... and also the return of the (mini) Mac.
- Inside the new iPad Pros are the new A12x Bionic chip, which are apparently faster than 92% of the laptops out there.
- MacBook Airs come with Retina display, first true update in 8 years.
- The iPad Pro starts at $799 while the MacBook Air starts at $1,199.
Apple product launches are sort of like sports drafts in that there's a lot of pageantry and hullabaloo surrounding what is ostensibly just an introduction to a slightly updated lineup. 99.5% of the people out there are going to be doing roughly the same thing they're doing on these new machines as they are on their current ones, so it's not that big a deal—right?
Well... perhaps it is this time. Apple just launched not one but three updates to its lineup: new iPad Pros, updated MacBook Airs, and even a revamp of the Mac Mini.
Watch the full keynote event here.
The new iPad Pro
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Apple unveils a new iPad Pro with new Apple Pencil during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple also debuted a new MacBook Air and Mac Mini.
(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
This is probably the biggest deal of the three. It not only looks futuristic, but it's... well... it's super cool. It has a processor that's faster than most desktop computers and as much graphics power as the latest XBox, in a package that's just a few millimeters thick and the size of a piece of paper. That's pretty incredible.
The keynote spent some time showing just how good this is as a gaming device, too, with a vaguely humorous demonstration of what 2K Games' NBA 2K looks like on the new iPad Pro. You can really see every bead of sweat on the players and movement in the stands, a far-cry from the crummy graphics of most mobile games.
It looks like last year's iPhone X, itself a big deal, and for good reason. Anyone who has used an iPhone X (or XS or XR) can attest to how quickly the gesture system starts to feel natural—there's no reason to go back to the home button after you use this thing. At risk of sounding too hyperbolic, this update turns the iPad from a "squashed / really big iPhone" into a laptop replacement. This is arguably what computers will look like in five years; the kind of design that actually looks like it's from the future.
- Comes in both 11" and 12.9" sizes. The 11" is the same body size as the 10.5" previous generation of iPad Pros, just the screen is bigger. The 12.9" size is almost exactly the size, measured diagonally across, as an 8"x11" piece of paper.
- The A12X Bionic chip is by all accounts one of the fastest mass market chips out there. It's faster than those in Apple's iPhone XS, and can handle "up to five trillion operations a second". Which is a lot, I'm told. The keynote addressed that the A12X Bionic is faster than 92% of current notebook computers out there.
- The new iPad Pro is unlockable no matter how you hold it.
- USB-C should alleviate charging problems, as they are much more energy efficient than lightning. Likewise, battery is advertised as "all day battery" — in the real world, though, that should amount to anywhere between 6 hours (heavy use) to 12 hours (simple use).
- An updated Apple Pencil can now respond to 'tap' gestures. Which is great for illustrators who want to switch brushes on the fly. Or writers who want to erase things quickly. It also fits magnetically on the iPad and charges accordingly. This is a big deal for anyone who was thrown off by the previous Apple Pencil, which had to be charged by plugging into the iPad (and anyone like me who lost the top quickly).
To put some of those numbers into perspective, the A12X Bionic chip is 40% faster than the A11 chip, which was in the last iPad Pros. So you're looking at a dramatic increase in power, looks, and usability.
Updated MacBook Airs
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils a new MacBook Air during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. This is Apple's first full upgrade of the laptop in three years.
(Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
MacBook Airs got an update about three years ago, getting marginally bumped up specs so that they could continue to be used with Apple's ever-evolving operating system. These new puppies, the 2018 MacBook Airs, however, get way bigger updates that put the old machines out to pasture. But before you get too excited, remember that this is the MacBook Air and thus doesn't have nearly the top-notch technical specs as the MacBook Pro.
- Touch ID! Now you can use your laptop just as you would your, um, iPhone 8!
- Expectations were that there'd be quad-core CPUs, but instead we've got dual-core Intel Core Y-series CPUs. Don't ask me to explain what that means (I'm a writer, and if you need help describing what a cloud look likes I'm your guy), but from what I've researched it's about as fast as the top-of-the-line 2015 MacBook Pros. For most people who will be using this, this is all you really need to surf the web, check your emails, and do some light video-editing. But it's by no means the fastest Apple has.
