Apple has sent out media invites for a product launch scheduled for March 21, just a day before the company squares off with US federal authorities over their demand to unlock an encrypted iPhone.
The tech community widely expects the company to release its first small-screen iPhone since 2013, along with a smaller version of the iPad Pro, at the March 21 launch event.
Apple’s media invite only says: Let us loop you in. The rumoured small-screen iPhone is reportedly named iPhone SE, which is said to stand for Special Edition, and feature a 4-inch screen. According to leaks, the upcoming Apple smartphone looks the same as iPhone 6S, but in a smaller frame, and is powered by the current flagship’s A9 chipset. It will also support features like Apple Pay and Live Photos but not 3D Touch, which will remain exclusive to iPhone 6S and 6S Plus for now.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, widely considered the most accurate researcher on Apple, previously said in a note that iPhone SE will be priced at $450. Apple currently sells the 2.5-year-old iPhone 5S at that price point. He also said that the price of iPhone 5S will be cut in half after the launch of iPhone SE.
With iPhone sales now starting to plateau, analysts say Apple could spark additional demand by offering an updated 4-inch iPhone alongside the bigger models. The smaller iPhone’s is also expected to appeal to those who never bought into the larger screens of the smartphones the company has launched over the past two years.
Similarly, Apple has been trying to boost sagging iPad sales by offering more sizes and models. The new iPad tablet is expected to be a 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro, which Apple introduced last year. While the new model will be the same size as Apple’s regular iPads, it’s also a step back from the first iPad Pro, which has a larger, 12.9-inch screen and other features for professional users — including a thin, detachable keyboard and stylus that are sold separately.
The backdrop to this year’s event is Apple’s high-stakes legal dispute with FBI and the Obama administration, which has chafed at Apple’s use of encryption that make its customers’ data unreadable to others.
Federal authorities want Apple’s help in over-riding security features on an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino mass shooters. Apple CEO Tim Cook contends the government’s demand would make other iPhones vulnerable. Both sides are scheduled to make their case to a federal magistrate in Riverside on March 22.