I know, I know. I’ve been a bit grumpy about Apple recently.

This is for two reasons. Firstly, I’m a big fan of their products, ethos, and mystique. Secondly, I love helping people buy the right Apple gear (it’s expensive, after all, and no one wants to encounter buyer’s remorse).

It therefore bothers me when Apple’s approach to product design and development either alienates huge swathes of its audience or is just downright obnoxious.

Yesterday was different. During an event that I felt I was covering just for the sake of it, Apple made three wonderful leaps forward, and they completely took me by surprise.

These are my top three announcements from yesterday’s California Streaming event.

The new cheapo iPad (no, really)

Up until yesterday, this year’s iPad releases have been seriously uninspiring. Adding an M1 chip to the iPad Pro lineup resulted in nothing more than an opportunity missed when Apple failed to deliver a single pro app that could take advantage of that power.

Why, then, am I so excited about the cheapest, most ‘old-fashioned’ iPad you can buy? Well, we learned yesterday that the regular iPad (you know, the one with the big bezels and home button) is Apple’s most popular iPad. And I’m not at all surprised.

It costs just $329 ($299 for schools). If, like many people, you have zero interest in the latest, greatest tech of which you’ll never take advantage or benefit from on a daily basis, this is the best iPad money can buy – hands-down.

Yesterday, it was given an A13 Bionic chip, True Tone screen, 64GB base storage, and an ultra-wide front camera with Center Stage. Combine all of that with the fact it supports the first-generation Apple Pencil and keyboard folio case, and this is one hell of a device.

I have an 8th generation iPad in the studio and I use it all of the time. The fact it lacks the fancy trinkets and design of the iPad Air 4 and iPad Pros is completely irrelevant. It gets the job done brilliantly.

Anything that provides a cost-effective route into the iPadOS ecosystem is a wonderful thing.

The new iPad mini (finally!)

Back in April, I expressed my disappointment with Apple’s seeming inability to move forward with the iPad mini design.

Back then, all rumours appeared to point towards the fact that we were going to see a new iPad mini, albeit with the exact same design as the outgoing model. It seemed like such a missed opportunity to finally do something with that wonderful form factor.

Those rumours turned out to be completely bogus. Which, incidentally, was a theme running throughout yesterday’s event; are the days of Jon Prosser and his increasingly desperate attempts to deliver a barnstorming early product reveal coming to an end?

Regardless, the new iPad mini looks superb. It is everything I’ve wanted for quite some time.

The new design follows the iPad Pro with rounded corners and smaller bezels, and, just like the iPad Air 4, Touch ID has been relocated to the power button.

It is essentially just a smaller iPad Air. Which is a very good thing indeed.

It also gains the wide-angle front camera and Center Stage capability (which became something of a recurring theme at yesterday’s event), but the real story lies within its compatibility with the second-generation Apple Pencil.

This is what I’ve been waiting for. The Apple Pencil is a useful tool for photo editing on the 12.9” iPad Pro and not a bad companion for the iPad Air 4. But I’ve long yearned for a proper notepad-sized digital device, and the combination of the new iPad mini and the second-generation Apple Pencil looks perfect.

Mine is on pre-order. Expect a full unboxing, followed by a review, and then lots more stuff about how wonderful it is. Hopefully.

Cinematic mode (for one specific reason)

I’m a bit obsessed with rack focusing. It’s something I always look for while watching movies and TV, and I’m always marvelling at the accuracy of talented focus pullers.

If you don’t know what focus racking is, trust me – you see it all of the time whenever you’re watching anything. It’s a camera technique where focus is shifted from a foreground element to something in the background (or vice-versa). It’s also used less obviously when subjects move towards a fixed camera and remain in sharp focus.

I’m getting into the weeds now – sorry. But rack focus played a huge role in the Apple event yesterday. It was used copiously in their product videos and even made the grade as a brand-new iPhone 13 feature.

Dubbed ‘cinematic mode’, this delivers rack-focussing capabilities to iPhone users. Available in both manual form (via what looks like a delightfully simple user interface), and a computationally-powered automatic mode.

The latter is particularly impressive. Using machine learning (which appears to be used for everything these days), every model of the iPhone 13 is capable of preempting when subjects will enter the frame in order to quickly lock focus, and, if the foreground subject turns their head, it’ll even shift focus automatically to whatever – or whoever – is behind them.

Super smart. Pointless for vast swathes of the population, but really cool, nonetheless.

Cinematic mode is part of Apple’s continued desire to add as much depth to both photos and video footage as possible. In doing so, the resulting image appears more ‘professional’, and as though it has been shot with some expensive glass and a big camera body.

Therefore, the reason this has made my list is because I think it’s an exciting step forward for a very specific audience: YouTube creators.

Computational photography continues to make incredible strides forward, and I think cinematic mode will put a huge smile on the face of YouTubers who don’t want to invest thousands in a camera body and lens setup.

With the regular iPhone 13 offering these new video features, it’s now possible to grab yourself a super-capable, relatively low-cost camera that’ll help you launch a YouTube channel quickly and with superb production values.

More of this please, Apple.

What was your favourite announcement?

I have many more thoughts on yesterday’s event. But they need to digest a little.

So, I’ll be back soon, but in the meantime, let me know what you thought about the announcements. What are you most excited about? What disappointed you the most?

Get involved!