Apple announces new iPad Pro, MacBook Air

Apple brings LiDAR and trackpad support to a powerful new iPad Pro and a new keyboard design to a faster, higher-storage MacBook Air.

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Apple

Apple has announced both its new iPad Pro with 3D camera and a new Magic Keyboard-toting $999 model of its MacBook Air, introducing both new products with a pair of press releases, rather than the March event it was originally expected to hold.

The new iPad Pro

Apple’s new iPad Pro offers a whole bunch of new features, including a LiDAR scanner and — as expected — trackpad support in the form of the new backlit Magic Keyboard.

The new pro tablet holds an A12Z Bionic chip, a far speedier version of the processor it put inside the iPhone XS series of smartphones — and “faster than most Windows PCs,” the company helpfully pointed out.

The company had been expected to use an iPhone 11 processor. Both 11-inch and 12.9-inch models are available with Wi-Fi and Cellular options also on sale.

The new MacBook Air

Available from $999, the new MacBook Air dismisses the butterfly keyboard in favor of the new Magic Keyboard now used in Apple’s MacBook Pro models.

The new system has twice the performance of the most recent MacBook Air and offers twice as much storage as before.

More about the improved iPad Pro

The new iPad Pro is available to order starting today.

It adds an Ultra Wide camera, studio-quality microphones and a LiDAR Scanner. The latter gives the system depth-sensing capabilities with a particular focus on creating and consuming augmented reality (AR) experiences.

“The new iPad Pro introduces advanced technologies never before available in mobile computing,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in the release.

In iOS 13.4, Apple also introduced support for trackpads to the iPad. This doesn’t work in precisely the same way as it does on a Mac.

Instead, the company thought a little about how this kind of system can work in a relevant way on a touch-based device. This support extends to Multi-Touch gestures, the idea being that when using the device you can keep your hands on the keyboard for a more productive experience.

The company puts it thus: “As users move their finger across the trackpad, the pointer elegantly transforms to highlight user interface elements.”

Performance is good. The eight-core GPU in the A12Z Bionic promises the highest performance ever in an iPad. Battery life hits 10 hours, and (also as expected) faster Wi-Fi connectivity and gigabit-class LTE provide better network connectivity.

The tablets boast an edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display with True Tone, P3 wide colour support and 120Hz Pro Motion technology.

The 12MP Wide camera captures photos and 4K video, and now includes a 10MP Ultra Wide camera that zooms out two times to capture a much wider field of view.

These are also quite good podcasting systems. These iPads now provide five studio-quality microphones for capturing audio, along with a four-speaker audio that intelligently adjusts to any orientation.

More about the new Magic Keyboard

Apple today also introduced a new backlit Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro with trackpad. It has cantilevered hinges that allow smooth adjustments of the viewing angle up to 130 degrees. 

When used with the trackpad, the cursor appears as a circle that highlights user interface elements, text fields and apps on the Home screen and Dock. The idea is that this provides a clear indication of what users can click on. Gesture handling is designed to make it easy to switch between apps, access the app switcher and activate the Dock, Control Center and apps in Slide Over.

Apple has also thought about how to use the trackpads to handle apps on the device. Most third-party apps get the benefits of this with no change to the code, though Apple has introduced new APIs developers can use to build new app experiences.

The Magic Keyboard features USB-C pass-through charging. It won’t be available until May.

What about the LiDAR Scanner?

The significance of the LiDAR scanner deserves exploration.

The camera, which works both in and outdoors, can measure the distance to surrounding objects up to 5 meters away in nanosecond speeds.

In order that this information is actually useful, Apple has developed new depth frameworks in iPadOS. These combine LiDAR information with data from both cameras and motion sensors, and then enhances this information with computer vision algorithms for a more detailed understanding of a scene.

What this means is that ARKit apps automatically get instant AR placement, improved motion capture and people occlusion.

For developers, Apple has built a new Scene Geometry API that they can use to build new breeds of AR environments.

More prosaically, the LIDAR scanner enables the Measure app to calculate someone’s height and more accurately measure objects. Measure gains a Ruler View.

Availability and price

The new iPad Pro is available to order starting today.

  • The 11-inch model starts at $799 for the Wi-Fi model and $949 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model.
  • The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 for the Wi-Fi model and $1,149 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model.
  • iPadOS 13.4 with trackpad support will be available on March 24 as a free software update for all iPad Pro models, iPad Air 2 and later, iPad 5th generation and later, and iPad mini 4 and later. 

This is a developing story; check back for more information.

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