Summary of Apple's “Spring Loaded” Product Launch Event

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Today, Apple held its first product launch event of the year: “Spring Loaded”. True to its title, the event was “loaded” with product news and announcements - there's new iPad Pro models, a much-needed update to the iMac, the arrival of Apple's long-rumored AirTag item tracker, an updated Apple TV 4K with a redesigned Siri remote, and much more.

Read on for the highlights of today's product launches and news.

iPad Pro

As widely anticipated, the iPad Pro was the main focus of today's event and received a significant upgrade.

Both the 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models now feature the M1 chip that's also found in the latest Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. According to Apple, the M1 chip in the new iPad Pro provides up to 50% improved performance compared to the previous generation; whilst the M1 chip's integrated 8-core GPU offers up to 40% faster graphics. With M1-equipped Macs able to run iOS/iPadOS apps, speculation is already rife as to whether the reverse may now be possible - running Mac applications developed for Apple Silicon on the new iPad Pro. At the very least, it should make it easier for developers to port Mac applications to the iPad Pro.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro model gains a mini-LED display which Apple is calling “Liquid Retina XDR” . Mini-LED technology offers better color performance, dimming capabilities, and higher contrast.

Mini-LED displays are expensive and difficult to manufacture in quantity, which is possibly why it is limited to Apple's highest-end iPad Pro for now.

More about mini-LED is available here from MacWorld.

The new iPad Pro models support Thunderbolt and USB4, making them compatible with additional external monitors, hard drives, and peripherals in addition to adding faster data transfer speeds.

There is also support for 5G connectivity on the cellular-equipped versions of the new iPad Pro. In the United States this will be mmWave 5G, whilst in other countries it will be limited to the slower but more widely available sub6GHz 5G.

A new TrueDepth Camera system in the iPad Pro features a new 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera that enables a 120-degree field of view for what Apple is calling a “Center Stage” feature. It keeps you in view as you move around, panning to keep you in the shot or adjusting to accommodate other people coming in to the frame.

No reported major external changes to the iPad Pro were mentioned, but it's possible that there might be some minor tweaks to such things as speaker hole positioning and camera lens protrusion to be discovered once full technical specifications of the new models are released.

The new 11-inch iPad Pro starts at US$799, while the new 12.9-inch model starts at US$1,099. Pre-orders will begin April 30, with availability beginning in the second half of May. It is available with up to 2TB of storage, which is double the previous limit.

Apple also announced that the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro is being released in a new white color.

iMac

As was also widely anticipated, the all-in-one iMac has been given its first major redesign in nearly 10 years, with Apple introducing 24-inch 4.5K Retina display models.

the new iMac comes equipped with the much faster custom Arm M1 chip that Apple brought to some Macs last year. This has enabled Apple to give the iMac a much more compact design. It has slimmer bezels and a smaller chin than the previous generation, although neither have shrunk in size as much as had been rumoured or hoped for by many.

“M1 is a gigantic leap forward for the Mac, and today we’re excited to introduce the all-new iMac, the first Mac designed around the breakthrough M1 chip,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “With its striking design in seven stunning colors, its immersive 4.5K Retina display, the best camera, mics, and speakers ever in a Mac, and Touch ID, combined with the amazing performance of M1 and the power of macOS Big Sur, the new iMac takes everything people love about iMac to an entirely new level.”

According to Apple, the 8-core CPU in M1 features the fastest CPU core in low-power silicon. And the 8-core GPU features the fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer. When combined with its high efficiency, unified memory architecture, and the 16-core Apple Neural Engine, the new iMac delivers powerful performance when compared to standard models of the 21.5-inch iMac, including:

  • Up to 85 percent faster CPU performance, so users can export their favorite video project in iMovie faster than ever, easily work with massive 100-megapixel photos in Lightroom, and compile new apps in Xcode in a fraction of the time.
  • Up to 2x faster GPU performance for certain apps like Affinity Photo and Photoshop, and up to 50 percent faster than the most powerful discrete graphics in the fastest 21.5-inch iMac, allowing users to render edits in real time or add complex filters to their photos in a snap.
  • The ability to edit up to five streams of 4K footage, or one stream of 8K footage,5 without dropping a frame in Final Cut Pro.
  • Up to 3x faster machine learning in apps that leverage the 16-core Neural Engine in M1.6

The new iMac features a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, which Apple says is the best ever in a Mac. That claim may not mean much considering the poor reputation that Apple has for webcams in its Macs, but should still enable it to deliver higher-quality video and improved performance in low light compared to the previous model iMac. The iMac also takes advantage of the image signal processor in the M1 chip and the Neural Engine to enhance camera image quality with better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto exposure and white balance.

