Apple on Thursday sent out media invitations to a March 21 event at its Cupertino, California, headquarters, with the cryptic teaser, “Let us loop you in.”
Speculation is rife that the company will unveil a new 4-inch iPhone called the “iPhone SE.” A 9.7-inch iPad Air also is expected, as well as some new Apple Watch bands and minor hardware and software updates.
The event initially was set for March 15 but then pushed back to March 21, according to press reports.
That puts the event one day before a court hearing in Apple’s legal battle with the FBI, which is seeking to compel the company to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Whether the timing has some tactical purpose is unclear.
“I’m not sure how new products would leverage Apple’s fight against the FBI,” said Mike Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan. “It might just exacerbate the issue.”
On the other hand, it could give CEO Tim Cook “a bully pulpit to pitch Apple’s position,” Jude told TechNewsWorld. “He could point out that innovation thrives where there is no government interference, and maybe broadly hint that no improvements or new devices will be forthcoming in the near future if the FBI prevails.”
Waiting in the Wings
The buzz for the March 21 announcement seems relatively low key, with no major surprises anticipated.
“It looks to be more evolutionary annual updates to certain parts of the product portfolio, perhaps a smaller-screen, lower-cost iPhone as well as a refresh on the 9.7-inch iPad family,” said Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI Research.
“They haven’t really touched the iPad line for some time,” he told TechNewsWorld.
The new, smaller iPhone that’s expected likely will have specs similar to the iPhone 6s.
Meanwhile, the new 9.7-inch iPad is expected to have updated internals and some features imported from the iPad Pro, such as the Smart Connector, and possibly support for Apple Pencil.
Hardware and software updates may include iOS 9.3, WatchOS 2.2, OS X 10.11.4 and tvOS 9.2.
“It’s early in the year for Apple to be announcing new products, so it’s probable that [the revelations] will be on the order of improvements on existing lines and probably nothing earth-shaking,” Jude remarked.
Apple also might introduce improvements to address battery-related issues Jude said. “Also, it’s an open secret that a new version of the Apple Watch is due, and so it won’t be out of the question to see — especially one that has a camera to enable FaceTime sessions.”
iPhone SE Guessing
The 4-inch iPhone SE may have curved glass, like the iPhone 6 and 6s.
It’s expected to have the same 8-MP rear camera and 1.2 MP front camera as the iPhone 6, and to support panoramas and autofocus for videos.
The iPhone SE may include the Live Photos feature in the iPhone 6s, but it probably will not have the 3D Touch pressure-sensitive screen the 6s offers.
NFC for Apple Pay may be included.
The Legal Wrangling
If Apple scheduled the press event with an eye to influencing the outcome of its legal battle with the FBI over encryption, that would be “a foolish but not unheard-of” move, suggested Phil Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software.
“The courts are notoriously slow and well known for delaying decisions arbitrarily, even capriciously,” he told TechNewsWorld.
The FBI “probably doesn’t care whether Apple issues new products,” Frost’s Jude remarked. “The administration might, but it isn’t clear that they want to get involved with the FBI’s efforts at this point.”
Apple “may have really interesting new products and services to share, but it may be rushing things to game the litigation process,” he added.
Apple’s issue with unlocking appears to be aligned with a broad campaign in the industry, Lieberman observed. There’s an effort under way “to motivate the legislature to create modern laws regarding law enforcement access rights and a definition of how to balance privacy vs. law enforcement needs.”