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macOS 12 Monterey upgrades Continuity with Universal Control

By Amanda Silberling

During the WWDC conference today, Apple unveiled the new macOS 12 Monterey. A major feature in the macOS update is Universal Control, which builds upon the Continuity features first introduced in OS X Yosemite. For years it’s been possible to open a news article on your iPhone and keep reading it on your MacBook, or to copy and paste a link from your iPad to your iMac. But Universal Control takes these features further.

With Universal Control, you can use a single mouse and keyboard to navigate across multiple Apple devices at once. This functionality works across more than two devices — in the demo video, the feature is used to seamlessly move across an iPad, MacBook and iMac. Users can drag and drop files across multiple devices at once, making it possible, for example, to use a multi-screen setup while editing video on Final Cut Pro.

What’s possible in Universal Control isn’t necessarily new — this has been made possible before through third-party apps. Plus, in 2019, Apple debuted Sidecar, which allowed users to connect their iPad as a second monitor for their MacBook or iMac. But, Universal Control improves upon Sidecar — and maybe renders it obsolete — by allowing users to link any Apple devices together, even if it’s not an iPad. Though this update may not be groundbreaking, it’s a useful upgrade to existing features.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

The Station: Aurora gets closer to a SPAC deal, Spin’s new strategy and Waymo One app numbers

By Kirsten Korosec

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every weekend in your inbox.

Hello and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages move (today and in the future) from Point A to Point B.

We are days away from TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event scheduled for June 9 that is bringing together some of the best and brightest minds in transportation. I’ll keep it short and sweet.

If you want to check things out but are short on cash, register and type in “station” for a free pass to the expo and breakout sessions. If you want access to the main stage — where folks like Mate Rimac, Chris Urmson and GM’s Pam Fletcher will be interviewed — then type in “Station50” to buy a full access pass for a 50% discount. Tickets can be accessed here.

Buying a ticket will also give you a months-free subscription to Extra Crunch and access to all the videos of the conference. We have a star-studded group of folks coming from Aurora, AutoX, Gatik, GM, Hyundai, Joby Aviation, Motional, Nuro, Rimac Automobili, Scale AI, Starship Technologies, Toyota Research Institute, WeRide, and Zoox. (to name a handful).

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. You also can send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

The big micromobility news of the week revolves around Spin, and it’s not about whether or not Ford is spinning out the company; they kept a pretty tight lip on that, but clearly big changes are happening. Co-founder Derrick Ko is stepping down as CEO and moving into an advisory role, along with his other two co-founders Zaizhuang Cheng and Euwyn Poon. In Ko’s place is Ben Bear, who previously served as CBO of Spin.

Along with this news came a flurry of other announcements, but it makes sense to start with Spin’s latest public strategy for winning the e-scooter business. Spin is actively seeking out limited vendor permits with cities. In other words, the company doesn’t want to see its cities messing around with other operators. Spin is seeking exclusive partnerships and is prepared to better itself to get them. It’s positioning itself as the most desirable for cities as it shares even more news…

If Spin wants to have a kind of deal that Lyft-owned CitiBike has with NYC, then it needs to bring more to the table. It’s starting with e-bikes. 5,000 of them, to be specific, in the coming months, starting with Providence, RI in June and spreading outward into a few other mid-tier cities over the summer.

Spin is also flexing its tech that will help make its scooters safe and reliable — just what a city wants in a long-term commitment. This week, it brought its Drover AI-equipped scooters to Milwaukee (with plans to launch in Miami, Seattle and Santa Monica, as well) that are equipped to detect sidewalk and bike lane riding and validate parking. Seattle, Santa Monica and Boise, Idaho will soon be graced by Spin’s new S-200, a three-wheeled adaptive scooter built with Tortoise’s repositioning software that allows a remote operator to move scooters out of gutters or into more dense urban areas.

