After much speculation, we finally got a look at the new iPhone and Apple Watch lineup for 2021. In some ways, Apple did disappoint as the updates weren’t as big as rumored. The flat-edged Apple Watch – forget it! iPhones with USB-C, never happened. But, it’s not all bad. The announcements today were significantly incremental, i.e. small, but an indication that the company certainly has grand plans in the pipeline.
As always, there’s a lot Apple didn’t talk about on stage, which I’ll highlight as we go along. But what they did tell us, is that iPhones and Apple Watches are getting tougher and more rugged, for a specific reason. Beyond that, we got a new entry-level iPad and iPad Mini, but no AirPods. If the AirPods 3 are coming, they are surely taking their own sweet time!
Anyway, not to rue on what we lost, let’s look at what we gained. Here’s a quick glimpse of all that Apple launched, in what was clearly a promotion for California tourism more than Apple.
The base-level iPad continues to be the entryway for school students, and to that end Apple has definitely made some nifty updates. The biggest takeaway is base storage is now 64GB, ideal to fit in plenty of school work over the course of a year or two. Apple also added the A13 Bionic chip, and a new ultrawide front camera. Beyond that though, the device is more or less the same as the older version.
Interestingly, Apple brought the Centre Stage feature from its iPad Pros to the 2021 iPad, thanks to the 12MP ultrawide FaceTime camera. It’s a significant addition, one that’s geared towards home video. I like this addition, and think it makes the iPad far more functional for online classes. Apple has also added True Tone, again to help make it easier on the eyes for kids.
But that’s really about it. If you own an 8th or 7th gen iPad, this might not be the device for you. If you own a much older version, or are looking to get your kid their first iPad, there’s never been a better reason to buy. One thing that surprises me though is that this new iPad is the last one to still use Lightning, all others (including the new Mini) now come with USB-C. It’s an odd choice, but I guess Lightning is cheaper, or Apple still wants to make its money from MiFi accessories.
The new iPad comes in 64 or 256GB configurations, and in two colors – Silver or Space Grey. It starts at $329, which is extremely reasonable.
The iPad Mini finally gets some love! After a mini-update in 2019, Apple has finally given the Mini the attention it needs. Contrary to popular belief, Apple didn’t kill the Mini, but really went all-in. It’s now a Mini iPad Air, both internally and externally. The 6th Gen iPad Mini now has an edge-to-edge 8.3” display, with TouchID moving to the sleep/wake button. It also comes with USB-C, which is fantastic in my opinion.
On the inside too, Apple’s given the iPad Mini a lot of attention. Powered by the new A15 Bionic, the Mini comes with 5G connectivity, support for the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil, and Wi-Fi 6. Clearly these updates are meant to reflect the changing nature of work, with offices feeling like a thing of the past. Apple’s also given the Mini a 12MP ultrawide FaceTime camera with Centre Stage, and a 12MP wide rear camera.
I’m still not sure who exactly buys the iPad Mini, but Apple made some interesting use-case scenarios at the keynote that seem to make sense. More powerful and better connected, the 6th Gen iPad Mini is now a fantastic entry-level iPad for professionals. It’s small, but big enough to get the job done.
Available in five colors – Space Grey, Pink, Purple, and Starlight, the Mini comes with 64 or 256GB options and starts at $499, which is a tad bit expensive, but reasonable given the updates.
I’ll admit it, the Apple Watch Series 7 isn’t as big as we were expecting. There’s no new sensors, or radical new case design. It’s very much a minor update that is meant for very old watch owners. I have a Series 5, and see no reason to update, but if you have the cash, why not? The standout for me is that the device is now more rugged than before. The Series 7 comes with a crack-resistant crystal screen (to be tested), IP6X certification and water resistance up to WR50.
The biggest (pun intended) update is the screen itself, which Apple claims is 20% bigger than the Series 6, and 50% bigger than the Series 3. It certainly looks great in the ads, but just how well those smaller bezels work in the real world is to be seen. Thankfully, the case sizes remain the same, so all your watch bands will be compatible if you are upgrading.
The bigger screen has allowed Apple to cram in a full keyboard, but I doubt that it’s something most people will be able to use. You’d need extremely small fingers by the looks of it, but again I’ll hold off on any judgement till we see the device in action. Apple has also given the Series 7 a USB-C charger, which is perhaps the strongest indication to date that Lightning’s time may finally be up. I ain’t complaining, and it certainly is a welcome addition.
