By Joanna Stern 

What do the new Apple TV Siri remote, M1 iMac, 12.9-inch iPad Pro and AirTags have in common?

You'll never lose any of them.

The Apple TV remote, because it's no longer the size of a pea. The iMac, because it's a desktop that, well, stays on your desk. The big iPad Pro, because with its fancy-schmancy new mini-LED display, it's the tablet equivalent of the Hope Diamond. And AirTags? Because that's their whole deal: tiny trackers to help you find stuff you usually end up misplacing.

At a virtual event on Tuesday, Apple Inc. executives announced all these products, plus a few more.

I wasn't able to see any of it for myself -- and I would have liked to have fixed my eyes on that fancy new iPad Pro screen and new iMac design -- but that doesn't mean I don't already have preliminary thoughts to help you plan your spring spending. Here's my take on all the new stuff, going from smallest to largest. Just don't forget to watch for our full reviews, coming soon.

AirTags

Not counting the Apple 3.5mm dongle, AirTags might be Apple's smallest product yet. Yet it might be all-powerful for those of us who would lose our socks if they weren't attached to us.

On the surface, AirTags work similarly to other lost-item trackers. You attach the $29 Mentos-looking object to things you often lose: keys...wallet...spatula. (Just me?) The tracking devices use Bluetooth and ultra-wideband technology to report back to your iPhone.

If you're looking for a missing item -- not for use with people, says Apple -- you open the Find My app on your iPhone and see if it's plotted on the map. A feature called Precision Tracking will guide you with a helpful arrow to the object if it's in close proximity. And if you can't see it, you can sound an alarm on the AirTag's tiny speaker. AirTags, which are available April 30, with pre-orders starting Friday, have replaceable batteries. Four-packs will be sold for $99.

Lost your keys on the side of the road? Apple's new Find My network can leverage all of Apple's devices with Bluetooth -- iPhones, iPads, etc. -- to help locate these devices wherever someone might be passing by. Apple is also working with third-party accessory makers to build Find My capabilities into their products.

This is an entirely new product category for Apple but it's not a new idea. Companies such as Tile and Chipolo have similar devices. Tile, a pioneer in the find-my-lost-stuff space, has been vocal about Apple's entry.

The company will testify on Wednesday at a Senate antitrust hearing. "We think it is entirely appropriate for Congress to take a closer look at Apple's business practices specific to its entry into this category," Tile Chief Executive CJ Prober said in a statement.

"We have always embraced competition as the best way to drive great experiences for our customers, and we have worked hard to build a platform in iOS that enables third-party developers to thrive," an Apple spokesman responded.

Apple TV

Readers of my column have known my pain: The Apple TV's notorious Siri remote has been the bane of my existence, since it's so small it gets lost in the couch, and when it's in your hand, you can't tell which end is up. The biggest Apple TV news? Its new remote might actually not suck. It's bigger, brings back the click wheel and puts the Siri button on the right edge.

The actual Apple TV announced Tuesday has the same body, with internal improvements in performance. With a new A12 Bionic chip, it promises better HDR playback. A new automatic calibration tool lets you use an iPhone to improve the picture quality without messing around with your TV's confusing settings. But Apple didn't remove the biggest pain point: the device's exorbitant price. Honestly, with a starting price of $179, Apple TV is a hard sell for anyone looking for a connected streaming device. Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire sticks and others cost just a small fraction of that.

But hey, look at it this way: Current Apple TV owners will be able to buy a Siri remote for $59. Pre-ordering starts April 30, and the product will ship in the second half of May.

iPad Pro

What's the difference between a Mac and an iPad? No longer speed. It all comes down to software and touch screen now.

Both iPad Pro models were upgraded to the Apple M1 chip that's been powering Macs since last fall. They'll also now come with the option of 5G cellular connectivity, if you're confident there are enough towers in your area to justify the cost. (Since you do more data-intensive stuff on your tablet or laptop, I think 5G could actually make sense.)

