At an event today at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Apple announced a brand new MacBook Air, Mac mini, and iPad Pro. The announcements come after Apple unveiled the iPhone XS, XR, and Apple Watch Series 4 at an event last month.
What made today’s event unique was that these devices were in desperate need of attention. The MacBook Air hadn’t received an update beyond a spec-bump since 2012, while the Mac mini hadn’t received any update since October 2014. While the iPad Pro did get updated in June 2017, customers felt it didn’t fully articulate the potential of the device, particularly the larger 12.9-inch model. Despite Apple’s preaching about caring about the Mac and the iPad is the future of computing, they had done little to demonstrate this belief. Today’s event changes this narrative.
Apple began the event by almost immediately unveiling the updated MacBook Air, which despite my knowledge it would likely be present, was still one of the most surprising moments at an Apple Event of recent memory. This product, which had been so popular yet so deeply neglected, had somehow gotten a second chance.
The behind-the-scenes of how we ended up here is unknown, but there is some educated guessing to be done. When Apple unveiled the MacBook line in 2015, they likely thought it destined to replace the MacBook Air. It really only didn’t from the offset due to the high prices of Intel’s Core-M processor. The device featured a Retina display, a smaller design, and featured the latest Apple technologies.
However, Intel never really improved the M-chip dramatically, and prices remained the same. As a result, Apple cornered itself into a situation where they were internally unhappy with the price and capabilities of the MacBook, and sales of MacBook Air remained strong despite its date.
What has happened now is the tables have turned, and the MacBook will face neglect. The new MacBook Air features a bigger 13.3-inch display in a body similar to the MacBook, newer technologies, an Intel-Core i5, Touch ID, and an $1199 starting price. It will likely become the go-to MacBook for many.
Interestingly, the MacBook Air 2017 remains in the lineup at the same $999, but you should avoid that machine at all costs, as it is effectively four-year-old hardware.
Further emphasizing its renewed commitment to the Mac, Apple unveiled the first updated Mac mini in about five years. The device features a new design, quad and six-core CPUs, and Apple’s new T2 chip.
As expected, the device is now being marketed for enthusiasts and edge-cases rather than the cheapest Mac entry point. The new starting price, $799, comes with new support for creating ‘farms’ of Mac minis to combines computational capability. Developers can now side-load a Mac mini with their main machine to have a separate PC build their projects. Apple’s main site for the device even markets its usability for displaying digital billboards. This is an unapologetically ‘pro’ device, which was not previously the case.
The Mac mini comes as most users await a new Mac Pro, which Apple has promised for 2019. The device will follow up the 2013 Mac Pro update that Apple famously admitted ‘put them in a thermal corner’ and made un-upgradable. Apple is also expected to unveil a new first-party display.
The truth is today’s announcements are only the beginning of what promises to be an exciting year for the Mac. Not only because Apple is finally actioning their commitment to the device, but because the software story will become much more interesting in 2019.
Today’s iPad Pro update was as rumored, but that doesn’t make it boring. These new models are easily the biggest updates in the history of iPad and signal a major shift in strategy for the device.
Last years the 10.5-inch model has been replaced with a new 11-inch model, which fits into the same surface area as the outgoing model, while the 12.9-inch remains in a smaller volume. Both feature a new ‘flat’ design reminiscent of the iPhone 5 and original iPad, which seems much easier to hold than the outgoing models. Both feature Face ID, which now works in various orientations, as well as support for the new Apple Pencil 2.
The Apple Pencil 2 is now $120 and is not supported on outgoing iPads. Even more ridiculously, Apple Pencil 1 is not supported on these new models; so if you buy a new iPad, you must also buy the new Pencil. Aside from pricing, the new Apple Pencil can be connected to the side of the iPad wirelessly for charging and carrying, which is a nice touch. The Smart Connector has been redesigned once again, which means you must repurchase your smart accessories. The new Smart Keyboard remains rubber and starts at a new $179 entry price.
iPad as a PC
Both new iPads have exuberant price hikes. The 10.5-inch remains at the originally announced $649, while the 11-inch starts at $799 and the 12.9-inch at $999. This is because Apple wants you to truly think of the iPad Pro as a PC, not a tablet. While Apple has made this very unclear on their site, only the newly introduced 1TB models feature 6GB of RAM, while all other models feature 4GB, the same as the outgoing models.
Apple demonstrated a number of third-party applications today that take advantage of the power of the new A12X chip in iPad Pro, including Photoshop, which arrives in 2019. While these apps are an important part of the puzzle, the real fun will begin when Apple unveils iOS 13 next year.
iPad Pro is the first iOS device since the iPhone 4s to not feature a lightning port. Instead, it features a fully functioning USB-C port, which means it can do things like display 4K video, connect to accessories, and even charge your iPhone.
By enabling the hardware on iPad to compete with traditional laptops, Apple is clearly transitioning the high-end of iPad to a new era. These moves are a good first step, but will not be fully realized until the appropriate software arrives.
Speaking of iPhone, do not expect USB-C to arrive on the device anytime soon. The presence of the standard on iPad is because Apple wants people to use it as their main computer, which they don’t want for iPhone. iPhone is still, by-and-large, an accessory, and just like all other Apple accessories (keyboards, mice, AirPods), it will keep Lightning until Apple decides a new standard is better for devices in this category.
I will note that it is possible some at Apple thought wireless would eventually be the future of iPhone and accessory charging. This may be further proved by the fact the new Apple Pencil only chargers wirelessly, unlike the previous that used lightning. However, the failure of AirPower has likely set these ambitions far behind schedule.
iOS, the Mac, and Marzipan
As we’ve reported a number of times, Apple is planning a significant overhaul of its operating systems and software in 2019. These changes fall under the internal ‘Marzipan’ initiative, which hopes to unify Apple’s software platforms into one cohesive ecosystem.
iOS 13, when it launches next year, will include a string of new iPad Pro-centric enhancements, as well as a brand new design, according to multiple sources.
A new version of macOS, with support for cross-platform apps and a new design, is expected as well. The new software will be closely followed by a new line of desktop iMacs and new MacBook Pros that will realign the companies visions into one, more cohesive picture.