Apple Updates the MacBook Air, Mac mini, and Revamps the iPad Pro

At a special event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Apple threw back the curtains on significant updates to the long-ignored MacBook Air and even longer-ignored Mac mini. Then Tim Cook and company followed up with revamped 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros, complete with an enhanced Smart Keyboard Folio and redesigned Apple Pencil. You can order all of Apple’s new gear right away, though demand may delay shipping for a week or two on some items.

MacBook Air Gains Retina Display and Touch ID

When Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air in 2008 by pulling it out of an envelope, it set the standard for the ultralight notebook category. But Apple has focused on the high-end MacBook Pro line of late, making this major revision extremely welcome.

Retina Display and Touch ID

Most notably, the new MacBook Air features a 13.3-inch Retina display that’s far crisper than the previous model’s screen. Although the screen is the same size as before, Apple eliminated the aluminum bezel around it, taking the screen much closer to the edge. That let the company reduce the MacBook Air’s size, making it almost an inch (2.1 cm) less wide and more than half an inch (1.5 cm) less deep. Even more important, Apple dropped the weight by almost a quarter pound (100 g). It’s noticeably smaller and lighter now.

The other major improvement in the MacBook Air is the addition of a Touch ID sensor in the upper-right corner of the keyboard. Rather than typing your password to log in, you can just place your finger on the Touch ID sensor. It also works to unlock some apps like 1Password. To support the Touch ID sensor, the MacBook Air includes Apple’s T2 security chip, which prevents the boot process from being tampered with, encrypts all data on the SSD, and enables “Hey Siri.”

Evolutionary Updates

Many of the remaining changes just bring the MacBook into the modern age. It sports two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side for charging and connecting peripherals, and a headphone jack on the right side—all the previous ports are gone. The keyboard is the same one used in the most recent update to the MacBook Pro, which isn’t universally loved—if you’re particular about keyboards, give this one a try before buying. Apple also replaced the old Multi-Touch trackpad with a larger Force Touch trackpad that’s more responsive and provides additional capabilities.

By default, the MacBook Air comes with 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. You can jump to 16 GB for $200, and we generally recommend that. Similarly, you can upgrade the storage to 256 GB for $200, 512 GB for $400, or 1.5 TB for $1200.

We haven’t mentioned performance yet. Apple says only that the MacBook Air’s 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor delivers “the performance you need for everyday activities like organizing your photos, browsing the Web, creating presentations or viewing and editing videos.” Since Apple never misses the chance to say how much faster a new Mac is than the model it replaces, we have to assume that the new MacBook is no faster than the old one. Hopefully, benchmarks will appear soon.

Price

The new MacBook Air comes in silver, gold, and space gray, and pricing starts at $1199 for 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. If performance is important to you, however, you should consider the non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro, which costs only $100 more and is just a bit heavier. And if you’re willing to settle for older technology and a larger form factor, note that the old MacBook Air remains for sale starting at $999. Finally, the 12-inch MacBook also remains in the lineup, but at $1299, it’s overpriced and underpowered, and thus interesting only if you want the smallest possible Mac.

Mac mini Goes Pro with Massive Performance Boost

Apple updated the MacBook Air for consumers and students, but the company is aiming the revamped Mac mini at professional users. This update, the first in over 4 years, takes a cue from the similarly pro-focused iMac Pro in changing the color from silver to space gray, but otherwise, it retains the same form factor—7.7 inches (19.7 cm) square and 1.4 inches (3.6 cm) high.

Speeds and Feeds

What has changed are the guts of the Mac mini, which offer huge performance gains over the previous version from 2014. Those improvements come from eighth-generation Intel Core processors: a base 3.6 GHz 4-core i3, a mid-level 3.0 GHz 6-core i5, and a top-of-the-line 3.2 GHz 6-core i7. Apple claims up to five times the performance of the previous Mac mini and up to 60% speedier graphics performance thanks to the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630.

You won’t lack for RAM or storage either. The Mac mini comes with 8 GB of RAM, but you can upgrade to 16 GB ($200), 32 GB ($600), or 64 GB ($1400). Less expensive memory is available from other vendors. While the Mac mini’s base 128 GB of SSD storage might be adequate if all your data is stored on a NAS device, you can upgrade to 256 GB ($200), 512 GB ($400), 1 TB ($800), or 2 TB ($1600). That storage is automatically encrypted thanks to the Mac mini’s T2 security chip, which also speeds HEVC video transcoding.