Now here’s what Apple skipped on. For one, we didn’t get a mention of the exact screen sizes of the new Series 7. Apple also didn’t mention the processor powering the Series 7, a first for the Apple Watch. It’s possible the device didn’t get a new processor, which would actually be quite surprising. Not that it matters much, the Series 6 is quite powerful on its own, and with no new hardware it makes sense to use the same processor. We also didn’t get a launch date. Apple lists the Series 7 as “coming later this fall” on its website, so it looks like the production issues are still ongoing. We also didn’t get a price point for the new wearables.
The Series 7 comes in the same three material design, with the Aluminum version coming in Green, Blue, Product Red, Starlight, and Midnight. As always, there’s a Nike and Hermes model, and a titanium “edition” model. More details are awaited.
iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro
Like the Series 7, the iPhone 13 isn’t a major leap forward. It retains the same physical design of the iPhone 12, and there are no new features to talk about, except the camera. This year’s iPhone models are all about the cameras, and that’s where Apple has made some lovely additions.
But before we go gushing about the camera, here are some basic details. Powered by the insanely powerful A15 Bionic, the iPhone 13 now starts at 128GB, and comes in five colours – Starlight, Midnight, Blue, Pink, and Product Red. It also features a 20% smaller notch, as many predicted. That’s it, that’s all that’s new with the iPhone 13. Oh also, Apple decided to keep the Mini version around for another year, despite rumours it would be killed off due to less-than-stellar sales. Not bad actually, as I can see the appeal of the smaller 5.4” display.
Likewise, the iPhone 13 Pro lineup is pretty much the same. Pacific Blue has been replaced by a lighter Sierra Blue, and there’s also a 1TB option as rumoured. ProMotion also comes to the Pro iPhones, another long-overdue update. But beyond that there’s not much to talk about. Apple says they managed to fit a bigger battery on the devices, but as always, I’d wouldn’t get too excited til we see the devices in action.
The iPhone 13 starts at $829, and the iPhone 13 Mini at $729, which is on-par with previous iPhones. The Pro devices also keep their price points, with the iPhone 13 Pro starting at $999 and the iPhone 13 Pro Max at $1,099. The 1TB Pro Max will set you back a whopping $1,599.
So this is a big one. Apple really went all-out on the cameras this year, and it has me very excited for what’s to come down the line. To start with, there are a couple of new features that will be available across both the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro lineups –
- Cinematic Mode: Using the power of AI, Apple will now let you adjust focus in videos, on the fly. As your subject moves, the focus too will shift accordingly. It’s an insane feature that can even be edited in post (on the iPhone). Better yet, it shoots in Dolby Vision HDR. Apple has basically turned the iPhones into full-fledged cameras fit for Hollywood, and I wouldn’t be surprised if upcoming Apple TV Plus content was shot entirely on an iPhone 13. We’ll have to wait and see just how good it is in action, but from the keynote, it does look pretty impressive indeed.
- Photographic Styles: Styles are basically like filters, that you can create and preserve for all your photos. Once you set a style, it will be applied to all photos. Apple does have some presets, but you can adjust them as you want to create a truly personal style. Certainly a big win for influencers.
So how does all this magic happen? It’s because Apple has upgraded all the cameras across its new iPhones. The iPhone 13 brings sensor-shift OIS from the Pro lineup, along with a lens that captures more light. That’s about it on the iPhone 13, which shifts the two lenses diagonally rather than above and below like its predecessor.
The iPhone 13 Pro though, is a whole other beast. It now boasts a 6x optical zoom, with a wider 2.8 aperture on the telephoto lens. That enables the lens to shoot macro photography for the first time. It’s not an update for everyone, but if you love photography like me, this is a big win! Apple has also added ProRes recording (4K up to 30fps), another nod that its got Hollywood on its mind. Between ProRaw and ProRes, Apple has turned the iPhone 13 Pro into a first choice shooter, and with good reason.
That’s about it when it comes to all the announcements from ‘California Streaming’. To sum it up, the upgrades aren’t very big if you have last years devices, but if your iPhone/Apple Watch is more than two years old, Apple has certainly made upgrading enticing. That said, there’s a lot we don’t know and will likely find out about only once reviewers get their hands on the devices.