‘Peek performance’ — Apple turns things upside down

An event characterized by Apple's growing processor technology advantage points to a new future for enterprise tech.

Apple, iPhone, iPad, Mac, 5G, Pek Performance, Macs, Apple Silicon

Once upon a time, the tech industry flocked to Apple events to swoon over software and hardware design. Things have changed.

Now, the industry tunes in to swoon over the architecture — and weep over lost opportunities as Apple moves its platforms far, far ahead of everybody else. The company’s "Peak Performance" event today saw the company perform a big, old-fashioned smackdown.

The day the industry turned upside down

In short, the days when Apple computers looked great, ran fantastic software, but seemed a little underpowered are behind us.

Now, its machines look great, still run fantastic software, and actually deliver just as much (or more) power than you get from other platforms, while at the same time displaying a clear commitment to environmental stewardship.

That last commitment means any enterprise currently running many PCs can see an almost immediate cost benefit just by replacing those PCs with Macs, because Apple’s processors demand so little power.

So, what did Apple introduce?

Meet the new iPhone SE

Now with 5G, an A15 processor, better battery life, and a new camera system capable of taking brilliant pictures, the 4.7-in. iPhone SE costs starts at $429 (64GB). This is now the best way to deploy 5G support across mobile teams on a budget, and the fact Apple has proved it will support these devices with new software and security patches for years makes this device a strong contender for anyone’s smartphone deployment budget.

And the iPad Air...

Apple surprised almost everyone with a new iPad Air. Confirming speculation that appeared at the 11th hour, the system now uses an M1 chip (the same as you find in Macs), has a 12MP camera with CenterStage, a 10.9-in.  Retina Display and 5G as a cellular option (if you want it). The design is pretty much unchanged: you still get Touch ID and a Home button. But what you also get is a huge performance boost — 60% faster CPU performance and twice the graphics performance of the last iPad Air. Apple also pointed out that these iPads are twice as fast as the best-selling Windows laptops in the same (from $599) price range.

What does this mean for your business? It means that for some tasks the iPad delivers all the theoretical performance you might need to replace long-in-the-tooth Windows PCs with mobile devices your employees might actually enjoy.

It also makes it seriously possible to deploy iPads to transact tasks that couldn’t easily be computerized before. Think about flight crews equipped with iPads to replace the paper-based processes they used to do. Again, Apple’s commitment to product support means these systems are investments that will continue to deliver for years.

The big news: Mac Studio and Studio display

But the biggest news seems to have surprised us all. Yes, we had all been expecting a brand-new Mac mini, but what we got was the Mac Studio — and a brand-new Apple Silicon chip that turns all the jokes about Apple’s Macs being underpowered upside down. Meet the M1 Ultra.

[Also read: One year on, developers still love Apple Silicon Macs]

The M1 Ultra delivers 90% higher multi-threaded performance than the fastest available 16-core PC desktop chip at the same power. It also delivers a 20-core CPU, a 64-core GPU (for faster performance than the highest-end PC GPU money can buy at 200-watts less power) and memory bandwidth that’s 10 times the latest PC desktop chip.

Apple’s Mac Studio desktop looks a lot like a larger Mac mini with more interconnects and is available with both an M1 Ultra chip ($3,999), or the same M1 Max processor ($1,999) you’ll find in the highest-end MacBook Pro.

Eagle-eyed readers may recall my review of a MacBook Pro equipped with that chip, which basically said the computer could deliver on any high-end task you can imagine. I’ve no doubt at all this is the same with the M1 Ultra. With a little more.

Apple’s new Studio display is also quite interesting, but I think it’s time to head straight into the take-aways here, which are:

  • Mac Studio is the Mac Apple’s Steve Jobs always wanted to deliver. It gives Apple a desktop computer that absolutely competes with (and in many ways, excels) what you can expect from PCs at the same price, or higher.
  • It’s a huge challenge other processor developers seem nowhere near to matching that sets Apple years ahead of the industry. I’ve little doubt benchmark tests (as they appear) will prove this.
  • The processor leadership extends across every single Apple product announced.
  • Apple also told us it has one more Mac to upgrade to Apple Silicon, presumably the Mac Pro. The transition is almost complete.
  • The problem Apple seems to be heading towards is that its mid-range products seem to be becoming quite capable of handling almost anything you throw at them (while the higher-end solutions can handle challenges you haven’t even thought about yet). That's a good problem.
  • Apple is pretty much redefining the computer industry. At the high end, its products match or beat anything you can get from anyone else. Your employees are going to want them even more.
  • If you use a computer for business, you can be confident that, assuming your industry or company isn’t dependent on legacy software or equipment, an Apple solution will be more than equal to your needs.
  • Apple has never competed at this level before. The industry will need to get used to it. And as that message gets through, old enterprise computing loyalties will continue to atrophy. To put it simply, Apple isn’t about design anymore. It has become the gold standard of what you should expect.

Two more things are worth noting.

The environment commitment

Apple continues to commit to environmentally friendly designs, and in these products, this involves 100% recycled rare earth elements. Along with huge improvements in energy consumption, this is a step that puts Apple in position for a future defined by environmental stewardship and conservation of the earth’s raw materials. Others in the consumer electronics industry — and everyone in business — will need to follow suit, particularly as global economic, environmental, and political turmoil make doing so the right thing to do while improving the bottom line. Of course, machines that use less energy are cheaper to run, which makes a big bottom-line difference in any medium to large-sized business.

Technology is sexist

Apple leadership is dominated by men. I think the company is attempting to whittle away at this division but changing the world (as the entire 10-year progress of Apple’s chip design efforts show) can take time.

We do know that one of the ways to change systemic imbalance is to put the spotlight on positive role models. With this in mind, I think Apple hit a strong shot out the ballpark when it decided to put women into almost every speaking role of its presentation. In doing so, it sent a message to so many women who may want to get involved in tech that they can do so and succeed. This seemed to me to be an excellent way to celebrate International Women’s Day, which coincided with the date of this Apple event.

I’m certain I’ve missed some elements from today's announcement. But if there’s one big take away everyone should consider, it is that Apple’s adventures in silicon have turned the industry upside down.

And Apple has only just begun.

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