Apple snubs Israel in selling new products like ‘Watch’

Israelis who want to immediately get their hands on new iPhones, Apple Watches will have to buy plane tickets

The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)
The Apple Watch introduced on stage at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 (screen capture: YouTube video)

Once again, Israel didn’t make the “A-list” for new Apple product distribution. One of its new products, Apple Watch, was the star of the glitzy rollout show, but the glitter didn’t spread all the way across the ocean. Israelis will have to wait — or fly somewhere — to get their hands on the newest gizmos. The snub comes despite the probability that elements of the newest products were developed in Israel.

At the gala event Tuesday at a fine arts center near San Jose, California, Apple CEO Tim Cook, along with top members of the company’s management, introduced a slew of products and technologies, including two new iPhones and a payment system for retail stores. In the highlight of the presentation, Cook showed off the Apple Watch, a new category of device that Apple hopes will do for wearable technology what the iPod did for MP3 players — turn Apple into the market leader for smart watches by using a tightly integrated software and hardware platform that, to put it the way Cook did at the event, “just works.”

First to go on sale will be the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, new versions of the Apple smartphone with a faster processor, more flash memory, better graphics, and a new operating system with updated sharing, messaging, and networking abilities. Among the features of the new phones will be an NFC (near field communication) strip that will enable use of the iPhone as a “mobile wallet,” with users just flashing their phone at a reader to pay bills. Instead of using a credit card, phone users can pay their bills via their iTunes/App Store accounts, using the credit cards they already have on file with Apple.

According to Cook, the system, called Apple Pay, will be highly secure, as the phone itself will not include any credit card or other secure information – so if the phone is lost or stolen, users will be able to disable its functions remotely, as they can now with Apple’s device location system, and thieves won’t be able to extract information they can use to steal money from a user’s account.

The new iPhones will be in stores in the US and several other countries, including Japan, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Singapore, and the UK, beginning Friday, September 19. Pre-orders will be taken in those countries as of this Friday. Cook said the devices would be available in 119 countries by the end of 2014. A spokesperson for Israel’s iDigital store, the main local distributor of Apple products, said they had no information on exactly when they would be on sale in Israel.

It’s not the first time Apple has bypassed Israel in its list of priority marketplaces, but at least Israel won’t be all alone waiting for the Apple Watch, the company’s much-anticipated foray into wearable technology. While there are many other smart watches on the market that can take a user’s pulse, measure their steps and count calories, flash e-mail and Facebook messages, and change their display to suit the wearer’s mood, none have the tight connection between software, hardware, and user interface typical to Apple products that the watch will have.

The watch will work with Apple Pay as well, and watch users will be able to communicate each other, using the device as a walkie talkie – and even send an image of their beating heart to other watch users. The watch itself will be available in the US, where there are three models, starting at $349, in early 2015 – but there was no word on when it would be on sale in the rest of the world.

Apple is notoriously secretive on how and where it develops its technology – but it’s likely that at least some of the innovations in chip speed, interface, and even mobile payments were done in Israel. Apple has an R&D center in Israel, which it set up several years ago after acquiring flash controller maker Anobit in 2012. In 2013, Apple acquired Israeli 3D tech developer PrimeSense, which was a primary factor in the development of the Kinect 3D system for Microsoft. Since then, it has developed 3D sensors for consumer electronics, cars, game devices, digital signage, medical devices, and more. The company’s sensors are installed in over 20 million devices.

Besides these companies, Apple is rumored to have recently hired dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israeli engineers, former employees of Texas Instruments who were laid off in 2012. According to reports in early 2013, Apple made an offer to many of the 250 engineers who were laid off when TI made major cuts at its Ra’anana R&D facility. They were working on the ARM processors Apple uses in its iPhones.

A source close to the deal told Israeli newspaper Calcalist at the time that Apple “saw its opportunity and took it, hiring dozens of some of the most talented communications engineers in the world. They are bringing with them knowledge that Apple does not currently possess, and they will get a finished product almost specifically made for them.” The source was apparently not referring to a specific product, but to designs that the TI engineers had been working on when they were laid off that they could easily reproduce for Apple. “It’s part of Apple’s new strategy of developing the technology it needs in-house, instead of relying on outside companies and contractors,” the source said.

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