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?

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?

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Mike Weasner

Regarding the rumor of the passing of the 3.5 mm analog audio jack, I feel somewhat torn.  I rarely use a wired headphone with my iPhone, preferring a Bluetooth earpiece for phone calls.  I do use the wired Apple earbuds with my iPod Classic and iPad Pro 9.7” for listening to old time radio shows.  BUT where I would miss the wired earbuds/mic cord with my iPhone is for astrophotography.  The earbuds/mic is a perfect wired remote shutter release, necessary for doing long exposure low-light photography when the iPhone is mounted on a tripod or telescope.  If Apple does away with the 3.5mm jack I hope the replacement solution, wired or wireless, will support the supplied earbuds/mic being used as a remote shutter release.




I think the #1 problem the Mac Pro faces is, indeed, the iMac. While the iMac is a closed system, and lacks the expansion of previous top-of-line Macs (I once had a G4 800MHz with that awesome pull-down door for access to the innards), from a price-to-performance standard I don’t know how the Mac Pro can possibly compete against the iMac today.

On Apple’s website, a 27-inch 5K iMac tricked out with:

—4.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
—32 GB 1867MHz DDR3 SDRAM
—3TB Fusion drive (your dream storage option may differ)
—standard Magic Mouse 2
—standard Magic Keyboard
—standard accessory kit

...comes to $3499.00. Compare that to the entry-level Mac Pro:

—3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5
—12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
—Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each
—256GB PCIe-based flash storage

...which starts at $2999.00

Did I mention the iMac also comes with a freakin’ 27-inch 5K monitor built-in??? What would a third=party option for a 27” 5K monitor add to the Mac Pro’s cost?

As a pro Mac user, I just fail to see the value proposition of the Mac Pro over the iMac. True, I’ve never used a Mac Pro, but I’ve used newer iMacs (including the 27” 5K), and am still using my early 2008 24” iMac right now (still handles CS3 and C4D just fine), so aside from museum-quality looks and design, I fail to see why anyone would want the Mac Pro over the iMac, especially as it lacks a decent Apple monitor to go with it.


I think the value proposition would become clearer if the Mac Pro were upgradeable! wink

This isn’t my area of expertise or interest, just a case in point, but try developing, let alone running, VR on the iMac. Good luck! It’s partly just the fact that to migrate to the competition would mean adopting Windows, and a great many professional users do not want to do that, goodbye Apple ecosystem! It’s Apple’s prerogative, of course, but transitioning in this manner will be a damned shame, not much fun, and a colossal pain in the ass.

Though I understand business is business and it’s got to evolve, to those that stuck by Apple so that they could achieve their current heights in the first place, it’s a big, ginormous slap in the kisser as well.


I’d love to see either a truly upgradable Mac Pro or Apple expandable options from a Mac Pro with 24 Thunderbolt 3 connectors, that can connect Apple expansion boxes with PCIe cards, CPU Cards or GPU Cards.

Shameer Mulji 1

9to5mac is pretty adamant that Apple is introducing some sort of new display later this year, and they do have a pretty good track record when it comes to rumors


Every single device I’ve owned that I use earphones with, the 3.5 mm plug was the initial point of failure.  Cell phones, iPods, and now iPhone.  Eventually the damned plug loosens, the audio starts to cut in and out, and pretty soon a device which otherwise works fine becomes useless.  The 3.5 mm plug suffers from inherently low durability because of its reliance on spring action to maintain proper electrical contact.  I would be happy to see the obsolete POS replaced with a more durable design. 

And no, I don’t want to use bluetooth earphones and have one more thing that needs to be charged every night.

Lee Dronick

I can’t recall any of my devices’ 3.5 jack failing, the cable and plug yes, but not the jack. The bonus of keeping the jack is that you can “jack into” all kinds of gear even if you need a 3.5 to RCA cable or whatever.

(Null Static Void)

I’m an owner of one of the cylinder Mac Pros.
A couple corrections to some of the misinformed comments.
It is upgradeable. You can buy 3rd party ram and 3rd party SSDs for the Cylinder.  You can also plug a lot of stuff into the Thunderbolt2 ports.
I’ve got two storage arrays connected by TB. Also a DSP processor and 2 audio interface rack mounts connected through TB-1394 adapters. Which work perfectly.
There are plenty of folks who have done the CPU upgrade as well. The only thing you cant upgrade are the video cards. Which really really sucks.  I have to say, I opted for the dual D700 model and I am super underwhelmed.  The previous generation Mac Pro with dual CPU and and aftermarket graphics solution will at least keep up with my newer Mac, and in some cases surpass it.
I’m waiting on a 1 1/2 hour render right now, wishing that openCL was better implemented in Adobe products. Or that I had an old Mac Pro with nVidia GPUs.

As far as the TB display, when I worked for an SF Ad Agency a couple years ago, we had far more TB displays on our laptop users desks.  The TB display makes a great dock for Retina Mac Book Pros. You plug the keyboard and mouse into the TB Display along with gigabit ethernet and whatever legacy firewire stuff you have (quad interface drive?). The other end of the cable has a magsafe connector (not magsafe II) for convenience.

Personally I hope they revise the Mac Pro with current CPU, faster DDR4 ram and less proprietary nonsense.  Also, include a frickin Kensington style lock slot!
However Apple seems to be slouching away from pro users.


9to5mac is pretty adamant that Apple is introducing some sort of new display later this year

This view doesn’t fit with a company that just discontinued the TBD with no replacement and sent its customers to non-Apple vendors for a monitor. Apple is typically very careful about public announcements, so a blunder on their part ( i.e. marketing not communicating with product development ) seems unlikely though possible.


the 3.5 mm plug was the initial point of failure…Eventually the damned plug loosens, the audio starts to cut in and out, and pretty soon a device which otherwise works fine becomes useless.

aaardman, I’ve had a 3.5 mm socket fail too, and it sucks. If Apple goes to a different physical attachment for better technology, I’m all for that. Especially if there’s a 3.5 mm headphone adaptor, which could be easily (and hopefully inexpensively) replaced when the 3.5 mm socket fails. One hopes Appple is not dumping the 3.5 mm socket for thinness alone.


TO ADMINS: Auto-login on future visits does not work with Safari on Mac (latest versions).

Apple should do it right: Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 Type-C (reversible) Generation 2 and SDXC with extra pins supporting maximum read/write speed (300 MB/s).


TO ADMINS: besides, I cannot edit post or reply to other post. And latest post does not show until page is refreshed.

Remember my personal information shows unchecked next time, even if checked before.

Notify me of follow-up comments? shows cked next time, even if unchecked before.


Another Doom and Gloom journalist that does not understand product cycles or Apple in general. Sometimes you hold them and sometime you don’t. Also, the Pro market upgrades at a snail pace. For us Pros who upgrade, we don’t buy or need a MacPro, because the 5K 27” iMac fits the bill. Apple is going to go where is needs to go and rarely uses the advise of a journalists.

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