23 March 2019
I don’t believe that Apple planned to release three product updates in three successive days in March. At the very least, the new AirPods seems like something that was meant to be out for Christmas. The iMac spec bump might have been intended to be a 2018 thing too. However, the company wanted to draw a line in the ground and make its Monday event solely about software and services.
So, Apple made the best of a bad situation and engendered excitement for relatively-minor announcements in a way that I haven’t seen them do in a long time. The Tim Cook sketch memes on Twitter were great and community was actively excited to see what was coming the day after. The hype train came to a halt when Apple ended the streak on Thursday but as they never promised to have something new for every day of the week, no one really came away feeling disappointed.
It also acts as a nice backstop for the services bonanza taking place on Monday. Apple has already paid some attention to its hardware user base so if you watch the spring event and are completely disinterested in news, games, TV or the credit card project1, at least you have already been throne a bone the week before.
The shared motif of all three product category updates was the feeling that these teams were told to do whatever update you can without needing to change the chassis design. For the iPad Air and Mini, this is passable. The bezels are big but it is reasonable to keep the new-generation design as a ‘Pro’ differentiator for a year. The 2018 iPad Pro models only just came out after all. The Air represents good value for money and the Mini carves its own niche (a la Mac mini). The bifurcation of the Apple Pencil accessory is annoying and inelegant. It doesn’t feel like asking too much for Apple to flatten the edges and add a magnetic charger into these models, but alas they did not do this.
The iMac update is so incremental it’s almost insulting. The only change to the default configurations is the inclusion of eighth- and ninth-generation Intel CPUs. The Radeon Pro Vega GPU option is a $750 upgrade. I wasn’t expecting a chassis redesign (although one is very much warranted almost a decade deep with the same design) but the lack of SSD-only / T2 equipped iMac configuration was a disappointing shock.
The new AirPods are cool. I’ve ordered a pair, primarily so I have the wireless charging case at hand for whenever the AirPower mat arrives. My number one complaint with the current AirPods is that, sometimes, it can take like 20 seconds to switch from my iPhone to my iPad. When it looks like it is behaving normally, this action takes about three-to-five seconds. Apple markets the H1 chip as halving the average connection time, and I hope the reliability is improved too.
The new AirPods are described in documentation as ‘second-generation’ but these are more like AirPods 1.2 plus the wireless charging case. Nothing wrong with that but I’d expect more significant change next year. The pricing is a bit awkward. $159 for the new AirPods with the standard charging case, or $199 for the new AirPods with the wireless charging case. I saw plenty of people who were confused by this and thought it was an Apple TV-esque stunt where the old model was continuing to be sold at the same price point. You pay an extra $40 just for the wireless charging function. That is a pretty steep premium for what you currently get in exchange. I predict, maybe next year, the wireless charging case will become standard across the line and the $199 model will be more differentiated, perhaps using features like noise cancellation as the up-sell. The $199 price point isn’t going to disappear.
1 I mean, we all know how interesting credit cards are.