At its March event today, Apple made a couple of small announcements: the 4-inch iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. You’ll be able to pre-order both on 24 March 2016, and they’ll ship on 31 March 2016. Apple also announced some new accessories: a smaller Smart Keyboard cover for the new iPad Pro, a Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter, and a new Lightning to USB-C Cable that can connect to the MacBook’s 29W USB-C Power Adapter for faster charging.
iPhone SE — For all of you who missed the smaller phones in Apple’s lineup, rejoice! The 4-inch iPhone SE packs nearly all of the power of the iPhone 6s in a smaller form factor, with a few surprises thrown in.
In terms of specs, the iPhone SE uses the iPhone 5s form factor, measuring 2.31 inches (58.6 mm) wide, 4.87 inches (123.8 mm) long, and 0.30 inches (7.6 mm) thick, and weighs 3.99 ounces (113 grams), but includes the same A9 processor and M9 motion coprocessor as the iPhone 6s. The iPhone SE’s 4-inch Retina screen offers 1136‑by‑640 resolution at 326 pixels per inch — the same pixel density as the iPhone 6s. We anticipate that iPhone 5 cases should work with the iPhone SE.
The iPhone SE’s rear camera captures 12 megapixel still images, 4K video, and Live Photos, and features the dual-LED True Tone flash. However, its front-facing camera isn’t as sharp as the one on the iPhone 6s, capturing only 1.2-megapixel photos with an f/2.4 aperture, as opposed to the iPhone 6s’s 5-megapixel front-facing camera with an f/2.2 aperture.
The iPhone SE lacks two marquee features of the iPhone 6s: 3D Touch and the Taptic Engine. It also has slower wireless speeds than the iPhone 6s: 19 LTE bands, 150 Mbps throughput over LTE, and 433 Mbps over Wi-Fi, as compared to the 23 LTE bands, 300 Mbps over LTE, and 866 Mbps over Wi-Fi that the iPhone 6s supports.
The iPhone SE will start at $399 off contract for the 16 GB model. With a contract, the phone will be free, or $17 per month (for 24 months) if you choose a carrier installment plan. There is also a 64 GB model, which will cost $499 off contract. It will be available in four colors: silver, gold, space gray, and rose gold.
9.7-inch iPad Pro — Apple also unveiled a smaller model of the iPad Pro: a 9.7-inch model that actually includes a few fancier specs than its larger sibling.
The smaller iPad Pro features the same A9X chip as the larger iPad Pro, as well as the same features, but it comes in a smaller size, measuring 6.6 inches (169.5 mm) wide, 9.4 inches (240 mm) long, and 0.24 inches (6.1 mm) thick. Unlike the larger iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch model weighs in at a little under 1 pound (437 grams for the Wi-Fi only model and 444 grams for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model). Those are the exact measurements of the iPad Air 2, so iPad Air cases should work fine.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro features a 2048-by-1536 resolution display at 264 pixels per inch (the same pixel density as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro). However, it features some improvements over the larger iPad Pro: the capability to display a wider color gamut and a new technology Apple is calling a “True Tone display,” which uses ambient light sensors to make onscreen colors match your surroundings. If you’re in warm light, the white balance on the screen will adjust to become warmer, and vice versa.
The smaller iPad Pro also improves upon the original’s camera, with a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera (as opposed to 8 megapixels) with a f/2.2 aperture (compared to f/2.4). Like the iPhone 6s, but not the larger iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can capture Live Photos and has a dual-LED True Tone flash. It can also take 4K video, while the larger iPad Pro is stuck at 1080p. The front-facing camera has also been improved, with a 5-megapixel sensor and Retina Flash, which uses the screen to simulate a flash. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has only a 1.2 megapixel front camera, without Retina Flash.
Other than screen size (along with reports that the USB speed through its Lightning port is at USB 2 level, not the USB 3 level of the larger model), the 9.7-inch iPad Pro appears to be superior to the 12.9-inch model. Unlike the larger model, it even supports “Hey Siri” hands-free Siri activation. And it starts at a lower price: $599 for the 32 GB model. A 128 GB model will cost $749, and, in an iOS first, there will be a 256 GB model for $899. The iPad Air 2 drops to $399 for the 16 GB model, and the old iPad mini 2 is now just $269. Oddly, the iPad mini 4 is now priced the same as the iPad Air 2, which feels wrong. Apple also added a new 256 GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which costs $1,229. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro will come in four colors: silver, gold, space gray, and rose gold.
The smaller iPad Pro will of course be compatible with the $99 Apple Pencil, and Apple is offering a matching Smart Keyboard for $149. Official cases will also be available, in polyurethane for $49 or silicone for $69.
New iOS Accessories — Apple also announced a few Lightning accessories aimed at the iPad Pro line, which should be compatible with all Lightning-equipped iOS devices.
The most exciting accessory is the $39 Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter, which adds a standard USB port to your device. While this dongle is ostensibly for syncing cameras to your iPad, Apple confirmed that it can also be used to connect USB peripherals like Ethernet adapters, audio interfaces, card readers, and USB microphones. Unlike the existing Lighting to USB Camera Adapter, the new one features a Lightning passthrough so you can charge your device while an accessory is connected. Seems like a big win to us.
Also available is a new Lightning to USB-C cable, which retails for $35. Now you can connect your iOS devices directly to a 12-inch MacBook, or use the MacBook’s 29-watt USB-C Power Adapter to speed up charging of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All — While it’s easy to see the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro as minor releases that don’t advance the state of the iOS device world, that’s missing the point. While many people love the larger screens of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus form factors, many others have been unhappy with the overall physical size of those devices, and didn’t want to put up with an underpowered iPhone 5s just to have a smaller iPhone. The iPhone SE is Apple listening to its customers. The same is true for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which builds in most of the features of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro without forcing people to interact with a device they felt was too large.
No one is suggesting that Apple should turn scattershot and start releasing new form factors willy-nilly, but it’s great to see the company acknowledging that people — and their needs — come in many different sizes.