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Commentary: Mac Pro Users Spoke and Apple Listened

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

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  • IMO:
    Cook, always the salesman, is pushing the new iMac Pro before putting resources into the Mac Pro to see if power users will buy into the iMacs. If that happens, there won’t be a Mac Pro next year, and that’s why I think he pushed the Mac Pro to next year.

  • I have been using my Mac Pro (early 2009) but it is getting a bit slow and unpredictable. Apple’s current lineup makes an upgrade purchase unlikely, so I am thinking the unthinkable, Windows PC.

  • It also seems that all engineering/scientific software has to run on Windows 10. There are several open source programs that just don’t work well anymore on the Mac OX. It seems if i want to run a circuit program like LT Spice, i have to have a copy of windows and parallels to interface it. Also the Mac OX version of the famous open source symbolic math program Maxima and interface XMaxima, don’t run properly anymore. Also i now have orphaned Xcode software that i can’t get running and there’s really no help available anywhere.

  • I tried to extend the life of my 2008 Mac Pro by buying a replacement video card that went bad. That worked for a while. Then i had to replace the motherboard. That lasted only about 1 yr. My Time Capsule for my iMac is on the fritz. Dead after just two years. Every replacement part i’ve tried turned out to be junk. Quality on replacement components is very poor. I find it difficult to adjust to the cordless mouse. it just doesn’t fit my hand. i keep a conventional mouse with wire to get me unstuck. Do you guys actually product test Mac peripherals any more?

  • I think Apple is giving up on the PC concept. They really are floundering about where to go next. How about a room temperature quantum computer? Something that could eventually miniaturized.

  • I own a 2010 Mac Pro. I am expecting that in a few months Apple will introduce an operating system upgrade that will not run on my Mac Pro. I like my old Mac Pro better than the current trash can Mac Pro. It has almost everything I need in one enclosure, with a few external accessories connected.

    I am sure that any replacement for the trash can Mac Pro will be loaded with connection ports that are totally incompatible with my current external accessories (hard drives, DVD burners, scanners, printers, memory card readers, keyboards, etc.) My solution: I have installed Windows 10 on a hard drive in my 2010 Mac Pro. Windows 10 runs well on my Mac Pro (as well as can be expected on any Windows machine). The external connection ports on my Mac Pro are completely compatible with all of my current peripheral accessories. When Apple no longer makes an operating system that will run on my 2010 Mac Pro, the simple solution is to run Windows on my Mac Pro.

  • i would be perfectly fine with the exact same 2012 chassis with updated ports. if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    On the other had, if they are rethinking this i would start with the 2013 guts and put them into a bigger enclosure with at least 4 SSD bays, latest pci-e, and updated ports.

    Basically they are buying time to design the box that this stuff goes into, which makes no sense. They already make the trashcan so they have the components and a ton of engineers. this should be easy unless they have a bottleneck like Johny Ive who thinks he can take years to do this.

    my guess is they had drawings and prototypes when they introduced the current pro and they could start from there.

    a kid could put the guts of this together in a week.

  • So in fact, we have really nothing from Apple between the Mac Pro tower of 2013 and the release of who knows what a year and a half to two years away. It would appear, with as much lead time as they are predicting, as if they have just woken up to our needs. But they’ve already had FOUR YEARS! to you have been working on something.
    They don’t really have any credibility anymore, as far as I’m concerned.

    • I agree. All they care about are the cash cows. Desktops, and laptops for that matter, are becoming the “hobby” at Apple and an “if time available” development lemma.

  • I waited through last year’s product announcement cycle for zip, then held out to this year for the announcement of product shipping soon–not an announcement that Apple’s coma had lightened and they would, might, probably, bring something out in 2019. I’ll likely no longer be here waiting when the Apple baby arrives.

  • I hope it’s not too little, too late. Count me among those who just want a silver tower with USB 3 and TBolt. I’d be happy with the same slots and storage arrangements, with some SSD-specific connectivity as well. I still want the storage capacity of fast SATA spinning drives. I have too much invested in software to consider Windows. I will keep going with the 1010-2012 towers as long as possible, and hope that Apple can come up with a decent Mac Pro and a decent OS to go with it.

  • Great. Could you tell apple I need a 17″ MacBook Pro. I do graphic design and travel and need the screen space. The 15″ is too small and it’s pretty impractical to lug around a big monitor with me everywhere I go. I’m still using my 2010 mbp and am ready for an upgrade. Thanks

  • “Completely Rethinking MacPro Different” – Silver, Gold, Rose Gold, and Product (Red)™ trashcans will feature Touchbar technology so you may configure the power switch in any of billions of colors.

