Apple’s October 18 Event – Everything You Need to Know

The event banner for the October 18, 2021 event.
Image courtesy of Apple

Apple had their event today, and wanted to focus on the Music and the Mac. They even started off their stream with a neat little video showing someone making music with a bunch of various Apple sound effect, sounds, and startup tones from across their history. And it made a great lead in for them to talk about music. Speaking of which…

Music:

Apple Music “Voice Plan” Tier

First on the block was the Apple Music service. Apple announced that all Apple Music subscribers will be getting access to playlists based off moods in Siri. You’ll be able to ask Siri to play music for your dinner party, for your hike, or other occasions and scenes and Apple will have playlists generated for those various purposes.

But that’s not what has caught most people’s attention, but the fact there is now a 3rd, lower price tier. An individual can now buy the “Voice Plan” for $4.99/month. With this, you’re basically getting all of Apple’s musics songs and pre-made playlists, but you can really only access it through Siri. Apple has said you’ll still have playback controls on your devices with screens as well as Siri, and you’ll be able to go into the app and see a list of previously played songs as well as suggested playlists. You will be able to access it from any Apple device with Siri (iPhone, HomePod, Mac, TV, etc.)

Apple's subscription tiers for Apple music
Image courtesy of Apple

While this certainly seems like an odd choice, I think Apple is really targeting the Pandora Radio style crowd. Pandora’s Plus tier, for the same price, will play music ad free, gives you unlimited skips, and lets you replay and select some songs (with one ad to custom play one song, but not to replay it). And the people using Pandora, are typically the kind of people that want to put something for a particular mood and not worry about anything else (so me I guess). Still, Pandora does have a little more screen control. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

If you want to try it out, you can get a free 7-day trial by asking Siri on your device for it, and afterwards it’ll be $4.99/month. It’s available in Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States

HomePod Mini

The new HomePod mini colors.  Orange in the center, with blue and white to its left, and yellow and black to the right.
Image courtesy of Apple

The HomePod Minis are pretty much the same, but now along with the existing black and white colors, you now have the options of orange, yellow, and blue. The mesh speakers and the cables are even toned accordingly (and I do like that blue). Otherwise, there’s nothing else new with them. It’s still nice to see Apple expanding it’s color palette a little, though I kind of am hoping for a green one in the future.

AirPods

The new 3rd Gen AirPods in their case, for $179
Image courtesy of Apple

In AirPods there are 2 bits of news. First the 2nd-gen base model AirPods are reduced down to $129. That’s because, as you might have guess, there is now a 3rd generation model of the AirPods. And they are a lot like the Pros. The 3rd-gen AirPods have a nearly identical design to the Pros, except they lack the silicone earpieces to help prevent sound leakage and provide a more snug fit, though Apple does say this design will fit better in most people’s ears.

The AirPods also have a number of other features coming over from it’s bigger sibling. These new AirPods will have Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ for a more immersive and better sound experience. New to these are improved water/sweat resistance, a better distortion filter in the EarBods, and a new “force sensor” for when you use the tap/press functionality for your phone calls, Siri, music controls, etc. I’m not sure if this is like Force Touch or 3D touch in the same way as they’ve had before, but I’d be interested to see what comes of this. Lastly, these new AirPods will be better all around in the battery realm, with 5 minutes of charging giving you about 1 hour of playback time, 6 hours of audio playback in the AirPods on a single charge, and 30 hours of total playback when factoring in the charging case.

If these new AirPods interest you, you can order them this week for $179, and they’ll be available in stores and arriving at your home next week.

Mac:

Apple only announced 1 Mac today, the MacBook Pro. However, they split this into the 14-inch and 16-inch lines. And they spent a lot of time talking about the new M1 chips (yes plural), the M1 Pro and M1 Max (Apple is really solidifying these “Pro” and “Max titles aren’t they?)

MacBook Pro

An overview of the new MacBooks Pros and their features
Image courtesy of Apple

Let’s start with the Macs themselves. Apple basically admitted that the 2015 MacBook Pro models were best without admitting they were the best, because you’re now getting more than just Thunderbolt/USB-C ports. On the left side of each Mac, you’re getting a MagSafe charger (though you can still charge off the existing Thunderbolt chargers) followed by 2 Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, and a headphone/mic jack, which Apple says will have better impedance support for those headphones that use the tech). On the right side there is an HDMI port, a 3rd Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port, and an SD Card reader. So yes, Apple actually gave you more ports on this machine.

The new MacBook pro keyboard, with a highlight around the new full sized top row of keys replacing the TouchBar
Image courtesy of Apple

Something that did get taken away though was the TouchBar. In its place are not just physical keys, but a fully size row of keys. These will also have a black background to match in the daytime, but let the keys shine in the darker space when using the backlight.

The screens were a big focus for these Macs as well. They will be 14.2 inches and 16.2 inches respectively, mostly by Apple reducing the borders on the screen. These MacBooks adopted a little bit of something from their iPhone and iPad cousins in their upgrade. Like the iPhones, will now have a notch around the webcam (more about that in a moment). I’m not sure how I feel about this, as I’m thinking about production apps that have a long string in the menubar (think Microsoft Office and Adobe), but I’m imagining Apple has had to have made a way for the menubar items to go around it or to be resizable. From their iPhone Pro cousins, the Pros also be getting ProMotion displays, meaning the screen can adaptively change its refresh rate up to 120 Hz for some activities but lower it to save power on the machines when the screen isn’t moving as much. If you don’t care about that though, or you’re someone who needs a consistent screen rate. And from their iPad Pro brethren, you’ll been getting the Liquid Display XDR for even more pixels per square inch, even more total pixels than the previous 16-inch Pros.

