Hope for the Mac Pro?

March 1st, 2017

Over the past year, there have been many concerns about the future of the Mac. Even though Apple earns loads of money from its personal computing platform, it’s a fraction of what the iPhone produces. So there is the theory that Apple doesn’t care about its “lesser” products, and thus is letting them die on the vine, or suffer from inattention. I suppose that should apply to an even greater degree to the iPad, with three years of falling sales.

Of course, when you look at products that, each, deliver over $20 billion in annual revenues, you can hardly call them insignificant. Indeed, two U.S. government entities that cater to housing, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, earned a combined $20 billion last year. It hardly makes sense for any company to want to give up that much business. So I don’t believe Apple is yet imagining a future without Macs and iPads.

I’ve already weighed in on the iPad and a possible future with more productive capabilities. It’s not so much the hardware as the software and the range of apps available for Apple’s tablets. Well, I would like to see better keyboards that are more Mac-like in typing feel.

But what about the Mac and Apple’s commitment to catering to professional users?

This has been a serious question in light of the apparent cutback in product updates during 2016. In the early part of the year, the MacBook received a minor refresh with faster parts. The MacBook Pro upgrade last fall was significant enough in the scheme of things, but highly controversial.

When Apple released an all-new Final Cut Pro X in 2011, pros who depended on previous versions of the video production app were upset. In rebuilding the code base, Apple ditched a lot of important features and also made it very difficult to transfer projects from previous versions. A typical complaint had it that Apple built a simplified video app for consumers rather than people who earned their livings from the business.

So some users stuck with Final Cut Pro 7,  and others switched to Adobe Premiere, Avid and other video production systems. It didn’t help that Apple first pulled the older version of the app from sale (they later restored it for a while).

It would have been better for them to explain the roadmap for the upgrade, and perhaps provide special discounts on the older version to keep customers happy. Or at least calm them down.

Over nearly six years, Apple has pretty much restored what was lost, and added new features that strictly cater to professional users. Did it come too late to make a difference? Will people who gave up on Apple — or perhaps even the Mac — ever return if they feel they can’t depend on Apple to give them the apps they need?

When it comes to the Mac Pro, I think Apple blew it, although perhaps I’ll be proven wrong. The long-awaited 2013 upgrade was sexy, small and light, compared to its heavy cheesegrater predecessor. It also limited most expansion to external ports, meaning a well-equipped system would end up with a wiring nightmare. Worse, there was only one product release. Apple said nothing about its future. You can still buy the same Mac Pro, with three-year-old parts, for pretty much the same price. Well, it does seem that 1TB SSD upgrades are $200 less, but that’s the size of it.

Sure, Apple CEO Tim Cook has talked of a promising roadmap for desktops, which would appear to  indicate that more than a single model will receive an update. But that doesn’t seem to be quite enough to calm pro users.

Well, there may be hope. Speaking at Apple’s shareholder meeting in Cupertino on Tuesday morning, Cook is quoted as delivering some more detailed promises. He said: “You will see us do more in the pro area. The pro area is very important to us. The creative area is very important to us in particular. Don’t think that [because] something we’ve done or something we’re doing that isn’t visible yet is a signal that our priorities are elsewhere. It’s very, very important to us.”

That may be more than enough, actually. Cook used the words “pro” twice and “creative” once. That’s extremely promising. It doesn’t seem to me that he’s speaking just of the MacBook Pro, since the Mac Pro is the only computing workstation in Apple’s product lineup. More to the point, it caters strictly to high-end users, whereas Apple’s most expensive notebook reaches multiple audiences. Some even believe it’s not quite in the Pro category.

Obviously Cook isn’t going to be specific about anything in the pipeline right now. That’s seldom Apple’s way, unless it has a clear marketing advantage. So the 2013 Mac Pro upgrade was first announced months earlier at the WWDC, even though it didn’t ship until December. But I suppose this gave pro users a chance to buy up the current model, if the priorities for the new version didn’t suit them.

The other lingering question is just how Apple might treat a Mac Pro refresh. Will it be the same as the current model with newer parts, or will the form factor be enlarged to allow for some internal expansion?

But at least Apple has given what appears to be genuine hope for product-starved pro users at long last.

