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By Innovation Only? The Apple event barely showed us anything new

Apple Tim Cook
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The hype for Apple events always spirals out of control and looks a little silly in the cold light of reality. If I’ve learned anything from covering Apple events over the last few years it’s that they rarely deliver on expectations. There are always a few rumored devices or features that don’t make the final cut. This year it was Apple’s supposed tracking tags, the lack of which will have Tile breathing a sigh of relief. Rumors also insisted that we’d get reverse wireless charging, sleep tracking on the Apple Watch, and Apple Pencil support for the iPhone. A 16-inch MacBook Pro was never likely, at least not at this event.

It’s not a crushing disappointment that none of these things materialized, but there wasn’t much to get excited about in what Apple did deliver.

Improvements to stay competitive

Leading with Apple Arcade and Apple TV+, two subscription services that cost $5 per month each, was a slow start. But surely CEO Tim Cook was just warming us up for some stunning new hardware? As it turned out, we got a slightly better entry-level iPad, a slightly better Apple Watch, and three slightly better iPhones. The headline was camera updates, which are quite simply necessary if Apple wants to keep up with the field.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

There are a plethora of Android smartphones with triple-camera setups, and while we’ll have to wait to see if Apple’s implementation is better, the feature itself isn’t innovative. The same can be said for the new Night mode. The video camera upgrades are noteworthy, and it likely remains the fact that the iPhone is the best camera to buy if you frequently shoot a lot of videos.

But the crop of updates felt like the bare minimum. Not that there’s anything wrong with just slightly improving great devices, especially when you execute as well as Apple does, but you should manage expectations.

By Innovation Only

For an event that Apple hyped with the name “By Innovation Only” this line-up fell woefully short. The name changes for the iPhone hinted at exciting possibilities. The flagship iPhones had Pro added to their titles, but they may as well be called the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Max because they are minor updates over last year’s iPhone XS and XS Max.

Apple had a real opportunity here to take inspiration from the iPad Pro. I don’t care about Apple Pencil support in a phone, but an iPhone 11  with a USB-C port and 120Hz refresh rate for the screen would have been noteworthy, and it would certainly help qualify the Pro name. You can get the OnePlus 7 Pro for $679 and enjoy a bezel-less screen with a 90Hz refresh rate that makes everything feel fluid.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Storage also seems like an important thing for a “Pro” device, but the base models of all the new iPhones have just 64GB when 128GB should be the minimum, as it is with most of the competition. How about throwing in some cloud storage then? Nope, sorry you’ll have to pay extra if you want more than the paltry 5GB of iCloud space you get for free. I’m glad Apple has added a proper fast charger in the box for the iPhone 11 Pro models, but it should always have been there, and it should be added to the iPhone 11 as well.

The iPhone 11 is clearly the evolution of the iPhone XR, and perhaps the message here is that the affordable iPhone is the iPhone for everyone now. But the only really exciting thing about it is the $699 price. I can’t help wondering if the name will confuse some people, misleading them into thinking that the iPhone 11 is the flagship. If anyone “upgrades” from an iPhone XS or even an iPhone X to the iPhone 11 they’re going to get a nasty surprise.

While the iPhone 11 Pro is undoubtedly a good phone that lots of people will buy and enjoy, and the iPhone 11 is aggressively priced by Apple standards, it’s a stretch to suggest there’s anything truly innovative here.

The same rings true for the Apple Watch Series 5. Yes, it’s the best smartwatch you can buy, but the changes from the Series 4 to the new model are small. An always-on display does improve the watch’s usability, but always-on displays have been available on smartwatches for ages.

One more thing

Not every event, or even every annual update, can be a winner. But if ever an Apple event could have used a “one more thing” reveal, it was this one. Though the phrase really belongs to a fictional homicide detective, Columbo, unleashed to apply psychological pressure to the killer in every episode, it was used effectively by Steve Jobs. It was his way of saying, often at the end of a long list of impressive reveals, that Apple had more to show. It suggested that there was so much innovation at Apple it could barely be contained.

It’s a stretch to suggest there’s anything truly innovative here.

The last time we heard “one more thing” at an Apple event was from Tim Cook just before the iPhone X reveal in 2017. He has only used the phrase twice before that, for the Apple Watch in 2014 and Apple Music in 2015.

There are lots of good reasons for him not to use that phrase anymore — it harks back to Apple’s past, it’s strongly associated with Jobs, and Apple rarely unveils anything that hasn’t been widely leaked before the event nowadays. But it’s not just that. While Jobs uttered that phrase before some big reveals from color iMacs and the iPod Shuffle to the MacBook Pro and the Apple TV, people have forgotten that he also said it before many lesser announcements. Now, it’s expected to precede something truly awe-inspiring.

For Cook to rekindle that excitement with the famous phrase it would have to be something big, like the Apple Watch, and there was simply nothing worthy at this year’s event. We can only hope there is at the next one.

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Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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