The Mac Pro (s aapl) 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?
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.
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.