5 big takeaways from Apple’s September ‘Time Flies’ event

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The Apple September event had everything you could want
Important new products and services were all highlights of the Apple “Time Flies” September event.
Photo illustration: Cult of Mac/Apple

Apple executives took to virtual stages on Tuesday to unveil a parade of important new products at its “Time Flies” event. The much-anticipated Apple Watch made its debut, and a cheaper version too. And the iPad Air got a massive upgrade. Plus, there are new services and more.

Here’s why you shouldn’t overlook anything Apple just announced.

1. Apple Watch is here to help everyone

With the world still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple Watch Series 6 delivers a feature that could actually help: a blood oxygen sensor. Execs carefully frame the hardware addition (and the accompanying Blood Oxygen app it works with) as all about “overall wellness” — likely to sidestep government restrictions regarding medical devices — but the message remained clear: The new Apple Watch can provide key insights into your general health.

A quick 15-second test could provide an early warning that something’s amiss with your respiratory system — and that could be a godsend for anyone suffering the “silent hypoxia” noted in some COVID-19 patients.

Plus, with much of the world still hunkered down at home, the new Apple Fitness+ service that works with Apple Watch offers a way to get your workouts in without hitting the gym. (Remember: Obesity is a key COVID-19 comorbidity.) With online classes taught by “world-class” trainers, the upcoming Apple service could motivate people to get into shape. It’s a perfect fit for Apple Watch (and Apple TV), and adds a new dimension to the wearable, which has become increasingly fitness-focused over the years.

And then there’s Apple Watch SE. The new mid-tier smartwatch delivers many of Apple Watch Series 4’s most powerful features — including fall detection — at a more-affordable $279 price point.

Plus, a new Family Setup feature, parents can provision their children with an Apple Watch without buying the rug rats their own iPhones. It works for older family members who might not be as tech-savvy, too, with a simplified Health Checklist. All in all, it offers family members without their own iPhone to benefit “the connectivity, safety, and fitness features of Apple Watch,” the company said in its press release. (Note: Family Setup requires a pricier cellular Apple Watch, Series 4 or better.)

Compelling new features timed perfectly for a pandemic, an attractively priced mid-tier model, and a family-oriented framework that makes strapping an Apple Watch on children or grandparents more affordable overall. All in all, Tuesday’s event further cemented Apple Watch as the smartwatch to beat. — Lewis Wallace

2. iPad Air 4 and iPad 8 bring real upgrades

Last year’s iPad Air was an upscale version of the basic iPad. The dramatically redesigned iPad Air 4, in contrast, is a scaled down iPad Pro. It borrows feature after feature from Apple’s top-tier tablets to the point where it could almost be a Pro itself. It was a genuine highlight of the Apple September event.

The screen expanded to 10.9 inches, and the bezels shrank, giving it the same edge-to-edge design as a Pro. Plus, the iPad Air 4 uses the same second-generation Apple Pencil as the Pro series. And it has a USB-C port and four speakers, again like the Pro. It can use a version of the Apple Magic Keyboard, just like the Pro.

Most amazingly, this is the first computer of any kind with the Apple A14 processor. That puts its chip two generations ahead of the most recent iPad Pro.

Admittedly, the changes aren’t as dramatic for the new iPad 8. The design, with its 10.2-inch screen, is exactly the same as the 2019 version. But Apple put in an A12 Bionic chip. That’s a jump up from the A10 Fusion from its predecessor. That should bring a significant boost in performance.

But Apple was starting with a strong device. Like the earlier version, the 2020 iPad can use the original Apple Pencil, and there’s a version of the Apple Smart Keyboard for it.

The iPad Air 4 starts at $599, while the iPad 8 is priced at $329. The performance of the Air helps justify the higher price, as does the larger display. — Ed Hardy

3. Apple Silicon powers iPads, iPhones and (soon) Macs

One of the biggest announcements from the Apple September event was buried in another. The Apple A14 processor will power the iPad Air 4, but it’s also certainly going to be at the heart of the iPhone 12, too. And some version of it might power the first Macs with Apple Silicon.

This chip was made with a 5-nanometer process, and is packed with 11.8 billion transistors. Shrinking the space between these brings improved performance and power efficiency.

The version used in the iPad Air has six processor cores, but more are almost certainly possible. A 12-core version is supposedly going into the first Macs with Apple Silicon.

The A14 processor includes a new 16-core Neural Engine capable of performing a whopping 11 trillion operations per second. And it has second-generation machine learning accelerators. All this is intended to make it a machine-learning powerhouse for image recognition, natural language learning and more.

Plus, the chip has a new 4-core GPU for enhanced graphic performance. These will benefit iPad, iPhone and (probably) Mac.— Ed Hardy

4. Apple expands its Services

The September event wasn’t all about hardware. Services are important to Apple’s future growth, and it had some announcements to make on Tuesday.

In an effort to boost subscriptions, Cupertino introduced Apple One bundles, which combine existing services at discounted rates. The basic bundle includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, and 50GB of iCloud storage for $14.95 per month, a savings of $6.01 a month. Family and Premier plans include more storage and additional services, like News+. Savings go up to $24.99 for families that are really into Apple.

And there’s a new service to add to the list. Apple Fitness+ offers features exclusive workout videos, and is integrated with Apple Watch. The goal is to get users closing their Activity rings. The just-launched service is $9.99 a month, or $79.99 a year — Ed Hardy

5. Goodbye to in-person product launches

Apple’s new virtual format for product keynotes is a resounding success. Although it’s basically an hour-long infomercial (hey, what do you expect?), Tuesday’s event proved fun, informative and fast-moving.

On Twitter, some lamented the lack of an in-person show, worrying that the pre-recorded format would come up short. But the slick production values, rotating cast of presenters, seamless transitions and well-designed segments made for an informative keynote that moved along at a brisk pace. It was almost too brisk: blink, and you could easily miss important info. But never mind, the keynote was immediately available for replay.

Tim Cook looked relaxed and in charge, and is starting to become quite a charismatic CEO. The Apple spaceship campus mades for a fine backdrop. Apple didi a good job with the jokes, like the transition cameos of Craig Federighi, who wasn’t featured in this keynote, but will likely take a starring role in next month’s highly-anticipated iPhone 12 (virtual) event.

The only thing missing is the possibility of an epic “demo fail’ — the possibility that something might go wrong, which occasionally happens during live events. But as amusing as they might be, no one is tuning in to see a demo fail, and their absence is not missed.

All in all, Apple can chalk up the September event as a success. — Leander Kahney

Bonus: iPhone 12 really isn’t coming until October

The Apple September event was as notable for what wasn’t there as much as what wasn’t. The Apple September event is the traditional launch platform for the next-generation iPhone. Not in 2020.

Apple warned us. A company executive said in July, plain as day, “Last year we started selling new iPhones in late September. This year, we project supply to be available a few weeks later.” COVID-19 strikes again.

Expect another Apple event in October where we’ll get our first real look at the iPhone 12. — Ed Hardy