Prelude to Tomorrow’s ‘Hey Siri’ Apple Event in San Francisco

Or: Why I’m Not Expecting New iPads This Week

Last year’s September Apple event — the big one held at the Flint Center in Cupertino — had three main segments:

  1. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus
  2. Apple Pay
  3. Apple Watch (introduced as a One More Thing, the first without Steve Jobs)

Here’s what my gut tells me to expect at tomorrow’s event, at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco:

  1. iPhone 6S and 6S Plus
  2. Apple Watch: WatchOS 2.0, third-party apps, new bands and accessories
  3. New Apple TV

Conspicuously absent from my guess is anything related to new iPads. I have no sources for this, no hints from any little birdies. This is just my gut feeling, based on Apple’s event schedule in previous years, and how long I think it will take for Apple to explain and demonstrate the three products above.

I’m going against the grain on this. John Paczkowski, reporting for Buzzfeed back on 7 August, said the new iPads (but maybe not the big new Pro model) were planned for this event:

Like Apple fall events past, this one too will focus on the company’s next-generation iPhones, which are expected to arrive at market with a pressure-sensitive Force Touch display, an improved camera system, and a significantly faster and power-efficient wireless chip. Sources say Apple executives are likely to show off the company’s latest iPads at this event as well, though that 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” seems to be a wildcard, still.

And then there’s Mark Gurman. Last week:

Apple’s September 9th event is set to be one of the company’s largest events in history, as is reflected by the expansive size of its San Francisco venue. Besides a pair of new iPhones, the substantially revamped Apple TV set top box, and new bands for the Apple Watch, Apple is currently planning to debut a pair of new iPads at next week’s event: the long-rumored iPad Pro, and a refreshed version of the iPad mini, according to trusted sources…

And then again, just yesterday:

Alongside the new iPhones, new Apple TV, new Apple Watch bands, and a gold anodized version of the Apple Watch Sport, Apple plans to debut a pair of new iPads on Wednesday: the larger iPad Pro and a new iPad mini.

Gurman and Paczkowski may well be right. But if they are, it doesn’t make much sense to me, and I’ll be very curious to figure out why Apple would want to announce all this at once, instead of splitting their fall announcements across two events, a big one in September and a smaller one in October — just like they have done since 2012.

One Event Scenario: Everyone agrees that new iPhones and a new Apple TV are set for announcement this week. I would be very surprised if Apple Watch didn’t get significant stage time as well — it’s a major new product heading into its first holiday quarter. The new iPhones are widely expected to have new force touch/taptic engine features — that’s the sort of thing that takes significant time to explain and demonstrate on stage. Plus, Apple usually demonstrates all the tentpole features from the soon-to-be-out-of-beta new version of iOS. Yes, they showed us those features back at WWDC — but they will show them again this fall, because that’s how it works. The new Apple TV is an altogether new platform — with a radical new remote and a full-on SDK and App Store, with a purported emphasis on gaming. That will necessarily consume a lot of on-stage demo time. If Apple is also going to unveil new iPads, including a major new 13-inch Pro model, that means either the event will run very long, or, some or all of these products will have rushed introductions and not get the time they deserve. And without the iPads being held for an October unveiling, there’s not enough left for a second event, which means that there will be no on-stage demonstrations or announcements for Mac hardware or OS X 10.11 (El Capitan) this year. It’s certainly possible that Apple could include the new iPads in this event, but there’s no way they could do the iPads and Mac/El Capitan all in this one event. Which means no Mac/El Capitan stage time this year.

Two Events Scenario: iPhones, Apple Watch, new Apple TV this week. That’s a full event, but not a crowded event. Then we all come back in mid-October for a second event, almost certainly at a smaller venue, where Apple reveals the new iPad lineup, new Mac hardware (like, say, the retina version of the 21-inch iMac) and Craig Federighi gets on stage to demonstrate all the new features in El Capitan. If “new iPads and Macs” were worth their own October event last year, why not again this year, when Apple is purportedly set to announce the iPad Pro? Especially given the way that Tim Cook remains staunchly bullish on the iPad’s long-term prospects, particularly in the business world — which, it seems obvious, is going to be a big part of the iPad Pro’s sales pitch. These new iPads would get more attention headlining their own (albeit smaller) event than they will if they get sandwiched between new iPhones and Apple TV.

