Apple unveils watch, bigger-screen iPhones in product blitz

Adam Satariano and Tim Higgins (c) 2014, Bloomberg News.

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple, which moved the personal computer from a desk to the pocket through the iPhone, now wants to put a gadget on people’s wrists.

The company Tuesday unveiled Apple Watch, a line of watches with a rectangular face and rounded edges, with wristbands that can be swapped out. It is Apple’s first new product category since the Cupertino, California-based company introduced the iPad in 2010.

Apple debuted Apple Watch at an event near its headquarters in Cupertino, along with Apple Pay, which is designed to make iPhones into a digital wallet. The company also showed the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which come in screen sizes of 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches

- FWBP Digital Partners -

The announcements are Apple’s most wide-ranging set of product introductions under Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who succeeded co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011. For the past three years, the company had made mostly incremental changes to existing products, raising questions of whether it could build another hit product. With Tuesday’s lineup, the company is responding by leaping in to new areas of the fiercely competitive consumer-technology industry.

“We have some amazing products to show you,” Cook said as he began the presentation. “We think at the end of the day that you will agree that this too is a very key day for Apple.”

Apple is already coming into this year’s product unveiling in a different position than in 2013. Last September, the company’s stock was slumping and it was losing market share to Samsung Electronics Co. and low-cost manufacturers such as Xiaomi Corp. Questions abounded about whether Apple could keep innovating without Jobs.

Now Apple’s stock is flirting with a record high, with shares rising 3.4 percent to $101.70 as of 2:15 p.m. in New York. The stock has typically fallen at other events where it debuted new products. On Sept. 10, 2013, the day Apple introduced the iPhone 5s and 5c, the stock declined 2.3 percent.

- Advertisement -

Apple Watch, which was met with a standing ovation by the crowd at the event in Cupertino, has newly designed software that works with a dial on its side. The touch-screen device comes in two sizes, as well as in classic, sports and gold edition models. It can be used to detect pulse rate and has other health-tracking applications, as well as including apps for maps, photos, music and messages, the company said. An iPhone is required for Apple Watch to work.

“Apple Watch is the most personal device we have ever created,” Cook said at the event. “We set out to create the best watch in the world.”

Cook unveiled the watch after earlier introducing Apple Pay, the mobile payments system. Apple is partnering with credit-card companies including American Express Co., MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. for the service, which will be offered in the U.S. starting next month.

In introducing a mobile-payments service, Apple squarely took aim at existing payments services.

- Advertisement -

“Our vision is to replace this and we’re going to start by focusing on payments,” Cook said as a picture of an old wallet was flashed on screen.

The company also posted an image of a leather billfold on its website with a message saying, “Wallet, your days are numbered.”

Apple Pay will work with services including mobile car- booking application Uber Technologies Inc., restaurant reservation system OpenTable and daily deals company Groupon Inc., the company said.

The new iPhones, meanwhile, will have rounded edges and a thinner frame than earlier models, as well as higher-resolution displays. The iPhone 6 costs $199 to $399 with a two-year contract, while the 6 Plus is priced at $299 to $499. The devices — which will come in silver, gold and space gray — will be available for pre-order on Sept. 12 and ship Sept. 19, the company said.

The new iPhones come with a custom A8 64-bit processor, which Apple said is 25 percent faster than the chips in previous models. The phones have a new motion processor for fitness and health-related applications. Apple said more than 200 carriers support the new handsets.

The iPhone remains the most important piece of its business. The handset accounted for about half of Apple’s $171 billion in revenue last year, and with sales of the iPad slowing down, the company needs to keep the iPhone a blockbuster in order to maintain growth.

Apple is betting the success of the iPhone will aid the other products introduced Tuesday. While the new handsets are widely anticipated to be huge hits, the watch, payments system and health software are no sure thing.

Companies such as Samsung have also introduced so-called smart watches that have smartphone-like functions for checking messages and getting notifications. None have gained widespread traction and the products have seemed more like technology in search of a problem rather than solving a real need. Similarly, technology that turns a smartphone in a wallet also hasn’t become popular, even with efforts by Google Inc. and EBay Inc. Fitness-tracking devices like Fitbit also have remained a niche.

According to Parks Associates, 2.8 million so-called smart watches were sold last year, along with another 13.6 million fitness tracking devices. By comparison, 1 billion smartphones were shipped last year, according to IDC.

In a nod to how important Tuesday’s product lineup is to Apple, the company held the event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts near its headquarters in Cupertino. It was the same venue where it introduced the Macintosh 30 years ago and where Jobs revealed the iMac in 1998, taking Apple from near bankruptcy to the world’s most valuable company.

The event was filled with the usual theater of Apple occasions, with celebrities and moguls in attendance. Media from around the world also packed the more than 2,000-capacity theater. News outlets from fashion and lifestyle publications sat alongside business and technology press.

The new products have been anticipated for months and company executives have stoked expectations in the past year. In May, Eddy Cue, head of iTunes, said products to be introduced later this year are the the best pipeline Apple has had in 25 years. In July, Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri echoed that by saying he was “expecting a very busy fall.” Cook chimed in and said the company has an “incredible pipeline” that “we can’t wait to show you.”