Tier gets some more money

Berlin-based Tier Mobility, which recently won a London permit, has raised $60 million so it can expand its fleet of vehicles and battery charging networks. Technically, it’s a loan. The asset-backed financing comes from Goldman Sachs.

Let’s talk about bikes

Lyft has got a new e-bike piloting this month, starting in San Francisco, then Chicago and New York. It’ll be dropping the sleek, white bikes with soft purple LEDs at random around the city for people to test out. TechCrunch’s Brian Heater gave it a spin, and his general consensus was, Yeah, it’s a good bike. Can’t complain.

While Lyft may have anti-theft protection on its e-bikes, the rest of us are not so lucky. According to market research company NPD Group, we saw a 63% YOY growth for bike sales in June. Bike Index, a national bike registry group, tells us that the number of bikes stolen has seen similar increases. The number of bikes reported stolen to the service was a little over 10,000 between April and September, compared to nearly 6,000 during the same period in the previous year. That’s an uptick of nearly 68%. So, when are apartment complexes going to be forced to build bike storage rather than car parks?

Best cities for biking

If you are going to risk theft and bike around, you’ll want to do it in one of the cities PeopleForBikes just announced are the best for biking.

“Topping this year’s ratings in the United States are Brooklyn, NY; Berkeley, CA and Provincetown, MA (each ranking first in the large, medium and small U.S. city categories, respectively). Top international performers include Canberra and Alice Springs in Australia; Utrecht and Groningen in the Netherlands and Gatineau, Longueuil and Montreal in Canada, all located in the province of Quebec.”

Biking is not all about fun and commuting. For some of us, it’s work. URB-E, the compact container delivery network that wants to replace trucks with small electric bikes, has announced PackItFresh as its final-mile refrigeration provider. PackItFresh’s totes can keep food at safe temperatures for up to 24 hours, yet another reason supermarkets need to be nixing the delivery trucks in favor of these more sustainable alternatives.

 — Rebecca Bellan

Deal of the week

money the station

I hesitate to put this one under deal of the week, because, well, the deal ain’t done. But it is interesting, and this is my show, so here we are. I’m talking about Aurora, the autonomous vehicle company, and a potential merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Here’s the tl;dr for those who didn’t catch my Friday story. Several sources within the financial sector told me that Aurora is close to finalizing a deal to merge with Reinvent Technology Partners Y, the newest special purpose acquisition company launched by LinkedIn co-founder and investor Reid Hoffman, Zynga founder Mark Pincus and managing partner Michael Thompson. It appears the valuation is going to be somewhere in the $12 billion neighborhood. The deal is expected to be announced as early as next week. I should add that both Aurora and Reinivent declined to comment.

The Hoffman, Pincus, Thompson trio, who are bullish on a concept that they call “venture capital at scale,” have formed three SPACs, or blank-check companies. Two of those SPACs have announced mergers with private companies. Reinvent Technology Partners announced a deal in February to merge with the electric vertical take off and landing company Joby Aviation, which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange later this year. Reinvent Technology Partners Z merged with home insurance startup Hippo.

Is it possible that the deal could fall apart? Sure. But my sources tell me that it has progressed far enough that it would take a significant issue to derail the agreement. One more note: there is the tricky issue of Hoffman and Reinvent’s existing relationship with Aurora. Hoffman is a board member of Aurora and Reinvent is an investor. While Hoffman and Reinvent showing up on two sides of a SPAC deal would be unusual, it is not unprecedented. Connie Loizos’s accompanying article digs into the increasing cases of conflicts of interest popping up in SPAC deals.

Other deals that got my attention …

Getir, the Istanbul-based grocery delivery app, raised $550m in new funding. This latest injection of capital, which tripled its valuation to $7.5 billion, came just three months after its last financing, the Financial Times reported. The company, which just started to expand outside of Turkey in early 2021, is now planning a U.S. launch this year.

