There was a time when Apple was into powerful headless Macs for technical professionals. Those who wanted their own multiple displays and great expandability. Lately, Apple seems to have lost interest in that market and focussed on mobility. There is a smattering of hopeful signs, the weight of evidence is that the Mac Pro is headed for the annals of Apple history.
A New Mac Pro: Pros
There are just a few hopeful signs that we’ll get a refresh of the Mac Pro. The most notorious is the discovery by Pike’s Universum in late 2015 that a kext plist made a reference to a new model identifier, “AAPLJ95,1.” The current 2013 Mac Pro is codenamed “AAPLJ90,1”. Reference in the plist is made to 10 USB 3.0 ports. That’s what we might expect to see in a powerful, headless desktop.
However, a year later, we’d expect USB 3.1 Gen 2 and Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C, so perhaps that code was for an older prototype that, clearly, never went into production.
Recently, our Bryan Chaffin suggested that Apple’s use of the event tagline “hello again” could represent a reinvigoration of Apple’s commitment to the Macintosh line. “Apple ‘hello again’ Media Invites Suggest Reintroduction of Mac Product Line.” Apple has been taking some heat recently, from many circles, for its inattention to the entire Mac line. Our appetite is thoroughly whetted.
A not so great scenario would be if Tim Cook and Phil Schiller come out and give us a 1) new MacBook Pros 2) Updated MacBook Airs, and maybe a A10x-based 12.9-inch iPad Pro with all the display niceties of its smaller sibling. Then stop. We’d be left hanging, wondering what Apple’s commitment is to the entire Mac line for professionals and consumers alike. The beatings would continue.
Understanding the effect this would have, feeling some heat from customers and the competition hot on its heels, Apple may have decided, during this long respite, to breathe new life into the Mac line. To make the wait worth it. On September 9th, Tim Cook responded to a MacRumors email: “I love the Mac and we are very committed to it. Stay tuned.”
But does that refer to unbridled enthusiasm for the entire Mac line? Or perhaps just the ones in use by a subset of the customers: The notebooks and iMacs. The use of the Steve Jobs phrase “stay tuned” could mean that Apple is finally ready to surprise and delight us after a long period of stellar engineering development.
A New Mac Pro: Cons
Back in June of 2013 when the current Mac Pro was announced at WWDC, Apple was still catering to technical professionals. The previous “cheese grater” Mac Pro was a professional’s dream. Lots of drive bays and slots. Lots of power and fans. Industrial strength. The 2013 Mac Pro disappointed many who sought a certain technical path for upgrades, but it, at least, punctuated Apple’s passion for continuing the pro, headless desktop.
Since then, however, several things have happened. Apple discontinued its Thunderbolt display without replacing it. That sends a message that headless Macs may be endangered.
Next, Final Cut Pro X 10.2 hasn’t been updated in 18 months. (Although 10.3 was recently, accidentally divulged.) The last update to Aperture was 24 months ago and development has been discontinued. For some insights, see: “Everything you need to know about Apple’s decision to kill Aperture and iPhoto.” The point is that Apple has done nothing conspicuous to reverse the notion, from 2014, that it is losing interest in the professional market. This colors my expectations.
For example, one outward sign that would have telegraphed a clear, positive message would have been to release a new 2015 version of the Mac Pro with upgraded Xeon processors (for example, the Xeon E3-1200 V4 Broadwell) and new GPUs. However, one could argue that Apple was waiting for Thunderbolt 3 support.
Even so, whatever happend to the days of upgrading Macs incrementally? Why do we have to wait years and years for Apple to refresh some Macs these days? Is it too much trouble to reassure the professional community with frequent hardware upgrades? Hardware upgrades are the surest way to provide warm fuzzies and allow customers to plan intelligently
We haven’t received any of those warm fuzzies.
The Mac Pro Verdict
This long delay could mean that Apple has been working on an exciting new vision for Macs and how they interoperate with our iPads and iPhones. That will probably entail the thoroughly rumored Skylake-based MacBook Pro, perhaps an upgraded MacBook Air, new iMacs, perhaps a new 27-inch 5K display with internal graphics for the underpowered notebooks and FCPX 10.3. We’d be pleased, but not out of our minds.
However, what if Apple, on October 27th, were to announce, in addition to all the above, a fabulous new “Late 2016” Mac Pro, kept secret in the bowels of Austin, Texas. We’d be all shocked, surprised and delighted. Consider that re-imagined Mac Pro with a 50 teraflops of computational power connected to a LG manufactured, Apple branded 38-inch ultrawide curved display.
It would take our breath away. We’d go out of our minds. Shall Cook’s Apple settle for anything less?
Apple’s track record and the pessimist in me say I fantasize too much. I think the weight of evidence is that, instead, the 2013 Mac Pro will just be left to linger and die quietly.