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Apple's "Spring Loaded" event on Tuesday launched the highly anticipated AirTag alongside the new M1 iMac and iPad Pro. Here's what you need to know about the event and what we thought about it.
Like all of Apple's 2020 events, Spring Loaded was a prerecorded event at Apple Park. Not only did it make for a streamlined, highly-polished show, it also prevented the unnecessary spread of the coronavirus. Viewers were able to tune in on their Apple TV, at Apple.com, or via YouTube.
After over a year of speculation, AirTag has finally arrived, offering users the ability to track items directly from within the iPhone's Find My app.
The circular trackers can be affixed to commonly misplaced objects, such as bikes, luggage, car keys, wallets, and more.
The device trackers will utilize Apple's U1 chip, have an internal accelerometer, sport IP67 water and dust resistance, and have a built-in speaker for easier discovery. The back is laser-etched polished stainless steel, while the top is plastic and can be personalized.
At launch, Apple has released a fair amount of accessories for AirTag, including leather and plastic AirTag holders that allow it to be clipped, looped, or otherwise attached to items.
Apple TV 4K
The sixth-generation Apple TV was released at the event, getting a few significant upgrades over previous versions. It now boasts an A12 Bionic CPU, which Apple claims to be as powerful as an Xbox One.
New to the 2021 Apple TV 4K is the color balance feature, which allows a user to hold their iPhone to the screen to properly calibrate the screen's colors.
The new Apple TV is priced at $179 for the base model, which includes 32 gigabytes of storage, or $199 for 64 gigabytes of storage.
Apple has also refreshed the Siri Remote. The new aluminum remote features a clickpad with 5-way navigation for improved accuracy. The Siri button has been moved to the side to mimic the iPhone.
As suggested by previous rumors, Apple announced the upcoming availability of the M1 iMac. Available in seven colors — blue, green, red, silver, yellow, orange, and purple — the refreshed iMac joins the Mac mini, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air in the M1 lineup.
The 2021 iMac boasts an 85% faster CPU, a GPU that is twice as fast, and it can perform machine learning tasks up to three times faster than its predecessors. Thanks to the M1 chip, the new iMac is nearly silent, too, with sound levels for typical tasks averaging around 10 decibels.
It now features a six-speaker sound system with Dolby Atmos, brand new studio-quality mics, and an improved FaceTime camera.
The 24-inch, 4.5K Retina display comes equipped with True Tone to help ease eye strain by continuously adjusting based on ambient lighting. It features a P3 wide color display, allowing users to
The new M1 iMac starts at $1299 for an 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU model with 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. It can be upgraded to include an 8-Core GPU, two additional USB 3 ports, a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, and up to 512GB of storage.
M1 iPad Pro
Joining the M1 lineup is Apple's latest refresh of the iPad Pro. The new iPad Pro features the same M1 chip found in Apple Silicon devices, making it the fastest machine of its kind. Graphics are 40 faster than the previous generation, and Apple claims that the iPad Pro is 1,500 times faster than the original iPad.
In addition to the M1 chip, the iPad Pro also has a Thunderbolt 3 port that is USB 4 compatible. For the first time, Apple has also brought 5G connectivity to the cellular version of the iPad.
The forward-facing camera has been upgraded, now a 12-megapixel model with a 120-degree field of view. This wide viewing angle enables "Center Stage," a feature that can recognize users and keep them in the center of the screen while on FaceTime.
Exclusive to the new 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the mini LED Liquid Retina XDR display, which offers greater contrast and improved battery life over LCD technology.
The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for a base model, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $1,099 for a base model. Upgrades, such as increased storage or cellular, can raise that price considerably.
iPhone 12 color refresh
While the iPhone won't see a new release until September, Apple has chosen to add an additional color to the iPhone 12 lineup — purple.
Customers will be able to preorder the iPhone 12 in purple on April 23, with deliveries shipping out for April 30.
AppleInsider's thoughts on the "Spring Loaded Event"
Because of some personal stuff, this is the first Apple Event that I've not covered in over a decade. That said, I still work here, even if I'm far from home, so I thought I'd chime in anyway.
AirTags have been a long time in coming. I was surprised at the $29-per pricing, and even more so at the four-for-$100 price. I'll get a few, and like nearly everybody else, including the sofa-diver, I'll attach one to my keys. I won't pay Apple's accessory pricing, though.
I will level with you — I've suspected that the 24-inch iMac was a WWDC or back-to-school product with an "M1X" or something similar. The machine is still somewhat constrained with input and output, given the relatively sparse PCI-E channel limitations on the M1 chip, but we expect that this will be rectified with the M2. And, it won't matter to most of the iMac's target market now or in the future.
The 4.5K screen is still Retina DPI and is nice, and so is the price — minus 16GB of RAM. We'll see what happens with version 2 of the iMac and Apple Silicon.
The Apple TV update was long in coming, and the A12 surprises me, versus the A13 or even the A14. I'm not sure that this will get updated any time soon given existing cadence, so the two-year-old processor is a bit of a surprise. The A12 will certainly do better for Apple Arcade games, though.
