Apple says its next ‘Pro’ device, the Mac Pro, will launch in 2019. Sometime within those 365 days, we’ll see a modular desktop computer with powerful specs – but who will it be for?
Recent Mac Pro history tells a tale of two Apples. The first Mac Pro, which many dubbed the “cheese grater,” was a familiar tower. A very PC-like offering, it allowed for parts to be swapped out and pieces added almost at-will. It was what the old guard would call a true “professional” device.
The latest Mac Pro, 2013’s ‘trash can,’ was “new Apple.” Small, sleek, and as muscular as its predecessors, it promised big things in a small package. But it has deep issues, most notably thermal ones. It’s what caused Apple to take a step back on the Mac Pro, and is sparking so much consternation amongst professionals everywhere.
Those pros are caught at the same fork in the road as Apple. Firms either upgraded to the trash can and (likely) regretted it, or are stuck with aged cheese graters and desperately need something newer. With the next Mac Pro, Apple has decisions to make about modularity: Does it stick with the cheese grater’s DIY angle, or the trash can’s use of ports and external add-ons?
Pros and the Mac Pro
Many professionals are wringing their hands about Apple’s incoming hardware, and a vocal minority is questioning Apple’s intent. If the company was quickly able to identify thermal issues with the trash can, why not introduce a new product sooner? Why not just bring the cheese grater back?
Sound reasoning provides the answers (Apple doesn’t revert; Apple wanted to recoup investments made in the trash-can design and production; the trash can was selling well for a few years) that pros don’t want to hear. To them, the trash can was a misfire, and Apple should have altered course immediately. Now we’re getting a product on the heels of a rare flop from Apple’s design team.
To buoy the efforts of engineering and design in appeasing those professionals, Apple has created the Pro Workflow Team. TechCrunch describes it as a board tasked with guiding the design and build-out of the next Mac Pro; a check-and-balance board of professional trustees, if you will.
Apple hasn’t discussed the composition of the Pro Workflow Team, but admits it has hired some folks and contracted with others. TechCrunch’s article suggests graphical artists and video editors are one piece of the puzzle; and “award-winning artists and technicians” are also on board. Apple Vice President of Hardware Engineering John Ternus leads the Pro Workflow Team, and told TechCrunch: “We’ve been focusing on visual effects and video editing and 3D animation and music production, as well.”
And we’ve brought in some pretty incredible talent, really masters of their craft. And so they’re now sitting and building out workflows internally with real content and really looking for what are the bottlenecks. What are the pain points. How can we improve things. And then we take this information where we find it and we go into our architecture team and our performance architects and really drill down and figure out where is the bottleneck. Is it the OS, is it in the drivers, is it in the application, is it in the silicon, and then run it to ground to get it fixed.
”Skate to Where the Puck is Going to Be”
Tech pros reading Ternus’ quote might ask: “But what about developers?” Those familiar with the quote I used as the header of this section might understand; it’s a Wayne Gretzky quote Steve Jobs was fond of.
Tech pros might enjoy complaining about Mac Pros and Touch Bars and HomePods and whatever else Apple does, but they’re not driving sales. However, Apple is undoubtedly listening to firms who spent tens of thousands (maybe even hundreds, who knows) of dollars to upgrade their hardware to the trash can, only to be met with thermal issues and an inability to upgrade the simplest components.
Tech pros need good hardware; just not as much (or as often) as many other professionals in Apple’s purview. Intensive processes such as doing CGI for action films can lead to some granular hardware needs that make the requirements of most tech firms look positively trite.
Ternus didn’t say his Pro Workflow Team had developers or engineers. Assume it doesn’t. Further, assume the modular 2019 Mac Pro will be geared toward professionals who don’t write apps or software services. Consider that the iMac Pro, which debuted at WWDC 2017, was Apple’s attempt at appeasing developers.
Ternus suggested his team is considering the entire stack, from hardware through software. “I want to be clear that the work that we’re doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything,” he told TechCrunch. “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.”
2019 feels like a long time from now. We don’t know if the Mac Mini is staying, or if this refresh for the Mac Pro is on hold to usher in ARM SoCs for the Mac lineup. We don’t know if Apple is still serious about the Touch Bar. We don’t know if the MacBook Air is dead. We don’t know if 2019 answers all of those questions, either.
WWDC is just around the corner, and it sure feels like Apple is clearing the hardware skeletons from its closet in an attempt to focus on software, services, tooling, frameworks, and platforms. In that vein, for the majority of tech pros, the hardware we have on-hand from Apple is good enough to do anything it will announce at WWDC, so the Mac Pro isn’t critical, at least not to that crowd. All we can hope for is that the new Apple took a page from old Apple, and understands that modularity for pros is critical.