Why Apple Announced the New Mac Pro Early & Likely Ship Date

| Analysis

Apple announced the new Mac Pro at WWDC last week. Some have asked why the announcement came so early. Apple's website says, "Coming later this year," and we all know that could be very late in the year. Also, what needs to happen for the new Mac Pro to ship?

First, Why Now?

The first question is why Apple announced the new Mac Pro at WWDC, which is a Apple developer conference. There are several reasons.

1. It's been too long since Apple announced a major new product. The last new product was the iPad mini, back in October 2012. The gulf of more than seven months has been a topic of heated discussion that has provided plenty of ammunition for Apple naysayers.

The new iMacs started shipping in quantity early in 2013 and it isn't the right time for a MacBook Air with a Retina display. That would raise the price of this entry-level MacBook too much, and also ruin the battery life. For the time being, it remains smart to continue that differentiation in the MacBook product line.

As a result, the new Mac Pro was the leading candidate for a new product announcement.

2. Apple has been under pressure to show some innovation. The new Mac Pro design, independent of technical quibbles, is a daring, innovative, sexy design. It has people talking. Dramatically, Apple showed one of its signature introductory videos, and Phil Schiller, carefully—and scripted—jumped in at the end with, 'Can't innovate anymore, my ass!"

Here's the Mac Pro introduction with that smack down by Senior VP Phil Schiller.

3. The WWDC keynote is heavily covered by the press and was, in fact, streamed live. Apple was eager to get some positive press and regain control of its news cycle. An exciting new Mac showing Apple's renewed commitment to, according to Phil Schiller, "video editors, musicians, photographers, graphic designers," not to mention computer scientists, researchers and scientists, would make dramatic, positive news.

4. iPhone and iPads are mass market devices that always have their own very special, dedicated event. With no distractions.

5. It's always smart for Apple to get 5,000 developers excited about the sexy, desirable hardware that will be in the hands of customers later this year. It creates a vivid sense of business opportunity for all developers, even if most of the developers are likely focusing on iOS.

6. After last year's WWDC Keynote, a customer famously asked Tim Cook about the future of the Mac Pro. Mr. Cook said: “Our pro customers are really important to us…don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year." So this year's WWDC was an excellent time for Mr. Cook to cater to that promise.

Given all these reasons, it made perfect sense for Apple to announce the new Mac Pro at WWDC. Now the question is, when will it ship?

Next, the Gating Factors

There are several prerequisites required for the new Mac Pro to ship.

1. The CPU. Apple has to wait until Intel can supply enough of the Intel E5 chipset for Apple's needs. Intel's roadmap says that the chips required will be available in calendar Q3 (July to September). That's probably the easiest part.

2. Mountain Lion is limited to recognizing 96 GB of RAM, but the new Mac Pro may well support more than that, perhaps 128 GB (4 x 32 GB). It's likely that Mavericks will recognize all the RAM that the new Mac Pro hardware supports, and so Apple would probably want to ship the new Mac Pro with Mavericks, not Mountain Lion. Apple has said that Mavericks will ship "this fall." Which gives them until Friday, December 20. Several of us at TMO are thinking much sooner, perhaps mid to late September [Editor: Bryan is calling Mavericks in October].

3. Perhaps the most restrictive factor is Thunderbolt 2. TB 2, the principle mechanism for external expansion, doubles the speed of the current Thunderbolt with a 20 Gbps bi-directional channel. According to AppleInsider, Intel "has yet to nail down a specific date on Thunderbolt 2's release, but said it should be in production by the end of 2013, with a ramp into 2014."

Given that Mavericks is under Apple's control and that plenty of E5 chipsets will be available in late Q3, the gating factor appears to be Thunderbolt 2. One can only imagine the pressure Apple will be putting on Intel to deliver the TB2 chipset, which, incidentally, will support the 4K displays that Apple will probably want to tout for video professionals.

In fact, it's possible that the rumors we heard earlier in the year about a not-so-family-affordable 4K HDTV project were really Apple's initial testing for a 4K display for professionals to use with the new Mac Pro.

It's still a SWAG, but the signs seem to point to early December. That's a long time to wait, but still, Apple was smart to whet our appetite, allay our worst fears about the Mac Pro's future, and excite developers at WWDC.

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Comments

mhikl

Apple may be feeling the pressure to open up a little on its ideas and plans for what is in the pipeline. Bryan has an interesting piece on Pegatron chairman Tung discussing a product his company may be building for Apple. Was this a booboo on his part, deserving a slap from Apple, or is this a slip sanctioned by Apple.

If a sanctioned “slip”, then maybe Apple may be finding subtle ways to allow some information out to the hungry tech press industry.  - Pegatron Chief Talks Openly about Low-Cost iPhone, Disputes ‘Cheap’ Label

It may be Apple’s way to be tight lipped, but long perceived periods of empty space do not the tech press appreciate. There are those that like to speculate; maybe feeding a few rumours or bits of info out on the line will feed these hungry fish and curtail some of the line being fed to readers.

LeFrancoy

Just a thought, you overlooked the « assembled in the USA » bit… Do you think that might be a hurdle to cross too? Maybe setting up an assembly line is not all that complicated, but I know it’s a lot of boxes to tick.

ibuck

Like some others, I suspect Apple planned to release something earlier this year. But it may not have measured up to Apple standards for some reason. It may have been software issues, or hardware/parts snafus, patent problems, licensing headaches, staffing situations, or even design difficulties. Perhaps Tim Cook has decided to rearrange the delivery schedule to what makes most sense to him. As a shareholder and Apple fan, I hope he’s considering releasing something new, from their family of products, every couple of months.  And by “new,” not just a slight rev of an existing product/service, but a real step up, so that Phil Schiller may again display his ire, or pride in the announcement.

barryotoole

Another reason, IMO, is that Apple wanted to reassure users of MacPro so they wait and don’t defect to other platforms.

Constable Odo

Apple just wasted time and effort announcing a product hardly anyone is likely to buy.  It’s a world of smartphones and tablets out there and even if Apple has tried to do its best with a business-type desktop, it really just doesn’t matter anymore.  Apple can’t compete with companies who follow standard computer design that’s been used for many years.  High-end graphic cards that are meant for square-ish not circular computers are still in favor.  Every part you need to upgrade the new trashcan Mac Pro with will cost so much more than a standard Wintel PC desktop computer. 

Apple should have simply announced an iPhone with a larger display and been done with it.  No one is happy about seeing the Mac Pro except for the handful of people who might actually buy one if they can possibly afford one.  Mac Pro sales are about as rare as hen’s teeth.  It’s no wonder Wall Street is cursing Apple with renewed fervor.

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