Apple has used its first big event of 2021 to preview a Tile-like tracker, the AirTag, a purple version of its iPhone 12, thinner iMacs sporting its M1 chip, a new iPad Pro - also gaining the M1 - and more.
The AirTag is designed to be attached to a key, wallet or any other item you might lose - from an e-bike to a wandering pre-schooler. Each AirTag uses Bluetooth wireless to ping its location (or for iPhone 11 and 12 users, Bluetooth plus Ultra Wideband). Apple says signals are encrypted for privacy.
Once you get close to the lost object, its AirTag plays a noise.
If an item does get lost, then you can attempt to locate its AirTag using the same "Find My" applications that Apple users can currently engage to locate a lost iPhone, AirPod or iPad on a map.
While Bluetooth's range is restricted to around 30m, an AirTag can constantly ping its location to the cloud. And, like Tile, a search can be crowdsourced. Apple says there are now hundreds of millions of devices on its "Find My" network, with anonymity protections.
Earlier this month, Apple said it was opening its Find My network to third-party gadgets too, with Belkin (for its Soundform Freedom True Wireless Earbuds), e-bike maker VanMoof and Tile rival Chipolo.
AirTag will be available on April 30 for $55 for a one-pack (a touch below Tile's retail price), or $189 for a four-pack (all pricing in NZ dollars). Engraving is free.
Apple says the battery will last about a year (roughly the same as the Tile). An AirTag uses a standard CR2032 button battery that cost around $3.
Preorders begin this Friday at 12am for New Zealanders. Apple has also created leather loop and key ring accessories that the AirTag can slot into, and the company is also working with accessory makers to create luggage tag enclosures for the AirTag itself.
AirTags will work with an iPhone SE, 6s or later, but require an Phone 11 or 12 for their precision finding feature, which has an onscreen guide down to the last few metres. They are dust and water-resistant - billed to be able to survive a 1-metre dunking for 30 minutes.
Although a big fan of a recently announced Apple clampdown on ads that track users without their informed consent, NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards took to Twitter to express his qualms about AirTags - and similar products.
"Consumer me: Apple Airtags looks pretty cool and handy tbh [to be honest]," Edwards tweeted:
"Privacy Advocate me: How long before they start popping up in estranged partners' cars and handbags? Slipped into jacket pockets at the bar?"
But the public watchdog also found the answer to his own question, through an Apple advisory that an AirTag is designed to avoid unwanted tracking. Your iPhone will alert you if an unknown AirTag has made it into your luggage, or is otherwise in your immediate proximity.
While down the track there could be many AirTags close by, an alert will only be triggered if an AirTag has been separated from its owner.
What if you don't have an iPhone or iPad to alert you that someone else's AirTag has been sneakily stashed in your bag?
Apple says, "In addition to the security measures we have for iPhone users, any AirTag that is separated from its owner for an extended period of time will play a sound when moved to draw attention to it. If a user detects an unknown AirTag, they can tap it with their NFC-capable Android device and instructions will guide them to disable the AirTag. This is designed to protect from unwanted tracking even if you don't use any Apple devices."
In a big day for Prince fans, Apple also announced the iPhone 12 and 12 mini will now be available in purple. All other specs, from 5G to wireless charging remain the same. So does the pricing, which starts from $1349.
The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini are the aluminium and glass, two-camera models in the 12 series. The purple option does not extend to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max, the three-camera models that are made from surgical-grade stainless steel.
Thinner, quieter iMac gets M1 chip
Apple also unveiled a redesigned iMac today.
The new model has a 24-inch, 4.5K display with narrower borders around the top and sides and is just 11.5mm deep - but despite the slim-down, Apple says it's cooler and 50 per cent quieter than its predecessor.
Its camera gets a Zoom era-friendly upgrade to full high definition (1080p) with a larger sensor. There's also a better microphone; a screen that automatically adjusts its colour temperature for different lighting conditions, a keyboard with Touch ID for quick log-on, and a raft of new colours options.
But the biggest change is under the bonnet, with the new iMac now powered by Apple's own silicon; the M1 chip. First released with the most recent MacMini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models, the M1 has earned strong reviews for speed, extended battery life and tight security.
Pricing starts from $2149.
iPad Pro gets M1, 5G
Apple also used its event to show off an upgraded iPad Pro - which has become the first tablet to get the M1 chip.
The new model is also the first iPad to get 5G, if you go for the Wi-Fi plus cellular option.
The new iPad Pro also features an 11- or 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display, up to 2TB of high-speed storage, Thunderbolt expansion, a four-speaker audio system, and pro cameras with LiDAR Scanner.
If you couple it with the Magic Keyboard ($509), which features backlighting and an integrated trackpad, then the new Pro is quite capable of serving as a laptop replacement if you only want to take one device for a trip, or ditch your notebook altogether. Folio keyboard options start at $219.
Pricing starts at $1349 (or $1629 with 5G) for the 11-inch model and from $1849 (or $2129 with 5G) for the 12.9-inch. Online orders open April 30, with the new models expected in stores from mid-May.
Apple TV 4K gets HDR
The Apple TV 4K has also got a refresh, with support for HDR (high dynamic range) being its key new feature.
Many pundits say HDR, which improves tone and contrast, is just as important as the more heralded 4K (or ultra-high resolution).
A redesigned Siri Remote features a new clickpad control that offers five-way navigation for better accuracy, and is also touch-enabled for the fast directional swipes, Apple says. The outer ring of the clickpad supports an intuitive circular gesture that turns it into a jog control.
The new Apple TV 4K costs $299. A step-down model without 4K or HDR costs $249, and the new Siri remote - which is compatible with the previous generation of Apple TV 4K and Apple TV - can also be bought separately for $89.
Monetising content: Apple Podcasts Subscriptions
Apple is introducing support for ad-free podcast subscriptions from May.
Whatever is charged will be up to the creator of a podcast, but if you have a Family Sharing account, one subscription to a pod can be shared with up to six others in your household.
All-comers will be able to charge for content, if they enrol in the Apple Podcasters Programme, which includes all of the tools needed to offer premium subscriptions on Apple Podcasts, is available to creators for $27.99 per year. Creators can enrol in the Apple Podcasters Program today through Apple Podcasts Connect.
But beyond whatever independents join the party, the new programme will also kick off with content from established creators like Sony Music Entertainment and sports pod The Athletic (which charges US$4.99 a month on platforms that already support charging).
Apple says it currently has 2 million free podcasts in its stable, which is available in over 170 countries.
Homepod gets NZ launch
Lastly, Apple's Homepod smart speaker - first released in the US in 2018 - is finally getting a local launch.
The HomePod, which competes against Amazon's Echo series and Google's Home and Nest Audio series, will be available for Kiwis from June for $159.
Among other smarts, the voice-command controlled HomePod can play iTunes, answer the same queries - or carry out the same tasks - as any Siri-enabled device - or be used to boost your TV audio. Two HomePods can be synced with the same Apple TV, for example for a "stereo" experience.