Like all of last year’s Apple product events, this one was prerecorded and streamed from the company’s website, rather than a theater full of journalists with pesky questions. We’ve still got some first impressions about what is — and isn’t — worth your money.
The $800-and-up iPad Pro includes some changes that respond directly to the challenges of pandemic life — but may not be right for your pandemic budget.
A new ultrawide front-facing camera, still located along the top of the device when held in vertical orientation, has the ability to zoom and pan to follow you as you move around during video calls. This function, called Center Stage, is playing catch up with similar capabilities Facebook’s Portal and Amazon’s Echo Show.
The new iPad Pro is also available in a version that supports faster 5G cellular data networks, which are great when they’re available — but that’s still a work in progress across most of the U.S.
The iPad Pro line, last refreshed a year ago with a new $300 keyboard case, is the fastest and largest of Apple’s tablet family, available in full-screen 11- and 12.9-inch versions. Apple has long touted the Pro as being as powerful as a laptop, and the 2021 edition now contains the same Apple-designed M1 processor as Apple’s latest Mac computers. Whether the faster chip can help the iPad reach laptop-replacement status is still an open question.
The largest model of the iPad Pro also contains a new kind of screen technology called mini-LED that promises better contrast and detail. You might have to step outside to notice the difference — the biggest impact is that the screen can get much brighter.
iPads have had a big run during the pandemic. Working and attending school from home helped drive year-over-year sales growth of more than 40 percent in recent quarters, according to analysts at Wedbush Securities. They also estimate about 40 percent of iPad owners have upgraded in the past year, suggesting there could be some pent-up demand left.
But you don’t need the most expensive iPad for Netflix streaming, Zoom calls or doing schoolwork. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t upgrade its standard, Air and mini iPads, but they’re still priced $330 and up. iPad Pro orders start April 30 and will be available in the second half of May.
Another update for at-home work is a complete overhaul of Apple’s iMac desktop computer. It now includes a full-HD 1080p webcam so you look better on video calls, along with new microphones and speakers. (Apple added a 1080p camera to the iMac last summer, and previous Macs haven’t had very impressive webcams.)
Like the new iPad Pro and the laptops it unveiled last year, the new iMac also uses Apple-designed M1 chips for processing rather than the Intel processors they’ve used for years. The biggest advantage of the new chip is power efficiency, which is less important on a device that stays on your desktop. But it allowed Apple to redesign the shape of the computer, which now has 50 percent less volume and measures under half an inch thick. Thin is always in with Apple, though I’d actually prefer an iMac that’s easier to repair or later upgrade — not mentioned among the other environmental credentials touted by Apple.
The new iMac wireless keyboard contains a fingerprint reader — long missing from Apple’s desktop computer — though it only comes with a more expensive, high-end model. And the iMacs are available in a rainbow of seven colors, a nod to the early days of candy-colored iMacs first introduced by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
The great advantage of an iMac for working or attending school from home is you can use one sitting upright in a chair and get absorbed in its screen, which now measures 24 inches. Alas, the new screen doesn’t support touch like competing desktops running Microsoft’s Windows 10, which give you the option to work standing up or even with a stylus.
One other disappointment: All the new iMacs will cost more. The starting price jumped from $1,100 (for the old 21-inch model) to $1,300. iMac orders start on April 30 and will ship in the second half of May.
Tuesday’s event also brought the long-awaited debut of an Apple system for finding lost items, called AirTags. Like a similar Bluetooth-tracking device called Tile, AirTags are $29 wireless doodads you attach to your keys or luggage that communicate with nearby iPhones so you can locate them with Apple’s Find My app.
Thankfully, when AirTags run out of power you can slide them open to replace the battery yourself. They arrive in stores April 30.
And last but not least, an update to the $180 Apple TV streaming box includes a new faster processor that allows it to play ultra high frame-rate video. But the biggest news is a redesign of the remote control. The previous model featured a trackpad that could be confusing. The new remote has a five-way clickpad that should be more accurate, and an outer ring that turns into a jog control, kind of like the earliest iPods. There are also separate buttons for TV power and mute.
Best of all, owners of other recent-model Apple TVs don’t have to buy the whole new system to get the remote. Apple is selling the remote separately for $60. Apple TV 4K orders start April 30 and will be available in the second half of May.