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Apple's underwhelming iPhone event

Apple CEO Tim Cook at the launch for the iPhone 11
Photo: Apple

Apple delivered exactly the iPhones everyone expected on Tuesday — and that's kind of the problem. Instead of "one more thing," Apple's event was more like none more thing.

Driving the news: Not only were there no big surprises, there were actually some disappointments, as the company didn't announce its expected new item-finder tags, nor did the Apple Watch add a widely rumored sleep-tracking feature.

Why it matters: Apple isn't alone in offering slower innovation in the smartphone market, but the company is uniquely dependent on smartphone sales for its overall business.

Apple did deliver some solid improvements to the iPhone, adding additional rear cameras to its mid-line and top-line phones (the iPhone 11 has 2, and the iPhone 11 Pro has 3), while also shaving a little bit from the entry-level price.

  • Apple isn't known for low prices, but has been known to cut them when it introduces new products that are fairly similar to their predecessors.

The company also added a compass and always-on display to Apple Watch and improved the display on the entry-level iPad. Plus, it announced fairly attractive $4.99-per-month pricing for both Apple Arcade and Apple TV+ subscription services, even if none of the content previewed made me want to rush out to sign up.

What they're not saying: There were even a few features that Apple chose not to talk much about on stage, including a new U1 processor that taps ultra-wideband technology to give the phone a better sense of objects in space.

  • Apple will use this in an upcoming feature that lets customers point their iPhone at the person to whom they want to AirDrop a photo or file.
  • It could also power the rumored Tile-like object finder, if and when that appears.

Yes, but: Apple is now on year 3 of the basic iPhone 10 design, and the smartphone market is slowing globally.

Our thought bubble: Part of the problem is that for years Apple has gathered the world's attention at these events with the promise of at least some "wow" moments, and there really weren't any on Tuesday.

  • Some of the loudest cheers came when Apple announced that the iPhone would be getting a faster charger in the box. That's the level of incrementalism the smartphone world has reached.

Where it stands: The iPhone 11 offers a couple of nice improvements, especially if it can deliver on its promise of significantly improved battery life on the iPhone 11 Pro. But it's far from clear whether the company provided customers weighing an upgrade to a new phone with enough reasons to spend.

Worth noting: Apple is doing a lot of work to make each iPhone owner both more loyal and valuable to the company by creating an array of services tied to Apple devices. Throwing in a free year of Apple TV+ with new hardware purchases should help get people in the habit of using Apple's services.

Go deeper ... Axios First Look: iPhone 11 Pro