Apple is Back with New Products and It’s Bigger and Better Than Ever

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, introduced a smartwatch, a wearable device that combines health and fitness tracking with communications. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, introduced a smartwatch, a wearable device that combines health and fitness tracking with communications. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

Four times before in its history, at media events planned with military precision, Apple introduced a new invention that radically altered how the technology industry conceived of its future.

The company hopes it did that again for a fifth time on Tuesday by unveiling the Apple Watch, a stylish smartwatch that is the company’s first advance into a new product category since it created the iPad in 2010.

Yet in some ways, the most consequential headline at the event went unannounced. The biggest news was about the old Apple: It’s back, and it’s more capable than ever.

Any question about how well Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, is managing the reins of the world’s most valuable company will most likely be put to rest after Tuesday’s profusion of product announcements at the Flint Center in Cupertino, Calif., where Steve Jobs first showed off the Macintosh in 1984.

The announcements included two large-screen iPhones and a new electronic payment system that allows users to make purchases at stores through their phones.

Apple, under Mr. Cook, looks every bit as daunting to rivals as it did under its iconic co-founder, Mr. Jobs.

Both the new watch and the payment system, Apple Pay, appear to be of a level of polish that suggests the company still possesses the capacity to invent new products and services that can define an entire industry. And the two iPhones will most likely prove that Mr. Cook can still do what has long been Apple’s bread and butter: incrementally improving its top-performing products in ways that keep them just ahead of rivals.

But more important is that Apple, under Mr. Cook, is operating at a scale it never achieved under Mr. Jobs. It is creating more new hardware and software, and tying all of its products together more seamlessly than most of its rivals. In responding to customer demand to offer bigger phones, and in granting outside developers deeper access to its mobile operating system, Mr. Cook has also signaled a slightly more open philosophy at Apple. The firm is not as ideologically rigid about how people use its products as it once was.

It remains to be seen whether Apple can make good on all of the promises it made on Tuesday. Its new phones will be out this month, and its payment system will be operational in October. The Apple Watch will not be in stores until next year.

After a hack last month that resulted in the leak of several celebrities’ private photos from their online Apple accounts, the company’s push to persuade people to use its devices to engage in commerce and to track their health may face skepticism.

Price is also a persistent question: From its phones to its new watch, which starts at $349, Apple is selling a digital lifestyle at a cost that exceeds that of many of its rivals.

Yet many users won’t balk at paying for the convenience and prestige of using Apple’s products.

Apple set out to solve two problems with its media event, the importance of one of which Mr. Cook had been telegraphing in earnings calls for years.

First, it needed to make something — anything — new. One persistent criticism of Mr. Cook is that while he has been an able steward of Apple’s finances, he lacks the capacity to bring forth the kind of industry-defining new products for which Mr. Jobs was famous. Mr. Cook is “a master of spreadsheets, not innovation,” as Yukari Iwatani Kane, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, put it earlier this year in a book that became the high-water mark for Apple criticism.

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Farhad Manjoo