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Apple's CEO Tim Cook speaking at the company's virtual event yesterday, September 15. (Photo: AP)

Apple debuts discount watch, but no new iPhones … yet

Apple's CEO Tim Cook speaking at the company's virtual event yesterday, September 15. (Photo: AP)

Apple introduced a cheaper version of its smartwatch, its latest attempt to broaden the appeal of its trend-setting products while many consumers are forced to scrimp during the coronavirus pandemic.

Apple unveiled a suite of new offerings at its annual event yesterday but no new iPhones, to the dismay of many fans of the brand.

The scaled-down Apple Watch follows on the heels of a budget iPhone the company released five months ago as the economy cratered and unemployment rates rose above the levels reached during the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

Apple also took the wraps off a new high-end watch model, a next-generation iPad and a couple of new subscription services during a virtual event held Tuesday. The company normally also rolls out its new iPhones at this time of year, but production problems caused by the pandemic have delayed their release until at least October.

The iPhone continues to be Apple’s most popular product, even with the Apple Watch projected to sell 51 million units this year.

CEO Tim Cook didn’t mention iPhones during Tuesday’s one-hour presentation recorded at the company’s massive, but now mostly empty, headquarters in Cupertino, California.

The Apple Watch has never come close to rivalling the iPhone’s popularity, but it does dominate the market for smartwatches. Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley estimates about 51 million Apple Watches will be sold this year, a five per cent increase from last year. The research firm GlobalData pegs Apple’s share of the US$64 billion smartwatch market at roughly 60 per cent.

The new discount model, called the Apple Watch SE, will sell for US$279 and be available beginning Friday. The price is a markdown from the US$399 that Apple is asking for the next version of its higher end watch, the Series 6. Apple watches have been selling for an average of US$377, based on Walkley’s calculations.

Apple added more features to help the watch monitor its owner’s health, including a sensor that can read blood oxygen levels. The feature, specific to the Series 6, could be timely, given that COVID-19 frequently attacks the lungs.

Apple also announced a new fitness subscription service tailored for its watches for $10 per month, as well as a new option that will bundle its existing music, video, news and gaming services into a package that will cost $15 to $30 per month.

Tens of millions of people already subscribe to Apple’s various services, helping the company double its revenue during the past four years within a division that creates products for the more than 1 billion iPhones, iPads, watches and other devices that the people already use.

The services division also includes Apple’s app store, which is under regulatory scrutiny for charging a commission of up to 30% for products sold through other companies who have no other option but to use the store to reach the mostly affluent consumers who buy iPhone products.