Apple unveils premium iPhone XS, health features for watch

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…As Final farewell to UN’s Kofi Annan at Ghana state funeral***

Apple unveiled three new iPhones on Wednesday in a bid to bolster its spot in the premium smartphone market, along with an upgraded smartwatch that takes electrocardiograms and detects falls.

The California tech giant said it would begin selling its 5.8-inch iPhone XS and 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max later this month, keeping the starting price of the company’s top-end model at $999 but bumping the entry price for the version with the larger screen.

Apple also announced a new iPhone XR starting at $749, available in October, with a 6.1-inch display to broaden its pool of buyers.

The phones are updates to last year’s iPhone X (“10”), which marks the 10th anniversary of the smartphone — stretching the screen while keeping the overall handset size at or near that of previous models.

“I think Apple did extremely well here,” GlobalData analyst Avi Greengart said after checking out the new offerings at the unveiling at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California.

“Overall, this is going to be a very good year for Apple.”

The analyst expected the line-up to be a hit, pushing up the average selling price of Apple smartphones.

The new iPhones have more powerful processors and cameras, and a dual-SIM card feature for top-of-the-line devices. Home buttons were replaced with screen swipes, taps and facial recognition capabilities.

“We are going to take iPhone X to the next level,” chief executive Tim Cook said.

While the iPhone has made Apple the world’s most valuable company, worth more than $1 trillion, it has slipped to third place among smartphone makers as Chinese-based Huawei has grabbed the number two spot behind Samsung.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said Apple had done enough “to keep its smartphone growth going until the competition responds.”

Apple said the XS models would be sold from September 21 and the XR from October 26.

New smartwatch features
Apple also introduced a fourth generation of the Apple Watch with a major redesign — and a series of features designed to improve its performance as a medical and health device.

The watch, sold in the United States from $399 and up, will be available in stores on September 21.

“Apple Watch has become an intelligent guardian for your health,” chief operating officer Jeff Williams said.

The smartwatches are able to detect hard falls, and an electrical heart rate sensor can take an electrocardiogram.

“This is the first ECG product offered over the counter directly to consumers,” Williams said.

“Now you can take an ECG any time, anywhere, right from the wrist.”

The fall detection upgrade is expected to appeal to worker safety concerns in factories or other industrial settings, as well as to elderly or disabled users.

“Identifying a fall may sound like a straightforward problem, but it requires a lot of data analysis,” Williams said.

If a person falls, and then is motionless, the watch will call emergency services, he added.

Moorhead said the health features for the new devices were notable.

“I can see kids buying one for their parents and grandparents,” he said of the smartwatch.

“I believe Series 4 will sell better than all previous models.”

The current version of Apple Watch is the most popular watch in the world, according to Cook.

Apple stressed its devotion to data privacy, saying all health information gathered is encrypted on the smartwatch to be shared only as users see fit.

‘Crossroads’
Research firm CB Insights said Apple is at a “crossroads” a decade after introducing the iPhone.

“Looking for the next wave, Apple is clearly expanding into augmented reality and wearables with the Apple Watch and AirPods wireless headphones,” the firm said.

“But the next ‘big one’ — a success and growth driver on the scale of the iPhone — has not yet been determined. Will it be augmented reality, auto, wearables? Or something else entirely?”

Apple’s event comes with the global smartphone market at near-peak saturation, and without a major catalyst for sales ahead of a likely rollout of 5G, or fifth generation, wireless networks, expected in 2019.

Research firm IDC expects worldwide smartphone shipments to decline 0.7 percent in 2018 to 1.455 billion units, with growth likely to resume as 5G devices become available.

Cook said Apple was nearing the two-billion mark for devices with its mobile operating system known as iOS.

“We are about to hit a major milestone. We are about to ship our two billionth iOS device,” he said.

“This is astonishing — iOS has changed the way we live.”

In the meantime, tributes were paid to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as he was laid to rest in his native Ghana on Thursday, with calls to keep alive the legacy of a “stubborn optimist” to create a better, more peaceful world.

His widow Nane Maria led hundreds of mourners, including world leaders past and present, traditional rulers and global royalty, and called her husband an “extraordinary” person who had a “joy of life”.

“My love, you are now back home where you started your long journey. But may your wisdom and compassion continue to guide us, wherever we are,” she told his state funeral in the capital, Accra.

Opera singer Barbara Hendricks, a UN refugee council goodwill ambassador who sang at Annan’s Nobel ceremony, performed the civil rights anthem “Oh, Freedom” at the funeral of Christian prayers and song.

Annan led the UN from 1997 to 2006 and was the first from sub-Saharan Africa to do so. He died on August 18 aged 80 at his home in Switzerland after a short illness.

Thousands of people have this week filed past his coffin this week during three days of national mourning for someone Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo called “one of the truly iconic figures of modern times”.

‘Stubborn optimist’
Many ordinary Ghanaians described him as a father-figure and a source of national pride, while his brother, Kobina, told the congregation that he was not just a leader and statesman.

“We lost a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather and an uncle, a man of deep conviction who was as committed to instilling the values of fairness, integrity, kindness and service in each of us as he was to advocating for peace and human rights around the world,” he said.

“Stubborn optimist that he was, he would want us all to look forward with hope and keep striving to create a freer, fairer and more peacfeul world.”

The current UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, praised his close friend as an “exceptional global leader” who was dignified, courageous and a man of “integrity, dynamism and dedication”.

“Kofi Annan was the United Nations and the United Nations was him,” he added.

“As we face the headwinds of our troubled and turbulent times, let us always be inspired by the legacy of Kofi Annan — and guided by the knowledge that he will continue speaking to us, urging us on towards the goals to which he dedicated his life and truly moved our world.”

‘Diplomatic rock star’
Annan, who was originally from Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region in southern Ghana, devoted four decades of his working life to the UN, and was known for bringing quiet charisma to the role.

He was widely credited for raising the world body’s profile in global politics during his two terms in office, facing challenges including wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, as the world was reeling from the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, jointly with the UN “for their work for a better organised and more peaceful world”.

Annan, a proud African whom Nelson Mandela called “my leader”, left the post as one of the most popular — and recognisable — UN leaders ever, and was considered a “diplomatic rock star” in international circles.

AFP