Thoughts on Apple’s Spring Event

The Apple Event has come and gone and proceeded largely as expected. Yes, Air Tags, Apple TV improvements, and a purple iPhone 12. All ho-hum for me, but then I’m probably not the target market for those. More importantly, which new features or products benefit content creators?

24” M1 iMac

We now have the latest machine in the transition to Apple’s Arm-based SoC M1 processor – the new 24” M1 iMac. This is the same integrated chip used in the other M1 machines – the laptops and the Mac mini. Apple launched it with a bouquet of seven colors, harkening back to the original Bondi iMacs. Of course, the iMac itself is the natural descendant of the first Mac. Along with color options, there are color-coordinated accessories, including the mouse and a new round-edge keyboard with Touch ID.

This is the first in what is presumably a line of several new iMacs. It’s targeted at consumers; however, the M1 Macs have proven to be more than capable enough for editing, especially with Apple Final Cut Pro. This model has a 24” screen and is 11.5mm thick. That’s only slightly thicker than the 12.9” iPad Pro! It replaces the former 21” model. With slimmer bezels you get 4.5K Retina resolution in similar screen real estate to the older model. There’s an upgraded audio system (mics, speakers, and Dolby Atmos support) and a 1080p camera. According to Apple, the M1 iMac will also drive an external 6K Pro Display XDR.

I reviewed the M1 Mac mini, which has similar specs, so I would expect similar performance to that of the mini. There are two chip configurations with 8GB RAM or 16GB RAM as an option. Storage goes up to 2TB. Ports are slim with only two USB-4 (USB-C style plug) and two USB/Thunderbolt ports. USB-A ports are gone, so expect to buy adapters and/or a dock, especially if you use thumb drives or license dongles. One point to note is that this new iMac only supports 1GbE Ethernet, same as the M1 mini when it first launched. However, since then, Apple has quietly added a 10GbE option to the mini’s custom options.

An interesting design choice is the return of the puck-like power adapter. This enables a magnetic power plug, a la the older MagSafe plugs. Ethernet connects to the adapter, instead of the back of the iMac. Personally, I feel this is a poor design choice. I had to deal with those on Apple displays over the years and have been more than happy not to have them on the Intel iMacs. I’d rather see a slightly thicker iMac design without the adapter. Although, many do like this design, because the ultra-slim design has a cool factor. I can also appreciate that Apple designers wanted to get rid of the bump at the back of the iMac. It just seems to me that there might have been a middle ground that didn’t require the puck and would be equally as stunning. Either way, it’s certainly not a showstopper.

These new iMacs become available in the second half of May, but special configurations have not yet been listed on the pricing page. If predictions are correct, then later this year Apple will likely release a more powerful iMac, featuring the next iteration of M-series chip. M1X, M2, other name – who knows? Obviously this will include a larger screen (27”, 30”, 32”?), but given the additional of XDR technology to the iPad Pro, one now has to wonder whether such an iMac would also include an XDR screen. Since the iMac color scheme no longer includes space gray, will the more advanced iMac be offered in space gray? And would such a model be called iMac Pro again or maybe iMac XDR? All just speculation at this point.

iPad Pro

The iPad Pro’s A-series processor has now been upgraded to an M1 chip. Since these were already cousins, it’s not really clear to me what the performance difference will be. Apple speaks of huge gains in performance, but it’s not clear what those comparisons are based on. There are a number of enhancements, like 5G and the 12MP ultra wide camera, but I’ll focus on two production-related upgrades.

The iPad Pro does now support Thunderbolt connectivity, enabled by the M1. However, it may or may not work in the same way as connecting a a drive to a Mac. But you will be able to connect it to an external display like the XDR. You can run some iPadOS apps on a Mac with Big Sur, but I doubt that you’ll be able to run a macOS app on an iPad Pro. That may be a limitation of the more stripped-down iPadOS. It could also be because of the different design choices that have to be made for touch versus keyboard/mouse interaction.

The big improvement is in the 12.9” iPad Pro, which gains a new Liquid Retina XDR display. It’s based on the same technology as the Pro Display XDR, which should result in stunning images on a tablet. It will offer 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness. This will be interesting for location productions if DPs adopt the iPad Pro as a device to proof shots and create looks.

A final point to note is that Apple has successfully introduced a processor architecture that scales from tablet to desktop with the same chip. Gone are the Intel Core i3 through i9 configurations. Obviously, more powerful Macs will require more powerful chip versions; but, we’ll have to see whether these future configuration options become as varied as with Intel or AMD. I’m sure that will become clearer by the end of 2021. All in all the Spring event had some nice, new products along with some incremental updates. Let’s see how this Apple Silicon transition continues to shape up.

©2021 Oliver Peters