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.