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Maca Culpa: Apple Admits Mac Pro Missteps and Promises More Transparency

In an unprecedented move, Apple invited five prominent industry journalists to an on-the-record meeting with top executives Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and John Ternus (VP of Hardware Engineering). The writers included John Gruber of Daring Fireball, Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch, Lance Ulanoff of Mashable, Ina Fried of Axios, and John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed.

The topic of discussion? The Mac Pro, why it has taken Apple so long to update it, and Apple’s commitment to the professional market. I’ll say more about that in a moment, but first, let me recommend that you read at least the first two of the articles linked above — Panzarino and Gruber, in particular, did an excellent job of capturing both what was said and the implications of those statements.

In short, Apple did something it has never done before — assemble a panel of reporters for an on-the-record talk in which it acknowledged design errors and missteps with the current Mac Pro, pre-announced a new Mac Pro accompanied by a new pro display that won’t ship this year, and admitted that it needs to communicate better with its pro users.

No, this wasn’t an April Fools prank.

In essence, this is Apple arguing with my claims in “Understanding Apple’s Marginalization of the Mac” (21 November 2016) that the iOS platform reigns supreme within the company and conceding the point Josh Centers made about the slippery slope of losing pro customers in “What Apple Can Learn from Airwalk” (6 February 2017).

To show how important the Mac remains to Apple, Phil Schiller said that the Mac user base is nearing 100 million users and is a $25 billion business — on its own, it’s nearly a Fortune 100 company. (Also interesting was the statistic that notebooks make up 80 percent of Mac sales, with desktops at 20 percent. It’s not surprising, given the stagnation of the Mac Pro and the Mac mini.)

The Apple execs also came right out and said that the Mac and the pro audience were key. Schiller said, “The Mac has an important, long future at Apple, that Apple cares deeply about the Mac, we have every intention to keep going and investing in the Mac. And if we’ve had a pause in upgrades and updates on that, we’re sorry for that — what happened with the Mac Pro, and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it.”

Craig Federighi chimed in, saying “The Mac is — we say it over and over, we’re saying it again here — a huge part of our future, we’re deeply invested in it.”

But the entire point of this meeting was to address the pro reaction to Apple’s lack of either concrete actions or announcements in the past. Gruber asked whether Apple is aware of just how many serious Mac users have begun to doubt the company’s commitment to the Mac in general, and the needs of professional Mac users in particular, eliciting this response from Schiller:

It’s a reasonable question, and this is why we’re here today, specifically, to address that question above all else. We’re committed to the Mac, we’ve got great talent on the Mac, both hardware and software, we’ve got great products planned for the future, and as far as our horizon line can see, the Mac is a core component of the things Apple delivers, including to our pro customers.

At the moment, Apple has only words to reassure pro users, since the executives said that a completely redesigned Mac Pro and pro display are coming, but they won’t arrive this year. So communication is essential if pros are to stick with the Mac platform for another eight months minimum. But openness isn’t Apple’s style, so we’ll see if the company continues to share details about the future.

Apple should be heartened to see that the community seems to be taking this increased commitment to transparency as a positive sign. In our informal Twitter poll, 75 percent of respondents said that it’s good news and isn’t too little, too late. (Next time we’ll run the poll longer, so more people have a chance to vote.)

Other useful statements that came out of the meeting include:

  • Existing configurations of the current Mac Pro are now available at lower prices (see “Apple Drops Cylindrical Mac Pro Prices by $1000,” 4 April 2017).

  • The redesigned Mac Pro will not include a touchscreen like Microsoft’s Surface Studio. Federighi suggested that Apple’s approach will involve making the iPad Pro work better with the Mac.

  • The iMac is slated to receive some upgrades this year, including configurations targeted specifically at the pro market.

  • Apple had nothing specific to say about the future of the Mac mini, though Schiller did say that was because “it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use.”

  • When Gruber asked about scripting and automation, Federighi replied, “We think scriptability and automation of the system remain super important.”

 

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Comments about Maca Culpa: Apple Admits Mac Pro Missteps and Promises More Transparency

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James Bailey  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2017-04-04 15:10
Well I'm one of those users who absolutely loves my 2013 6-core Mac Pro. The design is perfect for me as a developer. I can add boatloads of RAM and I have a larger RAID array attached to the thunderbolt 2 bus.

I write software for a living and live inside virtual machines all day. This computer is perfect for that use case. So while the design is clearly flawed for future updates, it isn't flawed in conception in my view.

