Mac Pro: R.I.P.?: Readers Respond

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

Not every column you write is destined to spark an outpouring of comments agreeing with your position. Some do quite the reverse. Such was the case with my previous column, Mac Pro: R.I.P. Not only were most of the comments here negative, but I also got into a sometimes heated exchange regarding the subject with a few colleagues on Twitter.

Although the specifics of each comment varied, the primary point was the same: I was wrong when I said that the Mac Pro was “dead” — even if my prognosis was that its death was still several years away. More specifically:

The Mac Pro is too profitable for Apple to drop it. The Pro appeals to a market that an iMac-like device could never reach. Just because consumers no longer need a Mac Pro doesn’t mean there is no market for it at all. The Pro has capabilities, not mentioned in the article, that are critical to its success. The speed advantage of the iMac over the Pro is a temporary glitch and will not last beyond the next Pro upgrade.

And so on. After reflecting on these comments, I’ve reconsidered my position. Of the two main points I attempted to make, I continue to stand by one of them (although I admit I could have been clearer in stating it). As for the second, I may have been wrong (it happens).

My first point was that the Mac Pro, as it exists today, is approaching the end of its life (which I’ll define as within the next 6 years). I did not conclude this simply because the current iMac is faster than the Mac Pro. Nor did I mean to imply that the iMac, as it exists today, can meet all the needs of people who currently use a Mac Pro.

What I did mean is that the current trend in computing is towards devices that can do more and more in less and less space. The technology is permitting this and the customers want it. Internal components keep shrinking; some components may become obsolete (optical drives?); there will be greater emphasis on accessing resources over a network. In the future, there may still be a Pro model that exceeds the specs of a lower-priced consumer model, but I expect it will be much smaller than the Pro is today. The days where a company will have a row of desktop behemoths, one on every desk, are numbered. That was the position I was taking and I continue to stand by it.

A second main point of the article was that the Mac Pro market might shrink to the point that it no longer makes sense for Apple to stay in it. While I still view this as a possibility, especially in the larger context of Apple’s overall shift towards consumer electronics, I admit to have overstated the case. Even though I know a few graphic/video artists who find a McBook Pro to be sufficient for their needs, I know that this is far from universally the case. There will always be a demand from professionals for machines that push the envelope of what a computer can do. And as long as Apple can continue to make a profit from catering to this audience, no matter how small the market is, there is no reason for Apple to stop.

However, there is one segment of the Mac Pro’s market that is almost gone and will likely soon disappear altogether. There was a time when the Mac Pro and its desktop predecessors had more general appeal. There was a time, for example, when a person such as myself, who has no need for the fastest or most powerful Mac, would never consider an iMac. It was just too “wimpy” for even a low-level power user. In fact, on a recent MacNotables podcast, I explained why even my most recent Mac purchase was a Mac Pro — in terms of ease of access to the inside of the machine, the ability to swap monitors, and such. Yet, I believe this time is drawing to a close. The Mac Pro of the future will be like the Xserve, catering to a specific niche market but with no cross-over appeal. This transition has already almost happened. For that matter, the iMac market will likely decline as well, as consumers shift more to portable Macs as their only computer.

Markets may change. But Apple has done a great job of navigating these waters over the past decade. I see no reason for that to change.

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15 Comments Leave Your Own

FlipFriddle

Thanks for listening Ted! You guys at MacObserver are great.
I never thought I’d own an iMac, but I now have a 24” iMac to do my self-publishing and digital painting work and it’s fantastic. I think the iMacs have finally caught up to the needs of print and web designers, while the MacPros will continue to serve the more heavy-lifting needs of audio/video and 3D content creators.
The only thing I have to see is if the iMacs prove to be as useful for the length of time the towers have in the past, without the towers expandability. Perhaps it just means I should upgrade more often instead of struggling with 8 year old Macs. I’m sure Apple is happy to hear that. smile

geoduck

The only thing I have to see is if the iMacs prove to be as useful for the length of time the towers have in the past, without the towers expandability.

Over the years I’ve always considered expandability in the Macs I’ve gotten: LCIIIs, PM7200, 8500, Green G3 tower, Yikes G4, MDD G4. In the end other than memory, and a couple of additional drives in the MDD G4, I haven’t upgraded anything, I kept them until I needed a new Mac and then moved on. My next desktop Mac is either going to be an iMac or a Mac Mini. I just don’t see needing expandability.

zewazir

I think the very reason Apple has gone to a Pro vs Consumer model of marketing is because the division between the needs of the high end professional and the common user has become more pronounced.  There was a time when the consumer iMac, in all those glorious colors, was aimed at the vary casual user, while the more serious user could obtain a low-to-medium end desktop like the single processor G4/G5 line, and the high end user could grab a multi-processor G4/G5.

Today the modern iMac meets the needs of both the casual and the more serious user.  So this advent does, indeed, shrink the overall market for the Pro models. It even diminishes the call for the oft discussed “middle level headless Mac”

But there will always be the high end users whose demands are always pushing the envelope. And I believe Apple will always cater to that market. For one because much of the demand for top end comes the niche market that kept Apple going in lean times, two because it involves an industry with strong Apple ties (Pixar, anybody?), and three, because of the prestige (never underestimate the value of prestige in the marketing world) that goes with offering the world’s fastest, most capable top end computers.

Peter

That’s fine, but I’ll probably go with a Mac Pro.  The expandability of a Mac Pro has saved my bacon more than a few times.

