Apple's May 2021 in review - Lossless Apple Music, Apple Silicon iMac, and new Apple TV 4K
In May 2021, Epic Games versus Apple may have taken some of our attention, but we gave most of it to the new Apple Silicon M1 iMac, iPad Pro, and Apple TV 4K — and on top of all that, we got news of Lossless Apple Music.
While we were hearing about the new AirTags in April 2021, Apple's lawyers were hunkered down over the court case that's either going to be totally forgotten next year, or may lead to huge changes in the App Store.
Sometimes a movie will get only a token release in theaters, maybe being shown for a week, possibly even only for a single day. That's when the studio knows it's going to make its money from streaming, overseas sales, everything except the box office.
It's a financial decision, there are contracts involved, there are long term plans, and nobody really cares what the movie takes on its theatrical release because it doesn't matter.
Surely, this is what Epic Games was doing in May 2021.
The trial between the "Fortnite" developer and Apple did seem to last a lot longer than its official three weeks. But that's what happens when the court devotes time to failing to play "Candy Crush." We've all lost time with that game, but we're not gigantic corporations arguing over the future of the internet / how to make more money for Epic (delete as applicable).
This isn't to say that we learned nothing from the trial, but what we gathered was all about internal Apple workings rather than anything much approaching Epic Games making a point.
So we found out, for instance, that Phil Schiller has wanted to reduce App Store fees for about a decade. Another Apple executive, Craig Federighi, threw Mac security under a bus in order to say iOS is more secure, but it's not like he was wrong.
And there was the issue that Apple allows certain developers access to certain features that they'd presumably all want.
But if Epic Games failed to persuade the world that they are fighting for us and the very integrity of our entire internet rather than money, Apple was more plainspoken. Tim Cook told the court straight that Apple was out to get its commission from apps and no mistake.
So the trial wasn't without its moments, but it didn't seem like that as each day trudged on. Ultimately, Epic Games must have a longer gameplan than this, its arguments were so flimsy.
They were about as flimsy as those in the separate anti-Apple research paper that was in no way influenced by its funding from Facebook, no sir. It's wrong to say this, it's very wrong to think it, but just for once you almost hope that the academics got some kind of kickback from Facebook because otherwise they could have tanked their reputations for nothing.
"Harming Competition and Consumers Under the Guise of Protecting Privacy," is written by D. Daniel Sokol of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and Feng Zhu, from the Harvard Business School.
Their basic position is that we should learn to love advertising — for instance, they take a huge sideswipe at the EU's anti-spam GDPR law for, well, stopping spam. And they claim that Apple is fronting up this whole privacy lark as cover for its own business advantage.
That's the problem with sound-and-fury position papers, the accusation that Apple is looking to its bottom line instead of our privacy could even be correct. But when you lambast Apple for not having answers to questions you admit you haven't asked Apple, this isn't academic research, it's an advert.
Lossless Apple Music
Speaking of questions that Apple didn't have answers to, though, there was the new Lossless Apple Music. The entire Apple Music service is switching over — by the end of the year — to higher quality audio and that's clearly great.
It's also clearly great that it's doing this without increasing our monthly fees. Plus if you don't subscribe to Apple Music, you're still going to feel a benefit because the launch prompted Amazon Music to drop its high-quality audio fee.
And Spotify had already announced its own lossless music back in February 2021, but now seems to be inching closer to actually launching.
So all in all, lossless Apple Music is a good thing for everyone. It was just confusing over who could get it and what it is. Plus there was uncertainty over which Apple devices would play higher-quality audio — and then lastly who would actually hear the difference.
Apple could have been clearer. But you can take the confusion as a measure of interest as Apple users looked to find answers because they want
Whereas there didn't seem to be quite the rush to find out more about podcast subscriptions. Apple had announced these as coming in May and the new iOS 14.6 came with all the user-facing controls, just no actual podcasts you could subscribe to.
It was clearly that Apple was waiting to pull the switch and make all of these exciting podcasts available, but then it kept not quite doing it. Toward the end of May, Apple announced that the service would instead be moved to June.
Since they announced that on May 28, we had kind of guessed, but Apple did actually explain the delay. It said that there had been issues with the Podcasts Connect service, which has been how podcasts were delivered to Apple and on to users.
