In a lovely contrast to “everything’s delayed because chip shortages” and “everything is a subscription,” it’s refreshing to hear Apple say “we’re shipping,” “you can make your own subscriptions,” and “we found your keys for you.” Here it is, at a glance.

First off, for anyone worried about Apple’s M1-centered strategy, fret not – it makes loads of sense. It’s still likely to take more of 2021 before the music and visual tools we use are fully Apple Silicon and Big Sur-ready, but I can say when you are ready for the jump, both iOS and macOS users benefit. Stuff runs fast now on both platforms. Your desktop software still generally runs like you want it to (once you click past a couple of Big Sur’s “are you sure you want to use your own hard drive” warnings), and you now also get the added bonus of being able to run more iOS stuff on your Mac – just in case you have an effect or synth you want inside Logic.

I think the unsung sweet spot of Apple’s M1 offering is actually still the Mac mini. It gives you the most performance-per-buck, there are dedicated HDMI ports and extra USB ports and even Ethernet, so I’ve never once plugged in a dongle, the fan is completely inaudible (enough so that you can’t tell if it’s on until you plug in a monitor), and it’s still small and light enough that you can toss it in a backpack to go between, say, studio and home.

That said, the new offerings are nice if you like all-in-one and Apple’s gorgeous displays, or if you want the performance of a Mac laptop with a touchscreen and iOS apps.

And yeah, Apple’s Podcast offerings look creator friendly, and comes at the perfect time – right when frustration and (well-placed) mistrust of rival Spotify is ready to boil over.

So here’s what’s new:

All images courtesy Apple.

Podcast Subscriptions – a breakdown

Apple Podcasts gets an overhaul. There is a ton of new stuff here:

  • New Apple Podcasts for Creators website, basically a starter portal for makers
  • Improved Apple Podcasts Connect, where you do all your management
  • New Podcasts app, part of iOS 14.5, with extra discovery features
  • and the big one, Subscriptions, which in turn are accompanied by
  • Channels – creator-produced curated sections, which can be both free and paid

Subscriptions have a wide reach – 170 countries at launch, which is stunning for a platform. It’s also encouraging that Creators can set their own pricing, billed monthly.

The new Creators site. Requires an Apple ID, but nothing else. (You only pay if you want to charge a fee for your offering.)
Analytic data. It’s Apple, so expect the same model as Apple Music and the App Store – they take their bite for the platform. But as a result of their experience, they offer payment and offerings in a lot of places, and it means easy billing and account management for your listeners. It’s the usual deal, but it may be even more meaningful in this space.

You do pay a subscription fee in order to access paid Apple Podcast features as a creator. But it’s open all and dead-simple. You head to the Apple Podcasts Connect site, if you haven’t already:

Then hit “Join” and you can set up an account. It’s fairly inexpensive, too – US$19.99 per year in the USA for instance with similar rates in other countries, and with availability in a lot of countries. (Lebanon, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda… just thinking of some places where I have friends who have found their countries cut off from some of these sorts of platforms. Just to name a few.)

Oddly, what’s missing is actually language support for the App in those places. Thai and Indonesian are there, but Arabic isn’t, for example.

But the good news is, you can offer subscriptions with incredible support for purchases – one of the cases where being on a platform is an advantage rather than a hindrance. And you can also have paid curated channels, too. And you can split free and paid content.

And yeah you take 100% of your ad revenue with you for conventional, ad-supported podcasts – still the best option for some. And you get 70% of revenue for paid subscriptions, which now rises to 85% net for each subscriber once they accumulate a year of service. Let’s see how competition emerges in this space and whether that structure is adjusted in time, but the main thing is that at least Apple leaves its creators largely in control of their own destiny, which has not always been our experience with other platforms.

What about music? This is still about spoken word content and music and sound you own or have licensed. It would be nice to see Apple take advantage of its ability to license music for, say, DJ sets in the future, but I know those legal issues can be thorny. If you wanted to start a paid subscription for live sets, though, for example, that would be totally possible. Let me know if you do that; I’ll probably subscribe to some.