Faction Technology, the Silicon Valley-based startup building three-wheeled electric vehicles for autonomous delivery or human driven jaunts around town, raised $4.3 million in seed funding led by Trucks VC and Fifty Years.

Flink, a Berlin-based on-demand “instant” grocery delivery service built around self-operated dark stores and a smaller assortment (2,400 items) that it says it will deliver in 10 minutes or less, has raised $240 million to expand its business into more cities, and more countries.

FlixMobility, the parent company of the FlixBus coach network and the FlixTrain rail service, has closed more than $650 million in a Series G round of funding that values the Munich-based company at over $3 billion. Jochen Engert, who co-founded and co-leads the company with André Schwämmlein, described the round in a press call that TechCrunch participated in as a “balanced” mix of equity and debt, and said that the plan will be to use the funds to both expand its network in the U.S. market as well as across Europe.

Locus, a startup that uses AI to help businesses map out their logistics, raised $50 million in a new financing round as it looks to expand its presence. The new round, a Series C, was led by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC. Qualcomm Ventures and existing investors Tiger Global Management and Falcon Edge also participated in the round, which brings the startup’s to-date raise to $79 million. The new round valued the startup, which was founded in India, at about $300 million, said a person familiar with the matter.

Realtime Robotics announced a $31.4 million round. The funding is part of the $11.7 million Series A the company announced all the way back in late 2019. Investors include HAHN Automation, SAIC Capital Management, Soundproof Ventures , Heroic Ventures, SPARX Asset Management, Omron Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, Scrum Ventures and Duke Angels.

Roadster, the Palo Alto-based digital platform that gives dealers tools to sell new and used vehicles online has been acquired for $360 million by retail automotive technology company CDK Global Inc. As part of the all-cash deal, Roadster is now a wholly owned subsidiary.

Sennder, a digital freight forwarder that focuses on moving cargo around Europe (and specifically focusing on trucks and “full truck load”, FTL, freight forwarding), has raised $80 million in funding, at a valuation the company confirms is now over $1 billion.

Toyota AI Ventures, Toyota’s standalone venture capital fund, dropped the “AI” and has been reborn as, simply, Toyota Ventures. The firm is commemorating its new identity with a new $300 million fund that will focus on emerging technologies and carbon neutrality. The capital is split into two early-stage funds: the Toyota Ventures Frontier Fund and the Toyota Ventures Climate Fund. The introduction of these two new funds brings Toyota Ventures’ total assets under management to over $500 million.

Trellis Technologies, the insurance technology platform, raised $10 million in Series A funding led by QED Investors with participation from existing investors NYCA Partners and General Catalyst.

VTB, Russia’s second-largest lender, has bought a $75 million minority stake in car-sharing provider Delimobil, Reuters reported.

Waymo: by the numbers

the station autonomous vehicles1

Waymo has been on my mind lately — and not because of the executive departures that I wrote about last month. No, I’ve been thinking about Waymo and how, or if, it’s been scaling up its Waymo One driverless ride-hailing service, which operates in several Phoenix suburbs. The latest example is that Waymo One can now be accessed and booked through Google Maps.

But what about ridership? The folks at Sensor Tower, the mobile app market intelligence firm, recently shared some numbers that give the tiniest of glimpses into who is at least interested in trying the service.

First, a bit of history. Waymo started an early rider program in April 2017, which allowed vetted members of the public, all of whom signed NDAs, to hail an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivan. All of these Waymo-branded vans had human safety operators behind the wheel.

In December 2018, the company launched Waymo One, the self-driving car service and accompanying app. Waymo-trained test drivers were still behind the wheel when the ride-hailing service began. Early rider program members were the first to be invited to the service. As these folks were shifted over to the Waymo One service, the NDA was lifted.

The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up in fall 2019. TechCrunch contributor Ed Niedermeyer was among the first (media) to hail a driverless ride. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit.

In October 2020, the company announced that members of Waymo One — remember this is the sans NDA service — would be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members were given first access to the driverless rides. The company started to welcome more people directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.

