Posts

Apple Wows with Mac Studio and Studio Display, Updates iPhone SE and iPad Air

At its March 8th Peek Performance event, Apple freshened its iPhone and iPad product lines with a new third-generation iPhone SE and fifth-generation iPad Air, along with new green hues for the iPhone 13 line. Then Apple focused on the big announcements of the day: the entirely new Mac Studio, powered by the insanely fast M1 Ultra chip and accompanied by the stunning 27-inch Studio Display.

Mac Studio with M1 Ultra and Studio Display Redefine the Mac Lineup

In 2020, Apple started to transition Macs away from Intel processors to Apple silicon, beginning with the M1 system-on-a-chip and a year later adding the even more powerful M1 Pro and M1 Max to the family. The performance of those chips, particularly when measured against their low power requirements, was stellar. Apple has now unveiled the M1 Ultra, which bonds two M1 Max chips together for double the performance.

To hold the M1 Ultra—or a less expensive M1 Max—Apple introduced an entirely new Mac that looks like an inflated Mac mini. The Mac Studio has the same 7.7-inch (19.7 cm) square outline, but is more than twice as tall, clocking in at 3.7 inches (9.5 cm) high. Much of that vertical space is occupied by cooling fans, but Apple says the Mac Studio makes minimal noise.

The Mac Studio also expands the Mac mini’s price, with the M1 Max model starting at $1999 and the M1 Ultra model at $3999. You can kit a Mac Studio out with an impressive set of options:

  • Chip: For $1999, the M1 Max model offers 10 CPU cores, either 24 or 32 (add $200) GPU cores, and 16 Neural Engine cores. The $3999 M1 Ultra model doubles those numbers with 20 CPU cores, 48 or 64 ($1000) GPU cores, and 32 Neural Engine cores.
  • Memory: With the M1 Max, you can choose between 32 GB or 64 GB ($400) of unified memory. With an M1 Ultra, you can opt for either 64 GB or 128 GB ($800) of unified memory.
  • Storage: Internal SSD storage starts at 512 GB, with options of 1 TB ($200), 2 TB ($600), 4 TB ($1200), and 8 TB ($2400).

Because of Apple’s focus on creative professionals, the Mac Studio offers a solid set of ports. On the back, it has four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10-gigabit Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 is built in, as is Bluetooth 5.0. For ease of access, Apple finally put ports on the front, too. The M1 Max model features two USB-C ports, whereas the M1 Ultra model offers two Thunderbolt 4 ports. Both provide an SDXC card slot.

To address the Mac Studio’s lack of a screen, Apple introduced the $1599 Studio Display. It’s a 27-inch 5K Retina display with a native resolution of 5120-by-2800, P3 wide color, and True Tone technology. Nano-texture glass is a $300 option if you need less reflectivity. There are three stand options: a 30º tilt default, a VESA mount adapter, or a tilt- and height-adjustable stand for $400 more. Note that you can’t swap one for another later. The Studio Display offers one Thunderbolt 3 port to connect to a Mac—complete with 96-watt charging—and three USB-C ports for connecting peripherals.

What sets the Studio Display apart from other monitors is that it uses an A13 Bionic chip—the same brains in the iPhone 11—to power a 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera with Center Stage (Apple’s technology for smoothly keeping you in the frame as you move around on a video call), a three-mic array with directional beamforming, and a high-fidelity six-speaker system. In short, this is the ultimate Mac videoconferencing setup. It even supports spatial audio when playing music or video with Dolby Atmos, and you can use “Hey Siri” with it.

There’s one other fact you need to know before we put all this together: Apple said that the only remaining Mac to transition to Apple silicon is the Mac Pro, which means that it’s dropping the popular 27-inch iMac from the lineup. We’re sad since that iMac was a terrifically good deal, but if you’ve been waiting for an Apple silicon 27-inch iMac, the Studio Display suggests four alternative directions, depending on your needs. Remember that even the entry-level M1 chip outperforms the most recent Intel-based 27-inch iMac.

  • Minimize desktop cost: If keeping costs down while sticking with Apple-designed desktop gear is important to you, couple a Mac mini with the Studio Display.
  • Maximize desktop performance: Need the maximum performance on your desk? A Mac Studio driving one or more Studio Displays is the ultimate professional setup today.
  • Minimize portability cost: Those who need portability and desktop screen real estate can get both without breaking the bank by combining a MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Studio Display.
  • Maximize portability performance: For top-notch portability, performance, and productivity, a 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro is unbeatable when matched with one or even two Studio Displays.

