‘Let Us Loop You In’
That’s what the tagline of the upcoming Apple iPhone event, scheduled on March 21, is. The line is probably a nod to the new set of bands for Apple Watch that would be launched at the event. Press invites for the event were handed out over a week ago, and here is a roundup of the top announcements that software and iOS app developers are expecting Tim Cook and his team to make on March 21:
- iOS 9.3 stable release – As many as 7 betas of iOS 9.3 have been released by Apple (the first one was back in January), and the final version of the platform should be announced at the event. Arguably, the most interesting new feature of iOS 9.3 is ‘Night Shift’ – which changes the display of iPhones to warmer textures at night, to ease visibility and minimize chances of eye strain. The chance to share single devices (e.g., iPads) is another handy feature of the new platform (particularly for students). The wifi-based calling support for Verizon is worth a mention too.
- iPhone SE – Apple is all set to announce two different iPhone models for the first time in 2016. The regular September event will witness the arrival of iPhone 7, powered by iOS 10. But that’s for later…on Monday, the company will be releasing the 4” iPhone SE. The ‘smaller’ phone will look a lot like iPhone 5S (there is an outside chance that Apple might pull the plug on the latter model sometime soon), and will come with several high-end features of iPhone 6/6S. Apple Pay will be usable on iPhone SE, and the phone will have a 12 MP camera, with the highly-applauded ‘Live Photos’ option. ‘Hey Siri’ will be bolstered by the A9/M9 processor chips of the new phone. According to experts from the field of mobile and app development, iPhone SE would: a) motivate more people to upgrade their older iPhones, and b) help Apple penetrate newer markets (like India) better. With a price tag of $375-S450, it should be a ‘budget iPhone’ to look forward to.
- Some update on iPhone data encryption – Apple Inc. is heading for a legal hearing with the federal government on March 22 over the issue of overriding the data encryption of an iPhone – in the backdrop of the San Bernardino shooter. It is extremely likely that Tim Cook would take the opportunity a day earlier to explain why Apple has not given in to the demands of the FBI. The company feels that any tweak with its encryption methods might put all iPhone-users at risk, and this point should be discussed at length during the event.
- More Apple Watch bands – Apple Watch 2 won’t be making an appearance on March 21, but Apple will keep trying to make its smartwatch even more popular. A smart space black Milanese loop will feature among the new set of Watch bands showcased at the event. The bands would, in all probability, brought to market as standalone accessories. Apple Watch Sport will also get a new line of Spring bands. Those looking for Watch bands with new styles won’t be disappointed either – with the Cupertino company set to release special NATO-style Watch straps. Rumours are also rife that Apple might announce more colour options in its Hermes line of bands. Third-party Watch band designers may be in for some good news too.
- OS X 10.11.4 – After a fast start, the adoption rate of OS X El Capitan (10.11) has slowed considerably. 4 months after official release, about 44% of all Mac-owners had upgraded to the new operating system – a figure that is nearly 7 percentage points behind OS X Yosemite and is even lower than OS X Mavericks (after the same time following release). Apple will be looking to set this right, with the launch of the OS X 10.11.4 upgrade at the March 21 event. It will support seamless data import and export with Evernote and, more interesting, bring in the Live Photos feature inside the Messages app. The Notes app will also be improved.
- New, smaller iPad Pro – After a fair bit of speculation, it is pretty much certain now that the new iPad model that Apple will launch at the event will be an iPad Pro (and not an iPad Air). The new iPad Pro will have a 9.7” screen, and will run on the cutting-edge A9X processor. Reports from iPad app development forums online suggest that Apple will be going for a slightly thicker body for the model, to accommodate the quad speakers. The 12 MP camera will be, in fact, an improvement over the 8 MP option available on the 12.9” iPad Pro. The new Apple tablets will support 4K videos as well. Thanks to the Smart Connector, both the Apple Pencil stylus and the Smart Keyboard will be usable with the new iPad. iPad sales have been in freefall for several quarters now (even the launch of iPad Pro could not arrest the slide), and it remains to be seen whether the new form factor manages to revive the flagging interests in Apple tablets.
- tvOS 9.2 – There is a host of new features bundled in tvOS 9.2, which would also see the light of day on March 21. In order to make the new Apple TV 4 (released in 2015) more user-friendly, tvOS 9.2 will offer complete iCloud Photo Library support, while Siri on Apple TV will also be given a heads up. Mobile app developers have also predicted a comeback of the Conference Mode room. To ensure easier search queries as well as entering usernames and passwords, tvOS 9.2 will also be having a Voice Dictation Input option. Bluetooth keyboards will be supported on the platform too.
- New Mac systems – Perhaps the least likely of the announcements on this list, but Apple might very well spring a surprise here. Those who make Mac OS apps and iOS apps have been talking about the chances of new upgrades of the 12” MacBook as well as the MacBook Pro systems being displayed at the March 21 event. In the MacBook Air lineup, the company is mulling over the prudence of replacing the 11” model with a new 15” model. If not at this event, the new Mac systems should definitely be announced at the Apple WWDC in June.
- watchOS 2.2 – Together with iOS 9.3, this is the joint-most important new software announcement that is likely to happen at the upcoming event. Yelp-powered local search options are among the several new enhancements of the platform, which also comes with many new Action screens and a significantly improved Maps app (for easier navigation of users). Those who make apps for Apple Watch have, however, singled out the feature that allows a single iPhone to be paired with several smartwatches as the most impressive in watchOS 2.2.
- An update for iTunes – Once again, not very likely, but is certainly possible to happen. Apple app developers have been reporting for some time now that an iTunes update is in the works – which focuses on bug fixes and smoother performance (instead of bringing in a lot of new features). With the Mac OS and iOS all getting refreshes, releasing the iTunes update would certainly make sense. You will have to wait till fall for an update to Apple Music, however.
There is not likely to be any mention about Apple Car – which won’t to be ready before 2019. Apple March events have made a splash before too – with the launch of iPad 3 (2012) and Apple Watch (2015). This year’s Spring event, however, promises to be the biggest of them all. It will be interesting to note how many of the above announcements are actually made on March 21.
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