wind-up watches of old. Spinning the crown wheel will let users scroll through various commands or vary the magnification of the display screen. For instance, it will let a user zoom in on a city map to pinpoint the street he’s looking for.

Gownder, who attended the Apple event in Cupertino, Calif., got a chance to try out one of the prototypes, and came away impressed. “It is quite beautiful,” he said.

Gownder predicted that the Apple Watch could spur new interest in all kinds of smartwatches, not just Apple’s. “This will be good for the overall market, including other vendors in the long run,” he said.

Advertisement



But Kay remains a skeptic. “I feel like there’s a lot of question marks around the watch,” he said. Costs, for one: The base price of the watch is $349, and the user must also own an iPhone.

“I think that the barrier to adoption for that watch is pretty high,” Kay said. “You’re kind of in the $900 zone before you even get to try it out.”


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.