Finally, don’t discount the 24-inch iMac. Although its screen is smaller than the 27-inch iMac’s, its Retina screen resolution isn’t far off, and it’s notably less expensive. If you mostly like the all-in-one nature of the 27-inch iMac and don’t need the performance of the Mac Studio or MacBook Pro, you won’t go wrong with a 24-inch iMac.

Both the Mac Studio and Studio Display are available to order now, with shipments starting on March 18th, although demand is already pushing some ship dates into April. Note that the Mac Studio doesn’t include any input devices, but Apple also introduced a new silver-and-black Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad ($199), Magic Mouse ($99), and Magic Trackpad ($149) designed to complement the Studio Display.

Third-generation iPhone SE Gains A15 Bionic and Better Camera

Not everyone wants—or at least wants to pay for—the latest and greatest. For those looking for a small iPhone at a reasonable price, the new third-generation iPhone SE is still a bargain. Prices start at $429 thanks to its 4.7-inch screen in an iPhone 8 design and Touch ID-enabled Home button. That’s $30 more than the previous generation, but you get the same A15 Bionic chip that’s in the iPhone 13 line and Apple’s promise that iOS will support it for years to come. The new iPhone SE also gains 5G support for faster cellular Internet connectivity, though it doesn’t support the fastest millimeter-wave flavor of 5G.

The A15 Bionic’s processing power enhances the 12-megapixel camera, providing computational photography capabilities like Smart HDR 4, Photographic Styles, Deep Fusion, and Portrait mode. The A15 Bionic’s image signal processor also improves video quality, particularly in low-light situations. Despite the increased performance, Apple says the new iPhone SE features better battery life than the second-generation iPhone SE and all previous 4.7-inch iPhone models. (Generally speaking, the bigger the iPhone, the better the battery life, thanks to additional room inside.)

You can order the new iPhone SE, which comes in midnight (black), starlight (white), and PRODUCT(RED), starting at 8 AM Eastern on March 11th, with delivery starting on March 18th. The 64 GB model costs $429, 128 GB costs $479, and 256 GB is $579.

Fifth-generation iPad Air Moves to M1 and 5G

For many people, the $599 iPad Air is the sweet spot of the iPad line, fitting nicely between the $329 iPad and the $799 11-inch iPad Pro. However, the fourth-generation iPad Air had fallen behind in a few ways, making its price less palatable.

The new fifth-generation iPad Air makes the price compelling again, thanks to the move to the same M1 chip used in the iPad Pro (and many Macs). It boasts up to 60% faster CPU performance than the previous model and twice the graphics performance. Even more noticeable in this age of videoconferencing is the addition of an Ultra Wide front-facing camera with Center Stage. Those who need speedy connectivity on the go will appreciate the new 5G support, though it doesn’t support the fastest millimeter-wave 5G. Apple also doubled the throughput for the iPad Air’s USB-C port, but it remains slower than the Thunderbolt port in the iPad Pro models.

Other key specs remain the same, including the size and industrial design, Touch ID in the top button, support for the second-generation Apple Pencil, rear-facing camera, and battery life.

As with the new iPhone SE, pre-orders for the new iPad Air open at 8 AM Eastern on March 11th, with delivery starting on March 18th. It comes in five new colors: space gray, pink, purple, blue, and starlight (white). $599 gets you 64 GB of storage, whereas 256 GB costs $749. Add another $150 for a cellular-capable model.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: At its March 8th Peek Performance event, Apple unveiled the impressive new Mac Studio—powered by the M1 Ultra chip—and Studio Display. The company also introduced an updated iPhone SE and iPad Air. Read on for details:

Apple’s 2021 Crop: Four iPhones, Two iPads, and an Apple Watch

September is traditionally when new iPhones are ripe for the picking, and this year’s crop is no exception. At its California Streaming event on September 14th, Apple unveiled four iPhone 13 models. Apple also announced the expected Apple Watch Series 7, but entirely unanticipated were an upgrade to the iPad and a redesigned iPad mini.

Left to the fine print in Apple’s press releases was the fact that iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8 will become available for download on September 20th. As we’ve said before, you should wait at least a week or two before installing them on essential devices, just in case some unpleasant bug manifests itself. Regardless of when you upgrade, make a backup right beforehand, just in case something goes wrong and you need to erase and restore.

Let’s look at each of the new products.

iPhone 13 Models Evolve from Their iPhone 12 Equivalents

Some new iPhones are revolutionary, others are evolutionary. The iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max fall into the latter category, improving on their iPhone 12 equivalents in numerous ways while maintaining the same industrial design (albeit with a smaller front notch) and core capabilities. There’s no shame in that, and these are without a doubt the best iPhones Apple has ever made. So what’s new?

