Apple "Let Us Loop You In" Media Event: March 21, 2016

New iPhone, iPad, But Where Are the Macs?

Apple Campus Cupertino
Apple Campus at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino. Buyenlarge | Getty Images

Apple sent out invitations to a media event it's planning for March 21, 2016. The event will take place at the Town Hall Auditorium located on Apple’s Cupertino campus.

The use of the Town Hall Auditorium indicates a smaller scale announcement, one that will be attended mostly by those in the media that cover Apple, and not a large swath of users and developers. At the March event, Apple is expected to announce the following:

  • 4-inch iPhone SE
  • 9.7-inch iPad Air 3, thought to be named iPad Pro
  • New Apple Watch bands

New iPhone

The iPhone SE is expected to look similar to the iPhone 5s but will have updated components, including an A9 processor, NFC support, allowing it to be used for Apple Pay, and an improved camera, with rumors suggesting a 12-megapixel resolution.

The current iPhone 5s is expected to see a hefty price cut and become the entry-level iPhone.

New iPad

What’s in a name? It seems the new 9.7-inch iPad started life, at least in the design stage, as the next update to the iPad Air lineup, replacing the iPad Air 2. Somewhere along its travels to market, it appears Apple decided to revamp the iPad naming scheme, and add this new iPad to the existing ​12.9-inch iPad Pro, resulting in two iPad Pro models, primarily differentiated by display size, much like Apple does with the MacBook Pro family.

While we're not sure which name Apple will use, the rumors about how it will be outfitted have come together into a model with a 9.7-inch Retina display and a four-speaker layout.

(This is not your dad's quadrophonic system from the 70s; the four speakers are used to provide a richer, deeper stereo image.) A Smart Connector should allow the new iPad to make use of the larger iPad Pro’s accessories, including the Smart Keyboard. The new iPad also includes support for the Apple Pencil.

Internally, the new iPad should end up with the powerful A9x processor, along with the same thin film transistor technology used in the iMac Retina 5K display. The amount of RAM and storage space is unknown, but will likely follow the path of the current iPad Pro, offering 32 GB to 128 GB of storage.

Mac Products

There are currently no substantiated rumors that any Macs will be making an appearance at the March 2016 media event, nor am I expecting any. However, this is a good time to note that the Mac lineup is once again becoming long in the tooth, and is in need of a few updates.

The iMac models, which are currently in about a mid-product cycle (the last update was October 2015, with the average update period being just about 10 months), are the only Macs that don't need a product update right away.

The rest of the Mac product family all need updates, and in some cases, are lagging very far behind the current technology cycle. The worst offender is the Mac Pro, last updated in 2013. While it was an amazing Mac on the day it was introduced, it soon fell behind the times, with some Mac Pro configurations being beaten out in performance by newer iMacs.

The point being, that while Macs aren't likely to see updates at the March media event, I do believe that 2016 is going to be a very good year for new Macs.

MacBook Pros and Mac Pro

I expect MacBook Pros to be seeing updates before summer, and if they do slip a bit, they will make their appearance before the end of summer. I also expect 2016 to be the year of the Mac Pro update; there will likely be new processors and graphics. While I don’t expect to see a change in the overall design of the Mac Pro, I do hope a second PCIe storage drive will be available inside the body of the Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro would be a good candidate for an update at the WWDC conference, which is usually held in June.

MacBook Airs and Mac mini

Both the MacBook Air and Mac mini need updates.

I expect the updates here to be more in the way of speed bumps; faster processors, new graphics, and faster flash storage. The MacBook Airs may see an update in late spring, while the Mac mini probably won’t be updated until fall.

12-inch MacBook

The 12-inch MacBook is a bit of a mystery. It's the newest Mac product line, and because it's still in its initial release, there's no history to use for predicting when an update will occur. However, one of the key elements of the MacBook is its use of USB-C ports for connecting power and peripherals. The MacBook uses a USB 3.1 Gen 1 port; while it was amazing when introduced last year, it's out of date today, with faster versions of USB 3.1 now available that double the port speed.

Updating the MacBook to use the faster USB 3.1 Gen 2 port and a faster flash drive would make this one extremely fast portable Mac.