It may not have been noticed, but Mac prices have, to a degree, been trending downward. It started with certain configurations of the MacBook Pro with Retina display last year. Earlier this year, a tiny refresh of the MacBook Air brought with it prices that were $100 less. That was more significant, because it brought the low-end model down to $899, the cheapest Mac ever beyond the educational market. More to the point, even the lowliest Microsoft Surface 3 tablet/notebook/whatever, with a keyboard, costs more.
Now there’s yet another rumor of an impending Mac price cut, this time heralding the arrival of the 2014 iMac. Now to be fair, Apple doesn’t always update a Mac unless or until Intel has a new processor family available. The 2013 Macs, other than the Mac Pro, relied on Haswell. The 2014 MacBook Air simply used slightly faster variants from the Haswell family.
But the newest Intel processors, known as Broadwell, are late. They aren’t expected to ship until before the holiday season, meaning it may be too late to get them in sufficient quantities for holiday gear. So it may make sense for Apple to just take the best of the current chips, and build somewhat faster iMacs. That and price cuts of $100-$200 would jump start sales of the venerable desktop line.
This doesn’t mean the iMac is necessarily expensive as all-in-ones go. When you compare them to the usual Windows equivalent, and match up the specs and the value of the bundled software, you’ll see that Apple’s prices are quite competitive. It’s also true that Macs are doing better, overall, than PCs when it comes to growing sales. So it’s very possible Apple is making a move to boost the Mac’s prospects for the summer and back-to-school seasons.
But what about the fall? Well, if a new iMac arrives in June, you hardly expect another update until some time in 2015, no doubt after the Broadwell chips ship in quantity. Of course, I could be all wrong about this. It’s happened before, and maybe Apple will be granted a million or so early-release Broadwell chips for the newest iMac. If that’s the case, fine and dandy, but the advantage of the updated Intel chipsets have been more about conserving power than number crunching.
And, obviously, it doesn’t make a difference with an iMac, as the amount of power you save would have a negligible impact on your electric bill.
Still missing an update, though, is the Mac mini. Today’s model comes from 2012, even though faster chips are available, and an update would probably be trivial to implement. I suppose it’s always possible Apple has something else in mind for the cheapest Mac, although it does have lots of fans who just love them. It could, for example, be modified to become a custom media server. Sure, you can sort of do that now if you assemble the raw apps and do the settings yourself. But that’s not Apple’s way.
Regardless, I would expect the next Mac mini, which might also arrive soon, will be cheaper. The original Mac mini in 2005 started at $499, and a $100 price reduction would return it to that level. Besides, I can’t imagine that Apple’s profits would be seriously impacted. Few worried that $100 cheaper MacBook Airs would hurt.
I suppose the MacBook Pro with Retina display could get a similar update. Slightly faster, somewhat cheaper. That would make sense, and such an update could also come soon. If Apple isn’t jumping to Broadwell, it could arrive any week now. As with a 2014 iMac, its arrival would be heralded with a press release and maybe one or two interview opportunities with Apple executives.
Of course, when you consider prices, the Mac Pro is a “no object” product. In saying that, it’s also true that you can’t match the prices with a home-built PC box. Some have tried and found prices thousands of dollars higher, particularly when maxed out. Even such traditional PC workstation builders as Dell and HP do not have direct equivalents to a Mac Pro that approach the purchase price. With a Mac Pro, there is no Apple tax. There’s a Dell tax, an HP tax, a built-it-yourself tax, etc.
But I tend to doubt the Mac Pro is ready for an update. Only this week did Apple catch up with orders. It’s barely a 2013 model, since it only shipped in limited quantities last December. So it may be that the refresh wouldn’t come until early 2015.
So does that mean there will be little news on the Mac front this fall other than the expected October arrival of OS X Yosemite? Perhaps. But what about Retina display variants of the MacBook Air and the iMac? These two products might herald a “one more thing” at a fall Apple media event. The only question would be how much more you’d have to pay to get the sharper display, or maybe the price will be the same as last year’s versions of both with standard displays? That would be quite a development.
You see, when it comes to predicting anything about the Mac in the twilight of the PC era, all bets are off.
