Will the New 27-inch ‘iMac Pro’ Actually Be an Ultra-Powerful Studio Display?

Mac Studio and Studio Display 4 Credit: Apple
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This week, Apple announced the most significant change to come to its Mac lineup in well over a decade, and it’s fair to say that we don’t even know what the full impact of this will be.

With a single product announcement — the Mac Studio — Apple has effectively redefined the way we think of Mac desktop computers, and turned everything on its ear.

For years, Apple’s product lineups were so consistent that it was easy to predict what was coming next, at least in general terms. New MacBooks, new iMacs, and occasionally a new Mac mini or Mac Pro. Apple has always preferred to keep its product lineups simple and understandable: two categories of laptops in various sizes (MacBook Air & MacBook Pro), two sizes of all-in-one desktops (iMac), an affordable desktop (Mac mini), and a behemoth system for professional studio work (Mac Pro).

Once in a while, Apple has tossed a small curveball into the mix, such as the 12-inch MacBook back in 2015, or even the original premium “executive” MacBook Air in 2008. Apple has also shuffled product names over the years, especially in its MacBook family, but for 15 years it’s been a pretty predictable lineup.

Even before Apple’s laptops were rebranded “MacBooks” in the Intel transition, there were still only two tiers of laptops — the lower-end iBook and the premium PowerBook. Back then, the iMac was also still the iMac, as it has been for over 20 years.

That all changed this week with the introduction of the Mac Studio, the first entirely new Mac to arrive since the Mac mini made its debut in 2006.

Unlike the Mac mini, however, the Mac Studio sits at the other end of the Mac spectrum, and this makes it substantially more disruptive to the rest of the family.

The Mac mini fits into a space that wasn’t addressed by any Mac that was available at the time — a really affordable Mac to lure users over from Windows in an era when few even gave the Mac a second look. It was a Mac for those who weren’t likely to consider buying any of Apple’s other Macs in the first place.

The Mac Studio is a horse of an entirely different colour, and it could very well be the future of Apple’s higher-end Mac desktops. This is especially true when you look at it in light of Apple’s choice to debut it alongside a powerful new 27-inch Apple Studio Display, and quietly discontinue the only remaining 27-inch iMac at the same time.

Looking at the full Mac Studio setup — the Mac Studio and the Apple Studio Display — it’s becoming hard to imagine where a 27-inch iMac — even an “iMac Pro” would fit into the lineup, and many Apple enthusiasts are asking the same sort of questions.

Daring Fireball’s John Gruber perhaps put it most succinctly, noting that may we should have seen this coming with the move to a 24-inch iMac last year.

I can’t speak to the rumors, but product-fit-wise, I think the 27-inch iMac doesn’t have a spot in the lineup anymore. I think the Mac Studio and Studio Display fill that spot. It even makes sense in hindsight that the consumer-level iMac went from 21 to 24 inches, if it’s going to be the one and only iMac.John Gruber

The only problem, of course, is that we’ve all been lulled into expectations that are built entirely on years of predictability in Apple’s product lineup. After all, there have always been two iMacs, so we assume there will always be two iMacs. The move from a 21-inch iMac to a 24-inch iMac can only mean that Apple plans to release a 30-inch iMac at some point. Logical, right?

Except that Apple is under no obligation to follow even its own rules, much less our expectations.

The debut of Apple Silicon in 2020 already changed the rules of the game, most of us just didn’t fully realize how much they’d changed until this week.

The Mac Studio is the most powerful Mac that Apple has ever built. The new M1 Ultra chip inside outperforms Apple’s considerably more expensive Intel-based Mac Pro, and it does it in a system that has the same footprint as a Mac mini, and is only 2.3 inches taller — and most of that space appears to be dedicated to fans to keep the thing cool.

Apple almost certainly has a new Mac Pro in the works, but until that comes along, the Mac Studio is the king of the hill in terms of raw performance.

Redefining the Landscape

By itself, that wouldn’t obviate the need for a more powerful iMac Pro, as the Mac Studio is still just a boxy little computer. However, Apple didn’t stop at the Mac Studio; it also introduced a powerful and feature-rich Apple Studio Display that effectively turns the Mac Studio into an iMac Pro.

The Apple Studio Display isn’t just a screen. It has an A13 chip built in — the same chip used in the iPhone 11 lineup — and includes a 12-megapixel camera with Center Stage support, a six-speaker hi-fi system with force cancelling woofers, Spatial Audio for both music and videos with Dolby Atmos, and even a studio-quality three-mic array with “Hey Siri” support. This isn’t just a screen — it’s a computer in its own right.

Sure, it’s not a nice, elegant all-in-one package like the iMac Pro, but considering the size of the Mac Studio, is anyone really going to care? Plus, the Apple Studio Display, which offers all the features and connectivity we’d expect from an iMac, can be used with any other Mac, from a $699 Mac mini to a 16-inch MacBook Pro.

So, it’s no surprise that analysts and leakers are starting to rethink everything they’ve heard about the so-called “iMac Pro.” Maybe, just maybe, these rumours aren’t about a new iMac; maybe they were only ever about a next-generation Studio Display in the first place.

After all, one of the biggest rumours we’ve heard about the 27-inch iMac Pro is that it will adopt mini-LED technology and a more powerful M1 Ultra chip. The M1 Ultra is already here in the Mac Studio, and mini-LED could just as easily be in a display, and not an all-in-one Mac.

Display analyst Ross Young says we’re still expecting a 27-inch mini-LED system from Apple this year — likely in June — and he’s confirmed that with several suppliers, but now he’s conceding that it might just be a “Studio Display Pro,” and not the “iMac Pro” he’d originally believed it to be.

It’s likely that such a display would also feature 120Hz “ProMotion” technology, and possibly even push the resolution up to 7K. Young previously predicted this screen technology would be coming to the rumoured 27-inch iMac Pro this summer, but now he believes that it’s just a new version of the Studio Display.

The confusion is somewhat understandable, of course. The Apple Studio Display looks a lot like an iMac. It’s the same 27-inch size, it has a front camera, stereo speakers, and even an array of USB-C and Thunderbolt ports on the back and a processor chip inside.

Plus, if the current Apple Studio Display already has an A13 chip inside, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising for a Studio Display “Pro” to pack in an M1 chip.

In fact, Young candidly admits that his sources were duped into believing that they were looking at an iMac Pro when in reality it was just Apple’s next-generation Studio Display.

Apple clearly did a fantastic job of keeping the Mac Studio under wraps. This would have been a big clue about the nature of the Apple Studio Display, but in its absence, it was easy to assume the display was the computer. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this was intentional misdirection on Apple’s part; while everybody’s looking at the Studio Display and thinking “iMac,” Apple blindsides us all by pulling the Mac Studio out of its hat on the other side of the stage.

As for the so-called Apple Studio Display Pro, Young says it’s already in production, and predicts that it could launch alongside the new Apple Silicon Mac Pro at WWDC in June. In concluding his part of this week’s event, Apple’s Senior VP of Hardware Engineering, John Ternus, offered enough of a teaser to suggest the new Mac Pro could be just around the corner, saying that Apple has “just one more product to go” with Apple Silicon, pausing just long enough to let us get our hopes up before adding, “but that’s for another day.”

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

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