Waymo said that 100% of its rides would be fully driverless, which it has maintained. Today, anyone can download the app and hail a driverless ride.

OK, back to the numbers. Sensor Tower shared monthly estimates for Waymo’s installs from the U.S. App Store and Google Play. The company said that most of the installs are on iOS, as it looks like the Waymo app only became available on Android in April 2021. This isn’t a ridership number. It does show how interest has grown, and picked up since February 2021.

Waymo one app data

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Policy corner

the-station-delivery

Hi folks, welcome back to Policy Corner.

Another infrastructure bill was proposed in Washington this week. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced a new bill that would invest $547 billion over the next five years on surface transport. While much of those funds would go toward improving America’s roads, bridges, and passenger rail, the INVEST in America Act would dedicate around $4 billion in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and around $4 billion to invest in zero-emission transit vehicles.


And that’s in addition to major infrastructure bills already proposed by President Joe Biden and House Democrats. It’s likely that this bill, should it pass, would be significantly scaled back — just as Congressional Republicans are attempting to do with Biden’s infrastructure plan. You can read more about the bill here.

President Biden has set his sights on battery manufacturing as a way to recover and reuse critical minerals in the EV supply chain. This is after it was reported that he walked back earlier signals that he might support domestic mining for these minerals, like lithium. Instead, it looks like his plan is to push for continued importing of the metals from foreign countries and then to recycle and reuse them at the end of a battery’s life.

This news is a blow to America’s mining industry but sure to be a boost for metal recyclers, like Redwood Materials in Nevada and Canadian company Li-Cycle, which is expanding its operations in the States.

Some of the biggest pushback against mining has come from environmental and conservation groups. A good example is the situation currently unfolding out in Nevada, where a proposed lithium mine may be halted due to the presence of a rare wildflower. Conservation groups want to get protected status for the flower. If they succeed? No more mine.

The final piece of news this week is a recent survey from Pew Research Center which found that 51% of Americans oppose phasing out the production of gas-powered cars and trucks. The report also found that those reported hearing “a lot” about EVs were more likely to seriously consider one for their next vehicle purchase. Also, while Americans are roughly in agreement that EVs are better for the environment, they’re equally in agreement that they’re more costly.

The upshot is that more and more Americans are coming around to the idea of EVs and the question of their benefits (on the environment, for example) is pretty well understood. But policymakers and OEMs clearly still have a ways to go in convincing a huge swathe of Americans to get on board.

— Aria Alamalhodaei

A few more notes

 

I won’t be providing the looooonnnnggggg roundup of news this week, but here are a few little bits including some hires and other tidbits.

7-Eleven said it plans to install 500 direct-current fast charging ports at 250 locations across North America by the end of 2022. These charging ports will be owned and operated by 7-Eleven, as opposed to fuel at its filling stations, which must be purchased from suppliers.

Baraja, the lidar startup, appointed former Magna and DaimlerChrysler veterans to its executive team, including Paul Eichenberg as chief strategy officer and Jim Kane as vp of automotive engineering.

Brian Heater, hardware editor here at TechCrunch, covered a recent gathering of ride-hailing drivers in Long Island City, Queens. The group protested outside of Uber’s offices ahead of a proposed state bill. The drivers support the proposed bill that would make it easy for gig economy workers in the state to unionize.

Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has secured a permit that will allow the company to shuttle passengers in its test vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The permit, issued by the California Public Utilities Commission as part of its driverless pilot program, is one of several regulatory requirements autonomous vehicle companies must meet before they can deploy commercially. This permit is important — and Cruise is the first to land this particular one — but it does not allow the company to charge passengers for any rides in test AVs.

DeepMap has developed a crowdsourced mapping service called RoadMemory that lets automakers turn data collected from their own fleets of passenger vehicles and trucks into maps. The company says the tool is designed to expand geographic coverage more quickly and support hands-off autonomous driving features everywhere.

