In 2020, Apple’s best wasn’t its Pro devices
The coronavirus definitely didn't stop Apple from releasing a slew of new hardware in 2020. The company announced three updated iPads, five new phones, some insanely expensive headphones, and three new Macs with its new M1 silicon. Aside from the AirPods Max outliers, there was a common trend in all of this new hardware: Apple is blurring the lines between its so-called "Pro" devices and its lower-cost, mainstream products like MacBook Air, iPad Air and iPhone 12 than ever before .
That's a good thing if, like me, you've been put off by the staggering prices of most of Apple's pro hardware lately. Take the iPhone, for example. When Apple released the iPhone X in 2017 (how was it three years?), It essentially raised the price of the best iPhone from less than $ 800 to $ 1,000. Similarly, the major 2018 iPad Pro redesign introduced an 11-inch model for $ 800, while the starting price of the 12-9-inch version went from $ 800 to $ 1,000. For both the iPad and the iPhone, Apple sold cheaper options like the iPhone XR and iPad Air, which were well received but also made some compromises to get a cheaper price.
iPad Air (2020)
However, in the fall of 2020, Apple significantly blurred the lines between its standard and pro products. There are fewer differences between the iPhone 12 and the 12 Pro than ever before as Apple has finally implemented OLED screens on all four new iPhones. The standard models 12 and 12 mini have significantly improved the industrial design compared to the previous models XR and 11, with narrow screen bezels and a more comfortable fit in the hand. While 5G networks aren't that important right now, this is a feature Apple could have easily saved for the 12 Pro. All four new iPhones work in 5G networks, which means that the cheaper models have a fair amount of future security for the time when it is really worth paying attention to 5G.
Apple did the same trick with the iPad Air. The 2019 version of this tablet was powerful and capable, but it had a tired design that Apple was clearly ready to move away from. However, the new 10.9-inch iPad Air features the same sleek, minimalist design as the iPad Pro. The Face ID camera is skipped, but the Touch ID is built right into the power button. The bezels are slightly larger than the 11-inch iPad Pro, and the screen doesn't offer the fast 120Hz refresh rate found on the more expensive models. Oh yes, it only has a camera and no LiDAR sensor. However, it works with Apple's 2nd generation pencil and the new Magic keyboard, and has the powerful A14 processor. Quite simply, it does almost everything the iPad Pro does for $ 200 less. If you don't really need this LiDAR scanner, there is basically no reason to opt for the iPad Pro over the air.
Thanks to the new M1 processor, the lines between Apple's professional and consumer-oriented Macs are even a little blurred this fall. This somewhat shockingly fast chip is now available in the two cheapest Macs you can buy: the Mac Mini for $ 699 and the MacBook Air for $ 999. In our tests of the MacBook Air, we found that it is amazingly fast with excellent battery life, making it way ahead of most PC laptops in the same price range. Just two years ago, the MacBook Air was a tough sell as it was missing some low-performance Intel chips compared to a MacBook Pro that was similarly priced. Now it's fair to call the air a huge bang for the money, thanks almost entirely to the M1's performance.
MacBook Air M1
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is also available with the M1 - but this is perhaps the best example that the “Pro” tag is no longer worth the money. The $ 1,300 MacBook Pro is very similar to the $ 1,000 Air, with a few minor differences. The Pro has a brighter screen, the Touch Bar (which is a downgrade for many people), slightly better battery life, and improved speakers and microphones. It also has eight active graphics cores compared to seven in the air. However, if that's your concern, the $ 1,250 MacBook Air has all eight available graphics cores and doubles the storage space for $ 50 less than the Pro. The Pro has a performance advantage as its fan allows the laptop to run at top speeds for longer - but the vast majority of people will be fine with the air.
That sums up Apple's hardware strategy for 2020 pretty well. In the past, products like the iPhone 11 Pro and iPad Pro were undoubtedly the best you could buy, but we still recommended that most people buy the cheaper options like the iPhone 11 or the iPad Air. I followed this strategy for my own iPhone when I got the XR instead of the XS in 2018. It's a good phone, but I've always been aware that it's lacking in the camera and screen departments (not to mention it's a bit clunky). But this year I have no hesitation in buying an iPhone 12 and would recommend this phone to almost everyone I know about the Pro. The Pro Max makes sense for people who just want the prettiest phone or the very serious cell phone photographer, but anyone outside of that niche is better off spending their money on the iPhone 12.
Of course, since Apple is Apple, this won't be the status quo forever. There are plenty of rumors of another major iPad Pro redesign in the first half of 2021, and Apple is sure to update the 16-inch MacBook Pro with its own silicon too soon. Chances are that these next “Pro” products will be important advances that will widen the gap between the Air and Pro lines. As for the iPhone, the 12 series is still fresh on the market. While the iPhone 13 Pro may have some more important features to make it stand out, the 12 Pro is overshadowed by the plain old iPhone 12. For anyone who wants to have the best phone they can get without spending $ 1,000 or more, this is a huge win.
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