The 2019 Mac Pro will be what Apple wants it to be, and it won't, and shouldn't, make every 'Pro' happy
It is still a long time until the Mac Pro ships in 2019, and assorted internet fiefdoms are battling about the machine, who needs it, and what it has to have, with unnecessary skirmishes getting fought, and battle-lines being drawn already.
As expected, keyboards lit up and social media was on fire with complaints and praise about Thursday's not-announcement of the Mac Pro. Long story short, a new "modular" Mac Pro is not coming in 2018 as was hoped after a discussion in April 2017, but is a 2019 release.
"We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product," Apple's senior director of Mac hardware product marketing, Tom Boger, said on Thursday. "It's not something for this year."
Apple will do what Apple will do. We can complain about it — but in the end it isn't going to make one ounce of difference. I am not here to praise Apple, nor damn it with faint praise. But, there is a lot to talk about, and a lot we don't know.
We know what we want — but it isn't universal
I know what I want. I want a box like my 5,1 Mac Pro that I have upgraded past all reason, for no other reason than so I can do it again. Gazing at the (heated) forum discussions about this, so do a large percentage of AppleInsider readers. But, as always, "we" are not indicative of Apple's overall user base, let alone the subset that uses the Mac.
Apple has no obligation to "dance with who brung you"
In days of yore, when the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro shipped, the fire and fury about non-upgradeable began in earnest, and I started thinking about the assorted venues I'd done service work for, and asked colleagues about their time in the bays as well. Between us all, we collected our dusty data on customers that had performed upgrades, or commissioned us to perform them on their own computers.
A bit less than three in a hundred users even installed RAM on their own, and on top of that, about six in a hundred users paid somebody else to do it. So, rounding up, one in 10 users of the total user base between 1998 and 2010 did their own upgrades.
Even if you double that figure for hardware that didn't fail and we didn't capture, that's only one in five users, in the heyday of upgrades, that even thought tossing in more RAM was worthwhile. Since then, we've gathered more data, and even done some polling about it. One upgrader in five users is probably being generous.
And, Apple knows this better than we do. They have all the data, back to the dawn of Apple-certified service departments.
Modular is a loaded word
Apple has now said on three occasions that the new Mac Pro will be "modular" and "upgradeable." Technically, the iMac Pro is upgradeable with RAM slots and a socketed processor, but Apple isn't making that a big selling point, or particularly easy to do.
Everything Apple has said about the new Mac Pro has been carefully calculated, and discussed beforehand. This has been a sculpted message from the get-go, and an exchange between two Apple executives in Thursday's piece points that out.
"As we said a year ago, working on modular was inherently a modular system and in looking at our customers and their workflows obviously that's a real need for our customers," Said Boger. "And that's the direction we're going."
"Well, it's a need for some of them, I want to be clear that the work that we're doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything," added Vice President of Hardware Engineering John Ternus. "It's super relevant for MacBook Pros, it's super relevant for iMacs and iMac Pros and in the end I think it helps us in dialogue with customers to figure out what are the right systems for you. There is absolutely a need in certain places for modularity. But it's also really clear that the iMac form factor or the MacBook Pros can be exceptionally good tools."
Modular. That word again, coupled with upgradeable, and then dialed back a bit by another Apple exec, nearly instantly.
If Apple wanted to promise socketed processors, RAM slots, and PCI-E slots, they could have very precisely said that from the get-go, or even on Thursday. Instead, we keep getting hit with "modular" and "upgradeable" — and who knows what that actually means.
There is no "one true Pro"
Our own forums have been full of discussions about what professionals need. A notable portion of them assume that what they need is universal, and what everybody needs. A subset of those go further, and claim that if you don't need that particular use case, then the reader is not a pro at all.
Apple made a mistake with the "Pro" naming scheme, which feeds into the toxic elitism surrounding this. Owning a "Pro" machine doesn't magically make you one, and conversely if you use a Mac mini from 2010 or even older gear to make your money, you are just as much a Pro user as far as Apple is concerned as Disney and Lucasfilm. The pair had a bunch of the 5,1 Mac Pro that they never upgraded, a mountain of the cylindrical Mac Pro that they never added RAM to, a ton of the new iMac Pro that will ultimately be disposed of in the same configuration they bought them in.
There is no way to argue with any veracity that Disney and Lucasfilm don't qualify as pros because they won't upgrade the hardware fleet with RAM, new processors, and faster video cards.
Many will buy the Mac Pro when it ships — but with no intent to upgrade them at all. Wanting to upgrade your Mac doesn't make you a "Pro," and being a "Pro" doesn't mean you want to upgrade your Mac. And, once again, Apple knows this. But, for some reason, a good amount of the Apple devout doesn't.
What's a Pro to do?
Waiting until 2019 for a radically designed new Mac Pro is reasonable. But, I think that waiting until then for a Mac Pro is too long.
I'm in the camp that believes that something like a resurrection of the cheese grater would be a decent stop-gap measure for the upgradeable crowd, and something a little fresher in the cylindrical Mac Pro for those that don't need that would be fine — but I acknowledge that either suits my particular needs and wants and isn't for everybody.
Professionals tend to over-estimate their own halo effect while in the grip of rage about a machine that is not aimed squarely at them. Yes, they may influence a few purchases, but these are overshadowed by any effect the iPhone has, and by the massive volume purchases that Apple's enterprise partners are now making.
Apple will take their newly-hired focus group, and use their creative professionals that they've brought on board to develop workflows to test, and make a computer that they want to make. It will be a very good one at that.
But, like Thursday's revelation, it will also generate complaint disproportionate to actual negative impact. These will be associated with threats that a user will abandon the Mac, and no longer recommend the hardware to others which will allegedly cause the doom of Apple, as it has always been, and always shall be.
Apple has no obligation to "dance with who brung you" as the saying goes, as much as we might like. As a result, the 2019 Mac Pro will be the best Mac Pro for Apple, like the 2016 MacBook Pro was and remains, and not necessarily the best for you, or me.