Apple’s ‘Unleashed’ Event

Oct 22, 2021 • Extra Ordinary • Apple Event



Music

Apple kicked off the event announcing human-curated playlists coming to Apple Music. When every platform has algorithmically-generated and curated playlists based on prior listening activity, playlists actually created by humans become a stand-out feature.

Apple Music Voice Plan

Apple Music Voice plan is a new lower price tier to Apple Music at just $5/month compared to $10. You can access the entire Apple Music catalog by asking for Siri to play it for you but you cannot build a personal music library nor manually create playlists.

It sounds, at first, like a bizarre and arbitrary limitation—especially to anyone who knows how frustrating it is to ask Siri to play a specific version of a song, or really any song that is slightly obscure, or really any song, album or band name that isn’t entirely English words.

It makes perfect sense for a niche use case: shops, businesses or offices who sit a speaker on a table and want some ambient music. People want to be able to shout at the speaker and request a genre or mood; they don’t need to build a downloaded personal music library. I don’t blame people for misunderstanding the Voice plan as an artificial limitation for their lowest price tier; its primary use case should have been explicitly stated.

HomePod mini

The HomePod mini now comes in three new colors: yellow, orange and blue. Their new color strategy saga continues to confuse. These colors are vibrant like the iMac instead of so-subtle-you-can-literally-barely-notice-it like the iPad mini. The colors are implemented very well. It’s not just the outermost fabric; the lower layer of fabric, the surface glass, the buttons and the woven cable are all colored.

If I had the choice, I would have added purple or green instead of orange. If they pick three colors rather than the full six (plus black and white) they need to pick three colors that will work with the most color schemes. A room you could put an orange HomePod mini in could probably also work with a yellow one. There’s a lot of overlap. Purple or green would cover more different styles.

AirPods 3

A fine update that will bring Spatial Audio to the masses. MagSafe support is nice but I’m not sure how many people who don’t know about this will discover it.

A brief note on staging

Where is the physical home set? They’ve been using it since the introduction of the HomePod mini in October 2020. Apple Park is huge and empty, so does the set have its own spot in a big empty room? Do they tear it down and rebuild it for each event? Does it have a room in Apple Studios, Apple’s in-house production company? For that matter, does Apple Studios actually have a separate location?

Mac

M1 Pro & M1 Max

Compared to M1, the M1 Pro has double the RAM (32 GB), half the efficiency cores (2) but double the performance cores (10) in the CPU and double the GPU cores (16). This leads to 3x faster memory, 70% faster processing and 2x faster graphics. M1 Max doubles the memory (64 GB) and the GPU cores (32) again.

Considering the M1 Max CPU isn’t that big of a leap over the base M1 CPU (10 cores versus 7) they clearly think their CPUs are powerful enough as is. I agree with them. The only marks against the M1—limited graphics performance, only one external Thunderbolt display—are both easily solved by scaling the GPU. These are excellent powerhouses.

I truly cannot wait to see what they can do in the desktop form factor where power consumption is less of a concern. Apple, remarkably, included a chart in the keynote that literally shows a PC laptop as outperforming the M1 Max—but at three times the power consumption. As pointed out on the Accidental Tech Podcast, that PC gets a measly three hours of battery life. Imagine what would happen if one of these chips were given, say, a desktop power supply and a gigantic cooling system.

MacBook Pro

This all-new MacBook Pro is what everyone has been asking for and what everyone has already raved and written about: the function keys, HDMI port, SD card slot and MagSafe are all back.

The new design is not square on top and bottom like the iPhone and iPad, but square on top and rounded below like the titanium PowerBook G4. While I have not seen these in person, this feels like another win for practical design. The thicker, chunkier body and its powerful cooling system is what enables the M1 Max to run on these machines. It’s the right tradeoff, which is why it is surprising.

M1 Max is available on both sizes, 14″ and 16″. This is not historically the case. As far back as my 2015 MacBook Pro (and this trend began even farther before) if you wanted a discrete GPU, you had to get the bigger model.

Pro hardware features continue to get pro-er. Trickle-down technology from the Pro Display XDR include a significantly brighter mini LED panel with billions of colors. From the iPad and iPhone, it now has ProMotion with a 24–120 Hz variable refresh rate and a taller edge-to-edge display. Two additional speakers will give a richer, rounded sound; the audio jack is more powerful as well, supporting professional high-impedance headphones.

Half-height arrow keys continue from the last Intel model. This makes their choice of full-height arrow keys on the M1 iMac even more perplexing. Is this how Apple differentiates Amateur vs. Pro in their future? Was the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID design locked-in and approved before they decided to change the arrow keys on the MacBook Pro? Only time will tell when a redesigned-for-Apple silicon MacBook Air is unveiled.

While the area surrounding the keyboard is now double-anodized in pitch black, the rest of the computer is still only available in silver and space gray. The entire computer in pitch black would be very expensive, which is probably why they aren’t doing it, even if it would look incredible fucking badass.

Nomenclature

They saved their biggest naming convention, ‘Max,’ for something that won’t be their most powerful chip. What do they call the future Jade 2C- and 4C-derived chips, M1 Pro Max and M1 Pro Max XDR? Do they simply say that such a Mac has two and four M1 Max chips? Don’t bet on Apple using a predictable naming convention.

That’s all, folks

My savings account can rest easy for another few months because no other Macs were announced. This could speak to how COVID and the chip shortage has affected even Apple’s supply chain. They are pulling every lever available to them to make sure the iPhone, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are unaffected as possible. The Apple Watch Series 7 and new iPad mini still released on time, but with a shorter initial supply and longer shipping times.

I bet they were planning on their “two year transition” from Intel to Apple silicon to take 12 or 18 months, just as Steve declared their transition from PowerPC to Intel would take 30 months but only took 13. At this rate, it may actually take the full two years originally scheduled.

Have I mentioned that I’m excited for a new iMac Pro and Mac mini?

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