Grasping for Straws About the Mac Pro

April 28th, 2017

As you might expect, Apple has been relatively tight-lipped about the next Mac Pro. That they’ve said anything at all clearly demonstrates the pressure they confronted as pros made it clear they didn’t believe they had the love.

I do believe Apple is telling us the truth, such as it is, as to what they are working on. The next Mac Pro will be modular and allow for easy upgrades. But it’s not as if it will resemble the cheese grater design of the original. I’m expecting something more decorative, in keeping with Sir Jonathan Ive’s design sensibilities. When I suggested it would be smaller and weigh maybe half what the Mac Pro minitower weighed, one engineer suggested I hadn’t considered the thermal limitations.

Since this is Apple, so expect something innovative when it comes to a cooling system. It won’t have lots of fans.

But it may be more than that, at least based on a published report about Apple trademarks for the Mac Pro that mentioned “augmented reality displays.”

Remember, too, that Apple will develop a new display to go along with the Mac Pro, so there may be added capabilities that can only be understood by looking at patents and trademarks. But the existence of a trademark does not, in itself, offer much information about a new product. Apple will apply for all sorts of patents on all sorts of technologies. Small companies are routinely purchased to acquire technology.

But not all such inventions and new acquisitions will have an immediate result. It may take a few years for them to gel. Sure, you can look at the purchase of Siri for $200 million in 2010 as an example of bringing something to market quickly. The iPhone 4s, with the first release of Siri in beta form, came out in October of 2011.

Apple bought AuthenTec, a pioneer in fingerprint recognition technology, in 2012 for $356 million. The iPhone 5s, which featured the original version of Touch ID, debuted the following year.

Beats Music, the key service acquired with the 2014 purchase of Beats Electronics for $3 billion, morphed into Apple Music, which debuted in mid-2015.

So it’s reasonable to expect a quick payback of an investment. But that’s not always the case.

In 2014, Apple acquired LuxVue, a startup working on MicroLED technology, which may become the next great thing, but not yet. There are published reports that the 2017 Apple Watch may ditch the OLED display for one featuring MicroLED, but that’s a far cry from being able to install such a screen on an iPhone, or an iPod. Don’t expect to see MicroLED on a Mac or a flat-screen TV for a few years.

In short, Apple also invests for the long term.

So it may well be that the next Mac Pro will provide support for augmented reality, perhaps incorporating the powerful graphics chips required for that capability to work flexibly. The forthcoming display may also offer a whole lot more than the LG UltraFine 5K display, which is obviously a stopgap product. Apple provides support for two external 5K displays on the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, and that wouldn’t make much sense unless you could actually connect it to a pair of compatible monitors.

While the tech sites are scouring the Internet, and leaks from the supply chain, to figure out what form the next Mac Pro will take, it’s far too early to really know. All that’s been said about the deadline is that it won’t be this year. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a technology demonstration of the next Mac Pro at the June WWDC, with a promised release date of early 2018. Indeed, that would almost be in keeping with how the troubled 2013 model debuted.

So the trash can Mac Pro was shown off at the 2013 WWDC, with the promise of end-of-year delivery. It barely made it, and, for most customers, it didn’t arrive until early in 2014. If Apple is close to a final design of its 2018 model, at least insofar as being able to demonstrate a mostly functional prototype, it might be a great way to help satisfy the concerns of skeptical professional users.

Clearly Apple is paying attention to Mac professionals in other ways. This week, it was announced at the NAB conference that Final Cut Pro X, the troubled $299 video editing app, now has two million users. That’s quite a bit for such software, and I wonder how many of those users are doing professional editing for TV and movies. The conventional wisdom had it that, when the feature-crippled first release of FCP X arrived in 2011, loads of video editors fled to Adobe Premiere and Avid rather than stick with the previous version of Apple’s app until the new version was fixed. So maybe it’s now time for a big push to pros. Earlier this year, the music production app, Logic Pro X, received two major updates.

Together, they represent a glimmer of hope, that Apple does take pros seriously, and that the next Mac Pro and its companion display will be designed to meet their needs. In passing, I wonder if the new Mac display will offer 8K resolution — or even higher.

Is that even necessary?

Well, don’t forget that 8K digital cameras, such as the $49,500 RED WEAPON 8K S35, produce output for motion pictures that has to be edited somewhere. Today’s 5K displays flexibly handle 4K video content with room for an app’s menus and palettes.

If Apple can fulfill its promises and deliver a future-proof workstation and high-resolution display for professional Mac users, the platform will prosper for many years. I’m really curious to see how it all turns out.

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