New iMac Pro Launches a New Wave of Macs

5 minute read
| Particle Debris

There’s been some fuss about the new iMac Pro not being upgradable, but I think that misses the point. It is, after all, an iMac in essence. Albeit a fast one. And so the real question is not, why isn’t it upgradable for the pro? Rather, the question is, who is this kind of Mac aimed at and what signal does it send about Macs of the future?

iMac Pro delivers on December 27th

iMac Pro available now with delivery on December 27th

The first thing to know about this new Mac is that it’s designed for users who require great performance out of the box. It’s not aimed at engineering users who, at first glance, want to go after it with a screw driver. Those institutional and small business users are likely to appreciate the convenience and sheer power and will likely buy it in the configuration they need. After all, how many consumers on a budget are going to anguish between a $5K and a $7K decision?

While many observers lament that this Mac can’t be tinkered with, because of its “pro” moniker, it’s important to remember those users who appreciate this kind of equipment. Over at TechCrunch, Matthew Panzarino properly and smartly points out in this great article:

The [Apple] messaging was interesting to me. It was absolutely, clearly, a love letter to developers. Most of the Mac and iOS developers I know use iMacs or MacBook Pro machines – especially given the limited nature of the Mac Pro as it exists now.

It certainly feels to me that the criticism about the iMac Pro’s lack of upgradability is a conceit that overlooks the focus of a powerful Mac, the promise that it presents and the assuredness that the coming Mac Pro will be the machine directed towards the tinkerers. “Apple Continues to Work on All-New Mac Pro With Upgradeable Design.

Another conceit that’s easy to float is that Apple doesn’t understand it’s customers and uses marketing hype to make up for defects in the design of a new Mac. Nonsense. Again, the Matthew Panzarino article (above) clearly lays out the case that Apple knows exactly the kind of customer who needs and will love a machine like this.

The Giant is Awake

This Mac suggests that the sleeping giant is awake. The strides made by Apple’s competitors during the Dark Mac Years (2015-16) suggest that Apple is just getting started with a new era of Mac thinking. The Mac Pro, which is likely to appear in 2018, is probably not the end of the story. Most assuredly, the 2018 Mac Pro will be expensive. However, the Mac revolution won’t end there.

The bigger story is that Apple now feels that the role of the Mac can’t be fulfilled without a focus on sheer computational power. Enterprise, government and military users got tired of cute Macs without a lot of power. Given that an iPad Pro or even an iPhone has enormous computational power, it only makes sense to reinvigorate the Mac line as a family of very, very fast and capable machines that just can’t be duplicated any place else, by any other platform.  And can do things no iPad Pro can do.

And so I expect this thinking to extend to the MacBook Pros as well. Following this logic that a headless Mac Pro will be a virtual supercomputer, what might be in store for the next Mac mini could also be a pleasant surprise.

It’s going to be an exciting next few years with the Mac. Some Macs will remain aspirational for the average consumer, but Apple is also smart enough to present us with an invigorated line of Macs that traditional customers can afford. The jazz of the best, most powerful Macs will inspire us all to upgrade to the best possible place in a spectrum of new, very fast Macs with amazing capabilities inherited from the top of the line.

The iMac Pro isn’t the end; it’s the beginning of the new Mac thinking. I can’t wait.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week of December 11th. Net Neutrality is Dead – Not So Fast

10 Comments Add a comment

  1. Jamie

    Hmm. I have to disagree. The new iMac is very, very expensive for something that might be obsolete in just a couple of years, and if the new Mac Pro is even more expensive, I would say that smacks more of hubris than understanding. I don’t know too many individual pro users that can or are willing to drop upward of $13,000 on a computer (or upward of $1,000 on a phone), not when the competition is a fraction of that. For the first time, the ‘Apple tax’ feels real. I don’t have the same faith in Apple, I think they are pretty well stuck inside the bubble of their Silicon Valley milieu, personally. It’s very disappointing, and interestingly, prior to this they seemed to take pride in delivering awesome tech at lower prices year over year. I’m not buying it, and Tim Cook can get bent. :/

    • bweels

      Jamie – such negativity!

