It might be time for Apple to throw in the towel on the Mac Pro

Apple's Mac Pro 2019, a trypophobe's nightmare.
Enlarge / Apple’s Mac Pro 2019, a trypophobe’s nightmare.

Apple

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

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

The Extreme would have had two M2 Ultra chips strapped together, just like the current M1 Ultra is a pair of M1 Max chips tied together, but as of this writing Apple is reportedly planning to ship the new Mac Pro with an M2 Ultra chip and focus on that “Easy expandability for additional memory, storage and other components” to set Mac Pro apart from the existing Mac Studio.

Waiting for news in the face of uncertainty isn’t new to Mac Pro holdouts; it has been a constant for more than ten years. It’s been a very long time since the Mac Pro has been updated at any remotely predictable rate, especially if you don’t count incremental updates like the 2012 Mac Pro Tower or the addition of new GPU options to the 2019 model. And each of the last two updates — 2013’s “garbage can” Mac Pro and 2019’s reforged “cheese grater” version — reflected a total shift in design and strategy.

At this point, I’d like Apple to decide: either commit to a consistent 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-swappable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it went without updates for more than half a decade.  Apple eventually changed the course of the design, but it was a major misstep.
Enlarge / Apple’s 2013 Mac Pro still supported a few niceties like user-swappable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it went without updates for more than half a decade. Apple eventually changed the course of the design, but it was a major misstep.

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

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

It’s something that The Verge’s Mac Studio review highlighted brilliantly – contributors who use apps like Premiere, Audition, Photoshop and After Effects, Avid Pro Tools and Blender had nothing but good things to say about the Studio’s Intel Macs and Apple Silicon MacBooks, which they used to run these apps on a daily basis. Creating web content isn’t as complex or demanding as, say, creating 3D effects for a big movie or TV show, but that’s a wide range of developers doing it could who benefited from a Mac Pro a decade or two ago, who definitely don’t need to think about it anymore today.

Apple still offers its own suite of Mac-exclusive professional apps, including Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Logic Pro. But the rate at which these apps are updated (and the volume of updates when they come) has slowed and narrowed over the past decade, while the Mac Pro has atrophied at the same time.

Earlier this year, a group of 112 professional filmmakers signed an open letter urging Apple to improve Final Cut’s collaboration capabilities, respond more quickly to new feature requests, and do a better job of promoting the software in the film industry. Even the creators who prefer using it in this context “still can’t select it” because of actual and perceived flaws in the app and a general lack of expertise and knowledge of the app industry-wide. The video editors at The Verge also “didn’t want to” help test Final Cut Pro because “none of them use it.”

Apple’s other hardware is successful 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, mostly running apps that run just as well (and in some specific cases better) on cheaper and more flexible Windows and Linux hardware, and this is reflected reflected in hardware and software that actual VFX studios use.

A major 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows are by far the most popular platforms for workstations, with Windows slightly favored in smaller studios and Linux in larger ones.  The Mac's contribution is consistently minimal.
Enlarge / A major 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows are by far the most popular platforms for workstations, with Windows slightly favored in smaller studios and Linux in larger ones. The Mac’s contribution is consistently minimal.

A 2021 Studio Platform Survey Report by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee surveyed nearly 60,000 workstations across 88 studios of varying sizes; Linux ran on 60 percent of those workstations, while Windows ran on 29 percent and macOS made up just 11 percent. The survey also found that most studios plan to increase their Linux and Windows usage, while most plan to keep their macOS usage at around the same level.

None of this means 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 here.

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