Newsletter Issue #1041January 23rd, 2023
This site began in 1999 as Mac Night Owl. But when Apple began to embrace other consumer products, such as the iPod, I felt it was time for a change. Thus the switch to Tech Night Owl.
I founded my tech radio show in 2002, and changed it appropriately, to Tech Night Owl LIVE. That decision didn’t come easy, because the radio network for which I was a part, MacRadio, was stuck in the past and couldn’t understand the change, so I split and went my own way. MacRadio didn’t survive for too many years thereafter following my departure.
After I discontinued my tech radio show in 2019, I sold the original technightowl.com and related domains to raise cash (you don’t want to see what they’ve become!). But I continued the blog under the Mac Radio name, since I still had macradio.net in my domain arsenal.
Partly because the best names were already taken, more and more domain extensions have been added in recent years, way beyond .com, .net, .info and .us. So when I saw a special $3.48 discount on securing a technightowl.live domain from Namecheap, I went for it, along with a 99 cent technightowl.us variation. All right, I will have to pay the full price for the second year for each, but this was a perfectly sensible choice in my opinion.
Considering we’re still here after all these years, switching the site to the technightowl.live destination seems perfectly reasonable. So we’re restored our original name, Gene Steinberg’s Tech Night Owl, and we’re here to stay.
A BAD YEAR FOR APPLE? NOT SO FAST!
As most of you regular readers know, I seldom engage in random speculation about Apple’s plans. It’s usually an exercise in futility beyond common sense, that products and services will be updated on a regular basis to fuel sales. When products will appear depends on the marketing scheme, and parts availability. So with the iPhone, there’s the traditional September announcement that’ll continue until it doesn’t.
So I wrote the original version of this column on Sunday, January 15th, only to see reports the following day that Apple was poised to announce some Mac hardware updates this very week. Obviously there had to be some big changes, so this column is only superficially related to the original draft.
Those reports have turned out to be correct, and indicate that Apple’s transition to its own chips is closer than ever to completion, although some months late.
Let’s take a brief foray through history first:
Except for a few years in the mid-1990s, when saying Apple was doomed was quite close to the truth, Apple has had a pretty good ride since then. Co-founder Steve Jobs made smart moves in slimming the product lineup and getting rid of less-successful gear, paving the way for his successors to keep the profits rolling in.
But that didn’t stop the critics from seeking or believing they have found areas where Apple must fail. Consider the annual changeover of iPhone shipments after the Christmas season to predictably lower numbers. Over and over again, this perfectly sensible move has been falsely presented as an indication that sales were bad. As is typical in the world of politics, the usual fact-checks are ignored.
In 2022, though, some of those predictions might have had a kernel of truth, because of production slowdowns at the Foxconn assembly plants in China due to the COVID-19 outbreaks. For a while, staffing was reduced, hence less gear was built. We’ll have a better idea of how many when Apple’s financials for the holiday quarter are revealed on Thursday, January 27th of this year. But there are already reports that iPhone Pro shipments are almost caught up with demand, though one presumes demand is no less.
Yet it didn’t stop there. While the Mac has been surprisingly successful in a declining PC market, and the Apple Silicon CPU transition has been going well, mostly, there are potential problems that have caused more and more negative spin. So it all goes somewhat like this: In the fall of 2022, Apple didn’t release any new Macs, despite expectations of updates to the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, which didn’t happen until January 17th.
Aside from the Mac mini, though, the focus has been on notebooks, where the lion’s share of sales lie. The 24-inch iMac arrived in May of 2021, and it’s getting a little long in the tooth. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad computer; it probably benchmarks at least twice as fast as my vintage Late 2014 model, and would be a worthy upgrade, except for the smaller display.
But Apple has not met its two year promise to upgrade the entire lineup to the new M-family chips. There 27-inch iMac is gone, with the 24-inch model apparently serving as the replacement for the 21.5-inch and its larger sibling. There is no iMac Pro of any size, and the promised Mac Pro is still nothing more than a promise.
Why is the question mark.
Apple introduced a somewhat faster M2 CPU last year in for the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. And that was all. As of this month, the Mac mini, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros have received M2 upgrades, resulting in performance boosts of at least 20%, depending on the function. It would seem that the existing iMac and the Mac Studio would be ideal candidates for near-term updates.
