Apple’s Far Out Event: Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” Could Have Used The New iPhone 14

Earlier today, Apple conducted its Far Out event, taking off the wrappers of its new iPhone 14 and Apple Watch lineups and a new iteration of its AirPod Pro. As is usually the case with any Apple announcement, it’s difficult to summarize everything that was revealed. Let me highlight the big macro themes of this year’s Apple fall event from a smartphone and smartwatch perspective.

The iPhone 14 gets a mild makeover “Plus” model with a larger screen

With so much attention generally paid to the Pro models (we’ll get to that later), the plain truth is that the new iPhone 14 doesn’t come with a plethora of noteworthy upgrades compared to the existing iPhone 13. Both models come with an A15-series chip and the infamous notch, but the new “Plus” model is equipped with a larger 6.7” display and improved battery life that many users will welcome.

The new iPhone 14 Pro is going to turn heads

This is where the action is. The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models have significant upgrades that will get people’s attention. With these new models, Apple continues to leverage its considerable ability to optimize the user interaction experience that few technology companies can emulate. The new iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models utilize a new design that removes the infamous notch for a pill-shaped cutout that stores the camera and under-display Face ID system. Apple dubs this new “Dynamic Island” feature as alerts will spring out and move around this small piece of screen real estate.

Naturally, the new Pro models include a more powerful A16 chip, more robust battery life and a brighter display. With always-on display functionality, both the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max can continue to show notifications even when the lock screen is in dim mode without consuming too much battery charge.

Apple is using the new iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models to underscore its commitment to the belief that computational photography will ultimately make smartphones the “go-to” devices for best-in-class photography rather than conventional standalone DSLR cameras. The new iPhone Pro and Pro Max models come with a whopping 48-megapixel rear camera with a quad-pixel sensor that captures stunning images (up to 4X the resolution) in extremely low-light conditions. The new Pro camera provides a 2X optical-quality Telephoto to its zoom range, providing more framing flexibility without the need for a dedicated telephoto lens you would need on a DSLR. Video footage can now be shot in 4K at 30 or 24 fps (professional cinematographers prefer the latter), and the depth effect can be added after capture.

For those users using an iPhone 14 Pro or Pro Max to shoot action sequences that would typically require a gimbal to remove camera shakiness, an Action mode is available that generates smooth handheld videos. These new iPhones can also shoot, view, edit and share video content in ProRes or Dolby Vision HDR, the preferred format by professional filmmakers.

What Tom Hanks in “Castaway” would have given for the iPhone 14’s Emergency SOS feature

In what will prove to be a pivotal moment in the history of the smartphone, Apple has added a satellite connectivity feature (due in November) to the iPhone 14 family called Emergency SOS via Satellite. This capability will be a watershed moment in smartphone history as the iPhone can now be used as an enhanced safety device when cellular or Wi-Fi service is unavailable.

Standalone devices with satellite access for emergency tracking and alerts are not new, but existing solutions are bulky and not easy to use. Satellite communications, moreover, are generally limited to small strings of text because of minimal bandwidth. These new iPhone models will come equipped with intuitive software that will show users where to direct their smartphones to connect to a satellite when no other connectivity service options are available. Apple has even taken a further step by implementing a fast text compression algorithm that facilitates shorter transmission times (about 15 seconds if the user has a non-obstructed view of the sky).

New Apple Watches focus on enhanced health monitoring and safety

The new Apple Watch Series 8, available in both GPS and cellular versions like prior models, accentuates the health and safety positioning that the company has been embracing for the past few years. The most compelling change is the addition of a temperature sensor, making the Series 8 the first model since the Series 6 arrived on the scene with a blood oxygen sensor in 2020. This temperature sensor allows the Series 8 to facilitate ovulation tracking. The Apple Health app has been updated to provide backward-looking ovulation estimates using these temperature readings so families can engage in family planning or document this data for conversations that women can have with their healthcare professionals.

On the safety side, the Apple Watch Series 8 is also acquiring a new safety feature called Crash Detection. Available in the iPhone 14 as well, if the Series 8 Watch detects a crash, emergency services, and the wearer’s emergency contacts will be notified if the wearer has been unresponsive for 10 seconds. These features are available only on the Apple Watch Series 8 (as well as the new SE and Ultra models) because of a new accelerometer and gyroscope.

Another standout feature of the Apple Watch Series 8 is a new low-power model that Apple claims will extend battery life up to 36 hours by turning off features like the always-on display and automatic workout detection when the watch detects it is in a “passive” state (e.g., flying).

Though the overall design of the new Apple Watch Series 8 is generally unchanged from a size and overall shape standpoint (which is a good thing since existing bands will be backward-compatible), Apple did introduce a ruggedized “Ultra” model targeted at divers. Not just water resistant but capable of being used in depths of 100 meters, the Ultra model includes actual dive computer functionality useful for SCUBA and underwater scenarios (it complies with EN13319, the international standard for recreational SCUBA dive computers). Be forewarned: this souped-up Apple Watch is supersized from a form factor standpoint with a bigger crown and larger buttons so that it can be more easily used when one’s hands are cold or adorned in thick gloves. In short, Jacques Cousteau would be proud of this Apple Watch.

Some closing thoughts

Apple’s ongoing emphasis on health and safety in today’s new iPhone and Watch announcements is yet should not surprise anyone. Last July, the company released a report detailing a two-pronged strategy in the digital health markets, enticing consumers with robust health and fitness features on the iPhone and Watch, but also working with traditional healthcare partners on promulgating these capabilities. Apple continues to take a deliberate approach by adding sensors to its Watch family that aid in monitoring heart rate, weight and body temperature. The Apple Watch has now morphed into the wearable that Steve Jobs could not have even predicted: a device that can proactively alert people to heart irregularities and detect when a person takes a hard (and possibly life-threatening) fall. Given Apple’s strength in the wearables market, as noted by Parks Associates, the Cupertino-based company will undoubtedly find a receptive audience with the features found in these new Apple Watch models.

Crash Detection (available on the Apple Watch, too) and embedded support for Emergency SOS scenarios via a satellite connection is a game changer for those users who see the iPhone as the ultimate safety device for their families. I suspect this latter capability will cause a wave of upgrades because of Apple’s unique ability to democratize a function that was out of reach for mainstream users unlikely to purchase a standalone satellite messaging device for emergencies.

With inflation continuing to be a real risk as the economy potentially enters a recession, it will be fascinating to see if Apple’s new smartphones and smartwatches can buck non-trivial economic headwinds. Regardless, this much is true: those Lifetime movies featuring plots with characters not being able to call for help because of poor cell coverage will be a thing of the past.

Mark Vena is the CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research based in Silicon Valley. As a technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers many consumer tech topics, including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and business leadership positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and commentary have appeared on Forbes.com and other well-known business news and research sites. His comments about the consumer tech space have repeatedly appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld and other news publications.

SmartTech Research, like all research and tech industry analyst firms, provides or has provided paid services to technology companies. These services include research, analysis, advising, consulting, benchmarking, acquisition or speaking sponsorships. Companies mentioned in this article may have utilized these services.

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Mark Vena

Mark Vena

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CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research…I write about disruptive technology