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Apple Event highlights & reaction: AirPods, fitness tracking and luxe models

Apple has made some big product announcements with the big reveal that the latest iPhones and Apple Watches will arrive September 16. With that news, here’s a peek at what they will bring with them:

Apple Watch announcements

AirPods

The new iPhones will come with EarPods with Lightning connector, which means no more analog headphone jack, but they will also include a 3.5mm headphone jack adapter to allow diehard customers to use old headphones and accessories.

Apple, however, is hoping customers will be drawn to its new wireless headphones, AirPods, which feature its W1 chip, which Apple said means extremely efficient wireless communication.

Per Apple, AirPods are immediately set up with the devices signed into a user’s iCloud account with “a simple tap.”

What’s more, Apple said AirPod sensors know when consumers are listening and automatically play and pause music accordingly. The wireless headphones can also seamlessly switch from calls to music and allow consumers to access Siri with a double tap.

AirPods will be available for $159 in late October.

Per Sam Costello, associate director and business analyst at DigitasLBi, the resulting buzz about AirPods -- a trending topic with more than 200,000 tweets -- is less about the headphones themselves and more about the removal of the headphone jack.

“Despite the inclusion of the free adapter dongle, the removal of the jack does feel a little hostile to users,” Costello said. “But Apple has done this sort of thing before. It was the first major company to drop floppy discs from its computers, it’s dropped Ethernet and VGA ports from its laptops, cut DVD drives and avoided Blu-ray altogether. Taken in historical context, the removal of the headphone jack is very much in keeping with Apple’s philosophy. Each of these transitions has engendered a lot of grousing, but they also helped move personal technology forward. You don’t see anyone complaining about not having floppy drives anymore.”

Apple Watch Series 2

Apple also introduced the Apple Watch Series 2, which includes keen focus on fitness and health, such as water resistance to 50 meters for swimming. Apple said it developed two new workout options for swimmers and noted the Apple Watch Series 2 can count laps, track average lap pace and auto-detect stroke type to accurately measure active calorie burn.

But walkers, runners and cyclists need not be jealous. Thanks to built-in GPS, Apple Watch Series 2 can also record distance, pace and speed for other athletic pursuits. What’s more, Apple said users can begin an outdoor workout immediately as Apple Watch Series 2 uses the aforementioned GPS, as well as Wi-Fi and locally stored satellite data to identify location. And, upon completion of an outdoor workout, users can view a route map that shows variations in speed in the Activity app on iPhones. Plus, the Activity app counts all daily activity towards Stand, Move and Exercise rings.

Apple Watch Series 2 will be available September 16 starting at $369.

Apple Watch Nike+

In addition, Apple and Nike unveiled Apple Watch Nike+, which includes exclusive Siri commands and “iconic Nike watch faces along with deep integration with the new Nike+ Run Club app.”

This app offers motivation, challenges and alerts, including when the weather is right to go outside. Training data, like pace, distance and heart rate are also available, and Apple said the app promotes friendly competition, allowing users to send fist bumps from the wrist.

Apple Watch Nike+ will be available in late October and will start at $369.

While Costello said Apple Watch has been a big success for Apple – noting Apple Watch is the top-selling smart watch and CEO Tim Cook said it is also the #2 watch in the world in terms of revenue, behind only Rolex, which is no small feat for a new market in 18 months – he added the issue is that the smart watch market is much smaller than the fitness tracker market, which is what Apple needs to crack now.

“Apple Watch Series 2 will certainly help with that. The built-in GPS will be a huge asset for runners and cyclists, as will the waterproofing for swimmers, divers, surfers and anyone who steps incautiously near a swimming pool. The combination of the faster processor and better-tuned watchOS 3 should help address the complaint about the Watch for most users: It’s too slow. If apps on the Watch become really usable, that’s a big step,” Costello said. “I’d expect the Series 2 to sell a bit better than the original, but it’s probably not the model that will put an Apple Watch on everyone’s wrist.”

Indeed, as Costello noted, additional Apple Watch Series 2 features include a brighter display, making it easier to see information when outside on a sunny day, and a dual-core processor that makes this Apple Watch up to 50 percent faster, Apple said.

Apple Watch Hermès

Fashion plates and conspicuous consumers alike should be happy Apple teamed with Hermès to launch Apple Watch Hermès styles with calfskin leathers that “elegantly [frame] the wrist.”

Starting at $1149, Apple Watch Hermès will be available as of September 23.

Further, Apple’s high-end Apple Watch Edition model will be available in a ceramic, which, Apple noted, is “one of the hardest materials in the world” and comes “with a beautiful, white, pearl-like finish” starting at $1249.

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus

In addition to the removal of the headphone jack, the latest iPhones will include:

New camera systems

The iPhone 7 will come with a 12-megapixel wide angle camera, which the iPhone 7 Plus will also have along with a 12-megapixel telephoto camera. Apple said this combination will enable a new depth-of-field effect, using “sophisticated technology including machine learning” to separate the background from the foreground, as well as a 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera and a quad-LED True Tone flash that Apple said compensates for flickering lights.

Better battery life

Ever so humbly, Apple said its A10 Fusion chip is the most powerful chip ever in a smartphone, which enables the longest battery life ever in an iPhone. In addition, Apple said graphics performance is more powerful, running up to three times faster than the iPhone 6 at as little as half the power, enabling a “new level of gaming and professional apps.”

Enhanced display and feedback

The new iPhone features what Apple called the brightest, most colorful Retina HD display ever in an iPhone, with a wide color gamut.

In addition, an advanced solid-state Home button is designed to be durable and responsive and, working in tandem with the new Taptic Engine, provides what Apple said is more precise and customizable tactile feedback.

New finishes

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will be available in silver, gold and rose gold, as well as two new black finishes, including a black finish with an anodized matte appearance and a jet black finish with a “deep, high-gloss look.”

Water and dust resistance

Apple said a re-engineered enclosure also results in a water-resistant iPhone.

The latest iPhone models start at $649.

iOS 10

And, in related news, the latest version of Apple's operating system will be available September 13, including updates to Messages, as well as enhanced functionality for Siri. Apple said iOS 10 will also include new ways to interact with apps and more places to use 3D Touch, along with redesigned Maps, Photos, Apple Music and News apps, as well as the Home app, which will deliver a secure way to manage home automation products.

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