To complement the camera, the new iMac features a “studio-quality” three-microphone array for clearer calls and voice recordings, which Apple again says is the best ever in a Mac. The mics are positioned to reduce feedback from the rest of the system, while directional beamforming allows them to better ignore background noise and focus on a user’s voice.

To complete its simplified design, the new iMac features a woven, color-matched cable and power connector that attaches magnetically.

Apple has introduced three new Magic Keyboard models for the new iMac. Each has an aluminum enclosure and is color-matched to the new iMac. And for the first time, Touch ID comes to iMac:

Implemented wirelessly on Magic Keyboard, it uses a dedicated security component on the keyboard that communicates directly with Secure Enclave in M1, creating an encrypted channel to protect users’ fingerprint data from end to end. Whether unlocking their Mac or making a purchase with Apple Pay, users enjoy a fast, easy, and secure experience. Additionally, Touch ID works with Fast User Switching, so customers can change to a different user profile with just the press of a finger. Customers can also choose Magic Keyboard with Touch ID and Numeric Keypad, as well as the color-matched Magic Mouse and the industry-best Magic Trackpad.

The new 24-inch iMac is available to order beginning Friday, April 30. It will begin arriving to customers and be available in store in the second half of May.

iMac with 7-core GPU starts at US$1299, and is available in green, pink, blue, and silver. It features an 8-core CPU, 8GB of unified memory, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt ports, Magic Keyboard, and Magic Mouse.

iMac with 8-core GPU starts at US$1499, and is available in green, yellow, orange, pink, purple, blue, and silver. It features an 8-core CPU, 8GB of unified memory, 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt ports, two additional USB 3 ports, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, Magic Mouse, and Ethernet.

AirTag

First rumored in 2019, the wait for Apple's bluetooth tracking device is finally over.

AirTag is a small, circular tag with built-in Bluetooth and Ultra Wideband support designed to attach to easily-lost items like wallets, backpacks, and keys.

AirTag has a built-in speaker that can play sounds to help locate it, while a removable cover provides access the replaceable battery. It is IP67 water- and dust-resistant.

AirTag features the same setup experience as AirPods — just bring AirTag close to iPhone and it will connect. You can assign AirTag to an item and name it with a default like “Keys” or “Jacket,” or provide a custom name of your choosing.

AirTag uses what Apple calls “Precision Finding” to give users the exact distance and direction to their AirTag, guiding them through a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.

Each AirTag is equipped with the Apple-designed U1 chip using Ultra Wideband technology, enabling Precision Finding for iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 users. This advanced technology can more accurately determine the distance and direction to a lost AirTag when it is in range. As a user moves, Precision Finding fuses input from the camera, ARKit, accelerometer, and gyroscope, and then will guide them to AirTag using a combination of sound, haptics, and visual feedback.

Apple has confirmed that AirTag includes support for the accessibility features built into iOS. Precision Finding using VoiceOver, for example, can direct users who are blind or low-vision to AirTag with directions like “AirTag is 9 feet away on your left.”

If AirTag is separated from its owner and out of Bluetooth range, the Find My network can help track it down. The Find My network is approaching a billion Apple devices and can detect Bluetooth signals from a lost AirTag and relay the location back to its owner, all in the background, anonymously and privately.

Users can also place AirTag into Lost Mode and be notified when it is in range or has been located by the vast Find My network. If a lost AirTag is found by someone, they can tap it using their iPhone or any NFC-capable device and be taken to a website that will display a contact phone number for the owner, if they have provided one.

Apple stresses that AirTag is designed from the ground up to keep location data private and secure. No location data or location history is physically stored inside AirTag. Communication with the Find My network is end-to-end encrypted so that only the owner of a device has access to its location data, and no one, including Apple, knows the identity or location of any device that helped find it.

AirTag is also designed with a set of proactive features that discourage unwanted tracking, an industry first. Bluetooth signal identifiers transmitted by AirTag rotate frequently to prevent unwanted location tracking. iOS devices can also detect an AirTag that isn’t with its owner, and notify the user if an unknown AirTag is seen to be traveling with them from place to place over time. And even if users don’t have an iOS device, an AirTag separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it. If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their iPhone or NFC-capable device and instructions will guide them to disable the unknown AirTag.

This effectively prevents AirTag from being used as a ‘stalker’ device, meaning that if somebody were to slip one without your knowledge or consent in to your pocket; bag; or car, you will be alerted to its presence.

AirTag can be pre-ordered from this Friday in one and four packs for $US29 and US$99, respectively, and will be available beginning Friday, April 30.

Apple is also releasing a range of AirTag accessories, including a Polyurethane Loop, a Leather Loop, and a Leather Key Ring.

