At Apple’s second virtual event in as many months, the MacBook Pro was the star of the show.
All-new 14in and 16in models of the high-end laptop were announced, powered by brand-new Apple Silicon chips the M1 Pro and M1 Max. The third generation of standard AirPods were also revealed, alongside new colours for the HomePod mini and a voice-only plan for Apple Music.
This new hardware comes hot on the heels of Apple’s 14 September California Streaming event California Streaming event, where we saw the company launch the new iPhone 13, two new iPads, and the Apple Watch 7.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Unleashed event, which took place on Monday 18 October.
When was Apple’s latest event?
Apple’s MacBook Pro-focused event took place on Monday 18 October 2021 at 6pm BST / 10am PDT / 1pm EDT / 10.30pm IST. It’s unusual to see Apple launch new products on a Monday (unless it’s WWDC week), but this is likely due to Google holding a hardware event of its own on Tuesday 19 October.
Despite being broadcast live, the event was pre-recorded at Apple Park in Cupertino. Apple rattled through the announcements, so you can watch the entire thing in less than an hour at the top of this page.
What did Apple launch at the October event?
In short: lots of things. Apple launched redesigned models of its MacBook Pro, with a 14in model replacing the 13in MacBook Pro, and a very slightly bigger screen on the 16in MacBook Pro. Powering the new MacBooks are new high-end M1 Pro and M1 Max chipsets that build on the already impressive M1 chips that arrived in November 2020.
Apple also unveiled new regular AirPods, new HomePod colours and even a voice-only Apple Music subscription that relies on Siri.
Here’s a full breakdown of everything that was announced.
New 14in and 16in MacBook Pro
There’s only one place to start. Apple’s 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro (click the links to read all the information) have finally made the transition to Apple Silicon, but it looks like being worth the wait. While the 13in MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro use the first-gen M1 chipset but otherwise look identical to their Intel predecessors, it’s all change on these larger devices.
That’s because Apple has introduced brand new chips for these high-end laptops. Most model of the 14in and 16in MacBook Pros use the new M1 Pro, although high-end configurations of both sizes use the even more powerful M1 Max (it’s a build-to-order option for the 14in). These look set to provide huge performance and power efficiency improvements over the regular M1, which was impressive in its own right. More detail can be found on the chips themselves below and in our detailed guide to the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
You’ll need to use the device for a few minutes to notice performance benefits, but the major visual changes are apparent straight away. Apple has redesigned both the 14in and 16in MacBook Pro. A significant slimming of bezels allows for slightly larger displays (14.2in and 16.2in respectively) within practically the same total footprint. However, Apple has introduced a notch to achieve this, making it the only major laptop manufacturer to do so. It makes the new MacBook Pros look like a supersized iPhone – even the iPad Pro is notch-free. It should be noted that the notch does not incorporate a Face ID camera, just a, much improved, FaceTime camera.
That camera is now capable of 1080p video. Alongside three studio-quality mics, the video calling experience should be much-improved. Sticking with audio, the quad-speaker system supports Dolby Atmos for crystal clear voices and music.
Apple is touting its usual ‘Liquid Retina HDR display’, complete with a resolution of 3,456 x 2,234. It now features a 120Hz “ProMotion” display, a feature we’ve also seen introduce on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max. However, unlike the phones, you can choose a specific fixed refresh rate if you’d prefer – which will please video editors.
There are also loads of new ports – a full size HDMI, Thunderbolt 4 (which is compatible with USB-C), an improved 3.5mm headphone jack and SD card slot. MagSafe has also made a return, but you can still charge using Thunderbolt/USB C if you prefer. Apple says 30 minutes will get you 50% battery, while there’s supposedly up to 21 hours on a single charge.
It’s also worth noting that the Touch Bar is gone, replaced by a new set of physical function keys. These form part of the Magic Keyboard, which sits above a large Force Touch Trackpad.
