Everything Apple announced at its Unleashed MacBook Pro event

Posted: 19 October 2021 7:56 am
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Not just more powerful MacBook Pros, but also 3rd Generation AirPods and cheaper Apple Music.

Apple has refreshed its line of Apple MacBook Pro laptops with a changed design and new processors, but its latest launch wasn't just a MacBook Pro show. It also debuted new AirPods, new colours for the HomePod Mini and a cheaper way to get your Apple Music fix. Here's everything Apple debuted at the "Unleashed" event, which took place earlier today.


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MacBook Pro: Now even more powerful

MacBook Pro

All the pre-event rumours pointed to new MacBook Pro models, with most tipping the 16-inch MacBook as the most obvious candidate for a refresh. That model seemed out of date because up until today, it was the size of a standard MacBook Pro, but still using Intel CPUs rather than Apple's own more powerful "M1" silicon.

However, while Apple did indeed refresh the 16-inch MacBook Pro, it also took the opportunity to upgrade the 14-inch model as well. Apple released an M1 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro last year, with only slight performance differences between it and the M1 MacBook Air (or indeed, the M1 iMac or M1 Mac Mini).

The new MacBook Pro models differentiate themselves markedly from their predecessors, partly through a much wider array of ports, but also through new processor chips. Where the M1 that you got in last year's Macs was basically the same chip, Apple now has 2 new variants, the M1 Pro and M1 Max.

M1 Max CPU

The M1 Pro chip uses a 10-core design with 8 high-performance cores and 2 high-efficiency cores for what Apple claims is up to 2x faster performance than the already nippy M1 CPU. It will support up to 32GB of integrated memory. Like the M1 Macs, that's memory that's absolutely integrated into the processor itself, so there's no way to upgrade after it's built.

For those who want more performance (and can pay for it), there's the M1 Max chip. The M1 Max doubles its memory bandwidth over the M1 Pro at 400Gbs with up to 64GB of memory. Like the M1 Pro, it uses a 10-core CPU, but bumps graphics performance up with a 32-core GPU.

The first M1 MacBooks essentially leveraged existing MacBook designs with added Thunderbolt ports for connectivity and power, but the new MacBook Pro models feature a wider array of ports. Thunderbolt is joined by HDMI, a new Magsafe connector (though Thunderbolt charging is still supported) and an integrated SD card slot. In that respect, they're more reminiscent of Apple's older MacBook Pro designs. The Touch Bar, which was always a "love it or loathe it" proposition, is gone, replaced with standard function keys.

Apple has also finally upgraded the onboard cameras on the MacBook Pro with 1080p support. That camera sits in a somewhat iPhone-like notch at the top of the 120Hz-capable display.

The new models go on pre-order today with availability next week. Pricing is, in a word, complicated. That's because while the older M1 MacBooks only offered a few model options, the mix of M1 Pro and M1 Max and memory configurations mean that there's a wide array of choices.

The cheapest M1 Pro 14-inch MacBook costs $2,999 with 16GB of onboard memory and a 512GB SSD.

At the top end, if you want the MacBook Pro 16 with the M1 Max, 64GB of unified memory and 8TB of storage, you'll pay a whopping $9,149 outright.

3rd Generation AirPods: Better sound for less

AirPods

Apple also announced new models of its popular AirPods true wireless headphones. The 3rd Generation AirPods grab the adaptive equalisation feature from the AirPods Pro (but not the active noise cancellation) along with a new driver design for clearer sound. They'll also support a new Magsafe compatible wireless charging case, a feature which is coming to the AirPods Pro as well.

Interestingly, Apple is keeping the 2nd generation AirPods as a purchase option at $219, alongside the new 3rd generation models and the AirPods Pro.

Like the new MacBook Pro models, the new 3rd Generation AirPods are available to pre-order now, with availability from 26 October 2021. In Australia they cost $279 in white only.

Apple Music Voice Plan: Cheaper (if you like talking to Siri)

Apple Music Voice

Apple doesn't typically offer "cheaper" options for its existing products, but that's just what it's done with Apple Music Voice Plan. It's a $5.99 variant on the existing Apple Music subscription service that offers the same track library as the full-fat $11.99 Apple Music plan.

So what don't you get? You don't get the lossless music option or spatial audio, but you also don't get any kind of visual interface. As the name suggests, it's operated entirely via Siri through any Siri-enabled device, with Apple promising that it will provide Apple Music Voice oriented playlists to suit moods. Apple Music Voice Plan will launch "later this spring" with a 7-day non-renewing preview available once it's launched.

HomePod Mini gets colourful

Apple HomePod Mini

Apple didn't refresh the hardware for the HomePod Mini, but it did give its smaller smart speaker a coat of paint. Where previously the HomePod Mini was available in Space Grey or White, it will now ship in Blue, Yellow or Orange hues depending on your needs. Colour is unlikely to change its music profiles, and the pricing hasn't changed either at $149 per HomePod Mini. If you do want the new colours, you'll have to wait until November for them to ship.

macOS Monterey launches next week

Back at WWDC, Apple showed off the next generation of its macOS operating system, macOS Monterey. At its Unleashed event, Apple announced that macOS Monterey will be available as a free download for qualifying Macs from 25 October 2021.

Bear in mind that Apple has an odd approach to release dates. Here in Australia we tend to get hardware first in the world, on the actual Apple-announced launch date. However, software and service launch times are usually based on US time zones. That's reflected on the Apple Australia web site, which lists availability locally for Monterey from 26 October 2021.

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