- Retina display, on a machine this light, is the biggest draw. That translates to 48% more colors in terms of range, and this is most likely what will be the 'wow' factor for buyers.
- Smaller bezels mean more screen size, and an updated trackpad means more usability.
- Speakers have been updated to be 25% louder with twice as much bass.
This could be the go-to option for most people looking for a new laptop. The Air line is Apple's most popular laptop line for a reason: they're light enough to throw into a backpack or bag without thinking twice and fast enough for almost everyone.
Ask yourself how much audio editing or video editing you're really going to be doing over the next 3 to 5 years. If the answer is less than one Drake album or one family vacation video, chances are the MacBook Air is going to be your next laptop.
Return of the Mac (Mini)
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils a new Mac Mini during a special event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Howard Gilman Opera House October 30, 2018, in New York.
(Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Sing it now... the return of the (mini) Mac! Mac Mini's are the caffeine-free-Diet-Coke of the Apple empire; if you love 'em, you're part of a small but die-hard fanbase. They get the job(s) done. Nobody is going to be wowed by one on your desk. But string a few of them together (really—during the keynote, Tim Cook briefly showed a picture of an entire server farm full of them) and you've got an insanely powerful productivity team. At $799 they are considerably cheaper and more powerful than the MacBook Air by some degree, but don't forget these roughly sandwich-sized computers don't come with a display.
But, it's worth mentioning, the last time these were updated was 2014. That was so long ago! There were midterm elections! An ebola outbreak in NYC! Pharrell wore a silly hat! Given that Apple has had four years to tinker with the Mini, what are you getting with the 2018 models?
- Snark aside, these are 5x faster than the previous line of Mac Minis. That's a huge jump, making them twice as powerful as the 2018 MacBook Airs.
- They're made with 100% recycled aluminum, apparently using leftover aluminum from the new iPad Pro line.
- One of the best things about the Mac Mini is its ability to connect to pretty much anything you throw at it. An HDMI 2.0 port means you could theoretically connect it to any 4K TV (or other display) and have a giant workspace for a fraction of the price of a huge display. Meanwhile, two USB-A ports, an audio jack, and Gigabit Ethernet round out the connections.
- A T2 security chip makes this the machine you want on your desk if you want to keep your files safe. It adds security, meaning that hackers won't be able to listen in on your microphone. And hacking overall should be way, way more difficult, according to TechCrunch.
Ideally, this is the kind of thing you'd buy 20 of if you were starting a start-up. They're workhorses, and can handle 4K video editing easily without slowing down the rest of your workflow too much.
A new report from Bloomberg describes how Chinese subcontractors secretly inserted microchips into servers that wound up in data centers used by nearly 30 American companies.
- A 2015 security test of a server sold by an American company found that someone in the supply chain had successfully embedded a tiny microchip on a motherboard.
- The company that manufactured the compromised motherboard provides servers to hundreds of international clients, including NASA and the Department of Homeland Security.
- U.S. officials linked the hardware attack to a People's Liberation Army unit, though it's unclear what, if anything, hackers have done or to what they have access.
The Chinese military was able to implant tiny malicious microchips on servers that made their way into data centers used by nearly 30 American companies, including Amazon and Apple, according to a new report from Bloomberg.
It's a wide-reaching and potentially ongoing attack that likely gave Chinese actors unprecedented access to sensitive data belonging to American companies, consumers, government agencies and one major bank.
The Bloomberg report describes how, in 2015, Amazon Web Services had approached a startup called Elemental Technologies to help with the expansion of its streaming video service, Amazon Prime Video. During a security test of the servers Elemental Technology sold as part of its video-compression product line, testers discovered a rice-grain-sized microchip implanted inconspicuously on one of the server's motherboards. The microchip wasn't part of the original hardware design, so its existence could only mean one thing: Someone at some point in the supply chain had surreptitiously embedded the chip.
Americans officials, some of whom had already heard whispers of China's plans to sabotage motherboards headed for the U.S., opened a top-secret and ongoing probe.
Hardware vs. software attacks
The size of the implanted microchip.
