End of Life for the Apple Mac Pro?
Update: enter your feedback to Apple at http://www.apple.com/feedback/macpro.html.
Martin D writes with some excellent questions:
This sort of speculation about the future of the Mac Pro is disconcerting, especially when cross referenced with Apple's recent “consumerization” of all its “pro” apps (Logic will be the last one to fall, probably in Q1 or Q2 2012). You've touched on this in the past without going into a lot of exploration.
- Does Thunderbolt really have the potential to obviate the need for a computer with multiple integrated drive bays?
- Could an enlarged Mac Mini accommodate bigger processors, large amounts of RAM, and copious external storage and thereby actually replace a Mac Pro?
- Seems even if you removed all the internal drive bays and card slots from a Mac Pro and collapsed it accordingly, you'd only save about 50% of the volume because of the CPU heat sinks and power supply. (I suppose you might not need such a large power supply.)
- Will tiny SSDs actually wipe out the mechanical hard drive? What time frame?
- Does that mean a new, more space-efficient drive form factor is coming? (Apple has already started wiring SSDs into their motherboards.)
- If Apple lets the Mac Pro fade away, what is all this stuff converging on? Laptops for everybody?
Within Apple itself are legions of programmers who have to compile enormous code bases, designers who produce high resolution artwork, filmmakers who produce high definition video—it's not like they are actually blind to high end needs: they have daily high end needs of their own. Seems like something else is going on here.
Let’s keep in mind that nothing is decided yet— the demise of the Mac Pro could be greatly exaggerated. But it is disturbing to me that Apple could decide to drop the Mac Pro; it is my daily machine and has been for years, for good reason.
However, as I wrote on July 21st:
It’s simple: business investments go into products that matter to profits. The Mac Pro is almost an irrelevancy at this point, contributing perhaps 1% of Apple’s sales, with iPhone and iPad dominating the lineup, and laptops after that.
Dumping power and elegant products is a slippery slope that breeds other poor decisions for other parts of the user base (What should we drop next? Which pro software should we dumb-down or drop or alter beyond recognition, showing disdain for our users who make a living using it?).
To see the world degrade into generic shiny parts for teenagers, and away from solidly-built pro-level gear is deeply disappointing. It feels like a violation, especially after investing large sums over the years.
Alienating the user base — a strategic blunder
Eliminating the Mac Pro would alienate high end users (including me), who really do need the Mac Pro. Such users are key influencers who would be hung out to dry, no doubt with assertions from Apple that some replacement “solution” is just as good, but would in reality be a compromise and frustration for high-end users.
Elimination of the Mac Pro would be a long term strategic mistake that in my mind would signal the coming demise of Apple (believe it or not), not for the loss of the Mac Pro on its own, but because it’s a warning shot for all high end users that their needs are not important— so look elsewhere. And thus a warning shot to any user thinking about brand loyalty, and building a professional solution around Apple products. Death to the ecosystem. No company prospers forever, and the first step is failing to honor apparently small market segments that matter much more than bean counters realize.
Dovetailing into the whole thing (as Martin notes), is the consumerization of everything, including the features in Lion. My Mac is not an iPhone, but clearly that is not understood at Apple. The Mac is getting harder to use, not easier, and all that eye candy being thrown in is not easier, it’s more confusing, something I see firsthand with friends and clients. As Exhibit A, I present iTunes, a kitchen-sink mess.
When a company steps away from respecting a core part of its user base reliant upon the Mac Pro (many key influencers in there!), Apple loses their support in many ways; it’s a crack in the door for alternatives. Competition is slobbering over the iPhone and iPad market. They will succeed sooner or later (probably later), but Apple does not need to accelerate the process by alienating professional users.
What does the Mac Pro offer?
No other Apple computer can replace a Mac Pro in raw computing power, memory expansion, drive support, PCIe card support, etc. Good enough for most people is not good enough for many professionals.
The MPG Pro Workstation is my design for those professionals.
A small box with a messy jumble of cables daisy-chained along is a space-management, reliability and noise headache. There are technical issues too:
- Memory capacity is at most 32GB in an iMac today, and that’s the most expensive memory, because it has to be high density memory. By comparison, a Mac Pro can go to 96GB (or 48GB in 4/6-core models), at very reasonable cost. I cannot work efficiently with less than 48GB.
- Thunderbolt is bandwidth limited to about 1GB/sec, it is certainly no replacement for a card in a PCIe slot, especially high performance cards.
- It will take years for Thunderbolt to evolve an ecosystem of parts that high-end professionals need. And unless the PC world also adopts Thunderbolt, Apple will take us back to the days of product bifurcation, with Mac-specific products costing more, with fewer choices.
- PCIe cards are not suitable for Thunderbolt, at least not high performance cards, such as graphics cards.
- For expansion, a tangle of external boxes and cables is a mess. And a reliability problem. And a power supply quality problem. And noisy. Having up to six internal drives all on a very high quality power supply is a huge plus.
- Reliability is enhanced by the ability to have multiple drives, ECC memory, a robust power supply, efficient cooling, etc. A MacMini or iMac do not offer any of those attributes.
Warren S writes:
I agree completely with your November 1 article on the Mac Pro's potential demise. I own a Mac Pro which I would have a difficult time doing without. The iMac would not be adequate. Of course, unless there has been an a announcement this is all speculation. It could be Apple is simply waiting until the new Intel processors ship in Q1:12?
However, why not send your excellent article to Apple? They need to see it and read the arguments presented. A company like BMW seems to do well making a small number of M cars which offer maximum performance alongside more mainstream models designed for the general marketplace. Apple can and should continue to do the same. All one has to do is to think in terms of maximizing customer satisfaction along with achieving superior profitability. These dual mandates are not at odds.
DIGLLOYD: Well, I agree, but I’m not sure to whom I’d send it at Apple.