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Hope for the Mac Pro?

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.