The Most Important Word Apple Used in its Mac Pro Announcement

3 minute read
| Editorial

By now, you’ve read the news. Apple’s Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and John Ternus briefed five technical journalists on plans to develop a new Mac Pro, likely to be delivered in 2018. The details start with Jeff Gamet’s summary. That points to John Gruber’s report, and that, in turn points to the other stories by Matthew Panzarino, Lance Ulanoff, Ina Fried, John Paczkowski at their respective publications.

2013 Mac Pro

The 2013 Mac Pro painted itself into a technical corner. Image Credit: Apple

What I thought most interesting was the tacit admission that the 2013 Mac Pro painted itself into a technical corner, both in terms of thermal management and expandability. As author Gruber notes, the word “mistake” wasn’t used. However, a lot of the discussion centered on why the 2013 Mac Pro failed to meet the needs of many prospective customers and what Apple would do to remedy that. Apple SVP Phil Schiller:

As we’ve said, we made something bold that we thought would be great for the majority of our Mac Pro users. And what we discovered was that it was great for some and not others. Enough so that we need to take another path. One of the good things, hopefully, with Apple through the years has been a willingness to say when something isn’t quite what we wanted it do be, didn’t live up to expectations, to not be afraid to admit it and look for the next answer.

Yes. What We Said.

I surmise that Apple has gotten an earful over the years since 2013 from its pro users about just what kind of Mac they really needed. That particular kind of pro design can often demand things that have been alien to Apple’s way of thinking: a relentless passion for moving to the future. Moreover, it seemed, Apple was unwilling to acknowledge that certain pro users need to attach their own, special displays. The professionals have practical needs, and existing equipment in the here and now, that they use for their mission critical work.

That’s why the 2013 Mac Pro, cool as it was for many (I am writing this article on one), didn’t meet the needs of most of its pro customers. In order to do that, the new design will have to be state-of-the-art, but practical, upgradable, flexible, and have a mind towards the long-term.

In other words, “modular.”

Again, Apple’s Schiller emphasizes this in his comments. It’s no accident that he uses the word “modular” twice for unmistakable emphasis.

As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a Pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.

A New Hope

There is every indication in this dialog, presented by the five vistors to Cupertino, that Apple has learned an important lesson. Dictating to its pro users an iconic but limited design was a mistake. The result was that the 2013 Mac Pro was a single digit percent of Mac sales. I’ve seen numbers that approach one percent. That is, perhaps 200,000 units sold per year.

I think Apple executives sat down one day in a meeting, reviewed the pleas from technical and creative professionals, sized up the explicit desire by HP and Microsoft to steal the pro market from Apple, and concluded that the company wasn’t ready to abandon that market. A re-imagined 2018 Mac Pro would have to be a glorious, advanced, modular computer that could be configured to meet the needs of many different kinds of users throughout their own growth phases.

An early 2013 Mac Pro concept

An early 2013 Mac Pro concept by Peter ZIgich, Before what we knew what Apple had in mind. This time, Apple will do much better.

Ports of Call

I’ll go out on an early limb and suggest that, even in 2018, this Mac Pro won’t go 100 percent USB-C. Competing products, like the HP Z2 Mini, have a mixture of USB-C and USB-A as well as explicit DisplayPort and Ethernet. One reason to go that route is that the pros aren’t impressed by glamor shots that never show any cables. They know that they’ll have lots of equipment to attach, and the fewer dongles, the better. Sometimes, IT intervenes and establishes restrictions that make a dongle impossible.

A major criticism of the 2013 Mac Pro was how ugly it got as one started connecting devices to do pro-level work. Apple, it appears, will avoid that mistake this time.

Routine pro needs like Ethernet ports, a security slot and an audio port—just so messy when you’re trying to be ultra-cute—will likely be retained at first to avoid bad perceptions and grumbling.

That doesn’t mean it can’t also be beautiful, in Apple’s way. But this time, I’m betting, form will follow function. And now, a new, exciting journey will begin as we come to learn, over the next year, more and more about our New Hope Mac.

For now, from what we’ve heard Apple executives affirm, there can be great joy in Macville.

16 Comments Add a comment

  1. Lee Dronick

    I suppose that they still have the dies for Apple IIe cases, they could fit the Mac Pro inside of that and room for expansion.

