SAN FRANCISCO - Apple moved to recapture its role as a tech trend-setter on Tuesday with its first smartwatch and two large-screen versions of the iPhone.
With the debuts of Apple Watch and iPhone 6 models stretched to fit a hot "phablet" trend, the California company delivered what rumours had predicted leading up to the event.
The Apple Watch, a sleek wrist device which links to the iPhone, "will redefine what people expect from this category," chief executive Tim Cook said at a carefully staged presentation in Apple's hometown Cupertino, California.
Market tracker IHS saw Apple as aiming to reset the wearable computing market the way it transformed the world of smartphones with the release of the iPhone.
"But moving into a new category is a bold, expensive and risky effort," IHS said in an initial analysis of the Apple announcements.
Despite an array of smartwatch releases, no one seems to have found the key to the market, according to analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies.
Synching Apple Watch capabilities to iPhones also means that the overall cost of strapping one on could near US$1,000 (S$1,262), Kay noted. "I'm not getting the impression that Apple has nailed the category," Kay told AFP.
The latest Apple announcement failed to move Wall Street, with stock in the computer titan closing down by 0.4 per cent.
Welcome to the party
The iPhone 6 models boost screen sizes in what some see as the company catching up to a "phablet" trend combining features of smartphones and tablets.
"Bigger screen. Better performance. Elegant design. Welcome to the party #iPhone 6," Taiwan-based smartphone rival HTC said in a message fired Apple's way on Twitter.
Apple's main rival Samsung has long had a range of larger handsets and has tried to market a smartwatch of its own. LG recently released a large-screen flagship G3 model with cameras tricked out to delight selfie-loving smartphone users.
The iPhone 6 will have a screen of 4.7 inches and the 6-Plus will be 5.5 inches, allowing Apple to adapt to consumers' apparent preference for bigger displays.
Cook said the new handsets represented "the biggest advancement in the history of iPhones." The new iPhone 6 will start at the same price of existing iPhones at US$199 (S$251) for US customers while the iPhone 6 Plus will be at US$299 (S$377) with a two-year contract. (Click here for Singapore's pricing)
Apple said the devices would be available in at least 115 countries by the end of the year and that it will begin taking orders for iPhone 6 models on Friday.
Paying with a tap
Apple added a mobile wallet that will allow consumers to simply tap their phones or Apple Watch devices to pay retailers.
Cook said the Apple Pay system would replace an "antiquated payment process" with "an entirely new payment system" that allows consumers to touch their phones to retail terminals. The new payment system will be built into the new iPhones and the upgraded Apple's operating system called iOS 8.
Cook showed a video of a consumer tapping a phone on a payment terminal, commenting, "it's so cool."
Cook introduced Apple Watch with the "one more thing" introduction that was a trademark of iconic Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
"It is the next chapter in Apple's story," Cook said of the first new product category to be entered by the company since the death of Jobs in 2011.
"We invented intimate ways to connect and communicate directly from your wrist; it works seamlessly with iPhone and it is also a comprehensive health and fitness device." The watch comes in two sizes and an array of interchangeable wrist straps.
Apple watch will start at US$349 (S$440) when it is released early next year, according to Cook. The smartwatch will work with iPhone 5 models and newer.
While Apple Watch has touch-screen capabilities, many controls were designed into a "digital crown" button so fingers do not block screens. Sensors can detect a wearer's pulse, and the devices synch with location-sensing features in iPhones to provide a "comprehensive picture of activity" and help work toward fitness goals, according to Apple senior vice president of design Jonathan Ive. Applications for the watch include map software that guides people to destinations with gentle "taps" on the wrist.
Apple showed off programs for checking into American Airlines flights, unlocking Starwood hotel room doors, and even controlling home lighting or temperature. Forrester analyst Frank Gillett believed Apple appeared poised to revitalize wearable computing but that the "proof will be in the pudding" and that it could take longer to catch on than the iPhone or the iPad.
"Because so many other have hit this so hard, it is not going to be the runaway like the iPhone or the iPad," Gillett said.