New Macs & iPad Pros Announced

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Apple held a special event in New York today. They unveiled a new MacBook Air, an updated Mac Mini, and a bold redesign of the existing iPad Pro line. All of these devices were released just in time for the holiday season, but are they worth your time and, more importantly, your money? Here’s what you need to know.

MacBook Air (2018)

The MacBook Air is much beloved in Apple’s lineup. It has gone years without any meaningful updates, yet, by all accounts, it remains a very popular laptop among Apple customers. Today, it got the update that everyone hoped it would. Key features include:

  • A new, 13.3-inch, retina display with thinner bezels
  • Touch-ID for authentication, passwords, and Apple Pay
  • The latest 3rd-generation butterfly keyboard
  • A larger Force Touch trackpad
  • 2 USB-C ports for charging and accessories
  • 100% recycled aluminum chassis

The MacBook Air retains it’s lightweight body, weighing in at just 2.75lbs, and is available in silver, space gray and gold. Pricing starts at $1,199 with 8Gb RAM and 128Gb of SSD storage. This makes it more expensive than the model it replaces, but it has some significant upgrades over the previous generation, so the cost increase is not completely unexpected.

Should you buy a new MacBook Air? In the weeks leading up to this event, there were rumors that Apple was going to introduce a cheaper, entry-level MacBook that would compete on price with mid-tier PC laptops and gain a larger foothold in schools. These dreams may still come true, but at $1,199, the new Macbook Air is not that device.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great laptop. In fact, on paper, the new Macbook Air is better specced than the smaller 12-inch MacBook that currently sells for $100 more. If anything it just adds confusion to Apple’s current MacBook lineup, as Engadget’s Daniel Cooper noted in, Apple’s Laptop Lineup is More of a Mess Than Ever.

Mac Mini (2018)

Next up, the Mac Mini. This is another product that has not seen much love in recent years. Before today, the last update for the Mac Mini was in October 2014. It has the same basic shape, but now comes in space gray, and has a raft of useful updates on the inside. Key features include:

  • New four and six core processor options
  • Up to 64Gb of DDR4 RAM
  • SSD storage up to 2Tb
  • Ethernet, 4x USB-C, 2x USB 3, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack

When it was first introduced, the Mac Mini was designed to help people switch from a Windows computer to a Mac. All you had to do was switch out your tower for the Mac Mini and plug in your monitor. Today, I think it serves a more specific need, a more niche need if you will, especially in today’s golden age of mobile devices. However, if you like a desktop machine and don’t want to spend over $1200 on an iMac, the $799 Mac Mini may be just what you need…so long as you don’t mind paying $300 more than the previous generation Mac Mini.

iPad Pro (2018)

This was a big year for the iPad Pro. Apple is increasingly trying to position it as the future of computing, and this event succeeded at taking that vision a step further. Not only did it get a major redesign, it also got a big performance boost, a new Smart Folio keyboard, and a second generation Apple Pencil. Other key features include:

  • Two sizes: 11-inch and 12.9-inch, both a Liquid Retina display and slim bezels
  • Face ID replaces the home button and works in any orientation
  • A12X Bionic chip that runs 5 trillion operations per second
  • Redesigned Apple Pencil that attaches magnetically to pair and charge
  • USB-C replaces the lightning port to support external displays and more
  • 2 new cameras with Smart HDR for portrait selfies, Animoji, Memoji, and FaceTime

This is a powerful device. In two separate comparisons, Apple said the new processor in the iPad Pro was faster than 92% of today’s notebook computers, and the graphics chip was as powerful as an Xbox One S. These are big claims, but testament to the progress that Apple has made with a tablet that weighs as little as 1lb, and is less than 6mm thick.

Could an iPad Pro really replace your laptop? For many people, this is as close as the iPad has ever got to achieving that feat, especially when you see the likes of Adobe on stage showing how the full version of Photoshop can run on the new iPad. However, some people still feel held back by the handful of things that iOS doesn’t let you do. This year, iOS 12 did not have the bevy of iPad features that iOS 11 had. Those may have to wait until iOS 13 is released next year, leading the likes of Steve Troughton-Smith to comment that, “This week’s iPad is designed for next year’s OS.”

Then there is the price. The 11-inch iPad starts at $799, while the 12.9-inch iPad is available from $999. The new Smart Folio keyboard is $179, ($199 for the 12.9-inch iPad), and the new Apple Pencil is $129. This means, a 12.9-inch iPad with Smart Folio keyboard is more expensive than the new 13-inch Macbook Air. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I love the iPad. I use mine every day, and I will continue to favor iOS over desktop operating systems for many of the things I do on a daily basis, but for me, that’s still a lot of money.

Or you could look at it another way. If you are truly building a laptop-replacement, would you be surprised if it ended up costing just as much as the device you are looking to replace? The $329 iPad that Apple pitches to schools is not that device. It’s clearly very capable, and has huge potential, but it was built to a price. The new iPad Pro has no such compromises. It is undoubtedly the best iPad that Apple has ever made. It’s a showcase for the best technology that Apple has ever created, and that never comes cheap, whether you want it to or not.

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