Design the Mac I Want — Or…

April 21st, 2017

As Mac users — and would-be Mac users — wonder about what Apple is up to, speculation is starting to become more detailed about the next product refreshes. Indeed, it almost seems as if speculation about a new iPad Pro with a 10.5-inch edge-to-edge screen is no longer relevant. But the release of a single lower-cost iPad without much fanfare probably set those discussions aside for a while, even as we still don’t know what Apple plans next for its tablet lineup.

While ongoing chatter about a future iPhone has been roughly consistent for a while, except for final specs — and evidently the placement of the fingerprint sensor if you can believe the reports — there hasn’t been an awful lot about the new Macs expected this year after the initial coverage of Apple’s roundtable with tech journalists. Some of that may be no doubt due to the fact that development hasn’t reached the point where final prototypes are being tested. Once that happens, I suppose there will be more detail on what to expect.

But maybe not the Mac Pro, assuming that it will be assembled in the U.S., same as its controversial predecessor. You’ll recall that the first demonstration of the 2013 trash can Mac Pro came very much as a surprise, and possibly a shock to some. I recall my reaction when I first saw it. It certainly looked attractive enough, and surely original for this sort of product. But how did it reflect the kind of computing workstation that Mac users expected? Apple seemed to believe that all expansion should be done externally, so a wiring mess would surround the unit.

I suppose they thought of it as compact enough to make easy to take to remote locations, forgetting, perhaps, that you’d have to bring the drives too, and you’d only hope they were lodged in a single case.

I suspect sales were satisfactory at first, because the Mac Pro was backordered for months. Or perhaps people were just waiting so long that there was enough pent-up demand even if Mac professionals, by and large, questioned Apple’s design decision.

Why it languished for more than three years unchanged is yet another question. Did Apple hope it would die, and that pros would just buy iMacs? Maybe after the 5K iMac came out, but it was otherwise no more powerful than its predecessors, except for the minor ongoing improvements in Intel silicon. While Apple promises that the next iMac will have professional configuration options, why wasn’t that done before?

Nothing stopped Apple from beefing up the cooling system to allow for use of a Xeon processor, more powerful graphics, and twin SSDs before now.

What’s more, I still don’t see why it took so long for Apple executives to realize that the Mac Pro moved the product in the wrong direction. Perhaps there was an ongoing dispute among executives, something that would never be admitted of course. So let’s think about a mythical argument between Sir Jonathan Ive’s design team and the Mac hardware team, the former touting the trash can look, the latter touting a more traditional solution.

With last fall’s release of the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, perhaps the complaints from pros ratcheted up enough for Apple to begin to realize something was wrong. But this sort of insular attitude is definitely troubling, and some might wonder if Steve Jobs would have pushed for a decision before now, or advocated one.

Don’t forget, though, that Jobs had his failures, a notable one being the Power Macintosh G4 Cube. When he denied it was going to be discontinued during a Q&A with journalists during the rollout of OS X in March of 2001, I had the impression the Cube was his baby. It did seem as if he did not want to stop making them, but had to accept the raw numbers.

So perhaps the Mac Pro ended up as another Cube, this time the fault of Ive, only it took longer for Apple to get the memo. Apple may need to flesh out the Mac hardware team and give it more say in the corporation. Letting a division that size languish was a foolish decision, even if it wasn’t meant to turn out that way.

One hopes that Apple is serious about its ongoing commitment to the Mac, and that Tim Cook and his team aren’t throwing us a few bones to shut us up. One hopes the next Mac Pro will, at last, meet the high standards professional users expect, that it will be modular, with the hope there will be a decent amount of room for internal expansion.

I also look forward to seeing what Apple does to enhance the iMac, by giving it more options that will cater to pros. Obviously it’s not hard to imagine what that might mean based on the current design. It mostly means putting more powerful parts inside, and making appropriate modifications to accommodate their needs. When I suggested that you will see iMacs optioned to the max costing north of $5,000, that’s a prediction you can probably believe.

Then there’s the Mac mini. Will it just be a simple refresh — something that could have been done already — or a way to boost its capabilities? Is the HP Z2 Mini a design Apple should emulate in its own way?

Will the new Macs make it easier for my skeptical readers to order the computer they want without making too many sacrifices? Well, if they can’t, there’s always a Hackintosh I suppose.

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8 Responses to “Design the Mac I Want — Or…”

  1. J O'Dell says:

    I’m a potential purchaser of a headless Mac that prioritizes processor intensive tasks (I sometimes do scientific multicore molecular dynamics simulations). The code I use doesn’t take advantage of the graphics card(s), except at the final visualization. When the Mac Pro was introduced, they simultaneously took away the Mac Mini with quad-core i7 that was the second best option. And priced the Mac Pro so far out of reach that it was unobtainable. So I kept using that good old Mac Mini for those tasks-I notice that, even used, they still sell for nearly what they cost new, even 4 years later.

    • The Mac Pro has always been expensive as Macs go, but not way off when you compare it to other workstations.


      • J O'Dell says:

        Agreed, the price for equivalent configurations is on a par with other workstations. In this case, their selected configuration included pricy dual graphics cards with no option to reduce cost by downgrading, and no option to upgrade the processing power of the other Mac choice into the realm I needed. There is a significant gap in processing capability at the footprint of the headless Macs. I suppose I could stuff an iMac under a table, but the screen cost is still an _extra_ cost.

  2. Jim Polaski says:

    Perhaps the problem that now exists for Apple in the PRO segment is that other platforms have leapfrogged the Mac Pro, even so far as laptops outperforming it, see the HP’s latest Zbook laptop workstations for example. They have enough of everything to be a contender, even if you have to run Windows!

    That means for Apple to look serious with an upgraded Mac Pro, they’re going to have to leap-frog the competition in specs! More importantly, they will also have to compete on price point which could mean lower profit per workstation than Apple is used to getting which may be it’s own hinderance to this upgrade happening in a timely fashion as they try to wring costs down.

    If Apple wants to retain it’s PRO marketplace segment they’re going to have to fire a good shot over the bow of the competition, they can’t just play catch-up.

  3. KiraK says:

    I’m at the end of the line with Apple. Either it will turnaround with the Mac Pro do-over or it won’t, and its actions will speak the truth. I’ve stuck with Apple since the Apple II, and staunchly supported it until recent years, where it was obvious that our ideologies are moving along a different trajectory. If the Mac Pro do-over is not a true professional class machine, I will be moving to Hackintosh or Wintel running macOS in a virtual machine; or, God forbids, Windows or Linux. What I won’t be doing is investing in Apple hardware; and I’m not sure Apple would ever get me back again after that no matter what. It doesn’t have to be that way, but Apple is slowly transmogrifying into a company that reminds me far more of Sony than the spunky vendor who flew a pirate flag over its campus. IMHO, Apple should make a distinctly professional model of each product line it wants to badge with the Pro moniker, create a clear delineation between the capabilities of its consumer class machines and professional class machines. In this way, Apple can let consumers use closed boxes for the least complex experience; and let professionals and like ilk decide how to configure professional class hardware through upgrades and expansions. In this way, Apple will create hardware for the masses and truly personal machines for the more demanding, all while keeping the spirit of the personal computer revolution alive and well. Just as it should.

  4. Rich says:

    I’m starting to think that Apple should just sell a motherboard for pro users and let all the pros that think they can design better than Apple do it themselves.

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