Apple’s New Mac Pro Checks the Success Boxes

| Particle Debris

Apple's new Mac Pro is now for sale, and reviews are surfacing. They generally tell a story: this is an awesome device, drop dead gorgeous and fast. Already, supplies are constrained. Once again, Apple has properly sized up the market and produced a winner. So why are there grumbles?


T3 writes, in its review,

With the Sir Jonathan Ive approach of hardware and software development in unison continued once more, the Mac Pro's utilitarian chassis is a stark aesthetic statement of old, and for us a refreshing visual shift after several years spent refining and tinkering with established and familiar designs.

And yet. And yet. There are strident, snarky voices that it looks like a trash can. That's it's too expensive. That claim the previous generation of Mac Pros are a better computational value.

None of that matters of course. There are many customers who simply want one. That's one of the signature Jony Ive design goals. Check that box. The other is that enough customers see the value in it, its design and functionality, to drive deliveries into February 2014. Check that box too.

It just goes to show that no matter how many naysayers there are who grumble about the price and delivery dates, there are plenty of other people who judge that they want and need this new Mac Pro. That's all Apple really has to do: create a quality, high-performance, beautiful and desirable product.

Have a vision. Estimate the market. Build a great product. Then execute.

As for production and demand, it's all too easy to hastily surmise that Apple is having production problems because demand has outstripped supply. Fortunately, Jonny Evans at Computerworld has a much more sophisticated take on the whole thing, and it has to do with Apple being very shrewd with its timing. "An alternative take on Apple's Mac Pro supply constraints."


Tech News Debris for the Week of December 16

Microsoft has its share of challenges carved out for it. And so I was interested to read how a Microsoft executive sized up his own company in this interview by Leo Mirani with "The future of Microsoft as seen by an insider who could be its next CEO." According to the author, "...the Indian-born head of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise division who is known to staff as one of the most articulate and intelligent people in the company".

Outsiders who nevertheless know Microsoft well have been listening to the Microsoft scuttlebutt and have been building a picture of a company that "seems to have lost track of what it’s trying to accomplish." Read more in "Has Microsoft Gone Nuts?"

There has been some recent discussion by AT&T's CEO Randall Stephenson that the company is losing its enthusiasm for smartphone subsidies. Mr. Stephenson told CNET: "But as you approach 90 percent penetration, you move into maintenance mode. That means more device upgrades. And the model has to change. You can't afford to subsidize devices like that." And yet, alternatives just don't seem to match the customer attraction the original innovation, according to Horace Dediu. "Bundling and Pricing Innovation." Mr. Dediu writes, cogently:

It may be an illusion, but a cheap phone (with a long-term contract) is a fundamental innovation devised by telco operators even before the phone became mobile. Operators have come to love it and no matter how many technology generations go by; how many family plans, bucket plans, weekend minutes, rollovers, and data packages; no matter how many tweaks and re-brands the model gets, it will persist. There simply isn't sufficient win-win value in alternatives.

I have written before about how difficult it is to be always mindful of the magazine content on one's iPad. "The State of Magazines on the iPad: a Giant Mess." This article by Eddie Vassallo is along the same lines with yet more (depressing) details. "The tablet magazine ship is sinking. Fast." While Apple may feel that it's up to the developer to build the relationship with the customer and it's up to the reader to be attentive to subscriptions, when the technological situation gets this bad, maybe there's room for attention and innovation from Apple.

Along those lines, here's a detailed and fascinating state-of analysis of the ebook and digital publishing industry for 2014. "Ten Bold Predictions for Ebooks and Digital Publishing in 2014." It's full of insights.

Finally, predictions for the next five years have weight when they come from IBM. "IBM reveals its top five innovation predictions for the next five years." I particularly liked item #4, "A digital guardian will protect you online." I've written before about my wish for a daemon in OS X that would intelligently monitor the health and safety of the Mac, but this goes wonderfully beyond that. How wonderful it would be to have an polite, intelligent agent, derived from Watson technologies, watching over your shoulder as you browse, read email and shop. And with that ...

Particle Debris will return in early 2014.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week combined with a summary of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holiday weeks.

Mac Pro image credit: Apple



“Has Microsoft Gone Nuts?”

Seems more like dementia. It forgets what it’s doing in the middle of things, it keeps repeating the same irrational actions over and over, it keeps trying to live in the good old days, it insists that things are fine without noticing the leaky roof and the broken Windows. It’s really sad.

