CUPERTINO, Calif. — For the first time in years, Apple’s iPhones aren’t the star of the show. Apple unveiled a smartwatch called the Apple Watch on Tuesday, a wearable device that marks the company’s first major entry in a new product category since the iPad’s debut in 2010.
The move is significant because of recent questions about whether Apple still has a knack for innovating following the 2011 death of co-founder Steve Jobs.
The device’s introduction upstaged the company’s two new, larger iPhones, which won’t just have bigger screens; they’ll have a new, horizontal viewing mode to take advantage of the larger display.
The iPhone 6 will have a screen measuring 4.7 inches, while the iPhone 6 Plus will be 5.5 inches. In both cases, app developers will be able to design apps that can be viewed differently when the phone is held horizontally.
Apple also introduced a system for using the phone to make credit card payments at retail stores.
Apple is turning to the past as it lays out its future. The company is holding the event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts, the same venue where Jobs unveiled the industry-shifting Mac computer 25 years ago. The Cupertino, Calif., venue is near Apple’s headquarters.
As for the iPhones, which still represent the main source of Apple’s profits, larger models should help the company compete with Android devices.
The audience erupted with cheers as Cook proclaimed that he had “one more thing.” It was how Jobs used to close his keynote addresses.
That one more thing was Apple’s upcoming smartwatch. It’s called the Apple Watch, rather than the iWatch that many people had been speculating.
Consumer electronics companies have yet to demonstrate a compelling need for smartwatches, while bracelets have largely been niche products aimed at tracking fitness activities. Apple’s device looks to change that.
Consider the company’s track record: Music players, smartphones and tablet computers existed long before Apple made its own versions. But they weren’t mainstream or popular until the iPod, iPhone and iPad came along. Under Jobs, Apple made those products easy and fun to use.
Cook says Apple had to invent a new interface for the watch because simply shrinking a phone wouldn’t work.
Much of the interaction would be through the dial on the watch, which Apple calls the digital crown. You use that to zoom in and out of a map, for instance, so you’re not blocking the screen, which would have occurred if you were pinching in and out to zoom.
The new watch will come in a variety of styles and straps, with a choice of two sizes. Watches from competing vendors have been criticized for being too big for smaller arms.