Analysts respond to arrival of the Apple iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Plus, iPhone 15 Pro, iPhone 15 Pro Max, Apple Watch Series 9, Watch Ultra 2
Apple has launched its new smartphone and wearable portfolio for the year ahead after its ‘Wonderlust’ event on Tuesday evening.
The event delivered most of what had been expected on the smartphone side, with a number of notable, and more modest upgrades. The most notable was the axing of the Lightning port and adoption of USB-C.
On the wearable side there was no major changes to the Apple Watch or the Apple Watch Ultra, other than the addition of the double tap gesture control.
The lack of major new developments for the iPhone 15 (other than USB-C) was noted by Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight.
“The lack of headline-grabbing updates will disappoint some, but isn’t a surprise given the maturity of the iPhone and Watch,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight
“It reflects just how refined the iPhone and Watch devices are and how tough it has become to deliver truly disruptive updates every year,” said Wood.
“The move to a USB-C connector is a success story for EU regulators over big tech despite efforts by Apple to resist it in 2020,” said Wood. “It will irk some people but ultimately, it’s a victory for common sense becoming the standard connector for all consumer electronics devices.”
Apple has in the past warned that the EU’s drive for a universal charger would hurt innovation and create a mountain of electronics waste.
“Getting rid of all leather products is an interesting move by Apple,” said Wood. “While consumers will still be able to purchase third-party leather accessories the wider fashion industry may also come under pressure to reduce its reliance on leather as a result of Apple’s decision.”
Ben Wood then offered his insight of Apple’s high-end smartphone models, namely the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max.
“Where Apple goes, others tend to follow so it will be interesting to see whether we see other phone makers moving to titanium casings for their flagship phones in 2024,” said Wood. “It certainly looks nice on the new iPhone 15 Pro and being lighter and stronger is an advantage.
“It’s good to see 5x optical zoom on the iPhone Pro Max,” Wood added. “This definitely narrows the gap on Samsung’s Galaxy S Ultra devices which have had 10x optical zoom for several years. The camera is one of the most important features for consumers on smartphones so this is a positive step.
“Replacing the ringer switch with an Action Button is a small but useful tweak to the iPhone design,” Wood observed. “I think I’ll configure it for quick access to the camera but sure there will be lots of interesting use cases for various apps.
“The influence of the Vision Pro headset can be seen in a couple of areas,” said Wood. “One is the support of spatial videos on the iPhone 15 Pro and the double-tap gesture on Apple Watch echoes a key user interaction element on the Vision Pro. Looks like an interesting update to the Watch.”
“The mention of artificial intelligence was conspicuous by its absence,” Wood concluded. “Apple clearly prefers to weave the capability into the background of its devices and services rather than trumpeting artificial intelligence as a feature in its own right.”
Meanwhile his colleague, Leo Gebbie, principal analyst, Connected Devices at CCS Insight, also opened up about the updates to the Apple Watch.
“Apple’s latest wearables – the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 – are almost indistinguishable from their predecessors,” said Gebbie. “Apple has always been consistent in its design language for Watch and these latest updates keep to the script more tightly than ever.”
“The main improvement for the Watch Series 9 and Watch Ultra 2 is Apple’s new S9 chip offering faster performance and support for on-device Siri, which can now read and interact with health data,” said Gebbie. “This is an example of how Apple is quietly adding AI into its devices and experiences, rather than explicitly labelling the technology.”
“Neither of Apple’s new Watches has new health or well-being sensors, despite this being a key ingredient in wearables upgrades for almost a decade,” said Gebbie. “We’ve highlighted the plateauing of innovation in wearable health-tracking for several years, as further sensors offer diminishing returns for both device makers and uses, and Apple’s latest Watches back up that theory.”
“One eye-catching update to Watch is the new double-tap gesture on the Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 devices,” Gebbie added. “Users pinch their thumb and forefinger together to carry out commands such as pausing and playing music or accepting a call. This relies on tracking minute changes in blood flow and muscular movements and shows the potential for continued innovation even with long-established sensors.”
