A funny thing happened at the end of Apple’s Mac Studio event. Instead of announcing new models of the 27" iMac and Mac Pro—which is what we were all expecting—Apple announced a new Mac Pro, and that was it. What happened to the 27" iMac? Well, not only was there no new model, but Apple discontinued the existing generation and removed it from its online store. The unexpected move sent a clear signal that the Mac Studio with separate 27" Studio Display is meant to be the new 27" iMac experience. And for all intents and purposes, it is a much better one.
Apple’s Own Comparison
At every product launch, Apple makes a lot of claims about how good its latest release performs. Usually, Apple makes a direct comparison in which the new item is, for example, 2.7 times faster than an earlier model. It was super easy to compare the newly released MacBook Pros with the last-gen versions. But interestingly, the Mac Studios were compared directly to—you guessed it—the 27" iMac.
Sounds a lot like the Mac Studio is the intended successor to the 27" iMac.
The exact model Apple chose as its point of comparison is the 27" iMac with the top-of-the-range 10-core Intel® Core™ i9 processor. But even the Mac Studio with an M1 Max chip blows it out of the water with a performance speed that is 2.7 times faster. The M1 Ultra nearly doubles that to 5.3 times.
When we consider the GPU, the M1 Max beats out the top-end graphics option for the iMac by 3.5 times, while the M1 Ultra takes it up to 5 times. The Mac Studio wins definitively by providing better performance than its predecessor—a key metric for upgrades.
In any world, the Mac Studio feels very much like a spiritual successor to the iMac. Apple even says that the Mac Studio fits nicely underneath most displays, meaning it still belongs on your desk instead of under it like the tower form factor of the Mac Pro.
If you really want the full Mac Studio experience, Apple would be happiest if you paired it with the Studio Display.
Studio Display: A Perfect Partner
All the marketing materials for the Mac Studio have it nestled comfortably under the “new” 27" Studio Display. While the Studio Display has many new features, the panel itself is a near-perfect match to the most recent 27" iMac and is very close to the older LG UltraFine 5K model.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
27" 5K (5120 x 2880) panel at 218 ppi
600 nits brightness (a touch higher than the iMac’s 500 nits)
1 billion colors supported
Wide color (P3)
Standard and Nano-Texture Glass options
Besides the bump in brightness, the other specs are the same. I wish Apple had done a bit more here, but it is a solid display already. It will give you the same viewing experience as the latest 27" iMac.
I will give Apple credit for making some gains to the extra pieces of the display, such as the camera and audio systems.
The camera has been given a boost to 12MP with an Ultra Wide 122° field of view that supports the Center Stage function. Audio has received a complete overhaul. There is a new three-mic array for “studio quality” audio and a six-speaker system that will support Spatial Audio.
On the back is a similar array of ports, though since it isn’t the actual computer with direct connection to the chipset, they are now just USB-C ports. The Thunderbolt™ 3 host port will support 96W charging if you decide to pair with a MacBook. Interestingly, this starts to look a lot like the 27" UltraFine 5K display Apple coordinated with LG to create. That monitor (which is sitting on my desk right now) has the same 96W charging and Thunderbolt™ 3 host port alongside the three USB-C ports. Very curious.
What you can’t deny is that the Apple Studio Display has style. It looks beautiful. Plus, the new Nano-Texture Glass option has been added for those looking for an aftermarket option that more closely matches Apple’s display.
Honestly, I prefer a “choose your own display” experience. Since this is targeting creative professionals who either have their own displays already, or care about having multiple matched displays, this is now the best option. Many people were not fans of having an iMac sitting next to another monitor that wasn’t matched up, for one reason or another.
iMacs have traditionally targeted your everyday creative professional. The Mac Pro was the device for exceptionally serious applications, but most people got on just fine with a well-spec’d iMac. The iMac Pro was a sign that people loved the form factor and that it was a complete package that just worked.
The screen also made the iMac a compelling option for creatives. It was well calibrated and had great features for an all-in-one machine. The most recent offerings with P3 wide color support solidified that. For most of us, it was great. Plus, with so much content consumed on devices like iPhones and iPads, the complete Apple experience meant that quality was consistent across platforms.
But the iMac’s ergonomics and usability remained a source of annoyance for working professionals. The display was tilt-only, meaning risers were common purchases. There was also only a small handful of ports and an SD card slot on the back, which was super annoying. The Mac Studio’s form factor rectifies this in a huge way. We not only have a couple of USB-C or Thunderbolt™ 4 ports on the front, with M1 Max and M1 Ultra Macs, respectively, we even have the SD card slot right there, as well. Then on the rear there are extra Thunderbolt™ 4/USB ports, a couple of USB-A ports for good measure, and a 10Gb Ethernet connection. This is a much more practical machine.
Compared to the 27" iMac, the Mac Studio is a better product for creative professionals.
When it comes to pricing, the Mac Studio is also a clear successor to the iMac. An upgraded 27" iMac—which still pales in comparison to the performance of a Mac Studio—will run you more than $3,000. A base Mac Studio with Studio Display costs $3,600. Yes, the entire bundle will cost a bit more up front, but you aren’t forced to purchase the display if you already have one. Many buyers may save money on that front unless you are, unfortunately, replacing a beloved 27" iMac.
Once you add in the specs and upgrades you want, it will end up costing more, but it is looking like a better option for working creatives. And it does sit in that beautiful mid-range spot between the consumer-grade Mac mini and 24" iMac and the overpowered-and-overpriced-for-many Mac Pro.
Don’t lament the departure of the 27" iMac; the Mac Studio and Studio Display are able to provide a similar, yet vastly improved experience.
What is your take on the Mac Studio? If you are still missing the 27" iMac, what does it have that the new Mac Studio and Studio Display don’t? Let us know in the Comments section, below.