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New iPad Pro, M1 iMac, and AirTag at last - Apple's April 2021 in review

AirTag and Purple iPhones.

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You wait ages for a new Apple device to be launched, and then a mass of them come at once. April 2021 saw new iMacs, new Apple TV 4K, new iPad Pro, and finally the launch of the AirTag.

They were rumored in March 2021 — actually, they had easily been rumored for year before then — but finally, Apple released AirTags.

In a hundred years' time, archeologists are going to be digging up millions of little circular white and silver devices. They might conclude that they're coins, or if their research is only a little better, they might think they're called Tiles.

It would be nice to think that Tile could have the last laugh one day, because it's not having one now. After a couple of years of Tile dreading Apple's AirTag rival being released, suddenly they were here.

Then they were everywhere. Apple's provision of engraved ones ran out within minutes of them going on pre-order.

And then, of course we all spent a week waiting for them to be delivered. Which meant we spent time refreshing the shipment tracking information for tracking devices.

It's possible that when those archeologists uncover more detail about April 2021, they will conclude that it's the AirTag that was the most important development of the month. But there were others. After months without any Apple events or launches, there were a lot.

Apple TV 4K and iPhone 12 in purple

AirTag was physically the smallest, followed in size by the revamped Apple TV 4K. Revamped is a generous word, though, as the most immediately visible improvement is just the new Siri Remote.

In truth, Apple TV 4K has had a lot of improvements; it's just that some may not bring obvious benefits for years. And Apple has chosen to center it on a three-year-old processor.

Its A12 Bionic is unquestionably better than either the four-year-old processor in the Apple TV 4K's immediate predecessor. If you're still rocking an Apple TV HD, you're watching a six-year-old design. Move on.

Maybe Apple just had a lot of A12 Bionic processors lying around. Just as maybe it couldn't get a purple color right in time for the iPhone 12 launch last year.

That was the next biggest launch in April's event, an iPhone 12 that is aimed at people who have porphyrophilia. It's a thing — an obsessive love of purple — although unfortunately, there is also porphyrophobia, an excessive fear of it.

Shop carefully.

April 2021 was a good month to have porphyrophilia
April 2021 was a good month to have porphyrophilia

New iMac

There is also now a purple iMac, and it came as part of the April launch of M1 iMacs with Apple Silicon. However, only the back of each is actually purple, or one of the other advertised colors, as the front is a more muted companion color that's chiefly visible in the iMac's chin.

For years people have been predicting that the iMac would lose that chin to become an all-display unit. Instead, all that's gone is the Apple logo that used to be there.

So far, the greater omission, though, seems to be about three inches. The 27-inch iMac model has not yet got the Apple Silicon treatment, and instead what we've got is a new 24-inch iMac.

While 24 inches is more than the 21.5 inches of its predecessor, it's still small. And there's also a clear argument that the new iMac lacks ports, plus a more subjective one that it just doesn't look good.

Everyone's welcome to their opinion, even when they're wrong. The new iMac is a marvel, and if you could put together a better specification by buying a Mac mini and a separate monitor, the iMac is greater than the sum of its specifications.

It was clearly going to do very, very well for Apple — at least until a revised 27-inch iMac is launched.

Now about that iPad Pro

Going in to April, the word was that we'd get two new iPad Pro models. Tick. Also that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro would have a mini-LED backlighting system. Tick.

There was a belief that Apple would have to announce a long delay before actually shipping the 12.9-inch model, though, because of assorted stories about production yield delays. And that doesn't appear to have happened.

So if you're keeping score, that's two predictions correct, and one not. Just to show that Apple can still sometimes keep a big secret, though, nobody saw that the new iPad Pro models would switch to the M1 processor.

The 2021 iPad Pro range

You have to wonder whether we're heading for a day when the iPhone gets it too — or, this would be nice, the Apple TV 4K. And perhaps you've wondered just how the meeting went when Apple's A-series team were told.

There may have been a similar moment when the Magic Keyboard design team first read the specifications for the 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard. Apple has shuffled its feet about this a bit, looked a bit sheepish, and eventually said that it's not entirely true that you need a new Magic Keyboard for the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Not entirely. The old one will sort of work with the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a bit. It works, it just doesn't fit all that well.

But if you're going to buy a replacement Magic Keyboard, at least you can now get one in white.

Shipping mysteries

At the sheer scale of production Apple now does, and the impossibility of keeping secrets once devices are on their way to stores, it's not a surprise that the company has lost one of its key advantages. It can surely never again conclude a launch with "available today."

That always used to be such a differentiator for Apple, especially back when other companies would launch devices that then never actually shipped.

But this time out, Apple not only couldn't say, "available today," it would not say when things were coming. Over and over, we got told when the preorder dates were, followed by how the various devices would be available some vague time in the "second half of May."

Maybe there were more iPad Pro production issues than we thought, but Apple even did a quickstep revision the day before preorders began. An innocuous press release reminding us all that April 30 would see preorders on the iPad Pro, iMac, and Apple TV 4K, kept to this line of "second half of May."

That press release was online, though, and the HTML for the page revealed a description specifying "May 21" shipping — briefly. It was amended upon discovery and changed back to that second half thing.

Around 24 hours later, you could preorder these devices and that's when Apple officially said May 21. Briefly. It didn't take long before May 21 was slipping into June because of demand.

Apple will never say how many of a device it has made, so it's possible they only produced three iPads Pro in order to have them sell out quickly. But it does look as if each of Apple's new devices in April 2021 has got off to a good start.

That has to be a relief for Apple, given how it made hardly any money at all in this quarter. The roughly $30 billion a month it took home is barely 1.6 million times the California state minimum wage.

Podcast Subscriptions
Podcast Subscriptions

Podcasts reinvented

There was another mystery shipping date at the April "Spring Loaded" event, and that one hasn't been resolved yet. As of some time in May — we thought — you would be able to pay to subscribe to certain podcasts.

It's not the flat-rate subscription service that was predicted; this isn't going to be worked into the Apple One bundle. Instead, if you like fifty podcasts that are selling subscriptions, you can pay all fifty of them separately.

Maybe Apple can't set a date because it doesn't know how many podcasters are going to take them up on the option for subscriptions. And it is a difficult choice. If it weren't for Apple, there wouldn't be a podcast industry — even the name comes from iPod — and the whole point was to reach a wide audience.

Subscriptions would narrow your audience down. Moving to be exclusively on Spotify's new rival subscription service could narrow it further.

We're just going to have to see how subscription podcasts play out. Just as we're going to have to see how Apple gets on with the European Union, now it's formally been accused of breaking EU anti-competition laws.

That was announced on April 30, but it's not as if it could have been resolved in the month if they'd just talked sooner. This one is going to run and run for years.

App Tracking Transparency

Hopefully, this issue isn't going to hang around that long. It felt as if we'd already had the fight about privacy for a very long time before App Tracking Transparency came into force with iOS 14.5. And it felt like we are going to have to wait a very long time before Facebook lets us tap that Don't Allow Tracking button.

Facebook will have to convince users to disable App Tracking Transparency
Facebook will have to convince users to disable App Tracking Transparency

Maybe we've just all chosen to install well-behaved apps, but for many of us, the ATT dialog box proved to be a rare sight. That's going to change as developers want to update their apps, as Apple gets to say, "come on then, update without ATT if you think you're hard enough."

App Tracking Transparency isn't a name that's going to seep into the public consciousness, even as hopefully the privacy issues it raises does.

But the word AirTag, that's different. That's going to become the Biro and the Hoover of tracking devices.

The name, or the word, on most people's lips in May 2021, though, would be "lossless."

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