- Apple, the WWDC and the Wacky Run-up After quite a run, and ahead of a 7-to-1 stock split, Apple's stock price had declined slightly before the WWDC keynote on Monday. I suppose this was to be expected. The event was presaged with optimism, skepticism and silly claims about what the company must do to survive. Some weeks back, for example, one online pundit who doesn't deserve to be named or linked suggested that the company would be toast if the iWatch wasn't released in 60 days. When that date passed, and Apple was still here, it merely represented yet another example of commentators lying through their teeth or making downright foolish claims to generate online traffic. Having a respect for facts and logic played second fiddle. There was also the "Apple must" meme, that the WWDC keynote must be filled with new hardware and new product categories, even though it was ostensibly for developers. Thus, we know there would be news about iOS 8 and OS 10.10 because Apple said as much. But expectations that there would be new hardware weren't met. There was no Apple TV or iWatch demonstration for developers, but the people who build apps for Apple gear still got plenty to consider, including a new simplified programming language known as Swift. But OS 10 Yosemite? What about that Looney Toons cartoon character? Clearly Apple isn't taking that into consideration with OS 10.10, which will sport the rumored flatter look and feel, reminiscent of iOS. The improved transparency effects and cleaner text and windows seem interesting enough if a new OS X skin appeals to you. While Mavericks was heavily laden with hardware improvements to use RAM and power more efficiently, Yosemite is heavily disposed towards improvements for Mac users. Front and center is Continuity, which greatly simplifies the passage from Mac to iPhone to iPad, and back again. Email and messages can begin on one, and be completed on another. You can also use your Mac or, with iOS 8, your iPad to make and receive phone calls on your iPhone. Of course your iPhone has to be active on the same Wi-Fi network for this Handoff process to work. SMS messaging is also supported; again with a networked iPhone. You can also use your iPhone to set up an Instant Hotspot, though that would appear to require support from your wireless carrier, as Apple indicates on their site. Clearly Apple's critics will complain that Continuity is yet another way for Apple to rope you in to depending on their ecosystem. But there's nothing wrong with that. Other companies and their sycophants in the tech media are probably jealous. So iCloud becomes iCloud Drive, since you can now use it as an online repository for all your files, and even set up a traditional file/folder hierarchy that can be accessed on all your Apple gear, including your iPhone and iPad, along with a Windows PC. In a sense, Apple is going after Dropbox and the cloud storage systems from Microsoft and Google to set up seamless ways for you to store and easily transfer larger files. Mail for Yosemite, with the promise of greater speed and efficiency, has a new feature, dubbed Mail Drop, which lets you use your iCloud Drive as an intermediary for file attachments of up to 5GB. This will help you avoid the usual problem of sending large files to a recipient. Email services traditionally limit attachments to less than 20MB. Windows users will simply receive a link in their email to retrieve the file, which definitely rains on Hightail's parade. Since iCloud now plays a larger role in storing your stuff, new storage plans are coming. You'll still get 5GB free, but 20GB is just 99 cents per month, and 200GB is $3.99 per month. For small businesses, or families with loads of photos and other files to store and back up, the latter plan is the sweet spot. You'll be able to get up to 1TB of storage once all the options are in place. Spotlight has been enhanced to include both online and local searches, which is something you can already do under Windows. I suppose Apple is hoping you'll move away from Safari searches and rely on Spotlight to find everything. Here's why: While Google search is still supported and remains the default on Safari, Spotlight uses Microsoft Bing. I wonder how Google will react when they get the memo. As with Mavericks, OS X Yosemite will be available this fall, probably between late September and late October, as a free download and is reportedly compatible with the very same Macs that can run OS 10.9. While developers are already downloading the first Yosemite preview, up to one million Mac users will receive access to Yosemite betas this summer. So be prepared to sign up as soon as possible. I expect they will want to get a few releases out before letting non-developers gain access to the seeds. While iOS 8 also comes across as a compelling release, Apple has yet to say anything about side-by-side multitasking for iPads. I suppose that could come later. Meantime, in addition to the Swift development language, Apple is moving towards giving developers more flexility in building and selling iOS apps. There