Everything Old is New Again: Tuesday’s Apple Event in New York squarely targeted the creative community with all-new designs for the iPad Pro and Mac mini, alongside a long-awaited refresh of the MacBook Air and more. By K Stewart.
First off, happy to say that all the products are immediately available for order with deliveries commencing from November 7th.
Mac mini 2018
Four years without even a modest update had made the Mac mini’s future look uncertain. It launched in 2005 as the ideal device for PC switchers to swap out their desktop PC while keeping their existing monitor, keyboard and mouse. Today, laptops predominate so that usage scenario is vanishingly small.
Enter the Mac mini 2018 with a dramatic leap in pricing more than matched by some impressive specs and an all-new internal design. Squarely aimed at professionals (creative and otherwise) there’s a starting price of £799 for a 3.6GHz Quad-Core 8th generation i3 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of PCie-based SSD storage. For £300 more, you can start with a 3.0GHz 6-Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz and double the storage. 2666MHz DDR4 RAM can be specified up to 64GB and storage goes up to 2TB. It’s also possible to upgrade RAM post purchase, but due to the new T2 Security chip it’s recommended you use an Apple authorised service centre.
It’s no surprise in such a compact form factor that Intel’s integrated graphics are featured (UHD Graphics 630), but it’s worth emphasising that the CPUs are desktop rather than mobile class.
Compared to the previous generation, the new Mac mini can deliver 5x system performance with a 60% graphics uplift. In a real-world scenario, Apple say the 6-core Mac mini can export REDCODE RAW to ProRes 422 3.6x faster than the previous gen Dual Core Mac mini.
There’s also a welcome profusion of ports at the rear. Four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI 2.0, Ethernet port (configurable to 10Gb Ethernet as an option) and even a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Thunderbolt 3 allows for connecting a 5K display or two 4K displays with HDMI 2.0 for a third display. You can also connect an eGPU to boost your Tomb Raider frame rate (or speed up FCPX rendering) with a desktop class external graphics card.
While the 7.7-inch form factor is basically unchanged, there’s an all-new cooling system to deliver twice the airflow and keep the noise down.
This is what professionals wanted and this is what they’ve got.
iPad Pro 2018
Launched in 2015, the original iPad Pro’s chassis was just another refinement of the original 2010 iPad design. A blown-up iPhone / iPod Touch with the all-important single home button which came to accommodate Touch ID. It was distinguished by Apple Pencil and a host of other features, but the family heritage was clear.
The 2018 iPad Pro looks a completely different beast.
There’s no home button, no Touch ID.
The Face ID sensor array is discreetly hidden in a bezel with no notch required.
Cleverly, it will work however you hold it; portrait or landscape. If you cover up the sensor with your hand, a pop-up message appears.
Apple talks about it being its true vision for iPad all along - a single sheet of glass for displaying infinitely malleable software.
But the design is more than that.
The gentle curves and tapered sides which have always characterised the iPad’s underside are gone. The chassis is 15% thinner, but also squared off and more boxy - albeit with curved corners.
It looks a lot more business like.
For the top-end 12.9” model, Apple have kept the screen size and resolution unchanged (2732x2048) but the chassis is smaller due to bezel reduction and feels much easier to handle.
The original 10.5-inch model, which has the same basic chassis as the classic 9.7-inch model but a larger screen size, takes advantage of bezel reduction to increase screen size to 11-inches. So it’s 2388x1668 rather than 2224x1668 with a subtly different aspect ratio.
The underlying screen tech from 2017 appears largely unchanged: IPS LCD DCI-P3 with 120hz ProMotion. As usual, each Pro is individually colour calibrated at the factory. It’s Apple’s finest screens ever, of course, but they didn’t make any case for a significant leap forward apart from using the same Liquid Retina display technology introduced with iPhone XR, which allows for it getting closer to the edges and particularly into the rounded corners.
Chassis and Face ID aside, the main differentiator over the previous gen is the A12X bionic chip. This year’s iPhones have already demonstrated stunning performance with the standard A12 chip, but as is customary the iPad variant dials it up.
Comparing the A12X to the A12, it’s 10 billion transistors compared to 7 billion.
As a reminder, the 2017 iPad Pros used A10X chips, while the 2018 models go direct to A12X which is based on this year’s iPhone hardware and is amongst the first to commercialise 7nm. This also mean they’re the first iPads to get the Neural Engine and it’s specced the same as on iPhone with up to five trillion operations per second available for AI type operations - including Smart HDR for the iPad’s cameras, just as on this year’s iPhones. However, due to the reduced depth, there is now a rear camera bump and Optical Image Stabilisation has been removed.
RAM is apparently unchanged at 4GB, although it’s reported that 1TB model gets 6GB for unknown reasons. Apple doesn’t highlight RAM figures due to iOS being so efficient compared to rival OS, but even so if 6GB is confirmed then you might wonder at the potential advantages for say editing 4K with Lumia Fusion. This potential RAM differential should be clarified soon as units ship.
As rumoured, Lightning has been replaced by USB-C. This isn’t Thunderbolt 3 as you’d find on a MacBook however, it’s USB 3.1 Gen 2 with 10Gbit transfers. In the demo room, Apple were showing off the benefits of USB-C with cameras being plugged directly into the iPads to browse and transfer photos. No need for dongles. Another application is DisplayPort with iPad Pros able to drive up to a 5K external monitor. Obviously drivers are thin on the ground currently, so printers and storage devices weren’t highlighted, let’s say. In time, developers can add functionality to their apps for different applications. The iPad Pros can also be used to charge a connected iPhone.
The 3.5-inch headphone jack is gone however and there’s no included USB-C dongle, that’s an extra for £9. Or just Bluetooth, of course.
Pricing starts at £769 64GB 11-inch model and £969 for the 12.9 inch model. iOS in tandem with iCloud is highly storage efficient, but 64GB on such premium machines is low and predictably there’s no 128GB model, you have to jump to 256GB (£919/£1119) with premium 512GB (£1119/£1319) and 1TB (£1519/£1719) options. Adding cellular costs another £150, while AppleCare is £129 (non-warranty repairs have increased in price as well). Unsurprisingly, the 2017 10.5-inch model is retained in the line-up with pricing starting at £619 for 64GB.