Here’s a nice holiday gift, 35 minutes of Johny Srouji and John Ternus talking about Apple chips and more. I love the energy and enthusiasm that they both share. It also makes me feel like they’ve got a few more tricks up their sleeves.
Apple didn’t release any new iPad hardware this year, but according to Ming-Chi Kuo, that’s changing next year with iPad updates across the board, including the long-awaited OLED iPad Pro.
That’s good, and I hope that’s all true. But I also know how easy it was to go a year without iPad upgrades. I routinely hear from listeners and readers wanting to know about future iPhones and Macs. Questions about upcoming iPad hardware are a lot more rare.
To me, this is a better indicator of Apple’s success with the iPad than its failure to ship new iPad hardware in 2023. Now, the iPads are so solid and reliable that folks are waiting a long time to upgrade.
I purchased my iPad Pro in 2019. It still works great, and I don’t expect to buy an OLED iPad in 2024. For a nerd like me, four-going-on-five-year-old Apple hardware says something.
To pile onto this point (and I’ve been saying this on the podcast for a while now), I think we’ll get to the same place with the Apple silicon Macs. Apple has done an excellent job of figuring out Mac hardware, particularly with the arrival of their M-series chips. I expect we’ll be happy and hang on to them for a long time. That’s one of the reasons why I think Mac shipments (as reported by Apple last week) are down. The hardware is excellent and lasts a long time. That results in slower upgrade cycles, and that’s good!
I also expect this will be no surprise to Apple which partially explains why services are becoming such a big deal to them.
As the MacBook Pros with M3 are hitting the wild, we are getting more data on their performance. It’s looking like a roughly 20% increase over the M2 generation. The M3 Max chip is clocking about the same speed as the M2 Ultra, which is impressive.
I did not think the succeeding generations of Apple silicon would improve that much year over year. I hope Apple can keep it up.
This week there was an interesting interview between Inc.’s Jason Aten and Apple executives Laura Metz and Thomas Tan, as reported by Chance Miller at 9to5 Mac.
The 15-inch MacBook Air seems like a no-brainer. However, the Apple execs explained they needed Apple silicon to make it come true. They couldn’t get “Air” quality battery life and performance without Apple’s M-series chips. That makes sense for a bigger MacBook Air.
It also, however, makes sense for a smaller one. The non-Air 12” MacBook was canned before Apple’s new M-series SoC, but it seems now like that computer, an ultra-portable Mac, is more possible than ever. I can’t help but wonder if that is on the drawing board or if Apple thinks the 13-inch MacBook Air is small enough.
Mark Gurman’s Power On newsletter is starting to hint at upcoming Apple products. Notable among them:
A Big iMac
An Apple silicon 30+ inch iMac may be in the works. My guess would be the love child between a souped-up Mac mini and a larger Studio Display. Now that I’ve separated my Mac from my display, this one is not for me, but if my email inbox is any indication, there are many people looking for something like this.
A Second-Generation Apple Watch
I would expect the Apple Watch Ultra to get yearly updates. I don’t see how they can keep selling them as the top-tier Apple Watch if they don’t. My wish for this product would be a smaller-sized version. I know plenty of folks with smaller wrists that would like an Apple Watch Ultra.
P.S. I love my Apple Watch Ultra.
Today Apple announced the release of a few new Macs.
M2 Mac mini
The big news here is that there are multiple Mac minis. There is an entry-level M2 Mac mini and a souped-up M2 “Pro” Mac mini. The new Pro chip is clocking as an improvement of up 20% processing, 30% graphics, and 40% on the neural engine. This fills an existing gap in the line for desktop Macs between the entry-level Mac mini and the much more powerful Mac Studio.
M2 MacBook Pro
This is the next iteration of the Apple silicon MacBook Pro. The M2 MacBook Pro comes in “Pro” and “Max” configurations. This machine is iterative compared to the M1 MacBook Pro, with improvements of 20% in processing and 30% faster on graphics. Few people will need to upgrade from the M1 MacBook Pro, but those on Intel machines should look at this one closely.
Below is Apple’s announcement video.
As we lead up to WWDC and look at the current state of the Apple silicon Macs, I can’t help but wonder what’s left for the Mac Pro. The thing that has me scratching my head is the extraordinary power of the Mac Studio. If you get a fully loaded Mac Studio, you’re getting one hell of a computer. The M1 Ultra, with all the bells and whistles, can keep up with the most expensive currently selling Mac Pro at a quarter of the price. So what is Apple going to do with the Mac Pro?
I think the new Mac pro will definitely be more expandable and more powerful than any existing Apple silicon Mac. I also think it will have a corresponding price tag. Let me explain further.
