Slow Decline Of The Mac Pro

I wanted to write a bit more about the future of “pros” on the Mac, but about the Mac Pro.

Pros are the most easily spooked, jittery segment of the computer market, and they have reason to be. When they buy equipment from a vendor, whether that is Apple or HP or Dell or whoever, they are spending a substantial amount of money, and are risking their business on a platform. Buying the wrong equipment or buying into the wrong strategy has serious consequences to the bottom line. If a business chooses wrong it would take a serious amount of time and money to migrate users, equipment, and existing projects. If computers become slower, billable hours become higher and less competitive. Often I see posts on Twitter complaining that people critical of Apple are spending too much time focusing on specs or timely updates or on having the fastest available computers, but these are all crucial factors when looking at pro hardware for good reason.

Apple, for decades, has had a basic pact with pro users (although I’m starting to suspect Apple never knew it.) Windows has always been the less risky platform, just due to vendor choice. If you’re a business that buys all HP, but HP stops creating solutions that are right for your business, it’s very little trouble to migrate to Dell. If you run your businesses on the Mac, and especially if you run your business on Mac only software like Final Cut Pro, it’s harder to transition off the platform, and Apple is a larger risk to your business. But pro users have been content with this risk as long as Apple continues to deliver as fast or faster hardware than their competitors, and they upgrade every year. This basic pact has even helped resolve a lot of Apple’s secrecy issues. You don’t need to know Apple’s roadmap as long as you know, whatever it is, it will show up next year, be faster, and be better. Apple still works this way on iOS. You could run trains on Apple’s typical iPhone and iPad update schedule, even with all the secrecy.

I’ve heard the tower Mac Pro’s sales were quite good. I don’t know anything about the 2013 Mac Pro sales, but I could guess that they probably aren’t that good.

Before the 2013 Mac Pro, Apple hadn’t upgraded the Mac Pro in three years (and Apple’s neglect of Final Cut Pro 7 didn’t help.) I with video pros at the time and the panic was already setting in. A two year gap, like the one from 2006 to 2008, was digestible. But at three years you start to wonder if the Mac Pro was going to be updated at all. And if you don’t think the Mac Pro is going to be updated, for the good of your business, you’re going to start looking at the Adobe Suite and Windows workstations, and start that transition as early as possible. In that span of time, the uncertainty took Apple’s Final Cut Pro dominance, and handed it to Adobe.

When Apple released the 2013 Mac Pro it never calmed the pro community. The 2013 Mac Pro a risky proposition for businesses because it was slower than Windows hardware, which translates to dollars on the bottom line. A job that takes twice as long to render costs twice as much. And that just continued to feed the narrative that investing in the Apple platform was a risky proposition. And then three years later Apple still hasn’t shipped an upgrade, continuing the tailspin in pro’s confidence of Apple. Mac Pro sales are likely down a bit due to the specs, but I think Mac Pro sales are down as low as they are because Apple can’t demonstrate a commitment to their platform for professionals.

I think the Mac Pro could sell a whole lot. People need workstations. But to revive sales of the Mac Pro Apple needs to do two basic things:

  • Release a 2018 Mac Pro. No, that’s not a typo. I don’t think it’s the next Mac Pro that will be important as the one that comes after, and I hope that’s not discouraging because I really think Apple could succeed with pros. I’ve already had people tell me they won’t buy the next Mac Pro because they are worried it will be the last one, they don’t want to be on a dying platform, and would rather move over now.
  • Say Apple is committed to the Mac Pro. Apple has been able to keep their roadmaps secret because their release schedule has been dependable. If the Mac Pro releases aren’t dependable, stop jerking people around. All Apple has to do to calm pro users right now is say that there is a new Mac Pro coming but they haven’t been able to show it yet. And Phil Schiller has come so close to saying this. If you can’t rebuild the trust with actual releases, rebuild the trust through the press.
  • Specs? It’s honestly less important than rebuilding trust, but still important. Intel may have been standing still, but GPU vendors were not. The 2013 Mac Pro uses 2012 GPUs that were already dated when it shipped. AMD has floundered a bit, but Nvidia has at least released three solid updates since. For a pro business, that lost productivity is pretty hard to ignore.