Apple Watch finally lets you make calls from your wrist

CUPERTINO, 13 Sept 2017: 

More than two years after releasing the Apple Watch, Apple Inc has finally been able to replicate 1940s comic strip technology – an advance that analysts say will spur sales.

The Series 3 of the Apple Watch, released yesterday along with the much-anticipated iPhone X, features wireless LTE connectivity.

That means customers will be able to make phone calls or send text messages from the watch without needing to have an iPhone nearby, as they do with earlier models.

The ability to make calls with a wristwatch has captured the imagination of tech enthusiasts at least since it was prominently featured in Dick Tracy, the comic about a private detective who, starting in 1946, used calls from his wrist to help bust bad guys.

“This has been our vision from the beginning,” chief operating officer Jeff Williams said at the launch event. “Now you can go for a run with just your watch and still be connected. It’s really nice to know you can be reached if needed.”

To be sure, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has sold smart watches with mobile data connectivity since 2014, but the first devices were bulky and suffered from poor battery life because the data connection consumed extra power. They also require a separate phone number.

Apple claims its new Series 3, on the other hand, will have up to 18 hours of battery life and is just a fraction of a millimeter thicker that its previous Series 2. And it will have the same phone number as a customer’s iPhone, which is still required.

Apple said that all four major US carriers will offer service for the watch, and AT&T Inc and T-Mobile US Inc both said it would cost an extra US$10 a month.

Analysts generally believe the new connectivity could ignite sales, though there is little consensus as to how much.

At US$399, the new Watch is only slightly more expensive than the previous model, the US$329 Series 2, which introduced standalone GPS capability. That US$70 extra buys much more useful capabilities – including the ability to stream music from Apple Music.

“The third time is the charm for the watch,” said Bob O’Donnell of Techanalysis Research.

What may hold some consumers back is the monthly recurring charge, which would far exceed the extra cost of the Series 3 over older watches over time, said Brian Blau, an Apple analyst with Gartner.

“Yes, you do have to pay for that extra data plan, but it sounds like the carriers are at least going to make it relatively easy to do,” Blau said.

Apple does not say how many Apple Watches it sells. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi believes Apple will sell 12 million watches in its fiscal 2017 and 14 million to 15 million in fiscal 2018. Gene Munster with Loup Ventures predicted a much bigger bump, to 26 million units in 2018.

Either way, Apple is putting new pressure on smartwatch rivals like Fitbit Inc and Garmin Ltd, which would be hard-pressed from a technical and business standpoint to match Apple’s wireless features.

The Watch will remain a blip in Apple’s sales, which were US$215 billion last year. But it may be taking its place as part of a family of products that Apple loyalists cannot do without – all by making a schoolboy fantasy from the 1940s into reality for the masses.

Apple also rolled out its much-anticipated iPhone X, a glass and stainless steel device with an edge-to-edge display that chief executive Tim Cook called “the biggest leap forward since the original iPhone.”

The launch contained few surprises, with leaked details on the phone and other products including the updated Apple Watch proving largely accurate. But the iPhone X’s US$999 price still raised eyebrows, and its Nov 3 ship date prompted questions about possible supply constraints ahead of the holiday season.

Investors and fans have viewed the 10th-anniversary iPhone launch as an opportunity for Apple to refresh a smartphone lineup that had lagged the competition in new features. Last year the company’s revenue declined when many consumers rejected the iPhone 7 as being too similar to the iPhone 6.

The iPhone X has wireless charging, an infrared camera and hardware for facial recognition, which replaces the fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone. The home button is also gone, and users instead tap the device to wake it up.

Apple normally ships new products within a week or two of announcing them, though the company said the later date was consistent with earlier guidance to investors.

“It’s great to have a product but we’d have liked it sooner rather than later, more like the beginning of October or mid-October,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

Apple shares closed down 0.4%. They had traded as much as 1% higher during the launch event before reversing course. The shares are up almost 40% on the year.

Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in New York, said he was not worried about the ship date and liked the new phones features, but also flagged a lack of surprises.

“It’s sell on the news,” he said. “They didn’t talk about the evolution of Apple beyond the iPhone and into artificial intelligence.”

The screen on the iPhone X is about the size of the current iPhone 7 plus, though the phone is smaller. It features richer colours thanks to a new screen technology called OLED that other vendors are also rolling out.

But in an embarrassing moment for Apple senior vice president Craig Federighi, the face ID unlocking did not work on his first attempt during the on-stage presentation.

(From left) iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X and iPhone 8 models displayed during Apple launch event in Cupertino, California – Reuterspic

Apple executives also stressed the phone’s capabilities in augmented reality, in which digital images are overlaid on the real world. But their remarks suggested that the phone does not have the full panoply of 3D-sensor chips that some had expected.

Wireless carriers in the US, whose fierce battle for customers could tempt them into renewing the practice of subsidising phones, immediately began to offer discounts. T-Mobile US Inc said customers on a payment plan can trade in their iPhone 6 or newer and receive up to US$300 off over 24 months.

Sprint Corp CEO Marcelo Claure promised in a tweet: “Find a better monthly price & we’ll credit the difference via prepaid card.”

AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, the dominant mobile carriers in the US, have not yet disclosed their pricing plans.

Apple also introduced the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, which resemble the iPhone 7 line but have a glass back for wireless charging. The company said it was working on a new device, called the Airpad, that would charge all newer Apple products.

The wireless charging uses a standard called Qi, also used by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, which will likely solidify that technology as the industry standard.

The new phones all feature Apple‘s first proprietary graphics processor, which provides greater speed, improved cameras and some features for augmented reality apps.

The company had previously used graphics chips from Imagination Technologies Group Plc, which put itself up for sale earlier this year after Apple said it would make its own technology.

Apple is moving to design more of the internal components of the iPhone, squeezing some suppliers but giving Apple control.

The cheapest of the iPhone 8 models have 64 gigabytes of memory, up from 32 gigabytes in previous models, and will sell for US$699 and US$799. Apple also noted that for budget-conscious shoppers, there is now a US$349 iPhone SE, similar to the iPhone 5.

The bump-up in memory for the new phones should help suppliers of memory chips, and Apple is now angling to own a piece of the memory-chip business being sold by Toshiba Corp

Also featured at the launch event was an upgraded Apple TV that will support the high-resolution display known as 4K and will feature more programming options as Apple steps up efforts to cut content deals and produce its own shows.

Cook opened the event at the Steve Jobs Auditorium on Apple‘s new campus with a tribute to company co-founder and former CEO Jobs, who died in 2011.

The Apple building itself was considered to be Jobs’ final product, and Cook spent a few minutes boasting about the design, energy-saving features and public spaces at the new campus, including a flagship Apple Store.

The theatre, never before open to the public, features an expansive glass-enclosed lobby, with two massive white stone staircases leading down to the auditorium. Inside, the decor is similar to that of Apple‘s stores, with hard maple flooring and tan leather seats.

– Reuters

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