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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Everything Apple Announced Today—Including a New MacBook Pro

iPhones and iPads shared the limelight on Apple's virtual stage in September, but the company's October “Unleashed” event focused on all things Mac. Today, Apple announced a redesigned MacBook Pro in two sizes, both of which are powered by its newest M1 Pro or M1 Max chips. Apple also took the wraps off its third-generation AirPods.

If you didn't catch the event, here's everything Apple announced.

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Two New Powerful In-House Chips

It's been more than a year since Apple announced it was swapping Intel chips for its very own in-house silicon: the M1, which powers both the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. Succeeding the M1 are not one but two new chips: the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

The M1 Pro has a 10-core CPU (up from eight cores on the M1), with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores. For graphics, the M1 Pro offers an up to 16-core GPU (with up to 32 GB of unified memory) that's twice as fast as the M1. Meanwhile, the M1 Max features the same 10-core CPU coupled with a 32-core GPU (with support for up to 64 GB of unified memory). Apple claims both the M1 Pro and M1 Max are up to 70 percent faster than last year's M1, and graphics-wise, the M1 Pro is two times faster and the M1 Max is four times faster. 

The power of the M1 Pro and Max remains to be seen, but it's safe to say these chipsets are what on-the-go content creators, video editors, and graphic designers (who rely on their MacBook Pros to accomplish intensive tasks) have been waiting for since Apple started moving away from Intel.

New MacBook Pro, Two Sizes

Apple went all-in with its MacBook Pro redesign. It comes in a 14- or 16-inch chassis, with slightly larger screen sizes at 14.2 inches and 16.2 inches, respectively. Both feature a Liquid Retina XDR screen with Apple's Mini LED display technology, which debuted in this year's 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It doesn't produce as deep blacks as OLED panels, like on the iPhone, but it comes very close and maintains incredible levels of brightness with punchy colors. WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu says he preferred watching movies on the iPad Pro with Mini LED over the larger LCD screen in Apple's 2021 iMac

It comes complete with ProMotion (as seen on the iPhone 13 Pro and 2017 iPad Pro), which is Apple's 120-Hz refresh rate technology that makes content on the screen look much smoother. You can read more about how it works here.

On top of the screen is a notch that houses a 1080p camera for video calls, with a wider aperture that allows in more light, so expect better video call performance in dim rooms. But unlike the notch in the iPhone, there's no TrueDepth camera system here, which means no support for Face ID. 

There is a Touch ID sensor on the keyboard, so you can still lock and unlock the MacBook Pro with your fingerprint. Apple also bid adieu to the Touch Bar, replacing it with physical keys instead, a startling admission that its vision for the elongated digital screen didn't go the way it hoped.

But the most exciting upgrade to the MacBook Pro is arguably the return of the ports. There's an HDMI port, three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4, an SD card slot, and a high-impedance headphone jack. So, yes, feel free to throw all those ugly dongles in the trash. Even better, Apple also brought back MagSafe to its MacBooks for the first time since 2017. It's not an accessory ecosystem like with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineup, but the charger connects to the dedicated port magnetically like in the days of old. You can still charge via the USB-C ports.

Both MacBook Pros also pack studio-quality mics and a six-speaker sound system that consists of two tweets and four woofers that offer 80 percent more bass. As for battery life, Apple claims the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers up to 17 hours of video playback, while the 16-inch model hits 21 hours. You can fast charge these devices too, gaining up to 50 percent battery in just 30 minutes.

The base version of the MacBook Pro (for both sizes) comes with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,999 while the 16 inch is $2,499. Both models are currently available for preorder and go on sale on October 26. You can choose whether you want the M1 Pro or upgrade to the M1 Max if you need the extra power. The highest-tier configuration for the 16-incher brings the total to a whopping $6,099. 

Apple also confirmed via its press release that its latest operating system, MacOS Monterey, will be available for download on October 25.

AirPods 3

The new, third generation of Apple’s standard AirPods comes two years after the release of AirPods Pro and a little over a year after the release of the AirPods Max.

The old AirPods aren't our favorites. They're not very ergonomic, nor are they great for workouts because they lack the security of silicone eartips and an IP rating against water or dust. The lack of tips also meant you didn’t get a perfect seal in your ears all the time, allowing sound to leak out to the outside world at higher volumes. 

This new version comes with a lower distortion dynamic driver for better bass and crisper high-end, but once again lacks eartips. Apple says the slightly redesigned earbuds, which look a bit more curvy and ergonomic, will fit much better than the previous version. We'll see for ourselves.

Thankfully, they now come with sweat and water resistance, so you can finally work out in AirPods without worrying about breaking them. The addition of spatial audio, which was previously reserved for the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro models, is also great. Spatial audio on standard AirPods means you can watch movies in Dolby Atmos, providing a more immersive experience (a few music artists also mix in Atmos, but not many).

Apple increased battery life from 5 hours to 6, with the ability to charge with a MagSafe charger wirelessly. It charges quickly, so five minutes plugged in will get you an hour of juice. That’s all well and good, but 6 hours remains relatively mid-tier battery life in the wireless headphone market, especially without noise-canceling on board. The latest model from Jabra, for example, comes with 8 hours and the same quick-charge feature.

The new AirPods are currently available for $179, which begs the question: Why not spend $20 more on a pair of AirPods Pro? Well, you can. But Apple also seems to have added MagSafe to the AirPods Pro's case. If you don't care for it, the original AirPods Pro retails for less than $199.

Apple Music Voice Plan

One of the weirder announcements was Apple's new voice-only subscription plan for Apple Music. For $5 per month, subscribers can opt to abandon any visual interface for Apple’s popular streaming service and access their favorite artists and bespoke playlists exclusively via voice control with Siri.

It sounds odd at a first glance, but it's a decent option for anyone who loves internet radio like Pandora, or for anyone looking for specific genres of music rather than scrolling through infinite artists and playlists on their phone. You're paying half the price of the standard subscription.

New HomePod Mini Colors

Tired of staring at your boring gray HomePod Mini? Apple has some good news for you. It now comes in three fun colors: orange, blue, and yellow. Too bad they won't do anything new. Apple didn't spell out any new features for the Siri-powered bowl, but at least it has the same $99 price.

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