By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
Yesterday's Apple Special Event was nothing short of monumental. While most people expected, and got, the iPad mini, Apple really went all out in terms of product refreshes. A new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, a stunning new iMac (8 pounds less than the previous version), powerful new Mac minis and an upgraded full-sized iPad.
Having been present in most of Apple's launch events this year, it was obvious to me that the company fulfilled CEO Tim Cook's promise earlier this year that 2012 would be a year to look forward to.
Aside from the moribund Mac Pro, all of Apple's product lines have been updated, revamped or refreshed and some more dramatically than others. This includes Mountain Lion and iOS 6 which are the systems that hold everything together. There are now compelling products in almost every segment from desktops, notebooks, iPads and iPods. Apple is well positioned for the holiday buying season.
Thoughts on the Special Event
Apple wisely decided to stream the Special Event via Apple TV and through Safari browsers on Macs. This made it possible for the world at large to partake of the realtime keynote fun.
With a newborn baby at home, I was unable to fly to San Jose to cover the event live but managed to get a very good feel of the event and presentation. The only thing you really miss is the pre-event anticipation as well as the hands-on time with the devices after the event.
Yesterday's announcement was, in many ways, bigger than the iPhone 5 launch I covered a month ago. In terms of scale and range, it was just huge. While everyone knew an iPad mini was imminent (and some predicted new MacBook Pros and iMacs), few saw the new Mac mini or a fourth generation iPad coming.
Apple CEO Tim Cook seems very relaxed on stage, more so than in the past. He quickly dove into sales figures, focused on the iPhone, MacBook, iMac and iPad sales figures. Cook wisely avoided discussing Maps in any way, shape or form.
Being primarily a hardware launch event, Cook left most of the unveiling tasks to senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller. Schiller is a seasoned pro and did a great job at sustaining the excitement for each product he revealed.
Thoughts on new products
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display - The appearance of this notebook confirms something I've believed since the MacBook Air first came out. That the entire line of Apple portables (and apparently their desktops) will undergo a dramatic thinning. The line between Air and Pro will blur as more powerful notebooks become thinner, lighter and more portable.
Having just bought a refurbished 13-inch MacBook Pro, my biggest complaint is that it is heavy. Add on the plastic case I've added for protection and it feels quite chunky. The newer, thinner and lighter 13-inch MacBook Pro costs $1700 but should satisfy mobile professionals who want that Retina Display and all the new I/O like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.
iMac - It has been a while since anyone's been excited about the iMac and now that Apple's trimmed the fat and created something truly significant. For $1300, the new iMac has 40% less volume than its predecessor, features a 5mm edge and is 8 pounds lighter.
The display has also received an upgrade, as Apple explains, "The new iMac display is not set behind the cover glass — it’s right up against it. The LCD itself is 5 mm thinner than before, and we used an advanced process called full lamination to eliminate a 2-mm gap between the LCD and the glass, something that has never been done on a display this large."
Here we see design and production techniques from the iPad and MacBook Air making their way up the line. Some things to note about the new iMac, Apple seems to have decided that this is the desktop most people need (or the Mac mini). No mention was made of the Mac Pro which has been in limbo for the longest time.
The new iMac no longer has an optical drive (you can get one added on for $100, externally) and it also looks like this is impossible for users to upgrade on their own. So, the RAM and HD or SSD (or the new Fusion Drive (an SSD and HD hybrid) beforehand which as most of us know can be expensive. I personally like to buy the bone stock versions of computers and upgrade RAM and HD myself. With Apple's new product line, those days are clearly over.
Fourth Generation iPad - Less than a year after the Retina iPad (iPad 3) was revealed, Apple has refreshed their flagship tablet with a new A6X processor which boasts twice the performance and graphics performance of an already accomplished tablet. No one saw this refresh coming but seeing as Microsoft is readying to take on the iPad with its Windows Surface tablet (for the same price), Apple probably decided to pull the trigger early and make their offering more compelling.
The new iPad also gets the new Lighting port which is expected as well. All-in-all, the new iPad is the most powerful and compelling tablet in the 9.7-inch space. I don't see how any competitor can hope to catch up with it at this point. The iPad 2 is still available for sale although it is likely going to be phased out once supply gets depleted.
iPad mini - The iPad mini is a very exciting product and one that I think completes the iPad line nicely. We now have a variety of sizes and capacities as well as an iPad in a lower price range.
Starting at $329 for the cheapest iPad mini to $829 for the most expensive iPad Retina, Apple now has 14 possible models (28 if you count the black and white variants) in the market. That's quite the spread of products going into the holiday buying season and a good guarantee that Apple will continue to dominate the tablet market.
I am excited about the iPad mini since I've long declared the benefits of 7-inch tablets. I've bought the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the BlackBerry PlayBook and I am a big fan of the device that the iPad mini was apparently created to compete against, the Nexus 7.
In terms of design and features, I think the iPad mini will be an outstanding tablet, highly portable and with no shortage of applications to make it the most popular iPad ever. The iPad mini will bring the ecosystem, experience and usability of the iPad to possible new markets. People on the fence or who felt that the $399 price of admission for the iPad 2 was too high can now decide if $329 is an acceptable price point.
At $329 for a 16GB iPad mini, Apple won't be taking away much market share from Amazon's Kindle ($199), Kobo's Arc ($199), BlackBerry's PlayBook ($129), Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 ($249.99) or even Google's Nexus 7 ($259). It won't be easy to convince buyers of these tablets to pony up the extra money for an iPad mini unless this is something that they've really been waiting for.
The iPad mini does have some advantages over the competition. Build quality, immense app ecosystem, Apple's customer support system, accessories, dual cameras and availability of 4G-LTE data options are all areas where some of the competitors fall behind.
I have no doubt that the iPad mini will create its own demand, possibly with users and markets that have just been waiting for Apple to provide a proper device that's powerful and highly portable.
I look forward to seeing how the iPad mini fits my day-to-day needs. Stay tuned as we review the new Apple products soon as they are made available.