On September 14 at 10 am PDT (1 pm EDT), Apple will host its first product-launch event in several months. Once again, it will be an online-only event. But as with other recent online events from Apple, we expect it to be as jam-packed with announcements as ever.
It’s likely to focus on the iPhone, but revelations about the Apple Watch, AirPods, and maybe the iPad are likely, too. We’ll be liveblogging the event as it happens on Tuesday, of course, but until then, consider what you’re about to read our best attempt at setting expectations and making predictions about what’s coming.
In so many ways, Apple has gotten easier to read and predict in recent years—certainly compared to the years during Steve Jobs’ second tenure as CEO. Apple has settled into something of a cadence with its main product lines, making it a bit easier to see what may be coming. The company’s products are still disruptive, but now they do it in a subtle, iterative ways and often in areas that aren’t as flashy as what we saw in the 2000s—like health care, for example.
And sure enough, we expect health to be a focus for Apple’s upcoming products. But that surely won’t be the whole of it. So here’s what we’re looking out for.
iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro
As has usually been the case with Apple’s September events, the iPhone is likely to be the star. Apple will announce its new lineup of flagship iPhones.
There have been no shortage of leaks and reports indicating that the new phones will come in the same sizes as last year’s lineup: 5.4- and 6.1-inch variants of the standard flagship iPhone, and 6.1- and 6.7-inch variants of the “Pro” model, which last year was simply made of nicer materials and featured a more robust camera system.
Will Apple name these handsets the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max, exactly matching the naming scheme seen for the last two years? That seems like a reasonable guess, but you never know.
In any case, rumors are swirling that Apple will finally introduce an iPhone with a 120 Hz display—something many Android flagships already have and that Apple itself did with the iPad Pro.
If that happens, we expect the display will be a feature that differentiates the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max over the cheaper iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini.
Some leakers and supply line sources have said that the iPhone 13 will have a smaller front-facing sensor and camera notch than the iPhone 12. The Pro models might have a new kind of optical stabilization on the rear camera system.
Below: Photos of last year’s iPhone 12 from our review.
And of course, each of these phones will have Apple’s next iPhone system-on-a-chip (SoC), likely called the A15, with improved processing, graphics, or machine-learning performance.
Virtually every supply chain source has indicated that the new iPhones won’t have a substantially different design, look, or feel, other than perhaps a slightly different rear camera arrangement.
One other detail seems likely to become a reality: Bloomberg claimed that the iPhone 13 will have a new satellite communication technology. It’s not entirely clear what this would be used for, but one possibility might be emergency calls outside the range of a cellular tower.
Historically, new iPhones have gone on sale a week or so after the event, but the supply chain has all sorts of new wrinkles this year. It’s certainly possible this year’s lineup will ship a little later or that there may be supply constraints.
Apple Watch Series 7
We know a lot less about the new Apple Watch, but that might be because there’s not much to know: Bloomberg and others have reported that the new Watch won’t have any new health sensors this year. Those sensors are generally what differentiate one year’s Watch from its predecessor.
Below: Photos of last year’s Apple Watch, from our review.
But the Apple Watch is overdue for an aesthetic redesign, as it still speaks the design language of iPhones of a few years past. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a bigger screen, flatter edges, and other design improvements of that nature. An upgrade for the processor is likely too, according to some reports.
We’re just about certain that Apple will announce new iPhone and Apple Watch models at this event. Now we get into the stuff we’re a little less sure of.
First up: AirPods. Apple’s AirPods wireless earbuds have been a runaway success for the company, and they have even spawned two cousins: the in-ear, noise-canceling AirPods Pro, and the pricy, over-ear AirPods Max.
Below: Photos of the first-generation AirPods, from our review.
But apart from the addition of wireless charging to the case and a few other small changes, relatively little has actually evolved about the original AirPods since their debut 5 years ago.
(Mostly inconclusive) rumors abound that a third generation of AirPods is coming this year, and this event is the best match for that product.
AirPods Pro, which launched two years ago, have shorter stems on each ear bud, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see that tweak come to AirPods. We think it’s less likely that Apple will convert the base AirPods into in-ear headphones, as some have speculated, but we don’t know for sure.
Apple could also make changes to the case that enable better battery life, among other things. But for the most part, we’ll just have to wait and see on this one.
iPad and iPad mini
Last year, Apple unveiled new iPad models at its September event, including the iPad Air and entry-level iPad.
An update to the iPad Air seems unlikely this time around, as that tablet is pretty current. But both the iPad and iPad mini have aging designs that look out of place alongside the iPad Air, iPad Pro, and recent iPhones.
A 9to5Mac article citing anonymous sources claimed that Apple will introduce a radically redesigned iPad mini with an edge-to-edge display, a USB-C port, and no home button—in other words, a smaller version of the current iPad Air—with the brand new A15 chip expected to come in the iPhone 13.
This would be a major update to a product that has largely languished for years, with only sporadic updates to its processor and not much else besides Apple Pencil support.
Below: Photos of last year’s iPad Air, from our review. This tablet’s design is said to be the template for an iPad mini overhaul.
Apple could do the same with its entry-level iPad, but we also wouldn’t be surprised if Apple didn’t do that. After all, the main role of that iPad is to stay cheap so schools can afford it. That said, a processor bump is due, so we might see that, at least.
If the iPad Air gets an update, we expect it to be a bump to the A15 chip, with no other changes. And the current, M1-equipped iPad Pro is one of Apple’s most current products, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see a new iPad Pro this month.
We think it’s likely that Apple will announce an updated iPad mini and base iPad within the next few months, but it’s entirely possible Apple will hold off its iPad announcements until later in the year; the company hasn’t always been consistent about exactly when in Q3 or Q4 it reveals or launches new tablets.
What about Macs?
The Mac is in an awkward spot. All the lowest-end Macs have Apple-designed chips to replace the Intel CPUs that have been a part of the Mac for years now. But the high-end Macs like the 27-inch iMac, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the Mac Pro are still living in the old paradigm.
It’s very likely that at least the MacBook Pro and maybe the large iMac will get their Apple Silicon updates this year. (All signs point to a Mac Pro desktop tower update in 2022, not 2021.)
But Apple has not usually announced Macs alongside the iPhone at its recent September events, opting instead to save those products for October, November, or even December. So don’t expect new Macs—yet.