Apple makes plenty of big moves: releasing new products in new categories, creating whole new chip architectures, and offering slews of major updates for its software platforms in a matter of weeks.
But sometimes it can be interesting to look at the company’s smaller decisions. The ones that might fly beneath the radar but can still point to changes that might ripple throughout the company’s product lines. This week, Apple released several new iPads and a revamped Apple TV, and while they might seem like ho-hum announcements, they all contained details that hint at bigger changes to come.
The USB-C future
Apple’s been putting USB-C ports on its devices for years now; the first Mac to sport one was the 12-inch MacBook back in 2015. Since then the port has slowly replaced the classic USB-A connectors across the Mac line and, more recently, the iPad. Rare now is the Apple device that sports one of those old rectangular ports.
Recently, the European Union passed a regulation requiring most consumer electronic devices to standardize on the USB-C port by 2024, which reinforced rumors that Apple is planning to shift its most significant product, the iPhone, to the connector next year.
But Apple uses its own proprietary Lightning port in smaller devices that aren’t Macs, iPads, or iPhones. Case in point: last week’s revamp of the Apple TV 4K included a new version of the Siri Remote that drops the Lightning port in favor of USB-C. Of all of Apple’s smaller devices, the Siri Remote is probably the easiest to transition, since its USB-C port seems to be used pretty much exclusively for charging.
That leaves a handful of other devices to make the switch over the next year or two: the Magic Keyboard for Mac, the Magic Trackpad, the Magic Mouse, and various AirPods cases. But if the Siri Remote is any indication, the writing’s on the wall for the Lightning port.
A beautiful landscape
The iPad’s an amazingly versatile device and ever since the release of the first model back in 2010, users have been able to freely rotate it and use it in any orientation. That feature has been one of the best subtle aspects of the device: there’s really no wrong way to pick it up and use it.
Except when it comes to the front-facing camera. Anybody who’s ever used an iPad for video-chatting (or had, say, a FaceTime call with someone on an iPad) has run into the annoyance of seeing themselves or their conversation partner off-center in the display, thanks to the camera on the device’s shorter edge—or worse, succumbed to the dire “thumb over the camera” problem.
The thing is, though the iPad may generally work well in any orientation, it seems pretty clear 12 years out that most people using FaceTime, Zoom, or other video-chatting apps use the device in landscape mode. Likewise, with the advent of the keyboard cases for the iPad, including Apple’s own suite of Magic Keyboard accessories, iPad use increasingly apes that of a traditional laptop.
But the camera has stuck stubbornly to that shorter edge…up until this week’s release of the tenth-generation iPad which, sensibly, moves it to the longer side. That change has also been presaged by a landscape boot screen for the iPad, which first arrived back in iOS 14.5.
Unfortunately, the new iPad Pro models released this week retain the traditional front-facing camera on the short edge design, which could be in part to avoid conflicting with the device’s speakers and Apple Pencil charging hardware, or just because these were minor updates, not significant redesigns. But it seems likely that the landscape camera will eventually make it to the rest of the iPads. In the end, it confirms what we all know: the iPad really is a predominantly landscape-orientation device, just as the iPhone is a portrait one.
Colors are here to stay…put
The history of Apple and color is a complicated one. The Apple II helped popularize color displays in the personal computer market; the company’s arguably most famous logo is its classic six-color design (though it’s largely been supplanted by a monochrome option in recent years); and the early iMac line famously came in an assortment of candy colors that were widely copied by PC makers. But in recent years, Apple’s become more known for sleek devices in silver, white, and various shades of “space gray”.
However, color has begun popping up throughout Apple’s lineup once again, returning to the iMac line and even occasionally appearing on iPhone and iPad models. This week’s tenth-generation iPad sports a few bold colors—blue, pink, and yellow—suggesting that Apple isn’t about to swing the pendulum wholly back to silver and space gray.
But, as with elsewhere in the company’s lineup, the colors are reserved for the more “consumer” offerings, with Pro models sticking to the more de-saturated options—even the iPhone 14 Pro’s purple offering looks gray in most lights.
It seems Apple isn’t yet ready to embrace color throughout its lineup, which is a shame, since professionals like bold color options just as much as the average consumer. Apple’s always had a strong streak of individualism and iconoclasm—it’s a shame that it hasn’t reached the upper echelons of the company’s product lines; it’s one place that you pay more to get less.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident.