Apple Announces New iPads, Retina iMac, and Mac Mini

By Norman Chan

Minor upgrades for Apple's tablets, but the iMac gets a brilliant new display.

Despite the product leaks via its own store yesterday, Apple managed to surprise us with the announcements at this morning's press briefing. We'll start off with the annual iPad updates, which fall into two categories. On the full-size iPad, Apple didn't announce any "pro" model, sticking with improvements to the iPad Air. It's now 6.1mm thick, uses an optically bonded LCD, supports 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi, and runs off of the expected A8X. Weight finally drops below one pound at 435 grams. TouchID also comes to the iPad Air 2, but no NFC for mobile payments (though Apple Pay will be supported). Apple made a big deal about the new 8MP f/2.4 camera in the iPad Air 2, which shoots better 1080p video and has a burst mode. It'll also come in gold. The iPad Air 2 is available for pre-order this Friday and will ship by the end of next week. Pricing is familiar--$500 for 16GB--but $100 more gets your 64GB, like with the iPhone 6. Last year's iPad Air stays in the lineup, getting a $100 price cut.

The iPad Mini 3 only got a brief mention at the presentation--it has now a TouchID home button. It's otherwise exactly the same as last year's popular Mini with Retina, down to the A7 processor. We were impressed that Apple put the same internal hardware in the iPad Air and Mini lines, but it looks like they're segmenting their lines again this year. That's a little disappointing. Last year's iPad Mini gets a price cut to $300 for the 16GB Wi-Fi model, while the Mini 3 starts at $400. $100 is a LOT to pay for TouchID, especially since there's no NFC chip in the Mini 3, either. If you're in the market for a new iPad (eg. still using the first iPad Mini or an iPad 3 or older), my recommendation would be to get the iPad Mini 2.

A Retina iMac also made its debut today, in a 27-inch iMac equipped with a 5120x2880 screen. It has the same formfactor as the existing iMacs, but the high-density LED backlit display now runs off of AMD's Radeon R9 M290X GPU (a mobile GPU). The base configuration has a 3.5GHz Haswell Core i5 (upgradeable to a i7 4GHz), 1TB Fusion drive, and 8GB of RAM. It starts at a whopping $2500. It's available today. Apple didn't upgrade the 21-inch iMac, though we're expecting refreshes in the spring with Intel's Broadwell CPU release. A 5K desktop iMac indicates that Apple could release a standalone Retina Cinema Display in the future as well. Update: this Anandtech hands-on explains why this display (which is likely the same panel as what's in Dell's 27-inch 5K monitor) would not work off of a single DisplayPort connection. MaximumPC got a closer look at the Dell 5K panel in September, which retails alone for $2500 and requires two DisplayPort 1.2 connections.

Finally, the Mac Mini got a long-awaited upgrade. It now runs on a Haswell CPU (1.4GHz dual-core i5 standard), 802.11AC, and two Thunderbolt ports. PCI-e storage is an upgrade option, as is a i7 CPU. It also goes on sale today, and the base price has dropped from $600 to $500.

We'll be testing the new iPad Air 2, though the iMac Retina likely won't be sufficient for the kind of video editing we do. iPads have always had great LCD displays, so I'm curious to see how that holds up with the new optical bonding on the Air. Let us know what from the presentation interests you, and how you feel about this year's new iPads and iMac.