Apple’s Mac Pro Plans

Apple has unveiled plans for its new Mac Pro. The company did so in a meeting with five journalists and bloggers. You can read John Gruber’s account and see what went down.

The whole thing seemed improvised, from the various articles I’ve read. It’s almost as if Apple recently realized that their desktop Mac line-up is an embarrassment and decided to start planning to fix it. Nothing in the transcript of the meeting suggests that they’ve been working on this for any length of time. There is a mention of thermal issues, due to having two GPUs (video cards), but Apple surely knew about this problem at least two years ago, if not more.

The only thing that I can think is that Apple was ready to abandon the Mac Pro, but given the publicity around this moribund computer in recent months, realized that, even if they lose money on a new model, they need to have one. It’s like a concept car, in a way (though concept cars aren’t sold); it’s the hallmark of the company’s ability to innovate (my ass!).

The fact that Apple said they’re working on a new Mac Pro, but that it won’t be released this year, also suggests this is a new project. How long does it take to design a computer? If Apple throws resources at the project, they could certainly get something done sooner. There are only that many form factors that a computer can have, and, while making it look cool is certainly on their minds, they can decide on the shape of the body then work on the innards.

Another thing to bear in mind is that Apple has always been a company where a handful of senior executives micro-manage each product. The company doesn’t have any more senior executives than in the past, but they’re managing more products. In addition to the Mac, there’s the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, services, Apple Music, and one product that most people don’t think about: the new Apple campus. It seems difficult for Apple’s top team to be worrying about their new campus and still have enough time to take on a new product design. Remember that when Apple releases a new product such as an iPhone or iPad, they’re already working in its successor. Why didn’t they do this for the Mac Pro?

So the good news is that the biggest computer company in the world has announced they’ll come out with a new flagship computer at some point in the future. That doesn’t say very much. I was interested to hear that there will be pro models of the iMac down the road, but, again, how long can it take to design them?

Apple tried to reassure, and, on the surface, they may have done that. But the clock is ticking, and people will expect results. When Tim Cook said, at the 2013 WWDC, that there would be a new Mac Pro before the end of the year, that computer only shipped in limited quantities in the last days of the year.

Apple has dropped the ball on the desktop, and they’re playing catch-up. This doesn’t bode well for the future.

6 thoughts on “Apple’s Mac Pro Plans

  1. I would not want to be in Apple’s shoes right now. It has all but alienated many longtime, staunch Mac users such as myself over the latest incarnation of the Mac Pro. It was clearly DOA on arrival, yet it took all these years for Apple to realize/admit that it did not satisfy many professionals and like ilk. On one hand I am excited about the announcement, but apprehensive too. If Apple comes back with a half-assed solution, it will lose me for life. I cannot stay on the declining trajectory Apple has forced upon me on for years now. I want a Mac that is powerful, flexible, expandable, and repairable; and I am willing to pay a premium for it. You know, a Mac Pro much like the previous form factor. My fear is Apple has gone so far down consumer lane with its love for planned obsolesence and extortionate profits that it cannot step back and deliver a product with legs. Apple needs to pay it forward.

  2. Well what wouldn’t bode well for the future would be if they had just done nothing, which they were for a long time. That they cared enough to invite journalists over to explain their plans is a good sign. We’ll see what the results are and I’m hoping they come out sooner rather than later but this is the Apple equivalent of if Valve invited game journalists to explain that they’re working on a new Half-Life game. It’s just talk but it’s more than we had before.

  3. It seems that someone has finally realised that choosing form over function leads to dead ends. Pros will appreciate a nice-looking machine like anyone, but only if it does what they want it to. What I wonder is whether the new thinking extends to macOS. In recent years, many features have disappeared in the name of making it easier to use and prettier. While pros appreciate easy to use, they don’t if it stops them getting their job done.

  4. Honestly I think they probably should have put together essentially a powerful Apple-branded Hackintosh using the current best 3rd party components and Apple-blessed drivers, and put that on the Apple store. Even if they were just sticking an Apple decal on a Cooler Master full tower case.

    That’s basically what a lot of people want, anyway. For people who need a Mac Pro, “Apple hardware design” is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

  5. Oh, also:

    ” There is a mention of thermal issues, due to having two GPUs (video cards),”

    I suspect the thermal issues were more about the tight and inviolable space constraints and other limitations imposed by the physical design.

    Having two GPUs wouldn’t be such a problem if there were room to put fans on the cards, or more fans in the chassis, as there is in a more conservative design.

    But everything had to stay in that tiny, cramped form factor, with only minimal fan cooling, so there wasn’t any room for error – or growth.

  6. One last comment!

    This bit from Gruber’s account of the meeting caught my eye and not in a good way:

    Ternus put it plainly: “Some of our most talented folks are working on [the Mac]. I mean, quite frankly, a lot of this company, if not most of this company, runs on Macs. This is a company full of pro Mac users.”

    That seems… odd. I’m sure there are plenty of Windows machines in Apple, especially in the business-y side, and where Windows apps are being developed, and maybe controlling some of the prototyping machines in Ive’s design group.

    But it still seems like he must be understating how many Macs are in use at Apple. Listening to Ternus, you’d think it was 40% or so. “A lot… if not most”.

    Do the top execs only use iPads now, to the extent that they’ve lost touch with what their workers use?

    I could maybe see a retail exec thinking about all the iPads and iPhones used in the stores. But this seems like an odd statement for the guy in charge of hardware engineering.

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