Apple, Please Bring Back the Mac Pro
As of mid-September 2016 the Mac Pro is now over 1,000 days old since its last update. Ever since the Mac Pro got updated years ago the machine has been controversial and neglected. Apple sold it as a machine built for professional and a parallel processing monster. Focused on video professionals, Apple also targeted the machine on photography and audio professionals. Phil Schiller famously said “Can’t innovate my ass” with the release of the lovingly joked “trashcan” Mac. The current Mac Pro came at the end of another very long wait for a refresh. This makes me sad because back in 2007 the cheese-grater Mac Pro is what got me interested in Macintosh. I was in high school back then and McGill Toolen had a singular Mac Pro to produce commercials and other video highlights of our various sports teams. Some alumni was a big fan of Apple apparently and donated the money for them to buy that machine and several Mac Mini’s. The Mac Pro was an amazing machine to me at the time because it was foreign to me who grew up wth Windows and wildly impressive. It was a beast, a metal monolith that was a nice combination of form and function.
I remember having my breath taken away when my teacher opened the case for me to inspect. I had never seen a desktop built so solidly and so thoughtfully for being able to slide in extra storage and memory, and did not have cables dangling everywhere. It shocked me actually because I asked my teacher “Where are all the cables?” when I immediately noticed the lack of hard drive power cables and SATA cables and was impressed when he informed me that the connectors were built into the chassis. The uniform design was both iconic with the cheese-grater look and practical with ports on the front and back, plenty of holes for the components to breath, and little touches like having handle bars at the top to grab when moving the machine and bars on the bottom to elevate the machine’s electronics off the table in case something horrible were below…like whatever sugary beverage high school students were drinking that day. That, and I was blown away by the display. We had an Apple Cinema display and it was the best display I had ever seen at that point. It was crisp, the colors were great and I had never seen a flat-panel display that great. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama in the heart of the South (across the bay from where Tim Cook grew up) so high-end technology was a rarity. Even though I knew that I could never afford one or need one in my day to day work, it got me interested in the ecosystem when I found out that the same machine was being used to make high-end movies in Hollywood.
What Apple should do is bring back the tower. Its big, but as the iPad Pro and iPhone 7 Plus have shown big can be useful. The iPhone SE has also shown that older designs can sell well…heck it does not need to be the old design exactly, but maybe a modern version of it (Black ionized aluminum would be awesome). Apple has shown little interest in updating the Mac Pro so they should delegate some of the responsibility to the professionals that use their gear. Let pro’s upgrade the RAM, slot in new hard drives, new CPUs, and graphics cards. This would be a win-win. It would also put pressure on the iMac line to keep pushing forward in the power department. I believe that every product in Apple’s line should put pressure on the devices above and below it and an upgradable Mac Pro would pressure the iMac to step up its game. I think the iMac is plenty for 90% of people, but I feel like that last 10% is very important. The Mac Pro is aspirational to most people…most will never own one or ever really need one. I will never need one myself, but as a Mac user it does grind me a little that the professional world is being handled over to Windows and Linux. Apple is the only one who makes Macs so these last 10% of high-end users, some of which I imagine work at Apple itself, have no where else to go other than out of the Apple ecosystems. There are reports of the iPhone 7 Plus outperforming Macbook Air’s and yet the highest end Mac Pro does not possess a graphics card capable of running an HTC Vive or other VR rig. It is very unbecoming of a “professional” workstation when an $800 gaming PC can out perform it.
These machines are going under desks and that way Apple could focus on other things that people seen more often like the display, mouse, trackpad, and keyboard. Those are things that other non-professional uses could use as well. Speaking of displays, Apple really needs a new cinema display. Apple devices such as the MacBook and iPad Pro have some of the best displays in the industry. If somebody pays $3000-$12,000 for a professional piece of Apple hardware they do not want to stare at a big LG or Dell logo all day. Yes, its superficial, but Apple is a company that goes the extra mile for making sure that the unboxing experience is a good one. There was a rumor going around earlier this year that where would be a model with a built-in GPU option. This would be great for Macbook and 13" Macbook Pro users as well . Apple Cinema displays are just as impressive in an office tour for a new company as an office full of Macs. Making a standalone display would complete the Mac Pro package and also be a good up-sell for Macbook and Macbook Pro users.
Apple should really throw high-end users a bone. Give them back a machine they can open up and throw upgradable parts in between design refreshes would mean more than any physical redesign. Make it into a hobby even. Call it the “Mac Pro SE”. I think Pro’s will thank you for it.