Joby Aviation is partnering with REEF Technology, one of the country’s largest parking garage operators, and a real estate acquisition company Neighborhood Property Group to build out its network of vertiports, with an initial focus on Los Angeles, Miami, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Populus, the platform that helps cities manage shared mobility services, streets and curbs, launched a new digital car-sharing parking feature in Oakland. The gist is that this feature helps cities collect data on car-sharing and deploy curbside paying payments. The company launched this particular product in 2018 and has been expanding to different cities.

Starship Technologies, the autonomous sidewalk delivery startup, has hired a new CEO. The company tapped Alastair Westgarth, the former CEO of Alphabet’s Loon, to lead the company as it looks to expand its robotics delivery service. Loon, Alphabet’s experiment to deliver broadband via high-altitude balloons, was shut down for good at the beginning of this year. Prior to working at Loon, Westgarth headed the wireless antennae company Quintel Solutions, was a vice president at telecommunications company Nortel and director of engineering at Bell Mobility.

Yuri Suzuki, a partner at design consultancy firm Pentagram, recently conducted a research project into the crucial role electric car sound has on a user’s safety, enjoyability, communication and brand recognition, out of which he developed a range of car sounds.

Watch Apple’s WWDC keynote live right here

By Romain Dillet

Today, Apple is holding a (virtual) keynote on the first day of its developer conference, and the company is expected to talk about a ton of software updates. At 10 AM PT (1 PM in New York, 6 PM in London, 7 PM in Paris), you’ll be able to watch the event right here as the company is streaming it live.

As usual with Apple’s developer conferences, you can expect to learn more about the next major updates of the company’s operating systems. Get ready for iOS 15, iPadOS 15, a new version of macOS and some updates for watchOS and tvOS as well.

But Apple could also use this opportunity to unveil some new products that are particularly popular with developers. Apple has already shipped several laptops and desktop computers with its own ARM-based M1 chip.

High-end models haven’t been updated yet. Rumor has it that Apple could use today’s opportunity to unveil a new iMac Pro, updated MacBook Pro models or even a new external display.

You can watch the live stream directly on this page, as Apple is streaming its conference on YouTube.

If you have an Apple TV, you don’t need to download a new app. You can open the Apple TV app and find the Apple Events section. It lets you stream today’s event and rewatch old ones.

And if you don’t have an Apple TV and don’t want to use YouTube, the company also lets you live stream the event from the Apple Events section on its website. This video feed now works in all major browsers — Safari, Firefox, Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

read more about Apple's WWDC 2021 on TechCrunch

TezLab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

TezLab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of TezLab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up TezLab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

Apple 24-inch M1 iMac review

By Brian Heater

Last September we concluded our 27-inch iMac review thusly,

The big open question mark here is what the future looks like for the iMac — and how long we’ll have to wait to see it. That is, of course, the perennial question for hardware upgrades, but it’s exacerbated by the knowledge of imminent ARM-based systems and rumors surrounding a redesign.

It was, as these things go, less than a full-throated endorsement of Apple’s latest all-in-one. We certainly weren’t alone in the assessment. It was a weird liminal zone for the computer — and Macs in general. At WWDC in June, the company had taken the unusual step of announcing its move from Intel to its own in-house chips without any hardware to show for it.

The reasoning was sound. The company was looking to help developers get out ahead of launch. It was going to be a heavy lift — the first time the Mac line had seen such a seismic shift since 2005. Fifteen years is a long time, and that’s a lot of legacy software to contend with. While the move wouldn’t outright break every piece of MacOS software, it was certainly in devs’ best interest to optimize for the new hardware, by way of the Mac Mini developer kit the company was offering. The full transition to the new silicon, Apple noted, would take two years.

