Apple just held their second event during the COVID-19 pandemic, this one being about hardware. Unlike Apple events of the past, and similar to Apple's first event during the pandemic (WWDC 2020), this event was entire prerecorded and livestreamed. The times we're living in are weird, and so was this Apple event, so here's my thoughts on it.
The Event Format
Similar to WWDC 2020, this event was entirely pre-recorded and delivered exclusively online through a livestream. As such, the format of this event is quite a bit more polished than live events, taking place all over Apple Park instead of on a stage, with incredibly smooth transitions, onscreen graphics, and lots of Easter eggs. I definitely prefer this to Apple's live format, and personally Apple should keep it even after the pandemic ends. It certainly makes watching these events a lot more enjoyable.
Apple Watch Series 6
Apple had two major fronts that they made announcements on: Apple Watch, and iPad (with a bit of services mixed) in, and their big announcement on the Apple Watch front was Apple Watch Series 6, a premium Apple Watch that succeeds the Series 5. There aren't that many features on this one, but the new features that are there are still pretty exciting nonetheless. The star feature is the ability to measure your blood oxygen level. The fact that this is in a watch packed together with so many other features is frankly mindblowing. I don't see myself having a use case for it, but it's certainly incredibly impressive. The screen is also improved to be brighter outside, and although I don't have any screen visibility problems on my Series 3, it's still a welcome addition. There's also an always-on altimeter, which will certainly be useful while hiking. The Series 6 includes the S6 SoC, which Apple says is up to 30% faster than the S5 although at this point I'm not sure of the real world difference it makes.
With a starting price of $399, it's a welcome upgrade to the Apple Watch if you've been waiting for one, although if you have a Series 5 you likely won't have a need to upgrade.
Apple Watch SE
The Apple Watch SE is Apple's new budget Apple Watch, and like the similarly-named iPhone SE, it's sort-of a Frankenstein's monster made up of parts from Apple Watch generations past. It has the body and display of the series 4, the SoC, compass, emergency calling & falling detection features of the Series 5, and the always-on altimeter of the Series 6, although it doesn't include the always-on display, ECG, or blood oxygen monitor.
It's starting price is $279, which is about $120 less than the more premium Series 6, although if you wanna go ultra-budget Apple is still selling the Apple Watch Series 3 (which was released in 2017) for $199 ($80 less than the SE and $200 less than the Series 6)
It's honestly a pretty compelling offer, and should go well with the iPhone SE, and would be incredibly smart of Apple to promote those two devices together. I'm strongly considering upgrading to the SE from my Series 3.
To complement the new Apple Watches, Apple announced yet another premium subscription service: Apple Fitness+, a workout subscription service, which features workout videos that sync with your Apple Watch, providing information from your Apple Watch on top of the video, and using the Apple Watch to enhance your workout. It uses your Apple Watch for fitness tracking and an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV for the workout guidance itself. At $9.99 a month it's certainly a bit steep (although if you buy an Apple Watch you apparently get 3 months free), even if it's less than Peloton's pricing (although I have to mention that Peloton was shaken by the announcement, which happened during their first investors meeting). I personally don't have interest in the service, although I'm sure others might find it useful
While Apple was on the topic of services, it announced it's long-rumored subscription bundle: Apple One. There are 3 levels of pricing for Apple One: Individual, which includes Apple Music, Arcade, TV+ and 50GB of iCloud storage without the ability for family sharing for $14.95 a month, Family, which is the same as Individual but includes family sharing for up to 5 people and ups the included iCloud storage to 200GB, and Premier, which additionally includes Apple News+ and Fitness+, and ups the included iCloud storage to 2TB. It's an interesting proposition, and for those who use lots of Apple services, it might be a good way to save money. Although it would've been cool to be able to mix and match services and build my own plan.
iPad 8th Generation
The new iPad 8th Generation is a simple spec bump from the 7th generation, now featuring a A12 chip from the previous A10 chip, for the same starting price of the previous generation at a mere $329 for consumers and $300 for educators. If you're looking at getting an iPad but were hesitant on the 7th gen due to it's older, A10 SoC, the 8th generation iPad is a no-brainer, but if you have a 7th gen, there's really no reason to upgrade. That's really all that's changed, so there really isn't much to talk about here.
iPad Air 4th Generation
This is the big announcement on the iPad side of the event, bringing some features from the iPad Pro down to the Air, including the iPad Pro's design, a USB-C port, a 12-megapixel rear camera and 2nd Generation Apple Pencil compatibility. One big difference, however, is the lack of Face ID, instead including a Touch ID sensor, although unlike the previous iPad Air, the touch ID here is included on the lock button, instead of there being a home button. However, what's strange is that this iPad Air actually exceeds the iPad Pro in one regard: the SoC. Unlike the iPad Pro, which features a A12Z SoC, the new iPad Air debuts the new A14 SoC, which Apple claims is on a 5nm process, and gives up to a 40% performance improvement over the A13, making it significantly faster than the iPad Pro.
For around $200 less than the iPad Pro, you now get mostly everything the iPad Pro offers, except Face ID, a LIDAR sensor, a 120hz display, and less maximum storage (the iPad Pro goes up to 1TB, while the new iPad Air only goes up to 256GB), none of those things are must-haves, at least in my eyes. So you now have a less expensive iPad Air which has most of the features of the iPad Pro, but also exceeds the iPad Pro in one important case, so why buy the iPad Pro? It's a very strange situation.
What We Didn't See
The event was unusually short, only lasting an hour, and omitted several things, such as iPhone, Apple TV, the Mac, among other things. Also missing are several long-rumored products, such as AirTags, over-the-ear AirPods, and the first Apple Silicon-based Macs that Apple announced would be coming by the end of this year at WWDC 2020. So perhaps we'll see these things at a potential October Event? It's certainly a strange situation, but hey, these are strange times.
Overall, I'm actually a bit underwhelmed by this presentation. I'm certainly pleased by what we did get, but this event was unusually short and didn't have as much as we thought it would. There are also a few questions raised by some of the new products announced, such as the new iPad Pro. I guess we'll see if there's an October Event?