Predicting Apple’s Upcoming Events

I wrote some preliminary predictions when I linked to Matt Birchler’s piece about the upcoming iPhone lineup. But, shortly after publishing my thoughts I created a note in Vesper to jot down a revised — and complete — version of what I expect we’ll see from Apple over the next 7-8 months. There’s been a few rumors since last week which forced me to rethink the iPhone announcement, but I don’t expect my thoughts to change again unless something drastic comes about through the rumor mill.

It’s pretty clear that Apple is going to be holding an iPhone event the week of September 6. Once the press begins receiving invitations on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, we’ll know the date for sure. I’m still holding out hope for September 8 — of course, I want to be right — but the ninth is looking like the most likely date.

Here’s what I expect we’ll see from Apple at their September iPhone event:

  • WatchOS 2
  • New Watch Bands
  • iOS 9
  • iPhone 6c
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • New Apple TV

I think the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus will sport updated internals with Force Touch-capable displays being the landmark feature. I expect they’ll both be available September 18 with storage options starting at 32GB. As for the iPhone 6c, it will become both the free and $99 iPhone option going forward for 16GB and 32GB respectively. It will have iPhone 6-like internals, a 4-inch display, and an “unapologetically plastic” casing. But I don’t expect it will ship until October or November.

My iPhone predictions are likely the boldest of the bunch, but I think Apple wants to cut ties with all previous models. Apple will continue selling the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 5s, and 5c until stock is depleted, but going forward I believe Apple wants all of their lower-priced models to have plastic bodies and 4-inch displays. At least for the foreseeable future.

Apple has already announced that iOS 9 and watchOS 2 will be coming this fall and I believe golden master builds of both will be available for developers hours after the event with a public release as late as September 14. Apple will also announce new watch band colors that will be available to order that same day, shipping at the end of the week.

The long rumored new Apple TV set-top-box will be announced with a claimed ship date similar to the iPhone 5c’s October or November timeframe. The Apple TV will gain a refreshed user interface and hardware design, an updated remote control, iOS 9-dependent features like universal search, a developer SDK, and App Store. Apple will most likely bring a couple of hand-picked developers on stage to show what they’ve been able to build for the Apple TV in a very short period of time.

The remaining questions I have regarding the Apple TV is on pricing and game controllers. I would love to see this new Apple TV priced at $99. But if Apple is going to build it on rather beefy internals, I just don’t see how that could be. I suppose Apple could differentiate pricing based on storage, but I don’t know if Apple really wants to do that. The target market — the masses — isn’t likely to know how those storage capacities will impact the Apple TV’s usability and most will just buy the cheapest model available. And that won’t make for the best overall user experience.

As for game controllers, I’m not sure if Apple will release a stand-alone controller themselves, expect third-parties to build controllers for them, or if the new remote could be turned on its side to be used as a controller with hardware direction buttons on the left and action buttons on the right. Of the three, I think a mixture of the second and third are the most likely. That would prevent most customers from needing to acquire a controller with more hardcore fans having the option to buy something more ergonomic.

Looking Further Forward

At first, I thought Apple would skip their typical October event and announce their new iPad lineup at the iPhone event, but that would make for a jam-packed event with far too much to cover in just two hours. And after the less-than-stellar Apple Music announcement, I’d guess Apple will be a bit more touchy about long-winded events than they normally are.

Here’s my broad-strokes expectations from an October iPad event:

  • OS X El Capitan
  • 21.5-inch iMac with Retina Display
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPad Air 3
  • iPad Pro

Again, these are some super-extra-early predictions. If I get any of this right, I’ll be just as surprised as you. However, I can’t imagine I’m too far off the mark.

El Capitan will likely get a GM build around the time of the event with a public release coming before the end of October. A new 21.5-inch iMac has been cropping up in rumors lately and it feels like a natural fit at the October event. I could also see some stealth updates to the Mac mini and Mac Pro which would quietly appear on Apple’s website — both are due for an update and releasing them before the holiday season would certainly contribute to a strong quarter for Mac sales.

I don’t expect much more than internal hardware upgrades for the iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 3, but the iPad Pro will obviously be an entirely new product. And I think we’ll see a few iPad Pro-specific features in iOS 9.1 that take better advantage of the increased screen real estate. I’m not sure what they could be, but wouldn’t it be neat if you could run two apps simultaneously that faced users on opposite sides of the device? A true multi-user device sounds like a novel idea, but imagine if schools could purchase half the number of iPads for classrooms.

As for an event to be held this spring — March or April:

  • New Apple Watch
  • Television streaming service
  • MacBook refresh

I won’t elaborate too much on the announcements at a potential spring event, but I do think the new Apple Watch will come in additional colors — such as gold or yellow — and obviously the streaming TV service will be entirely dependent on Apple’s ability to acquire the necessary rights. I expect Apple would be able to cut deals by then, but there’s always the possibility that one or more of the networks will decide that it’s not in their best interest to play ball.

Eager Anticipation

Of all the announcements Apple is likely to make over the next several months, I’m by far the most excited for the iPhone 6s and Apple TV. That’s partly because I plan on buying both of them as soon as I’m able to, but also because my current iPhone 5s is really starting to show its age. I can barely go a full day on a single charge at this point due to the wear and tear on the battery — my phone spends much of the day in airplane mode trying to preserve as much battery life as possible.

I also see the Apple TV as a huge opportunity for Apple. The Apple Watch will never be as important to the company as the iPhone because there’s only so many people that are interested in wearing a watch, but nearly everyone watches television. And if Apple can find a way to build a compelling device that’s powerful and easy to use, they could have a real hit on their hands.

Update 9/3/15: Matt Hauger asked me whether I thought there’d be a stylus for the iPad Pro and what I think Force Touch will be used for in the iPhone 6s. To reiterate what I replied with on Twitter, I do think Apple will release a stylus for the iPad Pro. There’s certain applications for which a stylus makes perfect sense — drawing, handwriting, annotating documents, etc. — and if Apple thinks they can make a better one than any other on the market, they’re going to do it. My guess is it’ll cost $69 and be sold separately.

Regarding Force Touch on the iPhone, I’m a little less clear on what I think Apple’s going to use it for. Assuming Force Touch begets pressure sensitivity, there’s plenty of applications which would benefit from such a feature — drawing applications, games, and possible accessibility use cases. But as for Force Touch specifically, if I were to compare it to traditional desktop computers, a long press is like a right-click whereas a Force Touch will be like a keyboard shortcut — a way to perform an action quickly without the need for an additional menu.

As an aside, Apple’s October event would be a great opportunity to introduce the new wireless keyboard and mouse that popped up in FCC filings a few weeks ago. They could be launched and demoed alongside the 21.5-inch iMac with Retina display.