Heavy Airs, Big Minis, and Pro iPad Pros

On the 30th October 2018, an almost unending troop of Apple (and guests) presenters took to the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music within the Howard Gilman Opera House, New York City, to show us there was ‘… more in the making‘. They were not wrong!

Night of the Living Dead (Mac’s)

Apple opened the show with a rundown of some new Mac hardware. This signalled the resurection of some long abandoned hardware, namely the Mac Mini and MacBook Air.

The Mac (not so) Mini

As I’ve alluded to before, Mac’s are not an area of focus, or interest, to me personally. That being said, however, it’s good to see these much loved hardware devices receive a well deserved refresh. It’s surprising to me that the Mac Mini is still so … not mini, given modern devices such as Intel’s NUC’s and others. As is often the arguement when it comes to Apple hardware these days, the fact you can get something smaller, cheaper, and possibly more powerful from another company is a moot point. None of these devices run macOS, so they are not going to appeal to the majority of Mac entusiasts, no matter the hardware.

With that said, the Mac Mini looks fantastic, and there are some options available to really push up it’s performance (and price) if you so wish. It’s amusing that, when discussing the new Mac Mini, the presenter mentioned, and I paraphrase:

‘It’s Pro because it’s Space Grey’

I understood what he was getting at, in that Apple’s Pro devices, such as the iMac Pro, do now come in these colours, but I found it quite amusing at the time. All in all, if this is the form factor you’re looking for, I’m sure you’d be very happy with the new models.

An Air by any other name

Alongside the Mac Mini, Apple also revealed the long rumoured MacBook Air refresh. As with the Mac Mini, there are plenty of other options available for a lower end, super portable laptop, but if this is the ecosystem you’re interested in there is again an interesting, viable option. Strangely, given the Air moniker, this device is actually heavier than the current basic MacBook model. The current MacBook line up is a bit of a confusing mess, to me, with very unclear distinctions between each device and what the logical progression is between moving from the cheapest / lower end device up the chain. This is, quite possibly, a symptom of me just not keeping up with the Mac hardware, however.

The Pièce de résistance

After a (rather random) update about some more in-store initiatives coming to an Apple Store near you, Apple moved onto the real star of the show. New iPad Pro’s (I’m sorry, I refuse to write ‘iPads Pro’). These beauties are really something to behold …

I wont bore you here by simply listing out the tech specs and the sales pitch on these devices, you can read all of that from Apple themselves. Done? Good. Now, onto some of my thoughts.

To get things started, I will tell you that I currently have an iPad Pro 12.9″, Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil Gen 2 on order. I’ll be getting the keyboard and Pencil on release date of the 7th November, though after a bit of a mess up my end, the iPad will be coming a week later.

The iPad

Prior to the event starting it felt like we knew very little about the iPads we would be seeing at the event, but as soon as they were revealed it struck me that we did actually have a very good idea what we were going to see. This didn’t, however, stop my jaw from hitting the floor when I actually saw the things. Good Lord, they are nice.

The design is very reminiscent of the iPhone 5 era design with a more squared off, angular design. You’d imagine that, given this similarity to such old iPhone hardware, the device would look dated, but that’s far from the truth. It looks extremely sleek and interesting. The pitch video sold it as an edge to edge screen, now that the homebutton has finally been removed. This, to me, is pushing it somewhat. If you watch the product video, that was strangely narrated by Phil Schiller instead of Jony Ive, the remaining bezel does seem considerably smaller, but there is still a fair bit that remains.

As is now par for the course with Apple and their own chipsets, the A12X chip that ships inside the new iPad Pros seems to be incredibly powerful once again. For many years now, the iPad Pro hardware has outstripped the development speed of the software side of things, but this feels like a real turning point year. The new hardware, along with the new USB-C connector, seems to line the device up for some powerful new features in iOS 13, or beyond.

On the software front, I’d love to see some more flexability on app management, in terms of how many apps you can run, how these can be windowed, and what can be shared and interacted with on an external monitor. Right now, options are limited, but Apple has all they need to now start addressing this come iOS 13 in June (for those of us brave / stupid enough to jump on the betas).

All in all, the device itself looks amazing. The 12.9″ model I’ve ordered has a greatly reduced footprint (almost 25% I believe) than the last 12.9″ iPad and is thinner and lighter than ever. This size, to me, seems like the logical one to go for and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Sharpen my Pencil

Alongside the new iPads, Apple also unvealed a new, redesigned Apple Pencil. This, again, looks like a lovely new design. Even more exciting than a new design is the great new storage and charging method. The device finally now connects to the iPad magnetically to not only store, but charge, it.This looks, and acts, far more like the Surface Pro Pen now, which isn’t a bad thing in my book at all. I ordered one of these, despite the fact my current Apple Pencil is very rarely used. I can see this being the same, to be completely honest, though the new ‘button’ functionality you can access by tapping the device could open up some very interesting interaction methods. Once again, this is very reliant on software enhancements. The flat side will also prevent the bloody thing from rolling everywhere, which is a big bonus!

Keyed In

Now that the Smart Connector has, randomly, moved to the back of the device, Apple had yet another accessory to tempt me to spend more of my, and our, hard earned money.

The new keyboard, called the Smart Keyboard Folio, now covers the entirety of the back of the device, which actually looks pretty nice. The keyboard part, it seems, looks to be essentially the same as the previous generation, though it does have a new viewing angle (one for watching media, one for typing) which is pretty interesting.

I’ve worked my way through, at one time or another, pretty much all of the main iPad Pro keyboards (Brydge, Logitech’s various offerings etc.) and while many are great, I’ve always come back to the Apple Smart Keyboard. It’s simple, connects (and disconnects) extremely quickly and it’s just nice to type on. I’ve always hated ‘clacky’ keyboards, so it suits me just fine. At £199 it’s absolutely ridiculous, but in for a penny in for a pound I guess.

Wrapping up

As mentioned, I’m extremely excited to physically get this device. It looks amazing, and I can now bump up from a 10.5″ model back to a 12.9″ version without gaining quite as much size and weight. That, to me, sounds pretty exciting in of itself. I do, however, feel we’re only seeing half of the story that is this generation of iPad Pros. The hardware is, once again, a massive leap forward, but I think we’ll see the next chapter come the release of iOS 13. Like it or not, the Mac has clearly had it’s hayday. The iPad’s, however, has yet to come. I, for one, am very excited to see what comes next for my favourite bit of kit.

When I do finally get hold of my new iPad Pro I’ll be sure to share some thoughts both here, in writing, and on the podcast for those that are more aurally inclined.

Apple In The Big Apple

Last week we received the news I, and many other iPad fans, had been waiting for. The expetected iPad Pro (and maybe Mac) event was a go! On Tuesday, 30th October, at 2pm (U.K. time) the team at Apple will take to the stage of the (very glamourous looking) Howard Gilman Opera House in New York City (specifically Brooklyn) to showcase some of their latest products. The iPad was noticably absent from the iPhone event in September, so it’s pretty much a given we’ll be seeing this refresh at this event. The event invites were sent with the tagline:
‘There’s more in the making’
Alongside this, the team at Apple created some amazing looking custom Apple logo designs which, presumably, were created on iPads. I’m sure we’ll hear more about this on the day, but here are some of my personal favourites: 7e2cbd5f-ba18-4e99-af81-f8e36013d12f   If you wanted to check out all 371 custom icons Apple created, someone has created a Git repository to house them all. This is well worth checking out. Prior to seeing that the October event had been confirmed, I started to have some doubts it was actually coming. I felt that very little had been leaked, so far, for this to be an imminent event. Sincet then, however, I’ve realised that there is actually quite a lot out there that seems to have propogated quite widely, and I assume will come to be true. So, what do we think we know so far? What are the obvious things we’re likely to see:

iPad Pro refresh

Firstly, updated iPad Pro’s not only seem to be a given, they are likely the reason this event isn’t just a press release. Rumours of an 11″ version of the iPad Pro has been doing the rounds for some time now, so my guess would be that we’ll see the 10.5″ replaced with a device with the same footprint, but with a larger screen, but also another device that does the opposite, namely keeps the 12.9″ screen size, but reduces the body / footprint down to make the device a bit more managable. To allow for this to happen, Apple are clearly going to need to ‘do an iPhone X’ and remove the home button, add Face ID and then also reduce the bezels as much as possible. The 10.5″ iPad Pro already reduced the side bezels quite considerably, but the ‘forehead’ and ‘chin’ still have a lot of shaving potential. As you can see from the renders below, courtesy of 9to5Mac these devices could potentially look pretty fantastic. 9to5mac Renders Along with this fantastic new look, you can be sure there will be the usual bumps to the spec sheet, such as the use of a new A12X chip, to the already high powered beauties.

