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On a dingy weekday, sometime last month, Apple did something unprecedented. They invited five journalists to their headquarters and for the first time in recorded history, revealed their plans for creating a new Mac Pro. A machine that hasn’t been updated for more than three years. A machine that won’t be out for at least a year.
They didn’t have any physical product or sketches to show. For all we know, the Mac Pro plan just exists on a whiteboard somewhere in Cupertino. In the meeting, Apple promised pro users that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s going to be a new Mac Pro, maybe even an iMac Pro and the Mac isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
That’s why we’re recommending you avoid buying a desktop Mac for the time being.
What Went Wrong
When creating the 2013 cylindrical Mac Pro (lovingly known as trash can Mac Pro), Apple had a particular vision of the future. A small, closed CPU with sealed components where all the extensibility happened externally, through Thunderbolt 2 ports.
According to Apple, the future of professional hardware depended on one huge CPU and two smaller GPUs, working in parallel (placed in a triangular design). But the market and the GPU industry decided that wasn’t the case. What actually works better is just one, huge, hot, power hungry GPU. And no accessory maker truly embraced the Thunderbolt 2 standard.
And there was no place for that in the current Mac Pro. The triangular design couldn’t be modified to include more powerful GPUs.
In the words of Craig Federighi, Apple designed themselves “into a bit of a thermal corner”. There was just too much heat. And that’s all we know for a fact. As to why Apple waited three years before making this announcement, or why didn’t they just upgrade the Mac Pro with faster versions of the same hardware, or why didn’t they just drop the price or the product? We have no idea.
What we do know is that Apple made a mistake when they chose a closed, non-modular system. Professionals want extensibility, and it seems like Apple has finally learned that.
The State of Professional Mac Desktops
We learned some interesting tidbits from the interview:
- 15 percent of Mac users use at least one “pro” app frequently.
- The split between laptops and desktop Mac sales is around 80/20 in favor of portability.
- When it comes to pro users, MacBook is the preferred machine. The iMac is second, while the Mac Pro comes in third.
- The Mac Pro has a single digit market share in Macs. Even if it’s closer to 1 percent, that’s still a surprisingly low number.
What to Expect
There are three things that are coming: a new modular Mac Pro, a professional grade display to go with it, and a possible top-of-the-line iMac Pro. Apple hasn’t promised a launch date for the Mac Pro, all we know is that it’s not coming this year.
One thing we know for sure is that the new Mac Pro will be modular. We don’t know what that means in Apple-speak but it should be easily upgradable, either by the end user or by Apple. We can assume that Pros will be able to buy a base system and upgrade components like the RAM, GPU, storage and more with newer components as time goes on.
The notion of an upgraded, more “pro-friendly” Mac Pro is also interesting. A newer 5K iMac with six-core Xeon processors would certainly be intriguing for professionals that need more parallel processing power instead of graphics strength.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy a Desktop Mac Right Now
It has now been 18 months since the last iMac update. The poor old Mac mini hasn’t seen an update since October 2014 (and that update actually made it worse). The current Mac Pro was released in December 2013.
The current state of desktop Mac hardware, to put it mildly, is a bit sad. But the important thing is that sunrise is right around the corner. Yes, the Mac Pro isn’t coming for another year but the new iMacs (including the iMac Pros) should be with us in the next couple of months.
If you have to have a powerful Mac for things like photo or video editing, the best option right now is the 2016 or 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro. Max out the RAM and upgrade the CPU. Add a display (like LG’s 5K UltraFine display) and you should be good to go. No, it’s not a true replacement for a desktop Mac, but it should do just fine.
When it comes to the Mac Pro, Apple is still selling the 2013 version, with a bit of a shuffle. The starting price is still the same but you now get the mid-level components for the base price.
The Future of Professional Macs
Even though this news affects just 1 percent of total Mac users, this is still a big deal. As users who depend on Macs to make a living, it renews our faith in the company. I’ve personally argued (offline, online and in my writing) that the Mac isn’t going anywhere. And this move from Apple should help us all settle down a bit.
As long as Apple is committed to creating specialized machines for a comparatively smaller market size, the Mac will thrive — both in hardware and software.
Are you waiting for the next desktop Mac from Apple? Or are you satisfied with your MacBook?