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New iPads, Apple Watches, and more at the Apple Special Event

Posted on September 20, 2020

Apple held a special event this week to introduce several new devices and features. Here are some of the highlights: 

Apple Watch Series 6

As expected, Apple used the special event to introduce the Apple Watch Series 6. Although a number of cosmetic and design changes were mentioned (including a new (PRODUCT)RED case, seamless watch bands, and more faces than ever before), the Apple Watch Series 6 was presented first and foremost as a next-gen health and wellness device.

The Apple Watch Series 6 has a number of new health features, but perhaps the most intriguing of these is the ability to measure blood oxygen levels. The Series 6 has a special sensor and companion app that can be used to measure blood O2 directly from your wrist. The sensor shines colored and infrared light onto the blood vessels in your wrist, and then measures the amount of light that is reflected back to it. This allows your Apple Watch to calculate the color of your blood, which is used to estimate blood oxygen levels. Monitoring blood O2 levels is important in the diagnosis and treatment of respiratory illnesses (including COVID-19), so this new feature is definitely a timely one.

In addition, the Apple Watch Series 6 has some cool new features for outdoor fitness enthusiasts. The Always-On Retina display is up to 2.5 times brighter outdoors when the wearer’s wrist is down, which will allow you to view your metrics more easily in bright sunlight. For climbers, skiers, hikers, and hill runners, the Series 6 also has an always-on altimeter that gives you a real-time view of your elevation changes. 

The Apple Watch Series 6 will be available starting September 18, and is priced from $399. For a complete look at what it has to offer, check out the product overview page.

Apple Watch SE

Also introduced at the event was the new Apple Watch SE, a budget-friendly addition to the Apple Watch range (no doubt inspired by the success of the iPhone SE). 

The Apple Watch SE has a full-sized display and offers core Apple Watch safety features like fall detection, Emergency SOS, and cellular calling capabilities. It also has all basic health and wellness features, like Activity rings, workout metrics, and heart rate and sleep monitoring. Unlike the Series 6, however, the Apple Watch SE doesn’t offer blood oxygen measurements or ECG functionality.

Since GPS + cellular models of the Apple Watch SE can be used with the new Family Setup feature in watchOS 7 (discussed below), this entry-level Apple Watch offering may be a good option for kids and older family members.

Also available from September 18, the Apple Watch SE starts at $279. For more information about this new device, take a look at its product page.

watchOS 7 and Family Setup

Apple also introduced watchOS 7, and the biggest change here is support for a new feature called Family Setup.

Previously, an Apple Watch had to be paired with the wearer’s iPhone: a limiting factor for people who would otherwise have been interested in an Apple Watch (and all its health and safety features) for kids or older family members. If your child was still too young for a mobile device, or if your older relative didn’t own and didn’t want to own an iPhone, then getting them an Apple Watch was a nonstarter.

With Family Setup, you can now pair GPS + cellular Apple Watch models with your own iPhone, while still allowing the wearer to have their own phone number. If the paired Apple Watch is for a child, you can set limits on what apps can be downloaded and on who can contact your child. You can also use the new Schooltime mode to limit functionality at times when your child needs to focus on their studies. If the device is for an older adult, you can help them set up accessibility features like faces with large type and complications. 

Apple has put together a region-specific list of cellular carriers that currently support Family Setup.

iPad (8th-gen)

Apple also introduced some exciting new changes to both the iPad and iPad Air, with much of the discussion centering around chip-based performance enhancements.

The eighth-generation iPad will be powered by the A12 Bionic chip, which Apple says will improve the iPad’s CPU performance by up to 40% and double its graphics capability. To give a sense of how the iPad stacks up against the competition, Apple compared the eighth-generation iPad’s performance to popular alternatives in the same price range. According to Apple, the new iPad is two times faster than the top-selling Windows laptop, three times faster than the top-selling Android tablet, and up to six times faster than the top-selling Chromebook.

The eighth-generation iPad will start at $329 and will be available on September 18. 

iPad Air

The new iPad Air also has a new processor: the A14 Bionic, which Apple calls its most powerful chip ever. The A14 Bionic is the first Apple Silicon chip to employ 5-nanometer process technology. Apple says it will significantly improve CPU and graphics performance, and will vastly improve the iPad Air’s machine learning capabilities.

The new iPad Air is priced from $599, but won’t be available for purchase until sometime in October.

Of course, the wider context of this showcase of Apple’s chip-making prowess is the upcoming transition to Apple Silicon Macs. Will Apple’s impressive results with the A12 and A14 Bionic translate to success in manufacturing ARM-based chips for the Mac? Only time will tell, but this week’s special event offers reason for hope!

iPadOS 14

iPadOS 14 looks set to deliver on promises made at WWDC20, adding a range of features and capabilities designed to make working on an iPad easier and more intuitive than ever. 

Highlights include Smart Selection, which helps iPadOS distinguish between handwriting and drawing; Scribble, which lets Apple Pencil users handwrite text to text fields for automatic conversion to typed text; and shape recognition, which allows users to make rough sketches of shapes for illustrations and diagrams that iPadOS will automatically convert to geometrically perfect equivalents. 

In addition to this, iPadOS 14 will offer many of the same privacy features as iOS 14. Both iPadOS 14 and iOS 14 are available as of September 16.

If you’d like to watch the September 15 Event in full, Apple has made the video available on their website.

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