While Apple’s notebooks have been shedding ports, the Mac mini has bucked the trend. It features four Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, two USB-A ports, an audio jack, and a Gigabit Ethernet jack, with 10 Gigabit Ethernet as an option. Thanks to the Thunderbolt 3 and HDMI ports, you can connect either a 5K display and a 4K display, or three 4K displays.

Price

All this power comes at a price. The new Mac mini starts at $799 for the 3.6 GHz 4-core Intel Core i3, 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. However, build-to-order options for a faster processor, more RAM, and more storage could raise the price to a whopping $4199.

Nonetheless, the Mac mini is once again an attractive option for anyone who already has a good display, keyboard, and mouse, none of which are included. It’s also ideal for those who want to stuff a Mac into a tight space, bring it on stage for a live performance, or stack a bunch of them for rendering video.

11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro Boast New Screens and Redesigned Apple Pencil

As welcome as the MacBook Air and Mac mini updates were, Apple really knocked it out of the park with its new iPad Pro models, which are the most significant changes to the iPad line yet.

Face ID Enables Physical Redesigns

Like the iPhone X series, these new iPad Pros drop Touch ID in favor of Face ID authentication. The 7-megapixel TrueDepth camera on the front of the iPad Pro that makes Face ID possible also enables support for Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, and Animoji and Memoji.

Losing the Home button enabled Apple to bring the display closer to the edge of the iPad. With the 11-inch iPad Pro (the measurement is the diagonal screen size), that means a larger display in roughly the same form factor as the older 10.5-inch model (which remains for sale). And with the 12.9-inch iPad, Apple kept the display size the same as before but shrank the height of the case by almost an inch so it’s now the size of an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper and a little lighter.

Apple also changed the industrial design slightly, reverting to the flat edges last seen in the iPhone 5s. One of those edges sports a magnetic attachment area and wireless charging spot for the redesigned Apple Pencil.

Speaking of charging, Apple broke with tradition and dropped the Lightning connector in favor of the industry-standard USB-C for charging and connecting to peripherals. That will make it easier to connect to an external display. You may also need a $9 USB-C-to-3.5mm headphone jack adapter.

Incremental Changes

Those are the most obvious new features, but some of the more evolutionary changes will be equally as welcome. Most notable is the new A12X Bionic chip with an embedded M12 coprocessor and Neural Engine. This Apple-designed chip is reportedly faster than 95% of laptops available today, and it gives the iPad Pro unparalleled performance among iOS devices.

That performance also powers the improved 12-megapixel rear camera, giving it enhanced computational photography capabilities, like Smart HDR, which takes multiple images and combines them intelligently for the best possible exposure. On-screen performance is improved, and everything will look better than ever before thanks to a new Liquid Retina display that features Apple’s True Tone and ProMotion technologies. In a classic Apple touch, the screen now features rounded corners.

Accessories

Along with the revamped iPad Pro models, Apple introduced a new Smart Keyboard Folio that improves on the previous Smart Keyboard by wrapping around to protect the back of the iPad Pro as well. It uses a redesigned Smart Connector and provides two viewing angles.

More impressive is the new Apple Pencil, which now features a flat, touch-sensitive surface that you can double-tap to change drawing modes in many apps. That flat surface also makes it easy to attach to the edge of the iPad Pro magnetically so you won’t lose it and where it charges wirelessly. The easy-to-lose cap is gone, as is the Lightning connector, so the Apple Pencil is now shorter and more pencil-like—it won’t roll off the desk anymore.

Price

How much will all this goodness cost? By the time all is said and done, you’ll be in MacBook Air range. The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for a Wi-Fi-only model with 64 GB of storage. 256 GB runs $949, 512 GB is $1149, and 1 TB will set you back $1549. Add $150 if you want cellular connectivity in any of these configurations.

For the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, add $200, so $999 for 64 GB, $1149 for $256 GB, $1349 for 512 GB, and $1749 for 1 TB. Cellular puts another $150 on the tab. Both sizes of iPad are available in either silver or space gray.

The new Apple Pencil costs $129, and the Smart Keyboard Folio is either $179 for the 11-inch model or $199 for the 12.9-inch model.

Remember, you can still get a regular iPad for as little as $329 and the original Apple Pencil is only $99, so if all you want is an iPad, you don’t need to spring for an iPad Pro. But if you’re using an iPad Pro as your primary work device and are willing to pay for the power, these new models are compelling upgrades.

