Peek Performance, peeked

Peek Performance, peeked

Apple’s March 8, 2022 “Special Event,” titled “Peek Performance,” was indeed a pun. Apple provided a peek at where their future lies, and it is a fast, elegant future.

First, the boring stuff. Apple offered two new iPhones, an iPhone 13 and an iPhone Pro, in green. Same iPhone 13 and 13 Pro specs as their cousins, but green. They also announced the phones would be available on March 18, which was ridiculous. Didn’t they look at a calendar? March 17 is the obvious day to start selling a green phone.

(Yes, I know the previous paragraph is hard to read, but the important thing is: green.)

Green!

Next up was an impressive, if confusingly named, iPhone SE. Apple has introduced previous phones and called them SE, but the new 2022 model is much, much faster, more secure, has better battery life, a far better camera, and camera software, etc. It is priced less than any color iPhone 13, but the performance is not that far behind. The announcement was expected, but still: impressive.

If you have anything older than an iPhone X, your phone is nearing “end of life” in terms of updates, security, and connectivity. The iPhone SE is reasonably priced and comes in several colors (well, red, white, and black), none of them green.

New iPhone SE. No green.

The new M1-powered iPad Air is essentially an M1 iPad Pro, but more affordable and lighter weight. It comes in a variety of colors, including a Sequim-friendly lavender (Apple calls it “purple” but it is lavender). You can also get it as a WiFi-only model, or as a WiFi and cellular version, allowing you to be connected to the Internet anywhere you can get a cell signal. I stuffed my iPad Air under a pillow so it wouldn’t hear about all the wonders of the new model and get jealous; it is an impressive hardware and software feat.

M-1 powered iPad Air, connected to a solid-state external drive via USB-C.

Apple also introduced a Studio Display, which is a 27-inch, 5K (5120×2880 pixel) Retina display with a 12 megapixel Center Stage camera (the camera “follows” you when doing video conferencing, thanks to some fancy software), six speakers that provide Spatial Audio, a very bright screen with an extraordinary color spectrum, three microphones with support for Siri, three USB-C ports, one Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) port, all powered by its own Apple Silicon processor. It probably has a faster processor and more memory than any Mac you’ve ever owned.

An Apple Studio Display hooked up to a MacBook Air. You can hook it up to any other current Mac, too.

Finally, there was the Mac Studio. When it appeared on the screen, my initial impression was that it was a bit more than twice the height of a Mac mini, and I immediately noticed the air holes on the bottom, the two USB-C ports on the front, and the SD card slot. As a photographer, the SD slot in front captured an inordinate amount of my attention. “Look, an SD slot!” My spouse did not laugh, but probably wanted to.

Mac Studio front, showing two USB-C ports plus β€” an SD (Secure Digital) card slot, for still and video cameras.

Eventually, they got around to showing the back of the Mac Studio, and things got more exciting. There are four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a 10 Gb Ethernet port (10 times faster than what most computers have), two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port, and a headphone/speaker jack.

You can also clearly see the air vents on the base, where air enters, and the zillions of holes out the back, where the air is vented. The back also features the power button, hidden away where you won’t accidentally turn things off.

As you might guess, this is a high-end machine, with memory ranging from 32 GB to 128 GB, storage ranging from 512 GB to 8 TB (8 trillion bytes), and two different CPUs. The M1 Max comes with a 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU (graphics processing unit), and a 16-core neural engine. The top-of-the-line model has an M1 Ultra with a 20-core CPU, 64-core GPU, and a 32-core neural engine. Translated into English, either one has lots of central processing power for number crunching, lots of graphics processing power for watching up to 5 screens at once (or doing massive movie or audio or photo processing, or breaking Russian codes, or…), and the neural engines can do trillions of operations a second to process Siri requests, handle computer security, and other complex tasks that are difficult to explain but you’ll like the results.

In addition to the very fast Ethernet connector, it also has Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0, allowing you to connect to almost anything worth connecting.

The lowest-end model is $1999, but if you go for the faster chip, lots of memory and lots of SSD storage, it gets expensive. Add in a Studio Display (the Mac Studio does not come with a screen, or mouse, or keyboard) and β€” it is not a low-end machine, by any means.

Despite the price, the size of the machine is a breakthrough (no big ugly box to hide), the connectivity is excellent, and the performance is stunning. If you do a lot of video work, or work with great masses of photos, or do high-end music or sound editing, this is an immensely attractive machine.

Peek performance, indeed. You can stream Apple’s Special Event via your web browser, or the Apple TV app on your Apple TV.

Addendum: here is a graphic showing the relative size of Apple’s current desktop processor chips. The M1 was used in the first Apple Silicon iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro (as well as two iPads), the M1 Pro and M1 Max were used in later versions of the MacBook Pro and the lower-end Mac Studio, and the MacBook M1 Ultra is the heart of the higher-end Mac Studio. The M1 chip has an amazing 16 billion transistors; the M1 Ultra has a staggering 114 billion transistors.