is, for example, support for Touch ID and third-party keyboards. So, although the new QuickType predictive keyboard scheme may appeal to most users, those who want a Swype or another third-party keyboard to replace Apple's will get full system support. Would that were true with other apps, and it would be nice to be able to pick something else as the default for such tasks as email and browsing. As predicted, HealthKit will be designed to allow developers of health and fitness apps to seamlessly communicate with your iOS device and the new Health app. Such major medical institutions as Mayo Clinic have announced full support, which means you'll be a tap away from monitoring your physical condition, and your doctor can receive immediate updates should test results require their attention. Apple, by the way, promises what appears to be bulletproof security for Health and also for HomeKit, a tool for developers to build apps to better integrate your connected home. The HomeKit feature is called Secure Pairing, which supposedly means that only a registered iOS device can unlock your home, adjust the lights, turn on the microwave, or perform many other functions in your home. Developers will be able to bundle apps at a special discount and offer beta testing functions via the App Store. A new "Explore" feature will make it easier for you to discover the more than 1.2 billion apps now available for iOS users. While iOS 8 won't look altogether different from iOS 7, and thus isn't apt to be quite as polarizing, that can't be said for Yosemite. Right after the initial announcement appeared in the tech media, one of my friends, who has already had a love/hate relationship with Mavericks, responded with just one word, "YUK!" Her concern is that it looks more like iOS, but I reminded her that it's still OS X and her Mac will still run like a Mac despite the changes. Oh, and by the way, the iPhone 4 is not on the iOS 8 compatibility list. It was hit or miss with iOS 7, so it makes sense it has been retired from future iOS updates. In any case, Apple's stock price resumed its upward climb Tuesday morning. Evidently Wall Street was impressed.
- The iMac SSD Transplant Report It's quite certain that the designers of recent iMacs didn't consider what might be required if you wanted to change anything more than RAM. And on the 21.5-inch version, you can't even do that. So this forces you to load up such Macs on Apple's build-to-order page when you place your order, so you don't have to concern yourself about lost upgrade opportunities. Now I bought my late 2009 iMac towards the end of that year, a few weeks after release. I did customize some, with an Intel 2.8GHz i7 processor, and the upgraded graphics card. I kept the standard 8GB RAM, since I could always flesh it out later if I wanted; that was the one thing that could be upgraded easily. Indeed, when the time came to move to 16GB RAM, I did the deed in about five minutes from the time it took to lift the iMac from my desk, place the screen on a large towel, open the tiny cover at the bottom of the unit, and replace the RAM. Although that RAM upgrade should not have made a substantial performance change, or at least I didn't expect one, I found that some apps seem to be less apt to clog system resources. A particular example was Parallels Desktop, where I was able to launch into a Windows virtual machine somewhat more quickly, with fewer slowdowns impacting other apps. Understand that I seldom gave Windows more than 1GB of RAM, so the slowdowns shouldn't have been as drastic as they were. In any case, I appreciated the modest performance boost, but still suffered from long startup times, amounting to several minutes because I launch half a dozen apps at startup, and opening one of those large productivity apps, such as Adobe Photoshop and QuarkXPress, took 20 seconds or more. Anything that involved copying large numbers of files seemed glacial, and the 1TB Western Digital Caviar "Black" drive that shipped with the iMac was regarded as reasonably swift for its time. So I enlisted the expertise of Other World Computing, who specializes in Mac upgrades, to suggest a suitable drive upgrade for review. We settled on the closest match to the stock drive, OWC's 1TB Mercury Electra 6G SSD. If you want to buy one, it retails for $478, a fairly normal price for such a device. If you can don't need that much storage, or can rely some on an external drive, you can get a 480GB SSD for $259. OWC also includes some useful features that make it suitable for use on Macs. So what OWC calls "global wear leveling algorithms" and "StaticDataRefresh" are said to eliminate the need for one of those TRIM hacks, not officially supported with OS X Yosemite, which are often necessary for third-party SSDs. The major claim to fame with SSD is a performance level several times higher than a traditional hard drive without the wear and tear. OWC advertises "sustained reads up to 535MB/s and writes up to 443MB/s," although I made no effort to verify that claim. Alas, you can't just pop the hard drive out of