Rock bands are used to this sort of thing. But their fans have come to spend pocket money on a new album, not a month’s salary on a piece of technology that is substantially the same as the kit they already have. If the crowds are genuine and not just stage-managed for the cameras, it is a quasi-religion no other corporate entity in the world can match.
This year’s clutch of devices, with three iPhone 11 models at the vanguard, will require even more devotion than is usual, because they are arguably already obsolete.
Apple has equipped the new phones with extremely good cameras. The iPhone 11 Pro and Pro Max have not two but three rear lenses, offering telephoto, wide and ultra-wide angles and offering some of the versatility of dedicated photographic equipment. But despite their price tags – the Pro Max starts at £1,149 – they do not support the new generation of 5G cellphone technology, which offers faster speeds and much greater bandwidth than the current 4G standard.
The phone networks are still in the process of rolling out 5G, but it will be universal, at least in built-up areas, long before a new iPhone 11 is out of contract – and the fact that 5G phones from Samsung, Huawei and OnePlus are already out, makes Apple’s proposition one for the adventurous, or evangelical, buyer only.
The company is also on the back foot with the launch of its new streaming service, Apple TV+, in five weeks’ time. Its rivals are the well-established Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime Video, and in order to tempt viewers away – or persuade them to take an extra service – it is undercutting them all with a £4.99 monthly subscription. Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Aniston are among those working on content.
Apple TV is a confusing proposition. It was originally the name of a piece of expensive hardware, a little box that sat under the TV, but in its new incarnation, with the ‘plus’ suffix, it’s an app which is already built into those boxes, as well as iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Apple will also shortly introduce it on some smart TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony, and on Roku streaming sticks – though probably not on Android devices.
It most closely resembles Amazon’s offering, with original and third-party content available within the same app.
Buyers of new Apple devices will get a year’s Apple TV+ for free, and that makes a bargain of the least-noticed addition to this year’s product line-up.
The new base-level iPad, with its a price tag of £350 and a screen half-an-inch bigger than the previous model, is ideal for watching the new service – or indeed Netflix, the free iPlayer or any other stream – without straining your eyes and with complete portability and privacy.
That is more than can be said for the final addition to the range, the fifth-generation Apple Watch, which includes an “always-on” display for the first time. This means you can check the time without having to jolt your wrist to wake the screen.
Wearers of ordinary watches have always been able to do this, of course, which is perhaps why the product has never taken off in the way Apple hoped. The latest watch costs £400 with an aluminium and ceramic finish – so it’s just as well you don’t have to shake it around. You’d only scratch it.