What to expect from Apple's annual iPhone launch today

Key Points
  • Apple will hold its annual iPhone launch event Tuesday and is expected to announce three new iPhone models.
  • Each model will be a successor to the current iPhone XR, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.
  • Apple is also expected to announce pricing and launch dates for its new video streaming service Apple TV+ and its gaming service Apple Arcade.
Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., speaks during an event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Get ready for new Apple products.

Every fall since 2011, Apple has held a launch event in California where it reveals its annual iPhone update. The goal is to create hype for the products going into the all-important holiday shopping season.

Apple usually succeeds. Although other technology companies hold flashy events when they reveal new products, none get the same amount of buzz and media attention as Apple's. For example, last September's launch event has over 3 million views on YouTube, and it wasn't posted until after the event was over.

Mundane iPhone refresh priced into Apple's stock, says Nomura analyst
Mundane iPhone refresh priced into Apple's stock, says Nomura analyst

This year's event is shaping up to be no different. Although Apple has recently spent a lot of time talking about products that aren't hardware — like its Apple Card, or forthcoming Apple TV+ streaming service, Tuesday's event is likely to focus on the gadgets and why customers might want to buy them.

Apple's challenge is to make its new iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Mac computers seem groundbreaking and revolutionary as the products mature. Reports suggest this year's event will feature more incremental changes — new software, better cameras, faster processors — but Apple's executives will almost certainly frame them as game-changing.

In the past, new iPhone models have gone on sale about a week after Apple's big event. Apple also releases its biggest annual iPhone software update (this year, iOS 13) around the same time.

The new products revealed Tuesday may factor into Apple's September quarter earnings, but the bigger test will be the holiday quarter, Apple's biggest of the year. For the last December quarter, Apple announced a big miss on Jan. 2, with revenue billions below its own expectations because of weak iPhone sales in China.

Here's what you need to know going into Apple's event:

New iPhones

Apple's iPhone event will be held on Sept. 10 2019

First and foremost, expect new iPhones.

All electronics with encryption features sold in several Eastern European countries are required to be registered in a Eurasian Economic Commission database. The database has previously accurately revealed the product numbers for unreleased Apple products.

According to the database, Apple registered 11 iPhone model numbers in May. That doesn't mean there will be 11 new iPhones — sometimes the same device needs to be registered multiple times for slight changes like optimization for specific countries' wireless networks.

The new iPhones are likely to look a lot like the current iPhone lineup, with the same screen sizes but with improved cameras and processors, according to analysts and reports.

"If this is just a better camera and apps and faster processor with no form factor change, what is Apple going to do?" said Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research, an IT research firm. "I think it's a tough moment for Apple and it's going to be very carefully scripted."

Apple is likely to release three new models, according to reports. The two higher-end iPhones will have a 5.8-inch and a 6.1-inch OLED display, according to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo and J.P. Morgan analyst Samik Chatterjee. These phones can be seen as sequels to the current iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max, which cost a minimum of $999 and $1099 respectively.

Apple is also expected to release a lower-priced iPhone with a lower-cost LCD screen, like the current iPhone XR, which currently costs $749 or more.

One big selling point for the new iPhones will be camera features, Kuo predicted earlier this year. The higher-end phones could get a third camera, which Apple could use to perform advanced image processing by combining the image, improving low-light photos and correct errors, according to Bloomberg. Apple's lower-end iPhone, the XR successor, may get additional colors and finishes, as well as a second back-facing camera sensor, according to the report.

The phones will also be able to charge other devices, like AirPods, if they're compatible and they are placed on the back of one of Apple's new phones, according to Kuo. Samsung's high-end 2019 phones have a similar feature.

Don't expect these iPhones to support 5G — that's a planned 2020 feature, according to TF Securities and J.P. Morgan.

Apple Watch

Apple Watch updates at the 2019 Apple WWDC In San Francisco.
Source: Apple

Since 2014, Apple has also used its fall event to launch new Apple Watch models.

The EEC database was updated in August with four new Apple Watch models listed.

Last year, Apple released the Series 4, which sported a new hardware design and bigger screens. This year's models are expected to have the same design, according to Bloomberg, although Apple may release new case materials, including ceramic and titanium, which would likely be high-end models.

There may also be new features for Apple Watches, especially in software. For example, internal versions of Apple's software have included a feature called "Schooltime," according to MacRumors.

Schooltime will block access to apps or other distracting features during a school day, but will enable the student to call their parents or emergency numbers, according to the report.

There's also a new sleep tracking app planned for the Apple Watch, according to 9to5Mac. It's code-named "Burrito" and called "Time in Bed tracking." It requires a user to wear a charged Apple Watch to go to bed and will allow users to have two Apple Watches, one specifically for bedtime, according to the report.

The feature doesn't need any additional hardware. Instead, it will use the watch's existing sensors and inputs to measure the quality of a person's sleep. It will also automatically turn off alarms if the user wakes up before their alarm is supposed to wake up. (Apple bought a sleep tracking hardware start-up, Beddit, in 2017, but it's unclear how that technology relates to the reported Apple Watch feature.)

Macs, AirPods and a gadget to track your lost keys

Last year, Apple held two fall events: one for iPhones and Apple Watches, and a month later for new iPads and MacBook laptops.

It's unclear whether Apple will do that this year or cram it all into one show. The Eurasian database registered five unreleased iPad models in July and several unreleased Mac laptops in June.

According to MacRumors, one of the models could be a MacBook Pro with a 16-inch screen. That computer would be targeted at professional computer users, who need extra power, according to Bloomberg, which previously reported on the device.

Apple's wireless earbuds, AirPods, could get an update. They were refreshed earlier this year with a new case that enables it to charge wirelessly on Qi charging pads.

Apple could also release a piece of hardware that attaches to objects and allows users to track them through an iPhone app, like current products from companies such as Tile. Internal screenshots published by MacRumors show it attached to keys, luggage and a bicycle. Apple laid the groundwork for this product in June, when it announced a new technology that would enable Apple to track Mac laptops.

Apple also could choose to launch its streaming video service, Apple TV+ and its game subscription, Apple Arcade. The services were announced earlier this year, but Apple hasn't revealed a price or launch date yet.

Independent Apple analyst Neil Cybart wrote in a newsletter on Thursday that it would make sense for Apple to discuss combining those bundles along with new Apple TV hardware at the same time.

"It is logical to expect a processor update, at a minimum, especially given the upcoming launch of Apple Arcade which will be positioned as a key selling point for Apple TV. In addition, Apple has remained pretty tightlipped about the upcoming Apple TV+ service," Cybart wrote. "It would make sense for Apple to discuss all three items together."

Name game

Apple chief design officer Jony Ive (L) and Apple CEO Tim Cook inspect the new iPhone XR during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

One of the biggest surprises on Tuesday will be the marketing names that Apple has decided for the new iPhones.

Apple's current iPhones are named the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Apple reportedly chose these names because they were reminiscent of sports cars.

The "X" in these names is a roman numeral, which refers to "10." The "S" is a reference to "speed," according to Apple when it first started using "S" in iPhone product names, to signify that although a model might not have a new hardware design, it has upgraded components.

Therefore, one logical naming convention could be "11," which means the lineup would be called iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Max, and iPhone 11R.

Longtime Apple blogger and podcaster John Gruber proposed a different naming system this week. He suspects the iPhone XR successor could be named the iPhone 11, and the more expensive iPhone XS sequel would be called the iPhone 11 "Pro," echoing Apple's MacBook and iPad lineups, which feature "Pro" models." The biggest, most expensive new iPhone would then be called the "iPhone 11 Pro Max."

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