“The most important Watch announcement was that specific variants will be branded and marketed as carbon-neutral,” said Gebbie. “Apple has interrogated its supply chain for Watch production including materials, energy use and transport, and has eliminated almost all carbon emissions with only a small amount addressed through offsetting. As part of this, it will no longer offer leather straps for its watches or any leather accessories for other devices, instead prioritising sustainable materials.”
“We believe Apple chose Watch as a beachhead for carbon neutrality because the small size of these products makes their manufacturing process less intensive,” said Gebbie. “However, lessons learned will be applied elsewhere and we think Apple is striving to offer carbon-neutral options for all its products by the end of the decade.”
“It will be fascinating to see how customers and the industry responds to Apple’s carbon-neutral branding,” said Gebbie. “Our research consistently shows that consumers care about the green agenda and want tech companies to play their part here, but it’s not yet clear whether putting environmental credentials on the box will directly influence buying decisions.”
“The decision to eliminate leather could also create some tension with partners such as Hermes, which will continue to offer ‘official’ leather straps for the Watch at the same time Apple is moving away from the material,” Gebbie concluded.
Meanwhile Paolo Pescatore, analyst and founder of PP Foresight, noted that Tuesday’s ‘Wonderlust’ event underlined the ongoing importance of the iPhone to Apple.
He noted that while USB-C charging will grab the headlines, the new long-awaited camera (periscope) zoom feature with the titanium case propels the Pro Max to a whole new level.
Pescatore also points out that the iPhone remains a core and lucrative product for the company, representing a gateway to the Apple universe of accessories, services and other high margin businesses.
Lastly Pescatore cautioned that no one should underestimate the strength and emotional attachment users have with Apple.
“The new line-up will be a crowd pleaser among the millions who own older devices that can’t download the latest iOS and will be itching to upgrade,” said Pescatore.
“There is an iPhone for everyone catering for different habits supported by numerous trade-in and recycling programs. Significant enhancements on the camera optical zoom will help Apple compete head on with rivals like Samsung, thus enticing users to switch to iPhone.”
“Apple is adopting a proven strategy of differentiating its portfolio with varying features,” said Pescatore. “As users are now keeping devices for longer, more will be enticed to sign up to pro versions thus boosting revenues.”
“Convincing users to fork out for these new devices will not be easy during a cost-of-living crisis,” said Pescatore. “Some will see the new features as incremental, collectively they enhance the overall experience, which is priceless among Apple’s core user base.
Pescatore then offered his insight into Apple’s focus on sustainability with the latest products.
“Apple is taking sustainability very seriously with more airtime dedicate to this topic during this years keynote,” said Pescatore.
“It’s a huge statement of intent with first carbon neutral product,” said Pescatore. “Apple is leading the race which will raise much needed consumer awareness of sustainability. For now this is not a primary driver of purchasing behaviour, but it will be in time.”
And Pescatore also offered his take on Apple long awaited switch to USB-C.
“The move to USB-C benefits consumers and the environment,” said Pescatore. “It’s more convenient and in the long run will undoubtedly result in less e-waste.”
“While there may be some initial backlash for Apple, similar to the introduction of the lightning port back in 2012, I expect this to be short-lived,” said Pescatore. “Everyone is more conscious of the environment and the impact of increased waste.”
“While it forced Apple to incorporate a re-design of the new iPhones, it’s a necessary move the company needed to make ahead of the EU deadline,” Pescatore said. “Ultimately, the future is wireless. Eventually ports will disappear entirely to further drive down electronic waste and improve device robustness.”
And Pescatore assessed the arrival of the new iPhone 15 lineup within the current cost of living crunch.
“Telcos will be stacking their stock with the new line-up of devices as they provide a much-needed boost for new sales, which in-turn drives engagement and network usage,” said Pescatore.
