Apple announced a refresh for both the iPad Pro and a new MacBook Air today, with a few quality-of-life improvements to both systems. The iPad Pro now includes a lidar scanner to deliver “cutting edge depth-sensing capabilities,” as well as a new keyboard attachment with integrated trackpad. The so-called Magic Keyboard will be available in May. The system is powered by Apple’s A12Z Bionic, with an eight-core CPU, GPU, and Apple’s Neural Engine. Pricing for the 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 ($949 for the Wi-Fi + cellular model), while the 12.9-inch model starts at $999 ($1,149 for the Wi-Fi + cellular model).
Apple gave very little performance data on the new hardware, though the eight-core GPU is supposedly 2.6x faster than the core in the Apple A10X. The Magic Keyboard, with its trackpad support, runs a ridiculous $299. That trackpad experience, a first and potentially significant change to iOS, nonetheless needs to seriously impress to justify spending that kind of cash. The keyboard uses the same key switch design used by the 16-inch MacBook, which is itself almost identical to the pre-butterfly switch. The trackpad icon is round rather than being a mouse cursor and the trackpad supports a variety of swipe and multi-touch gestures.
Apple claims that the “floating design” of the new keyboard makes it much easier to use, and to be fair, the arrangement does look more like a traditional clamshell hinge than the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio or Microsoft Surface Type Cover. One weakness of both of these less expensive solutions is that they don’t support typing from the lap very well, and the Magic Keyboard might solve that. Pricing it at $299, however, means that the cheapest iPad Pro that can function as a true laptop replacement in all scenarios is $1,099.
MacBook Air: Better Storage, Functional Keyboard, Lower Price
The MacBook Air also got upgraded today, with double the storage, the keyboard from the 16-inch MacBook Pro (which is to say, a keyboard that won’t jam on a single grain of dust), and a reduced entry-level price of $999. That system ships with what appears to be an Intel Core i3-1000G4 (ICL, 2C/4T, 1.1GHz base, 3.2GHz boost), 8GB of LPDDR4X-3733 memory, and 256GB of storage. The top-end CPU — described as a 10th generation Intel Core i7 with a base clock of 1.2GHz and a boost clock of 3.8GHz — doesn’t appear on Intel’s public list of microprocessors. The closest match to this configuration is actually a Core i5, the Core i5-1035G7 (4C/8T, 1.2GHz base clock, 3.7GHz boost). The i5 CPU has 6MB of L3 cache, while an i7 typically carries 8MB, so Intel could have binned a new variant of the CPU with the same base clock, slightly higher boost, and a slightly larger L3 cache.
Apple is claiming that graphics performance on these new MacBook Air systems is up to 80 percent faster than previous models, which is completely believable given the sizeable increase in performance baked into that SoC. Both the iPad and MBA updates are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the MBA update is particularly welcome, if only for the keyboard.
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