By Dan Moren
April 4, 2017 6:15 AM PT
A few more thoughts on today’s Mac Pro news
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
To call this morning’s news about the Mac Pro’s…resurrection? faked death?…”unexpected” is understating it. Though Apple has been vociferous about the Mac remaining a long-term priority for the company–Phil Schiller told our own Jason Snell back in 2014 that “the Mac keeps going forever”–it’s become harder to match those words with actions.
And, to be fair, today’s announcements are definitely still heavier on the promise of what’s to come, rather than taking Apple’s traditional stance of not talking about products until they’re ready to find their ways to users’ hands. But the news also contained something more unusual for Apple: a mea culpa not just that the Mac Pro hasn’t been getting attention, but that the decisions made in redesigning the previous models were missteps that sent it down the wrong path.
Pros, not cons
The Mac Pro remains important, not just because of the elements of the market that are actively served by it, but because of the image it projects of Apple’s computer business: that there’s something for everybody there. That it’s not the equivalent of a one-size-fits-all baseball cap, where you can have any desktop computer you want as long as it’s an iMac.
The Mac Pro is surely the smallest of percentages of Apple’s Mac business. Laptops now make up 80% of its Mac business, and of that remaining 20%, one would imagine that it’s largely about the iMac. But there’s a self-fulfilling prophecy at least partially at work there, because was anybody–most especially professionals whose work demands the newest and most powerful hardware–going to buy a Mac Pro that was as woefully out of date as the one Apple was shipping?
We don’t know much about the new Mac Pro, other than its design will prioritize modularity and upgradeability. I think John Gruber’s wording about that is key: the design “should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis” [emphasis added]. This probably isn’t going to be a computer that users are upgrading themselves–though that depends largely on the components Apple is using. But it does potentially put Apple in the business of selling component upgrades, which is something it hasn’t really done over the years. (Part of me wonders if we’re going to see something like the Apple Watch’s S1 chip–a big module that you pop out and replace, though on a Pro scale, that would be kind of crazy.)
This is planting a flag for Apple, showing that not only are power users and professionals an important market, but one that Apple is dedicated to serving. They’re not getting out of the game.
Talking the talk
If ever you needed a reminder that this is no longer the Apple run by Steve Jobs under a tight shroud of secrecy, it’s this comment from Phil Schiller, as recorded by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino:
We want to be as transparent as we can, for our pro users, and help them as they make their buying decisions. They invest so much in the Mac, we want to support them, and we care deeply about them. So that’s why we’re here.
That’s what convinces me more than anything that Apple is serious about what it’s doing with the Pro. Because these aren’t just words, they are actions: Apple’s under no obligation to say anything about the future of the Mac Pro until it’s ready to take the wraps off of it. But by actively talking about this, it’s inviting scrutiny and accountability. Apple is making a promise by talking about this publicly, and given the amount of attention the Pro got when it simply wasn’t updated, I imagine that will be only magnified when the company has admitted it has something up its sleeves.
In other words, for Apple to come out and say “this is what we’re working on” means they are committed to delivering that product.
It also comes with a risk. Because if the company doesn’t deliver a blockbuster Mac Pro, then it’s pretty much out of chances as far as that line is concerned. There are only so many times you can boast about delivering the future and show up empty-handed.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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