On Tuesday, Apple held its biggest press event of the year at the brand-new Steve Jobs Theater at the Apple Campus. The company kicked off the event with a touching memorial of its late CEO, before announcing some exciting new hardware updates that brand marketers definitely need to know about.
This year marks the ten-year anniversary of the launch of the iPhone, one of the most transformative consumer tech products in recent memory, and the key growth driver for Apple as it heads to become the first $1 trillion-dollar company. The Cupertino company is marking the occasion with a massive revamp of its flagship handset, unveiling three new iPhone models.
In appearance, the new iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus looks similar to the iPhone 7/7 Plus, albeit with a glass back. The real upgrade for these two models lies in the new A11 Bionic, a 6-core processor that equips the new iPhones with significantly faster and more energy-efficient power, allowing iOS developers to create sophisticated Augmented Reality (AR) experiences and hardware-supported machine learning capability in their apps. The all-glass back also enables wireless charging through the Qi open standard, which select high-end Android handsets — including the latest Samsung Galaxy devices — also support. Routine upgrades for the display, cameras, and battery life are all included as well. iPhone 8 / 8 Plus will become available on September 22, starting at $699.
The more exciting, “one more thing” announcement of Tuesday’s event is the launch of the iPhone X (pronounced iPhone 10), which marks a striking departure from the existing iPhones in market. Sporting a edge-to-edge, 5.8‑inch Super Retina screen with rounded corners, the iPhone X removes the home button–a long-standing iPhone staple from the very first generation–and upgrades the front camera with a TrueDepth sensor array. The new sensors enable Face ID, a new facial recognition feature that will replace the fingerprint-scanning Touch ID on iPhone X, along with some exciting new AR applications, such as some new virtual face masks from Snapchat that Apple briefly demoed.
Face ID, a proprietary facial recognition system created by Apple and powered by TrueDepth camera and the Neural Engine in the A11 Bionic chip, enables users to unlock iPhone X just by looking at it. Face ID will also be used to authenticate Apple Pay, improving security for mobile payment. Compared to the Touch ID, which Apple said has an error rate of 1 in 50,000 cases, Face ID touts an remarkable error rate of 1 in a million. Apple said Face ID will work with third-party apps “in the same way that Touch ID does,” so it will presumably be confined to authentication uses for now. However, the full capabilities of the front camera system capable of facial recognition and tracking will be available for brands and third-party apps at launch.
For example, one standout iPhone X-exclusive feature enabled by Face ID is Apple’s new Animoji, which uses the TrueDepth camera system to track facial expressions and generate custom 3D animated emojis. It is a cute first-party iMessage app that will likely boost the sales of iPhone X, but it is important to note that this is only a very basic application of the new depth-sensing front camera. As more AR applications start to emerge and Apple gradually opening up the access to facial recognition, as they did with the NFC chip, more reality-bending AR applications will be created to augment brand storytelling and mobile marketing.
iPhone X will be open for pre-order on October 27 and start shipping on November 3. The 64GB model is priced at $999 and the 256GB model at $1149, making it the most premium iPhone to date.
It is worth noting that all three new iPhones benefit greatly from the new processing chip and upgraded cameras so as to unleash the full potential of ARKit, the developer SDK for augmented reality Apple debuted at WWDC in June. The company shared three new AR applications on stage, including a new real-time, multiplayer mobile AR game called The Machine, a new feature in the MLB At Bat app that overlays real-time play stats over the players for the in-stadium audience, as well as a Sky Guide app that marks constellations in the actual sky with AR annotations in real time.
Beyond the three new iPhones, Apple also unveiled Apple Watch Series 3, which marks a major upgrade as it adds built-in cellular connectivity that allows it to operate independently of an iPhone. Previously, Apple Watch was synced to an iPhone via Bluetooth in order to function. Impressively, the new watches will remain the same compact size as the previous generation, despite the added cellular components, and even manage to maintain roughly the same battery life, thanks to the new power-efficient chip. With this upgrade, Siri will now also be able to speak, which is a big step for Apple to make the Watch a voice-first device and further expand Siri’s functionality outside mobile devices.
Apple proudly announced that Apple Watch is now the №1 best-selling watch the world, surpassing wristwatch brands like Rolex and Fossil with a 50% year-over-year growth. The tech press tends to regard Apple Watch as a disappointment since it failed to live up to the sky-high early expectations of being “the next big thing”, but what they regularly fail to note that Apple Watch is still a solid success for Apple as it has been estimated by multipleanalysts to have sold around 30 million units to date. The Series 3 Watch will launch with new band colors and styles on September 22, starting at $399 for the cellular version.
In addition to the standard features, Apple also took the time today to highlight some upgrades for heart rate tracking feature, which will now monitor heart rate rhythm and send notifications if your heart rate is abnormally high. Apple is also updating the Heart Rate app with improved tracking, and the anonymized data collected via the app will be part of the “Apple Heart Study” in partnership with Stanford University. As Apple continues to make Apple Watch a more competent and comprehensive biometric-tracking gadget, it will help generate a lot of data and insights useful for medical researches and patient care.
