Returning to the Mac

March 24th, 2017

So Apple will probably have more iPad updates in the coming weeks or months. But that takes us back to Apple’s “other” entry in the personal computer space, the Mac. Where are the spring Mac refreshes? Are there going to be any?

More to the point, when Apple CEO Tim Cook asserts that the company loves its pro users, what are they going to do to express that feeling? Will there be new versions of Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X? How about the languishing Mac Pro? Does Apple really believe that the 2013 version of Apple’s workstation met the standards of the creative and professional communities? If it was a misfire, do they make some changes or give it up?

Some argue that Apple really doesn’t get pros anymore, even though it’s a market segment that really helped keep the Mac platform afloat, especially during the dark days of the 1990s before Steve Jobs returned to the company. There’s little doubt that the Power Macintosh G5 and the original versions of the Mac Pro surely meet the needs of many pro users. Almost identical from the exterior, they contained sufficient space for extra hard drives and expansion cards. The original Mac Pro even had two CPU slots. But with the tiny 2013 model, it reverted to a single CPU slot (although up to 12 cores are available), with half the RAM slots and no room for extra expansion cards and drives. Everything was supposed to be connected externally.

As of spring of 2017, that Mac Pro remains on sale at the same price, except for a reduction in the cost of an SSD upgrade. Critics argue that, if Apple didn’t intend to upgrade this model and plans to allow it to languish for a few years before putting it out to pasture, the price should have been reduced. After all, there are faster CPUs, faster graphics chips, and don’t forget the advantages of Thunderbolt 3 performance for creatives.

Indeed, you have to wonder why Apple didn’t simply upgrade the parts, something that could be done for a modest R&D expense, and keep the model current. At least it would reassure Mac users that Apple really cares about the platform and its most profitable customers.

Since the iMac is clearly Apple’s most popular desktop machine, it will no doubt receive a modest refresh soon, possibly with the Intel Kaby Lake processors and speedier graphics. The external ports may change from Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. No doubt there will be complaints about having to buy adapters and dangles and such, but that, too, shall pass.

I’ve even lobbied for a specialty iMac, a 27-inch “pro” version with a faster Intel CPU, a higher-performance graphics chip capable of running two external 5K displays, and a pair of SSDs. Since the current model comes with a Fusion Drive, consisting of a standard hard drive and an SSD, the dual-SSD setup will be no big deal. This combo, which will no doubt put a high-end iMac with a pair of 2TB SSDs at over $5,000, would still be a bargain compared to a Mac Pro. A top-of-the-line Mac Pro is already pushing $10,000 without considering the cost of two large SSDs (if it had the space).

Perhaps an eight-core Intel i7 won’t quite match the capabilities of a 12-core Intel Xeon in number crunching, but it might be a worthy compromise for many people. It doesn’t mean there will be no market for the Mac Pro, but it’ll be a smaller market.

But it’s not as if Apple listens to me. Clearly there’s a marketing plan afoot, and that marketing plan no doubt does not include an iMac Pro or any fundamental expansion of that model beyond what it does now. To be sure, a top-of-the-line unit, with an SSD and the best CPU and graphics chip Apple has to offer, will exceed the performance of a Mac Pro in single-core functions. Maybe even quad-core, but when an app needs more, the Mac Pro gains ascendancy. Obviously, you can add more external stuff to the Mac Pro.

Based on Cook’s commitment, I’ll just assume there are plans afoot to upgrade the Mac Pro. I am sure lots of people would like to see a larger model, one that has a decent amount of external expansion. I don’t know what sort of feedback Apple receives for the current model, but it can’t be pretty.

I’d also like to see a refresh for the Mac mini. It is just the perfect computer for many people who don’t need lots of power, and maybe have an older display and a set of input devices at hand. They also make decent no-frills servers. I even ran all of my sites on one for a while as a test, and I doubt anyone noticed.

In any case, there is lots of potential for Apple to do good things this year. The iPad refresh may not have been encouraging, but I hope it was only a low-key beginning, and that the excitement is only beginning. Maybe.

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7 Responses to “Returning to the Mac”

  1. Kirak says:

    You got it right, the feedback on the trashcan Mac Pro hasn’t been pretty, especially from me. I’m still fuming from its introduction, having to buy a way overpriced and half-obsolete professional machine simply because Apple wanted to push the updated version on me even though it did not remotely meet my needs. That’s what I got for decades of being a staunchly loyal and vocal advocate for Apple. I try not to think about it though. Life is too short.

  2. DaveD says:

    Didn’t people say that Apple is a hardware company?

    The software side is humming along. I would like to see a slow down of OS releases to improve quality and stability. The hardware side while producing quality and impressive products is just not doing enough these days.

  3. All the pro’s I know, including one who’s sound studio has done sound for commercials that were in the Super Bowl, LucasFilm games and Apple itself (Apple TV sounds, iPod games and other stuff he can’t tell me about) do not want to upgrade constantly. They want stability and everything working with their third party hardware and software. He was running OS 9 years after OS X came out and still remains “way behind” the software/hardware technology curve.

    I think it’s the people who are not pros who look at the Mac Pro and claim Apple doesn’t care about the pros.

    I do video professionally within my business (not for others) and my Mac Pro still cruises through Final Cut Pro as wonderfully fast as ever. At any point it has 11 hard drives connected to it for a total of 33 TB of storage and it never crashes.

    I have owned 57 Macs starting in 1985 with the 512K FatMac. Most I sell after 2-3 years and upgrade. A handful get kept. I can tell you right now that my bottom of the line, 3 year old MacPro is a keeper. It’s absolutely silent which I love, It is stable and is small. It is a portable computer core that you can put anywhere.

  4. tech-52 says:

    I work for a company that makes network attached storage. Each unit is a rack mounted device that contains compute, network, and storage. You add a bunch together and they all aggregate into a single multi-processor storage array. Whether you have the lower limit of three devices or the upper limit of 144 devices, they act as an aggregated single system that is easy to manage. I think Apple might even have some of these in their data centers. Wouldn’t it be cool if Apple developed something like that? As a user, you could buy one unit or multiple units and stack them, building as powerful a system as you need for your particular workflow. Now that would be cool.

    • dfs says:

      I’m happy to see a pro user back up a point I’ve made repeatedly, the importance of a rack-mountable form factor. I would imagine that for many pros, such as those who work in labs and studios, the current one puts the Mac Pro in the awkward to use/useless category.

  5. Art Vandelay says:

    Apple doesn’t particularly care about computers anymore. Pro or consumer. Apple is an iPhone company now. The Apple Computer, Inc. we knew and loved from the 1990’s and early 2000’s is long gone.

  6. gctwnl says:

    Cook’s comments on the importance of the Mac platform and the lack of actual releases can mean either of these things, I guess:
    – They’re slowly abandoning the Mac platform.
    – They have a radical overhaul of the ‘truck platform’ in the works that has met technical difficulties in required new tech not being ready for production, thus constantly moving release dates and thus stopping the small-updates.
    – They’re incompetent in executing normal update schedules

    I have no idea which one is true. Maybe more than one may be true at the same time. You never know with large corporations, especially when they’re not held together by a single person with a commanding vision (i.e. Jobs). We might see now that Jobs has left a vacuum that has been hard to fill and that means that different parts of the company are subtly at odds with each other.

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