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Everything you need to know from Apple’s October 2021 special event

Apple puts on a handful of big events each year to unveil new products, and though the iPhone launch in September and WWDC in June get the big headlines, we often see some pretty interesting reveals at other times too. This year, that came in the form of a special event with the tagline “Unleashed”, pre-recorded from Apple Park in Cupertino and live-streamed around the world from Apple.com.

For fans of Apple computers – or music in general – this was a bumper presentation filled with the most crowd-pleasing laptops Apple has produced in years and some surprise announcements to boot.

If you missed it, here’s our five-minute recap. Consider this your water cooler cheat sheet to the biggest talking points of Apple’s latest event.

New MacBook Pro

With iPhone out the way, this event was Mac’s time to shine. Specifically, MacBook Pro, the popular laptop computer that has had plenty of detractors over the past few years for its removal of so many ports and the addition of the controversial Touch Bar.

This new update seems to answer the prayers of pro users around the world, with both those issues rectified. The previous MacBook Pro had nothing but USB-C ports and an audio jack, causing an adapter nightmare for anyone using non-USB-C accessories or gadgets. Which was a lot of people. The new design brings back an SD card reader, HDMI port, and even the iconic MagSafe charger.

Meanwhile, the Touch Bar – a strip of dynamic touch controls that never really caught on – has been unceremoniously dumped in favor of a classic strip of full-sized function keys. It was amusing to see Apple unveil this decades-old feature of computer keyboards everywhere as though it was an incredible new development, but regardless we think users will be pleased to see the function keys return.

Wow! It’s a… normal keyboard

Not only that, but this newly-designed MacBook Pro has larger displays than the previous generation, slimming down the bezels around the screen. This means the smaller of the two now rocks a 14.2-inch display – up from 13 previously – while the larger model slightly increases its previous 16-inch display to 16.2-inches. Both feature Liquid Retina XDR displays which are incredible bright with a million-to-one contrast ratio.

Even more notable is the addition of a camera notch, moving the MacBook Pro closer to the familiar design language of the latest iPhones and iPads. This is the only change which may prove controversial, although it only eats into the status bar, not any actual content shown on the display.

Pictured: Photoshop for Mac

Next up, this is the first Mac of any kind to use the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, the latest home-grown “Apple Silicon” processors. Macs with Apple Silicon are not only faster than those with Intel chips, they’re much more power efficient too, allowing users to squeeze more battery life than ever before. They also allow Mac users to run iPhone and iPad apps directly from macOS.

These two new chips are a follow-up to the first M1 chip that wowed the world last year and take things even further, offering frankly ridiculous levels of performance and power efficiency for a notebook computer. There are plenty of juicy technical details for the computer geeks among you to dig into, but here’s the gist: 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 64GB of unified memory, ProRes acceleration, and industry-leading power efficiency.

M1 Max allows MacBook Pro to support four external displays at once

Compared with the high-end version of the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro – which was no slouch – these new chips blow the performance away. The 14-inch and 16-inch models also get an addition seven and ten hours of battery life each. And these devices are just as competent whether or not they’re plugged into power. There’s also a beefed up 1080p webcam and a new audio system.

All those pro improvements mean these new MacBook Pros are considerably more expensive than the previous models. The M1 Pro models start at $1999/£1899 while the M1 Max models start at $2499/£2399. If you max out all the specs to get the very best MacBook Pro available, you’re looking at a whopping $6099/£5899. To soften the blow somewhat, last year’s 13-inch model sticks around at $1299/£1299. All models are available to order immediately and ship from October 26.

Next-gen AirPods

These have been rumored for some time, but Apple’s third-generation AirPods are finally here, offering an improved experience for those unwilling or unable to stretch to the pricier AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.

The new headphones add improved sound quality – especially when it comes to speech –  plus sweat and water resistance, and much longer battery life. All that in addition to a redesign that makes the bud more contoured and the stem shorter for better comfort and fit. Features like Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio from the AirPods Pro make their way to the standard model too.

AirPods (3rd generation), as they’re formally known, are available to order immediately and ship from October 26. They join the ranks at $179/£169, while AirPods (2nd generation) stick around at the more affordable price of $129/£119.

Colorful HomePod mini

Here’s an unexpected one: an update to Apple’s smart speaker. The second-generation HomePod mini offers impressive sound from a speaker that sits a mere 3.3-inches high. Like before, it integrates seamlessly with Siri, Apple Music, and HomeKit. But this time it’s available in five bold color options: space grey, blue, yellow, orange, and white.

The new HomePod mini will be available in November this year for $99/£89.

Apple Music Voice

Those new audio accessories combine well with another surprise announcement, a new way to access the entire Apple Music library at half price.

Apple Music Voice Plan is just $5/£5 monthly, but there’s a catch: you can only control playback through Siri voice commands. That means it’ll work across any of your Apple devices, but you won’t have manual control over your song library from the Music app. To compensate, Apple has released a huge suite of new playlists and stations for all kinds of moods and activities, in the hope that you won’t run out of things to listen to.

If that sounds appealing, the Voice Plan will be available later this year – but for now, it’s US only.

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