Apple’s “Peek Performance” Event: Doing What It Had To Do

Apple’s first product launch event of the year, labeled “Peek Performance,” offered few surprises. For several weeks, the Cupertino-based company was rumored to be releasing a refresh of its budget iPhone SE and the iPad Air. Those announcements and the release of a new Mac desktop form factor and professional monitor aimed at extreme content professionals represented the core of the news during the pithy 59-minute webcast, which was pre-recorded.

Routine and anti-climatic as the webcast was, there are always a few strategy nuggets that you can extra from an Apple announcement. Here are the chief three chief takeaways from today’s Apple launch:

#1: Apple will not be immune to the potential impact of a recession

The Apple executive team realizes that rising gas prices, which have an enormous impact on inflation, might lead the United States (and potentially the overall world economy) into recession. Historically, Apple’s smartphone share in the United States (which reached 56% in Q4 2021) is disproportionately dominated by its high-end, premium-priced iPhone models. Samsung and other Android smartphone vendors tend to flourish at lower-end price points.

This observation is not to say that Apple has not enjoyed success with its “budget” iPhone SE models that launched in 2020. The iPhone SE accounted for a not-too-shabby 19% of all iPhone purchases in mid-2020. To keep it relevant, Apple’s new iPhone SE has been refreshed to include the powerful A15 Bionic chip, 5G capability, enhanced durability and lengthier battery life. The iPhone SE continues to be positioned by the company as the “most affordable” smartphone in Apple’s portfolio for users who desire a modest-sized 4.7” display. Starting at $429, the new iPhone SE includes several of the “computational photography” features found in the higher-end iPhone 13 models such as Smart HDR 4, Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles.

As I mentioned during an interview with ABC News, the challenge that Apple has is that iPhone SE sales might further cut into higher-end models (even the forthcoming Apple iPhone 14) if a potential recession dramatically curtails discretionary spending. With high gas prices breaking records across the United States and a Ukrainian crisis that might not resolve itself for months, consumer confidence may be shaken to the point that a $1,200 smartphone, regardless of new standout features, might play second fiddle to food, fuel and other necessities.

#2: New Mac Studio and M1 Ultra processor underscores Apple’s commitment to the premium desktop workstation category

As noted during the “Peek Performance” keynote, Apple has been in the process of completing a two-year transition away from Intel CPUs to its in-house silicon technology across its Mac desktop and MacBook laptop lines. Recognizing that the company still has a gap in its desktop lineup above the Mac Mini, Apple announced a new desktop form factor, the Mac Studio. With a form factor about the same footprint size as a Mac Mini but about four inches tall, the Mac Studio is clearly targeted at “extreme” content professionals and developers.

Mac Studio is not a product for basic, routine Web surfing and productivity apps. Powered by either Apple’s existing M1 Max chip or the new M1 Ultra, this desktop system permits users to render enormous 3D environments and output 18 streams of ProRes video. Overkill for most mainstream users, this product will have a strong appeal for professional music, photography and video professionals that are in the business of creating content akin to a Hollywood studio. The elegantly designed compact form factor includes four Thunderbolt ports, a 10GB Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, SD card slot, as well as Bluetooth 5.0 and WiFi 6 connectivity. During the unveiling, Apple took considerable pains that the Mac Studio was designed with an environmentally friendly design, using up to 1,000 kilowatt-hours less energy than a comparable high-end desktop.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Mac Studio launch is that it will utilize a new chip, dubbed the M1 Ultra, that’s essentially two M1 Max chipsets conjoined via Apple’s “UltraFusion” connection technology that maximizes overall performance. According to Apple, the M1 Ultra has an unheard of 114 billion transistors, which has never appeared in a personal computer chipset. It will be fascinating to see what the usual third-party benchmarks will report, but Apple claims that the M1 Ultra can perform up to 3.8 times faster CPU performance than the quickest 27” iMac with an Intel 10-core processor.

This kind of technology will not come cheap: along with a new professional 27” Apple Studio Display that starts at $1,599, the Mac Studio will have initial price points of $1,999 (configured with an M1 Max) or $3,999 (with an M1 Ultra), it isn’t difficult to rack up a configuration approaching $8,000. Despite those decidedly non-mainstream price points, Mac Studio will find a home with a relatively small but influential set of professional users who want the best performance money can buy.

#3: Apple’s overall marketing messaging continues to be best in class

In an industry that continues to be populated by manufacturers who are enraptured by speeds and feeds when new products are announced, Apple continues to set the benchmark for how technology should be articulated during a product announcement.

Today’s launch was a case in point on the art of crafting great marketing messages. Apple’s aptitude in this area undoubtedly harkens back to Steve Jobs’ penchant for messaging built on simplicity, practicality and pragmatism. There is humility imbued in Apple’s messaging that is never condescending or overly self-congratulatory. While this might be an easy trap for Apple marketers to fall into, given Apple’s success over the past 20 years dating back to the original iPod, it’s refreshing that Apple keynotes continue to utilize broad messaging that speaks to the potential of technology’s ability to change people’s lives. That’s the common theme in nearly all Apple launch events and today’s “Peek Performance” launch was no different.

Of course, Apple has made messaging mistakes in past keynotes. The recorded aspect of these launch events affords Apple (and other companies) the ability to construct and choreograph compelling messaging that is difficult to execute in a live fashion. But give Apple credit for articulating a series of complex messages that most users will be able to digest and comprehend without a glazed-eye response. The sheer number of important news that Apple wants to convey during a typical launch event is not a trivial accomplishment. I wish other companies would take note.

Mark Vena is the CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research based in Silicon Valley. As a technology industry veteran for over 25 years, Mark covers many consumer tech topics, including PCs, smartphones, smart home, connected health, security, PC and console gaming, and streaming entertainment solutions. Mark has held senior marketing and business leadership positions at Compaq, Dell, Alienware, Synaptics, Sling Media and Neato Robotics. Mark has appeared on CNBC, NBC News, ABC News, Business Today, The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. Mark’s analysis and commentary have appeared on Forbes.com and other well-known business news and research sites. His comments about the consumer tech space have repeatedly appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, TechNewsWorld and other news publications.

SmartTech Research, like all research and tech industry analyst firms, provides or has provided paid services to technology companies. These services include research, analysis, advising, consulting, benchmarking, acquisition or speaking sponsorships. Companies mentioned in this article may have utilized these services.

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Mark Vena

Mark Vena

CEO and Principal Analyst at SmartTech Research…I write about disruptive technology