Apple announced a ton of stuff in March, so let’s get up to speed. This is gonna be a long one, so grab a sandwich (or low-carb alternative).
First off, new hardware
iPad Mini: If you like a very small iPad, you’ll be happy about the long-overdue update to the iPad Mini, starting at $399. It’s substantially better than the previous model, with a much faster processor, better camera, richer display, and first-generation Apple Pencil support.
iPad Air: Apple re-introduced the iPad Air, which now sits between the entry-level iPad and the iPad Pro, in terms of price (starting at $499), screen size (10.5″), camera quality, and performance. It supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard cover. As with the MacBook Air, the name is confusing, designating not the thinnest and lightest model, but instead a middle of the road, general purpose choice. If you want an iPad that works with a keyboard, but find the iPad Pro too pricey, this may be the one for you.
iMac: Apple’s longstanding desktop computer received minor performance improvements, and is otherwise the same. As before, if you are purchasing one of these, we very strongly recommend that you get a configuration with a solid state drive (SSD) if you want it to perform well, rather than a hard drive or a Fusion drive.
AirPods: AirPods are one of my very favorite recent Apple products. I hear their sad little battery death chime all too frequently, though. Apple announced an updated model which helps with that, adding around 30 minutes more life. I also switch my AirPods back and forth between my Mac and my phone, a process that can be slow and flaky; Apple claims the new model switches more reliably and quickly. There is a new wireless charging case option, for use with a third-party wireless charging mat (Apple abandoned their own planned model). You can also get the new case for your first-gen AirPods. Finally, there is more robust Siri integration, but I never use Siri, so I don’t care.
It so happens that another expertise I have is knowing how to get maximum value from credit card and frequent flyer reward programs, so I am particularly well suited to evaluate this odd new offering.
Apple launched a new branded rewards credit card, called Apple Card, issued by Goldman Sachs. (They formerly had a nearly unknown one issued by Barclays.) Its novelty is that it is very focused around Apple Pay, and it offers a kind of automatic personal finance analysis on your iPhone. It has no annual, late, overlimit or international fees. In terms of rewards, it offers instant cash back: 3% on Apple purchases with Apple Pay, which ain’t bad (but there are ways of doing better), and 2% for other purchases with Apple Pay, which puts it among the better cash back cards. But here’s the rub: if you use the actual fancy titanium physical card, rather than Apple Pay, you’ll only get 1% back, and you can do a lot better than that with other cards, whether they earn reward points, or cash back. If you’d like advice as to whether or not the credit cards you use are getting you towards a free first class seat on your next flight, let’s set up an appointment.
And now things get confusing, as we move on to Apple’s plans for news and entertainment content. I’m not even sure I fully understand it.
Apple News+: Apple announced a subscription service called Apple News+, which, for $9.99 per month, lets you read current and back issues of over 300 newspapers and magazines in a single app, which also offers personalized recommendations. (For those of you who used Texture, which Apple bought, this is its replacement.) This is a compelling offering if you like reading news on your iPhone or iPad. It’s available in the News app if you have updated to the most current operating system versions (iOS 12.2, or macOS Mojave 10.14.4).
Apple Arcade: Apple also announced Apple Arcade, which will be a subscription service (price not yet specified) for a bunch of games, initially 100 or so, that can be played on iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TV boxes. I like this idea; I’m not enough of a game person to want to spend money trying out one of the zillions of games in the App Store, but I’d probably poke around what’s included in a subscription.
Now, on to TV shows. You know Apple TV, the black box that lets you watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, iTunes Store rentals and purchases, and other stuff? Well, if I understand correctly, Apple is turning that box into an app. They’ve already sort of started this with the existing TV app on iPhones and iPads, which centralizes searching for content from various places.
When the updated Apple TV app is released, you’ll be able to subscribe to and watch various on-demand and live content providers directly through the app, rather than needing a separate account and app for each provider. What remains to be seen is whether enough providers will sign on to actually make it useful — Netflix and Hulu, for example, are not on board, and it’s unclear whether they will be. Still, one advantage I can see is the convenience of having multiple content subscriptions available without having to create individual accounts and signing into the individual app for each provider on every device and TV that you own.
Whereas the current TV app only exists on iPhones and iPads, the updated Apple TV app will be also available on Macs, as well as content streaming boxes from Roku and Amazon, and smart TV’s from Samsung, LG and others — though not, apparently, Google Chromecast, Android phones, or Windows computers. It’s not clear whether traditional iTunes Store purchases and rentals will be available on these non-Apple products, but the app will certainly be the conduit for Apple’s forthcoming original content service, called…Apple TV+.
Apple TV+ is going to be Apple’s own subscription streaming service with original content, to compete with the original programming from providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, etc. (Price is not yet announced.) We will have to wait and see whether Apple TV+ can measure up to those well-entrenched entities, as this is a domain Apple wouldn’t seem to have any particular expertise in. But if Apple can land one or two must-see shows, and it’s possible to watch those shows without needing Apple hardware, maybe Apple TV+ will have some legs. But, without support for Android phones and Windows computers, I don’t see that happening, since TV’s are not the only place people watch stuff. Perhaps Apple is imagining that people who want to watch a show on the go badly enough will be compelled to buy an iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Pricing, release dates, and exact device support for Apple Arcade, the Apple TV app, and the Apple TV+ content service, are vague, with some stuff coming as soon as May, and other stuff coming late in the year. We’ll keep you posted when they drop!