We sat down with Xander Soren, Director of Product Marketing, Pro Apps, Tom Boger, Vice President of Mac & iPad Product Marketing and Shelly Goldberg, Senior Director, Mac & iPad Product Design.
Shortly after the announcement of the Mac Studio and Studio Display at the Peak Performance Apple event, we had the pleasure of talking to three Apple executives about the new machine and how the creative pro would benefit.
We talk about the transition to Apple silicon, thermal and design issues and of course, Final Cut Pro's ridiculously fast performance on the new machine.
We first found out about the progress on the transition to Apple Silicon.
Tom: Our users are are loving the performance and responsiveness of Apple silicon on the Mac. We couldn't be more excited about how the transition is going, quite frankly. Obviously, the big news from an Apple silicon standpoint is M1 Ultra.
We scaled Apple silicon up in a way that had never been done before, it's truly a breakthrough in the industry. No one has ever stitched together two SOCs like we do with the M1 Ultra. With this UltraFusion architecture, it's truly groundbreaking and the key benefit is the ability to bring the unified memory architecture to an even higher level of performance. That's incredibly important for a number of workloads, video being one of them.
People, of course, want maximum performance. So that's goal number one. Lots of connectivity so they can connect all kinds of different peripherals and spec out a studio that meets their workflow. And three, a modular system in terms of a separate display and computer so that over time, users can upgrade their compute resources without the need to upgrade their display.
We all know computer technology is changing fast, we wondered if the creative pro who uses a Mac has changed over time.
Tom: For years people have stuck to a specific discipline, but more and more we're seeing people who are doing multiple things. They might be a videographer who also composes music or a musician who does photography or even in some cases people who do software development and photography and videography!
So the goal with Mac Studio was to give them a computer that can do it all. Up until now, if you wanted the pinnacle of performance in the personal computer space, you had to buy a very big, noisy tower that sat on the floor under your desk. You’d accidentally kick it and It's hard to get to the back of it if you need to get to the IO.
We said, “What if you could just put that in an incredibly smaller shape?” When we compare the Mac Studio to competitive towers, they can be 15 or 17 times bigger, the Mac Studio and the Studio can live right next to you, on your desk, nice and quietly.
On the same day as the Mac Studio was announced, the Studio Display was also shown for the first time. To us it seems a great partner for the Mac Studio and of course the creative Mac user.
Tom: We wanted to design a display that would compliment the Mac Studio. We took that wonderful display that people love in the 27 inch iMac and surrounded it with cool aluminium enclosure, added a center stage camera (which people love from the iPad) and also gave it amazing audio from the six built in speakers.
It's the best display we've ever made for the Mac, it also makes it a great display for the rest of our Mac product line at an accessible price point. It also charges over the Thunderbolt Cable, so it's a great addition for all of our notebook users.
FCP.co: With all that power in the Mac Studio, we wondered if there any thermal design problems like the ones that had plagued the trashcan Mac Pro?
Shelly: It was a really fun, exciting challenge with the Mac Studio to have such a lofty goal for form factor. Obviously that creates some mechanical and thermal challenges. So I'll mention a couple of things in designing the airflow pattern for this system. The team went through hundreds of iterations of how we could push air through the system to to cool the electronics.
We ultimately landed on the configuration with air coming in through the bottom through more than 2000 holes. Those brought some of their own manufacturing challenges from a mechanical perspective to the team. Those holes are all milled on slightly different angles as they go around the perimeter of the foot. So we had to design a new special purpose machine that can spin at speeds up to ten times faster than what we machine at normally to create those holes at a rate of about three per second.
Then as the air exits the back of the system, we match the pitch of the fin stack to the pitch of the hole pattern, which helps reduce the turbulence of the airflow, which reduces the impedance. So we get better thermal performance and also better acoustics.
With each of those two fans, the impeller is actually divided vertically and that basically separates the upper half from the lower half. We're then able to tune the pitch of the blades on the impeller separately on the top section and the bottom section. That allows us to control the acoustics. Also by adjusting the height of that separation, we can control how much air we're pulling into the fan from different sections of the box to optimize the overall thermal performance.
That's something that we've never done before and it's kind of an evolution in our understanding of of blower design. So it's really exciting to bring that to the Mac Studio. You have this amazing power density in a product that is small enough to sit on your desk.
FCP.co Do you start with the chip or start with the box when designing a new Mac?
Tom: Well, you’ve hit on something that makes us unique. We're not a merchant chip vendor. So the way the rest of the industry works is you have a merchant chip vendor who builds a collection of chips and hopes that they have customers for those chips. Those customers look at the chips and go, okay, well, we think we can build such and such out of that.
That’s not very efficient. Apple, in contrast has a vision for a product that we want to create very early on. The silicon team works with the design team, product design team, the industrial design team, etc. together to realize that vision. So as we plan our silicon roadmap, we are planning that in conjunction with our product roadmap.
'We like to say that no one should be able to create silicon that takes better advantage of our designs than us because we know exactly where we're going from a design point.'
And the goal for our silicon team is to fill up that thermal envelope of those designs better than anyone else could, because we know the target ahead of time.
FCP.co Do you look at the forums and websites and take the feedback? Because with the MacBook Pro when it came out, everyone said that is was exactly what was needed, there was hardly a bad word said about it. We think that it’s going to be the same with the Studio. We think you have actually listened to what people want, connectivity ports on the front for example, so you can just plug something in quickly without having to dive around on the floor, which we all have done!
Xander: The answer to that question is absolutely yes. We're always listening to customers. Our job is to talk to customers and find out interesting stories about how they're pushing our tools. More importantly, things that they don't have that they want. So it's a really, an important feedback loop.