Apple M1 chip

Image Credits: Apple

In November, the company debuted the first M1 Macs: a new Mac Mini, MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. We spent several thousand words reviewing all three systems, but ultimately Matthew put it pretty succinctly, “Apple’s new M1-powered MacBook shows impressive performance gains that make Intel’s chips obsolete overnight.”

Which is, you know, a rough look for an all-in-one launched a mere two months before. That goes double for a system that hadn’t seen a fundamental redesign in some time. Two months after launch, the 2020 iMac was already starting to feel old.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Fast-forward to last month, when Apple announced the new iMac amid a flurry of hardware news. This, it seems, was the iMac we’d been waiting for. The new system brought the most fundamental redesign in a decade, with an ultra-compact new form factor, improvements to audio and video (a big sticking point in the remote work era) and, perhaps most importantly, the new M1 chip.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The biggest thing the 2020 system has going for it is that it’s, well, big. Having used a 27-inch iMac for much of my day-to-day work throughout the pandemic, I’m honestly surprised by how much I miss those extra three inches. I’d initially assumed that added bit of screen real estate was going to be fairly negligible once you’ve passed the 20-inch threshold, but turns out, like anything else, it takes some getting used to.

There’s an immediate upside, too, of course. I was genuinely surprised by how compact the new design is, compared to past iMacs. In spite of adding 2.5 inches to the display size over the 21.5-inch, the new system is an extremely thin 11.5 mm (or 14.7 when the stand is factored in).

The overarching theme for the system is “cute.” This is not a word I often apply to technology. Words like “cool” or “sleek” are generally go-tos here. But I’m at a loss for a better word to describe what feels like a true spiritual successor to the iMac G3. The colorful line of all-in-ones ushered in Steve Jobs’ second triumphant stint with the company, arriving at the tail end of a decade in a year personified by the Volkswagen’s New Beetle.

Of course, the design language has evolved dramatically in the nearly quarter-century since the first iMac arrived, owing to changing styles and, of course, ever-reducing component sizes. The flat-panel design arrived early this century and settled into the most recent design around 2012. Sure, there have been plenty of updates since then, but nine years is a long time for an Apple design to go without a major refresh.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

It finds the company moving from what was ostensibly an industrial design to something more warm and welcoming. The color is the thing here. It was the most frequently discussed question around the TechCrunch (virtual) offices. Everyone wants to know which we’d be getting. Mine landed with a yellow hue — something nice, light and spring. Honestly, it’s more of a gold than I expected, with a bright and shiny glean to it. I will advise that anyone who plans to buy one of these systems visit an Apple Store if there’s one nearby if you’re comfortable doing so. It’s really the sort of thing that really benefits from being seen in person, if possible.

That goes double here — since, boy howdy, is Apple on theme. The keyboard matches, the cables match, the desktop wallpaper matches, the adorable packaging matches (it’s a fun unboxing experience, as those things go) and even little touches like the OS buttons match. The latter two, obviously, are something you’re able to futz around with a bit. But the system and even the keyboard is a bit more of a commitment, really. After all, this is probably the kind of thing you’re going to want to hold onto for a number of years, so lighting and interior decorating are both worth considering before you make your decision. I recognize this is an odd thing to think about when talking about a desktop computer, but, well, it’s the iMac.

The company is offering an AR iOS app for seeing how the new iMac will fit in with its surroundings, which is a clever — and probably useful — touch. The system also weighs in at less than 10 pounds. This is admittedly not something I’ve given much thought to with desktops. “Portable” is a weird way to describe the form factor, but particularly compared to other desktop systems, it kind of fits? At the very least, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that you can occasionally move the thing from room to room, as needed.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

In broad strokes, the front of the system is similar to that of the past iMacs, though the bottom panel and its large Apple logo have been swapped out of a streak of color. The pane of glass lies flush with the screen and a not insignificant white bezel that frames it. The bezel, combined with the panel, comprises a not insignificant amount of real estate below the display, likely owing to the placement of components and the downward-firing speaker grille that runs the full length of the computer’s bottom. Up top is the newly upgraded 1080p HD Webcam — the first on any Mac.

