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Here’s why Apple put a powerful iPhone chip in its new Studio Display

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The A13 Bionic makes the most of the built-in webcam and speakers

Image: Apple

Apple’s $1,599 Studio Display will be available on March 18th, and there’s a lot more to the company’s new external monitor than just its 27-inch, 5K panel. For one, Apple crammed six speakers into the thing. And if the 16-inch MacBook Pro and 24-inch iMac are anything to go by, the Studio Display is likely going to sound much better than most competing screens. But maybe you already have speakers hooked up at your desk and are nonplussed about the integrated audio system. There’s also a 12-megapixel webcam that Apple says should produce similar video call quality to what you’d get from an iPad. In other words, it has the potential to make you look even nicer than the 1080p webcam on recent Macs.

To get the most out of the Studio Display’s hardware, Apple is using an A13 Bionic chip to serve as the brains for some of these features. That’s the same SoC that powered the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, 11 Pro Max, second-gen iPhone SE, and the ninth-gen iPad. A CPU capable of 1 trillion operations per second that contains two high-performance cores might sound like overkill for a monitor; Apple uses much more modest chips for products like the HomePod mini, and even the second-gen Apple TV 4K has an older A12 Bionic. But it turns out the A13 Bionic actually helps the Studio Display in several ways.

In summarizing how the A13 Bionic benefits the Studio Display, Apple says it “enables innovative features like Center Stage, Spatial Audio, and “Hey Siri.”

Center Stage is the camera trick that automatically adjusts and pans the frame to keep you (or multiple people) in view when video chatting. The A13 Bionic also optimizes image signal processing from the 12MP webcam. In terms of audio, the Apple chip handles processing for Dolby Atmos content to create “a sophisticated, three‑dimensional soundstage.”

I’m always pretty skeptical of companies trying to hype spatial audio on laptops — and now external displays. I think my 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro’s speakers can create impressive separation when listening to music. They sound truly great for laptop speakers, but I’ve never felt enveloped in “three-dimensional” sound. Nevertheless, that’s part of the A13 Bionic’s duties.

And last, the A13 Bionic also allows the Studio Display to support hands-free “Hey Siri” voice commands. This might seem redundant if your Mac notebook or iMac is already capable of the feature, but it brings that same convenience to Apple desktops that previously lacked it, like the Mac Pro, Mac mini, and now the Mac Studio. As Apple spokesperson Alex Bender told The Verge by email:

“Hey Siri” support on Studio Display requires a connection to a Mac. Studio Display leverages low power, always on processing to detect the “Hey Siri” wake command privately on device. Only when the “Hey Siri” command is detected does Siri start listening and processing a request.

Those are the reasons why Apple tossed a powerful chip into the Studio Display. The A13 Bionic makes the most of the display’s camera and speakers while leaving your Mac to focus on more important tasks.

Apple has confirmed to The Verge that the Studio Display can receive firmware updates “when connected to a Mac with OS 12.3 or later,” so theoretically the A13 could be used for more down the line, but the company didn’t have anything to share on future capabilities.