By Emily Bary
Apple looks to refocus on the iPhone after App Store legal blow
Fresh off a legal sting in its battle over App Store payment practices, Apple Inc. will be looking to refocus attention back on its technology with its upcoming iPhone reveal.
The smartphone giant is expected to unveil its iPhone 13 lineup -- as well as new smartwatches, headphones and possibly more -- during its annual fall event Tuesday. The announcements will come just days after a federal judge ruled that Apple (AAPL) could no longer prohibit app developers from offering alternate payment options beyond Apple's own in-app payment service, in a signal of the increasing backlash against the dominance of big technology companies.
But the average iPhone user is likely unconcerned with the machinations of in-app payments, and they will be Apple's target audience as the company rolls out its new lineup. The phones are expected to feature improvements to camera and video functions but have a similar design to last year's models.
The rumored upgrades mark perhaps more incremental improvements to the iPhone, unlike a year ago, when Apple brought 5G connectivity to its handsets for the first time and changed the phone's design. The iPhone 12 lineup has been selling well, and analysts seem generally upbeat about potential demand for the iPhone 13 family as well, despite what could be a lack of blockbuster feature upgrades.
"Given an improved economy, expanded 5G coverage, and low 5G smartphone ownership, we expect the iPhone 13 family to receive an enthusiastic reception," wrote Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. analyst Brian White.
Here's what to watch for at Tuesday's event, which kicks off virtually at 1 p.m. ET.
The iPhone has been the centerpiece of Apple's fall events and should be again this year.
The company is expected to roll out four new phones, just as it did last year, featuring a similar design. One possible change from a visual standpoint is a smaller notch on the top of the phones, but otherwise the devices shouldn't look too different from their predecessors. MacRumors predicts that some rumored changes, like the disappearance of the Lightning charging port or the return of a fingerprint sensor, won't actually manifest in the upcoming models.
Apple isn't likely to change the sizes of its phones this year, according to MacRumors, which is looking for the company to roll out a 5.4-inch iPhone mini, a 6.1-inch iPhone, a 6.1-inch iPhone Pro and a 6.7-inch iPhone Pro Max.
The biggest improvements could come to the camera. Apple is reportedly planning to introduce a video version of its Portrait Mode setting, according to Bloomberg News, which would let users capture videos with blurred backgrounds. The company is also looking to add a ProRes recording capability that would allow for high-resolution footage as well as new photo-diting functions that would let people make pictures warmer or cooler, without affecting the white tones, per the report.
There's also been talk of potential satellite capabilities in the next iPhones. Shares of satellite-communications company Globalstar Inc. surged after a report indicated that Apple was including low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite communications so that users would be able to place calls or send messages without 4G or 5G cellular connections, but a second report suggested that Apple may limit this feature to emergency communications.
Apple's landing page for the Sept. 14 event contained an Easter egg for iPhone users, allowing them to click on the Apple logo and view it in augmented reality on top of their surroundings. That suggests to Global X research analyst Pedro Palandrani that the company could be planning a significant AR announcement.
The "easy answer" is that Apple would introduce a new AR feature for the iPhone, but there's "not much to do there at this point," Palandrani told MarketWatch. "I wouldn't be surprised if we get to see some Apple glasses," he continued, referring to the oft-discussed possibility that Apple would develop a form of AR glasses. Facebook Inc. (FB) recently unveiled its own pair of smart glasses.
Whether Apple would be able to sell the hypothetical smart glasses immediately remains a question for Palandrani, given supply constraints impacting the broader consumer-electronics industry.
"Maybe they don't have the ability at this time to mass manufacture that type of device," he said, but in the near term, it's "certainly a possibility."
Evercore ISI analyst Amit Daryanani wrote that he sees "a LONG SHOT that we finally get an AR/VR product announcement."
Apple could be planning a design change to its next Apple Watch, as rumors indicate the company is looking to slightly increase its screen sizes and make the casing style more similar to what's seen on the iPhone 12 line.
The Apple Watch 7 could come in 41-millimeter and 45-millimeter screen sizes, according to Bloomberg News, up from 40 millimeters and 44 millimeters currently. Bloomberg isn't anticipating any meaningful health upgrades, noting that a body-temperature scanner may not show up until next year's models come out.
The devices are expected to have a flat-edged look, according to MacRumors, similar to what the iPhone 12 line sports. There were indications that Apple faced production issues with the Apple Watch 7, mainly due to the new design, but MacRumors cited a recent report from noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who said that Apple has resolved its issues and still looks to be on track with its planned launch.
Apple could also be set to launch a refreshed version of its entry-level AirPods headphones. Beyond the base model, Apple offers a Pro version of the earbuds and a set of high-quality, over-the-ear headphones, and Apple may borrow some features from those as it jazzes up its regular AirPods.
To start, the company is expected to change up the design a bit, putting a shorter stem on the new AirPods, similar to what's seen on the AirPods Pro. A CNet roundup notes that Apple is rumored to be planning for the introduction of spatial-audio technology to the basic AirPods.
Apple may intend to leave out noise-cancelling functions on this upcoming AirPods model, per a report from Bloomberg News that came out late last year.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 14, 2021 08:36 ET (12:36 GMT)
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