Perhaps to steer media attention away from the iOS 6 Maps debacle, Apple introduced a bunch of cool new stuff this week. Here’s what’s on offer:
iPad with Retina display
No, seriously, this is what Apple is calling their 4th generation iPad, which replaces the 3rd generation “new iPad” whose main feature was the high-resolution Retina display. This new one is more powerful and has better wireless radios for faster web browsing on cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Like the last one, it’s available in black and white, starting at $499 for Wi-Fi only and 16 GB of storage; add $100 for 32 GB, or $200 for 64 GB, plus $130 for cellular capability on Verizon, Sprint, or AT&T.
While this is a new product, it’s pretty much an iPad 2 with the faster radios of the new full-size iPad. It has shrunk to about 8″ diagonally, making it more affordable and portable. It has the same number of pixels on the screen as the iPad 2, so apps should work exactly as they do on the older, larger model. (Inexplicably, the iPad 2 is still available; I can think of no reason to buy it when you can spend less for the mini.)
I was at Apple when they introduced the first iMac, and Apple’s venerable all-in-one desktop computer has come a long way since then. This new one is like the previous one but absurdly thin, and they use a new screen technology that brings the pixels themselves closer to the surface of the glass, which according to Apple makes everything feel more immediate. There are two Thunderbolt ports, but no FireWire port (you can use Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapater if you need it). It has USB 3 ports.
However, there’s something I’m not crazy about with the new iMac: In order to get it that slim, Apple appears to be using a slow laptop hard drive in the standard-configuration 21″ model. I expect this will be a major bottleneck in an otherwise powerful machine. This could be a reasonable design decision for a portable computer, where you trade portability for power, but in a desktop computer, this is form following function, a downgrade from what came before it. The iMac might be more externally beautiful, but you pay the price in performance. We’ll see what the tests actually reveal, but we’re not optimistic.
Apple’s answer to this would be to either buy the 27″ model, which comes with a standard-speed desktop drive, or opt for a new “Fusion Drive” which uses both solid-state drive technology to improve the performance of the mechanical drive. Without even knowing what it costs, we’d recommend this option for anyone buying the 21″ model, given the performance hit we anticipate with the slower drive. Both the 21″ and 27″ models come standard with 1 TB, but the 27″ model can be outfitted with 3 TB (with or without the “Fusion” option), or 768 GB pure solid-state for low capacity but maximum performance.
Still cute. Now faster, and with USB 3. However, you can no longer get a version with dedicated graphics hardware, and your drive options are now slower laptop drive, Fusion Drive, or pure solid-state. As before, the server edition includes two drives.
MacBook Pro 13″ with Retina display
This is pretty much the shrunk down version of the 15″ model Apple released over the summer; like that model, it’s slimmer, lighter, uses solid-state storage, has a very high resolution display, and drops the CD/DVD drive, Ethernet, and FireWire (which can all be added via adapters for the two Thunderbolt ports). This new effectively becomes a “power user alternative” to the 13″ MacBook Air, and leaves the standard, non-Retina MacBook Pro as the only Macs which still have a CD/DVD drive. We don’t see them sticking around for much longer.