Why the Apple Studio Display Has an iPhone Inside

It’s cheap and easy

  • Apple’s Studio Display runs on the same A13 chip found in iPhones and iPads. 
  • This lets it add modern features to old Intel Macs. 
  • Yes, it means your new display might crash.
Photograph at work on Mac Studio


Apple's new Studio display is an iOS computer with 64GB storage and a chip capable of powering a Mac, iPad, or iPhone. 

In fact, it did once power an iPhone. The monitor's A13 Bionic chip is the same chip found in the iPhones 11 and the 2021 iPad. And remember the Mac DTK, the Mac mini with an iPad chip inside, for developers to work on Apple Silicon before the M1 Macs launched? That ran on an even older chip. So, why is Apple using iPhone chips inside a monitor? 

"Undoubtedly, Apple Silicon makes it easier to add software updates to the Studio Display," business and computer science specialist Simon Bacher told Lifewire via email. "For instance, it's running iOS 15.4. It enables special camera features while supporting audio features as well. [FaceTime] Portrait mode, and Spatial Audio effects, for example."

Cheap, Easy, or Powerful—Pick Three

The Studio Display is technically powerful enough to be a low-end iMac, but those chips are put to more mundane use. They run the sound system and the webcam. That is, they bring Spatial Audio and Center Stage over from the iPad and put it onto a monitor.

When you consider that, it makes total sense that Apple would stick an existing chip into the Studio Display. The iPad already has surround sound and the fancy subject tracking that lets Center Stage pan and zoom to follow you in the frame. Why reengineer all that when it's right there?

The all-new Mac Studio display, with the LCD panel removed.
The all-new Mac Studio display, with the LCD panel removed.


This is a happy offshoot of Apple's long-term iOS strategy. With the M1 and A14 series chips, almost all Macs, plus all iOS and iPadOS devices, use the same basic chip design. That leads to reduced costs, of course, and it also means that the building blocks of Apple's software can be deployed anywhere, and you get to use a commodity part that is already a few generations old and, therefore, cheaper and easier to manufacture. 

Hacker and developer Khaos Tian shared an image on Twitter, showing that the Studio Display has 64GB storage but uses only a fraction of that. Other digital spelunkers have discovered that it runs iOS 15.4, the version of iOS that launched for iPads and iPhones recently. 

Unfortunately, not everything from the iPad made it into the Studio Display. "I am surprised it doesn't have Face ID despite the [A-series] chip inside," said London-based Mac fan Alexqndr on the MacRumors forums

Upsides and Downsides

From a user's perspective, the upside is that you're getting well-tested, reliable chips, even in a brand-new product category. And when there is a problem, it can be fixed with a software update.

In fact, many initial reviews have called out the poor quality of the Studio Display's webcam, saying that it's worse than the iPad's FaceTime camera, even though it's the same hardware and software. And Apple has said that it is working on a software update to correct the issue. If you are using the Studio Display with a Mac, then the update should be easy.

An X-ray view of the all-new Mac Studio.
An X-ray view of the all-new Mac Studio.


Another advantage is that it adds features to older Macs. For instance, the mics in the Studio Display add Hey Siri support to Intel Macs. It also adds Spatial Audio and support for Center Stage. 

On the downside, you risk all the usual problems of a computer. Things can go screwy, causing slowdowns, kernel panics, and other familiar modern-day glitches. 

One other big potential upside is the possibility that Apple could turn on features in future updates. Imagine that the Studio Display already contains Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios. In that case, a future software update might turn the display into an AirPlay receiver, so you could beam audio and video direct from an iPhone. Or it could—with that 64GB storage—work as a standalone Apple TV, with support for a Bluetooth remote. 

That's pure speculation, of course, but it illustrates that Apple can easily add killer features to its accessories with very little development effort. A $1,599 monitor is an expensive device, but a $1,599 TV with AirPlay and a built-in set-top box is appealing to everyone, not just Mac owners. It's a smart play and one we're likely to see more of in the future.

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