The joy of Six from Apple? The launch of the iPhone 6
It's the most anticipated phone on the market - and Adrian Weckler was in California for the launch of the iPhone 6, as well as the arrival of the Apple Watch, plus a rival to our credit cards.
This week saw Apple embark on its most ambitious set of product launches since it introduced the iPad in 2010. But can its new offerings change the world? Adrian Weckler, who was on hand for the San Francisco launches, looks at the prospects for all three of Apple's new products.
Main features: 4.7-inch screen and 5.5-inch screen (iPhone 6 Plus), enhanced camera, faster chip, improved battery life, 128GB option.
Price: from €700 to €1,000 with an operator contract
Availability: "Before end of 2014" in Ireland, mid-September for US and available to pre-order this month in UK
Verdict: A massive hit.
Summary: Apple has delivered on virtually everything it needed to do to get the iPhone back into top spot for punters and business users alike. The key is the larger screen, which is not only sought after by Asian smartphone owners. Times have changed since Steve Jobs dismissed the notion of big screens and many people had reluctantly switched away from the iPhone because of its small screen sizes. At a stroke, this changes things for Apple.
One of the key issues is likely to be availability. There is arguably far more interest in this handset than for either the iPhone 5S or 5C. It's very possible that there will be a major supply crunch ahead over the next three months, with demand only being fully met after Christmas.
This is not Apple hype or a marketing trick: there is pent-up demand for a large-screen iPhone. Expect this to break all sales records.
As to the nosebleed pricing for the 'Plus' model (the 128GB option costs €1,000, which is €70 more than a 128GB MacBook Air), it's unlikely to hurt sales. It's a reality of the smartphone market that when demand for a handset gets high, operators will use it as a loss leader to attract and keep customers. So expect to pay no more on a two-year contract for an iPhone 6 than a Samsung Galaxy S5, despite the S5's lower off-contract price.
Main features: Fitness/workout apps, ability to pay for things using Apple Pay, dozens of personalisation options.
Price: $350 (€271)
Availability: Not till 2015 in all markets.
Verdict: Elegant but a long haul to establish it as a mass market gadget.
Summary: Apple knows that a smartwatch is a new concept for most people. Currently, it is only phones that people appear willing to pay close to €600 for once every two years. To evolve this market into including a smart wearable device, Apple is cleverly going all out to get developers involved in making apps that will be the main reason for getting the device. Early examples seem practical: Starwood Hotels is making an app for it that will allow people in and out of their rooms, replacing their key cards. BMW is developing an app that will remind people on a map where exactly they parked. And then there is the Apple Watch's compatibility with Apple Pay, which anticipates using your watch to pay for things with a single swipe.
But it is not available until 2015. This is an unusual move for Apple, which normally likes to have things almost ready to ship by the time it announces them. Its thinking appears to be centred on getting developers interested in making apps for the new ecosystem. This makes it sensible to talk about it now.
The gadget Watch works primarily by using a dial on one side of the gadget, in contrast to rival smartwatches currently on the market. "We didn't take the iPhone interface and shrink it and strap it on your wrist," said Tim Cook. "It would be terrible. Pinch to zoom doesn't work."
Main features: Mobile payment platform that connects iPhone or Apple Watch to credit card and payment firms, works by swiping contactless payment terminal
Availability: US-only at present, to be "rolled out outside US soon"
Verdict: Huge promise and potentially the most significant of Apple's announcements this week.
Summary: This is a hugely ambitious project that could bring Apple into an entirely new realm of business. Apple's new digital payments system, Apple Pay, will allow those who own an iPhone 6 or iPhone 5 to pay for things in shops and online by swiping their device against a shop sensor. To be rolled out in the US first, Apple has developed the technology to replace credit cards, which are "an antiquated payments process", according to Apple chief executive Tim Cook.
"This whole process is based on this little piece of plastic," he said. "It depends on outdated plastic strips and security codes that aren't really secure." Many people would agree: it is a little odd that we place so much store in a copyable piece of plastic.
And yet the area is fraught with challenges and barriers, many of which have prevented any rival from making mobile payments a success. For example, are people content to use their phones as payment tools when the cash and credit cards in their pockets are almost universally accepted already?
And what about security? Will people be fearful of loading their handset with an even bigger premium for muggers to get? Finally, will privacy weigh heavily on people's minds?
If there is one immutable law of technology adoption, it is that convenience trumps most other considerations. Privacy? Security? Yes, they're important. But make my life way easier right away? That's usually the winner every time. That means that if Apple demonstrates a genuinely secure, simple, quick way to pay for things without the rigmarole that goes with credit cards or the frailty of cash, they could be onto a winner.
In terms of acceptance, Apple already has deals in place that should give Apple Pay a fighting chance. Aside from agreements with American Express, Visa and Mastercard for processing the payments, the new system will initially be accepted in 220,000 retail locations that accept contactless payments throughout the US, including McDonalds and other food outlets. Online systems such as Uber and Groupon are also incorporating the new payment system.
And Tim Cook was at pains to emphasise the security and privacy credentials of the system.
"Apple doesn't know what you bought or where you bought it," he said. "The cashier doesn't get to see your name or number." The technology is also "encrypted, secure and private".
If anyone can make this work, it's Apple. The technology is being built into every new iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.
And there’s more to come with updates that didn’t get mentioned
Updated iPad: updated iPads will be announced in the coming weeks, but there were too many other products to squeeze in on this occasion. New models will expect to feature thinner cases, more storage memory, faster chips and brighter screens
Updated MacBook: Minor updates for the laptop are expected in coming months across most of the MacBook ranges.
More smart home features: The summer launch of iOS 8 – Apple’s operating system for iPhones, iPads and iPods – set the tone for some possible smart home features.
Chief executive Tim Cook said that he “didn’t have time” to include all updates and Apple news on Tuesday.
But with iOS 8 built in to new iPhone 6 devices and available as a free download to iPhone 5 owners on September 17, there could be more to come in this area soon.