Last week Apple held its first special event of the year. The announcements were pretty consistent with the rumours we’ve been hearing about for a while now. That being said there was a few wow moments and surprises that have excited the Apple community. Now that reviewers have gotten hands on with these devices, we have a clearer idea of how they fit into Apple’s ecosystem. Let’s take a deep dive into each of the announcements and the first impressions from early reviews.
Apple started the event by celebrating some recent milestones for their TV and Movie streaming service. The service has enjoyed plenty of awards success over the past year and just a couple of days ago won two BAFTA’s for the movie ‘Coda’. The platform is attracting all kinds of talent to the platform. Various Hollywood A Listers have worked with Apple thanks to the focus on original, high budget content.
Apple went on to announce that TV+ will now stream Major League Baseball games on a weekly basis. The “Friday Night Baseball” programming will be available for the entire 2022 season. Customers in the US and Canada will also be able to enjoy 24/7 livestreams of MLB content. Wallstreet seems to be happy about this move into live sports. It could prove to be a real driver for Apple TV+
As expected Apple announced the third generation of its iPhone SE. The SE has historically offered a great value in the iPhone lineup but with modern features. And the third generation is no exception:
- 6 core A15 Chip (as found in iPhone 13 Pro) with 4GB of RAM
- 5G support (Sub 6 GHz)
- Improved durability with what Apple claims to be ‘the strongest front and back glad in the industry’
- Support for many of the latest computational photography features such as Smart HDR 4, Photographic Styles, Deep Fusion and more
- A larger battery (capacity remains to be confirmed) that offers 2 additional hours of video playback and 10 hours of additional audio playback
- Slo-mo vide on the front camera
- Support for GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou satellite networks for the first time on iPhone SE in addition to GPS and QZSS
- Lighter coming in at 144 grams vs 148 grams
- 256GB storage option available
All of these new features come with a very slight bump in price, coming in at £419/$429. But considering global economics, the chip shortage and the ongoing impact of the pandemic, this represents an excellent value proposition. An iPhone 13 with the same chip costs £779 by contrast.
The caveat with the iPhone SE is that it sports an older design based on the iPhone 8. And that means larger bezels, a more compact 4.7 inch display based on LCD technology and no Face ID. It retains the classic home button and Touch ID. That being said, some people will welcome this as the home button and Touch ID remain popular features for many customer demographics. Others will appreciate the small, ultra portable form factor and might like to own this device for its compact size in addition to its affordability.
Early reviews of the device have generally praised the the internals of the device but lamented the legacy design. Though others have a slightly different spin such as Rene Ritchie. He points out that this device is not intended for the “Tech Bubble” and instead is targeted as a simple, easy to use device for everyone. You can check out their review below.
iPhone 13 and 13 Pro
As it did in Spring last year with the iPhone 12, Apple has once again introduced new colour options for its flagship iPhone models. The iPhone 13 and 13 mini are now available in green and the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max in Alpine green. Not the most exciting update of the event but Apple’s colour refreshes tend to be very popular. Last year’s purple iPhone 12 was well received and sold by the bucket load.
It’s smart of Apple to release a new colour to renew interest in the iPhone 13 ad iPhone ProCNet
As noted by CNet in their first impressions video, colour refreshes do tend to reinvigorate sales of existing models. We’ve seen Apple do this time and time again. The (PRODUCT) RED iPhone 8 and iPhone XR as previous examples.
Apple has finally updated the iPad Air after an 18 month wait. The introduction of the 5th generation iPad Air contains few surprises but does serve to bring it bang up to date with the rest of the iPad line. Perhaps the most notable feature is that it now contains the M1 chip found in its sibling the iPad Pro in addition to the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, iMac and 13 inch MacBook Pro. Most rumours had anticipated it would contain the A15 chip as is the case with the 6th generation iPad Mini. But Apple it seems had other plans. Notable upgrades include:
- M1 chip
- 5G cellular option (sub-6ghz)
- Ultra-wide 12 megapixel selfie camera
- Support for Centre Stage for subject tracking in FaceTime and video conferencing
- 2x zoom out for the front camera with 60fps 1080p video support
- 8GB RAM up from 4GB on the previous model
- Faster USB C port with 10GB per second data transfer speeds (not Thunderbolt as reported by some outlets)
- New colour finishes including a new blue model
The upgrades while welcome, are pretty much in line with what we expected in the lead up to the event. But at a price tag of £599, the iPad Air is now more competitive with the rest of the iPad Line. And for folks that don’t need features such as mini-LED and 120hz display technology as found in the iPad Pro, the Air might be a great option. It’s only available in one display size, 10.9 inches. If you want a larger display, you’ll need to buy the iPad Pro.
In his review, MKBHD quoted the age old strategy of price laddering, noting that the iPad Air is in some ways, the antithesis to that pricing model. Apple has actually created one less reason for users to buy the iPad Pro by adding the M1 chip to the Air.
