Apple just held their Peek Performance event. How does the newly announced Apple Hardware compare to the existing lineup and the competition? What does the future hold for creatives using Apple hardware?
As expected, Tim Cook walked out onto the stage at the start of this virtual Apple event, and after the customary "Good Morning," we were treated to some information on new Apple TV+ content followed by two new shades of green for the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro models. Nothing too exciting so far, but Tim Cook is known for leaving the best for last.
Next up after the new iPhone colors were the changes to the iPhone SE and iPad Air models. Both will retain their existing form factor but receive processor updates and 5G connectivity. The iPhone SE is a decent and affordable entry-level iPhone starting at just $429. The iPad Air will also get a faster USB-C port, and an updated front-facing 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera, which now features Center Stage to intelligently track you during video calls. This is a nice addition that I frequently use when on video calls using my iPad Pro, and the iPad Air will now run on the same M1 chip as the 2021 iPad Pro models. Both of the new devices will look the same as before, with some fresh new color options on the iPad Air.
New Apple Silicon
That's more like it, thank you Apple! After the super-fast and efficient MacBooks Pro, which launched last October, we've been waiting for something with a little more power to match the desktop competition. The M1 Pro and M1 Max processors are exceptionally powerful considering their low power consumption, this makes them perfect for powerful creative laptops such as the new MacBook Pro models, but many commentators have pointed out that these processors are still not as powerful as some new Intel processors or high-end Intel and Nvidia based desktop setups, which use significantly more power.
As rumored, Apple introduced us to the new M1 Ultra for future Mac desktops. The M1 Ultra is essentially two M1 Max chips connected using Apple's new Ultra Fusion technology, resulting in a dual die system that acts as a single processor. The custom Apple silicon architecture means that these two M1 Max chips behave as one chip, preserving the benefits of unified memory, Apple's answer to conventional RAM, with a memory bandwidth of 800 GB/s up to 128 GB. The M1 Ultra SOC features a 20-core CPU with 16 high-performance cores and 4 efficiency cores, 64 GPU cores, 4 media engines, plus a 32-core neural engine, and the secure enclave found in the other chips in the M1 family.
Apple claims the M1 Ultra is 90% more power than a similar Intel chip while still using 100 watts less power. We'll have to wait for the independent reviews to find out how these processors perform in benchmarks and real-world use cases, but it could be quite a powerful chip that is still more efficient, cooler, and therefore quieter than the competition.
This could be great news for independent creatives, especially filmmakers, who want more power than the 2021 MacBook Pro models or those who don't care about efficiency and just want the most powerful editing tool available. This could be a great chip for a new pro-level Mac desktop machine that doesn't need to worry about battery life.
As expected, there's also a new Mac to make use of the new Apple Silicon. Aimed directly at creatives, Apple has announced the Mac Studio and Studio Display with emphasis put on a performance, connectivity, and modularity. The Mac Studio looks like a taller Mac Mini and will be available with the M1 Max chip found in the late 2021 MacBooks Pro or the new M1 Ultra. The Mac Studio sits at 3.7” high with the same 7" square footprint as the Mac Mini. Interestingly for such an efficient system, around half of the internal space of the unit is dedicated to active cooling with air intakes all around the bottom. Unlike the Mac Mini, there's now an SDXC card reader on the front of the unit and two Thunderbolt ports also on the front of the units, which contain an M1 Ultra chip; these ports are USB-C on M1 Max systems.
On the back of the Mac Studio are four Thunderbolt ports, a 10 Gb Ethernet port, two USB-A ports for those legacy peripherals, as well as an HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
This could be a great addition to creatives who already have well-kitted out studios that don't want to spend upwards of $6,000 per machine on laptops that may never be used unplugged. As good as the mini-LED MacBook Pro displays are, they don't have as much value if the laptop stays plugged into a reference monitor all the time. The new Mac Studio gives the option of all the power and more connectivity, without requiring the consumer to pay for a keyboard, trackpad, and screen that they don't need.
Apple claims that the new Mac Studio with M1 Max is 2.5x faster than the old higher-end Mac Mini with an Intel processor and 50% faster than the current Mac Pro. Apple also claims the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra is 90% faster than the existing Mac Pro with up to 80% more graphics performance than the fastest Mac Pro. The M1 Ultra also allows for up to 128 GB of unified memory. A big advantage to unified memory is that the memory is available to both the CPU and the GPU; this means the M1 Ultra Mac Studio can have up to 128 GB of memory available to the GPU, compared with only 48GB of video RAM available in the highest-end graphics cards available right now. The Mac Studio is also configurable with up to 8 TB internal SSD storage, which I'm sure Apple will put quite the premium price on.
