So Apple Won’t Make the Computer You Want

February 7th, 2017

The other day, readers commented on an article in our latest newsletter about the future of the Mac, complaining that Apple wasn’t building the Macs they wanted. In writing that piece, I basically assumed there would be no entirely new models, that what Apple planned was to refresh existing gear. Indeed, I have written several pieces about the future — or lack thereof — of the Mac Pro, since it hasn’t been touched since 2013.

Now I can see legitimate reasons for Apple to discontinue this costly model. One may be that it doesn’t sell very well, but that may also be due to the fact that the current model — with the price unchanged — could have been refreshed with faster processors and graphics by now. So what is Apple waiting for?

It may be that the Mac Pro was a misfire. The previous model allowed for a decent amount of internal expansion, with multiple drives and peripheral cards. You could even place two Intel Xeon processors in there. For the 2013 model, Apple made it thin, light, minimalist. So it was limited to one SSD, and one processor. To some it may well have been crippled in the interests of design priorities that pros didn’t care about.

So what if Apple is planning on a major revision to the Mac Pro, slightly larger, with more internal expansion possibilities, thus making it closer in concept to the original? Is that even possible?

Well, since it is being built in the U.S., you many not read about supply chain chatter about any such changes. The 2013 Mac Pro, therefore, came as more of a surprise than usual — good, bad or otherwise — in terms of is final look and capabilities. But does a major change even make sense?

Since Tim Cook’s promises “great desktops” in its product roadmap, it won’t be restricted to a single model (the iMac). The Mac Pro may merely be a routine refresh, but Apple will probably have to wait for the launch of the workstation-class Skylake-W processors later this year.

Now it’s also true that many former Mac Pro users have since gone with the 27-inch iMac, as I have. I was able to buy a souped up Late 2009 iMac and an external backup drive with the proceeds from selling off an older Mac Pro and 30-inch Dell display. I even had a few hundred dollars extra with which to pay some bills. If you don’t need all the external expandability of the Mac Pro, the high-end iMac’s quad-core processor actually delivers measurably faster performance. That equation only changes when you run an app that benefits from extra processing cores, and there aren’t many.

So what about a professional iMac configuration? Well, it’s fair to say it’s already a pro-class machine, with the 5K Retina display. Are there any faster processors available? Well, Intel had an eight-core i7 in the lineup, but I don’t see one listed for the Kaby Lake family, at least not yet. But Intel is due to launch Skylake-E desktop CPUs, in 6-core, 8-core and 10-core versions, in the second quarter of the year, which would probably make them suitable for a summer launch. So if there’s going to be a special version of the iMac, maybe it will come after the regular version is launched, in time for the WWDC.

Other than a high-end CPU, such an iMac might include the capability of managing two 5K external displays, extra USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the ability to order a version with two internal SSDs. Suddenly we’re talking about iMacs that could be configured in ways that would drive the price to north of $5,000. But it might be a worthy Mac Pro replacement, or a half-way measure in the drive to push more users away in anticipation of eventually killing Apple’s workstation.

Another potential desktop Mac is a high-end Mac mini, available with speedier processors and twin SSDs. This would be a potential Mac counterpart to the HP Z2.

But remember that as many as three quarters of new Macs sold are notebooks. Apple isn’t in the business of offering too many models, so my theories about souped up versions might work against that philosophy.

So it may well be that Apple doesn’t plan on any additional desktop or notebook machines. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t room for high-end versions of the Mac mini and the iMac?

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Demands that Apple deliver cheaper Macs won’t happen, however. That’s never been Apple’s philosophy. If the Mac mini doesn’t make it for you, and you want something cheaper, you might consider a low-end Windows PC or a Chromebook, and market forces probably don’t justify any change in Apple’s current product mix.

The long and short is that Apple has never delivered every single model a customer might want. While there is a limited ability to upgrade the internal components, that’s about the size of it. With Macs sales keeping pace with the PC market once again, why should that change? If anything, Apple might be more inclined to focus on dual ARM/Intel processor variations. But I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a few high-end/high-profit configurations for power users and businesses.

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11 Responses to “So Apple Won’t Make the Computer You Want”

  1. Jim Polaski says:

    Pondering what Apple will do in the Pro market segment, is in some ways like reading tea leaves! It’s true, that with the Mac Pro languishing as Apple has let it, the current design is a marvel in minimalist design, but at the same time, a mess when it comes to expandability as was pointed out.
    My biggest gripe against going to the iMac to replace the Mac Pro due to aging processors etc. is that iMacs really have limited expandability in terms of RAM and if you’re a Photoshop user in the Adobe “License to print money scheme,” you need RAM when working with sizable images.
    If, and that’s IF Apple wants to continue to court the pro design and photo marketplace, it would do well to consider a well-intentioned revision to the Mac Pro for they risk letting a market share slide to other platforms that allow the expandability in easy, affordable ways without having to purchase externals to house HD’s, SSD’s, and other add-ons and instead make an enclosure more like the previous model Mac Pro which while big, bulky, heavy and so on, fit the bill.
    I’d think a revision with a lighter case, but with the capability for huge amounts of RAM, space for SSD’s, HD’s and so on, along with a more affordable price-point(the current Mac Pro isn’t what one would call affordable as is the iMac), would really be the ticket and as well, when it’s time for an upgrade, might bring back folks who have drifted to the other platform for performance or expandability needs.

    Just my > $.02!