Apple TV 4K

Apple TV today got its first upgrade since 2017.

With A12 Bionic, Apple TV 4K now supports high frame rate HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Dolby Vision video, enabling fast-moving action at 60 frames per second (fps) to play more smoothly and appear more lifelike than ever before.

For many, the best news about the new Apple TV 4K will be its redesigned Siri Remote which, according to Apple, should offer a much improved user experience over the previous version:

The all-new Siri Remote features an innovative clickpad control that offers five-way navigation for better accuracy, and is also touch-enabled for the fast directional swipes Apple TV users love. The outer ring of the clickpad supports an intuitive circular gesture that turns it into a jog control — perfect for finding a scene in a movie or show. And with its one-piece aluminum design, the new Siri Remote fits more comfortably in a user’s hand.

The new Siri Remote also has a power button that controls a TV’s power, and another for mute, making it the only remote needed while enjoying TV. Using Siri, customers can easily search for specific shows or movies, control smart home accessories, check sports scores or the weather, and much more. Siri now works on Apple TV in Austria, Ireland, and New Zealand, joining the 13 countries and regions that already support Siri.

The redesigned Siri Remote is backward-compatible with previous generation Apple TVs, and will be available to buy separately for US$59.

The new Apple TV 4K is priced from US$179. Pre-orders begin Friday, April 30, with availability beginning in the second half of May.

Other Tidbits

Software Release Dates

Last up, Apple has confirmed that iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, macOS Big Sur 11.3, watchOS 7.4, tvOS 14.5, and an update to the HomePod software will be released next week ahead of the AirTag release. Currently there is no stated day for the software releases.

What Was Missing

As is typical with Apple events, some rumored new products and refreshes would appear not to be ready for release or preview yet. Accordingly, if you were hoping for a much-needed upgrade to the iPad mini; MacBook Pro models with a new design and 14- and 16-inch size options; or AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro 2, you will likely need to wait until at least Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in June.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Apple's first round of product releases of 2021. Are there any which excited you? Any that disappointed? Or were there products that you had hoped to see but were missing?

Options

Comments

Submitted by Missy Hoppe on Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The new mac sounds really great, but I can't see myself spending the money to get one unless or until bootcamp becomes an option. I use my 2011 macbook pro in mac OS mode for email, but mostly everything else, especially my numerous audio games, I prefer to use windows. With luck, this machine will keep on trucking for a few more years; it's by far the best computer I've ever owned, which is why I'll happily pay more for Mac hardware. Maybe the experience with virtual machines has improved/become more accessible since the last time I attempted to set one up, but I think I'll always prefer the bootcamp option. I don't have any desire to own two computers; don't have the space, and it just seems silly when bootcamp gives me the best of both worlds. Here's to hoping that it will eventually become possible to run windows 10 on t he M1 macs. As soon as that happens, I can guarantee you that a pretty blue iMac will be entering my life.

Submitted by JC Alicea on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

the long awaited AirTag is the one I waited to hear the most, and now that it'll be available for preorder, I hope to hear a podcast on it with VoiceOver, since apple has stated that it's accessible with the built-in accessibility feature. I hope it get's excellent reviews.

Submitted by Oliver Kennett on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

On the whole I think this was a bit of a mess with some odd design choices.

The iMacs are very odd. Who really cares if their stationary all in one computer is that thin? I'd be more interested in more powerful sound and higher performance at the sacrifice of screen thickness. Also, why a MagSafe like power connector for, again, a stationary computer? I know this will be brought in for the MacBooks further down the line, but another proprietary connector with little to no benefit? It's been designed like the iPad without, you know, any touch screen ability. All a bit mixed up.

Biggest disappointment for me was the Apple TV refresh. I've been waiting for a long while for this and was very underwhelmed with the feature set and new price of the HD Apple TV which is now their only other offering costing £149 for technology that, aside from the new remote, is six years old. There was no mention of spacial audio, no mention of find my for the remote which would have been a great thing for us lot. Don't get me wrong, it's a solid internal refresh of the hardware but doubtful that any of us will really care or particularly notice any improvement seeing as none of apple arcade is accessible. On that side of things, that is also confusing, how will games work? I assume they'll simply look better on the new hardware or is they're going to be a two tier system? It's certainly not the gaming system that was rumoured which, I'd hoped, would have pushed their gaming platform forward and therefore accessibility goals with it.

