The Night Owl’s Non-Existent Predictions

April 11th, 2017

As you might expect, rumors have begun to appear about the forum or substance of the next Mac Pro and the mythical iMac professional version, or iMac Pro. Now contrary to what you might assume on the basis of the previous sentence, I’ll focus on the latter first.

There’s a personal reason why.

Back in the summer of 1998, I was one of what I presume to be a few thousand outsiders beta testing Apple software and hardware via its Customer Quality Feedback (CQF) program. I received very few of the latter, but one, a Power Mac, never actually saw the light of day. For whatever reason, the plug was pulled and Apple asked me to send it back for “recycling.”

Before you accuse me of breaking Apple’s NDA, just note that it happened 19 years ago, and I actually didn’t give you much in the way of specifics. I really didn’t see anything about the design that seemed distinctively different compared to existing gear. So it probably made sense not to move it into production, although there could have been a long-range plan that, obviously, Apple wouldn’t tell us about.

There was another computer in my home office, one with an egg-shaped plastic case in a peculiar variant of a color known as Bondi blue. The iMac I had been testing was missing the optical drive’s faceplate, but was otherwise fully functional. My Apple contact said I would be able to keep it if it survived a final firmware update, but there was a cautionary note in what he said. If the update failed, the computer would be bricked, so I’d have to send it back.

I am not about to say that it was all by design, but the computer didn’t survive the flash process, so I returned it. But as things go, it wasn’t so great a loss. I had a maxed out Power Macintosh G3 as my primary work computer, and a recent PowerBook for remote work. When it was not on the road, Grayson used the PowerBook, until he got his very own iMac a year or two later when I cashed in a book royalty check.

Having been there at the start, I always felt close to the iMac; it had a personal connection even if it didn’t quite meet my needs. But Apple gradually moved it upmarket.

So the Late 2009 27-inch iMac was a magnificent piece of work, with a great standard definition display, and internal workings that were powerful enough to meet the needs of at least some of the people who might have otherwise sprung for a Mac Pro.

I wasn’t doing 3D special effects or math, so I was tempted. When someone offered me a decent figure for my Mac Pro and its 30-inch Dell display, I made my decision. I optioned an iMac with a quad-core Intel i7 processor, a better GPU and extra memory. MacMall offered a slight discount, and I ended up ordering the iMac with a backup drive. I had a few hundred dollars left to pay bills, and I bought a computer that is still compatible with the latest version of macOS. Outfitting it with a 1TB SSD a couple of years back really made a sharp performance boost, and the only downside was the lack of a Retina display.

In its roundtable with a handful of tech journalists last week, Apple executives promised an iMac refresh with pro features. Perhaps it’ll come this fall, which would be two years after the last upgrade was released. Maybe it’ll arrive earlier, perhaps to be demonstrated at the next WWDC. Regardless, it’s easy to predict simple enhancements, such as twin SSDs, more powerful graphics managing a pair of external 5K displays, and a CPU with more cores. One published report suggested a low-end Intel Xeon, but I wonder if the price increase would be worth the slight performance gain, not to mention the need for costly ECC RAM. Add that to the requisite USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the needs of an additional segment of Mac Pro users would be met.

As for the rest, predictions for the next Mac Pro are vague. One report suggested what seems like a modest refresh, offering support for a powerful single GPU card. It would still provide a single CPU slot, since Intel is adding more and more cores to its Xeon lineup. The need for a second CPU is thus lessened. But if it’s going to be modular, easy to upgrade, it should support industry-standard internal connections for graphic cards and SSDs. Customers should be able to buy any compatible component and just plug it in. Obviously graphic cards would require macOS drivers, but AMD and NVIDIA have done that before. In that way, the Mac Pro would be a throwback to the previous model.

A recent suggestion that Apple will use custom connections for internal parts doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Apple would still have plenty of opportunity to create a workstation that’s relatively compact and light weight, with the thermal capacity to handle the most powerful parts available. As to what’s anticipated for the future, Apple certainly has access to Intel’s (and AMD’s) processor roadmaps, plus the GPUs in development, so it shouldn’t be difficult to engineer something that will really survive for the next 10 years.

Since Apple isn’t promising delivery of the new Mac Pro this year, it’s assumed it’ll arrive in 2018, but some suggest it may not arrive until 2019. But that doesn’t make sense. Even if they only started the development process a few weeks ago, I fail to see why it would take more than a year to get the work done. Just taking the cheese grater Mac Pro, getting rid of excess space, and making it attractive and light, should be second nature to Apple by now.

So don’t be surprised to see a work-in-progress demo at June’s WWDC, with the promise that the 2018 Mac Pro will ship early next year.

That leaves the Mac mini. Will it grow larger to accommodate more powerful parts, a la the HP Z2 Mini, or retain its existing form factor? Regardless of its shape,  the Mac mini could morph into a headless iMac. That means essentially the same componentry, with perhaps some lesser parts for the $499 entry-level model.

Of course, none of this is true. It’s just idle speculation. I don’t have any “informed sources” or “little birds” to show me the way.

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One Response to “The Night Owl’s Non-Existent Predictions”

  1. DK Jones says:

    I hope Apple looks back to 2012 and delivers a Mac Mini “Pro”, a quad-core i5, why not? “pro” is already applied to some Apple products. The Mac Mini Pro could use the same CPU in the low-end 21.5″ quad-core iMac, with a standard 8 GB RAM and a discrete GPU with 2GB RAM. Upgrade options to 16 GB RAM, a couple of the CPUs (a faster i5, and an i7), options for dual SSD drives.

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