By Jason Snell
October 31, 2018 8:24 PM PT
Autumn in New York
Everybody predicted that Apple would do a second event this fall, thanks to rumors that an iPad Pro and new Mac laptop were on the horizon. But nobody would’ve predicted that the event would be held in Brooklyn, New York. Yet there I was yesterday, standing outside an opera house on the campus of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with multiple streets blocked off and a large Apple logo hanging off the front of the building. Surprise!
Also, no one would have predicted earlier this year that Apple would revive the seemingly dead MacBook Air and Mac Mini, but that’s what happened. For the first time in what feels like a long time, Apple took the stage and spend a lot of time talking about the Mac. As a Mac user it was good to see, and to see two products that were basically left for dead by the side of the road get updates at last.
As a longtime MacBook Air user, I’m happy that Apple has brought it back. As you’ll read later, I’m under no illusions that this product was in Apple’s original plans. It felt like the MacBook was being groomed as the Air’s replacement, but for whatever reason, that never happened. The new MacBook Air’s price tag means that in many ways, it’s also not really replacing the old MacBook Air. But if you like the shape, size, and look of the Air, it’s back—and is Apple’s most affordable Retina MacBook, even if it’s $200 more than the old Air.
I’m also a longtime Mac mini user and am happy to see it finally get an update. Again, the base price is more expensive than I’d like—but I appreciate that Apple didn’t skimp on features the way it did when it last updated this product four years ago.
But the star of the show, and the one part of the event that was entirely predictable, was an update to the iPad Pro. It seems to me that the iPad fits in a weird in-between place in Apple’s priority list. The Mac is about nostalgia and legacy and existing user bases and people who seek continuity. The iPhone is a must-have product that is Apple’s most successful and profitable by far. And then there’s the iPad, which benefits from some iPhone developments, but in many ways more closely resembles a new remix of the same stuff people do with their Macs.
By splitting the iPad line in two, with the low-end iPad at a pretty great price, it frees Apple to load up the high end with cutting-edge, high-end parts (and prices). The new iPad Pro is priced like a laptop, but it’s also got the power of the laptop. Still, the iPad is a product that exposes the fact that Apple’s running on all cylinders as a hardware company but doesn’t quite have it together when it comes to software.
For all the power in the new iPad Pro, there are a bunch of places where iOS itself lets the hardware down. That new USB-C port is great, but you can’t plug in a USB hard drive and see the files on it. There are plenty of reports that Apple intended iOS 12 to be full of iPad stuff and it ended up getting delayed to iOS 13. That means it’s entirely possible the new iPad Pros will be even more awesome next summer and fall. But right now, you can see the gap between Apple’s hardware ambitions and the ability for its software to deliver. (And if you think that’s harsh, remember that I love the iPad Pro and no longer travel with a Mac! Nobody knows the flaws of a product like someone who uses it every day.)
Last night as I was flying back from New York, I poured out everything I could think of about all the products in one sitting, fueled by complimentary soda, snacks and Wi-Fi from my airline. I posted them on Six Colors from the plane, but if you haven’t read them, I’ve added them to this special issue of the newsletter. It’s hot off the presses!