Apple didn’t deliver as many product updates in 2016 as many expected. While there were new iPhones, with the surprising release of an iPhone SE to meet demand for a small handset, the Mac didn’t get a whole lot of love. The MacBook got a minor spring refresh, although the fall introduction of the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar was certainly a major upgrade as Macs go nowadays.
It was enough for some to suggest that Macs are getting short shrift at Apple. Despite the fact that the product brings in over $20 billion in annual revenues, it almost seems insignificant compared to the iPhone. Or at least that’s the theory, that Apple cares about its most popular product, but gives the rest of the lineup mostly tepid support. Then again, the Apple Watch Series 2 was a fairly significant upgrade, with faster performance, a GPS, not to mention being waterproof.
But based on that promise from Tim Cook about a promising roadmap for Mac desktops, the main question is when that’s going to happen? Will it be, as implied in the use of a plural, “desktops,” that more than one model will be involved? Will it all happen at once, or will the product updates be spread out over the year?
More to the point, will those Mac updates be significant enough to merit media events? In the past, it’s been hit or miss. A minor refresh, such as fitting a model with an updated processor, graphics and similar updates, will usually merit little more than a press release. I suspect that’ll happen for most Mac upgrades this year, with the spring bringing updates for the iMac now that Intel’s Kaby Lake processors are shipping in quad-core form. If the Mac mini receives an update, it’ll also be announced with a press release. Both may gain the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and graphics powerful enough to handle at least one 5K display; probably two with the 27-inch iMac.
The big question is the Mac Pro. If Apple opts to deliver an update, after over three years of silence, will it just be a parts refresh or something more significant? The extent of that change — if it happens — will dictate how much promotion it’ll receive from Apple. But honestly I’ve been hoping for more. I think the fancy trash can shape, without the previous model’s internal expansion options, was a misfire. It was a case of form supplanting function, and I wonder how many pro users agree. Sure, having lots of external ports still leaves a fair amount of flexibility, but it generates a wiring mess of the first degree.
As to Mac notebooks, the MacBook may get a spring refresh, and the MacBook Pro will get one this fall. Neither will merit a special press event, unless shoehorned into another session. I would hope for lower prices, but it may take another year for the latter to become cheaper.
That takes us to the growing number of stories that the iPad is due for some extra attention this year, as Apple renews its commitment to tablets.
According to a Japan-based site devoted to things Apple, Mac Okatara, the new iPads, plus some extra configurations for the iPhone SE, and the iPhone 7, will be announced at a media event some time in March. The site supposedly has contacts in the Asian supply chain and is known for fairly accurate predictions. So the report should be taken seriously, which is why it’s getting lots of coverage in the tech media.
So the upgrades will reportedly cover the existing 7.9-inch, 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch models. There will supposedly be a new configuration, with a 10.5-inch edge-to-edge display that will have virtually no screen bezel. If that’s the case, it will be roughly the same size (and likely weight) as the standard, 9.7-inch iPad. No doubt the price will be higher, and I really wonder whether it’s worth the bother. Sure, having a slightly larger display may mean something, but I can’t see where it’ll work any better than other models, except, no doubt, for having faster parts.
Some reports suggest there will be no upgrades to the iPad mini 4, which was first released in September 2015. If true, it may be that the smallest iPad continues to lose sales to the largest iPhone, and may vanish after another year or so of inaction. But it’s clear that major changes have to be made to the other iPads in light of three years of falling sales.
Other announcements reportedly will include an iPhone SE with 128GB storage, but otherwise no changes, and red versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. But I wonder whether Apple might choose the occasion to upgrade the iPhone SE parts. The current model, with prices starting at $399, inherits many of its components from the iPhone 6s, but placed in an iPhone 5s case. So doesn’t it deserve an update, or would Apple just cut the price another $50? Indeed, that might be the best approach, since it might attract some potential Android switchers who find the existing iPhones too expensive, and aren’t happy with larger handsets.
Then again, if Apple is going to have an early spring media event, why not also include the Mac, if updates are due? Just asking.