As with past iMacs, the system sits atop a stand. In the case of the yellow model, at least, the stand is a notably darker hue than the front of the system. There’s a VESA mount option configurable upon purchase, but the stand itself is very much not designed to be user replaceable. The hinge’s action is smooth. I found myself pivoting the system up and down semi-regularly to better frame myself in the webcam, and did so with ease.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There’s a 3.5 mm headphone jack on the left — hello, old friend. I much prefer this placement to the rear of the device, which requires the cable to wrap around the side or bottom.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

A hole inside the stand is designed for cables to be run through — specifically power. Magsafe — er, the magnetic charging connector — really popped up unexpectedly here. It’s less about the quick release that you would find on the old MacBooks and more about the ease of simply snapping the cable in place. I suspect that people are less likely to trip over a desktop cable that never (or at least rarely) moves.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The big update to the power cable situation is, of course, the addition of ethernet to the brick. The brick is quite a bit larger — especially if you’re accustomed to dealing with MacBooks. But likely it will be out of the way. What it does bring is the removal of some additional clutter on the back of the system and helps keep the computer itself that much thinner. For most people in most cases that can access a hardwired connection, it’s a nice addition.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The port situation, on the other hand, is decidedly less so. I like ports. I have lots of stuff that need plugging in to the back of the computer and ports are probably the best case to plug ’em. The entry-level system has two Thunderbolt/USB ports. You can upgrade that to four. Definitely do this. Seriously. You’re not going to regret it.

I’m someone who keeps the wireless keyboard and trackpad/mouse plugged in most of the time. I know, it kind of defeats the purpose, but worrying about charging accessories is not another stress I need in my life right now. So that’s two ports right there. I also have some AV accessories and suddenly, boom, you’re out of ports.

The $1,299 version of the system ships with the Magic Keyboard. It’s pretty much the same as other Magic Keyboards of recent vintage. It’s not for everyone, I know. Those who love mechanical keyboards will find something to be desired in the tactility, but it’s a step up from MacBooks and I’ve certainly grown accustomed to using it. There’s no number pad on the base model, but the coloring coordinates with the Mac.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

With the $1,699 model, you get upgraded to a version with Touch ID — something that’s been a long time coming on the desktop system. Like other Macs (and older iPhones), the fingerprint scanning login is nearly instantaneous. As has been the case for a while, if you’re an Apple Watch wearer, that will log you in as well, but the addition of Touch ID on the desktop is great. The base version comes with the Magic Mouse. It’s $50 to upgrade to a Trackpad and $129 for a combo. I’ve grown fond of the Trackpad, so that’s where I’d probably land here (I doubt many people will have a need for both).

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As ever, I understand the many reasons the company has pushed its line to USB-C — it’s especially obvious when you see how much room has been freed up on the rear of the device. But man, I miss having those legacy USB-A ports on the 2020 iMac. Meantime, you might want to toss a couple of A to C USB adapters into your basket before check out. That’s kind of just life with Apple, though. Courage, and all that.

I do wonder if this means the company is positioning the M1 line for the return of an iMac Pro. Stranger things have happened. For now, of course, the company is more focused on the Mac Pro at the much higher end.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

As expected, the new M1 chip breathes new life into the system. Take our Geekbench 5 scores: 1,720 Single and 7,606 multi-core. That blows the average of 1,200 and 6,400 for the 21.5-inch system out of the water. Things understandably take a dip with the Rosetta (Intel) version at 1,230 and 5,601, respectively, but it’s still solid performance running through a translation layer. But it also points to why Apple was so proactive about getting developers on-board with the new silicon. On the whole, the gains are in-line with the the other new M1 systems we’ve seen — which is to say a nice, healthy leap forward into the future of the Mac.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

