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Apple unveils the iPhone Xs: Will the $2000 smartphone become the norm?

Apple today unveiled its largest and most sophisticated phones to date but the new generation of the best-selling smartphone will come at a premium with the flagship iPhone Xs starting at $1,899.

Three new iPhone models will go on sale in the next month advancing the design and technical aspects of the iPhone 8 and the top-line iPhone X which Apple released last year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the device that kickstarted the smartphone revolution.

The iPhone Xs is the successor to that iPhone X and looks much the same on the outside. The real changes come internally, with a new processor, Apple’s 64-bit A12 Bionic chip, expected to boost the phone’s performance while taxing the phone’s battery less.  


An upgrade to the iPhone’s cameras and the intelligence driving them were expected and much needed given the great leaps Apple’s rivals in the Android camp have made in the last year with dual and triple camera systems.

Other improvements are less significant – faster Face ID for unlocking the phone, a higher waterproof rating, improved stereo speakers and the introduction of an eSIM, which should allow Kiwi iPhone owners to use two phone numbers while travelling, a hugely useful feature common to Android phones but until now absent from the iPhone.

Maxed out

Apple continues the trend towards larger screens with the iPhone Xs Max which is similar in size to the iPhone 8 Plus, has most of the same technical specifications as the Xs, but with a 6.5 inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen, compared to the 5.8 inch screen on the Xs. Apple claims Xs Max owners can expect 1.5 hours more battery life than the iPhone X offered.

The iPhone Xs Max is squarely aimed at the growing number of smartphone users calling and texting far less and using their device far more for watching Netflix and Youtube, scrolling through social media feeds, playing games and surfing websites.

But that larger format bumps the phone’s price up to $2,099 and that’s for the entry level model with an unimpressive 64GB of storage. The 512GB version costs $2,799. 

A third new phone, the iPhone XR, may well turn out to hit the sweet spot for iPhone lovers gasping at the eye watering price of the high-end X-phones.

The XR lacks the fancy stainless steel and glass finish of the Xs and Xs Max, has a more conventional 6.1 inch LCD screen and only a single camera on its rear. But it only costs $1,399.

Apple’s legacy phones, such as the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8, will remain on sale and we’ll see retailers adjust pricing downwards accordingly, offering better affordability for what are still highly functional and quality devices.

But the signal with the new phones is clear – the premium end of the market is where Apple has its eyes set as growth in the smartphone market slows. Apple sees that people are holding onto their phones for longer, which is a good thing, these devices should give you up to five years of usage rather than being traded in every 12 to 18 months. It wants people to pay more when they do make that upgrade.

But how many Kiwis will happily part with $2,000 or more for a smartphone? Rent to own interest-free contract schemes take the bite out of plonking down the full amount. But the upward march in smartphone prices with Apple at the forefront may leave some behind. Samsung’s Note9 debuted last month starting at $1,699 and the iPhone 8 Plus now sells for $1,499.

It begs the question whether it is reasonable to expect to spend more on your smartphone than on a reasonably powerful laptop. The answer to that question depends totally on how you use your smartphone. When you consider how much power is in this latest generation of handsets, the multitasking we do and the convenience of having that computing power with you wherever you go, it may be well worth the investment.

Check out Noted’s five-point guide to buying a new smartphone.

The new Apple watch.

A smarter watch

Elsewhere, Apple’s only other significant announcement was what appears to be a significant revamp of the Apple Watch, which comes with a 30 per cent larger display, but oddly not a significantly chunkier format as they’ve reduced the watch bezel to accommodate the extra screen real estate.

In the Apple Watch Series 4 there’s a faster processor as well, but the real upgrade is in the health tracking features of the smartwatch. By putting your finger on the watch’s crown you can take an electrocardiogram (ECG), which is a record of your heartbeat and which can be used to detect signs of heart disease or an irregular heartbeat. It will let you know if you have a lowered or irregular heart rate.

Buying a smartwatch? Don’t miss Noted’s guide to what’s on the market.

For the millions of people who suffer from heart conditions, this could be an incredibly convenient way for them to monitor their condition. Apple is even allowing users to share their data with their doctor, though whether any New Zealand doctors are currently willing or able to process the data is another issue entirely.

However, these sorts of features, which have been approved by the US Federal Drug Administration represent the next wave of integrated health monitoring where all of that data actually informs decision making about your health.

Again, you’ll pay handsomely – the Apple Watch Series 4 in aluminium will cost $699 – that compares to $479 for the Apple Watch Series 3.

Few surprises then from Apple’s major launch of the year, but the reliable refinement of features and design that have kept the iPhone legacy alive and helped make Apple a trillion dollar company.

Pricing and availability

The iPhone XR will retail from $1399 and will be available for pre-order from 19 October, available 26 October.

The iPhone XS will retail from $1899, with the iPhone XS Max starting from $2099 – both phones are available for pre-order from tomorrow, 14 September, with availability from 21 September.

The Apple Watch Series 4 is on sale now through the Apple site for $699.