Most of Apple’s attention went into improving the cameras and photo- and video-related functionality. The rear-facing dual-camera systems in the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have larger pixels and the sensor-shift optical image stabilization that was previously available only in the iPhone 12 Pro Max, providing better images in low-light photos and videos. The triple-camera systems in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max receive new sensors and lenses that also improve low-light performance and enable 3x zoom (up from 2x and 2.5x in the iPhone 12 equivalents). The new ultra-wide camera in the Pro models also significantly improves macro photography, capturing tiny subjects with a minimum focus distance of 2 centimeters.

All the iPhone 13 models offer three new and improved computational photography features: Photographic Styles, Smart HDR 4, and Cinematic mode. With Photographic Styles, the camera system automatically applies your photographic preferences (a bit like custom filters) to photos in real-time. Smart HDR 4 provides improved color, contrast, and lighting for each subject in group photos.

Cinematic mode brings to iPhone videos a cinematic technique called rack focus that emphasizes people or objects in a shot by focusing on them while blurring the rest of the scene. When enabled, Cinematic mode makes focus changes automatically during shots, for example in response to a person looking in a different direction or someone walking into the scene. You can also manually change the focus during or after capture.

Beyond the cameras, Apple put effort into several other important iPhone subsystems:

  • A15 Bionic: Apple says the new A15 Bionic chip is the fastest smartphone chip ever, though it never said how much faster it is than last year’s A14 Bionic. Nevertheless, the A15 Bionic provides stellar performance that enables the near-magical computational photography features like Cinematic mode.
  • Improved displays: The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini have a brighter Super Retina XDR display with a higher contrast ratio for true blacks, all while being more power-efficient. The display in the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max is brighter yet and supports Apple’s ProMotion technology that dynamically changes the screen refresh rate as needed from 10 Hz to 120 Hz, either preserving battery life or offering smooth video for games and movies.
  • Longer battery life: Apple improved battery life with more power-efficient components, larger batteries, and technologies like ProMotion and Smart Data mode (which switches to LTE when 5G isn’t needed). The iPhone 13 mini and iPhone 13 Pro offer 1.5 hours more battery life than their predecessors, while the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro Max provide 2.5 hours more than theirs.
  • 5G in more countries: The iPhone 13 models support more 5G bands for broader coverage and faster performance. Apple says that 5G support on the iPhone 13 will include 200 carriers in 60 countries and regions by the end of the year.

All four iPhone 13 models now start at 128 GB of storage, and the Pro models offer a new 1 TB tier for those shooting a lot of video. Here are the 128 GB prices; add $100 for 256 GB, $300 for 512 GB, and $500 for 1 TB:

  • iPhone 13 mini: $699
  • iPhone 13: $799
  • iPhone 13 Pro: $999
  • iPhone 13 Pro Max: $1099

You can pre-order starting at 5 AM Pacific on September 17th, with delivery and in-store availability on September 24th. The iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini come in five colors: pink, blue, midnight, starlight, and (PRODUCT)RED. In contrast, the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max come in graphite, gold, silver, and sierra blue. The second-generation iPhone SE ($399), iPhone 11 ($499), and iPhone 12 ($599) remain for sale as well.

Generally speaking, we wouldn’t recommend upgrading from an iPhone 12 model unless you’re switching to the iPhone 13 mini to get a smaller form factor or to one of the Pro models for the ultimate camera capabilities. It’s easier to recommend an upgrade from an iPhone 11 model or earlier, given the easier-to-hold squared-off industrial design and innovations like 5G and MagSafe that debuted with the iPhone 12 and continue in the iPhone 13.

Apple Watch Series 7 Is Bigger, Brighter, and Incrementally Better

Much as with the iPhone 13, the new Apple Watch Series 7 doesn’t offer any new sensors or surprising new features. Instead, it improves on last year’s Series 6 in subtle yet welcome ways. Most notably, it boasts a larger display with nearly 20% more screen area than the Series 6 and over 50% more than the Series 3.

The larger screen can display about 50% more text than on the Series 6, making it easier to read text messages or emails with less scrolling. Apple also took advantage of the extra real-estate to add a full keyboard in watchOS 8, enabling you to enter text by either tapping or sliding your finger from letter to letter using Apple’s QuickPath technology.

A couple of new watch faces take advantage of the larger display. The dynamic Contour face animates throughout the day, pushing the dial to the edge of the display and emphasizing the current hour. Plus, a new Modular Duo face leverages the extra space to provide a pair of large, data-rich complications.