an iMac and put a new one in. Installation involves a laborious process that you shouldn't try without some careful instructions. You'll also need to buy a special kit that contains some special tools and a pair of suction cups. OWC sells such a kit for $59. They have also posted an instruction video that makes the process seem less intimidating. It's still not a cakewalk, but if you pay close attention, and you're comfortable with a tiny Torx screwdriver and fiddling with slim, delicate wiring harnesses, you'll probably do all right. In addition to the SSD and the drive installation kit, OWC also sent along a 3.5-inch drive adaptor — the SSD is a 2.5-inch device — although you actually can get by without it. Oh, and by the way, next-generation of ultra-thin iMacs are even more difficult to upgrade. In place of magnets to hold the glass in place, Apple has moved to a special adhesive tape. In any case, I received the kit on a Saturday, and steeled myself for the installation the following Monday. I watched the video several times, and kept it available on another Mac, the review iMac 5K that has since been returned to Apple, just in case I needed a refresher. And I did. I won't detail all the steps here. But it starts with using the two suction cups to pry the glass from the iMac's chassis. After that, you have to unscrew a bunch of tiny Torx (six-point) screws to remove the LCD display. All this has to be done real carefully, and it's best to have some clean, soft surfaces on which to place the delicate components you're removing. Disconnecting the LCD involves unplugging some real slim wiring harnesses, and you have to be extremely careful. It's not that replacement cables are necessarily expensive, but getting them from a local Apple dealer or even an Apple Store will not be easy. They are not regarded as user serviceable parts. To prepare myself for the process, I ran a full clone backup to the external FireWire 800 drive with Carbon Copy Cloner. From beginning to end, it took over an hour to install the SSD. The photo at the left shows the iMac at the point where the LCD panel was being removed. The only fly in the ointment was the dust that accumulated inside after five years in dusty Arizona, and it required a few moments to blow it out. No doubt I improved the long-term reliability of this computer in the process. After the iMac was closed up, I carefully reconnected all the peripheral cables and the power cord. Since I had to install a new OS onto an empty drive, I pressed Option during the startup process to allow me to select the Yosemite restore partition from the backup drive. The relative speed of the installation signaled what I'd expect once the iMac had its own OS. The migration process required some four hours to restore 500GB of data to the new drive, about the same as the same migration procedure took on the iMac 5K. Once restored, I was able to give the SSD the acid test, and I was amazed. Normally it takes up to three minutes for my Mac to boot and all startup apps to load. This time the process took little more than 30 seconds to complete, and I hit the desktop in 15 seconds flat. Most apps launched instantaneously, and Adobe Photoshop took maybe three seconds. QuarkXPress 10.5 loaded in about 10 seconds. As any of you who has used an SSD can testify, just about everything runs amazing fast, and the dream of almost instant response is realized. Indeed, it is now hard to detect much of a difference between my old iMac, and the iMac 5K — the latter came with a 1TB Fusion Drive, which gives you most of the performance of a true SSD — which goes to show how much of what you do on a Mac is drive related. Based on the system tools I put into action, the iMac is also running a lot cooler now, since the drive generates little or no heat, usually not much higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit after some intense action. It's hard to complain about that. The sole downside, and it's minor, is the fact that a 1TB SSD generally formats to around 960GB capacity, short of the 999GB used by the previous drive. But that's really a minor trade off to gain those amazing speed advantages. True, an SSD, and the accompanying installation kit, aren't exactly cheap. But it's a lot less expensive than buying a new Mac. If you would rather not engage in such extensive transplant surgery yourself, and I understand why, see if a local Mac dealer would do it for you; an Apple Store would refuse for obvious reasons. You can also ship your iMac to OWC's own plant, of course, but first see if you find a nearby dealer to handle the chores, because it will cost less, particularly when you include the cost of shipping. A nearby authorized Apple dealer, MacMedia of Scottsdale AZ, considers iMac drive upgrades a Tier 2 process for which it charges $95. It's definitely worth the peace of mind if you choose to take this step. Now OWC normally sends out review hardware for 30-day evaluations. But since reviewing this drive involved a complicated installation process, they aren't exactly rushing me to return it.
