Apple hasn’t updated the Mac Pro line since 2010. When the time between product updates stretches out, we worry about the viability of the product. Here are some thoughts related to why the Mac Pro line is such a good thing for us Apple customers.
First, I should say that it is by no means certain that Apple will indeed kill the Mac Pro. And even if they kill the product in its current form factor, there could well be a follow-on product with a different design with the same name or a new one that fulfills the same purpose.
Moreover, I should make it clear that I’m not trying to suggest that Apple do something that isn’t in its best interests. Rumors are that the product isn’t selling well and/or isn’t making much money for Apple. With sales numbers for the iPad and the iPhone best described as staggering, no one could blame Apple for sizing up their situation with the Mac Pro.
Instead, I want to explore, for our sake, not Apple’s, the philosophy of the home computer user. That involves having the tools to determine our own fate. And that in itself is in Apple’s direct interest.
The iPad Generation
One of the things that happens when there are a staggering number of new customers on the exponential curve is that the original customers become smaller and smaller by percentage. It’s logical to ask if it’s worth Apple’s time to support those customers.
I’d like to argue that it is. But not for the reasons one might think.
There are two factors to consider. First, personal computing remains a challenging endeavor. Second, Apple customers often have needs that aren’t so obvious, but are synergistic in nature. By brushing some of those needs under the rug, in the name of progress, Apple makes things look simpler, but just ends up leaving holes behind that can’t really be ignored. Or filled by them.
For example, maintaining a UNIX operating system is work. Apple has made huge strides making OS X easy to work with, and there is much more work to do. However, the iPad makes it appear that a UNIX OS can be effortless because of the design of iOS. It’s awfully tempting to walk away from the original challenge when you’re buried in cash.
Backing up your data, thousands of photos and videos and documents, is a challenge. Time Machine, while nice, doesn’t meet the needs of many serious users, so they may perhaps use a more advanced app. To do that with power and grace may require separating the iTunes library from the boot drive, then using multiple internal drives for backups. By contrast, a Wi-Fi back up of an iPhone is awesomely easy. Again, it’s such a temptation to ignore the nagging details.
In other words, by dumbing down the system and taking away user options, both in hardware and software, it’s possible to create the illusion that things have suddenly gotten better. But it’s by force of Apple’s own will, not by advances in the state of the art.
Not Power User, Rather Power to the User
Apple’s average user and the user base is being brought along on a wonderful technology ride. iPhones and iPads create a wonderful sense of simplicity and freedom. If that’s all Apple wants to do, if Apple just wants to be the next Sony, a bit player in our technical lives, then that will be a very sad transition.
Apple has logged a boatload of man-hours working to make our personal computing life better. Better also means more complete, more enabled, more mature and more responsible. The result has been a huge empowering of the average home and home business user. We’ve come to enjoy exploring how all that computing power might be exploited. Artists, musicians, writers, and developers have enjoyed the best creative platform on the planet. Then, along with that goes the busy work of preserving and presenting that work.
We revel in speed and power and elegance, not just simplicity for the sake of marketing. We’re all grown up now. We can handle the fastest, most capable desktop system by the best technology company on the planet.
At first Apple helped us build websites that confirmed our talents and identity. Alas, that made Apple no money, so that’s been killed. Also, along the way, Apple built ever increasingly powerful desktop computers that could handle challenging research and video. And we could purchase, generally, any display that suited us. That may be on the wane with the demise of the Mac Pro. (If we need a really fast UNIX system for research, a custom Linux box might become necessary.) Apple taught us how to preserve our independence and privacy by managing our data and taking responsibility for it. Now, Apple wants to have and to hold all our personal data. Of course, until it doesn’t make any money. And then we’ll be divorced, once again dumped out into the cold.
The lesson here is that personal visions, self-determination and independence are good things. There are things Apple customers need and want to fulfill a personal vision of how they handle their computing affairs. Apple should promote and celebrate that. If Apple were to chip away at that, in the guise of simplicity and consumer popularity, the vision of many customers would be slowly diminished. There could come a day when Apple no longer offers the breadth and scope of a serious technology company, but rather only lives for its own benefit, its own vision, its own self-fulfilling prophecy.
If Apple headed down that path, the company becomes disconnected from the self-sufficiency and creativity of its own users. We’d go from personal management to complete dependence because our tools are whittled away. At that point, the walled garden wouldn’t seem like such a happy place.
Image credits: Apple, Inc.