A Peek at Apple’s Studio Vision

This week Apple kicked start a new round of products upgrade cycle with the “Peek Performance” event. We’ve got a peek at the new M1 Ultra, the Mac Studio and the Apple Studio display, among other things. Let me share my observations about this event.

A slow start

The Apple TV+ segment always feels like an infomercial and I’m starting to find these segments a bit dozy (I don’t care about the baseball). Then, the new green iPhone. M’ok. Fine. In recent years, Apple is adding new colours outside of the initial launch timeframe. It’s probably helping them move the sales needle a bit. With the lights on the iPhone, Apple started a new segment, with the Apple Silicon.

The Apple Silicon

Apple used Apple Silicon to talk about the A15 and the new iPhone SE. With 5G. Yep, 5G. Cheap device, I guess. Same design. There’s seems to be a lot of pent-up demand for such a phone with a good camera, great screen, better battery life, touch ID and good great wireless speed. One thing about this year’s iPhone SE: the new wallpapers are simply gorgeous! It’s now on my iPhone. 😍

Next up, the iPad Air is the next device to get the M1 treatment. Faster. More toned colours. And 5G. Yep, 5G. More system memory. Everything else stays the same. Good device for the price. What’s left for the iPad Pro then? Better screen, bigger screen sizes. Again, may I remind you the problem with the iPad isn’t its speed. It’s the software, many would argue. With iPadOS 15 it’s less of a problem, but there is still quite a few things to be improved. Waiting for iPadOS 16 for this. Is it me who kept hearing “iPod” instead of “iPad” from the presenter? It sounded a bit funny.

The Mac Studio brain
The Mac Studio brain

Still, on the trail of the Apple Silicon, Apple introduced the M1 Ultra. Now things get really impressive. The M1 Ultra is unique, way up there, a monster of technology, in such a small package. the idea of a single chip hosting two M1 Max, acting as a single CPU to the software is brilliant. Devs don’t have to do anything and the compact package offers the best performance possible. Boy, this chip is FAST. During the segment, I kept thinking: when they started designing the M1 line, they probably had this idea of offering many variants with different packaging to cover all the Mac products’ needs. It was forward-looking thinking for sure. We now have the complete picture of their initial vision, minus the Mac Pro.

The Mac Studio visual facts sheet
The Mac Studio visual facts sheet

For hosting the M1 Ultra, Apple felt the need to create a new form factor for it, give it a new name, something Apple rarely do. The Mac Studio was born. I’m not a big fan of this name, but Basic Apple Guy is:

Let me start by saying that I love the name of this product. With products like ‘Pro’ in the name, I often enter into a philosophical debate: Am I a Pro? What is a ‘Pro’? Who & what is or isn’t worthy of a ‘Pro’ device? But Studio makes sense to me; it’s a space where serious work gets done. The naming might seem insignificant, but it switches the relationship from the user’s identity to the product (i.e. are they a ‘Pro’ or not) to the environment for that computer to go in.

For me, Mac Studio is more evocative of a bigger ensemble than a single device. Maybe this is what Apple is aiming for. Anyway, from a design perspective, I’m not fully in love with the Mac Studio look. Maybe it will grow on me overtime, like a lot of Apple products. Yet, I think Apple could have created a more singular design, away from the Mac mini. It simply feels a bit weird as an elongated Mac mini. It’s not their first time they do this, compare previous generation of AirPort wireless routers for example.

Apple continues the recent trend of giving its users what they want instead of telling them what they want.

The Mac Studio - a new form factor
The Mac Studio – a new form factor

The Mac Studio form factor is the one that creates the least compromises, compared to an iMac Pro. From now on, Apple’s vision seems to center around the discreet form factor for the pros or the enthusiasts. If you’re a pro, you’ll want o buy a Mac AND a display, or go for a MacBook Pro if you are on the move. All-in-one Mac is for “regular” users.

