The Case For Apple to Preserve the Mac Pro

| Editorial

Mac ProApple hasn’t updated the Mac Pro line since 2010. When the time between product updates stretches out, we worry about the viability of the product. Here are some thoughts related to why the Mac Pro line is such a good thing for us Apple customers.

First, I should say that it is by no means certain that Apple will indeed kill the Mac Pro. And even if they kill the product in its current form factor, there could well be a follow-on product with a different design with the same name or a new one that fulfills the same purpose.

Moreover, I should make it clear that I’m not trying to suggest that Apple do something that isn’t in its best interests. Rumors are that the product isn’t selling well and/or isn’t making much money for Apple. With sales numbers for the iPad and the iPhone best described as staggering, no one could blame Apple for sizing up their situation with the Mac Pro.

Instead, I want to explore, for our sake, not Apple’s, the philosophy of the home computer user. That involves having the tools to determine our own fate. And that in itself is in Apple’s direct interest.

The iPad Generation

One of the things that happens when there are a staggering number of new customers on the exponential curve is that the original customers become smaller and smaller by percentage. It’s logical to ask if it’s worth Apple’s time to support those customers.

I’d like to argue that it is. But not for the reasons one might think.

There are two factors to consider. First, personal computing remains a challenging endeavor. Second, Apple customers often have needs that aren’t so obvious, but are synergistic in nature. By brushing some of those needs under the rug, in the name of progress, Apple makes things look simpler, but just ends up leaving holes behind that can’t really be ignored. Or filled by them.

For example, maintaining a UNIX operating system is work. Apple has made huge strides making OS X easy to work with, and there is much more work to do. However, the iPad makes it appear that a UNIX OS can be effortless because of the design of iOS. It’s awfully tempting to walk away from the original challenge when you’re buried in cash.

Backing up your data, thousands of photos and videos and documents, is a challenge. Time Machine, while nice, doesn’t meet the needs of many serious users, so they may perhaps use a more advanced app. To do that with power and grace may require separating the iTunes library from the boot drive, then using multiple internal drives for backups. By contrast, a Wi-Fi back up of an iPhone is awesomely easy. Again, it’s such a temptation to ignore the nagging details.

In other words, by dumbing down the system and taking away user options, both in hardware and software, it’s possible to create the illusion that things have suddenly gotten better. But it’s by force of Apple’s own will, not by advances in the state of the art.

Not Power User, Rather Power to the User

Apple’s average user and the user base is being brought along on a wonderful technology ride. iPhones and iPads create a wonderful sense of simplicity and freedom. If that’s all Apple wants to do, if Apple just wants to be the next Sony, a bit player in our technical lives, then that will be a very sad transition.

Apple has logged a boatload of man-hours working to make our personal computing life better. Better also means more complete, more enabled, more mature and more responsible. The result has been a huge empowering of the average home and home business user. We’ve come to enjoy exploring how all that computing power might be exploited. Artists, musicians, writers, and developers have enjoyed the best creative platform on the planet. Then, along with that goes the busy work of preserving and presenting that work.

We revel in speed and power and elegance, not just simplicity for the sake of marketing. We’re all grown up now. We can handle the fastest, most capable desktop system by the best technology company on the planet.

At first Apple helped us build websites that confirmed our talents and identity. Alas, that made Apple no money, so that’s been killed. Also, along the way, Apple built ever increasingly powerful desktop computers that could handle challenging research and video. And we could purchase, generally, any display that suited us. That may be on the wane with the demise of the Mac Pro. (If we need a really fast UNIX system for research, a custom Linux box might become necessary.) Apple taught us how to preserve our independence and privacy by managing our data and taking responsibility for it. Now, Apple wants to have and to hold all our personal data. Of course, until it doesn’t make any money. And then we’ll be divorced, once again dumped out into the cold.

The lesson here is that personal visions, self-determination and independence are good things. There are things Apple customers need and want to fulfill a personal vision of how they handle their computing affairs. Apple should promote and celebrate that. If Apple were to chip away at that, in the guise of simplicity and consumer popularity, the vision of many customers would be slowly diminished. There could come a day when Apple no longer offers the breadth and scope of a serious technology company, but rather only lives for its own benefit, its own vision, its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

If Apple headed down that path, the company becomes disconnected from the self-sufficiency and creativity of its own users. We’d go from personal management to complete dependence because our tools are whittled away. At that point, the walled garden wouldn’t seem like such a happy place.

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Image credits: Apple, Inc.

