Apple Announces Virtual ‘Time Flies’ Event Next Tuesday

If you go to Apple’s special events page using an iPhone or iPad, you can tap the event logo and get an AR toy to play with. You can’t say it’s useful, but it’s a fun way to give everyone a virtual tchotchke to play with.

As for the event, if this were a normal year, it would likely be held tomorrow (not today, because yesterday was Labor Day here in the U.S.), and would be headlined by this year’s new iPhones. This is not a normal year, of course, and among the abnormalities is that all of the new iPhones are delayed “a few weeks”.

So Apple has some product announcements ready now (Apple Watch Series 6, for sure, and updated iPad Airs seem likely), and iPhones ready later. Options on the table for Apple:

  1. Hold one event now, and unveil the new iPhones a full month or longer before availability.
  2. Hold one event in October, and make the Apple Watch and iPad Air wait.
  3. Hold separate events in September and October.

Apple has obviously chosen option 3. I’m in the camp who believes there often aren’t any noteworthy clues in the logos or event names for Apple events, but you don’t have to be a genius to guess that “Time Flies” implies that Apple Watch is the headliner at next week’s event, which, in turn, means that there will be no iPhones announced.

Apple doesn’t like saying in advance what will be announced at an event, but they do like setting accurate expectations for what won’t be announced. If there are no new iPhones being announced next week, they want everyone not to expect them. They want the products that are being announced to get attention, not products that aren’t being announced.

So, setting expectations:

John Paczkowski: “Sept. 15. Don’t hold your breath for the new iPhone.”

Mark Gurman: “I am told Apple won’t announce the iPhone until October. This is for the iPad and Apple Watch in all likelihood.”

And again, my take: For god’s sake the event is named “Time Flies”.

Early Twitter skepticism about an event centered solely around new mid-range iPads and Series 6 watches seems based on skepticism that Apple can hold a two-hour event just for those two products, which is a silly way of thinking about it. If they only have an hour of story to tell about the new products, the event will last only an hour. There’s an upper limit of just over two hours on event duration, but there’s no lower limit. Apple is keenly aware their special events garner outsized attention largely because they seldom waste our time with them. And it feels natural for virtual events to be shorter than in-person ones — the WWDC keynote was shorter than usual, even though it contained more information than most years.

In addition to whatever new hardware products they’re announcing, Apple also needs to announce release dates for its new iOS releases — new watches and iPads will require WatchOS 7, iOS 14, and iPadOS 14.1 So I’d guess at a schedule like this:

  • Tuesday 15 September: Event
  • Friday 18 September: Preorders start
  • Monday-Tuesday 21-22 September: Reviews drop — Apple Watch on one day, iPad Air on the other
  • Thursday 24 September: New OSes released via Software Update
  • Friday 25 September: Products ship to customers and stores

But other than the event, those are all just guesses based on years past, and 2020 isn’t like any year past.

  1. Apple has a bunch of OSes now, but really only two main ones: MacOS and iOS. WatchOS and tvOS are close cousins of iOS, and iPadOS is really just iOS with a different name to denote iPad-specific features. It’s the various iOS flavors — for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV — that all sort of need to come out at the same time. For example, you can’t update your watch to the new version of WatchOS until after you’ve updated your paired iPhone to the corresponding new version of iOS. So iOS 14 for iPhones must arrive before Series 6 Apple Watches ship, even if new iPhone models aren’t shipping for another month. (I would guess that iPhone 12 models will all ship with iOS 14.1.)

    Mac OS 11 Big Sur, though, can ship later. And judging by the state of the current betas, it should ship later. It’s still really rough. Last year MacOS 10.15 Catalina shipped on October 7 — still in rough shape, quality-wise — several weeks after the new versions of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and WatchOS. If I had a say in the matter, I’d hold Big Sur until November. But no matter when it ships, I wouldn’t expect Big Sur alongside the various iOS releases this month. I’d guess October at the earliest. ↩︎