Apple doesn't very often delay things, at least not once they've been publicly announced. When you're focused on one thing Apple does that concerns or interests you, it's very easy to forget what an enormous range of products and services it produces.
And if you do keep in mind the myriad Apple release there are, you can then easily forget just how many of those products get major annual updates.
If you'd like a clue to how fast Apple really operates, though, consider this. Podcast Subscriptions were announced on April 20, 2021, and formally delayed it on May 28, 2021. In between, the company hired Antonio Garcia Martinez, faced a staff protest about him, and fired the man too.
Devices and desires
In more pleasant news, also coming rapidly out of Apple Park's doors this month were the products so many of us had pre-ordered on April 30, 2021.
It's a fair summary to say that the latest Apple Silicon model, the 24-inch iMac, was the most universally well-received. This one did get very strongly positive reviews, but it was also the device that surely brought the most to the greatest number of people.
The latest iPhone 12, whose deliveries slipped into May for many people, was definitely the most niche of the new products. If you love purple, you had to have it, and if you don't, you didn't.
Then at the other end of the scale, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro brought a remarkable 50% performance boost over the last model. Except the last model was far from a slouch so this was less bringing something new, more rubbing it in for every other tablet manufacturer.
In between, there was the new Apple TV 4K. If you'd never had one before, or if you moved from the old Apple TV HD, then this was fantastic. You even nodded when an Apple executive justified the price by describing Apple TV as "outsized value."
It's just that if you had the previous Apple TV 4K, the new version was a shrug. Except for the new Siri Remote, which everyone loves even though they're slightly wrong because it's a pain that the Siri button is now on the side.
Looking forward and back
We don't get new Apple devices every month, but we do get rumors of them every single day. Whether it's reported leaks, purported renders, or just random clickbait concepts, the flood never stops. What was unusual this month was that for once it was Apple itself who told us something was coming.
Specifically, there will be new features in iOS and watchOS to bring greater accessibility functions in the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. They're intended for people with disabilities, and include a way to get sign language interpreters.
However, as useful as these are going to be to anyone with, say, upper limb problems, some of them are going to be a boon for everyone. If you've ever had your Apple Watch alarm go off while you're carrying something in both hands, you know it's equally hard to ignore the tapping as it is to pause and find the Stop button.
Now you'll be able to balance that filing cabinet on your knee and clench your fist for a moment to cancel the alarm.
It's unusual for Apple to give advance news of any feature, but especially so when it was done only really days ahead of WWDC 2021. On June 2, 2021, it's at WWDC that we will learn of much more to do with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8.
However, Apple made this early announcement to support Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which was on May 20. The announcement came alongside the launch of new accessibility Shortcuts, reading recommendations for Apple Books, and more.
As Apple and we looked forward, though, another early announcement was for a project that will look back. The makers of app subscription service Setapp revealed plans for an Apple Museum.
Due to open in the coming months as both a physical space in Kyiv, Ukraine, and an online project, the Apple Museum will launch with over 300 historic Apple products.
While we wait for that, May saw a smaller scale but equally nostalgic look back at Apple history. An AR version of the very first Apple Store was launched, letting you wander through the familiar building with its now unfamiliar software boxes alongside the kind of old Macs we all wanted twenty years ago.
It's a different world today
Two decades on, real-life Apple Stores are a worldwide success that have been dented by the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, it was in May 2021 that Apple unveiled its new store in Rome, the gorgeous Apple Via del Corso within the grand Palazzo Marignoli.
And it was also at the very end of May that Apple's senior vice president of retail and people, Deirdre O'Brien, told a German media outlet that more stores are coming.
It really does seem as if the world is beginning to recover from the pandemic — except that a new outbreak in Vietnam is again threatening production.
And while many retailers around the rest of the world have begun relaxing their health safeguards, Apple is to continue requiring customers to wear masks.
Hopefully all stores, all businesses, and all of us will soon be able to get back to normal. You can bet that we've got several more years of rulings, appeals, more rulings and counter-appeals coming from the Epic Games v Apple case.
As there should be, really. It's vital that we settle the question of whether a nude banana in a video game counts as Apple sanctioning pornography on the App Store.
That was unlikely to come up in the WWDC keynote, which Tim Cook would deliver in June 2021.