Apple shook the tech community with the introduction of its new high end desktop chip for the Mac, the M1 Ultra. It turns out that the previous top end chip, the M1 Max, has a secret feature that Apple hadn’t talked about until now. The chip features a linking system that enables it to be snapped together with another M1 Max chip. This isn’t the first time a company has interconnected the die of two chips. But what is unique is Apple’s chosen implementation. They refer to this as ‘UltraFusion’. Usually this is achieved by placing the two chips through a motherboard. But this has unfortunate consequences for power consumption, bandwidth and latency. But Apple has overcome this with UltraFusion. It connects the chips across over 10,000 signals with 2.5TB/s of low latency. A 4x lead over competing chip linking implementations.
The M1 Max is a 10 core CPU and 32 core GPU. The M1 ultra therefore is a 20 core CPU and 64 core GPU system. And it supports 128GB of unified memory for unprecedented memory bandwidth. The GPU in particular will be extremely well fed.
The M1 Ultra outperforms Intels recently announced flagship chip, the Alderlake core i9 12900K. And it does so by up to 90% in multi threaded tasks. What’s even more impressive is that when operating at the peak performance levels of the intel chip, the M1 Ultra uses 100w less power. Simply unheard of.
For GPU performance, the M1 Ultra can keep pace with the latest offering from Nvidia in some scenarios. The chip in question in this comparison is the Nvidia RTX 3090. For years Apple was lamented for underwhelming graphics performance. But now with the M1 Ultra, they have a truly competitive CPU and GPU offering. Apple’s charts are a bit misleading in regards to the GPU, suggesting that the M1 Ultra can outclass the RTX 3090. Now that’s true for power consumption when you compare the peak performance of the M1 Ultra against the same relative performance level of the RTX 3090. The M1 Ultra is using way less energy, 200w less. But the RTX is capable of even greater levels of performance which Apple hasn’t done a direct compare against here. The chart shown in their keynote did heavily imply this though which is a bit sneaky on Apple’s part.
All that being said, the M1 Ultra has been proven in real world testing to unlock insane workflows. Here’s what the Verge had to say:
Becca (video editor) was able to play 4K, 10-bit 4:2:2 footage from a Sony FX3 at full resolution in Adobe Premiere Pro at 4x speed with no proxies. It was lightning fast. On any other machine, she’d have had to be in half-resolution at most. There was also no lag between hitting the spacebar and stopping playback when playing footage at 2x or 4x speed, something she finds to be a big annoyance on the Mac Pro.Monica Chin, The Verge
A new chip deserves a new Mac to go along with it. And Apple didn’t disappoint. Apple has introduced a new category of Mac for the first time in many years. The all new, Mac Studio. At first glance the Mac Studio might appear to be a taller Mac Mini. In fact the width and depth are identical to the Mac Mini at 7.7 inches (19.7cm) respectively and they share the same finish and extruded aluminium design. The Mac Studio is a bit thicker than the Mac Mini and has a prominent venting system at the bottom. But it’s still just 3.7 inches (9.5cm) in height. For the level of performance it offers, the Mac Studio is positively tiny!
The base configuration comes with the M1 Max but you can spec it up to the M1 Ultra for the best possible performance. And all that performance requires a large heat sync and cooling system. In fact most of the additional height of the Mac Studio is taken up by the internal space required for cooling. The machine sucks in cool air from the bottom via a cylindrical venting system. It then fires out the warm air through over 4000 precision milled perforations located on the rear casing.
Now if this sounds a little too similar to the 2013 ‘trash can’ Mac Pro for comfort, then don’t worry. The Mac Studio is not Apple making the same mistake. The 2013 Mac Pro was crippled by its thermal design. The device sported power guzzling, heat generating Intel Xeon chips that really needed a much larger enclosure to breathe. Apple Silicon runs using significantly less energy including the M1 Ultra. Consequently, it gives off way less heat. As mentioned the M1 Ultra uses 100w less power than the Xeon chip in the current Mac Pro.
Another really important feature of the Mac Studio is the wide range of ports. Apple hasn’t included this number of ports on any Mac aside from perhaps the 2019 Mac Pro in many years. Located on the back of the device are:
- 4 x Thunderbolt 4 ports with transfer speeds up to 40GB/s
- 1 x 10GB/s Ethernet
- 2 x USB A with transfer speeds up to 5GB/s
- 1 x HDMI (2.0 so it will support 4K output but only at 60Hz)
- 1 x 3.5mm high impedance headphone jack
- Power cord port
But in a particularly consumer friendly move, Apple has also added ports to the front of the device:
- 2 x Thunderbolt 4 ports (USB-C on the M1 Max configuration)
- 1 x SD card reader with support with UHS-II
It’s a pity that the SD card reader doesn’t support the faster UHS-III standard. But it will still work with these cards albeit with speeds scaled down to UHS-II standard. A minor inconvenience and overall its great to see this port on the front of the machine where users can easily and conveniently access it. It seems that the only port Apple could have considered is a CF express card slot. Though this is still somewhat niche and much less popular than SD. Apple made the right choice to prioritise SD cards.
