Mac Studio 1 Month Later: Where’s the Pro?

We’re missing a Pro. Somewhere between the M1 Mac mini and the M1 Max and M1 Ultra Mac Studios, we’re missing an M1 Pro Mac mini or Mac Studio. It’s just a giant, gaping gap… of a hole in what’s otherwise the best all-in-none lineup Apple’s ever had. Or will have, once the Mac Pro ships later this year.

After using using and reviewing it for about a month now, that’s the biggest thing, the main thing I’d change about the Mac Studio. Because otherwise, as far as G4 Cube, Mac mini, J90 Mac Pro-style high-compute appliances go, it’s almost impeccable. Almost.

So, if I were to pec, in a perfect world I’d like to see Apple use more of those double I/O controllers in the M1 Ultra model to really plus out the ports. HDMI 2.1, specifically the higher resolution and higher refresh-rate options. SDUC and UHS-III on the card reader, and… or… maybe even a second 10 GBs Ethernet port, if it fits in the available bandwidth. I don’t know. I suck at I/O math. But with 6 Thunderbolt ports you can dongle into anything, it’s hard to be super salty about any of it.

And I know some people don’t see a difference with the Ultra or think it’s being underutilized or constrained in some way, but like I said in my Benchmark LARP video, a lot comes down to actual workload and understanding the differences, for example, between how Apple silicon works, as opposed to Intel and their more recent TJMAX-Turbo-and-throttle nanosecond cycles. But I suspect, or rather hope, everyone will figure all of that out eventually and we’ll get back to higher signal to noise ratios again. Maybe. I’m an optimist!

But yeah, the only remaining missing piece in the puzzle for me, and I suspect for many others looking for this type of Mac, is that ongoing lack of a Pro option. We have M1 Pro and M1 Max to choose from in the MacBook Pro, and M1 Max and M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio. But no M1 Pro in the Mac Studio. Or Ultra in the MacBook, but it would melt, or look like an ASUS, or… whatever, topic for a future video.

I still think many people, most people, will still be perfectly fine with the M1 Mac mini. Even if you’re worried about future proofing, you can wait on M2 for slightly better single core speeds increased efficiency, and better graphics, but unless you’re planning to radically escalate your workloads in a few years, 16GB will still do you. And if you are, you should consider radically escalating your Mac in those few years as well, especially if it’s paying for itself like it should.

But there are people who legitimately do need the extra memory, extra performance cores, and extra graphics cores that M1 Pro offers, and or just the extra ports, especially if they want to drive extra displays. And right now the next step up that can handle that, is the M1 Max Mac Studio, which is less of a step and more of a leap.

We can argue among friends as to whether a more limited M1 Pro Mac mini or a more expensive M1 Pro Mac Studio is the best goldilocks in the middle there, but I think we’d all agree we need something there. So fingers crossed those reports of an M2 Mac mini Pro pan out, at the very least.

For the Studio Display, you know, despite all the complaints from people who were never actually in the market for a 5K native pixel resolution display, I think Apple mostly delivered on what the people who were actually in the market for one really wanted. Namely, 5K at native pixel resolution in a non-janky plastic enclosure.

Apple still has to fix the camera, because damn. It’s the exact same hardware as the iPad 9 so it should function exactly like the iPad 9. But beyond that, I would personally have preferred it if they’d just stuck with the 1080p wide angle from the iMac, and not gone with the 12 megapixel ultra-wide angle. Center Stage is fun, and is absolutely one of those “only Apple” features that justifies slapping an A13 Chipset into a display in the first place, but it seems like something better aligned with a less-expensive, more consumer-targeted display, like a 4K for $1K display, not a more studio-as-in-prosumer-targeted 5K for $2K display. I’d even be temped to say swap it with the 24-inch iMac at this point. And then bring back Target Display mode already, and let people use it that if that’s what they want to do. Covers so many bases with so few players.

I get people who would have preferred a MagSafe plug on the Studio Display, even though MagSafe requires an external power brick. It would still be a proprietary cable, which some people seem to be forgetting, but the added utility just makes for a better trade-off. I’m always going to lean towards MagSafe all the things, but it’s not a huge deal to me on this.

I would love to see HomePod style stereo pairing for those who do want a twin display setup and could benefit from the wider virtual sound stage. It’s super niche but it’d be super nice.

And I would all-caps love to see a huge simplification in the stand situation. The engineering on the height-adjustable stand is ludicrously good, it’s just super tough for anyone who’s not influencer rich — sorry, that’s so dumb — it’s just super tough to justify a $400 stand on top of a $1600 display. It just comes off looking all shades of over-engineered for something that’s not marketed as Pro but as Studio. I really don’t want the ID team to cut me with what I’m sure are supremely elegant, bead-blasted aluminum coffee spoons, I just think it’s fair to ask why not just one, way simpler stand, that can do it all? What’s more quintessentially Apple than that?

After a month of daily use, I personally still don’t care that it’s EDR and 60 Hz. Never mind Apple would need to use Display Stream Compression to push HDR 120 Hz up a Thunderbolt cable, and there’s currently no HDR 5K120 panel in production for it to even plug into, those would both result in an increase in price that just isn’t justifiable for this display’s target market. Namely, Apple developers and designers, and creative pros outside high-end video pros. Because that’s the Pro Display XDR market, and I imagine we’ll be seeing just exactly those features, more or less, in the next generation Pro Display… for a price. I mean, I’d love 5K for $3K but I fear it’s going to be 7K for $7K this time. I’d love to be wrong on that, but either way I can’t imagine that much mini-LED is going to come cheap.

For now, people complaining it’s 7-year old panel are right, but I still want it, like I still want 7-year old connector tech, namely USB-C, on my iPhone Pro. But I’ll also happily take better.

I do wish it had Wi-Fi and Bluetooth built-in though. We can debate the merits of wireless display tech all you want, but since the Studio Display is already running iOS 15, it would just open the door to all kinds of cool, even if more fringe features, like stand-along AirPlay and Sidecar. Like, you just want to quickly check something on a big screen from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, without going to hassle of attaching and booting up a dedicated Mac, or plugging in a cable. Especially because the iPhone still needs a dongle for that.