Apple Kills the Thunderbolt Display – Will the Mac Pro Be Next?

| Particle Debris

On June 23rd, Apple announced that the aging, obsolete, overpriced Thunderbolt Display is being discontinued. No replacement display was announced, and customers have been directed to 3rd party products. What does this mean for the Mac Pro?

Thunderbolt Display RIP

Apple’s intentions remain hard to read. Of course, it was a natural thing for Apple to discontinue the aging 27-inch Thunderbolt display. As our Bryan Chaffin noted in: “Apple Discontinues Thunderbolt Display, Directs Customers to Unspecified 3rd Party Displays.

If Apple didn’t intend to replace the Thunderbolt Display, it should have discontinued it years ago.

This was a seeming abuse of the loyal customers. The only rational explanation for the fact that this display lingered on was that Apple was preparing a stand-alone 4K or 5K display for use with its current Mac Pro (and future generations). However, to kill it and then direct customers to 3rd party displays at this point smacks of severe lack of planning. And it naturally brings the fate of the Mac Pro into question because it’s overdue for a refresh as well.

Short Term Questions

This event also makes me wonder about Apple’s retail store plans. Apple has several options:

  1. Leave the existing Thunderbolt displays attached to the Mac Pros. If a customer wants to buy that display (well, one or two) would Apple say: “No, they’re not for sale anymore.” That’s a bad image to present and a poor option.
  2. In time, connect a 3rd party display to the Mac Pros and Mac minis. They’ve already recommended that customers do that. Plus, Apple has no problem using Sony HDTVs with the Apple TVs on display at its own fleet of Apple Stores. Salespeople could just say, “These are fine Macs, but we’re not in the display business anymore.
  3. Discontinue the Mac Pro and Mac mini altogether and sweep the problem under the rug of mobility and consumer focus. There would, of course, be outrage.

This brings me to the Particle Debris article of the week by Anthony Frausto-Robledo who is the publisher (and EIC) of the legendary Architosh website. “If Jobs Failed Twice, Why Would Ive & Team Succeed? RIP new Mac Pro.” Anthony has long focused on the needs of technical professionals, especially architects. I first got to know him when I was promoting CAD solutions at Apple a decade ago.

The title above isn’t as bad as it sounds. Anthony holds out some hope that Apple won’t make an inglorious departure from a market that confers professional respect in all of Apple’s other products (in my words). He cites two options.

1. Apple will quietly exit the professional computer markets such as film and broadcast, architecture and engineering, 3d animation and special effects, photography and graphics, science and medicine, and audio and music production, et cetera, or…

2. Apple will re-introduce a new type of professional Mac in a brand new architecture.

The Positive Prospects

The introduction of a new, modern file system, APFS, the imminent arrival of Thunderbolt 3, and the arrival of high-end Skylake processors reminds us that Apple often works behind the scenes in secret until exciting new products are fully baked.

Plus, Apple came under scrutiny by technical professionals for the lack of expandability of the 2013 Mac Pro, which was likely begun in 2012. I’ve been contacted by some professionals who are steadfastly clinging to upgraded 2008 and 2009 Mac Pros. Today, however, Apple has at its disposal better technology to address those concerns. The original black cylinder may just have to grow a bit, but remain just as beautiful.

Finally, Apple knows that many developers like having powerful “trucks,” as Steve Jobs called them. These are desktop machines that have the power they need for rapid development. On the other hand, the Mac Pro doesn’t sell in high numbers, and Apple could argue that a fast 5K iMac fills the bill for developers.


The Negative Prospects

Some might argue that this trend away from technical professionals has had previous signs and portents.

  1. quietly died.
  2. Xserve RAID was killed
  3. Xserve was killed
  4. Apple fiddled with Final Cut Pro in a way that made many video professionals livid, and they left the fold.
  5. Apple stopped developing the Aperture app, driving technical professionals into the arms of Adobe Lightroom.

Since the article at Architosh above appeared, Anthony has reflected further and sent me this note.

Apple seems to have lost interest in serving its Mac professionals. But if in truth the company has not, then the removal of this machine from market could mean the company has enticing and exciting new options for its professional users in the near future. One very real possibility, and something we wrote about at Architosh not terribly long ago, is that it has found a way to take its iMac line into the professional space. We all know this is possible because HP has already done it with their all-in-one workstation.

Traditionally, professional Mac users buying their pro desktop computers needed a monitor and would, generally speaking, buy Apple’s Cinema Displays. A good size percentage however would buy third-party monitors for a variety of reasons. Taking the Thunderbolt display off the market now likely confirms the reports that the sales of the Mac Pro are too low to generate adequate sales of the Thunderbolt Display. All of this continues to generate the anxiety producing question: what does Apple intended to do to support its loyal professional Mac users?

