Apple Watch

Apple Watch steals show from biggest iPhone ever

CEO Tim Cook leads biggest product rollout since the first iPhone to trumpet new smartphones, a digital payment service and a foray into fashion

Apple Watch

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Apple CEO Tim Cook and several other top executives today pulled the wraps off of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, and showed the company's long-awaited wearable, dubbed the Apple Watch, to a large audience in Cupertino, Calif.

At the same venue where, 30 years ago, co-founder Steve Jobs famously pulled the original 1984 Macintosh personal computer from a tote bag and then later let it speak in a robotic voice, Apple held its largest product rollout since the unveiling of the original iPhone in 2007.

"I've been watching Apple keynotes for a long time. I'm not sure I remember anything quite like this," said Ben Thompson, an independent analyst, in a tweet before the presentation kicked off at 10 a.m. Pacific time. "Hype, audience, was always a big deal among techies, but this is a whole 'nother level."

"Talk about a comprehensive announcement," said Van Baker, an analyst with Gartner, in an interview after the Apple event.

"It's great to be back in the Flint Center," Cook said after he stepped on stage.

But for the millions who were watching the event via Apple's webcast -- the company had pulled out all the stops and, starting yesterday, redirected all visitors to the page that played the broadcast -- the presentation was a mess, with constant interruptions, black screens, failed audio, color bars, repeats of parts already seen, several "Access Denied" error messages and what sounded like a Chinese translator talking in the background for almost a fourth of the webcast.

"So, about Apple and the cloud..." tweeted Thompson, who was watching the webcast from his home in Taiwan.

"Surely it's an embarrassment of epic proportions that the world's mightiest tech company cannot even stream a live event," added Paul Thurrott, a noted blogger who primarily covers Microsoft and Windows, also on Twitter.

For his fourth iPhone introduction since taking the reins from Jobs in 2011, Cook kept to tradition by kicking off the event and then introducing other Apple executives, including head marketer Philip Schiller and Eddy Cue, who leads the Internet software and services group, to do some of the heavy lifting.

"[This is] the biggest advancement in the history of iPhone," Cook crowed, then showed off the two new iPhones before ceding the stage to Schiller.

The iPhone 6 sports a 4.7-in. display with 1334-x-750-pixel resolution, while the iPhone 6 Plus boasts the long-rumored 5.5-in. screen with 1920-x-1080-pixel resolution. Apple dubbed the new displays "Retina Display HD."

Both smartphones are powered by the next-generation A8 SoC (system on a chip) that Schiller bragged is 50% more energy-efficient than last year's A7, with a 25% faster CPU and an 84-fold increase in GPU performance.

iPhone 5 / 5s / 6 / 6plus comparison [side view] Apple

The new iPhone 6 models compared to the iPhone 5S (top).

Apple has added support for both VoLTE, or voice-over-LTE, which Schiller said would make calls clearer, and Wi-Fi calling, which makes it possible for calls begun within range of a Wi-Fi network to seamlessly hand off to a cellular network -- or vice versa -- as a user moves.

"This was a bunch of expected, expectable refinements," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "It was pretty much what you can expect from most any smartphone introduction.... This is a mature technology now. But it was enough to make them attractive and make some noise."

Gottheil said he was looking forward to trying the Wi-Fi calling -- he called it "important to me" -- because cellular signals are weak where he works.

Prices for the iPhone 6 will be the same as last year's iPhone 5S -- $199, $299 and $399 with a two-year contact -- although Apple has doubled the storage in midtier and top-end models to 64GB and 128GB.

The larger iPhone 6 Plus will, as analysts bet yesterday, be priced $100 higher, at $299, $399 and $499 with a carrier commitment.

Off-contract prices for the iPhone 6 will start at $649; the iPhone 6 Plus begins at $759.

Because of the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple will again modify its long-standing practice of retaining previous-generation models, which it has sold at $99 with a contract for the past year's phone (n-1), or for $549 sans commitment. In the case of a two-year-old model (n-2), Apple has asked for zero down when customers sign a two-year contract, or $449 for an unlocked phone.

The iPhone 5S will take the "n-1" spot, while the iPhone 5C will hold down the "n-2" place. Apple has dropped 2011's iPhone 4S from the lineup, contrary to some experts' predictions.

The new iPhones will go on sale Sept. 19, and Apple will start taking orders Friday, Sept. 12. The company's new mobile operating system, iOS 8, will -- as anticipated -- be available for download to existing iOS devices on Sept. 17.

Money, money, money

Cook also outlined his company's first NFC-based digital payment service.

"This is exactly what Apple does best. And so we've created an entirely new payment process, and we called it Apple Pay," said Cook, who touted the service as faster, more secure and more convenient than other options.

Cue, who took over presentation duties, said the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus would both support Apple Pay, but users of older models will not be able to pay by touching their smartphones to specialized terminals at retail locations.

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