Even though Apple didn’t announce new iPhones yesterday, the event was a jam-packed hour. Apple announced four new hardware products, a major new service, and a new bundle. By any objective standard, that’s a big day. As I’ll note below, the most important products might not be the hardware, but Fitness Plus and the ability to make an Apple Watch a kid tracker.
Besides those announcements, the main thing that struck me is that Apple seems to be making a subtle but important shift in its product strategy this year. You may have heard of the “Good, Better, Best” pricing strategy — it’s been applied to Apple a bunch. I think what Apple is doing this year is making the “better” option …better — and also a little more expensive. It’s the “better better” model.
The old among us have Steve Jobs’ famous Mac product grid indelibly marked in our concept of how Apple approaches products. On one axis was “Consumer vs Pro” and the other was “Desktop vs Portable.”
But it’s not really applicable anymore on either axis and it certainly doesn’t work for the many kinds of products Apple makes now. There simply are more tiers than just “consumer” and “pro” for most product categories. Plus, in Apple world, the word “pro” itself doesn’t really mean “for professionals” so much as “the best thing” these days.
Take the Apple Watch announcements. Apple announced both a flagship Series 6 line of watches and a lower-cost SE line. At first, I thought of the Apple Watch SE as parallel to the iPhone SE. So it seemed to me that the trend is Apple needing to make more inexpensive products that are technically new because it’s harder to get consumers to buy last year’s model. But after some thought, I think that’s not quite right.
The Good, Better, Best cadence for the Apple Watch just happens to go by different names compared to the iPhone. The SE naming scheme just threw me. Here’s how I think it goes:
- Good: Apple Watch Series 3 / iPhone SE
- Better: Apple Watch SE / iPhone 11
- Best: Apple Watch Series 6 / iPhone 11 Pro
The “good” option at the bottom of the lineup actually serves two purposes. It’s a killer deal and makes Apple’s products more accessible. But it also makes space for the better option to be more advanced and pricier. Last year, Apple likely sold a kajillion Series 3 watches at its low price — this year it has a very clear upsell in the SE.
The same basic logic applies to the new iPad and iPad Air. The new iPad Air takes on a lot of the things that make the Pro compelling — so much so that unless the words “ProMotion” and “LIDAR” mean anything to you, the Air is a better choice. It’s also $100 more than the iPad Air was last year.
I think Apple’s not too worried about the iPad Air cannibalizing the iPad Pro — it’s still selling you an iPad, after all, and it’s surely making a good margin because that’s what Apple does. In fact, I suspect “margin” is often the answer as to why the better option is missing a feature the best option has. The Apple Watch SE is a Series 6 with less expensive components too: no blood oxygen monitor, always-on display, or the newest chip.
Put another way, all I’m talking about here is upselling. The quality of the “good” option gets you in the (now metaphorical) door and the upsell to the better option is sitting right there. Apple’s trick is to make that upsell a variant of its best thing instead of an improved version of the good thing. The Apple Watch SE is based on the Series 6. The iPhone 11 is closer to the 11 Pro than to the iPhone SE. And the iPad Air is now more like an iPad Pro than a basic iPad.
Like any model, this idea can break down with too much rhetorical pressure. I don’t know how it applies to the MacBook lineup, for example, but that lineup is in such flux right now with the impending Arm chips that I think it gets a pass. To me, this model is what Apple is striving for, but depending on where any given product line is at the moment it might be difficult to achieve.
Every time Apple releases a new product in a line, there’s always some variant of the question “Why does this need to exist when it’s so similar to that other thing?” I was asking it myself with the iPad Air and the Apple Watch SE yesterday. And now I think the answer is to make sure the “better” one is better — and it doesn’t hurt Apple if that means it’s just a little more expensive too.
Rounding up the Apple news
┏ Apple’s ‘Time Flies’ event: the 9 biggest announcements. This is a good summary of everything in one place. You can also find every story we published in this story stream.
┏ Apple ‘Time Flies’ 2020 live blog. If you want to see my and Nilay Patel’s thoughts in real time.
┏ Apple posts ASL translation of its ‘Time Flies’ event. Every company should do this.
┏ Apple announces Apple Watch Series 6 with ability to measure blood oxygen levels. The blood oxygen measurement is the big new feature, but there’s also a U1 chip in there that may unlock some future capabilities someday, like unlocking your car or locating those as-yet unannounced AirTags.
┏ Apple announces Apple Watch SE, an affordable successor to the Series 3. The main things you’ll lose from the Series 6 is the always-on display, the blood oxygen monitor, ECG, and other bits like the U1 chip. Importantly, it has fall detection.
