Apple's new devices fail to wow

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Apple's new devices fail to wow

Changes to iPhone not enough, new iPad too big for investors.

Apple unveiled a new TV set top box that responds to voice commands and fresh iPhones that sense the pressure of a finger tap, but the changes underwhelmed many pundits and investors.

The new 6S and 6S Plus versions of the iPhone, Apple's biggest money maker, are the same size as the previous versions but come with a better camera, faster chips, new colors and the force-sensitive 3D Touch feature.

Speaking before thousands of analysts, journalists and Apple employees, CEO Tim Cook also brought on stage an executive from onetime archrival Microsoft to illustrate the business-friendly credentials of a big new iPad, the Pro.

Apple shares fell 1.9 percent to US$110.15 by the close, replicating the recent history of such rollouts but also reflecting the lack of any transformative products that could jumpstart the company's sales ahead of the crucial holiday season.

Apple shares have lost an average of 0.4 percent on the day of iPhone announcements over the past three years, according to BTIG Research data.

"People love to hate Apple announcements because the expectations are so high and they can never clear that bar," said Kevin Landis, portfolio manager of the Firsthand Technology Opportunities fund, which has Apple as its second-largest position.

Social media users seemed most impressed by the revamped Apple TV. The product, which the company long called a 'hobby', gets its own app store and will work with Siri, Apple's digital assistant.

Fewer celebrated the iPad Pro, which some saw as too big and similar to Microsoft's Surface tablet, and new iPhones, which are outwardly identical to the enlarged smartphones which made their debut about a year ago.

Apple TV demonstrations showed tricks to make viewing easier: digital assistant Siri, which is behind the voice control, can rewind a video for 15 seconds and turn on subtitles, when a viewer asks something like "What did she say"?

"We've been working really hard, and really long," on TV, Cook said, emphasising the word 'long' in a nod to the time it has taken the company to produce an ambitious TV product.

The new set-top box will include an app store and let developers create new software for Apple TV, including video games.

Absent from the new TV interface was any agreement for new content despite Apple's efforts to negotiate deals with a wider array of TV networks to provide live or on-demand content.

Apple is coming from behind in the streaming media market. Nearly 20 percent of US broadband households already own at least one media player that streams content from the internet, according to research firm Parks Associates.

A stylus?

Many of Apple's new features are based on technology that has been around for some time, but never caught on. Apple has a long history of creating successes where others could not.

Years ago a BlackBerry featured force-sensing touch. The new iPad has an optional US$99 stylus, called the "Pencil", which amused pundits due to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs' 2007 comments that "nobody wants a stylus." d.

The iPad Pro - with its 12.9 inch screen-  promises performance similar to a desktop computer. 

Dave Meier, who works on several portfolios at Motley Fool Funds, said the addition of a stylus and keyboard to the iPad Pro could lead to a “refresh cycle” that would lift incremental sales.

He was “impressed with the gumption” to bring Microsoft executives to demonstrate Office products on the new iPad, he said.

“This says that the Surface might be dead and Microsoft understands that they are very good at productivity but not at hardware,” he said.

The new phones come a year after Apple rolled out iPhones with larger screens, touching off a frenzy of sales that saw revenue in the most recent quarter increase 32.5 percent from the same quarter a year ago.

"It's getting harder and harder for Apple to compete against itself," said analyst Bob O'Donnell of TECHnalysis Research. Apple shares are up about 12 percent over the last year, although they are down about 14 percent in the last three months.

Fortunately for Apple, most consumers buy smartphones under a two-year upgrade cycle, meaning the company will still likely scoop up a lot of sales, said analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy.

"The key point of reference is not how the new phone compares to the iPhone 6, it's how it compares to the iPhone 5s," he said.

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