- About Terminating iTunes with Extreme Prejudice So iTunes hasn't exactly received the love in recent years. Some say it's bloated, although technically that's not quite true. Others are just overwhelmed by all the features that are regularly added, without taking steps to simplify the interface so the power of the app is at your beck and call. Others fret over stability and reliability issues, and reports that music databases may be borked with iTunes 12.2 and Apple Music only make matters worse. Now my history with iTunes goes back to its origins as SoundJam and later SoundJam MP Plus from a now-defunct publisher known as Casady & Greene. In 2000, Apple made the smart decision to buy the product, and bring along its developers, including Jeffrey Robbin, now a VP of consumer applications at Apple. In addition to being lead developer of iTunes, Robbin is credited with helping to create the software for the iPod, and was, several years ago, reported to be a part of the development project to create an Apple TV set. Of course, that project appears to have been discontinued, but it's notable how Apple has put Robbin in charge of significant projects. I've known him for years, and he's a real talented guy and deserving of his success. But something's gone real wrong with iTunes, and it's in need of serious repair, or Apple needs to start over and rethink the app. Before I go on, don't assume that starting over is anything new with Apple. Ask users of Final Cut Pro, for example. Although the new and far cheaper version, Final Cut Pro X, got a whole lot better over time, some loyal users chafed at the changed interface and lost features, and went elsewhere. Still, Apple is not shy about changing thingsy, and it's high time that iTunes go under the knife. The latest version, 12.2, was released to introduce Apple Music. It's otherwise substantially the same as the previous cluttered version, only it's more cluttered. It only adds new layers of inconsistency and unpredictable behavior to an app that was already breaking at the seams. A major change of version 12 was the use of a context-sensitive navigation bar that totally confounds muscle memory. So when you move from Music to Podcasts or to Movies, the options and the width of the nav bar labels changes. This may make sense from a logical point of view, but it means that you have to stop and think before you click. Apple Music merely adds extra labels for the Music section. There's no Apple Music icon, since the feature integrates with existing music features. All right, that's part of it, and I suppose most of you have gotten used to the poor implementation of this feature. There's more, however. With Apple Music, context menus usually don't work, and the ellipses that are usually placed next to the titles of albums and tracks don't deliver consistent context results. Select an album in the For You page and the ellipse will only allow you to share the album. When you click on the album to open its playlist, you have additional options to share an album, but none to tell Apple Music you want that thing off your list post haste. To make matters worse — and more confusing — if you tap and hold an album title in the For You list in Music for iOS 8.4 (and now the 9.0 beta), you not only have extra choices, but one entitled "I Don't Like This Suggestion." Why isn't that readily available with iTunes? Tell us Mr. Robbin! I realize that iTunes is very much a browser, meaning that the content you access can be instantly altered. I suppose that adding more context options is something that could be done on-the-fly without updating the app, and maybe it'll be fleshed out over time as the service is refined. For now, however, the interface and the layout are poorly designed, as if it was perhaps thrown together to meet a deadline with the hope it'll be fixed later. Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," and my go-to expert on such matters, suggests that Apple's marketing people are being given too much power to drive the look and feel of iTunes. It's more about turning visitors into paying customers, but it doesn't even succeed on that level. If they hope you'll buy a track you're enjoying in Apple Music, the process is definitely not easy. Or perhaps Apple really does believe that we are all destined to rent music, and this is only guiding you into that direction. Remember, when you rent music, you own nothing other than the tracks you've previously purchased. Anything you've downloaded from Apple Music stops playing when you stop paying. If you decide one month you have other priorities, and you've spent days fine-tuning your custom playlists, will Apple allow you to suspend your membership for a while, and allow you to pick up where you left off a month or two later? Just asking. The reason I suggest Apple should kill iTunes and try over is that the app has moved in the wrong direction. It doesn't mean it should be split up into separate media apps, as is done in iOS. Having a single place to get play and acquire content on a Mac or PC is probably the more efficient idea. But that shouldn't keep Apple from starting over and devising a better way. It's not that there is better competition out there, particularly if you are accustomed to the Apple ecosystem. But how long will Apple allow this messy situation to continue before taking action?
