6 Important Non-Watch Announcements Made by Apple

If you’re a fan of Apple gadgets or just a general techie, you’re probably already aware that Apple recently held a media event where it gave an in-depth presentation of the Watch. However, new details about the Apple Watch weren’t the only important revelations to come out of Apple’s “Spring Forward” media event. Here are 6 other exciting announcements that you may have missed.

Source: Apple.com

Source: Apple.com

1. Apple TV and HBO Now

Apple announced a $30 price cut for the Apple TV that lowered the price of its set-top media streaming device to $69 from its previous price of $99. While Apple has not updated the hardware for the Apple TV since 2012, this marks the first price reduction for the device since 2010. CEO Tim Cook noted that Apple has sold 25 million of the devices since it was first introduced in 2007.

Apple also added new content for the Apple TV by striking an exclusive partnership deal with HBO. The deal makes Apple the sole provider of the new standalone streaming app HBO Now for three months, according to MacRumors. The HBO Now app will become available in April through Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV for a monthly subscription fee of $14.99. The service will be free for the first 30 days for customers who sign up through Apple.

“When you subscribe to HBO Now, you will have access to all our acclaimed original programming –past, present and future — as well as our unmatched lineup of Hollywood blockbusters,” said HBO CEO Richard Plepler during the media event. “All you need to get HBO Now is a broadband connection and an Apple device.”

Source: Apple.com

Source: Apple.com

2. ResearchKit

Apple announced an open source software framework called ResearchKit that is designed to allow scientists a way to easily create apps for medical research. While the framework won’t be publicly released until April, Apple unveiled five ResearchKit apps at the media event that are intended to aid research on asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease.

Although Apple presented ResearchKit as a tool that will revolutionize the way medical studies are conducted, there is some debate in health research circles about the quality of the medical data that can be derived from an iPhone. See this Tech Cheat Sheet report to get a full rundown on all the potential benefits and pitfalls associated with ResearchKit.

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

3. All-new MacBook

Beyond the Apple Watch, the second biggest story to come out of Apple’s “Spring Forward” media event was the debut of a new, ultrathin, 12-inch MacBook model. The all-new MacBook is the lightest and most compact notebook that Apple has ever made, with a weight of just two pounds and a thickness of only 13.1 millimeters at its widest point. The MacBook’s extremely thin design was made possible through the implementation of several redesigned components, including a new terraced battery layout, a smaller logic board, and an all-in-one USB-C port.

The MacBook also features a radical new trackpad design that borrowed the pressure sensitive “Force Touch” technology that Apple developed for the Watch. Unlike Apple’s other laptops, the new MacBook is available in three colors – silver, space gray, and gold. Check out this Tech Cheat Sheet report to get a full rundown of all the innovative features that make the all-new MacBook different from any other Mac that Apple has ever made.

Source: Apple.com

Source: Apple.com

4. MacBook Air and MacBook Pro updates

Amid all the excitement over the new ultrathin MacBook, you may have missed the news that Apple also refreshed its 13-inch MacBook Pro and 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air. Both sizes of the MacBook Air were updated with fifth generation Intel Core processors up to 2.2 GHz and Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.2 GHz, Intel HD Graphics 6000, and Thunderbolt 2 connectors. The 13-inch MacBook Air was additionally outfitted with “two times faster flash.”

The 13-inch MacBook Pro was updated with fifth generation Intel Core processors up to 3.1 GHz and Turbo Boost Speeds up to 3.4 GHz, Intel Iris Graphics 6100, two times faster flash, longer battery life, and the same Force Touch trackpad that was a major highlight of Apple’s 12-inch MacBook presentation. The updated entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299, while the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models start at $899 and $999, respectively.

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

5. IOS 8.2 update

Apple also announced the availability of iOS 8.2 at its media event. Since the upcoming Watch was designed to work in conjunction with the iPhone, one of the primary features of the latest iOS update is the Apple Watch app. As noted by Cook at the event, the Apple Watch app in iOS 8.2 allows users to “see apps, browse apps, and download apps” for the wearable.

The decision to make the Apple Watch app a mandatory component of the iOS 8.2 update was considered controversial by some industry watchers, since many iPhone owners will have no need for the app if they do not plan to purchase an Apple Watch. In this sense, the Apple Watch app can be considered unnecessary bloatware in iOS 8.2. Apple researcher Hamza Sood later discovered that the Apple Watch-linked Activity app was also hidden in the iOS 8.2 update, which means that there are two potentially extraneous apps embedded in the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.

Besides adding support for the upcoming Apple Watch, iOS 8.2 also featured numerous bug fixes and stability enhancements, including a patch for the so-called “FREAK” security vulnerability. As reported by The Washington Post earlier this month, FREAK is a security vulnerability caused by a previous policy of the U.S. government that prohibited the export of strong encryption to customers in other countries. While the use of a weaker encryption standard for overseas customers is no longer required, its continued existence has left many websites and mobile devices vulnerable to hacking attacks. IOS 8.2 will protect Apple’s mobile devices from this security flaw.

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

Source: Apple.com (screenshot of media event)

6. Apple Pay, CarPlay, and HomeKit

Besides unveiling several new products and services, Apple also provided an update on the ongoing growth of several of its existing ones.  At the media event, Cook noted that 2,500 banks are now supporting Apple Pay and that the contactless mobile payment service is now accepted at more than 700,000 locations across the U.S. Cook also revealed that Coca-Cola has plans to have 100,000 Apple Pay-compatible vending machines deployed by the end of 2015.

Support for Apple’s in-vehicle device integration system is also growing. Cook noted that “every major car brand” has now committed to supporting CarPlay, with over 40 new CarPlay-compatible car models due to be released before the end of 2015. Finally, Cook highlighted the growth of HomeKit by noting that many of the industry’s leading home automation companies are now creating products with support for HomeKit.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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