The GM Corvette and the Apple Mac Pro Have Much in Common

| Particle Debris

Companies that claim they make the very best product of its kind but then waffle on selling low volume, premium, awe inspiring, likely very expensive high end products will implicitly lose credibility. That seems to be the discussion around the Mac Pro lately. Will Apple's next Mac Pro light the world on fire? Or just be a case of slash and burn?

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Preamble

Last week, I pointed to a good article about the charisma of the Mac Pro. In case you missed it, here it is again. The argument was that, independent of profits and market share, certain companies need a flagship product, kind of like the "halo cars" built by car companies. GM doesn't make enormous money on the Corvette*, but it's a car of dreams and drives technology into the other products. The same for Chrysler and the Viper, Lexus and the LFA, Honda and the NSX, and so on. If a company is incapable of building the very best and the fastest, then the rest of the product line is suspect.

The other side of the coin is what influential professionals say about your expertise as a company. Early this week, Josh Lowensohn at CNET wrote a thought provoking article about that. "Why Apple's secrecy is frustrating Mac Pro customers." He quoted an Apple OS beta tester who did want to be named:

"For creative professionals, 10.6.8 was the last true powerful operating system from Apple ... 10.7 and 10.8 are like Microsoft's Windows Vista -- bloated, buggy blingware. They are focused so heavily on the consumer that they made the machines terribly inefficient for those using them eight to 10 hours a day."

I don't quote this lightly -- or with malice. I know that Apple increasingly wants to make its Macs appealing to the everyday customer, not the UNIX professional. And it isn't likely that the average Apple customer in an Apple retail store has, tucked in his or her jacket, a printout from Datamation or InfoWorld.

Image Credit: General Motors

Even so, when we read Car & Driver, we get a feel for who the players are. They race. They build super "halo" cars. They flaunt their expertise. They push to the edge. And with Apple, a company that says it only makes the very best, the claim rings hollow for influential industry professionals who see Apple simplifying their products to the point where they can't be used effectively. It would be like BMW abandoning all the M-series cars and driving down market only to the 1-series.

That, in turn, from what I've seen elsewhere, is bringing professionals to the idea of abandoning Apple's legacy of quality and moving to Linux if Apple doesn't provide a first-class Mac Pro. I've already gotten an earful from a senior MUG person how Apple has dumbed down its OS X Server product. It's not just about simplification and broad appeal. It's about that plus perceptions that you also know how to and love to build the very best for the top end too. But there has to be a champion or two in the company to do that.

Anyway, you can read all about it in the link above and judge for yourself.

Tech News Debris

Mike Elgan, writing for Cult of Android, explains why there's a huge problem with mobile wireless, why he's never going to sign another carrier contract and why Google has a special incentive to solve the problem. "How Google Could Solve Mobile’s Biggest Problem."

Horace Dediu has put together another amazing analysis of Android use. Apparently, the phenomenal growth of Android is only outside the U.S. "The iPhone is growing considerably faster in the U.S. than Android. "Mr. Dediu explains why in "Where are the Android users?" This may be part of the story explaining why so much Internet activity, especially shopping, is attributed to iOS.

Samsung has not been kind to Windows 8. "Samsung executive and IDC analyst agree: Windows 8 needs serious help." Meanwhile, here's some data on Surface sales to put into context compared to the Apple iPad. "Microsoft’s Surface Tablet Is Said to Fall Short of Predictions." I wonder what Microsoft will do about all this.

I write a lot about Google Glass because I personally think it's going to be an exciting product. Some readers, however, have expressed concern because they already wear prescription lenses. Now there's hope: "Google Glass Will Get Prescription Lenses." Of course, some writers have already explored the creepy things you may be able to do with Google Glass. "5 Socially Unacceptable Things You're Going To Do With Google Glass." Note: the author didn't make it clear whether or not user photos will be a feature of Google Glass. I'm checking...

Here's an analysis of how Apple's Passbook has fared so far and how the competition is sizing up. "iPhone Passbook: Six months on and it still disappoints." Even so, the author concludes, "Passbook may have got off to a slow start but it's going to be a marathon ahead, not a sprint."

As you know, I am not a big fan of all the negative writing about Apple because I don't think it represents solid, technical analysis. Rather, it's just a way to use Apple's name sensationally to make money. However, if you want to get a feel for how a good writer sizes up Apple's plight, I can recommend "The 'iPhone 5S' problem," by Rene Ritchie at iMore . And then move to the other side and see how CNET's Shara Tibken sizes up Samsung's challenge. "Beyond the Galaxy S4 hype: What now, Samsung?" It's getting tougher and tougher to compete with massive technology developments and leapfrog the competition. It's now like a game show, "Who do You Trust?"

Finally, for dessert, here's some tech candy about the complexities of offering video content to customers. "Why You Can Watch 'NCIS' on Your iPad, but Not 'Big Bang Theory'". It makes your head hurt, but it explains a few things about broadcast rights and the advertising forces at work. Good stuff from Peter Kafka at All Things D.

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* Of course, I must confess in advance that I don't think the Corvette is the very, very best of the super cars. (However, if anyone wants to gift me a C7, I'll take it.)  I use it solely as an example of a big American company that sells a lot of quality cars to average customers, but remains committed to a low volume, high end halo car.

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Comments

iJack

I remember when the US Army started using Mac Pro ‘supercomputers.’  We were so proud. Apple even mad a pretty funny TV commercial about it.  Now…. not so much.

iJack

“Apple even *made* a pretty funny TV commercial about it.”