That new Siri remote is a welcome and overdue improvement, though. Backward compatibility to the fourth- and fifth-generation Apple TV models is a bonus, and I expect that Apple will sell a great deal of them to replace that one.
Apple took some heat because some tech mavens complained that nothing revelatory or particularly innovative would be announced. The '00s saw the iPod, and iPhone, defining those markets. The '10s saw the iPad, Apple Watch, and AirPods — all three category-defining. AirTags will likely be industry-leading as well.
You don't need to have "one more thing" to blow the doors off the place.
It's probable that most people will consider the iMac refresh as the biggest thing to come out of the event, and for good reason. Instead of wedging Apple Silicon into a device without changing the aesthetic, as it did with the Mac mini, the MacBook Air, and the MacBook Pro, Apple took the chance to make some much-needed adjustments to the iMac as a whole.
It was fairly obvious that Apple would push some form of Apple Silicon launch at the event, given its two-year schedule to migrate from Intel, and the iMac seemed like the best candidate for it. Creating a version with a new display style, a thinner body, and taking many design cues from the iPad Pro lineup was a considerable bonus for customers.
Far more interesting to me is one of the changes made to the iPad Pro, namely the M1 chip. We're talking an SoC made for desktops that leaned on Apple's experience designing mobile chips being used in a mobile device.
Though the lineage of the chip makes it a no-brainer to Apple, this may indicate that Apple is interested in unifying its chips faster than we first thought. Sure, it's an eventuality that Apple may make one set of chips that work across many of its products, but it's doubtful many would have even considered the M1 would be used in this way so early in Apple Silicon's lifespan.
Of the other announcements, the introduction of AirTag is one of the really good ones. I can immediately think of ways to employ AirTag to keep track of my new bicycle in case it was ever stolen, though attaching it in a way that won't be easily removed by would-be thieves is a challenge.
It's also nice to be in a situation where Apple is selling accessories for the AirTag at the same price or higher than the tag itself. Sure, you could buy Apple's cheapest first-party AirTag Loop for $29, the same cost as the tag, or you could spend $449 for an AirTag Hermes Luggage Tag, which works out to be over 15 times the price of the thing it's designed to hold...
Apple released so many products that it was as if a dam had burst. And it released so many that, for once, I think little notice has been paid to how well produced the presentation was. It's like any series, once you're a few episodes in, you take some things for granted, and yet this one was very, very well done.
It also featured new characters in the form of Apple presenters we've not seen before. The sole weakness in Apple's video presentations has been the odd presenter who isn't comfortable on camera, and all of the new ones were strong.
As for the devices that they were so strong about, I am buying AirTags. I am buying the new Apple TV 4K. And I would queue up outside an Apple Store now if it meant I could get one of the new Magic Keyboards with Touch ID for my existing M1 Mac mini.
Since the new iMacs use that same M1 processor, this is the first launch where I haven't immediately felt my Mac was somehow obsolete. It's close, though, because I think the new iMacs are exceptional — if maybe an exceptional compromise.
For a significant proportion of users, I think the iMac is a star. It's just that for some, including me, the screen being 24 inches is a deterrent. That may be unfair: the iMac always has superb screens, and at least 24 is not as small as the old 21.5-inch model has seemed to me.
I'm less tempted, though not really any less impressed, by the iPad Pro updates. With the M1 now going in the iPad Pro, I do wonder if we're soon to see the end of the A-series processors entirely. At some point, maybe the M series will be in everything.
Overall, it was a smartly done event with some excellent releases and more than I'd expected. I have a small concern about AirTags and privacy: I'd like Google to add some support for Android users to spot that they're being followed by an AirTag.
But there will be an AirTag in my car about five minutes after they're available. And when we can next get back to traveling, there'll be another one in my luggage.
Apple certainly wasn't playing around when they dubbed this event "loaded." While new iPad Pros and the AirTag tracking accessory were expected, a revamped Apple TV and iMac were wildcards, yet Apple delivered on both.
The star of the show, once again, was the M1 chip, which is now found in a total of six different Apple devices: the 11- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the 24-inch iMac, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 13-inch MacBook Air, and the Mac mini. Which raises the question: Is this it for the M1?
There are rumors that we'll get an M1X or an M2 for Apple's higher-end systems. To date, the only Macs released running the M1 are lower-end machines. Will we get some M1X hardware at WWDC?
The iPad Pro switching from an A-series processor to M-series was also a bit of a surprise and could be a bit of foreshadowing. The iPad Pro also gained a Thunderbolt/USB-4 port, bringing it more in line with the Mac than ever. Given these changes, it will be interesting to see what the next generation of iPadOS looks like when unveiled at WWDC.
But the sleeper hit of the event is the new Siri Remote, which looks to address many — if not all — of the complaints had with the previous remote. The lack of wireless charging for the remote is disappointing, but other than that, it looks to be a great improvement and compromise, allowing fluid touch controls with the satisfying and intuitive tactile feedback of physical buttons. And you'll know which way is the right side up when you pick it up.