- How About an Apple TV Digital Hub? As more and more tech pundits continue to rant about a possible Apple smart TV set maybe next year, maybe the year after, I wonder once again if they're really on the wrong track. However, this is a subject that just won't die, as you hear speculation about Apple sampling prototype TVs, ordering parts, and, in general, preparing for a product that you wonder if we really need. After all, even the people I know who don't watch TV have one lying around. You go to any consumer electronics store, and you'll find dozens and dozens of models, more, even, than PCs. So what could Apple possibly do to turn the market on its head and deliver the product you never thought you'd need? What can Apple possibly do with a TV set that would start a revolution? I do not pretend to have all the answers, or even some of them, but it's fair to look at the TV itself, and then how Apple might provide for a better user experience. When it comes to the screen, sure Apple uses the latest technologies that can be put into mass production and are reasonably affordable. So we have the Retina display on some Macs, the iPhone and the iPad. But does a higher resolution screen serve any purpose on a TV set, where the best content you can get these days is 1080p from some cable/satellite providers and Blu-ray? Yes, there are those super-expensive 4K sets, fulfilling a need that doesn't yet exist, and costing a bundle. Maybe some day, but that's not a critical issue now. Another issue on the TV set is the audio. But there are loads of low-cost home theater in-a-box setups, soundbars and other equipment that will deliver far better sound without costing you a bundle. Indeed, I plan to evaluate some of these products in the near future, so stay tuned. Yes, I suppose Apple could offer some tricked out speakers and more sophisticated electronics in the TV itself, but there's the question of cost. The Bose VideoWave II boasts of wonderful sound, but the price of admission begins just shy of $5,000 for a 46-inch set. I can't imagine too many buyers, and this is not a direction Apple would be likely to pursue. One area where help is needed is the initial setup, where you can make some adjustments for the best picture, along with built-in audio enhancements, such as faux surround sound. For the most part, these interfaces are perfectly awful, and most customers never bother. So they aren't getting the best picture their new set can deliver. Apple could make this setup process simple, and even do some automatic tune-ups, though this isn't the sole reason to build a TV set. There is, of course, content, but it would be a stretch to believe that Apple could replace your cable or satellite provider anytime soon, though I realize some of you may do rely on iTunes and Netflix, plus local stations, to get all of your programming. One real need in TV land is the integration among your various accessories. Maybe you can rely on what you get on an Apple TV and, perhaps, the antenna, but what about the Blu-ray player and the gaming console? Perhaps the most confusing part of using your TV is integrating these devices with your set, and switching back and forth. In my setup, I have just the Panasonic flat panel and a Samsung Blu-ray. I use a Logitech Harmony universal remote to simplify the process of turning things on and off, and switching inputs, but it still requires pressing a button or tapping a display to go from one source to the next. Sometimes it misses, and I have to use Help or repeat the process. On occasion, the sound from the Blu-ray, piped via HDMI to the TV set, disappears, and I can only fix the problem by switching back to the DirecTV set top box and return to the Blu-ray. All just to watch that movie. So what about a new generation Apple TV that can be used as a dock, your digital hub, to connect all your equipment, from a cable/satellite box to gaming console? The rear will contain the usual assortment of HDMI ports and audio ports. But Apple's marvelous software, no doubt using the iOS, can be used to make setups and switching among devices easy as pie. You can announce to Siri you want to play a game, or watch a DVD, or connect to channel 242 on your DirecTV box (it's USA Network, in case you're wondering). Apple might even offer to provide front-ends to the cable and satellite people, so all you have to do is run one of their apps, login to your account, and access all of your programming, schedule pay-per-view and time-shifting without need of another appliance. This sort of integration might be the most sensible way for Apple to make a difference in TV land, without, of course, somehow providing all of the services. But that would require cooperation and licensing from the cable/satellite people. I suppose an Apple smart TV would sell pretty well, particularly if the price premium isn't high. But Apple would have to be able to change a lot of things besides the interface to make it worthwhile. A souped up Apple TV box would be the best bet, as far as I'm concerned.
