SAN FRANCISCO — Apple is updating its assault on the watch market as part of a slate of tweaks to its high-tech offering.
At a time when activity trackers are leading the market and increasingly diverse smartwatches are designed to look like their analog forbearers, the watch updates include fitness-friendly functionality and additional colors that allow for further personalization of the accessory. The new Apple Watch has a faster processor, better graphics performance and a brighter screen. It is also now waterproof and includes GPS, for running without one’s iPhone.
There will also be a ceramic version of the smartwatch and additional band colors and styles, including ones from Hermès and Nike. The expanded Apple Watch Hermès collection adds the Double Buckle Cuff, inspired by an Hermes sandal design; a new Single Tour Deployment Buckle band, which opens with a click of two side buttons and an Hermès Sport Band in signature orange.
The new operating systems and watches will become available this fall, and the new Series 2 will be priced at $369. The Series 1, which is still available, will be $269. (Apple Watch Hermès is priced separately.)
Chief executive officer Tim Cook said the Apple Watch has changed what people expect from a watch, and that after Rolex, Apple Watch had become the second most popular watch brand in the world and was the top-selling smartwatch. “It has set a high bar about what a modern watch can be, but we are just getting started.”
But will that be enough to re-ignite enthusiasm from the average consumer? Among wearables as a whole, the Apple Watch was the only one among market leaders that saw a decrease in shipment volume in the past year, according to a report out this week from the International Data Corporation. And that number two spot, pointed out IDC researcher Ramon Llamas, is in terms of revenue. Llamas said that these small, incremental changes might not be enough to move the needle in terms of volume. He did offer that as the holiday shopping season heats up, the reduced price of $269 for the Series 1 watch might appear more attractive.
Going forward, Llamas, said, “What [Apple Watch] needs to do is disengage itself from the iPhone and we can get to a point that it is independent and standalone without having to connect to a smartphone.”
The Apple Watch scored a 7 out of 10 — the highest among the 10 smartwatches examined by data firm First Insights. And as Cook emphasized in his presentation, customers seem to like it. Nearly half of the survey respondents who own a smartwatch own an Apple Watch, and 41 percent of respondents overall reacted positively to the first Apple Watch.
“With the Apple Watch Series 2, Apple is narrowing its focus by targeting sports and fitness enthusiasts with its Nike partnership and new features focused on enabling activity tracking,” said First Insight chief executive Greg Petro. “But, the price tag of $369 shows a real disconnect between the company and potential buyers. This presents a significant challenge as price is a major factor in smartwatch purchase decisions.”
That said, Forrester analyst Thomas Husson said that while Samsung’s more autonomous Gear S3 had “raised the bar in terms of smartwatch functionalities,” Apple is “best-positioned to provide more differentiated services, thanks to its partner ecosystems.”
Speaking of which, the new iPhone 7 boasts a number of features that should be welcome news to the fashion flock, including a water-resistant redesign and a new camera that lets in more light, stabilizes unsteady hands and has a better flash. In a nod to selfies, it also has an improved front-side camera. And for those snapping detail shots from the back row? The iPhone 7 Plus adds to that a second camera, which allows for better zooming in. The iPhone 7 also has a longer battery life than any previous version of the iPhone.
Ian Spalter, who is head of design at Instagram, demonstrated the more vibrant color capabilities and revealed a corresponding Instagram update with filters that take advantage of this.
Apple recently announced that it had sold its one billionth iPhone, but as the market becomes saturated, it must now rely on existing customers replacing their devices (in addition to expansion into untapped markets), experts say.
“Growth in the smartphone market is quickly becoming reliant on replacing existing handsets rather than seeking new users,” said IDC analyst Jitesh Ubrani, who warned that customers are increasingly becoming comfortable with “good enough” smartphones.
As expected, Apple removed the analog headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus; headphones will now be plugged into the Lightning jack, which is the jack used to charge the phone. For those worried about, for example, plugging speakers into the jack, Apple will include an adapter in each iPhone 7 and 7 Plus box.
Apple added a new product, called AirPods, that are a wireless alternative to ear buds. They need to be charged, and last for five hours and are charged in a case that allows for a total of 24 hours of listening. (This was in addition to handful of new wireless headphones from Beats.)
In introducing the new operating system on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, Cook called the iPhone a “cultural phenomenon.” As iPhone sales have somewhat declined, this introduction before the holiday season might boost sales. The IDC report stated that it expects an iPhone rebound in 2017 and beyond, due to these updates.
Forrester’s Husson said the new devices have enough innovative features to enable Apple to maintain its leadership in the maturing smartphone and emerging smartwatch markets. “Partnering brands like Nike, Nintendo and many others add value and appeal to consumers on top of integrated lifestyle experiences from Apple. While no new disruptive line of products was announced, mobile is and will remain a core enabler of new connected experiences for the foreseeable future. Let’s not forget the iPhone is not even 10 years old and will only enter its teenage phase next year.”