Mac Pro: R.I.P.?: Readers Respond

Not every column you write is destined to spark an outpouring of comments agreeing with your position. Some do quite the reverse. Such was the case with my previous column, Mac Pro: R.I.P. Not only were most of the comments here negative, but I also got into a sometimes heated exchange regarding the subject with a few colleagues on Twitter.

Although the specifics of each comment varied, the primary point was the same: I was wrong when I said that the Mac Pro was “dead” — even if my prognosis was that its death was still several years away. More specifically:

The Mac Pro is too profitable for Apple to drop it. The Pro appeals to a market that an iMac-like device could never reach. Just because consumers no longer need a Mac Pro doesn’t mean there is no market for it at all. The Pro has capabilities, not mentioned in the article, that are critical to its success. The speed advantage of the iMac over the Pro is a temporary glitch and will not last beyond the next Pro upgrade.

And so on. After reflecting on these comments, I’ve reconsidered my position. Of the two main points I attempted to make, I continue to stand by one of them (although I admit I could have been clearer in stating it). As for the second, I may have been wrong (it happens).

My first point was that the Mac Pro, as it exists today, is approaching the end of its life (which I’ll define as within the next 6 years). I did not conclude this simply because the current iMac is faster than the Mac Pro. Nor did I mean to imply that the iMac, as it exists today, can meet all the needs of people who currently use a Mac Pro.

What I did mean is that the current trend in computing is towards devices that can do more and more in less and less space. The technology is permitting this and the customers want it. Internal components keep shrinking; some components may become obsolete (optical drives?); there will be greater emphasis on accessing resources over a network. In the future, there may still be a Pro model that exceeds the specs of a lower-priced consumer model, but I expect it will be much smaller than the Pro is today. The days where a company will have a row of desktop behemoths, one on every desk, are numbered. That was the position I was taking and I continue to stand by it.

A second main point of the article was that the Mac Pro market might shrink to the point that it no longer makes sense for Apple to stay in it. While I still view this as a possibility, especially in the larger context of Apple’s overall shift towards consumer electronics, I admit to have overstated the case. Even though I know a few graphic/video artists who find a McBook Pro to be sufficient for their needs, I know that this is far from universally the case. There will always be a demand from professionals for machines that push the envelope of what a computer can do. And as long as Apple can continue to make a profit from catering to this audience, no matter how small the market is, there is no reason for Apple to stop.

However, there is one segment of the Mac Pro’s market that is almost gone and will likely soon disappear altogether. There was a time when the Mac Pro and its desktop predecessors had more general appeal. There was a time, for example, when a person such as myself, who has no need for the fastest or most powerful Mac, would never consider an iMac. It was just too “wimpy” for even a low-level power user. In fact, on a recent MacNotables podcast, I explained why even my most recent Mac purchase was a Mac Pro — in terms of ease of access to the inside of the machine, the ability to swap monitors, and such. Yet, I believe this time is drawing to a close. The Mac Pro of the future will be like the Xserve, catering to a specific niche market but with no cross-over appeal. This transition has already almost happened. For that matter, the iMac market will likely decline as well, as consumers shift more to portable Macs as their only computer.

Markets may change. But Apple has done a great job of navigating these waters over the past decade. I see no reason for that to change.