Mac Apple Event Thoughts

I’m very supportive of going all in on Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is a huge advance, and I think it’s worth ditching all the legacy connectors. It will be a bumpy transition at first, but once it’s done having one universal connection will be worth it (although I’m not holding my breath for corporate projectors to start adopting USB-C or Thunderbolt 3.)

AMD and Nvidia have been working hard on shrinking the size of their chips, and AMD’s 400 series (known as Polaris 10 for mid range desktops, Polaris 11 for laptops) and Nvidia’s 1000 series (known as Pascal) offer approximately double the performance per watt, and have balanced this improvement with increasing performance and power savings.

Apple appears to be offering the highest end Polaris 11 part available: the Radeon 460. This is a huge improvement over previous generations where Apple tended to only use the middle end of AMD’s mobile offerings. But while AMD has improved their performance compared to their previous generation, they’ve failed to take the performance crown from Nvidia. Nvidia’s low end professional notebook GPU, the GTX 1060m, is still almost twice as fast as the Radeon 460.

The issue with the new Macbook Pro is it ignores everything professionals have been asking for, while adding things that they didn’t. Unnecessarily making the laptop thinner prevents them from using a mobile GPU like Nvidia’s 1080m, which offers nearly four times the performance of the Radeon 460. And as GPU advancements slow again and GPUs become more and more power hungry, the increased thinness of Apple’s design may also force them back to lower end mobile GPUs.

Apple also ignored almost the full list of what pros were looking for in a new Macbook Pro: features like upgradable storage, higher resolution displays, more RAM, external graphics expansion… Apple is pushing this laptop as a 4k editing professional notebook, but hasn’t even equipped it with a 4k display. Whatever you think about Microsoft’s new Surface Studio product, it’s at least trying to get at that list of needs pros have. It’s at least showing some sort of awareness of what the market is asking for that Apple isn’t.

A lot of pros still work in environments where they need the best possible workstations to work efficiently. Movies still don’t render instantly. VR and 3D graphics work is still very hardware bound. I even have Xcode projects that take a considerable amount of time on my Macbook Pro to build. The Mac used to be the best choice for these sorts of use cases. Apple provided the fastest hardware, with the most reliable operating system, and it made an easy choice for environments where your computer’s efficiency directly made you more money. While macOS does maintain a slim reliability lead over Windows, Apple’s slower hardware is hurting the bottom line of these kinds of businesses. If a Macbook Pro takes twice as long to render your film than a competing Windows notebook, is it really worth it to stay on the platform? At a certain point, even if you love Apple, macOS, or the fancy new Touch Bar, you are losing money by staying with Apple.

There is a giant unknown in all of this, and that is the Mac Pro. Competitively slow Macbook Pro performance was tolerated as long as Apple offered a fast desktop for people to use for performance oriented tasks. The classic Mac Pro was beloved because it fit in perfectly with compute hungry workplaces. Apple literally took the best Intel had to offer, and the almost-best GPU makers had to offer, threw them into a nice, flexible box, and sold them to pro users. It wasn’t complicated, but it didn’t need to be. The job of the Mac Pro was not to make a statement, but to burn through any creative task as fast or faster than any other machine on the market.

I don’t think the Mac Pro is dead (MacWorld is claiming there will be a new Mac Pro in November). If the Mac Pro is updated, it will quiet some of the complaints creative pros have with Apple right now. But Apple has also been ignoring the needs of Mac Pro users as well. Besides the lack of updates, the design of the 2013 Mac Pro also missed the mark. It got dual GPUs standard, but it sacrificed dual CPUs. The design is too small to fit any higher end GPUs, and can only fit one SSD. Apple made a large number of important sacrifices to achieve a design nobody asked for or needed.

If Apple really wants to pro user market to return, they just need to keep it simple. Stuff the fastest possible components into well priced, reliable macOS boxes that help people get work done. They don’t need to art pieces, and they don’t even need to be razor thin. Apple needs to build workhorses again. It may not be exciting, but pros don’t want excitement in their computer purchasing, they want reliability. And throwing the fastest components into a few computers every year is a cheap way to keep a reliable income stream from happy users going.

Bonus: Death of Apple Displays

The new LG displays are nice. I’d buy one if I had a machine that I could plug one into. But I’m a little mystified on why Apple didn’t just take the step of slapping an Apple logo on the display, and selling it as an Apple branded product. I’m sure that US based Mac Pro factory has some overhead to put together some Apple monitor cases.

It’s more than just being superficial. The monitor not being Apple branded means it is no longer Apple supported. When you buy an Apple branded monitor with a Mac, it’s covered under the same warranty as your Mac. If your Mac had three year AppleCare, your monitor was covered for three years too. And your monitor was serviced at the same local stores your Mac was serviced at. With an LG monitor, that piece of mind I had is now gone. I’ve had Apple monitors die and get repaired under a three year AppleCare plan. If I have an issues with an LG display, I don’t have a local store to get it serviced at. And what about out of warranty repairs? My cat chewed on the cables of my 27″ Cinema Display, and for a small fee that Apple store replaced the built in cables. If I have any other accidental or out of warranty issues, will LG fix them for a fee?

I don’t know how many monitors Apple sold. My hunch is it wasn’t as many as Dell or HP, but I also saw enough of them around I can’t imagine they didn’t sell at all. But having one vendor to deal with all your problems was always a great thing about buying Apple gear. Now Apple wants me to buy third party displays. If I’m looking at Dell or HP displays, I might also take a look at their computers too. They both offer on site service, their computers are faster than Apple’s, and I only have to work through one vendor. Sounds pretty compelling to me.

It would be great if Apple could service the LG displays, cover them under AppleCare, or at least act as a front line for passing hardware issues along to LG. That would make their relationship feel a lot more partner-y and make me more comfortable with buying Apple.