As it stands now, the Mac mini with the M2 Pro chip comes amazingly close in performance and flexibility to the Studio, and it’s a few hundred dollars less when dolled up. It would seem a trivial matter to upgrade them all unless Apple ran into unexpected difficulties scaling it up, or there were problems in fabricating enough of them.
Indeed, there are now rumors that the next stage of the Apple Silicon transition may move to a rumored M3 chip, which will allegedly be built with TSMC’s 3nm process. This would present an expected boost in performance and more power efficiencies.
The Mac Pro? Who knows? The current model, topping out with a 28-core Intel Xeon W and a price tag of over $50,000 is still being sold. But it’s not as if content creators and scientists are buying all that many. One published report I read, in Macworld no less, mentioned sales of 1,000 units. It would hardly seem worth the bother, although it’s Apple’s most prestigious model, and having one available with all the latest hardware is a good thing even if sales aren’t stellar.
Apple did mention that one is in development, but where is it?
Again, we have to rely on published speculation that remains unconfirmed. The original rumored configuration were supposed to include a humongous system-on-a-chip known as the M1 Extreme. It would, in turn, consist of a pair of M1 Ultra CPUs, which, in turn, consists of an integrated pair of M1 Max CPUs.
Since the maxed out M1 Ultra has a 20-core CPU and a 64-core GPU, speculation had it that it would arrive with twice that, thus a 40-core CPU and a 128-core GPU. It would deliver performance that’s credibly faster than the existing Mac Pro, perhaps at a lower price for the decked out versions. Perhaps.
The current scuttlebutt has it that the Extreme project was abandoned, either due to production issues, or the lack of a market for such a beast. Instead, the 2023 Mac Pro will arrive with a souped up M2 Ultra (or will that be an M3?).
Now it may not be so bad. Today’s top-of-the-line Mac Studio scores way above a souped up Mac Pro in CPU single-core and multi-core benchmarks. But the Pro equipped with the best graphics hardware is roughly twice as fast in graphics performance as the Studio. If Apple could deliver a workable solution to that shortcoming, perhaps with a discrete graphics card, they can credibly boast of having one of the fastest workstations on the planet.
Whether it is possible to support separate graphics with Apple Silicon is an open question, but Apple has billions of dollars available to throw at a problem, so there’s little doubt that such a solution can be developed. Adding RAM might not be possible, though, due to the system-on-a-chip design. The top-of-the-line Mac Pro has up to 1.5TB of RAM.
Maybe having so much RAM won’t be necessary due to the way Apple Silicon handles memory. Maybe 256GB or 512GB will be quite sufficient.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be a 2023 Mac Pro, with an M-something that’ll finally replace the 2019 version. Possibly every performance limitation will be solved, and it will possess internal expansion capabilities to match the Intel version.
It may be fair to speculate that Apple maybe should have stayed with Intel and worked with them to improve the efficiency of existing Core and Xeon processors. But controlling more and more of the hardware allows Apple to optimize performance in ways that Intel can’t easily achieved, because it has to build silicon that supports a variety of models with features Macs don’t need. It has worked quite well with the iPhone and the iPad, which are far superior in performance to the competition.
Besides Apple doesn’t have to pay an outside vendor for CPUs.
Let’s be realistic about it all: Nobody outside of Apple or its suppliers really knows what’s coming in the next Mac Pro, only that Apple promised one and will probably fulfill the promise. Its configuration remains a matter of speculation, as is the probable delivery date. Maybe it’ll be demonstrated at the 2023 WWDC, and ship a few months later. As we get closer to the release date, perhaps preliminary benchmarks of the expected hardware will appear, and we’ll know.
For now, don’t believe what you read, even from prognosticators who appear to have the inside track on new Apple gear. And don’t believe what you read from armchair pundits such as yours truly either. It’ll certainly be close to a release date before we know for certain what Apple is up to. It won’t change its marketing approach about not revealing future products because customers want to know.
A truth is out there, but there’s no reason losing sleep over it.
THE FINAL WORD
Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Steinberg
Copyright 1999-2023 Making The Impossible. All Rights Reserved.
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