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From Apple, smaller is bigger

Apple vice president Greg Joswiak announced the new iPhone SE and other products at company headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Monday.
Apple vice president Greg Joswiak announced the new iPhone SE and other products at company headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., Monday. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facing a saturated market for supersized smartphones, Apple Inc. now hopes to boost its sales — by shrinking the iPhone.

In a new product announcement virtually devoid of surprises, Apple showed off the iPhone SE, a $399 device that squeezes the innards of the company’s flagship iPhone 6s into a smaller, cheaper package.

The new device has a 4-inch screen that is the same size as the aging iPhone 5 series. But inside is nearly everything found in the bigger and much more expensive iPhone 6s — the same high-powered processor chip, the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, the Apple Pay mobile payment service, and faster Wi-Fi and LTE cellular performance. The one thing it doesn’t copy for the 6s is the much vaunted “3D Touch” feature that lets users control multiple features of their apps by pressing their fingertips down on the screen.

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“For some people, they simply love smaller phones,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of product marketing, said at an event at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. Indeed, Apple reported selling 30 million of its older 4-inch models last year.

Many of those customers are in China, Apple’s biggest market, where it faces tough competition from cheap but high-quality phones running Alphabet Inc.’s Android operating system. Apple has previously reported that worldwide sales of iPhones in late 2015 increased at the slowest rate since the product was introduced in 2007.

Shoring up Chinese iPhone sales would be a major benefit for the company, which derives more than 60 percent of its revenue from its smartphones.

“If smaller phones are doing well for Apple in China, and that market is somewhat saturated at the high end . . . that’s a good thing to do,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. in Wayland.

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Apple’s heavy-duty tablet computer, the iPad Pro, has also been put on a diet. The original version weighs about a pound-and-a-half and sports a 12.9-inch screen. The new edition has a 9.7-inch screen, the same size as a standard iPad Air tablet, and weighs less than a pound. And as with the iPhone SE, the internal components are top-drawer. The smaller tablet gets the same high-end processor chip as its big brother, as well as a camera that can shoot 4K high-definition video.

The new iPad Pro starts at $599, compared to $799 for the larger version.

Apple also revealed new plastic, leather, and metal bands for its Apple Watch line of smartwatches, and a lower price of $299 for the base model. But while Apple chief executive Tim Cook claimed that Apple Watch is the world’s best-selling smartwatch, he didn’t say how many had been sold since it debuted in stores last April.

The market was underwhelmed by the iPhone news. Apple shares barely moved, closing at $105.91.

“The expectations were relatively low and they were fulfilled,” said Kay.

Indeed, the closest thing to excitement occurred at the beginning of the event, when Cook reaffirmed Apple’s determination to resist the US government’s effort to get the company to bypass security features on an iPhone used by Syed Farook, the man behind the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., so investigators can search for messages that could identify other terrorist threats. Apple has refused to comply, arguing it can’t be compelled to write software that undermines the security of its products and threatens the privacy of its customers.

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Cook didn’t specifically mention the ongoing dispute. But he said that citizens and their elected representatives, rather than the courts, should resolve questions about the limits of digital security.

“We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should hold over our information and over our privacy,” said Cook. “We believe strongly that we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and protect your privacy. We owe it to our customers and we owe it to our country. This is an issue that impacts all of us, and we will not shrink from this responsibility.”

Cook’s declaration was met with the longest ovation of the entire event.

But later Monday, the US government said it may not need Apple’s cooperation after all. In a stunning disclosure, federal authorities said they may have found a way to unlock Farook’s iPhone with the help of ‘‘an outside party’’ who showed the FBI a possible method during the weekend, according to the filing in the San Bernardino case.

Federal prosecutors asked to delay an anticipated court hearing set for Tuesday, saying they need time to determine ‘‘whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data’’ on the phone. If viable, ‘‘it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple,’’ according to the filing.

In a statement, US Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said the government was ‘‘cautiously optimistic’’ that the possible method will work.

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Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.