Apple TV received a brand new upgrade that added 4K and HDR support to deliver state-of-the-art picture quality. The Apple TV 4K will pack an A10 chip, same as the one used in iPad Pro, supercharging the streaming box with four times the graphic processing power compared to its precursor. It will become available on September 22 starting at $179.
In tandem with the hardware update, Apple also announced adding 4K content, which will be sold via iTunes store at the same price as the HD versions. Customer who previously purchased HD movies and TV episodes from Apple will receive free upgrades to 4K when available. 4K titles from Netflix will be available at launch while those from Amazon Prime Video will be added later this year.
Apple is also expanding the Apple TV app it introduced last year, which aggregates content from over 60 video services, including those from broadcasting and cable networks, and offers personalized alerts and recommendations. They’ve worked with a slew of regional content providers to expand the TV app to seven new international markets, including Canada, Australia, and the U.K. The latest version will also cover live sports programming: U.S. fans will be able to use the app to track their favorite team and get notifications about when they’re playing. While Apple has yet to truly connect the dots between it streaming hardware products and software services to provide a compelling, integrated viewing experience, these upgrades are nonetheless welcome additions.
The single most important update coming out of this Apple event is the addition of the TrueDepth front camera system on the iPhone X, which will bring facial recognition to mainstream mobile users, along with many new AR applications that require a front camera capable of depth-sensing and mapping, such as the Animojis.
Face ID is a groundbreaking addition to iPhones, and although its usage seems to be confined to simple authentication for now, the addition of facial recognition will eventually, depending on when Apple will broaden developer access, unleash a whole new way for brands to collect customer data and feedback, facilitate frictionless identity authentication, and design gaze-guided intuitive user interactions on mobile.
For example, last year, the Hawaii Tourism Authority worked with travel booking site Expedia to build a “Discover Your Aloha” website, which uses a custom-built facial recognition software to track facial expressions as visitors are asked to turn on their webcam and watch a Hawaii tourism video. An algorithm then identifies the personal preferences of each visitor based on their reaction to various sights and activities in the video, and the site presents visitors with a personalized Hawaii vacation package that they can book directly via Expedia. The introduction of Face ID just made innovative campaigns like this theoretically possible on an iPhone.
Facial recognition will be an innovation that restaurants and QSR brands can integrate into their customer experience design. For example, some KFC stores in China have recently started testing an Alipay-powered program that allows diners to complete their orders by flashing a smile at the terminal equipped with facial recognition.
The launch of the new iPhones, along with the official release of IOS 11, will also unleash ARKit-powered augmented reality into the hands of millions of Apple users. Even the iPhone users that don’t plan on buying the new iPhones just yet will be able to enjoy new AR apps as long as they are using an iPhone 6S or any iPhone or iPad released after that. This means right out of the gate, ARKit will have a robust user base that none of the existing AR platforms ever had, which, in turn, allows brands to work with developers and create innovative AR experiences. For brands, now is the time to start adding AR features to your app to deliver an engaging and optimized user experience.
For example, Rémy Martin recently started rolling out a branded AR experience powered by Microsoft’s HoloLens at events to promote its new champagne. While HoloLens may create a more immersive AR experience, the need for a complex setup and expensive headsets severely limited the reach of this Rémy Martin campaign. With the roll out of ARKit, however, brands will be able to produce a similar AR experience and deliver it to a much larger audience.
To tap into AR, brands can start by creating virtual 3D assets based on their IPs to be imported into simple AR apps, before graduating to take on building more complex AR experiences. One of the well-received AR app previews was one showing text overlays for real-world street navigation. Hotels and retailers should consider developing similar AR navigation features for their properties and stores to guide their customers through the attractions and amenities.
The new Apple Watch gains true independence from iPhones with the added cellular support, which vastly improves its usability and demands brands to take another look at this gadget that was previously dismissed as an expensive iPhone accessory. The added Siri voice support also makes the Watch a unique conversational wearable that brands should explore. With the updated features,Apple Watch is becoming a viable engagement channel that brands should consider developing dedicated accessories and apps for. Brands should also learn to harness insights from the biometric data that wearable devices collect as user adoption picks up.
For healthcare brands, the new Apple Watch presents a particularly important device for data collection and partnership opportunities. Last month, Apple announced it is expanding its partnership with health insurer Aetna to bring discounted prices of the Apple Watch to millions of Aetna customers in the hopes of improving their health by using the Watch’s fitness features. The new heart rate tracking program that Apple launched runs on ResearchKit, which is available to any health or pharma brands to run similar studies.
With the upcoming new hardware, Apple is also readying the official roll-out of iOS 11 on September 19, followed by macOS High Sierra on September 25. We have already analyzed all the new feature in those OS updates and their marketing implications when we wrote about the WWDC event where Apple first unveiled those updates, but as a quick primer, the new macOS will enable content creator to develop VR content on Mac devices.
The new Safari browser will come with a strong anti-ad tracking feature called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” that protects user privacy with a machine learning-powered tracker blocker. It will also come with a new “Autoplay Blocking” feature that prevents all online media from autoplaying. For ways that brands can deal with those new features, please check out our Fast Forward analysis on WWDC.