Regarding The iPad Event

I came down with my first cold of the season (likely aggravated by unwisely being too long out in the open in chilling, rainy weather), so I spent a while mulling last week’s Apple event and jotting down some notes over the weekend.

First Takes - the Mac

The new Air looks great, but I was kind of expecting the MacBook “One” or “Adorable” to take its place, so I guess that model is going to go away real soon. It is not, however, cheap, and there are some weird overlaps in the lineup now. My only real question is not whether the keyboard is finally fixed, but how to choose a Mac laptop these days, if at all (given the new iPad).

Also, I guess the TouchBar is a Pro feature now, if it survives 1). Having TouchID across the entire range makes a lot of sense (and I expect it to reach standalone keyboards some day), but I’ve been using Windows Hello for so long on the Surface that I have to wonder how long it will take for FaceID to make its way to laptops–and the next Pro form factor refresh might well be the right time for it.

The mini is back (I’m still sore about it having taken 1475 days), and it demonstrates an amazing amount of common sense (or acknowledgement of criticism) by still having upgradable RAM, USB-A ports, “enough” USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack (now apparently relieved of its optical audio combo). Even if the recycling angle smelled of pure high-octane marketing, it looks like a really nice machine, and is sure to fuel expectations towards a future Mac Pro.

Were it not for Apple having bumped MacBook Pro chipsets under the radar this week, and I’d say the only real risk is having this new Mini grow stale for a year without any CPU bumps…

Second Take - The Cost

Everything is more expensive. Even though the new mini could theoretically be considered a “Pro” machine now (if only because of its Space Gray livery), Apple is hiking entry level prices by 20-50% (20% more on the MacBook Air, almost 25% on the iPad Pro and over 50% on the mini), which is… worrisome.

I get it that Apple’s market share can’t grow forever (and yet, they’re still relevant in that metric, for whatever reason). I also get it that they’ve inexorably moved upwards in the value chain across the line, and that they’re going to stop reporting unit sales because iPhones haven’t taken over the lower end of the market (and that doesn’t seem interesting nor feasible with current pricing, but that’s another story).

It does fall in line with the ludicrous price hikes on the phone range, but feels weird after all the talk of recycled aluminium enclosures. Even accounting for improved components and relatively small sales volumes forecasts for, say, the mini, their gross margin must be reaching well beyond 40% by now.

So yes, increasing prices is a surefire way to better results, but they’re taking the Air along for the ride now (never mind the mini), and being an Apple user is getting prohibitively expensive, so there’s plenty of opportunity for someone else to step up and deliver decent hardware at lower price points (mobile or not).

Third Take - The iPad

The iPad Pro was pretty much as expected (down to the USB-C connector, which I wish had become the norm on this year’s phones too), but still impressive from an iterative improvement standpoint. It was almost boring, were it not for the insane performance figures the thing seems to deliver.

It is the one portable computer to rival the Surface as far as I’m concerned, and I’m not too hung up on operating systems paradigms or having a filesystem (after all, I am drafting this on my iPad mini, which is still my “most personal computer” if you will), but I do expect it will take some time to become palatable to most other people.

I’ll take another look at it when the external keyboard gets an Esc key, but in truth for now I have no use (nor budget) for one.

What Was Missing

I suspect the iPad mini is the new torchbearer for neglect (coming on at 590-odd days between updates), and even though the glib cheerfuly point out that the iPhone XS Max is nearly as big, I am not alone in considering the current iPad range (and the phone range, too) to bee too big and unwieldy.

Holding out for a smaller iPad Pro doesn’t make much sense (and my mini 4 is fine for reading, personal correspondence, and drafts), but I would like to see that happen. Maybe the sales volume doesn’t justify another engineering cycle, but for me that is still the perfect iPad form factor—a notebook-sized machine that can access all my data, take notes (would be perfect for handwriting), and can still fit in a coat pocket.

I’m also increasingly partial to the notion that iOS (and the iPad in particular) needs to have some form of trackpad/mouse support, but I don’t really expect Apple to do something about that at this point, and the X1 still works fine for what I need it to do, so I’m going to let it rest for a while.

  1. Many people seem sure that the TouchBar isn’t enough of a flop yet, but I have hope that the physical Esc key will become a Pro feature again. ↩︎

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