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  • Is Apple Moving Away From Pro Computers?

    January 8th, 2008

    I’m sure many of you were blindsided when Apple quietly upgraded the Mac Pro and the Xserve to use the new Intel “Harpertown” Xeon chips, code-named Penryn. Now it’s perfectly clear that this is a worthwhile upgrade. The new chips are not only faster, but cooler running, consuming less power.

    So those of you with environmental concerns are apt to appreciate the change, and content creators will lust after the promise of greatly improved performance. There’s also hope that more applications will be able to benefit from double quad-cores, partly as the result of the enhanced multithreading support under Leopard. In addition, the new Intel Penryn chips, as they are also known, incorporate extra high-powered hooks for developers to tap into and enhance performance even further.

    However, you’d expect a product promising twice the performance of the previous model would get something more than a press release, some front-page emphasis on Apple’s site and a few briefings from Apple’s PR and product management crew. After all, at one time, professional desktops were Apple’s top sellers, and it if wasn’t for content creators, the company would probably have never survived the hard times of the last decade.

    Now to be perfectly fair, not introducing a Mac Pro and an Xserve at a Macworld Expo might make a lot of sense. After all, that’s largely a consumer-oriented event, even though professional-grade applications and peripherals will be on display.

    Apple has used a WWDC event to reveal new professional hardware, but that means six or seven months delay, which makes even less sense, since the product is available right now.

    In large part, you can expect Steve Jobs to talk strictly to consumers at his Macworld Expo keynote next week. I’ve already weighed in on what I expect to see — no doubt most of it is way off-base — and it’s all largely consumer-oriented, except, perhaps for faster MacBook Pros and that highly-anticipated thin and light note-book.

    Sure, the iPhone is often used by businesses. But, again, it was designed for regular consumers, not business owners, although a large number of the latter have bought them and are telling the IT people in their companies to figure a way to make the iPhone work with the corporate email systems. That is, of course, Apple’s back door approach to penetrating the often-inscrutable enterprise.

    But where does that leave such products as the Mac Pro and the Xserve? Is there any possibility that they will gain less and less emphasis over time and eventually disappear? I suppose you could speculate that way, suggesting that higher-end iMacs and MacBook Pros will fill the gap, but they won’t. Not now, not ever.

    In fact, I very much object to any suggestion that Apple would ever desert its core user base of content creators. After all, professional Mac desktops are involved more and more in editing films and creating special effects. Scientific institutions of all sorts use them to perform the intense calculations required for cutting-edge medications, quantum physics and other research purposes.

    Even graphic artists who exist in the Adobe Photoshop, InDesign or QuarkXPress environments prefer to run those applications on Macs. That’s true even though there are Windows versions of all three and many of the other creative software they use.

    So why are the new professional models getting such low-key introductions? Well, for one thing, the people who buy these products are not apt to depend on cute TV spots and clever print ads to make their purchase decisions. If they are already Mac users, they will simply upgrade at the appropriate time, when their current hardware is no longer suitable for the tasks at hand.

    When it comes to Windows switchers, believe it or not, Apple continues to price its professional computers aggressively. You saw that when the Mac Pro first came out, when it was over $1,000 cheaper than a comparably-equipped Dell workstation. Sure, Apple overprices its RAM, but nobody forces you to buy the Apple brand, which is probably sourced from the very same companies, such as Crucial, that sell direct to dealers or the end-user.

    Also, take a look at the bottom line. Every single Mac Pro or Xserve delivers big profits to Apple. When a customer custom configures a special version with a different set of processors, hard drives and high-end graphic cards, profits soar into the stratosphere. In the end, for multinational corporations, it’s still all about the money. And so long as Apple can make a bundle on high-end Macs, they will never go away.

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