On June 7th, 2021 Apple streamed their Worldwide Developers Conference Keynote for 2021. This keynote had been eagerly anticipated, as we’re now halfway into Apple's transition to Apple Silicon, and many people have been waiting to see what new software will go alongside the impressive hardware launched at the April Spring Loaded event.
Back in April Apple announced the M1 processor would be powering the new models of iPad Pro and that these devices would have RAM configurable up to 16 GB and a Thunderbolt port. The iPad Pro is now configurable up to $2,400, so I was interested to see what they would do with it.
Despite the power in these tablets, the iPadOS operating system is still a glorified iOS, much more similar to the operating system found on the iPhone range than a serious professional operating system like macOS, which powers the Mac and MacBook computers.
I was expecting Apple to improve file handling and bring better external monitor support to the iPad Pro at the very least. iPad apps are also limited to only 5 GB of RAM per app; this makes a 16 GB version fairly pointless.
Apple started the keynote with a first look at the new iOS 15 features for iPhone. There was a heavy focus on communicating and engaging with friends and family virtually. It was exciting to see that we’ll now be able to schedule Facetime calls and invite users on PC and Android devices. Apple seems to be pushing Facetime as a serious alternative to video conferencing apps like Zoom. It’s unfortunate that with so many people now going back to work and socializing in person, these features feel as though they’re a year late.
Another significant feature that’s been added to all of the Apple operating systems in 2021 is the ability to select and copy text from images. This feature has been part of Google Lens for some time now, and it’s good to see Apple implementing it in all their operating systems.
iOS 15 will also include improved notifications, spatial audio, maps, and weather applications. Safari has also been redesigned across all operating systems with improvements for privacy and the ability to hide your real email address when signing up for things.
Nothing too exciting so far, what’s next?
As I mentioned earlier, I had high hopes for iPadOS 15. I have been holding off picking up an M1 iPad Pro, as the hardware is useless without the software to take advantage of it. A common analogy for the M1 iPad Pro is that it’s like having a Ferrari and only being allowed to drive it in a school zone.
There I sat, watching the keynote as they started to introduce iPadOS 15. I was waiting for a ground-up redesign of the Files app, more external monitor support, iPad versions of professional apps like Final Cut Pro, or a real “full” version of Photoshop, perhaps use of Lightroom Classic on iPad? I had very high hopes!
What we got in iPadOS 15 was disappointing at best. Apple introduced widgets for the iPad, which can be placed anywhere, more user-friendly multitasking, improved notes, quick notes, and improved keyboard shortcuts. There’s also now the addition of the Swift Playgrounds app builder, not the full version of Xcode we were anticipating.
The widgets feature really just caught iPad up with a feature that the iPhone got last year, while the other features are nice but hardly worthy of a $2,400 device with desktop-class internals.
I was genuinely baffled by the lack of anything for iPad Pro creative users, and I was equally glad that I hadn’t yet dropped $1,400 on the 16GB, 1TB version! Then, I started to wonder what was going on. Why would Apple make such powerful hardware and lock it behind a massively limited operating system?
My first thought went to Tim Cook and his background in logistics; perhaps Apple is saving by producing one processor and putting it in all their devices, whether that device needs all the power or not. Is Apple future-proofing their hardware so this expensive tablet is good for five or six years to come?
Some analysts had speculated that Apple might not want to cannibalize sales of their own products. I don’t think this is an issue, as the iPad Pro, when bought with a Magic Keyboard, is significantly more expensive than the same size M1 MacBook Air or the entry-level 13” M1 MacBook Pro.
Apple also had no issue making the iPod redundant by selling so many iPhones. So, I remained confused as to what Apple wants to do with the iPad Pro. What is this device even for?
And when no app can use more than 5 GB of RAM, why even put 16 GB in there at all? Apple doesn’t usually spec-flex without telling consumers why they need it.
Mac OS 12 Monterey
Finally, Apple announced macOS 12 Monterey. This wasn’t such a big update as Big Sur was in 2020, but does contain a lot of nice new features. macOS 12 included most of the features that had been covered in iOS and iPadOS. Notes, Maps, Safari, FaceTime, Live Text from images, and Spatial Audio improvements are present across all the 2021 operating systems.
Then, Apple showed off a new feature named Universal Control. Apple’s Craig Federigh placed an iPad Pro next to a MacBook Pro and seamlessly moved the cursor from the MacBook over to the iPad. He was able to type, use trackpad gestures, and use keyboard shortcuts from the MacBook keyboard on the iPad, as well as drag and drop from one device to the other using only the MacBook trackpad. Then, Federigh added a new 2021 iMac to the lineup and was able to drag from any device to any other device using only one magic mouse. This isn’t the Sidecar feature that we’ve seen before or clever use of Airdrop, but the ability to use one set of inputs and seamlessly control multiple Apple devices in one place at the same time, dragging and dropping a design straight from Procreate on the iPad into a Final Cut timeline on the iMac. This was impressive, to say the least, and potentially a game-changer in how we use these devices.
iPad as a Mac accessory?
I got back to thinking about why the M1 iPad Pro exists and what Apple has planned for it. I now think that Apple sees the iPad Pro as a creative accessory to a Mac. You can use an iPad Pro for all the things that an iPad is good for: drawing, basic photo editing on the go, taking quick photographs, plotting a space using LIDAR, working on the go, taking notes with an Apple Pencil, then seamlessly dragging these assets into your Mac when you’re back in the office.
Having seen Universal Control, I don’t think that Apple ever intends to allow the iPad Pro to replace the MacBook as a portable creative device. They want you to have both devices, get further tied into the Apple ecosystem, and allow you to be more creative by making smart use of whichever device is best suited to the task at hand, then seamlessly bringing it all together when you need to. Well played, Apple.
So, What is Apple Planning Next?
Anyone who has been paying attention to tech news and rumors recently will also know that a lot of us were expecting to see the new M1X processor announced at WWDC 2021 and possibly even new MacBook Pro devices using the M1X chips. For the second time this year, a YouTube leaker had to shave hair from their face for getting it so wrong. I genuinely feel sorry for Jon Prosser and all the heat he’s been getting online for "confirming" new MacBooks at WWDC just days before they didn’t appear.
With Apple events currently being online only, is it possible that Apple is planning on lots of events in 2021 to keep up the hype? Could Apple see the rumors and constant speculation online as good marketing as they slowly make announcement after announcement?
WWDC 2021 wasn’t very exciting. There are some nice features, but it felt like a lot of filler. Apple could have a lot of content filmed and ready to release, as they don’t have to physically invite anyone to Cupertino. A July hardware event for M1X, followed by another “first look” event later in the summer before iPhone 13 announcement in September or October could mean that we’ve been talking about Apple fairly constantly for a year.
Very smart move, Apple. Now, where’s my credit card? I still don’t see any real reason to put 16 GB of RAM in an iPad, though.
What do you think of the new features announced at WWDC? Do you agree with my thoughts on the M1 iPad Pro? Let me know in the comments.