Apple launches iPhone 13 with camera, chip and screen upgrades; local prices start from RM3,399 and pre-orders from Oct 1

Apple Inc CEO Tim Cook unveiling the new iPhone 13 during a special event at Apple Park. — Apple Inc/ AFP/Handout

Apple Inc unveiled a new line of iPhones at a wide-ranging product event on Sept 14, looking to entice consumers with improvements to the camera and processor in lieu of major design changes.

The new models – iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max – were introduced at a media event dubbed California Streaming. They look similar to the iPhone 12, but include a smaller display cutout at the top of the screen, faster chips and upgraded camera systems.

Apple is counting on the new phone and a slew of other upgraded devices – including bigger watches and speedier iPads – to fuel growth this holiday season. This year Apple also has the benefit of a 5G upgrade cycle helping spur consumers to get new phones. AT&T Inc and other US carriers unveiled new discounts Tuesday aimed at customers who want to trade up.

The iPhone, the company’s flagship product, generated US$137.8bil (RM573.52bil) for Apple last year, about half of its revenue. It also helps fuel sales of services, accessories and other products, like the Apple Watch.

Apple shares declined as much as 1.8% after the event – a reaction that’s not unusual for the tech giant. Investors often bid up the stock in anticipation of new products and features, and then pull back when they’re unveiled. But a more muted iPhone upgrade – and a vague release date for the Apple Watch, which has suffered production snags – also may have weighed on the shares.

The new iPhone models include the A15 Bionic processor, which Apple says is 50% faster than chips in competing smartphones, and new features to enhance artificial-intelligence tasks. The cameras on the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, meanwhile, capture improved photos in low light and at night and can better handle wide-angle shots, Apple said during the event.

The presentation lacked an update on Apple’s AirPods, which are due for an overhaul. That may come at a future date. The company also didn’t discuss plans to add satellite capability to the iPhone, something that’s expected as soon as next year. The omission hurt shares of GlobalStar Inc, which is seen as Apple’s likely partner on the project. Its stock tumbled as much as 24% Tuesday.

Other companies got sideswiped by the event. After Apple announced an expansion of its Fitness+ service, Peloton Interactive Inc fell as much as 3.3% on concern about competition heating up in online fitness.

But the main focus Tuesday was the iPhone. The company showcased other new camera features on the device, including Cinematic mode, which is essentially Portrait mode, but for video. The feature sharpens subjects in the foreground, but blurs backgrounds. It’s a technique often used in the film industry, and Apple’s presentation included The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow praising the new features.

On the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, Apple is adding a feature called Macro Photography that allows for sharper closeup photos. And there will be an option dubbed Photographic Styles that can enhance colours and tones in photos automatically, using artificial intelligence. The Pro models will be able to take ProRes video, a far higher-quality format.

The iPhone’s screen sizes remain 5.4 inches, 6.1 inches and 6.7 inches, depending on whether a user chooses the mini, standard or Pro Max models. But the displays on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max are 20% brighter and include ProMotion, a dynamic refresh rate system. That allows for higher frame rates, smoother scrolling and improved gaming.

The new models also include custom antennas for 5G, a speedier wireless network that telecom companies are still building out. Apple said it expects over 200 carriers and 60 countries and regions to support 5G by the end of the year. Apple first added 5G to the iPhone last year with the iPhone 12.

The phones have beefier batteries as well, with 1.5 hours of extra charge coming to the iPhone 13 mini and 2.5 hours of more battery life coming to the standard iPhone 13.

The iPhone 13 mini will cost US$699 (from RM3,399 in Malaysia), with the iPhone 13 priced at US$799 (from RM3,899 in Malaysia). Apple also is doubling the entry-level storage capacity to 128 gigabytes and adding a new 512-gigabyte configuration. The iPhone 13 Pro starts at US$999 (from RM4,899), while the Pro Max costs US$1,099 (from RM5,299) and up. There’s also a new 1-terabyte option for the Pro models.

Customers in Malaysia can start ordering the new iPhones on Oct 1, and they’re due to be available locally starting Oct 8.

The iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max come in a new Sierra Blue color, which is a lighter shade than last year’s Pacific Blue.

The new phones will run iOS 15, an update launching this month with improvements to home screen widgets, new features in the Maps and Messages apps, updated privacy controls, and enhancements to the web browser, FaceTime, Wallet app and health tracking.

Bloomberg News previously reported on the new iPhone’s design, faster processor, updated screens and new camera features. – Bloomberg

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