“This Wonderlust event comes at a delicate and sensitive time,” said Pescatore. “While numerous challenges remain, the company under Cook’s stewardship has done a masterful job of navigating the storms. The company is very well placed to deal with the ongoing geo-political tensions.”
“Arguably, its biggest hurdle will be overcoming any supply chain disruption,” said Pescatore. Underlined by a separate deal that will see Qualcomm continuing to supply Apple with 5G modems for smartphones through to 2026. A major boost to Qualcomm and a sign that Apple is still working on its own 5G chipset and perhaps anticipating any future delays. Designing modems and RF systems for smartphones is no easy feat and should not be underestimated as underlined by this deal.”
“This uncertainty, along with concerns for a slowdown in smartphone sales is causing unrest, making it harder than ever to predict the future,” Pescatore concluded.
Meanwhile Ardit Ballhysa, technology analyst at data and analytics firm GlobalData, also noted Apple’s move away from stainless steel and to a titanium enclosure, the increased repairability of the new handsets, as well as Apple’s expansion of eSIM.
“Apple made big changes to the iPhone 15 series this year,” said Ballhysa. “For the first time in over 10 years, iPhone will get an updated charging port, replacing the lighting port with the universally used USB-C.”
“Another key change pertains to the Pro model’s composition is that iPhones will feature a titanium enclosure, marking a move away from stainless steel first introduced on the iPhone X in 2017,” said Ballhysa.
“While it is true that no other smartphone available on the market offers a titanium enclosure, making Apple the only smartphone OEM to do so, it is not true that it is the first to do so,” said Ballhysa. “Both the Essential Phone and Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha offered titanium in their enclosures, but both were also discontinued, hence Apple being the only smartphone OEM to currently offer smartphones with titanium enclosures.”
“The advantages offered by titanium will certainly please consumers, but it will also improve Apple’s sustainability standing as more durability means less broken iPhones, which means less resources and parts needed to repair or replace,” said Ballhysa.
“Furthermore, the company claimed that its Pro models are more repairable owing to the back slab being easier to replace,” said Ballhysa. “This is very positive for the right to repair movement, which Apple was notorious for lobbying against until the very recent and drastic change of heart in which Apple expressed support for California legislation SB 244 – a right to repair bill that would make available the means for consumers to repair their devices on fair and reasonable terms.”
“Apple has not publicly explained the reasoning behind its decision, but the best guess is that the company did not want to continue being seen to fight the right to repair movement as it gained traction and support throughout several states across the US for fear of discrediting its public image,” said Ballhysa.
“Surprisingly, though, there was no mention of a key highlight in last year’s keynote during which the iPhone 14 series was unveiled,” said Ballhysa. “eSIM, while largely underutilised worldwide despite Apple claiming that over 190 carriers support it globally (as of July 2023), was made the default and only option for US consumers with the release of the iPhone 14 series.”
“The same is the case for the iPhone 15 series,” said Ballhysa. “Perhaps an eSIM only iPhone fairs unfavourably via the perspective of consumers outside the US, or maybe carriers globally are just not ready for eSIM smartphones just yet. Maybe next year we’ll learn more.”
Forrester VP and principal analyst Thomas Husson meanwhile picked up on Apple’s increasing focus on sustainability going forward.
“Beyond expected improved performance and incremental innovation embedded into Apple’s new products, it is great to see Apple communicate on sustainability as a new competitive advantage – especially with Apple’s first carbon neutral products,” said Husson.
“With respectively 17 percent and 24 percent of US and European consumers among active green consumers according to Forrester’s 2023 Green Segmentation, a growing proportion of Apple clients will be willing to pay a premium for greener Apple products,” said Husson.
“While Apple is making progress towards its 2030 sustainability goals, the company is not yet fully embracing the circular economy,” Husson noted. “A bolder and more disruptive offering would consist into launching a ‘device-as-a-service’ subscription mixing hardware, content, services, repair and recycling options.”