┏ Family Setup will let you manage multiple Apple Watches from a single iPhone. I think this low-key might be the most important thing Apple announced yesterday. You’ll have to pay a carrier a monthly fee for it to work, but I have to imagine that anybody looking at those kid tracker watches is going to think twice about getting an Apple Watch instead — especially if there ends up being kid peer pressure about it!
A couple notes I learned in briefings with Apple: the kids get notified of certain kinds of parental surveillance (like geofences) and can approve or deny sharing of certain health stats. Also for kids: the move ring tracks overall activity time, not estimated calories. Ostensibly this is because it just makes more sense to track how active a kid is, but I am also glad because it’s probably not good for kids to be thinking about caloric intake.
My very informal poll of my Twitter followers has a lot of replies from parents who are paying attention and thinking about this new feature. It also reveals a surprising number of parents who want to implant chips directly into their kids’ skulls.
┏ Apple is removing the USB power adapter from upcoming Apple Watch boxes. As I wrote when it was rumored that Apple would do this for the next iPhone: good. For the environment, I mean. Weirdly, Apple’s very expensive fancy versions of the Apple Watch still do come with a charger. I guess rich people wouldn’t be able to handle the logistics of finding their own charger in a drawer or something?
┏ Here’s how to pick between the Apple Watch Series 6, SE, and older models.
┏ Apple’s new Watch strap comes in 12 sizes, and you’ll need to measure your wrist to pick the right one. I saw a brief demo over video conference of these straps and they do stretch out quite far to fit over your hand before shrinking back to their original shape on your wrist. But this whole system for measuring your own wrist via a printout is really awkward. Not that I think there’s a better solution, but an uncomfortable watch is the worst and I worry people will get the wrong size and then just live with it.
There’s one extra complication, though. The largest three Loop sizes aren’t compatible with a 40mm Watch, while the three smallest sizes won’t work with a 44mm Watch. That means, for example, if you wanted the smaller Watch but have a large wrist, you might not be able to get one of the new Loop bands that fits you.
Services: Apple One and Fitness Plus
┏ Apple announces Fitness Plus virtual workouts. They’re not live like Peloton, but there is going to be new content weekly across a variety of different workout styles. An Apple Watch is required, though, which is maybe just a little disappointing.
┏ Apple confirms Apple One subscription bundle, bringing together Music, TV Plus, Arcade, and more. So there are three tiers, which feels like too many tiers. But okay, Apple has to charge more for a family plan than an individual plan because music labels charge more for that, I’m told. And both Fitness Plus and Apple News Plus aren’t available in all regions (Fitness Plus is only in six countries to start). Put those together and it kind of backs Apple into three tiers.
But I still feel like there’s a bit a confusion here, honestly. My own personal calculus is that the 200GB iCloud storage plan isn’t enough anymore. So I’m in for ten bucks a month for 2TB. Add in another Apple service like TV+ or Music and I’m creeping on $20 or $25 a month. So you start trying to do some math on what you want and don’t and eventually you just kind of land at it screw it, I’ll just get the one with everything for the whole family — and if you are a whole family it’s a good deal!
Still feels like upselling to me, just a little. And my regular reminder is that whenever you see a monthly price, you should do the mental math to see what it costs per year. That’s a scale that makes it easer to compare to other purchases or — you know — saving your damn money. So the Apple One Premier tier is $29.95/month or about $360 per year.
Finally — will Apple start offering bundles with hardware subsidies attached? In some ways it makes sense! In others, though, there are so many models of iPhone it’s hard to know which would get attached at what price.
┏ Apple says its new Apple One services bundle isn’t unfair to Spotify. Award for weirdest statement of the day goes to Spotify, who wanted to butt in and point out that Apple’s services bundle puts it at a disadvantage. In a well-crafted statement, Spotify could have made that case — but it chose more anger than clarity.
What’s interesting to me is that Apple felt the need to respond with a public statement. I think if there weren’t so much heat around antitrust right now, Apple wouldn’t have bothered.
iPad and iPad Air
┏ Apple announces updated eighth-generation 10.2-inch entry-level iPad for $329. The iPad continues to be one of the best deals in consumer tech. And Apple is continuing its efforts to get them adopted in schools in lieu of Chromebooks.
┏ Apple announces new iPad Air that looks more like an iPad Pro, starting at $599. The processor in it is newer than what’s in the iPad Pro, but the iPad Pro has more cores and a stronger GPU. And as for the switch to USB-C? It tells me that there’s no religion about ports at Apple. But I also don’t expect the iPhone 12 will switch over to USB-C.
Which I think is a pity, but I understand Apple’s calculus that it would be disruptive to a large user base. Then again, being willing to disrupt a user base in the name of moving tech forward is something Apple used to be unafraid of — literally it was called “courage” to drop the headphone jack.