    Thunderbolt 4 will link directly to your iBrain® implant, so no keyboard, mouse, pen, or displays will ever be necessary.

    Future macOS upgrades will now be just a fond memory.

    Face it: Apple is an iOS device company.
    Mac, despite rising sales, has been on life-support ever since revenue from the sale of iOS devices consistently doubled revenue from the sale of OS X devices, likely around 2011.

    I love my Macs, but we’re NEVER going back to 2012 and older Apple computers designed and intended to be upgraded by end-users, ever again.

    It was iOS device revenue, not Mac device revenue that made the Apple Park spaceship possible.

  • Cook needs to keep his political preferences to himself.
    Cook’s political views reflect back on the company , as a stock holder I want him to concentrate on revenue not politics.

  • 2019. That’s actually good news. I’ve already built my Linux box replacement for my trustworthy MacPro 3,1. At the time the competition could not match it. I was doing “big data” and needed teh 32G address space. Now Apple considers my box obsolete. Glad I made the switch when I did.

  • FCPX and a 2010 MacBookPro with a bad graphics card that Apple wouldn’t support left me cold. Macs simply cost too much to replace every other year.

  • Probably the only reason I’m still running a MAC for my music studio is all my investment in music software. I have been extremely frustrated with Apple’s willingness to toss aside their most loyal user base just to market a bunch of phones to teens. If they’re really going to do it they need to knock it out of the park and do it pronto. The trash can is WAY overpriced and underwhelming.

  • If a new Mac Pro doesn’t happen until 2019, they will likely put themselves out of the market.

    If it doesn’t have a “base model” that blows away the competition and upgraded versions that no one can touch, they will put themselves out of the market.

    If the “modularity” is strictly Apple proprietary plugin items, they will put themselves out of the market.

    The fact that they are only just now “rethinking” the Mac Pro design, makes me think they have missed the boat altogether and truly only a handheld gadget company any more.

  • It is hard to believe it will take a year or more from now to come out with a new Mac Pro and display. They do not have to reinvent the wheel! In the meantime, we are stuck with aging displays and technology which is non-upgradeable.

  • Too little too late. Have already converted to windows and given up on apple. Changed my phone, laptop to android. Since Steve Jobs passing Apple has lost it.

  • The opportunity to speak our own opinions of dislike now that Apple has trusted us in it’s transparency, is at hand. This 2013 Mac is a Beautiful Space Ship which hoped the industry would move with 2 gpu’s instead of one. We just spent 7000.00 only 8 months ago on this 2013 & have not looked back, knowing that when you believe in a company, you flow with them. Nothing on earth was made like this machine. We also have the Silver Towers & understand the growth process liberties with them. We are thankful to have this 2013 next to our ears without hearing her when we record, & rendering or working with video is also enjoyable. Even now with the finding out of a shift, this machine is a Monster & deserves respect. We have been in audio/post video production for 30 years & we thank you Apple for stepping out in faith & making a Masterpiece with the 2013. She can fly.
    We will continue moving with you Apple & thank you for your courage to create with hope. Better that, than not at all….. Apple was & Still is on our side.

  • My upgrades to my 2009 Mac Pro echo those done by Ron Kusina on his 2010 model – because of these upgrades (specifically the CPU upgrade) I can run the current OS, otherwise it would be obsolete for no **good** reason.
    Now I know that Apple is in business to sell systems and accessories – that’s among the reasons the solder-in memory and CPUs, provide no bus slots, etc. on current Macs. But they also charge ultra premium prices for their systems. I’m glad to pay if I get value for my money – in this case I want to get the Mac experience *and* I want to keep my system for a long time and upgrade it when I need to. I hate to agree with my PC-using colleagues in this forum (I use a PC for work), but I’d rather turn to PCs if Apple cannot understand my rationale for wanting both the Mac experience and the ability to install high performance upgrades to increase the useful life of these costly but loved systems.

  • Now where is the 17″ laptop with completely replaceable components? Liquid cooling via radiator & fan?

  • I still can’t believe they got rid of Mag Safe and now solder in memory and SSD into their new laptops.

    I’m happy with 10.6.8 on my iMac. It just works. I’d rather have more thickness and expandability than the new models.

    • Exactly !

      They may have ‘vision’ that things are loved in slimmer profiles, but why can’t one model be towing the line for other needs – how about a 20hr Battery ? More slots/ easy user replaceable memory/hard drives ?
      It’s just a design decision / challenge – how to make it work in a slim form factor !

