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Summary:

The Mac Pro has long remained a professional tool in an otherwise consumer-focused line of Apple computers. But would Apple really close the door on its most muscular and expandable Mac model, as recent reports suggest? I think so, and there are good reasons why.

mac-pro-feature

The Mac Pro has long remained a professional tool in an otherwise consumer-focused line of Apple computers. With a significantly higher starting price tag than its iMac cousin, and a wide range of user upgradability options that most Apple products don’t have, it makes sense that a report Monday (via AppleInsider) claimed the Mac Pro might soon be put out to pasture. But would Apple really close the door on its most muscular and expandable Mac model?

Sales

First, there are the reasons Apple executives themselves gave for considering shelving the Pro. Reportedly, the sales of these expensive computers have dwindled to the point where making them isn’t nearly as profitable for Apple as it once was. Apple has never been particularly sentimental about keeping a computer around when it isn’t profitable; consider the fate of the G4 Cube, for example, which was introduced to the world in July 2000, and then discontinued just a year later after failing to impress the buying public. Desktop sales in general have been flagging, with notebooks and tablets picking up the slack.

Apple has been cited as bucking the downward trend in desktop sales, but the Mac Pro isn’t the computer whose sales we hear broken out during conference calls or at Apple special events. That honor is reserved for the iMac, Apple’s all-in-one that’s proving there’s still a market for affordable, sleek desktop computers.

The reason the Mac Pro doesn’t get a shout-out during Apple’s events is probably because Apple has nothing to crow about, because if there’s good reason to talk about how well a product is selling, Apple usually isn’t shy about doing so.

Thunderbolt

Apple may also be able to shore up the demand for added expandability using Thunderbolt technology, which is another point reportedly raised in discussion among Apple execs. Thunderbolt expansion devices will soon allow video capture cards and other devices that use PCI Express expansion connectors to be plugged in outside of the case to an iMac, MacBook or Mac mini. Thunderbolt also allows the direct connection of much faster RAID storage devices, and multiple displays, something the internal PCI Express slots in the Pro once provided exclusive access to.

Anticipating the mass market curve

The Mac Pro could still be a very useful piece of tech for a demanding set of niche customers, but those buyers are less and less Apple’s target market. Apple showed it wants to keep focus on the consumer end of its business when it discontinued the Xserve back in Nov. 2010, and it redesigned Final Cut Pro with non-professional end users in mind. In both cases, it eventually made concessions to try to ease the blow for professional users (Mac mini server model and promised updates to Final Cut Pro X).

Apple succeeds mainly because it keeps its product lines tight, so that it can focus on doing a few things very well, instead of many things adequately. This past fall, it even skipped a substantial iPod touch update, which is the biggest seller of its media player line, which indicates it could already be anticipating a future where the iPhone completely scratches that itch. The Mac Pro, which is much farther away from its core business, could hardly merit more attention.

Closing a door, but opening many windows

Shuttering the Mac Pro could understandably disappoint some users, since it would effectively represent the end of significant, Apple-sanctioned internal tinkering by end users, but as I wrote about before, Thunderbolt could introduce many external expandability options where once there for few.

In the long run, it’s better for Apple’s core business (and where its future customers will mostly be) to focus on making products with wide appeal that can also serve the professional needs of the few with somewhat pricey add-ons, than to sell a prohibitively expensive machine that only a select few can justify buying to begin with.

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  1. Typo: “affordable, sleep desktop computers” Sleep?

  2. It seems somewhat shortsighted to dismiss this line based on consumer sales alone. Surely someone at Apple has to be concerned with the mindshare of their operating system and the resulting implications of making their ecosystem less suitable for professional projects — this was quite literally the only thing that kept them afloat during the dark days.

    Anyone who has seen a post production house with sixty Mac Pros or a college lab with two hundred knows the value of this product, and it is not in the individual consumer’s house. If it discontinued, which computers are going to step into this space? If Apple cannot answer this question, they risk losing this important market once and for all.

