Typically forward-looking Apple is making a bid to extend its product line by taking a cue from its past.
The company unveiled the iPhone SE Monday, a poorly kept secret executives described as "the most powerful 4-inch phone ever." The phone starts at $399, or $17 a month without a service contract. Orders start March 24 and the phone will become available March 31.
The iPhone SE features the same processing power of the flagship 6S, which is double that of the iPhone 5S. It also packs the same graphics capability of the 6S, and includes a 12 megapixel iSight camera.
Apple took a similar retro approach for its newest iPad Pro, shrinking the business-focused tablet to a 9.7-inch diagonal size that echoes that of the standard iPad. The differences include a display that is superior to that of the standard iPad, with increased contrast ratio and a 40 percent less-reflective screen than an iPad Air 2. It is also 25 percent brighter. The device will go head to head with Microsoft's Surface Pro.
Prices for the new iPad Pro are $599 (32 GB) and $749 for 128 GB device. There's is also a $899 version with a massive 256 GB capacity.
Both the new iPhone and iPad have an improved ability to sense ambient light and reduce screen glare accordingly. Researchers have determined that looking at bright screens late at night can impede deep sleep.
In other product news, Apple announced Siri integration for Apple TV.
Apple seems to have learned a lesson from its last event, which came under fire for being held in a huge arena in San Francisco and featured updates to products that underwhelmed many critics. Monday's event in a small auditorium on its campus was a more subdued event for around 300 reporters that seemed to better fit the incremental news.
But the occasion was not without a nod to Apple's ongoing battle with the FBI over encryption issues and iPhone access. Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off the town hall by tackling the issue head on.
"We need to decide how much power government should have over our data and privacy," Cook said. "We did not expect to be in this position, at odds with our own government. But have the responsibility to product your data and your privacy. We owe it to our customers and owe it to our country. We will not shrink from this responsibility."
Cook's message was delivered after a short video introduction that listed a stream of Apple products that have been released since the company was founded. Its 40th anniversary is April 1.
Laughter greeted a moment when the word "Newton" appeared on the screen, and then was quickly scribbled over. Newton was an unsuccessful portable digital assistant created during a period that co-founder Steve Jobs was exiled from Apple.
Cook announced that 1 billion Apple devices are now in circulation globally. While Tuesday's big hearing in the FBI case looms - Apple does not want to provide the agency with code that can break into the iPhone of a San Bernardino killer, citing customer privacy concerns - Monday's event was focused on the company's core competency.
Apple's environmental issues lead Lisa Jackson took the stage to talk about the company's commitment to producing its tech gadgets in an eco-conscious way ("We are 100 percent renewable energy in 23 countries," Jackson said).
Then followed a presentation about Research Kit, which leverages the iPhone to help doctors broaden patient research. Apple also announced Care Kit, which will help post-operative patients keep better track of their progress after leaving the hospital.
Cook closed the uncharacteristically short presentation - one hour as compared to the typical two - by noting that "this will be the last product even here," adding that both the iPod and App Store were unveiled in the small theater.
Then a drawing of the company's in-progress headquarters flashed on the screen, a bold and massive circle with an open atrium. "In 2017, we look forward to welcoming you all there," he said. That might imply that next fall's predicted event for an iPhone 7 could happen in San Francisco, while future Apple product unveilings will be held at the new flagship.
Fittingly, as the press filed out of the room, Tom Petty's voice rung out over the speakers. "And I won't back down," sang Petty, a proxy for Cook in his showdown with the government. That show is up next.
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