Note to TMO bosses:  Back before TMO was new and shiny, I could have simply edited my post to correct the typo. 
So let me repeat; now…. not so much.

Constable Odo

I really don’t see how Apple can improve upon the Mac Pro considerably except to make it less expensive to buy.  Those high-end 6-core Intel Xeon chips are very expensive.  Those are very specialized processors where two of them make up around $3200 of the Mac Pro’s cost.  Should Apple make the case out of plastic?  I don’t think so.  So, I suppose Apple can certainly improve the circuitry for higher throughput and handle faster memory, but I still question how many are going to be sold.  They’re not gaming machines.  Can they even be turned into gaming machines?

I just get the feeling Apple has given up even trying to build products for pro-users.  They just don’t see the profit in it and that’s what Apple is mainly interested in.  I see all these high-end circuit boards for Windows computers that can handle the latest and greatest Intel chips and NVIDIA graphics cards and I figure how hard could it be for Apple to build them with all the cash they have, but I guess there must be more to it than what I realize.  Apple obviously doesn’t care about that market.  I find Apple a very successful but very puzzling company.  It would seem they could have the world in the palm of their hand, but always seem to settle for far less.

furbies

“For creative professionals, 10.6.8 was the last true powerful operating system from Apple ... 10.7 and 10.8 are like Microsoft’s Windows Vista—bloated, buggy blingware. They are focused so heavily on the consumer that they made the machines terribly inefficient for those using them eight to 10 hours a day.”

Never was a truer statement made. I wish I could still run 10.6.8. It was bulletproof. But Apple in it’s infinite wisdom said, “No. You want iCloud ? Then 10.7 is required.” Bastards!

furbies

Forgot to add, I also run a Mac Pro 4.1 16GB RAM, stock GT120 video card, 4 x 1TB HDDs. a PCIe USB card and 2 x 20” displays.

I’ve always preferred to run a Tower/Desktop Mac where I can get into the innards and upgrade or replace components (RAM & HDDs & power supplies etc)

While Sir Jony Ives & Co may think the latest iMacs are sexy because they’re uber thin, I’d rather a fatter Mac that I can access the innards of. Just like the first gen G5 iMac.

And here’s another vote for the old comments system. Being able to edit & amend is sorely lacking from the current interface….

Michael

People in the pro audio business will really be in a pickle if there isn’t a high-performance Mac in the wings.  Most of the manufacturers of external processors have scaled back or moved on to higher-volume products. Visit a Hollywood soundstage nowadays and you’ll see all of that processing now stuffed into a Mac Pro.  And that Mac Pro is laboring under the load.  Moving to Linux means a mad scramble for all the software vendors (and the likelihood of many dropping out).

There is a Windows option, but Windows sucks and is getting suckier.

xmattingly

“Never was a truer statement made. I wish I could still run 10.6.8. It was bulletproof”

I’d say that 10.6 is definitely not nearly as bunged up as the last two releases, but to me 10.5 was the last truly stable, user-friendly OS version. I don’t know how or why, but seriously: Apple managed to make 10.7 and 10.8’s UI actually WORSE, and as a user who has gotten used to Mac OS behaving a certain way over the past decade it’s a pretty frustrating experience. A couple of examples: It used to be that you could command+click a Finder sidebar item to open a new window in one smooth motion… now you have to have focus on the Finder window you’re targeting (twice the clicks). You used to be able to combine click+drags & command+clicks to select random ranges of finder items, but no more; you can only click+drag once, then you’re forced to command+click individual items. If you try to click+drag once you make a selection range, the Finder thinks you’re trying to move them.

Expose is in horrible shape… I’ve never understood why they felt the need to force app+Expose to throw everything into a grid, or make all background windows disappear. It’s as if Apple got an all-new team of engineers from 10.6-on who don’t understand the concept of spatial orientation. I think the implementation of spaces is perhaps more intuitive now - especially considering full screen apps, but between horizontal-only orientation and not giving you a quick way to switch spaces without jumping to Expose, it feels like an unrefined idea. Same for “up-scrolling” an app’s windows in Expose, where you only get a peek at its layered windows.

Anyway… here’s hoping Apple doesn’t continue to break their own UI conventions in future versions of the OS. It just seems like they seriously need to invest in a highly detail-oriented, objective team of user interface experts who would have the authority to put the brakes on releasing a half-baked and/or broken product.

jonricmd

Couldn’t agree more with John or the other participants.  Apple has increasingly become a mass consumer oriented company.  Admittedly, that strategy has put billions in the bank.  How long has it been since we saw a keynote presentation or other presentation which showed how much quicker rendering or doing some other high end A-V work was on a Mac Pro vs. a Windoze box?  Apple could easily afford to hire someone who knows a lot about super computing, give them a billion dollars to hire their own team and make a system/OS that had the power to render 3-D and CAD REAL TIME!  No lag do it and it’s done.  Instantaneous.  I’m sure this will be more of a software/OS operation than hardware, but with the money in the bank, why not?  Why not give the professional users a supercomputer?

iJack

@jonricmd ~ If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Dave

Like I’ve been asking / saying for several years now, doesn’t it seem like a lot of Apple’s software engineers / programmers must have formerly worked for that company in Redmond? Apple OS is becoming less and less intuitive; OS and apps are becoming more and more “helpful” (so we can’t do what we think we want to do, only what the programmers think we want to do or should do).

And it ain’t gonna get any better.

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