Part of the reason for that notch is the camera. Apple has upgraded the built-in webcam to record in 1080p and using a wider f/2.0 aperture lens. While the hardware on itself is a nice improvement, it’s not huge, so Apple is backing it up with software in the form of computational video. While there are many things that go into this, it means that Apple will be using its neural engine to improve low light performance, maintain more accurate skin tones, and provide HDR support.

The new camera highlighting its computational video support.
Image courtesy of Apple

You can’t have video without sound (unless you’re a silent movie), so we should talk about the sound. Apple upgraded the tweeters (the high and mid-range sounds) and the woofers (the bass and lower tones) for both a louder and clearer sound. Apple says it can even go to a lower range of sound than ever before. And, of course, the Pros will support Spatial Audio.

Lastly, we should start talking about some of the innards, which will lead us into the discussion about new processors. First the SSD’s are blazing fast, with Apple saying the support read speeds of 7.4 GB/s (though nothing about write speeds). The battery life is even better, and markedly so compared to their Intel counterparts, with the 14-inch clocking in at 17-hours of continuous video playback and the 16-inch going for 21 hours. Of course we will want to wait for real-world, non-Apple tests, but typically Apple’s been pretty accurate with its battery estimates. But Apple says you won’t have to wait long to charge, with the new machines now support fast charge. Apple says on 30 minutes of charge, you’ll get the battery up to 50%. That’s pretty impressive, though whether that’s pretty impressive.

If you want to know more about the processors, the M1 Pro and M1 Max, then keep reading (though only the 16-inch machines have access to the Pro and Max processors. Otherwise, know that the machines will be available for order today and available next week (October 26th) in stores. The 14-inch starts at $1999 for 16 gigs of RAM, with the M1 Pro, and a 512 SSD. The 16-inch starts at $2999 for the same specs.

The new Processors: M1 Pro & M1 Max (Wait what?)

An image with several tiles highlighting the standout features of the M1 Pro
Image courtesy of Apple

Apple spent a good chunk of the MacBook section talking about the new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors.

First the M1 Pro. The M1 Pro is a physically bigger and beefier chip. With that extra space, it has a total of 10 CPU cores: 8 high performance cores and 2 high efficiency cores. Apple is really focusing on giving you as much power as reasonable possible. The GPU is even beefier though, with a total of 16 cores (though note the base model 14-inch is only using 14 cores, you have to upgrade the 14 to the next level or go with a 16-inch model). The new memory cap is now 32 gigs instead of 16. Since the memory space is unified, it means the memory is shared between between the CPU and GPU.

In a traditional architecture, the CPU might have 16 gigs of RAM, and the graphics card would have it’s only 2 or 4 gigs. While these dedicated spaces have their benefits, it means if they want to communicate or share some task, they have to transfer it over the board, which would be slower. It also means the graphics card has less memory space to work with. With this Unified memory architecture, it means not only faster performance (200 GB/s throughput according to Apple), but also that if the GPU needs more RAM, it potentially has more access to it.

The M1 Pro and Max also come with a Secure Enclave (for things like TouchID support, hardware-verified secure boot, runtime anti-exploitation, and faster inline encryption), it also has additional Thunderbolt controller and Display engine, which is why the Pros have 3 Thunderbolt ports compared to the 2 on M1-only models. It also looks like they can support up to 4 displays, compared to 2 on M1-only. And there are hardware decoders in the machine for even faster video playback and processors, particularly with the ProRes formats.

A slide of the M1 Pro's 32-core GPU
Image courtesy of Apple

If you want even more power, you can get the 16-inch MBP with the new M1 Max chip. This chip is 4 times larger than the M1, and 2 times more than the M1 Pro (in throughput, memory capacity, and physical size). The M1 Max caps out at 64 gigs of unified memory, with that memory having 400 GB/s of throughput. If that wasn’t enough, while the CPU stays the same, the graphics processor will now have 32 cores total. That is a lot of cores. Apple was even kind enough to show the the laptop it was comparing against (MS GP66 Leopard 11UG-018 on the integrated side, a 4 core PC laptop was a MSI Prestige 14 EVO A11M-220, and an 8-core laptop was the MSI GP66 Leopard 11UG-018 for those interested). Apple showed its power consumption was no more than 30 watts while getting better performance on and off the charger than almost the other laptops. I say almost because the 8-core PC just beat out the M1 Pro/Max in their testing on the charger, but not off of it. And still, if it’s doing that at 30 watts, compared to 70 on the MSI, that’s still really impressive.

They showed off Final Cut having better tracking, Logic Pro being able to do Spatial Audio on a laptop, and even claimed 10x better performance on Motion. Still, these chips look impressive, and I can’t wait to see what they look like in real world tests.

So that’s it for the Event. What was your favorite part? Are you getting yourself some new AirPods or HomePod? Do these MacBook Pros excite you? Let me know on social media and in the comments.

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