Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

On the Attainability of Apple’s Professional Products

Michael Simon, Macworld (content blockers required, obviously):

All said, one of each Pro product will cost you about $25,000, depending on which MacBook Pro and iPad Pro you decide to buy. And that’s the entry-level price. Over the past decade or so, Apple’s Pro products have skyrocketed in price, and now we have a gorgeous Mac Pro and display that costs more than a small sedan. That’s not an Apple tax, that’s an Apple mortgage.

I can already hear the rationalizations: the Mac Pro isn’t for you! That’s why Apple sells the iPad Air! You can buy a MacBook Air! Sure, but for the most part, Apple’s non-Pro products don’t merely represent cheaper versions of their Pro counterparts. They’re completely different machines with older tech. The iPad Air has a home button, the MacBook Air doesn’t have a Touch Bar, etc. (OK, having no Touch Bar might be a benefit, but still.) Apple products have always been luxury items, but it wasn’t that long ago when the most expensive Mac tower topped out at $3,400. Now that doesn’t even get you in the door.

I am sympathetic to arguments that Apple is charging more — and in the case of some products, a lot more — than they used to. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. But I think this article is fairly silly. For one thing, why judge the cost of pro products by adding up the cost of every pro product? Who buys an 11-inch iPad Pro and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro and a 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 15-inch MacBook Pro? What a ludicrous metric.

For another, I’m not even sure that the prices in this article are accurate. I’m not certain that the most expensive Mac tower has ever “topped out at $3,400”. I tried using the Mac Pro configurator from 2009 through the Internet Archive and just upgrading the RAM to 32 GB from the single 6 GB stick it shipped with cost a whopping $3,700.

The Pro Display XDR — for which this article contains the now legally-required amount of hand-wringing over the cost of the stand — could best be compared to the 30-inch Cinema Display. When that product shipped in 2004, it cost $3,299, and you needed to buy a $599 graphic card to run it. The inflation-adjusted cost of that display combination is just shy of $5,300 in 2019 terms.

But there are two other reasons I think this is a poor explanation of the cost of being a pro customer. The first is that some of Apple’s products have actually come down in price. In his pro products list, Simon includes to Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, which cost about $300 and $200, respectively. But Final Cut Studio was $1,299 and Logic Studio cost $499. These apps are much less expensive today, even if you add on the cost of Motion and Compressor, which are now sold separately.

The second is that the barrier to entry for doing professional-grade work has dropped dramatically from a technical level. Editing HD video is no longer the rarefied duty of the highest-end Macs, and it hasn’t been that way for a while; my iMac does an acceptable job of manipulating 4K video. Every developer wants their code to compile faster, and a well-specced iMac Pro might be more apt for their needs; an even higher-end Mac may not have the right balance of cost to benefit. A machine like this might have more of a niche use. In combination with my previous argument that Apple’s pro apps have come down in price, a lower hardware barrier to entry also means that a media editing workflow including software may actually be less expensive than it used to be.

I don’t want to make this seem like an apology for Apple’s prices generally. The stuff in the $1,200 to $2,000 price bracket, or thereabouts, is of particular concern to me as I think it’s more of a mixed bag of compromises than it used to be. Putting Retina displays and SSDs in nearly every Mac results in far better but more expensive products, and the company’s reduced profit margins in recent years back that up. But I don’t think the pricing of the new Mac Pro or Apple’s pro products in general is as dire as Simon makes it out to be. It’s just reflective of a more niche customer; and, maybe an ostensibly “pro” workflow no longer requires Pro-branded hardware.