CUPERTINO, Calif. — More than two years into the coronavirus pandemic, Apple made a big push on Monday to return to normalcy by inviting hundreds of software developers and journalists to its campus for an unveiling of a range of new software features that expand the iPhone’s utility.
Over a two-hour presentation, Apple revealed a buy-now-pay-later program that splits a purchase over several months, much like programs offered by PayPal and others. It also said it was expanding the ability to use an iPhone to unlock doors to apartments, hotel rooms and rental cars. And it introduced a version of CarPlay that would take over a vehicle’s entire dashboard, providing speed and fuel information as well as maps and music.
Collectively, the new features show how Tim Cook, the chief executive, is still finding ways to expand the usefulness and longevity of Apple’s most important product while wringing more sales out of it through features that thrust the company deeper into adjacent industries such as finance, real estate and autos.
“They are the digital control center, and they are extending their reach as more and more devices are digitized,” said Bob O’Donnell, president of TECHnalysis Research, a firm specializing in tech research. “Much of this is not going to change the world, but they are enhancements that give a little freshness that people appreciate.”
The software updates continue a yearslong lull in the introduction of a new product category from a company that its co-founder Steve Jobs made synonymous with revolutionary new devices. Apple last unveiled a new product category, wearables, in 2014 when it introduced the Apple Watch.
The pandemic has helped increase sales of Apple’s legacy products. Students and employees forced to work from home found value in upgrading to the latest versions of its iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. Many turned to video games and subscriptions for Apple TV+, helping increase the company’s sales last year by 33 percent to $366 billion.
On Monday, Apple looked to further the momentum of its Macs by updating its most popular computer, the MacBook Air. The new version sheds a decade-old wedge-shaped case in favor of a slender,…