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.
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.
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.