The big Apple (AAPL) media event on Wednesday was stuffed with more product announcements than usual, but the primary reason for getting so many journalists in one place at the same time was to showcase the new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
AAPL profits are driven by the iPhone, and coming off a third quarter that saw iPhone revenue up 59% year-over-year, Apple — and its investors — would like very much to see that trend continue.
Even as Chinese competitors like Lenovo (LNVGY) and Xiaomi step up their game in producing premium devices on the cheap, smartphone growth is slowing in the critical Chinese market. And with Samsung (SSNLF) pushing the boundaries premium aesthetics with its curved glass design, the pressure is on Apple to deliver.
The new iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus introduced on Wednesday remain virtually indistinguishable from last year’s models. They are not identical, of course.
Apple’s new iPhones are a fraction of an inch thinner than their predecessors, and come with a new Rose Gold option (another sign of Chinese consumer preferences influencing iPhone design).
But the enhancements that makes this duo the smartphones to beat for the next year are pretty much all under the hood.
iPhone 6s: Key Specs
What sets the new generation of iPhones apart are their specifications, which are as follows:
- 4.7-inch Retina display
- 3D Touch support
- A9 CPU with embedded M9 motion coprocessor
- 16, 64 or 128GB storage
- 12-megapixel iSight camera with 4K video support
- 2nd generation Touch ID sensor
- 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi with MIMO
- LTE advanced wireless
- Bluetooth 4.2, NFC
- Battery life rated at up to 14 hours
- Body constructed of 7000 Series aluminum (in Silver, Space Gray, Gold or Rose Gold)
- Priced starting at $199 on contract
As with last year’s models, the iPhone 6s Plus has several technical advantages over the iPhone 6s, with its iSight camera having optical image stabilization, a higher pixel density display (at 401 ppi compared to the iPhone 6s at 326 ppi) and longer battery life. The bigger iPhone is also priced at a premium, starting at $299 on contract.
iPhone 6s: 3D Touch, Better Camera and Performance Boosts
While the new iPhone models are basically identical in appearance to last year’s, under the hood is a different story.
The iPhone 6s is powered by the new A9 CPU, which Apple claims is up to 70% faster than the A8, with 90% better graphics performance. The M8 motion coprocessor is now integrated in the CPU, meaning it’s always on and always tracking activity. And while it hasn’t been confirmed, it’s strongly suspected that Apple doubled the RAM from 1GB to 2GB.
Apple’s 3D Touch technology is the mobile equivalent to the Force Touch trackpad Apple incorporated in its latest MacBooks. 3D Touch recognizes three levels of pressure, and adds new “Peek” and “Pop” actions based on that pressure. As Apple showed off in a gaming demo, 3D Touch also adds a new level of control to mobile game play.
Huawei beat Apple to the punch by releasing an Android smartphone with Force Touch last week, but with the volume of devices Apple sells and iOS 9’s support for the feature, expect 3D Touch to be one of the strongest selling points for the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.
Apple refuses to participate in the megapixel race, continually turning out some of the best smartphone cameras despite having a mere 8-megapixel image sensor. The iPhone 6s, however, has been upgraded to a 12-megapixel iSight camera, and the additional pixels means this is the first iPhone to be able to shoot 4K video. Selfie cameras are also improved, and the iPhone 6s introduces a new Live Photos feature that automatically captures a short video snippet by recording a photo before and after the main shot. Tap the photo in the Camera Roll and it briefly animates using that video footage.
Apple says practically everything else in terms of the new iPhone hardware is improved. The second-generation Touch ID sensor is twice as fast and more accurate than the original. MIMO Wi-Fi and LTE Advanced doubles wireless speed, whether on cellular or Wi-Fi networks, and also supports 23 bands (the most of any smartphone), making the iPhone 6s a great choice for roaming travelers.
And while the body looks unchanged, it’s made of stronger, 7000 Series aluminum to ensure there is no repeat of last year’s “Bendgate.”
AAPL Moves Into iPhone Leasing
Besides the new iPhone models, AAPL also announced it is offering a new way to pay for them. Buyers can opt to pay Apple a monthly fee in exchange for a new iPhone every year. That works out to $32.45 for an iPhone 6s ($37.45 for the iPhone 6s Plus), which they turn in after one year for the iPhone 7. That price doesn’t include their wireless service plan, but it’s an interesting new way to drive buyers to Apple Stores and support consumers who don’t want to be tied to a carrier.
The iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus will be available for pre-order starting Sept. 12, with in-store sales starting on Sept 25.
Last year, Apple managed a record four million pre-orders in the first 24 hours. The new iPhones look compelling, but the first test of whether AAPL is going to see another iPhone surge is whether iPhone 6s pre-orders surpass that milestone — and we should have that information in just a few days.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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