One of the web mailing lists I that I read regularly is IMUG – a great resource for anyone involved in media production or post.
This morning, Paul Isbicki asked “…do any video pros REALLY believe that APPLE will make a turnaround move and release a new Mac Pro that will justify the inordinately long wait?”
I’ve gotten this a lot from my newsletter readers and wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on this.
I’ve written three blogs about the MacPro.
The issue of the life or death of the MacPro gained traction in April and May of 2012, when Lou Borella posted a Facebook page called “We Want a New MacPro.”
In it, Lou asked Apple for clarity on whether the MacPro was dead. In a response Tim Cook stated that a new MacPro was in the works for 2013. However, his wording was a bit squishy and, not surprisingly, a great debate ensued about “what Tim Cook really meant.”
Shortly thereafter, Apple PR clarified that Tim’s comments were correct, that a new MacPro was slated for release in “early 2013.” This was reported by David Pogue, Technology Editor for the New York Times. Read David’s entire post here. (I confirmed this with David in a series of private emails after his column.)
In early June, 2012, I then wrote in one of my blogs:
Here’s my guess on what’s going on. I think that Apple decided a couple of years ago not to update the MacPro – that was the word I was hearing on the street. Then, less than a year ago, they changed their minds and decided to update the machine. However, hardware update cycles are lengthy and it takes time to create all the parts, which is why the system won’t be available, according to Pogue, until next year.
WHAT I THINK
That’s the background. What about now?
For me, the answer is absolutely yes, Apple will release a MacPro, sometime in the first half of this year. (My guess is WWDC, but that’s just a guess.)
I have four reasons for this:
I haven’t been privy to Apple’s hardware plans since Steve Jobs returned to the company. So, I am speaking theoretically, I do not have any inside knowledge of Apple’s hardware plans.
TIM COOK and APPLE PR
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and someone I have never met, has a reputation for honesty and straight-talk. On June 2012, he issued an email in reference to the MacPro that “Apple was working on something great for 2013.”
That this comment was specifically related to the MacPro was confirmed by Apple PR to the New York Times, Forbes and MacWorld and reported in Ars Technica.
While I don’t have any experience with Mr. Cook, I have a LOT of experience with Apple PR. They don’t confirm ANYTHING about future Apple products. For Apple PR to confirm the relevance of Mr. Cook’s statements tells me that Mr. Cook’s statements were officially approved.
When Tim Cook made his comments in mid-2012, the professional media world was still in chaos after the launch of Final Cut Pro X. While Mr. Cook spoke almost nine months after the launch, feelings were still running very high.
It could be argued that it was in Apple’s best interest to calm their most important developers and professional users. But, promising new hardware is much harder and longer to implement than offering discounts on training, services, software — in other words, Apple could have chosen an easier way out.
But they didn’t. They promised a MacPro.
THE BUSINESS CASE
At first glance, there is no significant financial benefit for Apple to update the MacPro. In their world of $50 billion quarters, the revenue a MacPro brings in amounts to a few hundred million dollars. While, personally, I would not look askance at a product that generated a hundred million dollars, Apple uses different metrics.
Yet, when given an opportunity to kill off the MacPro – because the professional world was already angst-ridden and depressed – they didn’t. They promised something better.
Again, Apple did not take the easy way out. This, also, reassures me that a new MacPro is coming.
THE PROFESSIONAL CASE
In spite of the fact that the world is moving “post-PC,” and that consumers are flocking to tablets and smart-phones to consume content, someone still needs to create this stuff.
For developers and media creators, speed, power, flexibility, interconnectivity are still critical. While it is nice to create a home movie on an iPad, I would certainly not want to create Avatar on one.
As I’ve written, the new iMacs are fast and well-suited for most computer tasks. But not everything.
If Apple cedes the high-ground of computing power to Windows/Linux systems, they lose the ability to control what developers develop or media creators create. If a developer is creating media on a Windows system, they will naturally tend to want to make sure that content plays first on Windows devices. Same thing for Android.
It seems obvious to me that Apple’s long-term health requires it to provide developers and media creators with high-performance hardware tools that keeps them on Apple hardware.
As Paul Isbicki wrote in his posting: “What will the future bring for editing, Grfx, 3D, Photoshop, Illustrator, animation? How ’bout CAD and CNC, architecture, design, a thousand apps relying [on the power of a professional system.]?”
A COUNTER VIEW
On the other hand, I had a long series of emails with Tim Kolb last year about this very point. Tim argues that high-end Mac systems have not kept up with Windows systems since about 2005.
Tim summarizes comments I’ve heard from many others, pointing to the death of the XSERVE, XRAID, the huge performance issues of ProRes on Windows, the callous death of Final Cut Pro 7 — all pointing to Apple’s abandonment of the professional market in favor of becoming a consumer company. In this view, Apple is willing to relinquish the high-end in hopes that the size of their consumer market compels continued development and support for the platform.
Apple itself has provided a lot of arguments that it is not deeply interested in the professional market.
UPDATE – Jan. 27, 2013
I woke up this morning with an insight. Apple is no longer focused on the professional market; the staggering numbers surrounding the iOS market makes that statement abundantly true. However, Apple does not need to focus on the professional market in order to create products for the professional market. It has thousands of staff engineers that need high-end power tools to create the magic that is in all Apple products. Apple knows what’s needed in a high-end product.
I think Apple has been constrained – first, internally, by deciding whether or not to continue developing the MacPro ; then, second, once the decision was made to go forward, with the availability of the right chips – in advancing the MacPro.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT
No one doubts that Apple is working on new hardware. That’s what Apple does for a living. The key question is who is the target market for that hardware and what will it do?
I also don’t doubt that Apple will release a new MacPro. However, when ever Apple releases the new MacPro, it won’t look like a Windows system. It won’t use off-the-shelf components that you can buy at Fry’s. It definitely won’t be ugly and it won’t be like the MacPro we have now.
But it will be designed to maximize speed, power, and flexibility. It will heavily feature Thunderbolt for connectivity. And it may not even be called the “MacPro.”
Tim Cook said that “something really great” is coming from Apple in 2013. I tend to believe him.
As always, let me know your comments.
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