Comments

mistermuleboy

Here Here!

I have patiently waited.

I will wait patiently.

A bit longer.

My bona fides:  I still have my 128k Mac from 1984.  And boatlods of newer ones.

I need the power and design features of the Pro—even if it violates Steve Jobs vision, and if it distracts the company from making its lovely toys and (occasionally) useful devices.

Give me my Pro!

PhillyG

John,

For your next trick: Speculate on the next generation Mac Pro!

The no-brainer part: It will have Thunderbolt.

Things that makes you say hmmm…: How will Thunderbolt disrupt the current design?

geoduck

the company becomes disconnected from the self-sufficiency and creativity of its own users.

To paraphrase:
When a company forgets its roots it is at risk of losing its footing.

Lee Dronick

Maybe it has new roots, in a new orchard.

John Martellaro

Just an added note. I stayed away from specs in this article on purpose. I didn’t want to get bogged down in Thunderbolt, external vs. internal drives, the number and capability of video cards, number of available cores & heat dissipation,  and the needs of different people.  The essay was more high level, philosophical.

Computer power comes in many forms. Some people have a vision that entails a powerful, capable system for their home or business. They imagine what they can do with it, and so do the developers. I really want Apple to deliver powerful choices to us as a celebration of what people can achieve, not place us in a box.

Gareth Harris

You dance with the one who brought you. When you forget this old adage, you lose its lesson: When you abandon the path that got you where you are, you’ve lost your way.

Many companies pursue new things and lose their way. TI chased after watches and calculators, forgetting that they made chips. Motorola did something similar. No longer leaders, they are followers.

I have been in hitech since 1949 at age 8, computers since 1960. I used professional tools to make system software and later, application software. When computers became more available to the public with the PC in the 1980s, some of them still had professional attributes, enabling us to do professional work away from the mainframe. Even though I went to school [GaTech] with Gil Amelio, I buy Apples because they run UNIX. As the technology changed and other products became possible, those professional tools were best for developing software for even pocket items and doing serious computing for business, factories and warehouses.

Would you make apps for the iPad on the iPad? Hardly, BUT if you can envision an Apple that makes nothing but personal electronics, you can envision an Apple that no longer makes professional tools for making products for Apples.

I recently sold my MacPro with 30” screen and went to a maxed out Macbook Air 13”. What does that say?

CudaBoy

Apple can’t turn into Sony even if they try. Doesn’t Sony own content like CBS, Columbia, BMG punlishing? Could Apple acquire like that without the Antitrust guys going bugnuts?
To me it would be sad if Apple left the computing business. I know - iMacs and laptops oh my… no. Without a ‘Pro’ tower you lose more than what should be your flagship computing product for the relatively small but important group of professionals. Those professionals (we) stuck by Apple through the hard times for very specific reasons not to see it all go bye bye because now they are stinkin’ rich and it takes too much “work” to maintain UNIX or whatever. If Steve heard an Apple employee even THINK that he’d tear him a new one. “Difficult” and “Hard” is the work Apple put in to create what appears to be “simple”, THAT is what Apple is all about. But you lose more than the product, you lose the original heart and soul fanbase, and you lose the “heart” of what made Apple Apple IMO. It’s been a long hard clone-war filled, Pepsi sellin’, Amelio’d road traveled by the Macintosh faithful. It would be sad to see Jobs pass, and then his Baby too.

Peter

How will Thunderbolt disrupt the current design?

Internal Thunderbolt.

Apple definitely needs Mac Pros for servers.  So I’d say that it will be rack mountable.  It might be a little thinner (2U when sideways).

furbies

My Mac Pro (Early ‘09) is the best Mac I’ve owned apart from the Bluetooth bug/error/glitch.

I did the Bluetooth Antenna Fix so I can use a wireless keyboard & trackpad.

I’ve added an extra USB card so I can avoid the “USB Hub Hassle”, and at the moment I’m considering adding another USB card (with USB 3 support if available)

It’s loaded with 4 HDDs totalling 3.25TB & 16GB RAM.
Yes I know the current iMacs (with Thunderbolt) can access external storage (RAIDs etc) at speeds not unlike directly connected SATA but they’re bleeding bloody expensive and unlike the Pro there’s messy cables etc. Actually I’d like Apple to maybe consider adding another drive bay or 2 ?

And then there’s the ability to add Bluray burn support (via Toast)

So Apple, PLEASE don’t kill off the Mac Pro line

Synth

I hope they keep the Mac Pro, albeit in a radically redesigned form.

