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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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