What Shall Become of Apple’s 2017 iMac Pro?

iMac Pro with an Apple logo and a lock
iMac Pro
2017 iMac Pro. Image credit: Apple

Apple’s 2017 iMac Pro began shipping in December 2017. There have been no upgrades since. What can we now expect from Apple in 2020?

Lately, I’ve been pondering what’s on Apple’s Mac plate in 2020. I would surmise that Apple will go about the business of bringing the 13-inch MacBook Pro hardware up to date, as it did with the 16-inch. Intel’s Coffee Lake CPU is getting old, and new iMacs are certainly called for. The same goes for the Mac mini.

But what about the aging iMac Pro?

Options. There are Options

The 2017 iMac Pro is a fast, formidable and expensive Mac. So the question in my mind is, does it really need an upgrade any time soon? THe answer to that question is more related to Apple’s vision for the Mac product line, the appearance of commitment to that product, and the existence of the 2019 Mac Pro than anything to do with iMac Pro hardware.

Remember, 2017 was the leading edge of Apple’s newfound re-engagement with the Mac. The Mac mini was still deep in Limbo, the contest between the MacBook Air and the MacBook was undecided, The unloved 2013 Mac Pro was four years old and a new Mac Pro would be years away. Apple needed something “pro,” sexy, cool, and fast to reassure its technical and creative professionals. The iMac Pro with Xeon CPUs and the new T2 chip was the fastest, most direct way to achieve that.

Fast forward two years. Apple nicely updated the MacBook Air and Mac mini in late 2018. iMacs were refreshed in early 2019 and the 16-inch MacBook Pro was seriously upgraded in November. The 2019 Mac Pro is shipping. Where does that leave the iMac Pro?

imac pro rear components
Great cooling tech means room for growth.

Very, very serious pros will probably pass it by nowadays thanks to the ability to customize a 2019 Mac Pro and attach display(s) of choice. Would a speed bump in the iMac Pro’s Xeon CPUs be enough to continue to lure customers into a US$5,000 Mac? Apple would have to identify a strong following for the iMac Pro and, accordingly, wish to display its commitment to it as a full-fledged member of the product line.

Terminating the iMac Pro would be unseemly, suggesting that Apple’s roadmap for the Mac line has been poorly thought out.

A third way to go would be to dramatically upgrade the display. The 27-inch display has become old-school, great in previous times, seriously outdated in 2019/2020. Keeping the price the same, Apple could upgrade it to a glorious 5K, 40-inch, mildly curved display with 10-bit color depth and HDR. This would seriously differentiate it from the consumer iMacs and re-establish its place in the product line as the ultimate all-in-one desktop Mac for pros.

Drift Mode or Boldly Go?

However Apple elects to go, doing nothing doesn’t seem like a good option. My colleague Bryan Chaffin likes to point out that he wouldn’t pay 2019 money for 2017 technology. That will be an even more exaggerated notion in 2020. And so, my hope is that Apple, coming out of its Mac doldrums from 2015-17, will do something bold and delightful. Letting the iMac Pro linger on, its fate unclear, is no longer Apple’s default mode as it was a few years ago.

5 thoughts on “What Shall Become of Apple’s 2017 iMac Pro?

  • I watched a MacPro unboxing the other day (I’m easily amused obviously), and I got an idea. If Apple were to revise the general iMac approach—still AIO—they could make the stand a removable type by making the attachment magnetic, like the MacPro monitor. Combine this with making the screen attach to a separate piece of perimeter metal frame instead of the back (you could make this interim frame in a choice of colors, harkening back to the to iMac’s history). Now make the guts of the unit (the back shell) removable by 6 or 8 screws or other fastener type or engineering bright idea, and you have access to all the components quickly. Upgrades would no longer be impossible.

    Yes it adds a little build complexity and cost, but it might be the spur to increased iMac sales. Just kickin’ tires, but it’s a thought.

  • When Apple released the iMac Pro it was clear this was the machine they wanted to sell to the majority of Professionals. Pitching/pricing the Mac Pro so high just confirms this.

    The non-upgradable ‘appliance’ is a poor strategy from a customer & ecological standpoint. I think they should re-release the current line with proprietary, upgradable modules (sticks) carrying new takes on; networking, storage, specialised (graphics/neural) and general processing.

  • John is right on the money (so to speak). With the release of the Mac Pro at $5999, mods/upgrades capable, the case for the robust iMac becomes less compelling at a similar price, at least for us. Then there is the need for speed in the heretofore apocryphal headless starter level MacPro. I’m not sure how you fit that in the schema and at what price points…unless Apple does as John suggests and give us a lot more in the iMac at perhaps a lower price.
    It could happen…as could flying cars, Bigfoot and FTL spaceships.

  • Timely article. This is something I’ve been pondering as well. I assume that the type of pro user that needs the performance of the iMac would prefer a tower that’s upgradeable as opposed to a sealed AIO but at the same token if Apple was going to cancel the iMac Pro, it probably would have done so the minute the Mac Pro went on sale. So I think one of two things will happen:

    1) Apple will release a completely new iMac Pro
    2) Apple will replace the iMac Pro with a headless lower-end Mac Pro tower.

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