So, about that Mac Pro…
As a reminder, I’d been agonizing about a replacement for my Early 2008 Mac Pro for a while (particularly because it couldn’t run Sierra, and thus Xcode 8.3), finally gave in and bought the Late 2013 Mac Pro in late 2016, and posted a few weeks back that despite obviously over-paying for it, I’m quite happy with it so far.
Yesterday’s news really doesn’t change any of that.
If you happen to be reading this in the future — hey, did humanity survive the Trump presidency, or are you guys aliens sifting through the ruins of our society? — by “yesterday” I mean the embargo lifting on a rather remarkable recent meeting in which Apple management came clean with a group of top reporters and bloggers (no podcasters/YouTubers/livestreamers, though) about the roadmap for the Mac Pro going forward. Daring Fireball has what I think is the definitive write, and of the follow-on commenterati, I quite like Chuq Von Rospach’s take.
The tl;dr is “current Mac Pro design is a dead end, will continue to be sold (with a new discount) until a completely new concept debuts, which won’t be this year”
It’s reassuring to know that Apple plans a substantial desktop model that isn’t just a 5K iMac with a couple more cores on the high end. And surely this was needed to stem the defection of many kinds of creative professionals, who would be far better served by the hardware and software offerings on Windows, yet still prefer Mac.
But after ATP spent two hours last night noodling over what this new “modular” Mac Pro might look like, I have a different question: what’s it going to be like to soldier on with the current model for another year or two?
It’s somewhat comical to think about it. Since the new Mac Pro won’t be available this year, and we assume the current model will remain available, unchanged, in the interim, then we can look forward to unboxing videos in 2018 where the brand new computer pops up an “About This Macintosh” box that says:
Also, by Apple’s Vintage and Obsolete Products policy, the Late 2013 Mac Pro won’t go vintage until well into the next decade. If the last one is sold in 2018, then Apple will have to service Mac Pros until 2023, and make service parts available to third parties until 2025, twelve years after the machine’s debut. I sure hope they’re stockpiling Thunderbolt 2 parts somewhere; it’ll be a fiasco if there are parts they need third parties for and can’t get anyone to fab anymore.
Pushing the new machine’s debut so far off into the future is shrewd; a ship date that’s either sooner or more firm would Osborne both the Mac Pro and possibly whatever this promised higher-end iMac is. But it will make the next n months super awkward, as Apple continues to sell a model it has kind of washed its hands of. The long-overdue price cut — pushing all the configurations down by $1,000 such that 6-core becomes entry level and 8-core is mid-range — softens that somewhat. It’s not going to win over anyone that wasn’t already considering a Mac Pro, but maybe it staves off some defections to Windows for 12 months.
For myself, obviously, I wish they’d done it sooner:
If Apple did an across-the-board $500 price cut on the 2013 Mac Pro line, to address the de facto depreciation of its internals, I'd bite.
— Chris Adamson (@invalidname) November 25, 2016
A few people on Twitter have asked if I think Apple’s going to start sending out $1,000 checks to recent Mac Pro buyers, like they did with the original iPhone after it got a substantial price cut just a few months after release. I don’t see that as likely (where would the cutoff point be? I ordered mine December 22 and received it on the 30th, so if the cutoff is beginning of 2017, I’d still miss out anyways), or necessary. I knew that I was overpaying for the fancy-pants model, it’s just that I overpaid by $2,000 instead of $1,000.
I do think the most important thing Apple can do for the Mac Pro for this awkward period is to do everything they can to support 5K monitors (even though this necessitates a two-cable “dual stream” solution), both with OS and firmware updates and by keeping this support page up-to-date. Ideally, there should be a blessed list of known-compatible monitors, frequently updated, and at least one of them should be for sale at Apple Stores and on apple.com. I avoided the risk by just getting a 4K monitor, which works great for me in a 1920×1080 pseduo-Retina arrangement. Being a high-end product, the Mac Pro buyer is someone Apple should want to keep happy — leaving them to roll the dice on Amazon’s monitors page does them a deep disservice.
As for me? No regrets. As I said in my earlier post, the Mac Pro has enabled me to do a lot more with video than I could before. I’ve got nine episodes of Invalidstream in the can since the new year, accounting for about 400 GB of ProRes recordings on the big spinning disk in the drive bays behind the desk, and I’ve been gradually pushing the livestream encoder harder to get better picture quality when I’m live on Friday nights. I wouldn’t expect a MacBook to run Windows apps in Parallels or build Xcode projects and run the simulator, capture the audio and video of that, composite graphic layers and mix with other audio, do two parallel encodes (H.264 for the stream and ProRes for the archive), stream it… and not drop frames all over the floor while it’s doing all that. This is the Mac I need for what I do.