      I work in a small architecture firm and am in need of a new computer. There are 7 of us and I’m the only Mac guy. The owner is a PC guy who I know won’t put up with an “Apple Tax” since he’s the one popping the cash for it. So, I’m forced to show him other similarly spec’d PCs and the cost is not far off at all. A Dell 27″ all-in-one spec’d as similar as possible comes out at $3,700. But wait – its got a 4-core processor (instead of 8) with a lower clock speed and half the cache, slower non-ECC memory and probably a slightly less powerful GPU. And it certainly doesn’t have a 5K screen. It’s not $4,999, but it’s inferior and not cheap. All things considered, I think the iMac Pro looks pretty good in comparison. A Dell tower with comparable specs to the iMac Pro comes in at $4,300. Buy a 5K monitor and you’re over the iMac Pro’s price. Same with HP’s offerings.

      I also don’t understand what you mean by being obsolete in a couple of years. I will always buy more than I need in hardware with the idea that it won’t be obsolete too soon. I think any smart buyer will do the same to whatever extent they can. I’m almost at the 10-year mark with my 2008 Mac Pro. It was expensive when we bought it and was more than I needed at the time, but look how long it’s lasted me. That’s a killer TCO. The only upgrades are the addition of a small SSD as a Photoshop scratch disk and 8GB of RAM added to the original 8GB. I do think I’ll agree with you more at the higher end – someone spending $13K on an 18-core beast seems like the kind of person who would be concerned about upgradability. But I think at the lower end of the iMac Pro’s range there is a lot of potential.

      I’m actually a perfect candidate for the iMac Pro at it’s lower end. I’m an architect who uses 3D CAD, SketchUp Pro, Photoshop and various other design applications. I’m not at the very high end in my demands and don’t have much of a need to upgrade other than RAM, potentially. (So in this case I would be forced to buy more RAM up front. Not a big deal, although Apple’s RAM upgrade pricing is kind of ridiculous).

      I also can’t wait up to a year for a new Mac Pro, and who knows what the entry level to that is in the way of cost and power. So there you have it, I’ll probably be an iMac Pro user soon, and I’m looking forward to it.

  2. JustCause

    With the iMac Pro having such power, I really wonder what Apple has coming in the form of Mac Pro.

    I just hope Apple starts to grow the TB3 use cases:
    – CPU expansion cases
    – more robust GPU expansion

  3. PSMacintosh

    John,
    On this one (article), you sound like you’ve been drinking too much Apple cool-aid. You’re being quite the gushing optimist.

    Only a very select audience is going to buy this machine (and not a big enough audience to make a dent in market share). Even just imagine how many more people would have bought this machine if it had some open architecture. (50% more?)

    If Apple doesn’t make an open architecture in their next Mac Pro, it’s over for high end users. Apple has put it’s power users off for too long.
    (And with Ivy back it’s unlikely that the Mac Pro will be open and a commercially useable shape (square/rectangular/data center shape).)

    I think we’ve already seen the handwriting on the wall……..and it ain’t good IMO!
    So sad!

    • andrewj050790

      Grumpy pants… goodness. 🙂 note this article from Macworld. Apple says the new Mac Pro will be modular and upgradeable

      https://www.macworld.com/article/3243025/macs/apple-putting-the-pro-back-in-promise.html

      So they’ve committed themselves to that in no uncertain terms. I know it’s hard to accept that when John doesn’t reflect the off the charts negativity that’s been the cool thing to do around here lately, that he’s right, but, well, he’s right. Many have fallen into the trap that used to be preached about at MO all the time (Thanks, John Kheit). Just because a product Apple makes isn’t for you, doesn’t mean it’s for nobody, and shouldn’t exist. That takes time to discover, but making the assumption on the front end smacks of being completely unfair, and unbalanced.

  4. geoduck

    I still think the iMac Pro is the quick and dirty “what can we get out with Pro specs the soonest while we work on the real pro machine” system. I have a feeling this will be joining the iPhone 5C, and lamp iMac in cool-systems-that-were-not-produced-very-long pile.

  5. wab95

    John:

    A busy work schedule has kept me from one of my favourite pastimes of late, namely reading and commenting on posts at TMO. There have been several posts I would like to have addressed, and I still owe geoduck a reply on AI. A few brief observations.

    Your take on the iMac Pro is a sober and practical one, a device which has suffered from no shortage of opinion. There are two key concepts that emerge from this discussion; one is about the user and the other is about the product and its configurability.

    Regarding the user, specifically, the professional user, Matthew Panzarino cites Phil Schiller,

    “First of all, when we talk about pro customers, it’s important to be clear that there isn’t one prototypical pro customer. Pro …covers many many categories of customers. And we care about all of these categories, and there’s a variety of different products those customers want…There’s music creators, there’s video editors, there’s graphic designers… scientists, engineers, architects, software programmers… So there are many many things and people called pros…so we should be careful not to over simplify and say ‘Pros want this’ or ‘don’t want that’ — it’s much more complex than that”.