It's hard to overstate how ideal it is, from the perspective of a hacker, to successfully conduct a hardware attack, which differs from a software attack in that it alters the physical components of a computer and not just its code. Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc., put it like this to Bloomberg:
"Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow," he said. "Hardware is just so far off the radar, it's almost treated like black magic."
Even though the hidden microchips are tiny and hold small amounts of code, they pose outsized danger because hackers working from other computers can talk to the microchips and use them to gain access to networks and manipulate a server's operating instructions, all without alerting security systems. But one downside to hardware attacks is that they leave behind a paper trail.
Tracing the attack
The servers sold by Elemental Technologies were assembled by Super Micro Inc., or Supermicro, the world's leading supplier of server motherboards whose customers include NASA and the Department of Homeland Security. Supermicro is based in California but most of its motherboards are manufactured by contractors in China.
American officials traced the supply chain of the compromised motherboards and identified four Chinese subcontractors that had been building Supermicro motherboards for two years. After monitoring the subcontractors, the officials found that the microchips had been ordered, by bribe or threats, to be implanted on the motherboards by a specialized People's Liberation Army unit.
"We've been tracking these guys for longer than we'd like to admit," one official told Bloomberg.
American companies deny knowledge of the attack
Amazon, Apple and Supermicro have all denied knowledge of the attack or of the investigation.
"It's untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental," Amazon wrote. Apple said that it's "never found malicious chips, 'hardware manipulations' or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server." And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Chinese government didn't acknowledge the attack, stating that "Supply chain safety in cyberspace is an issue of common concern, and China is also a victim."
Despite the denials, 17 U.S. intelligence officials and company insiders, all of whom remain anonymous, confirmed the attacks to Bloomberg. Read the full report here.
Some say that great ideas come out of thin air. Neuroscientist David Eagleman posits that perhaps all great ideas are simply built upon old ideas, because thats what fuels the creative brain.
"All ideas have a genealogy," says David Eagleman. A writer, neuroscientist, and adjunct professor at Stanford University, he's definitely clued in to what makes ideas click. He posits that the brain craves something new so much that if you give someone the same thing over and over that after a certain amount of time you'll begin to see diminished returns in excitement. But sometimes "new" isn't necessarily new at all. He points out that although the iPhone is a revolutionary product it bears heavy similarity to an invention from IBM... from two decades ago. New ideas tend to be built upon similar ones, David Eagleman says, because "what we’re doing is building on the foundations of what has come before us." David's new book is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World.
So, how do you make something popular? Simple! You just update something old. This applies to storytelling, design, and even tech gadgets.
So, how do you make a product successful? You make it out of something old. The Atlantic editor Derek Thompson gives a more studious explanation of this answer as he poses the question: why did Google Glass fail and why is the iPhone the most profitable product in human history? Poor design comes to mind, but the answer, Thompson suggests, is much deeper than that. Both were wild new inventions, but Google Glass ultimately failed because it looked like a prototype and not at all like any product that consumers had ever seen before. It seemed alien, and that was a bad thing. Butt the iPhone, on the other hand, is merely a design update of the iPod. Consumers already understood how to work it before they even picked it up, and therefore buyers already knew what they were in for. It's this familiarity itself that is the selling point, as this logic applies to the world of storytelling, too. Derek explains the "hero journey" similarities between Star Wars, The Odyssey, and... The Bible. Derek Thompson's latest book is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.
Don't settle for comfortable and familiar thoughts, reach for what you don't know, says Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt.
The story of Adam and Eve and their eviction from paradise is one of the most famous origin stories on Earth, central to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. But, it's full of holes. Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt illuminates some of these: for example, how could the first humans, who had no prior concept of death, understand God's ultimatum—eat the forbidden fruit and you will die. And when they did eat the fruit, why didn't they die? The same questions have puzzled scholars for millennia, but it doesn't stop massive numbers of people all over the world believing it in a literal sense. This doesn't strike Greenblatt as stupid, or naive, or even surprising, it only strikes him as human. We have always needed the power of narrative to orient ourselves in the world, and the tale of Adam and Eve is one of the earliest and most powerful examples of good and evil on record. To understand why this story exists is to understand something fundamental about human nature, and to pick at the holes in its logic to think deeply. "Often the thing that seems incomprehensible is the place you want to start digging," he says. Stephen Greenblatt's latest book is The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve.