The news that Apple is rethinking the development of their flagship Mac Pro reminded me of a quote that Steve Jobs attributed to Henry Ford during the 2000s. It goes something like: “If I’d have asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me ‘A faster horse.’ “
Jobs famously eschewed market research. He even had a few quotes of his own on the topic, including: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” and “It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want.”
And until Tuesday’s surprise announcement, it seemed like Tim Cook-era Apple shared Jobs’ viewpoint when it came to listening to its customers.
The Vocal Minority
While desktop computers only make up about 20% of Apple’s Mac sales, those who buy them are a vocal minority. Many of Apple’s pro customers have sounded off on Apple and the current CEO Cook for “ignoring” their needs. And seemingly with good reason; until this week, the Mac Pro had gone more than three years without a single refresh or spec bump.
But it’s not just the fact that the Mac Pro had been ignored when it came to updates. The “trash can” Mac Pro never seemed to be what users wanted in the first place. Here is an excerpt from OWC CEO Larry O’Connor’s Rocket Yard commentary from June 2016 that calls out the Mac Pro’s limitations compared with the Silver Tower:
“The Mac Pro 2013 refresh doesn’t seem to be at all what the majority wanted, and for many it offers less real world capability versus the 2009 to 2012 Mac Pro tower models it replaced. If nothing else, it has available external bandwidth via Thunderbolt ports that are about 5/8ths that of a single PCIe slot in the Silver Tower, which has three such slots available (with its fourth utilized by default for a GPU/Video Card). … And while it does do some great stuff, and its memory and SSD can be upgraded through OWC, it’s far more limited than it needed to be, having zero available high-bandwidth PCIe slots.”
Indeed, the Mac Pro’s limitations and Apple’s deafening silence on the topic have led many creative professionals and forum commenters to all but give up on Apple’s Pro lineup. Each year since the 2013 “trash can” Mac was unveiled, we’ve talked to thousands of pro users at different shows like NAMM and NAB and the chorus of “we really need to look at what the PC guys are doing” has been growing louder and louder. Unfortunately, some have already made the leap to PC.
Last year in particular, many had finally resigned themselves that Apple was more interested in what Apple wanted to make and not in what pros needed to do their jobs, and people were putting concrete plans in place to switch.
Apple seemed to forget that its pro users have pro needs and that machine demands grow every year. They limited the bandwidth, locked users options on the GPU, created a messier setup with all the external connectivity required and introduced thermal constraints that made it difficult or impossible to render certain video projects.
We were often on the receiving end of these customer’s frustrations since we were there to listen.
People were excited about the internal SSD storage and memory upgrades we offered and our Helios was able to help with some of the PCIe card needs, but we heard over and over that they really just wanted a Silver Tower with Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 and the ability to upgrade as needed.
Apple is Listening
At the small round table between journalists and Apple executives on Tuesday, Apple declared that it’s in the process of “completely rethinking the Mac Pro”. And I’m expecting a lot of excited conversations during NAB later this month surrounding the topic. With mentions of a modular design capable of running high-end CPUs and GPUs, I know I’m optimistic that everything great about the Silver Tower models is on its way back, with characteristic Apple flare that I’m sure will warrant the “completely rethought” characterization.
They wouldn’t lock themselves into a release date for the modular Mac Pro other than to say it won’t be in 2017 (some rumors point to a 2019 release), but I still expect enthusiasm will be running high.
Hopefully it doesn’t take them too much longer though – people have work to do.
So what do you think Apple means by “completely rethinking” the Mac Pro? Do you have concerns that the news is too little, too late? Let us know in the comments.
• OWC Jen is the President of OWC
More commentary from the Rocket Yard