Technology

The biggest MacBook Air redesign in over a decade revealed, with M2 chips

The M2 chip has eight processing cores – similar to the M1 – but now has as many as 10 graphics cores instead of up to eight. It also has as much as 24 gigabytes of memory, up from 16 in the M1. And there’s an updated video engine to more smoothly play 4K and 8K video.

The same M2 chip also is coming to a low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, the company said on Monday. The new Air model will start at $US1199 ($1899 in Australia), and the Pro price begins at $US1299.

The new MacBook Pro looks identical to the previous version from 2020. The high-end MacBook Pros, meanwhile, were updated last year.

In a sign of continuing supply-chain challenges, the new machines won’t go on sale until next month. The computers cannot be ordered yet and are listed as “currently unavailable” on Apple’s website. Due to COVID-19-related shutdowns in China, an Apple-contracted factory for building Macs was temporarily closed, delaying shipments.

The Mac lineup generates a fraction of the sales that Apple’s iPhone does. But it has been a solid performer in recent years. It accounted for nearly 11 per cent of revenue in the last quarter, more than the iPad and Apple’s wearables and home products.

The last big MacBook Air overhaul was in 2018, when the company added a Retina display. But the device looked similar overall to the 2010 model – previously considered the most significant redesign in the laptop’s history. When the MacBook Air was first unveiled by Mr Jobs, the Apple co-founder famously pulled the ultrathin laptop out of a manila envelope.

The redesigned laptop comes in space grey, silver, a starlight gold and a new dark blue called midnight. It also relies on MagSafe charging, the magnetic connector used in older versions of the MacBook Air but removed with the 2018 redesign. The updated 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to use a standard USB-C charger.

Apple intended to launch the revamped MacBook Air last year, but it was delayed by supply-chain snags, the chip shortage and internal design challenges. Bloomberg reported this year that it would launch at the Apple developer conference along with the new MacBook Pro.

The latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro were two of several next-generation Macs in testing with variations of the M2 chip, Bloomberg reported this year. Apple is also working on new Mac Pro desktop, high-end MacBook Pros, Mac minis and an iMac for release over the next year or so.

Pay-later service, iPhone updates unveiled

Apple also unveiled a flurry of new software features and services, including an updated iPhone lock screen and a pay-later option that pushes the tech giant deeper into finance.

The new payment feature, called Apple Pay Later, is a highly anticipated addition to the Wallet app. Bloomberg previously reported that the service was coming, part of an expansion into the finance world that also includes bringing more of its infrastructure in-house.

The presentation, part of a weeklong event, previews key features for Apple’s developers, which now number 34 million, according to chief executive officer Tim Cook. The wide-ranging upgrades are meant to keep users loyal and use more Apple products together. One change to the Mac operating system, for instance, will let customers use their iPhone as a webcam with their computer.

Apple’s latest iPhone software, iOS 16, will include the new lock screen, letting users personalize the feature and view widgets – bits of software that handle simple tasks. A feature called Live Activities will make it easier to keep track of events or activities, such as an NBA game or an Uber ride, senior vice president Craig Federighi said at the event.

The peek at the software features comes a few months ahead of the launch of a new iPhone – Apple’s flagship product – which typically gets unveiled in the third quarter of the year. That device accounted for more than half of the company’s revenue in the last fiscal year, generating almost $US192 billion.

The announcements also included an update that will let users edit messages they have already sent and unsend messages. And Apple’s CarPlay is getting an overhaul that will integrate more tightly with a vehicle’s instruments, such as the speedometer and other gauges.

Updates to Apple Watch

The Apple Watch also is getting improvements, such as atrial fibrillation detection to help with heart health. And the device’s latest software – watchOS 9 – will better track sleep to indicate what stage users are experiencing at different times at night.

In addition, the watch will get more so-called complications – the pieces of information on the device’s face.

Monday’s announcement about Apple Pay Later hurt shares of Affirm Holdings, which offers a similar service. It was down 4.5 per cent as of 2.56pm in New York. Apple’s own shares were little changed, trading at $US145.48.

Apple also said it plans to work with developers to create a “password-less future”. The company is updating its Safari browser to help with password management and moving toward Passkeys, which are cryptographic keys that cannot be phished and stay on the device themselves.

A new collaboration app called Freeform, meanwhile, puts Apple in closer competition with Zoom Video Communications. And the iPad is getting more multitasking features and a long-awaited weather app.

The operating system updates will be available to developers as part of a beta test on Monday, Mr Cook said. And the public will be able to see them in a broader beta test next month.

iPadOS updates

The company also announced new iPadOS keyboard shortcuts and pro features for apps including Calendar, Files and Mail. There is a new Mac-like Find-and-Replace system and duplicate file controls. iPadOS is also getting customized toolbars. Developers will get frameworks to add these more pro-like capabilities to their iPad apps.

The new iPad Pro features will allow users to change the display density to see more content on the screen at once. There’s also Stage Manager with a revamped iPad multitasking interface and true external display support. The new iPad multitasking feature is pretty impressive, taking on laptops directly. For the first time, you can re-size windows and operate several at once.

The new iPadOS will have a Collaborate feature allowing users to communicate with a group of people while working on a document. Apple is also giving a Sneak Peek at Freeform, a new collaboration app with virtual sticky notes and drawing.

Apple will add Metal 3 for gaming to the iPad as well, including a new feature for developers to let games get background updates. Game Center is getting a new Activity screen and better SharePlay support for gaming.

And for the color professionals, there is a new Reference Mode feature for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to better match the colors to professional displays. Pro users of the iPad have been asking for this for years, and Apple is finally delivering.

Bloomberg

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