Though it's hard to fault anyone who paid less attention to Apple's (AAPL) Wednesday product launches than he or she normally would, there does appear to be a couple of important strategic implications to what Tim Cook's company revealed.
Apple, to recap, revealed new 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros that replace models launched in the fall of 2018. And it refreshed the 13-inch MacBook Air for the third time in 18 months (a major refresh was announced in the fall of 2018, and a smaller one in July 2019).
While there's a pretty long list of changes and improvements that one could cover while discussing Apple's new hardware, two things in particular stand out from a long-term, strategic standpoint:
- Apple revealed a 3D depth-mapping solution for the iPad Pro's rear cameras that appears to be superior to what rival mobile OEMs have launched to date.
- Via both iPad Pro and MacBook Air announcements, Apple signaled that it's serious about competing against sub-$1,000 Windows notebooks and notebook/tablet convertibles.
The iPad Pro's LiDAR Scanner
The 3D depth-mapping solution is made possible through the placement of (along with a pair of cameras) a LiDAR scanner on the back of Apple's new iPad Pro. LiDAR, which to date has been more associated with autonomous driving systems, uses laser light that's invisible to the human eye to measure how far away an object is. By doing so, it can create accurate 3D depth maps of objects that are hit with the light pulses and send back reflections.
Android OEMs such as Samsung and Huawei, it's worth noting, have already launched phones featuring time-of-flight (ToF) sensors that can also create 3D depth maps of objects. However, for now at least, these solutions can only work with a particular object scene -- for example, to get the object's measurements or to blur out its background.
By contrast, Apple asserts that its LiDAR scanner can (with the help of cameras, sensors and computer vision algorithms) deliver "a more detailed understanding" of an entire scene, in addition to measuring and tracking individual objects. The company shared a few demos to prove its point: One involved scanning a living room to figure out where to place streams of virtual lava for an augmented reality game called Hot Lava, while another involved using CAD app Shapr3D to make a 3D model of a room that could be subsequently edited.
Odds are pretty good that Apple will also put a LiDAR scanner within its 2020 flagship iPhones (particularly given past reports). And in some form or another, it's also likely that Apple will bake this technology into the AR and VR headsets that (per multiple reports) it's working on.
iPad Pro Trackpad Support and Another MacBook Air Price Cut
Meanwhile, by announcing that the newest version of iPadOS (iPadOS 13.4) will support trackpads, and by rolling out a new Magic Keyboard accessory for both new and older iPad Pros that features a built-in trackpad, Apple made its sales pitch for using the iPad Pro as a notebook substitute stronger.
The move follows the introduction of several new iPad multitasking features last year, and also coincides with the updating of the iPad apps for Apple's iWork productivity suite to support trackpads and mice. It might not be too long before third-party developers of popular productivity and content-creation apps update their apps as well.
Separately, Apple cut the price of the MacBook Air by $100 for the second time in less than a year. The base model now starts at $999, with people associated with educational institutions getting another $100 off.
Together with the refreshed MacBook Air's CPU, storage and keyboard improvements, the price cut does a lot to bolster the low end of Apple's MacBook lineup. And in a consumer spending environment like the current one, it definitely doesn't hurt to have stronger low-end positioning.