- About the Next Mac Pro After a drought of several years, Apple is reportedly posed to launch a major upgrade for the Mac Pro workstation. While the increasingly powerful iMac has become a worthy substitute for many content creators, some still crave the higher math and 3D rendering power and expandability of the traditional tower configuration. Unfortunately, Apple placed the Mac Pro on the back-burner for several years. Since moving to Intel processors in 2006, the updates have been relatively minor, involving processors, graphic cards and hard drives. Most of the changes, therefore, have been simple component upgrades based on current technology. But Apple hasn't even kept up with Intel's most powerful Xeon processors of late. Last year's refresh was so minor as to go almost unnoticed, and it made very little difference in terms of the actual performance of the workstation. Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 were not in evidence. However, both Tim Cook and Apple PR have confirmed the arrival of a significant Mac Pro upgrade this year, but the substance behind that claim is still murky. It wouldn't involve a huge amount of development costs to simply take the present overweight box and stuff it with new guts and peripheral ports, and the latest and greatest processing and graphics hardware. There could even be an enhanced set of SSD customization options along with the Fusion drive that debuted in the iMac and Mac mini. One published report suggests a more minimalist approach by Apple, and the end result would be something along the lines of what Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes and I have separately written about, which is a more affordable and smaller form factor with reduced expansion options. But the configuration I've read about won't win Apple any brownie points with computing professionals. The report, clearly not confirmed by Apple, speaks of a smaller Mac Pro with no internal expansion options whatever. There would be two graphics processors, to handle multiple displays. This alleged 2013 Mac Pro, or whatever Apple chooses to call it, would still contain the latest Intel Xeon chips, and enough slots for plenty of RAM. If you want to add extra drives or other peripherals, you'd use the Thunderbolt or USB 3.0 ports. Optical drives? In keeping with most of the rest of the Mac lineup, they'd be history, unless you want to buy one of Apple's external USB-based DVD drives or someone else's. Now I expect that loyal Mac Pro users would be howling if Apple came up with a solution of that sort. Why no expansion options beyond RAM? I suppose Apple could argue that Thunderbolt is a worthy alternative, although it's hardly suitable if you care to transport your Mac Pro from location to location. Why have to bring a bunch of extra gear with you? Besides, there are, so far, a paltry number of Thunderbird accessories. The reason isn't important, but it makes it doubly inconvenient for a professional Mac user who needs to expand the computer beyond the basic configuration. Sure, most Mac users do not upgrade their computers beyond a RAM upgrade -- and that's become less possible as more and more Macs have memory soldered to the logic board -- but content creators have traditionally required flexible upgrade options. How does Apple serve their needs? One admittedly non-existent possibility is that the new Mac Pro won't replace the current model, but will coexist as a less-expensive alternative. Call it a Mac Pro mini. The existing model would receive refreshed components, and Apple would, over time, evaluate sales and see whether external expandability matters anymore. But it's not that Apple ever listens to me. It's a sure thing that Apple wants to move PC technology forward, in this twilight of the era. So it may well be that there will be a more minimalist Mac Pro in our future. But the computer that Dan Frakes and I envisioned was probably more in the form of a headless iMac, taking the guts of the iMac, and dispensing with the display. Perhaps a progenitor to this type of Mac is the IIci from the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the world has changed. Of course, a commentary of this sort will have an extremely short shelf life, coming less than a week before Apple is expected to unleash new versions of iOS and OS X, and some brand new Mac hardware. Some of that hardware will amount to mere refreshes of current models to take advantage of Intel's new Haswell chips. There may be more significant changes, such as the rumors of a slimmed down 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. But content creators have been hoping and dreaming for a new Mac Pro, one that will provide the power and expandability on which they've come to depend. Time will tell how well Apple will meet those hopes and dreams, and they probably shouldn't get their hopes too high.
This article was posted on Friday, June 13th, 2014 at 12:00 AM and is filed under News and tagged with: Broadwell, Dell, Haswell, hp, iMac, Intel, Mac Mini, Mac Os X, Mac Pro, MacBook Air, MacBook family, MacBook Pro with Retina display, Macintosh, media server, OS X Yosemite, retina display.