And because their USB-C connectors will support Thunderbolt accessories, they'll be able to access faster Ethernet networks and storage devices, and be compatible with monitors including Apple's 6K Pro Display.

The hugest tablet in Apple's lineup, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, is getting a visual improvement in the form of a new display powered by mini-LEDs. Translation: Over 10,000 tiny lights embedded behind the screen adjust constantly to provide extreme contrast. This technology isn't unique to Apple, but it's still cutting-edge.

The iPad Pros also get a new webcam. The front-facing 12-megapixel ultrawide camera works with a new feature called Center Stage, which recognizes people and virtually pans and zooms to keep them framed during video calls. It's something we've seen (and appreciated) on other devices, most recently the Facebook Portal. While the iPad's webcam is still in the wrong place -- at the top of the screen, which means at the side if you use the tablet horizontally during a video call -- Apple says Center Stage should keep things looking more balanced.

The new 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799; the 12.9 inch at $1,099. And that doesn't include any accessories, like the $129 Apple Pencil, the $179 Smart Keyboard Folio or the $299 Magic Keyboard case. Both tablets will ship in the second half of May.

What we didn't get? An updated iPad Mini. The thing is still saddled with a lower-resolution screen and old design.

Purple iPhone 12

That's it. The iPhone 12 now comes in purple. It's certain to appease Marie Schrader from "Breaking Bad." It's the same price as the other iPhone models and will be available on April 30.

iMac M1

For those with an increasingly ancient iMac, Apple has a new model -- and the company pulled out all the tricks (and colors!) for it. The first notable iMac redesign since 2012, this one has a 24-inch screen but is only a bit bigger than the older 21-inch iMac. Plus, the display sounds like a real upgrade with what Apple is calling "4.5K" resolution.

The slimmer design is available in a rainbow of colors (seven options in all) and it's all powered by that same M1 chip in the iPad Pro -- and the 2020 MacBooks that we love so much.

Apple says the new iMac's webcam is the "best camera ever in a Mac." Of course that's not saying much. And at 1080p, it's lower resolution compared with the front camera on the iPad Pro and iPhone, but Apple says its sensor is improved and the new chip makes for far better video processing. You know I'll be testing that soon enough. The new iMac also has better microphones and a six-speaker sound system.

The lower-end iMac models will start at $1,299, with only four color choices; the higher-end configurations start at $1,499 and come in all the colors. If you spring for the $1,499-and-up models, you'll also get a keyboard with built-in Touch ID for easy logins and Apple Pay purchases. (There's even an optional extended keyboard with Touch ID and a number pad.) The M1 iMacs go on sale on April 30 but don't ship until the second half of May.

iOS 14.5

Probably the biggest Apple product of them all, because it's in most of its devices, and you don't have to pay for it: iOS 14.5. The overdue software update is arriving next week, says Apple. This isn't a full operating-system overhaul like we get in the fall but it does have notable new features, two of which I've been talking about for some time.

If you have an Apple Watch you'll now be able to unlock your iPhone when wearing a mask without inputting your password.

It also features App Tracking Transparency, a privacy feature that will now ask your permission before an app starts tracking you. See our full explainer here of the feature and my video explaining why it's made Facebook so angry.

Ted Lasso

And maybe not Apple's biggest but its best? "Ted Lasso." Apple said its show about a charming American coach bumbling his way through English football will return on July 23. You do need an actual Apple product to watch: a $4.99-a-month Apple TV+ subscription. It's included, of course, with your purchase of any of these new iPads or Macs. (But you can still watch it on a Roku, if you prefer.)

Speaking of services, I didn't even mention Apple's new podcast subscription service, yet another way the company is finding to enclose you in its walled garden. It may be happy to offer new ways to keep from losing your stuff, but it sure doesn't want you to find your way out of its ever-expanding ecosystem.

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Write to Joanna Stern at joanna.stern@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 21, 2021 12:37 ET (16:37 GMT)

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