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Maybe it’s time for Apple to throw in the towel on the Mac Pro

Maybe it’s time for Apple to throw in the towel on the Mac Pro

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Zoom in / Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro, a trypophobe’s nightmare.

An apple

The Mac Pro is one of the few remaining Intel Macs without an Apple Silicon replacement ready, although we are shortly after the two-year deadline which CEO Tim Cook originally set for the summer 2020 transition (and to be fair, it’s been a tough few years to predict).

Bloomberg’s Mark German reports that Apple is still working on a new version Mac Proamong other not-yet-replaced Intel Macs, such as the higher-end Mac mini and the 27-inch iMac, but that the planned “M2 Extreme” chip that would have powered Apple’s Silicon Mac Pro was “probably” scrapped.

The Extreme would have connected two M2 Ultra chips together, in the same way that the current M1 Ultra is a pair of interconnected M1 Max chips, but at the time of writing Apple suggests that it plans to ship the new Mac Pro with an M2 Ultra chip inside and focus on “easy expandability for additional memory, storage and other components” to help the Mac Pro stand out the existing Mac Studio.

Waiting for news in the face of uncertainty is nothing new for the absent Mac Pro; this has been a constant for the past decade and more. It’s been a long time since a Mac Pro has been updated at anything close to a predictable cadence, especially if you don’t count partial refreshes like 2012 Mac Pro tower or the addition of new GPU options to the 2019 model. And each of the last two updates— “trash can” Mac Pro in 2013 and the redesigned 2019 cheese grater version – reflect a complete change in design and strategy.

At this point, I’d like Apple to decide: either commit to a coherent strategy or vision for the Mac Pro and its place in the lineup, or retire it.

A fading star

Apple's 2013 Mac Pro still supported a few niceties like user-replaceable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it went without updates for more than half a decade.  Apple eventually reversed course on design, but it was a big mistake.
Zoom in / Apple’s 2013 Mac Pro still supported a few niceties like user-replaceable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it went without updates for more than half a decade. Apple eventually reversed course on design, but it was a big mistake.

Retiring the Mac Pro would have been unthinkable a few decades ago when the G3 and G4 Power Mac towers were prices, specifications and marketed more like high-end consumer desktops than enterprise workstations. But it’s been a long time since that was true, and other Macs have stepped in to fill that void while the Mac Pro suffered from its identity crisis. Apple’s high-end professional software also faded during this era, and software packages from Premiere to After Effects to Blender to Autodesk Maya are either platform-agnostic or take advantage of hardware features like the Nvidia-exclusive CUDA API, which Apple no longer offers.

Mac Studio is perhaps the best argument against the continued existence of the Mac Pro. It’s the first truly new Mac design since the Apple Silicon era, and it takes full advantage of the performance and power efficiency of the M1 (and soon, hopefully, M2) series. It is small, it’s incredibly effectiveit runs relatively cool and quiet, too manages to surpass maximum 2019 Mac Pro configurations in many workloads for less money.

This is something that Review of Mac Studio on Verge did a great job highlighting – employees using applications such as Premiere, Audition, Photoshop and After Effects, Avid Pro Tools and Blender all had only good things to say about the Studio in conjunction with the Intel Mac and Apple Silicon MacBook used to launch of these apps every day. Creating web content isn’t as complex or demanding as creating, say, 3D effects for a big movie or TV show, but it’s a wide range of creatives who could, could took advantage of the Mac Pro a decade or two ago who definitely shouldn’t be considering it today.

Apple still has its own suite of professional applications exclusive to the Mac, including Final Cut Pro X, Motion and Logic Pro. But the rate at which these apps are updated (and the range of updates when they do appear) has slowed and narrowed over the past decade, at the same time that the Mac Pro has atrophied.

Earlier this year, a group of 112 professional filmmakers signed on open letter asking Apple to improve Final Cut’s collaboration features, respond more quickly to requests for new features, and do a better job of lobbying for the software in the film industry. Even the creators who I prefer to use it in this “still can’t pick it” context due to real and perceived flaws in the app and a general lack of app expertise and knowledge across the industry. The Verge’s video editors also “didn’t want” to help test Final Cut Pro because “none of them use it.”

Apple’s other hardware succeeds in part because it runs Apple software that gives people things they can’t get from other ecosystems. The opposite is true for high-end Mac Pro-style professional workloads that run primarily on applications that run as well (and in some specific cases better) on cheaper and more flexible Windows and Linux hardware, and this is reflected in the hardware and software that the actual VFX studios use.

A massive 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society's Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows were the most popular workstation platforms, with Windows somewhat favored by smaller studios and Linux by larger ones.  The Mac share is minimal everywhere.
Zoom in / A massive 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society’s Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows were the most popular workstation platforms, with Windows somewhat favored by smaller studios and Linux by larger ones. The Mac share is minimal everywhere.

A 2021 Studio Platform Research Report by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee surveyed nearly 60,000 workstations in 88 studios of various sizes; Linux runs on 60 percent of these workstations, while Windows runs on 29 percent and macOS only accounts for 11 percent. The survey also found that most studios plan to increase their use of Linux and Windows, while most plan to keep their use of macOS roughly the same.

None of this is to say that Apple should cede this market to Lenovo, Dell, Intel, AMD, Nvidia and the rest, but Apple needs to be more focused, consistent and serious than it was with the Mac Pro if it really intends to compete get here


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