Yesterday, late into the night, Apple hosted their Spring Forward event in San Francisco, California. The event itself wasn’t unexpected and neither, really, were any of the announcements. Apple’s naming of the event was a clear hint of what was going to dominate their announcements and they didn’t disappoint, finally releasing the Apple Watch. But the fruit-themed company isn’t only about wearables these days and had other announcements to make, so lets jump into the recap if you missed the live stream.
The Apple iWatch starting at $349
The Apple watch dominated the announcements. Its about the size of the iPod Shuffle and will come in two sizes – 38mm or 42mm diagonally. The watch straps are interchangeable and the watch itself comes in different models, of which have support for Apple’s proprietary magnetic chargers (which, oddly enough, do not conform to the Wireless Qi charging standard). The cheapest version is the Apple Watch Sport, which has a smooth anodised aluminium shell, metal straps, stronger protective glass (possibly Sapphire?) and is more robust as a result. It comes in 38mm ($349) and 42mm ($399) sizes and has plastic straps as standard, though you can buy more.
Coming in a little bit more expensive editions is the Apple Watch, which has a stainless steel shell and metal straps as standard. Prices for that range between $549 to $1049 for the 38mm version and between $599 to $1099 for the 42mm version. The price ranges are thanks to the different straps you can get included with your Watch purchase.
If you’re not feeling the pinch just yet, Apple also has the Apple Watch Edition – the same hardware clad inside a 18ct gold chassis with a selling price that starts at $10,000. It won’t be pure gold, because Apple’s engineers are using a gold alloy to make it harder and more resistant to regular use. The Watch variants, excluding the Watch Edition, will be available in Austrialia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the UK and the US on 24 April 2015. The rest of the world will follow in stages as Apple ramps up production.
Apple expects the Watch to become one of the primary means of interacting with your iPhone or iPad, allowing you to receive calls and texts on it, showing a wide range of notifications, allowing it to work with Apple Pay, allowing you to use it with Siri, hell it can even be configured in the future to allow you to remotely unlock and start your Tesla electric sports saloon. Honestly, while other companies have had some success with their smartwatches, its quite possible that Apple’s Watch will be the one platform to imitate above all others.
The new Macbooks and iMacs with Intel Broadwell
Surprising no-one, Apple announced an update to their Macbook line with a new model, the Macbook 12. Or “Macbook”, as Apple calls it, because it doesn’t conform to the design of their Air and neither does it fit into the Pro family either. Its an all-new design made of aluminium that is thinner than a standard Macbook Air and comes with some neat new features, like the stainless steel dome switch design and the new trackpad, which is no longer hinged and can be clicked in anywhere – think of the display technology in the old (and tragically terrible) Blackberry Storm and that’s roughly what we have here. Apple calls it “Force Touch” and apparently the force required to register a click can be user-customised to your preference. There’s also haptic feedback included and the varying levels of touch sensitivity mean you can use a stylus to sign documents on the trackpad. The colours on offer will be silver, space grey and gold.
Now this thing is thin, and unbelievably so. It weighs about 900 grams and at its thickest measures just 13.1mm. It has only two ports exposed on the chassis, namely USB 3.1 Type C (the reversible one, a first for Apple) and a 3.5mm combination audio jack for headphones and microphone combos. The issue here, though, is precisely because it is USB-C – you now have only one USB port available. Sure, you can connect to the notebook through WiFi Direct or Bluetooth, but if you want to hook up your old USB peripherals you’re going to have to buy a breakout table, or an Apple-branded docking mechanism. If you own an iPhone, iPad or iPod that predates the Lightning connector, you need to buy a breakout cable, there’s no cable design that accommodates a straight-through connection.
The new keyboard switch is quite strange. Instead of using the traditional scissor switches, Apple moved to using a butterfly rubber-dome design which isn’t exactly new to the PC world. At one point, Sony used a butterfly switch in one of their older, seriously high-end VAIO notebooks, but it didn’t get the attention it deserved. IBM used a similar design in one of their original rugged Thinkpads. But the drawback is that scissor switches can be made to varying heights, while butterfly switches don’t tend to depress very far. Some journalists who had hands-on experience with the new Macbook likened the feel to tapping on a touch screen and noted that the keys didn’t travel very far. Yup, that’s what happens then you build a keyboard that is as thin as this one.
What’s in the chassis? A whole bunch of batteries, mostly. These aren’t solid units alone, because Apple fills up any remaining space inside the new Macbook with flat, contoured batteries that are very thin. There’s 802.11AC wirelss and Bluetooth 4.1 available and the whole thing is powered by Intel’s Broadwell Core M processors, with clock speeds ranging from 1.1 to 1.3GHz and up to 2.9GHz boost. Broadwell M is a fanless design, so there’s no fan noise and it only consumes about five watts in most conditions, going into sub-1W loads when idle or asleep. The RAM and the SSD is soldered in, so you’re stuck with the configuration you begin with. The first shipping configuration at $1299 will include a 1.1GHz Intel Core M 5Y10 processor, Intel HD5300 graphics, 8GB of DDR3-L memory and 256GB of solid state storage.
The new Macbook also has a 12-inch “Retina” display, an IPS panel that sports a resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels. Because Apple’s display scaling method has been to just pixel-double everything in sight, that gives you an effective resolution of 1152 x 720. True, is is a 16:10 aspect ratio, but it is smaller than the Macbook Air’s 1366 x 768 resolution. Apple says this display is the thinnest they’ve ever made and is also 30% more efficient with backlight usage. It may or may not support variable refresh rates, but at this stage Apple would be fools to say no to using that technology so I think its safe to say that it’s hidden in there somewhere. Tallying up all the energy savings, the Macbook can last up to 10 hours with media playback, 9 hours of web browsing and “all day battery life” according to Apple.
Apple also said that there will be upgrades to their existing Macbook Air range, which now effectively becomes their “budget” offering. The flash storage is now twice as fast and they ship with Intel Broadwell-Y Core i5 processors with Intel HD6000 graphics in both 11-inch and 13-inch form factors. Aside from that, nothing else changes. The Macbook Pro 13 will also get a Broadwell-Y update with the faster flash storage, as well as the new Force trackpad.
iOS 8.2 seeding to devices today
A footnote was mentioned during the conference as well that iOS 8.2 was rolling out to devices starting at the beginning of the week, bringing with it compatibility with the Apple Watch and a host of new health and fitness functions that Apple has been working on for those of you who love the outdoors and physical exercise. During the event, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that at no point will Apple be able to see what health and fitness data is generated by you without your express permission inside the settings menu for your devices. If you were wondering about privacy with the Apple Watch checking your heartbeat every second, at least you’ll be able to relax knowing that Apple isn’t going to sell off that data to heath companies. And hey, there’s an app to test if you have Parkinson’s disease!
That’s all of the hardware announcements from Apple’s event! If you want to see the whole thing, kick back with some coffee and biscuits and watch the full keynote below. If you’re an Apple TV owner who also uses UnoTelly for Netflix, pretty soon you’ll be able to subscribe to HBO Now, the TV broadcaster’s premium streaming service. You can jump for joy if you want to now, because that means on-demand Game of Thrones straight into your eyeballs.