'I think where we're at right now is the culmination of many, many years of work of not only developing the Pro Apps, but tuning them really in a very specific way to our hardware.'
That's something that nobody else in the industry does. We create the hardware, the chips, the OS and the Pro Apps, and that lets us do things that nobody else in the world can do. The numbers that we can do with 8K ProRes are crazy, 18 streams!
We look at just a year and a half ago when we first introduced the Mac Pro, that blew us away. Now with the small form factor Mac Studio, we are blowing those numbers away! So I think it's a really, really exciting time for us, for creatives.
Tom: Not only do we constantly listen, meet with and interact with customers, but about four or five years ago or so, we started an internal pro workflow team. We created a team where we hired people from the industry, creatives whose job was to be a music producer or a videographer, photographer or software developer. We hired a number of pretty big heavy hitters in the industry and a group of engineering technical architects and put them on a team.
They do actual productions, whether it be like a movie production or a software development project. They do this internally to look for bottlenecks. You know, what are the bottlenecks in the workflow? What things are slowing me down? Sometimes it's our software and sometimes it’s a third party piece of software, maybe it's just something in our own OS. We get in touch with that software developer and have them meet with our own internal software or hardware architects. So we try to suss out those bottlenecks to make that workflow even better.
Xander, for instance, he works with our internal software engineers for Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro. They meet all the time with our Pro Workflow team because our Pro Workflow team is using our own internal tools like Final Cut and Logic to do these productions. They're giving them feedback, Hey, can you make this faster? What if we had this feature, etc.? So it's been a really great symbiotic in-house group to have.
So as you can see from where we were about five years ago in terms of our pro products to where we are now, it's night and day, right? It's night and day because of the MacBook Pro, Mac Pro and now Mac Studio and the improvements we've made in the OS and the adoption of Apple Silicon.
FCP.co: It's quite painful for us because we saw a lot of Mac users leave to go to PC. They said, “I need this performance and I can buy this, some of the software is the same. “ We think you're in a window now of where you've got machines that outperform PCs, where you're going to get the users come back. They're going to relook at the Mac and especially the Mac Studio and go, "Well, if I if I use this, I'm going to get stuff done a lot quicker. I can go home early or I can do five of these instead of two.". We think pros will look back again at the Mac for creative work, we had one guy almost in tears when he was saying he had to buy a PC!
Tom: Well, we're in tears when that happens!
'Our goal at Apple has never been to sell the most products. It's been to sell the best products.'
So, the whole goal of our transition to Apple Silicon was to make better products because it might sound corny, but we believe that everyone who's using a Mac makes the world a better place and their life better.
In your profession, we know that getting the job done and getting it done quickly and hitting a deadline is what it's all about. So that's what these systems are all about, giving you the performance and capabilities so you can either hit that deadline or to your point, or do five projects where in the past you could only do one or two in the same amount of time.
FCP.co: Some editors joke that they miss the rendering time because it gives an opportunity to go make a drink or have a cigarette, whatever. They liked the breaks rendering gave them!
Xander: I think a lot of these advancements are coming at a strange time in the world where we're coming out of the the pandemic, but we're also finding that people are being more creative than they've ever been before. They have a little bit more time to, you know, to sit down and focus.
So a couple of things that we did. On the Pro App side, we created a 90 day trial. We extended the trial for Final Cut Pro and added one for Logic Pro because we wanted people to really check out these great apps and spend time using them. And this comes at a time where the hardware is just letting you do ridiculous things.
'We're happy to say that the the trends for Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro are up and to the right. We've had more customers than ever before and back to back years of record sales.'
So people are loving the new hardware, they're loving the apps, and they're just doing incredible creative work.
FCP.co: When it comes to doing the benchmarks, do you do you have a good idea of where they're going to be? Or do you start off with multiple 8K streams and just keep adding more 8K clips into a multicam or a split screen project to see where it's going to drop frames or fall over?
Tom: We've been fortunate to build in, in my opinion, the world's best silicon team, so we simulate and pretty much understand all the capabilities of our architecture and our silicon before it ever comes out. So we have very specific projections and very specific expectations of what the silicon should be able to do. Once we get that first silicon and it boots up and we're in the Finder and we're ready to launch apps, then it's fun to go and try the things that we expected to do and the happen and then some.
Xander: There are these moments that happen where you're like, okay, we have a system, let's put Final Cut on it and we start adding some footage and you get "Oh my God, you really think these numbers are correct?" So yeah, we're having those aha moments internally, just like a customer would when they get their hands on. Everybody gets really, really excited.
Tom: In this space we set very specific goals from very specific pro workloads like, ‘Hey, in video editing, we should be able to do this, in color grading, we should be able to do this, e.t.c.” and that is baked into the planning and goals of our silicon and systems right from the very beginning.
FCP.co: You demoed 18 streams of 8K, do you think this is going to become the new resolution standard for VOD services and the Mac Studio be the machine of choice to serve those editors?
Tom: Well, Wayne Gretzky the famous hockey player used to say, when asked how he became successful was that he would skate where the puck is going to be. And that's what our philosophy is these days at the high end of our product line with our Macs and Apple Silicon. We know for instance, 8K is just a nascent format that people are just beginning to get into. But, we want to skate to where the puck is going to be.
So if you get a Mac Studio today, it's going to allow you to be creative for many, many years to come and not put limitations on you. So that's why we pushed the envelope so hard and so far with these systems.
A huge thank you to Tom, Shelly and Xander for taking time out from their busy schedules to give us an insight into the Mac Studio and Studio Display.