Apple iPhone XS unveiled alongside fall-detecting Watch

By Leo Kelion
Technology desk editor

Media caption,
WATCH: Hands on with new iPhone XS and XS Max

Apple has updated its iPhone X handset with three more powerful models, two of which are larger than before.

The iPhone XS Max has a 6.5in (16.5cm) display. The iPhone XS has the same 5.8in-sized component as the original. The iPhone XR's screen is 6.1in but is lower quality.

A new smartwatch was also launched with an added fall-detection function.

There had been concerns that the relatively high £999 entry price of iPhone X would limit its appeal.

But Apple said it had consistently proven more popular than either of the lower-priced iPhone 8 models. Market research firms suggest it also outsold rival companies' flagship devices.

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WATCH: Apple's event in 90 seconds

That helped propel Apple to become the world's first company with a market capitalisation above $1tn (£768bn).

However, China's Huawei still managed to overtake it in terms of overall smartphone market share in the April-to-June quarter, putting Apple into third place.

"Huawei was able to overtake it because Apple is not playing in the mid and low ends of the market," commented Francisco Jeronimo from IDC.

"But Apple is very well positioned in the premium segment, and we don't expect that to change over the next 18 months."

Image source, Apple
Image caption,
The iPhone XS and XS Max go on sale on 21 September, while the XR will follow in October

The XS Max will become the most expensive handset Apple has sold to date, with its price ranging from £1,099 to £1,449 depending on its amount of storage.

The XS will match the original X's £999-£1,349 cost, while the XR will be £749-£899.

Apple has not, however, included a headphone dongle this time round, so owners of wired headphones will need to factor in an additional £9 charge to add one.

Bigger screen

Apple highlighted that the iPhone XS Max's display was significantly larger than the 5.5in display of the old iPhone 8 Plus despite the two handsets being similar in size.

"Even if the screen on the iPhone X last year was larger some people who were on the Plus models missed the feel of a larger device which is exactly what the Max is addressing," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at the consultancy Creative Strategies.

The iPhone XR also has a bigger screen but uses LCD (liquid crystal display) rather than the OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology found in the more expensive models. This will mean black appears less deep and its colours appear to have less contrast.

Image source, Apple
Image caption,
The iPhone XR is offered in a range of colours

In addition, its chassis is made from aluminium rather than steel, which means it is likely to be less damage-resistant. However, unlike the more expensive models it comes in six different colours.

Analysts suggest the wider range may help encourage iPhone owners who did not upgrade last year to do so this generation.

"Retention has become very high for both Android and iOS - switching is largely a thing of the past," suggested analysts at UBS.

"Put simply, the replacement for iPhone is iPhone, the only question is when - and the when is driven in large part by form factor, namely the screen."

The latest phones feature a fresh processor - the A12 Bionic. It is the firm's first to feature seven nanometre transistor technology, which should aid energy efficiency and computation speeds.

Its inclusion means the iPhone XS will last about 30 minutes longer on a battery charge than the X, Apple suggested.

The firm also said that its Face ID system would now work faster than before and it demoed several apps, showing off its augmented reality prowess.

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Huawei recently announced it had developed a rival 7nm mobile chip of its own.

Despite rumours that at least one of the new iPhones would feature three rear cameras - like Huawei's P20 Pro - Apple stuck with two 12 megapixel lenses for the XS and XS Max. The XR only has one rear camera.

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However, Apple did unveil a new feature that will allow users to alter the depth-of-field of their photos after they have been taken - effectively changing the degree to which the background is blurred.

Image source, Apple
Image caption,
iPhone owners will be able to change the depth-of-field of their images after a photo has been taken

The XS and XS Max also introduce support for two mobile contracts - in most countries this will be via a physical Sim card in addition to an electronic eSim, which can be activated via a QR code among other means.

The version sold to Chinese consumers, however, will require two physical Sim cards to achieve this.

Benefits to owners include:

  • being able to sign up to a temporary service while travelling overseas while still being able to accept calls on their normal number
  • having a work and personal account installed on the same phone
  • being able to take advantage of cheap data deals while still retaining the same contact number
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"Apple will face some inevitable criticism that these products offer only small improvements on prior successes," said Ben Wood from the consultancy CCS Insight.

"However, the fact that Apple has sold almost two billion iOS devices to date is testament to the success of the iPhone recipe since 2007."

Health-conscious Watch

Media caption,
WATCH: Hands on with latest Apple Watch

Earlier at its California event, Apple unveiled a new smartwatch with a display that extends further towards its edges than earlier models.

