OK, so all the Apple announcements last year, it's hard to know exactly what to buy but here are some recommendations thinking about a typical user who does mainly browsing and using the Internet and then a more hard-core user who is into video editing, photography, etc. The main resource I use here is the Macrumors Buying Guide, it will tell you if you should buy now, be neutral, or don't buy for all Apple products.
MacBook Recommendations: MacBook Air (best this fall)
Well, Apple is supposed to be updating their Macs with the M2 chip this year, so as usual, if you can hold off, it's great to be at the top of the product cycle to maximize life. Mac hardware lasts a looooonnngg time vs. PC hardware. In fact, except that they are too slow, our Macbook 2008 machines (that's 12 years now!) are working fine. And in fact, a MacBook Pro 2010 is currently running our file server and I use a 2011 Mac Mini for general compute, so it makes sense for machines like this to invest a bit upfront to get longer life since the main issue is not enough RAM and (these days) not enough SSD.
So, the sweet spot right now in the MacBook lineup is definitely the MacBook Air M1 with 7-core GPU. This is their entry-level system (the normal MacBook Air has 8 cores, but if you build up from the very base unit, then you get a 7-core and save about $100). Then, the next thing is to get enough SSD because the SSDs are not removable, so pretty much moving to 512GB is mandatory. The final upgrade to take would be moving to 16GB of RAM. You only need this if you are going to run memory-hungry applications like video editing (or if you have to love Chrome which is a very, very fat application, Safari is much more efficient).
The main issue right now is that the MacBook Air M1 is now two years old, so it is probably going to get an update. If you can stand it until this Fall 2022, I would wait as the so-called M2 is expected then. The current theory is that the Apple Silicon is on a tick-tock cadence. That is as an example, the iPhone 12/MacBook Air were based on the A14 and M1 processor in 2020, then in 2021, they tweaked them, in the old days, an iPhone 13 would be called an iPhone 12s, but the idea is that in the odd years, you get performance tweaks so the M1 went to the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
Finally, if you want to splurge, then the MacBook Pro 14 M1 Pro (wow that is a mouthful) is really going to be a machine that lasts for a long time. It is the first MacBook with a mini-LED display and it is incredible. For most ordinary mortals, you can just use the base system, so 32GB of memory and 1TB of memory is going to handle just about video editing and other workloads. And like the MacBook Air, there is a hack which is to take the lowest-end MacBook Pro which has one less core, which won't cause much degradation.
That means that this year, we should see the M2 family arrive in concert with the iPhone 14, so if you can wait, 2022 is could be an interesting year, we should see the iMac arrive and the rumor is that it will have a dual M1 which will be a monster
iPhone Recommendations: iPhone 13 Pro
This is a good time to buy an iPhone as this is the beginning of the cycle and right now, although expensive, the video and photo quality of the iPhone 13 Pro is just incredible. Combined with a new chip, this seems like a phone that is going to last a long time. If you don't have the budget for it, the regular iPhone 13 is also a great device with the same processors as the Pro line, but it is a good choice. Having a 3x telephoto is nice, but the wide-angle is what I use the most.
In terms of storage, these things are definitely using more storage because the videos and things are just getting bigger, so you probably want at least 256GB of storage so you never have to worry about it.
Finally, if you don't take lots of photos, then the iPhone 13 is a good deal.
iPad Recommendations: iPad Air or upgrade to iPad Pro 12, wait if you can
OK, this is a bit of a controversial recommendation, but there are really two uses of an Ipad. The first is as a little convenient device
The first is that it is for basic video consumption and web browsing, here the iPad Air (4th generation) feels like a good choice, but I do think this is a pretty niche scenario. That is, most of the time you can just use your phone for this and hold it closer (literally, this is what I do 🙂 While you can get a regular iPad (which is very cheap), the iPad Air because it uses the A14 vs the A12 feels like it will live a long time.
The second, and IMHO more important, is a desktop replacement or for reading research papers. In the former case, I actually find that I mainly use my iPhone for most browsing, so at least for me, the iPad really fits in the "I don't really need a MacBook, I'm just doing watch a video, send an email and buy something on the web". Right now, the various Office applications and even Google Docs are not that great on an iPad, so it's really for those two cases.
If you are doing this, the quality of the screen is matters and the mini-LED that's only in the 12.9 and buying it with a magic keyboard really makes it a great replacement.
The reason to wait is that the rumor is that the mini-LED will work its way down the line so that's a good call
Getting the best price
Now, where do you buy these things, well there are three places that I look:
- Apple Insider Price Guide. They search the internet looking at prices from major resellers. Typically, around the November Black Friday sales and then again in January you get some discounts.
- Apple Education. In the fall, there are typical promotions if you have college-age kids or on faculty somewhere.
- Apple Refurbished. This is actually typically a great deal for products that are basically returned to Apple and have the full Apple warranty and really just as good as new, so for instance for a 7-core, 8GB, 512GB machine, you can save $150 off of a $1400 machine.