  3. As lead tech in a 200 Mac office spread across three floors without an elevator…. my spine loves this idea! If I never have to lug a Mac tower up six flights of stairs again it will be too soon. We’ve finally replaced all of our G5 towers with Mac minis. Only issue is they are too easy to move! Have to lock them down.

  4. Jumping to a lot of conclusions there. Redesign FinaclCut Pro X for non-professional users in mind? Nonsense. Apple is making it clear they intend it to be a pro tool as well. It’s going to take some time to get it up to speed. But anyone remember how Apple started with FinalCut in the first place? That’s where FinalCut X is now.

    And of course the Mac Pro is probably on the way out because of Thunderbolt. That doesn’t mean they don’t have another machine in mind to bring out later with Thunderbolt, lots of space for RAM and a couple Xeon processors. Just in a different form factor? That speculation is no less viable than what I’m reading around the inter tubes.

    Let’s not get ahead of Apple on this. Some people are already hysterically claiming the Mac Pro is dead and nothing new is coming. Which is insane. There’s going to be a long upswing of Thunderbolt peripherals before the Mac Pro is rendered irrelevant.

  5. This would be a huge mistake. Professional users want professional computers. Imagine a ProTools/Logic studio switching to an iMac? If Apple think they had trouble on their hands when they crippled hundreds of thousands of professional video users with the whole Final Cut mistake…they haven’t seen anything yet if they mess with the professional audio world. Remember how rabid PC Logic users were when apple bought Logic from Emagic and cancelled the PC version? X that by 100.

    You would hope that one of the worlds most successful companies could stand to lose a bit in one area of their business while gaining HUGE amounts in another. Especially since Apple have long supported the creative world that made them what they are today. Wether someone is running Logic Pro, ProTools, Cubase, or Digital Performer (two of these applications run only on Mac)…we RELY on Apple to enable us.

  6. Apple has a problem with the concept of “and.” To Apple, everything is “or,” sometimes unnecessarily. Removing the MacPro will further broadcast a desire to “unnecessarily” jettison professional musicians, publishers, artists, photographers, filmmakers, and all who require more from their computers than the most novice of users. The abandonment of the Mac Pro would be also be fantastic news for Microsoft and Adobe, who will then achieve through Apple’s shortsightedness what they couldn’t do in the marketplace.

  7. If there was ever a time to pursue the Enterprise market with professional workstations *and* servers, it is now. It was a strategic blunder to discontinue the XServe. Heck, they should have pushed it even as a loss-leader, especially touted as a perfect iOS device manager. Apple acceptance in corporate America is growing as workers and executives alike are seduced by iPads and MacBook Air, etc. Now is the time to push and give a credible turn-key Corporate solution, not to retreat further into consumer land.

  8. One big issue is how iMacs seem to kill their internal drives faster than Macpros due to the heat they make. The other issue is that while thunderbolt is great, the adoption rate from third party companies is deathly slow right now. Until demand ramps up, don’t expect to see any new peripherals for awhile.

    I think you will see a midrange sized pro soon.

  9. I’d be concerned as many creative and science fields use Mac Pros and tie into them in many ways. The expandability (RAM, special boards, drives) and power is the advantage. This could endanger a number of industries. Perhaps, science? audio? filmmaking? Talking about hollywood filmmaking not, your cousin.

  10. At work we had 23 macpro, each got pro aja kona video in it, if apple stop mac pro how the production could work ,
    Note the hd pro video card coast twice the mac pro twice, proffesional companies will rather switch to pc than replacing the macpro with an iMac and buying thunderbolt external video card..
    The designer at press and production who support the mac when apple where suffering, if Steve still with us he will never cut macpro……..

  11. I’ve always thought of the Mac Pro as a good point of wide experimentation for Apple. It gave OS X its first experience of multi-processor use in the real world, heavy GPU/OpenCL use, always the most RAM. I’m not sentimental about it, just worried that Apple might not be able to prepare the platform for future changes quite so well without this “canary in the coal mine” machine out in the wild.

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