Why Apple needed to come clean about the new, new Mac Pro

2013 Mac Pro
2013 Mac Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

It happens to everyone. You decide on an ambitious new project, maybe turning the basement into an amazing movie room, joining a gym and getting into shape, or finally finishing the dream car you've been fixing up in your garage. But it doesn't go exactly as you planned. And so minor problems are procrastinated into major delays and you start finding, even making, excuses to spend your limited time and effort on things that are more important and provide more immediate gratification.

It shouldn't happen to companies like Apple, but it does. The need to get the supercomputer used by 1% of your customers updated gets continuously pushed aside by the need to ship the new pocket computer used by billions. And as time passes, pressure builds.

Case-in-the-news-point, the new Mac Pro which has just become the old Mac Pro with word that Apple's working on its replacement.

John Gruber, in a terrific piece at Daring Fireball that you should stop and read end-to-end before continuing:

Let's say you're Apple. You're faced with the following problem. Three years ago you launched a radical new lineup of Mac Pros. For multiple reasons, you haven't shipped an update to those machines since. At some point you came to the conclusion that the 2013 Mac Pro concept was fundamentally flawed. It was tightly integrated internally, which allowed for some very nice features: it was small and beautiful (a pro machine that demanded placement on your desk, not under your desk) and it could run whisper quietly. But that tight integration made it hard to update regularly. The idea that expansion could be handled almost entirely by external Thunderbolt peripherals sounded good on paper, but hasn't panned out in practice. And the GPU design was a bad prediction. Apple bet on a dual-GPU design (multiple smaller GPUs, with "pro"-level performance coming from parallel processing) but the industry has gone largely in the other direction (machines with one big GPU).And so you decided to completely redesign the Mac Pro. But that new design isn't going to ship this year. You're committed to your pro users, but a sizable chunk of them are growing ever more restless. They suspect — in some cases strongly — that you don't care about them anymore. They see the stalled Mac Pro lineup as a sign that Apple no longer cares about them, and they worry deeply that the Mac Pro isn't merely waiting for a major update but instead is waiting to be decommissioned.

Apple isn't a singular entity or hive mind. There are, unsurprisingly, many strong and varied opinions and discussions inside the company can be as vigorous and contentious as they are out in the community.

For example, when a decision is made to ship an LG display instead of an Apple-branded one, it isn't that "Apple" doesn't believe in making displays any more. It's that those who believe fiercely in Apple displays didn't win that argument — at least not at that particular point in time.

When that happens, and problems get drawn out long enough, the easiest thing to do is cut your losses and cancel them. Especially in this case, where supe computers make up about 1% of Apple's business and computing appliances, all the other percents.

It's an easy business justification to make, especially considering the growing mainstream and "prosumer" markets, and the ROI. But, as Tim Cook has said, it's not always about the ROI. And you don't bury problems, you stand up to them. Publicly. So that it becomes really hard not to deliver.

My understanding is that what we're hearing about today started a while ago — ironically, before reports of Apple "giving up on the Mac" reached a fever pitch late last year. Even a while ago is late when it comes to Mac Pro. Better than never, absolutely. But really, really late.

Still, I'm glad Apple not only knows where they're going with professional-grade Macs now, I'm ecstatic they chose to share that information with the public. It conflicts with the secrecy typically involved with their product development process but, if anything is a special case, it's this. No one is as invested in Apple and the Mac as the pro-market and no one deserves the respect more than them.

Fixing the product will take another year or so. Fixing the perception only took a couple days.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • It’s great to have this confirmation that Apple haven’t given up on high performance Macs, and good to have some sort of time frame, especially as businesses need to plan ahead. I appreciate their honesty about the limitations of the existing Mac Pro (although most people had already guessed), but why couldn’t they at least upgrade it more regularly and more comprehensively? High performance hardware should be updated more often than other products, to ensure that it still high performance. To wait 3.5 years for an upgrade (and a minor one at that) is ridiculous for any computing product, let alone one that is supposed to be your top-of-the-range machine. And why no Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C? There are dozens of companies with a fraction the resources of Apple who make sure that their machines are regularly updated with the latest processors, storage and ports, so why can’t Apple? I think it’s because they rely on the fact that they don’t have any (official) competition if you need macOS. In the past this has been fine because users could trust Apple to use the latest technology in their products. But they have abused that trust with the Mac Pro. There are a lot of pro users who have invested lots of time and money on Apple software in the expectation that they could run it on top of the range hardware, only to have been badly let down. However the current 5K iMac is a fantastic machine, despite being 18 months old (young compared to the Mac Pro), and the thought of an iMac Pro this year is very appealing.
  • This made me smile broadly, (as a Mac Pro user since 2000), as i’d been holding out for a real new upgraded model since 2011 and Apple dropped that proprietary problematic piece of “stuff”.
    Anyhow lucky for me, (and them?), I held on to my machine and my money just as I was beginning to switch - very recently bought a Surface Pro 4.
    Look Tim, I need a machine that I can upgrade as and when necessary and the trash can wasn't it. It was an exercise in arrogance and how to lock people in. Glad its been recognised.
  • I completely understand why they couldn't properly update the GPU, but there is no reason why there isn't at least one USB C port on there.
  • MacPro is a supercomputer? LOL OMG OMG I can't stop laughing! XD 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I don't think it was literal…
  • I dunno, they seem to think that the iPad is a computer...
  • Well, by dictionary definition the iPad is a computer, but it could do with some more desktop-like features such as filesystem access, however there are many people that use the iPad as their main computer
  • If you go by the dictionary definition a smartphone is also a computer, but be honest, if someone says computer to you what pops into your head? An ipad or a screen with a keyboard and mouse?
  • It doesn't matter, they're allowed to call the iPad a computer, and they call it that because they want a lot of people to replace their computer with an iPad. Obviously this can't really happen with people doing development work, but outside of that the iPad makes a good computer; it can browse the internet, play media, do office work, and to a degree it can do development work but not currently to a proper professional level.
  • pipeline speak. that is all. show me. put up or shut up Apple. Pipeline speak as I've seen far to much of for far too long. I'm thinking they might get it though. considering the mac sales are sinking fast. the dumb assed commercials for the ipoo aren't working. so, they throw out a few fairy tales to get the faithful to get all wet and drooly. this doesn't cut it Tim Cook. same pattern, same bs we've heard for far too long. PUT UP or SHUT UP. that is all.
  • What would Steve say?
  • They also mentioned an iMac that's even more geared toward pro users. I'm not sure what they mean, or how they would do it in the current form factor. But to me, that's the bigger story here. What would an iMac Pro look like? Would they allow SSD swapping like they do the RAM? Upgraded video card is a must-have. More USB and Thunderbolt 3 ports? An extra Ethernet port? How about enlarging the LCD screen to be nearly edge-to-edge. Shipping it with a Magic Keyboard with Touchbar would be nice. I wonder how many of these "pro" users would buy THAT iMac instead of a Mac Pro?
  • And yet every other tech company on the planet can provide timely, predictable, and mostly annual refreshes to hardware (or software depending on their business), providing multiple levels of performance and cost to meet the needs of hobby and "pro" users alike. Apple waits 4 years to say "please wait another year", and they get a pass... because... Apple? But but... you say, "You only need a new Apple pro thingy every five years so it's cool..." Individually, sure, but if you're a business of, say, 50 digital animators... and you have no choice but to live on Apple's lifecycle... you're in a situation which is budgetarily and technologically untenable. Regular updates and refreshes are important. It's not just for flashy blogs and tech articles.