If you want to know how much of your workflow will be impacted, this resource is a good place to start. On the whole, I found that most of my day to day apps were fine. There are outliers, of course. Spotify and Audacity are right there. Performance is impacted in both case, but on a whole, they worked okay through Rosetta. Usage is more resource-intensive, though.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Spotify is probably a question of how many resources the Apple Music competitor wants to put into a new version, while Audacity is likely more of an issue of how many resources the organization has at its disposal. The further you move away from big names like Microsoft and Adobe, the more of a crapshoot it is. But there are some support issues with bigger names still, as well. For instance, I upgraded to the Apple silicon version of Zoom, but downgraded when I discovered it doesn’t work with the Intel-only version of the Canon EOS webcam software I use.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

I recognize this is an extremely specific issue, but, then, workflows are extremely specific. As M1 systems become the mainstream of Macs, however, developers ultimately won’t really have much of a choice. Support Apple Silicon or risk becoming obsolete. Growing pains are essentially unavoidable with this sort of shift, but the results really speak for themselves. Apple Silicon is the future of Macs and it’s a fast-booting, smooth-moving future, indeed.

I can practically see the Apple team shouting at me when I mention the external mics and cameras I use to record video for work. After all, the new iMac sees the biggest upgrade to these things in some time. The best time for a new microphone system and the first 1080p HD camera on a Mac would have been last year, as the pandemic was beginning to transform the way we work and meet. The second best time, of course, is now.

Apple did tout an improved camera system on last year’s MacBook, but that was more to do with the image signal processing on the chips. That goes a ways toward improving things like white balance, but a truly meaningful improvement to imaging generally also requires new camera hardware. Take a look at the below images.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

That’s the 2020 iMac on the left and new M1 iMac on the right. Forgetting (hopefully) for a moment my droopy, partially paralyzed face (2020, am I right?), the image is night and day here — and not just because I’m slightly better put together all of these pandemic months later. The change that comes from upgrading from 720p to 1080p is just immediately apparent in term of image quality. I anticipate Apple upgrading its systems across the board, because teleconferencing is just life now.

iMac 2020:

iMac 2021:

Along with camera, the mic system got a nice upgrade. I’ve re-recorded the same audio that I did back in November on the old system. The three microphone array is crisper and much clearer, eliminating much of the background noise hiss. The six-speaker audio system is an improvement, as well. I found it worked well with music and movies, but could be less clear for teleconferencing, depending on the quality of the other attendee’s mic. The audio could be a bit bass-heavy for my taste.

On the whole, for most people, day to day, I think the audio and video upgrades are plenty. If you use your system for the occasional Zoom calls and some music listening, you should be fine. Depending on what you’re looking to get out of these things, though, a decent external camera, mic or speaker is never a bad investment.

The new iMac represents a nice leap forward for the desktop all-in-one in some key fundamental ways, breathing new life into one of the company’s most popular systems that’s long been in need need of a makeover. I miss some ports and now feel spoiled having had an SD reader on the 2020 model. I would also love to see a 27-inch version of the system on the market at some point (iMac Pro reboot, anyone?). On the whole the system is less targeted at creative pros than other models have been in the past — though the M1 and its on-board ML are still capable of impressive audio, video and still image editing.

But a cute, color coordinated design and some long overdue upgrades to teleconferencing elements aside, Apple Silicon is rightfully taking centerstage here as it did with the MacBooks and Mac Mini before it. The pricing on the systems was a source of some confusion around these parts when first announced. The very base-level version runs $1,299, while the tip-top level goes up to $2,628 with all the bells and whistles.

At the most basic level, there are three main configurations:

  • $1,299 gets you an 8-core CPU and 7-Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, two USB ports, standard Magic Keyboard
  • $1,499 upgrades the GPU to eight cores, adds ethernet and two USB ports and brings Touch ID to the keyboard
  • $1,699 upgrades storage to 512GB (Our configuration as tested)

The systems are available for pre-order now and will start arriving in customers’ homes this Friday.

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