Apple launched a series of new iPads, Macs and tags on Tuesday at an event broadcast from California, as it continued its switch to processors of its own design.
During a recorded video, the firm’s chief executive, Tim Cook, unveiled the products that Apple hopes will continue the momentum with its computers and tablets driven by home working and schooling in 2020.
The most significant of Apple’s new products is a redesigned version of the company’s iMac all-in-one computer with the M1 chip. The new machine is significantly thinner at just 11.5mm thick, and looks like a giant tablet from the side.
Apple said that with the M1 chip, previously used in the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini computers, the new iMac was up to twice as fast as the previous generation machine.
The iMac has a 24in 4.5k retina screen squeezed into a body only slightly larger than the previous machine with its 21.5in screen. The more powerful six-speaker system is capable of spatial audio when playing movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, while the 1080p FaceTime HD camera and beamforming mics are designed for better video calls.
The computer has a new power adaptor with magnetic cable and at least two Thunderbolt ports, with higher-end models having an additional two USB-C ports and an ethernet port in the power adaptor. Apple also added its Touch ID fingerprint scanner to a new Bluetooth keyboard, allowing biometric login and user switching similar to its laptops.
The new iMac – available in seven different colours, reminiscent of the original model from 1998 – will be available from £1,249 in the UK and $1,299 in the US, shipping in the second half of May. Apple did not update the larger 27in iMac, which still uses Intel chips.
Use of the new M1 chips in the iMac will be an important test for Apple’s custom processors; their introduction to the MacBook Air and low-end MacBook Pro laptop lines proved successful, but in machines not restricted by batteries the onus will be on raw performance to handle the more demanding tasks commonly asked of desktop computers.
Issues with software compatibility, particularly with the big, expensive and often dated packages used by businesses, will be tolerated less for volume purchasing by corporations – potentially making the Apple Silicon models a harder sell than “safer” Intel-based versions or competitors.
Paolo Pescatore, an analyst from PP Foresight, said the “star of the show” was the redesigned iMac “thanks to the power of Apple Silicon”, adding: “We are now seeing the fruits of Apple Silicon, by leveraging this system on a chip architecture across its portfolio. The M1 is transforming its products, form factors and capabilities far beyond what users can do today.”
Apple also announced an improved iPad Pro equipped with the same M1 chip as the firm’s computers and 5G connectivity. The use of a computer processor, rather than a version of its smartphone chips, was reported to offer a 50% faster performance and enable the addition of a full Thunderbolt/USB 4 port, rather than the slower USB-C port, allowing desktop-class connections to a range of docks, drives and external displays.
Apple also fitted a mini-LED display to the larger 12.9in iPad Pro, making it one of the first devices to use a significantly improved technology hitherto only available in high-end TVs. The Liquid Retina XDR is one of the brightest LCD screens available, matching Apple’s £4,599 professional computer display; the firm said it could show types of HDR video used by professional videographers.
The iPad Pro also comes with a new 12-megapixel TrueDepth camera that has an ultrawide lens and an automatic panning and zooming feature called Center Stage for improved video calls, similar to some smart displays and dedicated video-call screens.
The 11in iPad Pro starts at £749 in the UK, while the 12.9in version sells for £999.
The power upgrade for the iPad Pro follows a full redesign in 2018 and addition of new lidar and camera sensors in the 2020 iPad Pro, alongside new keyboard accessories and mouse support that further turned it into a laptop replacement.
Spurred by the demand for remote working tools during the Covid-19 pandemic, there was unprecedented demand for tablet sales in 2020, up 13.6% year-on-year, following several years of decline.
Apple’s various iPads took the lion’s share, accounting for 36.5% of the market and growing 19.5% during the fourth quarter of 2020, according to data from IDC, driven by refreshes of the iPad 10.2in and iPad Air models.
But Leo Gebbie, a senior analyst with CCS Insight, said: “The new iPad is a tough sell. Despite numerous updates, including the M1 chip, the previous generations of iPads are strong enough to make this is an iterative update when compared to the new iMac.”
Apple also announced its AirTag tracker device, which uses “Find My” software, operating in a similar manner to the Tile Bluetooth trackers and Samsung’s SmartTag.
The small disc-like AirTag can be personalised. When used with iPhones with the U1 chip, such as the iPhone 12, the system can also guide people directly to the AirTag using the ultra-wideband technology used for several years for Apple’s AirDrop filesharing system. AirTags cost £29 in the UK and will be shipped on 30 April.
The company’s smart TV streaming box, the Apple TV 4K, was also updated with a faster A12 Bionic chip as used in the iPhone XR from 2018 and enabling high-frame rate HDR. Apple also showed off a colour-calibration feature that uses an iPhone to automatically tune the colour on TVs, and a redesigned Siri remote, which ditches the touch-panel controller. The Apple TV 4K will cost from £169 in the UK.
Apple also announced that it was opening up paid-for subscriptions within its podcast app. The redesigned app and service will launch in 170 countries with new channels and recommendations. Subscriptions will provide ad-free listening, extra content and the ability to support favourite content creators.
Finally, Apple announced it was expanding its payments drive in the US with Apple Card Family, which allows two people to own an Apple credit card sharing the credit lines and building credit history together. Parents can also share the Apple credit card with children over 13 with access to parental controls.