Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them. […] These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros.
Regarding iMacs, Schiller also said that new iMacs are in the works, slated for release some time this year (no specifics other than “this year”), including “configurations of iMac specifically with the pro customer in mind and acknowledging that our most popular desktop with pros is an iMac.”
The word “mistake” was not uttered, but this is about as close as we’re going to get to Apple admitting they miscalculated with the current Mac Pro’s concept. One word that was uttered, however, was “sorry”.
Schiller: “On that I’ll say the Mac Mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren’t bringing it up because it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use. … The Mac Mini remains a product in our lineup, but nothing more to say about it today.”
At this point, anything other than an actual announcement of shipping product was bound to be disappointing. The current Mac Pro is an embarrassment, and it’s unthinkable that Apple would continue selling it much longer in the same form. That it was kept around as a placeholder was a sign that something would be coming eventually. The worst news would be if it were quietly killed off. This vapor announcement of a product that’s more than a year away is one step better.
Unexplained is how Apple got into this situation. It has been common knowledge that the 2013 Mac Pro was a thermal mess. Apple must have known at least two years ago that a new design would be needed. Why does it take three years to design a new Mac? I keep thinking of the anecdote where there was a problem with the supply chain in China:
Thirty-minutes in the meeting [Tim Cook] chided Sabih Khan, the then operations executive, saying “Why are you still here?”.
It doesn’t seem like there was that sense of urgency about the Mac Pro. Maybe there was a second radical design that also didn’t pan out, but my guess is that Cook thought the future was iMacs or simply didn’t give it much thought. If the plight of Apple’s Pro customers kept him up at night, they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in.
Words aside, the way to show that Apple cares about Pro customers would have been to release some sort of stopgap Mac Pro now (or last year). It might not be beautiful or innovative, but with relatively little effort they could have put together a basic system to rival a Hackintosh tower. Instead, we get classic 2010s Apple pride. They’re working on something really great, and you’ll have to be patient because they would rather prove to you that they can still innovate than have the courage to ship a boring product that nonetheless would meet the needs of their customers today.
My other thought is that if 80% of Mac sales are notebooks, and Apple thinks there’s room for a Mac Pro in the 20% of desktops, there’s got to be room in the 80% for a true MacBook Pro: a large display, lots of RAM and storage, a real keyboard and trackpad, and physical escape and function keys.
For me, I want some kind of a Mac Pro, but I don’t have the patience to keep waiting. The speed-bump1 updates are welcome but not enticing. The new Mac Pro could be shipping in late 2018 or even 2019. It might be late or supply constrained or have design flaws, especially if it is to be a radical design. And there’s no telling whether it would even be what I’m looking for. The word “modular” hints to me that it’s not going to be a tower that I can put drives in, anyway. So I will likely get an iMac whenever they’re updated and hope that a better MacBook Pro is announced before my 2012 one stops working.
Update (2017-04-04): See also: Michael Love, Chris Johnson, Jeff Johnson, Marco Arment, Hacker News, Eric Florenzano, Garrett Murray, Michael Yacavone, Ted Landau, Stephen Hackett, Michael Rockwell, Kirk McElhearn, Josh Centers, Adam C. Engst, Dan Moren, Nick Heer, Ina Fried, John Gruber, Andrew Cunningham, Joe Rossignol, Juli Clover, David Sparks, Benjamin Mayo, Colin Cornaby, Todd Ditchendorf, Daniel Jalkut, Brian Webster.
From the timing of when we’ll see these products — the iMacs later this year and the Mac Pro next year — I’m inferring that the iMacs have been under design for a while, but may have been taken back for component tweaking and upgrades, while this new Mac Pro has been under internal argument and the group that feels the product needs to exist has finally won, so design is now starting in earnest. These two assumptions match what I’ve been hearing in my occasional chat with people who know people who know people’s barbers. I think it’s fair to say that whether there should be a next ten Mac Pro has been an ongoing and rather enthusiastically discussed topic inside Apple’s walls.
Given the range of constraints that define professional workstations, the Late 2013 Mac Pro is what you might arrive at if you first determine that your must-have is compact form factor.
My theory is that Jony Ive’s design aesthetic is fundamentally sculptural, not ergonomic: that he makes objects to be beheld, not to be held.
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.
Schiller suggested that the new Mac Pro will be more capable of receiving hardware updates, but on what schedule?
As a past Power Mac customer I am excited about Apple's future “modular Mac,” but I have questions about what modular means to Apple and its customers.
The Mac Pro was in limbo inside Apple. The decision to go ahead and develop a modular Mac Pro replacement seems to have been made only in recent months, with development starting only a few weeks ago, which makes it clear why Apple said it won’t ship this year.
What made Apple do a 180? Well, after the announcement of the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, orders for refurbished “old” MacBook Pros supposedly went through the roof, and after the initial batch of reviews came out, they shot up even higher. This response to the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar took Apple completely by surprise. Combined with the problems surrounding the LG UltraFine 5K display and the constant negativity from professional Apple users, the company decided to double down on professional users.
Before this week’s announcement, it was looking like the future would simply pass Apple by.
And I was convinced — me, an ex-Apple designer with the greatest passion for Macs — that I had bought my last Mac, and would finally be forced to switch back to PCs.
I’m incredibly relieved I won’t be.
But we thought we would also use this opportunity to share a transcript of the interview with Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing; Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering; John Ternus, Vice President of Hardware Engineering.
Update (2017-04-07): See also: Hacker News.
Update (2017-04-11): Lloyd Chambers:
I give Apple kudos for finally acknowledging that the 2013 Mac Pro was in some ways a failure, albeit with first class ‘spin’: taking 3+ years to figure out that a waffle cone with chocolate ice cream isn’t the only flavor people like is simply not a credible cover story.
I would feel a lot more comfortable were I reading past tense instead of present participle (“rethinking”, team “told to take its time”). Should not the thinking part should be just about all done by now, the staff having been hard at work for the past two years or so?
Update (2017-04-12): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.
Update (2017-04-14): See also: The Talk Show.
Update (2017-04-20): Becky Hansmeyer:
But I can’t help but wonder whether Apple itself fully realizes the implications of its decision to double down on pro hardware. This wasn’t just a product decision, with effects on staffing, component sourcing, and profit margins. It was a decision about the company’s identity. What is our core mission? Who is our audience? Answering those questions (and making sure every employee knows the answer to those questions) is like Running a Company 101. And yet Apple seemed to be confused.
Depending on when the initial decision to sunset the Mac Pro was made, it seems like a lot of this could have been avoided if Apple had utilized its own mission statement. Up until early June 2015, the company still ended every press release with “Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world…” Now filter “Should we kill our high end personal computer?” through that and the answer is an emphatic “Nope.”
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