Apple also announced the launch of CareKit, a new framework for building apps for personalized healthcare, and the immediate availability of iOS 9.3, the latest update to its mobile operating system. In addition, several new features for Apple TV -- including the ability to organize apps into folders and use dictation to input user names and passwords -- became available today.
Today's event began with a brief summary of four decades of innovations introduced by Apple, which celebrates its 40th birthday on April 1. CEO Tim Cook and other executives provided an overview of the company's ongoing environmental and health research initiatives and goals. Cook also took a few minutes to address the company's current court battle with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
'We Will Not Shrink' from Privacy Protection
Noting that there are now more than 1 billion Apple devices worldwide -- "an incredible milestone for us" -- Cook said his company remains committed to ensuring that its devices protect users' privacy. It's an issue in the spotlight as Apple heads back to court tomorrow to fight FBI efforts to break the encryption of an iPhone in the agency's possession. The FBI wants Apple to write new code to unlock the iPhone that was used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people at a holiday gathering in San Bernardino, Calif. on December 2.
"We need to decide as a nation how much power the government should have over our data and our information," Cook said from the stage during today's event. "We strongly believe we have a responsibility to help you protect your data and your privacy. We will not shrink from this responsibility."
Lisa Jackson -- the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, currently vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple -- followed Cook's introduction to describe the company's clean energy goals. She said 93 percent of Apple's facilities around the world now run on renewable energy, with that figure standing at 100 percent in 23 countries.
Chief operating officer Jeff Williams took the stage after Jackson to talk about Apple's efforts in health research. Those efforts gained steam last year with the launch of ResearchKit, an iPhone-based software framework aimed at improving progress in medical research. Williams said the company plans to build on that with today's launch of CareKit, aimed at building "apps to empower people to take a more active role in their care." One of the first apps for CareKit is designed for people with Parkinson's disease.
iOS 9.3 Introduces 'Night Shift'
Apple's newest phone, the iPhone SE (pictured above, far right and close up), will be "the most powerful 4-inch phone ever," said Greg Joswiak, vice president of iPhone, iPod and iOS product marketing. With a 64-bit A9 chip and 12-megapixel camera, the new phone will also come with LTE speeds that are 50 percent faster than the iPhone 5s, as well as Touch ID and built-in Apple Pay.
Pre-ordering for the iPhone SE is set to begin on March 24, with shipping to start on March 31. The device will be priced starting at $399 (16 GB) and $499 (64 GB).
Apple will also begin taking pre-orders on March 2, with shipping on March 31, for the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the follow-up device to last year's 12-inch iPad Pro. The device will feature a number of improvements over previous generations of the iPad, including support for Night Shift, a new capability being introduced today with iOS 9.3.
Night Shift enables custom shifting of colors on a device screen to reduce the amount of blue light users are exposed to as daylight ends. The shift to warmer colors could help device users sleep better at night, Joswiak said.
The new iPad Pro will also enable a True Tone display that adjusts screen color and warmth to better match the ambient light of its surroundings. That makes reading "more natural and comfortable" -- almost like looking at a sheet of paper, according to Apple. It's quite a breakthrough, said Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing.
The iPad Pro will be priced starting at $599 (32 GB), $749 (128 GB) and $899 (256 GB). In conjunction with the release of the new device, Apple also plans to reduce the price of its iPad Air 2 by $100 to $399 (16 GB).
Apple is also introducing several new band colors for its Apple Watch, as well as a new woven nylon band. The new band costs $49 and come in seven colors: gold/red, gold/royal blue, royal blue, pink, pearl, scuba blue, and black. "We think it's going to be incredibly popular," Cook said. The starting price for the Apple Watch is also being reduced by $50 to $299, he said.