┏ Apple will release iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 on September 16th. The drama is that developers have historically had a little more advance notice of these releases. It means that a bunch of devs who worked to create iOS 14-specific features or updates won’t be able to publicize them on day one of the update.
┏ Apple has sold more than 500 million iPads over the last decade. Apple made a big deal of the fact that more than 50 percent of all iPad buyers are first-time iPad buyers. It wants to make the case that the iPad has room to grow and the ability to encroach on the PC and Chromebook market. It specifically called out how both new iPads were faster. Though I have to say Apple touting benchmarks like this rings hollow to me — it should win on experience and software ecosystem. Chromebooks aren’t popular in schools because they’re fast, they’re popular because they’re inexpensive, convenient, and relatively easy to manage.
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Among Us is behind a huge spike in Discord’s mobile app downloads
The surprise success of InnerSloth’s game Among Us was one of the bigger Twitch stories that happened this summer: over the last month, the game shot up a full 650 percent in hours watched on the site. (It has gotten so popular so suddenly that the developers at InnerSloth have canceled Among Us 2 to focus more on the first game.)
Its success has spawned other successes, too. Among Us’ spike in popularity has led to Discord’s mobile app downloads hitting new heights. As Apptopia’s Adam Blacker recently observed: “Discord has been hitting a new lifetime high for mobile app downloads every day since September 5th.” That’s around 800,000 installs a day.
The reason Discord’s downloads and Among Us’ popularity are linked, of course, is because the game requires voice chat to function. It’s a hidden role game; your duty as a crewmate is to sniff out the impostors on your ship before they kill all of you. Because the game is cross-platform and because you need to chat with your teammates to find the impostors, it’s important to find an easy way to communicate with everyone at once. Discord also integrates fairly closely with Twitch, which means it’s even easier for you to stream your gameplay to the world.
Hearthstone’s new three-week event has quests and a Hunter origin story
Hearthstone’s new patch has a lot of smaller pieces of content that add up to some pretty hefty changes. This is the Masquerade Ball event where Rexxar is getting his own entry in the Book of Heroes, so Hearthstone players can learn the Hunter’s backstory.
Tavern Brawls and Arena
During the Masquerade Ball, players will get one free Dual-Class Arena run. You’ll start your run by picking a Hero, then a Hero Power from a different class, so you might have a Mage with Demon Claws. Then, players will build a deck made up of cards from both classes (and some neutral cards, to round things out).
There will be two Tavern Brawls. The first one has a unique twist. Every time a player drops a minion on the board, it is transformed into a minion that costs two more. When the upgraded minion dies, the original card is revealed and remains on the board to fight.
On Oct. 14, there’ll be a new Tavern Brawl — players will get to pick from 10 past bosses, each of whom have a unique hero power. This mode allows for match-ups like Dr. Boom vs Illidan Stormrage, or Cenarius vs. Hagatha the Vengeful.
In the game’s Battlegrounds mode, a new set of heroes have arrived, including Ragnaros the Firelord and Al’Akir the Windlord. A bunch of new elementals have also been added to the minion pool to help their bosses out; they’ll be mainstays in the minion pool for now, so players will be able to try these new combos out in Battlegrounds.
In addition, Blizzard is adding a new progression system via an external rating similar to the game’s ranked mode.
Legendary Quests (and a secret?)
The following quests are available for players and will unlock packs of cards for a reward.
Sept. 29: Play Dual-Class Arena to earn 1 Scholomance Academy pack, 1 Ashes of Outland pack, and 1 Year of the Dragon pack.
Oct. 6: Play 50 cards in any mode to earn 1 Scholomance Academy pack, 1 Decent of Dragons pack, and 1 Year of the Dragon pack.
Oct. 13: Defeat Leoroxx in Hearthstone Book of Heroes: Rexxar to earn 1 Scholomance Academy pack, 1 Saviors of Uldum pack, and 1 Year of the Dragon pack.
Players can also complete a “Secret Quest” for two golden copies of the Transfer Student Card. Blizzard describes the quest in the patch notes.
After a thorough examination of garments in our lost and found cupboard, Transfer Student has embarked on a laborious journey to find the perfect costume for the Masquerade Ball! We’ve identified an itinerary in the dormitory that outlines an intention to visit Dalaran, Uldum, Dragonblight, and the Black Temple. Scribbled on the back is mention of playing Rexxar’s tale in Hearthstone Book of Heroes, and at least one match in both Battlegrounds and Arena.
It looks like players will have to take a spin through past single-player content that took place in the above locations, as well as complete the new Book of Heroes content. The full patch notes for the 18.4 update can be found on Blizzard’s website.