Right now, if I had to bet serious money, I would say that relatively poor sales of the Mac Pro combined with Apple’s obsession with moving forward in new directions means that the Mac Pro is dead. (However, I still hold out hope for a glorious new 2016 model.)

One way to think about Apple in the future is this very good article by Neil Cybart at Above Avalon..WWDC Clues Hint at Apple’s Post-iPhone Era

The perspective of that article doesn’t speak much to Apple’s historical emphasis on halo Macs, government, science, engineering and technical professionals. Instead, it paints a much different (and compelling) picture of Apple’s intentions.

In any case, when Apple has a hardware event this fall and introduces new MacBook Pros but no new Mac Pro, the handwriting will be on the wall.

Now we wait.

Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of June 20th. Has Apple gone too far this time?

11 Comments Add a comment

  1. The display market is well served by a wide range of monitor options. The Apple Computer market is not.

    It makes sense for Apple to drop the monitor, but unless Apple wants to completely abandon the power computing market, they need to either keep pace or change their strategy.

  2. jltnol

    Will the Mac Pro Be Next?


    Apple is not interested in Content Creators anymore. Only content CONSUMERS. All of their “Pro” apps… (now down to FCPX and Logic I think…) can work just fine on iMacs and MacBookPro’s…. sooooo no need for the “Pro” computer. Having moved to a MacPro when they were released, and having to buy a big external PCIe card cage, I could just as easily connect the card cage to an iMac, or a laptop, and be just as productive as I am with the Pro. When they finally pull the plug, this will be a very sad day in Apple’s history, but one that has been on the horizon for quite sometime, but no one should be surprised.

  3. Paul Goodwin

    Getting rid of the audio jack is one very stupid idea. This will be panned forever if it really happens. The obvious bad is that 99% of the headphone owners’ headphones won’t plug into an iPhone. And since iPhones are now our iPods and streaming audio devices, you’ll need a D/A converter (EXPENSIVE for a decent one). Most of the cheap D/A converters sound like crap, so everyone will thing Apple’s iPhone audio is crap.

    This is very different than Apple’s moves in the past. This isn’t moving forward. There’s no need or technical advantage for everyone to move to digital headphones.

    Horrible idea

  4. Hey @Paul Goodwin, the issue might be that the new system actually does use Gravatar vs. the avatar you may have uploaded to the old system. Double check that the email on this account has a Gravatar attached to it and let me know. Also I think you can set a new avatar in your profile.

  5. John:

    Time for just a quick comment, as I catch up on my TMO reading, and then get back to serious work.

    Your initial segment raises a number of important questions regarding the Mac Pro.

    I think Mr Frausto-Robledo’s analysis is both insightful and suggests two plausible alternative scenarios to Apple wholesale abandonment of the professional user class.

    The first is scenario is implicit in his statement “…the vast majority of CAD and BIM, and even 3D applications, are frequency bound”, and hence, “…Architects have been buying the i7 iMacs in droves instead [of the Mac Pro]”. In other words, as technology has advanced, many of the tasks once reserved for behemoth workhouses can now be done with smaller, indeed consumer-grade, machines at the higher end. This is to be anticipated, according to Moore’s Law. In that sense, Apple are already offering a pro-level solution adequate for at least a segment of the pro-user community. The question that bears on a dedicated Pro device is whether or not the remnant for whom that is insufficient, there is a sufficient market for Apple to pursue. Undoubtedly, this is something that Apple are monitoring; and one has to wonder if they have not already concluded that the remnant is in the dead zone of the cost/benefit ratio.

    The second option is a new architecture, to which both you and he allude, that can be scaled according to need. I know that for most of our epidemiological models, current machines are sufficient with even the largest datasets. This is not the case for molecular modelling, and other medical science fields, which I should think a sufficiently large group, not unlike architects, for Apple to pursue.

    As for the headphone jack…seriously? This debate, if we can call it that, calls to mind a paraphrase from Back to the Future; ‘Where we’re headed, you won’t need headphone jacks’. Two years post jack relegation, I suspect that most people will have happily moved on, not unlike the floppy drive ‘crisis’. It will happen sooner or later, and undoubtedly Apple have thought about the transition (e.g. does the lightening port nest a digital to analogue converter, and if not, can they make it so).


    Your Joy of Tech link character bears an uncanny resemblance to someone, can’t be certain, but if the iPhone jack is as indispensable as himself, then let’s see what the fall bringeth for both port and POTUS.

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