What to expect from Apple’s iPhone event on March 21

We’ll find out soon enough.
We’ll find out soon enough.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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Apple’s not very good at keeping secrets these days.

If its track record in recent years is any indication, we already have a pretty good idea of what Apple will reveal Monday (March 21) at an event held at its headquarters in Cupertino, California.

Apple typically hosts two of these splashy launch events a year. Though the spring event is often considered the lesser of the two, the upcoming one on Monday is especially important for Apple—once considered the most valuable public company in the world—as it experiences a slowdown. Its recent holiday quarter saw weaker growth than expected, and its forecast of $50 billion to $53 billion in revenue for the current quarter is well below the $58 billion it reported the year prior.

This event is also more high profile than usual because of the timing. Apple’s embroiled in a very public battle with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation over its security at the moment. Interestingly, it chose the day before its high-profile court hearing with the FBI—which was set a month in advance—to host this event. Given Apple’s attention to detail, this is likely no coincidence and will give it a stage to make a strong statement on encryption and users’ privacy.

Here’s what to expect:

A smaller iPhone

Yes, large iPhones proved to be a humongous hit for Apple, helping fuel multiple quarters of record-breaking earnings for the company.

There’s a “but,” of course: As CEO Tim Cook revealed Jan. 26 during Apple’s most recent earnings call, 60% of iPhone owners from before September 2014—when the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (read: large and extra-large phones) launched—have not upgraded to larger iPhones. Steve Jobs, Apple’s late cofounder, famously said consumers wouldn’t buy large smartphones, and it looks like there’s some truth to that.

As such, Apple’s widely believed to be prepping a cheaper 4-inch phone that could be named the iPhone SE (short for special edition). Reports suggest it’ll essentially be an iPhone 6s, with many of the same internal components, in the body of an iPhone 5/5s with rounder edges. As AppleInsider notes, if this phone replaces the iPhone 5s in the lineup, it would be the first time the entire iPhone product line will feature Apple Pay.

A smaller iPad Pro

Sensing a theme here?

Instead of an iPad Air 3, Apple is expected to launch a 9.7-inch iPad Pro. A report from 9to5Mac suggests that Apple is getting ready to retire the iPad Air and iPad mini lines in favor of expanding the more powerful and functional iPad Pro.

Like the current iPad Pro, which has a Retina display measuring 12.9 inches diagonally, the smaller version will likely carry the same features: an A9X chip that provides both power and energy efficiency, smart connector that allows the tablet to connect to and power a Surface-like keyboard, multitouch display for compatibility with the Apple Pencil, and four speakers machined into the enclosure for enhanced audio.

Apple Watch bands

It’s unlikely Apple will debut a second-generation Apple Watch (wait for the fall). But chances are high it’ll show off new watch bands, plus a preview of new software features to come.

In January, a space black Milanese Loop band for the smartwatch briefly appeared on Apple’s online stores in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Portugal. Curious. Given how Apple has a history of dropping hints in its event invitations—and the most recent one contains the phrase “Let us loop you in”—it’s safe to assume the leaked watch band, along with others, will make an appearance.

New software

Expect Apple to talk about the new features of iOS 9.3 (a blue-light filter, encrypted notes, and updates to Apple Music and Apple News) and tvOS 9.2 (dictation, App Store Siri search, folders for apps). It’ll probably also announce the availability of OS X 10.11.4 and watchOS 2.2.

The encryption conversation

With so much media coverage, Apple has the perfect opportunity to make a statement on security, privacy, and encryption. Since it’s due in court the day after the event, Apple could reveal even more robust security features before its hands are tied. More than likely, it’ll rehash many of the same arguments it’s made over the last month: that it’s putting consumer privacy first; that asking it to write a new operating system that bypasses its security features is a violation of the First Amendment; and that this “master key” could very well fall in the wrong hands and weaken security overall.