Pre-orders for both the 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro are live now, ahead of release on 26 October.
M1 Pro and M1 Max
Let’s talk about those new processors, then. Apple describes the M1 Pro and M1 Max as the most powerful chips it has ever made, and there’s no reason to doubt that. The headline figure of up to 70% faster CPU performance than the original M1 seems hard to believe, but the high-end specs go some way towards justifying it.
The M1 Pro has a new 5nm, 10-core CPU, consisting of eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores. This allows the chip to supposedly deliver similar peak performance as a PC chip whilst using up to 70% less power. It’s no wonder Apple are so bullish when it comes to the battery life of M1 Pro devices. The CPU works in tandem with up to a 16-core GPU, which is supposedly up to twice as fast as M1.
Key upgrades on the M1 Max include a huge 32-core GPU, which operates alongside the same 10-core CPU. It’s the largest chip Apple has ever made, and it can apparently deliver the high-end graphical performance you’d find in compact Pro PCs while using up to 40% less power.
Both the M1 Pro and M1 Mac can handle multiple streams of 4K and 8K footage (including dedicated ProRes support), and connect to several high-quality monitors at the same time.
Read more about the M1 Pro and M1 Max in our detailed explainer.
Apple hadn’t updated its regular AirPods since March 2019, so a refresh was overdue. For the third-generation AirPods we see the wireless earbuds get a subtle but welcome update, not least in design. This is where we see Apple crib from the AirPods Pro, with a shorter stem than previous models and horizontal charging case. However, there’s still no silicone or replaceable eartips.
There’s also a new ‘force sensor’ on one of the buds itself. It’s primarily used to control playback, but offers plenty more than double tap on the second-gen AirPods, your only form of touch controls. You also now get IPX4 water resistance, although this only protects them from splashes of water, not submersion.
In terms of audio, the new AirPods now have Spatial Audio and Dolby Atmos support. Both these features were debuted on the AirPods Pro, and should deliver a more immersive sound. There’s also Adaptive EQ, which can apparently dynamically adjust the sound to each invididual user. However, you still don’t get active noise cancellation.
Battery life is now six hours, up from five hours on the second-gen AirPods. With the additional charges from the case, this means you get a total of up to 30 hours of use. Charging speeds sound impressive, too – just 5 minutes will supposedly get you one hour of use.
Pre-orders for the 2021 AirPods are live now, ahead of the earbuds going on sale on 26 October 2021.
New HomePod mini colours
This is a very minor update but bound to be a popular one. The HomePod mini was previously only available in white and space grey, but from November it’ll also be offered in yellow, orange and blue. You can view them on Apple’s website here.
Apple Music Voice Plan
If you’re happy to use Apple Music entirely hands-free, there’s a new more affordable tier. Known simply as the Apple Music Voice Plan, it’s half the price of the next cheapest subscription at £4.99/$4.99 per month. There’s a range of new playlists to take advantage of it, but you’ll be completely reliant on Siri.
What we didn’t see
Despite lasting less than 50 minutes in total, Apple packed a lot into the October event. It meant most of the rumoured hardware ended up being announced, but not all of them. Here are two high-profile products that weren’t revealed:
There were also rumours that there may be an update to the Intel model of the Mac mini that Apple is still selling, potentially using one of the new Apple Silicon chips. While that didn’t come to fruition, look out for a new M1 Pro or M1 Max Mac mini soon. Read more about the next Mac mini.
We knew this one would be announced, but it didn’t stop people wishing for news of the MacBook Air, which is apparently set to get a colourful redesign in 2022. Read all about what’s expected from the MacBook Air in 2022 here.
This was also unlikely, with most rumours hinting at a 2022 launch for the second-gen AirPods Pro. However, that will make it three years since the originals were announced – that’s a long time to go between generations of new tech, especially wireless earbuds. There was always a chance Apple would spring a surprise, but it wasn’t meant to be. Read more about the second-gen AirPods Pro.