A new port?

Another rumour that has been floating around for a while now is that the iPad Pro line will drop the Lightning connector, for USB-C, to move the iPad Pro away from the iPhone line, and in line with recent Mac models. This gained quite a bit of attention, with many praising this as a huge step for the iPad Pro to move into ‘real computer’ territory (though it’s there for me already, but that’s a story for another day). I have to be honest and say that I don’t really understand how this makes that much difference. I already connect my iPad Pro 10.5″ to a 4K display, and it’s not the fact that the device isn’t pushing 4K content to the monitor that’s the issue. It’s the fact that, unless I’m playing a film, the iPad display is still letterboxed in the middle of the screen (due to the unusual 4:3 aspect ratio), and it’s also still just a mirror of what the iPad screen is showing. Driving the 4K monitor is a small step in the right direction, I guess, but there will need to be fundamental iOS changes before this adds any tangible benefits. It sounds like Springboard updates will be coming in iOS 13, after being pushed back from iOS 12 earlier in the year, so this might be far too many things to add in a single release. The way things have been going, however, after limited iPad focused updates in iOS 12, it would seem logical that iOS 13 would include the next big leap for the iPad. To me, I expect the iPad Pro updates to be 99% on the hardware side, with any real software developments happening with iOS 13. Apple will often lay the hardware foundations first, ready for new software developments to catch up and I don’t expect this to vary from this trend.

Throw away all of your accessories

If the rumour is true about a switch to USB-C, along with whispers of the Smart Connector also going (or at least moving) it’s likely we’re all going to have to get all new accessories to go along with our new devices. An Apple Pencil v2, that connects the same way the Logitech Crayon currently works is likely, as is a new Smart Keyboard, though as far as I’ve seen not a single thing has leaked on that particular front. I’ve worked my way through many keyboards for my iPad Pro, but I always come back to the Smart Keyboard. I really love it, so I’m intrigued by what a revision to this may look like. It’s possible that Apple will just refresh this to add compatability with the new connector type / location, and I’m not sure what I’d change beyond this really, but I’m interested in seeing what happens on this front.

Location, Location, Location

The last time Apple went outside of their campus for an event was back in March, for their Education focused event. This was held in Lane Tech College Prep High School, in Chicago. In this case, the venue tied in perfectly with the reason for the event. Will the October event, in an Opera House, follow suit? I assume we wont see Eddie Cue belting out Nessun Dorma as Scott and I theorised in the latest episode of Pocket Sized Podcast (shameless pun intended), so what may this mean? Apple has been positioning the iPad Pro line, as the name suggests, as Pro hardware. Apple already has some professional grade software that has, to date, be the domain of the Mac. Logic Pro X is a professionally focused music recording and editing tool which may well be the first candidate to be transitioned to the iPad Pro line. As Scott put it, again in the latest episode of PSP, it’s perhaps time for Apple to put it’s money (and it’s apps) where it’s mouth is and bring some truly ‘Pro’ apps to the iPad Pro.

Something, Something Mac

I’m not even going to pretend to know anything about what may be coming on the Mac front. Having moved to iOS as my main OS back in 2011 / 2012 I’ve not followed Mac developments at all. It’s now so far out of my area of knowledge I wont even patronise any readers with a rehash of what has been written elsewhere. I can’t add my own thoughts or commentary to it, so I’d rather just refrain from commenting. What I will say, however, is that while not for me, the Mac line is still a very important area for many people, and my beloved iPad Pro would be devoid of any apps without it, so I hope the Mac people get whatever it is they need to help keep this area fresh, exciting and more importantly, usable for them. All in all, I’m beyond excited for what we’ll see come 30th October. My wallet, on the other hand, is dreading what expense it will have to endure, a month before Christmas, but it’ll be fine! I’ll be watching the event live, along with millions of others, and will be sure to share my thoughts on what I see via the TheDent.net, the companion podcast and, also, via another podcast that will, for now, remain nameless.