I don’t need an iMac so th… wait, okay, that is awfully pretty. Hey, rational brain, come back!

New Apple hardware, as Apple Silicon grows

The other big takeaway – new shiny stuff.

iPad Pro has the same M1 chip as lives inside the Mac mini, iMac, and MacBook and MacBook Pro. So the customer decision is easier. If it’s touch and touch-native apps you want, get an iPad Pro. If you rely on desktop apps, you get a Mac.

And especially having watched some of the muddled Windows strategy, this makes some sense. Desktop apps, designed natively for a mouse and keyboard and other accessory hardware, reliant on the architecture of the desktop OS, stay on the platform for which they were designed.

Thew new hardware:

Basically, if you wish the MacBook had a touchscreen, this is what you want. No desktop apps, but presumably that’s a feature to Apple, not a bug – you get the iOS device and touch-native apps.

iPad Pro now has the M1 – 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine, the same chip proven blazingly fast on the Mac lineup. They’ve also opened up desktop-like specs for memory (up to 16GB) and storage (up to 2TB), because – it is exactly the same chip, so why not?

There’s also a 12.9″ display they call “Liquid Retina XDR” which is designed to give you the same color range and accuracy for pros. I won’t dig into the complexity of Apple’s HDR and Dolby Vision stuff or how proprietary color and immersive audio are becoming but… well, at least their play is coming into focus.

The other big breakthrough (broken record here, it’s the same architecture as the Mac) is that you get Thunderbolt and USB4 on the iPad Pro, and a USB-C port. Finally.

So after years of Mac users being afraid the Mac would turn into the iPad, it’s maybe more accurate to say that the Mac kept its performance and functionality but borrowed the iPad’s battery life and low heat generation, and the iPad Pro turned into a Mac, as far as performance and expansion.

I don’t know that that’s going to turn a PC user into a macOS/iOS user, necessarily, but I would at least say it leaves Apple ecosystem users with very little to complain about, on balance.

What else?

The Neural Engine and ISP add additional Smart HDR3 and LiDAR features – AI in action.

There are new expanded Apple Pencil language features and new gaming controller support in the new iPadOS.

The one thing missing – no new Pencil, sorry.

The new iMac with M1. Ah, how far we’ve come from the days of the Bondi Blue iMac, when people were worried that there was no floppy drive. (I’m old.)

Anyway, there’s not much to say about the iMac – it’s stupidly thin (11.5 mm?!), has a 24″ 4.5K Retina Display, and otherwise it’s got the same guts as the other new Apple Silicon Macs.

Also, it has that port configuration I like so much on the Mac mini, if you get the higher-end 8-core model (which is probably the one you want). Two Thunderbolt ports, two extra USB 3 ports, and all the rest.

It also brings back colors for the first time in many years – and it looks, well, amazing.

It’s been a while since you just want a Mac, independent of the specs, but this has that feeling. Smells like a hit. I’m sure I’ll see some popping up in studios, especially with a starting price of US$1299 from late May.

Kids, ask your parents about the “it comes in colors” thing and spinning dancing iMacs.

Find my keys

It’s called AirTag, and it stops you losing your stuff.

It has nothing to do with CDM, but as a long-time Apple watcher, this is the kind of charming new idea that is a welcome development right now. Also, I lose a lot of things easily.

It’s also intriguing because for a while, Apple co-founder Woz had a startup called Wheels of Zeus that did the same basic thing. But that project and Tile, the one competitor in a similar space, don’t appear nearly as functional as what Apple is doing.

All in all

Keep an eye on this space. Apple Podcast Subscriptions covers just Apple’s platform, and creators are having to manage multiple platforms these days. (Patreon, Bandcamp, Spotify, the list goes on.) But it does look encouraging, and it’s nice to see the promise of reasonably manageable paid subscriptions.

The M1 lineup is an easy one – it continues to look terrific. Basically, we’re just waiting on updated desktop software.