Apple Unveils New iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR, & Apple Watch Series 4

Apple has thrown back the curtain on its latest batch of iPhones and a new model of the Apple Watch. The company also announced plans to release iOS 12, watchOS 5, and tvOS 12 on September 17th. macOS 10.14 Mojave will follow a week later on September 24th.

X Appeal: The New iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR

Last year’s iPhone X was a massive hit, so Apple has gone further down that road, dropping the Home button and Touch ID and focusing on Face ID in this year’s iPhones. There are three models: the mid-level iPhone XS (pronounced “Ten Ess”), the big iPhone XS Max, and the less-expensive iPhone XR.

You can pre-order the first two on September 14th, and they’ll ship a week later. Those who want an iPhone XR will have to wait until October 19th to pre-order. Here’s how the pricing shakes out:

  • iPhone XS: 64 GB for $999, 256 GB for $1149, 512 GB for $1349
  • iPhone XS Max: 64 GB for $1099, 256 GB for $1249, 512 GB for $1499
  • iPhone XR: 64 GB for $749, 128 GB for $799, 256 GB for $899

What do you get for your money? All three new iPhones rely on Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip, which promises faster performance and reduced power consumption compared to last year’s A11 Bionic. Along with snappier overall responsiveness, the A12 Bionic enables new computational photography capabilities. Users of these iPhones will enjoy Smart HDR, which combines multiple images behind the scenes to produce better photos, and depth-of-field editing for adjusting the background behind a photo’s primary subject.

Apple also improved the camera hardware, enhancing the dual 12-megapixel rear-facing cameras in the iPhone XS and XS Max with larger, deeper pixels and an improved True Tone flash. The iPhone XR lacks 2x optical zoom because it has only a single rear-facing 12-megapixel camera, but thanks to the A12 Bionic’s processing power, it can still take photos in Portrait mode and do depth-of-field editing. The rear-facing cameras on all three models can capture up to 4K video at 60 frames per second—now with stereo sound. The front-facing camera on each iPhone is a 7-megapixel TrueDepth camera that can also capture 1080p video.

If you carry separate work and personal phones, or if you travel abroad frequently, you’ll appreciate the new dual-SIM capability that lets these iPhones support two phone numbers simultaneously, each with their own plan.

What differentiates these iPhones from one another? One big difference is the screens.

  • iPhone XS: 5.8-inch OLED “Super Retina HD” display with a 2436-by-1125 resolution at 458 ppi
  • iPhone XS Max: 6.5-inch OLED “Super Retina HD” display with a 2688-by-1242 resolution at 458 ppi
  • iPhone XR: 6.1-inch LCD “Liquid Retina” display with a 1792-by-828 resolution at 326 ppi

Apple makes much of the iPhone XR’s LCD display, which is essentially a newer and larger version of the screen in last year’s iPhone 8. It won’t look as good as the OLED screens in the iPhone XS models, but unless you’re watching a lot of video or playing photo-realistic games, you may not notice.

Another difference between these models is size. The iPhone XS is the smallest, clocking in at a few millimeters and grams under the iPhone XR. On the other end of the spectrum, the iPhone XS Max has essentially the same dimensions as the previous iPhone Plus models.

The other major difference between the iPhone XR and the iPhone XS models is the case material. The iPhone XS models have glass backs and are edged in stainless steel that comes in silver, space gray, and gold. In contrast, the iPhone XR features colorful aluminum casings in red, yellow, white, coral, black, and blue. Both are gorgeous, but if you’re like many people, a protective case will prevent you from appreciating the case material.

Should you consider upgrading to one of these new models? If your existing iPhone is on life support, absolutely. And, if you want the latest and greatest, the iPhone XS models are the best iPhones ever, particularly for photography. But for those with functional iPhones from the past few years, these new models are less compelling, especially since iOS 12 promises to speed up older devices as far back as the iPhone 5s.

If you decide to buy one, which model you choose probably depends on how much you’re willing to spend since these are Apple’s most expensive iPhones ever. The iPhone XR combines modern technology with a lower price than the other two models, and the decision between the iPhone XS and XS Max comes down to size and cost. Finally, if the prices for the new models are too high, you can still get the iPhone 7 starting at $449 and the iPhone 8 at $599.

Apple Watch Series 4: Bigger Screens and Health Monitoring

In a first for the Apple Watch line, Apple changed the size and shape of the Apple Watch Series 4, boosting the vertical screen dimensions to 40mm and 44mm, up from 38mm and 42mm, and making the screens a little wider to retain the same proportions. However, the new models are 1.1mm thinner and thus have less total volume. You’ll want to try on the different models before buying to see how they look and feel on your wrist. Happily, the Series 4 can use the same bands as previous models.

Apple claims the new display, which extends into the corners of the screen, is “edge-to-edge,” and while there still is a black border, it’s smaller than before. The overall viewing area is about 30% larger.

To use the extra screen space effectively and show off the power of its new S4 chip, the Series 4 comes with some new faces. The Infographic face can incorporate up to eight complications, the Breathe face moves in time with a deep breath, and Vapor, Fire, Water, and Liquid Metal faces animate behind virtual clock hands.

More practically, the Apple Watch Series 4 incorporates new and enhanced sensors. Later this year, the electrodes built into the Digital Crown and the back crystal let you record an electrocardiogram and, after 30 seconds, receive a heart rhythm classification that can identify signs of atrial fibrillation. Recordings are stored securely in the Health app, where you can share them with doctors. Even if you don’t use the ECG app manually, the Series 4 analyzes your heart rhythms in the background and alerts you if it detects irregular rhythms or if the heart rate exceeds or falls below a threshold.

Plus, the Series 4 can now use its accelerometer and gyroscope to detect hard falls. If you fall, the Apple Watch sends you an alert, and if you don’t move for 60 seconds after the notification, it calls emergency services and notifies your emergency contacts of your location.

Other improvements include a speaker that is 50% louder, a relocated microphone to make calls clearer, haptic feedback in the Digital Crown, a back made of sapphire crystal and ceramic for better cellular reception, and Bluetooth 5 for faster data transfer over greater distances.

All this technology comes at a cost, and Apple has raised prices to match. GPS-only models of the Apple Watch Series 4 cost $399, and cellular-capable models are $499 (plus you’ll need to pay an additional $10–$15 for a cell plan). The Apple Watch Series 3 remains available at lower prices: $279 for GPS and $379 for cellular. You can pre-order on September 14th, and the Series 4 will ship on September 21st.

Our take is that the new health-monitoring features of the Apple Watch Series 4 are compelling for anyone who is concerned about falls or heart monitoring. But the increased prices may steer those who are mostly interested in fitness features and iPhone notifications to the cheaper Series 3.

New MacBook Pros Provide More Speed & RAM +New Keyboard and Hey Siri

As students prepare to head off to college, Apple has updated the Touch Bar-equipped MacBookPro line to provide even more powerful options for students and professionals alike. The changes are primarily under the hood, focusing on faster performance, more RAM, and larger SSD-based storage, but there are a few modest physical changes too, including a quieter keyboard and a True Tone display.

Despite these improvements, pricing remains the same as for last year’s models.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro that has function keys instead of a Touch Bar remains the same, as do the 12-inch MacBook and 13-inch MacBook Air.

Performance Boosts

The new MacBook Pros move to Intel’s 8th-generation Core i7 and Core i9 processors. Previously, the 13-inch MacBook Pro used dual-core CPUs, but they now get quad-core chips. And the 15-inch models jump from quad-core chips to processors sporting 6 cores. More cores are better because more tasks can be split up between them, preventing one processor-intensive task from bogging down others.

Processing power is just one aspect of overall performance. If your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM for the apps you’re using, it has to fall back on much slower virtual memory. For those who use memory-intensive apps, the new 15-inch MacBook can now take up to 32 GB of RAM, up from a maximum of 16 GB. RAM in the 15-inch models is also DDR4, which is faster and uses less power than the DDR3 RAM used before.

Finally, if you don’t have enough fast SSD storage in a MacBook Pro, you may be forced to store large items like your Photos library and Parallels Desktop virtual machines on a slow external hard disk. The new MacBook Pros can have a lot more built-in SSD storage, but it’s pricey. The 13-inch models max out at 2 TB, which will add $1400 to your bill, and the 15-inch models can go to 4 TB, assuming you have $3400 to spare. The 512 GB ($200) and 1 TB ($600) upgrades are more reasonably priced.

Physical Changes

Apple continues to tweak the controversial butterfly-switch keyboard. Some people haven’t liked the shallow key travel and how much noise it makes, and its keys have a tendency to stick. The new MacBook Pros feature a keyboard that’s quieter and hopefully more reliable.

You’ll also notice the new Retina displays with True Tone. First introduced with the iPad Pro and added to the iPhone in 2017, True Tone adjusts the white balance of the screen based on ambient light to make the screen more comfortable to view. It should be particularly appreciated by students working late into the night.

Other Improvements

You know how you can issue commands to Apple’s virtual assistant on your iPhone or iPad by saying “Hey Siri”? That’s possible in the new MacBook Pros also, thanks to the inclusion of Apple’s new T2 chip. The T2 also manages the Touch Bar, facilitates a secure boot feature, and encrypts files on the fly to increase security.

These MacBook Pros are the first to support Bluetooth 5.0, which is backward compatible with Bluetooth 4.2. As Bluetooth 5.0 peripherals become more widespread, they’ll be able to communicate with the MacBook Pro at higher data rates and longer ranges—think of Bluetooth working across your entire house, rather than being limited to a single room.

Price and Availability

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1799, and the 15-inch model at $2399. With both models, you can choose between silver and space gray, and they’re available now. Contact us to purchase

Our take is that, like most of Apple’s speed-bump upgrades, these new MacBook Pros are simply better than the previous models—who turns down better performance for the same price? The True Tone display is also welcome, as is the quieter keyboard. And it’s nice that we can finally talk to Siri without having to hold down a key or click a button.

Deals on Previous Generation MacBook Pro’s

With the introduction of the new MacBook Pro models, we have some deep discounts available on the previous generation models. Pricing and availability is available here

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WWDC Preview of What’s Coming from Apple This Fall

At Apple’s WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) keynote on June 4th, the company unveiled the first developer versions of all four of its operating systems: macOS 10.14 Mojave, iOS 12, watchOS 5, and tvOS 12. They won’t be available until this fall, likely in September or October, but here is a glimpse of what you can expect.

macOS 10.14 Mojave Adds Dark Mode, Enhances the Finder, and Gains Four iOS Apps

With the update to macOS, which Apple is calling “Mojave” after the southern California desert, the company is beefing up the Finder, adding visual enhancements, and bringing some familiar iOS apps to the Mac. Apple is dropping support for some older Macs, so you’ll need a Mac introduced since 2012 to run Mojave.

Productivity mavens with messy Desktops will appreciate a new Finder feature, which, when turned on, automatically gathers all the files on the Desktop into “stacks,” sorting them by file type, date, tag, or other criteria. Click a stack to expand it, much like a Dock stack today.

Apple has replaced Cover Flow view, which combined a large preview area and a file list, with the new Gallery view. Aimed at helping you browse in a folder of images, Gallery view displays a large preview of the selected file above a row of thumbnails for other items in the folder. A right-hand sidebar in Gallery view shows more information about the current file and lets you edit or mark up the file with Quick Actions (which you can create with Automator) without opening the file in an app. Press Space bar to preview a file with Quick Look, and you can apply appropriate Quick Actions to the file as well, all from the Finder.

If you find the white backgrounds in the Mac’s windows too bright, you’ll like Mojave’s new Dark Mode (shown above), which intelligently reverses things to display white text in a largely black interface. Additional eye candy comes from Dynamic Desktops, which change the appearance of new Apple-provided Desktop backgrounds based on the time of day.

For those who take a lot of screenshots, Apple has given the Mac’s long-standing screenshot capabilities a visible interface that simplifies taking still screenshots or recording a movie of your actions. Plus, you can preview, edit, share, or delete a screenshot or movie immediately after creating it.

A new feature called Continuity Camera lets you use your iPhone’s camera in Mac apps, either taking a photo directly into a Mac app or scanning a document as a PDF.

Lastly, although Apple was emphatic that it won’t be replacing macOS with iOS, or merging the two, the company is working to make it easier for developers to create apps that work on both platforms. Independent developers won’t be able to do that until 2019, but Apple is testing the waters by bringing four familiar apps from iOS to the Mac: News, Stocks, Voice Memos, and Home. They look and work very much like their iPad counterparts, but rely on the mouse or trackpad, and use normal Mac interface elements like resizable windows.

iOS 12 Improves Performance, Provides Time Management Tools, and More

In the WWDC keynote, Apple emphasized that one of its main goals for iOS 12 is to improve performance, especially for older devices. Unlike Mojave, iOS 12 will support all the same devices as iOS 11, so those with an iPhone 5s or original iPad Air may benefit the most from this effort.

