December 2019 in review: Apple releases the long awaited new Mac Pro
The Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR dominated December, but there was also possibly, just possibly, an end to the year-long issues with China.
Buyers had barely got their hands on the new 16-inch MacBook Pro when suddenly it was December and all eyes were on how Apple was bringing out the Mac Pro. Yet before you could dismiss the MacBook Pro as last month's news, some of those new buyers were finding fault with their machine. Overall the reviews and hands-on pieces that continued into December were overwhelmingly positive, but there was this one issue about sound.
If you were using certain applications such as Final Cut Pro X, Logic Pro X or just any app that played audio, you might hear a popping noise. It would appear immediately after you've stopped playing, but also cropped up for some people as they scrubbed through audio and video files.
Apple confirmed that this was a software bug and that it was working on fixing it.
As AppleInsider pointed out, though, Apple has some history with this popping or sometimes clicking sound. We could trace back similar issues to even 2007, when Apple had to update the then-current OS X Tiger.
But come December 10, 2019, the superb new 16-inch MacBook Pro was eclipsed somewhat by the superb and costly new Mac Pro.
About that cost
The Mac Pro was the biggest Apple news all month, but it isn't in any danger of eclipsing other products in the Mac line. It simply isn't aimed at the majority of users. Surely no one was looking at their Mac mini and planning a tiny upgrade to the Mac Pro.
That's not in any way to say that Apple was aiming at the wrong market, rather to explicitly say that it was aiming at a particular one. AppleInsider had already talked to potential buyers about their reasons. And as disparate as they all were, they were each desperate for the power that this machine was due to bring.
Then it's not that anyone is going to casually drop the $5,999 base price for the Mac Pro, it's that there are users for whom even the cost of the highest-spec model was financially worth it.
We all went to Apple's Build to Order page, got out PCalc on our iPhones, and totted up that you could spend around $53,000 on a Mac Pro. That was the maximum on launch day, and since then further storage options have been added.
In late-December, the most you can spend on a Mac Pro is $53,948, and there are still more graphics card options to come. Plus the regular base model is at some point going to be joined by one that's built to be rack-mounted. That will start at $6,499 or a further $500.
From the moment the base price and configuration were announced, there were people who wanted much higher specifications and a much, much, much lower price, please. More reasonably, there were people arguing that the equivalent Windows workstations were cheaper. But, they aren't.
Or you could ask buyers. The UK's Lunar Animation studio, for instance, has had both the Mac Pro and a Pro Display XDR for the weeks when it was working on the film "Jumanji: The Next Level."
Enthused by how the Mac Pro revolutionized their workflow compared to the iMac Pro machines they had previously been using, still the company zeroes in on the display as the true game-changer.
"It essentially meant that we now had a reference monitor in the studio," continued the firm. "As a smaller studio without 30k to drop on a monitor, it's allowed us to see exactly what the final deliverable looked like as it was intended to go to the client."
That's why this new Mac Pro isn't overpriced.
Even if you can't justify dropping the cash that would otherwise get you a high-spec Tesla Model 3 car, though, the work that Apple did on the Mac Pro is significant.
The sheer incredible speed that it offers us now will also increase over time as hardware and software engineers exploit the features of the new Mac Pro.
Apple stuck to its word about making this machine the best Mac ever, and it stuck to its promise of making it modular.
It just didn't entirely stick to the idea that every Mac Pro would be made in Texas.
If you're in the US, then then the Mac Pro you order will be assembled at the plant in Texas. But if you're outside the US, the machine you get is likely to have been assembled in China.
Barely a minute has gone by all year without China being an issue for Apple. Right from January, we had Apple reporting falling profits there, and throughout the months since, the US and China have been in a trade dispute.
What we learned about Apple's profits in China this month was that nobody knows what's going on — except that the game continues.
It's a different situation with trade tensions and tariffs, though. It's premature to say that all of this was utterly and finally resolved in December, but it was at least eased.
"The glass on this iPhone is made by Corning in Kentucky," he said to the Nikkei Asian Review. "Several of the semiconductors in the iPhone are made in the United States. There's enormous manufacturing happening in the US, just not the assembly of the final product."
"The way that we do manufacturing is we look at all countries and look to see what skills are resident in each country, and we pick the best," he said.
Apple is truly a worldwide company in terms of manufacturing and the supply chain, but it's also a global sales operation.
You already know that in almost five years since it was announced, the Apple Watch has become an overnight sensation. But this device, which never gets as much mention as the iPhone or now even as much as Apple TV+, is even bigger than you think.
According to industry analysts, the Apple Watch has eclipsed the iPod in terms of sales.
Apple is doomed
That's still not as much as the iPhone continues to earn. It's estimated that Apple earned some 66%, or two thirds, of the entire smartphone market's profits in 2019.
Note that this figure is specifically profits, and it amounts to something in the order of $8 billion. It's not the number of phones sold, as it's easily arguable that assorted Android handsets outsell the iPhone.
However, for all the devices it may have sold, or at least shipped, Samsung reportedly only took 17% of the market's profits. Significantly, that puts Samsung in second place. That's how far ahead Apple is.
That was then, this is now
The Apple that is now headed into 2020 is a rather different company than the one it was a year ago. In this last year, we've had huge services launched — Apple Card, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+ — and we've seen a revamp of how the company even presents its news.
With all of these services in place, it's going to be interesting to see if 2020 sees Apple returning to a more familiar pattern of events that are centered on hardware.
And we'll brace ourselves for yet more global concerns that are far less technological and much more political. Such as Apple Maps, which should've rounded out 2019 in some triumph as the greater detailed updates now cover the entire US. But instead, it got embroiled in a debacle over the Crimea Peninsula, and specifically who that territory belongs to.
Politics, legal issues, and more episodes of "The Morning Show." Apple never stops.