Timing for the software upgrade trickled out during a series of announcements for new iPads, iMac computers and more during a pre-recorded event that sometimes seemed like a one-hour infomercial for Apple.
In an average year, Apple holds three to four events. There's usually a spring event in March, the Worldwide Developers Conference in June, a September event that's focused on iPhone and Apple Watch, and sometimes an October event if there are iPads or Macs expected in the fall.
New iPad Pro
As expected, Apple unveiled an updated iPad Pro with a faster processor, 5G support, a Thunderbolt port so it can connect to more external monitors, and a Mini-LED display.
The display will reportedly increase brightness, offer a higher contrast ratio, and improve power efficiencies for a longer battery life. As analysts expected, the launch focused on new iPads, specifically a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro which features the same Apple-designed M1 processor used in the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini models.
Apple is also adding its powerful M1 chip to its iPad Pro line, enabling several software updates including better graphics, enhanced video effects and augmented reality features.
An updated camera allows enhanced depth and better quality video, and a feature called Center Stage that automatically zooms out during video calls or meetings, depending on the number of people in the frame. The new iPad Pro’s selfie camera has such a wide field of view that it can zoom in and follow you around during video calls, ensuring you never leave the frame.
The new iPad Pro starts at $799 and is available for order starting April 30.
Apple is developing a ninth-generation version of the low-cost iPad with a 10.2-inch display and a thinner build (6.3mm) that's similar to the now-discontinued third-generation iPad Air.
There's a new version of the iPad mini coming in 2021, and there have been rumors that it could feature an 8.5 to 9-inch display, but recently leaked dummy models have not featured design changes. The refreshed iPad mini will continue to feature a Lightning port, and if there's a larger display, it will be implemented through a reduction in bezel size.
"Taking a step back, in this WFH environment Apple has seen a major renaissance of growth from its iPad growth showing 40%+ YoY growth the last few quarters as more employees/students went through an iPad refresh," – Analyst Said.
New iMac with M1 Chip
Apple announced a redesigned iMac featuring the company's new in-house M1 chip.
The new chip allowed Apple to shrink the internal hardware — building in a smaller logic board and replacing the thermal system that keeps the machine cool with two small fans. The new iMac is just 11.5 millimeters deep.
On the product front, Apple is rolling out new iMacs with better cameras and speakers for improved video meetings and sound and new iMac keyboards with the same fingerprint ID sensor that unlocks iPhones and iPads. This Touch ID Can be used Switching Users, Making Payments online etc.
This iMac is also expected to have an Apple Silicon chip and an Apple-designed GPU. There are two versions in the works, and one will be 23 to 24 inches in size.
iMac will now have a 24-inch, 4.5 K display with 11.3 million pixels. And it comes in seven colors, including peach, mint and lavender.
For users still working from home, Apple also improved the iMac's camera. The 1080p camera's features include auto white balance, noise reduction and tone mapping to make you look better. The computer also has a new mic designed to reduce feedback noise so you sound better, too.
You’ll pay for that power and speed: The new 2021 iMac starts at $1,299 and will cost $1,499 if you want to bump up the specs even more.
Both the keyboard and Apple's Magic Mouse will be available in a variety of colors to match with the new range of colors on the iMac.
The company also showed off something called the AirTag, a coin-sized tracking device you can add to stuff you don't want to lose — your tortoise, your phone, your coffee cup or perhaps small children.
The small, flat, circular discs with built-in chips allow someone to locate items when connected to Apple's Find My app. It also works with Siri.
The AirTag, due in stores April 30, will require the iPhone software update called iOS 14.5
The stainless steel devices, which are water and dust resistant, feature a built-in speaker that plays sounds to help locate it. The AirTag is packed with the Apple-designed U1 chip, which uses Ultra Wideband technology -- the same chip used in the iPhone 12.
That update will also include a new feature requiring apps to obtain explicit permission from users before tracking their activity and whereabouts.
The AirTags are located by an iPhone using geolocation, input from the camera, audible signals, and haptic feedback. The most interesting technological mechanism in the AirTags is the ultra-wideband signal tech used to pinpoint location.
Similar to Apple Watch, it's possible to add free engraving to the device.
An AirTag is $29 each or four for $99, starting April 30. Users can also splurge for leather accessories, such as key rings, luggage tags and a bag charm from Hermès.
Apple also announced a paid service for podcasts called Apple Podcast Subscriptions.
Among the perks of a podcast subscription will be ad-free listening, early access to new series and exclusive content. Some of the participating media brands include NPR, the Los Angeles Times and The Athletic.
Podcast creators will need to join a creator's program for $20 a year in order to charge listeners a subscription fee, and Apple will take its standard 30 percent off the top of any earnings.
The paid service will be available in 170 regions and countries next month. Podcast creators set their own pricing.
Those already include several from Apple, including music and video streaming options that feed off the nearly 1.6 billion devices currently in use by the company's mostly affluent customers.
The popularity of those products and services have turned Apple into one of the world's most profitable companies with a market value of $2.2 trillion, twice where it stood when the pandemic began.
A New Purple iPhone 12 and 12 Mini
As if that wasn’t enough, the company also showed off a new color choice for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini.
Everything about this iPhone (except the color) is identical to the iPhone 12 that's been on sale since October.
In a bit of a surprise, Apple dedicated some stage time to announce that the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are now available in purple. This joins existing models available in blue, green, black, white and red. It starts at $799 and will go on sale April 30.