Apple announces new low-cost iPhone SE and new iPad Air

The company has moved its in-person events to video during the pandemic and despite the slow opening of offices, Apple is sticking to the format for now. The predictably polished but unusually understated announcement comes at an odd time for Apple and the US tech industry. The company halted sales of its products in Russia last week and limited its Apple Pay service in the country in response to international pressure. Apple is the country’s third-largest smartphone maker behind Samsung and Xiaomi, according to data from market research firm IDC.

The Help Desk has distilled the most important things you need to know about what Apple unveiled today.

iPhone SE: Apple’s cheapest phone gets faster

It may not sound so exciting, but Apple’s low cost $429 iPhone SE just got some cool internal upgrades. For the first time, the company’s cheapest smartphone supports 5G networks, including those that gave aviation officials trouble in January. (Most of these issues have been resolved, however.)

Perhaps more important is Apple’s choice of the chip inside the smartphone – the SE model, which stands for “Special Edition”, uses the same speedy A15 Bionic processor found in the more expensive smartphones of the company. That’s a rarity for a phone that costs less than $500, though it certainly comes with its share of compromises.

For one, the iPhone SE is a little more expensive than before — its starting price of $429 is $30 more than the model it replaces. The SE also has a smaller, less detailed screen than the Galaxy S21 FE and Pixel 6, two ostensibly affordable models from Samsung and Google, respectively. And perhaps much to photographers’ chagrin, it only has one rear camera – something you’d be hard pressed to find even among the cheapest smartphones. So why should buyers pay attention to this thing?

Apple’s latest phone costs hundreds of dollars less than either of these other devices, and it has enough computing power to potentially outperform them both. And that matters, if not today, then at least for the next few years.

Some analysts say the iPhone SE’s relatively retro look won’t hold back sales. In a note to investors, Wedbush Securities managing director Daniel Ives suggests that 30 million iPhone SEs sold over the coming year would be a “conservative” estimate.

iPad Air inherits some Pro features

Apple also announced a new version of the iPad Air which, like the iPhone SE, was last updated in 2020. Starting at $599, the iPad Air is expected to retain its option status. the company’s mid-range tablet.

The iPad Air was once the lighter, slightly slower cousin of the iPad Pro. The latest version of the slim tablet comes with a more powerful brain. The M1 processor is Apple’s proprietary chip and the same one you’ll find in the new iPad Pros and some MacBooks. Apple says this means the iPad Air will run faster and handle more demanding apps, although you probably shouldn’t expect a day-to-night difference for most tasks. It also adds 5G capabilities.

For creatives – one of Apple’s target markets for expensive tablets – the Air will include iMovie updates and faster USB-C ports, which will make video editing easier and photos transfer faster and video files, respectively.

Overall, the new iPad Air is closer to keeping up with Apple’s more expensive tablets, minus a few ounces. It comes in pastel tones and will be available to order online this Friday and in stores March 18.

A new generation of Mac is coming

Slowly but surely, Apple has redesigned all of its Mac computers to use its own processors rather than standard chips from Intel. The same goes for the new Mac Studio, a compact desktop computer. The setup (and cost) is almost certainly overkill for the average person.

Apple today showed off two versions of this adult Mac mini – one with the same M1 Max chipset found in the company’s high-end laptops last year, and another with two of those chips essentially woven together. (Apple calls this combo chip the M1 Ultra, and no, you’ll definitely never need to own one.)

As the name suggests, the Mac Studio was primarily designed to be a machine aimed at professionals – think video editors, animators, programmers working on complex projects and the like. Buying one just for web browsing and the occasional Netflix binge really doesn’t make much sense. And as with most of Apple’s pro-grade products, the Mac Studio can fetch sky-high prices – the standard model starts at $1,999 while the M1 Ultra-equipped version will set you back at least $3,999. (You may even have to pay more for a monitor, as the Studio doesn’t come with one.)

As always, Tim Cook and his group of executives pushed through more announcements with lightning speed. Here are some of the other things Apple mentioned in passing.

  • Very soon, you will be able to buy an iPhone 13 in some sort of sage green color. (As our resident style expert Tatum Hunter puts it, the shade is decidedly “last year.”
  • To go with the headless Mac Studio desktop, Apple makes an expensive 27-inch monitor. The $1,599 Studio Display runs at super-sharp 5K resolution, comes with a handful of USB-C ports, and even uses the brains of an iPhone 11 (the A13 Bionic Processor) to help drive its speakers and its power supply functions.
  • Apple TV Plus might not be worth the asking price for everyone, so the company is trying to sweeten the deal with sports. The company’s streaming service will offer two exclusive Major League Baseball games on Fridays after the season begins, though the exact date that will happen is not yet known.
  • CEO Tim Cook often indulges in a little preamble of showmanship at the top of these events, but completely ignored it this time. The fast pace of the company’s moderated event meant Cook had no time to mention the situation in Ukraine, even after Apple suspended sales of its products in Russia.

Edward N. Arrington