Webcams and battery life: What mattered at Apple's latest event

Small hardware upgrades, big signals about the future.

The Apple iPhone 13

The iPhone 13 will surely be Apple's best-selling new device, but it's not the most interesting one.

Photo: Apple

Apple launched some new things! The iPhone 13, the iPhone 13 Pro, the Apple Watch Series 7, the new iPad, some new accessories, meditation videos! Not exactly Apple's most earth-shattering event, but lots of upgrades nonetheless.

Apple events are a useful indicator of what the company cares about. And this time, there were a few recurring themes:

  • Privacy. Even as Apple devices continue to get more sensors, more AI and more potentially creepy insight into your life, Apple's pressing hard on the idea that it is the company that cares about your privacy. Keeping users' trust is crucial to Apple, and as we've seen with things like the recent CSAM kerfuffle, it's only going to get harder to do.
  • The environment. Apple always includes a slide and pays lip service to how recyclable and sustainable its products are, but the issue was unusually front and center this time. (Though if you read the fine print, Apple's still got some work to do.)
  • Webcams. Obviously cameras are important to Apple and got a lot of stage time during the event, but the front-facing models have gotten a lot more attention over the last year or so. One of the biggest selling points of the new iPad, for instance? A webcam meant specifically for virtual school and meetings.
  • Fitness+. Other than the iPhones, nothing seemed to get more screen time than Fitness+. Apple clearly sees the service as the perfect selling point for its watch, and is investing in it in a big way. Jay Blahnik, Apple's head of fitness, is a name you're going to want to know.
  • Battery life. Study after study shows that the No. 1 thing people want from their devices is longer battery life, and Apple noted a number of times that it's increasing battery life.

This year's hardware upgrades were relatively minor, all things considered. (The only device that was meaningfully changed was the iPad Mini, which I'm personally very excited about.) Apple seemed to know it, too: It led with an update on Apple TV+ and spent most of its time talking about use cases and services rather than its traditional deep-dives on new technology.

  • Apple has been slowly, subtly downplaying the importance of hardware for the last few years, as the incremental upgrades on iPads and iPhones have shrunk. But that's just a sign of the times. When there is a new upgrade to shout about — the M1 chips on the newest Macs, or whenever those Apple Glasses come out — Apple's still happy to spout specs.

In general, Apple came off as the same ultra-confident, peak-of-its-powers company it always does in these infomercial events. There was no mention of the internal unrest that is gripping the company, or the ongoing battle with Epic and other developers, or the overall antitrust action against the company. It's easy to forget when watching these events that it's anything other than a beloved hardware company with a really impressive marketing team. Which is exactly the point.

Keep an eye on Apple's ship dates, too. iPhone 13 preorders start Friday and ship next week, but it'll be interesting to see how far into the future those ship dates slip. As for the Watch, Apple said only that it's coming "later this fall." Apple is unmatched in its logistical capabilities, but the chip shortage comes for everyone.

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