The Withering of the Mac Pro

There is good reason to doubt whether or not Apple will continue to create so called “Mac Pros.” The market for Macs has changed dramatically and the technology has changed drastically.

Consider the market. When Apple sells a few million Macs in a quarter, 75% of those are portable. The iMac is the easy majority of desktop sales, leaving the “Pro” machine to account  for numbers in the very low hundreds of thousands. The MacBook Air accounts for the lion’s share of Mac sales. Right there it doesn’t make much sense for Apple to continue building Mac Pros from a financial standpoint. Very few people would miss them. If these people did move to Windows, I’d be shocked because all to often they won’t be able to do what they need to do and we all know that what makes a Mac isn’t the box. It’s OS X.

Face it, the big market for Macs has shifted from the relatively minute PRO market to the massively lucrative “mobile knowledge worker” market. Apple isn’t only serving the artistically creative, they are serving the world of information management and consumption. People who are just as demanding and creative in different ways.

Consider the the technology. People who buy Mac Pros typically buy them because they have more powerful CPUs, greater RAM capacity, more storage capacity and the best graphics card that Apple supports, or the only graphics card that Apple supports. Now an iMac with Thunderbolt, maxed out on RAM delivers the performance that rivals the Mac Pro. Thunderbolt provides extraordinary data throughput, as high as 10Gbps compared to 6 with SATA or USB 3. Apple is providing fast GPU chipsets on the system boards of high end iMacs (not like you could upgrade on a Mac Pro anyway), and you can put a great deal of RAM into the iMac. You can connect multiple 27” Thunderbolt monitors if you like also.

Sandy Bridge, Thunderbolt, USB 3, 32-64GB Memory, legacy FireWire port, and your iMac Pro is ready.

Editors, designers, animators often work on 17” MacBook Pros  these days. Obviously if they can do that, they can move to a beefed up iMac if need be.

All of this sort of makes the MacPro line look more like an affectation for a small community of users rather than a necessity. Even in the small business server space, MacMinis with ThunderBolt have taken over and serve small businesses well. Not to mention that many small businesses are shifting their server requirements to the cloud. More than anything else, the “idea” that there is something or someone called a “PRO” who needs something outside what the average Mac can deliver is changing.

Consider that Apple is also re-defining who and what the “PRO” is. Is the professional the editor sitting in some dark room somewhere trying to get colors right on “Mike And Molly,” or is the “PRO” the editor/designer/animator working on the MacBook Pro from his boutique firm out of his spare bedroom in his home? Or is the PRO the person quickly cranking out episodes of their new webseries for Youtube, Vimeo, etc.?

Consequently the question isn’t just whether or not Apple will make a Mac Pro, it’s whether or not the MacPro is really needed anymore. Apple stopped making the Xserve. It just withered. The same seems to be happening with the Mac Pro.

Apple could let the Mac Pro decline all together and Pro lovers would grumble and adapt. Each subsequent iMac generation that came out would be faster and faster and eventually the MacPro would be nothing more than a fond memory. Apple could also create a beefy iMac Pro with Xeon processors, a high end graphics subsystem, maxed out on RAM etc. Possibly a sexy miniTower with 4 to 16 core chipset options, and some slots for fast SATA drives and/or SSDs could be in the works.

Ultimately though, it appears the MacPro’s days are numbered. So don’t get your hopes too high. Think about new ways of doing your work, and the advantages of being mobile as opposed to being stuck in the dark room. Consider that the new Pros are people like Felicia Day now, as opposed the Hank the good old dependable animator.

It should also be relatively obvious that the long range ideas indicate “PROs” working on iPads. Many people will say that can’t happen but while they’re saying this, Apple and others continue to crank out more imaginative iPad based video editing, photo editing, and audio editing. Don’t be surprised if in a few years you’re reading how this Academy Award winning movie or that Emmy Winning Television Series was edited on an iPad. Use your imagination. Imagine working on low res video, making your edits, and uploading an edit file to the cloud where the actual high res render takes place. Same for massive photos.

Computer programmers like to think that they will always need the biggest machines possible for compiling massive programs but I can easily see engineering being done on the iPad then sent to the cloud for compiling and testing. You could be sitting on an iPad and writing Windows software. Your compiles take place in the cloud, and you actually manipulate a virtual test machine in the cloud when you’re running the software. All on your iPad without Windows installed.

Change hits everyone.

Don’t give the Mac Pro a funeral just yet, it’s conceivable there might be one more Mac Pro, but if Apple does discontinue it, see it as an opportunity to upgrade your workflows over time. Your existing Mac Pros will continue to work, until you evolve.

One response to “The Withering of the Mac Pro

  1. I have a Mac Book Pro to do all my video editing on CS6, Davinci Resolve and Pro Tools. It works ok, but I need more power. I just export a 6 minutes clip with 3 differents settings, it took 7 hours… (neat video plugin, Full HD and so on)
    The video card of the iMac is not supported by the mercury engine, it might change in the future, but that’s a big draw back, since we can’t choose a video card that has CUDA or that works with Premiere Pro. With a Mac Pro, you have a bit more choice.

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