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Why Apple’s Sept. 12 iPhone event is its most important in years

New iPhone, new Apple Watch, new Apple TV and another push for HomePod.

Apple Holds Press Event To Introduce New iPhone
Tim Cook and dancer Maddie Ziegler at last year’s iPhone event in San Francisco.
Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Apple, as expected, has scheduled one of its trademark product briefing keynote events for Sept. 12, according to the WSJ.

What’s on the agenda? Almost certainly new iPhones, a new Apple TV box, a new Apple Watch and a longer introduction to HomePod, Apple’s forthcoming home speaker system.

This is Apple’s most important keynote in a few years, since it unveiled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and first previewed the Apple Watch in Sept. 2014.

After a big launch for those devices in 2016, Apple went into a slump for most of last year that it’s only now recovering from. Shrinking sales didn’t really hurt Apple — it has enough cash to outlast an ice age — but it made it look like post-Steve Jobs Apple hasn’t been innovative enough.

So this is Apple’s chance to show it can still make the best stuff, while also driving its sales growth streak.

  • The iPhone needs to catch up with high-end Android rivals on industrial design, mostly in the form of super-thin borders around the screen. And an image inadvertently leaked by Apple suggests it will. While demand could far outstrip supply, if Jony Ive’s design team has done its best, this should help Apple keep its most devoted users from feeling envious of phones like Samsung’s new high-end devices, the Essential phone from Android creator Andy Rubin, etc. That could also relaunch Apple’s growth in China, where Apple is a luxury brand. (For context: The iPhone generates almost two thirds of Apple’s sales, and probably more of its profits.)
  • New pro iPhone + Apple’s ARKit for augmented reality apps — which it unveiled at its WWDC conference in June — could drive some jaw-dropping demos that Android just can’t do on mainstream scale. Apple execs keep telling the world that they’re incredibly bullish about augmented reality, but they still need to show what that technology could actually do for iPhone users.
  • The Apple Watch is quietly a hit now that it’s finding its way as a fitness-tracking tool with notifications. A new version will reportedly come with a built-in wireless modem — so you can (in theory) stream music, make phone calls and order an Uber without a phone nearby. It won’t replace your iPhone yet, but it’s a start.
  • Between Apple Watch and AirPods, Apple is starting to build a compelling “personal cloud” that has all kinds of potential for health, entertainment and productivity uses. It’s a potentially potent combination.
  • HomePod speakers sound good but beating Alexa will require more than audio quality. What is the rest of Apple’s pitch? Will these things be anywhere near as useful as Amazon’s surprise-hit Echo lineup? Or is Apple far enough behind on Siri voice commands that it will have to just talk about music this year, and save the really cool stuff for later?
  • Apple TV has been fine but hasn’t really done anything revolutionary for video consumption or apps in the living room. Apple is supposedly updating its hardware with 4K support. That’s nice for people who have 4K TVs, but it’s not meaningful for most people. And it’s way too early for Apple to have anything to show for its new original content push — you won’t see anything there until next year at the earliest. An Amazon app, teased at WWDC, is due, but that will just bring Apple to parity with competing devices, which have worked with Amazon for years.

Apple did not immediately respond to Recode’s request for comment.

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