Apple's big hardware splash


At a rare event in New York City yesterday, Apple unveiled a slew of new devices focused on the 'creative' category that was unprecedented in the last few years. Not only did it update the MacBook Air and Mac Mini, which both have been ignored for years, the iPad Pro received its first major refresh too.

Here's the major announcements:

  • An all-new MacBook Air¬†that's thinner than the previous generation, with a Retina display (finally), updated keyboard¬†(not finally), modern processors, Touch ID and two USB-C¬†ports.
  • An updated Mac Mini¬†focused on winning back the 'pro' market that's loudly complained about the lack of high-end hardware to support workloads like video editing or iOS development. There's choices all the way up to 6-core processors and 64 GB of memory, and an array of ports on the back including four USB-C ports, two USB-A ports and even the choice of a 10 GB/s network adapter.
  • A¬†major iPad Pro refresh¬†that slims down the bezels around the display to cram in even more usable space, a Face ID camera, USB-C¬†port to replace lightning and next-generation Apple silicon inside. There's a refreshed Apple¬†Pencil, too, which charges when it's magnetically attached to the side for the first time.

From where I sit, the event was one of the strongest Apple has held for a long time. The company was able to reassure Mac users that it still cares about the platform by paying attention to long-ignored complaints about hardware stagnation while also pointing to the future subtly, by delivering an impressive iPad Pro refresh that contains real innovation.

I wrote a short summary of why the MacBook Air refresh was so important for Apple over at Vice yesterday. As Dieter Bohn pointed out for The Verge, the MacBook Air was Apple's "default" computer for most people, but as it grew increasingly out of date it became a harder sell for almost everyone with genuine competition from Windows and ChromeOS devices becoming an issue. 

It's fun to watch iPad Pro gradually subsume many of the Mac's use cases. Across the board yesterday, Apple trotted out examples of how the iPad Pro can fit into different work situations, such as with a keyboard, using an external display or as a graphics tablet to kill a Wacom. It's clear that the plan is to slowly, but surely, eat the Mac alive... but only when it's truly ready.

A couple of other notes about the event:

  • Every single device has seen a price increase. The iPad Pro formerly started at $749, but now the base model is a jump to $999. MacBook Air formerly started at $999 but now a base model goes for $1,199¬†and¬†it only gets you 128 GB of storage, so an upgrade to the next tier will cost¬†another¬†$200 in order to get a usable machine.
  • iPad Pro dropped the headphone jack, making it a serious stretch for those working in spaces that depend on high-quality audio, like video editors or audio engineers. The dongle isn't included in the box anymore, and you'll need¬†two¬†dongles if you plan to use headphones with an iPhone, too.
  • Old Apple Pencils no longer work with the new iPad.¬†For 'compatibility reasons' Apple says the old Pencil doesn't work with the refreshed iPad, so you'll have to buy a new, more expensive pen, again, if you have a last-generation one.
  • There are now 19 configurations of 13-inch computers and 9 base configurations, with color excluded.¬†Telling a friend to buy a Mac used to be a simple choice: thin and light or power-hungry workloads? Now it's a dizzying array of choices with no clear way to determine which is the best device for someone at a glance. I suspect this may be on purpose, to drive upgrades to the "better" models in the lineup.
  • The 'MacBook' next to the 'MacBook Air' is a confusing proposition.¬†Air is now heavier than the MacBook, and it's really not clear how either device competes here at all, except for if you really, really care about the lightest possible computer.

All of this aside, it's just great to see some attention being paid across the board while Apple continues to barrel down the road to the iPad-first future. I'm not sure how much of the nickel-and-diming people are going to tolerate in the long haul, because it's almost brazen at this point, but at least we finally have some choice again.

Sound off in the community: are you buying any of these devices? Did Apple finally address the gap you were waiting for? I want to know what you're thinking too, and will publish some of the community's thoughts in the next newsletter.

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