    I cannot overstate my bemusement at the tendency in the Apple community to confine the term ‘professional’ to what many would call ‘artists’, to the exclusion of engineers, architects, scientists, the medical community, the legal community and other professionals many of whom are licensed and regulated by boards of quality assurance, and whose equipment, including digital devices, must meet exacting standards. Not simply is it important for Apple to acknowledge the greater breadth of that professional user base, that recognition in turn has functional implications for product development, design and implementation.

    Critics often assume that they know more about the professional user base, whom they oversimplify, and their needs than Apple does, but based on anecdotal evidence from colleagues – people like themselves, a limited and biased perspective. Apple’s assessment is data derived, and as such, evidence – based (Sorry – is TMO bound by the new CDC rules? Will your funding be compromised if we say ‘evidence or science based’?) And from their data on their user base, Apple conclude that there is a broader diversity (uh-oh, will that term make your site vulnerable to government censure? I’d be prostrate or curled into a foetal position if ever I harmed the TMO site. It’s not like posting here is an entitlement for any one person or group. After all, your site is open to posts from male, female and transgender commenters alike, right?). Enough said.

    Second is hardware performance and capability. Just because one could possibly swap something in or out of an iMac Pro (or any other complex machine), does it mean that its performance will be enhanced or perform as expected? These are not your father’s PCs. These are complex machines conceived and engineered as an integrated product, not an amalgam of parts. So here’s the question; who knows more about optimising that product’s performance; Apple or an individual user? We get a sense of this from reading Panzarino’s piece, when he describes the cores and how many are optimal for which users.

    “The 10-core model offers the highest turbo speeds at 4.5GHz for single threaded performance and supports hyper threading, allowing 20 threads at a time to operate on tasks. This is enough to enable real-time playback on an 8k Red Weapon footage file in ProRes 4×4, for instance – or a 140 track Logic file. The higher-core options are really best suited for applications that take full advantage of so many lower frequency cores. Machine learning or AI applications …”

    In short, the number of cores needed is a question of task, and not one of singular computational power, if one is to take optimal advantage of a given configuration.

    It’s relatively easy to see Apple’s concern here. The last thing they would want is to have spent all of these resources in the R&D for an optimised product, only to have someone tinker with it, and wind up with a suboptimal performance and user experience and. Worse still, blame Apple for allowing them to ‘break’ their expensive machine (you know they would).

    Which leads to the question of why this machine might not be configurable post purchase. A cynic might assign sinister intent to Apple thwarting user tampering with a device. It would be equally valid to see this alternatively, namely as protection. Components that are either dangerous or vital but exquisitely sensitive to tampering are often hardened against access. We see this in software as well, with macOS. As the OS has become ever more complex and security ever more critical, vital components like the System folder, or root access (yeah, I know, but I went there anyway) are hidden away from the user. Why would this same logic not apply to hardware on an all-in-one device like the iPhone, the iPad, the MBP or now the iMac Pro? These are complex systems whose integrated nature (eg the T2 chip) that no one outside of Apple really understands beyond the theoretical, and whose optimisation has been engineered from the ground up by some pretty smart with decades of experience behind them.

    Here’s a prediction:
    If Apple intend to make the Mac Pro a modular device, then by design it should be designed to tolerate a broad range of individual configuration post purchase, with appropriate gains in performance, and yet sequester from access any critical systems that could compromise system performance. And the cost of that robust flexibility, balanced by state of the art capability, will restrict that device to a limited demographic that need it, and know how and why to manage to optimum performance.

  6. pjs_boston

    It’s not accurate to suggest that the new iMac Pro is not upgradable.

    Both the RAM and the SSD can be upgraded, it simply requires a trip to an authorized service center to remove and reinstall the screen to do so. From my understanding, this is not a big deal for a properly equipped service facility.

    In my town we have a small independent Apple service company that would be ideal for such upgrades.

  7. Macsee

    Apple should release more headless Macs, including low, middle and high products, from Mac mini to Mac Pro, and also a new mini tower. CPU may last seven years (then you cannot install new macOS releases but displays last more than 20 years. Fight programmed obsolescence, protect the environment and fight climate change and global warming.

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