Updated on December 10, 2021
On Tuesday, Apple held its annual September event for 2021. Unlike last year’s pandemic-disrupted address, this year’s introduced a new iPhone model as usual, the iPhone 13. We also got news of a long-overdue revamp to the iPad Mini, plus a few other announcements.
The overall event was nicknamed “California Streaming,” a take-off on the 1965 song “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas.
Below are my thoughts on the announcements of interest. For a more detailed look at everything, see here.
The event opened with… the merits of Apple TV+?
The opening had nice music playing, followed by Tim Cook kicking things off with the merits of… Apple TV+. Not how I expected things to start, given the streaming service isn’t exactly on the level of Disney+. That said, “Ted Lasso” is Apple TV+’s one breakout success, and the service has amassed at least 40 million subscribers according to Gizmodo (though half of those are on free trials).
I’ve got a year’s free trial of Apple TV+, thanks to buying an iPhone back in January. That said, other than the “Peanuts” specials (which Apple has tied up the rights to), I haven’t really paid much attention to Apple TV+. I plan to cancel after the trial period’s up.
The ninth-generation iPad gets a spec bump
The entry-level ninth-generation iPad got some spec bumps aimed at making it more useful for productivity. Among the upgrades:
- A new 12 megapixel front-facing camera.
- An A13 processor.
- Center Stage, a feature from the iPad Pro that tracks users during a video call (similar to the Facebook Portal).
- 64GB of space is now the standard starting capacity, up from 32GB in older models.
The starting price for the 64GB iPad hasn’t changed, at $329, with cellular models and a 256GB capacity model also available. That said, the iPad still only works with the first generation Apple Pencil.
I’ve been enjoying my 2018-model iPad for awhile, as it does what I want. The only thing I’d change is the 32GB storage. Bumping things up to 64GB should help make the iPad more future-proof, as well as provide more space for files (and require less reliance on iCloud).
The iPad Mini gets an overhaul
The iPad Mini finally got a long-overdue overhaul, modernizing some aspects of the device. The major changes:
- Dropping the home button and shrinking the bezels, thus providing an 8.3-inch screen (versus the previous model’s 7.9-inch screen, or the regular iPad’s 10.2-inch screen). There’s also rounded corners.
- The Mini comes with an A15 processor (on par with the current iPhones).
- A USB-C port replaces the Mini’s Lightning port.
- The Mini has the same Center Stage tech as the regular iPad.
- The new iPad Mini loses the headphone jack, leaving the entry-level iPad the only iPad model left that has one. (*Sigh*.)
The new iPad Mini comes in several colors (pink, purple, starlight, and space gray), and starts at $499 for 64GB of storage.
My initial reaction was that the $500 price tag for the Mini’s hard to justify for a smaller screen. While I still feel it’s pricey, the Mini now has better specs than the next model up, the iPad Air. The Air has a 10.9-inch screen, but only comes with the A14 processor, while starting at $599. (The next step up from there is the iPad Pro at $799+, which is basically for professionals or those that want the absolute top-end tablet.) Thus, it seems those that want something above an entry-level iPad need to decide whether they go with the Mini (top tier specs, but a smaller screen) or the Air (regular size screen, but has an older processor). There’s also the 256GB version of the entry-level iPad for $479, $20 less than the Mini.
Apple Watch drops the Series 3 model to $199
The new Apple Watch Series 7 model offers the usual upgrades and features for its starting price of $399.
What stood out more to me was that the other two watch tiers are the current SE and Series 3 models, which cost $279 and $199 respectively. The Series 3 pricing should help keep the Watch competitive with rival smartwatch brands, or with fitness trackers like the FitBit. That said, the Series 3 is getting long in the tooth, having been around since September 2017. Thus, it might be worth spending the extra $80 for the SE model (introduced in 2020, with better specs) instead.
The iPhone 13 launched; no more iPhone XR
Apple launched with fanfare the iPhone 13, which includes the usual incremental upgrades over the iPhone 12. (Engadget has more details.) Among the upgrades:
- A slightly smaller notch at the top.
- A bigger battery over the iPhone 12.
- An A15 processor.
- Camera hardware and software upgrades, including a new “cinematic mode.”
The iPhone 13 starts at $799 for 128GB of capacity; the 13 Mini starts at $699. The high-enbd 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max start at $999 (for the 13 Pro).
The current iPhone models offered include: the iPhone SE (2020); the iPhone 11; the iPhone 12; the iPhone 13; and the iPhone 13 Pro.
Apple’s dropped the iPhone XR and 12 Pro. There’s no need for a 12 Pro with the 13 Pro, of course. The XR was introduced in 2018, but the iPhone 11 (introduced in 2019) replaces it as the oldest non-SE model. I’ll miss how much the name “XR” reminds me of a same-named robot character from the early 2000s “Buzz Lightyear” TV cartoon; XR was basically a G-rated version of “Futurama”’s Bender. And yes, I’ve checked: nobody offers an iPhone XR phone case featuring XR-the-robot. Given Apple’s loose ties to Disney/Pixar, it seems a shame neither company didn’t try to cash in on early 2000s millennial/Gen Z nostalgia and offer such a phone case.