Now is not exactly an ideal environment in which to launch a new product but Apple can’t hold products indefinitely. Who knows how long these world conditions will last. Delaying an iPad’s release just pushes the entire roadmap further back. So, here’s a new iPad Pro.
Slightly faster GPU performance, an ultra-wide lens, and a new LiDAR scanner. That’s the essence of the changes. The LiDAR sensor is cool for two seconds until you realise it’s just another place for iPad hardware to outstrip the software. I sincerely hope Apple has better messaging for this by the time the LiDAR-equipped iPhone 12 comes out. I believe indoor maps navigation has the potential to be truly enhanced by augmented reality, and the Apple Maps team certainly seems to have been laying the groundwork for it, but nothing has shipped to date.
It is strange that the iPad does not bring a bigger performance improvement; x-rays have confirmed the die layout of the A12Z is identical to the two-year old A12X. Perhaps Apple’s silicon team did not have the bandwidth to develop ARM Mac cores and an incrementally-upgraded iPad CPU at the same time. The next iPad Pro — some reports point to a late 2020 release — will undoubtedly tout a 5 nanometer A14X powerhouse. Maybe the first ARM Mac runs on the A14X architecture too.
People asking ‘why bother?’ are missing the point. Following the major overhaul of the 2018 model, an incremental refresh is perfectly acceptable (even if this update was likely meant to debut late last year). This is no more significant than the MacBook Air update, and nobody blinks when Macs ‘only’ get a minor update. That’s just the nature of how mature products evolve. The iPhone has had its fair share of inconsequential generations too. The main focus of this cycle is the trackpad support in iPadOS 13.4 and the Magic Keyboard accessory. The fact that these advancements are accessible to owners of previous iPads is irrelevant. Apple sells the complete package, and that works best when they have a new iPad model to promote alongside it, however immaterial.
Now is not exactly an ideal environment in which to launch a new product but Apple can’t hold products indefinitely. Who knows how long these world conditions will last. Delaying a MacBook’s release just pushes the entire roadmap further back. So, here’s a new MacBook Air.
The 2018 Retina Air took far too long to come to market, and when it did arrive it was unsatisfactory because of the price point. Apple sold it for $1199, even with a paltry 128 GB SSD as standard. Last year, they discounted the identical configuration to $1099. Now, they have finally got it below a grand. The MacBook Air has returned to the $999 sweet spot, featuring at least 256 GB storage, latest-generation Intel CPUs, and a reliable keyboard that is widely praised.
It has been a long time since the MacBook lineup has felt sane. Between protracted Retina transitions, price hikes and the butterfly keyboard fiasco, it has been a very tumultuous decade for Apple’s laptops. With the 2020 Air in hand, we are getting close to a baseline of normality once again.
The last domino to fall is the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro. The happy path is for it to get replaced by a sleek 14-inch MacBook Pro with slim bezels. What I think might actually happen is the 13.3-inch is spec-bumped with the new keyboard, and the 14-inch model slots in between that and the 16-inch. Even in the second scenario, though, I think it would be fair to say that the Mac laptop lineup was in good standing, with well-defined product SKUs across the board. So I look forward to the MacBook story being tied up by year’s end.
The Mac mini ‘update’ is a bit pathetic, but Mac mini fans are well accustomed to being ignored for years at a time. Apple’s renewed focus on pro machines clearly does not mean regular processor updates for every single model.