Apple's new range of iPhones puts camera strategy into focus
Smartphone camera and video capabilities mean it looks like the end of the road for standalone cameras - where sales are dropping by up to 30pc a year, writes technology editor Adrian Weckler
For Apple, it's all about the cameras.
In most other ways, its new iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max look and feel similar to the outgoing iPhone Xr, Xs and Xs Max models.
But their ability to take photos and capture high-end video is transformed.
If standalone cameras were on life support before, they look dead and buried now.
The new iPhone flagship models have added a third 'ultra wide' lens to the rear of the camera. Added to the zoom and standard lenses, this effectively mimics most of what a decent consumer camera can do.
The video prowess of the new iPhone 11 models is even more pronounced. Shooting at up to 60 frames a second in 4K with high dynamic range, they blow many current cameras out of the water. Apple has also introduced slow-motion video recording for its selfie cameras, to produce what the company calls a 'slofie'.
And Apple has finally added a night mode to match what has been available on Huawei, Pixel and Samsung phones.
The telephoto camera features a larger ƒ2.0 aperture which, Apple says, lets in 40pc more light than Apple's outgoing flagship handset, the iPhone Xs.
The extra power beneath the hood also allows the system to use advanced machine learning to recognise subjects in the frame and 'intelligently relight' them for more detail.
Apple also has a new image processing feature called Deep Fusion.
The company says this uses advanced machine learning to do pixel-by-pixel processing of photos, optimising for texture, details and noise in every part of the photo. "It's computation photography mad science," said Phil Schiller, Apple's marketing boss who introduced the new phones on stage.
It looks like there is no coming back for any but professional-grade cameras, with sales of the standalone snappers continuing to slump by 20pc to 30pc each year.
The updated iPhone models also come with tougher screens to prevent cracks. And they have slightly longer battery life than current iPhones and feature very powerful new chips.
The new phones have Apple's A13 Bionic chip, which allow the devices to multi-task and perform functions far more quickly than previous versions.
In a move which will be of interest to many, Apple has cut the price of the existing iPhone 8, 8 Plus and Xr models, while the iPhone 11 is cheaper than the Xr model was last year.
The iPhone 8 starts at €549, while the 8 Plus starts at €669. The iPhone Xr starts at €729, down from €879. The new iPhone 11 (6.1in screen) starts at €829 while the iPhone 11 Pro (5.8in screen) starts at €1,179 and the iPhone 11 Pro Max (6.5in screen) starts at €1,279.
However, the new iPhones do not come with 5G compatibility for faster data access. In Ireland and Europe, 5G networks are starting to roll out with download speeds of up to 1,000Mbs, 10 times faster than existing 4G mobile connections and more than 100 times faster than 3G.
Apple is reportedly set to wait until next year to launch a 5G model.
The new iPhones were also expected to be able to wirelessly charge other Apple gadgets such as AirPods or the 'smart' Apple Watch. However, the company reportedly pulled this ability at the last minute after experiencing difficulties with the feature. A similar issue occurred earlier this year when Apple pulled its promised AirPower wireless charging pad due to overheating issues.
September is often the time when consumers decide whether to upgrade their smartphones as the Christmas shopping season looms.
However, recent years have seen flat demand for smartphones with prices for top models reaching €1,000 and beyond.
The top end of the smartphone market has become increasingly competitive with models from Huawei, Google and OnePlus challenging Apple and Samsung.
The latest figures from the Irish regulator Comreg show Irish people spend an average of more than four hours per day on their smartphone, messaging friends, reading news and watching video.
Apple also launched a new iPad with a slightly larger 10.2in screen. The new model comes with built-in support for an attachable keyboard and Apple's 'Pencil' stylus.
The tablet is designed for general users who are used to the way a smartphone works but want something closer to the size of a traditional computer which can also be used for light work, word processing and online functions.
But it effectively incorporates most of the features included on the initial iPad Pro device three years ago. This means that it can be used to multi-task, edit presentations or create advanced documents.
And Apple has also announced an updated Apple Watch Series 5 (€459) with an 'always on' display, compass and SOS button which works in 150 countries even without a user's iPhone nearby.
The device is still focusing squarely on health and fitness with newly introduced features like Cycle Tracking, the Noise app and Activity Trends.
The Cycle Tracking app lets users log information related to their menstrual cycles and see predicted timing for their next period or fertile times. The Noise app lets users measure the ambient sound levels in concerts or sporting events which could negatively impact hearing.
The Watch also has some new cases, including one made of titanium.
Meanwhile, Apple has announced its TV Plus online rival service to Netflix will begin on November 1 and cost €5 a month, undercutting existing streaming competitors.
The service will also be free for a year to anyone who buys an iPhone, iPad or Mac. It will also allow free family-sharing, a feature which usually costs more on platforms such as Netflix.
It is an ambitious new sector Apple is entering and one which is already crowded with competitors. While Netflix remains the biggest player, Amazon Prime Video now also has a sizeable international audience thanks to a handful of hits and sports streaming deals.
The company's first rollout of shows include the Jennifer Aniston series 'The Morning Show'. 'Game of Thrones' and 'Aquaman' star Jason Momoa is another big name in a second big-budget series called 'See', while other shows include 'Dickinson', 'For All Mankind' and 'The Elephant Queen'.
The service will be available on the Apple TV app on iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, iPod Touches, Macs and other platforms, including online at tv.apple.com.
"Apple TV+ is an unprecedented global video service with an all-original slate," said Jamie Erlicht, Apple's head of worldwide video.
More Apple TV+ "originals" are promised every month, with Apple teasing shows such as 'Servant', a psychological thriller from M Night Shyamalan, and 'The Banker', a feature film with Anthony Mackie and Samuel L Jackson.
A separate subscription service, Apple Arcade, was also launched. Apple Arcade will cost €5 a month for access to a range of more than 100 games which Apple says won't be available on any other platforms.
The games can all be played offline, and a single subscription includes access for up to six family members with Family Sharing. "A curated selection of over 100 new and exclusive games from many of the most innovative game developers in the world is the perfect complement to the App Store's existing massive catalogue of games," said Schiller. "A single subscription gives the whole family unlimited access to the full catalogue of Apple Arcade games, all without any ads or additional purchases, while knowing every game must meet Apple's high privacy standards."
Apple is said to be working on new AirPods and a new MacBook Pro laptop, though neither were mentioned in their presentation this week.