Apple’s product prices are getting more confusing5 min read . Updated: 16 Sep 2020, 10:07 AM IST
With the Apple Watch Series 6, a redesigned iPad Air and a bundle of services, it’s getting harder to figure out how much you need to spend
Apple made three significant product announcements Tuesday—the Apple Watch Series 6, the redesigned iPad Air and the new Apple One service bundles—and managed to create more confusion about the best way for its customers to spend their money.
When it comes to Apple Watch and iPad, the choice is no longer simply “Should I upgrade?" Apple, in trying to prove that its gadgets and services are for everybody, now offers a low-end budget-conscious option, a Goldilocks model and a premium, pricey tier.
But more products at more price points means too many overlapping features. And while the company did try to simplify its expanding services menu into flat-fee bundles, the bundles don’t satisfactorily address the needs of all their users.
One big takeaway from today’s virtual event—not to mention the ever-increasing lineup of iPhones, which we hope to hear more about soon: Apple no longer follows Steve Jobs’s keep-it-simple approach to products.
The Apple Watches
The $399 Apple Watch Series 6 is the company’s latest wearable, featuring a new blood-oxygen sensor and app that can measure oxygen saturation levels using infrared light. It’s a timely release. As my colleague Joanna Stern reported, a low blood-oxygen level can help people diagnosed with Covid-19 gauge the severity of the illness, which made oxygen-sensing pulse oximeters popular overnight.
Beyond that, the Series 6 features only incremental improvements from last year’s model, including a brighter screen and faster chip. The biggest disappointment: The same 18-hour battery life. In fact, the Watch’s battery performance hasn’t improved since the Series 3.
There’s another “new" model, the $279 Apple Watch SE. It’s a carbon copy minus the blood-oxygen sensor and the ECG electrical heart-rate sensor. It has the same size display, fall detection, compass and, in the cellular version, free global emergency calling.
While having a pulse oximeter on-hand makes sense during a respiratory pandemic, is an in-watch sensor worth the $120 upgrade? Probably not. (A fingertip version from Walgreens costs about $50.) And herein lies the confusion: The best Apple Watch for most people isn’t Apple’s best watch.
The older Series 3 is still on sale for $199. It has the other watches’ GPS fitness-tracking and heart rate-sensing capabilities, with a slightly smaller display. While the Series 3 doesn’t have an electrical heart sensor, it can send you notifications when high, low or irregular heart rate is detected.
Also important to note: Apple Watch Series 3 models and newer get many WatchOS 7 features, which are available as a software upgrade Wednesday. That includes the new sleep-tracking app and VO2 max estimates. Apple Watch SE and Series 4, 5 and 6 are compatible with Family Setup cellular watch functionality for kids or seniors, including location alerts and programmed contacts.
Here’s my translation of the new Apple Watch lineup:
•The $199 Series 3 is the GPS smartwatch for the fitness-focused set.
•Spending $80 more for the SE gets you a bigger screen and fall detection.
•The $399 Series 6 means the full health package, including blood-oxygen sensor and ECG.
Apple’s new iPad Air has a familiar Pro design, but instead of unlocking with Face ID, it still uses Touch ID.
The fingerprint sensor has just moved from the now-missing home button up to the top on/off button. The price got a lift, too: The new Air is $599, a hundred bucks more than the previous model.
Here’s what’s confusing. The iPad Air runs on the A14 Bionic—what Apple is dubbing the company’s “most advanced chip"—which brings significant performance gains. It arguably beats the chip inside the newly updated 11-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $799.
So, if both have an immersive screen, identical battery life and compatibility with the Apple Pencil stylus and floating Magic Keyboard, what does that extra $200 get you? The aforementioned Face ID, along with multiple cameras and a faster screen-refresh rate. Not exactly an upsell for most iPad users.
The only sensible Pro upgrade is the most expensive model, with its massive 13-inch screen. And that makes sense only if you’re a creative who plans to draw and use it in place of a laptop. The new iPad Air puts the 11-inch iPad Pro in limbo.
Since services are such a huge push for Apple right now, its latest incentive is the pricing bundle.
The newly announced Apple One includes subscriptions to Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, iCloud at three monthly fee tiers, with Apple News+ and the coming Apple Fitness+ video-workout service thrown in with the top tier. As you pay more, you theoretically save more.
The $15-a-month Individual plan comes with 50 gigabytes of iCloud storage and personal access to the three core media services. That’s a $6 monthly savings, compared with subscribing to those services individually. The $20-a-month Family plan lets you share the same bundle with five other people, and ups the iCloud storage to 200 gigabytes—an $8 monthly savings. The Premier plan, at $30 a month, offers 2 terabytes of iCloud storage, plus News+ and Fitness+. That’s a $25 savings, if you wanted them all.
The problem is, you can’t mix and match services. Many users do need at least a bit of iCloud storage (Apple makes sure of that), but there’s no real deal for people who, say, just want Music and Fitness+, or Arcade and News+. My editor already spends $30 a month for Apple services, but isn’t sure he really cares about the other $25 worth of services he now gets “free." Let the household debates ensue.
(Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has a commercial agreement to supply news through Apple services.)
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Write to Nicole Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org
Corrections & Amplifications
Apple’s Family Setup for Apple Watch is supported on the SE and Series 4, 5 and 6 models. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the Apple Watch Series 3 also supported Family Setup. (Corrected on Sept. 15)