Timing for the software upgrade trickled out during a series of announcements for new iPads, iMac computers and more during a pre-recorded event that sometimes seemed like a one-hour infomercial for Apple.
As analysts expected, the launch focused on new iPads, specifically a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro which features the same Apple-designed M1 processor used in the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini models.
The M1 chip makes the iPad Pro by far the fastest in the iPad line, 50% faster than last year’s iPad Pro which features the A12Z Bionic chip, also designed by Apple. Other features include a 5G wireless capability, Liquid Retina XDR and advanced mini-LED design. According to Apple, the new Liquid Retina XDR display and other technology refreshes can also be found in the new 11-inch iPad Pro.
“Taking a step back, in this WFH environment Apple has seen a major renaissance of growth from its iPad growth showing 40%+ YoY growth the last few quarters as more employees/students went through an iPad refresh,” said Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives in a research note.
Ives predicts huge sales for Apple from the work-from-home crowd that has grown exponentially since the start of COVID-19, and are sorely in need of upgrades of their old devices.
“We estimate less than half of iPad users globally have gone through a refresh the last year with some clear pent-up demand that these new iPads will unleash in the next few quarters thus giving Apple another product tailwind,” Ives said.
The company also showed off something called the AirTag, a coin-sized tracking device you can add to stuff you don’t want to lose — your tortoise, your phone, your coffee cup or perhaps small children. Items carrying the AirTag can be securely located and tracked by iPhone users using the Find My app.
The AirTag, due in stores April 30, will require the iPhone software update called iOS 14.5. That update will also include a new feature requiring apps to obtain explicit permission from users before tracking their activity and whereabouts. Apple said in a footnote to its AirTags announcement that the update will be released at some point next week.
Apple had previously only said that the update would be available in the spring. A similar software update is coming out for iPads as well.
The new privacy tool could drain billions of dollars of revenue from apps such as Facebook, which rely on following people around on iPhones to collect personal information that helps them sell targeted ads.
That feature, called App Tracking Transparency, will force apps to obtain permission before collecting such surveillance data, even those that are already installed on the device. To date, such apps have been free to track iPhone users automatically unless people take the time and trouble to prevent the snooping.
Apple originally planned to released the ant-tracking feature last September, but delayed it to give apps that ad-dependent “free” apps to adjust to the changes. Facebook spent part of the delay blasting Apple for a change that it says could make it difficult for smaller apps to survive without charging consumers. At the same time, Facebook has acknowledged to investors that its own ad revenue could also be hurt.