I am happy to learn that just about when my 2013 Mac Pro starts feeling a little old and slow, I will be able to upgrade to whatever is next but right now it does everything I need and more.
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Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-04 15:37
The Apple guys said basically what you just did — that the current Mac Pro was great for some professionals, but that the design wasn't ideal for all pros.
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Geoff Duncan  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-04-04 21:16
I'm glad the cylindrical Mac Pro has been useful to some people, James! I do a lot of work in pro audio and a bit of multi-platform software development. I can count the number of cylindical Mac Pros I've seen in the wild on the thumbs of one hand. I see old Mac Pro towers in use all the time.

I'm glad Apple said *something* about the state of desktop Macs and is trying to reach out to pro users. As someone for whom iMacs and MacBook Pros don't really work, I can't say I'm excited, though.
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Lewis Butler  An apple icon for a TidBITS Benefactor 2017-04-06 13:54
The 2013 MacPro would have been my ideal machine had it had better GPUs. I know those GPUs are pretty good for things like Final Cut, but they are not that great for GPU intensive tasks like folding and gaming (which is what I mostly use GPUs for, and a little video encoding).

As it stands now, I am waiting for the new iMac (iMac Pro?) and will buy that. My days of needing a Mac Pro are behind me (though not my days of *WANTING* a Mac Pro 😜😝)
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Anonymous  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2017-04-06 16:16
Isn't that driven by folks investment in specialized PCI based hardware? If one has $5k-10K invested in one of those setups then it's understandable to milk 10 years out of it. I think it's also reasonable for Apple for to move on and not maintain backward compatibility with specialized hardware after that many years. The ThunderBolt bus is just as fast and far more modular. It would allow one to switch out the underlying computer more frequently.
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Geoff Duncan  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2017-04-06 21:08
Yes, it's true that for a lot of audio and video pros, their Macs are essentially peripherals connected to their studio gear. Most of those setups use PCI cards. A thunderbolt chassis for PCI cards *can* work with some of those setups, as can Thunderbolt breakout boxes.

The question for many pros is whether they want to go to the expense of getting those systems set up with a cylindrical Mac Pro (since that often means upgrading or replacing their external hardware as well), or just to migrate to an already-compatible and far less expensive PC.

I think that's why the only cylindrical Mac Pro I've seen in the wild was in a studio facility built from scratch: everything ther was new, no legacy digital hardware at all.
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What about Pro apps? Aperture? FCP? Although from what I hear they've already lost the video/film editing business.
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Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-04-05 10:45
Nothing was said about Aperture ("It's dead, Jim.") but Apple did talk about Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X. My understanding is that FCPX has gotten better over the years and may be more or less back to where FCP was before, but many people already switched.
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Jon Hall  2017-04-06 17:19
A very welcome admission of a misstep with the MacPro. Will Apple please go the whole hog and resurrect Aperture?

I know there are other options, but they're not palatable to me.
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robtbass  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2017-04-10 20:44
"We’re sorry for . . . what happened with the Mac Pro, and we’re going to come out with something great to replace it.”

I have to say that that statement sounds uncomfortably like Donald Trump on the Affordable Care Act.
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peter lees  2017-04-10 22:35
I wonder if they'll have similar regrets about the 2016 macbook pro? such a disappointment & has stopped me from upgrading...
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Benjamin Lowengard  2017-04-11 07:31
Not so sure to tag this as GREAT news- but it is news. Thing is I still have Pro Users buying old Cheese Graters because Trash Cans make them invest so much more in new peripherals. Mac Mini, Mac Mini Mac Mini. I was ready to buy a new Mac Mini when the last version came out but it was so lacking that I bought a 2011 iMac instead. I think the Pro laptops are nice but so un-upgradeable -that that's because a cause of concern. I still think Apple could drop the Pro down another 500$, and if they go to 5 USB3 on the next iMac I might scream. BTW, I love my 2011 iMac and I have not maxed out upgrades to it yet!
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I sold my 2009 Mac Pro that was totally kitted out with 48 gigs of RAM, SSD boot, excellent graphics cards - so I could buy a 27" iMac that was supposed to be a screamer. It was not. I've regretted it from day one. I now have a desk full of goodies that used to be inside the Mac Pro. I came close to buying a refitted 2010 MacPro this past weekend. Updated with super fast cards and SSD's.

Apple seems to forgot that form without function is worthless to working creative professionals.

I burn Blu-Ray back-ups of video and still files - along with backing up to hard drives. I could never back-up my files via the cloud. The original cheese-grater Mac was perfect - loads of space, load of OPTIONS and the it worked.

My desk, with my 27" iMac looks like an OWC ad with all the extras drives and connectors.

If Apple made a new "cheese grater" that actually worked, I would buy it in a heartbeat. If not, I'll switch to a BOXX computer and run Windows.
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