New and upgraded hardware, software, and increasingly-important services all took center stage for Apple in 2019.
Time flies … I recently realized that my most recent coverage of an Apple product launch event was published more than a year ago. That means I’ve got all of 2019’s introductions to catch you up on! Thanks to MacRumors for the one-page summary for the year, which I’ll elaborate on in the coming paragraphs.
Tablets were front and center at this particular event, with a belated upgrade to the iPad mini, which was last updated in September 2015. That particular model, the iPad mini 4, currently resides on top of the night stand next to my bed, in a recent example of my longstanding “buy one generation older than the state of the art” habit. Also unveiled were a 10.5″ variant of the iPad Air, 4K and 5K display-inclusive iMacs, second-generation AirPod wireless headphones (I promptly bought discounted first-generation ones), three subscription services (Apple News+, the AppleTV+ streaming multimedia service, and the Apple Arcade for online gaming), and the Apple Card credit card service in partnership with Goldman Sachs. Those latter three actually weren’t available until later in the year, however. That said, as the hardware market has become increasingly saturated and owners of existing gear are more reluctant to regularly upgrade it, Apple is increasingly dependent on selling more (and more expensive tiers of) services to them.
This particular month’s launch event was notable for, among other things, another belated (and surprising) upgrade; this one to the latest generation of the iPod touch (last updated in July 2015), the only remaining mobile multimedia player in Apple’s lineup subsequent to the prior discontinuation of the iPod, iPod Nano, and iPod Shuffle. Also unveiled were more powerful 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro laptops (albeit still with the much reviled “butterfly switch” keyboard) and Beats’ Powerbeats Pro wireless headphones (which I now own … thanks for the anniversary gift, honey!).
Apple held some of its announcement fire for one month later, the longstanding timeframe for the company’s Worldwide Developers Conference (at least over the past decade-and-a-half). Operating system updates were as usual front and center, with MacOS 10.15 “Catalina,” iOS 13, watchOS 6, and tvOS 13 all detailed and demonstrated in then-beta form. But hardware also showed up on stage, in the form of the latest generation Mac Pro (replacing its underwhelming “trashcan” predecessor) and companion Pro Display XDR. They’ve both just become available for ordering as I write this in mid-December, and shipments have begun arriving; the most expensive variant of the combo costs a jaw-dropping $53,799. I continue to struggle to wrap my head around the fact that a brand new Corvette coupe is less expensive than that!
One month after that, the flow of new hardware continued, specifically timed for the back-to-school shopping crowd. The MacBook Air now has a full Retina display along with a lower entry-level price tag; commensurate with that update, Apple obsoleted the MacBook. And the 13″ MacBook Pro is now equipped with beefier processor and graphics options.
This is the month that, at least in recent years, Apple rolls out new iPhones, and this year was no exception. Along with production releases of almost all of the new and upgraded operating systems unveiled in beta form three months earlier at WWDC, as well as the launch of the Apple Arcade (Apple Card had rolled out one month earlier), Apple announced both standard and “Pro” variants of the iPhone 11. They share a common A13 Bionic SoC, but the latter touts a three-camera rear cluster (the standard iPhone 11s’ cluster comprises “only” two cameras) and an upgraded display. Also introduced was Series 5 of the Apple Watch cadence, containing the same SoC as its Series 4 precursor but with a display capable of always-on operation, along with integrated compass functionality. And last but not least was the seventh-generation 10.2″ iPad. I don’t know about you, but with all the discontinuations, resurrections, and evolutions of various iPad families (and display size options within each of those families), the differentiation between tablet product lines gets pretty confusing to me.
MacOS 10.15 “Catalina,” particularly notable for its intentional obsolescence of customers’ 32-bit applications, started shipping in October. Also released was the “Pro” variant of the AirPods wireless headphone family. As someone who recently tried using standard AirPods on an airplane and wasn’t able to tune out the background whistle of the cabin ventilation system, I certainly “get” the functional appeal of active noise cancellation, although the $249 price tag is admittedly still a fiscal stumbling block.
The AppleTV+ service, which joins an increasingly crowded roster of competitors, became available at the beginning of the month; Apple offered a free one-year subscription to recent-and-upcoming purchasers of select hardware from the company. And Apple also unveiled a new 16″ MacBook Pro, obsoleting the longstanding 15″ variant in the process, as well as splitting the difference between the 15″ and previously obsoleted 17″ models. Its most notable feature by far? The “new Magic Keyboard with a redesigned scissor mechanism and 1mm travel for a more satisfying key feel,” in Apple’s words; a return to the “scissor” keyboard of days past after a failed four-year “butterfly” experiment, in reality. What’s old is new again, as the saying goes.
So that’s 2019 for Apple, in a nutshell. Onward to a new year (and a new decade)! Sound off in the comments with your thoughts on my thoughts.
—Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Embedded Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.