Today Tim Cook went out on stage and settled all family business, or at least it felt that way. There was a lot of speculation about how much Apple would talk about new iPads, or a possible Siri Speaker, on top of updates to MacOS and iOS today. It turns out they had a lot to say about all of this stuff. If you are looking for a comprehensive review of everything that Apple announced today, I recommend checking out a recap like this one from The Verge. Here is what caught my eye from today's event.
The press conference started with a little bit of info about updates to watchOS and Apple TV. It turns out that the rumor about Amazon Prime Video coming to Apple TV was spot on. I was a little disappointed that they didn't announce a 4k skew of the Apple TV, but I have to assume they will have one ready for a fall event.
Then they spent about ten minutes going over the new version of macOS, which they are calling High Sierra (yes there were weed jokes made). There are a couple of cool new features coming in High Sierra: auto-blocking video playback in Safari, facial recognition in Photos, but it seems like the macOS update is more of an under the hood affair than a major overhaul - which is fine by me.
The highlight of the first half of the keynote was the introduction of the iMac Pro. This not to be confused with the new Mac Pros that were announced earlier this year. This is a high end model of the 27 inch iMac that is going to be released in in December for as hefty starting price of $4,999. I already own a 5K iMac and use none of the professional suite that would require me to buy a Pro model. But just look at the space grey sexiness. If I had a cool five G's lying around, you better believe I would be buying one of these bad boys. If you are interested in just how much horsepower the iMac Pro is rocking, here is a good explainer over at Engadget.
They also announced some under the hood improvements to the Macbook line, specifically that they would all be refreshed with Kaby Lake processors. The 13-inch MacBook Pro - without the Touchbar, but - with the new, faster processors has been marked down to $1,299, making it by far the most compelling laptop that Apple currently has on the market.
I found it hilarious that they are making a spec upgrade to the MacBook Air, but are not refreshing it with a retina screen. They even have the moxy to keep charging $999 for it. It makes me think that this is still one of their highest selling laptops, and they want to keep it around, but were forced to change the chip architecture because intel probably doesn't make that old ass processor anymore. There's a lot to love about the old Macbook Airs, but before you go and buy one I would really recommend going to a store and looking at that screen compared to all of the other MacBooks on the market right now. It really is an eyesore.
Ok, enough with the undercard, let's get to the main event.
iOS 11 - The return of the iPad Pro!
I have to tip my had to Federico Viticci for really being spot-on with what Apple had in store for the Pro iPad models with iOS 11. Today Apple announced a ton of new workflow features that are going to make the iPad Pros much more capable as a day-to-day workstations.
The first thing they showed off was an expanded dock, to make it easier to switch between often used apps. Anytime you are in an app you can now swipe up from the bottom of the screen to pull up your dock.
Everyone and their mother was predicting there would be system level drag and drop in iOS 11, and they were all right. Watching Craig Federighi show off how easy it is to finally be able to drag and drop images, files, URLS, and text in iOS was perhaps my favorite moment of the entire keynote. That's right, I did mention files when talking about drag and drop, Apple has an App that serves as as basic file manager, which doesn't seem like a huge deal, but having a one click option to find word documents and photos for a project is something I've been looking for in iOS for years now.
They showed off some pretty cool new features to Notes as well. You can now take a screenshot of almost anything on your iPad and be able to mark it up using the Pencil, allowing you to take easy notes in documents or on an image. You can also take pictures of documents using the iPads camera and instant start marking it up using the Pencil.
When combine all of these features with the things that iOS already does well, and the iPad Pro suddenly becomes a killer secondary work device. Here's a video from Apple showing off some of the new functionality:
If I was in the market for a new laptop, I would have to give the iPad Pros a good, hard look.
Tim Cook came out at the end of the keynote and carefully mentioned that they had "one last thing" to show off, and it was the Siri Speaker that everyone had been speculating about. Only instead of creating a device called the "Siri Speaker" they made a speaker that works with Siri and decided to call it... HomePod. If you are not sold on buying a device called a HomePod, I'm there with you.
They really made a big deal of talking about how great of a speaker the HomePod is - how it has amazing directional awareness, and a state of the art build quality designed to deliver incredible sound quality for the devices size - and underplayed it as a home assistant. It essentially is built to do a lot of the things that Amazon's echo devices already do, and do well. The HomePod has built in HomeKit support so you'll be able to use it set your thermostat, turn on your lights, or mess with any device you already have connected to bluetooth.
They also went heavy in promoting how HomePod protects your privacy by only listening after a user says "Hey Siri" and is supposed to send info to Siri ID over an encryption. Whether or not this means that HomePod is any more private than the other home assistants out there is yet to be see, but privacy was one of the major themes of the event.
They didn't demo the unit at the show, and never really got into if the device will work with other major music services like Spotify and Google Music. They did a lot of talking about how great it will work with Apple Music, however. If this device comes out and does not support Spotify out of the box, which seems crazy to me, there is no way in hell I'd ever buy one. These products are releasing in December for $350, and seems to be more of a threat to a company like Sonos than to the other home assistants already on the market. It's hard to tell because of the limited demo time the product got - this really seems like a product that could have benefited from a separate event.
From the moment Tim Cook came out on the stage and started talking about the six big things they were going to highlight in the keynote, to watching the speakers sprint on and off the stage, it was clear that Apple may have had too much to show today. It's a testament to the speakers and people making the magic happen behind the scenes, that the keynote ran relatively smooth.
If there was a star of the show it was probably the iPad Pro, specifically the 10.5 inch model introduced today that had reduced bezels and was running the cool new features from iOS 11. If there was a device I wanted to get my hands on right after the keynote was over it would have been that iPad.
I think the HomePod is going to be a tricky sell. It's a speaker that will be hard to demo in a store, and it's $350 price tag will be hard to justify for people who already have a lot of speakers around the house that can pair with their phones or a $50 Echo Dot. I think the success of the HomePod will be in the hands of early adopters, and word of mouth. It's going to be paramount that Apple gets developers on board early to make apps that make it stand out from other home assistants, because I'm not sure being a great speaker is enough to set it apart from its competitors.
Overall I thought it was a really good event from Apple, they announced some products that people wanted (iMac Pro, 10.5-inch iPad Pro, MacBook refresh), added better functionality to existing products (iOS11), and introduced a whole new product (HomePod). In general I thought that they landed most of the shots they took today, and they took a lot. I think that Apple fans will walk away from this Keynote happy with the direction the company is heading in. This is still TIm Cook's Apple, which means we saw a lot of iteration, but it was smart iteration, with just enough risk sprinkled in to keep things interesting.