My Thoughts On The Reaction To Apple’s Studio Display

Until two weeks or so ago, the only option for a display from Apple was the $5000 USD Apple Pro Display XDR that shipped with the Mac Pro in 2019. Of course to use it, you needed a $1000 USD stand, but the fact was that the display existed and was an option for people who wanted a first party option from Apple. But here’s the problem with that display. It was $6000 to get your hands on it. And it was total overkill for 99% of the public. Not to mention that the price put it out of the reach of the average person. Which is why many people wanted a lower cost option from Apple.

Two weeks ago or so ago they got that option in the form of the Studio Display at $1599 USD. And the reviews shall we say have been less than glowing. And I’ve been thinking about why this is the case as I rarely see this level of backlash against Apple, and come to the conclusion that some of this backlash is unwarranted, and some of it is due to how Apple brought this to market.

Let’s start with what Apple did wrong here by going through the specs of the Studio Display:

  • 27″
  • 5K resolution
  • 60Hz
  • P3 Wide Color
  • IPS panel
  • 600 nits brightness
  • 12MP Webcam with Center Stage powered by an A13 Bionic processor
  • Six speakers
  • Three microphones
  • One Thunderbolt 3 connector that delivers 96W of power
  • Three USB-C connectors
  • Option for Nano-Texture anti-glare coating at $300 USD
  • Option for height adjustable stand installed at time of purchase or later at an Apple Store for $400 USD
  • Option for VESA mount installed at time of purchase or later at an Apple Store at no additional charge.

Those are decent specs. More than decent in fact. But at $1599 USD to start? That’s a bit of a problem. The price relative to what you get seems seriously out of step with a lot of sub $1000 displays. I say that because it has no HDR support. Even cheap gaming monitors have some sort of HDR support. More on that in a moment. And reviews of the camera all basically say that it sucks. Though one assumes that this will be fixed through a software update. In fact Apple said so. But we’ll see if they deliver on that front. When it comes to the panel, it’s an IPS panel being used instead of mini-LED. If it were the latter, the $1599 price point would be easier to accept. But at least they included a stand this time. Though having to pay $400 to make it height adjustable seems obscene to me given that every other monitor on Earth has this functionality right out of the box.

Here’s where I won’t ding Apple. This monitor is 60Hz. And a lot of people on the Internet are upset about that as Apple has released iPads, iPhones, and MacBook Pros with ProMotion displays. That’s their variable refresh rate technology which allows a monitor to go from 120Hz down to as low as 24 Hz depending on the device. Thus it seems logical to expect a ProMotion display on a brand new monitor. Right? But here’s some facts. Thunderbolt doesn’t support 120Hz above a resolution of 4K. So there’s no technical way for Apple to bring ProMotion to a 5K monitor. Which meant ProMotion was never going to happen unless Apple went with a 4K panel. Which I am guessing was never going to happen either.

On top of that, the people who are the targets for this monitor are not the average person. It’s someone who wants:

  • A monitor that has the same calibration as their other Apple products (MacBook Pros, iPad Pros, etc.) so that they can work on content in a consistent manner as it supports many reference modes including Apple Display, HDTV Video, NTSC, PAL, SECAM, Digital Cinema, Design and Print, Photography, and Internet and Web sRGB.
  • Video professionals typically work with monitors locked to 60Hz, 30Hz, or 24Hz depending on the project. Thus the lack of ProMotion is a non-factor for them. Ditto for HDR support as anyone who needed HDR in their workflow would have brought a Pro Display XDR by now because it supports Dolby Vision HDR. There aren’t many monitors in the sub $1000 price range, or sub $5000 price range for that matter that support Dolby Vision HDR. In fact, any monitor in that price range with HDR support would be laughed at by a video or photography pro due to whatever HDR support it had if it wasn’t Dolby Vision HDR.

The above likely explains why if you wanted to buy a Studio Display, you currently have to wait at least 8 weeks to get one.

So in short, Apple likely hit the mark with the target audience of this monitor. But that’s not helping them in the PR space where people who were never, ever going to buy this monitor are saying that this monitor is a #Fail. Which means that the monitor is perceived as a #Fail. And perception is reality. The key word is perception. Because the reality is that this monitor is not a #Fail. It’s a good first party solution for the people who can utilize it.

Here’s my last point on this, while there are other monitors that do HDR, or do 120Hz, or have built in webcams finding one that checks the boxes of the Studio Display is going to be a huge challenge as almost nothing does 5K resolution. Nothing out there has the integration with macOS that the Studio Display has. And even if you downscale your ambitions to 4K or even HD like I did when I got this monitor, nothing is going to support the reference modes that the Studio Display has. Thus if you get a third party monitor, you’ll pay less money, but you’ll get less monitor. And you’ll likely be looking at a gaming monitor to get 120Hz and not ProMotion, passable HDR support, and either HD or QHD resolution due to the fact that 4K gaming monitors are currently few and far between. And it won’t have the sound quality that the Studio Display has. And I would question if you would get a usable webcam with it. On the flipside, if Apple came out with this monitor two years ago, or even a year ago, we would not be talking about this monitor as being a #Fail because it would be at worst in line with the competition. And further to that, if Apple came out with this monitor today with HDR, or ProMotion (not that it’s possible, but let’s pretend that it was possible for the sake of this argument), or a camera that worked out of the box, or some combination of those, we would not be talking about this monitor as being a #Fail because it would justify the price.

Apple didn’t exactly help their own cause here by how they brought this monitor to market. But I also think that there’s been an overreaction to this monitor’s perceived shortcomings. So I would say that people who hate this monitor need to take a breath here and relax. But at the same time, Apple needs to think about how to bring a monitor to market that has features that the people who are flipping out about this monitor want, but at the same time meets the $1599 price point, if not lower. Because this clearly is being perceived as a swing and miss by Apple. Even if it isn’t.

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