5 things you may have missed during the iPhone XS and iPhone XR launch

Apple launches don’t contain many surprises these days thanks to the endless wave of pre-event leaks, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting. 

In addition to the usual spray of superlatives and the obligatory videos featuring the disembodied voice of Jonathan Ive, there were some fascinating moments and moves during the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR and Apple Watch 4 launch event. 

It’s clear that the Apple Watch remains a really big deal to Apple, and that Apple’s own chip-mongers are doing some truly amazing things with implications for more than just iPhones. 

1. Tim Cook trolled everyone on Twitter

Shortly before the keynote, Tim Cook tweeted the message: “No. Who can get it here quickly?” No sooner had he posted it than he deleted it, although of course some eagle-eyed Twitter users screen grabbed it first (like us). 

The keynote then began with a video showing an Apple employee racing to the Steve Jobs theatre to deliver a mystery briefcase – which turned out to contain the clicker Tim Cook uses on stage, the “it” he was referring to in his tweet. 

Personally, we would have loved the reveal to be the much-delayed AirPower but it’s an Easter egg of marketing: if you spotted it, you’d appreciate the video a whole lot more.

2. Apple’s ambition: to save your life

Apple wants the Apple Watch to be “an intelligent guardian for your health,” a phrase used three times during the keynote. Fall detection with automatic SOS is going to appeal to the baby boomer market – the Apple II and early Mac buyers are well into their grey years now – while low heart rate detection and the ability to take an ECG massively expand its medical monitoring capabilities. 

The engineering effort that’s gone into the improved accelerometer and the dual-core, 64-bit S4 processor shows Apple sees the Watch as a long term investment.

3. Apple isn’t giving up on the ten thing

After a year of trying and failing to persuade the world that the 'X' in 'iPhone X' is pronounced “ten”, Apple isn’t giving up: the iPhone XS is, apparently, pronounced “ten ess”, which is of course going to end up as “tennis”. Which means the XR is the “tenner”, or “tena” if you want to make jokes about incontinence pants, and the bigger XS is the ten ess max. 

We think it’s a doomed undertaking: try as we might, we can’t persuade our brains that “XS” says anything other than “XS”. It’s Prince’s squiggle all over again.

4. Apple chips are coming to the Mac

It’s clearly not a case of if Apple’s going to replace Intel processors in its computers. It’s just a matter of when. The engineering that’s gone into the A12 Bionic system is extraordinary. Compared to last year’s model it’s up from 600 billion operations per second to 1.5 trillion; its performance cores are 15% faster with 40% lower power consumption and it’s the industry’s first seven-nanometre chip. 

The A11 was already fast enough to deliver desktop-class performance; the A12 is even more impressive. Imagine how fast the A14 and A15 will be.

5. The iPhone range is really big, and a bit confusing

The iPhone XR may be pitched as the entry level of today’s three phones, but it’s not the entry level iPhone: that role falls to the iPhone 7, which is on sale at $449. 

The iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus are still in the line-up too at $599 and $699 respectively. 

We can’t imagine they’ll sell in huge numbers, though: the iPhone 8 Plus looks pretty redundant when the iPhone XR has a bigger display and a much better camera system for not much more.

To help you figure out what the difference is between the three new iPhones, we've put together a handy explainer video:

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.