SAN FRANCISCO – Apple unveiled an array of major improvements to its iPhones, iPads and other leading products Wednesday, including a voice-activated television box that the company said would form “a new foundation for TV.”
The updated Apple TV includes some hardware improvements, such as a remote control that allows users to easily navigate through entertainment options simply by speaking to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant. But perhaps the device’s more significant feature is its ability to function as a game console, which could set up the company to enter a new arena in living room entertainment.
Apple said several major gaming software companies are making versions of popular titles for Apple TV. The new device will also come with its own app store, allowing third-party developers to shape how consumers get entertainment and videos on their televisions. Apple also showed how to use the best screen in the house to look at rooms for rent on Airbnb’s Web site or homes for sale on Zillow.
“Our vision for TV is simple and perhaps a little provocative,” said Apple chief executive Tim Cook. “We believe the future of television is apps.”
That was one of several story lines during Apple’s presentation in San Francisco. The electronics giant also introduced a new tablet — a $799 iPad Pro — aimed at business clients, as well as new software on its watch and other mobile devices that Apple said would revolutionize how doctors and patients interact. At one point, the audience of several thousand reporters and Apple employees at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was shown how a pregnant woman could record her newborn’s heartbeat and send the sound in a live stream to her doctor.
Apple also updated its most important product, the iPhone, which accounts for 56 percent of the company’s sales. The new iPhone 6S and its larger cousin, the 6S Plus, have 12-megapixel cameras, sharper screens and a feature called 3D Touch, which brings up different menus depending on how hard a user presses the screen.
Yet it is the hockey puck-size television box that remains the most tantalizing offering from the company. The device so far is unlikely to act as a full-fledged replacement for cable TV, although Apple is rumored to be working on a service that would compete head-on with cable companies.
And its features demonstrated how easy it would be to use Apple TV as the primary gateway for shows and movies. Instead of paying cable companies for a bundle of hundreds of channels, consumers would pay Apple only for shows that they truly want. To sift through the many options, users only need to ask the Apple TV remote, “Show me James Bond films” or “What are good movies for kids?” Movies also can be paused by voice. If a line in a film is missed, asking Siri a question such as “What did she just say?” will automatically rewind the movie and turn on subtitles.
“A lot of Apple’s marketing in the broadest sense of that term over the past decade has been around helping users see what they could do with devices,” said Dan Cryan, a technology industry analyst from IHS, who added he was particularly struck by Apple TV. “It’s about helping people see Apple’s version of the future of computing, which involves multiple forms of devices providing a seamless experience — to do things that were simply not doable beforehand.”
The new Apple TV, which starts at $149, goes on sale in October. Apple said it would continue to sell its older model for $69.
The new iPhones largely followed the expectations of most analysts, although Apple added a feature that makes it easy for consumers to move their personal data from Android devices. The company added a speedier processor to its lineup, faster WiFi and cellular capabilities, and a new rose-gold colored version. Priced at $199 for the iPhone 6S and $299 for the larger iPhone 6S Plus when purchased with a two-year service contract, the smartphones will be available for pre-order on Sept. 12.
Apple also introduced a new iPad Pro, which has a display area roughly twice that of the iPad Air and is largely aimed at businesses. The tablet can be bought with a keyboard and has a beefier processor that can run heavy programs such as Microsoft Office. And, indeed, to tout the device, Apple invited executives from Microsoft, its former rival, to show how the popular office suite would work on the iPad. Also on stage were executives from Adobe, another software company Apple in the past has criticized for lax security.
And in another move that broke with the past, Apple displayed a new stylus for the iPad Pro that it called the Apple Pencil, a product that likely would have been blocked by the company’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, who in 2010 mocked companies that offered styluses to consumers.
The prices for these products — $799 for the iPad Pro, $99 for the Pencil and $169 for the Smart Keyboard — put the total package above some of Apple’s most popular laptops. And analysts said it is likely that the new tablet will serve a niche audience among certain types of businesses such as architects or designers.
Apple also laid out software improvements to the Apple Watch operating system (or iOS for short), though it did not break out sales data for the device, a figure that many Wall Street analysts are anxious to hear. The updates allow more software developers to make apps for the device, and Apple spent considerable time showing off health-care apps that it said would vastly improve how doctors monitor health and communicate to patients.
Ian Fogg, a technology analyst at IHS, said that all of the product announcements build on what Apple has learned through its success with the iPhone.
“The Apple TV app store uses the same iOS developers serving the iPhone. The iPad shares the OS, App Store, user interface and hardware components with the iPhone,” he said. “The Apple ID connects all together and enables multi device experiences.”
Tsukayama reported from San Francisco