Apple ‘completely rethinking’ the Mac Pro

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Apple is planning a total overhaul of its Mac range of computers – which includes the iMac, the MacBook, and the Mac Pro. 

An extended article on TechCrunch.com provides deep insight into a company which is perhaps most famous now as the maker of iPhones and iPads.

Apple used to be a computer company. It even had the word Computer in its name, as in “Apple Computer”.

That was the way it was from its incorporation in 1977.

But then, in 2001, the company launched the iPod, the tiny little MP3 music player which basically ended all other MP3 players of the day.

It may be difficult to remember, but even when MP3 players from a variety of companies were creating a nascent market for the device, most people who wanted to listen to music while on the move used what was called a “walkman”.

The brand name name Walkman was probably owned by Sony, but the generic word came to mean personal music players which could play audio tapes and compact discs, produced by your favourite beat combos – although it’s probably worth pointing out that the CD player tended to be referred to as a Discman.

Weird as it may seem, and embarrassing as it certainly it is, audio tapes have not been seen nor heard since around that time, although CDs are probably knocking around somewhere.

Anyway, partly due to the phenomenal worldwide success of its iPod, Apple went on to develop what would be known as iPhone, which it launched in mid-2007. A few months before the release of the iPhone, Apple decided to drop the word “Computer” from its name.

This may have resulted in some wondering whether Apple would eventually get out of the business of building desktop and laptop computers… meaning the Mac.

Historically, the Apple has struggled to establish the Mac in the face of overwhelming competition from Windows-based machines, and the company famously almost went bust in the 1990s.

But with the return of Steve Jobs to the CEO role in 1997, and the release of the first iMac, the company started to get back on track. Indeed it has been a money-making juggernaut ever since.

However, the perception may still persist that the Mac may be something Apple decides to phase out completely.

Not so, according to the article in TechCrunch, in which three of Apple’s senior executives are apparently totally immersed in mapping out a bigger and brighter future for what could be described as the signature product of Apple as a company: the Mac.

The three bigwigs TechCrunch speaks to and whose meetings the website sits in on are:

  • Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide marketing;
  • Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering; and
  • John Ternus, vice president of hardware engineering.
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And while many may think that the Mac is a poor relation to the company’s other, astronomically popular computing devices – namely the iPod, iPhone, and iPad – the numbers would suggest that the Mac is not short of a buck or two.

Here’s some of the numbers TechCrunch unearthed from a company which usually is so super-secretive that it rarely gives such candid interviews and open access:

  • The Mac user base is almost 100 million
  • As a business unit, Mac has a $25 billion “run rate”, which would make it a Fortune 100 company on its own, according to TechCrunch
  • Of total Mac shipments, 80 per cent are laptops and 20 per cent are desktops
  • Mac Pro sales have been growing at 20 per cent a year

The Mac Pro is, of course, the top-of-the-range machine used by the richest people in the world – because only they can afford to buy them. And it isn’t even sold with a screen – just the CPU.

Moreover, the Mac Pro seems to be of most interest to Apple’s development team – at least when TechCrunch was there.

Main technical bigwig Federighi says: “I think it’s fair to say, part of why we’re talking today, is that the Mac Pro – the current vintage that we introduced – we wanted to do something bold and different.

“In retrospect, it didn’t well suit some of the people we were trying to reach. It’s good for some; it’s an amazingly quiet machine, it’s a beautiful machine… But it does not address the full range of customers we wanna reach with Mac Pro.”

Marketing head honcho Schiller says: “We are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking’ the Mac Pro.”

Schiller provides an insight into the rich and powerful people who buy Mac Pro computers, and what more they might want in life. “When we talk about pro customers, it’s important to be clear that there isn’t one prototypical pro customer. Pro is such a broad term, and it covers many many categories of customers. And we care about all of these categories, and there’s a variety of different products those customers want.

“There’s music creators, there’s video editors, there’s graphic designers – a really great segment with the Mac. There’s scientists, engineers, architects, software programmers – increasingly growing, particularly our App development in the app store. So there are many many things and people called pros, Pro workflows, so we should be careful not to over simplify and say ‘Pros want this’ or ‘don’t want that’ – it’s much more complex than that.” 

As aesthetically appealing as the Mac Pro is – much like any of Apple’s products – one of the limitations is the ability to customise the hardware to your specifications.

If you need to process 8K video, or you’re working on augmented reality applications, or doing something similarly memory-hungry, you might like to add more random-access memory, or even another graphics processor, but that sort of thing is not really something Apple encourages.

The company seems to prefer launching products that are as self-contained as they can be and do not really leave room for further tinkering by users. But hardware engineering commander Ternus suggests that approach might be modified. 

Ternus says: “The way the system is architected, it just doesn’t lend itself to significant reconfiguration for somebody who might want a different combination of GPUs… That’s when we realized we had to take a step back and completely re-architect what we’re doing and build something that enables us to do these quick, regular updates and keep it current and keep it state of the art, and also allow a little more in terms of adaptability to the different needs of the different pro customers.”

It’s unlikely that even the basic, entry-level Mac Pro will ever be classified as “affordable”, but if money is no object to you, then it may be possible in the future that the Mac Pro will become endlessly configurable. And you might even be able to afford the screen that’s planned to go with it.