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Apple gives world ... umm ... not much new actually

Minimalist makeovers for iPad, Mac, iOS and MacOS leave Cupertino perhaps looking iterative, not innovative

New Buzz Lightyear Apple Watch Face
Apple's WatchOS now features watch faces depicting deluded Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear

WWDC When Microsoft revealed its Surface Studio last year , more than a few observers looked at its 28” touch screen and accompanying Dial touch wheel and wondered whether Apple could offer something similarly startling for workstation-class users.

The answer to that query appears to be a solid “no” because Apple's new “iMac Pro” will be very fast and powerful, but in essence is just an iMac. Apple's not come up with a touch screen or a new peripheral to make users more productive. It won't go on sale until December.

Cupertino is promising eight ten or eighteen cores in whatever Xeon it puts in the box. The screen is a 27-inch Retina affair at 5k (5120 x 2880) and the machine will be no bigger than any other iMac. A Radeon Pro Vega 56 GPU will be standard, complete with to 16GB of HBM2 memory to imbue the machine with the power to drive a pair of 5K monitors or a foursome of 4K screens at either 3840 x 2160 with a billion colours or 4096 x 2304 with mere millions of hues.

32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC RAM will be standard, 64GB and 128GB possible. There'll be a 1TB SSD in the box unless you want to double or quadruple that. 802.11ac is complemented by 10GB ethernet.

The price is US$4,999 for starters. By way of contrast, HP Inc's Z2 Mini workstation starts at $694, a price that buys you a machine that can't match the Pro for RAM, storage or core count and doesn't include a screen. But can be bought today.

One more thing: the iMac Pro looks to be a straight replacement for the cylindrical Mac Pro which was sometimes rack-mounted. Good luck doing that with an all-in-one.

Apple's also given the rest of the Mac range a refresh. New Kaby Lake CPUs are the main attraction here in both iMacs, MacBook and MacBook Pro. Thunderbolt 3 has landed and graphics cards have been upgraded. The MacBook Air's been given a modest upgrade to a 1.8Ghz Core i5, leaving it trailing similarly svelte laptops.

AR software

Apple's also detailed new versions of its flagship operating systems and a new enthusiasm for augmented reality.

MacOS “High Sierra” will make Apple File System native, add HEVC support, tools enabling 3D content creation so that Apple isn't left out of virtual realities and a new “Metal 2” API that can tap into GPUs to put them to work for either graphics or tasks like speech recognition or image interpretation.

The Safari browser will get new powers to remove advertisers' tracking tools, so that readers don't feel like ads follow them around the web.

IOS 11 will bring with it a new “Files” app that puts all documents in one folder even if they're tended by apps like Dropbox. iPads will get a new dock and easier switching between apps. Apple Pay will gain the ability to make peer-to-peer payments so you can send currency to your mates if you mysteriously find yourself out of cash when it comes time to buy a round. Apple promises iOS 11 is better at multitasking and will shine on the two new iPad Pro models.

The “all-new 10.5-inch iPad Pro” is bigger than the nine-point-seven-incher it replaced,. The merely “new” 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the same size as its predecessor. Both get the new new A10X Fusion chip that packs half-a-dozen compute cores and 12 GPU cores. Together the two deliver screen refresh rates of up to 120Hz, said to make everything look ever-so-smooth.

There's also a new ARKit that will apparently let developers build augmented reality apps for iPads and iPhones. Developers also get “CoreML” to help them build machine learning into apps.

WatchOS gets an upgrade too, with the addition of Toy Story watch faces being the most interesting addition unless you're a swimmer in search of more refined workout coaching.

And there you have it – all we can bear to wring out of Apple's World Wide Developer Conference Keynote. Most of the changes announced are iterative or, in the case of the planned Siri-powered HomePod speaker, derivative.

IT cannot imagine the new iPads will turn around the decline in tablet sales, that iOS 11 will make a huge different to iPhone sales or that adding year-old silicon to Macs will excite folks other than Apple loyalists. Apple's Watch sells about three million a quarter, but isn't a zeitgeist-creating hit and Buzz Lightyear won't change that.

But there's nothing in this lot to match interesting new productivity ideas like Samsung's DeX docks or HP's Elite X3, never mind Lenovo's intriguing Yoga Book. And with the Mac Pro now reverting to a very familiar form factor that doesn't make an attempt to improve user productivity other than by going faster, those who suggested the Surface Studio represented a changing of the guard look like they were on to something. ®

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