Every September for the past decade, Apple has convened media from around the world for a marketing event that celebrates the creative feats behind its newest iPhone. It has hyped the shine of the phone’s exterior, the sculpting around its cameras and the power of its processors.
But this year, Apple’s elite designers and engineers have bent their creative process and marketing extravaganza to the design demands of European regulators, who passed a rule mandating USB-C charging across electronic devices.
On Wednesday, Apple revealed that its newest product line, the iPhone 15, will drop the company’s proprietary Lightning port in favor of European-mandated USB-C ports. The company’s newest iPhones feature a charging plug that is slightly bigger and rounder than its predecessor but capable of delivering a faster charge.
The rule was aimed at reducing electronic waste and saving customers money by making one port compatible across an array of devices. Though Apple resisted the change, warning that government mandates could stifle innovation, it will make it possible to use the same USB-C cord that powers a Mac to charge an iPhone.
In addition to the iPhone, the company unveiled its wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro, with a USB-C charging case.
The change speaks to how regulators are altering Apple’s business. Apple has positioned itself as the primary gatekeeper for more than one billion iPhone users worldwide by building proprietary hardware and services. To reach those customers, app developers have given the company as much as a 30 percent cut of their sales, and accessory companies have paid fees to make cords with Lightning ports.
But amid rising concerns about tech companies’ power over the global economy, governments have passed rules and issued warnings that are forcing Apple to open up. In Europe, a new antitrust law will require that Apple allows the sale of iPhone apps outside its App Store. In the United States, regulators are investigating the company’s practice of blocking others from using the iPhone’s tap-to-pay ability. And in China, there is a government crackdown on employees’ use of iPhones at work.
The government challenges are buffeting Apple at the same time it is trying to reignite its business. Tumbling sales of iPads and Macs have sparked its most prolonged slump since 2016. IPhone purchases, which account for more than half of total revenue, are slowing. And the sale of apps and services could be clipped by government regulations.
“Apple is a victim of its own success, and everyone is going after the big targets in tech,” said Mike Frazier, president of Bedell Frazier Investment Counselling, an investment firm in Walnut Creek, Calif.
In addition to the USB-C port, Apple touted other improvements with the iPhone 15, including better cameras and smaller borders around the screen. Its two high-end Pro models, which start at $999, feature a lighter titanium body and processors made with a cutting-edge manufacturing process that the company said significantly increases performance. It replaces the mute switch on previous models with a new button that can be pressed to use the phone’s camera or start an audio recording.
The high-end phones also have the ability to record three-dimensional video, which can be viewed in the augmented reality headset that Apple will release next year.
Apple raised the price on the iPhone Pro Max, the company’s top model, by 9 percent to $1,099. The larger phone features the lineup’s most sophisticated camera with a fivefold optical zoom, which contributed to the first price increase for the iPhone lineup in five years.
The iPhone 15 base models, which cost $799 and $899, adopt many of the features available on last year’s iPhone Pro models, including last year’s processor and the Dynamic Island, a tool bar at the top of the screen. The entire iPhone lineup offers wireless charging.
“This is underwhelming,” said Gene Munster, managing partner at Deepwater Asset Management, an investment and research firm based in Minneapolis. “But for the average person with a three- to four-year-old phone, this is enough to upgrade.”
Apple complemented the new iPhone lineup with updates to its Apple Watch offerings. An updated processor and software developments allow people who wear its latest watch, the Series 9, to answer phone calls by tapping their thumb and index finger together twice. It billed the watch as its first carbon-neutral product, saying it is made with 100 percent clean energy, carbon offsets and smaller packaging to cut the emissions associated with shipping the product.
The Apple Watch Ultra, which is aimed at outdoor enthusiasts, features a brighter screen and a greater altitude range. It also offers new capabilities for cyclists who want to connect it to other devices that measure performance.
Apple unveiled the products in Cupertino, Calif., at the Steve Jobs Theater, the 1,000-seat underground auditorium on the company’s campus. The venue was packed with journalists and employees. Millions more tuned in online to watch the infomercial that Apple made for its new products.
Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, used the iPhone event to remind customers about its new augmented reality headset, which it unveiled in June ahead of a release next year.
But even after the headset’s release next year, the iPhone will still drive Apple’s business. The company sells more than 200 million iPhones annually, collecting about $200 billion.
Though sales of its marquee device are down slightly this year, the iPhone has expanded its dominance of the smartphone market. It has increased its percentage of the total smartphones sold around the world. In the United States, the device now accounts for more than 50 percent of smartphones sold, up from 41 percent in 2018, according to Counterpoint Research, a technology firm.