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iPhone XS and iPhone XR event: Everything important Apple just announced

Meet the iPhone XS, XS Max and XR, and the Apple Watch Series 4.

Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park, iPhone X event, Sept. 12, 2017
From last year’s iPhone X event.
Recode / Dan Frommer

Apple unveiled new iPhones and Apple Watches today at an event at its Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. Recode attended the event at the Steve Jobs Theater; what follows is a stream of the most important announcements and some fast analysis, roughly in chronological order.

The preamble

After a funny “Mission: Impossible”-style opening video, Apple CEO Tim Cook opened the event with a milestone: Apple is about to ship its two billionth iOS device, dating back to the first iPhone in 2007. Today, it’s going to talk about two of its major device lines, starting with the Apple Watch. (The other, then, is the iPhone — suggesting no new iPads or Macs today.) Cook says Apple Watch is the “No. 1” watch in the world — presumably measured by revenue.

Apple Watch Series 4

The new Apple Watch, Series 4, has a new screen that’s more than 30 percent larger, but with a thinner, lower-volume case and rounder corners. Apps will go further to the edges, and there’s a new watch face with up to eight complications — meaning much more information and widgets. The digital crown has been redesigned and now includes haptic feedback, and a sensor that will help with heart tracking (see below). The back, now made from sapphire and ceramic, should help with cellular reception.

New motion sensors — the accelerometer and gyroscope — will help Apple Watch detect when someone falls. If it detects you’ve fallen, it will prompt with an alert, which can help you make an emergency call — and if you don’t respond, it will message your emergency contacts.

In addition to communication and fitness features, Apple Watch has become “an intelligent guardian for your health,” Apple COO Jeff Williams said.

The new Apple Watch has three new heart features: A notification if your heart rate gets too low, screening that will notify you if it detects an irregular rhythm and an electrocardiogram (ECG) measurement using a new electrical heart sensor in the Series 4 watch — which can generate a PDF that you can share with your doctor. Williams says this is the first ECG product available over-the-counter to consumers — and that Apple has received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which he says is the first of its kind.

Apple says the battery life of the new Watch is the same as last year’s — suggesting there’s no new always-on display mode, which would likely require more battery capacity.

The new Watch will ship in many markets on Sept. 21, starting at $399 with GPS and $499 with cellular, including a new gold stainless steel finish. Apple will continue its partnerships with Nike and Hermes, and all previous watch bands will fit the new Series 4 watches. Last year’s Series 3 will go down to $279 for GPS models. WatchOS 5, the new operating system for Apple Watch models, will launch on Sept. 17.

iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max

This year’s new, faster high-end iPhone is called the iPhone XS, pronounced “ten ess.” It’s made of “surgical grade” stainless steel, including an option for a gold finish. The back is a new, more durable glass, the most durable ever on a smartphone, according to Apple SVP Phil Schiller. And it’s more waterproof now — even when dropped in beer. FaceID, Apple’s facial-recognition system, is now faster.

The iPhone XS camera suite has been improved, including a faster selfie camera and a new version of “portrait mode” that will let you modify a photo’s depth of field — in practical terms, the blurriness of the background — after the fact.

There’s also a new, larger “Max” version with a 6.5-inch display — about the same size device as an iPhone 8 Plus, but with a larger, edge-to-edge display.

One technical thing that seems to matter for the future: Apple’s new chip will help Core ML, its machine-learning system, run nine times faster, but using one-tenth the energy. This is already useful today for apps that use machine learning — a lot of apps! — but it seems like this sort of progress could be particularly useful for future iOS devices, such as augmented reality glasses.

IPhone XS battery life: Up to 30 minutes longer than the iPhone X. And iPhone XS Max will get you another extra hour.

This is the first iPhone that will support dual SIMs — meaning you can use a second SIM for local roaming when you travel, or if you use two different carriers, or if you want a second “work” number. (A special version for China will support two hardware SIM cards.)

IPhone XS starts at $999 and the iPhone XS Max starts at $1,099 and will ship Sept. 21; iOS 12, which powers all these phones, will launch Sept. 17.

iPhone XR

Apple is also launching a new, aluminum phone in six colors, called the iPhone XR, which is designed to be less expensive — or, in Apple’s terminology, to reach more people.

It looks like an iPhone X-type phone, and includes FaceID, but has a larger, 6.1-inch, “liquid retina” LCD display (instead of the iPhone X and XS’s OLED screen). As rumored, it’s larger than an iPhone 8 or X, but smaller than an 8 Plus or XS Max. It includes the iPhone XS’s new chip, but lacks its dual-camera system.

Battery life is 90 minutes more than the iPhone 8 Plus — pretty good. It also supports dual-SIM.

IPhone XR starts at $749 and will ship Oct. 26. Apple will keep selling the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, 8 and 8 Plus, starting at $449.

Missing in action?

No word (yet?) on AirPods or its long-delayed wireless charging pad. In fact, Apple didn’t really talk about wireless charging at all.

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