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The Night Owl Was Right About Apple’s Mac Plans

From time to time, The Night Owl gets it right when predicting what Apple is going to do. Take OS X Mavericks. After Mountain Lion became available as a $19 upgrade in 2012, I suggested they might as well make it free, and they did the following year.

Not that Apple necessarily listens to me, but I like to be right, even if it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

So on recent episodes of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, and in these columns, I’ve suggested that Apple ought to consider a solution to its Mac Pro problem. My position — echoed by many —  is that the 2013 revision was a total misfire, lacking the traditional internal space for extra stuff, such as drives and expansion cards. Unlike the previous version, you can only put one CPU in there, and there were also fewer RAM slots.

Is that worth an investment approaching $10,000 plus display?

Now my friend and frequent show guest, Kirk McElhearn, suggests that Apple should be cutting the price of the Mac Pro since the same model is being offered virtually unchanged.

In response to frequent criticisms that Apple ought to be more forthcoming about Mac plans, since a hefty portion of pro users are involved, Marketing VP Philip Schiller is now saying:

We’ll talk about what’s going on and frankly be a little more transparent with some of the things we’re doing, some of the places we’re going, because our pro users desire that and we care deeply about them and we’re dedicated to communicating well with them and helping them understand what we’re doing and what we’re up to. We want to be as transparent as we can, for our pro users, and help them as they make their buying decisions. They invest so much in the Mac, we want to support them, and we care deeply about them. So that’s why we’re here.

That said, just what is going on here?

Well, for those who still want the existing Mac Pro, the price has been cut, drastically. The cheapest model has been reduced to $2,999, and it receives a six-core Intel Xeon CPU; the original entry-level had four cores. Add all the options, including a 1TB SSD and 64GB RAM, and it totals $6,999 plus keyboard and mouse or trackpad.

Newly chastened, Apple is clearly having what is essentially a fire sale to keep the current Mac Pro available while it works on an all-new design. In a surprising move, Schiller apologized for the shortcomings of the current model, and promised a new model, for release next year, which will sport a modular design that will make it easier to upgrade. I’m also wondering whether there will be more expansion room internally.

I’ve suggested that it should be possible for Apple to build a Mac Pro that’s a lot smaller than the cheese grater design, which weighed in at over 40 pounds, yet still allow you to install multiple SSDs, two CPUs, more RAM and expansion cards. Schiller promises that, “We are completely rethinking the Mac Pro,” but he isn’t saying what changes will be made beyond it being modular, and that Apple’s product designers and engineers are taking the time to get it right. That’s the reason for the extended development time and vague release date.

What Apple did reveal is that desktops amount to 20% of Mac sales; the rest are notebooks. The Mac Pro’s share is in the single digits, and I’m willing to bet it’s the low single digits.

Just as interesting is another promise, which also fits in with one of my suggestions. I’ve been recommending that Apple consider an iMac Pro version with additional features. I’ve mentioned CPUs with more cores plus a two-SSD option, and more powerful graphics that’ll let you use two 5K external displays. Same as the Late 2016 MacBook Pro.

While not being specific, Schiller says the next iMac refresh, due later this year, will offer options that will appeal to pros and creatives. But it probably won’t be called iMac Pro.

No doubt this move will encourage at least some Mac Pro users to go iMac instead, and that also is consistent with what I believe. While the nature of the forthcoming iMac configurations hasn’t been revealed — at least not yet — the three recommendations I’ve made, two SSDs, heftier CPUs and graphics, seem quite likely.

No, I’m not patting myself on the back. But speaking as someone who switched from a Mac Pro to the iMac back in 2009, I have long been convinced this model does reduce — but not eliminate — the need for a high-end workstation for most users. But it’s quite clear Apple will not give up on its flagship computer.

What’s more, Apple is promising a new display line next year, perhaps to accompany the 2018 Mac Pro. That appears to be a reverse of the current policy, to support LG’s somewhat flawed UltraFine 5K display. It will not, however, sport a touchscreen. Did you expect otherwise?

There is also the statement that the Mac mini is an “important product,” indicates that a new version is in the works, even though there are no details as to when. But it would make sense to launch that refresh along with the 2017 iMac.

All this appears to mean that there will be no major Mac refreshes until fall, perhaps roughly in sync with the release of the next version of macOS. Well, I suppose there could be a minor update to the MacBook before then.

True, Apple might have been forced to make these announcements to calm the ruffled feathers of its Mac user base. Regardless, I’m pleased that Apple is finally doing right by its 100 million Mac users.