There are a group of people inside Apple known as the Pro User Group. They all make their living doing creative work with Macs, but they also work for Apple as very knowledgeable lab rats. They provide feedback for future hardware and software. I believe this group of insiders explains why the new MacBook Pro is so much more suited to pro users than its predecessor. I also think this group explains why the currently shipping Mac Pro does such an excellent job of supporting external cards and other bits of bolt-on technology that professionals need at the highest end.
I was lucky enough to get invited to Apple’s big unveiling of the currently shipping Mac Pro at WWDC a few years ago. At one point, they brought us into a series of rooms populated by some of these pro users. They were doing things like 3-D rendering, 8K movie editing, high-end sound work and video scoring, and many other creative endeavors that often lead people to buy Mac Pros. All of them were using specialized equipment inside their Mac Pros to get their work done.
One conversation that stands out to me was with one of the pro users that spends time writing music for motion pictures. When writing music for a movie, you need an extensive library of musical instrument samples. The current technology for that involves large and processor intensive sound samples for each note of each instrument sample, some of which have multiple versions, like pizzicato vs. bowing and using a mute on a violin, for example. Now multiply that times every instrument you could need when creating a music score for a motion picture.
The creative professional explained that historically he would pull this off by having multiple computers chained together. As he explained it, his needs were a very powerful central computer supported by specialized expansion cards. Where historically, he was doing this with a collection of lesser computers, he was able to do the whole project with one Mac Pro.
This was a common theme among the creative professionals. They all had some specialized card or peripheral they needed to get their work done. Thus far, with Apple silicon, we’ve got a series of increasingly powerful Macs, but none of them have the external peripheral support that these pros require.
Apple’s Pro User Group is still inside Apple and presumably still explaining how important it is to have this kind of expandability in a professional workstation. While the Mac Studio may be crazy powerful, it will not hold all of your violin samples or support these specialized cards.
So getting back to the new Mac Pro, I think this sort of expandability will be table stakes. Moreover, I think Apple understands that. I don’t know if the new Mac Pro will be as expandable as a currently shipping Mac Pro, but I expect it to accommodate Pros’ specialized hardware.
Compute power seems a little murkier. I could see an expandable Mac driven by something in the neighborhood of an M1 Ultra chip making the new Mac Pro, essentially, a Mac Studio Ultra + Expandability. But if I had to bet a nickel, I’d say that’s not the case. I think Apple will find some way to get a lot more compute power (Double the M1 Ultra?) from the new Mac Pro. So that new Mac would be something an order of magnitude more powerful than the Mac Studio, and expandable.
I think the Mac Pro will be a computer with all the stops pulled out. And by all the stops I don’t just mean the hardware, I also mean the price. The existence of the Mac Studio gives Apple the ability to make a Mac Pro with a shocking amount of power and a shocking price to go with it. This will not be a computer you buy just because you like to have the latest and greatest. The people who want a computer like that will buy a Mac Studio. I expect the Mac Pro is going to be for serious professionals that will have no problem dropping tens of thousands of dollars on a computer for them to do their work better and faster.
Adding the Mac Studio to the line gives Apple a lot more room at the highest end. The new Mac Pro will not be a computer that most people need or can afford (myself included). But I do expect it to be a rocket ship, and the people who need that kind of rocket ship power and are willing to pay rocket ship prices will get a genuinely remarkable Mac. This is all speculation, but it seems to me like the stars have aligned for just this type of Mac.
When will we see it? Who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple shares some details about the new Mac Pro at WWDC in a month.
Today 9to5 Mac put together some great sources indicating that the supply chain problems everyone else is facing are finally catching up with Apple. At the last quarterly earnings call, Tim Cook explained that for Apple, the supply chain problem wasn’t the big money parts, but the little commodity bits and pieces.
Apple made a fortune, partly because of its mastery of the supply chain. People will write books about how they did it at some point if they haven’t already. It looks, however, like that run may be hitting a few speed bumps.
There is a lot of speculation about new iMacs, MacBook Airs, and Mac Pros. I can’t help but wonder if these emerging supply chain issues may slow down that product release pace. At WWDC 2020, Tim Cook promised Apple would finish the Apple Silicon transition in two years. You can argue about whether that deadline happens at this year’s WWDC or on December 31. Time is running out either way.
If Apple is indeed going to be supply-constrained and not able to get everything out by this artificial deadline in sufficient quantities, will they announce on time and release in very limited quantities, or will they just let the date slip and wait to announce until they can deliver more units? Historically, I think the answer would assuredly be the latter. They’d wait. I know Apple is a different company than it was 20 years ago, but I hope that even with their current size, they’d still wait.
When the new MacBook Pros were first announced, it wasn’t clear what kind of SD card reader they would be getting. Ben Lovejoy at 9to5 Mac reports it will be UHS-II, which supports 312 MB/s transfer speeds. There are faster formats, but I felt like the UHS-II standard was table stakes and Apple satisfied that.