Apple’s Smaller, Cheaper iPhone Is the Best Thing They’ve Done in Years

A tiny iPhone is on the way, in addition to an updated iPad, new Apple Watch accessories, and more.

03.21.16 7:05 PM ET

With the proliferation of leaks and scrutiny, it’s getting much harder for Apple to have big product unveilings without word getting out ahead of time. Take today—tech sites have been bandying around images and specs for the newest additions to the Apple product line for weeks, many of them nailing it. Just as they had been predicting, the tech giant went small, releasing a totally new 4” iPhone, the SE, and a smaller 9.7” iPad Pro.

It had the appearance of an intimate, less rehearsed affair, with CEO Tim Cook missing a beat here and there, his voice wavering at times, as he went through the laundry list of new products and developments.

While the big talking points for the press will be the iPhone SE and the iPad Pro, the most innovative was also perhaps the sleeper hit—Apple’s new Care Kit, an open source system to help developers build apps for iOS devices that will aid in self care, such as recovering from surgery, while also providing valuable information to medical professionals.

In a nod to their ongoing refusal toward the government over hacking one of the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhones, they were quick to note that every health app would only share information when and how the user desired.

Despite the fanfare comparing it to the iPhone 5s, the new iPhone SE takes the majority of its innards from the 6s, which makes it wholly predictable that it would outperform its dated predecessor in every way. The standards such as touch ID, Apple Pay, a 64 Bit A9 processor, and, due to the small size, greatly improved battery life, are all in place.

It takes on the upgraded 12-megapixel camera, and ability to shoot videos in 4K. There’s also the addition oNight Shift, which scales screen color temperatures away from the blue spectrum in the evenings, which may or may not help you get better sleep. Oddly, the SE doesn’t include 3D Touch, likely due to the lack of landscape. And yes, divas, it is available in rose gold.

iPhone SE orders start 3/24, and it ships 3/31, with the 16 GB model going for only $399, or $13.99 a month financed without a contract. It will also be scooting in to replace the 5S as the free phone with the two-year carrier contract. A 64 GB model is just $100 more.

One interesting fact here is that they kept mentioning how may people still loved the 4” phones, especially people who were getting their first iPhones—specifically people in China who were jumping on the Apple bandwagon. China, with a rapidly expanding middle class and hunger for tech, is an important growth market for Apple, and they know it.

Cook and his fellow presenters also spent a lot of time bragging about how many millions of devices they’d sold, especially recently. It got to the point where it seemed over the top, but maybe they’re just hoping that’s where it will send their stock, which was up 15 percent ahead of today’s announcement.

The new iPad Pro is based on the standard / OG 9.7” iPad display size. Again, lots of comparisons were made to the iPad Air 2, but since this is essentially just a scaled down version of a newer, more advanced device, it hardly seemed fair. A “could be cool” development is the addition of Apple’s new True Tone display, which utilizes two four channel ambient light sensors to adjust the screen’s warmth to match new environments, thus replicating “paper white,” which is to say the look of a white piece of paper as it changes from light source to light source.

It also gains the Night Shift ability of the SE, and upgrades to the same camera system, including the 4K video and a front facing 5MP Facetime cam. Also, drumroll! Rose gold. Now you can match with your iPhone SE! There will, of course, be new accessories such as cases.

Hilariously, they’re quick to tout the iPad Pro as a PC replacement, but still don’t offer compatibility with must-have programs for the iPad Pro’s core creative class market such as Adobe’s Creative Suite. So it may replace your old PC, but you still hafta buy a $2000 MacBook Pro to get design work done at the local Starbucks. Still need one? Of course you do. The smaller iPad Pro preorder opens 3/24 and ships 3/31. At least the prices are smaller, too: $599 for a 32 GB Wi-Fi only model, and a new 256 gig version will set you back $899, just $20 more than its big brother with 128 gigs.

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Other updates from Apple include fresh Apple Watch band colors and a new nylon band style and some upgrades to the Apple TV app store (folders for apps! Dictation for everything, even passwords! Live photo support!).

One thing that was very impressive was the opening presentation, showing that Apple has attained 94 percent of their goal of running all operations and facilities worldwide from renewable energy. In an election cycle that has been more about manhood measuring and bluster than discourse on environmental issues, it’s refreshing to see someone as massive as Apple taking a strong position.

They also have a new robot named Liam that disassembles old iPhones into bare reusable or recyclable parts, as part of a new, no-cost-to-consumer recycling program called Apple Renew.

Was this a groundbreaking Apple announcement? Not so much. It was, for the most part, just the incremental upgrades everyone knew they had to make. Even the biggest company in the world has to play catch up sometimes. Now, who has some rumors about the iPhone 7?