  2. Mike Weasner

    The next time Phil says something about Apple innovation (as he did in 2013 in regards to the Mac Pro) we will know what he means: boxed in and limited.

  3. John Kheit

    There will be no joy in manville until those in management responsible for this colossal f’up (who managed to ignore every lesson of the cube) are round up and publicly flayed.

    People somehow are glossing over what an astonishing strategic business failure this is. That there are a sizable number of pros that have been ignored, and left and/or are leaving the mac because of this. That the response was this late.

    That they are NOT addressing this business failure and expecting us to walk goose step happily towards their ‘new direction’ without showing the problem is fixed internally is part of the ‘how’ we got here.

    Show me their corporate corpses and show me the macs, and then maybe we can start about talking about happy shiny people. Until this, let me show apple the hand and it’s particular singular parts.

  4. John Martellaro

    John:

    People somehow are glossing over what an astonishing strategic business failure this is.

    Agreed. But on the face of it, this was a day to be happy about Apple & Mac Pro.

  5. bdkennedy1

    No one asked for a trash can Mac Pro. And no one bought them.

    I guess Apple didn’t learn it’s lesson from the PowerMac G4 Cube.

  6. JoelS

    Yes, but it is not just hardware. They have also abandoned their pro users on the software side. They need to stay with and aggressively expand pro software for strategic reasons, not let so many of their pro software solutions wither on the vine. Either that, or they need to make it easier for third party developers to co-develop to the Mac. The Mac is loosing ground in the pro world.

  7. fultonkbd

    I am always willing to give any company the benefit of trying something unconventional. It was certainly wasn’t what I wanted for my pro needs. One good thing with them building it was that it got me to purchase quite possibly one of the best Macs ever made – 27in iMac.

    With that said, if they build a modular MacPro… I’m in. I won’t goose step for that, but I may walk briskly to the nearest Apple store.

  8. MarcusNewton

    I think today was great news, and it is news I had been hoping to hear for some time now. The idea of new modular Mac Pro has me absolutely drooling over the possibilities.

    I also what to thank Apple for directly communicating this information to the public instead of us having to rely on sketchy rumors and dubious leaks. It is very refreshing to have a clear picture of the future.

  9. GraphicMac

    I’m more interested in their comments about the iMac refresh geared toward pro users. To me, that’s where the money is for Apple.

  10. Lee Dronick

    “I’m more interested in their comments about the iMac refresh geared toward pro users.”

    That could also be of interest to prosumers.

  11. Mike Weasner

    I will upgrade from my iMac 27″ (mid-2011) to a 27″ iMac Pro. That is, assuming it meets my needs. And if it doesn’t? Who knows what I might do.

  12. ibuck

    @jmartellaro
    Is Apple acknowledging Pro Users for their thought leadership, that is, for lending credibility to the Mac platform?

  13. John Martellaro

    ibuck: Of course. They really do read TMO and other publications. When an influential department head declares that Apple has given up on the tech and creative pros, the effects ripple throughout the organization. And without that prestige, the “halo” Mac to rally around, it’s all too easy for the naysayers to claim that Apple only makes toys, iPads and iPhones, for consumers. {Those aren’t really toys, but….] Car companies know how important it is to invest in their halo cars and, in some cases, racing teams. The Mac Pro line, even if it doesn’t make a lot of money, is a conduit to that all important respect by individuals and corporations.

  14. YodaMac

    Uh, ease up a little on the “doom and gloom” attitude. There are plenty of pros who didn’t get scared and “jump ship”. There were several 3rd parties (like Sonnet) offering reasonable PCI expansion chassis, so we could still use our AJA capture, Fiber cards and Bluray burners as needed. Our six 2013 Mac Pros (and FCPX) have been working just fine for our agency and the new Mac Pro release will actually be right in line with our 5-year replacement plan anyways. So as far as we’re concerned, Apple continues to be right on schedule. Looking forward to what’s next.

  15. Macsee

    Great, but Apple should use an old physical architecture with a new set of guts for Mac Pro. It could be ready for WWDC 2017. Then design a brand new model for 2018, 2019 or year 3000.

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