Other notable features include a built in speaker which Apple didn’t talk about at the event. Don’t expect miracles from this speaker but still handy to have in a pinch. The machine also supports the latest and greatest wireless standards including WiFi 6.0 and Bluetooth 5.0. All in all the Mac Studio has the potential to be a true replacement for the Mac Pro and the iMac Pro for the vast majority of users that need this level of capability but don’t need access to internal components. For users that do need that, John Ternus, the SVP who oversees Mac hardware confirmed a new Mac Pro is on the way. And teasingly stated “but that is for another day”.
In her review, iJustine gave a great demonstration of one of the more bold claims by Apple, that the Mac Studio is the only computer in the world that can handle 18 streams of 8K ProRes. You can check it out below at 14 minutes in.
I have long mourned the loss of Apple’s consumer friendly monitors. The fantastic Cinema Displays and Thunderbolt Displays of old are long gone. Apple did of course introduce the ProDisplay XDR in 2019 which is excellent (I’m a proud owner). But at over £5K, the monitor is out of reach for the vast majority of users. And its feature set is designed for HDR workflows at any rate. Not typical day to day use. Enter the £1499, 27 inch Studio Display.
Apple has designed the Studio Display in the image of the ProDisplay XDR. It uses the same robust industrial design language with boxy edges and is made of the extruded aluminium. It also takes queues from the redesigned iMac, sporting the same tilt adjustable stand (which is thankfully included). However for those that need it, you can opt for a built in height and tilt adjustable stand, akin to the £999 Pro Stand for the ProDisplay XDR. If you choose this option, it’ll cost an extra £400. And given that the stand is built in, you can’t change your mind later. You can also opt for a VESA mount which comes in at the same £1499 price tag as the standard model.
What sets this display apart from the ProDisplay XDR, is the inclusion of a built in camera with support for Centre Stage (the first time ever on a Mac), studio quality microphones and spatial audio speakers. All of which are controlled by the built in A13 Bionic chip. That’s right. Apple has included one of its A series chips to handle these features. And that’s great because it means that if you connect an older Mac, it can benefit from some of the capabilities of Apple Silicon such as Spatial Audio and even features like Hey Siri.
Here’s a quick run down of the key specs:
5K Retina display
- 27-inch (diagonal) 5K Retina display
- 5120×2880 resolution at 218 pixels per inch
- 600 nits peak brightness
- Support for 1 billion colours
- Wide colour (P3)
- True Tone technology
- 12MP Ultra Wide camera with 122° field of view
- ƒ/2.4 aperture
- Centre Stage
- High-fidelity six-speaker system with force-cancelling woofers
- Wide stereo sound
- Support for Spatial Audio when playing music or video with Dolby Atmos
- Studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming
- Support for “Hey Siri”
- One upstream Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) port for host (with 96W host charging)
- Three downstream USB‑C ports (up to 10Gb/s) for connecting peripherals, storage and networking
Reviews have generally praised the display quality for its sharp images and text, wide colour support and pleasing range of consumer level reference modes (for example P3-DCI and sRGB). But at the time of writing, many reviews have savaged the camera quality. The display sports the same camera hardware as the iPad Pro which should have resulted in the best camera ever in a Mac. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. At least not right now. Joanna Stern from the Wallstreet Journal was particularly critical of the camera hardware:
Apple’s camera consistently produced grainy and washed-out images. There was so much missing detail in some of the shots that it reminded me of the camera on my old BlackBerry.Joanna STern, Wallstreet Journal
For its part, Apple claims that the issues noted by multiple outlets will be addressed with a software update. And that does sound plausible given the hardware has been tried and tested across the iPad line, including the standard iPad with the same A13 Bionic chip. But it’s also fair to point out that as it stands, the issues experienced by reviewers will also be experienced by customers that may have ordered the Studio Display expecting more. Let’s hope Apple can fix this quickly.
YouTuber UrAvgConsumer has created a particularly useful overview of the new display paired with the Mac Studio. You can check that out below.
Overall I think the Apple community should celebrate that Apple is back in the display business. And that they are listening to what creative professional Mac users care about and making products designed not just for consumers, but for everyone. And that’s a win-win for all of us.
In Summary, Apple owns the Spring in Tech
Apple unveiled a lot at its Peek Performance event. More than perhaps the rumours had expected in the week leading up to the event. Some of the announcements were in line with our expectations such as the iPhone SE and iPad Air. But there were some genuine wow moments with the M1 Ultra and the Mac Studio. And now that these devices are out in the world and have been tested, it’s safe to say that Apple delivered.