Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The New Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

From the Apple newsroom:

Apple today introduced the all-new Mac Pro, a completely redesigned, breakthrough workstation for pros who push the limits of what a Mac can do, and unveiled Apple Pro Display XDR, the world’s best pro display. Designed for maximum performance, expansion and configurability, the all-new Mac Pro features workstation-class Xeon processors up to 28 cores, a high-performance memory system with a massive 1.5TB capacity, eight PCIe expansion slots and a graphics architecture featuring the world’s most powerful graphics card. It also introduces Apple Afterburner, a game-changing accelerator card that enables playback of three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video simultaneously.

Pro Display XDR features a massive 32-inch Retina 6K display with gorgeous P3 wide and 10-bit color, an extreme 1,600 nits of peak brightness, an incredible 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and a superwide viewing angle, all at a breakthrough price point. Together, the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR are the most powerful tools Apple has ever put in the hands of pro customers and will change pro workflows forever.

Both of these new products are wild, yet largely predictable in a very good way. The Mac Pro’s form factor is a return to the classic professional Mac tower, with a case that can be removed and plenty of easily-accessible slots for upgrades. Fully-loaded, the numbers on Apple’s marketing page speak for themselves: this is a Mac for the highest-end of professional customers. That’s a single-digit percentage of total Mac users, according to Phil Schiller speaking to a small group of reporters in 2017:

First of all, when we talk about pro customers, it’s important to be clear that there isn’t one prototypical pro customer. Pro is such a broad term, and it covers many many categories of customers. And we care about all of these categories, and there’s a variety of different products those customers want.

There’s music creators, there’s video editors, there’s graphic designers — a really great segment with the Mac. There’s scientists, engineers, architects, software programmers — increasingly growing, particularly our App development in the app store. So there are many, many things and people called pros, pro workflows, so we should be careful not to over simplify and say ‘pros want this’ or ‘don’t want that’; it’s much more complex than that.

The segmentation of what Apple thinks of as a “pro” user is fairly recent, and it’s enabled by hardware capabilities that have often outstripped user needs. For example, shipping solid state storage in nearly every Mac means that you can edit RAW photos or HD video on, say, a MacBook Air. It’s not ideal, but it’s not dreadful.

When Apple shipped a new Mac Mini last year, they repositioned it as being capable of pro applications — a sort of entry level pro product. The iMac Pro that was released at the end of 2017 serves the mid-range of pro applications. This Mac Pro is the top end. And, of course, its price matches that. It starts at $6,000 in the United States, and that’s with 256 GB of storage and 32 GB of RAM. Of course, those things can be upgraded by end users, and I would anticipate the highest-spec built-to-order option to come in at well over $30,000.

Then there’s the display, which is equally top-end, and has a bothersome name: “Pro Display XDR”. Why not just “Pro Display”? Its specs are jaw-dropping and, accordingly, so is its price: $5,200 with a VESA mount, or $6,000 with a stand. Or you can buy the display without any kind of mounting option for $5,000, but I don’t know why you would want to do that. Tack on another thousand dollars if you want Apple’s special matte glass instead of a glossy display.1

Apple’s positioning of the display is interesting to me. They compared it against a Sony reference display similar to this one designed for production environments. That was a shrewd move; those monitors are often over $30,000. But even though Apple’s display is calibrated and has different reference modes, I question whether it will be adequate for production environments. I bet footage will still have to be passed through one of those Sony monitors before it reaches theatres or television screens.

These prices and the ridiculous capabilities of these products are exclusive in the truest definition of that word. They exclude huge numbers of customers who either cannot afford to spend over $12,000 on a new computer and display, or do not need such high-end capabilities. I think that’s okay. The iMac Pro remains a very capable machine for all but the most demanding users.

For those users, Apple appears to have delivered in a huge way.

See Also: Ina Fried of Axios explained that she and the rest of the journalists who met for the roundtable two years ago received an in-depth briefing after the keynote.

  1. In my WWDC prelude piece, I wrote that I hoped to see a spiritual successor to the 30-inch Cinema Display. I think we got it. ↩︎