To address increasing concerns about how much we—and our kids—are using smartphones, Apple has made some important changes. Perhaps most important is the new Screen Time feature, which shows how often you use your iOS devices and how much time you spend in different apps. It also lets you set daily time limits for specific apps, so you can make sure you don’t spend too much time in Facebook, for instance. Even better, you can set such limits for your children’s devices via Family Sharing.

Do Not Disturb has become a more appealing feature, because you don’t need to worry about accidentally leaving it on for too long—it can now be set to turn off automatically after some time or when you leave a location, such as at the end of a class or when you leave your doctor’s office. (This feature also comes to the Apple Watch with watchOS 5.) Also new is Do Not Disturb During Bedtime, which ensures you won’t see enticing notifications on the Lock screen if you check the time on your iPhone in the middle of the night.

Getting too many notifications? Notification grouping gathers all the notifications from each app together on the Lock screen so it doesn’t fill up, but you can see them all at once when you’re ready. Plus, a new feature called Instant Tuning helps you reduce the number of notifications you see, right from the Lock screen.

If you’ve always wanted to automate repetitive actions in iOS, you’ll love the new Siri Shortcuts feature. You can use it to string together actions in different apps—send a message to your spouse that you’re leaving work, show the traffic conditions on your commute home, and start playing a podcast app—and then invoke them all via Siri with a custom phrase.

Other interesting changes in iOS 12 include these:

  • Apple has renovated the interfaces of several bundled apps, including iBooks (now called Apple Books), News, Stocks, and Voice Memos (which can now sync recordings with the Mac).
  • FaceTime is no longer limited to one-on-one conversations and can now include up to 32 people in a single FaceTime conversation. The Mac version of FaceTime gains this capability too.
  • Photos boasts improved searching, can unearth photos from your library in a new For You tab, and prompts you to share photos with friends who it recognizes in your photos.
  • Apple is working with colleges and universities to add Wallet support for contactless student ID cards so students can use an iPhone (or Apple Watch) for unlocking doors, paying for meals, and more.
  • CarPlay allows apps from non-Apple developers to take over the car’s screen so that you can use alternative mapping apps like Google Maps and Waze in a CarPlay-enabled car.

watchOS 5 Improves Workouts, and Adds Walkie-Talkie and Podcasts Apps

Apple has realized that the Apple Watch is popular primarily for fitness and communication, so the company focused on those areas for watchOS 5. Alas, watchOS 5 isn’t available on the original Apple Watch.

On the fitness side, the Apple Watch can now start many workout types automatically when it detects that you’re exercising, and end a workout automatically when it sees that you’ve stopped. It even provides retroactive credit for what you did before the workout was detected. Apple has added new Yoga and Hiking workouts, each with their own metrics, and the running and walking workouts now measure cadence (steps per minute).

For those running outside, the Workout app can also display the rolling mile pace—the pace for the last mile—and can sound an alarm if you’re going slower or faster than a specified pace. And for those who do better with social motivation, watchOS 5 provides 7-day activity competitions.

In terms of communication, watchOS 5’s marquee feature is the new Walkie-Talkie app. Once you and a friend have set it up, you can tap a big yellow button to talk to your friend—and they can reply—just as though you were using old-school walkie-talkies. It works over both Wi-Fi and cellular.

Apple is bringing the Podcasts app to watchOS 5, so you’ll be able to listen to podcasts from your wrist, assuming you have AirPods or a Bluetooth headset. Plus, watchOS 5 makes it possible for other audio apps to store audio on the watch, so it should get easier to listen to audiobooks and the like even when you don’t have your iPhone with you.

Other welcome changes in watchOS 5 include:

  • The Siri watch face has new options, including sports scores, heart-rate readings after workouts, and commuting times from Maps. Independent apps will also be able to contribute bits of data to appear in the Siri face.
  • Notifications can be interactive, so you could tap on your wrist to check in for a flight, confirm a restaurant reservation, or extend parking time. As with iOS 12, multiple notifications from the same app will be grouped.
  • Web links in Messages or email can be previewed on the Apple Watch.
  • When you raise your wrist to talk to Siri, you no longer have to say “Hey, Siri.

tvOS 12 Gains Dolby Atmos Support, Zero Sign-on, and a New Aerial Screensaver

Although the Apple TV often receives less attention than Apple’s other platforms, it still gains new capabilities with tvOS 12. Most notable among these is support—on the Apple TV 4K only—for Dolby Atmos audio, which makes audio sound more realistic by going beyond the simple right and left channels to provide 3D sound. You’ll need an Atmos-capable soundbar too, along with Atmos-compliant video content, but Apple will automatically upgrade anything you’ve bought from the iTunes Store to the Atmos version once it’s out.

