Apple Shoehorns Burly A9 SoC Inside Petite 4-Inch iPhone SE, A9X Into 9.7-Inch iPad Pro

Not even Apple can keep a secret in the Internet era. Ahead of today's scheduled media event, there were rumors and speculation that Apple would introduce smaller size iPhone and iPad Pro devices, and sure enough, those were the highlights of what Apple announced today. Specifically, Apple added a 4-inch iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro to its growing lineup of mobile gadgets.

The press event began with Apple talking about its carbon footprint and its goal of having all of its facilities run on renewable energy. Apple isn't quite there on a global basis, though 93 percent of its facilities are in fact now running on renewable energy, including all of the ones in the U.S., China, and 21 other countries. Kudos to Apple there.

Apple iPhone SE Front and Back

Of course, what you really want to know about are the details of Apple's new hardware, so let's start with the iPhone SE. The Cliff Notes version is that it's an iPhone 6s in an iPhone 5s body. The marketing you'll hear from Apple is that the iPhone SE is "the most powerful 4-inch smartphone ever," and that's not inaccurate. However, this isn't an upgrade to Apple's flagship iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus models, but a smaller and cheaper option for people who prefer the old form factor.

That may seem hard to fathom with all these giant size handsets dominating the landscape, but Apple notes that it sold over 30 million 4-inch iPhones in 2015. Many of the people picking up the smaller size iPhones are first time iPhone buyers and/or those defecting from Android. So, there's a significant market for 4-inch iPhones, and Apple will tap into it with the iPhone SE.

Inside the iPhone SE is Apple's custom 64-bit A9 processor paired with an embedded M9 motion co-processor. It's the same combination that's found in Apple's iPhone 6s devices, which gives the iPhone SE a lot more compute and graphics power to work with, and also the ability to interact with Siri hands-free by saying, "Hey Siri" (you can't do that on the iPhone 5s).

Compared to the iPhone 5s, the new iPhone SE gains faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi and more LTE bands for better roaming and up to 50 percent faster LTE performance. Voice over LTE and Wi-Fi calling are included here as well.

Apple upgraded the rear camera (again, compared to the iPhone SE) to the same 12-megapixel iSight shooter found on the iPhone 6s. It supports 4K video recording and snapping Live Photos. And on the front, the FaceTime camera is bolstered by Retina Flash with True Tone lighting technology. What this does is light up the display in dark environments while adjusting the tone for accurate color reproduction when taking selfies.

One thing that's truly unique about the iPhone SE is something called Night Shift. It's an iOS 9.3 feature that uses the phone's clock and geolocation data to automatically adjust the colors in the display to the warmer end of the spectrum after dark. The principal behind it is that some studies have shown that blue light exposure in the evening can make it more difficult for some people to fall asleep.

Apple iPhone SE Colors

The iPhone SE will be available in space gray, silver, gold, and rose told metallic finishes in 16GB and 64GB models starting at $399, or for 24 monthly payments starting at $17/month. Pre-orders will kick off Thursday, March 24, with availability beginning Thursday, March 31.Honey, Apple Shrunk the iPad Pro!

Shrinking the iPad Pro

Apple's other big announcement was that it's releasing a 9.7-inch version of its 12.9-inch iPad Pro. We haven't seen a new 9.7-inch iPad release since the iPad Air 2 came out in 2014, and with the introduction of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, it appears as though Apple no longer plans to separate its consumer and professional models, though that remains to be seen.

Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro

In any event, like the iPhone SE, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro a shrunken version of a flagship product. It has a 64-bit A9X SoC inside, 12-megapixel iSight camera for shooting Live Photos and 4K video, 5-megapixel FaceTime HD camera for selfies, and faster wireless technologies.

Apple spent quite a bit of time hyping up the display. Compared to the iPad Air 2, the display on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is 25 percent brighter and 40 percent less reflective. It also has a wider color gamut, along with the aforementioned Night Shift feature and a new True Tone display technology to dynamically adjust white balance.

Like the bigger iPad Pro, one of the main selling points here is that of the Apple Pencil, an optional $99 add-on.

Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil

"People don’t realize how much hand drawing is needed to produce computer animation," said John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. "iPad Pro and Apple Pencil are the closest we’ve ever been able to get in the digital world to actually drawing on paper."

Whether or not artists and other graphics professionals will be interested in working on a smaller size display remains to be seen. We'll find out soon enough as the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available to order on March 24 starting at $599 for the 32GB Wi-Fi model and $729 for the 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model.