Apple typically holds an event in Spring, and this year was no exception. Their Spring Loaded event covered updates to existing products and announced some new ones too.
The environmental report also looked good, with many of the products being made from 100% recycled aluminium, tin and rare earth metals. It’s good to see that Apple includes an environmental report at the end of each product, and is making great progress there.
These tiny little tags can help you find your belongings. At just over 3cm in diameter, they’re small enough to drop into a backpack or handbag, though there are also accessories such as keychains and luggage straps you can use.
If you have an iPhone with the U1 chip, you can even get the precise distance and direction to the tag, in addition to the map location.
Interestingly they have a user-replaceable battery, using a standard CR2032 button cell which is expected to last for at least a year before it needs replacing. It would be nice to see more replaceable batteries in other Apple products given ageing batteries affects the longevity of a product.
A neat feature of the AirTag comes via integration with the existing Find My 1 ecosystem. This means any iPhone, iPad or Mac that gets near a lost tag will report the location to iCloud, making it more likely you’ll find your lost items.
In “Lost Mode”, AirTag can be configured to show a custom message, such as your contact details. If a good samaritan finds the tag, they can tap it with an NFC-equipped smartphone to display the message, hopefully helping to reunite you with your belongings.
Using crowd sourcing in this way means that hundreds of millions of Apple devices around the world can work together to help locate a missing tag, like a supercharged Lost and Found. Very cool.
For AirTag, the crowd sourcing works via low power bluetooth, and is relayed back to iCloud anonymously and encrypted so that not even Apple can see the location data. I really like this approach as it means you’re helping other people find their lost items, transparently, and without compromising your own privacy.
Apple have also thought about the potential for these tags to be misused — by dropping one into a stranger’s bag for example. To that end, your iPhone will alert you if an unknown AirTag is nearby, playing a sound after a while, to help you find it.
This obviously doesn’t help if you don’t have an iPhone, but that’s a wider problem for technology like this. I’m not sure how you would solve this for any conceivable phone. What if the person doesn’t have a phone at all?
The first M1-powered iMac looks like a good solid update. The most striking part is how thin it is. Previous models were incredibly thin at the edges, but were curved like an arch; the new iMac is completely flat, 11.5mm thin throughout.
The seven bright new colours are evocative of the original iMac G3 “flavours”, adding a lot more personality to the range. Colour-matching the aluminium of the keyboard and mouse to the iMac itself is a nice touch.
Otherwise we see the performance bump you’d expect from the M1 chip — 85% faster CPU and 50% faster graphics, and the range of other benefits, from the image signal processor, the neural engine for 3X faster machine learning, unified memory architecture and so on.
A high resolution 4.5K display with True Tone rounds off the new model.
Even though I prefer my Mac laptop for being able to use it anywhere, I find myself really drawn to these new models, I think they just look brilliant.
One thing that stood out immediately from the internals is just how much smaller the cooling system is. The previous Intel-powered model required an enormous fan and an exhaust that wouldn’t look out of place on a small hatchback.
The new model has only two small fans either side of the logic board that are barely visible in the profile. This means the new machine is very quiet; Apple claims less than 10 decibels under “typical load”, which is almost imperceptible.
This is something common to all the new Apple Silicon machines; they are so power efficient that they run cool and quiet. It’s a joy compared to the Intel-models which, when working hard, can sound like a jet engine during takeoff.
This is the first iPad to feature mini-LED technology, with 10,000 mini LEDs that are 120X smaller than the 72 LEDs used in the previous model. This gives incredible precision over the backlight, and allows for incredibly rich and vibrant colours, sharper details, and darker blacks in dark scenes. It’s amazing to see Apple already shrinking their XDR technology down to the size of an iPad.
Sadly it isn’t available on both iPad Pro models, which I guess is partly due the size requirements, and possibly also to keep the smaller model’s price down, but it does add fragmentation to the product line, which can be frustrating.
It was also a surprise to see that the new iPad Pro uses the M1 chip. Typically the iPads have used a higher performing variant of the A-series chips used in iPhone, with a “Z” suffix. With so many people using the iPad as their main computer, this takes the already impressive capabilities and raises them to a new level.
A nice solid update to the Apple TV 4K hardware adding a more powerful chip, the A12 Bionic which first appeared in the iPhone XS. I’m using an older Apple TV HD model myself, which sports the older A8 chip. Though still plenty capable, performance in more demanding apps could be better.
There is also a new Siri Remote, which looks like a great upgrade. It combines the best features of both the Siri Remote and the old aluminium Apple Remote. It has an iPod-esque outer ring for scrubbing through video, but remains touch sensitive for swiping through longer content lists. It also acts as a button for clicking up, down, left or right, allowing for more precise navigation through menus. The addition of dedicated “power” and “mute” buttons is also appreciated.
Many people had criticised the ergonomics of the previous remote. In fact a Swiss TV company wanting to use Apple TV as the “set top box” for its customers, thought the old remote was so bad they developed their own. I think this will be a welcome change for many.
I’m not sure why Apple continue to sell the older Apple TV HD, which is approaching six years old, when the 4K model is only $30 more and can handle HD (1080p) or 4K televisions (and their respective content). In my mind it would make sense for them to unify these into a single model to avoid confusion. They have at least updated this model to come with the new remote.
Finally, another welcome feature is the ability to colour calibrate your television by using the camera on your iPhone. This allows the iPhone to measure the actual performance of your TV, compare it to industry standard specifications, and then make adjustments to the output to try to improve any deficiencies.
Colour calibration can make a huge difference to the picture quality, so it’s great to see it being made super easy for everyone to be able to do.