The last thing of note were the air-tags, which just autocorrected to airbags so obviously apple hasn't yet updated that here on my MacBook Air. I think these are a very interesting product for us. Tagging guide dogs, small children, using them as beacons outside to get to the shed door etc, is a very compelling and exciting use case. I do question the cost of the cases which are the same price as the tags themselves, but guess there will be 3rd party stuff fairly quickly. Price wise, they are pretty steep especially as you consider them as insurance against mishaps. I'm sure I'll probably get a set further down the line but am pretty organised by necessity and live alone. I could see these working well in a cohabiting environment where things are moved, still, it would be hard for me to work out what needs such an expensive tag aside from luggage perhaps or musical instruments.

I realise this all sounds very negative and that some people are really excited by the new announcements. I just feel that these products, such a long time coming, don't quite hit the spot. The event itself was monotonous with hyperbole, obviously it's going to be the fastest iMac they've ever made, or the most powerful Apple TV they've ever created, but they're damn sure we're going to love it. It just feels like being spoon fed warm gold flecked platitudes by a smirking Tim Cook. I find it patronising. The on stage format felt more honest some how, less contrived. I sure hope they return to that format when they can.

Submitted by Juliantheaudiogamer on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The most exciting thing for me where the Airtags. I think they will be very useful. For me, the first thing coming to mind would be USB drives (yep, I lose or forget them sometimes).
It's a shame though that they only work from the IPhone 11 upward (because they require this U1 chip thingy).

Submitted by Ramy Moustafa on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

I know that we can order starting from april 30th, but when i will get them? because a friend of mine will come to egypt on the 6 of may, can i order these tags to his address? or I will not be able to receive them?

Submitted by David Goodwin👨‍🦯 on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

In reply to by Juliantheaudiogamer

Just a quick note to clarify that AirTag don't require an iPhone 11 or newer for the main tracking functionality.

It's the “Precision Finding” feature that requires an iPhone with a U1 chip. However, I suspect that it's this feature which what will potentially offer the greatest interest and value to blind and low vision users - namely the haptic and spoken feedback which will guide you to the precise location of the AirTag.

I'm still struggling to think of anything that I could truly benefit from having an AirTag attached to it, but at what is quite a reasonable price by Apple standards, it might be easy to talk myself in to at least one simply to have a play ☺️

However, although the AirTag itself might be relatively reasonably priced, having to then pay the same or more for an accessory to attach the AirTag to something might keep me away. Here's hoping for some more reasonably priced third party options.

Submitted by Ann Marie B on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

I was most excited about the new air tags and would like to see a podcast demonstrating them using Voiceover. Also, Are air tags only compatable with the iPhone 11 and 12 lineup or are they also compatible with the SE lineup? They would be great for my sighted mother who looses her keys often. Maybe a Christmas present for her... I am also excited to finally get my hands on the new IOS 14.5 update as of next week. :)

Submitted by Andy Lane on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

I will definitely be getting 2 tags for my guide dog and his brother as £60 seems like a bargain for the peace of mind that if they ever go missing and theres an iPhone close I’ll be able to find them easily without all the panic.

Submitted by Paul on Wednesday, April 21, 2021

For me, the main highlight was the new 12.9in iPad Pro with its higher contrast display. It may not be OLED, but the mini LED backlighting technology promises to provide a far superior viewing experience compared with traditional backlighting, without the disadvantages of OLED.

I too am interested in the Airtag for my dog. I worry about her escaping, and being able to put one of these tags on her collar will provide some peace of mind. My only concern would be the volume of the sound it makes, since without having a device in hand, I wouldn’t know whether it would be loud enough to hurt her ears, so I’m hoping the volume is at a similar level to Airpods when they play a locating sound.

As for the iMac, I probably would have considered buying it, if I hadn’t just recently bought the M1 Mac Mini.

Submitted by Roxann Pollard on Saturday, April 24, 2021

I also don't think that the Apple TV sixth generation was a big as I had hoped, however, I will be upgrading so that I can retire my third gen Apple TV and put my fourth gen in the master bedroom and the shiny new toy in the living room. I never did like the third gen interface and will be glad to see it go. The fourth generation only has the A8 chip in it, whereas, the sixth generation has the A12 chip so I should see a nice speed boost.

Submitted by Ekaj on Sunday, April 25, 2021

I've not yet listened to this event but will definitely try and do so this week. That said, I'm rather curious about the Airtags even though they're probably not in my price range. Other than that, I continue to be impressed with Apple. I actually got to hear a sample of the 2 new iOS voices and they sounded really good. The right arrow key on my Mac has recently decided it doesn't like me anymore, and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it.

Submitted by WellF on Monday, April 26, 2021

Some nice stuff there, specially the new ipad pro. My next purchase will probably be some iPad, I hope the older models get cheaper as these new M1 machines get on the market.

Submitted by Matthew Whitaker on Monday, April 26, 2021

Hello. Personally, I am super excited about the new iPad Pro. :-)