The latest Apple event earlier this week was billed as a “little more to show’. In fact the show was anything but a little more. As expected the iPad mini was introduced but no until Apple showed us a new regular sized iPad, new iMac, new MacBook Pro, new Mac Mini and sundry stats and software updates.
Apart from the sundry product announcements a couple of things stand out that have been missed by the majority of the mainstream press.
Firstly the iPad has joined the mainstream Apple naming convention of just having a name and not a specific model. Just as the iMac, Mac Book Pro have used these generic names for years and retained them as the products are updated the iPad is now just the iPad. Of course we had a clue when the third generation was launched earlier this year and Apple referred to it as merely iPad while most of the world called it iPad 3. It was just an iPad and this week the product line was enhanced with hardware upgrades, but it is still an iPad and at the same price. Now joined of course by the iPad mini.
Secondly, Apple have been pushing Flash memory, rather than the Adobe Flash plug-in which they loath, as the preferred storage for mobile computers such as the Mac Book Air and MAC Book Pro. The benefits are substantial as the memory is super-fast, over 4 times in most tests, silent and unlike Hard Disk should never fail. The drawback is that Flash is expensive. For example a current MacBook Pro 13” ships as standard with a 750Gb disk. You can replace that with a 512GB solid state drive for $900, that’s a substantial upgrade on a $1,499 product. So with the launch of the new hybrid drive technology or in Apple speak the Fusion Drive that adds Flash working in combination with a hard disk as standard marks a turning point in PC technology. The Apple Fusion Drive will be available in the new iMac and Mac Mini desktops. Apple’s OS X operating system and pre-installed applications will run on the SSD by default, while documents and media will run off the hard disk drive. However OS X will monitor application usage and swap apps in and out of Flash as demand change. If you tend to use, say Pixelmator a great deal and never use Garage Band, OS X will shuffle these locations to optimize performance.
The new Fusion Drive combines a massive 128GB of multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash capacity with either a 1TB or a 3TB hard disk drive, but the two media appear as a single storage volume. The flash memory is built into the mother board and cannot be replaced or upgraded, unlike the hard disk that can be replaced. Apple claims the Fusion Drive offers performance similar to a pure solid-state drive (SSD), but with the mass storage capacity and lower cost of a hard disk drive.
This powerful combination puts Apple Fusions powered products way ahead of other players. This has hardly been mentioned by the press. Yes we know it’s a little technical but it promises substantial benefits in terms of bang for your buck.
And now for the product news:
We have updated MACBook Pro 13” – This is now offered with a Retina hi res display and Fusion Drive in a new tiny case that is similar to the 15” version. It comes in two configurations: a £1,449 model with a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and 128GB of flash storage, and a £1,699 model with 256GB of flash storage. Apple will still offer two versions of its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro with standard LED-backlit displays. Available now.
We have a new Mac Mini. Same tiny size with beefed up internals including latest Quad Code Intel processors, USB 3 and optional Fusion Drive. Available now.
And the iMAC gets a complete overhaul with a brand new even thinner case that drops the CD / DVD drive and shaves 8 pounds of weight. The guts now include faster third gen Intel CPU and enhanced NVIDIA graphics still in 21 and 27 inch display sizes. Of course Fusion Drive is available on iMac. The models now come with a wireless mouse and keyboard as well as USB3 and Thunderbolt I/O connectivity. Shipping to commence in November for 21” and December for 27”.
Now to the main course. the iPad line up.
The new iPad mini was the last in the avalanche of announcements made on Tuesday, but it was clearly the most anticipated. The 7.2mm-thick tablet is 23 percent thinner than an iPad and weighs in at half the weight of its predecessor. The iPad mini sports the same 1024-by-768 resolution of the iPad 2, so all the existing iPad-optimized will work on this new model. It uses as expected the new Lightening connector . Apple spoke at length about the benefits of 7.9 “ compared to the rivals 7” screen. Who wold have guessed that that 0.9” increases the area by 35% or 29.6 sq inches compared to 21.9 sq inches on a 7” display. That’s a huge difference. And the case is stunning, with a combination of existing iPad design crossed with the latest iPhone 5 machined back cover.
The market seemed a little upset with the mini pricing at US $329 or in the UK £269 with orders starting Friday. Apple do not have to compete with the cheaper Google, Amazon and other smaller tablets. The Apple brand commands and deserves a premium. The products are clearly superior to the Android devices in size, performance and importantly the breadth and depth of applications available that take full advantage of the screen. We think the pricing a fair and at any less Apple would be leaving cash on the table.
In addition to the iPad mini, Apple also introduced a fourth-generation of its full-sized iPad. The new tablets are powered by the ARM based A6X chip, which promises faster performance and better graphics. The front-facing camera has been upgraded to a FaceTime HD model, and a Lightning port replaces the 30-pin dock connector. Prices on these iPads remain the same as the third-generation models it introduced just six months ago.
The second generation iPad will continue to be offered as a lower cost, but full sized option.
The touch based tables now spans the iPod touch, the iPad mini, the iPad 2nd Gen and the iPad. With UK prices from £659 for the top of the line 64Gb iPad Retina down to £249 for the most basic 32Gb iPod touch.