Apple unveils bigger iPhones, Apple Watch

Yeah, I'm having a hard time getting excited about Apple's announcements today. Part of that is all the leaks and rumors, which pretty much stole Tim Cook's thunder. But the main thing is, Apple's new products—two larger iPhones and an iWatch—more or less just catch the company up with the rest of the industry. They do this very stylishly and elegantly, with Apple's usual finesse and attention to detail, but they don't so much blaze a trail as follow an already well-trodden one.

Oh, sure. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus look really nice. Apple has managed to give them bigger screens (4.7" and 5.5", respectively, with 1334x750 and 1920x1080 resolutions) while making the battery life as good as or better than on the iPhone 5S. The new phones are thinner, too, at 6.9 mm and 7.1 mm, down from 7.6 mm for last year's model. And the processor under the hood, the new 64-bit Apple A8, is supposed to have up to 25% higher CPU performance and 50% higher GPU performance.

Then there's the eight-megapixel camera with image stabilization, the faster LTE connectivity, the NFC-powered Apple Pay scheme, and the UI tweaks for the larger screen. Double-tapping the home button brings down the top of the interface to the middle of the display for easy one-handed use, and the iPhone 6 Plus lets you view both the home screen and apps in landscape mode, sort of like a mini-iPad (or, technically, a mini-iPad mini). Legacy apps are supposed to scale up on the larger screens, as well, so they won't be framed by black bars like pre-iOS 6 apps on the iPhone 5.

For $199, the iPhone 6 looks like a fair deal. Same with the iPhone 6 Plus at $299. When they arrive on September 19, I expect they'll both turn out to be nicer than comparable Android devices. Still, Apple is supposed to be the trendsetter here. Coming out with larger-screened phones literally years after everybody else kinda falls short of the company's legacy.

The Apple Watch also looks like a me-too product, though to a much lesser extent. Here, Apple has clearly done a lot of work to make the tiny screen useful for things beyond basic notifications and widgets. The "crown" on the side lets you scroll, zoom, and jump back to the home screen, while the sapphire-covered display can differentiate between taps and presses. Put together, those controls have let Apple pack the device full of apps and customization options. Users can, for instance, create their own watch "face" and change designs by pressing and swiping.

The fitness angle is also intriguing. The Apple Watch can monitor calories burned, heartbeat, workout duration, and distance. It can even track your body's position and remind you to stand up regularly, which is probably helpful for the desk-bound among us. Android Wear watches announced to date lack this kind of functionality, and fitness-focused wearables like the Fitbit Flex tend to have very basic displays with minimal on-device functionality.

At $349, though, the Apple Watch ain't gonna be cheap. Yes, the thing looks better and may well work better than what's out there right now, but $349 is still a lot to ask for a device that requires an iPhone companion—and doesn't do a whole lot more than the phone itself, for the most part. The Apple Watch will be available in two sizes and three editions, so some flavors will no doubt be even pricier.

The last caveat is that the Apple Watch won't be coming out until early 2015. By then, it may have to contend with more polished competition. At the very least, though, today's announcement may succeed in curbing sales of existing wearables this holiday season.

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