Some examples:

1.  My good ol’ PowerMac G3:  When the Ethernet adapter failed out of warranty, Apple wanted $700 for a new motherboard.  Instead, I spent $10 for a 10Mbit ethernet card so I could attach it to my cable modem.  Problem solved right there.
2.  Another PowerMac G3 story:  When Mac OS X 10.2 came out, I wanted a bit more horsepower from the graphics card.  The solution was a trip to Fry’s and a new ATI Radeon card.  Helped the machine hold on throughout the G4 years.
3.  My PowerMac G5 has held up pretty well.  But I recently had a hard drive go flaky.  Again, a quick trip to Fry’s got me an internal hard drive.  Booting off of it was no problem, I didn’t have to pay extra for an enclosure and make sure that it supports FireWire 800.  I installed the new disk drive, installed Mac OS X, rescued as much of the data as possible from the old one, and was back in business in one stress-filled afternoon.

I’ll grant you, that new iMac is tempting.  Glorious 27” screen, quad-core CPUs, 1TB hard drive.  But as good looking and sexy as the iMac is, I’ll stick with the reliability of a Mac Pro, thank you.

Doug O

Something else others seem to be missing is that the memory on MacPro’s is ECC protected.  You do not get that with laptops or iMacs.  This means a single bit RAM fault will not cause any issues (you may never even know when this happens). 

For the business world where computers in a server role need to run 24/7, this extra protection can be seen as vital.

Doug

WetcoastBob

I spend 6 to 8 hrs a day on a computer.  For reading and a bit of e-mail my MBP does just fine.  The rest of the time I am blogging and working on Photography.  This I do on my iMac for a couple of reasons. 

The first is ergonomics.  As slick as the keyboard on my MBP is, typing on my iMac’s keyboard for extended periods is far more comfortable.

The second reason is that I have a second monitor connected to the iMac which I would not want to do without.  I need the real estate to accommodate all the documents, mail, Safari pages that I have open.

If I could afford it I would buy a Mac Pro with two 30” Cinema displays because the brightness and colours of the images are closer to what will be printed than what is shown on a glossy LED display.

xmattingly

I really don’t believe that pro level towers will ever really go away, as long as desktop computing as we know it continues to exist. Software and hardware evolution is a constant, vicious cycle and there will always be users who need to be on the cutting edge, if not the expandability of a tower.

A couple of factors still make the pro towers a better long-term investment: 10.6 introduced technologies such as Grand Central that make it easier for software developers to take advantage of multiple cores. Also, recent Mac Pro’s that Apple has rated for a max. of 16gb of RAM are able to support 32, thanks to higher capacity RAM being brought to the market.

You may save money for comparable performance of the iMac now, but a pro tower - in my opinion, is an investment that could last for years.

Urs W. Keller

I am a part-time music producer. I considered the iMac, but for mixing and mastering tracks, even the very low noise level of an iMac is unacceptable.

As my studio is completely digital (no faders or big$$$ mixing console), I need many screens to display the channel strips and track window.

So I have the MacPro in a separate room and currently 2 (planning for 3) monitors attached.

xmattingly

I considered the iMac, but for mixing and mastering tracks, even the very low noise level of an iMac is unacceptable

Yes, and that doesn’t even include the specialized SCSI cards you might need to connect certain hardware to your computer. Again, iMacs are an all-or-nothing, take it or leavexit form factor. Only Mac Pro’s have the needed flexibility for production environments.

chicknfood

I wonder if a similar argument could be made for the MacBook Pro? The other day i was having a hard time justifying the additional cost of a MBP vs a MacBook. Or even $200 for a black paint job.

geoduck

I wonder if a similar argument could be made for the MacBook Pro? The other day i was having a hard time justifying the additional cost of a MBP vs a MacBook. Or even $200 for a black paint job.

I had that debate with myself last year. the Pro was a lot more money for some features that were nice but not essential for what I do, ~10% better performance, and a 15” v screen. I ended up going with the MacBook and maxed out the memory which likely made up some of the performance difference.

I remember reading somewhere the idea that Apple would drop the Pro altogether. There would just be the MacBook line with two versions of the 13” at the bottom, then the Air, then a couple versions of 15” and then the 17” at the top. In some ways it makes more sense than eliminating the Pro Macintosh.

WetcoastBob

@geoduck:

You said:  “I remember reading somewhere the idea that Apple would drop the Pro altogether.”

I think this sentiment is core of the article we are now discussing.

geoduck

Sorry I wasn’t clear, I meant the MacBook Pro

WetcoastBob

In early 2007 I wanted a macbook but it did not yet exist.  So I went for the MBP.  I never regretted this.  The reason was the larger screen, and seeing that I do photography I have found that the more real-estate the better.

I now have an iMac which I use for my main machine.  The MBP is my on-the -road tool.  The larger screen makes it easier to start editing while I am on the road so that I have less to do when I return to home base.  I also find the keyboard silky and smooth and beats any keyboard Apple offers at this time.

I would not like to make any predictions about Apple’s offerings until they launch the iTablet.  I think this thing will bridge the gap between the iPhone and the MacBook.  It will certainly add features that are presently not on either device.  My bets are that it will change the dynamic like the iPhone did.

I am hoping an extension of iTunes to offer books and periodicals.

xmattingly

Well, I think the argument between a MB and MBP is different than inexpensive iMac all-in-one vs. expensive yet massively expansive Mac Pro.

MacBooks have always represented the shortest useful life span of the notebooks. For example, in the current lineup its RAM maxes out at 4gb (half of the MBP). Take that, including the video card shared w/ main memory and you have a seriously compromised system for anything video-related. No FireWire or SD card slot, either.

Of course, it all depends on a person’s needs. All said and told, the MB is a pretty darn good little notebook for a grand. For my money though, I would cough up the extra $200 for the lowest grade MBP, for the doubled RAM capacity alone. It is kind of a shame that you have to drop an extra THOUSAND dollars to get a Mac notebook if you really want a dedicated video card in it, though.

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