With Thunderbolt, the need for PCI slots and HD bays is vastly reduced.

I hope Apple makes a MacPro with half the bays and half the PCI slots and maybe half the memory slots and an optional rack-mount-server option.

furbies

I hope Apple makes a MacPro with half the bays and half the PCI slots and maybe half the memory slots and an optional rack-mount-server option.

Dear Synth

If that’s your idea of a Mac Pro, you can just go for a Mac Mini and one of the zero footprint HDD enclosures that OWC sells.
Perhaps not as powerful, but it sounds more like what you’re after….....

Me ? I like the Mac Pro in it’s current form factor (with more USB & HDD capability)

FlipFriddle

My idea for a new form for the MacPro was a series of modules that can be plugged together with Thundrbolt; think a stack of Mac Minis. The base box will have the CPU and Ram tray and a startup drive. Then you stack cases on top of that that have thnderbolt connectors built into the top and bottom of each case so they connect without wiring in the back. The cases can be filled with whatever you want, a hard drive, a graphics card, a USB card, an optical drive. You just keep stacking them, as many as you need. I think they really need to blow up the idea of a tower, while keeping the expansion capabilities, which is really what the MacPro is all about.

furbies

keeping the expansion capabilities, which is really what the MacPro is all about.

A nice and tempting idea, but what’s the ideal base setup in your opinion ?

I’d hate to go this way and only get a basic setup and then have to spend several hundred per extra “module” And wouldn’t the “base” module be fairly big in order to house the CPU / RAM & cooling hardware ?

edit:

And provision for full size 3.5” SATA HDDs please, not those mickey mouse 2.5” drives.

Substance

Great perspective John, can’t add anything to it.

For me, the need for a Mac Pro keeps declining over time, but the need for an XServe-type Mac keeps increasing.  Where the Mac Pro has a limited market today, it would have no value if Apple had kept the xServe around.  And the xServe can serve a greater variety of markets than the Mac Pro can.  THat’s just my opinion though, I’d love to hear from people who actually make a living using this high-end Mac gears.

FlipFriddle

A nice and tempting idea, but what?s the ideal base setup in your opinion ?

I’m not sure. When I originally thought of this, I thought maybe you could have multiple RAM chassis too, but then the base part would be limited in RAM. I dunno. Definitely full size drives; I think the MacMini form could handle those without all of the CPU stuff that a full computer needs.

Maybe I can shoot Johnny Ive an email and tell him to get to work! smile

-frustrated industrial designer Mike stuck doing crappy graphic design for a living.

wab95

John:

Another thought-provoking treatise.

What I gather from this is an argument for choice, and not form factor, specifically choice for the creative professional, irrespective of discipline. I concur with that wholeheartedly.

Having done so, I also view as inevitable form factor transformation, as ever more powerful CPUs, GPUs, more efficient packaging, and advances in user interface take their toll on traditional hardware, however venerable. I listened to a discussion yesterday on Bloomberg radio (did not catch the name of the guest) who by way of illustration pointed out that, to an entire generation of kids (literally children 8 - 10 years) the word computer conjures images of iPads and iPhones, and not desktop towers with large keyboards and a mouse - which they will never use as their parents have. That is the future educated and sufficiently affluent class of client to whom Apple have to cater in an about another decade.

Just as iPads and iPhones are mini computers with far more processing power than the building-sized behemoths that once landed rockets on the moon (okay - they had become room-sized by then), who knows what form factors technology may make possible in the next few years, but at core is choice.

I am reasonably optimistic that while Apple will relentlessly resist, given its beleaguered and bloodied past, operating either at a loss or allowing slavish devotion to form to permit its being overtaken by its competition - or worse - allowing that competition to dictate the terms of the future, it will continue its dialectical and interactive approach to progress that it has begun since the late ‘90s with its client base, will examine how and by whom its products are used, and make every reasonable attempt to provide that base with a solution, not rooted in the past, but fit for the present and primed for the future.

Then again, I am an optimist, but thus far, since my switch to (back to, sort of) Apple in late 1996, I have yet to be disappointed, or find myself with no professional options among Apple’s repertoire.

danf

When I stop buying Apple computers, I’ll likely also stop buying iphones and ipads.  I’ll stop buying apple computers when the choices and prices not longer make sense.  We are near that point.  I haven’t bought a new Macintosh in 3 years.  Usually it’s 18 months between purchases.  I think we may be near the end of the string for Apple.  They have not done anything really interesting in a long time.

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