The firm said the Watch Series 4's usable screen was more than 30% larger despite the device itself having similar dimensions to its predecessor.

This allows more information and shortcuts to be shown at once.

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It can also display electrocardiogram heart waveforms for the first time. This works via new sensors in its back and crown to allow owners to check if their heart has an irregular rhythm.

In addition, the timepiece will automatically warn its user if it detects their heart is beating abnormally fast or slow during everyday use.

Image source, Apple
Image caption,
An ECG reading is taken by touching the device's crown, which also benefits from the addition of haptic feedback

Apple said the app that provides these functions had been given "De Novo" clearance by the Food and Drug Administration - meaning that it is recognised as being an entirely new category of product that can legally be marketed in the US as being capable of providing health readings safely and efficiently.

However, the paperwork makes clear it should not be used as a replacement for traditional diagnostic equipment.

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"Getting FDA classification for health features on the new Watch underlines Apple's leadership in wrist-worn tech," commented Mr Wood.

"It's an arduous process that no other consumer wearable company has successfully navigated."

A new fall-detection facility also debuts thanks to the introduction of "next-generation" gyroscope and accelerometer sensors, which Apple said sampled data eight times faster than before.

If the associated software believes the user has suffered a hard fall and remained immobile for a minute or more, it will send the emergency services an alert including the user's location, as well as contacting chosen friends or family if set to do so.

Image source, Apple
Image caption,
The bigger screen allows more information and shortcuts to be shown at once

Apple overtook Xiaomi and Fitbit to become the world's bestselling wearable tech company in the second half of 2017 thanks to strong demand for the last generation of its smartwatch. It has held on to the top spot ever since, according to IDC.

"The reason it performed so well is that many network operators are only willing to focus on smartwatches with their own [built-in cellular] connectivity," said Mr Jeronimo.

"That's why they are shipping about as many watches as the whole Swiss watch-making industry."

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The cellular 40mm version of the Watch Series 4 begins at £499 and the 44mm at £529.

That marks an increase on the 38mm and 42mm Series 3 equivalents, which respectively cost £359 and £429.

Apple also confirmed that the next version of its mobile operating system - iOS 12 - will be released for existing devices on 17 September.

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Apple has never told us how many Apple Watches it has sold since the first device was released in 2015, other than to say it's the top-selling device in its category.

Analysts, though, think sales are in the region of 50 million. Minuscule compared to the iPhone, but this is a device that's clearly on the up.

Image source, Reuters

It began life as a fitness device, but this update will, and this isn't marketing puff, help people stay alive.

Fall detection, and the ability to conduct an ECG to measure heart health, are both major new features that the healthcare industry is tremendously excited about.

I haven't had a chance to try it yet, and one concern for me would be false positives - it thinking I've fallen over when I'm perfectly fine. And, if this is going to be marketed at elderly consumers, Apple's boast of packing the interface with more "complications" will make it, well, more complicated.

But make no mistake. With US regulator approval - the first device of its kind to be given that clearance - insurance companies will be ordering these by the bucketload.

Image source, Apple

The world is aging, and access to health is getting more expensive.

It's not often a Silicon Valley company creates a product with the over-60s firmly in mind.

Apple making a big leap into this market will make the Apple Watch, not the iPhone, the talking point of Apple's year.

IBM Simon: The first mobile phone to offer a touchscreen user-interface - but its battery only lasted an hour.

Siemens S10: The first handset with a colour display - although only red, green, blue and white could be shown.

LG Prada: The handset debuted a capacitive touchscreen - detecting finger taps by changes in the display's electrical field rather than pressure.

iPhone: Apple made use of "multi-touch", detecting several points of contact - allowing pinch-to-zoom and other interactions.

Nokia N85: First phone with an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display, letting it show deeper blacks and better contrast.

Samsung Galaxy Note: Although not the first "phablet", the handset proved there was demand for a 5+ inch display, despite claims it was "comically huge".

LG G Flex: The curved design was derided as being a gimmick, but points the way to the true "bendy" phones of the future.

Sharp Aquos Crystal: The phone's "edgeless" look foreshadowed today's trend to keep bezels to a minimum.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: Samsung's first handset to wrap its screen over one its sides used the extra space for notifications and app shortcuts.

Sony Xperia Z5 Premium: The smartphone premiered a 4K display before it was easy to obtain such ultra-high definition mobile content.

Essential Phone: The start-up beat Apple to featuring a camera notch in its display, which allowed the rest of the screen to extend upwards.

Vivo X21: The Chinese firm beat rivals to offering a fingerprint reader beneath its screen.