Spring 2021 Apple Announcement Reactions

iMac: colorful again?

I know the schtick is to “start with the small stuff and then build” but the purple iPhone and reskinning of the Podcast app were pretty underwhelming. There’s so much more Apple could be doing in the podcast production and consumption space. Boo.

AirTags: long-expected, they look delightful. A little overpriced as typical. I will probably get these. Great Find My + UWB integration and privacy considerations here. Very impressed they led with a “unwanted tag” use case addressed out of the gate. Apple is clearly and consistently pushing on magic *with* privacy. Does it make sense to put one in a car to find it in a lot? Stitch it into a wallet? There wasn’t any screen time spent explaining how charging works for these.

AppleTV 4K — (are we supposed to call it “The New AppleTV 4K”? Why is Apple so bad with names?). Academically nice to have a faster processor and HFR HDR is theoretically nice but how many TVs can support this? Are there bitrate issues with receivers/cables supporting? I wonder how many folks will buy these expecting improved visuals and end up disappointed. Apple even alluded to the fact that almost no content is available today in this format. If the processor is a lot faster, shouldn’t that enable new gaming experiences? Almost shocked there was not even a tip of the hat toward this — it makes me wonder if “gaming on AppleTV” has completely tanked as a use case to not even be worth mentioning. The iPhone color correction is a solid idea but not at all clear if this will work with projector systems. I’m probably not going to get this. Missed an opportunity to catch up to Chromecast / FireTV on form factor (bring it with you HDMI, which is honestly pretty magical). Looking at the details it’s an A12 Bionic which first came out in 2018. Ah well, guess they don’t have enough downbinned M1’s, or they wanted to find a cheap dumping ground for processors that are three generations old. Underwhelmed.

iMac: they keep toggling between colors and not. I mean, hey, orange is fun. But why on earth did they keep the *chin*? Was really expecting a near bevelless design. Especially if you’re leading with a tag line like “make the computer disappear”. At least they finally put something better than a crappy 720p camera in but it’s more than a little shameless that they are patting themselves on the back for including a 1080p module half a decade after their competitors started doing it. There were touchpoints on image processing but it wasn’t clear how configurable that would be. (side note: OMG NAVPREET IS BRINGING GREAT ENERGY — I love this guy) it’s not hard to imagine how they could have been more radical with the speaker design, (like turning the rear face into a bass emissive element or using top-firing tweeters for Atmos style surround-bounce) but six speakers is interesting — will have to hear it to see if it’s impressive. On the M1 architecture I have no idea why you want to highlight that e.g. Twitter’s app is now M1 optimized. What the heck are you tweeting that takes a state of the art computing system?? The pitch to play a video game while on a Zoom call was surprisingly tasteless/tactless. C’mon Apple, is this the future you want?

A little sad we won’t see M1X today. That’s probably going to be for the Fall in the iMac Pro 2021 and 16" MacBook Pro.

They now have a magnetic power connector for their desktop but took it away from their laptop. Say that out loud. This made sense to someone?? The Ethernet plug in the power brick is cute but it’s not multi-gig, and they don’t comment on WiFi 6E capabilities for wireless so I guess they are shipping with dated LAN connectivity technology too. Boo. And oh god *8GB RAM* on a $1500 desktop computer being sold in 2021??? APPLE!!

Ok they had too much fun with the Tim Cook Mission Impossible sequence. Ditto the “oops I was on mute” Zoom Cameo.

12" iPad Pro: 1600 nits? Jeebus that is delightfully searing. Why couldn’t they put that display on the iMac (which has a comparatively puny 500 nits)? The display looks amazing. And 2TB storage as an option is great. They will sell a bunch of these. Though I guess they aren’t launching a new Pencil? Real-life LIDAR implementations are still pretty lacking, though — wonder if this sensor will end up going the way of Force Touch.

During the presentation there were several hat tips to the sophisticated image processing that is now being done on board, but very little exposed in terms of how this could be played with or modified for creative control around personal appearance in video conferencing.

Based on what we saw here today, my hunch would be that in the fall we will see a 16 inch MacBook Pro and iMac Pro both with the gorgeous XDR screen and an M1X chip. Tragically it is looking like even the M1X might have a 16 GB RAM cap so we might be well into 2022 before we see an M-class chipset that can support reasonable levels of RAM (>=32GB). BOOOO.

Given the strong position Apple has taken on 5G (even including giving airtime to 5G UWB which is almost entirely academic in realized deployment), it seems all the more glaring that they aren’t similarly offering either WiFi 6E or multi-gig wired Ethernet in their connectivity options yet.

On the hard-core technology front I would imagine that Apple if they wanted to could do some pretty incredible things with Optane to make it feel like a machine had, for instance, a quarter TB of RAM. Imagine real-time scrubbing through hours of 8K video. One of the reasons why we haven’t seen more interesting developments here is that only a handful of players like Apple have the full stack control and capability required to deploy and realize the power of a new class of persistent storage.

I am also looking for leadership from companies like Apple to solve the “eye contact problem” — where a key missing ingredient of multiparty discussion is the ability to look each other in the eye. Some of this could be mechanical, such as putting cameras behind the screen, and some of this could involve using machine learning to subtly alter pupil alignment, as NVidia has been demonstrating with Maxine.

No mention of wireless charging of *anything* today. Once burned, twice shy?

Is it weird that I feel it was a miss for the iMac to not be compatible with Apple Pencil? There’s already the magic keyboard for iPad to make it in close to the form factor of a smal iMac, but the converse is not true. Would it really have been that much harder to add Pencil support and a little magnetic mount for attaching Pencil to the side?

Overall today’s announcements were decent but not mind-bending. I’m looking forward to hearing the new iMac and seeing the iPad Pro display. I don’t think the Apple TV upgrade is worth it for people who already have one. The AirTags will probably be pretty popular. I am a little frustrated that it will probably not be until next year that I can buy an Apple machine with decent RAM.

With Apple in a mode of executing well but iteratively, it does leave open the opportunity for some other players to step in and offer radical new full stack solutions. Microsoft is playing earnestly in this space with Surface, for instance. Google on the other hand has only moderately been playing in the first party consumer computing space (having abandoned tablets after the 2013 Nexus 7 and only investing lightly in innovations with Pixelbook). A refreshed commitment to driving state of the art with machine learning integrated across both local client and cloud could play well to Google’s strengths. And while Amazon’s prior efforts with their “Fire” line were mostly catastrophically bad, I would be delighted to see a continued exploration around voice-centric computing and leaning on the cloud for beefy coprocessing to save the local client effort.

That brings me to my last thought: Where is Siri? In that whole hour-long presentation I barely saw a mention. Siri has been languishing in Apple’s hands since the 2011 acquisition — it would sadden me if Apple’s answer was to give up and put Siri on the sidelines (as they literally have done with the new AppleTV remote) instead of buckling up to improve it to deliver true voice computing à la “Her”.

Founder+CEO: Medcorder, ex-GOOG, FB. Started: Drone.VC, Mexican.VC, Neuron.VC, PBwiki, DevHouse, and Hacker Dojo. Startup advisor. Chopper pilot. Dad. ❤