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6 Responses to “Hope for the Mac Pro?”

  1. dfs says:

    “Well, I would like to see better keyboards that are more Mac-like in typing feel.” Ever since the beloved old Saratoga, Apple keyboards have been an embarrassment to the company. As opposed to the Macs with which they ship, they are total crap. Fortunately there are a couple of third-party replacements worthy of the Mac: check out the Mathias TactilePro and the various offerings by Das Keyboard. With their “clicky” switch action and solid tactile feedback you can almost close your eyes and imagine you’re working on an IBM Selectric III. You type faster and more accurately.

  2. Kirak says:

    It seems obvious to most everyone but Apple that it gave up on the professional market long ago. Nothing was more telling than the introduction of the trashcan Mac Pro, incredibly out of touch with what buyers of that machine want. Of course it suffers from poor sales. And it probably causes near resentment for many who do buy it because it is not what they really want. That’s what happened to me when I had to choose between a woefully overpriced, outdated Mac Pro over a wonderfully engineered but woefully inadequate newly designed Mac Pro. It still angers me today even though I love my Mac. (Hint: I passed on the trashcan.) I always do, which explains the source of my passion to begin with. I am guardedly optimistic that Cook said the professional market is important to Apple, mostly because I expect true professional class hardware and software from Apple when it makes such pointed claims after years of increasingly negative feedback. I am seething about my relationship with Apple because I have supported them for decades only to come to a point where there is not one single Mac that remotely interests me today. I am far past due for a new laptop, and am ready for a new desktop. I cannot hold out forever for Macs that are flexible, expandable, and upgradeable; and it actually angers me that Apple has put me in this position with its obsession and laser focus on thinness and the consumer market. Sometimes my anger pops up when I respond to articles, writing in harsh language quite unlike my usual self; thus I will probably have a meltdown if Apple releases another product targeted for the professional market that is just another branded consumer product. The least Apple can do is call a spade a spade, and quit trying to redefine what a professional tool is when hardly anyone else sees it the same way. I expect that from the old Microsoft, not Apple. (Microsoft seems to be trying to mend its ways today.) And it’s not only the hardware that is suffering, software quality and usability has gone done too. macOS is really disappointing. I skip whole releases these days because the changes Apple makes reduce functionality, increase complexity, and introduces yet more bugs. That the product is free means nothing; in my case, Apple cannot even give it away. I personally think Apple has utterly grown out of touch with what people want in a platform for driving trucks. I hope Apple proves me wrong, because we are at a crossroad. No, more like end of the line. Please walk the talk, Cook. Think powerful functionality, flexibility, expandability, upgradability, reliability and elegance when designing hardware and software for professionals and ilk. These are the people who drive the Mac platform, that push it to the limits of what the very best personal computing experience can offer. One laptop. One desktop. One OS. A handful of pro tools. Give us the tools we need and want. We will take care of the rest. Dare to think different. For you have lost your way.

    • gene says:

      Obviously you can dismiss Cook is not understanding the needs of pro users.

      But I suggest we just wait and see what Apple is up to at this point. I am sure they are aware of views such as you expressed.


  3. Bob Latterman says:

    Tim Cook has NO clue on what Apple needs to offer – in the big picture. He has is nose in the iphone and ipad and has led the company to the edge of a very high cliff…….. I hope he figured this out.

  4. Groc says:

    I fully expect Tim Cook to trot out an anemic iMac “Pro” onto the stage later this year. Followed by the swift removal of the dead Mac walking Mac Pro.

  5. dfs says:

    I’ll come back to something I said the other night: if Time Cook doesn’t understand the needs of pro users he could damn well find out by asking them. Market research is not exactly Apple’s strong point, their policy seems to be based almost exclusively on the paternalistic idea of giving users what they want us to have rather than bothering to find out what we actually want. This was engrained on Apple’s corporate culture thanks to Steve Jobs’ incredibly authoritarian personality. Now he’s gone, but the same mentality lingers on among execs who lack anything remotely resembling his intellectual and creative genius. Can you imagine the top leadership echelon of a corporation engaged in any other kind of enterprise (excluding maybe the occasional visionary wildcat like Musk and Brandon) conducting business according to this model? And Cook ain’t no visionary like Musk or Brandon.

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