Never really got the tablet magazine thing. I looked at Newsstand a couple of times and then hid it away on a back screen. Now it’s inside my “Unneeded” folder with GameCentre and Find Friends. There have been two issues for me. First as was mentioned in one of those articles, the idea of getting a copy of the dead tree magazine “but now it’s on a tablet”, seemed silly. I have yet to see one that I would be interested in with the media features that everyone talked about, moving graphics, embedded video, active links to online material, updated material as new things were found. They tended to be just PDFs of the same thing I can get on the newsstand. Secondly why pay for a magazine that is static when I can hit a live web site. Why subscribe to MacWorld when I can hit TheMacObserver? Why subscribe to Nature when I can get current research reports on PLOS or Science Daily?

IBMs list is really cool. I agree the online guardian is a great idea the is, I suspect, a lot closer than 5 years. The City That Helps You Live In It is great. The only thing I see tripping that up is paranoia. Locally BCHydro has been installing SmartMeters, the first of the features to make an intelligent city. The backlash against them has been insane, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating. A significant portion of the population is convinced that BCHydro is going to watch them having sex in their own house via the SmartMeters or that they would use it to tell when nobody was home and then would sell the info to burglars. Many of these same people are convinced that SmartMeters are irradiating them, killing their houseplants and poisoning their pets. One even said that she would “Never pay to be microwaved to death in my own home”. I suspect overcoming stupidity is going to be the hardest part of this idea.


I wish everyone would just stop referring to that thing that carriers do when they advance you the money to buy your smartphone as a ‘subsidy’.  It is not.  You pay for it with a hidden surcharge in your subscription fee.  It is an installment with a built-in potential to overpay if you don’t upgrade your phone as soon as the contract period ends.  It only muddles the heads of the innumerate when we pretend that this carrier generously ‘subsidizes’ your smartphone while ‘that’ carrier makes you pay for it, albeit with an explicit interest-free installment plan.


Absolutely right, it isn’t a subsidy. I did the math a few years back and compared what I would pay if I bought an iPhone 3GS (I said it was a few years ago) on a ‘subsidized’ contract with buying it outright and then going month to month with the same minutes/data/messages etc. I discovered that while there was less money up front, I would end up paying for the phone 2.5 to 3 times over the life of the ‘subsidized’ contract. Not much of a subsidy.

(This was with Canadian carriers, with their standard thee year contract. YMMV).


Well, there is certainly an argument to be made by the “me wantee” crowd for the Mac Pro, but I have to say that the suggestion that the old Mac Pro design is NOT a better value for your money was horribly glossed over. I probably spend about 90% of my professional work time in Photoshop these days, sometimes with multiple files with hundreds of layers each. With a SSD in a 2009 Mac Pro, stuff happens FAST. For me, the mark of a computer that needs to be upgraded/replaced is when it’s no longer able to keep up with my work pace, and my four year old machine is far from that metric… I’m also a very experienced graphic designer with fairly demanding performance needs. Given that, how on earth can it be said that the extra $2000 entry price (I bought mine for $1100 used from OWC) is justified for anyone in my field? There are certainly people who can benefit from the improved specs, such as video editors or animators, but for the bulk of the creative industries, it mostly seems to be a waste of money. For now, at least.


When I look at the money I’ve spent on Mobile Phones since 1993 I’m horrified. Costs have escalated in recent years thanks to the ‘smartphone’ era. I’ve never bought a “subsidised” phone from a carrier.

These days I rarely use my iPhone for calls.  It would make financial sense to go back to a cheap, dumb phone and use an iPad Mini for all my “mobile technology” needs.



Permit me to start with your most provocative piece in your line up this week (besides, it’s the one that geoduck started with), namely MS.

This is a huge topic, focused on a mammoth company with a planet-sized institutional inertia that is careening it into the immovable object that is the post-PC era, and now beset with multiple challenges each as potentially lethal as the next.

Now, to Michael Mace’s piece on whether or not MS has gone nuts, or to geoduck’s second opinion that MS have not gone insane, they’re merely demented; I propose to take a step back and re-examine the pattern. A former med school prof used to chide students for getting up close to X-ray films when reading them and said that the key information was in the whole picture, and for that you needed to step back and systematically take it all in.

With that in mind, I propose that there are two interacting but distinct issues. The first is MS’s apparent internal inconsistency of message and direction with their business plan. As pundits and public alike have argued, this can summarised in one word, leadership, or the lack thereof. At the end of the day, the leader must assume not simply responsibility for choosing a direction, but ultimate responsibility for the outcome of that choice. Part of the implicit covenant of any organisation is that, in response for the leader assuming that awful responsibility and its attendant consequences, the rank and file will fall in and bend every sinew to make that order so, understanding that responsibility lies elsewhere. Structural integrity of any organisation is compromised when this covenant is violated and subordinates are held responsible for organisational decisions that were not theirs to make.

