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Apple Unveils New Payment System, iPhones, Smartwatch


Since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011, tech analysts have questioned the state of innovation at Apple. Today the company unveiled its first new product category since Jobs's death - a smartwatch. The company's also following its competitors into the smartphone market with the release of also two new, larger iPhones. NPR's Laura Sydell was at the event, and joins us from San Francisco. Hey there, Laura.


CORNISH: So, this watch - it's called the Apple Watch, not the iWatch - but given that this isn't the first smartwatch, what's Apple doing that has people excited?

SYDELL: Well, first there's design. Apple is an expert at design. And in this particular watch, one of the things they've done to get around the fact that the screen is very tiny is what you normally use to wind your watch, you can now use to scroll up and down the screen. You can swipe. That's a nice feature about this watch.

There's also the fact that you can send messages. Somebody can send you a quick message - movies tonight? And it will contextually understand and be able to say, like, three answers. Do you want to say yes, no, another night or maybe? Tap, send - so it has some nice features like that that I think people are excited about.

CORNISH: Now, I hear you giving the edge on design, but when it comes to the iPhone, Apple is late to the party on large smartphones, right?

SYDELL: Absolutely they are.

CORNISH: They're caving into the consumer market.

SYDELL: Yes, they are. And Samsung really beat them on the punch to this. And a lot of people were buying Samsung phones because they wanted something bigger that they could read on, that they could write on - that they could do more functional things. They were using them for more than talking on their phone.

So Apple now has two larger phones. One is significantly larger, and one is a little bit smaller. They still have the older phones on the market. But this was something Steve Jobs said he'd never do because he wanted a phone that you could hold in the palm of your hand. And this one is - I've seen it. It's pretty big. It really won't - you can't hold it in the palm of your hand so easily.

CORNISH: Finally, the company also unveiled Apple Pay. Who are they playing catch-up with on this one?

SYDELL: Well, Google Wallet has been out for a while. So - but there are ways in which this seems potentially like a good, easy system for payment. A lot of people in the tech community have talked about for a while how it's very clunky when you use a credit card to pay. You've got to swipe the card. There are the security issues, too, of the clerk seeing the numbers on your card.

In this case they got the buy-in from many of the big banks as well as Visa, MasterCard and American Express. And essentially, you just take the card out of the equation. There's a little chip in the phone. You swipe it in the store, and it reads this chip. Your credit card number isn't actually in the phone, nor does Apple have any record of this. That's kind of important here because Apple has had some major security issues recently. So I think that could make it appealing.

CORNISH: Finally, Laura, this seemed really like a test for the CEO, Tim Cook, in terms of succeeding the charismatic Jobs. How did he do?

SYDELL: I talked to one analyst who thought he did really, really well. This is his first new product that he's ever introduced, but it's not out till next year. So how good the iWatch actually is, we will see sometime next year.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Laura Sydell. Laura, thank you.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.