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Returning to the Mac

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.