From a connectivity perspective, USB-C ports and SD card slots on the front is a welcomed design decision. On the back, two USB-A ports for older devices that even pros do use with the latest machines. What about the power cord? Well, I’m surprised they didn’t bring the MagSafe connector from the 24-inches iMac. Power conversion happens within the Mac, not in an external brick like on the iMac. I’m ok with this and it makes sense.

Now, the only Mac still to receive the Apple Silicon transition is the Mac Pro. What will get the future Mac Pro? An M1 Ultra^2? It’s going to be frightening with the Mac Pro CPU double the performance of the current M1 Ultra. Mind blowing.

The Apple Studio Display
The Apple Studio Display

Next, the Studio Display. I love the name. I love the design. It’s THE display that Apple should have done a long time ago. There’s an A13 chip in this thing. It’s another piece of tech that Apple don’t have to buy from a third-party. The A13 will handle the monitor’s features like 12 MP camera with CenterStage, the sound, the display itself. It’s a computer with even untapped potential.

Up until today, I didn’t expect to change my LG 4K UltraFine display. When I checked for the price of the Studio Display, I started to change my mind. But why is that, my LG display is a good one, right? Here is why.

  • Apple’s displays are the best on the market. The display image quality will certainly be better than the LG display. Can’t wait for DisplayMate to validate this.
  • 5K > 4K. Retina.
  • 27” is bigger and bigger is better. The size of the display as a whole will be a tad bigger than my current LG UltraFine. The stand design is a lot better. It’s massive. The 30 degrees inclination should me more than enough.
  • I like the aluminium stand, next to the Mac mini it will create a better fit.
  • I’ll be working from home 90% of the time for the rest of my career, a better webcam with Center Stage are great features. Will it produce better image quality than my current Logitech Brio 4K? A visit to the Apple Store should help me find an answer. I prefer an integrated webcam than one outside of the monitor. It’s cleaner.
  • Better speakers, better microphones are welcomed too. Using the HomePod mini with the Mac mini is good but far from perfect. Latency often breaks the listening experience.
  • The nano-texture glass is something that I’m looking forward because of my current setup. My work space has a big patio door behind me. I do see a lot of reflections in my screen. The only thing that makes me pause about nano-texture glass: its fragility. It will make it harder to clean. This tweet seems to confirm my doubts. I guess I’ll have to wait and see for myself in an Apple Store.
  • The lack of ProMotion or HDR isn’t a dealbreaker. A more expansive display would be.
  • At 1599$, I think the price is right for what we get. There is nothing like it on the market.

The overall package and design of the Apple Studio display could bring tangible improvements to my work-from-home computing setup. I’m sold. Apple will sell a boat-load of these. At time of publication, shipping date estimates to get an Apple Studio display with nano-texture glass are slipping to the end of May. Another reason to skip the nano-display, I guess. One last thing about the Studio Display: what happens when the display needs a software upgrade, because apparently, it is running a custom OS, based on iOS probably?

Apple often creates devices that people didn’t know they wanted until they see it. With Apple Studio, I didn’t now that I wanted a new external display.

The Apple Studio display visual facts sheet
The Apple Studio display visual facts sheet

The last online-only Apple event?

Overall, that was a good show, but only if we skip the first 10 minutes. As always, production quality is top notch. As COVID-19 is more and more a thing of the past, I guess this will be the last virtual event. I expect Apple to create an hybrid version for the WWDC conference: lot’s of pre-recorded segments with live demos and talks. We’ll see.

The iPad Air and Mac Studio with Apple Display Studio mini-movie segments were quite cool, my favourite being the one with a woman walking around and within a giant Mac Studio.

Final thoughts

This event was a little odd in that it was almost entirely dedicated to products that are kinda niche by Apple’s standards. The iPhone SE and iPad Air will surely sell relatively well, and their updates were respectable, if a bit safe. The Mac Studio and Studio Display are definitely targeted at a higher-end crowd, but I think they’ll make a lot of people really happy.

Matt Birchler, for the Sweet Setup

A clever observation from Steve Troughton-Smith, a well-known developer:

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