Apple Watch SE review: An excellent starter smartwatch
watchOS 7 and new features
If you’ve used an Apple Watch before, most of the SE’s features will be familiar. The knob is a handy way to scroll through notifications, apps and volume controls, and together with the button it offers several nifty shortcuts. Long pressing the digital crown triggers Siri, while pressing the button below shows the power menu. Double tapping that pulls up your default card on Apple Pay.
Navigating the interface is the same as before, too, and if you’ve already set up your favorite apps in the dock, they’ll carry over when you set up the new device. As an Android user who’s mostly lived with other smartwatches though, I found it jarring that a swipe right doesn’t bring me back a page. I also still prefer Samsung’s Tizen OS for its simpler navigation where my favorite widgets and apps are just a spin away. On Apple’s Watches I have to first pull up all apps or the dock, then find the one I want.
What’s new with the Watch SE are mostly updates from watchOS 7, like the new Fitness app, sleep tracking and automatic hand wash detection and countdown. There are also new shareable watch faces with support for multiple complications from the same app. Having the daily UV index and the weather at the same time on my home screen made it easy to tell when I could skip the sunscreen.
Tapping any of these complications pulls up the respective app, and it was easy to summon my activity rings to see how far I was from closing them. In watchOS 7, you can set individual targets for each of the three circles, as opposed to one overall goal. I spend so much of my day stuck at my desk that a Stand goal of getting up every hour for 10 hours is nearly impossible to achieve, so I tuned that down and bumped up my exercise target instead.
Apple also added four new workouts you can track with watchOS 7 — dance, core training, functional strength training and cooldown. Dance and cooldown are intriguing additions but, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference in tracking these activities versus a generic “other exercise” session. Apple said it uses the watch’s sensors to figure out how your arms and legs are moving as you dance to predict body movement, then uses that data along with your heart rate in its algorithm to determine your calories burned. It’s nice to have theoretically more accurate information on your calorie expenditure, but at the end of the day, the report you’ll get looks very similar to what you get for other activities.
I don’t like wearing a watch to bed, but of all the smartwatches I’ve tested lately, the Apple Watch SE is the one I minded the least. Sadly, it also delivers the least insightful data. While Fitbit and Samsung use the heart rate monitor to figure out whether you’re in REM, light, deep or restorative sleep, Apple only takes into account accelerometer data. It does track your heart rate overnight but doesn’t use that to tell what sleep zone you’re in. The Watch SE also wasn’t as accurate at detecting when I fell asleep either. It assumed I had gone to bed at the time I had set in my Wind Down sleep schedule when in fact I only got in an hour later.
According to the Watch SE, I was restless right after I fell asleep, when really I was just awake and fidgeting. Then, when I woke up and snoozed my alarm a few times, none of those movements registered and Apple decided to take the time I finally stepped out of bed as when I woke up. This is the sort of unreliable tracking that plagued early Fitbits, but they’ve grown much better over the years. If accurate and insightful sleep tracking is important to you, the Apple Watch won’t be your best option.
Apple also introduced a Wind Down and Wake Up feature that helps you prepare for bed and your work day. I set my bedtime to 1am, and at midnight, the Watch SE went on Do Not Disturb and stopped bothering me, which was nice. But I continued to while away on my phone anyway, despite Do Not Disturb being enabled there too.
When my morning alarm went off, it was a gentle tune rather than a jarring cacophony, which was nice, but not much different from simply picking a better sound for my phone. These sounds were already available for iOS, anyway. What is better is that you can use the watch’s haptic engine for a vibration-based alarm on your wrist to rouse you without bothering others. Also, if you wake up and move in the 30 minutes before your set time, the Watch will ask if you want to turn off the alarm, which is a nice touch.
Another new watchOS 7 feature is hand-wash detection, which is particularly relevant during the pandemic. The Watch will automatically recognize, based on the way your hands are moving, if you’ve started to wash them. Then, it’ll turn on the microphone to listen for sounds of water and soap suds to confirm, and launch a 20-second timer to make sure you’re scrubbing for the recommended duration.
This is helpful when I’m getting my first wash in after returning home, but kind of annoying subsequently because I don’t always need to wash my hands for 20 whole seconds. Sometimes I just need to get some grease off my palm and ten seconds is enough. Thankfully, all you get if you stop washing before the time’s up is a gentle admonishment that you can skip, so it’s only a minor annoyance. The Watch SE was almost always able to detect when I’d started washing my hands, missing only one very quick session. But it also thought I was cleaning my hands when I was actually washing some grapes. Again, it was easy enough to just ignore the timer and go on with my day.
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