A physical consequence of the larger display is that the Series 7 comes in 41 mm and 45 mm sizes, replacing the 40 mm and 44 mm Series 6 models. However, existing bands remain compatible. The front crystal has a stronger and more robust geometry that’s over 50% thicker than on the Series 6, making it more crack-resistant. It’s also now IP6X dust-resistant for dirty environments, and it retains its WR50 water-resistance rating for swimming (but not scuba diving).

When your wrist is down, the Series 7’s always-on display is 70% brighter indoors, making it easier to check the time discreetly. Despite this, it continues to provide 18-hour battery life, and it charges 33% faster than the Series 6, thanks to a new charging architecture and Magnetic Fast Charger USB-C Cable. Charging for 45 minutes will get you an 80% charge, and 8 minutes of juicing up before bed is enough for 8 hours of sleep tracking.

There are a few new fitness-related features, such as automatic detection of Outdoor Cycle workouts and better fall detection algorithms during workouts—including cycling—but most of them come with watchOS 8 and will work on older Apple Watch models as well.

Pricing for the Apple Watch Series 7 will start at $399, although it’s easy to spend a lot more on different case materials, bands, and Hermès models. The aluminum models will come in five colors: midnight, starlight, green, a new blue, and (PRODUCT)RED; the stainless steel and Apple Watch Edition models continue in existing colors. There will also be new band colors. Apple hasn’t provided a date when you can order a Series 7, saying only “later this fall.”

We can’t recommend an upgrade from the Apple Watch Series 6 or Series 5, but if you’re limping along with an older watch whose battery is getting weak, the Series 7 will be a compelling upgrade.

Upgraded iPad Gets Better Camera, True Tone, and More Storage

The base-model iPad has long been Apple’s best value, and with the changes the company brought to the ninth-generation iPad, it’s even more so. Apple improved the ninth-generation iPad in four ways:

  • New front-facing FaceTime HD camera: This is the big one. Apple replaced the anemic 1.2-megapixel front-facing FaceTime HD camera with a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera that supports the Center Stage technology previously available only on the iPad Pro. Center Stage zooms and pans to keep whoever is on camera centered and in focus. And yes, the front-facing camera is now nominally better than the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera, which is a little weird.
  • A13 Bionic chip: It’s not the latest and greatest, but the A13 Bionic is a generation newer than the previous iPad’s A12 Bionic, and it should provide plenty of performance.
  • True Tone display: Another feature swiped from the iPad Pro, True Tone automatically adjusts the display’s color temperature based on the ambient lighting conditions, making the screen easier to read in different environments.
  • Double the storage: Previously, the iPad started at 32 GB of storage, which wasn’t enough to do much. Apple has now doubled the base storage level to 64 GB and the next level to 256 GB.

Despite these improvements, the price for the basic iPad remains $329 ($299 for education) in silver and space gray. It jumps to $479 for 256 GB of storage, and another $130 gives you 4G LTE connectivity at either storage level. Overall, the ninth-generation iPad is a better value than ever, and if you’re buying an iPad for anyone who doesn’t need lots of power, it’s a no-brainer. It’s available now.

Redesigned iPad mini Mimics iPad Air

Even more surprising than the upgraded iPad was the redesigned sixth-generation iPad mini. It resembles nothing so much as a smaller iPad Air, with the same squared-off case design, an edge-to-edge 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display, Touch ID in the top button, and USB-C charging and connectivity. It’s powered by the same new A15 Bionic chip that’s in the iPhone 13 Pro.

Apple also significantly improved the iPad mini’s cameras, outfitting it with a pair of 12-megapixel cameras. The rear-facing camera can now shoot video in 4K resolution, and the front-facing camera supports Center Stage. For ultimate portable connectivity, you can now get the iPad mini with optional 5G wireless connectivity.

The main place where the sixth-generation iPad mini falls behind the iPad Air is in accessories. It does support the second-generation Apple Pencil, which sticks magnetically to the side, but it lacks the Smart Connector that enables Apple’s well-regarded keyboards. You can still use Bluetooth keyboards, but they don’t provide as integrated an experience.

Storage options remain the same, but Apple dropped the price by $30, making it $499 for a 64 GB configuration and $649 for 256 GB. Add $150 to either configuration for 5G wireless connectivity. The iPad mini comes in space gray, pink, purple, and starlight, and it’s available now.

Realistically, you’re buying an iPad mini only if you value its diminutive size over all else. It may not be worth upgrading from a fifth-generation iPad mini unless it no longer meets your needs in some way, but anyone who wants full iPad power in a small form factor will appreciate the redesigned sixth-generation iPad mini.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: At its California Streaming event, Apple introduced the new iPhone 13 lineup, the Apple Watch Series 7, a redesigned iPad mini, and an upgraded iPad. Read on for details and our upgrade recommendations: