Thoughts on Apple’s Mac Pro announcement

This was a bizarre day to say the least. We woke up this morning to news that Apple is indeed working on new Mac Pros, but they won’t be ready this year. That is huge coming from Apple and its news that I welcome.

As John Gruber pointed out in his piece Apple was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they stay quiet, they continue to endure the thoughts from pro users that the company is abandoning them. If they speak up, they give away their plans and they also can’t release product in 2017.

What to do.

Apple made the correct choice. Pro users I’ve spoken with over the past few months were beyond frustrated with Apple, and I completely understand. Most of us kept holding on hope that the company was working on something, but it was increasingly difficult to explain why it had been so long since something was released.

At the very least we needed a bone—something to let us know that they heard us. Something more than the words that the pro market was important to them. We needed something substantial, something we could count on.

That’s exactly what we got. But we got a bit more too—here’s what Phil Schiller said about the Mac Pro:

With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call “completely rethinking the Mac Pro”. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.

Unless I’m mistaken, that is exactly what pro users were looking for in a Mac Pro. I know many of the people in the music industry I’ve spoken with are very happy. I know it is certainly more of what I’m looking for in a high-end music creation machine.

In the meantime, Apple is releasing updates to the existing Mac Pro lineup. They will also release new iMacs and the Mac mini is not dead yet either.

We asked Apple to give us new pro-level Macs or at least tell us what the hell was going on. They did that today.

I’m not excited to wait another year for a Mac Pro, but they need to get this right before it’s released. I’m not a hater of the existing Mac Pro—I think it’s a really cool machine. I just don’t think it fit with what many of the pros needed to get their work done.

The machine they announced today sounds like a winner. I can’t wait for next year.

  • Caleb Hightower

    Well this got the Mac community all riled up today. Plenty of One-Percenters (pro desktop users) out there with strong opinions about this ‘announcement’.

    • JimCracky

      Without us, you would be running… nothing on your Mac.

      • Intellectualdiot

        If I’m reading this correct, Caleb is merely decrying the air of petulance and entitlement that certain members of the Mac development community have exhibited for the past few years regarding Apple’s moves in the Pro sphere. The grievances are real, but airing those grievances in public is a shoddy negotiation tactic, particularly when that grousing is absent of any sort of effort to signify to Apple what your unique needs as a professional in a given field actually ARE.

        That said, good on the developers and scientists and media creators who actually gave Apple the feedback that they will need in order to make better, less myopic decisions with their Pro hardware.

      • first, i doubt you have a Pro. but even if you’re a single-digit-percenter, don’t be so self-important and myopic to believe you’re responsible for anything. Macs and Apple do not equal Pro workstation.

      • Caleb Hightower

        Huh? I’m a Pro user BTW.

        • freediverx

          “One percenter” is not a term of endearment. if you think it is, you’re part of the problem, lol.

          • Caleb Hightower

            Referring to the article Gruber claims ~1-9 percent of buyers get a MacPro.

    • freediverx

      What’s with the “one percenters” remark? You realize most prospective customers for this product actually use it professionally, in which case a few thousand dollars is a trivial expense in the grand scheme of things.

      Save your scorn for wealthy people who don’t contribute anything of value to society, like Wall Street bankers and Republican Congressmen,

      • Caleb Hightower

        See my reply below. I think you misunderstood me. I’m not a 1% wealthy guy. It was a play on what Gruber wrote in his article. Trying to be too cleaver for my own good.

  • Reality Check

    I am willing to take anything at this point. We (pro users) are looking for hope.

    All they needed to do was add tb3, hdmi 2.0, and USB3 to the Mac Pro along with this speed bump. That would give them a year’s grace to get the next generation Mac Pro out the door.

    Apple spends BILLIONS on R&D, how hard can it be to modernize the Mac Pro? They honestly can’t say they are resource-contained to produce this upgrade.

    Apple, make anything Pro and I will insta-buy it. I am not asking the price.

    I have the same attitude to a apple-branded display solution.

    • David Stewart

      They could certainly do more with the existing Mac Pro, but they have to weigh the return on investment. It is unlikely that anything short of a total re-design of the Mac Pro would generate significant new sales.

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    • “all they needed to do” unfortunately, to add those things would involve a complete chipset/mainboard rearchitect – which isn’t a small undertaking and changes the whole thermal load – as they’ve said.

      They’ve done what they could with the existing setup and are focussing re-arch on a new form factor.

      They only thing they could have done better, was to do this announcement and speed bumps about 12 months ago.

      • Prof. Peabody

        Nah. The thermal problem is to do with the single-core graphics cards only.

        They could easily add more or different ports to it without redesigning much of anything. Also, they’ve had FIVE YEARS to do it, and it will almost certainly be another TWO YEARS before we see the redesign.

        • No, you don’t seem to realize how integrated everything is on the logic board. The USB and Thunderbolt controllers are in there. It’s like a tall, round laptop with a custom motherboard. There is no easily to adding such features when the computer is going to be retired in a year.

      • Reality Check

        Nay Donkey, don’t be so glib…

        adding tb3 would be a little more complex, but USB-c and hdmi 2.0 would be easy. The chipsets are plentiful and cheap… And being 4 years newer, these modern chipsets use less power and the thermal load would be lower.

        I can only attribute the lack of upgrades in this area as laziness.

        • freediverx

          You’re assuming that Apple routinely slaps together off the shelf parts with little effort into testing and optimization.

          Remember that this is Apple, not Dell or HP.

        • Not even close. There are not off-the-shelf parts on these babies. How do you think they made them so small, and still had room for the airflow?

          It’s easy to armchair engineer.

    • freediverx

      It would make no sense to invest the resources needed to completely refresh the Mac Pro’s core architecture if they are planning a fresh start in another direction.

  • JimCracky

    Couldn’t wait. Needed to get work done. Built a Hackintosh. Works great. If they need to spend years making a modular tower computer, then they need to go back to design school. No one ever made more money because their computer case want glamorous.

    • Chassis is the last thing on their head, certainly. And remember design is not about the look, and it should be a machine that will last for quite a…

    • must be nice to run a computer design shop…entirely in your head. here in real life we know shit takes times. especially if it’s great.

      here’s the thing — if you were a real pro, you’d have just bought a Pro yesterday. i’d like to know what you do that couldn’t be able to process on it. i’m a software dev running dated hardware and have no problems with build times or whatnot.

    • The Cappy

      I thought AlienWare did.

    • Prof. Peabody

      You seem to know a lot about building computers but almost nothing about design. They aren’t the same thing at all. I’m relatively certain that you never went to design school yourself so I don’t know on what basis you think the Apple designers should “go back” to it.

    • Why are you here and not over on the boards arguing about FPS in Quake? These are pro computers. Hackintosh indeed.

  • Intellectualdiot

    I only need two things to upgrade my Mac pipeline in 2018 – A Macbook with 32GB of RAM and the aforementioned Apple-branded monitor that I sincerely hope is the long-awaited (by me at least!) true successor to the Thunderbolt Display.

    My needs are, by design, considerably less complex than most. That being said, I’d love another truly extensible Mac desktop that I can geek out with it for 5 or so years.

    • i have a MBP with 16gb, it’s fine, even while running VWs for windows dev machines. i know people like to say “I need the most of everything!” but usually they don’t. this guy puts the myth to rest:

      • Intellectualdiot

        Yeah I’ve seen the Zdziarski blog before. Should’ve said “want” not need. I WANT 32GBs or RAM, but I’m probably upgrading to the next MBP regardless. Purely irrational.

        I’m fine with 16GB now and I’m sure that I’ll be fine with it in 2018. I routinely run with half as much RAM than that on an 2012 rMBP and it’s fine for the type of coding that I do. The CPU upgrade will be much appreciated though.

      • Reality Check

        I routinely run out of memory on my 16gb MBP. If you are doing anything with big data, 16gb is too small. 2012 era too small.

        I actually use my gear for work. Not for surfing the web.

        • rick gregory

          And this, folks, is why some of us take the whining about “pros” as nothing more than the utterances of entitled babies. If your work doesn’t happen to need more than 16g, why you’re just a dirty casual user, surfing the web. You can’t possibly be doing professional work.

          Here’s an actual reality check for you – SOME work really does need lots of RAM and the current MacBooks are disappointing for those people. However, RAM needs aren’t the only criterion by which work is defined as professional or not. Shorter version? Get over yourself, you’re not the only pro in the room.

        • The current MacBook Pro with TouchBar? Because from what I’m reading, people are having a hard time filling up the RAM while running tons of programs.

          But big data would be one of those things. But in that case, why are you not running 128 gigs on a Mac Pro?

          • Reality Check

            Hrunga, I only run 64 gigs on my Mac Pro as the current architecture dictates using much slower ram if you want to run the (unsupported) configuration of 128 gigs. I would love to have a Mac based workstation with 128 or 256GB if apple would make it.

            PS Hackintoshes BLOW.

          • Well, I guess that explains why it’s unsupported? 🙂

    • Boy howdy you hit the nail for me. I’ll be getting a Mac Pro for my desk at work – and it will be the last computer I get for work before I retire – but for home, it’s laptops all the way!

  • Colin Mattson

    I’m easy: I like the existing Mac Pro design. Like many creative pros, spinning rust is all but dead to me as primary storage and you cannot possibly give me enough internal drive bays in an appealing form factor to be useful. PCIe as general-purpose expansion is similarly dead; all the new gear has already moved over to TB and USB. I don’t need expansion slots or drive bays. Today’s updates alone are a huge relief to me.

    But you’ve got to keep the damn machines updated, and you’ve got to keep updating the GPUs, and some day you really ought to deliver on that whole “oh yeah we’re going to release upgrades” thing (and they should be compatible more than half a refresh back). GPU and SSD upgrade kits are hardly rocket science, but in decades of Mac Pro and Power Mac ownership, Apple has done a consistently garbage job servicing existing customers all while marketing the pro-tier desktops with “YUO CAN HAZ UPGRADE!”

    Heck, you want to be “modular” and catch the crowd that still wants a pile of magnetic drives? Partner with Promise or someone else and release Apple-branded NAS/DAS enclosures that don’t totally suck or look and feel like a Chinese tech factory vomited out a hairball of third-tier parts. (I’d even buy one for my own secondary storage. Storage shopping is a huge pain in the rear; give me an option that meets its performance claims and looks good and I. am. there.)

    • SockRolid

      Providing external GPUs would mean that upgrading the Mac Pro would only require CPU / memory components. No need to refresh the Mac Pro with the GPU flavor-of-the-month.

      Oh, and “modular” could also allow for a “pile of” external SSD drives. There are quite a few of those available these days. Expensive, yes. But hey they’re tax-deductible business expenses for the “Pro market”.

      • Prof. Peabody

        This is what I don’t understand about today’s announcement though. The problem is specifically the graphics cards and the current Mac Pro was designed specifically to allow for external GPUs. Why didn’t Apple upgrade the Mac Pro last year when they realised the problem and simply manufacture an external GPU in consort with a graphics company? What exactly is the problem getting NVIDIA or whomever to make graphics cards suitable for the internal slots?

        Like a lot of Apple announcements it all sounds rosy and sensible when you are in the room, but if you engage some critical thinking and give it a few hours, then all of a sudden nothing makes sense at all.

        Apple has had years to fix this and it could have been fixed many different ways yet they have done nothing. Then they tell us that they realise the problem and are going to fix it, but that they aren’t even in the test product stage yet?

      • freediverx

        Am I the only one who hates the idea of a modular computer that requires a convoluted mess of daisy chained external peripherals? What’s the point of a small and sleek chassis if the final configuration looks like crap?

    • Mo

      An Apple-made NAS is another one of those daydream wish-list things I’d love to see, but am pretty sure we never will.

  • SockRolid

    “—I think it’s a really cool machine. I just don’t think it fit with what many of the pros needed to get their work done.”

    Agree. It’s fallen into a niche the way the old Power Mac G4 Cube did. Advanced industrial design to please a few high-end prosumers. Not quite enough expandability or power to please high-end pro users.

    I’m sure quite a large percentage of “pro” Macs are being used by iOS / tvOS app developers. And building an average app wouldn’t even move the CPU-usage needle of the Mac Pro. So a MacBook Pro or iMac is all most app developers need, really. (I’ve developed many iPhone / iPad / tvOS apps on a late-2013 MBP and the build times have been quite acceptable.)

    • The Cappy

      Except the Cube was sort of underpowered from the start.

      • Prof. Peabody

        Yeah, the Cube was disappointing mostly because it looked like a top of the line product but the performance was eclipsed by the white plastic MacBook (also don’t leave one in the sun or it will die, lol).

  • The Cappy

    “We needed something substantial, something we could count on. That’s exactly what we got. But we got a bit more too…” Well, to be honest, we got nothing substantial, nothing you could count on, except “not this year”. I honestly don’t think there was anybody who didn’t think iMac updates wouldn’t happen some time this year, and most people seemed to think they’d come in the 1st half, not the 2nd. Reading between the lines, I wonder if the plans for the Mac Pro began only a few days before Mr Cook made his statements about Apple’s commitment to the pro?

  • Prof. Peabody

    I’m a bit pissed in that I’ve been waiting (and waiting and waiting) to buy a Mac Pro for many months now, and finally they announce an upgrade, but it’s already sold out. Are they going to be making more or is that it?

    I have ZERO faith in the redesign and I don’t want to wait what is almost certainly going to be two years for it. I just want to know when if ever, I will be able to order my 8 core Mac Pro.

    • The 8 core is just taking a BTO option and making it a standard release. I suspect it’ll take a little time for the former BTO option to be in the channel. But, if you can’t wait, you can hit “Select” on the base model that’s in stock, customize it to the specs of the 8-core, and it’s the exact same price.

      Note that this mid-2017 “refresh” is just basically a price drop. All of this was available earlier, just $1K more expensive. Nothing has actually changed about the product.

    • freediverx

      What will you be using the Mac Pro for?

  • Jon Hall

    How many bought a MacPro mainly for Aperture (90% of the time, that’s the pro app I’ll be using)? So, whereas I welcome Apple’s new thinking on hardware, I beg them to think again about their Pro software lineup.

    I know I have other options, they’re just unpalatable to me.

    • I think there’s a lot to your request in terms of meeting professionals’ needs with Apple’s approach to software.

      Resurrecting Aperture and stepping up the iWork suite so that exceeds Office in many ways would go a long way in solidifying Mac’s future; a future that’s not as threatened by competing formats as many would have us believe.

      • David Stewart

        I think it speaks to the Mac’s success that Apple doesn’t have to create all the pro apps for the platform any longer. There is a healthy enough user base now that companies like Microsoft and Adobe are treating macOS as a more or less equal peer to Windows.

        • Yes, I absolutely see this side of this argument.

          However, I remain convinced that Apple has a contribution to make here and it would further expand the Mac user base.

        • freediverx

          Adobe software is an abomination.

      • freediverx

        There’s zero need for Apple to turn iWork into a pro suite. Microsoft now treats Windows users as first class citizens as demonstrated by their very nice updates to office for Mac and iOS.

        Aperture, on the other hand, has no real competitors. I’m not talking about its image editing. I admit that Lightroom and others easily meet or exceed Aperture’s capabilities in this area. But Aperture combined some very respectable editing tools with a one of a kind digital asset manager that was seamlessly integrated into the OS. There is nothing on the market that even remotely approaches Aperture’s DAM features in performance, usability, and refinement.

    • freediverx

      This is why I wanted more people to publicly complain to Apple about abandoning Aperture. This all but proves that with enough negative feedback Apple can be persuaded to reconsider a business decision.

      But the Apple blog community instead shrugged their collective shoulders and happily went along with the idea of using Lightroom instead.

  • wibble

    This is the announcement they should have made 12 months ago.

  • StruckPaper

    “The machine they announced today sounds like a winner.”

    If they announced they were working on a new version of iTunes with no specs and no feature description, would you say it sounds like a winner?

  • This was a bizarre day to say the least

    I don’t understand this assessment. We have plenty of evidence that Apple’s approach to PR has changed radically in the last few years. Stuff like this is the new Apple approach. In fact, there have been other moments in Apple’s history where it laid bare its plans to address critics.

    The public bellyaching over the current Mac Pro has gained meaningful traction. Apple has work to do here, and they’ve gone on record to address that, but the company’s first step is to leverage (some?) control over the narrative.

    I don’t see this as bizarre at all.

    • StruckPaper

      Bizarre because Apple announced nothing and yet everyone is talking about their “new hardware”. No specs. No features. No timelines. Yet such a big deal. Imagine if Google did this?

  • Mo

    Depends a bit on what Apple now defines as “modular,” doesn’t it?

    • Alex Hon

      We aren’t going to see a “modular” Mac Pro design that looks like a Korean steamed seafood tower, are we?

      • Mo

        That’s the Tuesday Lunch Special.

  • satcomer

    Yes a Mac lineup that has the USB3.1 that is already in released Mac Book Pro!

  • freediverx

    This still doesn’t answer the question of why Apple waited until now to update the existing Mac Pro models with more up to date configs. I can’t imagine how doing so would have interfered with their long term decision making.

    To me, this suggests that they came close to canceling the product line altogether, relying on newly beefed up iMacs (which they also mentioned) to fill in the gap for most pro users.

    If so, I think there’s a good chance that the very public backlash from their most fervent supporters tipped the argument in favor of keeping and redesigning the Mac Pro. This also begs the question of who within Apple were most likely advocating for a redesign vs pulling the plug.