  • My Mid 2010 MacPro is still my goto computer, beefed up considerably with an SSD in the spare optical bay, an OWC Excelsior II and USB 3.0 in the PCIe slots, upgraded Intel 3.46 GHz 6 core processor and 32 GB of RAM. 4 internal HD’s providing RAID storage, and several external HD’s. I can wait, hell, I’m retired!

  • The Mac Pro silver towers were beautifully engineered but they really do not need to be so large, heavy and expensive. They were designed for conventional hard drives, and I think most people would much prefer a machine designed to house multiple SSD drives. We want a full complement of ports please, no adapter cables thank you very much. Multiple HDMI ports for monitors. PCI slots for adapter cards to allow third parties to build specialty items. I’d like to see a rack mount version that would work sideways, to replace my multiple Xserves and Mac Minis. And a server app that is not dumbed down, the one that shipped with 10.6 server was much more functional.

  • The thing they never seemed to realise is that the smaller ‘trash can’ model was never going to cut it for the pro users. I’ve never seen much (I won’t say anything) good come from making computer cases smaller. the main thing I see from the ‘pro’ perspective is that when they make the shells of Macs or PC’s smaller there are a lot of heat related issues that surface over time and the things just seem to fry up and wreak havoc. The smaller ‘trash cans” vents block up all to easily with small flying insects and overheat. I’ve seen it happen! The ability for a pro user to configure their machine how they want it to be has always been paramount to a fast, tidy, flexible workflow. Some of us may be working in 3D Cad or photoshop graphics one minute only to switch to audio production or movie work the next. That require certain elements to be available on your machine at any given time. The lack of external configurable ports is what probably has irked people most. I for one just ended up finding old 2009 4 core mac pros and updated them to 12 core machines as I couldn’t work with the other scenarios anymore.

  • 2019 will be way to late! 2017 is pushing it. Apple dropped support for my 2008/2009 machines with the OS. As software companies start requiring 10.12, we will have to look elsewhere and that mean Windows 10. We are already required to use Windows 10 for software which has no Mac version. Time to buy Windows 10 and turn our old MacPros into Windows machines. We already did it to our MacPro 1,1 and 2,1 machines. Apple abandoned them 5 years ago… since then, they have served us well as Windows machines. First 7×64 and now 10Pro. Mr Cook should realize, the clock started ticking in 2013 on Pro users looking elsewhere. Then it started ticking LOUDER when they announced 3,1 and 4,1 MacPros were not supported by 10.12. And for those of us using them as servers…they better make the new machine have integrated graphics so we no longer have to waste a slot on a silly graphics card. C’mon, Windows machines have done that for over a decade!!!

  • Thank goodness my 2009 Mac Pro was so upgradeable that it may make it for a decade. If Apple wanted to make the trash can they might have continued to offer the silver towers at the same time to see where customers went and refreshed both over the past 3 years. I really thought it was over for a good Mac desktop. Glad it is not but they should have admitted their mistake much sooner and we’ll see. Maybe I won’t need to do a Hackintosh to get what I want.

  • Apple needs to keep replacement parts available for their pro models. I and some of my friends have desktop mac Pros who cannot get parts through a Mac dealer and maybe not at all. These computers are more expensive than their PC competition and we customers now need real support or we will walk.

  • Apple should use an old physical architecture with a new set of guts for Mac Pro. It could be ready for WWDC 2017. Then design a brand new model for 2018, 2019 or year 3000.

  • Waaayyyy too late Apple. No longer interested. Bought a PC this year for $1400 that runs circles around my $4000 trash can and I’m actually preferring Win10 over the more recent Mac OS releases.

  • It gives me hope, but still worries me. A Silver Tower with Usb 3 and Thunderbolt 3 shouldn’t take so long to make. And the wording they used could imply that they are making it modular so they can do quicker upgrades themselves without worrying about thermal issues, not so much for user expandability.

    Honestly I had hoped in the past for an even larger tower, with space for multiple os drives and a raid for hard drives. That will likely never happen. Going PC with something like an Origin Genesis is my only chance of that, but I would rather run OS X than Windows 10.

  • Let’s pray that the “form over function” that has characterized all of the Macs over the last several years is gone forever. I,for one, have belly full of thinner iMacs and Macbook pros at the cost of lost ability to be the great Macs we used to be so proud of.

    • I hope they register this in the redesign process ! Pro users are not consumers who need to be wowed