You thought Apple just follows the same routine of launching a few new iPhones once a year and maybe sprinkle the other eleven months with some iPad, Apple Watch and Mac updates? If that is what you believed, chances are 2020 must have been a pleasant surprise for you. This has been, if my memory serves me well, the most active year for Apple as far as the product launches go. And the most exciting. And the most vocal too. Five new iPhones, three iPad refreshes, MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Air getting two updates in the year, the gorgeous iMac 27-inch, two family lines of the Apple Watch, the HomePod Mini and last but not least, the super expensive and super attractive AirPods Max headphones. There’s a lot that happened on the hardware front, but equally, this year also saw the biggest update iOS has seen in years with iOS 14 and the Macs have seen in years, with the macOS Big Sur. The blurring of lines between the iPads and the Macs continues subtly, and this year, the iPad Air and indeed the iPhone 12 was much closer to the “Pro” options, in terms of the experience and performance.
Little did we know that when the iPad Pro line-up was updated in March, that we would be embarking on a year where Apple switched from “One More Thing” to many more things. Or something like that. If my count doesn’t betray me, there were more than 20 important announcements by Apple through the year. The iPad Pro refresh (March), MacBook Air (March), iPhone SE (April), MacBook Pro 13 (May), the Apple Silicon plans, iOS 14 preview, the macOS Big Sur preview and the watchOS 7 first look all at WWDC in the summer (June), iMac 27-inch in August, the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) initiative with the government of India, the launch of the Apple India online store, the launch of the iPad Air, Apple Watch Series 6, the Apple Watch SE and the 8th generation iPad as well as the iOS 14 release (all in September), the iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max in October, the HomePod Mini in October and then the big ones—the MacBook Air with Apple M1 and the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 in November, coinciding with the release of the macOS Big Sur. If you thought that was it for the year, it wasn’t. Apple released the AirPods Max headphones in December.
The consistent trend through the year has been the closing of the gap between the Pro and the non-Pro variants across product lines. The new iPad Air, for instance, feels very similar overall to the iPad Pro 11. The iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Mini are the closest the non-Pro iPhones have even been to the iPhone 12 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, give or take a few. In fact, even the MacBook Air with the powerful Apple M1 chip is the closest this ultra-slim laptop has ever been to the MacBook Pro 13 in terms of performance.
Among the standout products, one that most definitely gets top of the mind recall is the iPhone 12 Mini. the “Mini” moniker is very much a part of the Apple iPhone line-up. For the first time. It is the Apple iPhone 12 Mini. And it hasn’t been used lightly. Let us compare some stats. The Apple iPhone 12 Mini measures 5.18-inches in height, 2.53-inches in width and clocks 0.29-inches in thickness. The smallest iPhone in Apple’s line-up till now was the second-generation Apple iPhone SE, released earlier this year. That measures, and you might want to sit up for this—5.45-inches in height, 2.65-inches in width and is 0.29-inches thick. The Apple iPhone 12 Mini has a 5.4-inch Super Retina XDR display, while the iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch Retina HD display. Apple says the iPhone 12 Mini is the smallest, thinnest and lightest 5G phone in the world. There is no arguing that. Under the hood is the same A14 Bionic that is designed on a 5nm manufacturing process, as the other iPhone 12 variants. This is the first commercially available 5nm chip. The A14 Bionic chip has a six-core CPU of which two are high-performance cores and four cores are for less power intensive applications and processes. There is also a new quad-core graphics. Just because the iPhone 12 Mini is compact doesn’t mean it has to compromise on specs.
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Then there is the Apple MacBook Air, with the new Apple M1 chip. There is no other way of putting it—this is a one in a lifetime gamechanger as far as computing devices are concerned. In one fine swoop, Apple has been able to draw the sort of performance and battery life from its first-generation M-series chip, that Intel hasn’t been able to get close with the annual Core processor upgrade cycles over the years. And the fact that the MacBook Air, with its ultraportable design and a fan-less implementation gets so close to the MacBook Pro 13 in terms of performance for the most part, is the cherry on the cake.
Not many may agree with my pick here, but I do feel the HomePod Mini gives Apple a much better foundation to build on in the smart speaker space. At a price tag of Rs 9,900 in India, it is competing with the likes of the Amazon Echo and the Google Nest Audio and is in a much better position compared with the latter in terms of the audio quality at least. Plus, that extremely compact design, should make other smart speakers quite envious of their comparative bulk. It just proves that you don’t always need a large speaker to get good audio.
This certainly had to be one of the most active years for Apple, on the product launch front. It was brave at a time when most of the year remained shrouded in uncertainty, particularly on the financial front. Yet, it gives Apple a strong platform to build on for next year, particularly on the Mac side of things with the expected additions to the M-series chip line with even more powerful processors, and also switch for the remaining Macs.