There’s no doubt that it’s shaping up to be a strange year for Apple’s product lineup, but this also shouldn’t really come as a surprise as 2020 has been a strange year in a lot of ways due to the ongoing global health pandemic. In fact, the year has been so unusual that it’s really difficult to predict what Apple is going to do with any real certainty.
For example, for the past decade, Apple has had a fall event to unveil its newest iPhone lineup. With only one exception — the iPhone 4S back in 2011 — the event has also always been held in September, and most of the iPhones in question have always gone on sale within two weeks of the event.
This year, however, things are different. Apple has already stated that the new iPhones will be a “few weeks late,” which everybody is naturally assuming means they’ll land in October. Meanwhile, however, there’s been enough evidence that Apple has the new Apple Watch — which has always been unveiled alongside the new iPhones — ready to go pretty much now, along with a new iPad.
So when Apple announced this morning that it would be holding a big event next week, it’s completely natural to assume that it would be taking the opportunity to unveil its entire fall product lineup all at once. However, now it’s appearing that may not actually be the case.
According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who accurately predicted that today’s press release would be for an Apple event (and not for new hardware as others had assumed) next Tuesday’s Apple event may not actually be about the iPhone at all. Instead, it looks like Apple is holding a special event solely to release the Apple Watch Series 6 (and possibly a new iPad).
As odd as this sounds, it actually makes some sense when we stop to think about it. In the past, Apple’s big media events have been just that — big media events. They’ve involved a theatre and a lot of organization for a live on-stage presentation, plus of course the need for attendees to travel to the event from all over the world. This has necessitated Apple cramming as much as it can into a single event each season to avoid putting too much of a burden on its own organizers and its attendees.
However, in a time of COVID-19, we’re now dealing with virtual press events. Apple’s WWDC 2020 keynote was a prime example of this. The event was far from live, and each presenter was almost certainly prerecorded days or weeks in advance, with each in a different setting or on a different stage to present their specific product areas. It was well produced and actually a breath of fresh air from the comparatively more sterile black stage on which Apple has traditionally held its press events.
The very nature of such an event, however, means that there’s no longer anything to preclude Apple from scheduling multiple product unveilings separately. Nobody needs to travel to attend the event — they just need to take an hour or so out of their day to watch it live streamed — and arguably Apple’s preparation for two separate virtual events isn’t going to be all that much more than it would take for a single event, since all of the presentations are recorded separately anyway. At most, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook may need to record extra intro and outro segments, but the work on the core footage remains the same whether Apple unveils the iPhone during a virtual event in September or October.
There’s been much speculation that Apple would wait to hold its iPhone unveiling until October, closer to when the new iPhone models are expected to actually ship (and perhaps only when it can promise an accurate release date for them too), and along with that came speculation that Apple wouldn’t hold back its new Apple Watch Series 6 until October, instead releasing it more quietly via a press release.
However, all of this proceeded from the false assumption that Apple would only hold one major event this fall, since that’s what the company has almost always done; a second Mac or iPad focused event has sometimes been held in late October, but these tend to be the exceptions, rather than the rule, and these are arguably a very different product category.
With a virtual press event much easier to arrange than a physical press event, though, it actually makes much more sense for Apple to hold an actual event to show off its products than it does to just rely on a quiet press release announcement, and as Gurman suggests, this may very well be exactly what Apple is doing.
Firstly, there’s the fact that the tag line on Apple’s press invites for next week is “Time Flies.” Apple usually offers a subtle hint in these lines, and this one clearly seems to point to the Apple Watch.
Then there’s the fact that this year’s Apple Watch announcement could be a bit bigger than in prior years, with reports that a more affordable Apple Watch SE may be in the works.
Although the invite offers far less of a hint at a new iPad, the redesigned 11-inch iPad Air with an edge-to-edge screen could also likely be on the docket for next week, although as we noted earlier, Apple could also easily hold yet another event to unveil that at some other point in the future, especially since it might seem a bit odd to come alongside the Apple Watch. However, several reports have also suggested that Apple does have at least one new iPad ready to go this month.
The idea that next week’s event could focus only on the Apple Watch and iPad also makes sense in light of other reports that have suggested that Apple’s AirTags won’t be unveiled until late October. These could be combined with Apple’s iPhone event, or they could form part of yet another virtual event to be held afterwards.
That said, it’s also very likely that we’ll see September release dates for iOS 14 and watchOS 7, since these would very likely be required to support the new Apple Watch Series 6.
One thing that seems certain now is that in a new era of virtual events, it’s really no longer necessary for Apple to pack in as much as it can into a single event date, and it actually wouldn’t surprise us if Apple chose to split its product releases up into even more virtual events as the rest of 2020 unfolds.