The promise of an all-new Mac Pro has consumed tech discussions about Apple this past week, at least when some bloggers aren’t, once again, saying the iPhone 8 will be a huge fail. No doubt people will be arguing that Apple still has no genuine commitment to the Macintosh platform, that it was all just some spin to buy some time, and maybe unload a bunch of Mac Pros stored in warehouses.
On the other hand, what sense does it make for Apple to ignore the Mac, a $22 billion business? Where’s the logic in that? More than likely, due to a lack of focus, Apple wasn’t able to devise a proper strategy, or saw its original long-term strategy fail. Even though the Late 2016 MacBook Pro was successfully launched, there were complaints about its presumed lack of professional features. This despite the fact that Apple didn’t downgrade the model at all compared to the previous model which, presumably, did have professional features.
Suddenly, for example, there was the demand for 32GB RAM, despite the tradeoffs. But that might have been due to the fact that some PC notebooks offer that much RAM despite the tradeoffs in battery life. Most of them are also heavier than a MacBook Pro, though not significantly so.
But you’ll notice Apple’s roadmap, as conveyed this past week, was about the desktop lineup that holds 20% of the Mac market. Nothing is being said, so far, that Apple plans to make any changes in its outlook for future notebooks.
Then there’s this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured outspoken commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, who joined Gene in a fascinating discussion about Apple’s promise of major updates for the Mac Pro and the iMac. And were there really seven reasons for Apple to discontinue the Mac Pro before they decided to move forward? What about the fate of the smallest iPad, the iPad mini, and have sales of that model been mostly cannibalized by such models as the iPhone 7 Plus? John also explained why you will be told what to think about Apple. He also listed the “very cool things” he loves about his Apple Watch.
You also heard from columnist Rob Pegoraro, who writes for Yahoo Tech, USA Today and Wirecutter. He discussed expectations about the next Mac Pro, the next iMac and maybe even a forthcoming Mac mini refresh. And why is Rob thinking about replacing his aging MacBook Air with a Windows notebook? The discussion moved to Comcast’s new wireless phone service and why it will only be available to people who use the company’s broadband Internet. What about the lack of competition among Internet services in the U.S.? What about the fate of online privacy in light of a recent law passed by Congress? Is net neutrality next on the chopping block?
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Author and radio host Paul Eno returns to The Paracast to talk about his “unified field theory” for paranormal events. Is it possible that UFOs, ghosts, Bigfoot and other phenomena are all part of our multiverse? How does this view compare with the traditional view of space visitors, missing links and life after death? Paul — and his son Ben — are co-hosts of the Behind the Paranormal radio show. They are also co-authors of a book based on their radio show studies, also called “Behind the Paranormal: Everything You Know is Wrong.” Is it? Paul will ask some thought-provoking questions about the paranormal that cry out for logical solutions.
Ahead of that sudden, unexpected, call to Apple headquarters this past week, in which several tech reporters engaged in chitchat about the future of the Mac, there was speculation as to what they might be up to. Certainly it seemed as if, by inattention alone, Apple had decided to allow the Mac Pro to just disappear. It would be on the price lists until it wasn’t.
Obviously, that expectation has changed, perhaps unexpectedly, with the promise that a new modular Mac Pro was under development, one that would allow for easy updates. But it won’t arrive this year. One published reported suggested it may not even arrive by 2018, but I would think Apple is quite capable of developing a full-blown desktop workstation in less than two years. One question is how long ago this project began, and that answer is lost in the haze of unfounded rumors. Did it really not get started until after Apple received sharp criticism due to its design choices for the MacBook Pro?
So I will, for the time being, assume the Mac Pro will restore some or all of the expandability of the previous model. Indeed, a souped up cheese grater Mac Pro could have been released long ago, so obviously a lot more is involved. I expect to see something far more compact, but as easy to upgrade. Or maybe easier. The people who designed a trash can Mac Pro can certainly find a middle ground between that and a traditional tower workstation.
Expectations for the next iMac, due later this year, were enhanced when a blogger, based on information from “a little bird,” published a set of proposed specs. But questions arise, such as why Apple would switch from an Intel quad-core i7 to a low-end quad-core Xeon. Other than it being a server processor that uses error-correcting code memory, or ECC, would it offer a noticeable performance boost in exchange or a higher price? Or just sound good on paper, which makes me wonder whether Apple really wants to go in that direction.
After all, there are eight-core versions of Intel’s Core silicon, and a comparable chip from AMD’s new Ryzen line. Would they allow the iMac to take on more of the heavy-duty processor tasks now exploited by the Mac Pro? It’s not that today’s top-end iMac doesn’t perform well. Up to four cores, it’ll battle a Mac Pro into submission.
But I’m not going to debate Apple’s choices for customization. Perhaps you’ll be able to upgrade to 64GB RAM, and there will be a more powerful GPU that’ll drive two external 5K displays. Letting you add up to two SSDs also seems a given. Add USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and the internal hardware mods to manage higher thermal limits, and the iMac could become a credible all-in-one workstation.
One that, in fact, might cost upwards of $5,000 when fully outfitted, and let’s not ignore the possibility of a more powerful Mac mini, maybe even a larger one that can be customized with near-workstation parts.
That’s what Apple will or might do. None of it seems to be beyond the realm of possibility.
But Apple once again made it crystal clear at last week’s session what it won’t do, such as a touchscreen Mac. It’s not just Tim Cook’s famous vision of the futility of combining a refrigerator and toaster oven. Despite the reliance of such gear on the Windows platform, Apple has made the limitations crystal clear, and nowhere is that more obvious than a 27-inch iMac.
Sure, perhaps a touchscreen makes sense on the Microsoft Surface Studio, where you can move it real low and use it with a stylus. In its normal position, reaching up to the screen as a substitute for a keyboard or trackpad is downright uncomfortable. Sure, I suppose you might get used to it after a while, but I’ve talked to people who’ve bought 2-in-1 PC notebooks, models that can be used as touchscreens, without ever taking it out of its normal mode. That means using the traditional keyboard and trackpad.
The other Mac that will never be built is one using ARM processors. On paper, it seems to make sense, since Apple can eke out enough power to rival midrange PC notebooks with its A10 Fusion, and wait until the A11 arrives. The cost is a fraction of what an Intel processor would cost, but there are tradeoffs, such as putting developers through yet another processor transition. It may be eased by Apple’s Xcode, but some apps would still need to be optimized for the hardware.
And what about the ability to run Windows with native or near-native performance, as you can now with Boot Camp or a virtual machine app? If Apple goes to ARM, the processor has to be emulated, and some of you might recall how that worked in the days of the PowerPC. With all the ongoing claims of improving performance in those days, such emulator apps were just pathetic. Maybe Apple can do wonders to translate x86-64 code to ARM, with minimal loss, but does the investment even make sense? Other than paying less for chips, where’s the advantage?
It’s not as if Intel has stopped building new processors, and the arrival of the AMD Ryzen series might actually push Intel into doing better. I have little doubt Apple is talking to AMD already, since it uses its GPUs on some Macs. There may even by Macs powered by AMD CPUs in Apple’s test labs; in fact I’m convinced there are. So if Intel doesn’t deliver the parts Apple needs, perhaps there’s a workable and compatible alternative.
But ARM chips might provide support services for Macs, such as the Touch Bar. This would allow Apple to add unique features, and take some of the load off Intel hardware to improve performance and battery life.
With Apple, however, never say never. There are products out there that Apple said it would never produce, such as a low-cost Mac and a small iPad. You can take Apple’s present pronouncements about future plans as gospel — until they change.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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