We knew a gold iPhone would be announced back on Tuesday. And we suspected that Apple might be releasing a cheaper colourful model. We even guessed the names of the models correctly: iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C. Indeed it is fair to say the new phones, with the exception of the 5C's super-plasticky case, look just like what we were expecting. So what is the big deal? I see five big wins for Apple, none of which have anything to do with what the phones look like.
Before we get to that, though, I must at least address the issue of colours. Apple has a long history of launching products in black and white and then adding colours as the line matures. Just look at its nano line, or even the original iMacs. Throwing in the gold, silver, and space grey (what?) also gives consumers some options that had been sorely lacking in the iPhone line. The gold model, in particular, is poised to do very well in the fast growing Chinese market as well as, you know, Chelsea. Adding colour is a smart thing to do, but it would be a mistake to think the five announcements below aren't equally as important.
1. The safety and convenience of Touch ID
We knew a fingerprint scanner was in the works, but I was impressed with how seamlessly Apple worked this feature into the operating system. Built directly into the home button, the scanner only takes a few minutes to set up. After that, securely unlocking your phone requires only the touch of a button.
What's more, you can use Touch ID to purchase apps, music, and so on without entering an account number. Given the huge number of consumers who carry phones with no password protection at all, this is a big step forward. It is just a feature, but it is a cool feature. And there is nothing like it on Android.
2. Free iWork, iPhoto, and iMovie
Tim Cook started off the iPhone launch event with this news, and it quickly got eclipsed by the rest of the day's announcements, but it is pretty big. Apple is pitching iOS as a productivity tool. This is the case that Microsoft made for years with Windows – it has all the apps you need. But by bundling productivity and entertainment inside the iOS 7 experience, Apple is stretching its position as the phone and tablet combination built for work and play.
3. The new A7 CPU with fitness features
We expected a faster processor in the 5S, but not many people expected it to be reengineered to 64-bit. With iOS 7 and all of Apple's built-in apps supporting 64-bit, iOS instantly becomes the leader in the space – although it’s debatable exactly what this means for now. Still, the iPhone 5S is twice as fast as the iPhone 5, and there’s no arguing with that fact. And furthermore, the new A7 includes a built-in motion co-processor that will allow the phone to track your movements and support fitness applications like Nike+ and Fitbit.
4. "The phone that takes better pictures"
Just about everyone looking for a smartphone has the same question: What phone takes the best pictures? Nokia has made its name trying to convince the world that its Lumia series is technically superior to everything else on the market – but picture quality is about more than megapixels. Apple attacked the problem on multiple fronts. Larger pixels capture more information, a burst mode captures 30 frames per second, and a new interface automatically creates collections of images, and presents up to a year's worth of photos on a single screen. I haven't compared the image output side by side, but these are all impressive steps forward.
5. iOS 7 launches: The instant upgrade
New hardware is always exciting, but Apple's real news on Tuesday was the release of iOS 7. Apple isn't just selling new phones, it is upgrading all devices from the iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad mini, and iPod touch. Those owners won't be able to take advantage of cool stuff like the Touch ID, obviously, but it is a nice bump for existing consumers – and it's free. Best of all, it will probably take just a few weeks for most of the Apple customer base to migrate.
This alone may be Apple's biggest win. Tuesday’s announcements may only amount to some cosmetic changes and neat new features, but Apple is moving its entire platform and customer base forward. Of course, this is the way iOS has always been, but during launch weeks like this you see the value of this approach. It isn't easy to do, but Apple makes it pay off.