Two other new features work on both the Apple TV 4K and the fourth-generation Apple TV but require support from both apps and TV providers: Zero Sign-on and Cloud DVR. Zero Sign-on figures out your Internet provider, and if it’s the same as your TV service, automatically detects apps that need authentication and logs you in to them. It will work only with Charter Spectrum at launch, but Apple is negotiating with more providers. Similarly, the new Cloud DVR feature lets you watch TV you’ve recorded via the Apple TV, if your TV provider supports it. In the U.S., that again means Charter Spectrum to start.

Apple put some work into the Apple TV’s gorgeous aerial screensaver, introducing a new view from space using imagery taken by astronauts on the International Space Station. Also, you can tap the Siri Remote touchpad while a screensaver is showing to see where it was taken.

Finally, in conjunction with iOS 12, tvOS can autofill passwords saved on your iOS devices so you don’t have to type them on the awkward onscreen keyboard. And if iOS 12 detects an Apple TV, it automatically adds an Apple TV Remote button to Control Center on your iPhone or iPad. (You can do that now, but you have to add the button manually in Settings > Control Center > Customize Controls.)

Getting Ready for These OS Releases

Apple usually makes new versions of its operating systems available in September or October, in conjunction with new iPhones. That doesn’t mean you should upgrade immediately, and we always recommend that you hold off on upgrades until Apple had had a chance to address the inevitable bugs that come with the initial release of any major upgrade. So sit tight, and we’ll tell you more when the time is right.

That said, if these features sound enticing and you have a pre-2012 Mac, an iPhone 5 or earlier, an iPad that predates the iPad Air, or an original Apple Watch, some new hardware may be in your future.

iOS 11.3 Introduces New Battery Health Feature, Business Chat, & More

At the end of March, Apple released updates to all four of its operating systems, but iOS 11.3 was the most notable. It boasts a variety of new features and other changes—you can think of it as the midpoint update between iOS 11’s first release and iOS 12, probably coming next September. All remaining updates to iOS 11 are likely to be minor maintenance updates. Here’s what’s new.

iPhone Battery Health

The most anticipated change is the Battery Health feature that Apple promised to add in the wake of revelations that the company was quietly reducing the performance of older iPhone models (starting with the iPhone 6) to lessen the chance of unexpected shutdowns with weak batteries. You find the new Battery Health screen in Settings > Battery > Battery Health, and Apple explains it in detail here.

If your iPhone battery is aging, you may see a lower maximum capacity, and if your iPhone has shut down because of a weak battery, the screen will tell you that performance management has been applied. You can disable performance management, if you prefer the iPhone shutting down to degraded performance, but it will turn on again the next time your iPhone shuts down. Finally, if your battery is bad enough, the screen will recommend replacement.

Also note that iPads running iOS 11.3 can better maintain battery health when they’re plugged into power for long periods of time. Be sure to upgrade if you have an iPad that stays plugged in all the time.

Business Chat

New in both iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4 High Sierra is Business Chat, an Apple service that lets you chat with participating companies directly within Messages. If you look up one of these companies in Maps, Safari, or Search/Spotlight and see a Messages button, just use it to start a conversation. Only you can start conversations, and Business Chat can be a fast way to ask questions, get support, schedule appointments, and even make purchases using Apple Pay.

Apple’s launch partners are 1-800-Flowers, Ameritrade, Discover, Hilton, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Marriott, Newegg, and Wells Fargo, although not all of them seemed to be active out of the gate. And, of course, you can use Business Chat with Apple itself.

Health Records

Most people won’t be able to take advantage of iOS 11.3’s next new feature—medical records in the Health app—right away, but we have high hopes for it. Apple has partnered with over 40 healthcare systems to bring your medical records into the Health app, centralizing them and making them easier for both you and healthcare professionals to access. The records include lab results, medications, conditions, and more. Health Records data is encrypted and protected with a passcode so it remains private.

