Sooner than perhaps any of us might have anticipated, Apple news is upon us. On Tuesday, the company will unveil its first products of the fall as it ramps up for the holiday quarter to come.
A September event is, obviously, nothing new for Apple, which has been holding them regularly for the last decade. In years past, that’s meant rolling out new models of iPhones, but expectations have been set by Apple (during its last quarterly conference call) and what seem like some strategic leaks that the iPhones will be arriving later than usual this year. To wit: don’t look for them this week.
So, with Apple’s new smartphones out of the running, what exactly is in store for this event? Let’s run down the most likely contenders.
Apple’s invitation was light on details, as always, but it’s hard to look at its “Time Flies” tagline and think that this won’t mean showing off new models of the Apple Watch. Presumably that means a Series 6, but rumors have also circulated around an additional lower cost model to replace the aging Series 3.
Of course, the bigger question is what new features might find their way into a Series 6 Apple Watch. Having last year rolled out the always-on screen for which users had been clamoring since the wearable’s introduction, Apple seems to have checked off many of the features that customers are looking for. And while a new chip and enhanced performance seem like no-brainers for a Series 6, those seem like table stakes for the device, rather than something new to draw in upgraders and new buyers alike.
Current speculation has largely focused around the addition of new health sensors, including potentially an oximeter for measuring blood oxygen levels. However, such measurements might be possible using the same sensors Apple already leverages for monitoring heartrate, so it’s unclear whether this feature would be exclusive to a Series 6 watch. (Such a model might include an upgraded sensor to provide more precise readings, even if the feature is available to all models.) Other health sensors have been hoped for—such as glucose monitoring—but they seem to be farther off.
One thing that you can probably lay odds on: it seems likely that Apple will take this opportunity to refresh its collection watchbands. What’s autumn without some fall colors?
While the iPad Pro received a minor update this past spring, the midrange iPad Air has remained unchanged since March 2019. Eighteen months is about the refresh cycle for iPads these days, so a revamped Air seems like a pretty good bet for this week’s event.
Whispers around the iPad Air update have largely focused on a redesigned exterior, with the same flat sides and edge-to-edge screen as the newer iPad Pro models. Given that such a design is said to be coming to this year’s iPhones as well, it makes sense that Apple may be attempting to standardize its design language for mobile products. Both 10.8-inch and 11-inch screen sizes have been bandied about, and it’s unclear which direction Apple might be leaning.
Other features may also make their way over from the more expensive iPad Pro line, such as a USB-C connection and support for the Magic Keyboard. Though those might remove differentiators from the Pro lineup, it opens up the possibility for Apple to sell even more Magic Keyboards, as well as continuing to standardize the tablets on USB-C, perhaps continuing the slow eradication of Lightning ports. But the Air probably won’t gain every feature of the iPad Pro: for one, it will probably not feature the LIDAR sensor added in this year’s models.
The biggest question, to my mind, is what processor the Air might sport. Rumors suggest that an upgraded model might use the same A14 processor that’s expected to debut in this year’s iPhone lineup, but that would mean it’s running a significantly newer chip than the most recent iPad Pros, which use the A12Z chip. But the current 2019 iPad Air models already use an A12 chip, which means that any processor they might use would arguably be as fast as—if not faster than—the new iPad Pros, potentially leaving owners of those devices nonplussed.
There also remains the question of the iPad mini, last updated at the same time as the Air. It could very well see a similar update to stay in step with the Air, but given that Apple has often let the smaller tablet lie unchanged for years at a time—which it seems to do with many products with the “mini” moniker—it’s hardly a sure thing.
The rest is yet to come
With new hardware naturally comes new software. The release of a new Apple Watch will certainly require watchOS 7, which in turn will need iOS 14. Likewise, new iPads are unlikely to ship without iPadOS 14. That gibes with a recent Bloomberg report that iOS 14 would be released in mid-September, following the usual schedule for Apple’s mobile operating system updates.
And given our brave new world where Apple events are not subject to the typical restrictions of time and scheduling, that might be all we have to look forward to this time around. That said, there are plenty of other things that Apple could talk about at this event, assuming they’re ready to go—everything from over-the-head AirPods to Apple silicon-powered Macs.
With the iPhone updates still waiting in the wings, this clearly isn’t the last Apple event we’ll see this fall—and with the sheer number of rumored Apple products, it may not even be the second-to-last. It seems like there may be a packed few months to come.
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Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.