LOS ANGELES - Apple drew back the curtain on the iPhone 7, revealing several expected changes -- including water-resistant features and the absence of a dedicated headset jack -- marking an evolution rather than any kind of stunning breakthrough for the flagship smartphone line.
The official announcement at Apple's San Francisco event Wednesday comes after weeks of leaks and speculation about the next iPhone. Instead of a headphone jack, the iPhone 7 will use Apple's proprietary Lightning charging port to connect a headset (included with the smartphones); alternatively users also can connect to wireless earbuds via Bluetooth, and the iPhone 7 will also include an adapter to connect to analog headphones.
Apple also is introducing AirPods, new wireless earbuds that will be sold separately for $159, which lets users access Siri with a double-tap. The company's Beats division is launching Beats Solo3 and Powerbeats3 and the new BeatsX wireless headphones with the iPhone 7.
The reason Apple is eliminating the traditional headphone port "comes down to one word: courage, the courage to move on to do something that betters all of us," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior VP of worldwide marketing. He noted that the change reduces the components required in the iPhone 7.
However, on the water- and dust-resistant features, Apple is playing catch-up: Major rival Samsung Electronics has highlighted the waterproof features of its Galaxy S7 Android-based smartphones, which can sustain being submerged for up to 30 minutes in five feet of water.
The iPhone 7 (with a 4.7-inch screen) and the larger-size iPhone 7 Plus (with a 5.5-inch screen) will begin shipping Sept. 16 in 29 countries, with pre-orders starting Friday, Sept. 9, according to Apple.
The pricing of the iPhone 7 starts at $649 -- the same as the iPhone 6s, but doubling the amount of storage, from 16 gigabytes to 32 GB. The iPhone 7 Plus starts at $769 with 32 GB. Both are available with 128 GB and 256 GB of storage (and the new jet-black finish is available only on those higher-end models).
"It's the best iPhone we've ever created," CEO Tim Cook said on stage, using pretty much the same lines that he has with past launches. "It makes all the things you do every day so much better."
In a video at the outset of the event, Cook rode in a car with James Corden in a "Carpool Karaoke" setup, along with the singer Pharrell Williams. That gave Cook the opportunity to call out Apple's deal with CBS to debut episodes of "Carpool Karaoke" on Apple Music in 2017.
Cook also noted that Apple Music now has more than 17 million subscribers, which he said was boosted by exclusive music deals with artists. Australian singer Sia performed "The Greatest" and "Chandelier" to close out the event.
The new iPhone 7 models have speedier processors and are equipped with a 12-megapixel rear camera that includes an optical image stabilizer, improvements for low-light photography, and the ability to capture a wider range of colors, among other features. The iPhone 7 Plus features a dual-lens camera system (a wide-angle and a telephoto lens) designed to improve zoom capabilities and capture 3D-like images.
The Retina displays on the new phones are 25% brighter than those in the iPhone 6s, and the iPhone 7 is the first in the line to include stereo speakers, according to Apple. Another change: The iPhone 7 has a solid-state "home" button (replacing the physical button), which is designed to be "durable and responsive" as well as provide more precise and customizable tactile feedback, Apple says.
Apple is banking on the iPhone refresh -- which has become an annual traditional -- to boost sales of the flagship device line. Unit sales of iPhones declined 15% year-over-year during the quarter ended June 30, following a falloff in the prior quarter. Apple, the world's biggest tech conglomerate, posted iPhone sales of $24.0 billion in the most recent quarter, representing 57% of total revenue.
Still, it's not clear that the iPhone 7 enhancements will spur Apple's hoped-for upgrade rush among current iPhone users, who may be growing less inclined to toss out their existing devices on a yearly cycle.
Apple's removal of the iPhone headphone jack had been widely anticipated, as was the dual-lens camera. Reports prior to the launch also said Apple would increase storage for the iPhone, with the entry-level model including 32 gigabytes of memory (up from 16 GB previously) along with a new 256-gigabyte version.
Aside from the iPhone 7, Apple unveiled the Apple Watch Series 2, which is waterproof to be able to withstand submersion to a depth of 50 meters and includes built-in GPS to provide location-based services. The new smartwatch lineup includes Apple Watch Nike+ model, a companion device for runners that tracks workouts. The Apple Watch Series 2 will be priced starting at $369 (as will the Nike+ model). The original Apple Watch, now called Series 1, will start at $269. According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple Watch was second in revenue in 2015 only to Rolex in the worldwide watch market. (The company did not reveal actual sales figures.)