Apple fulfilled three of my “minor-level” Mac dreams today, announcing (very) long-awaited updates to its 2007-vintage Wireless Keyboard and 2010 Magic Trackpad — accessories I’ve used and mostly loved for years — and a non-trivial update to the Retina 5K iMac it released last year. It also unveiled a sequel to its 2009 Magic Mouse, and a Retina 4K version of the 21.5″ iMac. Yes, it’s easy to call these releases “inevitable” in the sense that we’ve known all of them were coming for a while now, but some of the details were surprising.
Who would have thought that the Magic Trackpad 2, for instance, would be Apple’s first Bluetooth 4-only Mac accessory? That the iOS Lightning connector would make its way into Mac accessories? Or that the Retina 5K iMac would receive a significant screen quality upgrade after only one year?
Each of these products reaffirms Apple’s commitment to a premium experience, and demonstrates that Steve Jobs’ theories about the inevitable march of progress remain part of the company’s DNA. Read on for my product-specific thoughts….
I used the prior-generation Apple Wireless Keyboard for years, marveling at its excellent typing surface but eventually tiring of the need to swap AA batteries (thanks, Apple Battery Charger). Earlier this year, I reluctantly decided to switch back to a $50 Apple Wired Keyboard, and in all honesty, I’ve loved almost everything about it. OS X’s “low battery” warnings have gone away, I’ve enjoyed using a great typing surface, and if I need to plug in a USB flash drive, I can just connect it to the Keyboard’s pass-through USB ports rather than reaching around to my iMac’s back. But I’ve been dreaming that a next-gen Apple-made rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard would be considerably better.
When Logitech introduced the awesome Bluetooth Easy-Switch K811, it seemed obvious that Apple would follow suit with a similar rechargeable wireless keyboard. Apple’s new Magic Keyboard is that product… sort of. You get a rechargeable battery promising a “month or more of usage,” which doesn’t sound great compared with the 6-month and 1-year battery lives promised by top rivals. But the reality may vary based on the Mac you’re using, however, because the Magic Keyboard is supposed to support Bluetooth 4, and may eke out better life with Bluetooth 4 Macs. You also get a Lightning to USB cable, and a Lightning port so you can keep the keyboard connected as much or as little as you prefer, which is handy (and similar to many micro-USB-based Bluetooth keyboards).
On the other hand, Apple brought a variation on the controversial, lower-profile typing surface from the 12″ MacBook over to the Magic Keyboard, which means a reduction in key travel in the name of “33% more key stability” and “a new lower profile.” Unlike Logitech, Apple apparently doesn’t include any dedicated multi-device pairing keys with the Magic Keyboard, so you won’t be able to effortlessly toggle between a Mac, iPad, and Apple TV like the Easy-Switch K811. So although I was excited before it was announced, I’m going to have to seriously reconsider whether the Magic Keyboard will have a place on my office desk; for the $99 asking price, I would not call it a lock by any means.
Magic Mouse 2 + Magic Trackpad 2
I tested the original Magic Mouse and thought that it was pretty nice until the Magic Trackpad came out the following year. While I have nothing against mice in general or people who still use mice (hi, Mom and Dad, computer gamers, et al), switching over to the Magic Trackpad was a complete game-changer for me. I could never imagine going back to any mouse, even if it was a radically reinvented mouse.
The $79 Magic Mouse 2 hasn’t been radically reinvented. It looks virtually identical to the original, swapping AA batteries for a rechargeable battery, tweaking the bottom glide surface for added smoothness when it’s moving on flat surfaces, and — critically — doesn’t get Force Touch support. Apple’s pitching it as useful for “simple gestures,” and only increased the price by $10, maybe because of the included Lightning cable (which unlike the other Magic accessories can’t be connected for charging while the Mouse 2 is in use). I’d call Magic Mouse 2 an easy pass, but that’s just me.
By comparison, the Magic Trackpad 2 is really appealing. The touch surface is 29% bigger than its five-year-old predecessor — something I didn’t really think was necessary — but that gave Apple room to add both a rechargeable battery and Force Touch, features I’ve been waiting for since they first came to trackpads and Macs, respectively. The top is now white glass, a curious shift given Apple’s “black and silver” design philosophy for Macs, and the inside holds four pressure-sensitive sensors.
One show-stopper about the Magic Trackpad 2: it’s the only one of the new accessories that literally requires a Mac to have Bluetooth 4 in order to work. The Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 are backward-compatible with older, non-Bluetooth 4 Macs (so long as they’re capable of running OS X 10.11). I had hoped to use the Magic Trackpad 2 with my mid-2011 iMac, but it’s pre-Bluetooth 4, so I’m probably out of luck. A lot of people are going to find the $129 asking price hard to swallow for a trackpad, too. Unless I upgrade to a new iMac, I’ll probably be sticking with the original $70 Magic Trackpad, instead.
Retina 4K and 5K iMacs
I’ve kinda-sorta wanted to buy a Retina 5K iMac since the new model was introduced last year, but held off for three reasons: first, I didn’t really need a new iMac, second, the price premium over a regular iMac was considerable, and third, I suspected Apple would release a more polished version within the next year. The mid-2015 27″ iMac update and price drop handled the second point, and the just-announced late-2015 version takes care of the third.
Beyond chip updates, Apple took the rare (but not unprecedented) step of confirming that there was indeed room to improve on its prior “Retina” display with improved color accuracy. Note that Apple’s Mac tech specs pages never dive into color accuracy, instead generically claiming “support for millions of colors,” a pretty meaningless description of color performance.
Today, Apple’s iMac press release notes:
The new Retina displays feature a wider color gamut that brings more brilliant and true-to-life colors to your desktop. With standard sRGB-based displays, many of the colors you see in real life never make it to your screen. The new Retina 5K and 4K displays feature a wider P3-based color gamut that provides a 25 percent larger color space, and with more available colors, images are more vivid, reveal even greater detail and appear more lifelike than ever.
So if you bought a Retina 5K iMac last year because you wanted the most true-to-life screen around, you may be surprised to learn today that “many” real life colors never made it to that screen. But the new Retina 5K and 4K iMacs will fix that. Suffice it to say that I’m glad I waited until at least now to get a Retina iMac.
If I was shopping today, the $1499 21.5″ 4K model would be exceptionally tempting. But then, the new $1799 5K iMac ships with Intel’s sixth-gen/Skylake Core processors, which are missing from the 4K model. The bigger screen, better CPU, and superior GPU would all be worth the added dollars. If only I needed a new iMac…
More From This Author
Check out more of my How-To guides and reviews for 9to5Mac here! In recent months, I published a guide to turning your digital photos into beautiful wall art (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), as well as a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users.