It also seems to me that at one of these events, Apple will provide some sort of update on Apple Music. By tradition, that would be the September event, usually with a show-closing live performance (last year was U2). This would leave even less time to shoehorn new iPads into this week’s event.

Not only does the two-event scenario seem more likely to me, I’d go so far as to call the one-event scenario inexplicable. Possible, sure. But not logical.

A Few More Thoughts on the Timing of the iPad Pro

Again, from Gurman’s post last week:

The “iPad Pro” (which is actually the planned name of the device) is currently scheduled to hit retail outlets in November, following a pre-order campaign that will launch toward the end of October, sources indicate. While whispers within Apple point to the MacBook-sized tablet making its debut on next week’s stage, it is possible that Apple could still hold back the larger iPad for an early October event given the currently planned November ship date.

If it’s not going to be ready to ship to customers until November — and the whole Asian supply chain rumor mill seems to back that up — this seems like another reason for Apple to wait until October to announce it, no? Occasionally, such as with the original iPhone and last year’s Apple Watch, Apple will unveil a new product months ahead of it hitting stores. But the iPhone and Apple Watch were brand new product categories. That doesn’t feel like something Apple would want to do with a new product model in an existing category like the iPad Pro.

Again, I could be wrong, and perhaps it will all be clear to me tomorrow, but as it stands right now, I don’t see why Apple would unveil new iPads at this event.

About the Venue

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is enormous, with a seating capacity of up to 7,000. Last year’s September event venue, the Flint Center, has a capacity of around 2,400. That doesn’t mean Apple is going to fill the place with anywhere close to 7,000 people, though. Anecdotally, talking to friends, it seems like press passes for the event are relatively tight — and they’re certainly not loose. It’s possible that Apple is inviting scores of people from industries where I don’t have contacts (like gaming and Hollywood), but even then, I can’t see the number of invitees expanding that much compared to last year. (And last year’s event had a slew of invitees from the fashion and watch industries.)

Remember that white pop-up building Apple built outside the Flint Center last year? It was a big hands-on area for all the new stuff that had been announced that day. My guess is that Apple is building something similar again this year — inside the auditorium. It would be like the world’s biggest Apple Store, for one day only.


Some post-publication comments from readers:

Federico Vitticci:

On @gruber’s piece:

  1. The only thing I heard is that iPad was happening, at least last week
  2. Big TVs need space

Interesting that he heard iPads were coming this week.

Eric Slivka:

@viticci @gruber Best argument for announcing iPad Pro tomorrow is to give devs more time to optimize for new size and features.

That actually does make some sense. But last year, Apple did not announce the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus early to give developers time to adapt. Apple expects developers to be doing the right thing, with size classes and etc.

Chad Edward:

@gruber Just listened to your show. Don’t you think Apple would have had a controlled leak by now of no iPad Pro? Like no Apple TV at WWDC?

In other words, since so many people now expect iPads tomorrow, would not Apple leak the fact that there aren’t — if I’m right that there aren’t — to the NYT or WSJ or Bloomberg?

They might! The fact that no one claiming “sources familiar with the matter” has yet said otherwise is probably the best sign that I’m wrong. But, there’s a big difference between Apple TV missing WWDC and the iPads missing this week. After June, the next event was tomorrow’s, three months away. After tomorrow, the next event, if there is a second fall event, is only a month away. And there’s plenty of Apple news to fill that month:

  • iOS 9.0 ships to customers next week.
  • Reviews of the new iPhones (and maybe Apple TV?) will drop next week.
  • Pre-orders for iPhones and Apple TV will start next Friday at midnight PT.
  • People will start getting their new iPhones later in the month. Maybe they’ll start getting their new Apple TVs too.
  • We’ll start hearing about developers making cool apps and games for Apple TV.

Next thing you know, it’ll be mid-October and we’ll see the new iPads. If I’m right. If I’m wrong, I guess we’ll see them tomorrow.