Data & Privacy

We haven’t yet seen this, but Apple says that iOS 11.3 (and macOS 10.13.4) will display a new privacy icon whenever Apple asks for access to personal information, as it might do to “enable features, secure Apple services or personalize an iOS experience.” The icon should be accompanied by detailed privacy information explaining the situation. In an era when every company seems hell-bent on collecting and exploiting our personal data, it’s nice to see Apple increasing the transparency of its data collection practices.

Safari

iOS 11.3 tweaks Safari in several small ways that make it easier to use and more secure:

  • Autofill now inserts usernames and passwords only after you select them on Web pages.
  • Autofill now works in Web views within other iOS apps.
  • Safari warns you when you interact with password or credit card forms on non-encrypted pages.
  • Safari now formats shared articles sent via Mail as though they were in Reader mode.
  • Favorites folders now show icons for the contained bookmarks.

Other Improvements

Apple made lots of other minor improvements in iOS 11.3. You can see a full list in the release notes, but those that we find most noteworthy include:

  • iPhone X users get access to four new animoji: a lion, dragon, skull, and bear.
  • iOS 11.3 adds support for the Advanced Mobile Location (AML) standard, which provides more accurate location data to emergency responders when Emergency SOS is triggered.
  • Podcasts now plays episodes with a single tap, and you can tap Details to learn more about episodes.
  • Apple Music now streams music videos uninterrupted by ads.
  • Apple News has improved its Top Stories feature and includes a new Video group in the For You collection.

iOS 11.3’s improvements may not change the way you use your iPhone or iPad, but they’re welcome nonetheless, and Business Chat and Health Records should become more interesting as additional institutions sign on. And, of course, anyone with an older iPhone should check the Battery Health screen right away.

Apple debuts New iPad with Apple Pencil Support, Updates iWork

At a special education event on March 27th, Apple introduced a new 9.7-inch iPad that offers faster performance, support for the Apple Pencil, and a few new camera-related features. The company also released new versions of the iWork apps—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—that let users draw, sketch, and write with the Apple Pencil.

Sixth-generation iPad

For the most part, the new sixth-generation iPad is the same as the fifth-generation model it replaces. Its physical dimensions are unchanged, so existing cases and accessories should continue to work. It comes in the same three colors: silver, gold, and space gray. Even the pricing and options remain the same, with a 32 GB model starting at $329—the jump to 128 GB adds $100, and cellular capabilities add $130.

What sets the sixth-generation iPad apart from its predecessor is its support for the Apple Pencil stylus, which was previously restricted to the iPad Pro line, which started at $649. Thanks to a high-resolution touch sensor in the iPad’s Retina screen and palm-rejection technology, you can now use the $99 Apple Pencil in compatible apps. As with the iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil is sensitive to pressure and tilt so you can vary line weight and shading, much as with a traditional pencil.

Also new in the sixth-generation iPad is Apple’s A10 Fusion chip, with its embedded M10 coprocessor. The company claims that the new processors provide up to 40-percent faster CPU and 50-percent faster graphics performance.

The extra performance may also be related to the iPad’s new camera capabilities. Unlike the previous iPad, the sixth-generation iPad can take Live Photos and supports body detection in images along with the previously supported face detection. Also new is support for the Retina Flash feature that turns the screen into a giant flash when taking selfies.

iWork with Apple Pencil Support

If you haven’t been using Pages, Numbers, and Keynote on the iPad, the latest updates may encourage you to try Apple’s iWork apps—remember, they’re available for free in the App Store. Notably, the three apps allow you to draw, sketch, and write directly within documents. Even more interesting, though, is Apple’s Smart Annotations feature, currently in beta. With it, your comments and proofing marks anchor dynamically to text, and stay with the text they were attached to even as the document changes.

Smart Annotations are particularly welcome for those who take advantage of the real-time collaboration features built into the iWork apps. This was an education event, and it’s clear that Apple is building tools that will allow teachers to mark up and comment on student documents. But the same capabilities are equally as useful in the business world. For business users, Apple also announced that the real-time collaboration features in the iWork apps now work on documents stored in the Box file sharing service. Previously they were available only for documents stored in iCloud, which has little adoption in the enterprise.

Finally, the iPad version of Pages gains features that help users create ebooks in EPUB format. And Apple added a new Presenter mode to Pages, which lets you turn your iPhone or iPad into a teleprompter for distraction-free reading.

In the end, if you’re interested in using the Apple Pencil, the combination of the sixth-generation iPad and the updated iWork apps will let you do more for over $300 less than before.

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