The headline is the bad news. While that was the implication at last year’s press briefings, we now have a year. We don’t yet have a timeframe for when in 2019, but I sincerely doubt we’ll see it before WWDC 2019.
Of course, that will mark six years since the current iteration of the product was introduced, never to be upgraded in its history. Six years without an upgrade — not just without a major upgrade, but without an upgrade at all — is an embarrassing black mark on Apple’s history of pro products. The only change made to the current product was to slide the mid-leve configuration down to the entry-level slot; that change was made last year, which is far too late.
Where things get more frustrating, from my perspective, is that it feels like the Pro is stuck in a position of not being released until it is a perfect rethinking of what a professional Mac should be.1 Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch got to interview core members of the Mac Pro team recently, in a quasi-sequel to last year’s press briefings:
Now, it’s a year later and Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, and they haven’t talked about it publicly before today. The group is under John Ternus and works closely with the engineering organization. The bays that I’m taken to later to chat about Final Cut Pro, for instance, are a few doors away from the engineers tasked with making it run great on Apple hardware.
“We said in the meeting last year that the pro community isn’t one thing,” says Ternus. “It’s very diverse. There’s many different types of pros and obviously they go really deep into the hardware and software and are pushing everything to its limit. So one thing you have to do is we need to be engaging with the customers to really understand their needs. Because we want to provide complete pro solutions, not just deliver big hardware, which we’re doing and we did it with iMac Pro. But look at everything holistically.”
This sounds great. Apple is taking the time to really understand where professional users’ sticking points are and address them — whether in improving hardware design, fixing software bugs, or addressing incompatibilities with system components — in current products and using that understanding to guide the future Mac Pro. None of this is bad news, and Ternus even suggests that this research will also influence MacBook Pro updates as well:
“Well, it’s a need for some of them,” adds Ternus. “I want to be clear that the work that we’re doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything. It’s super relevant for MacBook Pros, it’s super relevant for iMacs and iMac Pros and in the end I think it helps us in dialogue with customers to figure out what are the right systems for you. There is absolutely a need in certain places for modularity. But it’s also really clear that the iMac form factor or the MacBook Pros can be exceptionally good tools.”
Where I think this whole saga gets very frustrating for a lot of current and potential Mac Pro customers is that Apple is describing a product — a powerful, professional-grade, modular desktop computer — that already exists: it’s the tower-style “cheese grater” Mac Pro. While Apple is working away to reinvent one of the most critical components of a professional user’s workflow, those users are stuck with product choices that may not quite fit.
Though last year’s mea culpa acknowledged the weaknesses of the current Mac Pro, I think Apple should have taken it a step further and taken the PR black eye by pulling that product from the market, replaced it with the old cheese grater in a more current configuration, and kept iterating in it while developing the new Pro. I have to think there was something technically fraught with doing so; and, now, it’s probably too late.
As it is, Pro customers that need a modular product are once again left in limbo as they await a reinvented high-end Mac. I hope it’s worth the wait, but several professional users have indicated that they don’t trust Apple to get it right.
Or, see Dr. Drang’s more succinct version of this argument:
Apple will be taking an extra year to design the only product in its lineup whose buyers don’t care about its design.
I’m optimistic that there’s a good reason to take several years to build and ship a rethought product worthy of the Mac Pro badge. But I’m also realistic: that’s a very long time to ship a revolution, when what many users want today is an evolution.
There are plenty of users — yours truly included — who have expressed a desire for Apple to slow down and get things right. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who thinks that Apple is moving too quickly with the Mac Pro. Six years between updates is a lot. ↩︎