As someone who edits photos on a 14" M1 Pro MacBook Pro, I don't think my needs warrant a computer four times as fast as this one, although I did pay extra to get a model with 32 GB of unified memory. I have no issues with slowdown in Photoshop or Lightroom, even with tens of images or multi-layered projects open. I've also experienced no issues editing 4K footage with multiple codecs and color correction in the same timeline. But I am not a filmmaker shooting 8K ProRes with tight deadlines to meet; those working with multiple huge files that need to be edited and exported with no time to spare will be interested in a new desktop that has at least twice the power of the fastest Apple computer available.
The Mac Pro with M1 Ultra is claimed to be able to run 18 streams of 8K ProRes 422 video, and this will be a huge time saver for any independent videographers who want to save time and edit without proxies.
Apple claims, in addition to better performance than competing systems, the new Mac Studio uses significantly less power use than competitors, up to 1,000 kWh less per year than the comparable Intel-based system. This will certainly be of interest to any studios who are concerned about the increasing cost of energy bills. In the modern world, we could all do with making some financial savings, especially if it can also lower our carbon footprint.
Prices for the Mac Studio with M1 Max start from $1,999, and M1 Ultra models start from $3,999. Those prices are significantly lower than most of the M1 Max MacBook Pro models, meaning this could be a great option for a studio looking to upgrade aging Mac Pro models for something running on custom Apple silicon.
Apple Studio Display
Since Apple discontinued its Apple Cinema Display in 2014, the only Apple-branded display available has been the $,5000 Pro Display XDR, with an optional $1,000 stand, which is hardly a product aimed at the average Mac owner. I was excited to see what a modern Apple consumer display would look like, and I wasn't disappointed. The Studio Display is designed to complement any of the new Mac devices, including the new MacBook Pros and the Mac Studio. Although after this product announcement, I'm still looking forward to seeing what Apple replaces the Pro Display XDR with.
The Studio Display is a 27” monitor with 14.7 million pixels, making it a 5K Retina display with a peak brightness of 600 nits, P3 color gamut, anti-reflective coating, and True Tone. There's also Nano texture glass as an option, this further reduces glare in bright studio environments. The Studio Display features a small bezel and comes on a stand that can tilt up to 30 degrees. Apple also announced a tilt and raise stand, and Vesa mounts are available as optional extras.
Most interesting is the A13 Bionic processor built into the display. I'd heard rumors on what this processor in the display might be for, with many suggesting it could be used for upscaling content or matching refresh rates. I had hoped it could be used to bring some Apple silicon functionality to older machines by introducing the neural engine in the way an external GPU can be used to boost the graphics performance of a computer. I was impressed to hear that this custom Apple Silicon allows the built-in 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera in the Studio Display to use Center Stage, just like all the iPad models, but this is a first for a Mac. In the age of endless video calls and virtual meetings, this is a very useful, modern feature. There's also a three-mic array for clear recording and streaming of your voice, as well as a six-speaker sound system, featuring four woofers and two tweeters; this audio system also supports Apple's spatial audio, powered by the A13 chip inside. The Studio Display can also work as a Thunderbolt dock for an Apple MacBook, as the Studio Display has three USB-C ports on the back with a data transfer speed of 10 GB/s. There's also one Thunderbolt 4 port, which can deliver 96 watts of power that can fast-charge the 2021 14” MacBook pro. This Studio Display is starting to look like a very enticing prospect for any Mac users in the market for a new display, especially those who recently purchased a new MacBook Pro, like me.
The Studio Display is available for $1,599, which is a little more than I would like to pay for a consumer monitor, even if it doubles as a Thunderbolt dock for my MacBook. Looks like I'll be spending this week investigating resale values on my current Thunderbolt dock.
The Apple Studio Display doesn't seem anywhere near as targeted at the professional market as the Mac Studio is. It's doesn't appear to be mini-LED, so the contrast ratio, blacks, and peak brightness can't even compete with the MacBook Pro or iPad Pro mini-LED displays. There's still a lot of scope for Apple to release a more professional display to meet the needs of those who have been using the Pro Display XDR for several years and would likely be glad to see a new monitor that isn't as expensive as a fully fledged reference monitor. I imagine this will come when we eventually see the new Apple Silicon Mac Pro.
After a quick round-up of the announcements from Tim Cook, we've reached the end of the first Apple event of 2022.
Following a quick summary of the M1-powered machines released so far, Apple cryptically left us with the fact that the Mac Pro is still to be revealed at another time, proving that this super powerful M1 Ultra Mac Studio is just a peek at the power of Apple Silicon. When the M1 processor was first announced in 2020, Tim Cook told us that the transition to Apple Silicon would take two years, which gives Apple another nine months to show us what their processors are truly capable of.
Are you interested in any of the hardware announced today? Do you think the Studio Display is priced fairly for the target audience? Are you excited about what might come next? Let me know in the comments.