    • Ponter says:

      Jim, I think when Apple killed Aperture, that was their signal to photographers to take a hike. Or make do with whatever Sir Jony thinks is cool.

      • Or choose a different app. Maybe sales of Aperture weren’t sufficient to justify development. There is no reason to assume some sort of resentment towards a customer base. Apple is not the first company to discontinue a product.


  2. Jay says:

    My 2009 Mac Pro will be 8 years old while all my previous Macs went about 3 years as my main desktop. Previously it used to be a wait for the right value. An iMac or a hackintosh are not preferred choices. With the 2009 Mac Pro upgraded into a 2010-2012 model with faster CPU, SSD, 5 internal drives, new graphics, USB3 added, 24GB RAM, 2x1920x1200 displays, we’ll see how long Apple allows me to stay current with the OS versions. I hope I get a real choice before they cut me off. Isn’t reusing my displays greener enviro-Apple? Otherwise they should license the OS again if they can’t manage to do something so simple as to offer a reasonable desktop.

    • Ponter says:

      “Isn’t reusing my displays greener enviro-Apple?”

      I completely agree with this criticism. Which is why I’m so down on Apple for their sealed-box approach. It’s wasteful from so many points of view. But more profitable for Apple, so …

  3. dfs says:

    I’ve said iti before but it bears repeating. The Mac Pro has evolved into a specialized piece of high=end equipment and its natural home is in labs and studios. What do labs and studios have in common? Rack mounting. The Pro’s cylindrical form factor may make Apple’s design team feel happy about itself, but it’s an absurdly inappropriate choice for the purposes to which these beasts are most likely to be put. I bet the clumsiness of accommodating these cylinders in their workplaces, with the attendant prospect of space-wasting, has a very chilling effect on potential purchasers.

  4. Bob Forsberg says:

    With your headline, I looked forward to an article on new Hackintosh possibilities. Easily loading MacOS on new up to date and frequently refreshed hardware, would be most welcomed. Hardware manufacturers concerned more with performance and less on container design and thinness would be celebrated.

    • gene says:

      Over the years, I’ve seen very little interest in the Hacintosh, which is why I haven’t run more than a handful of articles about them. The number of people who go this right is, as I’m sure you’ll agree, very slow.

      If people are dissatisfied with what Apple is offering, they won’t buy. The message will be crystal clear.


  5. Ponter says:

    I don’t disagree with you, Joe. We all come together at your website to commiserate with like-minded Mac fans.

    “I was able to buy a souped up Late 2009 iMac and an external backup drive with the proceeds from selling off an older Mac Pro and 30-inch Dell display. I even had a few hundred dollars extra with which to pay some bills.” Apropos a remark I made yesterday, I wonder how much longer people will see great resale value for Macs when the old, used, sealed-box product can no longer be easily and relatively inexpensively upgraded? If at all! This is going to come as a shock.

    I don’t find anyone’s all-in-one (e.g. iMac) to be a good long-term value. Too many eggs in one basket, too little versatility. Obviously, others see it differently, and neither of us is wrong. Just different priorities. Obviously desktops are the only computer that isn’t an all-in-one, so I’ve learned to live with the compromises required of other form factors.

  6. John Hart says:

    “Since Tim Cook’s promises “great desktops” in its product roadmap, it won’t be restricted to a single model (the iMac).”

    Tim has been making all sorts of promises he routinely breaks. If you haven’t noticed it’s always the NEXT iPhone that’s going to be revolutionary… only to be bumped up to the next NEXT one a month before release. Therefore it’s hard to know if great desktops are coming… great desktop… or nada but maybe around Christmas. Maybe.

    “But remember that as many as three quarters of new Macs sold are notebooks.”

    Also remember that the desktop line has been neglected something horrible.

    “Apple isn’t in the business of offering too many models, so my theories about souped up versions might work against that philosophy.”

    Apple’s philosophy is ‘good, better, best’. The best is where your models happen.

    “Demands that Apple deliver cheaper Macs won’t happen, however.”

    Cheaper can mean various things.

    One is keeping the price right where it is but bringing the spec up to meet it. Cook’s Apple has been kinda lax in this department.

    It took absolute AGES for the MacBook Air to get the needed 8GBs that is now standard on all Macs. And the last time I checked it still doesn’t have a 1080p screen. Which it could at that price compared to PCs.

    The Mini also has a reasonable enough price but such dinosaur spec it’s ‘expensive’, and so if the spec came back to reality the price could stay right where it is.

    A different meaning of cheaper is offering a different model that’s cheaper than the deluxe model. Apple’s been forcing common users who simply need a 15 inch screen into buying a pro piece of equipment. For big juicy profits. The Apple I knew would have introduced a simple 14 inch MacBook when the 12.5 was introduced. Or at least VERY soon after.

    To simply blanket lower pricing requests as being ‘cheap’ isn’t taking in the bigger picture. Apple still must live in a world where competitors exist. My point yesterday — and today — is that things have changed in the last few years. Android is reaching feature parity and Windows 10 doesn’t suck but Apple raises prices.

    • Short answer: People are buying more notebooks than desktops. That doesn’t mean desktops are being ignored. That’s where the market is going.

      As to Cook’s promises, it’s debatable whether the next iPhone was revolutionary enough for you or not. I take his Mac promises to mean nothing more than that there will be upgrades to more than a single desktop line. We can evaluate their merits once they are released.

      You are just repeating the same argument, that Apple isn’t building the Macs you want. We don’t need to keep repeating that, OK?


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