More Modular, Less Trash Can

Hot Take: Did Apple Fail with the Mac Pro, and Is There Hope for the New One? Editors Weigh In

Apple recently did something unprecedented. It admitted to a roundtable of journalists that it failed with the small, cylindrical Mac Pro ($2,999+). The Cupertino company hasn’t touched the Mac Pro, its most powerful computer, since its introduction in 2013. That’s four years unchanged. Apple then revealed that it was going to release a redesigned modular Mac Pro, because the current design wasn’t able to support the high-end applications creative professionals needed. (This is one of many reasons the cylindrical “trash can” design hasn’t worked out, but the main one is because its thermal core wasn’t designed for today’s big, hot video cards.) However, Apple didn’t disclose the release date for this new Mac Pro — we just know that it won’t be this year. And maybe not 2018, either.

Over Slack, I asked two of Gear Patrol’s resident creatives, Eric Yang (Editor in Chief) and Henry Phillips (Deputy Photo Editor), both of whom are Apple fanboys and are intimately acquainted with the Mac Pro, what this announcement meant for Apple, and what they hope think the new Mac Pro will be like. Our Slack conversation, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

Tucker: How strange is this Mac Pro situation for Apple? And did the original Mac Pro fail?

Eric Yang: Oh. The black anemone — I wanted one badly.

Henry: I feel like as a design object it was pretty unbeatable. But they just went the wrong way.

Eric: Yeah, there was a bit of Mac Cube hubris there. But I don’t think they should be faulted for trying to make that work. I think history will look at it through a similarly nostalgic lens. The burr grinder fan design was my favorite part. It was design first, functionality second. Which I suppose is the incorrect thesis for pro gear. The original Mac Pro tower was beautiful because it was industrial.

Henry: Putting design first? *Cough* Touch Bar *cough*. Yeah, I think they’re realizing that error, but it’s pretty cool that they came out and started PR-ing their way out of the hole. Now it’s just twiddling thumbs until 2018-19

Eric: I defend the Touch Bar.

Eric: But, this roundtable on the new Mac Pro…kind of perfect how they did this. An intimate situation for what may be the first time I think Apple has ever said “sorry” on the record. Scratch that. The open letter from the Apple Maps and the Forstall mayhem.

Henry: It’s definitely a weird situation. They kinda technologically rolled the dice with smaller, paired GPUs and got it very wrong, It’d be like them pulling the optical drive from iMacs and then everyone wanted to watch DVDs again.

Various designers have tried their hand at re-doing and imagining the new the Mac Pro. (See Pascal Eggert‘s attempt, above.) But nearly all of them center around accommodating (and cooling) modern high-performance graphics cards

Eric: The quote that stood out to me was “designed themselves into a thermal corner.” So, to get to the question — I don’t think the original Mac Pro failed.

Henry: Not a chance. That thing existed for like seven years!

Eric: It was arguably the best pro gear they’ve ever made. Except the Performa line. (Totally kidding.)

Henry: It was weird to me (and every publication that was at this roundtable mentioned it), but they kept saying that the vast majority of pro users are picking Macbooks and iMacs and the machines are more powerful than ever…and then saying that they’re devoting a ton of resources to the new Mac Pro. Like, I don’t even know if I’m pro enough for the new Pro. Is anyone who’s not rendering Toy Story 4 in need of anything more than an iMac?

If it comes in gold, I’ll send Apple a check right now.

Eric: I think the pro iMac edition they talked about seemed like the most intriguing offer. 8k display too. Seriously. VR and science apps.

Henry: Talk about thermal corners…

Eric: Maybe a Dri-fit x Apple case design. Any iMac won’t have a strong upgrade path, though. They never have, they never will.

Henry: But it has that super cute little ram flap on the back!

Eric: Which you’ve used how many times?

Henry: Whatever. It’s there.

Eric: They’re designed to be great three-to-four year computers then be down cycled.

Eric: Processor and memory is what I’m really referring to.

Henry: Yeah, no doubt. People are still running 2012 Mac pros without too much hassle. Can’t say that about iMacs

Tucker: Is another 18 months too long for pro users to wait?

Henry: It’s a wicked long time but… like… what’s their other option? Pro users aren’t buying mac pros now, they won’t want them in six months.

Eric: 18 months seems like eons to journalists and rumor nerds. It’s fine for industrial applications.

Henry: A souped up iMac will help.

Henry: Alternatively… it seems like everyone and their mom who’s doing serious graphics work (more VR development and less some guy dicking around in Premiere) has long ditched Mac and adopted any number of gaming PC companies. Falcon Northwest seems like a solid option.

Eric: Think so?

Henry: I think the market for people who don’t want a Macbook/iMac is so so so small. But it got bigger when apple ruined the Macbook Pro.

Eric: A loaded iMac really pushes the border of pro. Intel ruined the MacBook Pro. Can you imagine how many engineers at Apple have said “just wait until we get our foundry, then you’ll see.”

Henry: I don’t wanna say “over designed” but…

Eric: The most important thing is the commitment to the pro market. Even if it’s shrinking it does represent a large voice in terms of mindshare. Look at the Mac Rumors threads. People nerd out about Mac gear. The iPhone and iPad stuff is just expected. Apple recognizes that and hell, they probably need to make the computers for themselves too. The one thing I think was done with less aplomb was the transition to the new MacBooks. I think too little crowd control was done.

Henry: They also ruined it. In the exact same way they blew the trashcan Mac Pro. Expandability through external devices is the worst. Anyway, I think Apple’s gonna get back to basics with the new Pro. It’s gonna be beautiful, smallish, stupid fast. And enough to make people consider whether an iMac is the right call.

A more concept came from another German design site, Curved. It also centers around big graphics cards, but includes a bunch of recent Apple developments like Touch ID and a Touch Bar-esque display on the front.

Tucker: Let’s get back on topic… the design of the new Mac Pro, how will it look?

Henry: Honestly, I think the new Mac Pro will end up looking a lot like Falcon NW’s Tiki — small, tight, but modular enough to be useful.

Eric: iPhone influence is strong but there is a longer lifespan for “trucks” so modularity is an important factor there.

Tucker: Let’s end this with how much you think it’ll cost and if it’ll come in other colors besides black…

Henry: Starting at $2500. If it comes in gold, I’ll send Apple a check right now.

Eric: $2999 starting. Configurable up to $10,999. Two colors. It’d be better if they just did one color, but they know how to do it efficiently now so it’ll come in multiple aluminums. Two drive bays, two slots. 6 Thunderbolt 3 ports. Everything possible to be wireless or single cables will be. Display will need its own power.

Can we talk about the 8k display for a sec? As I say gritting my teeth because we just ordered a LG 5K for the office.

Henry: That’s a lot of pixels. To be honest, I can’t wait to see the design pairing for the new Mac Pro and the display. They’ve always been awesome.

Eric: Agreed.

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