Apple At Its Best

October 23rd, 2012

Today, Apple announced a retina 13-inch Macbook Pro, brand new iMac, updated Mac Mini, and, of course, the iPad Mini. That’s a lot to announce, and I think this was one of Apple’s best events in the last few years.

Retina 13-inch Macbook Pro

It’s exactly what was rumored: a retina 13-inch Macbook Pro at $1699. It looks like an excellent computer. Last week, I asked how the new 13-inch Macbook Pro would fit with the Macbook Air, since it is a thin and light device. After all, the 13-inch Macbook Air weighs nearly 3 pounds and is 0.68-inches thick at its thickest point, and the retina 13-inch Macbook Pro would, I thought, be roughly comparable. My guess was that Apple would keep both of them separate because the 13-inch Macbook Pro would still be too expensive.

It turns out that while they are roughly comparable (the Macbook Pro weighs 3.57 pounds and is 0.75-inches thick), “roughly” is the key word there. The Macbook Pro is a little bit bigger, but has a much better display, two USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt ports and HDMI. Moreover, it’s faster, starting with a 2.5 GHz i5 processor and 8GB of RAM.

Perhaps, when the Macbook Air gains a retina display (which could be a while, for performance, battery life, and price considerations), there will be less of a distinction between the two. For now, though, my speculation came too soon.


While there were rumors Apple might announce an updated iMac at today’s event, as far as I can tell, Apple kept the new design a secret. And the new design is incredible—it’s ridiculous that there’s a computer in something so thin. It’s a beautiful, beautiful computer.

The new iMac also has a hybrid flash and hard drive disk which Apple calls a “Fusion Drive.” OS X treats it like a single disk, and it will move applications and files between flash storage and the hard disk depending on how often they are used. Apple says that the result is that it’s almost as fast as SSDs, but has the storage of regular hard drives. It’s a configurable option, and as far as I can tell there’s no indication how much it will cost yet.

The new iMac is the Apple I love. Incredibly-designed and beautiful computers that seem a little impossible, and unique features like the Fusion Drive that aren’t there for the sake of making a feature-list one item longer, but because they genuinely make them better computers for regular people.

iPad Mini

When introducing the iPad Mini, Phil Schiller spent a significant amount of time explaining why the iPad Mini is different than competing 7-inch tablets. His argument is that those tablets, both because of the smaller screen size and the software they run, use what amount to scaled-up phone applications. The iPad Mini, though, is large enough to use iPad applications without difficulty—so it’s a real iPad, but at a smaller size.

Earlier this year, I speculated that a near 8-inch iPad could not comfortably do everything the full-sized iPad can, and therefore it would be a risk for Apple to release a smaller iPad now. After writing the article, Joel Bernstein convincingly argued that not only could such an iPad run scaled-down iPad apps, but it would do so without much compromise. The screen would be large enough, he argued, for tap targets on the regular iPad that follow Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines to be the same size as they would be on an iPhone—something none of us have a problem with. In other words, not only could an iPad Mini run regular iPad apps, but it could do so without compromising what the iPad is capable of.

Bernstein was absolutely right, and that’s what Apple has done. My speculation was incorrect; if it works as well as it appears to, the iPad Mini will be basically as functional as a full-sized iPad.

I’m glad I was wrong, because the iPad Mini looks like a terrific device. While it’s a bit disappointing that it isn’t a retina display, it is incredibly light—just 0.68 pounds. For comparison, the plastic, 7-inch Kindle Fire HD tablet weighs 0.86 pounds, and the Kindle Paperwhite weighs 0.47 pounds. The iPad Mini is going to be very, very good for casual use, and especially for reading. I use my iPad more than my Mac, because I read the New York Times on it each morning, read RSS feeds, Instapaper, and iBooks. For all of those uses, the iPad Mini will be a much better device.

I think that’s going to appeal to a lot of people. It does everything the large iPad does, but does it in a size that’s much easier to hold and easier to bring around with you. It also does it at a cheaper price—$329 for the 16GB version.

I am a bit surprised by the price, though; I expected $299, because that seems like a significant psychological price barrier to break through for the iPad. $329 is a bit of an odd price, too, especially for Apple. I think it indicates that they’re pushing the bounds of what they can do at the low-end while still maintaining the same level of quality. This is an iPad just as well designed and beautiful as the iPhone 5, but for less than $350. That itself is incredible.

What it indicates, too, is that Apple thinks the iPad is a very different kind of device than the cheap Android tablets or the Kindle Fire. Those other devices are literally larger phones, with software that is not very different. Those devices are, at best, for browsing the web, playing games and maybe reading books, but they don’t do any of those things particularly well, in Apple’s eyes. Schiller’s talk about how much better equivalent applications are on the iPad versus the Nexus 7 made that argument. Instead, in Apple’s view, the iPad is today’s PC. It can browse the web better than those devices, play better games better than them, and read books in a more enjoyable way, but it can also do much more. It’s a device for students to use in the classroom, for doctors to use in the office, for writing, for creating art. Apple doesn’t think they need to strictly compete on price because they have not only a better product, but an altogether different product that people want.

That’s excellent positioning, and I think Apple needs to make that absolutely clear in how it presents the iPad to people. They should not only show that it you can browse the web and play games and read books with it, but show it being used in the classroom by students. Show how doctors are using it. Show how artists are using it. Show how regular people are using it every day to replace their PC. By doing so, they will make clear that the iPad is not just a tablet like the small, cheap competitors. It’s much more than that. And if that’s what people think, being in the same ballpark with price will be acceptable.

Apple appears to be thinking along the same lines with the iPad Mini’s first ad. In it, a person is playing the piano on the iPad Mini, using Apple’s Garageband. What it shows is that the iPad is capable of much more than browsing the web or playing games. That’s only the beginning. Whatever application you use, it becomes that application. It’s a very good ad.

Apple fully believes that the iPad is the next PC, and while they want to make it as affordable as possible, they also don’t want to compromise what it’s capable of. The iPad Mini seems to fulfill that, while making it more capable in some ways because of its size and weight. And with a smaller price, too, I can’t see this being anything but a success for Apple.