Hopefully, the addition of the A12 Bionic CPU in the latest Apple TV 4K means we'll be getting some AAA-caliber games on Apple Arcade starting later this year.
Always proving that I'm a sucker for the aesthetics, I think I've already decided that I'm going to purchase a new iMac — preferably in yellow.
While I've been using Apple devices since the sixth-generation iPod nano, I'm considerably newer to macOS than the rest of my cohorts here. I made the jump in 2019 after being fed up with the constant issues plaguing Windows 10. I expected that I would find macOS serviceable, maybe even preferable, but I wasn't expecting to love it. But, as it turns out, I do. The iMac is an easy choice for an upgrade — I'm pretty excited to get to try out an M1 device.
I've always wanted to try out an iMac, ever since my fifth-grade classroom got a Bondi Blue iMac G3 in the late 1990s. Now, more than two decades later, I'll actually get the chance.
The new iMac is the obvious standout for me, particularly with the long-needed updates to the audio and visual experience. The throwback colors are great and the form factor is amazingly sleek. It really is the iMac that I've been waiting to purchase for years.
AirTag was less of a surprise since there have been so many rumors and reports about it. But while they weren't exciting, I think they're a welcome addition to the Apple ecosystem thanks to the consumer-friendly price tag, replaceable battery, and tight integration with Find My.
The iPad Pro updates felt incremental to me, though sticking an M1 chip in a tablet was an unexpected move. It seems to me to be a sign that Apple isn't making the Mac more like an iPad. Instead, it's slowly moving both devices toward a middle ground.
What also stuck out is just how entertaining and well-produced Apple's prerecorded keynotes have become. At this point, these aren't just product announcement videos — they're actually a piece of entertaining content. I hope Apple continues being creative with its keynote events, even as the pandemic subsides and companies return to in-person announcements.
Every so often we get an event where Apple announces more than expected, and this year's "Spring Loaded" event was exactly that. Using the M1 CPU in the new iPad Pro, along with the new Liquid Retina XDR display makes it one of the most powerful devices in Apple's lineup. I hope the story continues at WWDC with a much-improved iPadOS and professional apps like Final Cut Pro finally coming to the iPad.
Updates to the Siri Remote, 24-inch iMac redesign, and finally seeing the official AirTag were great moments during the event, but as a podcast creator, I'm very interested in Apple's new Podcast Subscription Service. This is the first move Apple has made in over 15 years to close the podcast ecosystem with content only available in Apple Podcasts.
The most important announcement for me was the iPad Pro with M1 processor. My mind is still reeling at the ramifications of such a product.
You'll soon be able to order an iPad Pro running a processor more powerful than what's in most PCs on the market, not to mention with 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM. Maxed out with a Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil, a customer could spend $3,000 on an iPad Pro setup.
I work on the iPad Pro, and even I look at this and think, "Apple needs to tell us why a $3,000 iPad exists." WWDC is in June, and if there isn't a compelling software story, I don't know if users will wait around for a killer app or feature. While I love working from this versatile computer, I can admit some things need to change to consider the iMac and iPad Pro to be interchangeable.
The entire iMac story is its design. Otherwise, it's still the same M1 processor and same macOS we've grown accustomed to since the fall of 2020.
The power of the M1 in a 24-inch display is tempting, but I can't help but think about what's coming next. The new iMacs look amazing, but the nerd in me says that this is a sign of what's to come for the eventual 30-inch iMac with a pro M-series processor.
Apple finally gave us the AirTag (singular). I'm still not entirely sure what to attach these to, but I'll be getting a pack of four and slapping them into bags and pet collars for the fun of it. I'd kill for a new Apple MagSafe Wallet that uses the same Find My tech, but for now, I'll happily buy a cheap keychain and track my cat around the house.
The cynic in me says that the Apple TV update is the bare minimum we expected. A spec bump to an admittedly older processor and a new Siri Remote isn't exactly anything to write home about. This is a device that could have released in 2019, and we would have celebrated, but with the generations-old processor and lack of spatial audio, this isn't a product I'd recommend.
Perhaps Apple is still quietly working on some innovative Apple TV that doubles as a soundbar, but that remains to be seen. At least the new remote found a compromise between design and usefulness.
Overall I was delighted with the event. Apple will undoubtedly be getting a few dollars from me as these products become available.
The iPad Pro's M1 chip is going to make for quite the performance upgrade. After more than a decade of seeing zillions of "Can an iPad replace a laptop?" articles after every new iPad launch, we now have an iPad that we can say without hyperbole is as powerful as the latest MacBooks.
What will this mean for future software? Will more powerful Mac apps appear on iPadOS? Will Adobe ditch its watered-down Photoshop for iPad and port over the real deal? Or how about Apple eventually porting over its macOS utility apps like Xcode and Final Cut Pro? It seems that's the direction iPadOS is headed.
Since I rarely do much serious work on an iPad, display upgrades are what grab my attention. I'm psyched to see the mini LED display on the 12.9-inch model in person. That's the kind of thing you can't quite showcase in an online stream.