Apple’s September 2021 event: Apple launches the iPhone 13; the iPad Mini gets revamped

iPad keynote with Tim Cook

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+?

Streaming services on Apple TV

“HBO Now Apple TV” by Harrison Weber is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

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

iPad Mini

“iPad mini” by Janitors is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

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

iPhone 13 colors

The iPhone 13 in various colors. (Apple)

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.

Conclusion

As usual, the entire event is available on YouTube. I’ve also embedded below the opening song; it’s a cover of “California Soul,” an R&B song from 1967.

Image by deerkoski is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

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