Apple gets 'intimate' with Apple Watch, Apple Pay and bigger iPhone 6 models

Apple has unveiled a smart watch, an easy mobile payments system and two iPhone 6 models in a bid to get even closer to consumers.

Apple: getting closer to consumers with Apple Watch
Apple: getting closer to consumers with Apple Watch

Chief executive Tim Cook kicked off last night's event by introducing two smartphone models – the iPhone 6 and the larger-sized iPhone 6 Plus. 

Read our live blog from the Apple event in California on 9 September

The smaller phone features a 4.7in, Retina HD display, up from the current 4in screen on the iPhone 5S. The larger device offers more screen real estate with a 5.5in Retina HD display. Both models feature Apple's new 64-bit A8 chips, marking a speed upgrade from older models, an 8-megapixel improved camera, plus a fingerprint reader.

The iPhone 6 will start at £539 for the 16GB model, while the larger version will start at £619. Both will be on sale from 19 September.

Apple Pay

Both phones are integrated with Apple's second major announcement of the evening - its Apple Pay mobile payments system. The system uses Apple's Passbook app to store users' debit and credit card details, enabling them to pay for items with a swipe of their phones.

The system relies on near-field communication (NFC) technology - already used for contactless debit cards and London's Oyster card system. Apple isn't the first to try NFC payments, but slow uptake among retailers and consumers means the technology has yet to hit the mainstream.

The new mobile payments system will, according to analysts, make Apple the brand of choice for marketers looking to get closer to consumers.

Forrester analyst Thomas Husson said: "The devil will hide in the details when it comes to the local implementation of NFC – especially to enable more immersive marketing experiences

"Moving forward, we expect the integration of Passbook's ability to manage digital assets with new security, identity, and location features to enable Apple to become the marketing and commerce platform of choice for brands seeking innovative ways to engage consumers."

Apple already faces drawbacks, since most merchants don't have compatible payment terminals. There are just 220,000 retailers signed up, though these include major players such as McDonald's and Whole Foods, and the system is US-only for now.

Apple Watch

Cook also unveiled Apple's long-awaited smart watch, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd. He described the Apple Watch as Apple's "most personal product yet", since the device features an in-built heart sensor, accelerometer and multiple fitness features.

The watch keeps track of a wearer's daily activity, showing whether they are sedentary, completing their recommended amount of daily exercise, and suggesting fitness goals. The Health app can also share any health data with the user's other fitness apps.

Interestingly for marketers, Apple Watch offers a new development platform since the company has come up with a custom interface. The watch relies less on touch, and more on the tiny dial on the side. The dial can be used to zoom, scroll or return to the watch's home screen, while apps themselves offer only "lightweight" functionality. 

The worry is Apple's missed the boat on being disruptive - wearable tech is a few years down the line

Cook did not say how many partners are on board with Apple Watch, but his demo suggested there aren't many. An app from BMW lets users view the charge level on their electric cars, and see where they're parked. Another from American Airlines allows users to check into their flights and certain hotels. There were also social apps from Facebook and Yahoo, plus Apple's own services such as Siri.

Not all marketers are convinced by Apple Watch's prospects, particularly given rivals such as Samsung are on their third or fourth iteration.

James Hart, strategy director at Carat, said: "The worry is Apple's missed the boat on being disruptive. Wearable tech is a few years down the line and it's moved beyond functionality into things like measuring your sweat glands and measuring the human body.

"[Apple Watch] is another screen on the body, and it's not going to be connected in the way Apple may market it to be."

The Apple Watch needs to be paired with an iPhone to work, including the new iPhone 6 models, iPhone 5, 5S, and the 5C. Samsung, by contrast, recently announced the Gear S that features 3G connectivity.

The watch also works with the new Apple Pay system. It won't be available until "early 2015", according to Cook, and will be on sale starting from $349.

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