Apple this week has done two uncharacteristic things for the company: it is apologizing for missteps in its product design/rollout and it is actually pre-announcing upcoming products. Some of those products are at least a year away from release. What’s going on in Cupertino these days?
To the first point, Apple is finally admitting to what we have all known for years: the current generation Mac Pro was a mistake. After launching the professional-grade machine in 2013, Apple has done little to upgrade the system, leaving long-time Apple fans upset and without many options with regards to improving performance. However, the main reason for Apple’s failure to upgrade the machine was that it ran into problems introduced due to the shape of the Mac Pro’s case.
“I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi while speaking to a select group of journalists at its corporate HQ. “We designed a system that we thought with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.”
“Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. And so it became fairly difficult to adjust.”
Apple went on to the explain that the triangular-shaped inner layout of the Mac Pro was designed around the notion that heat from the internal components (processor, GPUs, etc.) would be evenly balanced. However, large single-core NVIDIA Pascal- and AMD Polaris-based GPUs proved to a more than the system could handle with regards to thermal management. And for this reason, professional users were left scratching their heads about the direction of the Mac Pro, with some deciding to jump ship to the Windows ecosystem to have access to more powerful processors and graphics cards.
So, with the current Mac Pro in thermal limbo, Apple is looking forward to a next generation device, and that means telegraphing its plans well in advance to reassure professional users that it hasn’t forgotten about them. “With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro’,” said Phil Schiller. “We’re working on it.
“We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.”
Schiller perhaps summed things up best with regards to its mea culpa surrounding the Mac Pro, stating, “One of the good things, hopefully, with Apple through the years has been a willingness to say when something isn’t quite what we wanted it do be, didn’t live up to expectations, to not be afraid to admit it and look for the next answer.”
Schiller also surprisingly revealed that Apple is working on its own high-end displays that will pair with the new Mac Pro, which is likely welcome news to those feeling burned by the problematic launch of the LG UltraFine 5K displays in late 2016. And if that wasn’t enough, it was also revealed that a new iMac is coming later this year, probably to coincide with the launch of the next iteration of macOS. “We’re going to begin making configurations of iMac specifically with the pro customer in mind,” said Schiller.
Apple’s reason for all of this transparency was to show that it has not forgotten about the Mac, as many customers and pundits have said over the years. It would be easy to think that Apple is more concerned about pouring its resources into its cash cow: the iPhone. But Apple still sees the Mac as a critical part of its business today, and in the future. “We’re committed to the Mac, we‘ve got great talent on the Mac, both hardware and software, we’ve got great products planned for the future and as far as our horizon line can see, the Mac is a core component of the things Apple delivers, including to our Pro customers.”