Last week, Apple did something very out-of-character: They admitted that they had made a mistake. In an ultra-exclusive meeting between top Apple executives and a handful of top technology reporters, Apple discussed their relationship with professionals, their struggles with the design of the Mac Pro, and the future of their professional offerings. Though it was an intimate event, the coverage of this meeting exploded, and both fanboys and haters alike saw in the coverage what they wanted to see. But we’ll get to that.
First, it’s important to note what Apple actually said. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, spoke about why the Mac Pro, which was released with much fanfare and praise three years ago, hasn’t been updated since its launch. It’s a very technical issue, but in basic terms, Apple made some design choices based on the direction they believe the professional computing industry was going, and they were dead wrong. They created a beautiful, professional computer that simply did not fit with the form factor of graphic processing units that have been released in the past few years.
So now that we know the problem, the question becomes, “What next?” Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, voiced the best answer the company has to offer right now. They’ve decided to completely re-think the Mac Pro and create something new that meets the needs of their professional users. But there’s a catch: The redesigned Mac Pro will not see the light of day this year.
And of course, that is very disappointing news for the many professionals who want to use Apple products but have become impatient with the company’s delayed product update cycle. The current Mac Pro is simply unsuited for the most demanding computing tasks in cutting-edge fields such as virtual reality and software development, and this has led some to give up on Apple and switch to Windows or to create their own Mac computers (dubbed “Hackintoshes”). It looks like those who have stuck with Apple this long are simply going to have to wait a while longer.
In the meantime, Apple has decided to make some minor speed upgrades to the current Mac Pro lineup without increasing the price. And they claim that a large number of professional users are actually beginning to adopt high-end iMacs as their computing machines of choice. Created to be a consumer-friendly all-in-one, the iMac has grown to become a powerhouse and one of Apple’s most enticing Mac offerings. (I personally use a Retina 5K iMac for video and photo editing at my job in church media.) Time will tell if these temporary solutions will be enough to hold professional users over until the new Mac Pro is unveiled.
This is a surprising and unprecedented move for Apple. It shows a level of transparency and humility that we’ve never seen from the company before, and it can be interpreted many different ways. In response to the announcement, some praised Apple for their honesty and expressed excitement over the re-thought Mac Pro. Others criticized Apple for their blunder and for announcing a product so long before its release just to save face. Ultimately, how one understands this announcement depends on one’s feelings about Apple as a whole, but I’d like to offer a few of my thoughts on the matter.
I think that this was a good move on Apple’s part in the long run. Embarrassing? Yes. But ultimately in their best interest. The lack of updates to the Mac Pro and the company’s refusal to offer any explanation before this week have given professionals the idea that they are no longer a priority for Apple. Finally choosing to communicate with this group will hopefully reassure them.
Their fear is understandable. Once known as a line of computers for designers and editors, the Mac has really gone mainstream over recent years, growing in its market share and in its public presence. And with this growth came a shift in the Mac’s user base. According to Apple, only 30% of Mac users fall under the “professional” category, which means that 70% of their customers are simply who consumers who don’t need the latest processors and most powerful GPUs.
And yet, Apple is still producing and developing the Mac Pro. Last year, they released a new generation of the MacBook Pro overhauled with a Touch Bar. They’re putting out iMacs that are powerful enough to appeal to at least some professional users. They continue to develop professional software that is used to create beautiful things on Macs every single day. And now, they are reaching out their professional users with honesty, transparency, and humility.
Is Apple a perfect company? Not at all. They’ve made some serious mistakes over the years, the Mac Pro debacle included. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether they’re trying to appeal to consumers or professionals. And they haven’t always been the best at communicating with their customers. But the events of last week make one thing perfectly clear: Apple cares about its professional users. And I believe they have something big in store for us if we’re only willing to wait.
I was barely able to scratch the surface of this issue in this post. If you’d like to read full coverage of Apple’s meeting last week, John Gruber was one of the reporters in the room and did an excellent in-depth writeup. Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel of The Verge offered their commentary on the matter in the most recent episode of Ctrl-Walt-Delete. And for the perspective of a professional who chose to give up on the Mac, check out Owen Williams’s Medium post about his reasons for switching to Windows.
I’d like to know what you think of all this Apple news. Do you think this was a good move for Apple? Are you hopeful for the company’s future, or do you think they’ve got it all wrong? Let me know in the comments or on social media.