Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Grand Irony of the iMac Pro

Apple closed out the end of the year with the launch of the iMac Pro. This system is being pitched as an example of Apple's commitment to the interests of the "Pro" user -- a system that meets the needs of creative and graphics professionals that have been a core Mac user base for so long. The iMac Pro is being rolled out in advance of a redesigned Mac Pro that's supposed to be unveiled sometime in the future.

The current Mac Pro design is something like four years old. You know the one -- it looks sort of like a Dyson fan turned on it's side -- there are racks and racks of them in use... nowhere, because it doesn't really do racks. Err, my bad. I just Googled "Mac Pro Rack" and found a bunch of aftermarket chassis designs. Anyway, it's probably noteworthy is that there is a market for Mac Pro rackmount accessories -- and how disconnected the design is from the application.

After releasing a bunch of very un-Pro systems with Pro name tags and sparking a bonfire of outrage from professional Mac users (more from me about this in my previous post, Is Apple "Designing" Their Way Out of Customers?), Apple suddenly started making noise about how the Pro market was important to them and how they'd release a new, modular Mac Pro in, maybe a couple of years.

What I think that they really wanted to do was to cool the outrage and get some positive media while their Touchbar USB-C Macbook Pros racked up sales -- since those systems were the only real option available to most pro Mac laptop users, significant sales numbers inevitable.

The other thing that Apple did, while the world waited on the two-year development of the Mac Pro,  was plan and announce an iMac Pro. What I think they were trying to do with this was two-fold: first, fast-track a pro-spec system around an existing design; second, if the sales for the iMac Pro underperformed, they could use that to amplify the idea that "there really isn't much of a pro market after all -- more noise than substance".

As I noted in my headline, what makes this so ironic is that the iMac was never the system you allocated to your Pro users. The iMac was the home system, the one with colors or flowers, the inexpensive all-in-one you used for your admin and support staff so that they'd be on the same platform and could use the software -- if needed. But as Apple has gotten out of the business of doing pro monitors and systems, the iMac is their last option for control over the total package.

It's sort of like if Apple had gotten rid of all of it's iPhone models, then realized they really needed a phone, then saying, "we've made this great iPhone from our Apple Watch. In order to get the battery life and performance you'd expect from an actual iPhone, we've added these dongle attachments for battery, processor and display." Okay, maybe it's not that bad. But if there's anything that makes the case that Apple -- at least for a time -- quit caring about the pro market, it's the iMac Pro.

Also noteworthy on the iMac Pro are what you see in the actual technical specs.
  • USB-3 ports. Why? Because the world still uses them. 
  • A traditional audio port. Why? Because the world still uses it.
  • An SD card reader. Again, another hated drop from the Macbook Pro line.
  • USB-C ports used for Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, etc. If they had done this with the Macbook Pro, there probably would have been fewer complaints.
  • No Touchbar. If this was a must-have feature, it would make sense to migrate it to these desktop systems. It would probably make even more sense for desktop since it wouldn't be a power draw. But the reality is that, if this feature were on a stand-alone keyboard, the additional cost would probably limit it's sales.
iMac Pro -- the missing link between evolution and devolution. Now, if they can only get this thing into a laptop-sized package, they might have something worthy of a Macbook Pro title.

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