On this score, MS’s history is chequered, with divisional chiefs having assumed responsibility for product failures that, from a layman’s perspective, are murky as to origin - whose decision were these? Following a string of wide misses as the post-PC era gathered momentum, MS’s CEO seemed untouchable and, bizarrely, not responsible for failures for which his subordinates fell on the sword. Even in his announced exit as CEO, he has not unequivocally assumed responsibility for MS’s loss of not simply marketshare and money, but more importantly footprint and mindshare in the post-PC era. Aside from Xbox, MS have no non-Windows non-Office product or service (we can equivocate on Bing) that has gained traction as a modern product. Their product line is a story of legacy, and momentum without propulsion, the endpoint of which is a motionless and lifeless cold body barring a fresh infusion of energy. At this point, it is moot whether or not MS’s sitting CEO assumes responsibility for their current situation. He is moving aside, which is good for the company. Getting their direction right for the future is the critical task.

The second issue is why, as opposed to how, this happened to MS, the former ruler of the tech industry. I argue that this is less about the decisions of the CEO than it is about the essential capacity of the organisation itself. This is an organic limitation that arises from a corporation’s DNA, and which is expressed in the adaptability to challenge by that company. Adaptability, indeed proactive disruptiveness of an industry to adapt conditions to a company’s own survival, are qualities that reflect corporate genetic code and bespeak its capacity to survive at or near the top of the food chain. This, I argue, is less about corporate leadership than it is about inherent corporate capacity to evolve. I suggest that MS’s capacity in this respect is limited, as evident by the company’s actions, which reflect a pattern of maladaptation to environmental stress. The company was built around Windows and effectively knows nothing else. This genesis served it well in the last Century and carried it well into this one, but has little to offer a changed environment.

In order for this to change, in my view, the company itself must change; not simply in mindset and culture, but fundamentally from its genetic structure up. It must be reborn from the chrysalis of its current doldrums as a new company, willing, nay eager to jettison its legacy and embrace new life.

Leaders who advocate such radical change are generally pronounced heretics by orthodoxy, and suffer brutal ends. Only if the new CEO has fresh blood around them, and the freedom to recreate the company, does it have any hope of such change, and even this does not guarantee success. It is a gamble that will require courage on a scale that MS have heretofore not demonstrated, but perhaps the prospect of extinction will powerfully concentrate not only their minds, but their will and efforts.


I think for those with fairly recent Mac Pros, especially those with a SATA III bus, the new model is a bit of a tough sell because the performance appears competitive, especially if you lack an urgent need to edit 4K video. Internal storage for drives is another major plus in the older units. And sure, you can add a PCI card and have USB 3, etc.

My 2008 quad-core Mac Pro, on the other hand, is starting to make a fair amount of noise, and a lot of my newer software is seriously loading the four CPUs. The fan in the video card sounds like a meat grinder whenever OpenGL gets rolling. And the SSD I use for a boot drive is very close to its wear limit. After 6 solid years of faithful service, I will retire the computer to my lab, where my students will make good use of it. If they’re nice I’ll upgrade the video card. BTW, my old G4 tower was loaded to the gills with PCI cards, but I never added one to my 2008 Mac Pro.

My new 6-core Pro will arrive just after New Year’s. When I saw the design during WWDC, I immediately thought it was spectacular. I also thought the lack of internal expansion was peculiar - the computer comes off as a Mac mini maxi with some righteous Darth Vader mojo. I soon realized that I was staring straight at the future - a perfectly optimized, quiet pro workstation to which I can attach all of my current devices.

All I need is a Thunderbolt storage box, which arrived yesterday. I already have major desktop clutter in the way of two large monitors with USB hubs, multiple scanners, and a pile of audio interfaces. The new Pro+RAID box will actually save me a lot of desk space, although I can see where the transition to the new architecture will present a hardship for many.


I try to keep in mind the following questions before before I buy things, especially large ticket items:

1. Do I have to spend much time monitoring or fussing with the products/services that are supposed to make my life easier, fuller, safer, more productive, happier?
2. Is it a good value proposition?Will the product/service last for a period of time (years)? Which leads to…
3. What is the effect on the environment? Will the product/service make the earth less hospitable for the web of life, and thus my own continued existence?
4. Will my liberty (or privacy) be constrained by using such products/services?
5. Will my conscience, morality, ethics suffer from such a purchase?

Do Microsoft’s offerings meet such requirements? Do Apple’s? Or Google’s or Samsung’s?

Right now, Apple’s the only one of these companies that I’d trust with an online guardian.

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